by Joe Blumenthal
This is the second installment of my advice on how to buy a musical instrument, and it’s directed to those who have been playing a while.
One of the first factors to consider is whether to buy in person from a store, from an online retailer, or from a private party. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage of going to a brick and mortar store is that you get to hear and feel the instrument before you buy. The most important thing in choosing a new instrument is the sound. While electronic instruments (like digital pianos) are extremely consistent from one to the next, instruments made of wood vary a great deal. There’s no substitute for having the instrument in your hand, hearing it and feeling it. Find a retailer that has several instruments in your price range and play all of them. Take a friend or your teacher with you so they can hear you play it, and so that you can hear them play it. The more instruments you play, the more sensitive you’ll be to the differences between them, and the more chance you’ll know when the right one comes along. Another advantage of a reputable store is that you can be more confident that the instrument is in good condition, and that they can make any necessary adjustments for you at no extra charge.
Price is also an important factor. Each type of instrument has a different price range for beginner, intermediate and professional models. If you haven’t been playing that long but feel you need something better than what you started out on, it’s often best not to go right to the most expensive models. After all, your style of playing and the type of music you want to play will change as your skill develops, and you don’t want to be stuck with something very expensive that isn’t right for you anymore. While musical instruments hold their value better than most other consumer goods, it’s rare not to lose much of what you paid if and when you want to sell it. That said, the more experienced you are, and the more certain of your interests and style, the more sense it makes to buy the best instrument that you can afford so you won’t outgrow it.
Because online retail is very competitive, you may be able to get a better price by going that route. And if you buy second hand from a private party, you may be able to do even better, but you should have more experience to do this so that you can judge value and condition. There is a website for musical instruments called reverb.com which is well worth a visit. Individuals and stores sell there, and they have a price guide that will help you judge the instrument’s value.
After sound and price, playability is next most important. If you’ve been playing for a while, you’ll know right away if it feels good for you. But keep in mind that the setup of an instrument can often be changed so that it’s more suitable. This is another good reason to buy from a trusted dealer who can help with that. If you buy online you may end up taking the instrument to a store to have it set up.
Other factors, in my opinion, pale in importance next to those. But shape and color are often important to people. If you’re looking at used instruments, dings and scratches shouldn’t matter—they make no difference to the tone or playability.
Another factor is vintage value: some older musical instruments are rare and highly desirable; they will be the subject of a third post.