String Instrument Buying Guide
Purchasing String Instruments
Consider the following when shopping for a string instrument:
- String instruments can run into thousands of dollars. To ensure you spend your money wisely, it is important to pick the instrument that matches how and where you play.
- If you are certain that you have the appetite to learn, try to pick an instrument that will match where you want to be in 2-3 years’ time so you won’t need to upgrade after 12 months of intensive practice.
- It is important to consider how and where you will store your instrument as climactic conditions such as humidity can cause significant damage if left unchecked. The ideal humidity range is 30-40%.
Types of String Instruments
The violin is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Its relatively compact size means players can start young; the infinite nuances of the instrument mean you can keep learning for a lifetime.
- Violins are available in 8, standard sizes ranging from 1/32 to 4/4. The size required is determined by the length of the player’s arm (neck to wrist). The following is a rough guide:
Reach (inches) 13 14 15 16-17 18-19 20-21 22 23+ Reach (inches) 1/32 1/16 1/10 1/8 1/4 1/2 3/4 4/4
- The combination of spruce, maple and ebony parts is considered the ideal for a violin. If you're just starting out, consider affordable laminate violins while you master the essentials. Be aware that you are likely to need to upgrade inside a year.
- The simplest way to get all the equipment you need to make a start is to purchase a violin outfit. Outfits include a bow that matches the violin’s size, a carry case and usually a rosin.
Violas produce a warm, rich sound that is unlike any other instrument. Larger than a violin yet much smaller than the cello and double bass, the viola represents a rewarding niche within the string section.
- Violas do not follow a standard sizing chart. Viola measurements refer only to the size of the body and range from around 11-16.5 inches. As a rough guide to identifying which size you need, measure your arm length (inches) and subtract 9.
- The height of the space between the fingerboard and the string impacts upon how easy the viola is to play. Where possible, check that this gap is less than a centimetre.
- Avoid using a violin bow to play the viola. When choosing a bow, it is important to match it to the size of your viola. The following chart can help you find what you need. If in doubt, opt for a viola outfit.
Viola size (inches) 11 12 13-14 15-16.5 Bow size 1/4 1/2 3/4 4/4
Much larger than both the viola and the violin, the cello produces a radically different sound to its smaller cousins. The cello must be played sitting down so bear this in mind if you are searching for an instrument that you can play any and everywhere.
- Cellos are available in 4 main sizes. As with all other string instruments, the size you need is dictated by your reach. The following table is a rough guide but know also that the ‘C peg’ should rest beside your ear.
Reach (inches) 18-20 20-22 22-24 24+ Cello size 1/4 1/2 3/4 4/4
- Pay attention to the specifications of the cello’s endpin. Endpins tend to measure between 18 and 20 inches in length, the latter being better for taller players. Make sure the endpin has a soft plastic tip so you don’t damage wooden floors when playing.
- Unless you are on a very tight budget, it is advisable to shop for cellos made from spruce and maple. Due to the way it is played, the cello is usually used in favourable conditions so sound quality should be at the top of your list of priorities.
The double bass is the largest of all the string instruments and is amongst the most versatile. It differs from the other instruments insofar as it is not always played with a bow.
- Double bass sizing is not standardised and, confusingly, a ¾ bass is considered to be full size. Younger players are likely to need either a ½ or ¼ size bass but be aware that dimensions can differ between manufacturers.
- Consider how and where you will play your double bass as it may affect how much you need to spend. For example, if you play bluegrass music in a series of different venues, a durable, laminate double bass may be exactly what you need.
- However, if you play in more controlled conditions and use a bow, then the spruce and maple combination is unlikely to be bettered. If sound quality is your priority, look no further.
Ukuleles (or ukes) have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. Small, lightweight and relatively easy to learn, ukuleles are a great option for beginners and experienced musicians alike.
- There are 4 main types of ukulele, namely soprano (considered the standard), concert, tenor and baritone. Each type varies in sound and size. Choose the uke that suits your style.
- Ukeleles come with a choice of solid wood or laminate construction. With a uke, your purchase should be dictated by your proficiency and where you play. Laminate options are lacking in sound quality but they will be more robust.
- Electric ukuleles add another layer of functionality onto their acoustic counterparts. While they may be more expensive, they can be used with or without amplification so you can match the instrument to suit your set up.
Types of String Instrument Accessories
Strings & Stands
String instrument accessories can help you get the most out of the time you spend playing the music you love. Look out for the following when adding to your gear:
- The type of string you use on your instrument plays a huge part in the overall sound quality. Always be sure that you are buying the right strings for your set up and, where possible, get the best quality that you can afford.
- Instrument stands ensure your instrument is being looked after when not in use. If you gig or travel to practice sessions, look for a collapsible model that can be folded down and taken in your bag.
- Music stands help you keep track of where you are in the song. As with instrument stands, look for models that can be collapsed to a compact size for easy transportation.
String instruments need to be kept in optimal conditions to ensure maximum lifespan and performance. If humidity is a factor where you live, add a dehumidifier to your gear.
A lack of moisture in the air can also be harmful to string instruments. If you live in a particularly dry area of the country, you should consider adding a humidifier to your equipment.
Record or share your latest music creation with the help of a microphone. Choose from a wide range of mics with various features that make it easier than ever to capture your sound.