Buying an Instrument on a Budget
Some prices can be too good to be true.
This isn't a cynical attempt to persuade you to buy from us, but advice on purchasing an instrument that isn't going to shatter ambitions as soon as you or your child starts playing.
Every year there are more and more cheap, poor-quality 'own-brand' instruments arriving in shops, mainly from China. Although not in every case, we have found the majority to be poorly made, and in our opinion could actually put you or your child off playing a musical instrument altogether. The difficulty can be that these instruments are hard to identify, since they usually have European or American sounding names and have all sorts of 'teacher recommendations'.
These instruments look the part and on first appearances seem like the real thing. We're constantly being sent samples at this price point from manufacturers, and in most cases they do not make it past our repair studio. Only after careful inspection, consultation and design dialogue directly with the factory have we developed a range of competitively priced yet good quality instruments that carry our name.
So what is wrong with the majority of these instruments? And why don't we stock them?
Firstly, we realise that buying an instrument is not cheap and can be a risk taken by parents who are not sure whether their child will stick to playing. We believe in making good-quality instruments available to as many people as possible, so when we are sent samples, our technicians test these instruments with an open mind. Here are some of the problems they often encounter:
- Low-grade metal This is the main reason that these instruments can be made so cheaply. Low-grade metal (whether it's nickel or brass) is soft, meaning that the keywork bends easily - not just if you knock or drop the instrument, but through normal playing. Of course, a repairer can bend it back into shape, but it's only going to bend back again and again and again... As a side issue, the grade of metal also has a big influence on sound quality.
- Bad design Another reason that these instruments are cheaper than leading brands is that little or no investment goes into design. Instead of being ergonomically designed like well-established brands, keys are placed in awkward positions, making the instrument hard to play and hold. This can lead to bad posture and, ultimately, RSI, tendonitis or even back problems. Brands like Yamaha and Jupiter have invested and refined the design of their instruments over decades.
- Poor build quality As the saying goes, companies which pay peanuts to their instrument makers will of course end up employing monkeys. We see so many instruments with bad lacquer or silver-plating, soldered joints coming apart, pads not sealing, corks and felts falling off, poorly fitting joints... Any one of these things can (and will) make an instrument unplayable.
- Poor tuning If our technicians (who are also highly trained musicians) can't play them in tune, a beginner doesn't have a chance. The result? It sounds bad and the student (and parents!) are put off.
A False Economy
These aren't the only reasons why buying one of these instruments is a false economy:
- If you find a good budget brand instrument which works, it will take a player only through the very early stages of playing. You will need to upgrade to one of the main brands at about grade 2, which means splashing out all over again.
- There is low re-sale value on cheap instruments - whereas a good Yamaha or Jupiter will hold its value many years down the line.
What can you do to avoid getting caught?
When using a specialist shop such as ourselves you get the opportunity to view and try several instruments, knowledgeable help in choosing the best option for you, and the reassurance of good after-sales service with our Perfect Performance Plan. We are on the front line, having to give a reality check to the unfortunate purchasers of these instruments, many from auction sites or web-only shops.
- We sift through all the makes and models available, so if we don't list it (and nor does any other established music shop), ask yourself why.
- Ask the seller where the instrument is made (and not where it comes from, as these instruments usually arrive through European or American importers). Taiwan is usually good, as they've been making good student instruments for decades - Taiwanese brands include Jupiter and Pearl. China and India are the places of manufacture to be wary of.
- Instead of buying a cheap new instrument, buy a better second-hand instrument which has an established reputation - no-one was ever disappointed with a Yamaha!
- We have a few very carefully selected lower-priced instruments in our own brand range, which can take a player through the early grades. You may pay a little more for them, but you can be assured that we have really put them through their paces before deciding to sell them.
- Buy from someone you trust, or if you are in any doubt, get an opinion from a good player or teacher.