Violin Shopping!

Posted on 11:57 am

Ok, so you’re ready to purchase a violin! Great! This is an exciting time with the anticipation of having an instrument all your own, that you’ve picked out, and that you love!  However, the process can quickly become overwhelming and discouraging. So, to keep this experience positive I wanted to give you a few guidelines.

First, watch the video found at the link below. It’s about 10 minutes long and is chock-full of good information that can help you go into the process with a plan that will work.

Once you’ve watched the video you will have a good idea of where to begin, what to prepare before shopping, and what to look for in the shopping process.

A few additions to the info on this video from my experience:

  1. Do your instrument testing blindly. Have a price range in mind (say $1500-$3000). Ask the violin shop owner for the instruments in this price range but DON’T look or have him tell you the prices! Knowing the price of the instrument can skew your impressions. We automatically are wired to think that more expensive instruments will sound better, but this may not be the case. So choose 5–10 instruments and blindly test them using the principles in the video. After you’ve eliminated your choices to 3 or fewer and you’re ready to take them home to try them out then you can look at the prices. See which ones you picked and which ones you left. Don’t second guess yourself if you eliminated one that was more expensive. Take the advice in the video and go with your gut. The instrument you eliminated might be great… but just may not be right for you. Go with what you liked and with what worked for you!
  2. When I was shopping for a violin I often focused on very simple melodies because they gave me the best impression of what the sound of the instrument was like. More technical repertoire helped me discern playability, but I found the most helpful tool was my slower melodies. You can tell a lot from an instrument by just using a simple melody. Dig in, play lightly, test all the strings and different positions. I found that usually the instruments I liked best playing slow melodies, gave me the greatest depth in sound and response from my more advanced repertoire as well. I was also able to concentrate on what I was hearing and feeling with the slower melodies because I wasn’t so focused on playing my concerto correctly! See what works for you. Remember, this is going to be YOUR instrument and YOU are the one who’s going to have to play on it! Take your time and see if you “connect” with the instrument.
  3. Remember that a new instrument is going to sound raw as compared to an aged one, and an instrument that hasn’t been played on for awhile (old or new) will also need to be “worked in” to get its best sound. When shopping for instruments I played on both old and new. The instrument I ended up purchasing had NEVER been played on before. The sound was extremely raw. However, I could hear the potential it had, and even in its raw stage I liked the feel and sound of the instrument. I went with my gut as the video suggested, and I have not been disappointed. Knowing the age of an instrument will help you compare apples to apples, or at least know when you’re comparing apples to oranges, so you can keep your perspective accurate. However, if you already have an idea in mind of what you think you will prefer, this information is best found out AFTER you have done the tests suggested in the video and have determined sound and playability without the influence of price or age.

Good luck and happy shopping!

Emily Williams is the creator of Strategic Strings: An Online Course for Violin and Viola Teachers

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2 responses to “Violin Shopping!”

  1. Liana Seager says:

    Hi Emily, I’m in the process of buying a violin since I have been renting. Right now I have about $1300 set aside and have been told that with my needs a $1400 outfit would be a great fit for me. What are your thoughts? Since I’m 15 and not planning on going into professional music.

  2. Emily says:

    Hi Liana! :) Yes, I would say that’s about right. I would recommend buying a violin and bow separately however rather than getting an outfit. I would suggest you look into the Coda Bow series (you can find them on They are carbon fiber rather than wood, so they are more durable (they won’t break or warp over time) and for the same amount of money you can get a higher quality Coda bow than a wood bow. (Wood bows become a better value if you’re looking for a more expensive bow). Get the most expensive Coda bow you can. Often the bow can improve the sound of a medium grade instrument substantially, so the investment in the bow is worth it, even if it means you have to spend less on the instrument itself.

    When looking for an instrument, get a few in your price range and compare them, both playing them, as well as listening to someone else play them. And most definitely get your teacher’s approval before purchasing any instrument. (If I’m in OH when you’re violin shopping this coming summer I would be happy to test out a few if you can arrange it!). I would buy your Coda bow first, before testing instruments so that you are testing them with the bow you will be playing them with. That’s important.

    I had a student recently purchase the following instrument from Shar: LV20 G 4/4. A Lamberti Master Series Guarneri

    She tested it against another instrument in the same price range from Shar and we both agreed that this one was far superior. It’s priced at $1500 currently (which I know is a little more than you have, especially since you also need to purchase a bow), but it’s something to consider. Also look into Shar’s clearance or “blemished” instruments. Often you can get a very nice instrument for less just because the varnish didn’t dry properly or something, which doesn’t affect the sound at all. This may allow you to stay within your budget while also purchasing a Coda bow.

    I hope that helps! Let me know if you have further questions!

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