Music on a Budget

How to upgrade your student’s education and experience while sticking to a tighter budget.

Violin propped on woven basket with dollar bills in front of it

Minor upgrades can make major changes

Something as simple as better strings, a higher end bow, the next level mouthpiece or ligature, and trying new reeds can drastically change an instrument. This is by far the most budget friendly way to get the better tone and response without purchasing an entirely different instrument.

Rent or Buy?

Both options have their pros and cons. Purchasing an instrument outright can save you money in the long run, but what happens when little Susie quits or changes instruments? Renting an instrument is the most economical way if you’re not sure if your student will continue on past a few months. You can always return a rental, but not necessarily a purchase after 6 months. When renting, you end up paying a little more over the life of the contract, but most retailers have maintenance programs and a way to change instruments if desired. Some stores even offer discounts on purchasing early at any point of the rental.

Are repairs really budget friendly?

Yearly maintenance is essential. Just like a doctor visit, they can spot minor problems before they become money holes. Proper care and cleaning can also protect from unwanted repair bills and permanent damage. Something as simple as not swabbing out Timmy’s Alto Saxophone can lead into a $600 plus repair bill once damage sets in. Ask your local store about care kits and proper care techniques. You can also ask your teacher.

Violin propped on woven basket with dollar bills in front of it

Where can I get an instrument but not pay an arm and a leg?

Now, you might ask why you shouldn’t buy the first great deal you find online. Yes, you can find instruments extremely cheap, but they’re just that… cheap. Manufactures “battle to the bottom” in terms of price, but in doing so, they often use softer material, poor fittings, and plastic to a point where they can not be repaired. It is cheaper in the long run to spend a little more up front once than to pay for a cheap instrument multiple times whenever it needs to be replaced. Repair technicians often refer to these as “disposable” or “throwaway” instruments.


Family instruments can go either way for the budget minded. Before you spend any money, you should take it into a shop and get it looked over. The repair technician should be able to give you a rough idea on repairs, replacement parts and cases, and if the instrument is a good fit for a beginning student. Grandpa’s old 1930s Saxophone is going to have some ergonomic issues and extra bits that are not suited for a new student. They can make cool retro horns for later years and more experienced players so keep it safe for that day! Sometimes, family instruments (maybe the one you played back in high school) are worth passing on to the next generation of musicians. Our best advice is to have a repair technician look it over to see if it would be a worthy instrument for your student. That said, instruments have changed a lot over the years as well, and newer student ones are designed for beginning players in mind and are easier to play.

Importance of having a Good Instrument

Nobody likes not succeeding while their classmates are playing circles around them. Finding a good instrument means less resistance while playing and ergonomically comfortable on the hands. A technician or teacher can give an instrument a play test if you are unsure, and can give advice.

The Takeaways

Upgrading accessories like mouthpieces, strings, bows, and reeds is a great first step in achieving a better sound on a budget. Renting an instrument can be cheaper in the short term to just give it a try and give flexibility when making changes. Minor repairs often are better than major repairs not only for your budget but for the instrument itself. You honestly get what you pay for, and doing a little research and asking questions is the best way to make smart informed purchases and save money. Always check with the teacher and a repair technician when using an older instrument. Listen to the player; if they seem to be struggling more than most of the class, go to a local shop and get the instrument looked at. One of the biggest reason players don’t practice or quit playing is due to the difficulty of getting the correct sound from an instrument in need of help.

When in doubt, just ask. Local shops are full of musicians with years of knowledge and experience. The best part of the job is seeing the next generation start their journey! Remember that everyone started where you are today; taking the first steps and asking those questions.