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When to Upgrade Your Instrument? A Buyer’s Guide

Like training wheels on a bike, beginner instruments are designed to help you learn how to play. But eventually, they might limit your progress. And for many musicians, there comes a time when you’ll need to upgrade your instrument.

Whether you’re an experienced player yourself, or you’re shopping for a loved one, this guide is for anyone who plays a woodwind, brass, or string instrument.

Silver-plated trumpet

When It Might Be Time to Upgrade Your Instrument

There could be any number of reasons you’d want to upgrade or change instruments. Here are some of the most common reasons we find at Summerhays:

  • Your current instrument is holding you back — Beginner instruments are great for learning, but they have limitations. They might not sound as vibrant as a step-up or professional instrument, or they lack certain features. Many advancing players eventually surpass the capabilities of their old instrument.

  • You need an instrument that can play advanced music — Some instruments are made with higher quality parts and have additional features. These traits can help you play more advanced music that you couldn’t play on your beginner instrument.

  • Your old instrument is in disrepair — Some used and vintage instruments are worth hanging on to. But others might be too costly to repair, so you’d be better off putting that money toward a new instrument.

  • You simply enjoy playing music — If you’re like us at Summerhays, you love music and want to get the most out of it. In which case, getting a shiny new instrument can bring so much more fulfillment and maintain your enthusiasm.

Beginner vs. Professional Instruments

Most student-level instruments are easy to play and affordable for beginners. That said, step-up and professional instruments offer several advantages:

Improved Tone Quality & Intonation

First thing you’ll notice is the sound quality. Step-up and professional instruments produce richer, fuller tones compared to the "thinner" sound of beginner instruments. And broadly speaking, they’ll be easier to play in-tune.

Higher Quality Materials

Step-up and pro instruments are generally made from better materials. 

For example, step-up flutes often have solid silver headjoints or bodies. Saxes and brass instruments also use more resonant metals than student instruments.

Advanced-level instruments like violins, violas, and cellos are usually hand-carved from solid pieces of wood. The wood itself also comes from specific parts of the world and is aged for many years.

A professional violin in its case


Student instruments are often mass-produced with durability and affordability in mind, making them ideal for beginners.

Comparatively, most step-up and professional instruments are made with higher levels of hand-craftsmanship. Whether it’s hammering the metal or carving the wood by hand, at least one real person’s artistry and expertise was involved in making the instrument.

Professional trumpet with deluxe hand engraving on the bell.

Finishes & Aesthetics

How an instrument looks might seem superficial. But it’s often a sign of its quality.

Pro brass and woodwind instruments may have ornate engravings somewhere on the bell or body. That, or they could feature gold or silver plating.

String instruments might use different varnishes to bring out a beautiful color or highlight the stunning wood grain.

Tips on Choosing an Upgraded Instrument

Here are some quick tips to help when picking a new instrument:

  1. Set a budget — Know how much you’re willing to spend before shopping. That way, you can focus on specific instruments and ignore others outside your price range. It could also prevent the heartbreak of falling in love with an instrument you can’t afford.

  2. Playtest instruments in person — Musical instruments are a very personal thing, so it’s best to try the instruments yourself. What’s good for other players might not be right for you.

  3. Only play 2-3 instruments at a time — It’s tempting to playtest every instrument in the store. But doing that can be confusing, and you might not remember which ones you like best. Playing just a few at a time will help you make more direct comparisons.

  4. Play music from memory — It’s hard to focus on sound quality when fumbling your way through sheet music. Test each instrument with an excerpt you know from memory. That way, all your attention goes toward the instrument’s tone and playability.

  5. Play short excerpts, then switch — In addition to playing from memory, keep your excerpts short. If the piece of music is too long, you’ll forget how the last instrument sounds by the time you finish. Play just a few seconds at a time, then quickly switch between instruments. You’ll make more accurate comparisons that way.

Step Up With Summerhays Today

Summerhays Music of Orem has the largest selection of step-up and professional brass, woodwind, and orchestral string instruments in Utah. Reach out to us and plan your next visit to our store.

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Don't play inferior instruments. Perform with Confidence!

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