Buying a New Instrument (pdf
Some thoughts by Jonathan Peske
At some point
in middle school, many parents consider purchasing an instrument for
their student. I have written down some of my most common advice.
Feel free to contact me with further questions.
I want you to
think about this as if buying a car or other big ticket item. There
are many important factors that must be considered.
1. Don’t make
a decision without input from your student.
know that sometimes you want it to be a surprise, but without their
input, you might not choose the best instrument for them. Wrap up
their old instrument if you need something to put under the tree.
You can also put a picture of an instrument in a birthday card. Your
student will be using the instrument and needs to explore the
various options with you.
2. Do they
need a new instrument?
There are modifications that can be made in regards to mouthpieces
and other equipment that can be much cheaper than a new instrument,
but still produce results. However, a new instrument is a lot of
fun and may be needed at various points.
whether you need a student, intermediate, or professional model
instrument. (Just like various models of car)
There are three basic levels: student, intermediate, and
professional. The important thing to understand is what
“professional” means. It does not mean top of the line!
There are instruments that are better than the “professional” horn!
(My clarinet is one step above the Buffet R-13, which is a standard
professional instrument.) The “professional” instrument is one that
has been finely engineered to play in tune, have a good sound,
respond well, and be a dependable instrument. Few shortcuts have
been taken. This is an instrument that will last for many, many
years of service. (To use a car analogy, this is the equivalent of
a well-equipped Toyota Camry or Honda Accord: well engineered; geared
to meet most needs; dependable and long lasting. There are still
BMWs, Ferraris, and Bentleys that are even more expensive than these
Expect that a
student who wants to be a serious musician will need a professional
horn by their junior year of high school.
Obviously, not all students will want to pursue music forever, but
those who want to make the top wind ensemble in high school and
audition for college groups will need an instrument that will not
hold them back. I tell you this now so that it will not come as a
student model horn is a strong, economic choice. It has a series of
compromises built into it that lower the price for those who don’t
want to pay for a professional instrument. It is usually built to
less exacting specifications than a professional horn. It may lack
some of the features that are on a professional horn. It won’t play
with as good of a sound and may be out of tune on some notes. However, it may be
less delicate and is sometimes designed to withstand the added
stress (beating) that a student might put on it. It is an
instrument that should last for a long time but will eventually be
outgrown. It can then be “handed down” to another student. (In the
car analogy, this is like a base model Toyota Echo or Corolla
or a base model Honda Civic. Its going to get you around,
but it won’t be able to do all that a bigger car can do and will
lack some of the features and utility of a larger car. It is still
dependable and a mode of transportation.)
instruments are extremely appropriate for middle school students.
Young students often lack the maturity and responsibility to care
for an instrument that costs over $1500. Additionally, many middle
school students have not advanced to the point where a student
instrument is “holding them back.”
An intermediate model horn falls somewhere in between. You should
think of it as a dressed-up student model instrument. Usually, the
intermediate model lines are engineered to similar specifications as
the student model line, just with some extra keys, or a better metal
finish, or a nicer case. Many of the modifications are cosmetic.
While they are better horns than the student horns, they will
eventually reach their limit, just as student horns do. They will
not have the same degree of craftsmanship or usefulness of a
professional horn. (Using the car analogy: it is a nice (but not
sport-equipped) Corolla or Civic. It will look really good and may
a little extra power under the hood, but is still going to fall
short of what the Camry or Accord can do.)
Intermediate model horns are very tempting to middle school
parents. They seem like a step up from the instrument he/she has
now and they usually look a lot nicer. Salesmen like to push them
so that you buy three instruments along the way, rather than two.
If you have the money and don’t mind spending it, go for it.
will be better instruments than the student model horns.
However, it will not substitute for a professional horn. Keep
in mind that somewhere down the road, you will still need to get a
professional instrument if he/she keeps playing. If you are saving
for that possibility or money is tight, find the best student model
instrument you can get. Whatever you do, make sure you buy a
good mouthpiece (extra $50-$100).
student is almost to high school, is very responsible, and you can
afford it, you may want a professional horn. In some situations, it
is better to just skip right to that. However, make sure to keep
your student instrument for marching band, where it will be exposed
to sun and rain!
4. Do your
homework on brands, stores, prices, and instruments.
Notice that I used Toyota and Honda in my car analogy. There are
some companies that make better products than others. Just like you
wouldn’t buy a car from China or Yugoslavia, you shouldn’t buy an
instrument that was made there. In general, American or Japanese instruments
are the best. (Many of the big American manufacturers are merged
with the big European manufacturers.) You want a brand that has
established a reputation over many years of building instruments;
not one that just started. There are many poor quality instruments
out there, so caveat emptor (buyer beware)!
making an endorsement, here are some brands that I would consider if
I were to make a purchase choice:
Blessing, Buffet, Conn, Eastman, Gemeinhardt, Getzen, Holton, Leblanc, Loree,
Kurzweil, Selmer, Vito, Yamaha, Yanigasawa
Here are a few other brands that
are also common and trusted names:
Artley, Antigua, Benge, Besson, Boosey and Hawkes, Buescher, Bundy, Emerson, Fox,
Jupiter, King, Keilwerth, Miraphone, Olds, UMI
This is not
to say that this is an exclusive list, but I hope it is helpful.
shopping around to find the right instrument. You get what you pay
for, so it is better to spend a little more now on a better
instrument than save some cash now and regret it later. However,
prices on identical instruments vary widely and it may be worthwhile
to drive to another store that may be a little further away.
As you shop
around, be sure to compare specific brands and model numbers from
store to store. As you research, don’t just take the salesperson’s
word for it. Consider the level of service and the salesperson’s
knowledge of the instrument. Can he/she explain to you the
differences between that model and another model and why they are
significant? Why do they recommend that brand over another? Some
salespeople are very knowledgeable and will have good advice. Check
out what they say against other sources, including data on the
internet. If you are in the store, examine the instrument
carefully. Look carefully at the detail work. Does it look and
feel like a high-quality instrument?
high-quality used instrument can also be a great option. Follow the
same advice listed above. You will have to shop around more, but
you can often find good horns this way. This is especially true
when you are looking for professional instruments.
When you have
found one or several options that fits your budget, then it is time
for the test drive. This is the part your student needs to be
involved in. Reputable music stores will let you play on the
instruments, as long as you bring your own mouthpiece (and reed).
Do not buy any instrument unless
your student has tried other instruments, played on this one
continuously for at least 15 minutes, and is excited about this
next is for students to use while trying out the instrument.