When buying a new instrument, there are countless options that can make the decision process overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help make that process a bit easier.

Figure out how much you can spend on a new instrument

This is an important thing to consider. If you’re just starting out, it doesn’t make much sense to invest thousands into a new instrument if you aren’t sure whether or not you’ll stick with it. For the most part, you can get decent student instruments (or guitars) in the $200-600 range. You might even be able to find some great discounts on sites like Raise too. If you’re looking for a professional-level instrument, the prices are going to be significantly more (generally $1000+). Figuring out your budget first makes the choice a lot easier because it restricts your options and lets you focus on what you need in an instrument for your budget.

What exactly are you looking for?

There are times where you know exactly what you’re looking for. You know you want the Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX to add to your DJing equipment. Or you want to add the Yamaha DTX402K Electronic Drum Kit to your collection. But a lot of the time, even when you know what instrument you want to play, different manufacturers and models offer players different features.

For example, when buying a new flute, you need to decide if you want a wingtip headjoint or if you need a curved headjoint (for really young players that can’t quite reach) instead of a traditional headjoint. Do you need an open-hole flute or closed-hole? What about the foot joint? Do you need a B-foot joint or is C okay?

The same goes for guitar. Acoustic or electric? Hollow body or no? What kind of pickups? If you go with acoustic, do you need electronics? Nylon string or steel string? The list goes on.

So before you get caught up in features, figure out what you’re planning on accomplishing with the instrument. Is it something that you need just to get you through high school (before quitting or upgrading) or is it something that you plan on hanging onto longer? What will you be using it for?

Different features are attached to different prices, so that’s also something to be aware of. The more options an instrument has, the more pricey it’s likely to be. Student instruments tend to have fewer options than professional instruments, and so, they can be much more affordable. But if some of the options on the more expensive instruments are things you can’t live without, then you may be looking at a pricier instrument (unless you look for something used).

With the resources available on the internet, it’s easier than ever to do a significant amount of research on various instruments before you make a purchase. For example, it might be useful for you to check out revitalizing downtowns blog to read up on some tips before you buy your new electric guitar. Musical instruments are expensive so you don’t want to waste your money. You can check out the manufacturer’s specs, reviews from other players who have purchased the instrument, and reviews from musicians who have had the opportunity to play an instrument even if they don’t own it. In between visits to stores, your teacher, and the internet, you can pretty much learn everything you need to know before you try an instrument out and make a decision for yourself.

But if you aren’t totally sure, check with your teacher. They may have some recommendations regarding what you’ll need. You can also do a bit of research on forums to find out what other players’ recommendations are. For example, SaxontheWeb is a great community of saxophonists that would gladly help point players in the right direction.

Once you figure out what features you need your instrument to have, you’ll have made a big step towards narrowing the list down.

I already have an instrument/piece of music equipment, but I’m looking to upgrade.

Already have a student instrument? Just looking for something a bit different? Once again your best bet is to do a bit of research online and/or talk to your music instructor. At this point, you might have one or two options in mind already, so make sure you ask yourself “why” you want to upgrade. Figuring out the “why” will help you focus on the important features you need to look for in a new instrument.

Research instrument costs

Now that you’ve determined your budget and decided on the instrument you’d like to get, do a bit of research to see what kind of pricing is available and if there are any deals going on. Take note that instruments are often available at different prices online from those in stores. Used instruments are also more affordable than something brand new (and sometimes you can find instruments that are in “like new” condition).

If you’re considering buying online, be aware of shipping costs. Sometimes the price of instrument may be too good to be true because the shipping charges actually price it over the cost of buying one at the store. You also need to be aware of potential scams (I know players who have had some bad luck on ebay, but I also know a few who have had good luck).

Doing your research online can also help you if you decide to negotiate at a music store. Knowing how an instrument prices online and letting the sales rep know that you are aware of it may play to your advantage. Keep in mind that not all music stores offer flexible pricing, but some are willing to discuss price.

Play it before you pay for it.

Everyone is different, and so every instrument will respond differently. Just because one particular instrument is popular, doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for you. Your best bet is to try anything you’re considering yourself (and maybe bring a friend or teacher along for a second opinion).

If you’re looking for a place to try an instrument out, check out local music stores (particularly those that may specialize in your instrument). There’s no substitute for holding the instrument in your hands and knowing how it feels and sounds. Make sure you give yourself the chance to play around with any instrument you’re considering before you make the leap.

If you’ve found this article helpful, we’d love it if you’d share it! We’d also love to hear your stories about buying a new instrument and the process you went through in the comments. If you have any tips that aren’t in the article, we’d like to hear them too!

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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.