What is a Guitar Inventory and Why Do I Need One?
A guitar inventory is a list of all your guitars and guitar-related items (amps, effects pedals, etc.), along with relevant information about each of them, including serial numbers, photos, receipts and purchase information.
The obvious reason for creating a guitar inventory is in case anything gets stolen or damaged. If someone walks away with one of your prized instruments, you’ll need the serial number and photos of the guitar to give to the police, as well as to get the word out to music stores, pawn shops, and the musician community to be on the lookout for your stolen axe. In the event you need to file an insurance claim, knowing specific details about your instrument and being able to establish proof of ownership go a long way toward making sure you get paid by your insurance company.
But inventories are for more than just stolen guitars. If you modify your instruments or need to have repairs made, you can you can keep records of those changes in your inventory, which can come in handy should you ever want to sell a piece of gear.
Gigging musicians can use their inventory to build in/out checklists for gigs so they can make sure they’ve packed everything that’s necessary for the gig and that it has all been loaded back into the van once the show is over. Producers and studio engineers can provide copies of their inventories to prospective clients so they know what additional gear may be available for them to use when making a record.
Inventories are also useful for assessing how much insurance coverage you need. Many people are underinsured and the only way to know if your coverage is adequate is to know exactly what you have and how much it’s worth.
Specialized Software, Pen and Paper, or Something In Between
Before you begin inventorying your guitar rig, you’ll first need to decide what method you want to use to keep your inventory. Your inventory could be as simple as a list of all your gear with the serial numbers on sheet of paper. That’s better than nothing, but you’ll probably want to do more than that. As I’ll get to later in this article, you should also keep photos, receipts, and modification and repair notes on your gear. You could keep all of this extra information in file folders, but keep in mind that the ink on receipts often fades over time and making a backup of your inventory, in case something happens to the original, means a lot of tedious photocopying or scanning in order to have a duplicate of your inventory that you can keep elsewhere.
Instead, you might want to consider using your computer to keep track of your inventory. It makes it much easier to keep your inventory up to date and creating copies for backup purposes is generally simple and fast.
Using a spreadsheet might seem like the obvious choice of software for building an guitar inventory, but spreadsheets work best for organizing information that easily fits into fixed columns. If you want to store photos, receipts, and freeform notes, such as repair and modification histories or information about the prominence of a guitar, doing so in a spreadsheet is cumbersome, at best.
Another option is to use a word processor, where it’s easier to enter freeform information, and paste in photos and scans of your receipts. This option is great if you don’t have a lot of gear. However, as your inventory grows, you may find it difficult to find wade through all those pages when looking for a specific piece of information.
If have a lot of gear or the gear you own is constantly changing, you might want to consider using specialized home inventory software to create and maintain your inventory. Not only can you keep all of the important information about your guitars in one place, but because they are designed specifically for this purpose, it is often faster and easier to create and maintain an inventory with this type of software than anything else.
There are a number of different inventory apps on the market and they vary widely in terms of features and the types of information that can be stored. If you want to use specialized software for your guitar inventory, you should choose an application that has at least the following features:
- Can store multiple photos for each piece of gear.
- Can store multiple receipts for each piece of gear so you can keep track of what you paid for various modifications and repairs, as well as the gear itself.
- The ability to add multiple notes so you can store the specs of each instrument, along with any modifications and repairs that were made.
- The ability to store the serial number of each instrument.
- The ability to store the make and model of each instrument.
- The ability to store where you purchased each instrument, the date of purchase, and the purchase price.
- Backup capabilities to backup or sync your inventory to the cloud, a thumb drive, and/or your phone.
- Store warranty information, including extended and supplemental warranties.
- The ability to create, save, and print reports that contain all of the information about your items, including receipts and photos.
- The ability to export you inventory data to a common format in case you decide to switch to another application or the developer stops supporting the app.
If you’re a Mac user, you might want to take a look at, Home Inventory, an inventory app my wife and I created.
The best way I’ve found to get started with any inventory is to first make a list of what you have. Don’t worry about the details yet, just make a simple list of each piece of gear you want to inventory. A simple list makes it easier to determine if you missed something and also serves as a check list so you know where you are in the process as you go back through and add all the detailed information.
One thing to consider when making your list is what kinds of gear you want in your inventory. Do you want to include all of your accessories – every single pick, strap, and patch cable? Or do you just want to limit it to the big stuff, like instruments, amps, and pedals? The value of those accessories can add up to a substantial chunk of change, but there can be a lot of them. Instead of listing each accessory separately in your inventory, you might want to consider a single entry for each like item, along with a tally and the average price (example: 10 guitar straps around $25 each). Just keep in mind that your inventory needs to be kept up to date in order, so keeping track of every single little accessory, especially picks and spare strings, may not be worth the hassle.
Once you’ve made your initial list, it’s time to fill in the details. At a minimum, you’ll want to record the make, model, and serial number of each piece of gear, where applicable. It’s also worth noting the date of purchase, purchase price, and where it was purchased, as this information may be needed when making an insurance or warranty claim.
Keeping the specs of your gear can come in handy as well. For guitars, the specs can be useful when selling an instrument (buyers want to know the scale length and type of frets, among other things). For pedals and power supplies, keeping the voltage and amperage specs on hand can come in handy when shopping for new gear. Can your existing power supply handle that new pedal? Does the new power supply you’re looking at provide enough power and the right kind of connectors for what’s already on your board?
You might be one of those that doesn’t believe in manuals and tosses them as soon as you pull them out of the box. A quick word of advice: don’t. Sometimes those instructions contain some not-so-obvious little tidbit that can come in handy later on. Plus, if you decide to sell a piece of gear, not having the manual might be a deal breaker to a potential buyer. If you are using inventory software, many manufacturers have digital copies of their manuals on their website that you can download and add to your inventory. This lets you have the best of both worlds. You can down on the paper clutter by keeping a digital copy that can be viewed or printed when needed.
It should go without saying that you should also store the warranty information that comes with your gear. The idea here is to keep all the relevant information about your gear in one place so it is easily accessible when you need it.
One other bit of information worth keeping in your inventory is the setup specs for each guitar. The guitars in my own collection vary in scale length, fret size, bridge type, and number of strings. Some are kept in alternate tunings and I use different string gauges to accommodate all these factors. As you might imagine, each guitar is setup differently. By keeping track of the amount of neck bow, the height and gauge of each string, and the position of the saddles for each guitar, I can make sure each one can be setup the way I prefer, whether I do the work myself or take it to a professional.
Take Lots of Photos
Should you ever need to file an insurance claim, proof of possession becomes important. Having photos of your instruments in your residence helps establish those instruments belong to you. Perfectly framed product shots from the manufacturer’s website are of no help here.
But don’t stop at a single photo of each piece of gear. Take lots of them. Take a photo of the serial number and any distinguishing dings and scratches – anything that might help identify your instrument in case it is stolen. You might even want to take off the pickguard or control cavity cover and take some photos of the electronics and internal markings, which can also aid in identifying your guitar. The same goes for the neck pocket on bolt-on guitars and inside the sound holes of acoustics and hollow body electrics.
As with photos, you will want to keep copies of all the receipts for your gear. The most obvious reason is for making a warranty claim, but receipts can also be used to help establish proof of possession.
You should also keep receipts for any modifications you make to your gear, such as replacing the pickups, as well as for major repairs, such as fixing a cracked neck. It probably isn’t worth hanging onto receipts for simple maintenance tasks like setups, though.
Mods and Repairs
If you own and play a guitar for a significant length of time, odds are you are going to make some changes to it. Whether a necessary repair, such as replacing a busted output jack, or modification to improve the instrument, like new pickups, you should keep track of these changes in your guitar inventory.
Keep receipts and photos of modifications and repairs for warranty purposes and for proof of possession, but also make a note of each change that was made and when it was done. Modifications and repairs can affect the value of your instrument and knowing exactly what was done to it is the only way its value can be properly assessed. For a lot of guitars, especially vintage instruments, modifications can actually decrease the value. By keeping all the original parts and and a detailed record of any mods you’ve made, you can change a your guitar back to its original, stock shape before selling it.
Recording this type of information isn’t only useful for monetary reasons. It’s also fun to look back at the history of a guitar you’ve owned for a long time and see all the changes it has undergone through the years.
Keep a Copy Offsite
If your house burns down and the only copy of your inventory was tucked away in drawer in the kitchen or on your home computer, then guess what? All that hard work is gone and will be of no help when it comes time to file a claim with your insurance company.
Make sure you keep a copy of your entire inventory somewhere else, like at a relative’s house or in a safe deposit box. If keep your inventory on your computer, make sure you have a backup in the cloud or a hard copy offsite. Better yet, do both.
Keep Your Guitar Inventory Up to Date
An inventory is of little use if it is out of date. Whenever your gear changes, you need to make sure you update your inventory so you have all of the relevant information in case you need it. You should also reassess your insurance coverage periodically, especially if you are prone to Bonamassa-style “guitar safaris”. It’s all too easy to blow through your policy’s coverage limits without realizing it until it’s too late.
A Final Note About Insurance
Properly insuring musical instruments is a complicated subject and beyond the scope of this article, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a few things to keep in mind.
If, like many of us, you mainly play guitar for personal pleasure at home, your instruments may only need to be covered under your homeowners policy. Many homeowners policies limit the maximum coverage of musical instruments to a small fraction of the policy’s overall personal property coverage, usually just a few thousand dollars. Some even have lower individual instrument limits.
For example, lets say your homeowners policy has a total of $100,000 worth of personal property coverage for the contents of your home. Out of that amount, a maximum of $5,000 worth of coverage can go towards musical instruments, but no single instrument can be covered for more than $2,000. This means that if that PRS Custom 24 you scrimped and saved for gets stolen, you had better learn to love the SE range. Because once you subtract out the deductible ($1,000 is not unusual), there is no way your reimbursement check is going to cover a new PRS Core model. To avoid this trap, you need to have a rider added to your policy that fully covers your instruments.
If you are a gigging musician, your homeowners policy is not going to be enough. This is especially true if you are a professional and your gear is considered commercial property. In these cases, you need specific a specific policy (or in many cases, multiple policies) from an insurer that specializes in such things to cover your instruments against theft or damage at a gig, in your hotel room, and when traveling to and from venues.