Schottenbauer Publishing

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Musical Instrument Purchase Tips

Demonstration of Western Musical Instruments
Excerpted from YouTube Video on Publisher Website
As school begins, most students consider purchasing their own musical instrument. For many, borrowing an instrument from the school or renting an instrument seems like the best option. Others simply decide to purchase due to instrument preferences provided by schools, band directors, symphony conductors, local music stores, and private sales from older students. 

If a family or school system is particularly financially limited, it may be challenging to find an instrument in the right price range. This is particularly true of homeschool families, who do not have a school providing free instruments on loan. Some private and parochial schools also do not offer free instrument loan, providing an extra burden to families with strapped budgets.

Fortunately, a few extra-low-cost options do exist:

Direct Imports

Direct imports are possible in the USA and many other countries. When a group of families can bundle their purchases together, it may be advantageous to purchase instruments overseas and import them directly. No business license is required when making private purchases overseas, just as during a personal trip to a foreign country. Ordering may be simple, requiring only a credit card or Western Union for payment. Shipping costs are surprisingly low, and import tax is only approximately 5.5% on musical instruments in the United States. Although import restrictions or quotas may exist in some countries, there are few in the USA. Items must be picked up at a seaport, or, if necessary, within-USA shipping can be arranged at cost from a professional company. If these steps seem too complicated, importing can be arranged with a licensed import agent who will add a service fee. Although this fee may be lower than markup at a traditional music store, it is still an additional cost. It may be possible to find a local store which specializes in imports and is willing to make a special order for a minimal fee.

Musical instruments are made particularly low-cost in China, from multiple companies which can be located through easy internet webpages such as Although some companies require minimum purchases of 5, 10, or 100 instruments, others place no restrictions on woodwinds or brass. Keep in mind that USA store costs usually include markup of 100% to 500% for musical instruments such as these, which may sit in a warehouse for long periods of time before selling.

Several Chinese musical instrument companies include:
  • XuQiu Music & Sonor Music: Woodwinds, Brass, Strings, & Percussion. Most instruments are sold individually. Shipping is extremely affordable to the East Coast USA. For example, one estimate for shipping 16 instruments was only a few hundred dollars. Import tax is approximately 5.5% in the USA, and transportation from port depends on destination location. Costs cited in February 2015 include the following: 
    • Woodwinds
      • Flute (Sterling Silver): $586
      • Clarinet (Ebony): $235.60
      • English Horn (Bakelite): $1688.50
      • Oboe: $393.20
      • Bassoon: $696.20
      • Contrabassoon: $7,500.00
    • Brass
      • Trumpet (Silver): $78.95
      • Trombone: $145.47
      • Double Horn: $230.00
      • Flugelhorn: $109.00
      • Bass Flugelhorn: $176.00
      • Euphonium: $241.65
      • Tuba: $399.85
    • Strings
      • Violin: $24.50
      • Viola: $38.95
      • Cello: $113.35
      • Bass: $259.99
    • Percussion
      • 5-Piece Drum Set: $164.95
      • Marimba (4-Octave): $1749.50
  • Chloris Pianos: Upright & Grand Pianos. The following costs cited in February 2015 include shipping costs to an East Coast seaport in the USA.
    • Upright Piano: $1,265
    • Grand Piano (5'6"): $3,915
    • Concert Grand Piano (9'): $11,895
  • Shanghai Lingjiang Musical Instrument Co., Ltd.Upright & Grand Pianos. The following costs cited in November 2015 do not include shipping or import tax.
    • Upright Piano: $1,300
    • Grand Piano: $3,000
 Additional companies can be located online.

Low-Cost USA Purchases

For individuals who are not interested in importing instruments, low-cost USA purchase options do exist. Although not a comprehensive list, the following provide some good options for low budgets. New (11/15)! Instrument demonstration videos are now available on YouTube.
  • Music123: Some of the lowest costs on band and orchestral instruments in the USA can be found here, particularly in special sales from November through March. The bottom-dollar student instruments sold by this discount retailer include the Etude, Allora, and Florea brands, all of which offer good quality to beginners.
  • Harmony Recorders: A full set of 5 plastic recorders (sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, bass) cost approximately $200 from West Music, which specializes in low-cost recorders in the USA.
  • Korogi Tabletop Xylophones: These 2.6-octave desktop xylophones provide excellent quality from Percussion Source. At approximately $315, these are a tiny fraction of the cost of a full instrument.
  • Yamaha Electric Pianos: One of the highest-quality and lowest-price full-sized (88-key) electric pianos is manufactured by Yamaha Corporation. The basic model can usually be purchased in the USA for approximately $500 from a source such as Music123.
  • Kawai Grand Pianos: These pianos offer high quality at lower cost than other major brands, but with similar stiffness of key action compared to the prized Steinway models. Serious students require a grand piano of at least 5'6", because the key action is closer to the concert grand. Upright pianos are not recommended for serious students, because they feature several major differences in key action
  • Mason & Hamlin Grand PianosThese pianos offer high quality at lower cost than other major brands. The 5'6" model is known to be similar to a Steinway concert grand in key action. Upright pianos are not recommended for serious students, because they feature several major differences in key action

Quality Instruments

For individuals with a higher budget, the following are some of the best options available:

  • Mollenhauer Recorders: These fine wood recorders from Germany are some of the best, made from exotic wood in many different sizes (garklein, sopranino, soprano, alto, bass, greatbass). These are available from several stores in the USA, with a list of USA dealers on the manufacturer site.
  • Kung Superio SubBass: Perhaps the only company to offer the extremely large SubBass recorder, this company features a full range of sizes (garklein, sopranino, soprano, alto, bass, greatbass, subbass). These fine wood recorders are available from several stores in the USA, with a list of USA dealers on the manufacturer site.
  • Steinway Pianos: By far the most highly prized concert piano in the USA, the pianos are an excellent investment for serious pianists. The key resistance of Steinway pianos is better suited to high-quality performance than some other well-known brands. Serious students require a grand piano of at least 5'6", because the key action is significantly different than smaller models, including uprights. 
  • Conn-Selmer, Inc.: The standards of excellence in brass and woodwinds are hidden within this larger company. For excellent brass, choose Bach, and for excellent woodwinds, choose Selmer. The company also offers a selection of high-quality strings and percussion instruments.

While selecting your new instrument, remember to check out The Big Print Music Method and other music education materials from Schottenbauer Publishing!