The first time you set foot in a string instrument shop with the intention of making a purchase, you may feel slightly overwhelmed. Excited, yes but overwhelmed non-the-less. The world of violins, violas, cellos and basses is incredibly specialized and can cost a pretty penny. How do you know you’re spending wisely? Have you bought the right instrument for you? For a little confidence in your purchase, follow these simple tips:
Size: String instruments come in many different sizes ranging from full size (4/4 – suitable for adult players) down to 1/32nd size (average age: 2 or 3 years old). For the sake of playability and comfort, it is absolutely imperative you find the right size for you. If you don’t already know what size you are looking for, ask your teacher to measure you or ask a friendly staff member to help you out.
New or Second Hand: This choice involves many different factors e.g. Is it full size and you are intending on playing it for the rest of your life? Will you physically grow out of it and would like to sell it on after you’ve upgraded? Is your budget a factor?
Generally, in the range of student models, second hand instruments are cheaper and of the same quality, if not lower, than newer instruments. The age of an instrument only starts coming into play with higher quality woods and craftsmanship.
If you are looking for an instrument that you intend to sell in the future, a new instrument kept in good nick will sell easily or fetch a handsome trade-in price. Alternatively, if you can find a second hand instrument that sounds lovely and has been well looked after, it may be worth considering.
Performance: As a beginner instrumentalist, it’s a good idea to find an instrument that speaks easily with a nice tone. Most entry-level instruments have nice loud tones that are easy to play straight away but lack in sensitivity. These instruments are excellent purchases as you can start enjoying your sound right from your first lesson. The ability to play with sensitivity may take some time to develop (and lots of technical practice!) so it’s best to hold off including this factor until you’re ready to upgrade to a more professional instrument.
Most string specialty stores include a professional ‘set-up’ with new instruments. This includes an individually shaped bridge, nut, pegs and a planed fingerboard. A good set-up may mean the difference between an enjoyable learning experience and endless frustration. Make sure to ask your supplier about the set-up of their instruments. For more info, check out what a good set-up can do for your practice here.
Appearance: Lastly, but not least-ly, how does the instrument look? Good quality wood and craftsmanship is a must. Have a look at the wood on the belly, back and sides of the instrument. How detailed is the wood? Does the varnish look clear and beautiful on the wood? Do the shapes of the instrument look like they’ve been created carefully and with great detail? Take a look at the ebony parts (black wood). Ask if it is real ebony or cheaper wood painted black? Tip: if you have a choice, ALWAYS go with ebony. Some quality shouldn’t be compromised.