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Guide to Renting a Violin, (Viola, Cello or Acoustic Bass)

by Peter Zaret

Renting a violin can be an excellent way to enter the world of violin playing. (Also viola, cello and bass). In particular, young students outgrow their instruments quickly, so renting makes sense.

Finding a middle ground between an expensive professional model and an affordable high quality student violin takes some thought.

One of the most important things involved with determining the quality of a violin in this range are materials and method of construction. Neither of these things are that apparent when looking at an instrument. The maple and spruce used to make the instrument should be aged and air-dried. A lot of beginning student violins will have the claim that the wood is aged properly, when in fact the wood is “green” or dried by a kiln and then pressed with moisture and heat to create the arching. Look for a shop that screens out these instruments.

On the other hand many people believe the carving should be done by hand and not by machines. I disagree with this concept. I see no difference in a violin that has some of its parts carved by a router and then finished by hand and a violin made entirely by hand. Stradivarius had students and apprentices who did this rudimentary work instead of modern machines and finished the process by hand. This saves time and in that regard makes the instrument more affordable.

“Solid spruce top, solid maple back, sides and neck…Ebony fingerboard, ebony pegs, inlaid purfling, Brazilwood bow with genuine horsehair…” We have heard these claims over and over again. However, they still don’t guarantee a quality, playable instrument. In my opinion it is more important to look for a good tone and an instrument that stays in tune rather than worrying that the purfling is not inlaid.

The most important things after the basic construction are the set up, the quality of the strings, a metal tailpiece with 4 tuners (tuners added to a wood tailpiece don’t work as well) and well functioning pegs.

The set-up is VERY important when considering a student level instrument. A poorly set-up instrument can actual inhibit the student from learning technique and ultimately turn them off of the instrument and music altogether. Often times instruments will claim to come with a “shop adjustment” when in actuality they arrive with a set of cheap steel strings stretched over a very cheap maple bridge that can be snapped in your fingers.

The strings may also be so high that it physically hurts to play. Also if they are too low the violin produces buzzes and squeaks. Often, when the teacher of a beginner inserts tapes on the fingerboard to show where the fingers are to be placed, a buzz is produced.

Look for stores that use a good quality maple bridge (like Bausch, Despiau, Aubert), a respected brand of strings (like Pro Arte, Dominant, Helicore) and a good quality tailpiece with four fine tuners (like the Wittner). The nut and bridge are cut to a sufficient height so the strings are not too high nor too low and can easily be played. The soundpost should be adjusted for the optimum sound.

I disagree with many companies who discourage the use of a Brazilwood bow with horsehair for a fiberglass bow. Although the fiberglass bow is more durable I am convinced a Brazilwood bow with horsehair produces a much better tone. As anyone can tell, it can sometimes take years to produce one good note. I myself quit teaching many years ago, mainly because I couldn’t take the squeaking and scratching beginning violinists produce anymore. Even more advanced players can produce an inferior tone. Any possible way to improve the tone for a beginning student has to be celebrated. The tapes on the fingerboard improve the intonation and the Brazilwood bow with horsehair improves the tone.

It is always better to go with an instrument from a reputable violin shop than from a company that rents all types of instruments in addition to stringed instruments. Woodwinds, brass and percussion sold in the same store should make the customer wary about their string instruments.

A Plug For Zaret and Sons Violin Shop!

We are constantly improving the quality of our rental instruments and have researched and used many different brands of violins in our rental program. We install a version of our Patented Bass Bar in many of them which gives the instrument a more powerful tone with a much better lower end. (Most rental instruments have a fuzzy tone, brassy lower register, squeaky upper register, cheap strings, breaking parts and a cheap bow.)