Let’s assume that you know everything there is to know about the drum you want. You’ve found a dealer online and you’re ready to purchase the instrument. The first matter is to determine the type of entity you are dealing with. Is this an individual or a drum shop or a chain store? Why is that important? Would you be worried about buying a DW drum from Guitar Center? Of course not. It’s such a safe call that you could even do it online with any acceptable method of payment. Even if you’re dealing with a small music store, they will most likely take a safe form of payment that is reversible, like a credit card. But would you buy a slightly out of round ’40s Radio King from an unknown individual who doesn’t even know if it’s a three point or clamshell model, who requires a money order or cashier’s check?
The most secure way to purchase online is to use a credit card. Most credit cards have a guaranteed refund. Merchants who accept credit cards get their payment via electronic deposits directly into their accounts, which are reversible in case of disputed charges. Credit card companies will take the money back from the seller for you if the merchandise is not what it was supposed to be or if the seller does not deliver the product. There are even a few that specialize in web purchases only! However, this layer of protection only works when you use a credit card. Online checks are not protected and neither are personal checks, money orders, or bank drafts sent through the mail, as the seller can disappear with the money leaving you with no way to recover your loss.
If the seller does not accept credit cards, or you don’t know them personally, or they don’t come with an exceptionally high recommendation by a person who you know and trust, you should protect yourself by processing the transaction through an online payment service like Pay Pal. By utilizing a third party, you can gain the security of a credit card transaction without having to pay more for the item. This way, if you put the merchandise on your card and it doesn’t arrive when it is supposed to, you can dispute the charge and have it removed from your bill. The credit card company will suck the money back out of the account that they put it into and everything will be back to square one.
There are numerous venues for purchasing vintage, used, and new drums online. One of the best sources for all of these is eBay. However, a few suggestions are in order if you plan to take this route. I know I said this earlier, but it is critical when dealing with auctions. Know what you plan to buy and its actual fair market value before you start to bid. Here’s an example of how you can get hurt by ignoring this detail: I know numerous parents who went online Christmas shopping for Brio Trains for their children (picture me raising my hand with a sheepish look on my face) and paid as much as $50-$60 online. However, that same train set sells for $32.95 at your local Target! The moral of the story is: Don’t buy things via auction on the spur of the moment if you don’t already know exactly how much they should cost. Auction fever can cause you to pay more than the actual value of the item you plan to buy.
This same effect on the auction participant is a boon to auction sellers who prey on uneducated buyers. They go to a store and purchase (or even just photograph) an item, and then list it on eBay with a reserve that matches their cost. Then they auction the item, buy it from their source, and ship it to you as well as others who may have bid on the same item. This way they pocket the profit that they’ve just made from you thanks to your ignorance of the item’s real price. It works the same way with drums. The only way to avoid this is by knowing what you’re buying and what it should cost before you get to the auction.
Once you’ve determined the value of the item being auctioned, set a limit for the maximum amount you want to spend on it. When you are ready to bid, you still have a couple of options to consider. If you have time to log on frequently and check the auction as it draws to a close (the ending time of every auction is clearly listed), you can bid as needed manually. However, most people don’t have time to hover over eBay waiting to outbid the latest challenger on the auction for a pair of bongos. That’s probably why most auctions on eBay allow for “proxy bidding.” This means you bid the total amount you are willing to pay for the item being auctioned.
For instance, let’s say that the current bid is $250 for an item, and the increment is $5 to the next bid. You’ve done you’re homework and know the item is at least worth $500 and you could sell it for that right now. You don’t want to pay too much, but you’d be willing to pay around $375. So you enter a bid of $375. This won’t automatically bid the item up to that price. However, it will raise it to cover the next highest bid. For instance, if there are no other proxy bids in line, the amount may only go up by $5 leaving you with the highest bid at $255. If you get in early on an auction, you may notice that your bid will be upped and covered several times, depending on how much others are willing to bid on the same item. As long as no one outbids your maximum bid, you will automatically overbid every lower offer by $5. If someone outbids you at your reserve bid ($375), you have to decide at that time whether or not you really want to get the item. Remember: Just because you got the item, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won the auction. If you get caught up in a bidding frenzy and overpay for the item, you didn’t win anything but an overpriced reminder not to do that again.
Keep in mind that there are different types of auctions, which can affect your chances of getting a good deal. Reserve auctions allow the seller to preset a minimum acceptable bid, which remains hidden from potential buyers. The only hint you will see is an indicator that reads: “reserve has not been met.”
Here’s an example: The seller puts his ’20s Black Beauty up for auction. He knows it’s worth at least $2,000, so he sets his reserve for that amount. If the auction doesn’t reach that price, he’s not obligated to sell the drum. Once the reserve is met, the seller is legally obligated to sell the to the highest bid. Since most buyers would assume that that drum costs over $2,000, this is not unrealistic. He could start the bidding at $100, but until the $2,000 reserve is met, the auction is just a dance with numbers. Of course, the seller always has the option of taking less than his reserve price. Sometimes a high reserve will result in bidding that goes beyond the market value of an item. This allows the seller to get the most money for his merchandise, while not committing to sell unless he’s satisfied with the price. Since bids are recorded, the seller can go back down the line of bidders to see if anyone will pay a set price for the item once the auction is over. This is a somewhat dishonest practice as the sale isn’t actually sanctioned or governed by the auction house.
Another way to get a good deal is to be an early “pre-bidder.” If you’re the first person who’s interested enough to bid on an item, and you contact the seller before any other bids are entered, you may be able to negotiate a pre-auction sale. In this case, the buyer offers what he’s willing to pay to the seller, who then decides whether that’s enough to make him want to end the auction and sell the item immediately. I know several prominent collectors who avidly search the Internet daily for auctions that have just been listed, so that they can try to purchase the items before the auction actually begins. This can be frustrating, since the guy who has the most money will generally get there first. But if you’re lucky, and are the first person to find something cool, you might get it.
One final way to find auctions for drums that others might miss is to look for unconventional listings. Instead of typing “Ludwig Black Beauty” into the search criteria, try more generic terms like “drum,” or misspelled brand names like “Lugwig,” “Gretch,” and “Ledy.” These indicators suggest that the seller isn’t an expert on the subject of vintage drums. Someone who doesn’t really know much about the item they intend to sell is often more likely to accept a lower bid than you might otherwise expect to pay for that merchandise. This same person is also more likely to describe unfamiliar items in layman’s terms that well versed drum shops, collectors, and drummers wouldn’t normally use. I recently saw a listing for an ’80s Ludwig snare, and for some reason I looked at it. Instead of the (roughly) $200 drum I expected, there sat a pre-serial number, chrome-over-brass Ludwig Super from ’59-’63. It sold for $375, well below the current market value of $650+, simply because there was no competition. The reason? Due to the inadequate and wrong description in the title, people who were looking for chrome-over-brass drums didn’t bother to look at it!