Ways to buy a violin
(or viola or cello or double bass!). What are the options?
Well basically there are five options and each has its advantages and disadvantages. First, you can go into your local music shop and buy from them. I am talking here about a general music shop, one that sells a range of instruments but inevitably will be better stocked with guitars and keyboards than anything else. Choices for orchestral stringed instruments here will be very limited with only the biggest name(s) being sold. The shop staff may have some background in music but that may be any type of music and any instrument (if you were manager of a general music shop where most of the sales were of folk guitars, who would you employ?). You’ll get a decent price, you’ll get to see what you are buying. You probably won’t get expertise as far as the instrument you are buying is concerned.
Second, you can go to a specialist violin shop. This can make for a very interesting day out as you may have to travel some distance (don’t go on a Saturday, the shop will be busy!). You will certainly get expertise and you will get a nice room in which you can try instruments. If you are a beginner you may get someone there who can play the instruments to you (but if you are an elementary player, don’t be embarrassed, they will be very used to hearing elementary players!). You’ll get great service (we hope) and correct advice. You’ll pay top prices but the instruments will be properly set up.
Third, you can go to an online giant such as ebay or Amazon. Read the descriptions carefully, chances are that the set up will be non-existent (ie. you open the box and what you get is the violin as it left the factory, with strings that are likely to be unplayable and, if you are unlucky, the soundpost down as well as the bridge). But you might not – you’ll need to read the description carefully. However if it is un set up, you may struggle to find a repairer keen to do the job (repairers’ time scales can be almost archaeological!). Violin shops want to sell, or they want to repair interesting and quality instruments. They are not usually desperate enough for work to be begging for the chance to set up your £40 ebay special.
Fourth, and this is certainly an interesting way to buy and potentially you could save a lot of money. You could buy from an auction. Most are now online. There are a couple of things to bear in mind though. First, the hammer price is not the price you pay! Second, the chances of the violin you buy being in immediately playable condition are low. I have more idea of what I am doing than most who are buying on a casual basis and I have ended up with instruments with soundpost cracks and other damage that simply was not apparent in the photographs. But yes I have had some very good buys as well. So it's a gamble, but with a lot of skill involved too. If you end up with an instrument in need of repair, allow weeks at least for this process. Most repairers have queues of instruments to work on.
Fifth is a sort of middle way used by me and by some other shops. Internet prices with expertise. We won't always have the very lowest prices (competing with the giants is very difficult) and not all of us will have nice rooms to try instruments in (I don't, and Omega didn't, but they have gone now) and perhaps the range of items, or the price range, will be limited, but you won't be paying top prices and you won't be buying an uninspected instrument but one that is set up and ready to play.
So there are five different approaches, and what is the right approach for one person may not be the right approach for another. Think it through before committing yourself.