How Much Should I Pay for a Beginner Violin or Viola?

You’re at the point of buying, but what’s the cost? We’ll answer that here.

(Updated April 5th, 2022) Now that you are at the point of buying, it is time to decide how much to spend on a beginner violin or viola. Beginner violins and violas come with four fine-tuners and range from sacrilegiously cheap to around $800. Given how little they sometimes are sold for, let’s start with how little NOT to spend.

Don’t Spend Less Than $240 on a Beginner Violin or Viola

“You get what you pay for”, as the quip goes. Here are some of the things you will have to look forward to if you try to ‘beat the system’ and get a cheap $60 or even $190 violin ‘outfit’.

  • The world’s cheapest violin (literally)
    • Tuning peg’s that don’t fit the box well and pop loose, causing the instrument to go out of (and stay out of) tune
    • A cheap bridge that won’t translate the sound well into the violin (and that may be set up in the wrong place)
    • A cheap sound post that is set up in the wrong place, further hurting sound quality
    • The world’s cheapest violin strings (literally) that can hurt to play on 
    • A very poor sounding instrument with little to enjoy from playing it
    • Potentially an instrument whose proportions in the neck and fingerboard make it more difficult or cumbersome to play/learn on
  • The world’s cheapest bow (literally)
    • Poor bounce or reflex (harder to play with)
    • Poor balance (harder to play with)
    • Sometimes unfinished and rough and abrasive on the skin
    • Cheap wood or a plastic stick that will deaden the sound of the already dead violin

Table of Contents

(Updated April 5th, 2022) Now that you are at the point of buying, it is time to decide how much to spend on a beginner violin or viola. Beginner violins and violas come with four fine-tuners and range from sacrilegiously cheap to around $800. Given how little they sometimes are sold for, let’s start with how little NOT to spend.

Don’t Spend Less Than $240 on a Beginner Violin or Viola

“You get what you pay for”, as the quip goes. Here are some of the things you will have to look forward to if you try to ‘beat the system’ and get a cheap $60 or even $190 violin ‘outfit’.

  • The world’s cheapest violin (literally)
    • Tuning peg’s that don’t fit the box well and pop loose, causing the instrument to go out of (and stay out of) tune
    • A cheap bridge that won’t translate the sound well into the violin (and that may be set up in the wrong place)
    • A cheap sound post that is set up in the wrong place, further hurting sound quality
    • The world’s cheapest violin strings (literally) that can hurt to play on
    • A very poor sounding instrument with little to enjoy from playing it
    • Potentially an instrument whose proportions in the neck and fingerboard make it more difficult or cumbersome to play/learn on
  • The world’s cheapest bow (literally)
    • Poor bounce or reflex (harder to play with)
    • Poor balance (harder to play with)
    • Sometimes unfinished and rough and abrasive on the skin
    • Cheap wood or a plastic stick that will deaden the sound of the already dead violin

Table of Contents

Bon appetit! Seriously, though, if you decide to go this route, you or your child may not enjoy playing the violin or viola because, well, the instrument simply isn’t enjoyable to play. And that is kind of defeating the point, no? Moreover, once you have bought a beginner instrument in this price range, your ability to re-sell is pretty much nil. As you start to move over $240 for an instrument or ‘outfit’ (beginner violin/viola, bow and case), they have re-sell value (at or near the price you paid for it, assuming you didn’t over-pay).

Note, this applies specifically to purchasing a NEW instrument. If it is a used instrument, then less than $240 may be a smart buy; but we’ll talk about that later and elsewhere.

Cremona beginner violin

This $140 Cremona beginner violin commonly found on Amazon might look like a good deal, but my student lost many weeks of practice because it would not stay in tune. The bridge is also positioned badly, ruining its sound.

Don’t Buy a Beginner Violin or Viola off of Amazon

Mostly because that means you are buying something like I describe above, but also because the instrument won’t come properly set up. If the sound post and bridge are not set in the right places, then say bye to the instrument’s sound quality.

Don’t Buy a Beginner Violin or Viola from Music & Arts

All of their stuff is over-priced. You can get better quality elsewhere. And their service is stinky 💩.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Bon appetit! Seriously, though, if you decide to go this route, you or your child may not enjoy playing the violin or viola because, well, the instrument simply isn’t enjoyable to play. And that is kind of defeating the point, no? Moreover, once you have bought a beginner instrument in this price range, your ability to re-sell is pretty much nil. As you start to move over $240 for an instrument or ‘outfit’ (beginner violin/viola, bow and case), they have re-sell value (at or near the price you paid for it, assuming you didn’t over-pay).

Note, this applies specifically to purchasing a NEW instrument. If it is a used instrument, then less than $240 may be a smart buy; but we’ll talk about that later and elsewhere.

Don’t Buy a Beginner Violin or Viola off of Amazon

Mostly because that means you are buying something like I describe above, but also because the instrument may not come properly set up. If the sound post and bridge are not set in the right places, then say bye to the instrument’s sound quality.

Don’t Buy a Beginner Violin or Viola from Music & Arts

All of their stuff is over-priced. You can get better quality elsewhere. And their service is stinky 💩.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Cremona beginner violin

This $140 Cremona beginner violin commonly found on Amazon might look like a good deal, but my student lost many weeks of practice because it would not stay in tune. The bridge is also positioned badly, ruining its sound.

So How Much Should I Spend on a Beginner Violin or Viola?

How much you should spend depends on your situation and budget. The table below provides a decent guide for what is appropriate for a given situation. Below the table, I go a little more in depth into each situation if you need it.

In general, beginner instruments don’t cost more than $800, so that is the upper limit of how much you might spend. In most situations, especially if you are a first-time buyer, $240 to $400 is perfectly appropriate. If it is your second (or third) instrument, then $500 to $800 might be more appropriate. The higher-priced instruments also tend to serve well as (if not be) entry-level intermediate instruments, so they have added value in that regard. But for just getting started, typically $240 to $400 for a beginner violin or viola is adequate for the beginner to, well, begin and get a couple years into their learning.

A quick note to viola shoppers: Expect to spend about $100 more on your viola. They cost more to make due to their larger size and their smaller demand (they don’t benefit from economies of scale the way violins do).

SituationViolin - ChildViolin - Full-sizeViola - ChildViola - 15"+
First Time, Not Renting, Testing it Out$240-300/SU$240-300$300-400/SU$300-400
First Time, Rented, Committed$240-400/SU$300-500$300-400/SU$400-600
New Orchestra Student$300-400$300-500$300-500$400-600
Child-sized, only need it for 6 monthsRent firstN/ARent firstN/A
Second/Third Instrument, CommittedRead Below$500-$800Read Below$500-$900
SU: Shop Used

First Time Buyer, Not Renting, Testing it Out

If you have decided to go straight for buying, then starting low is a wise idea in case things don’t work out. If you are buying a child-sized instrument, shopping the used beginner instrument market first is always a good idea. You can often get nicer instruments for lower prices that way. The drawback is that it requires a little more effort. As I will discuss in my “How to Buy” guide, Shar Music’s clearance section is another great option for savings.

First Time Buyer, Rented, Committed

If you are coming off of renting and buying your first instrument, then it is plain you or your child are committed. It is worth going ahead and spending a few dollars more for the beginner violin or viola because you know you are going to get the value out of it. Remember, too, that what you buy should retain a good portion of its resale value. For those buying child-sized instruments, it is worth looking at the used market, here. It takes a little extra effort, but you can get some really good deals. For child-sized instruments, there is one additional guideline worth considering. If you are shopping for smaller sizes (1/2 size violins or smaller, 13″ violas or smaller), it is wise to keep to the lower end of the range. If you are shopping for 3/4 size violins or 14″-15″ violas, then hitting the higher end of the range is worthwhile.

Buying for a New Orchestra Student

This is a guaranteed one-year commitment. With all the playing your beginner instrument is going to get, it is worth spending up on it. Higher price beginner violins and violas also tend to be better about staying in tune (your orchestra teacher will thank you). You can, of course, spend less if you need to spend less. I am just saying that it is worth spending more in this situation. Shar Musics clearance section is worth a look if you are on a budget.

Child-sized, Only Need it for 6 Months

As I mentioned in my article, “4 Reasons to Rent“, it is just not cost-effective to buy a child-sized beginner instrument when you know you will only need it 6 months or so. Here, it is better to rent. You can do this strategically, however. If you rent from Shar, they give you the option to rent a higher quality instrument. Rent the level of instrument you are willing to buy so that, when you are ready to buy the next size up, you can put all of your rental credit into that higher quality instrument. So, if your budget is ultimately $350 to buy, then rent the 2nd tier instrument instead of the first. Violists will be fine renting at either tier.

Buying the Second or Third Instrument, Committed

Of course, you may not be a first-time buyer, but you may still need a beginner violin or viola. For full-size violins and 15″+ violas, it is worth going ahead and spending in the upper range and probably best to buy new. You’ll get your money’s worth out of it as these instruments will also carry you into the intermediate stages of learning. For child-sized beginner violins and violas, this situation is a bit more complicated (thence my not giving a direct recommendation). If your child is advancing on the violin or viola, spending what you might normally spend on a full-size or adult-size instrument may well be worth doing. However, if your child is still pretty firmly in the beginner stages and not likely to move much beyond that before their time with the next instrument is done, then spending down is the better way to go. Your child’s teacher can help you make this decision.

And then there are kids who are, well, short. I have one 10 year old who is about the height of most 7 year olds and likely won’t break 5 feet when she is done growing. After talking it over with her mom, we agreed it would be worth going ahead and getting a $550 1/2 size violin since her daughter will be using a 1/2 size for quite a few years to come.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This