The Best Beginner's Outfit

June 30, 2007 at 03:07 AM · As the market for student instruments has changed, I've alerted some parents of new players to outfits from new companies like Gliga, Zhang, and Scott Cao, that make reasonably priced beginning fiddles, and Eastman and Snow making great intermediate ones. Knilling, Glaesel, Lewis, Roth and other companies that used to dominate the student violin/viola/cello world are not as competitive as they used to be. I wanted to take a survey of what everyone thought of six violin models, from well known internet distributors, that are better than the $100 junk packages but cheaper than used to be possible (prices reflect the "instrument-only" price):

Gliga "Gems I" ( $285

Hoffman "Maestro" ( $275

Scott Cao "student" ( $325

Klaus Mueller ( $276

Strunal 260 ( $299

Which of the above would you recommend to a new student? I have been impressed with the Gligas; are any of the other ones on the same quality par? Would anyone prefer to spend the extra $100-$200 for a beginning Knilling, Glaesel, Lewis, Roth, Meisel, Kohr, etc...


Replies (23)

June 30, 2007 at 01:45 PM · I always recommend beginners of all ages and sizes rent. However, of the brands you mention, I have had some students buy various Hoffman models, and they are fine for entry level players.

July 1, 2007 at 10:06 PM · There are currently over 45 companies that market and sell rental and beginner quality instruments. Each shop has a number of companies and suppliers that it feels comfortable with. Rather than just going through a catalog company, I find it's usually better to go to a shop. The initial instrument may be of a similar quality as those you've listed, but most shops (the good ones at least) do their own set up, with better bridges, straight necks, correctly adjusted soundposts, and (usally) better strings. If none of those things matter, may as well go to Target and pay $75 for their Violin Shaped Object (VSO)

July 2, 2007 at 12:29 AM · Everyone obviously highly recommends that you do not go to Target to buy a shiny violin, guitar, or any other piece of musical equipment.

I purchased my first violin off of eBay last year. *insert snob scoffing here*

Every artist prefers to hold and play an instrument before committing to it, but I gambled and purchased my instrument sound unheard, and surface untouched. I won.

The seller that I dealt with was great, and provided me with a really nice student quality violin for almost nothing! I ended up passing my student violin on to one of my friends at work, and he loves it. I moved on to an older used instrument just last month.

I am in NO way affiliated with this seller, and am merely directing you to him as a means of acquiring a beginner level instrument if you so choose. (eBay user ID- ztl00)

I am not an authority on most things, but I do consider myself to be a craftsman and a wood snob. The one thing that I like about this individual's new violins is that they aren't obnoxiously coated with an unnecessarily thick finish, and they aren't flashy by modern standards. My rational is that the more an instrument can breathe, the better it's going to sound.

July 2, 2007 at 03:34 AM · I do believe that occasionally a person can find a supplier of decent quality student instruments on e-bay or other sources. My question is, when they need work or if they need to be tweaked to get a better sound what then? Many shops are in a tough position with this situation because if they work on the violin (which they didn't sell) and charge normal labor rates, then they end up charging more than the violin is worth. On the other hand if they do the little things that many shops do at no charge (adjust sound post for example) then the shop ends up being free labor for the e-bay seller. If they turn the customer away because at this level of instrument they only work on the ones they, the shop, sell (a growing trend), then the customer is disapointed and left with a violin that doesn't perform as well as it potentially could. And all of these occur even if the selling experience turned out OK and the customer got a decent instrument in the first place. If the customer got a VSO, then the problems are magnified.

So, another question: Should a shop work on an instrument bought through e-bay? If they do provide small repairs for no cost or minimal cost, should they have a different scale for customers who bought the instrument through e-bay or a catalog house rather than purchased at the shop?

Obviously I have a strong slant on these questions because I have a shop and feel that if shops are only consulted when an instrument needs a repair or a bow needs a rehair, then soon their won't be a shop. Then that limits what repairs are available in an area and makes it more dificult for players.

One suggestion, if you find a "deal", check with your local shop. Maybe they can give you an alternative at a reasonable price, but with an instrument thats guaranteed by the shop and is set up professionally.

No easy answers because everyone wants to buy the best instrument possible at the best price possible. And while many e-bay sellers are reputable, it's always more difficult to take a problem to get fixed if it was purchased online than if the product was purchased at a local shop that needs to make sure you end up a happy customer in order to keep you as a customer.

July 2, 2007 at 05:59 PM · A local maker/dealer brought by a 1/8 Scott Cao a few weeks ago that simply blew me away.

July 2, 2007 at 08:20 PM · Gary,

Can you pass on this dealer's info to me? My son is turning 5 next month and wanted to buy him his first violin. Then again, maybe a 1/8 size is to big for him.


July 2, 2007 at 10:56 PM · Dave... Hill Violin Shop, Phoenix, Oregon, 541-621-7091

July 3, 2007 at 03:08 AM · Angelo...

I live in a fairly nice area of NY (not nice where I live, but nice/well-to-do in the surrounding area), and there's no way that I could afford to deal with the privately owned violin shops/luthiers in the area. Do I need to mention that the local Sam Ash was a complete joke? That is the why I purchased a mid level instrument through eBay, and made repairs myself.

The problem is not eBay, or the sellers, but naive individuals that believe 40 dollars is enough to purchase a reasonable quality instrument. Everyone wants something for nothing... even me.

Being raised as an illustrator and painter, I was taught that you always charge someone for your work, no matter how trivial the task seems to you. Never perform a repair gratis, unless you are personally responsible for some kind of damage. If you don't like dealing with cheap customers, don't. As far as a flexible rate scale concerning the origin of the instrument, why not? You're the expert; the rate is totally in your hands. If anything, you should charge more for foreign instruments, and instruments that you don't enjoy working with. I know that this seems to be the least businesslike advice ever, but you need to make the work worth your while.

Local shops also need to be wise, and advertise online! Let people know who you are, and where you are. There are tons of eBay bidders mulling over $1 violins (with $200 shipping fees from the UK and CHINA), when they should be pondering which local seller to choose from.

July 3, 2007 at 03:30 AM · Ian, good point on the area. If you live in an area with no shop (or one you don't feel is a good one), your options need to vary.

As for pricing, while the concept of charging more for products you enjoy working on the least has it's merits, these instruments are also usually the lowest priced and aren't worth the cost of many of the repairs needed, similar concept to rehairing a rental instrument bow, not worth the cost of the labor or hair, better off just swapping it out.


By the way, the Hill Violin Shop in Phoenix, Oregon is run by a Luthier who understands instruments and does a good job with his own. I've been to his shop and know him very well and am currently waiting on one of his Violas to sell through my shop. You're very likely to get a correctly set up instrument through him since he's a maker as well as the shop owner.

July 3, 2007 at 05:09 PM · Thanks for the info Gary and Angelo!


July 3, 2007 at 06:29 PM · My daughter has had many student-level instruments over the years and is currently playing a 3/4 Gliga Gems that we bought from Nielsen Violin in Omaha. We have been very pleased with it and her teachers have said that it is a nice student instrument. I think we paid about $450 for the violin, Erich Steiner bow and Bobelock case.

My second violin was a Gliga Gama and I was very pleased with it while I had it (I kind of wish I had kept it as a back-up), but that is above a beginner's outfit.

My only complaint about the Gliga instruments is that they seem to come with thick, soft bridges - but that is an easy fix.

July 10, 2007 at 11:03 AM · Many of my beginner students where using Amadeus violins (full outfit $550-2000AUS) - chinese import to Australia. Some time ago the standard of my favorite Amadeuses became decliningly-variable and I started to shop around... Gligas just came to our local market and they offer far better price ($400-900AUS), but it takes 3-4 instruments to chose the one worth paying for. I will recomend Gliga, but try to show it to the teacher before actually paying for it.

November 3, 2007 at 04:16 AM · I would like to add that we, beginning students, ordered our fifth Gliga instrument this week. Our family owns a Gems 1 viola, 1/2 Genial violin, and now the 4/4 Gems 1 violin. Our group's fund raiser a few years back, raised enough funds to purchase 1/8 & 4/4 Genial instruments for less fortunate students.

We trust this shop to provide quality instruments for the beginner. We have been increasing the quality of our instruments as we reorder. Our teachers have repeatedly commented on the quality and the way the instruments stay in tune for weeks (with minimal help from us). We have been most satisfied with our purchases.

November 3, 2007 at 06:09 AM · Beware of bargains. If possible, go to a luthier and play, or have one of the staff play, before buying. There are several methods of determining which size of the violin is a good fit for a kid, and the luthier will help you. I do not recommend buying a violin. I recommend paying for rental of a violin with option to buy.

November 3, 2007 at 07:31 AM · Alot of the children that I teach after-school at the elementary school have Gliga violins, violas, and cellos. For a begginer the seem really good quality.

Knilling and Glaesel are probally the worst choice for a beggining instument you could probally ever pick for a begginer

November 3, 2007 at 12:36 PM · I would recommend renting! It doesn't matter if there is no shop close by, since many good shops will ship instruments. If a school system is buying instruments, it makes sense to me to lobby agressively for a better grade. There's a mile of difference between an indifferent vln.of one of those named and the $800-$1000 vlns.available from eastern Europe or China. German student instruments are not what they were 20/25 yrs. ago. Get a fairly nasty $3-400 vln. and an adjusted $800 Chinese and play to your school board. "No instrument is good enough for a beginner." sue

November 3, 2007 at 06:44 PM · My vote goes to the Amati Sonata handmade violin package from Fein Violins (and other sellers). It comes from Fein with a wood bow and case for $600. The Amati is a definite improvement over most student violins and should sell for around $800. The $600 price is probably $100 lower than it should ever be. The reputation at that shop is excellent and the return policy liberal, so the risk of buying over the Internet there is low. The step-up violins are a bargain, too. or

If you are willing to take bigger risks buying over the Internet, go to The excellent Czech violins made by master Luthiers are an incredible buy.

As far as packages more widely-available at retailers, the Snow SV200 and the Scott Cao STV200 violin have received good reviews. Your local shop where you can build a relationship is a good place to do business if you can trade up the student violin later.

November 3, 2007 at 08:45 PM · 1. Renting is good or bad. It is good if the rental shop uses good equipment. It is bad if they use crappy equipment. Unfortunately many parents don't know how to tell the difference. Sometimes the teacher can help here, but not always.

2. Smaller instruments are even more difficult than larger with respect to quality as rentals, in my experience of two children. Less than 1/4 size and they really aren't functional violins, but some will play reliably and kindly enough for the child to enjoy. Most will not. If you have a rental at this size, you may have to be picky and pushy to get one that actually works. 1/4 size and up it is possible to make functional fiddles, albeit without any bass response. There is no reason to accept non-functioning or poorly set-up rentals. Again, some (most?) teachers know how to help with judging this.

3. If your child shows any kind of commitment, then buy an instrument, and that doesn't necessarily mean from a rental-only shop. Try instruments out. One great side-effect of instrument trials is that the child practices more!

4. Which instrument is right cannot be explained on the internet. Some people just hate the sound of certain particlar instruments that others love. Sometimes it applies to all of one maker; other times it is a specific instrument. That Gliga or Cao or Snow or Eastman make well put together and quite nicely adjusted instruments is true. Note that Snows and Eastman come through dealers and the local dealer may be a significant influence on the end product (and worth paying for!). But how the instrument sounds is what makes the final decision. A child won't play if she doesn't like the sound!

5. As a baseline, you should only accept a properly set-up fiddle, regardless of price: bridge correctly shaped, fingerboard shaped correctly, height of strings within tolerance, bridge feet closely fit, soundpost correctly fitted and positioned, tailpiece of correct size and position, functioning pegs, properly notched nut, nothing out of whack.

6. There are some general trends among some of these makers. But it is best to try before you buy.

7. Local shops are a great resource, but some are way better than others. If you don't like the shop, try another. I have been very happy with a particular shop.

8. Old instruments can be a really good option, and these are usually available through a local shop and even through various list-serves. We've had excellent experiences with old instruments for young students. Sometimes you can get nice old instruments for only a few hundred bucks (like 150 250 350) and if they are set-up and the sound is suitable, then you are in business.

9. Generally, you pay more as you gain experience. This is wise. First fiddle package should be under $500 even for rich folk; on a budget and $300 is most definitely a top. Second fiddle should be under $1000. Third fiddle under $2000. These are numbers that I give based on what we have found is needed for a talented little person. In our case we went Rent for the first, $200 for the second, and $1500 for the third. The second child was Rent first, $500 for the second (just not as lucky as before!).

If you are spending more than what I recommend, you are in the diminishing returns category as far as value for price. But trimming too low as the child advances will definitely inhibit technical and musical growth. I am certain of this, because if the child is able to intelligently discriminate and describe the differences from instrument to instrument, he is ready to explore the nuances!

April 27, 2012 at 10:14 PM · We have had good luck with

Becker Violins

On the rental consideration-keep in mind in most cases you will pay list price for the instrument in a rental situation.

April 29, 2012 at 09:38 PM · A silk sailor suit?

Red or pink bow in hair if a girl ...

May 21, 2012 at 08:08 PM · speaking of which - everybody please take a look at this eBay abomination:

not a word on their page about MISSING BRIDGE?! ok, I know it's on Austrian eBay, but can you imagine unknowing parents buying this for a kid, maybe even before finding a violin teacher or siging up for a music school.....gosh...

May 22, 2012 at 05:21 AM · I do not expect a violin shop to fix or adjust a violin for free but I am puzzled at the growing trend to not work on a violin at all unless it has been bought from their shop. They seem especially critical of Chinese made violins which often need work on the pegs and the bridge.

├Źn today's economic climate, I am very surprised that anybody can refuse work. Most craftsmen/tradesmen would love to be in this position ! I guess that luthiers must be very thin on the ground right around the world.

Fortunately, I have found a luthier in Brisbane who is happy to do anything I ask. The transportation cost is about $70 for the round trip but I know he is good.

May 22, 2012 at 12:34 PM · @ Brian

Alex W Grant are great to go to with any instrument, they don't pass remarks and professionally and quickly attend to your instrument or bow. They have a store in both Hawthorn and Collingwood, Melbourne.

I live over 300km's from them but have been happy to travel down with my requests when necessary.

Just in case you're ever down that way needing a luthier, of course!

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