Good, Bad And Totally Useless Instrument Reviews

No matter what musical gear you’re looking to buy, you want to make the best decision about the gear you’re about to purchase. And sometimes online reviews can be very helpful. But sometimes, there are websites that write “reviews” of equipment that are pretty much useless. Here is my little window on what I believe are the best and worst instrument reviews (and reviewers) and how and why to look for a quality gear review when making a decision.

If you’re a flutist, this article probably isn’t even a must-read for you, unless you want a good chuckle, and to note it as an article to pass along to the unwary.

I write this because I find bad reviews annoying and prone to doing nothing other than confusing people with no experience who are trying to make an educated choice – perhaps as a gift for a child – and need to have an idea where to start.

By the way, if you are a non-flutist and you’re looking for some advice on picking a flute, either for yourself or someone else, I’ve written an article specifically about this where I’ve laid out my thoughts about what is important to consider when picking a flute.

This article, however, is more for guiding you to where the real reviews and where the scam reviews are, how to spot them, and where to go to get good information from any equipment review.

But before I discuss the difference between good and bad reviews, it seems like a good idea to have a very real discussion about reviews on the web and why they are even there.

Why websites write instrument reviews

Maybe this is obvious to some people, or maybe not. But there are MANY different reasons why websites publish equipment reviews. And being aware of one of the main reasons why some websites publish reviews will make you aware of how reliable they may or may not be.

But to get a better idea of what might be going on, think about this. Do you know why the news exists on television? To be sure, the people who report the news may have a motivation of informing the public about things they think are important. Or, they may be there from a sense of self-importance. But from the perspective of the news network, they exist pretty much for one reason.

News networks report news to create a steady audience so they can sell advertising space as a business enterprise.

Now, if you’ve been in this modern world and have looked at the internet lately, you’ll see ads all over most stuff. They are there to entice you to see products that are out there so you’ll plunk some cash down on the products they offer.

Why are the reviews there, really?

There are several reasons why websites exist. Some exist because the people who create them have a love for the topics they discuss on their sites. Many of those people also have an interest in monetizing those sites – creating quality content to attract advertisers with the goal of having them pay to place ads on those sites.

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And then, there are some sites that aren’t really created for the love of the topic, but because they see an opportunity to create content as a means to an end of creating a revenue stream – selling ads, selling goods and services.

That doesn’t mean that any site that is set up primarily to generate revenue by writing reviews is bad. But it should set off warning flags.

If a site is set up primarily as a “review” site, it doesn’t mean their reviews are bad, either. But in my experience, they stick out like a sore thumb. And many of them are very bad, for sure.

If you’re new to the product for which you’re searching for reviews, you need to be aware that a LOT of these review sites are virtually USELESS.

So if you know nothing yet about saxes or flutes, or online instruction courses or the like, how do you ever begin to figure out which reviews are helpful and which are fluff?

That’s hard to quantify. But perhaps we could look at some examples. It might be helpful to see what some of these reviews look like that look “bad” to get an idea of what is wrong.

Examples of really BAD instrument reviews

Writing an article like this can be dangerous for a website’s reputation. I realize that if I link to other sites, labelling bad reviews, it might run a risk in kind for them to “return the favor.” But I’m hoping that as we all challenge each other to plough through all the stuff out there, that eventually the content will get better.

BAD Example 1: “5 Best Professional Flute Reviews 2022”

This is the kind of review that looks a bit bothersome to me. One site that comes to mind has a review called “5 Best Professional Flute Reviews 2022 – Expert Flute Choice.” Now, because I have a little background in understanding what makes a web article come up on page one of Google, I recognize this article has a title aimed at doing that – making it come up on the first page when you Google “best flute reviews.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad review. It means the webmaster knows how to get you to click on his link. And they’re honest and upfront about the fact that their article might have “affiliate links” – links that, when clicked, will take you to a site where you could buy the flutes they discuss, and they will receive a commission for it.

There is nothing wrong with that, by itself. I pay for good advice all the time.

But for me, there are some glaring things that tell me the reviewer in this article isn’t primarily a flutist writing a review of flutes with the express purpose of bestowing passionate knowledge about the subject in the title of the article. Examples:

  • “Certain beginner flutes can be upgraded as your skills develop. Such upgrades can usually be done at half the price needed to purchase a new flute that your new skillset requires.” (I’m not sure what kind of upgrades they might be talking about except possibly a different headjoint. But while technically true, you’ll be hard pressed to find any flute professional who who would be spending big bucks on a professional headjoint on any beginner flute. So not sure what that even means…)
  • Or, how about this point? “For easy maintenance, a cleaning rod has also been added to the flute as well as a carrying case so you can easily transport it with you.” (Maybe I’m being too picky; but I’ve NEVER seen any flute (beginner OR pro) sold without a case (or without a cleaning rod, for that matter).
  • One of their “professional flutes” in the review is the “Lazarro Professional Silver Nickel Closed Hole C Flute for Band” that sells on Amazon for 94 bucks. This is supposed to be a review of professional flutes. The Yamaha flute in the same review runs in the $5000 dollar range.
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Maybe you can see why this looks funny. The grammar is frequently “odd.” It just has the look and feel of a “puppy mill” for equipment reviews, of sorts.

Incidentally, this site also promotes the idea of what I would call a “promotional interview” of sorts. For a fee, they will interview you, give you a favourable article and promise to publish that in ways that will generate traffic for you (so you can sell your own ad space, I suppose). That should sound a few warning bells regarding what might be lurking in the reviews. Just a thought.

BAD Example 2: “Top 8 Best Student Flute You Should Buy 2022 Reviews & Buying Guide”

This one, like the last, has all the telltale signs that the website owner has optimized the title to get it on the first page of the reviews. But you’d think they would at least pluralize the word “flute” in that title. These are the kinds of things that tip me off that it is a “review mill” – an article written to get this thing to get clicks, so they can sell ad space on the review page.

Like I said, that isn’t necessarily a show-stopper. But when you read through this thing, it’s painfully obvious that whoever wrote the article doesn’t know much about flutes, at all.

For whatever else is in the review, when they quote the dimensions of each flute, and the dimensions look like they are giving the size and weight of the flute in the case, it just reads so stupidly (sorry, but it does) to anyone who knows anything about flutes at all.

  • Flute 1 (a “Yamaha”) – “It weighs just one and a half pounds and is therefore lightweight and measures 16.6 inches by 6.6 by 3.3 inches.”
  • Flute 2 (a “Gemeinhardt”) – “It weighs 2.69 pounds, which are heavier than many of the competitors. It measures 23 inches by 5 by 9 inches.”
  • Flute 3 (a purple “Kaiser”) – “It is quite a small flute compared with some, at 16.7 inches by 5.6 by 3.1 inches, and weighs just under 15 ounces.”
  • Flute 4 ( a “Jean Paul”) – “It ticks most of the boxes, but we mentioned one area where it does fall down a little. It measures 5.2 inches by 17 by 4 inches, which are not particularly large.”
  • Flute 5 (a “Jupiter”) – “It is a fairly standard size of17 inches by 5 by 3 inches, but it is quite heavy at 2.55 pounds.”
  • Flute 6 (a pink “Mendini”) – “Weight and size are important issues with the ease of playing. This instrument is 18 inches by 5.5 by 3.2 inches and weighs two pounds.”
  • Flute 7 (an “Etude”) – “It is a standard size measuring 16 inches by 4.2 by 2.6 inches and is very lightweight, weighing just 1,85 pounds.”
  • Flute 8, “size” not mentioned.
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To any flutist, it would seem irrelevant to list these dimensions. They look like they are either giving dimensions of the cases, or this is a review on a series of, ummm… “rectangular flutes,” maybe?

BAD Example 3: “10 Best Wind Instruments In 2022 – Expert Review”

This, actually, is THE BEST example of THE WORST kind of review I could find. I’m sure there are a lot more. But beyond a point it doesn’t do much except frustrate people.

But why did I include this one? Because I was searching for “best wind instrument reviews” and this one came up on page ONE of Google. But of the “10 best wind instruments,” it is the most curious mix of “instruments.’

  • Two different Roland Aerophone (wind synthesizer)
  • Two different Covid masks for wind instrument players
  • A plastic recorder
  • A t-shirt of a cat playing a saxophone
  • A Yamaha plastic wind instrument (kid-type reed instrument like a clarinet or something)
  • Two different wooden Indian flutes, and
  • A wind vane. (Yes. Like the rooster that sits on the barn to tell you which way the wind blows. I kid you not)

Now, they’re on page one of Google. But don’t count on this review to help you with much of anything.

And remember I talked about some of these sites churning out web pages for links to Amazon like a puppy mill?

Take a look at these unrelated reviews on this site. Three entirely different types of products. Notice anything similar?

“Are you seeking (x)? You are lucky because you have arrived at the greatest possible spot….” Etc., etc., etc….

Sigh……

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Ok. So I’ve given a couple examples of sites that have hardly any clue what they are talking about. They seem to be parroting talking points to give you some notion of things that are important. But they seem to have no idea what those things might be.

Are all the reviews out there bad? No. Not really. In fact, some of them are quite useful. Let’s see if we can actually find some, so you can get an idea what I’m talking about.

Examples of good instrument reviews

Ok. So what, exactly, is a “good review?” That’s a little harder to pick up on – especially for people who don’t have a clue about flutes to begin with. But there are some things that I see in some of these that may help to formulate a better idea of what to look for.

GOOD Example 1: “5 best flutes for beginners.”

This review is on a website called “Voices, Inc” and they seem to be about music, rather than reviews of anything and everything. This is probably a good thing. With some exceptions, you’re going to want to get money advice from a financial expert, tech advice from tech geeks, and musical instrument advice from people who can demonstrate that they live with and know about the instruments they review.

What is good about this review is that he spends some time talking about general things to keep in mind about flutes. It also spends some time discussing what is significant about the people who might be needing a flute from this price range.

What I mean by that is that the reviewer talks about features on beginning flutes and why they might be important for beginners (a headjoint that is easier to learn on; curved headjoints to suit small children; open vs closed toneholes for the beginner to learn on).

It’s not a stellar review, but it doesn’t claim to be reviewing expert-level flutes as an expert, either.

GOOD example 2: “The Ultimate Guide To Purchasing A Flute”

The first thing that I wanted to point out is that I blew past a lot of reviews on a lot of pages before I found this one as an example of what I consider a “good review.” But I found it on PAGE 10 of Google.

The point here is that you need to realize that “most popular review” doesn’t always translate to “best review.” Unfortunately, when so many of these are written to create pages for advertising space and affiliate links, quality can suffer greatly.

The thing I like about this review is that Emma (the blog owner) is a flutist. She gives general advice on what to look for, similar to the other review I mentioned above. But more significantly, she has an engaged audience of flutists who read her stuff and comment about what she writes.

I wish it were easy for someone with no experience in a subject to be able to sort out a good review from a bad one. But for what it’s worth, this engaged audience as an indicator (or a “fact-checker/filter” by way of that same audience) is probably one of the best indicators that the information is worthwhile.

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The review doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in the body of a greater work of articles and a web site that other flutists consider worth reading and gleaning from. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THIS POINT.

Important takeaways for finding good instrument reviews

  • You probably have a better chance of useful info on a music site, and more specifically on a flute site for flute reviews, a saxophone site for sax reviews, etc..
  • You will be better informed reading comments about how it plays, how easily it is adjusted, how responsive it is and the like, rather than the focus on the finish or materials per se (especially with beginner instruments).
  • You will be better informed either by someone who can demonstrate (on their site, or by their credentials, or by referencing where their recommendations come from based on experts they rely on for their info) that they know what they are talking about.
  • While points in the reviews about the cases they come in and the cleaning rods they ship with might be helpful, the info about the instrument is far more important.
  • You’ll do better with reviews that have an engaged audience. Comments on posts on their website means that they have people who a) actually read their stuff, and b) comment on what they read. You can get a load of info from reading the comments, too. But it shows you that other people who already play flute consider the opinions there worth considering.
  • The most popular reviews are not always the good ones. Sometimes the popular reviews are the most popular because they are the most “clicked on.” And that isn’t always (actually, is often NOT) because they have the best info. It’s that their web developers know how to get that review on page ONE of Google. And THAT is why people click the links.

A final tip: don’t look for reviews; look for musicians with sites about the instrument you want to know about, and search on those sites for the equipment info you are looking for.

That is probably the best tip I can give you. If you do that, you’ve got a better chance you’re going to find good information about the gear rather than just a quick article designed to get you to click on the link.

ALSO, if you know of good review sites that should be added to the list, please let me know. I will check them out and add if they seem to add value to the conversation.

Thanks.

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