Don't trust Amazon to sell you a good "cheap" band instrument. Nope! Some super-cheap instruments get good reviews there, but after much experience I've not been impressed by most of the instruments sold there...especially when they are abnormal colors! In general, I would stay away from most brands that are recent Chinese upstarts or that aren't in my "Good Value" or "Highest Quality" lists below. The most reliable brands have been around for 20+ years, and have a proven track record of using quality metals, long-lasting pads, springs and moving parts, and reliable welds and finishes. Interestingly, the "Good Value" musical instrument brands are mostly made as "student model" versions of the top brands in the industry, much like Toyotas are made in the same factories as Lexus automobiles. Here are brand comparisons of some of the most common instruments on the market...
Unreliable Instrument Brands
Good Value Instrument Brands
Highest Quality Instrument Brands
However, you don't have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get an instrument that will work well for the first 2 years of middle school band. Generally, instruments sold at wwbw.com (Woodwind/Brasswind) and interstatemusic.com (Cascio Music) can be trusted. Please don't take my word for it. Browse, compare, and read reviews of many different brands (and costs) of instruments before purchasing one. However, below I offer my TOP picks for the best inexpensive band instruments. Happy shopping, and happy playing!
Best Value Student Clarinet
The Etude Clarinet is an unbelievably good instrument at only $249 (summer, 2018). Most clarinets under $400 should be avoided because of a variety of problems: pads that aren't properly seated, corks that come loose, keys or other parts that break off within months, and poor tone quality. Somehow the company that makes Etude has managed to make a great beginning clarinet at an incredibly low cost. Don't expect to make it into All-State on this instrument, but you can expect to get a good 2-3 years out of it. You can buy it from Woodwind/Brasswind by clicking this link: www.wwbw.com.
Best Value Student Flute
In general I tend to prefer the Etude brand over Allora, but when it comes to the flute, Allora comes out on top! At $259 you can't beat the value of this instrument, and you won't be disappointed with its appearance or performance for beginning flute players. After the first two years of playing on this instrument you can probably sell it for at least $150, then put more money ($500+) into a upgraded open-hole flute made by Gemeinhardt or Pearl. As with any instrument, serious musicians should eventually move to the $2,000+ range of instruments, but honestly most elementary or middle school band students aren't going to go there (unfortunately).
Best Value Student Trumpet
The Etude Trumpet is hard to beat! Yes, you can find many cheaper trumpets, but none of them will compare with the good quality of the Etude. The slides all move nicely, the valve action is excellent (for a beginning, starter-level trumpet), and the look and finish are great! You will get several years of good playing out of this "cheap" trumpet, and can probably sell it online as a "used" instrument for over half of what you paid for it! The Etude trumpet is an amazing value for only $199. You can get it from Woodwind/Brasswind through this link: www.wwbw.com. If you find a trumpet that is less expensive and higher quality than the Etude, please let me know!
Best Value Student Trombone
Every trombone slide can be easily dented by a careless beginner student, but if treated carefully this trombone will play and slide nice and smooth for several years. At only $199 you can't beat the cost, and it compares well against trombones that cost $500 or more. If it gets beat up in a year or two, it has served its purpose, but likely you will be able to get well over $100 by selling it on a local classifieds website, and put that money toward a higher-end trombone like the Yamaha or King.