buying a violin


Mary said: Aug 27, 2012
 39 posts

Hi Parents and Teachers,

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on buying a 1/2 violin for my 8 year old who is currently in book 5. We have always rented violins from our local strings store, but it is clear that my son is progressing very well and loves to play. We don’t doubt that he will keep playing into his adulthood. He started ensemble playing last year and just loves the opportunity of making music with other people. We are thinking that purchasing a violin with a store that has a 100% trade in policy maybe the better way to go than renting. We are spending about $200/year on renting the best violin available at our local store (Eastman 200 model) to keep up with his progress so the cost has and will continue to add up if we rent for the next few years before purchasing a full size. We would have to go with an out of town store probably because our local strings store has a fairly limited selection of violins. We were given recommendations for Carriage House and Johnson Strings because we are in New England.

So I am curious to hear about the experiences from parents and teachers who have gone the purchase/full trade in route when the child is only at a 1/2 size. And which violins would you recommend and what should we be spending to get the right violin for my child. How much is too little and how much is too much? We have discussed this with my son’s teacher and she is in full support, but it’s a big purchase for us so I would appreciate hearing from others and getting any advice.


Robin Lohse said: Aug 27, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello, Viola
31 posts

I ran into this problem with my own children. and renting cost me
more money than what I had to spare. It was a real financial loss. So I
decided to go in to my own business as a result of
this challenge or obtaining better instruments for my sons.. It was well
worth the effort. One company even approached me with their violins. As I
am astring teacher I expanded the options to my students and later to other
customers …It s student based business for its the student that get to
have in put on theri selection of the instrument. there are three three
entry levels followed by step up models and intermediate and going up to
advanced models. It makes it possible for the average student to get a
better violin because there is the a trade up option written into *my rent
to own plan. *
Hope this helps by me sharing my experience.
Robin Lohse

On Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 8:15 AM, SAA Discussion

Robin Lohse

Mary said: Aug 28, 2012
 39 posts

Thank you for sharing your response. It does sound like the most economical way to go. The idea of violin shopping is intimidating though since my husband and I do not play the violin ourselves. We will make the drive to Boston, and hopefully not feel too overwhelmed by the choices. If you have any advice on how to choose the right instrument please let me know.

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Aug 28, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
100 posts

To Robin: Not everyone is in a position to start up a string instrument business in order to outfit their child and others in their community, though that is very enterprising and impressive indeed! Congratulations on your success!

To pianolinmom I offer the following suggestion:

In advance of your visit, ask the violin shop to select and prepare a good number of instruments for you to try, in several specific price & quality categories. If they have a catalogue, look it over before you call them. The violins should be nicely set up and tuned in advance, and ask them to provide plenty of shoulder rests to try, and a few bows to try as well. Ideally they should set these up in a quiet side room where you can have the best acoustics to hear the differences between the instruments. I know that Johnson Strings is very good about accommodating families trying out instruments, and they will have one of their people at your disposal to help you in the process.

With the violins lined up, ask your son to play the first phrase or passage from one of his pieces, on each violin, in the order they are lined up. You can take notes on what you hear, and give each one a number. He should be doing his best to make as lovely a sound as he can, on each violin. Listen carefully for the fullness and richness of tone, for how sweetly it sings. Also pay attention to whether an instrument sounds nasal, or hollow, or scratchy, or thick and wooden. The best instrument will be one that sings and responds, that your son feels allows him to make the best sound with the least effort. If together you are able to narrow it down to two or three instruments that he and you like the best, then you can invite a violin-playing rep from the shop to come in at the end and play a short piece on each one, so you can compare the sound, see what he/she thinks, and make your final selection. Don’t expect this to be a quick operation! It takes time and patience, and open ears.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

Wendy Caron Zohar

If we work hard, music may save the world.—S. Suzuki

Mary said: Aug 29, 2012
 39 posts

Thank you, Wendy! That is very helpful, step by step advice. I will no doubt reread your post many times before we make the trip. We will definitely contact the stores in advance.

I did have a couple of quick follow up questions. You mentioned trying different bows does this mean that we should not be looking to buy one of those complete violin outfits but a separate violin and bow? Also, will the quality of the strings on the violin greatly affect the instrument’s tone? I guess I am asking if it’s possible that a violin might sound better simply because it has better strings even if the violin itself maybe not as nice as another violin.

Thank you again for your time. I look forward to hearing your responses.

Herbert said: Aug 30, 2012
 5 posts

We just purchased a 1/2 sized violin for our 9 year old and it was a time consuming, laborious, and educational process. First, we looked at the better violins at three local luthiers but did not find a suitable instrument. We next called a well known violin shop in New Mexico and they shipped three instruments for trial price up to $3500. My daughter’s teacher tried out in larger hall but didn’t find them quite satisfactory. We next called two well known store in the East and they shipped out a total of four violins $2200-$5400. Without informing them of the price we had three violinists try them out. They unanimously liked one instrument, the least expensive one! At this point we decided to go with this violin in part because we were satisfied by the instrument, in part because we thought we’ve tried a good sampling of instruments in this price range, and in part because the shipping costs were beginning to approach a meaningful proportion of the price of a violin.

Next my daughter tried out the bows sent along with the violins $400-$1600. She said, “Listen, you get a lot more tone with this bow.” She was right. Even to my untrained ears there were distinct qualitative differences. However, the bow was slightly harder to start bouncing. After playing with the bows for four days my daughter finally decided on the most expensive bow.

This is what I learned:

  1. It is very hard finding a 1/2 sized violin of good tone quality.
  2. There is only a loose correlation between price and tone. Other factors such as antique value affect the price.
  3. A good bow is important even with a fractional size violin.
  4. If having violin shipped for trial try to have arrive within a timeframe where they can be compared simultaneously.

I wish you well in your search.


Mary said: Aug 30, 2012
 39 posts

Thank you, enkoshinobaba, for sharing your experience. I am impressed with the hard work and perseverance that took to purchase your daughter’s 1/2 size violin. I am not sure we have it in us to do all that you did. I am nervous that my son’s teacher will not be there to try out the violins with us, but I think we will be able to bring back our top 2 or 3 choices to try out with her before making the final purchase. I had not thought about a bow to be honest, but you make the good argument for having a good quality bow. Will you be able to trade in the violin and bow in once your daughter outgrows it?

Herbert said: Aug 30, 2012
 5 posts

I think that most shops apply a percentage of the purchase price for a trade up to the next size. Realistically, we will again search far and wide for the next size so the likelihood of purchasing another instrument from the same shop is remote. Will we be able to recoup most of the cost if we were to sell it ourselves? Probably yes for the violin, but probably no for the bow (the violin shop provided us with certificate of purchase for both). We still have my daughter’s 1/8 and 1/4 violins. They show signs of wear especially around the C bout from ambitious bowing! We donated her 1/10 to her school. They were all from differing stores.

Best wishes.


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