Violin Shops – The Top 10 Tips You Must Know Before Buying
First note: for a brand new beginner violinist, we do not recommend buying from violin shops. See our article about Buying A Beginner Violin.
But if you are an intermediate to advanced violinist, are confident that you know how to test out various professional violins, and have some money to invest, then buying from a violin shop is a good option. We provide a list of violin shops across the US in a related article.
Here is what you should consider before and during your trip to the violin store:
- Price Range and Quality – Good quality intermediate violins usually start at around $500. If this is over your budget and you are looking to buy your first violin, we recommend ordering an inexpensive violin online rather than getting a less expensive instrument from a violin shop. It’s just not worth it. University-level violins usually start around $1,500 and professional violins start around $3,500. Again, if you are a beginner and are looking to buy your first or second violin, you most likely do not need to look in these ranges.Usually it’s a good idea that you don’t tell the dealer your price range. If you do, they may instantly mark up the price of each violin they hand you unless each one already has a price tag physically attached to it.Don’t change your price range just because a particular violin shop doesn’t have a violin you like in that range. Just visit a different dealer.Above all else, do not feel pressured to buy. There are lots of great violins out there. Take your time and make sure that the violin you buy is one that you really like. Don’t let anyone else talk you into anything you are unsure of.
- Try It Before You Buy It – Never buy a violin without trying it and many others first! It is absolutely normal to request to try out violins at the shop. Many shops actually have practice rooms for that exact purpose.Bring several bows with you to try out. You will most likely have to buy a violin bow and a violin case separately, as they are usually not included in the price of the violin. Mix and match bows with violins to make sure you find a combination you like. For more information on buying a violin bow, see our article on the topic.
- Take It Home With You – Most violin shops are very generous about letting you borrow a violin (or several) for up to 2 weeks. This allows you to visit multiple shops, bring several violins home, and try all of your favorite violins from several shops side-by-side. This is the best way to determine the right violin to buy (although don’t feel as though borrowing the violins obligates you to buy).
- Student vs. Professional – Don’t buy a student violin from a violin shop. A better alternative is to buy an inexpensive violin online. Why? It will cost less than a student violin from a shop, and the quality is usually comparable.Student violins are manufactured quickly by machine, are made from lesser quality wood, and have a cheaper, sprayed-on finish (this is also true of online beginner violin kits, but they cost less and also come with a bow and a case).If you are going to visit a violin shop, get a professional violin. The good ones are hand-carved, use high-quality, aged wood, and are set up by a real luthier (violin maker).
- Bring A Violinist Friend – Especially if this is your first time visiting a violin shop, make sure you bring a trusted friend (or teacher) who is a violinist. If you don’t know one, then just bring a friend who you are confident has a good ear. Buying a violin can be an expensive prospect, and it is always good to get an experienced second set of ears.Your friend can help you weed out bad violins, but also keep in mind that the one that you buy should be your decision and yours alone. Violin preference is a very personal thing, and it is not uncommon for two equally skilled violinists to choose completely different violins depending on their styles and preferences. Just remember that you are the one making the investment, so choose something you like.
- Test the Sound Near and Far – Another reason to bring a friend is that many instruments can sound great under your ear, but do not project as well as other instruments. It is customary to try out the various violins at the shop, so if your friend can play, you can stand across the room and see how each violin will sound to an audience, not just to you personally as you’re playing it.
- Buying vs. Renting – We usually recommend buying rather than renting. If you are serious enough to go to a violin shop, then you are probably fairly certain you will continue to be interested in playing violin long term. Buying a violin usually costs about the same as renting it for a year. Also, violin shops tend to rent lower quality instruments than they offer for sale. However, one good reason to rent is if you need a violin that is less than full size (violins made for children).
- Size – If you need anything less than a full size violin, rent (don’t buy) a violin that is smaller than full size. It can get expensive to keep buying larger sizes as your child grows (you will have to do this surprisingly often). Smaller violins also tend to be lesser quality than full size instruments, which is another good reason not to buy until your child is big enough for a full size violin. To find out what size violin you need, see our article on Choosing the Right Violin Size.
- Old vs. New – New instruments tend to be less expensive, especially if the person who made it (called a “luthier”) is still alive.This is partly because aged wood tends to sound better than newer wood, but also because if the luthier is no longer around it gives the violin a certain limited edition quality. Many newer instruments sound just as good as older instruments. We recommend going for the best sound and worrying less about the age of the instrument.
- Check Construction and Structural Integrity
Make sure there are no creaking sounds when you press down anywhere on the violin. Also look inside the violin through the holes on the front. You should be able to see the Sound Post, which is critical to the violin producing a good sound. If it is missing, this is not your violin.
Double check that there is no physical warping anywhere on the violin, and that everything looks straight and even. As for the color and the finish, you don’t need to be overly concerned about them, especially if it makes a big difference in price. Don’t go with one violin over another just because it looks pretty! Sound is the most important thing.
Beyond that, you really need to take the violin to a third party luthier if you want to get a professional opinion of the quality of the construction and double check that there is no structural damage.
Also ask what kind of wood is it made from? This affects the sound tremendously. If the chin rest on the violin you are looking at is made from plastic, it’s a good sign you should move on to the next one.
Beginner Violin as an Investment
Unless you are buying a very expensive violin ($100K+), the violin is not likely to increase significantly in value over time. In some cases, you may have difficulty recouping the same price you paid originally when reselling it, unless you sell it back to the same shop you bought it from in order to upgrade to a more expensive violin. Selling a violin on your own can be difficult process, and probably not something you should count on being able to do.