How to Rent a Beginner Violin or Viola

And have a good experience

If you are reading this guide, you have already decided to rent a beginner violin or viola (or are thinking about it). I am going to go ahead and start this off with one gigantic DON’T. Don’t rent from Music & Arts. Instead, look at Shar Music, Antonio Strad Violin, or your local luthier (violin shop). Second, only plan to rent for 3 to 6 months, maybe a year at the most.

Don’t Rent from Music & Arts! Don’t do that to yourself… in 3 reasons

  1. They are over-priced.
  2. They are not a dedicated bowed string instrument store like Shar Music, Antonio Strad, or your local luthier.
  3. Their ‘rental-credit’ program is about as close to a scam as they can make it without it legally being a scam. It’s that bad, truly.

1. They are over-priced.

If you want to rent a beginner instrument, they are the most expensive option of the lot, especially if you are not affiliated with one of their partner schools (e.g. a school orchestra). The table below shows where they come in relative to other online rental programs (if you are on a mobile device, you may need to rotate the screen to view the table).

Table of Contents

If you are reading this guide, you have already decided to rent a beginner violin or viola (or are thinking about it). I am going to go ahead and start this off with one gigantic DON’T. Don’t rent from Music & Arts. Instead, look at Shar Music, Antonio Strad Violin, or your local luthier (violin shop). Second, only plan to rent for 3 to 6 months, maybe a year at the most.

 

Don’t Rent from Music & Arts! Don’t do that to yourself… in 3 reasons

  1. They are over-priced.
  2. They are not a dedicated bowed string instrument store like Shar Music, Antonio Strad, or your local luthier.
  3. Their ‘rental-credit’ program is about as close to a scam as they can make it without it legally being a scam. It’s that bad, truly.

Table of Contents

1. They are over-priced.

If you want to rent a beginner instrument, they are the most expensive option of the lot, especially if you are not affiliated with one of their partner schools (e.g. a school orchestra). The table below shows where they come in relative to other online rental programs (if you are on a mobile device, you may need to rotate the screen to view the table).

CompanyMonthly3 Months6 Months1 Year
Shar Music$18/$24*$54/$72$108/$144$216/$288
Antonio Strad$28/$33$84/$99$168/$198$336/$396
Music & Arts - Partner School$35/$35$105$210$420
Music & Arts - Non-Partner School$45/$45$135$270$540
*Violin price/Viola price

2. They are not a dedicated bowed string instrument store.

They will get the job done; but they do not have the same quality beginner instruments or service as what you will find in a dedicated retailer like Shar Music, Antoni Strad, or your local luthier (a person that makes, repairs, and sells stringed instruments). Shar Music and Antoni Strad provide national service. You can Google ‘violin shop’ and quickly find your local luthier (who will also carry violas). Note that not all local luthiers have rental programs, but they can service your rental for you should it be damaged. The loss of quality of service here just adds injury to the insulting price Music & Arts charges.

3. Their ‘rental credit’ program is as close to a scam as it can legally get without being a scam.

This might seem like hyperbole, but it isn’t. I’ve been working with parents who have $300, $450, and even $600 in credit with Music & Arts, and all three have not been able to make reasonable use of their credit. One parent asked me to find a full-size instrument on their online store to recommend buying with the credit. I did so. When they got to the brick-and-mortar store in our area, they were told a) the brick-and-mortar ‘didn’t have access to that warehouse’ (and so could not supply the instrument) and b) the brick-and-mortar store could not order the violin online for them and still apply the credit (their credit only applies to what is in-stock at that b.a.m.). The parent asked what instrument was available and were told to buy a $600 violin outfit that has bad reviews (the Strobel M-80), a cheap bow (similarly priced instruments at dedicated retailers have way better bows), and that is abundant on the secondhand market for less than half the violin outfit’s retail price.

In other words, they were told to hand over more cash to buy an instrument that is worth less than half the money being paid for it.

The other parents have had similar frustrations where they are being told they have to give up 1/2 of their rental credit if they want to buy this instrument over here or that they outright can’t buy that instrument over there with any part of their credit.

And almost all of the violins available below $2,000 on Music & Arts are bad buys. Most are outfits that come with cheap bows and that will lose 1/2 or more of their value the moment you hand over your cash and rental credit for it.

Rent from Shar Music or Your Local Luthier

Shar Music has a decent rental program for beginner violins and violas. All they do are bowed string instruments, so they really know their product. They are the budget option in beginner violins and violas, as you can see from the table above. While they are ‘the budget option’, the instrument you get will still be well suited to your needs. They also offer the option rent nicer beginner violins (for an appropriately higher monthly fee), if you want to.

Shar offers better rental equity terms than its competitors. If you are going to rent from them, I recommend sticking with the lowest level. The lowest level will give you all the violin or viola you or your child needs to make their start. When it is time to buy, go ahead and buy a nicer instrument instead of doing a buy-out. If you do a buy-out, the best case is you overpay by 25%-40% of the actual value of the rental. If you buy an new instrument, you essentially get your rental and the new instrument for the price of the new instrument – no money wasted!

Antonio Strad Violin is the other online rental option. They paint themselves as up-market and the price reflects that. Their rental terms are also not as good as Shar’s. For this reason, I recommend avoiding them.

And then there is your local luthier. Not all violin shops have rental programs, but many do. If you Google ‘local violin shop’, you should be able to find the ones near you.

Some music schools also rent instruments. Be mindful that you are not over-paying, however, as sometimes folks can be tempted to add in an extra ‘convenience’ charge.

Plan to Rent for No More than 3 to 6 Months

Regardless of who you rent from, plan to rent your beginner violin or viola for no more than 3 to 6 months, a year at most. Keeping the rental period short minimizes the sunk costs associated with renting. If you are renting from Shar, renting for 3 to 6 months can actually be a zero loss proposition as they allow you to apply 100% of your rental payments (rental equity) towards the purchase of a nicer model instrument. Remember, renting at the outset is primarily a risk management thing. Once you know this is a longer-term commitment, you have no reason to keep managing the risk; you are ready to commit. At 6 months, you have still spent less than $200, leaving you in good position to go ahead and buy a $240 to $400 beginner instrument (see here on how much to spend).

The only exception to this rule is when renting for kids age 3 to 6 who are on the tiny violins, 1/8th size and smaller. For kids in they age and size range, it is best to just rent for how frequently you will be upping sizes.

If you are wondering if your child is in it for the long-haul (or longer-haul, at least), ask this question: Do you hear them playing or practicing a couple times a week still at 6 months in? Do they fight you when you remind them to practice (as most kids need reminding), or go eagerly to it? If so, then it is a safe bet you can buy. Same if you are wondering for yourself.

If you don’t hear your child playing or practicing very much any more after 3, 4 or 5 months, then ask them about it. If they tell you they stopped because “they don’t enjoy it” or “didn’t want to anymore”, then there is your answer. Time to send the violin/viola back. If you are the aspiring-musician, you’ve stopped playing, but you know it was because you’ve gotten busy, then you have a harder choice to make. If you really enjoyed playing when you were able to play and keep pining to get back to it, then buying is probably a safe, if not wiser idea.

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