Beware of shoddy instruments!
NHME would not be doing its job unless we shared with you the current state of the band and string instrument market. As you may know, the economic climate over the past 25 years has led many manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, to cut corners on production. Unfortunately, the quality of new instruments from these companies has deteriorated to such a degree that some of these brand-new instruments will never play in tune, because the instruments themselves or their tuning slides are not the proper length. New brass instruments are being made out of such thin metal that the slighest knock causes major damage. Worse, they cannot be repaired without burning holes through the metal, destroying the instrument. Cheaply made woodwind instruments are constructed with keywork made from "pig metal" or white metal that bends out of alignment too easily under just minimal usage. These keys cannot be straightened or adjusted without fracturing. Cost-cutter instruments were purposely designed in such a way as to be disposable and obsolete with no repair parts available and no repair efforts possible.
How do we spot a poorly crafted instrument in today’s market? Unfortunately, we cannot identify a poorly constructed instrument by brand name alone. Many decent American and European manufacturers of yesteryear have gone out of business. Their brand names, product lines, and model names all got scooped up and re-acquired by unscrupulous cheapskates when the trademarks, patents, and copyrights expired. Still, there are a few tell-tale signs that can alert us:
- the brand owner / manufacturer does not advertise repair part availability,
- the instrument does not have a serial number,
- the engraved manufacturing facility on the instrument is located in Southeast Asia or mainland China*,
- the brand under consideration isn’t played by or recognized by anyone in the local community or college ensembles,
- the instrument is advertised as ideal or suitable for beginners / students, or labeled "band director approved,"
- the instrument is sold en masse on eBay or on Amazon,
- the instrument is sold with lots of unnecessary accessories and gizmos as part of some school director’s approved student package.
See also our advice on how to purchase an instrument from the information page. *
Of note, really great instruments are now being made in Taiwan. Some good, big name companies like Yamaha and Selmer are putting their names on these Taiwanese instruments. The same can’t be said for the "musical instrument shaped objects" (junk) being churned out with little to no quality control on the mainland of China. We've not had great success with instruments branded Allora, Accent, Stagg, Schiller, Mendini, Cecilio, Eastar, Eastman, Etude, Glory, Levante, Yasisid, Rosetti, Prelude, Jean Paul, and Jean Baptiste student models. We know, because we've tried them all!
There are good ways of finding both new and used instruments which beat anything on the mass market today. NHME encourages purchasers to let us and our experience help in instrument acquisition. Instruments need not be an expensive purchase, and we urge our families not to waste money on a horn that is not repairable, too thin, or the wrong length.
Mr. Donald S. “Doby” Dobrosky, Sr.
Founding Director/CEO emeritus, NHME
Back to FAQs Instrument Ideas Instrument Purchases
* An update: There's positive musical developments coming from overseas! Some manufacturers on the mainland of China figured out and learned what it takes to make precision instruments suitable for both student and professional musicians. For example, we've had favorable impressions recently playing instruments made at the Jinbao factory in Tianjin. Remember in the early '70s when we first started seeing automobiles made in Japan? They were regarded as poor in quality. By the mid '80s however, Japanese cars from automakers like Toyota and Honda were considered top of the line! We expect that as Jinbao and others get quality control and craftsmanship up to a consistent, high level, instruments coming from continental Asia will become wonderful, viable options for students. For now, take someone to play-test these overseas instruments before purchasing. In other awesome, instrumental news, U.S. based luthiers and windsmiths both old and new have gotten reattuned to their American roots and are producing incredible musical instruments worthy of renown. Like their European counterparts, some of these American instruments can be expensive, but we predict they'll hold their value for many decades to come, being passed down from one generation of musicians to the next as family heirlooms - it's an exciting time to be a musician!