Tips on Buying a Classical String Instrument (Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass)
by Remus Badea
Here are some tips for players at all levels, though I recommend that you go through the process with the guidance of a trusted teacher. Here are some good things to keep in mind.
• Price does not always determine value and quality
• There is hierarchy in how value and price work on instruments over $500 (fine instruments) that goes as follows: a) name, b) condition, c) rarity, d) historical context, e) quality of tone and how it plays.
Advice for beginners
This advice is meant for beginners (and their parents) who generally are choosing between two options: renting or buying.
• Rent: pros – you will get a better quality instrument plus insurance; cons – you have to pay monthly.
• Buy : pros – cheaper in the long run and at the beginner level quality is not a big factor; cons – quality not as good & you don’t get instrument insurance.
Whether you rent or buy your instrument should come as a kit with everything you’ll need (i.e., violin, bow, rosin, case and possibly shoulder rest).
Advice for the intermediate to advanced student
At this point the stringed instrument musician buys all of their musical equipment separately (i.e., violin, bow, rosin, case, possibly shoulder rest, etc.). My number one tip is to always keep your price range in mind. Don’t be seduced by the sound of an instrument into making a purchase you can’t afford. My other advice is:
• Research you options on where to buy: Internet sites, music stores, referrals, private individual sales, etc.
• If buying online, I wouldn’t suggest buying an instrument above $500. Playing instrument is too essential in the decision process.
• If possible, visit several shops and play many instruments in your price range.
• Do your research online on specific instrument makers and compare prices.
• Take several instruments home from different shops to try them at home. Music shops will generally let string instruments be taken out for a short period, typically a week or so.
• Have your teacher, other musicians, and friends look, play, and listen to instruments you are considering buying.
Remember, there is no need to rush the process. It takes time to find the right fit for a player in any given price range (months to years, depending on your level).
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Remus Badea is Concertmaster of Southwest Symphony Orchestra, adjunct professor at Elmhurst College, and Executive Director of American Music Institute.