Master Hand Violin Shop

  • 546 S Main W Street
  • Broadway, VA 22815
  • 630/ 292-2641

    Store Hours

  • By Appointment Only
  • Owner

    Elizabeth Ecklund

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    Selecting a String Instrument Made Easy

    by Diane Bruce

    Many people come into our shop to purchase a stringed instrument. This is good. Many of these people tell us that they don't have the first clue about what they are looking for or how to go about choosing an instrument. This is bad, but fortunately for them, we at Master Hand will not take the opportunity to pull a fast one. Rather, we will educate the purchaser with the following tips on how to select an instrument that they will enjoy and will meet their needs...

    *Firstly, Find a Reputable Dealer -- Find somebody who knows what they are doing, can give you guidance, will help you find what you are looking for, and will let you select instruments to take out of the shop for a trial period**. At Master Hand, we would like to believe we are the only shop that meets this criteria, but we know there are other good shops out there, too. Find one. While it may be nice to buy an instrument from your friend/teacher/relative/cat, you are not going to hear and try a selection of instruments by buying your acquaintance's. Without a reputable dealer, you are unlikely to get the whole scoop on the instrument (history, repairs, etc) or even necessarily a fair price (I mean, does this person even know how to set a fair price??). So, find qualified help.

    *Then, Get Your Teacher's Input -- There are two times you will want your teacher's input: before you go to the shop and when you are trying instruments at home. Before you go, find out if your teacher has any preferences to help you narrow down your search. Does he like/dislike a certain country of origin? Does he prefer new or used instruments? Then, once you've picked instruments you like to take on trial**, it's good to get your teacher's opinion on specific instruments. It will make both you and your teacher happy if he likes the instrument you buy. But if one of you likes it and the other doesn't... just remember that you are the one who will pay for it and have to play it.

    *Think Before You Shop -- Before you go shopping it's important to determine a spending limit (trust us, you will probably like the most expensive instrument you try). It's also important to think about what sound you like; bright, sweet, bold, or dark? Many people come in and gravitate towards an instrument that sounds like their rental (if they like their rental). It's important to know that the best instrument will probably not sound like your rental. It may be nice, but it's a rental for a reason.

    *Find a Well Constructed Instrument -- When you are considering an instrument, make sure that it is well constructed. Check to see that the scroll is even, carved out, and artistic looking. Is the purfling inlaid carefully? Is the wood used on the back flamed and striped? Is the graduation of the top even and uniform? If you are looking at a cello, check to see that it is not laminated. For a more detailed explanation of these characteristics, look at our article on how to tell a if your instrument is high quality.

    *Make Sure the Instrument does not have Significant Damage -- This is one place where a good shop is critical; they should be able to tell you what repairs the instrument has had in the past. In a previous blog, we made an extensive list of repairs and whether or not they are a problem. If you are considering an instrument with significant damage, think very hard before you decide to purchase it. You really want an instrument that a shop (not just your friend) will guarantee.

    *Try the Instruments at Home -- Practicing the instruments at home is usually critical for preventing buyer's remorse (on your part, the teacher's part, etc). You want to get a feel for the instrument and make sure that you will be happy with it for the long term. The only way to do this is by practicing with the instrument. You may also want second opinions, as instruments sound different under the ear and from a distance. You may want to try different venues (your practice room, a church, an auditorium, etc).

    *Make Sure the Instrument is Comfortable -- Finding a comfortable instrument is especially critical for viola players, as they try to find the largest instrument they can possibly wield, but it's important for everyone. If your instrument is too heavy for you (from thick wood, big size, etc), you will get worn out practicing; don't buy it. If the instrument feels too long or short, and you aren't comfortable with it, don't buy it. If it's too wide (especially for basses), don't buy it. Basically, be sure you like the feel before you buy.

    *Finally, Like the Sound of the Instrument -- The most critical step, likeability, often gets overlooked because it doesn't factor directly in to an instrument's value. But it is of utmost importance; YOU should like the sound of the instrument YOU buy. If YOU don't like it, then don't buy it.


    **For tips specifically on getting the most out of your trip to the violin shop to try instruments, read our store guide on how to purchase from our shop. This includes helpful hints such as good times during the week to come in, how long to expect to spend trying instruments and the importance of bringing sheet music to use while playing them.


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