How do I choose a quality stringed instrument?
Many factors go into choosing the appropriate quality of instrument for your study. We suggest getting an instrument that is easily playable and tunable that has good tone and quality parts and pieces. Throughout this post we will help you identify traits of a quality instrument to begin your study.
Before choosing which instrument to purchase you need to identify if your instrument is bowed or plucked. I consider the violin, fiddle, viola, cello and upright bass bowed instruments for the purpose of choosing quality and those with frets such as mandolin, guitar, ukulele and fretted bass as picking instruments. Be sure to use the correct category below to determine the best set of questions for your new instrument purchase.
Quality bowed stringed instruments
You should expect to pay between $400 and $1,000 for a good quality student instrument
Be sure that you get the appropriate sized instrument for your body (younger students will need a fractional sized instrument such as a 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 size)
I am a pretty small sized gal at 5'3 with small hands and short arms but I play a full sized instrument for everything except the upright bass for which I prefer a 3/4 or even 1/2 size
BOWED STRINGED INSTRUMENTS
Basic bowed stringed instrument quality questions (see video)
Does the wood have flame (tiger stripes in the wood on the back?) look inside the f-holes (holes shaped like a fancy letter f) to ensure that the flame is actually in the wood (it is if you can see it from inside the instrument) instead of painted on.
Is the bow straight (can you look down the stick and not see it wavering either left or right?
Is there purfling and is it real or painted on?
Check the fine tuners do they turn smoothly left and right
Does the bow have plenty of hair, is the stick wooden, does it loosen and tighten easily? Does the bow have real hair?
Is there enough room between the string and the fingerboard without being too much room?
What type of rosin is included?
Is the neck straight and pitched correctly?
Are there any open seams or cracks? Have they been fixed?
How does it sound when plucked? Does it buzz or wisp out when bowed on any of the strings? (have some one play if for you if you can)
I suggest not purchasing a colored/lacquered instrument to begin on as it mutes the tone and makes it hard to learn to play correctly.
PLUCKED FRETTED INSTRUMENTS
Quality plucked stringed instruments
You should expect to pay between $200 and $500 for a quality plucked stringed instrument to begin with
Most students will play a full size guitar, banjo, mandolin or electric/acoustic fretted guitar style bass
Students who are smaller may choose a 3/4 size guitar or may want to start with a bowed instrument that can be purchased in fractional sizes such as a violin or cello
Basic plucked stringed instrument quality questions
Can I see the wood of the instrument or is it covered in colored lacquer?
How does it sound/ring when the strings are plucked?
Is there a bit of space between the strings and fingerboard without being so much that the strings are hard to press down?
Do all of the frets sound cleanly when I pluck with my finger below them?
Do the tuners turn smoothly both up and down? Do the strings change pitch up and down with the tuners when turned and plucked simultaneously?
Does the instrument buzz or make any strange sounds on any of the strings when plucked?