Ideally, one chooses a violin based on how it feels, sounds and looks, and that means you have to hold it, play it, listen to it and examine it in person.
But this is not always possible. If you live in a remote region, or simply in a place that is far from a music shop, you may not have the option to go to a quality violin store and test violins before buying one.
That can mean buying something online that you have not been able to play first. I'll probably buck conventional wisdom here by saying that sometimes this can work. In the past, purchasing something from afar involved a lot of risk. As the Internet has matured, so has the amount of information that a consumer can consult for an online or catalog purchase. When it comes to the violin, there are certain "brands" of instruments that have good quality testing and consistency, and based on a recommendation from someone in the know, you can get a good instrument. It has grown far easier to consult experts, read reviews and do research before purchasing something from a far away place, and that takes away some of the risk, though not all.
As I said before, on most occasions I'd recommend insisting upon testing the instrument in person before buying it. Two instruments that are the exact same price and "brand" can vary dramatically in their quality of sound. If you use a local shop, many will allow you to bring home several instruments to test and/or show to your teacher before you commit to purchasing one. And some vendors like Shar will even mail out instruments for testing, before you have make the purchase.
What has your experience been, with buying instruments tested or untested?
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