Buying Horns

This page has been added due to an overwhelming need for information and guidance buying “good” instruments. There are many great resources for buying instruments out there. Several catalog and Internet dealers actually have comprehensive information on selecting the right instrument and how to go about it. Below are just a few basic suggestions to keep you out of trouble.


  • A recommendation from your private teacher or band director should be the first place to start.
  • Generally speaking, the new Yamaha student instruments are excellent for beginners and you can play on them for years after graduating from the beginner stage. There are many manufacturers other than Yamaha, some good and some not…get recommendations!
  • Purchasing used instruments is often a very economical choice, HOWEVER they must be checked out by a professional player, teacher or repairman to insure they are in good playing condition….otherwise…buyer beware!
  • When opting to upgrade from a beginner instrument, avoid intermediate models and go right to professional models. An intermediate model will usually satisfy the needs of a good high school player, however a professional instrument will be needed for college or advanced study. A good rule of thumb is always to buy the best instrument you can afford.
  • Saxophones – When choosing professional quality saxophones, Selmer and Yamaha are the obvious and popular choices. Keilworth and Yanagisawa are lesser known, yet good quality instruments. There are many manufacturers other than these four, some good and some not…get recommendations!
  • Mark VIs – Not all Selmers are good. Not all Yamahas are good. You get the picture. The Selmer Mark VI is the definitive choice among professionals. This has driven prices up over the last decade or two and caused quite a fury over the buying and selling of these instruments. They were manufactured from the mid 1950s until the early 1970s. Selmer produced the Mark VII for a few years in the 1970s, but they never really caught on. You can find some exceptional deals on used Mark VIIs, however it is a completely different instrument and does not have the resale value of a Mark VI. In general, I would recommend trying the new Selmer Series III and Yamaha Customs before deciding that the Mark VI is the only way to go. There’s nothing like a GREAT Mark VI, but you must find it and PAY FOR IT! Check out Ebay, as they always have several in varying condition for sale. Unfortunately, you can not try them out before purchasing which is the single most important step in selecting an instrument.
  • Flutes – Gemeinhardt and Yamaha are my two favorites among student and intermediate flutes. Silver content is what drives the sound and price. The more silver, the better it sounds and the more it costs. The models I often recommend to students are the Gemeinhardt 3SH, 3SHB, Yamaha 385, 481H and 581H. If you need more than a Yamaha 581H (around $2000+ retail), you will likely have to spend $4000 or more to get a significantly better instrument. Expensive flutes can be made out of other materials, such as gold which greatly affect tone quality. The high end market is full of great choices and a private teacher/orchestral player should be involved in helping you with your decision. Haynes and Powell are the old standard, but there is Brannen-Cooper and many good Japanese flute makers as well…get recommendations!
  • Clarinets – Again, Yamaha makes great beginner and intermediate clarinets. Plastic or resonite bodies make up most beginner clarinets and wooden (Grenadilla) clarinets begin with the intermediate models. Among professional clarinetists, the Buffet R-13 is the standard. They have been manufactured since 1955 and the R -13 is still a current model from Buffet. Recently (1994) a composite material has been used to produce the R-13 Greenline, which is made mostly out of Grenadilla wood powder. It is supposed to resist cracking, a common problem with wood instruments. The Selmer 10G and Leblanc Concerto and Opus are excellent choices as well. There is some concern over used clarinets being “blown out”, which means they have lost their original playing quality and resistance. When shopping for a used wooden clarinet, it is extremely important to have the aid of a professional.
  • Piccolos – Gemeinhardt and Yamaha are excellent entry level choices. Silver head, plastic body is the way to go in the beginning. Later, Grenadilla wood is the standard among professional line piccolos. Yamaha YPC-62 is a great piccolo for the money ($1000+ retail). If you need more instrument than that, as with flutes, there a MANY good choices. Seaman, Zentner, etc.
  • Where to buy new? – There are two basic choices: 1) Local Music Store 2) Internet/Catalog discount stores. Personalized service and the ability to try the instrument on the spot is the main advantage of a local music store. Service and maintenance is another issue. Internet/Catalog discount stores offer many choices at usually cheaper prices, HOWEVER service after the sale will likely be on your own, unless you want to ship the instrument back and forth. Any store you purchase an instrument from should give you the opportunity to play the instrument before you buy….or…give you the opportunity to return it within a few days for a refund.
  • Where to buy used? – Reputable stores, pawn shops, Ebay, classified ads, word of mouth. It doesn’t matter where or how, just two things to remember: 1) Enlist the help of a private teacher or professional musician you respect 2) Play the instrument before buying or have the option of returning it within a few days


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