Should You List the Serial Number of a Guitar for Sale?

If you have spent a lot of time browsing listings for used instruments you have probably come across photos of guitars that have the serial number blocked out. 

And it seems like a shady business practice to a lot of people. 

When you go to a brick-and-mortar store they don’t have the serial numbers covered up. 

So is there a legitimate reason to do it or is it just suspicious minds at work?

If you know the history of a guitar or have the original purchase receipt then I think you should be in the clear to show the serial number or give it to a shopper upon request. If you choose not to, some buyers may be wary of purchasing your instrument because trust begets trust.

When it’s your turn to sell a guitar online, should you hide the serial number or give it out if someone specifically asks for it? 

We’ll discuss some of the reasons that people do it and when it might make sense or when it just annoys potential customers.

Is it a good idea to mention the serial number of your guitar on a listing?

A lot of people like to use serial numbers to verify the date of manufacture of instruments or other information that the serial number may contain. 

They may look like random numbers to some, but the formats used by most major companies are decoded and available online. 

In other circumstances, someone may want to verify the serial number with the company to make sure the guitar isn’t counterfeited. 

So I would say that if the instrument isn’t particularly high-end or if you are the original owner of the guitar and have a purchase receipt for it, you should be in the clear to show the serial number or provide it if someone asks.

5 Reasons for not mentioning the serial number of ar guitar online

Before you decide whether to list or show the serial number of your guitar, check out these five reasons that people choose not to. 

1. Stolen guitars

The most obvious reason that people wouldn’t want to show the serial number is that the instrument is stolen and the seller knows it or maybe just suspects that it was stolen in the past. 

This doesn’t mean that the original owner or police can seize the instrument without proof that you obtained it illegally but being known as someone who sells stolen gear is bad for business.  

2. Defective guitars

Another similar situation is that the instrument was deemed defective by a store or consumer and the manufacturer replaced the instrument under warranty, instead of repairing it. 

When this happens a store or warranty center is supposed to do “scrap in place.” In other words, damage the instrument sufficiently to be unusable and throw it away. 

But maybe someone decided to repair it for themselves or pulled it out of a dumpster and fixed it. In this case, the serial number isn’t supposed to exist as far as the manufacturer is concerned. 

3. Being afraid of fake police reports or scams

Probably the biggest reason behind hiding the serial number is that sellers are afraid someone will use the serial number to file a fake police report saying the instrument was theirs and it was stolen. 

I’m sure this is more of an issue with expensive vintage guitars

If the seller has the original purchase receipt with the serial number listed I think they are in the clear. 

And as long as it can’t be proved that you stole the guitar, you can’t be forced to give it back for free. 

While this has probably happened before, most people think it’s a bit paranoid to worry about it so you will have to decide for yourself. 

4. To avoid looking like a scalper

People who buy and sell guitars online to make a profit may not want to show the serial number too. 

Consider seeing a guitar that was recently listed with the serial number, then purchased and relisted for a much higher price soon after. 

A buyer probably won’t be interested in paying for the sudden price increase and the original seller may not want to do deals again with the person who flips guitars.

5. To combat counterfeits

Now this one is kind of strange. 

Some people do not show the serial number because they think it helps to combat counterfeiting guitars, especially high-end Gibson and Fender models. 

Because someone can make a list of numbers and use them on counterfeits, and if someone tries to verify the authenticity it will seem real. 

I’m sure this has happened before as well, but there are plenty of other serial numbers out there for someone who is looking for them. 

And in my opinion, protecting guitar companies from others trying to counterfeit them really isn’t the consumer’s responsibility, especially if it can harm their chance of selling a used instrument. 

Should you give the serial number of your guitar to potential buyers?

Now let’s say you do not mention or show the serial number when you list a guitar for sale. 

If someone contacts you and asks for it, are they acting suspiciously? 

Probably not, they most likely just want to research when and where it was made. 

Again, you will have to make your own choice here but keep in mind that the general consensus in online guitar forums is that most people are not willing to buy a guitar if the seller won’t divulge the serial number when requested.

What if the serial number of your guitar is visible on a picture?

It may put off some suspicious buyers but if you have decided against sharing the serial number and want to show the back of the guitar or headstock where the serial number is shown you can still do it. 

If you are using a computer to create your instrument sale listing you can easily block out the serial number. 

Any graphics program such as MS Paint, Paint 3D, and most photo-editing programs will do. Just use a blur effect or even a black line over the serial number. 

On smartphones, the photo-editing apps may be less powerful but you should still be able to do it.

If you are planning on selling your guitar

There are plenty of great options to sell your guitars online these days. 

If you are worried about scams like ones involving your instruments’ serial numbers then the size and how long an online platform has been around may be important to you. 

I think that popular sites such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Reverb are the most likely to be targeted by scammers. 

Craigslist has its share of shady business too but the sale will be completed in person so a buyer will see the serial number before paying anyway. 

There is an advantage to using other music-oriented sites and forums to advertise what you want to sell because they are less likely to attract scammers. 

And just because there are scams out there doesn’t mean you should be paranoid so just use your head and hope for the best.