Shopping for an instrument by Jean-Sébastien Gascon
/ September 8, 2004
For beginning music students, a good working instrument is
important to developing their love of music. The easier it is to play, the
sooner the student's skills improve. The ideal study instrument must fulfill
several tasks: it must suit the student's tastes, be easy to play, be in tune,
and require minimal maintenance. Sometimes choosing the right instrument can be
discouraging, and finding the right relationship with a music store can be
crucial to the decision process.
The ideal vendor
A good music store must offer a wide selection of quality
instruments and good advice and service before, during, and after the sale. To
begin, start with recommendations from the teacher, other students, and
When shopping for an instrument, price is only one factor.
A good shop will try to match students' levels and budgets with the right
instrument and the appropriate purchase options (such as renting, rent-to-buy,
"My daughter's violin doesn't stay in tune and so part of
the lesson is spent tuning the instrument. According to her teacher, it is
difficult to play," complains Suzanne, mother of 10 year old violin beginner
Valerie. According to violin expert Lili Saint-Michel, temperature changes can
affect the tuning peg of a violin. "The store that sold the violin needs to just
adjust the pegs so that they keep the tension well."
The above example illustrates the importance of having
good post-purchase service. Stores that specialize in only one type of
instrument (for example, only strings or brass) usual have a good repair
department. Larger stores usually affiliate themselves with repair services that
prepare, maintain, and repair their instruments.
As most instruments are made in Europe, Asia, and the USA,
the process of transport may affect instruments. Most good shops have the
instruments individually prepared, tested, and adjusted before putting them on
sale. Ask about how the instrument is prepared.
For beginners with limited budgets, instrument rental is
the ideal option to evaluate whether a particular instrument is suitable. Many
stores offer the option of renting, renting to buy, or trading in to upgrade to
a better model.
Resale / Upgrading
Ask each store about their policy of repurchase or
upgrading. A good instrument that has been well maintained generally retains its
original value. The store might offer you 50–100 per cent credit towards the
purchase of another instrument.
Many retailers offer a seven day trial period to assure
Some banks offer loans to finance instrument purchases,
while certain stores offer in-store deferred payments.
New instruments are usually covered by a one year
guarantee, but buying used instruments is another good option. However, even the
best Stradivarius needs regular maintenance. Some stores offer reconditioned,
used instruments with a guarantee. Buying a used instrument in a private sale
may mean some additional work. A good technician should be consulted to evaluate
its condition and to recondition the instrument. For instance, repadding a
saxophone could be pricy. [Translated by Wah Keung Chan]