Violin Basics

Everything To Know About How To Buy a Violin

Buying your first violin, whether as a beginner or advanced violinist, is a critical decision with the potential to enhance your learning and playing experience.

Most beginner violinists tend to settle for the cheapest option, but that’s not always the best choice for every student. 

The cheapest violins are made with low-quality materials, resulting in poor sound quality and playability. This can hinder your progress and discourage you from playing altogether. So, how do you buy the perfect violin? Here is everything you need to know before you start shopping.

What to consider before buying a violin

Most beginner violin students overlook the importance of certain factors when buying their first violin:

Getting a violin teacher

A violin teacher is your best ally when it comes to buying a violin. They can assess your skill level, playing style, and overall goals to recommend the right instrument based on their extensive experience. 

And to ensure you get yourself a quality violin, they can recommend reputable brands and music stores to buy from. A teacher can also introduce you to proper violin maintenance, which is crucial for your instrument’s longevity and sound quality. 

Trala teachers are highly skilled and qualified professionals who can help you with all your violin needs, including finding the perfect instrument. The Trala method combines technology, tailored lesson plans, and personalized feedback to help you progress faster and achieve your musical dreams. 

Get matched with a Trala teacher today and take the first step towards achieving your musical goals!

Violin size

You’ve probably noticed violins come in different sizes. This is because they are made to fit players of various ages and statures. Depending on the size of your hand and arm length, you may need a full-size 4/4 violin (which is the size the majority of adults use), 3/4 size, 1/2 size, 1/4 size, 1/8 size, or 1/16 size. 

The best way to determine the right size for you is to try different sizes. After testing different instruments, you can settle on the most comfortable and natural. Remember, comfort and ease of play should be your top priority when choosing a violin size.

Renting or buying the violin

Rent or buy? Rental instruments allow you to try out different violins for weeks or months at a time while you assess the sound quality, playability, and comfort before you buy one. 

Renting offers the flexibility to switch to a different size as you grow and improve your skills. This is particularly important for young children who may quickly outgrow their current violin size. You can try out different violins (assessing the sound quality, playability, and comfort) before you buy one, ensuring you get the best quality and fit for your needs.

However, if you’re certain about your passion for the violin and have found a high-quality instrument that suits your needs, buying can be a more cost-effective long-term option. Buying allows you to develop a strong bond with your instrument. You can also customize it to your liking, and with proper care, a good quality violin can hold its value or even appreciate over time.

Whichever option you choose, Trala partners with reputable retailers like Stringworks and Fiddlershop to provide students with discounted rates on the rental or purchase of quality violins.

How much you want to spend

As a beginner, you don’t need to break the bank to get a quality violin. A decent student violin will cost between $100-$500 depending on the brand, materials used, country of origin, and level of craftsmanship. Higher quality violins, usually made from aged tonewoods and with more intricate designs, can cost upwards of $1,000 or even up to tens of thousands of dollars for professional-level violins. 

However, as a beginner, focus on finding a quality violin that falls within your budget and offers good playability and sound quality. 

Your level of expertise

Beginner, intermediate, or advanced? Your skill level will determine the type and quality of violin you should get.

A student or an entry-level violin designed for ease of play and affordability will suffice for beginners. These violins are usually mass-produced with cheaper materials and produce decent sound quality for learning the basics. 

As you progress to intermediate and advanced levels, you may want a better-quality violin with more dynamic range and tonal qualities to match your evolving musical skills. Professional-level violins are precision-crafted by expert luthiers (violin makers) and produce rich, complex tones suitable for advanced techniques and performances.

What to look for when making your selection

Besides the size, price tag, and expertise level, there are other important features (cosmetic and functional) to consider when choosing a violin. These need a good eye for detail and a keen ear to pick out.

Pegs and tuners should turn easily

The pegs and fine tuners (located just below the scroll and tailpiece, respectively) are what you use to tune your violin. These should move smoothly and hold the strings in place without slipping to maintain tuning stability. Some common issues you will face with low-quality tuning mechanisms include:

  • Slipping pegs that won’t hold tension
  • Loose fine tuners that easily move or fall off
  • Sticky pegs that are hard to turn and adjust
  • Imbalanced or poorly fitted fine tuners that lead to uneven violin string tension and tuning problems.

When trying out a violin, twist the pegs and turn the fine tuners to see how well they move and hold tension. If they don’t feel smooth or hold tension well, consider looking for a different violin.

The look and feel of the instrument

The aesthetics of a violin, which encompasses its design, finishing, varnish, and the visible grain of the wood, are directly linked to its craftsmanship and sound quality. A well-crafted violin with intricate detailing, hand-applied varnish, and quality tonewoods (like spruce, maple, and ebony) produce a more resonant, rich sound and project better. 

Beyond aesthetics, personal comfort with how a violin feels in your hands and against your body is crucial for an enjoyable playing experience. Hold the violin in different positions and play a few notes to see if it feels comfortable and natural in your hands. Try a different size or model if it feels awkward or unbalanced (such as being too heavy on one side or too long for your arms).

No plastic pieces

While it might appear insignificant, the materials used for small parts like chinrests, tailpieces, and pegs can significantly affect a violin’s sound quality and durability. Cheaply-made violins often have plastic or composite materials used for these parts, resulting in poor tones. Natural materials like ebony, rosewood, and boxwood are preferred for these parts as they are more durable and produce a better sound.

Even string and bridge settings

Proper string height and alignment are essential for comfortable playing and good sound quality. The strings should not be too high or too low from the fingerboard, as this can affect the ease of playing and intonation. 

Similarly, they should be evenly spaced and aligned with the bridge to maintain proper tension and produce a balanced sound. If the string height or alignment is off, you may experience intonation issues (resulting in out-of-tune notes) or difficulty playing certain notes.

Real wood and purfling

Solid wood violins are made from thin, carefully carved sheets of solid spruce, maple, and ebony, which are glued together to form the different parts of the instrument. They also have an authentic purfling (a thin decorative inlay that runs along the edges of the violin) that protects the delicate edges of the instrument, preventing cracks and damage from impacts or changes in humidity. 

For better durability and sound quality, a high-quality violin should have purfling made from natural wood (usually maple) instead of painted-on or synthetic materials.

Tips for finding the right violin for you

Now, let’s go over some helpful tips to help you find the perfect violin for your needs:

Buy from a reputable seller

When buying a violin, it’s recommended to purchase from a reputable seller with experience and knowledge of violins. Reputable sellers have a return policy and warranty, ensuring you can exchange or return the violin if it does not meet your expectations. 

Avoid purchasing from unverified sources (such as online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon or individuals), as you may end up with a low-quality or counterfeit instrument. Trala partners with StringWorks, a trusted violin retailer that offers an extensive selection of high-quality violins with a 14-day return policy for added peace of mind.

Choose a high-quality, well-crafted violin

While it’s often easier to spot an aesthetically pleasing violin, recognizing the signs of quality craftsmanship that impact sound and durability requires a more discerning eye.

  • The violin should be symmetrical with smooth surfaces and joints.
  • There should be no visible glue, uneven varnish, or poorly fitted parts
  • The corners of a well-crafted violin will have neatly inlaid purfling, protecting against cracks and ensuring longevity.

Here’s a pro tip: Look inside the violin through the F-holes. You should be able to see the soundpost and bass bar, both crucial in sound production. If they appear to be carelessly placed or roughly finished, it may not be a high-quality instrument.

Play the violin before you stick with it

A violin’s “feel” and sound can vary significantly from one piece to another, so it’s essential to play before purchasing. A good violin should have a comfortable weight and balance, making it easy to hold and play for long periods. The violin bow should also feel comfortable in your hand, with the right tension and flexibility for your playing style. 

Additionally, when you play the violin, pay attention to how it sounds. For example:

  • Does the sound resonate and project well? 
  • Is it easy to produce different tones and dynamics? 

You want a violin that feels like an extension of your body, allowing you to express your musicality effortlessly. Violins recommended by Trala teachers have been tried and tested by experienced violin players, ensuring that you get a quality instrument.

Decide which accessories you need

You will also need additional accessories to complete your setup, along with the violin. We can bucket these accessories into two categories: essential and optional.

Essential accessories:

  • Sturdy case to protect and transport your violin
  • Good bow (made from horsehair, Brazilwood, or carbon fiber)
  • Rosin for the bow hair to create friction and produce sound

Optional accessories (will depend on your skill level and personal preferences):

  • Shoulder rest to support the violin and relieve tension on your shoulder and neck while playing
  • Violin mute to dampen the sound (great for apartments or late-night practices)
  • Tuner to tune the violin accurately and quickly (Tip: Trala’s free app includes a tuner!)

Learn how to play your first violin with Trala’s teachers

A high-quality violin will help set you up for success and make your violin journey more enjoyable. You also need experienced instructors to guide you and provide personalized feedback to accelerate your progress. 

Trala offers a diverse pool of highly trained violin teachers who will provide customized lessons tailored to your needs. Through our online violin lessons, you’ll learn the fundamentals of violin playing from the comfort of your home. 

Join Trala today and get started with your first lesson.

Get started with Trala

Find a teacher