Buying That First Instrument – What to Look For, What to be Aware of
A reoccurring nightmare for teachers and repair persons is the bright-eyed student who comes in the door with their new acquisition, fresh from (you pick), EBay, Craig’s List, the local flea market, antique store or the local pawnshop. “It was a great buy”, they exude, “and it only needs to have new strings or a new bridge or a setup or something.” All too often the instrument is of inferior quality with budget level fittings, not of a high-grade wood, and will only aggravate their efforts to learn. The chin rest is plastic and the sound post is not properly fitted so there is an almost imperceptible bulge to the top, or it falls and starts to roll around as soon as the strings are slackened even a little. The old adage, “If it’ s too good to be true, it probably isn’t”, persists for a reason. Or, “You get what you pay for.” Is another quote that comes to mind. When shopping in these places the other adage one must keep forefront in their mind is, “Buyer beware.” Often the people doing the selling are not informed as to the true value of these treasures. They tell you it is old or pretty or some other quality as their selling point. These qualities are not top priorities when buying an instrument, though they are considerations. It is exceedingly difficult to buy an instrument on the Internet and know exactly what you are getting. The photographs and descriptions tell you nothing of the tone or sound of an instrument. Sound and tone are perhaps the most important characteristics of an instrument along with playability. You cannot get a good measure of these qualities when viewing an instrument on line. It does not matter how pretty an instrument is if it does not sound good. In the initial rush of acquiring and instrument it is easy to get swept away in the moment. Rushing into a contract at a school event while your child is wide-eyed with excitement is very tempting. Taking a deep breath, shopping around to find the best deal to find a friendly atmosphere with folks who are there to help is a much better idea. As we all know, money does not grow on trees. So take your time. Evaluate the place as well as the instruments and what financing options they may have. Your best bet for buying an instrument that will suit your needs is a local shop that provides service after the sale. A shop like this will have a friendly, helpful, knowledgeable staff that recognizes quality, not only in instruments but also in instrument care. They set up each instrument to fit your needs, to meet your requirements. They have researched the available product lines and will have what they feel is the best buy for the dollar available. They can back up what they sell and will make sure that it is ready for you to play when you get it. It is tough enough to learn a new instrument, you don’t need to add to the complications by using an inferior instrument that won’t stay in tune or the pegs don’t operate properly, or the bridge is ill fitted. This can lead to frustrations that come from fighting the instrument just when you are facing the daunting task of learning how to play it. As a rule of thumb, your first instrument should be good enough to take you through and beyond your first three years of learning. This way you can concentrate on learning the instrument and how to play it without the nagging problems incurred when parts fail, tuning pegs get stuck and will not turn, and the instrument becomes more of a hindrance than a help. With an eye for the future, ask the local merchant if he has a rental plan for his instruments. If they have a “rent to buy” program, you can work your way up to a better quality instrument as your playing skills advance. This is especially helpful when buying for a child. With the right program you can roll over your rental towards a larger instrument as the child grows. Check into trade-in and buy back programs the store may also have. Some stores keep detailed records of what they sell and whom they sell it to. These stores often have buy back or trade in programs where you can recoup some of your investment when upgrading to a larger instrument or one of better quality. Before buying ask about plans for rolling over rental money toward a better instrument, buy back and trade-up policies. Find the one that is best for you. When passing through the threshold from being a music consumer to becoming a music producer, many things change. This instrument is not just something pretty, but it is a tool for the expression of your artistic self. This makes the qualities of playability and sound more important than ever. If the instrument is not easy to play and cannot produce a pleasing sound, you aren’t going to want to play it. It is that simple. As you progress on your musical journey, you will become more demanding of a responsive instrument that can reflect and express your music for others to enjoy. Having the support of a local shop and all the services they supply is invaluable to your journey toward fulfilling your musical destiny. The shop that deserves your business will offer good trade-ins when you want to upgrade or they provide a good rent-to-own program where you can take your equity in your instrument and apply it to an advancing instrument. The deserving shop will have a knowledgeable, friendly, sales staff that helps you find the instrument that suits you, and a repair staff that can keep your investment in top form. This will make your trip into the shop more of a delight and less of a chore as well as an opportunity to learn a bit more about the world of bowed instruments. Additionally, with this support system you are free to keep your mind on your music and not on getting along with your instrument.