Instrument Rental Guide

The Power of Renting

There are certain times of year when music is in the air and instruments are on the brain. If you’re the parent of a child going back to school, it’s time to start gearing up for a year of band. Or maybe it’s festival season and you’re interested in picking up an instrument yourself. It may not even be a special occasion – you could simply wake up on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday and decide it’s time for music.

Whatever the reason, when you’re looking for an instrument suited to a developing player, the option to rent is going to be at the forefront. With all the benefits of music programs and hobbies for people of all ages, there’s every reason to invest in an instrument – and for most of us, renting is the ideal way to do it. Not only is the up-front cost much lower, but with a good rental program, you also get an assortment of perks that you’d be missing out on with a purchased instrument. We’ll discuss some of those perks in this guide, as well as identifying a few of the obstacles that come with renting along with how to overcome them.

The Information Challenge

The biggest hurdle for those who want to rent an instrument is a simple lack of information. If you were looking to buy a car or the latest electronic gadget, there would be no shortage of advertisements, peer recommendations, reviews and other sources of information to help you make the right decision. Research about products like these is generally easy to do, and with the knowledge you gain, you can prepare yourself to make a decision easily.

Musical instruments are another story. Of course, this isn’t to say that there’s no information out there, but it can take a lot more digging to find. Fewer people are experts in a particular instrument than in a more mainstream product. And with deadlines such as having to find an instrument in time for the beginning of band season, your research and budgeting time may be far more limited. However, if you know where to find help, you’ll discover that obtaining information about instruments can be easier than you ever expected.

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More often than not for school band programs, the best source of advice is the band director. He or she will know which local music stores and online resources to recommend, and can often give you plenty of insight directly. Some may even provide a list of approved vendors. In the event that there isn’t any sort of program coordinator to reach out to, such as if you’re renting an instrument for yourself, consider taking the initiative to visit music stores in your area. Good music stores tend to be well-connected to the local community, with knowledgeable staff that will help you find well-informed musical advice.

Lastly, remember to never underestimate the power of an internet search engine. No matter what sort of instrument you’re interested in renting, there are sure to be some very thorough sources of information to be found online, such as the general rental guide you’re reading at this very moment.

Your Rental Options

If information is a challenge because of being too scarce, then choices are the opposite: they can be tough because there are so many. There are a lot of rental providers out there, and each one carries a fairly diverse stock of instruments – so even once you’ve chosen which store or site to rent from, you’re then faced with a second round of choosing in order to pick out an individual instrument. A little guidance goes a long way in this task, so here are some pointers for sorting out the options set before you.

Rental Providers

For shoppers in search of affordable instruments, there are many online options available for purchasing new or used instruments. However, purchasing an instrument that you can’t see first is very risky. There is a difference between “affordable” and “cheap,” and the nature of these products is that you’re likely to end up with an instrument that falls into the latter category. This is just one more reason why renting is a smart idea: instrument rental companies like Music & Arts manage to combine trustworthiness with value, so you can have much better peace of mind about what you’re getting.

A rental provider has a vested interest in the upkeep of the instruments they rent out, which means they’re much more likely to offer comprehensive support that “hands-off” sellers lack. While there are bad apples in the rental industry as well, the nature of instrument rentals tends to make those easy to spot. If you’re not sure about the reputation of a renter, look up the contract details and make sure they’re fair (more on that below). If the terms are hard to understand or seem to be lacking, take it as a red flag indicating that you should consider finding a provider more up-front with that information.

You can learn a lot about a rental agency by looking up the company they keep. Are they a member of a well-known organization, like the American String Teacher association, National Association for Music Education, NAMM Foundation, Midwest Clinic or a state-specific group? Music & Arts has continued relationships with these associations and more to bring more value to educators and students all over the country.


Once you’ve settled on an ideal instrument rental provider, the next step is to choose the instrument itself. This can also be a big challenge, especially if you don’t have an extensive musical background. For instance, you may not know the difference between grenadilla and plastic clarinets, or that there are two different kinds of trombones. You’ll see many brands, most of which you may not even recognize. How can you make sense of all these options?

If you’re renting a band instrument, the best solution is to consult the band director. Most school music programs will provide a list of instrument choices, in which case all you have to do is choose one of these “band director approved” instruments. In fact, some band directors won’t even allow non-approved instruments in the band, so be sure to follow the recommendations sent home with your child by his or her director. Music & Arts interfaces directly with educators to better understand their preferences so you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong thing. We’ll make sure your child ends up with the right instrument and accessory package for a competitive price.

A description of the instrument’s condition should be provided by your rental provider. It goes without saying that the best choice is one that’s in “new” or “like new” condition. For starters, no recipient of an instrument – whether yourself or your child – wants one that looks and smells like it’s been on a shelf for decades. Ensure you’ve chosen a rental provider that checks all instruments for quality before shipping them out… even the brand-new ones. This will go a long way to prevent an unpleasant surprise when you first open the box.

What to Look For in a Rental Program

Finding an upstanding music rental store and a quality instrument are two very important steps to a great rental experience, but there’s one more thing to put under the microscope: the details of the rental program itself. Before signing a rental agreement or contract, you should read through the whole document and make sure everything is in order. Don’t hesitate to ask any and all questions you may have – you’re about to make a commitment, after all, so it should be an informed one. Here are some of the features and conditions to put on your rental program checklist.

Maintenance Plans

One of the undeniable facts of life is that incidents happen, whether we like them or not, and instruments are not immune from this law of nature. They can get dropped. Little siblings can decide to play with them when no one is looking. And even with the good fortune of being accident-free, an instrument is subject to routine wear and tear. Look for an instrument rental program that has a comprehensive maintenance and repair plan: this way, you can avoid costly bills before they even happen.

Fair Contracts

Fine print is inevitable when you’re dealing with any kind of contract or agreement, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fair. For starters, look into the term length: a month-to-month rental leaves the option to return the instrument earlier, while a long-term contract will typically save you money over time if your child/student has decided to stick it out for the year. Keep in mind that a good instrument rental contract will have provisions for exchanging your rental to any other instrument regardless of term.


The best type of arrangement is generally a rent-to-own program. This puts a finishing line on your rental payments, and means that if you stick with the new instrument, eventually it will be yours and you can freely carry on your progress with no strings attached. There are several states that do not allow rent-to-own programs, but you can typically still apply your rental equity to the purchase of a similar instrument to take advantage of ownership.

Early Purchase Discounts

An early purchase discount goes hand-in-hand with a good rent-to-own program. It means that if you decide to buy out the instrument before the rental term is up, you’ll receive a discount in addition to the payments you’ve already made. Even with such a discount, some contracts will specify a minimum number of months renting before the instrument can be purchased. The best type of plan you can hope to find is one that offers an early purchase discount at any time, with no minimum rental term before it goes into effect. The closer you can get to that, the better. Consider the amount of the discount as well. Music & Arts offers a 30% discount on your remaining rental balance should you decide to pay off your instrument rental.

Trade-in Support

No musician will play the same instrument forever, and sooner or later, the time will come to upgrade. This time may not wait for your rental period to be over, so it’s worthwhile to look for a plan that forwards a portion of your paid rental fees toward a more advanced instrument. Moving from a beginner to an intermediate level instrument can happen in as little as a few months for devoted students, and some will even be qualified for a professional instrument within the first several years. With rent-to-buy plans often taking many months to complete, a trade-in program can be a huge help.

Keep in mind, though, that there are two sides to this coin. While upgrading does become necessary sooner or later, it should be saved until you’re ready. Some music instrument rental programs may try to pressure you into renting an intermediate level instrument only a few months in. Always consult your child’s band director (or your instructor, if you’re renting for yourself) before agreeing to this step – and only go through with it when they confirm that it’s time. It’s also worth considering that you may not wish to give up your first instrument at all. It can be very useful to have a backup on hand for punishing conditions like outdoor performances and marching band, saving your higher-end instrument for gentler environments.

Last Words

The best phrase to sum up the rental experience is this: “knowledge is power.” Inform yourself about your rental provider and instrument options, inform yourself about the fine details of a contract before you sign on the dotted line, and inform yourself about your own needs, financially as well as musically. Choose a program that’s well-supported and flexible, with a highly-recommended instrument from a trusted renter, and you’ll have all the ingredients for a positive rental experience.

The friendly staff at Music & Arts is happy to explain how our contracts work. Whether you rent in-store or online, there is always a friendly staff member ready to help answer your questions.

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