When to decide to purchase a violin instead of renting?

December 15, 2022, 8:49 AM · Hello all,

We've always rent the violin for my son. He just upgraded his rental to 3/4 size violin, unless a growth spurt is happening, he'll be playing this size for a while. He's been playing the violin for 5-6 years now (he is 11). 

His teacher has been asking us to purchase a violin (instead of renting) for him for at least 2 years now. His rental is "Jay Heide" brand, which is the best we could find here (the rest are Eastmans brand). She said a better quality violin will make it easier for him to sound better. She does not suggest any brand/Luthier, instead, she encourages us to look/ask around.

Apologies if the answer is quite obvious -- I'm wondering at what point would it make sense to purchase a violin, knowing that he will need to upgrade it at some point? Are there Luthiers that rent out better quality fractional? Also, as a non-musician, I always thought that technique is more important than the instrument? Would a great instrument compensate for mediocre technique in terms of sound? (I think not..) If you are a teacher, what are some of the reasons you would encourage a family to purchase? I'm trying to understand the whole picture.

If the argument is cost: in terms of money spent so far, we have only rented from a Luthier 3 years ago (when he was 1/2 size approx). Prior to that, we used a friends' smaller violins (practically free). His current rental is $50/month (prior to that, it was $25/3-month period). The current rental violin has a value of $1,800, so I would imagine if the violin we purchase is better, it'll cost more than that.

Any opinions are welcome. Thank you for sharing your time/thoughts in advance.

Claire D

Replies (20)

December 15, 2022, 9:06 AM · The "orthodox" response is to try out as many violins as you can at a shop with the student and parent/teacher listening carefully to find an instrument that's a good match for your son now and in the near future (for sound, but also playability). The shop would likely let you take one or more violins for the teacher to approve.

Depending on income bracket and willingness to spend you have different options. Some people here have suggested just buying something like a new Haide. Shops will often let you trade in for an upgrade instrument down the road.

For the cheaper parent (me) you can often find good quality student instruments that were played briefly and are being sold on. These are things like Yamahas, Haide, Cao, Eastman, unbranded Chinese instruments, etc.

What is your son's playing level? Is the teacher saying he needs a better violin than his current Haide, or is the teacher wanting you to save money, etc. 3/4 is kind of a tough size because he really could outgrow it soon. I would probably not buy a new 3/4. My 150cm just turned 12 year old is on a 4/4.

December 15, 2022, 9:21 AM · @J Seitz -- thank you for your reply. Yes, the main reason she asked us to purchase is sound. My son is reluctant to try out violins (and I cannot, with my ear, determine which violin sounds better one v.s. the other), but luckily his teacher would always test violin when we bring them to the lessons.

I agree with you, 3/4 size is almost 4/4 so we (parent) lean toward the side of rental.

December 15, 2022, 9:36 AM · I would think an 11 yr old would be ready for a full size unless he's quite short for his age
December 15, 2022, 9:46 AM · Will the shop from which you're renting let him try different Jay Haides to maybe find a better one? They do vary. When my kids were younger, we had a 1/2 size that was great and a 3/4 of the same brand that didn't sound as good. I would agree that he will probably be on a 4/4 really soon, so buying a 3/4 might not be the best idea.
Edited: December 15, 2022, 1:32 PM · Hi all --

Thank you for chiming in! I'm glad I'm not thinking out loud alone on this.

Yes, my son is on the smaller side, he just switched to 3/4 a month ago, definitely not yet 4/4. And you never know with growth spurt, he may stay on the shorter side for a long time... or grow overnight.

I will ask the shop for a better one, this was the only "better" violin that are available also on that size (and I agree, not all Jay Haide are "good," we just don't have any comparison). I may call some other places as well. Now I'm leaning more and more toward renting, but please do chime in what was your consideration when purchasing/upgrading an instrument.

Thanks again!
P.S. Younger sibling not interested in strings sadly.

December 15, 2022, 2:09 PM · In my opinion, there are two definite reasons to keep renting. The first is if your kid is young and likely to drop/damage the instrument, since repairs and exchanges are typically free. The second is if you are unsure if your child will keep playing.

Assuming neither of those is the case, it really depends on the level of the child. If your 11-year-old is playing Suzuki Book 4, the instrument is likely fine. If your 11-year-old is playing Bruch Concerto or higher, it probably is not.

We made the mistake of renting with my son until he reached full size at age 12 -- though he did manage to win a competition with a $500 rental and $20 bow, so it didn't entirely hold him back. But he made tremendously faster progress once he got some good equipment -- bow being just as important.

With my younger one, we purchased a 3/4 when she was nearly 11 and then traded it in for a full size a year later (she grew all at once). The 3/4 size was not tremendously expensive, I think around $2500, but it was better than anything available as a rental. At the time I think she was playing Mozart 3 or maybe DeBeriot 9. But the ability to trade in for full value was really important -- we would not have done it without that guarantee.

December 15, 2022, 5:05 PM · Two thoughts, from when my daughter was at that stage.

First, there is not much of a market for 3/4 violins, except for the mass market brands. In other words you won't that easily find better than the Jay Haide he already has (and if you do, you may find it difficult to sell on which you will need to do relatively quickly). Renting at this stage is not a bad strategy (though $600 a year sounds pretty expensive to me).

Second, and on the other side, it won't be good for your son to move to full size before he is big enough to play it properly, or it will force him to compromise his playing in ways that might lead to bad habits. The trouble is, at age 11 he could have a growth spurt straight away or not for a while, you can't tell.

Once you are looking for a full size violin, any decent violin shop will have a lot of choice, both new and older. Similarly for bows. Price and brand are less important than trying them to see what is best for him.

Obviously you need to discuss with your teacher. I am assuming she feels better aural feedback from your son's bow technique could improve that aspect of playing, but your chance of finding a significantly better 3/4 instrument before he grows out of it aren't huge in most places. (Plus, a new bow might make a bigger difference than a new violin, but once again the only 3/4 bows are likely to be mass market brands much like he has).

December 15, 2022, 7:20 PM · When you can afford it, the quality of available inventory in your price range is meaningfully better than what you can rent, and when your child can tell the difference and cares about the difference.

When my son went to a 1/8, we bought. It was worth it for the violin (~$1k), and unfortunately not worth it for the bow (~$400). He had definite opinions about what he liked, even though he was just in Suzuki book 2 and about 4 years old.

December 15, 2022, 7:28 PM · Kiyomi's advice is good. Bring the 3/4 to the shop and tell them the teacher doesn't like the tone and ask if they'd let you swap or give you several to run by the teacher. One of the mysteries of this price range is that sound is all over the place. One of the Eastmans may sound better. I agree with everyone else not to buy just for the coming year or so he's on a 3/4.

There's debate about matching bow and violin size, but you could probably buy a nicer 4/4 codabow (they're all 10% off now) that might be more playable/sound better on his current violin and could be a school/backup/all around bow down the line.

December 16, 2022, 9:17 AM · The rent v. purchase debate will never be resolved. What I have observed with the young musicians I've had in my studio, when the parents have to purchase new shoes, a new violin is imminent.

There is a local Violin shop who offers a discount on the return of a purchased instrument when the parents purchase a new and larger instrument. Probably better than renting but the simple fact remains - children grow and outgrow their fractional instruments.

Unlike leasing vehicles, renting a violin does not guarantee a brand new excellent quality instrument with a warrantee.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Will your local violin/music shop purchase the current instrument if you purchase and then upgrade? What will the trade-in be?...

The real advantage of a purchase is that you can demand better quality from a purchase. Rentals tend to be the next instrument in the stockroom.

Finally, even when a 4/4 is the violin your young musician will out play the first 4/4.

I'm surprised that the studios don't have some kind of parents exchange as the young musicians get older.

December 16, 2022, 10:25 AM · Renting seems to make sense. However if money is no object you will be able to get a better instrument if you buy.

It may be worth having him try various sizes of violins with his teacher. Maybe a 7/8 would be good for him.

December 16, 2022, 10:54 AM · Thank you all for your advice once again. I think what becomes apparent to me the pros/cons do not always depend on the teacher but also on the student.

Unfortunately, our studio is on a winter break so I cannot discuss with his teacher and relay the feedback, but at the same time a few posts ask about his level of playing and I think this may be a bit relevant (I tried to keep OP short so I omit this).

He is now playing Bruch concerto (in preparation for YA festival next year), but in the past, his interest in violin has been waxing/waning. E.g. my last post here was because he was about to quit, now he would practice on his own without prompting. He is not playing at competition level (nor he necessarily wants to), but he performs at local YA festival every year (and perhaps the discussion about switching to a better instrument for projection). Also, not sure if violin is "it" for him as he has other interests (as an 11 yo boy would)-- so conservatory bound he is probably not, but you never know.

So, for me as a parent, purchasing $10K instrument is not on the table. Purchasing a $5K range fractional is quite hard to swallow, but that seems like the "step up" from current his Jay Haide. And again, because this Haide is valued at $2K, does not mean it sounds like a $2K instrument.

I like the advice of purchasing a better 4/4 bow, someone told me that their teacher advice students to upgrade bow first before violin, and I will think about it. His bow is whatever comes from the rental.

In our studio, some parents would occasionally exchange, but we just don't have anything at his size at the moment.

I also like the advice to upgrade "when the student knows the difference" -- I remember when my son was maybe... 6 or so? We used a multi-color kid rosin that was shaped like stars/hearts etc. and it was fine and dandy, and one time, we forgot to bring a rosin so we used our teacher's and he said "WOW Ma, my bow seems like it grows, like I can bow longer and longer!!" :-D He has not played many other violins but when he does, I think he will know the difference and perhaps from that point on, he'll have a preference. He just does not have a preference now because he has never been exposed to other violins.

Finally -- has anyone purchased violin from out of state Luthier with larger inventory (and possible a trade-up policy for fractional)? We contacted local shops (there are only 2 in town) and both are not in the position of purchasing back for an upgrade, although they do honor 9 months rental fee toward a purchase of an instrument. A parent suggested we deal with a Luthier with large inventory with a trade-up policy rather than local, but it scares me a bit to ship violin (!!) back and forth, and we do depend on our local shop quite a bit for bridge set up, bow re-hair, etc.

Thank you all again for chiming in & reading this far, if anyone has anymore opinion, I'm all ears, thank you for taking the time to write down your thoughts. I will no doubt digest all of these and will come up with a better things to ask his teacher next year.

December 16, 2022, 12:21 PM · When purchasing an instrument it is important to compare several instruments. Some shops may ship you several such instruments. However, it is usually best to try them in person. One may then take the best of the litter home on trial before the purchase is made. A complicating factor is that you really need the teacher's input at this point.

Given that the teacher brought up the subject, I wonder what they have to say. Would they travel to a shop to try some? Would they recommend some br shipped to you?

All in all, it looks like continuing renting is most practical at this point.

If you happen to travel to a city with a good shop, they would probably be happy to have yiir child try their instruments even if you were not ready to purchase at that time.

December 16, 2022, 2:53 PM · I bought a 1/2 size, then a 3/4, and moved on to a 4/4. But I have a few more children that might start playing so the costs hopefully will spread over a few offspring.
Otherwise I would have rented (my school gives very cheap rental rates). Tone wasn't a priority in the smaller sizes.
December 18, 2022, 9:14 AM ·
In violins, I think renting is convenient, should there be a need to return an instrument. This can happen if a student loses interest in the violin and no longer wishes to play. Or, it can happen if they outgrow a fractional sized violin. (3/4, etc.)

If a student is playing a full-sized instrument, and they're intent on continuing with the violin, then I'd say it's time to buy.

If and when that time comes, I'd suggest not skimping. It makes it so nice, and a student will be that much more intent, if they have a nice sounding instrument to play. It makes a huge different.

December 21, 2022, 8:06 PM · Just popping by one last time to thank everyone who have chimed in, now I have a better argument in renting in case my son's teacher brings up the subject again in the future. I appreciate the input of this community. Thank you very much!

Claire D

Edited: December 21, 2022, 8:13 PM · I still have my daughter's 3/4 violin because I couldn't sell it for anything close to what it's worth. She's in grad school now.

It's a Scott Cao STV750. Case and bow included $500 and it's yours (you pay shipping, I provide Shar violin-shipping box with all packing materials). The OP does not want this violin; it won't be better than her son's Jay Haide.

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