I often get questions from parents and students asking about purchasing a violin. These are my thoughts:
“Should I buy or should I rent?”
There isn’t a clear-cut answer on this one. If a student is a beginner, I generally recommend renting for at least a few months to see if they really enjoy playing the instrument. Generally, the rental fees are very reasonable (often less than $1 per day) and luthier shops will often put some portion of the rental fee towards the purchase of an instrument at their particular shop.
“Now that I’m ready to purchase a violin, where do I start?”
1. Before you begin the violin search, determine your budget. It’s easy to get carried away and find yourself spending much more than you initially anticipated.
2. Ask your teacher if anyone in your studio is trying to sell an instrument. Sometimes you can purchase an instrument directly from another student.
3. Look at instruments within your price range at local luthier shops.
“Should I purchase a violin online?”
In my personal experience, purchasing a string instrument online is always a little risky. You don’t know upfront what you are getting and instruments can get jostled and broken in transit. I generally do not recommend this option.
“What should I look for in a violin.”
Look for a violin with a body crafted from maple and a spruce top. The wood grain on the top should look like very thin lines. The fingerboard should be made from ebony and the bridge needs to have been properly fitted.
If you are considering a recently crafted instrument, you will want to look for the above characteristics as a starting point. If a particular instrument does not fit all of these criteria, it may still be perfectly fine depending on the student’s playing level. If that’s the case, ask your teacher for their advice on that specific instrument. Keep in mind, a new instrument’s sound will need to “warm up”(change) over time as it is played. The initial sound will give you a good sense of the instrument’s potential, but you will not know exactly how it is going to sound several months to years of playing on it.
If you are looking at an older instrument, you will want to make sure that the instrument has been well taken care of and that there are no visible cracks and that the purfling (tiny pieces of wood embedded between the two little black lines outlining the body of the instrument) is not sticking out in any places. Definitely have your teacher take a look at any instrument before you purchase it.
Ultimately, the sound of the instrument will be the deciding factor. Each, individual violin has its own, unique tone and you will want an instrument that you like the sound of that also simultaneously feels comfortable for your hand to play. I tell my students to try as many instrments as they can to see what type of sound they like: it’s usually a pretty quick process to determine if they prefer a “lighter,” “darker,” “warmer,” “cooler,” “brilliant,” etc. sound.
Play the instrument in as many spaces as possible! Playing a given violin a large hall is a very different experience from playing in a small, carpeted room. It is also vital that you find someone else to play the instrument for you so that you can hear it from the perspective of an audience member. The instrument will very often sound quite different next to your ear when you play it, than when you hear to it from farther away! Your teacher can be an invaluable resource for this. Some teachers make it a practice of visiting the violin shop with their students during the violin selection process.
At the end of your visit to the luthier, you will probably be able to take home 1-3 instruments that you would like to consider. You will be able to take these home and play on them for an agreed upon period of time (in my area, it’s usually about a week). Take these instuments to your teacher (either during or lesson or book a separate time) to have them try out the instruments. You may need to go back to the luthier shop(s) multiple times and borrow lots of instruments before you find the right one for you.
“I just bought a violin. Do I really need insurance?”
Yes, you do! Some homeowners policies cover instruments up to a certain value. More valuable instruments need to be insured seperately. Check with your teacher or members of your local symphony to see which companies they reccommend.
“I have a violin. Now I need a bow.”
Yes, you will. The process of choosing a bow is similar to picking out a violin and I will answer the most common questions about bows in a later post.