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Feb 1, 2014

Budget instruments?--Yes please!

I love bang-for-the-buck instruments.

Growing up, I remember musical instruments being a serious investment.  They were very expensive, and therefore only reserved for those dedicated to practice and committed to lessons and/or performing.  (They weren't something you had the luxury of buying to “try out” or just to “fool around on when you have time”.)  And as a result, if you decided to take the plunge, chances were it meant it was probably the one instrument you were stuck with.

On the other hand, attempting to buy a "cheap" instrument meant you'd probably end up with something that more closely resembles a toy than a real instrument.  Something where the quality was either too poor to play “real” music or so unplayable that you'd give up on learning out of pure frustration...

Nowadays, however, manufacturing processes have come so far that companies are making very high-quality instruments at budget prices.  For people like me (a casual player who likes to dabble in a little of everything), this is pure awesomeness!  

I now have the opportunity to own instruments that once seemed out of reach.  Combine that with the amount of free information and tutorials on the web, you can learn almost anything and dabble without breaking the pocket book!  (Of course, it also helps that I'm now an adult with my own money.)

Case in point: $63 for a totally playable, well-reviewed violin??--I'm not even a big fan of the violin (though I do appreciate a good bluegrass tune), but for that price, I'd buy one to fiddle with (pun intended) just for fun!  (I figure even if I end up terrible at it, it'd look better hung on my wall than any other $63 piece of art.)
Don't get me wrong, there are certainly instruments out there that don't have as budget-friendly beginner price points–I've been searching for an upright/double bass for a while, but those things start at like $2,000!   (And even at that price, the quality can be questionable.)  

--I also feel sorry for anyone out there who wants to learn to play the harp.. I doubt there are many "budget friendly" harps out there.  (Thankfully, harps are nowhere near the top of my instrument "wanted" list.)

But, if you're someone who's been looking to pick up, say, the guitar or ukulele, it's never been a better time!  There are tons of great-sounding, high-quality, playable options out there at really low price points.

It's more than just affordability!
Aside from "budget instruments" being more attainable, they are simply a lot more inviting. Here's what I mean:
  • I'm a firm believer that for a beginner to become good (with guitar for example), their guitar should be out, and accessible.  (So while it might feel more "pro" to have a fancy guitar that you keep in a humidity-controlled case, you'll be a lot better off with one you can keep on a stand within arm's reach of your desk or next to the couch to play during commercials.) --Simply put, the more time the instrument is in your hands, the better you will become.
  • I also feel much more constrained to play "delicately" with an expensive guitar (worrying that I might scratch the finish or get too much palm-sweat on the neck). Part of learning is experimenting, and cheaper guitars give you the freedom to put it through the paces--get into a heavy jam, or start bending those strings!
  • Along the same lines, it's travel friendly--there's less worry about taking a cheaper guitar with you on a camping trip or to a friend's house for a jam session.
  • Lastly, there's just a lot less pressure to be good.  It's much more impressive to be the guy who can belt out a few tunes on a cheap guitar, than the poser guy who walks into a room with some pricey guitar he can barely play.
With budget guitars in particular, it also gives you the opportunity to own more than one.  Admittedly, I've been on a guitar-buying kick lately.  (Something I wouldn't be able to do with thousand-dollar guitars.)  Check out my other post for details on my bang-for-the-buck guitar collection.

Remember: it's about value
Quality should be first and foremost--especially for a beginner.  (Nothing will slow you down more than an instrument that's working against you.)  RESEARCH research research.

Are all "cheap" instruments good?--Of course not.  But you don't have a to be a brand-snob either.