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Preparing for a Major Purchase

Black Belt Shopper (featured column)
by Larry Wiener

"I hear you’re a shopping writer," he asked me. "What do you know about buying a saxophone?" Actually, I didn’t know one thing about buying a saxophone. What I did go over with him was the process for preparing for any major purchase, including a saxophone.

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I’ll do the same with you because walking through the process I would use for shopping for a saxophone will give you an idea of how to approach any major purchase.

Step One: Determine Your Need

What are you going to use your saxophone for? Are you just starting to take lessons?  Is this for a child who may or may not continue? Do you plan to go for a club or even professional career?  All this will help you determine what features you need and how upscale your purchase may be.

Step Two: Become an Expert on Your Item

Once you know what you are going to do with your purchase, my next step would be to become an expert about the different kinds and quality levels of saxophones available. You’ll want to look at the different brands and features. A quick look at the various online marketplaces showed me prices from $250 used to $3500 new. Which one would be right for you? That will take some research.

You may want to start online. I did a search for "saxophone buying guide" and found a useful site operated by the owner of a music store in Mechanicsville, VA.

I found that there are tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones. I found that different types of plating and varnish affect the sound. Some student saxophones have a different feel, making them more appropriate for young hands. I found many other differences among the various saxes available.

I would continue my search by going to music stores in person, asking to try out various saxes, and looking at music magazines to find the differences in quality and features among the brands.

I would pay attention to small details. The fit of the mouthpiece, for example, is an important point to note when comparing saxophones.

After taking notes, I would make a list of features and decide which ones were important to me. I would find out which brands were known for high quality. I would determine which features and enhancements were valuable and which were just gingerbread.

Step Three: Match You Needs with Offerings

You’ve learned about the different types of saxophones and their features. Now you decide what you will look for. Maybe, for example, you will look for an intermediate brass plated saxophone. You may have one or two brands that you particularly like. In saxophones, for example, Yamaha is considered a good reliable brand.

One question, that no doubt will come up, will be whether to buy new or used. That depends on your budget, needs, and knowledge.

Obviously, most budding musicians would love to have a brand new high-end instrument out of the box. But if that isn’t what your budget calls for, do you buy a new sax of lesser quality or a used sax of greater quality?

My tendency in major purchases that won’t wear out for a long time would be to look for a very high quality used item first, if available. If, for example, I used to play the saxophone and want to get back into it, I would comb the classifieds for saxes. Yes, buying used involves some risk, but asking questions and trying out the items minimizes that risk.

Step Four: Start Shopping

Black belt shoppers know to not be in a hurry when making a major purchase. We know that where you buy can be almost as important as what you buy.

Some music stores have a trade-up policy, meaning that if you buy an instrument and within a certain amount of time want a higher end model, you can trade up and pay only the difference. Return policies vary. Warranties and service agreements vary. In some cases, these extras may be worth a slightly higher price.

How about buying sight unseen? Would I do that for a saxophone? Possibly for a new one if I had seen the item, but I would be less likely to buy a used instrument sight unseen unless I could return it.

You may or may not be in the market for a saxophone or other musical instrument, but here are some principles that will apply to almost any major purchase.

Become an expert on the item you are buying. Know which brands are well regarded and the differences between models. Consumer Reports and similar publications can be helpful in this regard.

Decide which features and quality level is most appropriate for your use.

Decide whether it would be worthwhile for you to attempt to save money buying used.

When you know what you want, find the merchant or private party seller that offers you the most for your money.

Researching items for major purchases and the outlets that offer them does take more time than buying quickly, but if you take that time, you will be glad you did so every time you use that great item.

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Return to Bargain Shopping

Copyright © 2004 by Larry Wiener. All rights reserved.

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