Rent or buy?
If you are a beginner, you may be tempted to rent an instrument, since, at first glance, they may seem a cheaper option. However, there are some good reasons to choose to buy. These include:
- Rental rates can increase quickly. A basic level violin ready to play can usually be purchased for less than the cost of a few months’ rent.
- A well chosen and well cared for beginner’s instrument will retain its value and generally return a substantial portion of its purchase price when sold.
- Superior quality violins can increase their value over time; as they age and are played, their sound quality is improved.
- Rental instruments can be a little more difficult to play, as they come with cuts, scratches, ribbon marks on the arm. You are also responsible for any damage to a rented violin.
The basic construction of a violin
In some respects, almost every violin is the same – four strings stretched over a small body, a banner and a whiner at one end, a neck and a carnation at the other. Most violins do not offer the design variations that many modern instruments have, but any violinist will say that all violins are not created equal.
The main factors that determine the timbre and playability of each violin are the quality of its woods and the skill with which it is built.
Types of wood
The type and quality of wood used to build a violin is the most important factor in the sound of the instrument. Most violins use the same types of wood in their composition, the tops are spruce and the neck is maple, while the sides and bottom may vary according to price and model.
The upper part of the violin body is the wood that amplifies the sound produced by the strings. The spruce, which is known in Brazil as spruce, has been the favorite wood for the top parts of the violin for centuries, because they are naturally hard and dense. Its strength means that it can be delicately carved, but still maintain its shape, while its density creates a better resonance than the more porous woods.
The quality of the spruce is a determining part of the price of the instrument. There are several species of spruce that are used for violin. Trees that grow in colder climates produce more dense spruce wood, more resonant and therefore more desirable. The longer a spruce block is aged, the drier and stronger it becomes. Thus, a spruce piece grown in high altitude and tempered for decades before being carved will produce a superior wood.
An additional consideration is the beauty of the wood. The best spruce will have a beautiful flame appearance. Finely crafted violins usually employ spruce pieces beautifully combined with the top.
Likewise, not all maple are created equal. The back, sides and necks of top quality violins are made of well grained wood, which has been aged and carved with great precision.
Other violin woods will help determine its durability, sound and value. The scale, for instance, is preferably made of ebony, but cheaper violins can use the less expensive wood. Some instruments may also have lower quality alloy and/or plastic bundles and bridges.
The quality of the violin finish also usually reflects its price. Finely crafted violins finish with extremely thin layers of varnish and carefully polished between coats. The varnishes contain pigments that give the instrument a wonderful patina color, while enhancing the beauty of the wood patterns.
Choosing your violin
After understanding some of the fundamentals of violin construction, it’s time to start working on an instrument that fits your needs and budget. You can come to some new questions when you find several brands, categories and a wide variety of prices.
What is this Stradivarius?
Antonio Stradivari was an Italian luthier in the early eighteenth century, who, as a master craftsman, manually built each instrument to ensure the highest quality. The design he perfected is the basis for the shape and dimensions of violins today, and the Latinized form of his name, Stradivarius, is synonymous with supreme quality.
But a branded violin or labelled “Stradivarius” does not mean it is a genuine Antonio Stradivari violin. It is estimated that he built just over 1000 instruments during his career, and only about 500 survive to date. The only way to ensure that a violin is a genius Strad is to authenticate it professionally.
Choose a category
In addition to Student, Intermediate and Professional, you may see violins described as Masters or Advanced. There are no clear and universally accepted standards for any of these categories. Manufacturers and luthiers have their own standards, but the ratings themselves can be general guidelines to help narrow your search.
In general, a student violin will be made of low quality wood and will involve much less manual work in sculpture, assembly and finishing. They usually have plastic pieces, such as the screwdrivers and the plaintiff. These instruments are suitable for someone who is interested in learning, but is not sure if they will play for a long time.
Filling the gap between student and professional instruments are the violins classified as intermediaries. Some stores and brands omit this category, only making a distinction between student and professional violins. It is a useful category, however, for musicians who know they need something better than an instrument for beginners, but are not ready to invest thousands of dollars in a professional violin. Students who are advancing in their skills are typical intermediate violin buyers.
The professional or master violins, will be built from aged and slow-drying wood, hand built and assembled by a master luthier, and finished with high quality components, such as an ebony scale. The excellent materials and artistic skills that make up these instruments increase their value and make them suitable for professional musicians.
Remember that any category assignment given to an instrument is a generalization. They are useful for you to start buying a violin, but it is also possible to find a jewel that has an underestimated categorization. It is worth exploring all your options.
Sizes of a violin
Violins come in nine sizes. Adults – usually from the age of 11 – will play with a full-size violin. For children, there are also 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, 1/16 and 1/32 violins. The full-size violin is also called 4/4 size.
There are two ways to measure a size for a violin. With the child’s left arm completely away from the body, measure from the base of the neck to the wrist or the center of the palm. The neck to wrist measurement will indicate the most comfortable size for the child. The neck to palm measurement will determine the largest instrument your child should play.
The following table will help you determine the size of the instrument your child needs based on which measurement you choose.