I'm generally a careful shopper and I do buy vintage rods much more often than new. Part of this habit comes from the mindset of buying what I know as opposed to trying an unknown new rod. As many know the selection of rods on the aftermarket is huge. I've only ever sold a few but it seems that thousands of people are offering rods on the auction site (eBay) every week. There are also many rods sold via classified sales on many fishing forums so the choices and range of possible rods & sellers is very wide.What I'm going to suggest will be broken into 2 categories of rods, graphite & bamboo. This will keep things simple and what I've learned can be applied to any other types of rods from spin to Spey.
The problems I've run into can be avoided by you simply by asking the right question prior to sending that check or Pay Pal payment. When you find a rod that you believe you would like to have and that you may be able to get at half of what it cost new........... Or one that may have appreciated in value and is quite expensive due to being scarce contact the seller and ask about the following. Always ask for the seller to make a very careful inspection of the rod in question from the tip top all the way to the butt cap, always ask!
Even with graphite these can be worn. I once bought a beautiful T&T rod only to find that the female ferrule on the second section had numerous stress fractures from either being forced together too tightly or who knows. The cracks were such that I had to return the rod resulting in my losing about 36 dollars in total postage costs to me & back to the seller.
Scuffs & Chips:
I have also bought several rods on which the shafts were either scuffed of had chipping from being impacted by flies - weights - or whatever. The scuffing could have happened by any number of mishandling but noting takes away the beauty of a nicely finished rod like a few brush burns on that shiny finish.
The Butt Cap:
I've passed on many rods because the butt or end cap on the rear of the reel seat was dented or scuffed up to the point it was in need of replacement.
The Guides & Windings:
Many times the guides on the tip side of a ferrule joint become bent or loosened from when someone struggled to get a stuck joint apart. During the pulling and twisting a hand slips and crashes into the first guide on the skinnier section resulting in damage there. I've also seen rods that when you looked at the epoxy flex coat on the ferrule wraps they had a circular fracture all the way around the rod shaft un almost every section.
Original bag & tube:
These mean something to me and if they are not included then the price better be low.
The Reel Seat;
I recently bought a Hardy Swift 2 hand rod from a fellow who described it as "used a couple times and as new" I was excited to find this rod out of Canada for $250 plus 45 for shipping and took it. When it arrived and I removed it from the tube and rod bag I found (within seconds) that a reel foot had been forced into the receiver of the rod so hard that it had broken the hardware on the butt section of the seat & fractured the cork. This was immediately noticed on my end but far too late, so be careful of reel seats!
The cork grip:
I have purchased rods that as soon as I cast them it became clear that the glue holding the cork rings together and to the rod blank had lost its grip. The cork was separating from themselves and from the rod butt as well. Chips and excessive pitting in the cork are also very undesirable.
Any one of these things can be quite the damper on your spirits when you get that used rod that you've been watching the mail for so do ask all the proper questions before agreeing to a buy. Last but not least, Never
buy or bid an item who's seller claims they do not accept returns, I'm seeing more and more listings like that these days. One more thing, do not get caught up in bidding when the price is spiraling upward. Know what the rod is worth and stop there.
On to Bamboo:
Currently I have 5 bamboo rods and so am not exactly an authority on this subject but something is better than nothing so here goes. Years ago had many of the garden variety that a kid could come by cheap; Ike Walton's, South Bends, and etc. What I know about buying cane rods is somewhat limited but may still be useful. The things you need to be looking to avoid are pretty similar to graphite purchases to an extent.
Each section of bamboo that is part of the whole shaft glued together is one of the splines of that shaft. Be sure to ask the seller (I'm talking about on-line buying here) to check the seams very carefully and best if they use some magnification when doing so. Avoid any rod with de-lamination on these seams.
If you find yourself considering an old Granger or similar be sure to have good pictures that will show whether the varnish is scaling or what is known as 'orange peeling' this would be a good one to pass unless the bad finish = Cheap.
Guides & Windings:
Same as with graphite rods here but......if you are seeing a rod that needs a guide re-wrapped Beware
When you get into older rods many times you will not be able to match the silks that were used when it was originally finished so........ You would have to re-dress the entire rod, this is cool if it means >> Cheap.
Other wise save yourself the problem and pass on the rod.
Chips & Scuffs:
When looking at cane rods there is almost a zero tolerance for any chips in the wood so you must question the seller thoroughly. Ask them if they have used a magnifying glass to examine the rod sections. Depending on whether a rod that has any scuffing on the finish is a varnished or impregnated finish you may not be able to do cosmetic work on the rod. If you choose to take one that has any damage at all be sure the price reflects this. That means Cheap
Cane rods will have either Super Z style stainless steel or the older German Silver ferrule components some of which are very good. Regardless of which ferrule type is on a rod you need 3 things here, tight joints and no trace of pliers ever being used to disassemble the rod or of the male ferrule having been ground or sanded down. You may be surprised at how many rods I've seen with the tell tale teeth marks of a tool etched into the ferrules or fine abrasions from emery paper on the males, so keep that in mind.
Short Sections / Tips:
Many times you'll come across a cane rod for sale with 2 tip sections. On many occasions there may be one or both tips that have been broken and so are not the full length. This should / will, effect what any rod
is worth! Personally I will not buy a rod with short sections unless it is an Orvis and unless I can get the rod and tube for $100. Orvis still runs a bamboo shop and will fix any rod you send to them but it will be expensive so don't pay too much for a short rod!
Here's the big one, be very sure to question the seller as to whether or not the sections are strait! If you are confident you or a friend can or will be able to straiten a rod then proceed with caution. I've had some old rods that you need to straighten every year. It seems the set keeps coming back, unless 'set' is extreme it will have no affect on how a rod fishes, it will have you looking at it all the time so I would avoid ste unless it translates into ........... Cheap.
Be sure that if a rod is older than 25 years you are shown that the cork is not torn up where it had been used as a fly keeper. Sounds crazy right; I was once offered a nice vintage Battenkill 8' #6 rod but would have needed to replace the cork grip before I would have been happy. the seller didn't want to cut much slack because of the cork and so I bought new. That was not an internet deal, that was before the internet but the rule still counts.
Let's say you want an old rod to refinish. You find one thats strait and has 2 tips. It also has about 30 of those pesky intermediate wraps up the shafts. Old Hardy and Sharps rods are famous for these as well as many American makers.. Unless you want to replace all the wraps you better pass. You'll find the cane aged by ultra violet radiation and ozone all except the wood beneath the wraps. Those marks will not go away so pass unless......... you guessed it ................ unless it's Cheap
The moral of all of this is; when you buy via the internet ask every conceivable question in order to protect yourself from a disappointing experience. If the seller is slow on communications let that be your first warning, they may be slow if you have a problem with the rods. If you would like to have me act in giving a second opinion on a rod feel free to PM and send the link to the rod in question.
Good luck & be careful,