Beginners guide tips on how to buy a violin – dealer or online?

So you’re a beginner in violin or perhaps a parent of a beginner violin student. You have a modest budget and are interested in purchasing a 1/4 violin between $150 to $250 for yourself/your child. But you don’t know where to look.

Buy from a reputable string instrument retailer and then make the most of what you have: use good strings and make sure your student cares for the violin and bow to keep them working at their best. There are many local violin shops that give you the opportunity to actually play on the violin before you buy it. You could bring your teacher with you to make sure the instrument is right for you also. Many times violin shops have rental programs that are really nice for beginners that are just starting out. 
Look for a rent-to-own program that actually allows you to pay a monthly fee but all your payments go towards the ownership of the instrument. These work very nice because you can return the instrument if you are not interested in playing violin after a short period of time. On the other side, if you build interest in playing violin, you will eventually own the instrument which is great. I suggest going to a store that specializes primarily in stringed instruments and nothing else. They are the ones typically with the good inventory. You want to find stores that will trade-in the rental instruments for a better instrument in the future.
Good rental programs will allow you to apply at least part of the rent toward the eventual purchase of an instrument, and will allow you to exchange sizes as necessary.
It is not uncommon for teachers to encourage their students to purchase used violins because they have “mellowed out” or been “played in.” This phenomenon is real!
Good violins do get better as they are played, however for a beginning student the noticeable difference is negligible. If you choose to purchase a used instrument, you should seriously consider getting it from a reputable dealer.
Budgeting

Violins come in a great array of price ranges. Unfortunately, if you’re not careful you might be spending more than your initial outlay just to make it playable, and then the instrument will be worth less!
A good quality, new European violin for a beginner should cost around £400/$650 to £600/$850. However, if you look hard enough some quality violins are available at 50% off the retail price for under $340.
“Upgrade” instruments will be in the retail range of $1,000 to $3,500, and professional instruments are generally $5,000 and up.
Unlike other instruments, good violins do not depreciate in value, so buying used will not necessarily save you a lot of money. A good option to outright purchase is instrument rental.
Repairs can be very costly, and are often necessary on old instruments that are found in second-hand markets. If an individual is offering an instrument for sale, you should have someone who is familiar with violins look at it before you buy. Violin shops will probably charge a small fee for this service, but getting xpert advice will save you a lot of problems in the long run.
Expect to spend some money on refurbishing a used violin. Replacing the strings, bridge, and bow hair and making other minor adjustments can cost £100 or more. Avoid Violins with major cracks as repairs can be very expensive.
What and where to buy
There are several options for purchasing new violins: your local music store, a mail order company, a violin shop, or a private individual selling a used instrument.
One of the things you should consider is availability of service. Buying your instrument from a local dealer that has a trained violin repair person on staff is an advantage because adjustments or repairs may be needed from time to time. If you choose to buy a violin from a mail order firm, be sure that service is available locally.
You can get a good deal of value for your money. Of the two violin makes dominating the entry level market at the moment, Primavera arguably has the edge over Stentor with its Primavera 90 model,which retails at around £70*. For an instrument which has been set up and improved you are looking at around £150. Higher-grade beginner models retail at around £175, and a popular violin by Andreas Keller earns its place in this category with a clearer tone than the entry-level models, but is let down by the poor-quality bow which comes with the outfit.
  • Up to £100/$200: Barcelona 2 Series: This violin by Barcelona is made and priced for students. It is a full sized 4/4 instrument and comes with a hard case, rosin, bow, extra strings and a shoulder rest. Priced at $80 on Amazon after a 60% discount, this is one of the cheapest violins for beginners that you can find. The Windsor Full Size 4/4 and 1/2 Size violins are both currently £37.99 from Amazon
  • £100/$200 to £200/$300: Cremona SV-175 Premier Student Violin: This model has a hand carved solid spruce top and a hand carved solid maple back and side. It features a translucent warm brown finish which allows the grain to show through. Its ebony fingerboard is fitted with built in VP-203 finetuners. It is sold with a TL-33 lightweight and durable rectangular violin case with a built in hygrometer. Priced below £130/$200, you can consider this model if when deciding on which acoustic violins for beginners to buy.
  • £200/$300 plus: Yamaha V5SC Student Acoustic Violin 1/2 Size The V5SC features a spruce top and maple back and neck made from high quality materials. Each instrument is handcrafted utilizing the same traditional methods as used on high-end violins. Designed, sized, and priced for young students, they are quality instruments that will get any student off to a great start. The V5SC violins come with a case, bow, and rosin.The Stentor Conservatoire model is another attractive option at this level. For a real step up from a basic model it is worth spending £200-£300. The Prima Loreato at around £200 makes an impressive sound and comes with a good carbon fibre bow. Schroetter violins, around £300 and somewhat unusually made in Germany, make a clear and resonant sound and have enough depth of tone to serve a student comfortably up to Grade 5. The Yamaha AV5 and Eastmann instruments are also worth considering.
What to look for in a Violin
Violins are made of wood, and wood is affected by the environment. Because of this it is important to examine the body of any violin (new or used) to make sure that there are no cracks in the top or back.
Wood

Stringed instruments are all made of spruce for the top and maple for the back and sides.  It is the quality of wood used that makes or breaks a violin.  Always look at the maple on the back.
 It needs to have what is called “tiger stripes” (see picture above).  The more dense and pronounced the stripes are, the better quality of sound the instrument will have.  Maple wood which has stripes comes from a tree that was grown in harsh condition, as in the mountains. The tree has to grow very slowly and very dense in order to survive.  Hence, this wood is hard and produces a very good sound.  Trees grown in very favorable conditions are more porous and will muffle the sound of the instrument, no enhance it.
Having said that, well repaired cracks in the top of an older instrument may not be a problem (Seek the advice of a teacher or violin maker/dealer), but cracks in the back of an instrument can depreciate its value as much as 70%.
Examine the ribs (sides) of the violin to make sure that they are not bulging out beyond the edges of the top or back. This happens because wood that is not well seasoned will shrink noticeably when it dries out.
As the top and back shrink, the ribs begin to bulge. Most instruments of reasonable quality do not have this problem, because close attention is given to curing the wood properly. It is also not uncommon to find this problem in used instruments over 50 years old regardless of quality.
If everything else is in good order, this may not be cause to reject a used violin, but consult your violin repair shop concerning repair costs before making such a purchase.
Check to make sure that the neck of the violin is straight. Occasionally an instrument is made wrong, and somehow slips through the adjusting process unnoticed.
Make sure the bridge is centered between the f-holes, then sight up the fingerboard to see if it aligns with the bridge. If the bridge must be off-set toward one side or the other to make the strings and fingerboard line up you have a problem.

Set up

“Set up” on violins is very important. Many beginners’ violins are supplied without much care taken over the set up, and their owners struggle to learn because of this.
A standard “set up” violin includes: proper bridge and string nut fitting so that the strings are a proper height from the fingerboard, fingerboard planing to make sure the strings don’t buzz, peg fitting so the pegs turn smoothly and stay in place, and setting the soundpost for proper tone adjustment, etc.

As a general rule, pegs should be made of ebony or rosewood because most other woods are not dense enough to retain the smooth roundness that is necessary for easy tuning. The cheapest violins do not have ebony or rosewood pegs and are often difficult to tune, particularly when the pegs are worn.
Some music stores do not set up their own instruments, but well-known brands generally are shipped in good adjustment. Many violin shops do their own “set ups,” and work to meet the desires and specifications of local teachers and professional players. Bottom line: before buying a violin, make sure that your supplier has the workshop facilities and the skills to set it up.

Maintenance
Like most musical instruments, the violin requires maintenance occasionally. You should expect a few broken strings from time to time. It just happens with violin family instruments.
Therefore you must replace your strings regularly to ensure your instrument always plays and sounds to a high standard. Strings gradually lose their warmth and brilliance even if an instrument is not played often. Active players change their strings as often as every five months for optimum sound and performance. Students should generally replace the strings on their instruments annually. When changing strings, always replace them one at a time and make sure your bridge does not begin to lean forward or backwards. Most strings have a ‘break-in’ period of a few days before they settle, stay in tune and sound their very best. 
If the same string breaks often, have your repair person examine the violin to make sure something is not out of adjustment. Upgrading to perlon core strings can give a violin a much more pleasing tone, and is often worth the investment. Violin bows need to be rehaired every year or two depending on the amount of playing.
Because the instrument is made of wood and is held together with glue it is very susceptible to heat and humidity changes. The wood of a stringed instrument expands in the humid summer months and contracts in the winter. Expansion and contraction can cause minor inconveniences such as buzzing or open seams or major problems such as cracks. For example, leaving the violin in a car in the heat will often cause it to come apart or crack. It is advisable to use an instrument or case humidifier when humidity drops below the normal range. These can be bought at any violin specialist
When transporting your violin, keep it in the passenger side of the car, not in the boot/trunk because it can get very hot or very cold and cause serious damage.
Rosin is used on the bow to make it grip the strings. Dust from the rosin will collect on the fingerboard and on the top of the violin. This rosin dust should be wiped off with a soft cloth regularly or it can build into a hard unsightly layer which will have to be professionally removed.
Bow
You can buy a decent entry-level bow for around £30/$50, but if you want something muchbetter expect to spend over £100. The qualities to look for in a bow are strength, stability and
flexibility, and to find each of these present to a meaningful degree in a wooden bow means looking upwards of £400. However, carbon fibre bows are now being produced that promote
balance and flexibility while also offering the strength of the carbon fibre. Because of economies of scale and cheaper material costs, these bows start at a little over £100 and even the basic ones play to a good intermediate standard.
The better bows are made of either brazilwood or pernambuco wood. Brazilwood is the lesser expensive wood for a bow and holds up very well. It makes for a great practice bow. Pernambuco is the best wood for a bow and the more expensive. Students of grade 5 and over are often advised by their teachers to look for a better bow with pernambuco being recommended. These bows cost from around £135.
Also check that the bow has a straight stick and when tensioned, an even ribbon of hair.
Most violin outfits will have a case and bow included in the price. For “step up” violins, you will find the instrument, bow and case priced individually.
Finally…buying online
It is the often asked the question by beginner: “should buy a violin online?”. Buying a violin online a risky way to pick out an instrument because:
1. You cannot see, touch or even hear the real thing. For all you know, you could be buying this: