of you already have accounts, and know one of the best (and worst) places
to find Arai/Matsumoku guitars is eBay. Unfortunately, ebay demands a whole
new set of purchasing skills necessary to not only find the guitar you
are looking for, but to insure you make a wise and fair purchase. I'll
try to outline some of the things that I have found helpful, and probably
more importantly, cover some of the things to be wary of. Wherever possible,
I'll cite examples. From my viewpoint, ebay is a cross between a sealed
bidding system and open warfare. The information here is intended to make
you a better "soldier" and help improve your hard earned money's survival
The "Golden Rules"
Always check a seller's feedback rating! Know who you are dealing with BEFORE you bid. Pay close attention to things such as prompt shipping, overall description accuracy, prompt communications, and payment options. Often sellers with a large amount of feedback will have a few negatives. It makes good sense to look into those negatives. At times they are warranted, and it then boils down to how the seller handled it. Other times it's the silly "spitting contest" I despise so much. Check to see if it was a deadbeat getting even, or a no-pay trying to get something for free. Yes, it happens. Get the "whole story". Sometimes it's also helpful to see what kind of feedback the seller has left for his previous customers. If they have an "About Me" page, check it out. A seller that is willing to quickly and amiably resolve disputes is a plus. Sooner or later it will happen and how a seller handles it should help you decide yay or nay.
Ask the seller questions BEFORE you bid! A good customer will scrutinize what he/she intends to purchase. If there are questions in the back of your mind, ask them. Don't leave things to chance that needn't be. Already you are considering purchasing something you cannot personally evaluate, so it's in your best interest to get the answers to any questions or concerns you may have. Even if you already know something, ask anyway. Not necessarily for the answer, but to see how responsive the seller is. How prompt they are to respond could be a good indicator of how they will handle the transaction and how you will be treated after the fact. Some large volume sellers take a bit to respond. Normally I give it 24 hours (unless I know it's a shop or business that is closed sunday for example).
Do your homework! It is up to YOU to know what you are looking at. Often a seller knows very little about the guitar. Other times what they know is baloney to the well informed bidder. Do your research BEFORE you bid. The guitars I cover here are from 15 to 30 years old, and a lot can happen in that time. Parts get changed out, damage gets done, guitars are re-finished, and guitars are sometimes even mis-identified entirely. It's YOUR responsibility to know what you are looking at. If you don't but are interested, get busy searching the web or talking with people who do know something about the item you're interested in. One of the reasons I began this site is because there is not only a lack of information on these guitars, but a flood of mis-information as well.
Proof of payment benefits YOU! Always pay using a method that offers proof of payment! I use PayPal whenever the seller accepts it as this provides automatic proof of purchase. When I send money orders, I only send Postal Money Orders, and I pay for the delivery confirmation myself. This does two things for me. First, it provides proof that the seller received the money order and when. Second, if it is intercepted or does not make it there, the Postal service becomes involved and investigates. Both tampering with US mail and mail fraud are federal offenses. Without delivery confirmation, it's simply my word against theirs.
Always question excessive negative feedback. Anytime a seller appears to have a large amount fo negative feedback it is cause for concern! As I said above, familiarize youself with the seller's previous transactions. If there are excessive negative feedback entries it could mean that the seller is a slow ship, unresponsive, inaccurate in his/her descriptions, unwilling to resolve disputes, or possibly even fraudulent at times. Check as much of the negative feedback and the auctions they pertain to as you can and you might see a pattern that will affect your decision. You could very well save youself the same grief the previous purchasers have gone through. Sometimes I walk away from a guitar because I see something I don't like in the feedback. The bitter taste of a raw deal lasts a lot longer than the sweet taste of a good one!
Outlandish or unverifiable claims. I know I partially covered this below, but it also warrants seperate mention. Sometimes sellers claim a guitar was owned or played by a celebrity, that the guitar is rare, it is a one-off or one-of-a-kind, prototype, or otherwise specail. It's your money and you DO have the right to ask them to verify their claims. Don't accept a simple handwritten note either, as anyone could write it. When Fender ships out a Custom Shop guitar, it is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) which verifies the guitar's origins. Guitars truly owned by celebrities often are accompanied by some kind of verifiable document such as a note from the celebrity on the celebrity's own letterhead. Usually these documents can be verified. When claims seem a bit hoky it's always in your best interest to play the devil's advocate. It's up to them to verify their claims, and until then you should see it as nothing more than colorful prose.
Condition is relative! Often you will see guitars listed as "mint" or "near mint", or other references to the guitar's actual condition. One thing to keep in mind at all times is condition is relative to the sellers interepretation. Much like "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder". Good pics will give you an idea, lousy pics wont. If the pics are lousy, ask if the seller can offer better ones. A ding to me may be a horrid crater to you, or the converse. Action, tone, and other playability factors are also subject to interpretation. I am able to adjust nearly every aspect of a giutars handling to a point, and have even done some pretty hefty resurrections, but not everyone is inclined or has had the fortune to learn from skilled professonals as I have. Having someone you can trust that is able to do this allows you more flexibility when considering a guitar in regards to action, handling, and tone as all of this can be to some degree modified to suit your tastes.
Originality and modifications. Originality is something that once again, will be up to you to determine. If this is an issue then (yup, I'm gonna say it again) do your homework. More likely than not the seller is telling the truth, but it's ultimately up to you to know (if originality is an issue with you). Many of these guitars have been around a while, changed hands possibly many times, and quite possibly been modified at one time during their life. I have often asked a seller if all was original, but sometimes they were not able to tell me. Others I received a positive response from only to find out they had no idea and some parts had been changed out or it had been tampered with. Doing your homework and asking the right questons will often yeild a more accurate picture. Another thing to avoid are the obvious counterfeits and fakes. For the most part this only takes place when there is a great deal of money to be made and usually only involves high dollar vintage american or very rare instruments. This is not always the case. One individual had been trashing otherwise perfectly good vintage Japanese guitars with headstocks that had been permanently altered with an illegal counterfeit Gibson logo. My advice is to steer clear of this sort of thing, not only for your sake, but for the sake of the guitars being trashed in this fashion. If there's no money to be made at it, then the greedy perpetrators are not likely to waste their time OR these guitars.
Beware the HypeSlinger! I cover this in my Rants page, but feel I should also cover this here as it would appear it does get enough people in trouble to warrant mention in both places. I am sure you have seen auctions where the seller seems to spew forth with paragraph after paragraph of senseless dribble, often dropping names, huge sums, and pepering the listing with "focus words" such as premium, exquisite, rare, mint (or near). Sometimes even comparing the guitar listed to ones obviously in a league above what is being sold. Many sellers are catching on that if they iclude words such as "Ibanez", "Gibson", or even multiple instnaces of "Matsumoku" in listings for Uncle Matt's guitars the resulting hype and frenzy often pumps up the price. Pay attention to what you see, and what other sources have to say and not solely on what the seller tells you. Do your homework! A moderate dose of skepticism can be a valuable asset here, and possibly save you a lot of grief and money.
Don't forget shipping, insurance, and good packaging! It's easy to overlook these expenses, but they do add to what you will end up paying in total. Always insist on insurance for the TOTAL amount plus a little. Should there unfortunately be a loss or damage your investment will eventually be recovered. Inisist on good packaging! If you could see how a few guitars arrived at my door you could very well go into cardiac arrest so I will spare you the shock. Needless to say the guitars were in no way packaged properly and had there actually been damage (a miracle with a few) it would have required outside legal assistance in order to recover the loss.
Happy Jewel hunting!