Should You Buy Your Child a Band Instrument from a Pawn Shop?
One of my readers asked me about pawn shop instrument purchases. I would not recommend a pawn shop purchase to the typical parent for several reasons, shown below.
1. Most parents will not know the difference in brands and there are many terribly bad brands out there.
2. Most of the time, at least some repair to the instrument will be needed. The repair alone can be double or even triple what was paid for the instrument. At the very least, the instrument should be taken to a repair shop just for a check up, cleaning, and disinfecting and that can run over a $100 on some instruments.
3. The instruments I’ve found in pawn shops usually have very smelly cases; may even have been wet – with or without the instrument inside. Not only does the case smell, the instruments typically need a thorough cleaning. In the case of a brass instrument, I would take it to a repair shop and have an “acid bath” cleaning just for my child’s health.
4. A lot of times, there are pieces missing from pawn shop instruments, such as the mouthpiece, ligature, barrel, or mouthpiece cap for a clarinet. I would not give a child a clarinet or saxophone mouthpiece to play before it was thoroughly cleaned. I have seen broken mouthpieces with pawn shop instruments and replacements can be costly. The parent may not notice the damaged mouthpiece. A small nick in the wrong place on a clarinet or saxophone mouthpiece can make it unusable.
5. Back to the cases, many times these are in very poor condition in pawn shop instruments. They may have broken hinges, peeling laminated coverings, or they are just showing signs of age and rough treatment. Be prepared to buy a new case for the instrument also. For students, beginners through high school, I recommend the hard shell cases just because the instrument will be better protected. These cases can be costly for large instruments. School age children are very sensitive about the looks of their instrument case. I have had students drop out of band because the other children laughed at their case or because it was just too smelly. As adults, we can overcome these kinds of things and we can fix it if we want to. A child is often stuck with what he’s given and he/she may feel that no one really cares whether he learns to play or not.
I have purchased a couple of instruments for my school band inventory from pawn shops but I’m very aware of what I’m seeing. Any fix ups that were needed, I was able to do myself. If a parent knows someone who is quite knowledgeable about these things, take that person along and it might turn out just fine. On the other hand, if a parent knows someone that knowledgeable, that person will probably be able to help them find a quality instrument at a fair price anywhere.
The people in the pawn shop know nothing about band instruments and certainly will not be standing behind the product. If the instrument is good quality with a good case, the pawn shop price will be very near what a band instrument store will charge, sometimes even higher.
A parent can do much better going to a quality band instrument store that also does repairs. A parent can rent a quality used instrument from such a store. If it still seems like too much money, ask the store owner if he has an older model instrument for less money. The stores I have worked in were always able to help keep an interested child in band by working on the money issues with the parents. When you deal with a good band instrument store, you are dealing with people who play instruments themselves so they are believers in musical education, which means a lot. Pawn shops do not have this type of interest in the child. The band instrument store depends on the good will of the local band directors for survival so they will treat the customer well.