Grace Notes: Buying a violin

Over the last few years, I’ve started to notice that my violin hasn’t always been able to do everything that I was trying to play. This summer I eventually decided (with some encouragement and help from my parents) to begin to look for a new violin.

I was home for just over two months and so we ended up going to a lot of violin shops in a pretty short place of time. I owe a big thanks to my dad especially, for all the driving and listening to endless violins. Everyone who worked in all of the various shops were great and really helpful, especially as when we started looking I had no idea what I wanted except something ‘louder’. The more violins I tried, the better idea I had of what I actually wanted, so by the end I had gotten pretty good at knowing when a particular violin wasn’t for me.

I am really happy with the instrument I’ve ended up with, and hopefully I won’t have to go through buying another instrument for a long while. But, if or when I have to do it again, there are a few key things that I’ve learnt:

1. It doesn’t matter if you don’t immediately know what you want, the more you try the more you will learn.

2. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t like a particular violin, even if you think you should. So long as you are polite and just say that that one isn’t for you, you’ll be fine.

3. The best way to really know if the violin is for you is to take it home and try it in a familiar space, so you already know what the acoustics will be like.

4. You don’t have to play pieces to test it, sometimes just playing long loud and quiet sounds really exposes what the instrument is like.

5. Don’t be scared to really play out in the shop. No-one is going to judge you if you miss a few shifts or play slightly out of tune.

6. I found it helpful to keep going back to my own violin, as then I could really get some perspective on how much better the one I was playing on was.

7. Ask questions and find out as much as you can, because then you’ll be able to ask for something similar in the next place you look.

8. I found it really helpful having another pair of ears (my Dad) listening as I was trying them. It was really interesting and helpful to get his opinion about what the instrument sounded like when it wasn’t directly under your ear.

9. Just because a violin is slightly cheaper than the range you were thinking of, doesn’t mean that it’s less good.

After about two months of trying violins, Dad and I were in Scotland, staying with my grandparents before a hiking trip. We decided to have a day in Edinburgh and made a quick visit to Stringers just to see what they had. As it turned out they had a number of violins by a Scottish maker Paul Bowers, one of which I was very taken with. I ended up borrowing it and taking it back to Cardiff, and after another few trial weeks decided I loved it and bought it.


My new violin!

Having had three weeks back in Sweden playing on it every day I’m still very pleased with it. The difference it makes is astounding and I couldn’t be happier.