So I wanted a cheap beater guitar to bring to work and for the beach, campfire, etc. I wanted something super cheap that I didn't have to worry about it getting dinged or worst case scenario, getting stolen. So we’re talking cheap. I was thinking under $100. It’s asking a lot to get a guitar that cheap that will play worth a crap. We bought Avery a guitar for Christmas a couple of years ago, and it’s a cheap Yamaha that we paid around $100, and it plays really well. It doesn't sound that good, but it plays well. The action is low and it stays in tune. So that’s what I’m looking for, but even cheaper.
I have an old Gibson that was father’s, but it doesn't play well, doesn't sound good, and doesn't stay in tune. I've seen similar guitars at guitar shows for sale for $600 or $700, but my guitar is in terrible shape. It has a huge crack in the body, scratches everywhere, and the Gibson decal has long sense been removed. So that guitar is going to just in the corner and hold its sentimental value, but that’s all.
I've been looking on Craigslist for something really cheap that might still be playable. I like the look of the Gibson J-160 and you’ll never guess why. Yes, because of the Beatles. Epiphone makes a really cheap student guitar with that same look, so I figured that’s where I would start.
I saw an Epiphone (PR-150) like I was looking for on CR for $70. I looked around and this price was about right. It came with a gig bag and a stand, so even better. $70 is actually not a smoking deal for this guitar, as it only sells from around $130 off the shelf. I saw a couple on CL. One was $75, but this one had the case and stand, so I contacted the owner.
My plan was to offer $50 or $60, depending on the shape it was in. The person selling it was a young girl. She met me in a Walmart parking lot not too far from my house. She was selling the guitar to save up to go to college. She was nice and friendly and I just didn't have the heart to low-ball her. If she was saving for college by selling off $70 items, then she was hurting for money. Not that it’s my responsibility to help pay her way, but the extra $10-$20 would help her more than it would me.
My reason for going cheap on this guitar, besides that it might get trashed, stolen, etc, is that I don’t have much extra money for more guitars. It’s just not in the budget. But $70 is livable, and having a guitar at work has a lot of value for me.
So I picked up the guitar for $70 and told her to get in school and get another guitar as soon as possible.
This guitar is made so cheaply. The wood, if you want to call it that, just feels cheap and plastic-like. The tuning keys are made out of the cheapest metals on the face of the earth, and the frets felt like scratchy porous metal that you would find in a fine set of screwdrivers from the dollar store. You know the ones where the metal is so soft that one tight screw will smooth out the grooves on a Phillips, or the plastic handle just breaks off on the first turn.
That being said, I was determined to make this thing playable. The action was super high. The neck was a little bowed, but it had a truss rod, so I figured I could tweak it. I put new strings on and cleaned the whole thing up. I lubed the tuners, cleaned and oiled the fret board, and put a dab of oil on the nut. Then I tightened the truss rod. I tweaked it as much as I could without it fretting out. This still left it with really high action. So at this point I have two other options that effect the action, the bridge, and the nut. I looked at the nut, but the string height coming off the nut was pretty low. I could shave that a bit, or dig out the string grooves, but I decided to focus on the bridge. The bridge had a lot of material to work with, and I also read that some manufacturers put shims under that bridge. I first checked for that, but there were no shims. So I started sanding down the bottom of the bridge. Since it was a cheap guitar I was too worried about ruing the bridge, but that same reasoning is why I didn't want to ruin it and have to start buying replacement parts.
After quite a while of repeating the process of taking off the stings, sanding the bridge, replacing the stings, I got it down to a decent playable string height. I still want it lower, but I’m bit scared to take off any more of the bridge as it is barely higher than the saddle now.
After spending a few hours on this little Epi it is now in acceptable shape and it serve its purpose. Hell, I even started writing a new song on it.
The only thing now is that frets, but I don’t think I can much about it. The frets just feel like crap when you bend or put any vibrato on a note. I guess I could put some steel wool to them to maybe smooth them out, but I think they are just made out of such cheap material that they will always feel that way. Oh well, I guess I won’t be doing my Al DiMeola impression on it.
Overall, a success. I do like messing around with this stuff, and learn a little more each time.