I answered some violin-purchasing questions for a student of mine, and I thought I would share the answers for your benefit.
1. Would I look weird if I brought my shoulder rest when “trying on” each violin?
It wouldn’t look weird at all. Very little looks weird in a music store when it comes to music or instruments. You’ll have a lot of instruments to try so you’ll probably get tired of taking it on and off and will probably just go without to hear the sound of each. Then when you start narrowing it down you’ll probably put the shoulder rest back on to get a better sense of the violin.
2. I’m assuming I get to play a little on each violin. Is that correct?
Yep, play on each string to see how the violin sounds for each of them. Play all the fingers on all the strings. Play a quick song or scale you are very familiar with, preferably using most or all strings. (On a good violin, playing is easy and it makes you want to keep playing. To me that’s the sign of the right violin.)
3. Would the chin rest be considered an accessory? The one I am renting now has an elevated chin rest which I like. Could I buy one of them or do I need to use the one that comes with the violin? I want to know if the chin rest that comes with the violin should be a part of my purchasing decision or is it disposable.
Every violin is slightly different and since they are from different countries, time periods and makers, they are all going to be slightly different. For example the neck on mine is a little slimmer and the violin is lighter overall. Some bodies are slightly thicker than others. Different violins require different chin rests because of this. That being said the chin rest is something every violinist modifies and you may not get it on the first try. The Wittner center chin rest you are using has different heights so it would be smart to buy one and try out the various height options on the new violin. But yes, don’t consider it on the purchase decision.
4. I’m going to assume that the strings that come with the violin are basic. Do you recommend I also purchase new strings?
Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re old, sometimes they’re new. On a new violin you’ll typically have new average-level strings but on a used violins your strings might be ancient. Ask the employee at the shop. I do recommend getting the warranty at Sam Ash because it includes a set-up of the violin and you can bring you violin for any damages for I believe the first year, and it’s pretty cheap. Up to you though.
5. Any other advice?
Start with the best violin there and then work your way down to your price range so that you know what “good” sounds like. Look for similar qualities in the violins in your price range. The best violin is usually but not always the most expensive one. Sometimes you find a really nice one for cheaper. Also the sound you are looking for is what YOU like, not necessarily what someone else would consider is the best. Two great violins can have two totally different sounds. It’s about what you like and want. I like warm, deep, rich, complex and rounded sounds. Some people like brighter, clear sounds that project more. You can get one with an older sound, or a cleaner sound, or a silvery tone, or a “woodsy” tone. It’s whatever feels good to you. When you’re playing it, you should want to keep playing it.
Lastly, don’t worry about how it looks but do be aware of any damage that has or hasn’t been repaired. New or used is irrelevant except for that. If it’s a repaired damage you have to decide if it’s worth it. Some cracks aren’t that big of a deal, whereas some are, depending on their size and placement, and if they’re going to grow or distort your sound. Sometimes you can get a good discount because of repaired damage, but sometimes even that is not worth it.