Your first violin purchase might seem rather daunting. If you haven’t purchased a string instrument before, you may not be familiar with the different makers or size ranges. A good violin is an investment, which means that a bit of research may be required beforehand.
Buying a violin will be a purchase that will bring you joy for many years to come. Knowing what makes for a good-quality student instrument before you walk into a musical instrument store will keep you from being swayed by fancy-looking instruments that have more style than substance, or buying accessories that you don’t need.
Should You Buy or Rent Your Violin?
Musical instrument stores often rent instruments. Renting an instrument may be more costly over the long run, but there are a few situations where renting makes more sense than buying. If you are buying a violin for a child, they may need new sizes quickly, as they go through growth spurts. If you aren’t sure if your child will continue playing violin, renting might be a smarter choice than buying a violin that your child may not use after the first few months. If your music shop offers month-to-month rentals, that’s a great opportunity to try a violin in several different playing situations before you buy. Check with your local musical instrument stores to discuss rental rates and policies.
Violins come in various sizes, ranging from those designed for toddlers to those for adolescents and adults. If a child starts playing violin in kindergarten and plays until the end of elementary school, he or she can easily go through four or five sizes. If you are buying a violin for a child under the age of 11, consult a violin size chart to find the right size.
Used vs. New: Not What You Might Think
String instruments age like wine, not cars. String instruments often sound a little harsh when brand new, and well-made instruments actually improve as the years pass. Don’t expect much of a discount if you choose a used instrument, and some musical instrument shops may not offer a discount on used violins at all. When you buy a used violin, provided it is well cared for, you are often purchasing a better violin than the previous owner did.
What Comes With Your Violin?
Violins may be sold alone, or as “outfits,” complete with bow and case. Some include a chin rest and rosin, as well. If you are buying a violin online, make sure you know exactly what is included, and that you have a violin and bow on their way to you before lessons begin! If you are buying a violin from a store in person and the bow is not included, try the violin with several bows. A good bow should feel balanced, with neither end feeling heavier than the other. If you are buying a child-sized violin, make sure you know the exact size for buying the appropriate-sized bow and chin rest.
What’s in a Name?
If you aren’t familiar with violin makers, you may have only heard of the greats: Amati, Guaneri, and Stradivarius. These names may be used in model names for violins – this doesn’t mean they were made by the legendary violin makers themselves! Don’t be fooled – you won’t see a violin made by any of those great artisans being sold in a typical music shop. The use of their names says nothing about the quality of the instrument itself. However, it doesn’t mean it’s a poorly made violin, either. Some excellent student violin makers use the name to evoke the level of care with which they have crafted their instruments.
Ready to Shop?
After you’ve done some research, visit a few local music stores, preferably when they aren’t very busy. Try a few instruments, talk to the staff about preferred makers, and take notes. Even if you are buying a violin online, getting a feel for the instrument is always a good idea. Your local music shop will also serve as a vital contact for repairs, rosin, and other goods and services for your violin.
Before You Buy
Look into the reputation of the shop you are buying a violin from, whether online and in-person. A good relationship with a musical instrument shop can be very helpful for a musician. A shop with a history of complaints about the instruments or services may leave you high and dry when you need repairs or when it’s time to upgrade. Check the return policy of the shop closely, especially if you are buying a violin online. You should have a few weeks to check for damage and playing condition before you are no longer able to return the instrument.
While purchasing a violin can seem intimidating, you will be rewarded with years of beautiful music. Good luck!
Photo by Ed Yourdon