Instrument Purchase Guide

String Instrument Buyer's Guide violin in hand
Some helpful tips from the teacher for parents/guardians considering the purchase of an instrument for their child.
*Please note that this page is currently in any questions or suggestions to
Quality needs...
Children learning to play a string instrument need one that can stay tuned for long periods between lessons until they learn to tune themselves (about 2-3 years of study) and that is rugged enough to withstand being carried around and handled in varying weather, on busses, or walking to and from school.  Many dealers and manufacturers are selling sub-standard products that do not meet these needs.  When a child uses such an instrument, they can do everything right and still produce an awful sound.  This is the fastest way to kill a child's inspiration and love of music.  Most often, these instruments end up making pricey dust collectors and/or decorations despite the seemingly low cost.  But when a decent quality instrument is used, students efforts are more successful and consistent.  This gives them all the benefits that studying music offers, not to mention their own personal satisfaction.
  • Real wood grain, not pressed paperboard.
  • Smooth ebony or other hardwood pegs, not coarse and porous balsa or light-weight wood.
  • Meets or exceeds MENC specifications...but be careful!  Some shipped items will require setup by a professional, and not all setups will really comply!
  • Reputable brand names, such as Sherl & Roth, Meisel, Knilling, Amati, Eastman.  If you have a question about a brand, do some research and/or check with Ms. Robbins.  SOME COMPANIES ARE ADVERTISING THAT THEY ARE TEACHER APPROVED...THAT DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN ANYTHING WITH REGARDS TO QUALITY!!  There is a lot of deceptive practice out there, so buyer beware.
  • Return policy...if the company will not stand behind it's product with a full money back return, most likely the instrument is worth less than the cost of shipping it.  Don't buy anything you can't return!
  • Can't I get by with a cheaper instrument until I wait and find out if my child is going to stick with it?
    • Not really.  Cheaper instruments will pretty much guarantee that the child will give up in frustration when the instrument doesn't perform as it should.  Not only that, but most of them won't even stand up to normal tuning without breaking. When first starting out, look for trial and rental programs if a school instrument is not available.  That way you put very little money into it while your child is discovering whether or not it is his/her "cup of tea."  If the child quits, you only paid for the time it was used...if not, any good dealer will apply your payment towards purchase price of a new or used instrument.
Check around
Surf the web, go shopping, and see what's out there before you make your decision.  In these times, even a small investment of $100-$200 is too much to waste.  There are lots of places to look, too.  Yard sales and flea markets can be a gold mine of old instruments that were once played by children now grown.  If you know what to look for, you're likely to get really lucky! 
    • CD Used Instrument Sale is held every September on a Saturday after Labor Day.  Instruments have been inspected by CD teachers for quality and fair market value, and some are usually on hand to answer questions. 
Know the dealer
It's always best to know who you're dealing with.  The vastness of the Internet can be a very good tool, but can leave you holding the bag if you're not savvy.  Below are some links to businesses that I deal with and feel confident in recommending to anyone.  There are many others, contact me if you want my opinions or experience with anyone.
Shar Music
Country String Shop