Many Things You Need
to Know About Buying a Violin
Whether you are a beginner, or advanced player, here are some tips to
help you select the right violin.
You might be trying to find a violin for the very first
time as a beginner, or you may be upgrading to a finer instrument after
playing for a long time.
Here are some tips:
For the beginner:
The beginner has two options, either to rent an instrument or make a
While violin rental may be viewed by some as an opportunity
to grow acclimated to the instrument, be aware that these are generally
lesser-quality instruments that can be extremely frustrating to play
upon. The law of diminishing returns applies to rentals, as you begin
paying more for a lesser-quality violin that you never will be the owner
of; if you rent for more than a year, you may have already paid through
the value of the instrument. Some shops will let you apply part of your
rental fees towards the purchase of an instrument, but you should always
ask about this ahead of time and not count on this being the case.
One good reason for the rental of an instrument would be if you are
looking for a child's (undersized) instrument. In this case, it is generally
not worth the risk of physical injury to buy an instrument which is
too large, thinking that the child will "grow into" it. On
the other hand, it is quite expensive to buy a series of increasingly
larger instruments (there are 8 basic sizes, and children grow out of
their violin sizes at a surprisingly rapid rate.) Besides rental, another
option for aquiring a small violin is to find a reputable luthier or
music store nearby and ask about their "trade-in policy".
Assuming you take care of the instrument, many shops will give you a
generous discount on the purchase of the next size up if you bring back
your current instrument as a "trade". (Take note that they
do this because they want you to be a return customer. For this reason,
most places will not give you a trade-in discount for an instrument
you did not buy from them).
That said, if you decide to buy a full-size violin, you may well want
to go to a violin dealer or a "luthier," which is a person
who makes or repairs stringed instruments.
When purchasing an instrument from a store, it is always an excellent
idea to go in the company of an experienced violinist or luthier. In
general, however, the instrument must be solid to the touch with no
creaks when you press down (but not too heavily!) anywhere on the violin.
If it is possible to test the instrument in-store, all of the open strings
should sound full, resonant, and pleasing to the ear.
For buying a higher-quality instrument:
If you buy an instrument from a luthier, you will probably be buying
the violin, bow and case separately.
It is appropriate to test violins and bows, to play on them, before
buying them. If a luthier lives in another city, he or she can send
you violins or bows to try out for a time, after which you can decide
on one, or send them all back and buy none, or ask for some others to
try. It is also appropriate to negotiate the purchase price of the instrument.
If you are going to a violin shop, most have a room or a place where
you can test out an instrument that interests you.
Do not come straight out and tell the dealer your price range. They
may have an intent to mark-up violin's prices on the spot if the instruments
do not have a price tag. Only if the instruments have tags on them with
clear pricing should you tell them your price range. Try to test only
instruments you can afford. If none are to your liking, keep looking
Modern instruments, made by a luthier who is still living, tend to be
less expensive than older instruments. An older instrument is valuable
not only because of the sound it makes and the beauty of its construction,
but because of its antique value, and because it is necessarily a "limited
edition" if its maker is dead and no longer creating violins!
An older instrument can be an excellent investment. But there are many
modern makers whose instruments sound every bit as good, and if you
are on a budget, this may be the way to go. A new instrument, if played
well (in tune, for maximum resonance), can "open up," and
it is quite exciting to be the person that helps shape the fiddle's
As far as bows are concerned, a bow needs to have good weight, flexibility
and balance between frog and tip. This is not always easy to gauge,
and requires spending some time with the bow.
If it is too heavy, it can strain your hand and even
cause injury over time. If it is too light, it can make it difficult
to produce a big sound.
If it is either too flexible or too stiff, it will be less nimble
in your hands.
If it is not balanced, it will be difficult to execute
advanced bow stroke such as spiccato (bouncing bow), sautille (really
fast bouncing bow), ricochet (bouncing several times on a down bow
or up bow) or other strokes.
Do not forget to use one of your best resources: your teacher. Bring
the violins and bows to your teacher, or ask your teacher to come with
you to help pick something out. If you don't have a teacher any more,
don't forget to use the ears of your musician friends. Realize, however,
that neither your teacher or your violinist friends are likely to be
experts in the actual construction of the instrument and can only offer
an experienced opinion on the sound of the violin and point out any
Therefore, it's a good idea to have the violin "vetted out"
by a trusted luthier. A good luthier will likely be able to verify the
maker and/or approximate age of the violin. More importantly, he or
she will be able to tell if the instrument is well or poorly made or
if it has any structural problems.
Go to a big hall and play for someone, or let the other person play
so you can hear what the violin sounds like from across, what impression
Try to play the violin in as many rooms as possible - from large halls
to your practice room - to assess fully the capabilities of the instrument.
But, most importantly, do not ever buy a violin that
you either don't like or have doubts about.
Luthiers and friends do have influence on your opinion, therefore do
not forget that you should be the one to pick the instrument after all.
Believe in your thoughts.
There is nothing worse than playing on an instrument that you bought
for a lot of money and don't really like!
And make sure you are ready to upgrade; and, that you
know how to test an instrument. What qualities should be present for
example when you shift upward, or play on the low G string? Though personal
preference directly influences these things, there is also some common
performance specifications that you can discuss with your friends, preferably
Basically, if you don't know what the above performance specifications
should be, perhaps you are not ready to upgrade your instrument just
yet. What decisions went into the process of helping you decide to upgrade.
Did your instructor tell you that you are working too hard to get the
sound from the instrument--this is sometimes one indicator that it might
be time to upgrade.
And would a refitting by a qualified luthier make your old instrument
come to life. This is sometimes the case, and often an instrument might
be adjusted by a good luthier and given a new life. So if you are ready
to get that next instrument do go slowly and shop around; and, by all
means make sure the instrument matches your playing style, as already
Expectations of value
A common epectation is that a violin is an investment and will rise
in value over time. This is possibly true for very expensive violins
but certainly no one should expect dramatic appreciation on a violin
purchased for less than $100,000. The economics of dealing in violins
makes this very implausible and the market for the private sale of violins
is not well developed.
Most violins will hold their value as long as you trade the violin for
another more expensive violin from the dealer who sold you the instrument.
Dealers may also offer you trades at similar value for instruments you
purchased elsewhere. If you quit playing the violin and decide to sell
it altogether you could see a significant decline in its value. You
may decide to save it for a child or grandchild or to donate it to a
school and take a tax deduction.
How to Buy a Violin
Violins, along with the rest of the String family, (violas, cellos and
basses) are an integral part of the Symphony Orchestra.
The instrument is commonly associated with classical
music, but there are other genres such as Mariachi, blue grass, folk
and various styles of “fiddle music”. It’s also occasionally
heard in blues, jazz and rock.
Contrary to some popular beliefs, the violin is not
a particularly difficult instrument to play, and with consistent practice
beginners usually make rapid progress, playing simple melodies relatively
The violin is particularly child-friendly in that it
comes in a variety of sizes. As a student grows, the instrument can
be traded for larger sizes. It’s critical that a student has the
proper size instrument.
A violin that is too large in proportion to the size
of the student can create a very uncomfortable situation. In extreme
situations, this can lead to tendonitis leaving students discouraged
and turned off to the instrument.
These violins are produced for beginning students and are often produced
by machine. Maple is sometimes used for high friction parts (pegs, fingerboard)
and dyed to resemble the more expensive Ebony, which is found on most
violins. These instruments are excellent for the early stages of development
and are priced to easily fit into most budgets.
These instruments represent better quality wood and workmanship, most
(if not all) of which is done by hand. The result is an instrument that
sounds better and will accommodate a player to more advanced levels
of play. Pegs and fingerboard are usually made of Ebony. Extensive hand
graduation of the top and back of the violin result in a more refined
sound. Some intermediate violins may approach the professional level
These are violins made from only the finest woods and built with a near
fanatical devotion to every detail of the instruments construction and
appearance. Because of the relatively low number of craftsman skilled
at this level, and the number of hours required to produce an instrument
of this caliber with a select piece of natural wood, the price of these
instruments is considerably higher.
There are 2 basic areas of the violin:
* Body – The “box” part of the instrument.
The top is generally made of a thinly and precisely shaved piece of
spruce, the back and sides (ribs) are generally made of maple. The top
and back may be made of a single piece of wood or a bookmatched piece.
* Neck Assembly – the structure that attaches
to the top end of the violin body. It is generally made of maple and
has at the top-end, the peg box (where the strings attach to the pegs)
and the scroll. Applied to the top of the neck are the fingerboard (where
the left-hand fingers press down to alter the pitch of the strings)
and the nut (a small piece of wood that supports and separates the strings
just as they pass into the “peg box”).
The Parts of a Violin
* Bridge - a specially shaped and fitted piece of hard
maple that sits between the strings and body of the instrument and transmits
the majority of the string vibrations to the body.
* Soundpost – a small cylindrical piece of wood
that is fitted and wedged between the back and face of a stringed instrument.
Its placement has a great effect of the sound of the instrument.
* F-Hole – Two holes precisely cut in the top
of a stringed instrument to permit the sound to be projected from the
interior of the instrument.
* Button – a small round piece of wood fitted
by pressure into a hole in the bottom ribs of a stringed instrument.
It serves as the anchoring point for the string adjuster (tailgut),
which is attached to the tailpiece.
* Tailpiece – a long tapered piece of material
suspended above the top of the violin by the ends of the strings at
the bridge end, and the tailgut at the button end.
* Tailgut – the long strand of material that
attaches through two holes in the bottom end of the tailpiece and then
passes over the bottom edge of the instrument, looping around the button
as its other anchoring point.
* String Adjuster (optional) – a small mechanical
device attached to the tailpiece of a stringed instrument to make fine
adjustments in string tension
The inside should look