Buying musical instruments

Please note that these guides do not constitute legal advice and any information provided in the guides should not be construed as legal advice or legal interpretation. We do not accept any liability for any loss caused by your reliance on this guide.

The DoneDeal guide to buying musical instruments

New, used or 'beginner'?

  • New instruments can be very expensive, so for those starting out, buying a  used instrument makes a lot of sense, particularly since you don’t know if you will stick with it for the long term.
  • When looking for suitable instruments, you might come across items described as ‘beginner’ instruments, which may be cheaper than mid-to high-quality examples.
  • Beginner models may be quite suitable given that many beginners will be on ‘trial’ mode and would not get the benefit of a high-quality instrument.
  • However, sometimes beginner instruments, which are not much different in quality from other lower-priced instruments, may be over-priced, so be sure to check how much they cost when new.
  • If you are already an accomplished player, or you need to upgrade from a beginner instrument to something higher quality, it pays to do your homework.
  • This is particularly true since you will be likely to have the instrument for a longer period than your first one.

Get the price right

  • Determine if it is reasonably priced by trying to find out how much the instrument cost when new. Perhaps the seller will have the original receipt.

Inspecting an instrument

  • When inspecting an instrument for sale, bring an expert or someone who is knowledgeable about that instrument, particularly if you are a beginner.
  • If you or your child is taking formal lessons, very often the teacher will make recommendations about what to buy, and also do the checking before the purchase.

Stringed instruments

  • Stringed instruments, such as guitars, violins or cellos, are among the most popular types of musical instrument because they are plentiful, relatively cheap and very portable.
  • If buying for a child, there are usually half- and three-quarter-size models available.
  • Whether you are interested in an electric or an acoustic guitar, there are many types, brands and models available, so research is the key. Don’t forget to ask about accessories, such as a case, strap and picks.
  • If the guitar is electric, it should come with an amplifier and cables, but sometimes they are sold separately.
  • When it comes to instruments like the violin, viola or cello, the most important thing is to check if it is properly set up.
  • This means that every part of the instrument, such as the bridge, tailpiece and tuning pegs, should be in good condition and working well.
  • Don’t forget to check the bow, which should have a good weight, balance and flexibility.
  • The quality of the strings should be good. If not, they can easily be replaced, but this can make it difficult to check the overall sound quality when inspecting an item.
  • Again, bring someone knowledgeable about violins with you when inspecting.

Wind instruments

  • There are a few specific things to look out for if you are considering an instrument such as a flute, trumpet, saxophone or clarinet.
  • These items can be more expensive than stringed instruments, so its worth setting a budget. What you buy will be greatly influenced by how much you can actually spend.
  • In general, it is crucial to check that the instrument is in good working order, that all parts, keys and joints work perfectly. It should also be clean, inside and out.
  • Most importantly, it should not be leaking air from anywhere it shouldn’t be, such as through a crack caused by damage to the instrument.

Larger instruments

  • As with all instruments, bring an expert or someone knowledgeable when inspecting pianos and drums.
  • This is because these larger instruments can be very expensive and represent a more serious, long-term investment given that they are not as portable.
  • In particular, check that you have enough floor space!

We chatted to James Cavanagh, a professor and conductor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) in Dublin, and its former head of woodwind, brass and strings.