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Should you Rent or Buy an Instrument ?

Should you rent or should you buy an instrument? Before answering that question, selecting a quality reputable brand is the first priority when acquiring a band instrument.  There are many off-brands out there of inferior quality, both in design and workmanship.  Even some established brands are not as good as others.  Your band director has the experience and knowledge to guide you in regards to instrument brand selection.  No, he/she is not in cahoots with the instrument manufactures.  Quality of sound and performance, along with student ease of use are the director’s motivations.  Also, an inferior instrument will stack the odds of success against your child while a good working instrument reduces the obstacles to learning and is essential to your child’s success in band.  Many reputable music stores will not work on inferior instruments because they often break during the repair process.  A good used instrument, which is a recommended brand, is far superior to a new off-brand.  Do not compromise! Stay away from department store instruments that are sold at places like Walmart, Costco, etc.  They have proven over the years to be inferior to the recommended brands.

Whether you should rent or buy an instrument for your beginning band student depends on the following factors:

  • Convenience
  • Flexibility
  • Cost
  • Commitment

Renting is the most convenient and flexible option which requires the least commitment.  You are able to get a quality instrument in the beginning with the flexibility of exchanging the instrument for another kind (e.g. flute for a clarinet, trumpet for a percussion outfit, etc.) if the initial one your child chooses does not work out.  If your child loses interest and no longer participates in band, you may return the instrument without further obligation.  However, there is a cost for this convenience and flexibility.  Even though many companies apply the rental payments to the final purchase of the instrument, they charge full retail price for the “residual value” when the actual instrument has undergone two or three years of use.  Since instruments can be purchased at normally a 30 – 40 percent discount new, this is not the most cost effective way to purchase a band instrument.

So, What about EBay, Craig’s List, other internet auction or swap site, or just the old fashioned newspaper ads?  WARNING….there is great risk in ordering an instrument over an internet auction site, especially if you do not have a working knowledge and a great amount of experience with band instruments. There is almost as much risk with local advertising such as Craig’s list, local internet news classified ads or even the newspaper.  While you may have a better chance of meeting with the seller and examining the instrument, there are still several precautions that are necessary to take. Even an experienced band director cannot anticipate the condition of a used instrument without examination first.  If the seller does not agree to a full return and refund policy if the instrument is unsatisfactory, it is not advisable to make the purchase.  There are many times that repairing an instrument would actually cost more than one already reconditioned or even brand new.  If you do decide to order an instrument from an internet auction site, or other source, insist that the purchase be contingent upon it passing the inspection of your band director or a qualified repair technician.  Also, you may find there are basically two categories of instruments on auction sites: specialty instruments and off-brands.  It takes a great deal of persistence and a little bit of luck to find a quality student-line instrument on an auction site.  Choose this option only if you are willing to invest a great deal of time in your instrument purchase and the seller agrees to a no questions asked return policy.

Would purchasing an instrument outright be the best choice?  Many times purchasing an instrument can be the best choice for your wallet. This works best when your child sticks with band for several years.  Band instruments do depreciate much like automobiles, so recovering your investment after only a few months of use will be difficult.  There are additional risks involved with this option as well.  If your child has not yet learned how to take care of his/her belongings very well, you are responsible for repairing any damage to the instrument that may occur.  The rental programs offer “damage waiver” insurance that helps offset possible high repair bills in the event an instrument is damaged.  The music company will also repair the instrument for free for normal maintenance issues in many cases while under the rental contract if you purchase the damage waiver insurance.  They also may provide “loaner instruments” in the event that your rental is in the repair shop.  Most do not provide this service for instruments not rented or purchased from their store.  If you own your own instrument, you are responsible financially for any maintenance or repairs due to damage or normal wear and tear.  Also, there is great value in establishing a relationship with a local music store for service, advice, accessories and The Music Hutch Studio.  You can find name-brand instruments over the internet at reputable music stores at discount prices.  However, you are on your own financially when it comes to the ongoing maintenance needs of your new instrument.

So, what is the best decision?  It depends on what is most valuable to you: Convenience, Cost, Flexibility, Commitment, or a combination of these. Most families rent at least at first. What is the bottom line?  If your child is reasonably careful with belongings and you are sure he/she will stick with the instrument chosen, then you can save money by purchasing an instrument.  However, if your child is indecisive and/or has not learned how to take care of belongings very well yet, then renting may be a better option.   Even if you decide to purchase an instrument, it is still a good idea to rent for the first three to six months to make sure that the instrument chosen initially with work for your child.