How do I know my instrument is in proper working condition?
If you are a beginner I recommend having a band director, private teacher or trained technician play test your instrument. Most private teachers will test each of their student’s instruments in the first lesson and so they are experienced in doing so, and trained technicians always play test every instrument before returning it to the player. The extreme precision demanded by professional musicians is not necessary for beginners but your instrument does need to play correctly without blowing harder or squeezing harder.
  • Saxophone: Should play easily down to the low “Bb”, key systems should be quiet and smooth and key heights should be even and correct. You shouldn’t have to blow harder or squeeze harder to play any notes.
  • Flute: Should play easily down to the low “C” (or “B”), key systems should be quiet and smooth and keyheights should be even and correct. You shouldn’t have to blow harder or squeeze harder to play any notes. Flutes should be played with a light touch and your flute should make that easy.
  • Clarinet: Should play easily across the break, keys should be quiet and smooth, each tenon should slidetogether easily with cork grease and not warble when assembled. The tone should be strong and vibrant. You should be able to play low E with a light touch very softly (pianissimo).
  • Piston valve brass: All the tuning slides should work smoothly. The valves should return to their up position quickly and smoothly. Larger dent should be removed. All braces should be properly soldered. There should not be a significant difference in the tamber (sound) of the instrument when different valves are being pressed.
  • Rotary valve brass: All the tuning slides should work smoothly. The rotary valves should move quickly, quietly and smooth. The valve lever should be quiet with minimal lost motion. All braces should be properly soldered.
Why do I need a well-trained technician to repair an instrument for a beginner?
  • Woodwind repair is mostly about air leaks. The less an instrument leaks the easier it plays and the better it sounds. An instrument that has too many leaks can be compared to trying out for basketball wearing sandals. The player can still run and jump but not well enough to make the team. In the case of woodwind instruments an instrument that has been repaired correctly looks the same as an instrument that needs additional work. This means the “basketball player” doesn't know he is playing in sandals. The result is a student who thinks they are not “cut out” for music when they never had a chance. They may even think they aren't “talented” and may never try playing music again.
  • Brass instrument repair is mostly about cleanliness, alignment and tolerances. If an instrument is not regularly cleaned properly plating can be damaged, valves and slides can freeze or stick, brass can begin to pit and expensive parts may need to be replaced as a result. If an instrument is not aligned properly tension can cause valves to stick intermittently and wear unevenly, solder points can break more easily and notes will not center as easily. Brass instruments demand very close tolerances to perform well. An under-qualified technician can easily over expand parts of brass instruments causing air leaks and problematic valves. This type of damage can cost more to repair than the instruments are worth. By starting with a quality instrument and having it repaired by a qualified technician your instrument can last a lifetime and even be used by generations.
How often should a trumpet be professionally cleaned?
I recommend having your trumpet professionally cleaned every 1 or 2 years. Keeping brass instruments clean can be compared to keeping your teeth clean. Your teeth should be cleaned every time you eat and your trumpet should be oiled every time you play. Your teeth should be professionally cleaned every 6-12 months and your trumpet should be professionally cleaned every 1-2 years. You can and should clean your trumpet every few months yourself but just as brushing and flossing doesn't obtain the same results as a dentist, soap and water do not obtain the same results as a chemical or ultrasonic cleaning by a trained technician. Many players wait very long periods of time before having their trumpets professionally cleaned just like many people wait long periods of time before having their teeth professionally cleaned. While the affects of doing so in both circumstances are not noticed immediately the long term affects can be severe. In the case of trumpets, calcium deposits are building up inside the trumpet changing the bore size, deteriorating valve plating, pitting the inside of the mouthpipe and main tuning slide, and sticking or freezing slides. Sometimes the damage is so severe expensive parts have to be replaced. A good technician can replace parts with original, universal or custom parts and make it look very nice but your trumpet will never look or play the same again.  
Why do your used/pre-owned student instruments cost more than new instruments?
My used, brand name, mostly Made in America, refurbished instruments are a much better deal than new instruments that cost less. Virtually all musical instrument factories in America have been closed while traditionally “Made in U.S.A.” brand names are being placed on instruments made in Asia. The instruments I sell have been chosen because of their playability and durability. I also know the weaknesses of brand name instruments and I improve on them when I repair them. The keys are strong, the pads are flat and durable, the glue that holds on the corks and pads is strong and I stand behind my instruments after they sell. I strongly believe frugality and value is about the long-term cost and not about buying a cheap instrument. Years later you will have an instrument that can be sold or passed on to siblings or even the next generation.
What does better than new playing condition mean?
My refurbished instruments are better than new because they play better and last longer. New instruments are made in factories where multiple instruments are produced every day and tolerances are fallowed only to make sure they are good enough to sell. A lot of things get overlooked though. Tenons, receivers, pads and even solder joints may be leaking air. Burrs are sometimes left in flute headjoints. Keys and screws are sometimes too loose to stay in adjustment and so on.  When I refurbish a woodwind instrument I check all these things. I use high quality pads, cork and glues. I tighten or “swedge” keys as needed. I replace or tighten loose screws. When I mechanically overhaul and instrument I spend a few hours working on one instrument and I play test it until it’s right.
Why do repair prices vary so much between different repair shops?
In order to become a repair technician, I graduated from a 12-month repair program at Renton Technical College and apprenticed for six years under qualified, trained and experienced technicians. I have attended 5 national educational conferences, 6 regional clinics, and have instructed 2 regional clinics locally. Quality repair is very time consuming, and tedious. I don't cut corners at the expense of quality, and every instrument I repair is done to the very best standards.
What is a Mag Reading?
A Magnehelic Machine or Mag Leak Isolator is a tool used to find very minute leaks in wind instruments. The better an instrument seals the better is plays and sounds. It does not guarantee an instrument plays well as many other factors affect the instruments performance but when used by a technician it can reveal the quality of a pad job and help in the diagnostics. It is not an exact science and a technician must be well trained to use it properly. The main advantage of this machine is that it tests for leaks by blowing air rather than sucking air. This means that it more closely represents the way the instrument is played and can find leaks missed by other means. I am using "Mag Readings" to represent how well the instruments I'm selling seal. Very high quality repairs are what set the instruments on this site apart from other stores and websites selling similar instruments.
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Chris Moller’s Guide to Vintage Saxophones