Should I buy or rent?

December 16, 2009 at 04:29 AM ·

My 8 year old started violin lessons this summer and so far he is progressing nicely.  I rented a 1/10 size violin for about 5 months and we recently upgraded to 1/8 size.  For now, we are still renting and the cost is $45 per month.  In a few years, that is really going to add up, so at some point it certainly makes sense to buy.

Here's my predicament and what I wanted to get feedback about.  As you know, kids will grow and as they do, they need bigger violins.  I assume my son will go through all the sizes:  1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 4/4 -- 5 sizes in all.

The local shop that we are working with offers a trade up policy, and here's how it works.  For my son's 1/8 size violin, the cost is $1125.  Now, here's the fine print.  When trading up to the next size, they only consider the value of the violin, which is $750, then they subtract $200 from that for a trade up value of $550.  Basically, the bow and case become useless and I am stuck with it.  So, if I spend $1125 to buy a 1/8 violin, I only get $550 trade up value, a net loss of $575 just to do the transaction.  I wouldn't have a problem if it was a one time deal, but after going through 5 sizes, that is quite a bit of money.  I know the shop has to make money, but I was wondering if policy is the norm?  I also hate the idea that I will be stuck with4 useless cases and bows by the time my son reaches a full size violin.

Thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Replies (31)

December 16, 2009 at 06:55 AM ·

$45*12= $540/year in rentals.  So if you're swapping violins at once a year, you're better off renting than trading through the dealer.  Maybe even if only every 2 years, as there is the cost of your capital and the various risks of ownership to consider.

Perhaps you could sell the kit to a child a year behind yours?  Do you get to meet other parents at the school?

December 16, 2009 at 07:26 AM ·

I think it may be worth some empirical testing......

If you can find a good chinese fractional for around $500 on ebay, and you can sell it quickly when you wish for $300, then purchasing is a consideration.

This is assuming you can get a good fractional on ebay.

You may also look for some online dealers such as Shar or SW Strings. Shar has a great repurchase even for fractionals, and SW strings has a rental cost of $24.24/month (including insurance).


December 16, 2009 at 07:54 AM ·

 Hi Smiley,

Buying good chinese fractionals (they exist) is not a bad idea at all. I have done this for my doughter. I keep the 1/16 she started with when she was 3 years old just for sentimentalism. Now she is playing a 1/8. When she needs to change I will sell the 1/8 to any child in her school.

I send you a p.m. with the link.


December 16, 2009 at 11:13 AM ·

maybe you can look this

December 16, 2009 at 12:09 PM ·

 Jason (?):

I have been checking  your violins in your web site. With all the respect: If you want to sell your violins here I think you should have to lower your prices quite a bit.

December 16, 2009 at 02:51 PM ·

Please consider calling my local luthier, String House of Kanack in Rochester, NY. 585-442-9272. They have an exchange policy that can't be beat, IMO. 100% of what you spent. I believe they take back the entire outfit on exchange for fractionals, but don't take back used full-size cases if someone upgrades a full-size instrument. They will ship you violins and bows on approval in your price range and try to match them to your thoughts about tone quality, too. I don't know if they ship rentals, though possibly they do. I haven't checked the exact rental fees lately, but I know it was quite a bit less than what you are paying a couple of years ago. It won't have gone up that much. I don't work for them, and don't get a fee for recommending. I just like the service I & my students have gotten over many years. Sue    

December 16, 2009 at 05:00 PM ·

Yes, $45 a month is quite a lot for in the Chicago suburbs I work with a great company whose rentals are $22/mo for a student instrument....

Sue--I bought my violin from the String House while on vacation in the Rochester area!  Nice to hear a recommendation.  I'm reasonably happy, though I bought in a hurry as a young college student; now that my playing has matured I'd probably shop a little differently....but for the time being that opportunity has passed, oh well...

December 16, 2009 at 08:10 PM ·

I find myself wondering - and it would be fascinating to hear what the experienced teachers think:   Is it absolutely necessary that a child "works through" ALL the fractional sizes as they grow up?   As a late beginner at 12, I started on a full-size violin, but I do remember many kids who'd been playing longer  then me, making the progression from say a 1/2 sized instrument straight to a 4/4 or perhaps less often, a 7/8.   I certainly don't remember all these fractional sizes being around back then (umm almost 30 years ago!)

Also when one passes the time looking at violinists on Youtube, many of the little kids seem to be put onto full-size instruments while they are still quite small size-wise. 

December 16, 2009 at 08:46 PM ·

 I was forced to "work through" the sizes at public school.  I was a half size and ready for a full next year ... the teacher at school insisted I play a 3/4 so as not to jump too much in size at once.  Well, I grew more than half a foot that year and I spent months playing with my elbow jabbing into my body with a violin that I'd way outgrown.  The logical question seems to be not whether one "has to" go through every size, but what size works best.

Original question:  one thing I'm unclear about is the quality of fiddle you're renting.  That seems to be possibly the determining factor... there are places like shar which rent for $10/month, but that's their cheapest model.... so getting an idea of the quality of the fiddle you have, and how important the quality of the fiddle is to you at this stage... would help answer the question.  Because it's not a question merely of comparing prices, but comparing the quality you're looking for...

December 16, 2009 at 10:34 PM ·

Yes, I am also thinking about the issue of whether a child needs to go through all the fractionals or skip a fsize in between. My child will be ready for a 3/4 in a few months. But to skip from 1/2 to full will prob mean having an uncomfortable elbow for quite a while, or overstretching his hand (esp when doing fingered octaves and tenths). I wonder skipping is advisable?

December 17, 2009 at 01:37 AM ·

Yes, $45/mo is quite expensive for a 1/8 size rental, but it is a handmade violin and is much better than the machine made models which rent for $15-25 / mo.  His 1/8 fiddle actually sounds better than my 4/4 that I used when I was younger.  The violin if purchased separately is $750 and the $45 rental fee includes a bow and case.  I have no complaints about the quality of the instrument, just the price seems a little on the high side. 


December 17, 2009 at 02:55 AM ·

I always bought a used violin either from another student or a shop.  I was always able to sell for close to what I paid for it to another student.  When my daughter got to a 1/2 and 3/4 size I bought a decent handmade violin which I also was able to sell for close to what I paid for it to another student. If you get to know some teachers there should always be a network of potential buyers for your used instruments.

December 17, 2009 at 03:18 AM ·

No, sorry, skipping is not advisable!  Don't we wish it were!  It seems like a budget saver, but it's not worth it if it hurts your progress or you.  Even in my few years of teaching, I've learned to "size up" very conservatively--it really does hold a student back if their instrument is too big!

Of course, you could just hold on to the 1/2 size till they're ready for the full, etc.... :)

December 17, 2009 at 04:52 AM ·

 I respectfully disagree re: instrument size.  It WAS the right move for me to have gone to a full size from a half.  I had a tremendous (almost record-breaking) growth spurt the year before and the next.  I was very close to my full adult height at that point.  Additionally, my arms are 6 inches longer than they should be for my height.  I shouldn't have been held back and forced to play an instrument whereby my elbow was forced painfully into my body for a year.  It was ridiculously small for me.  I strongly believe a student should play an instrument that fits them.  Most students don't skip sizes nor do they need to... but what if you had a student that grew two feet in a year?  Or three?  Not *likely* to happen, but it could.  I don't think anyone was discussing skipping a size simply to save money or where the instrument was too big for them.... but rather, like all human conditions, there will be the occasional student (like me) who falls on one extreme end of the spectrum (I wound up short but my growth spurt was ridiculously tremendous).  I've never had any students skip sizes but it *could* happen one day.  And I sincerely wish my teacher had allowed me to play an instrument that was comfortable for me and fit me to a T, instead of imposing a set of rules that was ultimately physically damaging to me.

Edit: Ah, I see, you were responding to another poster.... I thought you'd been responding to my previous post.  I can see why you advised caution, not knowing or being able to see the student yourself.... the only person of course who really can tell is the teacher.  True, the most *likely* scenario is that the student didn't grow in record-breaking amounts and shouldn't skip, but I guess you never know ( I went from under 4 feet to over 5 feet in a very short amount of time).

December 17, 2009 at 05:23 AM ·

 i live in Virginia and had the same questioning for my now 7 old son. When he started i started to rent, as he liked it, ii bought a good but not expensive 1/8 violin on eBay. When later he progressed and practiced more seriously i bought him the best sounding 1/4 Rudolf Doeutsh at Potter. Unfortunately he outgrew this violin in less than 10 months. Why on earth violin are so expensive? :-)  My consolation is that we practice so much more with a better instrument. 

In your case i'd do the same, try to spot a decent "not too shinny" violin on eBay or craigslist or from other students your teacher might know. 


December 17, 2009 at 05:43 AM ·

 Smiley, sorry sort of went on a tangent....

Back to your original point.... you are renting a quality fiddle.  That's tricky.  If the fiddle is "worth" $750 then my first thought is to see what the shop's trade-in policy is when you buy, as opposed to rent.  Will they allow you to purchase the instrument?  As you know, many shops will give part or full credit if you buy your next fiddle from them (perhaps less so for smaller sizes but worth checking into).  So you'd keep much more money that way, no?  If not perhaps you can find another shop that has a good trade-in policy for you since your son will be growing for some time.  If all else fails you could purchase this fiddle and then sell it somewhere (minus the 20% consignment fee)... this would take time (especially with a small size fiddle I imagine) and initially leave you further in the hole but in the long run you'd fork over less money, because it sounds like this way you're only getting credit for 50% of what you paid, and paying more than what the fiddle is worth at that.  Anyway I really don't have useful advice but wish you and your son much luck in your journey.

December 17, 2009 at 01:02 PM ·

Elana--you're right, I was responding to the other post re: skipping sizes.  I agree with you--I have had a few cases in my teaching where they were just ready to upsize all the way!  But in most cases caution is good.  Thanks for our comments!

December 17, 2009 at 01:18 PM ·

>I agree with you--I have had a few cases in my teaching where they were just ready to upsize all the way!

Maybe I'll get lucky and my son will grow 2 feet next year.  Then he can jump from 1/8 to full size and save me the cost of everything in between. :-)


December 17, 2009 at 02:04 PM ·

I'm with the folks who suggest not skipping the standard range of fractionals as a rule of thumb in violin sizing. (7/8 is an unusual size & a good idea for some specific body types, but almost everyone can go from 3/4 to 4/4.)There are always going to be exceptions, of course, as in the writer who had an unusual growth pattern. I play on my students' 3/4s easily and I'm a pretty big girl : ), so also possibly take w/a grain of salt the kid who insists a 3/4 is "too small."  The explosion of tiny fractionals seems to follow the popularity of Suzuki programs, plus the raised awareness on the part of parents about instrument quality & potential progress. There were fractionals much earlier, though. Violin shops often have some not-quite-half-size early 1900's French violins, for instance.  Makes me wonder what was going on in string teaching & playing to have produced that then & there. Yes, there are teachers who push kids up a size as soon as possible so their ensembles or orchestras have a bigger sound, but I hope that is dying out as a strategy.  Last, IMO ALWAYS take YouTube with a BIG grain of salt ;))  I wouldn't use what I see there as a model, even if the player sounds pretty good, when considered thought & live observation tells me differently.  Sue

December 17, 2009 at 04:49 PM ·

December 17, 2009 at 06:09 PM ·

You might try other shops in your area and see if another place has better terms on the type of instrument you want for your son.  One of my sons blew through five violins in five years- from a 1/8 at 5 1/2 to a full-size at 10 1/2.  Our local shop offered to apply 6 months of rental fees to a purchase, and would credit close to the full purchase price towards a trade-in, less the cost of new strings, rehairs, and other needed repairs or reasonable maintenence.  Mail order is an option, but it's sure nice to have the local guy in your corner when strings break or you need repairs or adjustments.  More than once, our local place has lent us instruments to use while ours are being worked on.  These amenities are harder to arrange via mail order.

December 17, 2009 at 07:17 PM ·

>In the very small fractional sizes, there isn't going to be that much difference in sound between violins regardless of price

Actually Leon, at the shop we visited, there was a pretty big difference, at least in their rentals, even for the 1/8 size.  For $15/mo you get a VSO, for $25/mo you get a tin can, and for $45/mo you actually get a real violin.  But you make a good point about needing 2 violins.  I was already balking at the cost of getting him one violin at a time, now instead of going through 5 violins (one for each size), he may actually go through 10, arghh.


December 18, 2009 at 03:59 AM ·

February 18, 2010 at 08:44 PM ·

Here's an update for anyone that is interested.  We are still renting a 1/8 size violin for now, but I am looking to buy something because it will be more cost effective in the long run. 

I have two 1/8 size instruments on trial right now, one from String House of Kanack, and another from Johnson String Instruments.  Thanks to Sue Bechler for the referral to the String House of Kanack; they seem like a good company to deal with.  All the instruments we have are in the $1000-$1200 price range including bow and case. 

Both Johnson and Kanack have very good trade in policies; either 100% or nearly 100% trade in.  So when it comes time to upgrade to 1/4, it will cost very little, perhaps $100 or so.  In contrast, the trade in policy for the local shop amounts to 50% because they deduct $200 from the value of the instrument and they don't take back the bow and case (retarded if you ask me).  The trade up to 1/4 will cost more like $600 if we go with the local shop. 

If you consider all the sizes that my son will go through (1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 4/4/), it clearly makes sense to work with a shop that offers 100% trade in.  But here's my predicament.  The 1/8 violin we are renting from the local shop sounds better than the two instruments we have on trial.  I'm really having a hard time deciding if I should stick with the local shop (and shell out thousands of dollars in violin upgrades in the coming years), or buy a slightly inferior sounding 1/8 from Johnson or Kanack.  Any thoughts on this, or other suggestions?


February 18, 2010 at 08:54 PM ·

If your son can develop what he needs on the Johnson or Kanack insturments, that would be more benefit in the long run.  He's not likely to use a 1/8 or even a 1/4 for long, so the decrease in tone is probably something that will be more of a hinderance to you than him.  Just sound excited for him so he doesn't feel like he got the dud.  When he gets to the 1/2 and probably more importatnly, 3/4, you can choose to outlay a little more for a much better instrument with Johnson or Kanack, and not eat baked beans for a year to make up for the purchase. He'll have developed his own ear by then, and you can both appreciate the quality.

February 21, 2010 at 06:44 PM ·

Johnson String has an excellent rental program that you can do long distance. Check out the policies, it really is great what they're doing.

February 22, 2010 at 12:57 AM ·

Smiley, if the difference in sound isn't huge, go with the better deal, put the difference into savings, and have some money set aside for when he's ready for a really great instrument.  My experience was that once you get to about 3/4, there's much more to choose from in instruments.  My son did have a loaner or two while his smaller violins were in for repair that would peel the paint off the walls; don't go that low-end- you'll have to listen to it too, even if your son isn't as particular right now!  Johnson Strings carries both Eastman and Snow, if I remember correctly, both of whom make good fractionals.

February 22, 2010 at 06:21 PM ·


Smiley, i went trough the same dilemma: renting, buying, and trying to get the best violin for my son so he can enjoy the sound he produces and wants to continue.

As he practiced well I wanted to reward and encourage him so I bought the best sounding 1/8 violin at Potter. Yes that was in the $1300. I was going to do the same when he needed a 1/2 last December when i stumbled upon a used violin on eBay that did not look like like a Chinese one. I got it for $200 with a bow. This is an old eastern europe violin which has been used a lot but it sounds great and my son was very happy to get a bigger sound.

So you may want to give eBay a try and avoid the shinny, antiquated Chinese violin.

February 22, 2010 at 09:34 PM ·

My daughter began the violin at 6½ years old. I am an artist, but not a musician. I knew  absolutely nothing about violins. Her first violin was rented, as I didn't know if she would really like it and continue for a while. We exchanged that violin a couple of times at the shop, till they gave us a violin with wooden keys, as I discovered it was because the keys were made of plastic the thing kept on sliding completely out of tune everyday. (Sigh).

The next summer, at the local Suzuki camp, the teacher advised me to buy her a better violin, to help with her progress, as she was gifted. I went to all the local violin shops, had her try all the better fractionnal instruments, and listened my best. I was not convinced. I asked all the better violin teachers around, to see if one of their students would be changing violin, and by chance have a good sounding instrument.

I went everywhere with my daughter: to independent violin makers, private sellers, everywhere,  to listen to her actually playing on the different violins, as I had noted that a merchant can press hard on the bow to make a bigger sound, but that it didn't sound the same when my little girl played it. Some shops tried to impress us into buying. Some told us to overlook that buzzing sound. Some of them were unknown, independant "violin makers". Some had more pretense than actual knowledge. Some were reputed luthier shops whose buying or renting plan felt more like high-handed robbery. Some tried to sell us a violin based on its historical value, but the thing had a shriek I can still remember.

Snobbishness is not sound.

Then a violinmaker I had phoned called me back. At first, they didn't have a fractionnal size violin, as they mostly make full size instruments and do high-end restauration work, but they now had this ½ size 1890's German Stainer copy that had been  fully regraduated. The bow was ok, but the case was a wreck. I bought it, as it was the best sounding ½ size violin I had heard.

My daughter played on it for two years. She really loved it. That violin had a personnality. She named it Napoléon, as the name "Napoléon Lemieux" was lightly engraved on the back's varnish. Probably one of the first owners did it, maybe with a poket knife or a compass. It was so light you had to hold it at an angle to see it. I imagined the child loved his instrument so much he wanted to put his name on it, but lightly, so his parents would not notice. I imagined the turn of the century atmosphere, the rules, the eventual punishing. I have been wondering a long time about this child.

I loved  my daughter to have an instrument that had a life. Something handmade, that had been used and loved by other kids in time. Something that had sound and personnality. She really respected and almost revered it.

(Violins are funny things. Often times, human owners are but the temporary recipient or guardian of a fragile thing, no more thicker than a cheese box, but that will outlast generations of their living partners, passed down from hand to hand... What if we could know their history...)

Everybody commented on its good sound quality. This violin allowed her to learn and grow like no cheaper, bad sounding instrument would have. Sometimes, parents don't want to spend too much on an instrument that will be used for only a short while,  but a good tool is almost always better than a bad tool. I feel if we want our kids to develop some proficiency and the love of music, we should try to provide them with an instrument that is able to produce nice sounds.

On the money side of it, I saved the cost of rental over two years, and when it was time for her to change violins again, as it was a nice instrument, it was easy for me to resell it, even with a profit. On the music side, the benefits were inmeasurable, both for my daughter and for my own parental ears.

I also tried to provide my son with an of equivalent quality, but it proved almost impossible to find a good, old, fractionnal cello. They are much rarer. The very few good old ones had prohibitive price tags or rental contracts that made me feel like a turkey whose feathers were cleanly being plucked off. The new, good instruments were at more than 3,000$ for a ½ size, but the sound was not that great.

I had heard good things about Eastman. I went back to that good violin maker, had them order an Eastman cello for me and set it up, adjusting the bridge, the fingerboard, etc. and putting decent strings on. That was the best cello I could provide my son with. Much nicer than any of the good new instruments we had sampled, and for a much better price.

I have not tried to resell it yet, because of the economy, but I know I saved a lot with this purchase, even if I will not recuperate the full price I paid, because I bought it new from a shop , and although the violin maker told me he gave me a good price. I know it would have at least costed me as much in rental as I paid to buy it. And I will still be able to get a sizeable amount of money when I will resell it.

But what really matters is: my son had a good instrument to play on, and to learn to love music on.

My advice: spend time to find a violin maker you trust, look around, private sales can be good,  don't let yourself be impressed by any big name or big talk, and do have your child try any instrument you consider buying him. One should never buy a music instrument without listening to it being being played by its recipient. And hold it in your hands, inspect it fully. Only buy when you feel convinced.

February 25, 2010 at 03:00 AM ·

Well, I decided to go with String House of Kanack.  Steve Kanack was responsive and helpful.  They also offer a true 100% trade up policy.  When it comes time to upgrade, every penny I spend can be applied to the next purchase.  It's also nice not having to pay sales tax since they are out of state.

On a side note, I had a frank conversation with the owner of the local shop, explained that I would much rather buy from them than someone in another state.  I also explained that one day, I expect to purchase a professional instrument for my son (something that costs perhaps $10K or more).  I asked if they could be more competitive with their trade in policy, but it was a complete waste of time.  I returned the rental instrument to them the same day and purchased the violin from Kanack. 

The moral of the story is to read the fine print in the trade in policy.  Different shops can have huge differences.  In my case, the local shop was basically offering about 50% trade in credit, while Kanack is offering 100%.  I expect to spend $5K or more before my son reaches a 4/4 size violin, so the difference between 50% and 100% will be quite a bit of money.


February 25, 2010 at 03:08 PM ·

Hi,Smiley, Glad this all worked out to your satisfaction. It's been an interesting thread to follow. After fighting with truly disgusting rentals brought to my PS program, it's wonderful to read notes from parents who get that putting money into instruments that sound nice & function well is not frivolous. And who respond positively to their teacher's recommendations about rentals, purchases or upgrades.  Sue

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine