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How to Buy a Violin

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Choosing an instrument for yourself, your child, or your students can be a daunting task. Which is better, purchasing online or locally? And with violins ranging in price from very reasonable to "empty your Swiss bank accounts," where do you even begin?

You may be overwhelmed by the prospect of  finding the perfect instrument to meet your needs. So before you set out on your search, you might ask yourself a few questions:

  • What is your budget?
  • Is this instrument for a child or adult? A first-time or experienced player?
  • Is this violin for use in teaching or taking lessons, school orchestra, solo performance, gigging, professional use, or all of the above?

Getting Started: Buying vs. Renting for Beginners

We all love that age old question: “Rent or buy?” Don’t worry. The decision to buy or rent a violin isn’t exactly like buying or renting a home. But in many ways, it is very similar: there are pros and cons to both, and deciding whether to rent or buy really depends on both your financial and musical needs as well as your future plans.

Access to Repairs

Whether you rent or buy from Kennedy Violins, you can rest assured that repairs and upgrades are always available. With our rental insurance, 45-day money-back guarantee, and lifetime warranty, you can be confident that no matter what happens to your instrument, repairs and replacement will be there for you throughout your life as long as you have your instrument.

Buying

There are many reasons to buy an instrument instead of renting. Here are a few:

1. Buying the instrument is often cheaper than renting the instrument for a long-period of time. Even fractional-sized instruments, such as our very affordable student violins, that will only be used for a limited amount of time may be worth purchasing if they’ll be used long enough or handed down to a younger family member.

2. You want to play on a brand-new instrument rather than a used one. Rental instruments are usually used. While our rental instruments are all cleaned, tuned up, inspected, and even cosmetically touched-up between renters, used instruments may come with scratches, dents, tape marks on the fingerboard, used strings, and already-rosined bows. Also, renters are held accountable for damages to these violins.

If you want a fresh start with your very own instrument as something that will be cared for by you, to your own standards, buying is an excellent idea. You can start with a pristine instrument without being responsible to a third-party owner for anything that may happen to it.

3. You are in need of a full-size instrument. Since you, your child, or your student won’t be growing out of the instrument, you will be able to use this instrument potentially for the rest of your life unless you ever want to trade it in or sell it and upgrade to something new.

4. You’re giving the instrument as a gift. There’s something very satisfying in giving someone a gift that will belong solely to them. It’s a priceless moment, watching a child tear the wrapping off a violin under the Christmas tree or seeing the smile on the face of a friend or family member who has always wanted to learn how to play. Also,  renting an instrument for someone else can lead to sticky situations, such as if the player damages the instrument but is not responsible for the rental account.

5. Instruments usually retain their value. Instruments that are well cared for usually retain or even appreciate in value, expecially more expensive, high-end instruments. Violins "open up" as they age, improving in sound quality. This happens as a result of the wood, seams, and glue settling and resonating with more warmth.

6. Instruments are a good investment. Instruments, especially when they’re insured, can become excellent investments that contribute to your net worth. Most instruments in good condition are easy to sell should you even want to pass them on. It’s a good feeling to own something that has lasting worth and value.

Renting

Rental instruments are most commonly used by

1. K-12 Students. School orchestra students often use instruments provided by the school itself, but unfortunately, district budgets often don’t support the upkeep or purchase of quality instruments, bow rehairs, and replacement strings as needed. The advantage of renting an instrument is playing on a much higher quality instrument without having to invest a large sum of money up front to use it.

2. Children using smaller-sized (fractional) instruments. Kids grow up too fast. It’s true. Rolled-up jeans become highwaters overnight. It’s the same with violins. String instruments, like clothes, come in age-appropriate sizes measured in fractions between 1/16 and 4/4.

It’s very important for children to play on the correct-sized violin (according to height and arm-length) for both ease of playing and the development of proper technique. Therefore, for young players, it makes sense to rent a fractional-sized violin and trade-up to larger sizes as needed rather than buying seven different violins over time. At Kennedy Violins, exhanging your rental for a larger size is always free.

3. Beginners trying out the violin. As much as we hate to admit it, not everyone who starts playing the violin continues to play throughout their lives. School-aged students trying out music as an extracurricular may decide to do something else the next semester or school. High school students leaving for college may not take their instruments with them. People who start playing may simply decide its not for them.

For parents unsure if their child will “take” to the violin, renting for a few months to see how it goes is a very safe move. Kennedy Violins offers a no-contract rental program with no signup fees, just in case French horn or football end up as your true calling.

4. Individuals interested in owning a rental instrument through a rent-to-buy program. Perhaps you don’t have the lump sum of money to purchase the violin up front. In this case, it makes perfect sense to rent and/or save up for the violin you’re renting. 100% of the first years rental fees can be applied at any time towards the optional purchase of any instrument of equal or greater value. Even if you upgrade or change sizes of the violin while you rent, you can keep rolling your credit over into every violin you rent. Credit you have accumulated is never taken away.

Narrowing Your Search

At Kennedy Violins, we want to keep it simple. Browse through our selection of Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Violins to narrow down your search. Watch live performance videos to both see and hear the features of each instrument. Consider adding accessories such as shoulder rests, music stands, sheet music, and the strings of your choice to meet your performance needs.

Try Before You Buy!

Simply looking at a violin won’t tell you very much about it. Beyond knowing where it was made, who made it, what it’s made of, and what it costs, one of the most important features is how it sounds. Additionally, feeling the instrument in your hands is important to determine comfortable playability.

Testing a Violin

Here are a few ideas to try when testing a violin:

  • Know your price range and test violins within that range. If you fall in love with an instrument that's 10 times more than your budget affords, you'll either be heartbroken or in debt as a result.
  • Play with a decent, rosined bow.
  • Play open strings loudly to test the instrument’s resonance and volume potential.
  • Play scales across the entire range of the instrument.
  • Listen for wolf tones, buzzes, or any other atypical and undesirable acoustics.
  • Play in higher positions to check for an accurately planed fingerboard.
  • Compare the sound of this instrument with others.
  • Take note of what strings are on the violin. Different strings of various qualities produce variations in tone.
  • Try the instrument in several playing environments to hear its acoustical properties in different settings: practice rooms, open spaces, outdoors, auditoriums, or performance halls.
  • Get a second opinion from other experienced players or teachers who may offer more perspective.

For more information on how to choose a bow to go with your instrument, see our article "From Frog to Tip: How to Choose a Bow" for more information.

In-Home Trials

If you’re worried about not being able to play the instrument before purchasing, we’ve got you covered. Our FREE In-home Trial program allows you to play on any two violins at a time for 12 days or more with no obligation to see how you like it. Not only that, but all instrument purchases are under our 45-day Best Violin Guarantee.

Older Violins

While antique violins have a lot of charm and appeal, be careful when buying antique instruments. Just because a string instrument is old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more valuable or sounds better than something new. Most old violins found at thrift stores, pawn shops, or on the back shelf your great aunt’s closet have problems: warped parts, open seams, cracks, bad pegs, and other damages caused by climate changes and poor upkeep. You may end up spending more to fix the violin than the violin is even worth.

But on the other end of the spectrum, there are definitely antique steals. Older violins solidly built by reputable luthiers will warm up over time, making beautiful music for decades and even centuries when kept in good repair. Original Stradivarius violins are worth millions. But watch out! Just because a violin has a Stradivarius label inside doesn’t mean it’s the real deal. Many violin makers label violins as Strads just because they’re made with the Stadivarius design or based on a Strad model.

Because it can be hard to tell the difference between a valuable antique violin and another destined for the landfill, consider having older instruments inspected or appraised by a professional luthier before making an investment.

New Violins

New violins can be very smart purchases. With advances in technology, new instruments can now be made with advanced modern techniques and more accessible quality materials such as imported tone woods. Intricately manufactured fittings such as fine tuners, metal tailpieces, strong synthetic tailpiece cords, and machine-wound steel strings give modern violins an edge over violins made even a decade ago.

Blind performance tests have proved that even professional violinists can’t always tell the difference between the sound of an original Stradivari violin and a finely made new violin. The ability to copy Strad designs to the most detailed specs and measurements allows some models to sound just as amazing. Most Kennedy Violin models are made with the the Stradivari design, giving our violins excellent acoustical value.

Professional Instruments

Musicians planning to play professionally should invest in a professional instrument. There is an incredible difference in sound between violins costing a few hundred dollars to those costing thousands of dollars. If you hope to be paid to play now or in your future, you’ll need a great-sounding instrument that will allow you stand out in auditions and stand up to your competition. Consider your instrument a business investment if you plan to gig for pay.

Buy What You Love

Now it’s time to make a decision. Because you’re likely to keep your violin for a long, long time, you definitely want to buy something you love, something that you’re very happy with. Don’t settle for less than what you were looking for as far as sound, looks, and even price goes.

You don’t want your instrument to end up like a clothing item you bought on sale just because it was on sale, not because you loved it. And you may want to spend a little more to get what you want out of an instrument. You’ll likely be more inspired to play and practice if you absolutely love your instrument; you’ll both enjoy the gift you’ve given yourself. Not only that, but you’ll also sound better because you invested in a better sound.

Insuring Your Violin

Once you’ve found the violin of your dreams, you’ll want to add it to your insurance policy, especially if its of higher value. Consider having your instrument appraised every few years as nicer violins often appreciate in value. (Student violins, on the other hand, will be more likely to depreciate over time with wear and cosmetic damage). No matter what kind of violin you own, you’ll want to be able to replace it with one of the same quality should something happen to it (fire, flood, theft, etc.).

Questions?

Every member of our staff is a professional performer or teacher, so you can count on us to answer any and all of your questions. Call us at 1-800-779-0242 or email us at support@kennedyviolins.com. We are here to help!