Buying a Musical Instrument: The Basics
These days musical instrument buyers have many options. Instruments for beginners can be found at both local or online stores that specialize in musical instruments or at larger retail or online stores that carry a broad range of music and electronic gear.
When deciding where to go for an instrument, there are four major factors to consider:
- Specialty Store vs. more Generalized or “Big Box” Stores
- Buying Online vs. In-Person
- Renting vs. Buying
- New vs. Used
Specialty Music Stores vs. “Big Box” Stores
Specialty Stores: Stores that specialize in certain types of instruments typically offer a broader range of their specialty instruments (ex. several brands, a greater price range) than larger stores that may offer a bigger variety of instruments and other gear. Specialty music stores often have very knowledgeable and experienced staff that can advise buyers during the buying process. Some specialty stores will even allow potential higher level buyers to take instruments out “on approval” so they can play them for longer periods of time before making a final commitment.
“Big Box” Stores: Larger stores that offer a broad range of music and electronic gear (or even general merchandise) often offer good deals, especially on “outfits” for beginners, as well as offering a range of other accessories and equipment that can be useful and fun. Be cautious when considering buying very inexpensive instruments, though. Some are poorly constructed and apt to cause a beginning student frustration. It’s usually best to stick with established brands.
Buying Musical Instruments Online vs. In-Person
Many people are most comfortable buying an instrument in-person. At local stores, the buyer can usually try out a range of instruments and judge the tone, feel and appearance. Local stores often also have access to skilled experts who can help with maintenance and repair. Online stores can give the buyer access to a broad variety and range of instruments no matter where they live. Often, prices are also attractive. Here are some suggestions if you are buying online:
Resources: Online stores often have videos and other help resources via website or phone to help you make the best selection. Use these resources to help make decisions about sizes, brands, accessories and other choices. Also, your local music teacher can likely give some useful advice.
Shipping. Be sure to consider shipping costs and methods in your purchase decision. Instruments should be well-protected and insured for damage during shipping.
Returns: Check out the return policy before you buy. It is reasonable to want to try the instrument and check out the quality and sound before being fully committed.
Reviews: Just as in anything you buy online, it’s wise to check the seller’s reputation if you can.
Buying vs. Renting a Musical Instrument
Stores that sell musical instruments often offer rental options, including rent-to-buy options. The monthly instrument rental fee often also includes insurance against damage. Renting an instrument can be a good option for a beginner.
General benefits of renting vs. buying include these: Renting gives beginners a chance to try a certain instrument without making a big investment. Renting allows a student to try out different brands and specific instruments before committing to a certain one. Renting allows you to make your investment over time instead of in one large payment. For instruments that are available in smaller sizes, renting can be a good option because the student will “move up” into larger sizes as they grow.
Benefits of buying instead of renting include: Buying gives you some “equity” to build on. You can later recover some of your investment when you sell it or trade it in for a larger size. Buying can be a better financial deal overall over time, so it often makes sense when the student has a good level of commitment and/or when siblings may use the instrument in the future. Stores that specialize in musical instrument sales will often have a trade-in policy that gives you some credit towards an upgrade or larger-sized instrument when you turn in the one originally purchased from them.
Buying Used instruments
If you know what to look for, a used instrument can be a good deal, as well as a way to acquire rare instruments. Most beginning instrument buyers, and even many more experienced ones, don’t have the expertise to judge the value and condition of instruments well, though. In that case, it’s good to ask for guidance from your music teacher or a knowledgeable friend. In the case of more expensive instruments, it may be worth hiring a professional to assist in the purchase – for instance, hiring a piano tuner/technician to check out a used piano or obtaining an appraisal on an expensive stringed instrument.