A few months ago, I walked into a venue prior to load-in for the show I was traveling with. Looking up and around, I guessed that it was going to be a good day. There was a big enough stage, and the lighting rig had a good amount of conventionals and some Technnobeam moving mirror lights- definitely used lighting, but good lights too!
Fast forward a few hours, and I’m sitting at the console ready to program some scenes.
The audio guy helps me with a channel list, and strikes up the movers, and then says “All right, it’s all yours”. I asked “Do you have any scenes you can show me that you guys use?” I can often use many of the scenes that venues already have as part of my show, shaving time off of my workload.
He then looked at me and said “We don’t have those.”
“What?”…through my head when the question “How do you have a moving light rig and nothing pre-programmed?”
I then learned that they had a lighting guy who did many of their shows off of his own console, and nobody there knew anything about lighting.
They literally had zero scenes programmed and didn’t even know how to bring up lights on their console.
They were the nicest people in the world, but they were clueless about their lighting. “Oh, and the gobos are all from the NFL, that’s where we bought the lights.” So, as I then learned, these fixtures made a great wash fixture, and had maybe 1 usable gobo.
They had really great intentions, but no knowledge related to lighting.
So What do You Look For When Buying Used Lighting?
You want to be looking for used gear somewhere that you can trust, such as SolarisNetwork, UsedLighting or local production companies in your area. These places will tell you the truth about what you are buying, and may offer to refurbish the units for a small additional cost.
Questions to Ask
When you’ve found something you’re interested in, you need to ask the right questions.
One thing the venue in the story did fabulously was check out the equipment to make sure it worked, and asked the right questions. Going into it, they knew that the lights they were buying worked about 90%- not bad!
All their fixtures were functionally complete, with only 1 or 2 with broken parts that were fairly easy to swap out. Thankfully, they were not surprised by the condition of the lights upon purchase!
You also want to check out if there are any custom colors or gobos in the used lighting fixtures. In the case of this venue, their Technobeams had all custom gobos.
This means that this venue would have to buy completely new gobo wheels if they wanted to use gobos that weren’t logos or footballs! Many, but not all moving mirror lights are like this, but moving heads typically aren’t.
Keep in mind to research the cost of changing out custom colors or gobos before buying.
You want to know how much it is going to cost you to get the rig up to complete working order. This may make the deal a great value as other buyers may turn their nose up at the units because they are not stock!
You’ll want to be thinking about cost of use for the future also. Find out how much the lamps are to replace for all the units, if they come with new lamps, and how often you will have to replace them and fix other parts.
For example, I’d suggest you buy LED pars over conventional units for colored washes. They’ll last longer, use less power, generate less heat, and not have a continual lamp and gel cost. And they only cost a little bit more upfront when you factor in buying dimmers too.
Also know that you are usually responsible for freight shipping. This is one advantage of buying used lighting locally. Your local production company will probably even be able to deliver the gear included with the cost of purchase and you may make a new contact to rent great gear at a reduced rate for future productions.
You also need to always check out is what the warranty is. Some used equipment may carry zero warranty- be aware of this and make sure you are buying knowledgeably.
You want to be sure you know exactly what you are getting into. Other equipment may be guaranteed against being Dead On Arrival, or DOA. This is also an okay way to buy, but make sure to you know what you’re getting into and how to fix the lights when they do break(they will).
If the units carry a 30-day warranty, you can use a little bit less caution, but I urge you to still really check the units out and talk with the seller if possible. This is probably a big purchase for you, and it is important to get it right!
As the venue in the story above learned, buying used equipment is a great option to save some money on your lighting. However, also be sure to do what they did, and check out what you are buying
Keep in mind all of the costs involved, and always be careful, and you can really end up with a great addition to your lighting rig via used equipment. Just writing this reminded me of a church I worked with once who bought 100% of their lighting used.
It worked out great for them and as a bonus, their tech director became knowledgeable in moving light repair over the next few years and saved a TON of money!
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