Thoughts on Purchasing Instruments

Theo and Kaden
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 products.  So much so that big name companies like Conn-Selmer and even Yamaha stencil their names on them.   If in the market for a new instrument, Taiwanese instruments such as SelmerUSA at Marshall’s or Kessler Custom at Kessler & Sons ought to be considered if budgets are constrained.

One thing to watch out for if buying really old or vintage wind instruments:  check to see if it is 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. For clarinet the field is open; maybe a LeBlanc, Backun, Buffet, Vito, Conn, Yamaha, or Selmer, the older the better.  For sax we would go with a Yamaha, 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, 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 three that can be rented.  You may come across a bell-front baritone at a garage sale; that can be a good purchase.
With brass instruments, French horn, trumpet, trombone, or baritone, watch for small red dots on the surface. This is an indication of red rot, and it 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 a repad job to be done between a year or two after extensive playing. Repadding of the tone hole covers can run from $200 to $300 dollars and brings the instrument up to its true value.
We do own a ‘cello, a bass, two violas, and a few violins of different sizes each of which can be rented.
The student percussionist needs to purchase sticks (Vic Firth or Ralph Hardiman with nylon tips), and a practice pad.  The percussion instruments we use belong to NHME. All percussion classes are taught in Tecumseh.
We hope this helps prospective band students to find suitable starting band instruments. For parents, we recommend that you keep the start up costs as low as possible, and keep funds available for an intermediate instrument down the road as the student demonstrates his or her ability and need.