Violins…a buyer’s guide, what to consider when buying a violin

We look at some key points you should consider when buying a violin, including how to test a violin (viola, cello, bass) before taking it on approval.

What should I play?

Scales are a good starting point. Try them slowly with as much volume as possible to test the instrument’s limits. If you can, try playing in higher positions to assess the responsiveness in the upper region of each string.

Pieces you know allow you to make comparisons with your existing instrument. Select pieces you are comfortable with and try to use a range of speeds. Check for balance across the strings – do they have consistency or do certain strings stand out as being weaker or stronger than others.

A buyers guide to violins

How many should I try?

If you try too many it can be confusing and impossible to keep track of your preferences. Try 5-10 fairly briefly at first, some you will know very quickly are not for you. Once you have 3-5 that you like, spend more time with each one eliminating the one you like least. You should be left with an instrument you feel happy with and enjoy playing.

Should I use by own bow?

Yes! Picking a new instrument is hard enough, so if you need a new instrument and a new bow take them one at a time. At least try to select just one or two instruments and try the bows on them, again selecting a range of speeds and volumes to find the bows’ limits. Trying 10 violins and 10 bows gives you a hundred permutations – that way madness lies!

Should I bring my teacher?

Yes, if they are willing to help. This can be useful if they know your playing capabilities. But remember you will be the one playing the instrument and one that works well for them may not work well for you. Also it is unfair to expect them to make assessments on authenticity or condition or value-for-money unless they have specific expertise in these areas.

Should I make a recording on my phone to compare various instruments or listen to a recording online?

No. It is a pointless exercise. Phones use audio compression which takes away all the complexity of stringed instrument sound. Likewise hearing someone else play an instrument recorded on basic equipment and then playing it through your computer is really not going to help – however popular it seems to be as a marketing device!

Violin and bows, a buyers guide

Should I take my new violin and bow on approval?

Yes. A week is a common time given for you to assess the instrument – in various venues if you can – and also to try it for longer time spans to ensure you will be comfortable playing it in those three hour rehearsals! Instruments change with temperature and humidity so it gives you a chance to get to know your new instrument better. There is a saying; ‘everyday love puts on a new face’, violins are the same. Good luck with your new partner! Learn more about how to care for your new violin here.

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