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Musical Instruments buying guide

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Musical Instruments Guide - An Introduction

If you are already a musician, or have an inner musician itching to be released, it’s time to buy a musical instrument. No matter what your interest or talent, whether it’s an electric guitar, drum kit, or digital piano, there are many different instruments, and each has numerous manufacturers.

Musical instruments have been around for nearly all of recorded history. From hollowed-out logs and animal hides for drums to simple carved flutes, even early man used instruments to express their creativity or for religious ceremonies.

Today’s instruments range from simple to complex, acoustic to electronic. With guitars, for example, you can buy an acoustic guitar or even a pink electric guitar. Drums aren’t left out either, with choices including a traditional drum kit, electric drum kit, a junior drum kit, or even a drum machine.

With all the choices, where do you start? Price Inspector has done the research for you, bringing you all the information to make an informed buy. We have also comparison shopped the UK stores to bring you the best deals, so you know you’ll always get the best prices.

Keyboards

If you’re shopping for a keyboard, you have the choice of a traditional acoustic piano, electric piano, or a synthesizer. With acoustic pianos, your primary choices are upright pianos, baby grands, and grand pianos. While grand pianos sound lovely, they are extremely large. Most people choose an upright, as they are more manageable in size. Some purists may want only an acoustic piano, but they are still large, heavy, and expensive. You also have concerns about proper care, as they are sensitive to temperature and humidity changes, and they will need period tuning.

An alternative both for practicality and a wider range of musical expression is a piano keyboard. A small Casio keyboard is still a popular choice, with its smaller size, easy portability, and affordable price tag. However, today you can find keyboards that have the full 88 keys as a traditional piano, and some even mimic the sound and feel of an acoustic piano quite accurately.

Keyboards come in different numbers of keys, from the full 88 down to less than 25. If you just need a small keyboard for traveling or need a limited range such as for samples, you might be happy with fewer keys. However, if you’re playing traditional melodies or want to feel like you’re playing a real piano, you want at least 49 keys, with more keys being better.

Also consider the feel of the keys. If you are a trained pianist, you want a board with the full 88 keys with weighted piano action. If you’re a new musician or switching from another instrument, “synth” action might be better for you, as you can usually play easier and faster without having to train new muscles.

A Midi keyboard is another popular option, letting you download your musical creations to a digital file on your computer. With the file you create, you can mix and alter the sounds.

Popular keyboard brands include the Yamaha portable digital keyboard, Casio LK 220, and Yamaha YPT200.

 Stringed Instruments

While a guitar may be the first stringed instrument that many people think of, it’s not your only choice. You can buy a ukulele for that special tropical sound, a bass guitar, or even a children’s guitar perfectly suited for smaller fingers.

If you want to buy a guitar, your first decision is electric, acoustic, or electro acoustic. Electro acoustic guitars look and sound like traditional acoustic guitars, but they have a built-in amp rather than relying on a separate external microphone. Electric guitars provide a completely different look, feel, and sound. These are most often associated with louder music, such as modern rock songs, but they are also popular for blues musicians and have even been used by folk singers.

There are many important considerations when buying any type of guitar. The first is the type of wood. The wood affects the weight and tone of a guitar. However, it’s not your only consideration. It’s just as important to consider the overall design, skill of the maker, and quality of the individual wood.

Also consider the bridge. There are two basic types of electric guitar bridges: tremolo and stoptail. A tremolo bridge, also known as a whammy bar, lets you bend all the strings at once. This is good for certain styles of music, but it can knock your strings out of tune. A stoptail bridge has more stable tuning. Some players also feel that it provides more sustain.

When choosing an electric guitar, you have a choice between a set neck and a bolt-on neck. Some plays feel that a set neck provides more sustain than if the neck is bolted on. This may influence your purchase decision. Keep in mind that some manufacturers only make one type of neck. For example, a Gibson Les Paul comes only with a set neck, while a Fender Stratocaster is only available with a bolt-on neck.

Finally, consider the electric guitar’s pickups. Most have two, with one being close to the neck for a thicker sound and one located closer to the bridge, providing a twangy, treble sound. Some guitars offer a 3-position switch so you can blend the pickups or choose between them. Some even offer a 5-position switch, blending the pickups even more. A few electric guitars offer a third pickup in between the traditional two, giving you even more blending options.

In addition to the Stratocaster and Les Paul mentioned above, popular guitars brands include the Gibson Sg, Epiphone, Fender Telecaster, and Yamaha Pacifica.

Drums

Whether you are a beginner, hobbyist, or working pro, there is a drum set that is perfect for you. Common components include a snare drum, bass drum, mounted toms, and a floor tom. You also need cymbals and hardware. These may be included with the drum set or purchased separately.

For a beginner, a 4-piece drum set gives you the basic sounds. It includes a snare, bass, single mounted tom, and floor tom. This is the configuration made famous by Ringo Starr with The Beatles. This smaller set takes up less space, is portable, and it suited to blues, jazz, and rock music. Larger sets, which add more toms for a wider range of tones, are suited for rock, contemporary, fusion, and country music styles. Another option is a double bass drum, which lets you play faster bass patterns.

Consider the type of wood used in the drums, as each provides a different sound. Maple is most popular, providing a warm and balanced tone. Birch provides a harder, brighter sound. It works well for recordings, as its clear tones easily cut through the other instruments. Mahogany provides enhanced low and midrange tones and reduces the high tones. The drum shells are also made from several layers of wood. Generally speaking, the more layers, the rounder the sound. Fewer layers result in a brighter sound.

Another option is an electronic drum kit. Advantages are that you can use headphones for a quiet practice session without disturbing anyone, and you can run a signal directly to a mixing board, which makes it faster and easier to mix. You can also select hundreds of electronic percussion and drum sounds.

Tips to consider before you buy a Musical Instrument

No matter what type of instrument you’re buying, there are a few common buying tips. First, you need to actually test out the instrument. The perfect instrument for someone else might not be the one you want.

  • Consider how the instrument feels. If it’s an instrument you hold, is it comfortable in your hands? Is the weight appropriate? For a keyboard, do you like how the keys respond to your touch?
  • Listen to the instrument. Every manufacturer provides a different sound, so you can’t buy an instrument without hearing it first.
  • Consider the type of music you’ll be playing. Look at what other musicians in the genre are using. While you might not be able to afford the same model as the top musicians who have unlimited budgets, you can at least get an idea of the type of instrument used in your favourite bands.
  • If choosing an electric instrument, review the controls. Do you get a wide range of available sounds? Are the controls easy to understand?
  • If you’re buying a Midi instrument, consider whether there are any special hardware or software needs and whether it will be compatible with your computer or mixing board.
  •  Ask whether there are any special care needs for the instrument. This is especially important for acoustic pianos and guitars, as they are more sensitive to temperature and humidity. Some musicians place a small humidor pack in their guitar case, while others may need a dehumidifier if storing it in a very damp basement.

Jargon Explained

 

Midi Musical Digital Interface. This allows your electronic musical instrument to communicate with your computer. It’s useful for mixing and altering sounds.

Buying Guide to Musical Instruments
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