Problems with plastic musical instruments; 5 things to consider before you buy

Here at Warwick Music Group, we care most of all about getting children started in music – because music matters – and it's our desire to help make the journey accessible and fun for everyone!

You might think it strange for a manufacturer of plastic musical instruments to be writing a blog on potential problems, however as the world’s leading manufacturer of plastic trumpets and trombones, we think its important to share these with you before you buy; if a plastic instrument isn’t the right choice for you, you shouldn’t buy one!

Charlie Parker plays Sax

Having said that, we don’t want you to automatically discount plastic instruments either; the most important thing is finding the right product for you/your child - why? So you have a successful first experience in making music!

In the modern world these words have never been more true: “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”.

Plastic musical instruments have been around as long as plastic itself. In the 1950s, world-famous jazz musician Charlie Parker played on an early plastic saxophone called the Grafton.

Today, the vast majority of student clarinets from professional manufacturers are actually made of ABS Resin, not wood; and we (Warwick Music Group, manufacturer of pBone plastic trombones and pTrumpet plastic trumpets), have sold over 500,000 plastic instruments for beginners all over the world.


Below are five objections we hear about plastic musical instruments that we have addressed to help you make the right decision for you:

 
1) Plastic is bad for the environment.

Disposable plastics present a huge problem for the planet. According to Greenpeace, “A truckload of plastic enters the ocean every single minute and UK supermarkets produce 800,000 tonnes every year."

Scary stuff, why would you even entertain buying a plastic trumpet and trombone? The simple reasons are that plastic instruments are not disposable like bags or straws. They can last many years and in our case are made from fully recyclable ABS plastic. Brass instruments in contrast are actually worse for the environment, use a lot more energy as well as some pretty nasty materials in their manufacturing processes such as lead and nickel.

Plastic can be the more-sustainable choice, but that is not a catch-all for every plastic musical instrument maker – far from it. Plastic instrument manufacturers bear an even greater responsibility because, unlike the traditional brass instrument manufacturers who cannot easily change the way they manufacture, it is so much easier for us to be sustainable and greener for the planet.

Make sure you look for the real green credentials of your instrument maker – are they talking about sustainability? The impact they are having and what they are doing to minimise their CO2 emissions? If they’re not then we’d suggest you keep looking.

We recently commissioned some research with Keele University to assess our own impact and are delighted that our hard work around sustainability and the environment has saved the equivalent of over 72,000 trees to date. In fact during 2020, all of our products will be carbon neutral.

pInstruments save CO2

2. Plastic is cheap.

Thats a strange thing to say - isn't being cheap a benefit?! Well, if you mean value for money then we would agree, however the perception of 'cheap' is sometimes negative; that plastic means low quality compared with heavy dense materials (think gold or platinum) which are expensive and therefore perceived as high quality.

The truth is that plastic will never feel as polished and refined as the most expensive brass metal musical instruments. So if you need a high-end professional instrument then buying plastic is probably not the right option for you (unless there are physical attributes that make holding a brass instrument too difficult, or you want to take it where brass cannot go, like the beach!).

However, if you’re looking for an affordable starter trumpet and trombone then don’t buy 'cheap' buy quality. Anyone who says that you can’t have both high-quality and low-cost is incorrect – we see this all the time in our daily lives (think Ikea, who have done so much for affordable, good quality home living). You just need to pick a manufacturer who values and demonstrates quality in its outlook.

PTRUMPET1-SUSTAINABILITY

 
3) Plastic instruments are toys, not real instruments.

When we developed and patented the pBone, the world’s first plastic trombone, it took us three years of getting it wrong before we got it right!

The break-through moment came when, as trombonists ourselves, we stopped trying to make a brass trombone in plastic and instead focused on making a plastic trombone. Copying brass instruments in plastic is fundamentally impossible because the acoustics and density of the materials that are completely different.

Dudley-2

Now some Chinese manufacturers are actually brass and plastic manufacturers at the same time. When you specialise only in making instruments from plastic what you try to do is to provide the customer with all the benefits (i.e. light-weight, robust, affordable, etc) but also deliver an authentic musical experience so that the instrument ‘sounds’ the same to the listener and ‘feels’ the same to the player.

It’s the ethos of the manufacturer that matters most here. Do they care about providing an authentic first experience or are they just copying what they’re already making in brass?

Just because plastic instruments can be colourful does not mean they're toys - we don't expect to see our instruments used at the professional symphony orchestra in a serious performance of Beethoven or Mozart, but our instruments are used by many professional orchestras for school's concerts, 4th July or Last Night of the Proms!

That being said, where our instruments are like toys is in their safety features. We take this responsibility very seriously as well as undertaking detailed quality checks and safety testing to international standards because we're #seriousaboutmakingmusicfun.

 

4) They don’t sound the same as metal instruments.

The answer here depends on the instrument and manufacturer you pick (it also relates to #3 above).

We were recently featured by worldwide publisher Scholastic Education in their Dynamath Magazine, which is distributed monthly to hundreds of thousands of children in schools.

The topic was the maths and science behind our plastic instrument designs, and how we are able to make our trumpets and trombones sound like brass instruments.

 

Some plastic instruments sound pretty much indistinguishable from metal instruments but only when made well and also differently to metal instruments. If you want to hear how they sound side by side then watch and hear below.

Some instruments do not translate as well from metal into plastic. Generally shorter wind instruments are a lot harder to create the sound of real wind instruments so plastic flutes and clarinets haven't become as popular in their markets in the way that pBones and pTrumpets have.

However, one stand-out competitor of ours is the GUO plastic flute which sounds fantastic (it isn’t cheap at almost £1,000!) but it proves the point; plastic instruments can sound the same as metal instruments, you just have to buy the right one.

 

5) You can’t repair plastic instruments.

One of the distinct advantages of metal instruments is that generally metal instruments can be repaired by an expert repairer. Indeed, there are repairers in many established music retail stores and music education establishments around the world.

The problem is if you drop a trumpet or trombone, then it could easily cost you £50/$75 to repair a dent in the trumpet valve block or trombone slide – and these aren’t skills you can do at home, Dad! They require special tools and years of experience.

But it isn’t accurate to say plastic instruments can’t be repaired. They can – in fact often all that is required is some strong glue. If you buy a quality plastic instrument you are already minimising the chance and cost of going to a professional repairer and when plastic instruments get dropped, unlike brass, they tend to bounce rather than dent.

 

To be extra safe, make sure you buy from a manufacturer which offers at least a 12 month warranty period and also has good customer support which is easy to access. Read reviews of how the manufacturers you're considering respond to customer problems or issues. Buying from a faceless organisation might save a few pounds or dollars at the start, but won’t be worth it in the long run.


Read more...

Read about how we quality control and safety test our instruments in our blog series #seriousaboutmakingmusicfun

Read about the sustainability of our instruments in our blog - 'reduce, reuse, recycle'