|Tips on Buying a Violin
by Leif Luscombe
With the age of the Internet, where there seems to be an inexhaustible
selection of goods for sale, the task of choosing the right product
can be a daunting task. With musical instruments, as with most
art, the choice can be further complicated by the fact that no
two instruments are alike. Even commercial instruments from the
same production can sound somewhat different because of the nature
of wood - each piece has unique acoustical characteristics.
Many musicians look for a bargain when purchasing a musical instrument.
There have been times when good quality instruments have been
purchased at very low prices from pawn shops, auctions, or private
owners. However, in the real world this occasion is rare - the
majority of instruments purchased in this way require repairs
and parts, which can easily cost as much or more than the instrument
is worth. In this case, should one pursue the restoration of the
instrument, it is a loss. The instrument, when finished, is worth
less than it has cost.
Below are some answers to some commonly asked questions on this
|How Much Should I Pay for a Good Violin?
The value of musical instruments is based on several factors:
- Tone (sound quality)
- Performance (ability to respond to the demands of a musician,
such as tonal range, expression and dynamics)
- Appearance (combination of workmanship, wood and varnish)
- Health (will it be a high maintenance instrument? Has it had
many repairs in the past? Does its present condition indicate
that it will need much service in the future?)
- Collector's value
We urge students to avoid purchasing a very cheap instrument.
As it will not satisfy, more than likely they will be eager to
upgrade in the near future, and the money spent on the first instrument
is wasted. There are music shops and online sources selling very
cheap violin outfits. The cost to put it into satisfactory playing
order would cost more than the instrument, and would still fall
short of being a good student instrument due to its inherent construction
We will outline some basic guidelines below, based on our experience
and knowledge of what is available on the market. Bear in mind
that not all dealers will offer the same quality at a certain
Violins: (fully set up, but without case and bow)
- Entry level student, US$300-$600
- Intermediate student, US$600-$1500
- Advanced student, US$1500-3500
Above this level are semi-professional and professional instruments.
Once instruments reach and exceed about US$10,000 or $15,000 and
more, the value is largely influenced by collector value, which
are often a good investment for the musician, as they do appreciate
with time. In other words, from that level and above, the increments
of performance are very small considering the large increases
in price. A musician may choose a more expensive instrument than
what we have recommended above; a beginning student is not limited
to a violin in the lower end. On the contrary, a serious student
is encouraged to purchase the finest instrument that they can
comfortably afford, as it will give them a lot of room to grow.
|Should I Purchase from a Violin Dealer?
This is usually the best route for serious musicians of all levels.
Dealers have a reputation to uphold each time they offer an instrument
for sale. There is usually a trial period offered, and the dealer
will do his best to make sure that you are satisfied. As well,
a long term relationship can be established between the dealer
and customer. Should you need advice, or have an unfortunate experience
with your instrument, knowing that you can ask a knowledgeable
person about your problem can be a great relief. As a valued customer,
the dealer will be willing to spend time with you, give some education
or advice and also recommend any repairs that may be necessary,
and you will have the peace of mind that the instrument is in
the care of a competent repair shop.
A dealer will be knowledgeable about musical instruments and
be able to make recommendations regarding the purchase of a violin
based on the needs of the musician (level of performance, budget,
commitment of the student, etc.) They are also aware of what instruments
are on the market at the time, and which instrument will give
the best value in each price range. The ability to trade in may
also be important, either to move to a larger size (for young
students), or to a higher quality level.
Also, a good dealer will be able to set an instrument to perform
at its optimum level. A good set up is the result of much experience
and knowledge of bridge selection, fitting, soundpost setting,
correct fittings, the right strings and proper action (the distance
of the strings from the fingerboard). A private seller or auction
can not usually offer this. A poor set up will impair the instrument
in both tone and performance.
|Sold to the Highest Bidder!
Should I Buy a Violin at an Auction?
Online auctions, such as eBay, have become common places to buy
and sell musical instruments. At any time there are several pages
of violins available. While most auction sellers are honest, few
of them are knowledgeable in violins, and therefore can neither
evaluate its value, nor give an accurate description of its condition
and the work that may be needed to bring it to a proper state
A customer once asked me for my opinion of a violin she was bidding
on, which looked quite good for the bid she had placed. However,
upon closer examination of the pictures, a soundpost crack could
be seen. Many people don't realize that a soundpost crack usually
renders a violin almost completely useless if not fixed, and when
fixed the resale value is far lower than if there was no crack.
The cost of doing a proper sound post patch is quite high, so
such repairs are usually left for valuable instruments. (Please
don't contact us for our opinion of eBay instruments - we are
not able to answer the bulk of such emails).
We have seen some auction instruments, and often the repairs
that are necessary make the overall cost of the violin no longer
the bargain that it was thought to be.
This is our advice to those wishing to purchase violins from
an Internet auction:
- Ask the seller any questions you may have - and make sure
you get informative answers.
- Examine the pictures closely.
- Be cautious of "as-is" and "no-return"
Decent instruments can be purchased from auctions, but the risks
are higher than it is usually worth.
|Choosing the Right Size of Violin
Recommended sizes for choosing a small size violin, measured
from the students neck to palm of their extended left hand.
Adults use 4/4 size.
3/4 size: 56 cm/22 inches
1/2 size: 50 cm/20 inches
1/4 size: 47 cm/18 1/2"
1/8 size: 42 cm/16 1/2 inches
1/16 size: 35.5 cm/14 inches
Site design, text and images copyright Lemuel Violins, 2014. This page updated
March 14, 2014