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|Written by Paul D. Race for , , and|
Buyer's Guide for Winds - From Riverboat Music(tm),
This page is basically a placeholder for future articles about shopping for winds of various kinds. Among wind instruments, I'm most familiar with woodwinds, and especially familiar with saxophones. Eventually, I may have links to specific instruments that I consider a good value for online shoppers. That said, my first recommendation is for you to try to find a good used instrument and a trustworthy repair person locally. For optimum results:
Why go to all this trouble? Because a reasonably dependable new student wind instrument will run you $800-$1600 or more depending on what you want to buy. And, depending on where you live, you may be surrounded with similar instruments that were only played for a few years, are available for $150-$300, and can be restored to optimum playing condtion for another $100. And many of those instruments were built better than the student instruments being made today.
Even if money is no object, many student horn models that were made in the US, Europe, and Japan through the 1980s are now being made in China. Though their manufacturers guarantee the quality to be the same, there are, er, lapses.
As a parent of band students, I always preferred getting my kids forty- or fifty-year-old instruments that were built in Elkhart, Indiana or in Europe to buying brand new horns from China. US-made Selmer Bundy flutes, clarinets, and brass were solid, well-built instruments. US-made Conn brass was also very dependable. Flute players also had the choice of Armstrong and Gemeinhardt flutes (my favorite student flute of that era).
Of course, I was also a wind player myself (and one-time music major and music store sales guy), so I knew what to look for. Stuck valves and bent rods were signs that an instrument might cost more to repair than it was worth. On the other hand, sticky valves or a couple blown pads could usually be fixed for a small sum by a reputable repair person.
You may notice that I left saxophone out of the lists above. That's because all the other typical band instruments have been following more-or-less the same designs since about 1936, whereas a revolution in sax design triggered by Yamaha in the late 1960s narrowed the window for how far back you can go and still get a horn that's like the ones being made today. (Our SchoolOfTheRock.com Vintage Pro Saxophone Timeline article explains all that.)
Because I have spent so much time counseling sax players about used instruments, I have written a series of articles on buying used saxes for the SchoolOfTheRock.com site. Many of the issues described in our article Evaluating Used Saxophones relate to flute and clarinet as well, so you might find that article useful if you can't find similar resources for the instrument of your choice. (If you go to this article, ignore the part about which keys to buy.)
Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to order off-brand Chinese or Malaysian-built horns online. Sure, for $200-$400 you can get a "brand new instrument" that looks a lot like the ones they sell in music stores. But most of those are not designed to survive a trip across the Pacific, much less four to six years in the hands of a school student.
The future for new winds isn't entirely dim, however. As I write this, some companies that moved all their manufacturing to China have set up shops in the US to evaluate every incoming horn and keep mistakes out of the hands of students. Others are reputedly moving some manufacturing back to this country (although the pool of schooled craftspeople they used to depend on has thinned out a great deal). Gemeinhardt makes the components for their flutes, ships the pieces to China for assembly, then tests and tweaks every flute that comes back.
Conversely, other brand names that used to mean something have been purchased by companies that are not even manufacturers - they're importers who will buy from anybody willing to stamp the old venerable brand name on a brand new piece of junk. So the market for new winds is volatile, to say the least.
You may decide that it's worth it to you to avoid the confusion and buy from a store you trust. If you order online, be sure you have someone you trust take it through its paces while you still have return privileges.
However you chose to acquire the instrument coming into your household, we wish you the best, and we'll answer your questions if we can.
Note about Suppliers: While we try to help you get the instruments and other products you want by recommending suppliers with a good record of customer service, all transactions between you and the supplier you chose are governed by the published policies on the supplier's web site. So please print off any order confirmation screens and save copies of invoices, etc., so you can contact the appropriate supplier or invoke the product warranty should any problems occur.*
Note about Ordering Musical Instruments Online: Buy only from folks with a reasonable return policy and be sure to have any musical instrument you ordered online checked over by a professional as soon as you receive it. Every musical instrument has the potential for being damaged in shipment, even if the box looks fine when you get it. In addition, musical instruments shipped across the Pacific have a very high percentage of manufacturing defects. If you look at online reviews, a surprising percentage of the one-star reviews say something like "By the time I realized it was damaged (or had a critical manufacturing defect), the period for returns had run out, so now I'm stuck with a useless piece of . . . . " Yes, the manufacturer should have better quality control, and the store should pack things better. But in the end, you are responsible for making certain that an instrument or product will serve your needs while you still have time to return it.
Consider Buying Used: Before you spend $2000 on an instrument that will be worth $800 once you get it home, check out the used market for that sort of instrument in your area. Depending on where you live, or what kind of instrument you're looking for, it may not be an option. But if you can get a used professional instrument for the same price as a new student instrument, it is often worth taking the risk. Especially if you have a knowledgeable friend who can go along and check it out for you. In fact, many of our pages include links to articles on how to shop for used instruments of various types. However, we recognize that many folks have limited access to good used instruments, and everyone needs to see what is available in the various price ranges. So we do list, when possible, live links to real vendors with a good return policy, in case they're your best choice for getting what you want. Again, once you buy something, your satisfaction is between you and the seller.
Note about Availability and Pricing: Although I try to keep an eye on things and to recommend products that are reasonably available, the musical instrument does fluctuate, and any product on this page may change price or become unavailable without prior notice. If you "click through" to see details on a product, and nothing happens at all, or you are routed to a supplier's home page, please let me know and I will remove the product from the online listing until I can find a replacement or another supplier.
*Here's an irony: every year, I receive about a dozen complaints from folks who have never been to my sites before, angry that a deal between that person and a vendor or manufacturer I recommend went south (in their opinion). They "googled" the product, saw my recommendation or review, then e-mailed me to tell me they were going to sue me or report me to the Better Business Bureau for personally ripping them off by recommending a product they had bought from someone else. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the problem is really because the customer didn't read the whole ad, or ordered the wrong thing, or threw away his paperwork and doesn't know where he bought it from, etc. I'm always polite, and sometimes I can even help them get things straightened out with the vendor, but it's not, technically, my problem.
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