Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

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Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by Z » Tue Jun 12, 2012 8:03 pm

Mods: If this needs to go to OFF TOPIC, feel free to move.

This is my off-shoot of the "Collecting MKS" thread.

I'm more of a collector than an artist. While there have been valid points brought up on both sides of the "collecting" issue in the other thread, I just wanted to throw out my opinions.

Thanks to eBay, Craigslist and VSE, I have assembled quite a collection of electronic instruments over the past 5 years - although I had a decent rig from when I first started in the late 80s. Before the internet, my main source for gear was pawn shops. Those were great times: $50 303s, $100 106s, $200 909s & 808s - but hardly anything rare or interesting - although I did find a CS80 for $500, but I didn't know its significance in 1990, so I passed on it. Once I started learning values of synths, I learned to flip synths by putting ads in NY Times, Chicago Tribune & LA Recycler.

I've got over 100 synths, but I did not pay "the going rate" for any of them, except maybe a few once you factor in tech fees. In fact, some of the deals I've scored will make you sick. Many of my synths have not been played in years. I do have a handful of synths set up in my music room that I play a few times a week when I find the time. Unfortunately, I have not come up with a "work flow" that allows me to compose and record, only improv. I'm getting close to figuring it out. I really want to get back into writing and recording again.

I enjoy colllecting. Some people collect stamps, some people collect guns, cars, guitars, or whatever. For me, it's electronic instruments. Part of it is the thrill of the chase. The thrill of finding a great deal, since I refuse to pay current market value for anything.

Since I am well aware that dozens of synths are sitting around not being played, I have no problem letting my friends borrow gear. Solderman is the only one here on VSE that I can cite as an example (currently has my Xpander), but a there's a few others that have borrowed or currently are borrowing my gear. I also have gear for sale at my furniture shop along with other "collection" pieces. Folks that have come to my shop to buy gear also get a chance to check out other pieces.

'nuff about me. Here's my thoughts on Synth Economics. Before the internet, pawn shops & music stores used Blue Books for determining value of gear and would base their loans and sales on these prices. In 1991, a buddy and I bought some gear from a music store that closed and my buddy bought their Blue Book. I made copies of the synth manufactures' pages and put them into a notebook to carry with me when I went pawn shopping. The prices in this book would astound you. For example, the Oberheim Eight Voice is listed as $10K original new list price, $30-$54 used wholesale and $92 Retail Used.

Jump to today. Synth prices are all based on eBay completed sales. If Synth X sold for $1000 last week, a seller can ask $1200 next week. There's also sellers like Analog US that have immaculate gear for insane prices. I'm sure most of their clientele is professional musicans, but I'm sure there's some collectors and the trust-fund kids (like Solderman's current VSE siggy) that HAVE TO HAVE a certain instrument. Then back to looking at completed listings and pricing accordingly.

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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by Solderman » Tue Jun 12, 2012 10:40 pm

I need to return your Xpander, Z. Perhaps I'm due for a visit later this month.

It's true I am a bit ill with the fact that a hobby I wanted to treasure, back dreaming of synths in 1990, has now been reduced to yet another trade outlet where the highest bidder dictates the market rules on a global scale, and instead of trading gear, people are flipping gear for profit like dealers do. The exposure to the more rare items previously unavailable before e-auctions, falling under this highest-bidder paradigm, and the worldwide exposure via youtube and forums like this one to exponentially increase demand, just make this feeling worse.

I think I was happier living the delusion, in years past when I only was aware of the Analogue Heaven archives and Harmony Central want ads, that not many people were interested in analogue synthesizers and that as technology developed, they would remain a well-kept secret among more modern musical hobbies for a long time. This has obviously not come to pass and it's an irrational reason to be bitter, so pay me no mind.
I am no longer in pursuit of vintage synths. The generally absurd inflation from demand versus practical use and maintenance costs is no longer viable. The internet has suffocated and vanquished yet another wonderful hobby. Too bad.
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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by GuyaGuy » Tue Jun 12, 2012 11:36 pm

Z wrote:
I'm more of a collector than an artist.
I don't understand collecting really. That's not an attack; it's just that I can't relate to that collection impulse. Not that I don't have it. In my youth it was GI Joe figures and now it's gear and art books. But whatever it is I collect, I use. Sure, there are effects pedals tucked away in drawers that haven't been plugged in for a while, but what I have around I plan on using, if only occasionally. So I guess my question is, if the thrill is in the hunt, why clutter up your space with a bunch of unused synths?

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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by megamanx » Tue Jun 12, 2012 11:48 pm

In my case I'm more of a picker/hobbyist than a collector. I try to find gear at low, low prices to either keep for my personal use or sell to fund other gear.

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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by StepLogik » Tue Jun 12, 2012 11:53 pm

My problem was that I "devolved" into a collector. I kept adding gear to my studio and then pieces would get moved further and further away and eventually to the closet. That is when I realized I was a hoarder :lol: I always used everything I bought but would tend to get tired of things and the "tired of it" pile turned into a de facto collection. I loved my Jupiter-8 dearly, but by the time I sold it I was tired of it. Same with numerous other synths. Others have stood the test of time and get used daily.

I've always hesitated to sell stuff off, especially prized pieces like the 909, JP-8, etc but once the "modern" analogue resurgence came to fruition I didn't feel so bad. There are really amazing new analogue synths coming onto the market now (MiniBrute, for starters) that made me think, "why keep around all these old space-hogging money pits?". I don't care about having a "prestige" vintage synth collection and the new stuff sounds incredible.

As for collecting itself, whatever. If that is your thing and you can afford it, have fun. I still collect vintage Casiotones!

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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by silikon » Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:20 am

I don't consider myself a collector by any stretch of the imagination, because one - regardless of whether I'm actually composing something, I will use every last piece of gear I own. Sometimes because of the interface, sometimes because of a certain emotional attachment to the sound or to the creation of said sounds -- but it will and does get played.

That being said, it's been a long stretch since I completed a track -- not because I'm inundated with gear or have ADD in that respect, but for lack of time in the studio due to the actual money-making career taking driver seat.

There have been times since I began experimenting with music that I've had spells like this where months go by and I'll not do anything but crank out a few chord progressions or pound the s**t out of the drums for an hour and lights off for the rest of the week. At one point I liquidated all the instruments and studio gear I owned. It was a horribly irrational choice, and my emotional integrity suffered because I no longer had that outlet.

Part of me wishes that I had the income to debt ratio to justify collecting every synth, guitar, amp, and effect unit I've ever been remotely interested in -- and I've actually been accused of collecting because the studio really does have more pieces than one would need to make music. I surround myself with pieces I've either known in past engagements, or acquired a fondness for by some other means. I do so because I find it both ironically limiting and at the same time rather freeing because if I don't happen to gel one day with the Voyager, I can slide over to the Mono/Poly and give it a go... and so on.

Recently I finally dove headlong into euro modular. After a few hours digging into the possibilities of even the small skiff I have now, the idea of liquidating the studio save for a couple polyphonic machines crossed my mind. But then... given the increasingly rising prices of older gear, if I get rid of it now, the chances of me being able to afford said equipment again in my lifetime drastically reduces down to low percentages.

So it all stays; even if it does end up less-used than it currently is, it will stay. I can't afford another round of hunting and bargaining with some less savory folks trying to capitalize on their vintage status via the methods that Z eluded to earlier. One month synth X could be $USD800 on eBay -- less than another month later that same synth will be listed for $USD1200. I've seen things even as recent as the last year -- things like a Kawai K240 bid up to $700 and change, mere weeks later two or three people have listings up for that same synth in various states of "mint" with Buy-It-Now prices of $USD11-1200. Regardless of whether those auctions complete (they don't) oftentimes people have overinflated ideas of mint, or they think for some bizarre reason that vintage == rare, and the term vintage be applied to any machine manufactured 2 years ago or less.

Maybe...just maybe with the resurgence of modern analog machines, that may deflate the rapidly increasing prices, but I highly doubt it. I'm an architect, not an economics professional -- alot of those wishes are exactly that, me wishing the prices would drop so I could afford a few more choice pieces.
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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by phesago » Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:06 am

The economics of synths is kind of joke. No offense to anyone, but it is clearly manipulated due to the bully mentality of those saying "i have it, you dont," with the obvious age vs ease of obtaining combined with any glamour they have being associated with this artist or that. Not to discredit the validity of these arguments either, because they are true.

The joke being that the only gauge of value that anyone uses is ebay. From my previous experience with a very similar type of work/train of thought, I have concluded that ebay is the worst way to value any real idea of what any item is worth. Theres to much factors playing into each indivdual sale to make ti a reliable pricing guide. Though to be fair, it is generally spot on, but my complaints, and point, is referencing the manipulative asshole who sees "X" synth sell for significantly lower than average price due to seller having some arbitrary trait that would dictate him selling at a lower price and then to turn around and hold fast to this new "price" as a means to try and f**k you, as if magically the circumstances involving that one particular sale had any real effect on what a sales trend is.

Essentially, it is easy to see where anyone would see a huge room for exploitation here.

All that said, I dont feel as if I am a collector, though I do have a few pieces that one would think otherwise. I have a very strict use it or move it mentality, because as much as I want to have tons of awesome pieces, I just cant see the point in keeping anything I knwo I wont seriously use.

I do flip gear, but not with the intention of making double my money, but making a 100 here or there, and trying out a new piece. Sometimes, you find out you truly love a synth by just getting it and f**k aorund with it for a week or so. I recently acquired a mc202 just as an impulse buy, and I f**k love it.

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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by tallowwaters » Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:12 am

I think I have to opposite of a collection. If I don't use a piece of gear for more than a month, I can't stop myself from selling it, regardless of rising value, later significance, what have you. As such, I sometimes end up owning a particular piece a few times (MEK, XTk, SP404), but money is made to spent, at least to me.

I can look at these things and see the aesthetic appeal, but I just can't get past the fact that they are instruments, large boxes of sometimes temperamental components that make sounds. The differing architecture is the only reason I would only ever own more than one at a time (since I only have a single copy of any other musical instrument, barring a back up guitar I had around for gigs back in the day), and would actually prefer to own only one if it could achieve all the sounds I wanted to make in any sort of fashion.

So I don't really collect anything, and seldom keep anything for reasons based on sentiment or any sort of mentality outside of usage, barring art and the occasional cool looking trinket.

That said, I do love perusing pawn shops, thrift stores, and junk shops. I get excited when I see that tolex amp corner under the TVs or the white keys sticking out from under a pile, even though I typically end up repairing things only to sell them here. There are still good deals at some pawn shops too, especially ones own by the crustier old musicians that see all synths as being the same multi preset pianos. h**l, samplers that require a sound to be loaded are typically considered non-functioning and go for peanuts.
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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by urgetoplay » Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:23 am

Almost started this thread myself and I have to admit I'm surprised. I didn't think there were many collectors out there.
Hobbiests who "devolved" was where I thought most people would fall.
I started out playing piano and bought my first synth: a Jup 8 in the early 80s.I was 17, working with no bills. Spent a lot of time hanging out at a philly music store called Zapfs, comparing synths and learning some basics. I owe that place a lot as it opened up a lifelong love of electronic music. Went to Berklee in the late 80s and studied music synthesis. That was when I started picking up gear as people left to go on gigs or return home and wanted to ditch some gear. Got quite a bit of experience with analogue and FM synths as well as Kurzweil samplers while I was there.
Got married, got divorced and liquidated about a 25 synth setup, mostly cheap rack gear.
I'm a stimulus/learn something new Junkie and my approach to gear has been influenced by that. Analog,FM,LA,workstations,Additive etc...each has been a "topic" to learn and explore. Though not in Z's league I have a pretty large setup these day's. I've also managed to get remarried and have a child, bought/ret's more an exercise in maintaining emotional balance than some drive to create/perform at this point. One day....
I'm grateful that the internet/ebay and various new styles of electronic music gave me the opportunity to experience so much. In the days of Pawn shops you actually had to physically go there and it was a c**p shoot if there would be any gear there that week; also, as a buyer you were blind as to actual value. You were just as likely to get scammed as score on a deal. They paid sellers s**t.. Nowadays you can find thousands of synths for sale sitting in your bedroom, ask a community of thousands advice on pricing/use etc. Manufacturers who went under in the old days have a new impetus to ressurrect themselves with new ideas bearing fruit almost every day. Trial versions of synths , synths for a $1..we live in amazing times.
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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by GuyaGuy » Wed Jun 13, 2012 2:08 am

phesago wrote:
The joke being that the only gauge of value that anyone uses is ebay. From my previous experience with a very similar type of work/train of thought, I have concluded that ebay is the worst way to value any real idea of what any item is worth. Theres to much factors playing into each indivdual sale to make ti a reliable pricing guide. Though to be fair, it is generally spot on, but my complaints, and point, is referencing the manipulative asshole who sees "X" synth sell for significantly lower than average price due to seller having some arbitrary trait that would dictate him selling at a lower price and then to turn around and hold fast to this new "price" as a means to try and f**k you, as if magically the circumstances involving that one particular sale had any real effect on what a sales trend is.

Essentially, it is easy to see where anyone would see a huge room for exploitation here.
There was also a lot of room for exploitation pre-eBay. Sure you could find pawn shop bargains now and then but the pawn shops and music shops charged what they charged in the 90s and there was f**k all you could do about it. You would find ridiculously overpriced 80s super Strats because that's what the prices showed in the blue book. And they didn't have much peer to peer competition outside of local classifieds. If you wanted used you most likely had to depend on shop prices. Now prices are defined on eBay by the buyers rather than he sellers. Sure there are psychological phenomena that inflate prices in some cases. But they also hold them in check in others. And that phenomenon of the free market with psychological buying influences is what auctions are all about.

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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by OntarioHydro » Wed Jun 13, 2012 2:24 am

Well Z if you're ever feeling guilty about hoarding these fine instruments you can sell me your ARP 2600 for 2k :D

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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by bhrama » Wed Jun 13, 2012 2:30 am

I too have basically "checked" my collector gene, as I was always a driven soul to obtain all of something. This began early on in the late 80s when I began DJing and buying vinyl. I'd find a label, genre or band and had to have the entire catalog. My s**t was out of control when I finally sold it (maybe 20k records? no idea really), and I realized I had put my self in some sort of dog chases tail scenario. Now with gear, I came too late to the analog party and can't really afford all the goodies I'd want, nor justify them in the least. But this has actually opened up a new way to create, or a to better explain a more direct focus. My set-up is streamlined, and I use all the pieces I have. I no longer spend hours and brain power wondering about this or that, and rather just get down to writing music, the whole purpose of those very things I was seeking.

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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by Alex E » Wed Jun 13, 2012 3:02 am

My take on it is that if it's a useful or special instrument, it belongs in the hands of someone who can really put it to good use. But it often seems like the people who can afford these special instruments today have seriously nothing to contribute.

For example, something like an Elka Synthex could certainly end up in the hands of someone with very deep pockets and a boner for Jean Mitchell Jarre or whatever the f**k his f**k name is. And then we get a shaky demo of the lazer harp preset blessed by the microphone of an $80 Flip camera. Ugh.

I know I'm completely forgetting about the guys who bought this stuff when it was still reasonably priced, but if they never use it, then I think they ought sell it to someone for a reasonable price who will use it without flipping it for profit.
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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by DesolationBlvd » Wed Jun 13, 2012 3:55 am

Does buying multiples count as "hoarding" if the synth can be poly-chained? Examples: Matrix-1000, the current Moog racks, Prophet '08.

Since I started the thread that led to this thread, I might as well chime in. My synth "collection", if you can call it that, was all purchased in less than 100% condition, for dirt cheap to the low end of market value depending on how bad the faults were:

Alpha Juno: Dead keys and aftertouch
XP-80: Red epoxy broke down, missing key weights and sticky keybed
MKS-30: Missing rack ears and power button (switch still works)
MKS-80: Backlight is dim
DX100: Broken keys, possibly completely dead

All future gear purchases will be made to give me sounds I want that I can't get. Right now, I need a Curtis filter, a Moog filter, and a sampler. I am also holding myself to a three-full-sized-keyboard limit - my stand is two tiers, and the Alpha Juno can go in a case to let a third keyboard on the stand. I also want one of these to be a true high-end machine, as the MKS-80 has spoiled me.

As for who the great gear goes to, I'm okay as long as it's not a flipper or a hack - in other words, someone who can truly appreciate the instrument.


My main focus of "collecting" is comics, actually. In lots of collectible fields, you have services where they grade the item, and seal it to make sure it stays in that condition. It makes sense for coins, because you can still see both sides of the coin. It makes less sense in comics, because you can't read the comic.
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Re: Collecting, eBay and Synth Economics

Post by rschnier » Wed Jun 13, 2012 4:10 am

I collect somewhat, but for what people might think is a weird reason. I'm old enough to remember when many of these synths came out, and how much I wanted various ones at the time but had no chance of affording them at the prices they went for when they were new. But now, I can satisfy my gear-lust for these units, which in many cases are just as useful now as they were when they came out (if you know which units to acquire intelligently). Geez, I remember how much I wanted an Omni-2 back in the early '80s when they were current -- they were somewhere around $2500 if I remember right, and that was in 1980 dollars on a college student's income. Now I've got two, each of which I picked up on eBay for a couple hundred bucks, and all they needed was a little TLC to bring them back into operating condition. So the reason I collect is to satisfy the remembered desire to have and use, what I couldn't dream of having back at the time it was current in the market.
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