The best violins for adult beginners: A step-by-step guide to buying your first violin
“I know nothing about violins, but I know that I need one. Where can I get a violin that’s good enough for learn on, not too expensive, and will sound good?”
This is the question I get most often from new students. Buying your first violin is an intimidating process, with a fair amount of money on the line. Here are some of the most common questions I hear new adult students ask:
Should I rent or buy a violin?
This is a debate that’s raged since violin rentals began. I fall in the “buy” camp, for a few reasons:
1. Mentality matters. If you invest in owning a violin, you will value practice and lesson time more.
This doesn’t mean you should run out and drop $5K on an instrument. You should be able to get a decent student instrument for less than $250 with a bow, case, shoulder rest, and rosin.
Your first instrument won’t be the one you play at Carnegie Hall, but it will get started. Once you outgrow the first instrument you can move up to more expensive fiddles. But there’s no reason to buy a Lamborghini if a Toyota Corolla will do.
2. You get what you pay for.
When you go to a music shop and rent a violin, you’ll walk out with whatever is on hand. These instruments are often pre-owned and likely to have past damage (even if it’s no longer visible to the naked eye).
Local music stores have a vested interest in getting you to rent because they make more money on a rental. The counterargument for this is that X% of your payment is going toward paying the violin off but don’t fall for it. The price you’ll pay to buy the violin after renting represents a big markup over the fair market value.
What size violin should I get?
If you’re over 4ft tall you need a “4/4” or “Full Size” violin. If you are under 4ft or are buying a violin for a child, you’ll need to measure arm length to determine the right size. For the purposes of this article, I’ll assume most adults will be using a 4/4 size violin.
Where should I buy my first violin?
“I’m thinking about trying out the violin but I don’t want to spend heaps of money. Any suggestions on where I should be looking for a first violin?”
Though most teachers are quick to dismiss the internet as a source for your first violin, my opinion is it’s a viable option. Buying your first violin is like buying your first car — it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get you there.
Amazon can definitely be a good resource for beginner violins, if you know where to look. Shar Music, another great music shop, has a good selection with a more advanced price point.
My specific recommendations for a first violin
- Basic Outfit: Cremona SV-75 Premier Novice Violin Outfit (paid link)
- Intermediate Price: Cremona SV-150 Premier Student Violin Outfit (paid link)
- Intermediate+ Price: Cremona SV-800 Premier Artist Violin Outfit (paid link)
I like the Cremona violins because they’re a good mix of quality and craftsmanship at a price point that won’t break the bank — a little more expensive than a “violin” you’d find on eBay but well worth the extra cash.
Other things you’ll need to start playing violin
In my opinion, Hill Rosin is the best all-purpose rosin out there. It’s only a few dollars more expensive than most rosin and will last years (plus, there’s nothing worse than cheap, crumbly rosin!).
It comes in two styles, but there isn’t a huge difference between them in practice. If you want a little more grip on the bow, I’d go darker with the rosin as it’s stronger.
Every violinist has a strongly held opinion on which shoulder rest is the best, but you really can’t go wrong with the classic Kun 4/4 Violin Shoulder rest. (paid link)
There’s also a collapsable version (paid link) if you’re not sure the classic will fit in your violin case, but I personally prefer the original :)
I’ve had several adult beginners pick up this Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Violin Bow 4/4 (paid link) and have been very impressed with the action and versatility.
You won’t need anything fancy for your first violin, but understandably some people do want to spend a little bit more on a case. There are a few levels you can invest in, but even the basic one will do for a few years:
- Basic: ADM Full Size Oblong Shape Lightweight Violin Case (paid link)
- Basic + Stylish: Crossrock CRA400VFTU 4/4 Full Size Violin Case (paid link)
- Intermediate: ADM Professional Sturdy Violin Case 4/4 Full Size (paid link)
- Intermediate + Tough: ADM Deluxe Adjustable Oblong Violin Hard Case (paid link)
An upgrade that goes a really long way to improving the playability of an instrument is the right strings.
Thomastik Dominant strings (paid link) are the go-to for many professional players (click here to check them out at around $50 a set).
These are about twice as expensive as a set of student strings but will improve your sound a ton, and frankly make the instrument easier to play. Don’t attempt to change your strings yourself at first. Take them to a local shop and get them to change them out for you.
In the end, it’s the student’s decision to rent or buy.
Having done both myself, I can only recommend based on my own experience and my students’.
Students who own their violin are more likely to practice, stick with lessons, and get excited about learning violin.
Jen Clinehens has been a professional violinist/violist and teacher for more than 20 years.
She’s studied performance and teaching at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the University of Virginia, the Berklee College of Music, and graduate studies at Belmont University.
These days, her full-time gig is in marketing and advertising, but she continues to play and teach.
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