would you let someone else try your instrument?

November 23, 2010 at 02:35 AM ·

I am extremely curious as to how my violin stacks up against other violins- in tone quality, projection, playabliity, etc.  Lately, I've asked a couple of people if I could try their instruments- my stand partners and a couple of jam partners.  So far, I haven't found one that comes close to the clear, even across strings, resonant tone of my instrument. 

I'd love to go to violin shops and try instruments, but I'm certainly not in the market, so that would be inappropriate.  (correct?)

I'm a bit timid to ask other people in my revolving-door orchestra, and it doesn't seem appropriate in any other situation.  So I'll ask y'all-  if someone from the middle of the 2nd violins asked to try your instrument, would you let them? 

Is it poor ettiquette to ask to try another person's stringed instrument?

I've tried to break the ice and ask the other violin players the 'story' behind their instrument, and it was really fun to hear them!


Replies (45)

November 23, 2010 at 02:48 AM ·

Helen - complete newbie here (so this comment isn't really worth much!)  but today I got to hear someone play, and I mean REALLY play, on my violin.  It blew me away.  I loved hearing what someone with confidence and skill could do on my violin that I only hear under my chin.  I keep getting told how good a tone my violin has and for the first time I really heard it.   I would think it is a compliment for someone to ask if they could play their violin.  As far as playing violins in a shop, who needs to know you aren't in the market? 

November 23, 2010 at 05:08 AM ·

I was in a similar situation recently. I had a free weekend and was just goofing around so I decided to swing by a new shop here in LA. I told her I was just curious about the quality of my violin and not shopping. In fact I liked violin. She had no problem showing me a few.

Now came the real problem. I fell in love with a German one and ended up buying it. Haha.

I would say just talk to your local shop. They are in the business of selling instruments and letting them be tested is one way they do that.

As far as other players and their violins it will be all over the place. I have met some who wont let people touch it. Another has offered a violin to me at an open mic to play after talking for a minute. So you just have to feel your follow fiddlers out.

November 23, 2010 at 08:22 AM ·

 I would say there is nothing wrong in asking someone nicely if you can try their violin (you can smile and say you'll let them try yours :)), they can only nicely say yes or no, that is my view, indeed I have done so myself.  

November 23, 2010 at 08:24 AM ·

I always torture orchestral member around by trying their instruments! Its a way for me not to get bored during the pauses.

November 23, 2010 at 08:25 AM ·

This is probably not necessary to tell you, but  --  make sure you say something nice about the other person's instrument.  You don't want to become known as the person who tries everybody else's violin and then says something dismissive.  (I've got a member in my section who tried my flute -- he played for about 4 seconds and handed it back with some remark like "I guess it's fine, if you like that kind of thing."  He tried the other flute player's and actually laughed out loud at it.)

November 23, 2010 at 08:34 AM ·

I think flautists can have that sort of reputation!! (wink)

I tried a famous quartet leaders Guadagnini a while back. I do sometimes play on other people's instruments when I notice they might be rather good. I tried the second fiddles modern Cremona fiddle in a quartet recently and the cellist commented that he hadn't realised how good it could sound. He must be a flautist too!! (wink) I reccommended that he should join the diplomatic service - probably the Israeli one would the most suitable for him!


November 23, 2010 at 08:57 AM ·

Well, I'm a second stand second (ah, alliteration) violinist, so the middle of the section is technically behind me. I've never been asked by one of them if they could try my violin, but I don't see why not. I know all of them pretty well, and I trust them. Not only that, but my violin is actually a violin-shaped object(VSO) from China that has received too many repairs for what it's actually worth, so if it were to somehow get damaged beyond repair, I would probably be rejoicing instead of mourning.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with politely asking someone if you could try their instrument. If you get answered rudely, the other person is at fault, not yourself. In my high school orchestra, I know a nice freshman cellist that I trade instruments with for fun during breaks. One of my best friends is a violist in the orchestra, so she's another one of my frequent traders.

I feel that it's a good experience because your ear begins deciding for itself what kind of voices it likes and your hands tell you what they feel comfortable with. In the long run, it makes the process of upgrading to a new instrument more easier and decisive.

November 23, 2010 at 09:56 AM ·

I don't think it rude at all.  You can feel free to oblige or decline, resting in the security that you have a right to keep your instrument to yourself all you like.  The only thing I consider when handing my instrument to someone else is how likely they would be to cause physical damage to it.

I let just about anyone at all play on my violin.  I actually find it quite astonishing how horrible they sound when they play on it; apparently, my instrument is more finicky than I thought.

November 23, 2010 at 10:23 AM ·

I don't think there should be any problem in going to a violin shop to try out their instruments.  The shop knows that people often don't or can't make an immediate decision to buy for whatever reason, but may return a week or even a few months later to buy.  A person "trying out" a number of instruments also may not necessarily be a prospective purchaser themself but may be looking out for a suitable instrument for someone else, such as a pupil or friend.  Anyway, it's likely to be good  free word-of-mouth advertising for the shop.

November 23, 2010 at 10:30 AM ·

I would LOVE it if you tried my violin.  C'mon over.  Its fascinating to hear how different an instrument can sound in the arms of other players.  If it sounds worse you get a good feeling about your own technique, if it sounds better you learn that you can improve your tone.  Either way works for me.

Perhaps one could organize an instrument swapping tea party - kinda like the tupperwear storage container ones of yore :D

November 23, 2010 at 10:57 AM ·

I think I will like it someone asks me to play on mine. I will have a chance to listen to my violin sing as an audience, not a player and the sound definitely different.

One only concern that I will carefully tell the other person they should be careful with it, of course, only if they are not familiar with violin. Many people do play and see a violin even though they don't know how to play. It's kind of funny when you see people enjoy drawing some sound from it and they really excited even thought it's horrible haha.

And I think asking to try others' instruments are not rude. You ask nicely, they can deny or they can agree. No obligation, you don't force them a thing so how can it be consider as rude?

November 23, 2010 at 12:26 PM ·

Elise - LOL!  I think we had a music swap at last Sunday's music jam.  There were three of us on fiddle.  We kept trading violins, trading bows, passing things around. The reason is that I just bought my violin so everyone was trying it and helping me figure out if a problem I was having was me or my fiddle (mostly me but it was decided new strings would help immensely).   The guitar players took note and decided to trade their guitars around which made the mandoline player feel slighted. He had no one to trade with! 

November 23, 2010 at 01:24 PM · I tend to hand my violin to folks, and say, "Here, tell me what you think." I don't much care if they say something negative ;) I do ask to play on my students' violins regularly, even my students at camp, who take just one or two 20-minute lessons. It helps to know what they are working with. Especially at camps, where the private lesson is directed around a specific question, but often related to tone production, a fingering or bowing problem, etc., suggesting a tweak to the instrument or bow is helpful, where a fast "try this-try that" change to technique isn't always. Sue

November 23, 2010 at 04:13 PM ·

I don't think it's rude, just let them know what you are doing.  If someone told me that they are interested in experiencing different violins and wondered if I allow others to play my instrument I would happily hand over my violin.  If I don't know why you want to play it, I might be less inclined.

While in high school, I was playing with a local symphony that had Eunice Lee as a guest soloist performing the Tchaik concerto.  At the time, she had the 1690 Leopold Auer Stradivari that now is in Vadim Gluzman's possesion. I was so green, I didn't think about it being inappropriate to ask, but I did.  At the break, I walked right up and asked her if I could play her violin.  She was very gracious! Had I not asked, I would not have had the priviledge!

Good luck with your research!


November 23, 2010 at 04:56 PM ·

Yes, flute players very often are like that.  Sad (and sometimes hilarious), but true.  We're very prone to the "playing louder than your section leader" fault too, as well as the "practicing someone else's solo very loudly right before rehearsal."  And don't even get me started on the hair & clothes comments...

November 23, 2010 at 05:11 PM ·


Even so, I've had some good friends in various flute sections. They are probably no worse than the rest us really!


November 23, 2010 at 05:18 PM ·

I think it would be nice -- for my lefty instrument though, it would probably result in a very nice bonding experience with the other person.  :-)  Someday, I look forward to meeting Woody McKenzie or Ryan Thomson, and I'd love to meet Terje Moe Hansen.

November 23, 2010 at 06:40 PM ·

I was taught that asking to try out another musician's violin is rude.  It is one thing to offer, but another to ask.


November 23, 2010 at 07:05 PM ·

"I was taught that asking to try out another musician's violin is rude.  It is one thing to offer, but another to ask."

Then you have been badly taught!!

It's not rude at all, and it happens all the time. "let's have ago on yer fiddle then."

It's only a problem if you make their violin sound better than when they play it, but that's their problem. Usually they just comment that it really is a good instrument, and I say "YES!! You always sound good on it ..." (Well. I thought about becoming a politician as I can lie just like them!)

November 23, 2010 at 07:15 PM ·

Where the person SITS wouldn't make any difference.  The deal breakers would be pretty much what others have said: tripping six times from the door to the chair; tobacco juice running down the chin; an attitude that everyone else's instrument is junk. 

It can be lots of fun to try someone else's instrument.  You learn quickly how different they all are, and how widely opinions vary about what's most comfortable, etc.  A couple of years ago a friend of mine was shopping and had me come over one morining when she had about 8 different instruments there.  What a nice way to spend a morning that was.

By the way, one guy who sits in the back of our orchestra's seconds has a Guerneri family violin, although he brings something else to rehearsal.  I'm really glad he's let a lowly first violinist (me) have a go at it!

November 23, 2010 at 07:24 PM ·


"  The deal breakers would be pretty much what others have said: tripping six times from the door to the chair; tobacco juice running down the chin; an attitude that everyone else's instrument is junk. "

How did you do it?!! That's a perfect description of me!! Except that I've usually got a bottle of beer, and a bottle of whiskey too. And I REALLY smell ...

And when I play G# its more like A flat ...

November 23, 2010 at 07:51 PM ·

y'all are funny!  After processing your suggestions, my approach might be- "would YOU be able to play my instrument and let me listen to how  the tone compares to yours?"  And from there, it should be easy to figure out if they'd be willing to let me try theirs.    I agree that where one sits should not be an issue especially in my revolving-door randomly assigned chair, orchestra, but I suspect some times it is.

November 23, 2010 at 09:53 PM ·

Peter, dear, you must put in for an immediate transfer to the flute section:

A) They don't break when dropped.

B) Silver doesn't get ruined by tobacco juice the way wood does.

C) From what Bruce and others say, they all say each other's instruments stink- no discussion needed.

D) Ab, G#, who cares?  Just hit that side key with your little finger, and you're golden!

November 23, 2010 at 10:53 PM ·

Partway through a mandolin workshop I took a couple of years ago, the instructor said that one of the things he likes to do is have a "mandolin tasting".  There were about 8 of us playing in a circle; every few minutes the instructor would call a halt and everyone would pass their mandolin to the person on the left.  By the time we got our own mandolins back we had all tried an interesting mix of instruments.  It was a fun exercise; I'd like to try the violin equivalent.

November 23, 2010 at 11:16 PM ·

 Trying out other people's instruments is fun! And trying out other bows is fun too! 

I rarely ask. Mind you, I hardly know any people who play the violin TO ask. And those I do know are quite scary... ;-)

November 24, 2010 at 02:28 AM ·

 It's a very good idea to have another violinist play your violin (with your bow, btw) because that is the best, easiest and most natural way to hear what your instrument really sounds like – and you can expect the result to be markedly different from what you hear when you're playing it!.

November 24, 2010 at 04:09 AM ·

I attended a concert last year, a fairly well known virtuoso (I won't mention who).  After the concert, I chatted with the soloist for a while and on a whim asked if I could try out their Strad.  I was quite astonished (and excited) when a few moments later, they handed it to me.  I guess you'll never know if you don't ask. 

November 24, 2010 at 07:38 AM ·

I think it should be fine if a violinist that is in the same orchestra that you are apart of asks to try your instrument out.  Obviously, be careful, but I think this could be an opportunity to improve your relationship and improve trust with a fellow violinist, which always helps when trying to sound as one.

November 24, 2010 at 10:50 AM ·

I suppose there is a danger - if you try someone else's violin and like it more than your own, or worse, fall in love with it!  It could make you dissatisfied...

November 24, 2010 at 12:00 PM ·

What does being 2nd violin have to do with it?  I'm curious, do you think that 2nd vlns shouldn't be trusted with the instruments of the 1st violinists?  Sorry but I can't make sense of this, especially since it promotes the stereotype that good players sit in the 1st vln section and bad players sit in the 2nds.  You must obviously be referring to an amateur orchestra because in professional orchestras skill level is equal.

My violin is quite beautiful and I get asked a lot by people if they can try it.  I have no problem with it.  I trust another violinist to know how to handle a violin, plus my violin is insured.  I'm as capable of dropping the violin as anybody else so I don't worry.

November 24, 2010 at 12:41 PM ·

Skill levels between 1st and 2nd violins are in fact considered equal in some amateur orchestras.  In my chamber orchestra, for example, players are regularly swapped between the two sections, about the only two who aren't available for the swap being the leaders. The fact of the matter is that once you move away from beginner and school orchestra simplified arrangements, the 2nd violin part is just as demanding (and just as interesting) as the 1st, if not more so on occasion.  For this reason, and also being physically in the middle of the orchestra and therefore being able to hear everything that's going on, I believe the 2nd violin section is an excellent training ground for a violinist starting in an orchestra.

[this post was intended to follow on from Marina's last post; I hadn't seen John's following posts due to a local power outage]

November 24, 2010 at 03:47 PM ·

I have seen David Oistrach tending his Strads,one after another, to one of my teachers who played both of them... As Gitlis said in the Art of the violin, you do not own the violin...you pass it on...

Indeed, it is a wonderful experience to hear a musician play on your own instrument... you learn a great deal from such an experience...



November 24, 2010 at 04:23 PM ·

If you play only your violin your ideas about violin tone, volume, projection, playability etc. will be restricted to your own instrument. If you play other violins - mainly better ones - your violin horizons will be opened.

We can judge cakes only when we have sampled many many and develop a reference table to judge cakes. Thes same with violins.


November 25, 2010 at 01:05 AM ·

Yes of course - what's the problem? They're fellow violinists. I'd be more worried if one of the audience asked to try my violin - I'd check if they were a player first. What can happen? Obviously they could drop it - but then, so could I. And from everything I've seen people are FAR more careful with a borrowed instrument than they are with their own.

November 25, 2010 at 02:28 AM ·

If someone in my orchestra asked to try my instrument I'd probably let them, especially if it was an equal offer.  

On the other hand, I've had people ask to try my instrument who had no experience playing one of the stringed families before and politely offered to bring in my first viola that I learned on as a child & young adult as an alternative.

As for trying out instruments at a shop / on short term loan even if you are not committed to buying one at the moment, I see that like going to a dealership and doing a test-drive even if you aren't committed to a purchase.  Most shops and makers I've dealt with are happy to make a short term loan (with financial backing if something happens) or test-drive any instrument in the shop.  That is how sales are made.

November 30, 2010 at 06:38 AM ·


I recently enjoyed watching a lngthy two part drama/movie called roughly `the violin that crossed the Straits.`   It@s about a Korean boy separated from his mother trying to become a violin maker in Japan after the second world war. His relenless search for the perfect varnish (oh no....) leads him to ask to handle a famous soloists Stradivarius which he then licks the back of.  He finally discovers the `secret of Stradivarius ` in his old age when he returns to Korea for a heartbreaking reunion with his aged mother.  he likcs a tree from his native village and finds `the taste of Stradivarius.`  From their he wins a violin making competition in America and the story ends.

I don`t know if there are any tips there for David B.   but in generla one should not lick othe rpeople`s violins  or dogs` noses.



November 30, 2010 at 09:15 AM ·

I wonder what it would be like to gnaw on the corner of a Strad.  Talk about gourmet...

November 30, 2010 at 09:44 AM ·

I'm always more than happy for other violinists to try my instrument - lots of players ask to try it. I'm not precious about my violin and will even let children have a go (under supervision with myself holding the scroll)!

I think it's great to try a variety of violins as it gives us a perspective on our own


November 30, 2010 at 01:31 PM ·

I actually enjoy it when others ask to play my instrument.  It sounds so different in the hands of another musician. 

My only bad experience was - once, when a well meaning piano teacher picked up my violin and handed it one of her very young students.  Other than that, I always give my instrument over to another violinist who would like to try it.

---Ann Marie

November 30, 2010 at 03:42 PM ·

We don't need to get into what I was doing that caused my violin to twist and fly through the air :-)

Yes yes,   (just joking...) 


I'm very attached to my violin but lend it to anyone who wants to try... after telling them to try to not touch the varnish with fingers, and to not touch other things than the strings while bowing.  I put a shoulder rest on to be sure no one will drop it and I stay close to watch.  Never had any problems that way even with kids...

Anyway, I could also drop it and I even saw famous worldclass violinists hit the wood of the instrument with the bow by accident while bowing.  Strads are full of marks and scars (even with the greatest care over decades).  (we just don't want to make on purpose to create them...)  

If it was me that had never seen a violin, I would be more than happy that someone allows me to try one under supervision.   I think it's sort of precious to tell...  don't touch and it increase the "myth" around the violin beeing unaccessible to normal people.   We may love them but they are still made to be shared with everyone who is interested in it! 

Interesting topic!


November 30, 2010 at 04:08 PM ·

 No-one asked to try my violin for quite a while. I presumed that was because I was beginning to sound terrible on it, so I retired from professional playing ! It was some years after leaving my orchestra that folk started to compliment me on my violin - there must be a moral in there somewhere.

Over the years I have found it difficult to fathom the tastes of colleagues. I have heard "I wouldn't give you tuppence for it"  said about the most valuable of instruments that in the right hands can sound superb. I remember one colleague being offered a short-term loan of the concert-master's Amati but to his ears it seemed so harsh he could not play it. A quick go on an instrument will not always reveal its capabilities.

But I have found other players all too willing to let you try their instruments if approached in a respectful manner. Convey genuine interest, don't act as if you are out to find out how dreadful their fiddle really is. I agree that it can be disheartening if a fine player makes your violin sound far better than you can, yet on the other hand such an experience can spur you to greater things. There will always be players who are scared to risk you demonstrating their shortcomings and will be understandably reluctant to agree to anyone else trying their fiddle. 

November 30, 2010 at 05:00 PM ·

Stephen Brivati wrote:

I don`t know if there are any tips there for David B.   but in generla one should not lick othe rpeople`s violins  or dogs` noses.

I don't think I've run into any fiddle-lickers, but plenty of sniffers. Either seems a little kinky... ;-)

November 30, 2010 at 05:55 PM ·

 Usually I'm okay with people trying my violin, but TODAY I let some people in my music class have a go at it and it could have ended badly. COULD have... I saved my poor violin though. I'm always on complete alert and guard around my violin and especially when people who don't know how to play have a go. Today, one girl picked it up and after getting rather excited about playing open strings, placed the violin on the piano... but with the neck and scroll hanging off... and it started slipping and could have flipped over! I almost had a heart attack!!!

Apart from that bad experience, I love seeing people's delighted faces when they successfully play open strings. (If I was to play that, they'd be less than impressed, but still!) :D

December 6, 2010 at 01:09 AM ·

I am in the middle of the second violin section of my chamber orchestra, so I have no problems in letting other members of the section, or the firsts, play it (some of them are pros).

Playing in a folk music session in a pub is a different matter.  For starters, in a pub session I only use my less expensive fiddle, the Jay Haide, with an inexpensive CF bow,  and then only let other members of the session who are fiddlers play it.  If it is one of the punters in the pub who wants (demands?) "a go on the fiddle" then the answer is always a polite but definite "no", supported if necessary by some fiction about "restrictions by the insurance company" (that worked on the one occasion I tried it). If the musician sitting next to you is six foot two and weighs eighteen stone that is always helpful ;).  However, in reality, damage to instruments in pub sessions is surprisingly rare – musicians look after their own instruments and always keep an eye on someone else's if it is left unattended for a few minutes.  In 10 years of session playing in pubs the only damage I recollect was to a wooden flute that rolled off a table.

December 6, 2010 at 01:11 AM ·

To elaborate a little on Manfio's comment and relative to the OP, as a maker I have encountered several very good players who have really played only one instrument. That sound became their personal standard so that no other instrument, no matter how good, sounded as good to them as their own. (This group includes the concertmaster of a German orchestra.) I had the same experience myself as a beginning fiddler with a VERY cheap fiddle. So playing other quality fiddles as much as possible can enlighten one's tastes.

The story is that the late Tommy Jarrell (Appalachian old time fiddler), who played a Sears mail order fiddle all his life and made it sound good, got to try a Strad at the Smithsonian. He hated it. I'm sure it was just because it was unfamiliar.

Of course, I let anyone who wants try mine and sometimes have to encourage people who are afraid to ask. I do get a little nervous with little kids who don't even know where to put the bow, but I can fix about anything they can break.

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