How to Choose an Instrument or Bow

Choosing a Violin or Bow

Get Involved in the Selection. At Lashof Violins we strongly believe the proper selection of a handmade violin or wood bow must be done in person and with unbiased assistance. We recommend against mail-order violin purchases and, as a result, do not sell handmade instruments or wood bows via mail/internet order. However, composite bows vary little within each model and are available from Lashof Violins for mail-order purchase/trial anywhere within the continental US.

Preference of sound is very subjective between players and we believe no one can pick a violin for you without your input. In over 20 years of experience in the violin business, including some as professional musicians and as teachers, we have yet to find a customer or a colleague who can describe the sound characteristics of a violin in exactly the same way we do. Trying a violin without obligation to purchase is a wonderful option for many players who feel pressured to make a decision within a short time frame and is not a practice that typically extends beyond the violin shop.

Unlike many violin firms, Lashof Violins does not pay teacher or employee commissions for sales. We believe teachers should be compensated for their time and suggest a student compensate his/her teacher for their time, travel, and expertise when asking for help in purchasing an instrument/bow. We believe integrity is paramount and we prefer satisfied customers over unethical sales. (Read more about ethics between violin shops and teachers here: Violin Sale Ethics.)

Selecting an Instrument

Many people have asked us why instruments differ in value. Instruments are priced based on the following factors: who made the instrument (and when in the maker's career the instrument was made), where the instrument was made, the quality of materials used to make the instrument, and the individual instrument's condition.

So how do you get the best sounding instrument for your money? Rentals are certainly a wonderful option for the beginner who may be afraid to dive-in and make a purchase or for those who may find an initial outright purchase difficult to swing financially. Others may prefer diving in and purchasing an instrument of higher value--something they can "grow into" as a musician.

We suggest those in the market for an instrument start the hunt by setting a budget. Consider where you, the player, see yourself in several years-- is this a school or after work hobby? Do you see yourself making music a future career option? Does your teacher have a suggestion regarding your potential and how that translates into selecting an instrument? Determining how much you can or need to invest will help give you an idea of where to start looking for your instrument.

Now it's time to do a little research. Before you dive into a purchase, make sure your purchase is done through a reputable source. Sadly, there are some unkind individuals out there who thrive off privately selling instruments at inflated prices. An individual who is unwilling to allow you to play the instrument or get a second opinion on the item for sale (whether they refuse to offer a fair market appraisal from a reputable dealer or allow you to obtain one on your own) may have something to hide and we encourage customers to always get a second opinion when working with outside parties. Additionally, when purchasing through a private sale, it is also important to consider your future musical interests--you may not have the opportunity to use this purchase as a trade-in, if you were to later require a different sound or instrument. Lashof Violins offers trade-in values on all instruments purchased through our store (provided they remain in resaleable condition; electric instruments and certain special orders excluded).

The rest (pun intended) is up to you! Try out a number of instruments in your set price range/budget. If you have limited time or find the decision easy to make quickly, you might be able to try several instruments out for a short period of time and know what will best suit your needs/playing style. Or you might find the process of finding your "voice" (or instrument) daunting. In this case, we suggest talking with another player--either a teacher or trusted individual. Lashof Violins has players on staff who are more than happy to help customers try-out instruments. For example, once you have narrowed down your selection, one of our staff can come in and, while your back is turned, play the selected instruments in random order so you can get a different perspective on how each instrument sounds. Customers also have the option of taking instruments and bows out for a free, no-obligation, at-home trial (for 7-10 days). With the trial option, you can play the instrument(s) in the comfort of your own home or even at your violin lesson so you can get your teacher's opinion on the instrument(s). (Follow the link to the following article which offers some interesting advice on choosing a student-quality viola: Strings Magazine: The Quest for the Great Student Viola.)

Most importantly, remember it's your money and your "voice"--you are the musician and you will be playing the instrument for many, many hours. Find an instrument you love!

Which Bow Stick is Better: Round or Octagonal?

Many players wonder why some bow sticks are round and others are octagonal. Some players have a strong preference for round or octagonal, but it’s a good idea to be open to both--the world’s finest bows come in both types. From a bow maker's perspective, all bows start as octagonal bows. The first step in thinning and graduating a bow stick takes place when the maker planes down each of the four edges of the rectangular bow blank. As the stick gets closer to its final shape, the bow maker flexes and weighs the stick. In some cases the weight and stiffness of the stick require the bow maker to round the edges of the octagon to make the stick lighter and more flexible. In other cases, the weight and stiffness are good without this step.

So, the answer? From the maker's perspective, the octagonal bow stick is just as good as the round. We suggest choosing the bow that is the easiest for you to play (is consistently easy to control using different bowing techniques and speeds) and brings the best possible sound out of your instrument.

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Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Instrument/Bow Trial Time at Lashof Violins

We often have customers who are excited to make an instrument/bow purchase, but are uncertain about how to audition the instrument/bow. Or some customers begin the process auditioning instruments and find themselves completely confused as to what will work best for them. We have compiled this list as a simple guide to help players in the market for a new instrument/bow make the most out of their audition time.

*Determine your budget and schedule an appointment to come in and try out instruments/bows in your price range. Although we don't require appointments to audition instruments, scheduling an appointment will give the Lashof Violins staff an opportunity to reserve/tune instruments/bows within your set budget and will reserve space for you to try out the instruments/bows.

When we arrange instruments for a customer to audition, we typically present a range of instruments (priced no higher than requested by the customer) and let the customer begin the process by playing the instruments and discussing pricing, maker, origin, etc. after the customer has played the selection of instruments. This approach, letting the instruments speak for themselves, often surprises players because they may prefer the sound of an instrument they may have otherwise disregarded.

*Bring your current instrument and bow and familiar sheet music. We suggest bringing along your current instrument and bow to use as a frame of reference. When trying out numerous instruments and bows, it is easy to lose your focus after a while. Having an instrument and bow whose playing characteristics and sound you are familiar with will be a great way to ground yourself if you begin to feel overwhelmed or just simply can't remember how they sound/feel. Bringing along familiar music will make your audition time about listening to and feeling different instruments/bows, not about practicing or trying to remember a difficult piece of music.

*When auditioning an instrument and bow, begin with one bow and play through the instruments first. Once you have narrowed down your instrument selection, begin auditioning bows with your favorite instrument(s).

*Start Slow. When trying out instruments and/or bows, we recommend beginning with scales or slow, familiar pieces so you can focus on the sound and feel of what you are trying. Play things (scales are great for this) that will feature both the treble and bass ends of the instrument.

*Repeat, repeat, repeat. Play the exact same scale/piece on every different instrument/bow you try.

*Add more complex techniques/pieces. Especially when trying bows, make sure you try faster and more complex bowings to determine how the bow handles for you. Repeat the same techniques on other instruments/bows to see how they compare.

*Narrow down your options. Remove/separate any instruments/bows that don't suit your playing needs, sound preferences, or just aren't the right match for you.

*Ask questions. Once you have narrowed down your options, ask questions about maker, brand, pricing, etc. Whatever history we have on an instrument or bow we will be happy to share with you!

*Ask for help! If you have narrowed down your options and are stuck on a few instruments/bows, one of our staff would be more than happy to come in and play the instrument for you or even listen with our backs turned and offer "blind audition" opinions. Not everyone's taste will be the same for sound, but if you tell us you are looking for a brighter sounding instrument or something that would work well in a chamber setting, we will be happy to offer our professional opinion(s)!

*Take it out on trial. Still befuddled or running out of time? Take advantage of our free, no-obligation, at-home trial (for 7-10 days). With the trial option, you can play the instrument(s) in the comfort of your own home or even at your violin lesson so you can get your teacher's opinion on the instrument(s).

*Fall in love! Find the instrument and/or bow that is right for you, buy, and enjoy!

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