Choosing an Instrument

Choosing an Instrument

There are 3 main factors to look out for when choosing an instrument:

  1. Sound
  2. Playability and
  3. Loving an instrument

There are also quite a few other things to look out for:

  1. The general condition of the instrument
  2. The age of the instrument
  3. Who was the maker
  4. buying an instrument for investment
  5. How much should you spend at what level?



1. Sound

Sound is a really individual thing. No one can tell you what you like in an instrument. It is only you that has to play the instrument. There is one factor to take into account: how does the instrument sound if you are performing? Does it carry? A lot of people like a more sonorous, yet introverted sound, which means while the instrument sounds fantastic close to the ear or in a small room, it will be very difficult to hear in a large hall. Not all players wish to play in a large hall, but if you do, you will need to take that into consideration. A good way to find out is to have another player with a similar technique play the instrument for you in a large hall. The sound in an empty hall is quite different than a full hall (wouldn’t we all love to get big audiences all the time). Some of the great and well known concert violins I have personally tried, sound surprisingly quiet under the ear, because they were built to project.

So part of testing the sound of an instrument is hearing it being played by someone else as well as playing it yourself.


2. Playability

An instrument just needs to make it easy to play for you. Firstly the responsiveness of the tone will help, but also the set up and even the shape of the instrument.

An instrument with a clear tone will almost feel like it plays itself when you just touch it with the bow. If the instrument crackles, or is difficult to get going, there is a problem with the physical properties of the instrument. With this I mean the shape and design of the instrument. All parts have to work together.

Another important factor in playability  is the set up, which determines the string height, string spacing and bridge and fingerboard curvatures. These things can all be changed later and if you really like an instrument, you can still consider buying it, but getting it set up by a professional violin maker. It may also give you some bargaining power to reduce the price. Neck thickness also has an effect on playability.


3. Loving an instrument

That is just a personal thing. Sometimes you will just find an instrument that you fall in love with for no particular reason. It may well be worth looking at that instrument.

You have to play your instrument, not your friend, teacher or family. That means if someone you know tells you not to get an instrument, (unless it is structurally unsound, difficult to play or sounds terrible), if you listen to them you may end up playing an instrument you personally don’t really like, and that WILL have a huge effect on your playing. You find yourself playing a lot better on an instrument that you love.


Other factors


4. The general condition of the instrument

You may love everything about an instrument, but if it is not in a good condition it may cost you a lot to get it restored. Things to consider are Cracks, wrong neck angle or mensur, varnish problems, rough workmanship. Some of these things can be rectified and can be costly, while of course poor workmanship cannot.


5. The age of the instrument

Antique instruments will need to be very well maintained and possibly restored at times. While it is wonderful to own a piece of history (e.g. if you own an instrument from e 1740’s, it would have been made before the birth of Mozart and during the life of Bach!), it can also mean more repairs. I always suggest for people to look at both new and old, because I have seen fantastic sounding old and new instruments, as well as some pretty ordinary ones of each. It is a big restriction in the range if you only look at only old or new instruments. There is a myth that old is better than new. Every blind sound test that I have been part of has proven that it really is a myth, however some old instruments command great prices, because they are rare like an old painting or sculpture and are part of history.


6. The maker has an influence on the value

With modern instruments some makers charge exorbitant prices while others have quite good value. That is not always a sign of quality. Some makers have higher overheads and that is all you pay for. So it is well worth doing your research. Lately there has been another phenomenon: Chinese instruments with Italian labels, and Chinese instruments with fake Certificates! Some of these instruments are being sold through violin shops. (do a Google search of “fraudulent violin certificates” or “fake violin labels” to read about some horror stories)

7. Buying an instrument for investment

This is another ball game and you will need to seek the advice of a REPUTABLE violinmaker. Usually it is the name that counts. It is always a good idea to get a second opinion. Whenever you are buying an instrument you need to make sure that your Dealer is reputable. If someone seems overly keen to sell you an instrument, they may not have your best interest at heart, but that of their bank balance.


So as you can see there is quite a lot to choosing an instrument to suit you. Please remember that it is you that has to play the instrument, not your teacher, the person selling you the instrument  or anyone else, so in the end you will have to feel extremely happy with the instrument.

8. How much should you spend at what level?

There are many different ideas on how much one should spend on an instrument. I always think that it is a good idea to buy the best violin, viola or cello you can afford, because a good instrument will always help you along your learning path faster.

  • Beginner: Even if you are just buying an instrument for school, you should not buy any instruments under AU$500 for violins $650 for violas and $1800 for Cellos. I consider Instruments below that level to be toys and quite a few people starting on cheap instruments give up because they think they can’t produce a nice tone (when it is really the instrument). In my opinion it would be better to start on a violin outfit around AU$1000, Viola for around $1200 and Cello for around $3000.
  • Intermediate: This is for the musical players who want to take playing a bit further… Again I would recommend to buy the best instrument you can, but you should be looking at around AU$2500 to $5000 for violin and viola, and $4000 to $8000 for cello.
  • Advanced: This is where you know what you want to do with playing in the future and should be looking at violins and violas starting at AU$5000 and cellos starting at $8000.
  • Professional: This is going to be “Your Instrument” which will become your voice. It is your choice what you spend on what will probably be you last instrument. Some of the new Master instruments will cost between AU$15,000 and  AU$40,000 for violins and violas and between $20,000 and $60,000.

So you can see there is a lot to buying an instrument. I hope I answered all the questions you may have on buying an instrument. If you have any other questions, please click go to the Contact page and ask us. I will try to give an answer within 48 hours.