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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 10, No. 1

Shopping for an instrument

by Jean-Sébastien Gascon / September 8, 2004

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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 experienced professionals.


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, and loans).

"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.

Trial Period

Many retailers offer a seven day trial period to assure customer satisfaction.


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]

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