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I found a red Yamaha Pacifica fat strat at a local pawn shop. Most of their guitars are $60 and up, but this one has a $25 sticker on it.

I'm considering buying, cleaning, and restringing it but I'd like to know what things I should look out for that would be signs to stay away from it.

They have amps there, so I can test it to see if it works in general, but are there any obvious defects that can ruin an electric guitar besides that?

One example I could think of would be if the truss rod was damaged in some way, but how could I check for that at the shop?

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There's some things I check closely when I look at guitars in pawn shops (and maybe elsewhere too, depends on the store), and those are things that I'd prefer not to spend time nor money on to get fixed. If you're buying the guitar to learn how to do some of these things yourself, this would of course not apply.

  1. A straight neck. This can be checked by holding down on the 1st and 14th frets, and then check the height between the frets and the string on the 7th fret. I use my left hand to hold down on the 1st fret, my right hand pinky on the 14th, and my right hand index to push the string down to check the gap. Then I check both the first and sixth strings. If the gap on one side is much larger than the other, it's not a guitar I want to buy.
  2. No apparent buzzing anywhere. I play up and down the neck, checking for buzz which might suggest the guitar needs a fret redress, e.g. that the guitar plays cleanly on all strings up 'till the 12th fret but suddenly buzzes on the 15th fret on the third string.
  3. Frets extending outside the neck. Some guitars have a really poor fret job, so if you run your fingers up and down on the outside of the neck you'll notice you scratch against metal quite a lot.
  4. Cracks in the paint that suggests damage to the wood. For a bolt-on guitar, cracks in the paint around the neck pocket are fairly common and might not be cracks in the wood underneath.

I also look for rust or excessive dirt on the bridge, some old guitars have been very poorly maintained, and it's easy to spot. Other things like loose connections or dirty strings are easy to fix, so I don't necessary worry to much about those.

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Use a clean tone on the amp and play a note at every fret - the three likely problems you will be able to hear are:

  • Worn frets - will lead to buzzing when you play the fret below
  • Badly adjusted truss rod - usually shows up as either a buzzing or an overly large gap between strings and fretboard
  • Electrical problems - try the different pickups and turn the volume and tone pots - listen for crackling, clicks and pops or lack of sound

I did actually get a 12 string Eko acoustic for free as it had some serious damage. A lot of epoxy and some clamps and years later it is doing just fine. I down tune the entire thing a semitone so it doesn't snap, but that's fine.

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I actually have a bit of specific experience with this, having bought a Yamaha Pacific from someone at school a while back, for a mere £20. I reasoned at the time that this was great, and even if there was something that rendered it unplayable, it would still be worth the money for parts if nothing else. Indeed, i turned out that the £20 was slightly too good to be true, and it turns out that there was a huge split where the neck meets the headstock, meaning it was unplayable. So from this, there are a few things too look out for when buying a very cheap 2nd hand guitar;

  1. Check the woodwork and make sure it is complete, without any signs of major damage repair.
  2. Make sure the neck is straight and the truss rod is accessible. Also make sure the neck is firmly attached to the body.
  3. Test pickups and controls to make sure they work, and that they are not just plain dead or buzz so badly the guitar is unusable. Also, loud noises whenever you adjust the controls is a bad sign.
  4. Make sure the frets are intact, and that there is no fret buzz. Make sure the saddle and bridge is able to be adjusted, and not rusted in place or something.

If everything seems intact, then go for it! Remember, when you buy a second hand guitar, you can always change the strings and set it up the way you like it, so don't be put off by how it feels in the shop. Pacifics are good guitars, so go for it if you can.

Incidentally I repaired my Pacific's neck with a load of glue, and now I keep it as my 'weird tunings' guitar when I need to add some body to my recordings.

Hope this helps!

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There's an old rule-of-thumb that you should expect to pay at least $200 for an instrument you'll be proud of.

That said, Yamaha's a decent brand. If you can account for the low price by surface damage (if it looks ugly), then it's conceivable that there's quality construction on the inside that wasn't factored into the sticker.

Does that make sense? If there's a reason it's cheap, and this reason is something you don't mind (doesn't affect the sound or playability), then you can rightly consider it a good deal.

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If you are already a guitar player, play it. If you don't perceive anything wrong with it as you play it, then anything else doesn't matter.

If you're not already a guitar player, find someone who is, to help you. If you can't find someone, I would suggest walking away from this opportunity. A bad guitar will really hold you back as a beginner.

Play chords, play single notes. Play the top strings, play the bottom strings. Play at the nut, and high up the neck. If anything feels uncomfortable, work out why and whether you can fix it.

Bear in mind that you can get certain kinds of Pacifica for $180 brand new. Still, if it feels good, and it makes a good sound, go for it.

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