General hints for buyers
Everyone loves a bargain, though more often than not we're simply relieved
not to have bought a lemon. Musical instruments are among the most difficult
of purchases to make given that it's not unlikely that the purchaser has
absolutely no idea whether the goods they're purchasing actually work
There's nothing to beat having an expert on hand - perhaps a teacher,
or a friend who can play - but you can certainly improve the odds by arming
yourself with a little knowledge before you shell out your hard-earned
Most people feel safest buying brand new instruments from a shop. All
good and well, but not all shops are created equal and even the most clueless
person is quite entitled to set up shop and claim to be entirely knowledgeable
about matters musical.
So choose your shop wisely. Ask around, trust to your instincts, get a
Secondhand instruments are where some very real savings can be made -
but this is weighed against the fact that you're buying used goods - and
there may not be any guarantees. There are two ways to get a bargain here;
get lucky, or get wise.
A third option is to rent. Many shops now hire out instruments on a termly
basis. This is by no means a cheap way of buying an instrument, but it
does help to limit your investment should things not work out the way
you planned. Some shops even rent out ex-rental instruments, which can
save a bit of money. However, this option looks increasingly less appealing
with the advent of extremely cheap and playable instruments from China.
So how do you know what to buy?
Traditionally instruments have been categorised into three sections;
Student or beginners' instruments; intermediate or semi-professional instrument,
and full-blown professional models.
The difference between the models (apart from the price) is down to the
quality of manufacture and the instrument's ability to do the things asked
of it. Having said that the boundaries are far more blurred these days
than they've ever been, and it's not uncommon to find many a professional
player using intermediate or even student quality instruments with apparent
Of course, in theory you ought simply to buy the top of the range model
and have done with it - but then at that level the instruments are very
individual creatures, and just because an instrument costs X-thousand
pounds doesn't mean that you'll like it once you're good enough to appreciate
what it can do.
So there's some sense in starting off with a cheaper instrument and only
upgrading when you're sure of the direction in which your playing will
Whatever you do, don't skimp. I realise that instruments represent a
significant investment for many parents - but a cheap one is a false economy.
A reputable make will more than meet the student's expectations, and in
the event of a lack of success it'll hold a better resale value. If you
buy badly then everyone loses. An extra twenty or thirty pounds can make
the world of difference.
Mind you, the borders between 'cheap' and 'nasty' have become rather
muddied recently, with the advent of the aforementioned remarkably cheap
but serviceable instruments coming out of mainland China.
In brief, it's now possible to buy a thoroughly usable instrument for
a fraction of the price it used to cost - and that has serious implications
for the structure of the student instrument market.
See the article on Ultra-Cheap
horns for more information.