Do I Really Need to Pay More to Get an Instrument that Performs Well?

In a perfectly ordered, predictable world, the relationship between cost and quality in musical instruments is linear. Which is to say: the more you pay, the better the instrument you get.

In turn, the relationship between a quality musical instrument and its sound and tone quality should also be linear: the better the instrument, the better the sound quality that it can produce.

It would also be reasonable to expect a linear relationship between build quality in an instrument and its price. A more expensive instrument should be constructed with superior materials finished in a fashion that demonstrates great attention to detail with a virtually flawless appearance and parts that fit together with pleasing precision.

However, with musical instruments, we're dealing with products created by humans, and in that world, everything is not so neatly organized. This means, even with some more expensive, quality instruments, you won't necessarily experience enough value to justify paying the price. Nor should you suddenly expect to become a virtuoso player just because you buy an expensive instrument. Instead, you have the responsibility to learn what makes an instrument worth purchasing at a premium price so that you'll get the value you expect.

Your ability to see value in an instrument will largely depend on how accomplished you are as a musician. Experience teaches you what to look for in a quality musical instrument. As a musician, sound and tone quality will be especially important. Playability and durability are important and to a lesser extent appearance—and the things that affect it like coloration, finish, embellishments, and enhancements.

A good rule to consider is this: Buy the best musical instrument you can afford. After that, it's up to you to ensure that you get maximum value from that instrument. The directions to get there are the same as to Carnegie Hall— practice, practice, practice. To which we will add: get a good instructor as well.

You can, however, "game the system" by learning how to find those special instruments that live in the sweet spot where price and quality overlap. Look for instruments that are great bargains, and are capable of delivering higher performance at lower-than-expected prices. As a musician you will develop the ability to feel—and hear—the difference between a mediocre (or worse) instrument and one that represents real value.

Students or beginning musicians have special areas of concern, and a musician who is just starting out has seriously compelling reasons to get the best possible instrument. As you are gaining mastery on an instrument, you are actually gaining comfort with numerous macro and micro movements of your hands, breath control, and other activities that are going to be new to you—and very awkward at first.

A well-made instrument—that is usually purchased at a premium price—is going to be easier to play during this awkward initial stage as well as later. For example, a well-made brass instrument incorporates some degree of handcrafting and will have a carefully formed mouthpiece and sound-producing nodes that are located precisely in the tubing and fine-tuned for optimal playability. This sounds fairly complicated—and it is. In practice, this level of attention to detail requires hands-on craftsmanship, takes more time, and understandably adds cost as well as tonal quality to a satisfyingly playable musical instrument.

This level of quality in the details is worth it for another very important reason. A well-crafted instrument encourages proper playing technique. When you are learning your instrument, you are training your body to perform critical movements and developing muscles and tendons that become accustomed to those movements. A poorly crafted instrument may not respond properly, and it may be encouraging poor technique. Should you advance to a better instrument, you will need to unlearn your bad habits and pick up good technique almost from scratch.

Another serious problem with poorly made instruments is that an inexperienced musician will find them much more difficult to play than a quality instrument. A side effect of this is that the musician will not be able to tell whether his poor performance results from inexperience or from defects in the instrument's construction. This adds an additional layer to the frustration all beginner musicians experience, and may just be enough to cause them to quit playing music altogether.

If you buy a suitably made instrument and get past every budding musician's period of extreme beginner's frustration, you will eventually want a better instrument anyway. If you've already purchased the best instrument that you could, you will be able to postpone this need to upgrade longer. However, if you've purchased a poorly-made instrument, it will have little resale value, and your initial investment may just go to waste.

When you consider that your musical instrument purchase from The Woodwind & Brasswind is covered by a 45-Day Satisfaction Guarantee, you can be assured that you will be completely satisfied with the musical instruments you purchase from us.