Thoughts on Purchasing Musical Instruments


Saxophone Lessons
Old or New?  While a new horn or fiddle almost begs to be played, because it’s so shiny and inspiring, a vintage, professional instrument can play just as well and cost less money out of pocket.  Older instruments sometimes require a little out of pocket expense to get them working up to snuff—but so do new instruments!
 
Whether old or new, the current standard in consistent quality and reliable workmanship is Yamaha musical instruments.  A buyer can’t go wrong with one of these new.  Some manufacturers make better instruments than Yamaha, but not many, and the ones that do are considered top of the line.  One caveat: when a used Yamaha is found for sale it must be play tested.  Yamaha instruments have become very popular in the public schools, and some of these instruments have had a very rough service life.  Play testing in general is a good idea no matter what.  If you’re looking at picking up an instrument that you yourself don’t actually play yet, bring someone from NHME that does, and let them try it out.  Also, whether purchasing old or new, do not buy beginner or student grade instruments.  These mass-produced, musically-shaped, art-objects serve only frustration and hindrance to the growing musician.  Musical instruments are precision instruments; your student deserves a fully functioning one.
 
Another paradigm shift has swept the musical instrument world: Taiwan.  The engineers and craftsman on this small island have cornered the market in affordable yet high-quality instruments.  Because Taiwan makes such good stuff, big name companies like Conn-Selmer and even Yamaha stencil their names on Taiwanese made instruments.   If in the market for a new instrument, Taiwanese instruments such as SelmerUSA or Selmer Soloist at Marshall’s or Kessler Custom at Kessler & Sons ought to be considered if budgets are constrained.  One caveat: Yamaha Advantage instruments, made for rental fleets at music stores, are supposed to be identical to standard series Yamaha instruments made in Japan.  However, the Yamaha Advantage instruments are stamped made in Indonesia and Malaysia.  Yamaha is known for quality control.  If considering the purchase of an instrument from Yamaha's Advantage line, take a knowledgeable person to the store to play-test the instrument. 

One thing to watch out for when buying a really old or vintage wind instrument is to check and see if it's marked low or high pitch.  This refers to the pitch center of the instrument where the sound of note "A" equals a frequency of 440 Hz in a low pitch instrument.  Vintage high pitch instruments can never be played with modern day instruments, because they can never be brought into tune with the rest of the ensemble.  Pitch "A" equals 452 Hz or some other frequency with these instruments.  Today’s standard concert pitch has been universally agreed upon where "A" equals 440 Hz.
 
For flute, we would be happy to see the student with an older line Gemeinhardt.  Blocki, Azumi, and Armstrong (102E) closed hole flutes with offset G-keys and split-E mechanisms are wonderful instruments for new flutists.  For clarinet the field is open; maybe a LeBlanc, Backun, Buffet, Vito, Conn, Yamaha, or Selmer, the older the better.  For saxophone we would go with a Yamaha (YAS 21 or 23), Martin, or Buescher.  For French horn, it is better to learn on a double horn.  We would look at Holton, Yamaha, or Conn.  Horn is an instrument that seems to hold its value even as a student model.  For trumpet, consider Bach, Getzen, Holton or Yamaha, but be careful not to confuse a trumpet with a cornet.  Trombone: Bach, Getzen, Yamaha, Conn, or Holton.  If you come across a reasonably priced bass trombone in good condition, that’s a plus.  For baritone, the instrument is usually too expensive for a student musician to own.  NHME has a few that can be rented.  Shoppers may come across bell-front, baritone horns at garage sales or auctions; these can be good purchases.

We've had great, hands-on experiences with other instrument manufacturers such as Besson, Buffet, SE Shires, Fox, CG Conn, Keilworth, Yanagisawa, Schlike, and King.  Many of the instruments made by these companies would be considered professional level and carry a relatively high price tag when new.  Finding one for sale in good, used condition at a reasonable price would be a cost-effective and rare find.  We've had mixed, mostly good experiences with Jupiter instruments.  Please stay away from the stuff in this list: poor quality. 
 
With brass instruments (French horn, trumpet, trombone, saxophone or baritone), watch out for small red dots on the metal surface. This indicates red rot and means the horn is not salvageable over the long term.
 
With a woodwind, flute, clarinet, or saxophone, expect that if the pads are not new or near new (even if it currently plays), it will need new pads installed after a year or two of extensive playing. A re-pad job of the tone hole covers can run from $200 to $300 and brings the instrument up to its true value.
 
We do own ‘cellos, basses, violas, and a few violins of different sizes each of which can be rented.  Expect that as children grow, they may need to move up to the next sizes of violin, viola, and cello a few times in their musical adventures.  Renting the smaller sizes at first is cost effective.  Shar's music in Ann Arbor has decent, instrument packages in all sizes and grades at reasonable prices if purchasing orchestral stringed instruments is preferred over borrowing.   
 
The student percussionist needs drumsticks (Vic Firth or Ralph Hardimon 5AN or 7AN with nylon tips), a practice pad, practice mallets, and a bell set or glockenspiel for at-home practice.  We'll work with new drummers on assembling a beginning-band percussion-kit.  The percussion instruments we use belong to NHME.  We teach percussion at both of our locations; however, musicians studying in Tecumseh have an advantage since that is where all of our big percussion instruments like the trap-set, timpani, marimba, and vibraphone reside.
 
We hope this helps prospective students find suitable instruments when starting out.  For parents, we recommend keeping the start up costs as low as possible and to save funds for an intermediate, step-up, or pro instrument down the road as the student demonstrates his or her ability and need.