‘When trying an instrument to purchase what are the essential things you should be checking and assessing?’
We threw the question over to Kenneth Cox, violinist and experienced sales manager for Reuning & Son Violins, in Boston and New York:
Choosing a new violin, viola, or cello is an exciting process! Once you have found an instrument with that perfect sound, it’s time to make sure it’s fit for purchase. When planning for a significant financial commitment, it’s important to make an educated investment. Here are a few suggestions for criteria to assess, and questions to ask, as you prepare for a new musical acquisition.
Comfort is one of the keys to a long career on an instrument. Many times I have seen a musician love the sound of their instrument, but eventually find it uncomfortable to play for long periods of time. Make sure that the body and string length is manageable for your hand size. Too much stretching can lead to injury over time. Be aware of the shape and size of the shoulders and upper bouts of the instrument. Can you comfortably reach upper positions without changing your approach to shifting? Players can typically adapt quickly to small changes in size from their previous instrument, but be prepared for a longer adjustment period if you are purchasing something of significantly different size.
The condition of an instrument is a key factor in determining its value. Antique instruments are often preferred by performers, but time inevitably takes its toll with accidents and wear. Ask the seller to go over the condition with you in detail. Are all of the key parts (top, back, ribs, and scroll) of the instrument original? What repairs have been done? If you have a qualified and independent luthier as a resource, ask the seller if you may bring the instrument to them for a second opinion. Another set of eyes might save you from a costly mistake.
Don’t necessarily be afraid of instruments with repairs, though; antique instruments with major restoration are often an opportunity to find great sound at a lower price. Make sure that the price of the instrument is commensurate with the restoration that has been done. As long as the repairs are done properly, they should hold for many years. Along those lines, in the event that a repair fails, what is your recourse with the seller? Are they willing and able to provide repairs for a reasonable amount of time? It’s a good idea to have an understanding of “warranty” at the time of purchase.
Authenticity is of paramount importance when purchasing an instrument. Is the instrument made by who the seller claims? Does it come with certification? The ideal buying situation is one in which the seller personally has the expertise to authenticate, certify, and guarantee an instrument at the time of sale. This level of expertise is rare and only comes with many years of careful study, but it gives the buyer the greatest level of safety. If buying from a different type of seller, ask if are they willing to provide a third-party certificate. Some instruments may come with old documentation from prior owners, but many will not. Remember, at the end of the day, the responsibility lies with the seller to guarantee your purchase. Make sure you are working with someone reputable who will stand behind the sale.
Finally, what sort of options do you have for future resale of the instrument, should you eventually choose to shop again? If you are working with an established dealership, they may allow you to trade the instrument in towards an upgrade in the future. This can be an extremely valuable resource. It can take time to sell a violin, and without a trade-in option you might be in a situation where putting your instrument on the market would leave you without something to play in the interim. If you do have the trade-in option, does the dealership have a good selection of inventory at higher levels? If the seller does not offer trade-ins, will they sell it for you on consignment in the future?
Keeping these ideas in mind, and doing the right homework when purchasing, can make all the difference in ensuring your instrument purchase is a good investment for your wallet as well as your career.
Kenneth Cox is a violinist and sales manager for Reuning & Son Violins in Boston and New York | He brings over a decade of experience with helping string players find their ideal instruments | Kenneth can be reached at: [email protected]