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Shopping for a viola... Some help here?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by neurotictim, Jul 23, 2012.

  1. I'm posting this here because there's way more traffic than in the DB side, but I need some help picking out a good viola for my daughter.

    She's starting 10th grade this year, been playing the viola for about 4 years now, on school instruments. She has great technique, can sight-read circles around me, and was 1st chair all through middle school, though she got beat out by a senior during this past (freshman) year.

    I asked her what she really wanted for her birthday, and lo and behold she asked for a decent viola.


    I haven't bought one for her up to this point, mostly because her and her mom were BOTH unsure whether she'd stick with it once she got to high school. As it turns out, she LOVES her class and is thinking about actually minoring in music when she goes to college - majoring in criminal science, of course. :sigh:

    Anyway, I know she plays a 16.5" scale, and I'm looking for a whole outfit - viola, bow, case, etc.

    What should I look for specifically, what should I look out for (if you know what I mean), what price range is reasonable for a decent viola for a teenager?

    IF she sticks with this and moves into college-level classes and performances I'll consider spending the money to get her a professional-class instrument, but is $300-$500 a reasonable amount for a mid-range instrument for now?

    Thanks guys.

  2. I've been looking into one myself for a while since I'm already enmeshed in bowed instruments :ninja:

    Seems to me that a decent (new) student outfit is going to be more like 600-800 dollars or so. Thinking of quality Chinese makes like Eastman, though there's a few others as well.

    Would be best if she actually tries them out in person, each one speaks and handles differently.

    Good luck, it's a beautiful instrument and a whole lot easier to schlep than a double bass ;)

    Edit: you might be able to buy a used outfit at your price range from a regional music store that rents out decent instruments, sometimes they'll sell them used, I know a few stores out here in NorCal do so from time to time when they want to clean out inventory and update their rental line. They sometimes may not be pretty, but they'll be functional. A good sounding and playing instrument will keep her interest better than going for something that's a "bargain", I know how it goes with teenagers, having a few myself........
  3. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I've got two kids in string lessons, going through the progression of sizes on violin and cello.

    Is there a violin shop in your locale? Most of them will let you take out a couple of fiddles for a week or two. If you don't have access to a real violin dealer, places like Shar, Southwest Strings, and Johnson Strings will send out a couple of instruments on trial, typically with cases and bows. They are honest about the origins of the instruments and what they are made from, and they care about their reputations. Typically in your price range, you will get a violin that has been made in China, and given a "brand" name by the shop that imports it.

    Shar has sent us both new and used violins on trial.

    Avoid general-purpose music stores. They don't know how to set up stringed instruments and typically sell junk.
  4. Thanks for the replies.

    The biggest problem with letting her try them out first is that she lives approximately 500 miles from me... So yeah... Plus, from what I understand the school viola(s) she's been using are rather far from top-quality. She'd be happy (and I quote) "without glue all over the fingerboard from the first year students' tape."

    I DO have a local mom n' pop that does rentals and whatnot - (free shill for Moe's Music!) - and I plan on dropping by in the next week or two, seeing what Chuck can do for me. I don't mind used, and I don't mind if it's made in China - maybe once upon a time I did, but when I stop to think about Laklands, Brubakers, SX, and the many other quality imports we're seeing, I think it's just a matter of avoiding duds.

    I'll hit up those sites, fdeck - thanks.

    Any other advice, folks?
  5. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Does your daughter have a private teacher? I know it's expensive, but if there's any way you can float it, it's a wonderful gift. Also, it depends on your daughter's school district, some can afford to provide one-on-one instruction, and some can't.

    Also, if she ever gets the bug... switching from a string instrument to electric bass is a snap.
  6. For that budget you will not get much for your daughter. Definitely look for used, preferably something made in either Germany or West Germany. There are some "fair" chinese instruments out there, but the odds of ending up with one sight unseen and knowing nothing about "violins" make it quite unlikely that you will end up with a serviceable instrument.

    The budget you have won't realistically buy you much - not really even a decent bow. Scour your Craigslist for instruments, it's probably your best bet, particularly since you are looking for a larger sized viola. Most stores (Shar included) sell overpriced chinese instruments which won't stand up to school use, they really are disposable instruments, poorly made and overpriced. If it says Germany or W Germany, looks cosmetically good - nothing cracked or obviously repaired, and has a solid and clean case, go for it. Odds are it will need a new bridge fitted and the bow rehaired. Find out where the pro's go and have it done there - not your local do it all repair guy. It takes a skilled individual to do it right and doing it wrong is so easy.

    Good luck, you have a difficult search ahead of you.

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