Where to Buy Instruments – and What to Buy

As a musician, I have eclectic tastes in musical instruments. I like my pianos Boston, keyboards Yamaha, acoustic guitars Breedlove, drums Pearl, cymbals Sabian, and electric basses Schecter. I like my electronics Roland and my amplifiers Marshall. I like Line 6 Pod pre-amps. I’d love a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, though I haven’t dropped the cash to buy one. But those are just my own preferences.

Experienced musicians tend to gravitate toward the instrument that feels best in their own hands. It is difficult for me, or one of our instructors, to tell a student what he or she should buy. Our instructors and I don’t even necessarily agree on the answer.  Balwin, Fender, Ludwig and Ziljan are all excellent brand names. Instrument preferences are a matter of personal taste.

I fell in love with Breedlove guitars because I bought one. I tried three or four – in the store, which means I only played a couple songs on them – before I decided which to buy. I had a budget in mind, so I looked at the ones that fit. I chose the Breedlove for its tone, but different strings on another guitar might have made that one sound prettier to my ears.

Whatever it was about the combination of Breedlove, D’Addario EXP strings, Fishman pickup and the Fender acoustic amp I played at Potbelly Sandwich Works for five years, I wouldn’t change it for the world. When Potbelly closed my two stores, I went out and bought my own Fender acoustic amp. I buy my favorite strings and only my favorite strings, even though the EXPs cost twice what many strings cost. I love that sound; I never tire of it, and I’ll probably never buy another brand.

What if I had bought a Martin? I think when we find a good instrument, we fall in love with it, and we’re sold on the brand. Martin makes excellent guitars. I might have easily fallen in love with one of those, if I hadn’t settled on Breedlove the day I had my debit card out.

If you’re looking for your first instrument, here are some things to consider:

1. Are you skilled on the instrument?

If you’ve always wanted to learn to play like Clapton but never tried, don’t invest in that Les Paul yet – unless you’re willing to hang a four-digit instrument on your wall for good looks. You or your child may find that guitar practice is harder than you thought, or you may just not find the time. Start with a used Ibanez or Fender and work your way up to the Gibson.

Buy the best instrument you can reasonably afford, because higher-quality instruments are easier to play. A child may find pressing guitar or violin strings down hard on her fingers, and she may decide the instrument is too difficult and give up. But if she had a better instrument, she might have loved playing. I recommend buying used for your first instrument, because you can buy a better quality instrument for your budget.

Piano students need to consider whether they have the budget and the space for a piano, or if an electronic keyboard would be better. Pianos don’t fit well in small apartments, nor are they easy (or even possible) to get up winding staircases. Even if you do have room, a piano is no more than an expensive and space-hogging piece of furniture if it doesn’t get played, so you might start with a keyboard and give lessons some time to make sure a piano is a good investment.

Violins and other band and orchestral instruments can often be rented. In Columbus, check The Violin Loft or Music and Arts in Reynoldsburg or Westerville for rental options. Students who stick with the instrument and progress might consider eventually purchasing one.

2. Set your budget.

Decide how much you have and are willing to spend on this instrument that may or may not see a lifetime of use in your house.

During the budget process, understand that guitar strings and instrument cables break and are more expensive than you might think. Expect to replace them at some point. Drums need new heads, and drum sticks shatter. Pianos require regular tuning. Trumpet valves eventually get beat up and need to be replaced. Violins need new strings and rosin. Consider all the future expenses when you set your budget.

3. Where to see the instruments.

Once you’ve decided what to buy and how much to spend, go to a store with a huge inventory and try the instruments out. If you don’t know how to play it, ask one of the associates to play a couple instruments so you can at least hear how it sounds. Ask their opinions on which are easiest to play and why. Ask about used gear and whether pricing is negotiable. In Columbus, we recommend Guitar Center or Sam Ash for guitars, basses, keyboards and drums. We recommend The Loft for string instruments and Music and Arts for band and orchestra instruments. Go to these stores to check out the inventory and compare options. This is where you’ll pick the instrument you want to buy.

4. Where to buy.

You might find a good deal at these music superstores, but we recommend shopping around first after you’ve settled on your choice. Avoid making an emotional decision when you’re buying an instrument. It’s exciting! Be excited. But don’t buy the first thing that sounds good. Take a little time and ensure that you’ve found the best instrument for the best price. Musiciansfriend.com is a great resource, and you can get excellent used gear at Music Go Round in Stoneridge Plaza, right next door to MTMS.

Good luck shopping! When you get that shiny new instrument home, give us a call, shoot us an email or enroll online. We’ll get you set up with lessons starting as soon as tomorrow.

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