A violin is a timeless instrument. If carefully maintained, it can last for generations and still produce a rich, beautiful sound.
But if you are a beginning student, finding the perfect violin can seem overwhelming. You might not feel comfortable purchasing a professional instrument, and you probably don’t have the budget to invest thousands of dollars into a hobby you haven’t fully mastered.
Fortunately, you can often find great deals on used violins at your local pawn shop. The following tips can help you look for an instrument in good condition.
1. The Pegs Should Turn Smoothly
Few things are worse than having to tune your violin every few minutes. If the violin has loose, wobbly pegs that don’t stay put, you’ll have a much harder time keeping a consistent sound.
As you look for a violin, double-check that the pegs turn smoothly but stay in place when you’ve finished tuning. If you have limited options, choose a violin with stiff pegs over loose ones, as you can smooth stiff pegs with peg drops or paste.
Furthermore, make sure that the holes for the strings run through the pegs and that the holes sit consistently on all four pegs.
2. The Fingerboard Should Sit Straight
Your finger placement determines the notes that you play, and if you have a crooked fingerboard, you may pick up a few bad habits as you try to sound out your scales. Although a luthier can usually replace a crooked fingerboard, the repairs will cost you money, which will add to your violin’s total price tag.
Make sure the head sits straight on the neck and that the fingerboard, in turn, aligns evenly along the neck. The board should also sit slightly above and between the f-holes, and it should make a direct line to the fine tuning pegs.
3. The Bridge Should Align With the F-Holes
The bridge supports and lifts the strings, allowing them to vibrate fully. It also carries vibrations from the strings to the belly of the violin, so your violin resonates and produces a clear, full, and rich sound.
To produce the best sound, the bridge should stand perpendicular on the violin, with tension from the strings to hold it in place. The bridge should never lean in either direction, and its sides should align with the slashes in the f-holes. The higher part of the bridge should hold the G string, while the lower part of the bridge should support the E string.
If necessary, you can adjust the violin bridge placement on your own, though it does require some finesse and skill. As a general rule, you should avoid instruments with cracked bridges or broken feet, as the bridge will be more likely to collapse under the tension and damage the rest of the violin.
4. The Back Shouldn’t Have Cracks
Older violins will likely have some minor damage. The varnish may have worn away, and the sides may have a few small chips and scuffs. Usually tiny cracks on the top of the violin and near the seams won’t affect the sound or quality of your violin.
But if you note cracks running the length of the back, around the soundpost, or on the neck of the violin, you should exercise caution before you agree to the sale. These cracks require a great deal of repairs, and even if you take your violin to a professional luthier for fixes, the cracks will likely reappear over time.
Enjoy Your Violin
If you carefully inspect violins for these problems and issues, you should have no problem sorting the duds from the treasures.
But if you have any doubts about your future instrument, ask the pawn shop owner if you can play a few notes before you buy. You don’t have to have a sonata memorized or play one of Beethoven’s concertos; simply pull the bow across the strings to see if you like the sound and the tone. Your ear will let you know when you’ve found the right one.
Once you’ve found it, enjoy learning to play your beautiful instrument.