Tuesday, 4 March 2008 | Tags: , ,

Originating in Italy in the early 16th century, the violin is the soprano voice of the stringed orchestra. For the budding virtuoso, a violin purchase is a big investment, so here are some things to know before you shop.

The Basics

  • Like many fine instruments, violins can be quite expensive. If you’re just starting out on any type of instrument, consider renting one first to make sure it’s something you definitely want to pursue. Many better music shops allow rentals, and some even have rent-to-own programs.

  • The case with any stringed instrument is that you get what you pay for.

    • Factory-made instruments (typically from China or Czechoslovakia) are inexpensive, and will have a tinny sound that is thin and hollow.

    • Hand-made instruments (typically by Italian, German, French, or English makers, who may or may not still be alive) will be more expensive, but have a richer, fuller sound that is sought-after by advanced players (and listeners).

  • If you’re buying a hand-made instrument, be sure to do your research on the makers to see which have better re-sale values. Check online and visit local music stores to find out makers available in your area.

  • If you’re serious about playing any musical instrument, plan ahead and save up the money to buy something that is good quality, and hand-made if possible.

  • Ask your music teacher for recommendations on where to shop. Your teacher may also know of someone who is looking to sell an instrument. Some teachers may even come and help you choose an instrument if you’re serious about playing and are looking at better quality options.

  • Most shops let you take an instrument home and try it for a few days before you commit to buying it. If you don’t like it, try another.

  • The bow is a critical piece of equipment for stringed instruments and should feel comfortable and balanced in your hand. Expect to pay between 20-30% of the instrument cost on a bow.

  • Instruments are one of the few things that get better with age. Buying used is very common. In fact, when it comes to string instruments like violins and cellos, new instruments are often considered lower quality than used. Even factory-made instruments can improve slightly with age, if they are played enough.

  • Whether buying new or used, wood instruments are susceptible to cracks if they dry out. Look very closely and thoroughly for cracks and make sure the seams are all well sealed.

Other Considerations

  • Chances are you’ll need new strings, as well as sound post and bridge adjustments, which add to the overall cost.

  • If it doesn’t come with a carrying case, make sure you buy a good one to protect, store and transport it in. The quality of the case should match the value of your instrument. Soft cases are cheaper, but offer less protection.

  • If your child is about to start lessons, he or she may be too small for a full-size instrument. Many string instruments also come in 3/4 and 1/2 sizes.

Be Aware

  • Extensive wear of the neck is a sign the instrument may not be in the best shape.

  • Don’t be fooled by a brand new looking or shiny exterior. Sound quality varies, so be prepared to try the instruments out.


We invited some students and professionals to test these three violins:

  • Genial (manufactured): $295
  • Vasile Gliga (partially-manufactured): $1,195
  • Sandner (hand-made): $6,495

Professional Play Test

Over a three-course dinner our professional violinist serenaded us with each of our three violins:

  • There was no question that the sweetest sounds came from our violinist’s own Melegari (worth over $80,000). Even to our untrained ears, its sound was in a league of its own.

  • The Vasile Gliga had a crisp and full sound.

  • The Sandner seemed on the quiet side. Our violinist noted it had very little character.

  • The Genial was very tinny and hollow.

Student Play Test

  • Some of the students liked the Vasile Gliga. It felt comfortable to play and had sharp and crisp tones.

  • One tester liked the hollow tone of economical Genial.


Of the three we tested, the price range was quite dramatic. However, the mid-range Vasile Gliga won our hearts, and ears.

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