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How to Choose a Good Musical Instrument – Musical Instrument Buying Guide

Sound Violin Music

You remember the old adage “you get what you pay for”? Well nowhere is that more true than in musical instruments. While that’s fine and dandy but, how do you choose a good musical instrument from a bad one when you are in the market?

Imagine the Following Scenario

Imagine yourself walking into a music store with unlimited funds, that Nigerian Prince finally came through ;).

Choose a good musical instrument
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You walk into the store and you sit down at your favorite instrument. For the sake of argument we will have you sit down at a beautiful grand piano. Resting your hands on the ivory keys you take a deep breath, letting the smell of the polish swell within your lungs. You begin to play your favorite tune.

YUCK! This piano sounds awful! Looking at the price tag you realize it’s a bargain price for a bargain sound.

Standing up and looking around you notice it. Resting on a, literal, pedestal is a Steinway Model D Grand piano, one of the nicest pianos money can buy. Sitting down on the hand-carved bench you play your tune again.

You feel like Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray when Link bumps into her and she begins to sing “I Can Hear The Bells!”

Why Does This Matter?

When you choose a good musical instrument, it is something that can last for generations. While I’m not recommending you take out a second mortgage for that million dollar instrument, I do recommend you not go for the cheapest one in the store.

To illustrate this further, Wendy Law, an accomplished musician demonstrates the quality difference between three Cellos. If your speakers aren’t the best I’d recommend headphones to really tell the difference.

How Do You Choose a Good Musical Instrument

Choosing an instrument should not be a quick decision. There are so many factors in choosing one that is right for you.

Consider the following suggestions as you try to find the right one for you:

  1. Set your budget

    Setting your budget before hand can really save you down the road. Musical instruments can get expensive very quickly.

    You want to buy a guitar? Well now you need to buy a case, a strap, strings, picks, music, music stand, and more. All of those accessories will add up quickly and eat into your overall budget.

  2. Decide: Electric or non-electric

    Some instruments offer cheaper electric versions (electric piano vs upright/grand pianos). These electric instruments do have benefits in that you don’t need to tune them, there is less upkeep, the ability to hook them up to a computer, and less weight.

    However no electric piano can replace the true sound of an acoustic upright/grand piano, and that is true for nearly every instrument out there that has an electric/non-electric version.

  3. Do your research

    Go out to the music store. Play (or have someone play for you) the different instruments. Take your time in this process. If you choose an instrument that you don’t absolutely love, you will never practice. Ultimately it will be a complete waste of money.

  4. Used vs. new

    In a lot of cases buying a used instrument doesn’t mean taking a cut on quality. Since most instruments aren’t computers they usually won’t degrade in quality as they age. In some cases they increase in value and their sound quality increases.

    The trade-off is you lose any applicable warranties, have to pay in cash (don’t go into debt, but that’s another article), and you may have to arrange your own movers which can get pricey depending on the move.

  5. Don’t settle

    As in the story at the beginning, the beautiful piano sounded awful! All instruments look fantastic in the showroom, you need to choose one that feels right for you, and only you can answer what’s right for you.

Really, there are more things to look for but the ultimate tips are

Decide what you want to use it for,

Determine a realistic budget, and

DON’T SETTLE on the first one that you see. Take your time to find the right instrument for you.

I’d like to hear your thoughts and stories on this topic. Share them below!