Published on 31/03/2015
Buying a violin can be scary – especially if you don’t know much about them yourself. There are many elements that can affect the sound of a violin.
Never be afraid to ask for help and advice from your local music shop. They should be able to confidently talk to you about the differences between different models and things to listen for in the overall sound of the instrument. They will also be able to help you decide which instrument will be best suited to your needs – is the player a beginner or someone who has been playing for a number of years?
Knowledge is key – try to educate yourself a little on what to look for before you go into the store and always ask to either play or listen to the instrument before you buy.
To help you make a more informed purchase, here are some simple tips and questions you can ask to help you navigate this potentially confusing process:
What type of strings are on the instrument? A good set of strings can make a huge difference to the tone of your violin. You can tell the brand of the string by the colours and patterns of the winding on either end of the strings. Ask the shop for more information on different sets of strings.
How old are the strings and are they clean? If the strings are over 9 months old they’ll stop the instrument from sounding as good as it could. You can clean the strings with some alcohol wipes, just don’t get any of the cleaner on the body of the instrument as this may strip the varnish from the body– it’s ok to clean the fingerboard with them. Look for strings that are bright and shiny in colour – you can also check to make sure there are no ‘nicks’ or ‘dents’ in the strings.
Make sure the bow has enough hair, tightens correctly and has the correct amount of rosin – you can’t expect to get a decent sound without the bow being in good condition. Again, you can ask your music shop for advice on this if you are unsure.
Play everywhere on the instrument, not just in the lower positions, and listen for how consistent the sound is. It may be rich on the G string in the lower positions, but does it sound as rich in higher positions? And how does it sound on the E string? Playing some scales are a great way to check this.
Find out how long it’s been since the violin was last played - some older instruments can ‘fall asleep’ if they haven’t been played in a long time. They’ll ‘wake up’ again with some strong double stops (two notes at once) for a couple of hours.
Have something to compare it to, ask try a few violins at once, this will give you some perspective and allow you to compare sounds and feels of different violins.