A Harp Guitar Music Public Service Announcement

Question: Dear Sir Gregory, What do you think of that Dyer for sale on eBay?  What would be a good price? - Anonymous

Answer:  I get this a lot – in fact, every time someone puts a Dyer of any kind up on eBay.  I suppose I should be offended by the expectation that I freely give my expertise accumulated over decades to someone I don’t know buying from a competitor (the eBay shopper and seller, respectively).  To add insult to injury, in many cases this request for advice is on an instrument that I already gave free advice and an “appraisal” on in hopes of getting a consignment out of it, only to see it immediately show up on eBay.   I try to take all this in stride as professionally as I can; I guess it’s just my “popely duty.” 

So to simplify things, for the record, here’s my appraisal on any Dyer showing up on eBay (or other sources – Craigslist, generic guitar stores, etc.). 

Value: Short answer: Very little.  Slightly better answer: Nearly impossible to say, and in all likelihood a range so wide as to be all but useless.  Why?   Because of these crucial factors:

Condition: Unknown.  This can only be based on what one can glean from the photographs and description, which can run the gamut from semi-professional from a presumably reliable source to poor images from a scammer.  Can you tell the difference?  Additionally, I have seen so many bad instruments “photograph well” (by that I mean in such a way as to hide the issues) and fantastic instruments where the photos cannot possibly do them justice. 

Playability: Unknown.  Can you tell that the neck is straight down the length?  Can you tell that it is not twisted?  Can you tell that it does not dive down at the typical “top cave in” above the 12th fret?   Does it fret true?  Does the original thin wire saddle intonate accurately?  Do all the tuners work properly, and for modern strings?  Just asking the action height is not remotely enough to judge all of this.

Restorability: Unknown.  Is the seller a professional museum quality guitar restoration expert?  A guitar repairman?  Neither?  Do you know how many loose, detached braces are inside?  How much the top has bellied under tension?  Can all the cracks can be seen?  Are existing repairs adequate or poor and irreversible? Has it been refinished?

Tone: Unknown.  I know, I know – it’s the “best guitar I’ve ever heard or played.”  Here’s the catch.  To most every 6-string acoustic guitar player and dealer, any Dyer will always be the “best guitar they’ve ever heard”…they have no experience with harp guitars!  The novice is invariably blown away by the additional resonance and volume of a Dyer harp guitar with that amazing hollow arm in your face.  Harp guitar tone should only be compared to other harp guitar tone.  How many can possibly judge this?

Back to Value: I don’t want to be a hypocrite – I may very well be bidding against you on an eBay Dyer myself.  That’s my business, and I do speculate and take risks when I have the funds.  If I did it by the book, I would follow my own advice and always assume worst possible case.  In other words, no matter what you see and read, assume that it will need moderate to full restoration to get it either properly playable, presentable as a wall-hanger, or both.  Unless you plan on doing it yourself, cost for restoration can start at $500 and end at $5000.  You also get to a point of diminishing returns with “basket cases” - you might reach a point where it will eventually have less value than the restoration you put into it (cosmetics and non-originality may offset the work needed to get it structurally adequate).  You should also assume that it will be in slightly worse to much worse condition than you can ascertain from the photos and description.

Assume worst case for playability also.  A neck reset and a re-fret can be very costly, especially when added on top of an instrument you’ve already paid “top dollar” for.  The “bend” you sometimes see at the 12th fret and sunken top can be even trickier.  Bridge height might not be enough to allow lowering the action with the saddle, and there might not be enough meat to install a properly intonated saddle.

Don’t assume anything about the tone.  Many Dyers are some of the most fabulous-sounding acoustic instruments ever built.  But I have heard a couple clunkers.  No idea why either.  Tone is of course also a matter of taste.  As are the amount of overtones produced by these vintage instruments, which varies more than most people realize.  I usually charge a premium for great tone, or conversely, discount when it is not quite happening.  Everything else being otherwise equal, this could easily lead to a thousand or two dollar difference.

Caveat Emptor!

- Gregg (Sir Gregory) Miner

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