Shifting Gears

Whether you're looking to sell—or finally score—that goldtop Les Paul, the Gear Trader's Brian Malesardi is your man.

What is the Gear Trader?

We're primarily a vintage music store. We carry guitars, amps, effects pedals, keyboards, and some drum stuff. We buy, sell, and trade vintage and used music equipment, although we are getting into the new market this year—we're going to be carrying a few new lines of guitars and a couple other things. We do guitar and drum lessons in the store and we also have an on-site amp repair guy.

What was your background before opening the store?

I came out here to go to Musicians Institute in Hollywood in '89. I grew up playing guitar. Basically, I'm just a left over '80s heavy metal guitar player who figured out how to make a living buying and selling guitars.

Is there anything specific to the Orange County vintage instrument market?

I learn by trial and error. Stuff that I never thought would sell sells, and stuff that I thought for sure would sell sits on the wall to this day. For the most part we try and keep better quality stuff, higher end vintage stuff. Always keeping a wide range of stuff has kept people interested in coming in.

Are pawnshops your competitors?

Yeah, sure. They don't pay as well as we do for used gear, and they don't give as much in trade-ins. We don't loan money. We just buy. I can safely say we have the biggest and largest selection of vintage instruments in Orange County.

Do you have any tips for used gear buyers?

We offer a warranty and a guarantee—30 days on anything you buy. If you're buying used, get a guarantee or a warranty. We stand behind what we sell. If we tell you it's a 1972 strat and it's all original, I'll always stand behind that. A lot of times if you're going to buy a guitar at, say, a pawnshop, it's an as-is deal. What you might expect to get isn't always what you're getting.

Does eBay make things easier or harder for you?

A little of both. I still travel across the whole US buying stuff. A year or two after I opened the store I noticed that eBay really started to kick in. I wasn't able to buy as many things as I used to buy, especially in some of these remote locations where people really didn't have a guide to find out what stuff was worth before. It's kind of hurt us like that, but it's also helped us in that we've been able to sell a lot of our stuff online for more money than we've ever got. So, it's kind of a give and take thing.

How do your buying trips around the country work?

I go to pawnshops. I go to other music stores. I run ads in papers about a week before I'll be in that area that basically say, "Vintage guitar collector/buyer paying money for older Fender, Gibson, Martin, etc. guitars and amps." I've got a toll free number that rings to my cell. I'll go to guitar shows, swap meets, all kinds of places. You never know what's going to walk through the door, but as a general statement not a lot of vintage stuff is walking through anymore. When I find the really, really cool stuff it's usually when I'm out on the road.

What are some of your oddest finds?

I don't know about oddest, but one of the most unique or special to me was when I bought one of Eddie Van Halen's original Kramers—one of the 13 or 14 that were made personally for him. Then, back in August I did one of the bigger deals I've done. I bought a huge lot of guitars up in Montana. The guy's name was Montana Al Potter, and it was about 300 vintage Fender guitars. For the last six months that's kept our inventory pretty interesting for people.


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