We get asked quite often, “When should I upgrade my instrument?” And, “How nice of an instrument do I need to buy?” There are no easy or set answers to these questions, but there are some key things to keep in mind:

First of all, it is important to note that not every situation is the same. Maybe the player is a beginner in middle school who has never played an instrument before. This would mean that it may take this player longer to develop an idea of the sound he or she wants to achieve. Or maybe the player is an adult who plays several other instruments and thus has a more refined ear. This person might need something better sooner. So, while many people say to wait a year or more before buying a nicer instrument, this may or may not be what is best for the player.

Not all student instruments are created equal. There are many student instruments available in a wide range of prices…some good and some not so good. Beware of the super cheap online special instruments. Many of these appear to be a great deal, but are not actually set-up properly (see our page about common instrument problems for more info) and can frustrate the player to the point of quitting. If you own one of these instruments, I highly recommend immediately investing in a student instrument from a reputable shop.

The clearest sign that a higher quality instrument is needed is when the player feels that he or she is working really hard to produce the sound they desire. As the technical demands of the student grow, the student can outgrow the technical capabilities of the instrument being played. It is like trying to go 90 miles per hour in a car that is built to only go 50. This can become quite frustrating for the player who may get discouraged without realizing that the problem is the instrument.

Be Sensible. Instrument prices vary widely. While we would love for everyone who walks into the store to purchase a $10,000 violin, it is not what every player needs. Assess your budget and your goals for the instrument. Keep in mind that you want an instrument that exceeds your current needs so that you have room to grow into its sound and technical capabilities. You do not want to have to purchase another instrument in just a few months. Also, find out what options are available. Some shops offer good trade-in programs, rental programs, and/or purchase plans that can help you stretch your dollar.

Be patient. When choosing an instrument, the process can be a bit overwhelming. Relax and do not presume you will find an instrument immediately. Go into this adventure knowing that you may have to make several trips to local reputable shops or even multiple trips to the same shop before you find the right instrument. (If this is not an option due to location or other circumstances, purchasing online can be great so long as you are able to find a shop that accepts returns and can give you advice based on your situation and budget.) Don’t be shy! Play the instruments and also have the staff play them. Many times an instrument will sound different to us when we play it versus when we are the audience.

Small upgrades can sometimes make a big difference. If the instrument you are using just does not sound good and you are not ready to invest in a higher quality one, be sure to take your current instrument into a reputable shop and have it evaluated. There might be some simple adjustments that can be made to the instrument to improve its sound and playability. Bridges and sound-posts are quite finicky and, when adjusted properly, can make a huge difference in the sound an instrument produces. You can also potentially improve sound by upgrading your strings and/or bow.

Of course, when choosing to play an instrument, the cost of the instrument will be one of the most significant factors, but also one of the potentially most important and beneficial to the player. The most expensive instrument is not necessarily the best choice in every situation. A respectable violin shop can guide you in finding the instrument that is the best for your needs.

© 2015 Violin Outlet