Since buying a violin is an expensive investment, it’s important to know what you need to buy. Besides the violin itself, there are a number of accessories necessary to play the violin properly and comfortably. We cover the various accessories below, which include: the bow, the case, the shoulder rest, the chin rest, extra strings, rosin, and tuners. Make sure that when you select your new violin, you get the accessories, too!
So you want to start playing the violin? Well, first you have to buy one! In this guide, I’d like to share with you the best tips for buying a violin as well as recommended places to purchase one.
If this is your first instrument, you probably don’t know yet which aspects you should pay attention to. There are a few things to keep in mind, to ensure you get a violin that is playable and will last for a couple of years at least.
The checklist below will help you make an informed decision. If you’re a more advanced student, you might want to refresh your memories about what you should be looking for and learn a good place or two to purchase a violin.
Essential Tips for Buying a Beginner Violin
Buying your first violin is important. It will be your first instrument and you will learn the basics on it, so it has to be helpful with a good sound.
Here are the most important points to determine if a violin will be playable and helpful to you in your learning journey:
1. The Violin
The violin is the first item on this list that you should shop for. We have an entire guide dedicated to how to buy a violin so I won’t bore you with any further details except that if you’re looking to buy a pre-packaged violin, most violin outfits come with all of the accessories below. If you need help finding a great violin, check out our guide on the best violin brands.
2. The Bow
The bow is the most important accessory for the violin as without it, the violin could not be played. It is important to buy the right violin bow which has the right weight and feel while remaining within your budget. If you need a refresher on how to buy the right violin, you can read our violin bow buying guide.
Most beginner violin outfits come with a violin bow already, but once you get to the intermediate and advanced level, you need to be sure you are using the violin bow that works for you. We recommend trying out several bows to see which one sounds the best with your instrument. For more help on choosing a violin bow, read our guide on buying a violin bow.
3. The Case
Violins, as with all stringed instruments, are notoriously delicate instruments so it is vital to have a solid case to protect it. Violin cases typically come in two styles, the oblong case, which fits in a rectangle around the instrument and usually has a lot of room for accessories, and the fitted shape which surrounds the violin snugly.
Most cases will offer at least one compartment for accessories, 1-2 violin bow holders, possibly a humidifier, and some extra pockets for music, etc. Beginner violin outfits generally come with a case, but if you want a better or sturdier case, you can explore our recommended violin case options.
4. The Shoulder Rest
The use of a shoulder rest has been a debate since the invention of the violin (and viola), but only professionals tend to eschew the shoulder rest due to their belief that it affects the sound. Shoulder rests provide comfort to the performer by elevating the violin so that the violin does not need to be held up by the left hand. The shoulder rest attaches to the thicker bottom half of the violin and fits between the performer’s shoulder and the bottom of the violin when the violin is held.
Shoulder rests are typically constructed of a plastic or wooden cushioned bar with adjustable rubber feet that connect it to the violin. Certain shoulder rests are only cushions that fasten to the violin via an elastic strap. To find out which should rests we recommend, read our guide on the best violin shoulder rests.
Rosin is what allows your bow and violin to make sound. Like a bike chain won’t move without grease, a violin bow won’t make sounds against the strings without rosin. The stickiness in the rosin allows the bow to “catch” on the string, pulling it ever so slightly to cause vibrations.
There are two main types of rosin: amber and dark. Dark rosin provides a softer tone and is better suited to cool, dry climates since in warmer climates it gets too sticky. Dark rosin is generally used by cellists who need a softer rosin to make the cello sing. Lighter, amber rosins tend to be harder and denser, making them a good fit for violin.
Some rosins even have precious metals inside. Gold rosin is said to produce a warm, clear tone and is appropriate for all instruments. Silver rosin creates a concentrated, bright tone and is especially good for performance in higher positions. It is best suited for the violin or viola.
The next major decision you need to make when choosing rosin is boxed or caked. Most students use boxed rosin to begin with as it is often included with many beginner violin outfits. It is lower quality and can be used by any instrument during any season. In addition, it is less prone to cracking. Caked rosin is used by more advanced players who want a better sound.
6. Finger Guide
If you’re a new student and don’t know where the location of notes are, then a violin finger guide is a great option. These decals or stickers attached to the fingerboard so you can quickly find out where certain notes are.
Mutes are used to dampen the sound of a viola both for orchestration purposes (composers require them in certain pieces) and practice sessions so you don’t disturb the neighbors. Mutes are often fairly cheap, with most rubber mutes coming in under $5 on Amazon. You should always keep at least one in your violin case.
8. Extra Strings
Violin strings have a tendency to break at the wrong time, such as during a concert. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you don’t have an extra set of violin strings on-hand. We highly recommend the Thomastik Dominant violin string brand in our review of the best violin strings, but feel free to test out several sets of strings before choosing the right set for you.
9. Peg Dope and Drops
Peg dope and drops help make hard-to-turn pegs easier to turn and slipping pegs stay put. Think of it like the WD-40 for violin pegs.
Determine the Right Violin Size for You
Getting a good quality instrument is one thing. The other is the size of the violin that you need.
Depending on your age and growth, you might need a different-sized violin. Usually, violins come in four sizes: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 4/4, though there are also other sizes like 7/8 or 1/8 and smaller. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re an adult or teenager, you need a full violin (4/4). However, you can check if the size is suitable with this simple test:
Put the violin on your shoulder (much as you would when you’re in a playing position) and extend your left arm. If your fingers can’t cover the scroll of the violin, you need a smaller one. You or your parent/guardian should consider your growth rate and age because, for example, if you’re growing very fast and your fingers can’t cover the scroll at the moment but are very close to doing so, maybe it’s best to not get a smaller size because you will end up needing to change it in a couple of months.
A Violin for Your Budget
What is your budget? Do you want to buy the cheapest violin and just try for it some time to find out if it’s really for you? Or maybe you’d like to spend some more to buy a quality violin that will stay with you for longer? It’s important to answer such questions and set a budget for your purchase. Here are my tips for planning your budget to buy a violin:
1. “You get what you pay for”
It might not be an absolute rule but there’s some truth to this, especially when there’s a huge price difference. Don’t expect a $50 violin to be as good as a $300 violin.
Your first violin doesn’t have to be very expensive but you can expect to get a better instrument when the price is a bit higher.
2. Minimum price: $100
Don’t buy a violin that costs less than $100. A cheaper violin might be a nice-looking instrument but for sure it will be a mass-produced item that won’t give a decent sound.
3. Target price: about $500
Look for an instrument for around $500. At this price tag, you will get a good instrument to start with. When you’re still inexperienced, you won’t hear the difference between this level and better, more expensive instruments, so going a lot higher won’t really help you in the beginning.
Ultimately, if you buy a better instrument at the outset, you also won’t need to replace it as quickly or you can resell it at a higher price. Especially when buying second-hand, violins retain their value, so they can even be bought as an investment.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Advice
It’s always worth asking a teacher or a professional for advice.
If you want to buy the instrument in a music shop, take your teacher with you if that’s possible. Even if it costs you something to pay for his or her time, the advice you’ll get is worth more. Your teacher can save you from buying a violin that’s difficult to play or one that is of very low quality.
Also, a violin shop employee can help, even though you have to keep in mind that they are trying to sell you things. A nice benefit is when the employee can play something for you on the instruments that you’re considering buying. That way, you’ll get a better idea of the sound quality.
Your teacher or any other violin professional or at the very least someone with experience in buying instruments should be able to give you valuable advice or even better, be there to shop with you and guide you.
If you don’t happen to have anyone to help you, read online articles related to the topic to get a better perspective. That is the exact purpose of this article!
Renting a Violin vs. Buying a Violin
Renting a violin is another option you have instead of buying right away – some retailers or even violin teachers offer this option. While there are more pros than cons, the disadvantages are somewhat important. Let’s have a look at both.
Advantages of renting a violin:
1. Small expenditure at the beginning
You’re not spending much right away. Moreover, a “rent to own” program might be what you’re looking for if you’re not willing to spend much or you have a small budget.
2. You can just try and see how playing a violin feels
You might not be sure about your choice (or your child about their choice) to start playing the violin and you want to test the waters. Instead of purchasing outright, this might be a good alternative to see if you do like playing the violin.
3. No need to search for the right instrument
Usually, the instruments that are for rent, while not the best on the market, are at the very least acceptable, so you don’t have the headache of choosing the right instrument.
4. No need to buy a new instrument when a child is growing
Renting a violin is a perfect option when your child needs a violin size of 1/2 or smaller. Children grow quickly and their body is constantly changing, so buying an instrument each time a different size is needed might be very expensive.
Disadvantages of renting a violin:
1. Unknown condition of the instrument
Instruments for rent are usually not in the best condition. Even if they look good, you have no idea how the previous player treated them or the damage they might have accrued.
2. You can’t keep the instrument (unless it’s “rent to buy”)
As you spend more and more time with an instrument, you’ll get an emotional attachment to it. This is a good thing that can boost your morale… on the other hand, it will make it hard to give it back one day.
3. The expenditures accumulate
If you rent a violin for a very long time, you may eventually find that you have paid the price of a quality violin, without actually owning one.
Where to Buy a Violin
In my opinion, the best option is a violin shop or a music store where you can build trust. The benefits of having a trustworthy seller will be clear when you want to try new strings, purchase a new bow, and buy a higher-quality violin in the future. At the same time, I am aware that you may not live close to a musical shop or a luthier who sells violins. In this case, you’re probably going to buy an instrument online – I’ve got some tips for that as well.
Where to Buy a Violin in Person
If you have a chance to buy a violin in person, here are the options for you:
1. Go to a music shop/luthier’s shop
This way you get the advantage of looking at the violin and playing it before you buy it, which is always preferable to buying blind. Moreover, you can compare different instruments within your budget and get advice from the staff or the luthier themselves. Also, you may go to such a place with your teacher and get his/her opinion before the purchase.
Another good thing about buying in a shop, especially run by a luthier, is that you might be offered quality second-hand or antique violins.
The quality of a violin within a certain price range differs significantly between countries and continents. In Europe, especially Eastern, you can find quality handmade instruments for less than 1000 Euro. In general, you can find many violin shops across Europe in which you can buy an antique instrument for a reasonable price.
If you dream of an exquisite violin, maybe you could consider visiting a European country for your vacation? I can recommend looking for a beautiful-sounding violin in Poland, the Czech Republic, or Romania. Of course, you can also choose the place where it all started – Cremona, Italy.
2. Online second-hand websites
Yet another option is to find a second-hand violin via an online exchange platform. When you find an interesting offer, the best approach is to meet with the seller and check out the instrument in person before purchasing.
Here are some platforms that you can give a try:
- Marktplaats (Netherlands)
- eBay Kleinanzeigen (Germany)
- Allegro (Poland)
I bought 7 violins second hand, including the violin I currently play on, and I really prefer this option.
3. Put a notice up in a music school
A second-hand violin from a music student is also a good option. You will get a quality instrument for a much lower price than a new one. Bonus: probably the seller will add a bow, a violin case, maybe also rosin.
Where to Buy a Violin Online
Online platforms are also a way of finding a quality violin. You may get the highest quality for the cheapest price. There are several trustworthy Internet stores where you can shop and be 100% satisfied. Here are some of them:
This is an online shop ideal if you plan to spend $1000 or more. They sell very nice, quality violins, including antiques. I have bought two violins there, and I’m very happy with the quality.
Every musician knows Thomann! At least in Europe. The store has great variety, ships worldwide, and provides amazing customer service. Comparing products can be your best friend.
Fiddlershop is a US-based company specializing in string instruments and accessories. The shop has unmatched variety and can be very helpful to choose what’s best for you, as it has separate categories for players of different levels, as well as video reviews of their products.
While it might not be the first choice for music instruments, Amazon is a reliable shop for pretty much everything so you might want to check there. If you’re using this option, make sure to check whether the product you want to buy has the FSC or PEFC certificate.
This Canadian shop is totally eco-friendly! They source the materials only from renewable sources, so you don’t have to figure out yourself where the wood is from.
6. Buy from the manufacturer online
Shopping directly from the manufacturer, if possible, is always reliable. Not all brands have an online store but at the very least, they will have a list with their partners so you’ll be able to find one near you.
You can always try buying from smaller businesses such as Gliga Violins (available at violinslover.com and violinslover.ca). However, this is not recommended for a beginner student, because there are several of them around and you should first be able to distinguish the ones that seem better for your needs.
Tip: When you know which violin you’d like to buy, you can search for it on eBay – maybe you’ll be able to get it cheaper.
Buying a violin, especially your first one, is a unique experience. I hope that you find my tips helpful in the process.
Don’t forget to download the Violin Buying Checklist [PDF] to remember all the things you should check when you go to a music shop.
Always remember, your instrument is your best friend through your music journey. So find the best option that is affordable and suitable for you, and start exploring!
FAQ for Buying a Violin Checklist
How do I pick the right violin?
You can pick the right violin for you by checking the following: there should be no plastic parts, the pegs and fine tuners should turn easily enough, the violin (including purfling) should be made of solid wood. Finally, check the strings to see if you can move from one to another easily, and check whether they are not too high from the fingerboard. They should have even spacing.
After that, check the size of the violin, and see if you like the sound – its color and tone.
How much should you spend on a beginner violin?
You should spend at least $100/€100 on a beginner violin. Anything less usually is too cheap, and will not be playable or comfortable at all. Below that price, the materials are of low quality or plastic. The target price for the first violin should be around $500.
If this is your first violin, you don’t have to go and buy the most expensive one.
How do you pick a violin size?
You can pick the violin size by checking your arm’s length. Extend your left arm while holding the violin on your shoulder like you would in a playing position. Your fingers should cover the violin scroll. If they don’t, you need a smaller instrument.
Generally speaking, if you’re an adult, and maybe if you’re a teenager or you’re growing fast, you should pick a 4/4 (full size) violin.
Should I rent a violin?
Renting a violin for you, or your child, is a good option if there’s uncertainty about the interest in playing the violin. If you can’t spend much, this can be very helpful too. Some stores have a “rent to buy” option which in these situations might be ideal.
However, it’s always preferable to have your own instrument and you won’t get the same quality from a rented instrument, compared to a brand new one.