New Instrument Buying Tips

When it comes to purchasing the next instrument for your son or daughter, parents often have questions about the best way to proceed. The steps listed below will help you minimize your chances of making a mistake that your child will regret.

Steps to purchasing your child's next instrument

1. Figure out what you are willing to afford--like purchasing a house or car, you need to figure out your ballpark before you can do anything else. The prices listed below are loose guidelines for violins; for violas, cellos and basses, you can increase the price 10%, 20% and 30% respectively. Prices vary greatly, and so do opinions--but here's mine:

    • $800-$1800 will get you something between a beginner and "step up" level.
  • $2,000-$5,000 should get you a fair/decent quality high school instrument to a very nice high school instrument
  • $5000 and up should get you an instrument that students will be happy playing in college. Even for serious music students, I would not go over $8,000 until they are in a conservatory or on that kind of career path. (my opinion)

2. Get a private teacher or your school orchestra director to help you find several quality sources for instruments. When selecting dealers, it is a good idea to include your best local dealer, but also consider including a couple national dealers. Compare instruments from at least 2 or 3 different shops, and do not shop online without guidance from an experienced string teacher/performer. There are many shops that sell cheap instruments, and you don't want your son or daughter to become the next victim of inexperienced parent string purchasing decisions. Also, EBAY is NOT a reliable source for string instruments.

I cannot tell you where to buy your next instrument, but I can tell you where I have done business recently. Here in the Charleston area, I do a lot of business with Southern String Supply and Gawlik Violins. On a national level, I've rented and purchased instruments from Potters Violins and William Harris Lee. I've also purchased string supplies from online catalogs like Shar Music. Of course there are MANY others, and it's good to shop around.

3. Have each dealer send you one or two instruments in your price range for your child (and their private or school teacher) to compare. To really compare instruments, it's important to be able to play them one immediately after the other. Reputable shops will loan you an instrument to take to your teacher; out of state shops may ship you an instrument and you pay shipping on whatever you return.

A Few Tips

1. String instruments are not easy to resell, find a company that has a good trade in program. Some will give you 100% of what you paid on an instrument (minus a restocking/refurbishing fee.) I tell parents to buy the best instrument they can afford; if you want to purchase your child a nicer instrument, but cannot afford to sink $1000 into an instrument that is a significant step up, I recommend being patient and saving. Don't get an instrument that is only a few hundred dollars more than you last one.

2. Don't buy cheap; it's MUCH better to rent a decent instrument than it is to lock into a cheap one that your child will hate (and, soon thereafter, put down forever.)

3. Don't let your child fall in love with an instrument you cannot afford. Figure out the best instrument you can afford, and don't let them play any thing more expensive that that.

4. Remember to save some money for the bow and case. If you found the perfect instrument, but it is at the top of your price range, one option is to plan on getting a matching bow a little later....but don't put it off forever--the bow is important too.

Buying a Bow

The bow is a VERY important part of the string instrument, and to the surprise of many parents, that "stick" can cost a lot of money. As a rough guideline, a bow that is a comparable match to a string instrument may cost between 20%-40% as much as the instrument itself. Follow the same steps listed to the left for purchasing a bow. Especially get a teacher's opinion, because bows can be inconsistent--that is, five of the same bow brand and price can play very differently.