The darling of classical composers, the wailing wonder of bluegrass wizardry, the mythically famed favorite instrument of the Devil himself, the violin has no shortage of pedigree.
First invented way back in 16th century Italy, the violin has ingrained itself as an essential part of Western musical heritage for hundreds of years. From classical symphonies to pop quartets, the violin seems to have an endless number of roles, from riveting lead lines to mournful accompaniments. Even in an age of electronic music and high wattage amplifiers, playing the age-old violin well remains an impressive feat of musical prowess. Just take a listen to any world class violin player and you’ll hear within a few notes why this beautiful instrument has retained such incredible popularity throughout the ages.
Today, the violin is more accessible than ever. Affordable instruments and an internet full of quality instruction give beginners unfettered access to this most prestigious of stringed instruments.
Let’s take a look at some of the best violins and how to pick them out.
Table of Contents:
- I. What You Need To Know Before Purchasing A Violin
- II. Pricing Your Violin
- III. Best Violins – Our Hot Picks
- a. Best Student Violins
- b. Best Intermediate Violins
- c. Best Professional Violins
- IV. Find A Violin That Keeps You Coming Back
What You Need To Know Before Purchasing A Violin
Before we can even get into the specifics of instruments, we need to know two things: size, and price range. Unlike most instruments, violins are sized to suit the player. As such, they come in eight standard sizes. To size a player for a violin, a measurement should be taken with the left arm completely extended outwards. Use a measuring tape to measure the distance between the base of the neck and the left wrist. Violins come in sizes styled from 1/32 to 4/4. You can determine the size appropriate for you based on your measurement and the table below. If you’re not confident in your measurements, consult a local music shop or violin instructor.
The main reason for this variety in sizes is to allow children easy access to practicing the violin. If you’re purchasing a violin for a young child, you should expect to trade in the instrument several times as they grow. Playing a violin which is too big or small can lead to serious issues with technique, playability, and even lead to physical strain or injury.
If you’re a full grown adult, taking measurements isn’t as vital, but it is still important. You want to know which size is appropriate and have your measurements handy to help make the best purchasing decision.
Pricing Your Violin
The price of violins can vary massively. While the most expensive models can cost as much as a new car, entry level instruments can be had for less than a hundred bucks. For a newcomer trying to suss out the best options, this can be a bit confusing. Where on this massive price spectrum should you aim for?
First, you ought to know a little bit about how violins are constructed. In theory, violins all operate on the same basic principles. You might think this means they’d be all more or less the same, but you’d be wrong. The craftsmanship and the materials which go into them make a massive difference in the final result.
Quality tonewoods produce more brilliant and resonant sounds, and well-built, handcrafted instruments resonate better, last longer, and are far more playable than their mass produced counterparts. On the lower end of the price spectrum, you’ll often find compromises being taken with both materials and craftsmanship. Cheap plastic parts will be used in place of more expensive but better-sounding options like bone, and mass produced parts will never be assembled or crafted with the love and care of a skilled luthier. This creates the massive disparity in price among the cheapest and most expensive violins.
For exactly this reasons, violins tend to be broken up into three categories based on price range. When we look at some models below, we’ll split them up based on these price ranges. These classifications are a bit rough. They’re not precisely defined within a fixed range, but they give you a general ballpark on what you’re getting. To break them down for you:
- Student Violins (~$100-$500): Student violins are the cheapest variety of violin. They typically incorporate plastic parts and are mass produced in huge volume. While not exactly concert-worthy instruments, some of these are actually quite impressive. They offer the most affordable way to experiment with the violin and are the ideal place for beginners to start.
- Intermediate Violins (~$500-$1,500): If you’ve cut your teeth on a student violin and want something a little more impressive — perhaps something worthy of gigging and recording — intermediate violins are an excellent way to do so without selling your soul to get a high-dollar professional model.
- Professional Violins (~$2,000-$10,000+): The highest caliber of violin. Handcrafted by luthiers using only the finest tonewoods with the most beautiful grains. Often decorated with elegant woodwork. Designed for optimal playability, projection, and a leading role in the symphony.
Best Violins – Our Hot Picks
Now that you have a basic primer on buying a violin, let’s take a look at a few selections from each of our three price ranges.
Best Student Violins
For less than two hundred bucks, this Stentor is ready to get you playing. While it is certainly a violin built with cost-cutting in mind, Stentor has done a good job of offering a very playable and decent sounding instrument at a price that won’t turn off a beginner with a budget. With a carved solid spruce top complimented by maple sides and back, this is a violin crafted with the same sorts of tonewoods you’d find in much more expensive models, albeit of a lower quality.
This is a great starter instrument. It’s well-built enough to produce a decent sound and also be capable of taking a fall or a hit and keep on playing. Plus, it’s cheap enough that you don’t have to worry about dinging or scratching it.
You also get a horse hair bow, violin strap, and light canvas carrying case with purchase. Everything you need to get playing!
In this outfit designed for the student violinist, Kennedy Violins has included everything you need to get tuned up and playing along to the included lessons. Most importantly is the Bunnel Premier Student Violin. Crafted with a solid spruce top and a solid maple back, equipped with ebony fittings, and assembled by Kennedy Violins’ luthiers in Washington State.
The violin is advertised as being completely ready to play as soon as you take it out of the included hard shell case. While this isn’t something any instrument manufacturer can really guarantee every time, Kennedy Violins has done a good job at making an instrument that can generally get to beginners in playable condition.
While it is definitely a budget violin that incorporates some cheap parts, there is a lot to like from the Bunnel Premium. It’s a good student instrument. Paired with the included goodies like violin bow, hard shell case, tuner, and instructional material, it’s quite a bargain at under three hundred bucks.
Best Intermediate Violins
Another excellent outfit from Kennedy Violins, the Louis Carpini is targeted at intermediate or high-end beginner players. While not quite as fancy as a multi-thousand dollar professional model, the Louis Carpini manages to do quite a lot for around five hundred bucks. It offers a nice tone well suited to many hours worth of inspiring practice or even capable of sitting nicely with an orchestra during a live concert.
Certainly a step up from the student violins we looked at above, for your extra coin you get some nifty features such as a hand-carved, custom-fitted French Aubert maple bridge. The violin’s back is made from a flamed maple, and the top is a gorgeous solid spruce decorated with elegant ebony purfling. One major step up in quality from student violins is ditching the plastic chin rest for a real ebony wood chin rest.
Although built with some mass produced parts, the final assembly and setup is taken care of by Kennedy Violins’ luthiers in Washington State. They also throw a case, a strap, and some extra strings into the deal.
While still quite a bargain compared to seriously high end violins, this D Z Strad 220 takes anyone accustomed to a student violin well into the intermediate range. The most immediate difference is in the sound. This violin produces a rich, brilliant tone and is capable of some real projection. It’s an instrument suitable to play at concerts or recitals, as well as something exceptionally playable day in and day out for practice.
Featuring a top of gorgeous solid Engelmann spruce and a maple back and sides — all selected from D Z Strad’s hand selected stock of woods that have naturally air dried for over ten years — the wood in this violin is sure to turn heads. The intricate, hand carved Rock Maple bridge adds some extra elegance and gives the violin much of its brilliant resonance.
A winning pick for any student looking for an inspiring upgrade.
With a considerable leap in price we have arrived into the territory of serious violins. Yamaha is one of the most renowned names in musical instruments. With their Standard Model violins, you have a series world class instruments crafted by dedicated and skilled luthiers. This is a violin more than worthy of the stage or the symphony pit. It has a gorgeous tone, a brilliantly easy to play neck, exceptional quality tonewoods, and it is all carved and assembled by hand. The top features solid spruce aged for over five years, while the back and sides make use of a similarly aged maple. Fittings, fingerboard, and chin rest are all made from solid ebony.
If you’re looking for a violin at a medium price range that can truly last a lifetime, something you can be proud to perform in public or commit to record, this Yamaha is worth some serious examination.
Best Professional Violins
Although the AV10 has a similar name to the AV7 we just looked at above, it costs about twice the price. And though it might not seem like it for a newcomer to the violin, every penny of that goes into the improving the quality of the instrument. This is a true professional violin. It can sing out beautifully and with enough power to take the lead of a raucous orchestra.
Every part is hand carved and assembled by Yamaha’s top luthiers. Each piece of wood is selected from an aged stock and carefully examined for the quality and beauty of its grain. Like with the other Yamaha we looked at, this incorporates a solid spruce top and solid maple back and sides, each from stocks aged for a minimum of five years. Solid ebony fittings round out the gorgeous look and smooth as butter fingerboard.
Truly an instrument worth aspiring to.
Find A Violin That Keeps You Coming Back
For many players, the violin is a lifelong pursuit. It’s not an easy instrument to master. The beginning stages of learning can be fraught with nasty noises and finger-twisting struggles. But with a bit of persistence — and the right instrument — you can be well on your way to mastering one of the most sought after sounds in all of music history.
Just remember that when it comes time to buy a violin, you need to take a few measurements and set a price range for yourself. Be sure to keep in mind that if you’re purchasing a violin for a growing child, you’ll likely need to buy them more instruments down the road as they outgrow their initial violin.