It’s the season for holiday cheer and giving, and nothing could be sweeter than giving a new instrument! There are some things you need to look out for, so let’s begin…
Think about the level of the student you are buying the instrument for. If they are a beginner, they need something durable and reliable that plays in tune. An intermediate level player also has these needs, as well as needing extra features that may extend the range of the instrument, or allow slides to move to tune certain notes for brass players. An advanced level player needs the highest quality instrument and really needs to try out several instruments in order to find the instrument that provides a great sound and efficiency in playing.
Consult with a local music teacher you trust. Many teachers are also performers and can guide you on some great reliable brands and model numbers and names. Their own experiences can save you time and money too. Many private teachers find out about great quality used instruments from colleagues and can make the instrument available to try out before buying. This is one of the best ways to purchase an instrument because you will have the opportunity to try it out, and you will have the advice of the teacher you trust.
The best advice will come from a reputable repairperson. Ask the music teachers at school or your child’s private teacher where they go to get their own instruments repaired. Find reputable music stores and ask to speak with their repair people. The repairperson will tell you which instrument brands are good, which are constantly in for repairs and which ones are most durable.
If you don’t have access to a teacher who plays that instrument, ask a performer. Maybe there’s someone in your town or close by that you can ask for advice. You can also use the internet to see what instrumenbrands and models other performers use.
If possible, try out the instrument first, or have a friend or teacher try it out. This is essential, and if you are buying for an intermediate to advanced level student, they need to try it out first. Some people, for example, are more comfortable playing on Selmer saxes, while others prefer the feel of the Yamaha’s. Some trumpeters prefer Bach Strads while others like Schilke or Yamaha. All are terrific, reliable brands, but every player is different.
The newest instrument is not always the best! I have saxes (Selmer Mark VI’s) that are older than me but were made so well and sound so great that many sax players seek out this brand and will pay top dollar. My trumpets (Bach Stradivarius) were made in the mid 1980’s, and are still sounding great and working really well. That’s not to say that all new instruments are not good, but be open minded to an older instrument made from a reputable brand and maintained with great care.
Remember the shiniest instrument doesn’t always mean great quality! This goes along with the new vs. old theory. One of my school instruments, a Baritone, is big and looks beaten, but it plays fantastic and it’s an Olds Ambassador, which was a fantastic brand for brass instruments for many decades. In fact, my first trumpet was a gift from my neighbor: an Olds Ambassador that sounded great and had the best action on the valves! That trumpet was not shiny at all and looked worn, but I loved it!
All those pretty colors (pinks, purples, reds) don’t necessarily mean the instrument is made with good quality. Nowadays, you see red trumpets and saxes and pink violins. They are really cool to look at, but again, be aware of the brand name and quality. LA Sax is a great brand for saxes and they do make different color lacquered instruments that play very well, but there are a lot of no name brands that are not as durable and are difficult to repair.
For Brass Players, it’s all about the valves (and the slide for Trombones)! It’s really important to try out the instrument first and make sure the valves and slides move easily. Oil them first and keep moving them for minutes at a time to make sure they don’t stick. You can have the oldest trumpet but if it has great valves and no major dents or pitting, it’s probably a good horn.
The internet is your best friend, but also your worst enemy! I love eBay, BUT, if you do not know exactly what you are looking for in an instrument and do not have the knowledge to see any flaws in the descriptions or pictures, you are better off going to a local, reputable music store and purchasing there. If you are new to buying instruments, you also should not buy an instrument if there’s no return policy. It is best to purchase from music stores who sell on eBay (ex. Sam Ash, Musician’s Friend, etc.) It is better to use the internet for information, research and reviews, as well as price comparisons.
Consider extended warranties. Repairs can get costly, and the initial expense of the warranty can give piece of mind and allow for proper maintenance and a long playing life for the instrument. Some stores allow for three years of free repairs. Always check all the details of a warranty before purchasing to make sure that all types of repairs are covered.
- Ask a reputable repairperson or teacher about the best brands for the particular instrument you want to purchase. Be sure to tell them if it for a beginner, intermediate player or advanced player. Try to get three recommendations, as well as model numbers or names.
- Ask the repairperson or teacher if there are particular brands that are either difficult or too costly to fix, and if there are any unusual issues or problems associated with certain brands.
- Once you have at least three good brand names, use the internet for research on reviews, features of the instrument and price comparisons.
- If it is a surprise gift, try to get a musician friend or teacher to try out the instrument if it’s for a beginner.
- If there’s anything I missed, let me know in the Comments section below.
- Let me know in the Comments section below if this article helped, and if you used the information.
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In some future blogs, I will talk about some of the brands I recommend for particular instruments. (**This is based upon my own experience performing and teaching, as well as asking my own repairmen.**)