Why Buy Used Instead of New Instruments? We here at Underwood music believe that there are many reasons to buy used instruments as opposed to buying or renting new ones.
Used Instruments are less expensive. Whether you are buying a student, intermediate or professional level horn, just like a car, as soon as it leaves the lot it starts to depreciate. Therefore, even like-new used instruments are not as expensive as new ones. Furthermore, when you rent a new instrument, you are still paying full price for something that might not be brand new. It might have already been rented out before and returned a month later and is now being presented as new.
They Aren’t Made Like they Used to be. Having been in the repair business for more than 35 years, we have seen a variety of manufacturers and their dynamic production qualities throughout the years. Companies that used to make their products in the United States and Japan are now producing products in Taiwan, China, Indonesia and Vietnam. Unfortunately, these newer products aren’t the same. The U.S. and Japanese factories had more than fifty years of experience making musical instruments and a tradition of passing that collective knowledge on to new employees. One well-known brand stopped production in the U.S. and switched factories about every seven years from Taiwan to China and now Vietnam. So most of the newer instruments from that company were built by factories with less than ten years of experience. Consequently, a lot of the production runs from these factories were made by on-the-job-training teams. Any factory defects or redesigns occurred after hundreds of thousands of units had already been produced since feedback took awhile to get back to the factories. Apart from the experience gap, there are also material deficiencies in the newer products. The prevalence of using recycled metal or just less of it in newer products seems to be the new standard in the industry. The impurities inherent in recycled metals can lead to several issues. Examples include plating issues with flutes that can be attributed to lower-grade silver contents and rusting issues due to impurities in the steel rods integral to key movement. Other prevalent issues include brass that isn’t tempered correctly which makes instruments more susceptible to dents and keywork that is loose which causes chronic leaks. These chronic leaks can be fixed by tightening the mechanism but is an example of our next gripe against newer instruments.
Passing Costs Onto Consumers. With the costs of labor, materials and logistics going up, manufacturers have to decide whether to raise prices, cut costs or do a little of both. One cost-cutting solution has been to pass costs onto consumers. Loose keywork could be fixed at the factory but the time and training it would take would push up production costs. Therefore, customers are forced to either deal with recurring leaks or front the cost of fixing keywork which can be expensive. Another example would be a manufacturer that for reasons unknown now has new clarinets coming in with super tight tenons and corks that fall off within a year. The costs to shave the tenons down and re-cork them is another cost that has been passed onto the consumer. The same manufacturer started using pressure-fitted posts as a way to save money on screws. After a deluge of posts popping off, they went back to screwing them to the body of the instrument. Another manufacturer has started to use temporary peel & stick pads that force the consumer to replace them within a shorter period of time than traditional bladder-skin & cork pads. The peel & stick pads reduce the time and costs associated with training employees to pad clarinets saving the company money but transfering the cost of a premature pad-job to the consumer.
Parts Availability? Another issue is whether a manufacturer has parts support. Getting replacement parts shouldn’t be an issue but it is with some newer manufacturers. Some companies have parts but aren’t sure from which factory they came from. If you need a valve for a trumpet, they might send you three different valves and sometimes none of them fit. Other manufacturers have the parts but it takes nine months to get them. The worst case scenario is that the instrument is so cheap that the manufacturer doesn’t even stock the parts because they expect you to just buy a new one which can get costly in the long-run. Some companies come and go and there isn’t any way to replace their parts because they produced so few instruments. Meanwhile, the Japanese and American factories produced instruments for over fifty years and there are enough horns and parts to last well into the 21st century.
Voting With Your Wallet! If you are like us and don’t appreciate the cost-cutting measures and subsequent quality degradation of musical instruments over the years then you can tell manufacturers how you feel by voting with your wallet. If you buy used instead of new, you send a message that you want quality; namely the quality that these companies used to offer. A decline in new instrument sales might make manufacturers change their mind. A perfect example has already been mentioned. The manufacturer that switched production from the U.S. to Taiwan and then China had so many complaints that they now produce some instruments again in the U.S. and are showing a higher quality from their new Vietnamese factories. If you are environmentally conscious, the manufacturing of instruments like anything else requires resources. Part of being environmentally sustainable is to reduce, reuse and recycle. By buying used, you are reducing the demand for new instruments, by reusing older instruments you further suppress demand and instruments that are beyond repair can still be recycled for parts that keep others up and running.
In Defense of Manufacturers. Being from the repair end of the business, we don’t know everything that is happening on the manufacturing side. All we know is what we see that comes into our shop. A lot of our gripes could just be a result of the economic recession. During the recession, we saw inflation stop as most industry sectors didn’t want to raise prices because nobody had money to purchase their products. These companies were then forced to cut costs instead of raising prices. A lot of the countries that our trusted brands called home now have higher standards and costs of living than fifty years ago. It makes sense that they might not be able to compete in the student level market with lower wages in East Asia; Hence why many of those same corporations have opened up new factories in that region. That being said, some products still being made in their countries of origin have seen a quality reduction. For the most part our trusted manufacturers are still producing good instruments, but the cost of a new one doesn’t justify the changes that have been made and buying used is cheaper and usually better quality.
So When Should You Buy a New Instrument? The simplest answer to this question is when the repair cost is higher than the used value of the instrument. Most professional models won’t ever have this problem and it is more prevalent with student models. Student models that haven’t been maintained or left in a closet for years usually fall into this category. Eventually, we will run out of the older better quality instruments, but until then, we suggest buying a new used one at Underwood Music.