Questions frequently asked by first-time buyers....
...and some straight answers!
FAQ: I'm a novice when it comes to musical instruments. What should I be looking for in an instrument?
ANS: The single most important thing to be concerned about is the playing condition of the instrument. If a child (or beginner adult for that matter) is to succeed, the instrument MUST be in excellent playing condition. Anything less will lead to frustration and ultimate failure through no fault of the player. Unfortunately, unless one is an expert in the field, it is impossible to tell by looking at an instrument how it will play. This points up the need for dealing with a knowledgeable and reputable dealer who GUARANTEES the playing condition of the instrument.
FAQ: How important is the age of the instrument?
ANS: Surprisingly, age is one of the LEAST important factors in the evaluation of a student line instrument. My clients are often surprised when they ask me the age of an instrument and I tell them that I don't know. When buying a student line instrument, the only thing that concerns me is whether it can be put in excellent playing condition. Unlike most other consumer goods, musical instruments do not change appreciably from year to year. Different model numbers often signify little other than the change in the numbers themselves. One would have great difficulty, for example, distinguishing between a well preserved trumpet or clarinet from the 1960's and one made last year. One does, of course, need to take into consideration whether parts are available in the case of very old instruments, and it is essential that the structural and mechanical parts of the instrument are sound.
FAQ: What determines the sometimes significant difference in price, then, from one used instrument that is guaranteed to be in excellent playing condition to another in the same playing condition?
ANS: In a word - APPEARANCE! Brass instruments and saxophones are generally coated in lacquer (gold) or silver plated. Flutes are silver or nickel plated. Clarinets and oboes have nickel-silver or silver plated keys. All of these materials deteriorate over time due to handling and general use. While the appearance of these materials has nothing to do with how the instrument plays or sounds, it does, nonetheless, largely control the price of the instrument. If cosmetics are not an issue for the buyer or the player, it's important to understand that an instrument that may not be very "pretty" can be made to play like a new one if it is mechanically in excellent playing condition.
FAQ: How important is it to pick the right brand of instrument?
ANS: Probably not as important as you might be led to believe--assuming that we're talking about major brands! The single most important thing is to purchase a MAJOR BRAND instrument. There are many good and reputable major manufacturers producing student line instruments. Differences in playing characteristics and other factors among instruments made by the various major manufacturers at the student line level are NOT as significant as they are at the intermediate and professional levels. You can't really go wrong in purchasing a name brand student line instrument as long as you know that it is in excellent playing condition. What is to be strictly avoided is the purchase of an off-brand instrument. The market today is being flooded with inexpensive instruments coming into this country from various foreign markets, most of which are of very inferior quality in all respects. There are a number of domestic companies producing similarly inferior products. All of these should be eliminated from consideration, as most reputable repair technicians will refuse to work on these instrument because they can't guarantee the results.
FAQ: What about the new instruments that I see advertised on eBay, Wal-Mart, etc. for very low prices?
ANS: These instruments, despite their American sounding names, are coming into the U.S.A. primarily from China. They are a fine example of the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it IS!" These instruments are of very poor quality, are difficult and expensive to work on (if they can be repaired at all), and, in most instances, parts for them are not available. They are often advertised as being "comparable to" a well-known and recommended name brand. If these instruments were of acceptable quality we would be selling them, as we are solicited by these Asian companies on a weekly basis to handle their products. If in doubt, check with your child's band director BEFORE purchasing such an instrument!