Please help me choose a student violin! (I know nothing)

November 18, 2017, 9:06 PM · I am overhwhelmed by violin shopping! I need a 1/2 or 3/4 size violin for my 10 year old son. (I will measure, I do know how to do that.) I am going to buy from Shar. My budget is about $800, including accessories like string upgrades. My son is very musical and will want an instrument that has great tone. What's the best I can get within my budget (or close to)?

Replies (27)

November 18, 2017, 9:30 PM · At that age and price range, rent, don't buy.
November 18, 2017, 9:46 PM · I'd prefer not to rent. Should I be looking at a lower price point? After reading more posts on this forum, I'm planning to go to the nearest luthier with him this week. Their instruments start at $500. They offer rental.

I have a young son playing violin also, so I project purchasing a violin to be less money than renting. Eventually!

Edited: November 18, 2017, 10:33 PM · Potter's has a pretty good chart that shows their rental prices compared to the retail costs of the violins, which as far as I know is a pretty reasonable guide to industry rental-to-value ratios: LINK

Broadly, if you're spending under $1k for a violin + bow, you'll often get a better instrument by renting.

If maximizing your dollar is more important than obtaining a higher-quality instrument, I would consider the middle ground of using a shop that allows some or all of your rental money to be put towards the eventual purchase of a violin from that shop. That way, when your child is ready to move from a beginner's rental to an intermediate-level violin, you'll have a bucket of money to use towards the purchase, but he'll still have a better instrument to start with.

Also, children grow fast, especially at that age. With a rental, you're usually able to move up in size as soon as it's needed. Buy when you get to full-size. By then he'll be able to have some notion of what he wants in a violin.

Absolutely do NOT buy a violin without consulting his teacher. If he doesn't have a teacher yet, and you are absolutely committed to buying, sign a short-term rental contract and wait until his teacher can help him choose a violin.

November 18, 2017, 10:38 PM · Agree with Lydia 100%.

If you must buy because you think it will work out to be cheaper in the long run, then buy from a local shop that will let you trade it in for a credit--you will never be able to sell a fractional violin for anything like what you spent on it. Renting is safer.

I bought a very nice 1/4 size violin for my oldest from Robertson's because I thought it would be cost-effective. I suppose it was; all three of my children did eventually (grudgingly) play on it, but in retrospect life would have been much simpler had I just rented. It gathered dust in my house for years before I eventually sold it to someone for a fraction of what I paid for it. And one by one as my children got to 5th grade, they let me know how much they hated the violin, and moved on to instruments of their choice.

November 18, 2017, 11:07 PM · Buy somewhere with a trade-up program for when your child grows.
Edited: December 11, 2017, 8:24 PM · Personally, I think it is much more worthwile to buy (and that's what I and many friends have done with anything after the very first fractional violin) because he has a younger sibling who will need the violin in the near future. You can keep the fractional after both kids are finished with it and loan it to friends, sell it through a local ad thing (e.g Craigslist), donate it, etc. In my personal experience, it is easier to find a nice fractional to purchase than a nice fractional to rent. Of course, this varies from place to place. I would personally try a variety of affordable violins, pick the fave(s), take them home, and ask his teacher if they'll serve him well or not.
November 19, 2017, 8:51 AM · I will certainly ask about renting towards credit to buy. I didn't know that existed, so thank you. As fare as getting value from a purchased instrument, I would also consider value from saving to give to grandchildren. (I'm still butthurt my parents sold my 1/32 violin when I was a teen.). My cousin is a violinist and orchestra teacher, and I would also consider giving a violin to him to loan or give to another family.

But anyway, I am not sure we will have a teacher. We've been on the waiting list for a teacher for over a year - for both my kids. If she gets an opening, I will take the opportunity! There's a local professional/retired violinist who doesn't teach but has told my parents she would teach my kids. That's plan B. Plan C is let violin be his "fun" instrument and no teacher, let him self-teach violin for fun but keep him focused on trumpet which is his "serious" instrument. i suppposed y'all will have plenty to say about this. :) For now, no violin teacher is in the forecast, so I don't have that guidance for picking an instrument.

Edited: November 19, 2017, 9:22 AM · It would help to know where the OP is located, since there are likely to be some participants here familiar with the location and knowledgeable about nearby teacher and dealer opportunities.

I certainly agree with Lydia and Mary Ellen about renting (I seem to agree with them about everything 99.44% of the time). When I was teaching I always got my younger students into rentals. My favored shop rented violins on a monthly basis for a monthly charge of about 1/36 of the sales price (and cellos for 1/60) including insurance. This always worked out better than purchasing, and the instruments were very good (Jay-Haide)* and I always went along to select the best instrument and bow they had in stock at the time. It was very important to me that the child would have an instrument that actually could sound beautiful from the beginning. (I had already been burned by my first purchase of a 1/2 size for my 6-year old granddaughter - from a different dealer.) So my granddaughter played a 1/2 and then a 3/4 Jay-Haide rental until she was 10 and graduated to full size and I loaned her one of my own violins for the next 4 years and then let her select any of mine for her very own - forever. Unfortunately for me, she selected the very one i would have selected!

*(Playing through a number of the Jay-Haide violins back then (starting 22 years ago) I noticed that some of the 1/2 and 3/4 size Jay-Haide violins available for rent were actually better than the general run of 4/4 (full size) at the same price. I attributed this to the fact that all their sub-scale violins were the same price, whereas there were several price points for the 4/4. I suspected the 4/4 were priced for quality after they were finished, rather than being made to a price point. Of course, I don't know this for sure.)

November 19, 2017, 10:29 AM · The nearest city to me is Eau Claire, WI. The nearest metro area is Minneapolis/St. Paul.
November 19, 2017, 12:43 PM · Self-teaching the violin is a bad plan for children; you have no idea how difficult the violin is, and the train wreck that results if you don't establish good habits from the start. If you can't find a qualified teacher, wait until you can.

November 19, 2017, 1:52 PM · I live in Saint Paul, and there is a shop called cadenza music, and you can definitely buy some fairly decent violins there for a reasonable price. I don’t know about fractional sizes, but you can get a pre owned violin that is worth over a thousand dollars for less than half the price. It may not look beautiful, but the to can be good for someone starting out. I know that some people say that it is a terrible idea to give a child a cheap violin, and that it might discourage them. Personally I started out on a pawn shop violin that cost 50 dollars when I was five. Now I deffinetly would be discouraged from playing if I had a terrible sounding instrument. If your child is ten, it probably is a good idea to get a violin with decent sound.
November 19, 2017, 3:42 PM · It's so hard to find a qualified teacher but, that's probably for another thread.

Your plan B sounds viable to me. I would find a teacher before I buy a violin.

November 19, 2017, 10:51 PM · Looks don't correspond to sound.
November 19, 2017, 11:29 PM · 10 year old might even be ready for 4/4 full size, but not 1/2 size.
November 20, 2017, 2:02 PM · Depends on the size of the person.
November 20, 2017, 2:10 PM · I agree with Ella. I know a twelve year old that is still using a half size violin, so I wouldn’t make assumptions.
November 20, 2017, 4:07 PM · I second Lyndon’s idea in that if your son is on the verge of being able to play a full size violin, why not waiting for another year or so. That way you can save $800. boys of this age grow very quickly.
November 20, 2017, 4:42 PM · Losing a year of practice at an age where learning is so much easier, just to save $800 doesn't sound like the best option to me, on the other hand if your son is almost big enough for full size you might be able to start him now on full size if he already falls somewhere between standard 3/4 and 4/4 in size. Some famous violin players actually started on much bigger violins and did just fine.

Considering you should be able to trade in the 3/4 towards purchasing the 4/4 or save it for a younger child when they get older.

If you're going to be really strict about proper violin sizes, then viola players shouldn't exist!!

November 20, 2017, 4:50 PM · I think you should never play an instrument that's too big for you, unless you can play it with ease and comfort. Otherwise, you could risk strain injuries.
Edited: November 20, 2017, 5:14 PM · Then how can any viola player play an instrument that is 20% larger, that's just nonsense.

I'm not recommending playing and instrument that's a whole size larger than your size (which basically is what a viola is), but 1/2 a size larger is within the realm of possibility IMHO By that I mean if your size is 7/8, and you're growing quickly, you could probably get away with starting on a 4/4.

November 20, 2017, 6:04 PM · Also as someone here has suggested, a balanced option would be to rent a correctly sized violin, and then to buy a full size one when the son is ready.
Edited: November 20, 2017, 6:15 PM · My daughter is 7 but she is really tall for her age with extra long arms. She is on a 1/4 violin and will not be going up to a 1/2 anytime soon. That is per her teacher's policy. Her previous teacher went up ASAP.

This is why I think OP should find a teacher first. Some teachers have strong opinions on this.

November 20, 2017, 6:44 PM · I contacted the teacher we're on the waiting list for. She gave me the name of another violin shop in the area - I'm happy to have 2 to compare. She said she has students renting from Shar Music too. She didn't prefer any particular violin or warn against either. She said to get him measured/fit at one of the local shops, and pick whatever sounded best within our budget.

My son is pretty small for age. He held a 3/4 violin within the last year and it looked pretty awkward too me. My mom (went through Suzuki violin/viola/cello lessons with myself and my 3 siblings) said it was too big. I'm guessing 1/2 but definitely will defer to the luthier when we go try them out!

Edited: November 20, 2017, 9:06 PM · I hear a lot of teachers recommending too small a size, anyone can size a violin if they know how, just hold the violin under their chin and there hand cupped around the scroll, there fingers should reach all around the scroll and well over the top, and not too much so,or the violin is too small. I can't imagine a large 7 year old with long arms on a 1/4 size, that would almost have to be 1/2 size. Playing too small a size is just as bad for development as trying to play too large a size IMHO.
Edited: November 20, 2017, 9:04 PM · I think it is definitely a good idea not to play on a violin that's too small for you, as you can feel quite cramped. I know this is a very controversial topic. In terms of viola players and the size of the viola, I think that it's not at all uncommon to use a 15-15.5" viola. I think that Lyndon is reasonable by saying that you could use a 4/4 violin if you're technically a hair too small for it.
December 11, 2017, 7:20 PM · I would find a place with a trade up policie, so that when your son moves up sizes he can trade in the old violin. Also, for the record I played a 1/2 sized violin when I was 10
December 11, 2017, 8:21 PM · It depends on what you want to do with the violin after the child grows out of it. In the OPs case, it could go to a younger sibling, so a trade-in option would be nice, but not necessary.

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