The violin, or fiddle as it is sometimes called, is a popular instrument for beginners and experienced musicians alike. It is a very versatile instrument, being used not just in classical music but in folk, rock and pop as well.
The purpose of this guide is to give beginners some idea about what they should be looking for when buying their first violin. This guide will cover, amongst other things, the different types of violin available, accessories that may prove useful and a look at the cost of a first violin.
Origins of the Violin
There are claims of a stringed instrument being played with a bow from as far back at the 9th Century. However, the instrument that would be clearly recognised as today’s violin first emerged from Northern Italy in the 16th century. The word violin first appeared in print around 1540 and the oldest surviving violin in the world is believed to date from 1564.
As the violin grew in popularity, several violin makers – or luthiers, as they were more properly called - stood out from the crowd as being the masters of the craft. Even today, violins by Antonio Stradavari and Gionvanni Battista Guadagnini are much sought after, although with price tags in the millions of pounds, they are out of reach to all but the richest musicians or investors.
What to Look For When Buying a Violin
There are many different things to look for when first buying a violin. For the purposes of this buying guide, it will be presumed that the buyer is a beginner to violin playing and is looking for a reasonably priced, easy to play instrument. What follows is a list of the main considerations that should form a good starting point for anyone researching the purchase of a beginner’s violin.
The first thing to consider is the size of violin required. Because it is a very popular first instrument for children, violins are available to purchase in a wide range of sizes. The smallest violin available is 1/32 size, 13 inches long and is suitable for a child of 3. Violins of increasing sizes are available, with the most commonly available being ¼, ½ and ¾ sizes. Other sizes are less commonly available but can be sought out if necessary.
It’s important for both comfort and ease that the musician is playing the correct size of instrument – too big and they won’t be able to reach the correct fingering positions and too small will lead to the player being hunched over, making it uncomfortable to play. The size of instrument required is determined by measuring the distance between the musician’s neck and the middle of the left hand palm or wrist. This will determine the length of violin needed, and all violin sellers will be able to advise on the most suitable sized instrument for the buyer when given this measurement.
Method of Manufacture
There are two main types of violin – hand-made and machine-made. As the name suggests, machine-made are produced in a factory using machines and, in terms of price, are at the cheaper end of the market. The cheapest machine-made violins will have rudimentary features and will probably be made of the cheapest wood and strings available. Quality does improve as the price rises, but a machine-made instrument will always be lacking the subtle craftwork and individual touches of a hand-built instrument. However, hand-building obviously takes longer and so the comparative price of a hand built instrument is always going to be much higher.
New or Second-Hand Instruments
Whenever buying any musical instrument, it is always worth considering buying second-hand. Many people buy violins and then give them up relatively quickly so there are always plenty of instruments available on the used market. One of the biggest benefits of buying second-hand is that it is often much better value for money. For the same price as a brand new but basic, machine-built instrument, it is often possible to get a much higher quality instrument, the only difference being that the instrument is second-hand. Many specialist musical instrument sellers will sell used violins alongside new ones, and it is definitely worth looking at second-hand instruments as well as brand new when considering buying options.
Most, but not all, violins will come with a stringed bow and hard storage case. But as well as these essential items, there are a few other items that are worth buying to keep both instrument and musician in tip top condition.
Violin rosin is required to make the hair on the violin bow sticky, creating enough grip to make a sound from the violin strings. It comes in lots of different varieties and is an essential purchase for every violin player.
As a stringed instrument, it is very easy for the violin to go out of tune, but it is also easy to adjust the strings to get them back into tune quickly, using the tuning pegs found on the instrument. A tuning fork will help to achieve perfect tuning – simply strike the fork and a set note rings out, enabling the strings to be tuned to that note.
Finally, it is worth buying spare strings and keeping them to hand in case of breaks or other mishaps.
How to Buy a Violin
Violins are one of the most widely available musical instruments and so are very easy to find. They are available in a number of high street stores including popular catalogue-based shops. Alternatively, if there is a specialist musical shop nearby, it’s a good idea to visit them as they may have a wider range on display and will provide the opportunity to actually see and play the instruments they have available. It’s also possible to buy violins from a number of specialist instrument sellers on the internet, most of whom will usually be happy to offer advice and guidance to beginner players who are looking to make their first purchase.
For second-hand purchases, local noticeboards either online on real world can be a good source of options. If the beginner is already taking violin lessons, ask the teacher if they know of anyone selling a violin – often some really good options can be found via word of mouth within the musical community.
It is also possible to buy a wide range of new or second-hand violins on eBay.
Looking For a Violin on eBay
There are always a wide range of new and used violins for sale on eBay; here is a quick overview of where to find them.
First, start by selecting All Categories at the left hand side of the page. From the options displayed, select the category for Musical Instruments. From there, select String and then select the option for Violin from the list on the left hand side of the screen. This will bring up all the violins available within the designated category. From here, it is possible either to browse all the violins available, or the search can be refined by using the options on the left hand column. For example, it is possible to look only for new violins by selecting the box marked New. It is also possible to look only at certain sizes of instrument; for example, select all the violins that are ½ sized.
It is also worth a general search by putting the word 'violin' into the general search box at the top of the eBay page. This will bring up every violin for sale on eBay and will include those that have not been put in the Musical Instruments category.
It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the range of violins available to buy, especially as a beginner. However, by taking some time to consider the main points raised above, it should be possible to make sense of all the options and successfully buy the best and most suitable violin within budget.