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Step-ups:  What makes them better?

 

Many students and parents are surprised when their band or orchestra directors tell them they should get another instrument.  “What’s wrong with my rental instrument?” they might wonder?  Here is some basic information about what it means to buy a “step-up” instrument:

 

When students begin band or orchestra, they almost always start on a student-level or beginner instrument.  These are what most people rent.   Student instruments are designed to allow students to learn the basics of playing an instrument.  They are usually constructed to be durable, so students can learn how to properly handle the instrument without damaging it.  They are also designed to be easier to play, so beginners won’t get discouraged as easily.  Beginner instruments are good quality instruments, but as students advance, they may need a step-up instrument to truly develop their advanced musical skills.

 

Step-up instruments are more intermediate or professional instruments.  There are many differences between student and step-up instruments, but the main differences are the materials and the amount of handwork in construction.  First, step-up instruments are made of higher-quality materials.  This varies by instrument family, but can include higher silver content, different metal combinations, better-quality wood, or aged wood.  Each of these things contributes to better and easier sound production.  Second, step-ups will have more handwork in construction than student instruments.  Most student instruments are made by machines.  Handwork allows for better-fitting parts, more precise key or slide movements, and better resonance.

 

The following is a list of some instrument-specific features that are included on many step-up instruments:

 

Woodwinds:

  • More hand work- keys will move much more smoothly, better cut toneholes
  • Improved key action, allowing for more precise movements.  Easier to play technical passages. 
  • Extra keys, allowing for extended range.  Can also provide alternate fingerings that improve intonation or make trills easier
  • Higher quality pads, which will last longer and seal better

 

Flute

  • Higher silver content- allows for a larger sound with more projection
  • B-foot- extra key on footjoint, allows for an extra note and better intonation across the entire range of the flute
  • Headjoint cut allows for more resistance, allowing student to use more air and produce a fuller sound

Clarinet

  • Aged wood- less likely to crack and allows student to produce more resonant, full sound.  Also more responsive
  • Larger bore- richer, fuller sound
  • More handwork in keys and toneholes

 

Saxophone

  • High F# and G key to extend range
  • Blue steel springs- improved key action
  • Cosmetic upgrades- engraved bell, mother of pearl finger buttons
  • Different brass/metal content – improved sound
  • Different key to body construction – improved response and sound
  • More handwork

 

 

Brass:

  • Larger bore size allows for fuller, richer tone
  • More handwork- better intonation and smoother valve action.  Better fitting valves and slides-less air leakage
  • Higher-quality metals- nickel-silver slides that move more easily & silver plating
  • Different brass/metal content – improved sound

 

Trumpet

  • Silver-plated- gives trumpet a darker, richer sound
  • One-piece bell- better response and projection
  • One piece valve section – better response
  • Different leadpipe and tuning slide options for better sound

 

Trombone

  • F-attachment- extends the range and provides alternate slide positions, making it easier to change positions quickly
  • Larger bell and bore- richer fuller tone
  • One piece bell – better response and projection

 

 

String Instruments

  • Aged and different wood- bigger, fuller, clearer sound
  • Better bows- pernambuco wood and better quality hair respond better
  • Hand finished and better construction- all help with clearer, richer tone
  • Better varnish – better response and sound