Should You Buy a Band Instrument from an Auction Site?
This is an excellent question that often comes up from parents. The things to consider are similar to those posed in my previous article Should You -a Buy An Instrument at a Pawn Shop with a few extras.
One of the most important things to know going in, is what brands are considered “name” brands in musical instruments. (Find a List of Brand Names Here). These name brands have a long-standing tradition of good quality and durability. Typically, a name brand beginner grade to intermediate grade band instrument can make it through two tours of duty. That means the instrument can take two students all the way from beginner to high school graduation, roughly 15 years or so. After that an instrument can become like an old car, costing more to keep it running and more down time than it’s actually worth.
That brings up another important thing to know going in – the age of the instrument. In previous articles (www.knoji.com/profile/loriswriting), the subject of instrument age has been discussed and how different aspects of the instrument may actually discourage a young student. While an adult can use an old instrument to learn and know that a better instrument can be purchased later, a child lives much more in the here and now. They have peer pressure to contend, with as well. Some children have sufficient ego to tough it out through taunts about their instrument but many do not. It is also frustrating for the band director if one child out of 10 in the room of beginners has an instrument that is not up to par and constantly in need of quick repairs in order to continue the day's lesson.
There are essentially two types of band instrument sellers on the auction sites – those that have had experience as instrument dealers or teachers, and the independent seller who has one instrument on hand that is no longer used.
While there are always some great deals, buying an instrument sight unseen from an individual is more risky. I knew a man who bought a top-of-the-line Bach trumpet at a garage sale for $100. He got the deal of a lifetime since this is a fabulous professional grade instrument that sells upwards of $2,000. Sadly, I’ve seen most such deals go the other way. The man who got this great deal had done his homework before buying so he had some useful working knowledge.
Generally, when buying from an instrument dealer, there is some assurance that the instrument is in good, playable condition. Their auction ads generally state when and what repairs have been done to the instrument and if there is any warranty. The repairs were likely done in the seller’s own repair shop.
An individual seller’s ad may state this as well but the question to ask is how qualified was the repairman? Someone who knows the costs of repairs and the typical things that need repair on instruments can take a chance on some of these instruments, but it’s not recommended for the average purchaser.
One more thing to consider is what will be done if the instrument does need repair. If an instrument is purchased at a reputable dealer’s physical store, one with a competent repair staff, the instrument can be taken back to them. Within a reasonable period of time and with reasonable care of the instrument, that dealer will probably stand behind the product and the work. In the right circumstances, the local dealer may even offer the use of a loaner instrument. However, if the instrument is purchased from a reputable dealer who is many miles away, they might be willing to do the repair but unwilling to pay shipping charges. It is doubtful they would offer a loaner to someone not from their locale.
There are some excellent sellers of band instruments on eBay. There are some that I have known personally for many years. I would highly recommend them to parents because they each have a physical store and have served their schools and communities for many years. These dealers also work with the area band directors to be sure they have the instruments, instruction books, and accessories on hand that these directors require. They sell music, supplies, and large instruments directly to these area schools so maintaining a good reputation in their community is very important to them. There are other dealers like these that are not known by me personally but by looking at their websites and reading recommendations about them, it can be determined that they are a quality business.
In summary, while there might be some great deals online for the informed buyer, my recommendation is to buy locally from a reputable dealer. Just as a car owner likes to form a trust relationship with his/her repair shop, so a trust relationship should be formed with a local instrument dealer. If your child stays in band throughout their school career, this relationship can become very valuable. It is even more valuable if you will have more children involved in the band programs as well.
Here is an example of a reputable dealer I stumbled over while searching for a good list of “Brand Name Instruments”. http://www.pedersensbandandorchestra.com/ located in Burbank CA. This is an excellent site which includes a lot of very useful information for the customer, has photos of the store and the repair shop, good directions to find them, offers lessons, and much more. It appears to be a small store but has everything well displayed and their music selection is well organized. This is not a store or location I’ve ever visited nor people I’ve ever met but this is the type of information you want to find for a reputable musical instrument dealer. This is an example of a good dealer with whom to form a trust relationship. You will note if you check his page “used instruments” that it says none are available. Do not be alarmed if you see that. That is typical for this time of year. Instruments are rented in September for a three month term so the stock of used instruments is out in the hands of students. Come January or February, he’ll have used instruments back in his stock.
Here’s an excellent dealer known personally, having worked for them 15 years ago. These are fine people with whom to form a trust relationship also. http://www.luscombemusic.com/ . They’ve been in the same location for years and enjoy an excellent reputation in their area, just west of Chicago.