In recent years the market has changed with an influx of cheap Chinese instruments. Taiwanese instruments used to be dominant in the student market: now it is Chinese built. The response from major manufacturers is to offer Chinese instruments with their own brand on them.
Generally speaking, the cheapest instruments should be avoided. There are some brands that are OK, but the market is volatile and as soon as you find a reliable brand, they disappear or change in quality. So we can't recommend cheaper instruments.
Chinese manufacture has also introduced counterfeit instruments. If you find brand new Yanagisawa, Yamaha or Selmer instruments offered for a few hundred dollars, they are fake.
The counterfeiters are now producing things like fake mouthpieces. If something is a tenth of the price it should be, it isn't going to be genuine. What chemicals are used in the manufacture is unknown, and there are real concerns over metal mouthpieces that have been shown to contain hazardous chemicals.
It is probably wise to stick with the most prominent manufacturers: Selmer, Yamaha, Buffet, Jupiter, Yanagisawa, Trevor James, etc. These companies have consistently produced instruments of a good standard.
If you look at cheaper instruments, the name on the front isn't actually who made it. Some of the names are invented to sound European, whilst others are just the names of shops or suppliers. This generally means you will get no backup service, with no spare parts available.
If you want a cheaper instrument, you can still get a good quality one second hand. We try to stock a few instruments that are good quality, but cost less.
Trevor James, Jupiter, Yamaha, Gemeinhardt, Pearl
Yamaha, Buffet, Selmer, Jupiter, LeBlanc.
Yanagisawa, Yamaha, Trevor James, Selmer, P. Mauriat, Jupiter.
BUYING SECOND HAND
Check over second hand instruments before buying. The first thing to look for is any damage. If an instrument had been dropped it can take a lot of work to repair it with all kinds of hidden damage. Check the mechanism for loose keywork. Any play in the mechanism can be as a result of heavy use or damage, and can cause further problems such as wear to pads. Bends to the mechanism can stop the instrument from functioning. Check for any missing cork/felt that might cause metallic clicking/ knocking sounds. And check the pad condition. Pads that are worn or cracked will need replacing, and this is one of the more expensive repairs.
If you're buying online, it's very difficult to check any of these things properly. So bring your purchases to a repairer. Even with careful study of photos, I've had to make adjustments or repairs to nearly all of my own purchases.