How To Buy A Violin
Ms. Greene's Advice for Her Students
Selecting an instrument for purchase is a daunting task, one that very few parents are equipped to manage alone. My first piece of advice is to leave a message for me at school (793-6130 ext. 4475), and I will be happy to phone you. Please do not purchase a violin without me. Many inferior instruments look good to an untrained eye, but will not remain in tune, and may even fall apart with use. Different parts of the instrument must be made of various kinds of wood, and some parts can be plastic or metal. Unless you're a player, you won't know what you're getting or if it is made correctly. Some of the possible problems that you could encounter with an instrument are:
- It might be so difficult to tune, that I can't take the time to tune it for you in class. You will not be able to use it in school or at home.
- It might not remain in tune for the duration of the bus trip home, and your child will never be able to practice on it at home.
- It might be so difficult to tune that even your high schooler will be unable to tune it.
- Your child might outgrow it in size or quality.
- It might have an inferior sound, thus discouraging your child from practicing.
- You might pay far too much for it.
- It might need several hundred dollars of work to make it playable.
- You might buy an instrument that is either to high or too low in quality for your particular player.
- You could be talked into more than you need, especially with bows.
- You might have an inferior instrument that I cannot personally recommend to another student, should you want my help selling it in the future.
Here are some questions to consider before shopping:
- How much does my child practice?
- Will he/she take private lessons or compete at NYSSMA or All-County?
- Will my child want to play this instrument through high school or college?
- When will my child stop growing so I can buy the correct size?
- Should I buy one that is new, or used?
- What price range should I expect to find?
One important rule to keep in mind, when you get to the store, is that all reputable dealers will allow you to leave them your personal information, and take the instrument to a violin teacher without paying anything for it. Reputable dealers know that parents cannot judge the instruments, and that the teachers will want to approve the instrument before buying. If a dealer does not allow you to take it out of the shop, do not consider buying there. They have something to hide.
Here are some places where you should never buy a violin, under any condition:
- Antique shops.
- Online: Ebay, or JCPenny, or anywhere. Just don't do it. You've been warned! I have one exception to this, but it's a violin shop that my students have used before, and I'll give you the information in person.
- Anywhere that sells non-musical items, such as wholesale clubs or discount stores.
- Any location where you cannot go back and return it. I've seen a sign on the wall of a local discount housewares store that says “All Instrument Sales Final. No Returns.” My advice: Buy a hamper there, but not a violin!
Here are some general rules to adhere to:
- Students should not spend much money on bows until high school. Buy a “Glasser” fiberglass bow with real horsehair for under $40. They're indestructible, and you won't be too upset if he/she looses it.
- For high-end instruments, ask me for my favorite luthier. He's not in Westchester county, but he is totally trustworthy and will UPS violins to you for perusal. He'll give you a great instrument, and save you hundreds of dollars.
- Make sure I've approved it so I can sell it to another student if you quit or upgrade.
- Violinists buy only full size instruments, and that usually means at 5th or 6th grade.
- Violists buy violas by the inch. I will size your parent as an estimate of your eventual growth, and buy it to fit your parent.
- Cellists and Bass players need assistance. Never buy without help.
- The label "Stradivarius" inside a violin means nothing. That means it's made to Stradivari's specifications. They all are. Sorry, but you have not found a lost Stradiveri. Don't allow anyone to impress you with that label.
- Avoid a Chinese or Japanese violin unless a teacher has played it. Other labels that do not impress me are Lark, Skylark, Parrot, Los Palo, Cremona, Alfred, and many more than I can list here.
- Violins should not be purchased for under $300. If costs less, there is a reason, and you'll regret buying it. Violas would start at $400.
- New violins are usually not as good as old. However, some old violins are just plain junk, and it takes a player to know the difference.
- Recommended accessories are: Rosin, pitch pipe, folding stand, shoulder rest (Kun), nametag, extra set of strings, usually Thomastik Steel.