Violins: Buying, Selling, and Getting Your Money's Worth

Buying your first violin is a big decision. Although it might not involve as much money, it’s something like buying your first house or car. You want something suitable to your needs. Not too cheap, not too expensive. If you are looking for a beginner violin, here are some tips to help you find the perfect one.

How much is enough?
That’s the question I get asked the most when new students are realizing just how expensive violins can get. Beginner violin outfits will range from $200-$500. Does the more expensive violin actually sound better? Will I progress faster? What about new versus used violins?

Shopping for beginner violins can be similar to shopping for a car. If you buy a used car, you generally get it for cheaper than a new one since you’re accepting dings, scratches, and maybe other unknown problems. With violins, if you buy a used beginner violin (from a reputable source, not Ebay or the thrift store) the first thing you’ll want to do is change the strings (around $40 plus installation) and get the bow re-haired ($40 to $75). When you take those into account, the used violin might not be cheaper.

Side note: I do have a student who found a very nice violin at a thrift store for $30. Finding jewels like that does happen (never to me!) but it is rare. More often, I see worthless violins at antique stores and thrift shops with outrageous price tags. These violins are usually useful only as wall decorations, so be wary!

If you are buying a new violin from a dealer or an online company, how much money is enough? Back to the car analogy. If you are shopping for a new car you have a couple options. You can buy a budget car that gets the job done just fine. But you might only make it to 60,000 miles before problems start creeping up and you’re ready for another car. Or you could pay a little more and get a car that will get you past 100,000 miles so you won’t have to worry about buying another car anytime soon.

Good quality “budget” violins will get the job done but you will grow out of them quicker. If you buy a higher end beginner violin or an intermediate violin ($400-$1000) you won’t have to worry about upgrading as soon. Budget violin outfits come with budget bows. Bows on the lower end of the scale can be very heavy or have an annoying wobble when you draw the bow on the string.

You will also be able to do more with a better quality violin. Some of the upgrades you might get are better tuning pegs for easier tuning, a lighter bow or a more stable bow, and better sound production. Learning to produce a good tone on a violin is possibly one of the hardest tasks beginning violinists must overcome. Having good equipment makes it so much easier.

What’s Your Mission?
Another thing to consider is what you are buying the violin for. If you want to see if you like the violin, then get the budget version or rent. If you will be playing in church or performing, go for something a little nicer. Cheap violins will not project as well when performing. With a better violin, you’ll sound better without having to work so hard. Are you buying a full size violin for a child? Will the child take this violin through high school, orchestra rehearsals, auditions, and the rest of their adult life? Pay a little more. If you’re going on a long road trip, you’d want them to have a good, reliable car, right? You can’t win Nascar races with run-of-the-mill budget cars.

Getting Your Money's Worth
Another question I’m frequently asked is, “If I sell my violin, will I be able to get what I paid for it?” That’s a very hard question to answer since it depends on what you paid for it, what condition it’s in, where you live, and what the market is like in your area. Keep in mind, beginner violins are not one-of-a-kind Ferraris. They’re more like a basic, stock, Ford Focus. Companies like Shar will be turning out beginner violins until the end of time so if you want to sell your violin, you’ll have to take that into consideration. You wouldn’t buy a new car, put 5,000 miles on it and expect to get exactly what you paid for it. Why? Because your potential buyer could go to the dealer and buy a new car for the same price.

Trade-In Policies
This is the best way to insure you’ll get something out of your old violin. Violin shops often have trade-in policies. If you buy a violin from them and ;ater want to upgrade to a better violin, they will give you money back on your old violin as long as the old violin and the new violin come from their store. Ask your local dealer what their trade-in policy is.

Until you start paying big bucks, violins aren’t really investments. If you take good care of them, they’ll at least hold their value but you probably won’t get more for a beginner violin than what you paid for it. Like other hobbies and activities you do for fun, it’s about the amount of enjoyment you get out of the violin, not how much it will be worth in ten years.

Affording the Better Violin
So you want the better violin, but how do you afford it? Ask your music store what their financing options are. Southwest Strings has a 0% financing policy and you never know what other options companies have until you ask.