Getting the right instrument is one of the most important decisions in a musician’s life. The right violin will feel comfortable in your hands, respond accurately and consistently to your touch, and help you produce the best possible sound for your level of musical development. Students learning the violin can rent or purchase instruments from music instrument retailers, and they offer a variety of instruments that can seem daunting for the novice violin purchaser.
When will you know that it’s time to leave the student violins behind? Should you start with a professional violin from the start? If you’re just starting out, a student violin from a manufacturer known for high-quality professional instruments will help you get used to their style as you develop as a musician. But while each manufacturer has a distinctive style, there are a few basic differences between student violins and the professional ones.
Professional violins, when properly cared for, can last generations. Professional violins are typically made with aged wood from spruce, maple, ebony, or rosewood trees. The manufacturer may select a particular type of wood grain for its purported sound qualities, but not all manufacturers believe that wood grain affects sound quality. The fingerboards and pegs are typically made of ebony, a light hardwood. On professional violins, finishes are hand applied, and the bridge that supports the strings is set carefully in place before it leaves the shop. The bow should be balanced, with neither the frog end (the part you hold) or tip seeming heavier.
Well-made student violins are still made with care, but a few cost-saving measures are involved. The wood may be aged for a shorter time. Boxwood or other cheaper hardwoods may be used in place of ebony. While this may not affect your playing much as a beginner, cheaper hardwoods may fade and produce a slight buzzing as they age. Student violins may be constructed with cutting machines instead of hand carving, and less care is taken to match the grain. Finishes may be sprayed on by machine instead of hand applied. The bow on student violins may not be as well balanced, and the frog end may feel heavier than the tip. This will affect your sound, as greater uniformity of sound between downbow and upbow strokes will require greater control.
The bridge on student violins is often packed flat for shipping, and may be set up either at the shop, by your teacher, or yourself. Ask your violin teacher to show you how to set up your bridge, especially if you buy a violin online, as they are the most likely to arrive with the bridge packed flat. Speaking of online purchases, knowing where to buy your violin is essential.
So, what’s the main difference between professional violins and student violins? Overall: Professional violins are made to last the ages, but student violins are constructed to provide a good playing experience during a student’s first years.
Where to Buy Student Violins
In general, it’s better to buy from a seller that knows his or her product. Buy from a shop that specializes in musical instruments, preferably one that also does repairs. You’ll be able to get help from knowledgeable staff members who have encountered enough violins and violin players to know the common problems faced by players at all levels. Even if they order an instrument for you to be shipped to their shop, they will know the manufacturers and their styles better than an inexperienced player.
Buying a violin from a reputable dealer online, while not ideal, can get you most of the advantages of buying from a physical store. If buying online, pick a store where staff can answer questions over phone or email. Your violin may arrive without the bridge set up, so be prepared for you or your teacher to do this before you play the instrument.
Where NOT to Buy Student Violins
Avoid buying instruments from inexperienced sellers, online or offline. Someone selling a violin that they found in Grandma’s attic may not know how to properly restore or care for the instrument they’re offering. They may not be qualified to assess the quality of the instrument they have. An online re-seller who does not specialize in musical instruments might know even less. Once you are a more experienced violinist, you’ll know enough to see the difference between a quality instrument that needs a little love and a cheap instrument whose restoration won’t return much on your investment. If you’ve received an older violin as a gift, have your teacher or a repair specialist look it over before using it for your lessons.
Playing the violin will bring you years of joy, and that joy is increased with the right instrument. Shop carefully, as you and your violin will work together to make beautiful music.
Photo by Ruocaled