Want to know the 5 things you must consider BEFORE buying a musical instrument?
Holidays are coming up and you want to surprise your musically-inclined child with a brand new instrument.
Or maybe your rental is due in a month and you would rather put money into an instrument you own.
Or, you are off to college and need a professional-level instrument.
First, I want to applaud you for making this important investment into your (or your child's) musical education.
A top-quality instrument can provide enjoyment for many years.
But what do I look for?
Don't all new instruments work fine?
Why so many different brands and models?
How can I tell which one is best? Buying a musical instrument is like buying a new car. There are tons of car companies, and tons of models for each brand. And every year they seem to come out with more whistles and bells.
Every year, more new instruments come out and the features keep getting better and better: more ergonomic design, lighter weight, darker tone quality, brighter tone quality, etc.
The great thing about this is that there are so many choices, which means there's an instrument for every type of performer.
The bad thing about this is that there are so many choices, it can be overwhelming!
Whether you are a beginner, hobbyist or pro, here are 5 questions to ask yourself when trying out different musical instruments:
- Does the sound of this instrument match my concept of how I want to sound?
- Is the instrument free-blowing enough to allow me to get my “perfect sound”? (Or maybe I want a little resistance on this trumpet to help out with high notes?)
- Is it easy enough to play in all registers of the instrument comfortably?
- Can I control the intonation in all registers of the instrument?
- Are the keys placed in such a way that I can perform rapid passages comfortably?
(Please keep in mind, many of these same questions can also be asked when trying out a new mouthpiece.)
But the most important question to ask before buying a musical instrument is…
The above 5 questions are important and vary for every performer. This next question though is absolutely necessary for every musician that wants to perform at their best for a long time.
When you are comparing a few different brands and have found some you really like, before you pull out the credit card, it is crucial to ask this question:
If my instrument breaks, do you have the parts to fix it, and if not, can you get the parts?
Can't repair-people fix any musical instrument the store sells?
Yes and no….. Every instrument has a certain number of moving parts.
For example, a saxophone has over 100 moving parts. For trumpets, the valves are the most important part – if they don't move, you have a glorified bugle. For trombones, it's all about the slide (not the bass – LOL! ?).
Some instruments are made with parts that are sub-standard and cannot be replaced.
Unfortunately, you will find this with a lot of beginner instruments. When one of these instruments breaks, the repair-person cannot fix it, and you essentially have a useless instrument.
The only way to know if the instrument you want to buy has the sub-standard parts is to ask or do some research on Google. (Ex. search for “How to buy a clarinet”)
You will come across lots of pages where people are recommending particular brands based upon their experiences. Just keep in mind, some sites are from music retailers, so they will push brands they have and not necessarily the best brands you need to try out.(I do have to admit though that some retailer sites also have great information to aid you with your research.)
Many teachers, including myself, recommend particular brands because we have experience performing on them, or our students have had great success using them.
I have had tremendous success with the Jupiter Band Instruments. My clarinet, which is 16 years old has never needed a repair and the pads are still great! This is with frequent playing and storing in all types of weather and humidity conditions in my school's building. (Please note, I am an endorser for Jupiter Band Instruments. I ONLY endorse products I truly believe in and have had great results with.)
How can I tell which musical instrument is best for me?
The only way to answer this question accurately is for you to physically try out the instrument. There's no getting around it.
It needs to feel good in your hands, and needs to meet your expectations for tone quality, ease of playing, durability, ability to be repaired: all the questions listed above.
If you are a beginner, and do not have a clear concept of how you want to sound yet nor do you have enough technique to play in most registers of the instrument, ask your teacher or private teacher to try out the instrument with you. (Please keep in mind, you are asking them for their time and guidance; it would be appropriate to pay them for their extra efforts at a rate that you would pay a private teacher per hour.)
The teacher can check the horn for issues and play through its full range; the student can then try it out and check for feel, ease of blowing, weight of the instrument (too heavy may not be too good for beginners), placement of keys, etc.
The Ebay Question
Many parents ask, why can't I just buy an instrument on ebay?
I knew what to look for and exactly the brand, model and even serial numbers I was looking for. I knew, by the descriptions and pictures, what dents or problems would not be good to deal with and which ones were fixable. I knew what questions to ask regarding the condition of the instrument, as well as what price range was acceptable. (I did my research beforehand.)
When possible, I bought from Music Stores that had Ebay stores. This is huge, because they often offer limited warranties.
I also had access to GREAT repairmen that could double check the horns and make sure I got a good deal.
Buying an instrument is an excellent investment. To get the most for your money, doing some simple research before going to the store (or internet site), knowing how and how long the instrument will be used, and knowing the right questions to ask when trying out the instrument will help you make the most informed decision possible.
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