How To Buy Your First Viola.
Buying your first viola
Choosing your first instrument is tough. Going into a classical music shop can feel pretty intimidating! That's why we've put together this guide on how to pick out the right viola. Here’s our guide on some of the things you’ll need to bear in mind:
Make sure you can take it back!
Picking out a classical instrument is NOT simple, and any reputable seller knows that returns are simply part of the process: beginners might not get on with a particular viola even if there’s not anything actually wrong with it. Ensure that you buy from a reputable dealer who's happy to accept returns within a reasonable time period.
You'll get what you pay for.
It's a bit much to say ‘unless you've got £200, don't bother’, but below a certain price point, you'll end up with something that's less an instrument and more of a toy. It'll probably sound unpleasant, and won't keep in tune. It certainly won’t encourage you to keep playing…
Ask an expert.
If you've already got a music teacher in mind, ask them if they'd mind recommending a brand of viola. Any experienced teacher will have seen it all in terms of manufacturers, so they'll know which ones will:
A. Provide you with a good instrument and
B. Suit beginner players
Try before you buy.
It’s important to get an instrument that’s the right size for you. Whilst violas obviously aren’t massive, size can still make a bit of a difference. It’s a very good idea to try a few in the proper playing position to make sure you don’t start to feel uncomfortable after a few minutes.
Why does this matter? The wrong-sized instrument will usually require you to stretch something un-naturally, whether it’s your fingers, your wrist or your whole arm. Over time, this can become genuinely uncomfortable and stop you putting in the time to learn the instrument.
Check for reviews and feedback.
It’s a good idea to check out feedback and reviews online for the brand you’re considering buying: this is particularly valuable if you don’t yet have a teacher to turn to for advice. In the case of any public reviews, you’ll always get both brand fanatics (who think that everything the brand does is great) and detractors (who think that it’s all rubbish!); an average score taken from around 10 people is usually sufficient. Remember who you’re taking advice from, too: a seasoned musician who spends ten grand a year on instruments might insist that any instrument cheaper than 5k is rubbish, but that doesn’t really help a beginner!
Check the tuning pegs.
One quick way to check if the instrument is good enough is to have a look at the tuning pegs: you can get a lot of insight by seeing how well they’re fitted. Ensure that the pegs slot comfortably: if they’re either immovable or keep slipping, look elsewhere.
Remember that classical instruments tend to hold their value.
It’s worth noting that you aren’t stuck with your viola for life. If, a few months down the road, you think that you might want to try something a bit different, that’s fine. As long as you look after your first instrument and ensure that you don’t overpay for it initially, you’ll usually be able to sell it on for about the same price.
Go old if you want – but be careful.
There’s definitely something appealing about buying an older instrument: they have a certain amount of charm and there’s definitely something very cool about having an instrument that’s already seen a lot of stages. However, it’s important to carry out a lot of checks: being older means that instruments are also old enough to have developed problems: warped woods, open seams, cracks, etc. As ever, ask a luthier to take a look if you’re unsure about it.