I often get asked how to get a good violin or what brand should I get. I don’t have a very clear answer for that. The answer is different depending on where you are in your progress as a violinist. If you are a beginner, I strongly recommend that you rent a violin first. When you go to purchase an instrument you want to get what you want and when you are a beginner, you usually don’t know what you want. You will come to find that there are certain feels, playability, projection, tone factors that you are looking for and you won’t know those until you have had more experience playing. I also strongly recommend that you rent through a good violin/ string shop. Most of these shops have an equity program where most of if not all the rental costs paid go toward the purchase price of a violin. Therefore it is good to choose a good shop so that your money is going toward the purchase of a good violin. I recommend these shops:
Lastly, the question becomes: how do I figure out what I want and then how do I get it? Here’s a few tips:
- You have to care about what your violin sounds like. If it is all the same, it doesn’t matter.
- Listening. If all you have heard is you and me, your ears need to get out more. Listen to great violinists and their sound and think about what you want. Also know what you don’t want. You may find this more easily with your own mistakes in playing or hearing things you don’t like in other violins.
- Talk to me (or your teacher) about what you want and what you’re not getting with your sound. There may be some playing problems that if fixed may give you more of what you want. There are techniques for tone.
- Try out violins. Most shops are very friendly toward this. You have to be okay with playing in the middle of a shop. (Although, some shops have a room where you can try it out more undisturbed.) Most will also let you take them home for a while (usually a week) and try them. You usually have to put down a credit card and sign an agreement, but it is worth it. I did this many times and it paid off.
- Have someone help you look. I am available for this if you are my student and if not I am willing to help as well.
- You should have someone play it for you so you can hear what it sounds like to others. However have someone play it whom you like their playing and sound. A lot of the aspects of sound or tone come from the player. Also play in different places; places with good acoustics. But, also try more acoustically dead places. Pay attention to how well it projects in a large hall and how the sound changes at a distance.
- Be specific when you talk to shop keepers about what you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to be picky. You’re the one paying for it and you will likely have it a while and it will be right next to your ear for many hours.
- Remember that there are also many elements that can affect tone. Namely: string brand and type, your shoulder rest, chin rest, saddle, tailpiece, rosin, and more. And most important: bridge and sound post adjustment! These can make huge differences. Have these things worked on and you may find you like your current instrument better than you thought. And if you are buying, you can customize various instruments to make them more of what you want.
- You don’t have to buy a Stradivarius or Guarnerius del Gesu. There are many amazing modern instruments that have great sounds that are very, very close to old instruments. Brand is often irrelevant. Try a lot of instruments out. Spend the time and be patient. One maker may have one that you like and one you don’t. I have a very inexpensive violin that I have adjusted to make it more of what I want by using certain strings, shoulder rest, chin rest, rosin, and having the sound post customized and adjusted and the bridge as well. I have played 200 year old instruments worth tens of thousands of dollars and I still like mine better. Have a budget in mind but realize that if it is important to you and you want a great sound, you may have to pay a bit of money for it. Where there is a will there is a way. Even with finding the money for it.
Purchase price has a large range from a few hundred dollars to a few million. Most decent student violins run from $500-750 to $2000. A decent student violin will start at about $750. However, don’t let cost rule your decision.