Monday, June 26, 2017
Most people don't have a clue about purchasing a string instrument, and there are many mistakes that can be made.
Here's the most important fact: It is ALWAYS best to purchase from a legitimate violin dealer's shop. Here you will have the largest selection of instruments in a wide range of prices, and you have the advantage of dealing with a specialist who can educate you in the process. Violin shops also provide the most careful setups (very important if one wants the instrument to work right.)
Full-line music stores (those which sell all kinds of instruments--guitars, trumpets, pianos, etc.) can be good places to rent an instrument for a beginner, but for purchase of a more advanced instrument, they are not the best source. Their prices are usually high in relation to the quality level, they usually do not have as wide a selection, the setups can often be unreliable, and competent on-site repair and adjustment is rare.
Mail-order string specialty houses are usually more expensive than a local violin shop, but their more advanced instruments are usually set up well, and these people do aim to please.
NEVER buy any string instrument from on-line sources, since quality is unreliable and service is non-existent. Likewise, never buy an instrument from a warehouse store (where you can also find clothing, washing machines and groceries), since no one in any of these stores knows anything about string instruments and most likely neither do you. But at least you can usually return your mistake.
Any violin dealer should allow you to take any instrument home on approval for at least a week without putting any money down. Use this time to play the instrument at home, in an ensemble if possible (to see how it "fits") and get the opinion of your teacher or a competent player friend.
Understanding pricing is tricky. This is why you need to trust the dealer to give you reliable information. Remember, the dealer wants you to be happy. Old instruments usually seem to cost more than new ones, but they often don't play as well, and they can be more delicate and "fussy" to take care of. My advice is to invest in the best new instrument you can afford.
Once you decide on an instrument, choose a bow you can afford which allows the instrument to speak clearly and freely. The bow also needs to behave well in your hand. Try playing legato, staccato, spiccato, loud, soft, crescendo, decrescendo, etc. The best bows (and the most expensive) are made of Pernambuco wood, a tropical hardwood from the state of Pernambuco in Brazil. Avoid "brazilwood" or any unnamed wood. Bows made from carbon fiber can be an excellent substitute for Pernambuco at a much lower price. Be sure the carbon fiber bow is not "carbon-composite", but true carbon fiber. These bows should carry brand names which you can look up on line. Most people are shocked to learn what a bow costs. As a guide, a violin or viola bow should cost about 1/3 to 1/2 as much as the instrument. A cello bow should be about 1/4 the cost of the instrument.
Basses are a specialty item. Most violin shops don't even bother with them--they can't spare the space. You should seek out and go to a bass specialty shop and let them educate you.
After you find the right place to look for an instrument, you'll need to have a designed approach to trying several instruments in your price range--or perhaps a couple of price ranges. In my next post, I'll lay out a suggested plan for testing and evaluating an instrument. Stay tuned.