Value of purchasing an 'intermediate' violin for a beginner

April 12, 2017 at 03:05 AM · Hello all~

An incident at a violin shop posed an interesting question that I thought I'd ask here.

I decided to take up the practice again after a 10 year break a few months ago. I have a so-called beginner violin that really isn't that bad for the price after new strings. It's serviceable, but I've been looking for a new instrument with a sound that's more pleasing to my ear.

Anyway, I went to a violin shop with a family whose wife wants to begin learning herself. I told the owner that my max is $6K but that I would like to try a decent range.

Before I could say anything else (like how I typically prefer a dark, mellow sound), the owner implied that an expensive violin would be wasted on a beginner with an untrained ear and tried to push me to try out cheaper violins. I persisted and was able to try the violin I wanted, however the rest of my picks were cheaper models that sounded very similar. Naturally, I was miffed and didn't purchase a thing.

But that brought up a question:

If you can afford it, is it worth it to purchase an "intermediate" instrument for a beginner for them to grow into or would they be better served with a cheaper instrument that will last a few years or so?

And, does this change if the beginner actually has experience and is just becoming reacclimatized to playing?

I know what I will do for myself, but I am curious to hear your opinions on the matter, especially from those who teach or students who started out with squeaky hand mediums as I did.m way back when.


Replies (41)

April 12, 2017 at 03:10 AM · If you can afford it, an "intermediate" instrument for a beginner is the way to go. It's much easier to learn on an instrument that is easier to play.

April 12, 2017 at 03:13 AM · I think buying a reasonable student-class instrument (typically sub-$5k) is worthwhile if you have the money, but anything more is probably overkill -- you'll want to wait to choose a longer-term violin once you are at the point where you know what you really want in an instrument.

But spending around $2,500 would get you a perfectly serviceable instrument that would take you through intermediate repertoire, and again, if you have the money, there's probably no reason to wait to purchase an instrument in that price range. Make sure you get a teacher's guidance when choosing that violin, though. It would also be useful if the shop offered 100% trade-in credit for it in the future.

(As usual, pricing guidance is "on the average"; an individual instrument within a price class can be much worse than average or much better than average.)

April 12, 2017 at 04:28 AM · Thanks for the reply, ladies. I couldn't understand why the owner was adamant even though I was cringing through most of the try out. I think he was trying to help for the most part, but it was still perplexing.

April 12, 2017 at 04:46 AM · The shop that I went through for mine is rather convenient as not only did I get a discount towards my violin from my sister's cello rental credits, but they put me on a 24 month no interest payment plan. With the added convenience that they have representatives regularly visiting my high school if for whatever reason I have an issue that needs to be addressed. Though I'm not certain I believe I can also trade in down the road if desired. Would recommend to take a bit of time trying out bows though. I felt oddly rushed when trying bows and settled without much thought--big mistake! Perhaps ask around if there's any system like this in your area if that's of any interest to you.

April 12, 2017 at 04:56 AM · Absolute beginners probably shouldn't spend more than 1000 bucks on a violin. They should either rent or buy a reasonable beginner violin because they don't know if they'll continue to play or not. Eventually, they can buy an intermediate-advanced level violin.

April 12, 2017 at 07:54 AM · If you are sure you keep it up, there are a lot of good playable instruments in the 2-3k area.

I would advise to split the money up and therefore buy a good bow (maybe starting at 800$) if you can easily afford it. That surely is a luxury solution. Anything more, I dont see the point why.

The problem is indeed to check the qualities of a violin, if you cannot test it yourself. Same for the bow. Will it work at all positions during up bow staccato? Well, you need a decend technic to check this.

I once gave my violin for a try out to a student, he could not control it. He was really lucky with my simplier violin though. So keep in mind that the best violin when you reach your "final level of playing" might not be the best to start with.

April 12, 2017 at 04:17 PM · I don't know if you should invest big bucks in a bow as an intermediate player unless you feel the need to. I'm a fairly advanced student using a good quality student bow that's worth less than $500. It's well balanced and easy to use, so I wouldn't crave for luxory until it's a necessity.

April 12, 2017 at 08:49 PM · Ella Yu, great point. Now that I think of it, my dad would have been angry if he purchased a $2K+ instrument, only for me to quit a year later when I first started.

Bailey - I know a lot of shops offer a rent-to-own deal while some others offer in-house installment plans.

Marc - The example about your student makes sense. I guess you gotta crawl before you walk?

April 12, 2017 at 10:32 PM · I think that a typical student violin at, say, $2500 or less, would be more pleasant to start on, and give you better feedback as you develop your initial technique.

But a responsive violin that suits a more advanced player would be too frustrating -- not forgiving enough for your level of control. It's like operating a precision machine -- it does whatever you tell it to, but if your input is bad, the sound coming out is going to be really bad.

April 13, 2017 at 01:46 AM · @Lydia I don't know whenever my friend let's me play on his ~$20k viola I'm always rather in love with the sound for being what would be considered an early intermediate stage player at best :)

April 13, 2017 at 03:46 AM · I personally think having the step-up from beginner to intermediate also has a good value to it.

Especially because the beginner can easily harm an instrument(i certainly have), and should really build confidence before stepping up. Which is kind of I approached it.

April 13, 2017 at 05:38 AM · Just to make this clear, I dont teach, so its not my student. I quit university before getting my degree (altough I have one in another subject) and I am not a proffessional violinist. I did not want you to think I am.

When I wrote about the bow I already claimed it a luxery solution. I think a beginner will feel the difference but it is not needed at all. Still better than putting even more into the violin.

Very good instruments tend to be very responsive to bow movement and pressure. That will cause a lot of noise and scratchy sounds, if not controlled.

April 13, 2017 at 06:36 AM · Tia, being a returning violinist myself, I did buy one at $3k level violin and it lasted my for nearly 10 years. But I think the best way to do is to find a good teacher first and ask her/him to help you with a choice of next violin. If you don't have one right now, like other said, rent one. The market is flooded with violins under $5k, so don't rush.

April 13, 2017 at 07:40 PM · Hi Yixi, thanks! I am looking for one to last for quite a bit. I'm a chemist and have no desire to be a pro violinist ha! Just looking for a nice instrument that will last quite a bit.

Marc - I can't imagine paying that much for a bow, but you never know, so I'll keep your advice in mind while I'm out shopping.

Lydia - great analogy. I think I get it.. sorta like jumping from a Huffy bike to a MASI competitive racing bike in a day.

April 13, 2017 at 08:04 PM · Paying in the $500-$1000 range for a bow will get you *much* more improvement than putting that money into a violin.

If you've got a $6k budget, you should definitely put some of that money into a bow.

April 13, 2017 at 09:53 PM · In both, sound and playability. Dont underastimate the influence of the bow.

April 13, 2017 at 10:00 PM · To me this question is really about when you know it is time to upgrade your instrument. While I'm content with my "Mittenwald-Strad" I did, for a period of time, have a very nice Schnable that my teacher loved (and he could make it sing). I, on the other hand, as Lydia pointed out, found it frustrating to the point where I finally sold it for what I paid and returned to my original (and current) violin.

My test ever since has been to occasionally ask one of the professional violinists that I know to play something that I'm currently playing, on my instrument to see if I'm getting all that the instrument is capable of. So far, I'm still not getting all that my instrument is capable of even though everyone agrees that I am still improving albeit slowly (at 70+).

To Lydia's other comment on a good bow - there I do have a really good one an Adolph C. Schuster*** that is a bit on the heavy side (almost viola weight) and it gets along with my instrument famously. Actually, some of my violist friends offer to purchase the bow from me for a price that would allow me to buy a really nice instrument and bow.

I'm not selling or changing now. I'm too old, set in my ways and my instrument, bow and I are partners "till death do us part" I no longer test-drive violins at my local luthier's shop.

My advice to Bon: have your teacher or some other violinist play your instrument (same music you are comfortable with) and see if you are getting all there is from your current instrument. If not, then you have more work to do with the tools you have. Although I do recommend a good bow as it makes a world of difference.

April 13, 2017 at 11:48 PM · I also agree with Lydia about getting a better bow. I bought a bow that is worth >$2000 at the time I bought my old violin, and I'm still using it now with my new violin Topa.

Just to clarify my situation. I returned not as a beginner but an intermediate student (I finished Kayser and Mazas, started to work on Kreutzer etudes. I was playing Mozart concerti and some Kreisler pieces, etc.). So I had some idea what kind of violin to upgrade. I lucked out with an early 20 century German factory violin in a secondhand shop for under $1k, but I had to pay another $1000+ to a luthier to get a lot of work done (repaired cracks, seams, fingerboard, bridges, etc.). Recently, it was assessed by a local luthier that this violin could be sold at $3,000-$4,000 range.

As I mentioned earlier,the market is flooded with violins under $5,000 and it'll be hard to get rid of without losing a lot of what you've invested at a later time when you want a better one. I recently upgraded into a professional level fiddle (Topa). I find it to be a lot of hassle to get rid of my old violin by yourself. Luthiers or shops will sell it for a commission or buy it from me with a much lower price. None of these options is appealing. Also, it's not always about getting the money back... So in the end, I've decided to donate it to a charity for fundraising. The moral is, be very careful and get a lots of opinions from others before purchasing a violin at that price range, or at any price range for that matter. Make sure you'll get at least 2 weeks trial period and during that time, let your teacher play it in different venues to get a sense how well responds and projects.

April 14, 2017 at 12:56 AM · Lots of interesting and some good advice here!! I remember my first string instrument purchase--a Lark violin at the first string shop I went to. What a mistake. So my advice is, take your time, and bring along a knowledgeable mentor. Take a few months just to look around. Buy the violin first, get acquainted with it, and later upgrade your bow Shopping for a violin puts you on a long-term learning curve; since you are a chemist, I believe you know what that means...

You are not a beginner, so $6K is definitely not too much to spend on an instrument! Are you looking at new or older instruments? My best advice would be to rent a quality instrument, not necessarily to buy it later, but to become better attuned to a violin that is a step above your current instrument; this will help you to identify the qualities you are looking for in your next violin. Finally, when you feel you have made a final choice, take the instrument to an independent luthier to vet it before you purchase; the measurements necessary for final inspection can't be done by a teacher. Good luck, and let us know about your progress!

April 14, 2017 at 01:10 AM · Well dang! Y'all brought up some really good points. My current violin isn't bad, I'm just not a big fan of the sound. I I will prioritize the bow search to see how much of a difference that makes before committing to a new violin. Or, do as suggested and place a larger chunk of my budget to the bow.

Thanks, guys. I'm glad i posted this here

April 14, 2017 at 02:13 AM · Bows have to be matched with the violin tonally, so if you think you're going to upgrade, get the violin first.

April 14, 2017 at 05:43 AM · I returned to the violin last fall after a 20-year hiatus. My student violin was a $1,000 German factory instrument from the mid-80's. I was in a hurry to upgrade, and I ended up getting a Joseph Kun (of chinrest fame) from the mid-80's. The difference between the student instrument and the Kun is striking, but if I had it to do over again, I would probably wait a little longer to upgrade. In the 4-5 months since my return, my technique has evolved, and I've learned more about violins, strings, bows, etc.

Before my upgrade, I speed dated a dozen or so violins in my price range, and I liked the Kun the best, but now I wonder if it just had better strings or a more comfortable setup -- things that could be easily changed. Now, with a little more experience, I might see through these superficial details, and I might make a more informed choice.

The idea above -- of upgrading to something better than your beginner instrument but still well below $6,000 -- sounds like good advice. Also, the idea of taking along a teacher or more advanced player would be a big help.

April 14, 2017 at 01:33 PM · My teacher offered to go shopping with me. She did say that my current violin is 'just OK' for something I researched online. She also offered to go shopping with me after I've decided on what I want to do.

Lydia - After reading the advice here, I think I should be fair to the violin I'm using now and exhaust all options before saying goodbye. I already set the instrument up with my preferred strings and a different chin rest, but I completely disregarded the bow. (doh!) I'm using the one the violin came with. So perhaps I should try out bows to match my current violin. Then the next question would be, what's the value of using a $500+ bow on a beginner violin? :D

Jason - Yes, I don't want to get ahead of myself or waste time and money just upgrade because I want something 'better,' but do it because it's what I need.

Thanks again, guys. You've brought up things I didn't think about.

April 14, 2017 at 02:21 PM · What type of violin are you playing now? (How "beginner"is it really? What's the current appraised price?)

April 14, 2017 at 02:36 PM · Super beginner! It's the Ricard Bunnel G1

Are we allowed to post YT links? There is a video of it being played there.

April 14, 2017 at 03:18 PM · Yes, you can post or embed video links if you want.

So, what you've got is basically just a cut above a VSO -- a $300 violin outfit?

Definitely upgrade the violin first. For around $2,500, you should be able to get a pretty nice intermediate violin, and for less than $1,000, you can get a good bow. In the $2,000 - $4,500 range or so there will be tons of choices in violins, both new and old. You'll be astounded by how much better life will become, I think.

When you've picked the violin, then choose the bow, and you'll get another bump in quality.

Your teacher's offer to go shopping with you is very kind and you should take full advantage of it.

April 14, 2017 at 03:26 PM · Yes, teacher shopping with you is worth at LEAST a lesson in payment.

April 14, 2017 at 04:27 PM · Definitely get a nice violin. You should be okay with a decent student bow that's easy to use and is well balanced. I do believe that you can definitely optimize your sound with a good bow, but at the same time, you probably shouldn't spent huge amounts of money until you are really advanced. I'm a fairly advanced student who is perfectly happy with a cheapish student bow, so why spend tons and tons of money?

April 14, 2017 at 05:00 PM · Yep, in your case violin first. Still I remain on this point: better 2-3k on a violin and 500-1000 on a bow than 5-6k on a violin.

April 14, 2017 at 05:21 PM · Agree with the 2-3k violin part. Maybe you need to spent a couple hundred on a bow, but not thousands.

April 14, 2017 at 05:58 PM · I never saw a bow capable of what I considere the minimum for myself for less.

But I feel lucky for everyone doing so.

April 14, 2017 at 07:57 PM · Okay, I guess you love luxury. Everyone's expectations are different.

April 14, 2017 at 08:58 PM · Marc, et al.,

How about $5.00 for a bow? That is what I paid for the Schuster. It was at a table for a church garage sale, wood bow, black wire winding, nice frog, well made stick with a hand carved hole that was well made, the hair was shredding and the lady said she found it in her attic after buying the house and didn't want to throw it in the trash. At the time I wasn't aware of exactly what it was but I figured a re-hair and clean up and I'd have a decent backup bow. Then when my local Luthier saw it his only exclamation was: "you paid only $5 for that? It's a Schuster Master Artist!"

No I didn't go back and give the lady a fistful of cash - I had it re-haired and cleaned up and discovered that the black wire winding was actually silver. As I remember it the re-hair set me back a whole $35 back then.

I guess luck shines on us from time to time. It is my favorite bow and it is well insured.

April 15, 2017 at 05:04 AM · My violin teacher has a dirt cheap $15 plastic bow and she sounds good with it. We just get lucky sometimes.

April 15, 2017 at 05:31 AM · 5$ because you were lucky (also poor lady!), not because thats its value.

Ella, I knoe oeople that make a cigare box strung up sound good. I am not sure if this is a criteria that nobody needs a violin.

April 15, 2017 at 05:31 AM · 5$ because you were lucky (also poor lady!), not because thats its value.

Ella, I knoe oeople that make a cigare box strung up sound good. I am not sure if this is a criteria that nobody needs a violin.

April 15, 2017 at 05:31 AM · 5$ because you were lucky (also poor lady!), not because thats its value.

Ella, I knoe oeople that make a cigare box strung up sound good. I am not sure if this is a criteria that nobody needs a violin.

April 15, 2017 at 03:32 PM · Weird. Anyway, I've heard about cheap bows that work very well, but then, expensive bows might be worth it in some cases, too.

April 15, 2017 at 09:53 PM · Marc, it looks like you got hit with a triple post~

Anyway, thanks for the advice. I'm making appointments at my favorite shops and will update to let y'all know what I end up with.

April 16, 2017 at 09:12 PM · Marc, et al.,

I'm not sure about the "Poor Lady" assessment. She wasn't a musician, just a new homeowner who found a bow in her new attic and decided to sell it at a garage sale.

If somebody lost out, it was the person who put a high-end bow in the attic, forgot about it and sold the house. I cant imagine who would put the bow in the attic in the first place, but that is just me.

I acknowledge my pure-dumb-luck at buying the bow and that it turned out to be something valuable.

My general point is that sometimes we are lucky even if we think we are skillful.

April 16, 2017 at 09:16 PM · I was once told that gamers have the saying:

Skill is if you get used to beeing lucky ;)

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