Orchestral Instrument FAQ

Orchestral Instrument FAQ

Here are some questions we get asked regularly about orchestral instruments. If you have specific questions about our rental policies, see our Rental FAQ or our Rental Policies page.

Should I buy or rent?

This depends on your situation. If you are getting an instrument for your child who is probably going to be playing an instrument that is smaller than full size, we definitely recommend renting. Here’s why:

  1. Your child will most likely grow out of it and need a bigger size.
  2. Quality instruments in smaller sizes are just as expensive as full size.
  3. In our rental program, 100% of your rent goes to an equity account for the eventual purchase of a full size instrument later on.
  4. If your child does not stick with it, there is a lower initial investment when renting.
  5. As they grow as a musician, they will need to try out higher quality and different instruments.

Additionally, f you know that you are going to play a full size instrument, but are not sure what instrument you want, renting is also a good option because you can build up equity towards a big purchase once you have tried different instruments and figured out what is best for you.

The only time we recommend buying outright is if you are an experienced player and already have a good idea of what you want.

For more info on renting see our Rental FAQ

What do these levels mean?

The levels represent the quality of the instrument based on our assessment. We’ve spent years selecting instruments that we believe are right for musicians at every stage of development. Even our low level instruments are relatively high quality for beginners, and we chose instruments that are affordable for parents and beginners who are not sure that they want to put down a large upfront investment.

Higher level instruments have been selected by our team for their tone, appearance, and general playability. In addition, we will also set-up higher level instruments with better strings and fittings, which contribute to the overall cost as well. For information about specific models or levels, please contact us and we’ll be happy to provide you with much more detail.

What makes one instrument "better" than another?

This question has about a thousand different answers, and there are people who dedicate their entire lives to responding to it, but here are the basics:

  1. Materials: To make a good violin/cello/etc., a maker needs to start with good wood. Older is usually better. Many violin makers will only use wood that has been aged for over 100 years. There are specific patterns they look for in the grain and the figuring. Starting out with expensive, high-quality materials will usually make a better looking, sounding, and more durable instrument.
  2. Craftsmanship: A more expensive and higher-quality violin is usually made by someone with more experience and is usually worked on by fewer people. There are lots of things you can look for in order to determine if a violin is well-made; most notably, you can look at the quality and visual appeal of the scroll and the F-holes. You should also check to make sure the pegs are real ebony and that the purfling is legitimate inlaid wood and is not painted on.
  3. Set-Up: The set-up is the process of fitting the pieces of the instrument (bridge, pegs, soundpost, etc.) to get the instrument in perfect playing condition. This is what most directly affects your ease of play and general daily use and it’s why we insist on setting up every violin here in our store.

What is the difference between Violin and Viola?

Violas are lower than violins, as they do not have the violin’s high “E” string and have an additional lower “C” string. Also, violas at their full size are larger than violins.  However, most of the time when children begin playing viola, they play smaller instruments which are sometimes smaller than a full size violin.

What is a Junior Viola?

A junior viola is just a violin that has been set up with the strings of a viola. We do this every once in awhile to save our renters a little bit of money because violins are cheaper than violas.

If your child is starting to play on a smaller size viola you may consider renting a junior viola because there isn’t much of a difference between a small “true” viola and a junior viola.

When playing size 15″ and up, only true violas are available.

Why does my instrument get out of tune?

There are a ton of reasons why a violin could be getting out of tune. Here are the most common causes:

  • Changes in temperature or humidity
  • Your strings are new and are still stretching
  • Your pegs are slipping and need to be re-fit to your instrument

While these are the most common reasons why an instrument could be getting out of tune more frequently than usual, there’s essentially no way to keep an instrument in tune for long periods of time. Chances are, you are not experiencing anything out of the ordinary. If you’re having to tune with just your fine-tuners by less than a step everyday, that’s pretty standard. If you are having to constantly adjust your pegs by more than a step, you may have an issue and should bring it in to one of our stores to see a luthier.

NOTE: In wintertime it is especially common for pegs to shrink and become loose. If you open your case one day to find all your strings loose, it is no cause for alarm. Simply bring it in to have it re-adjusted.

My pegs are slipping. Is there something wrong?

Most of the time, no. There’s probably nothing wrong. Slight changes in temperature and humidity can cause your pegs to slip and it usually just takes an experienced hand to get the peg functional again.

However, every once in awhile a peg or peg hole can become misshapen and may need to be corrected. If you’ve already tried firmly pushing your pegs in several times and they are still slipping, you may want to bring your instrument in to have it looked it by an experienced professional.

How do I know what size to play?

A good starting point is to check out our sizing chart. However, we still recommend being sized in person by someone experienced if that is an option. Come in to our store and we can do it in about 5 minutes or less.

Do I need a teacher?

If you plan on playing a Violin, Viola, Cello, or String Bass, you will most likely need some kind of assistance, especially if it’s your first instrument. The problem with string instruments is that it is very easy to develop bad habits that can lead to damaged instruments, poor sound, and actual physical problems (arthritis, carpel tunnel, etc.). Not to mention, progress can be slow and frustrating without an experienced guide.

A school orchestra teacher or a private teacher (or both!) will help tremendously. We have many recommendations for teachers in the Cincinnati area. (See our Teacher List for more details.) Additionally, if your school has an Orchestra Program, sign up!

If you are an experienced musician you may be able to teach yourself, but only if you have more than 7 years of playing experience.