Have you heard this from your children in an attempt to persuade you to buy them an instrument? You may be thinking that an instrument is too expensive, and that even with all the promises in the world of how well they’ll take care of it, accidents happen (in fact, they happen in your home more often than you like to admit). You’ve probably come to the conclusion that new instruments are far too expensive for your kids. But have you considered a used instrument? A used instrument can allow you to purchase an instrument at a much lower cost than a new instrument. It’s usually cheaper than renting too!
Here are some things you will want to consider when buying a used instrument:
- Ideally the instrument you purchase will be both a good quality instrument and in good condition.
- There are some issues with instruments that can only be discovered by playing them. If you cannot play the instrument you are interested in buying be cautious. While the Internet has become a go-to place for many people to get good deals, it is not necessarily a good place to buy a used instrument. With out being able to see the instrument and play the instrument, you have no way of knowing the actual condition of the instrument. Just because the picture you see on the website looks great doesn’t guarantee it is the actual instrument you are buying.
- Consider the brand name of the instrument. There are instrument manufacturers out there who make instruments that are, in effect, disposable. These instruments are inexpensive, and very pretty in their pictures, but are not good quality. They’re designed to only last a year or so – imagine buying one used, that’s already had more than its fair share of playing time! Look for well known, long-lasting brand names instead – like Yamaha, Selmer, Bach, Fender, and others. They may cost a bit more in the beginning, but they will far outlast their cheaper counterparts (and they’ll sound better, too).
Each family of instruments has specific things to be aware of as well:
1. Does the instrument have all of its parts?
- Do clarinets have their barrels? Do saxophones come with their necks? Is there a headjoint in that flute case? These items are expensive, and sometimes difficult to replace, so make sure to check!
- Make sure all the parts that come with the instrument fit together. You don’t want to arrive home with “Franken-clarinet” and discover that none of the pieces are from the same original instrument.
2. Does the instrument appear clean and well cared for?
- Are there pads missing? Are there keys or cages missing?
- Look inside the instrument. Woodwind instruments are harder to clean than brass instruments, so older models can contain mold, mildew…or worse.
- If the instrument comes with a mouthpiece (or headjoint, in the case of flutes), does it appear to have been sanitized? Clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces are easily replaced, so that’s always an option, but flute headjoints are expensive. Make sure it looks clean and well taken care of before purchasing.
3. What condition is the body of the instrument in?
- Make sure clarinets and oboes don’t have any cracks in the wood or plastic.
- Check saxophones and flutes for dents. A lot of dents on an instrument can indicate larger problems – keys that are out of line, tone holes that aren’t round, etc. These can lead to costly repairs.
1. Are there dents? If so, where are they?
- Valves: dents in valves should steer you away from that particular instrument. This is difficult and costly to repair.
- Trombone Slides: dents in trombone slides are common, and require an expert technician to repair. Significant dents in the slide should steer you away from that trombone.
- Dents in tubing can be difficult and costly or simple and inexpensive to remove, depending on the location of the dent. Be cautions regarding any dent that does not have a clear access point for a repair technician.
- Dents on bells are very common and not difficult to remove. These dents shouldn’t greatly affect your outlook on the instrument.
2. Moving parts should move easily!
- Do the valves or trombone slide move smoothly and freely?
- Do the tuning slides move smoothly and freely?
3. What condition is the instrument’s finish in?
- If the instrument is lacquered keep in mind that to re-lacquer an instrument is expensive. Lacquer wear is common, especially around soldered joints.
- If the instrument is silver plated keep in mind tarnish is common and simple to clean. Repairing issues with the actual silver plate can become an expensive repair.