Musical instrument Buying Guide

Author: Peter Meyer   Date Posted:8 September 2017 

Looking to buy an instrument? There are so many things to consider and it can get pretty confusing being a first-time buyer. The buying process will vary depending on your musical experience, what instrument you're looking for and the physical attributes of the person that will play the instrument, if that's you or someone else. We'll try to keep the advice pretty general and break it up into broad instrument groupings if we think there are some considerations you might need to look into. For some more specific information please contact us.


Beginners Instruments: (First Time Buyers Read This First!)

Buying a cheap musical instrument is easy; they're everywhere, you can even find them in the 'Miscellaneous' isle in your local supermarket. However, buying the right instrument will mean that it will give you many years of joy. The only way to assure this is to get the right advice. At the bare minimum, your new instrument should tune easily, play easily, fit your body shape and sound great even if your budget isn't huge. So don't get suckered into the first shiny item you see, it may not necessarily save you money or be the right fit for your needs.

Seeking advice from a professional that play a musical instrument is always a great start, this could be a teacher, a friend or simply making a visit to your local music store. You'll often find that you can get some great information that will be relevant to your circumstances, your physical attributes and your budget with quick and honest answers. Blogs are a great start, but sometimes they can be very subjective and may not take into account your geographic location or physical attributes and may recommend an item that is not appropriate or unavailable in your area. So before you buy something from the farthest reaches of the planet, there might be the perfect beginner's instrument waiting for your nearby.


Guitars, Basses & Ukuleles:

Size, build quality, setup and brands are the big questions that need to be answered to assure you're going to enjoy your music buying experience. An inherited instrument can be a great start, but the wrong fit can slow your progress so make sure a technician or professional checks the fit and reliability of the instrument so you can get maximum benefit from it. The size and shape of an instrument can be so important when it comes to hours of practice, you want something that is comfortable to play and not distorting your natural relaxed shape too much. When you begin to practice for extended periods you need to be comfortable. When your skills improve and you want to cover look like a 'Bat out of Hell' and swing the guitar around your neck that's another thing altogether.

Many instruments claim that they come with a setup, so be sure to check who is doing the setups as it may just be a casual tinkerer instead of a trained luthier and this can change the sound output and playability of the instrument. 


Violins, Violas & Cellos:

Correct sizing, the setup and quality of the strings & bow is very important so be careful choosing an instrument sight unseen or when a teacher or music consultant is not present.

It's not always free, but it's well worth paying for an instrument to be fitted, this might be an introductory music lesson or seeing a music consultant. Sometimes it is best to be fitted by the teacher you're having lessons with as they are the ones you are paying to make sure you have the correct posture however, there are other music consultants working in reputable string stores that can easily do this job if they are trained correctly. So check before heading to your local store to check they have the required experience to fit stringed instruments.

Many instruments claim that they come with a setup, so be sure to check who is doing the setups as it may just be a casual tinkerer instead of a trained luthier and this can change the sound output and feel of a stringed instrument from OK to Excellent. String selection is so important with and there are many good German & Danish strings, but the best brands and most commonly referred by teachers and musicians are Pirastro, Jargar, Thomastik and Larsen. If you can afford a synthetic string on a violin you will normally get a fuller richer sound, that moves well away from the factory strings most cheap instruments come with. Having correctly fitted pegs an mean the world of difference when you need to get the instrument into tune, this means that the pegs move easily without sticking or slipping when turned.

Getting an instrument that has a solid maple back and solid spruce top is preferable and if ebony pegs, fingerboard and chinrest are fitted this will improve the tone and longevity of the parts as it is a harder timber. The best sounding timbers are still almost always European in origin and aged for 5-10+ years. Though there are some newer sources of timber which are yielding positive results, it's best not to go down this route unless you have an experienced guide.


Wind & Brass

Wind and brass technicians are hard to find, often these instruments are played for a lifetime without a proper repair and when you finally come to buying it they might need more repair work to fix them than buying a new one off the shelf. Always ask for a repair log, recent repair receipt or take it on 'approval' to a technician for a quote before committing to purchase, many teachers or players can try the instrument, but won't always be able to diagnose or fix systemic issues. Another must is to check that wind and brass instrument has been cleaned and decontaminated before purchase. This can mean when buying in a shop too! Germs are no good and you can pick up some bad nasty respiratory issues from old mold spoors that live inside uncleaned instruments.

There is a lack of knowledge generally with teaching professionals with regard to instrument repair, this also goes for choosing the right brand. There are so many factors that make a great instrument and there is more than one brand to choose from. There are newer instrument brands on the market that have proven themselves and forced the longer standing brands to up their game. Many teachers recommend the 'Y' brand carte blanch, but as all good repairers know the quality of these is not as pronounced as it was in the 1980s and 1990s when all of the instruments were coming out of Japan. There are some good tricks to saving money and still getting a great sounding reliable instrument. Find a local repairer, or store that does repairs, you never know what you'll learn about alternatives and you're likely to save a load of money./



Budget is a big consideration when looking at an instrument. There are no hard and fast rules when setting a budget for your purchase, though looking at what you can afford and your commitment to practicing this new instrument is a good start. Buying the cheapest instrument you can find will generally mean that you reduce your risk if you quit, but you will find that sound quality, playability and feel might not create the most enjoyable experience and you don't want this to dampen your enthusiasm. Landfill is a huge issue; if you can't commit to buying a quality instrument then rent or lease one. Most good musical outlets rent good quality instruments that don't fall apart after one use, mainly so they can be rented many times over with needing to be thrown away or rebuilt. Avoid instruments that are drop shipped from China with unknown brands and unknown origins. If you can't find out information where the instrument is made or the working conditions of the makers you may be unknowingly supporting unfair labor conditions. Reputable dealers & instrument sellers should always know and assure all of their instrument manufacturers provide fair & safe working conditions. You always get a better product from happy workers.

Going to an actual store will normally mean that you will pay more, but knowing that you can be properly fitted and ask a professional music consultant any and all questions this can hugely improve your chances of enjoying your musical journey.

This is very rough price guide for quality brands that we've sold and serviced with in Australia in 2017. Always have your instrument assessed by a professional before buying committing to buying second-hand. Not every brand mentioned below has a perfect record for excellent instruments, but more recently these are ones that come recommended, in braces might be the year of build or a model (+) any model above. There are many more brands that are fine, but always seek advice.


Instrument New Preloved Brand
Cello $800-$1500 $600-$1500 Stentor (ST1+), Enrico (St Ex.+), Gliga, Raggetti
Clarinet $600-$1200 $450-$800 Jupiter (2008+), Yamaha, Buffett, Vito
Flute $600-$1200 $450-$800 Jupiter 500 Series+, Trevor James 3041 or Privilege, Pearl, Yamaha
Drums Acoustic $500-$1500 $450-$800 Dixon, Pearl, Mapex, PDP, Ludwig, Gretsch
Drums Electric/Amp $800-$1500 $600-$1200 Roland, Alesis, Yamaha
Guitar Acoustic Steel $200-$600 $200-$400 Cort (any solid top circa 2000+), Tanglewood (circa 2017+), Yamaha, Washburn
Guitar Acoustic Nylon $200-$500 $200-$400 Katoh, Cordoba, Admira (solid top), Alhambra (2005+), La Patrie, 
Guitar Electric + Amp $300-$600 $250-$500 Essex (2016+), Cort (2005+), Ibanez, Fender ($400+), Epiphone, Some LTD (ESP)
Guitar Bass + Amp $400-$700 $350-$650 Essex, Cort, Yamaha, Fender, Ibanez
Saxophone Alto $1200-$1800 $800-$1500 Jupiter 7 Series, Vito, Yamaha
Saxophone Tenor $1500-$2200 $1200-$1800 Jupiter 7 Series, Vito, Yamaha
Viola Outfit $400-$700 $300-$500 Stentor (ST2+), Enrico (ST Ex+), Raggetti, Eastman
Violin Outfit $300-$550 $250-$450 Stentor(ST2+), Enrico (ST Ex+), Raggetti, Eastman


Ownership vs. Rental

Landfill is a huge issue; if you can't commit to buying a quality instrument then rent or lease one. Most good musical outlets rent good quality instruments that don't fall apart after one use, mainly so they can be rented many times over without needing to be thrown out or rebuilt. Renting for 4-8 months is a good enough time to work out if you're committing to an instrument, avoid getting locked into that are too long as if you quit or want to own or quit this may be difficult to get out of.

Please give us feedback:

Please let us know if any of this blog was helpful. If you've had some experience you would like to share with us or you think there is something first-time buys could benefit from knowing hit the 'contact' link at the top of the page.

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