Eight Questions to Ask When Renting an Instrument

a.k.a. How to Rent an Instrument if You Don’t Have a Clue

  1. Where was the instrument made? European-made instruments are the best choice. Instruments from China or Taiwan usually are poorly constructed and made of inferior materials.* Chinese instruments also have poor or no re-sale value. You want your student to have the best quality instrument possible to insure their musical success. Students will enjoy performing and practicing if the instrument is easy to play.
  2. What kind of bow comes with the instrument? Most students use a fiberglass bow for the first year of study. Choose a bow with real horsehair–not synthetic hair.
  3. Does my rent change after the “Fall Special” period is over? How much of my rent applies to purchase? Do you charge interest or any “extra” fees?
  4. What happens when my child needs a larger instrument? Does my equity transfer to the next size instrument?
  5. Is there a time limit to rent an instrument before you have to purchase it?
  6. Who does the repairs to the instruments? What are their qualifications? Are the repairs done in-store?
  7. Can someone in the store tune the instrument or do minor repairs while I wait?
  8. Can someone in the store play the instrument for you?

* Beware of buying Chinese instruments from a website. These instruments seem to be a bargain but actually need costly repairs to make the instrument playable.

How to Select an Instrument

The first step in selecting an instrument is to answer the following questions:

  1. What type of instrument do you want? Do you want a student instrument or something better?
  2. How much money do you want to invest? For a quality European student outfit (instrument, case and bow) you will be spending from $500.00 to $1000.00. Above the student range, consider how much of an investment you wish to make in the instrument, the bow and the case.
  3. What type of playing do you do? Do you need an orchestral instrument, a solo instrument, or an instrument for playing Chamber Music, Bluegrass or Celtic?
  4. What are your long-range plans for this purchase? For most performers, we encourage purchasing an instrument that will last for several years before an upgrade.

Where should you look?

You should require the following in your search: expert advice and knowledge from the seller, a good selection of quality instruments from which to choose, a trial period, a warranty, a trade-up policy and a luthier to take care of the instrument in the future. These should be your requirements in choosing the place/person from which you buy.

Many people are using the internet for different types of purchases. For purchasing an instrument, the internet is very risky at best. Is it a real violin or a “violin-shaped object?” Can you return it? What if you need repairs? And what if you need to trade-up this instrument in the future? Do you really know if the instrument is what the seller says it is? The most common violins sold on the internet are very cheaply made and already need several hundred dollars of repairs and/or replacement parts before they are playable.

Buying at an auction is exciting and sometimes yields a bargain. However, do you really know the difference between a German and an Italian instrument? Can you tell if an instrument has a sound post patch or a button graft? What will be the price of the restoration? There is no trial period. Let the buyer beware.
Should you buy an instrument from a private individual? This is a very tricky subject. How much knowledge does this person have about instruments? Can you take the instrument on a trial period? Have you looked at enough instruments to make an educationally sound decision? Again, caution is the best advice.

Buying an instrument from a reputable violin shop is your best choice. You will find the best value for your money in a violin shop which has a good selection of instruments, trade-in policies, warranties and a repair shop. Listen to what the sales person tells you. Ask questions. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about instruments. Remember that a shop has a reputation to uphold and that reputation is based on customer opinions.

Please remember that it is very unethical for a violin shop to evaluate an instrument you may be considering from another shop or a private individual.
Our policy is simple: we will not look at or discuss the merits of an instrument that does not belong to you. And we do not allow our instruments to be taken to another shop for evaluation.

How to Audition an Instrument

The two most important factors in auditioning an instrument are sound quality and value.

Sound is subjective. Everyone has his/her opinion as to how an instrument sounds. What sound are you looking for?

Value in a string instrument is based on several factors: heritage (where it was made and age), wood, construction (workmanship), maker (or workshop), condition, rarity, certification and sound.

At Huthmaker Violins, after you have told us what type of instrument you want and what your price range is, we put you in one of our try-out rooms and bring you several instruments. Please bring your shoulder rest and your bow to the shop. Always use the same bow in auditioning each instrument. After discussing the history of each instrument with you, we leave you in private to play them.

Some suggestions:

  1. Play the same scale on each instrument to get an idea about sound. Which one sounds the best? Which one feels the most comfortable in your hand?
  2. Play several lines of music on each instrument. Again, sound and comfort are important.
  3. Try different dynamics and bow techniques to check for responsiveness.
  4. Make sure the sound is well-balanced on all four strings. If you find a difference, tell the luthier, who may be able to make an adjustment.

At this point, we play the instruments for our clients. This enables them to listen more objectively. Instruments always sound different ‘under the ear’ and from ten feet away.

Arrange to take two or more of the instruments home with you for a trial period. During this time, play each instrument daily to learn their personalities. If you study with a teacher, take the instruments to her/him for evaluation.

Outside of your teacher, we caution you about listening to other people’s opinions about the instruments. You should be the person who chooses your instrument.

Huthmaker Violins ships nation-wide, and provides in-house financing. Our trade-up policy is 100% of the price of the violin (less any repairs/restoration/string replacement needed). We require that you have your original receipt. All step-up instrument purchases come with a life-time of tonal adjustments.

Good Luck in Your Search for a new Instrument!

How to Select a Bow

Choosing a bow is a very interesting journey. Like your instrument, sound should be the most important consideration. The selection process is just like that of an instrument, and might involve several trips to your local violin shop.

Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Quality of wood – String instrument bows come in several varieties of wood, most of which may be either Brazilwood or Pernambuco. Both woods come from the same tree. The Brazilwood is the outer layers or newer growth. The Pernambuco is the inner, stronger layers. A good quality wooden violin bow starts around $200.00. Cheap bows may seem to be affordable but they will warp very easily and have to be replaced.
  2. How much money do you want to spend? – The prices of bows range from inexpensive to very expensive. A violin shop might carry bows up to tens of thousands of dollars, so it is important to start your search with a price in mind. A good rule is to spend between 25% – 35% of the cost of your instrument. You will find that bows are like instruments, they each have their own personality and will bring out different qualities in your instrument and your playing.
  3. Round or Octagonal? – The truth is . . . it makes no difference. The makers create a bow in accordance with that particular piece of wood. Stability, weight, strength and flexibility all play a role in whether the stick becomes octagonal or round. There is no difference in the quality or value of either stick. Many manufacturers charge extra for octagonal, but there is no valid reason for this. Which bow plays the best for you?
  4. Wood or Carbon Fiber? – While carbon fiber is a good choice for a musician that might perform outdoors or in an environment that might not be safe for a wooden bow, the truth is that nothing plays better than wood bows. Hundreds of years of experimenting have led us back to pernambuco time and time again. However, if a carbon fiber bow seems like the best choice for you, remember that the carbon fiber bows come in different qualities. A well-made, professional carbon fiber bow will serve you much better than an inexpensive, student model.
  5. How to select a bow – When trying out bows, it is important to always use the same instrument. Keeping the instrument consistent will help you easily discern the differences in bows.
    Try two or three bows at a time:

    1. Play the same scale on each bow. Which bow makes your instrument sound better? How does the bow feel in your hand?
    2. Try various bow techniques, such as spiccato, staccato or martele. Which bow reacts the best for you?
    3. Play long notes, listening to the sound. Play different dynamics.
    4. Play several lines of music on each bow. Which one handles slurs, rhythms and bow speeds the best?

    Eliminate the bows that do not audition well for you. Add more bows to the mix until you have two or three to take home for a trial time. Play the bows in different places such as your home, an auditorium or hall. Perhaps another person or your teacher will listen to you and help with the decision.

  6. Buying Online or through Mail Order – In a word . . . don’t. The old adage ‘buyer beware’ is more true than ever with internet sites. Buying a bow without a performing trial can result in problems and a loss of money. If circumstances demand that you purchase through the mail, make sure that you are allowed a trial period with full return privileges.

Good luck in your search for a bow…….

How to Sell Your Instrument

  1. Get your information together and make a flyer/document with a photo and all the important info. You need to list:
    1. How much does it cost?? (If you need help with this, feel free to come by)
    2. What kind of instrument is it?
    3. What size is it?
    4. What country was it made in?
    5. What workshop/maker? What does the label say? What year was it made?
    6. What comes with it? A bow? A case?
    7. What does it need?
  2. Spread the word on Social Media Facebook-start on your own page. Just tell your friends and ask them to tell their friends Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and the Next-Door app are also great places to put it
  3. Email the orchestra directors at your local middle/high schools. Each school has a website and the teachers are listed, along with email addresses. Ask them to post the info on the bulletin board in their classrooms.
  4. Contact any private instructor that you know and ask them to spread the word.Note- If a teacher helps you to sell your instrument, consider thanking them with a gift or portion of the proceeds
  5. Get creative! Anywhere that people are gathered…. especially people with children….is a good place to spread the word. Churches, Clubhouse at your subdivision, and local grocery stores. Anywhere there is a bulletin board!Note- While you can sell an instrument anytime of the year, keep in mind that the best time to sell an instrument is during the back to school time. End of July to the end of the year is the best time. If you try to market it in April and it doesn’t sell, try again in early August!

Final Note- Unless you really need the money, consider not selling it. You would be shocked how many people want to come back to playing in the future. When they are in college, when their kids graduate and leave home, when they retire….

It doesn’t cost anything to store it in the closet, and then it will always be there when you, or someone you love, decides they want to make music!