I am slowly building a good collection of high-quality instruments. It’s not easy to do that on a graduate student’s budget; I accomplish it by living frugally, saving carefully, shopping around, and generally putting a great deal of thought and planning into each purchase. I don’t buy instruments on credit. I protect my investments with conscientious care and maintenance, as well as an excellent insurance policy by a company that specializes in musical instrument coverage. (Incidentally, this policy quickly paid for itself, several times over, when there was an “incident” with my flute a couple of years ago. Seriously consider getting one if you don’t have one already!)
Every now and then someone asks to borrow an instrument from me. Often it will be a saxophonist who needs a flute or clarinet for a gig they have already agreed to play. My policy, which I have upheld almost perfectly for several years now, is simple: I don’t loan instruments to anybody, for anything, period.
Most people who feel comfortable asking me a favor like this are people who I know well, and who I know would take good care of my instruments. It’s tough to turn down a seemingly reasonable request from a friend, and in the past I have made exceptions in moments of weakness (though I am getting dangerously good at saying “no”).
But it isn’t fair for me to save and sacrifice to have expensive instruments, and then allow others to use them freely to get gigs that perhaps should be rightfully mine. A saxophonist who doesn’t have his or her own flute or clarinet (at least a cheap student model!) likely isn’t a strong or committed enough doubler to be doing doubling gigs. It’s not surprising that people who make these requests often also want to borrow a fingering chart or ask for help with reeds. I spend serious time and money obtaining instruments and paying my dues learning to play them. If you want to get those gigs, you should, too!
I suppose it’s possible that a good doubler could at times find themselves without the gear they need for one reason or another, but I have taken all necessary steps to ensure that I have what I need, and that’s the cost of doing business. Woodwind playing is a bring-your-own-tools situation, and I am acquiring the tools I need while some of my colleagues are driving nicer cars than mine. I’ve made my choice, and they have made theirs.
On the other hand, I’m fairly willing to loan out instrument stands or other non-instrument gear to trusted friends when I can. Serious doublers should own these, too, but to me they are far less personal items, certainly less valuable, and are matters of convenience more than gig deal-makers or -breakers.
I have also had people offer to “rent” instruments from me; I have turned them down as well. While a few incoming bucks to defray the cost of owning and maintaining my instruments might take some of the sting out of loaning them out, there are additional intangible costs that come into play. Every gig that I play myself means additional networking and reputation-building, accumulated experience, and polishing of my skills; I sacrifice these when I enable someone else to play a gig for which I am prepared equipment-wise and they are not. I also enter the treacherous territory of charging my friends and colleagues money, which I am happy to avoid when I can.
So if you find yourself lacking an instrument for a gig, don’t hesitate to give me a call—I’ll be happy to take that gig off your hands.