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Avoiding Low-Quality Instrument Woes


Many instruments purchased from the web and other sources do not satisfy the needs of beginning string players. They might look nice and have an attractive price, but often they are of insufficient quality to function properly, and simply guarantee that the player will quit. We offer the following information to help you remedy this problem:


Beginner’s Needs

Beginners, more than any other players, need three things from their instruments, or else they will quit: 

1.  Easy tuning The instrument must be easy to tune, and should stay in tune.  Tuning pegs and fine tuners must turn easily and not slip.  Slipping or too-tight pegs are frustrating!

2.  Easy playing String heights and other adjustments should meetall specifications used on professional instruments.  No player should have to fight their instrument.  This is most important for beginners.

3.  Good sound This encourages students to continue developing their skills.


Common Problems

MaterialsPoor instruments are made from inferior materials. Instrument wood and parts are available in a huge range of prices, from a few dollars to more than $800 for materials to make one violin. Expensive wood is obviously a luxury, but it is worth looking for a real black ebony fingerboard and pegs, a straight-grained spruce top, and nicely flamed maple for the back, sides, and neck. Similarly, it is worth getting name-brand strings by Thomastik,D’Addario, or Pirastro. Bridges should be stamped with the name of a respected French company, preferably “Aubert” or “Despiau.” High quality composite tailpieces with precision screws are preferred.

Craftsmanship--Low-quality instruments are made rapidly by unskilled workers using power tools on an assembly line. Varnishing is done by spray-painting. In contrast, better instruments are made by better makers, and high-quality work requires extensive training, fine hand tools, diligent effort, and considerable time. Look for real inlayed purfling edge inlay, not drawn-on black lines. Applying varnish by hand is especially slow and difficult, but is worthwhile visually and acoustically. Consequently, properly made instruments are slow to produce and justify a higher cost. 

SetupPoor instruments come with bad setups, or no setup at all. Adjustment of strings, bridge, and soundpost is critical for good sound and easy playing. The bridge and soundpost must be good quality, properly carved, and well positioned. The fingerboard must be planed and dressed.  Good setups are done only by trained luthiers, not by sales staff.  If you buy a cheap instrument with a bad setup, expect to pay an additional $200-500 at a violin shop to make your wonderful bargain playable.



1.  Demand properly made and setup instruments. Good signs are genuine ebony parts, inlaid purfling, flamed maple, and name-brand strings and accessories. Setup should be to strict specifications.

2.   Only consider instruments that can be played and evaluated by trusted people prior to purchase.

3.    If you are sold a bad product on the web, give them a negative review and try to return it!

4.  Look for local shops offering a service guarantee that covers flaws in materials and craftsmanship.  If adjustments are needed, or problems develop, the shop will do free repair or replacement.

5.  Look for local shops offering a “trade-in” guarantee. This means that the shop will accept your initial purchase from them as a future trade-in towards items of higher quality so you can easily “upgrade” your equipment as you become a better player (this is a sign of good quality products, because shops selling poor products certainly don’t want them back).


All instruments sold at Kenmore Violins are properly made and set up, and have service guarantee and trade-in guarantee.