Sunday, December 1, 2019

Rent or Buy- Which is Best? We've Done the Math!

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins,
Ivana Truong, and updated by Diane Houser

Starting an instrument is an incredibly overwhelming process and we've already written about lessons and finding teachers. Deciding whether to rent or buy an instrument can be another big part of that process. In this blog post, we'll break down the cost of renting, buying new, and buying used and work through what each situation means for a student.

Violins from size 1/10, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 4/4

RENTING is what is most often recommended for beginners, and it can be a good choice. Especially if you or your child are just trying out an instrument. If the violin (or viola or cello) isn't for you, you're not stuck with an instrument to take up space or sell, which can be a huge headache.

Renting is the most convenient option, especially for young students who start on smaller-sized instruments.  If a student begins with a 1/8 size violin, they could potentially go through four violins before getting a full-size instrument! With the cost of buying multiple violins in mind, some parents will get a larger size violin with the expectation that they will "grow into it". But buying a larger instrument than a child needs can actually seriously limit progress and worse, cause muscle and tendon problems if used long term. Renting allows you to easily trade in and size up violins rather than purchasing and selling each violin as your child grows or buying an over-sized violin that will hinder their progress.

A benefit for both adults and children students is that most shops also have service plans that will cover repairs and maintenance for rental instruments. Our service policy even covers string replacements, so call a few shops and compare their rental terms. A lot of shops also have a rent-to-own or a rental credit policy, where the amount paid for rentals can be used as store credit towards purchasing an instrument. If you plan to rent-to-own, be a bit more careful. Some places will have an interest rate added on top of the instrument's stated price or the price of the rental instrument will be hiked up.

cellos in size of 1/8 and 1/4

While renting looks like the cheapest option, in the long term, it can actually be less expensive to buy an instrument, especially if the instrument is cared for properly. The first option would be buying a good quality used instrument. This can be quite a process, as used violins come and go fairly quickly and finding a violin that matches your needs can take a lot of time and patience. 

Unless you're very confident in your ability to judge violins, we would highly recommend buying only from a shop you can trust. A reputable shop will inspect and make sure a violin is in good playing condition before offering to sell it. If you find a violin that you really like for sale somewhere else, ask the seller if you can bring it to a shop for assessment. Make sure to ask the seller whether the strings are new, if the bow has been rehaired recently, if the bridge is warped, and if everything is in good adjustment. If they tell you that something isn't in great shape, make sure to add the repairs to your expected cost. And never, ever buy a hundred dollar (or less!) violin outfit from Amazon, eBay, or another online retailer without asking your teacher or an expert first. We've seen plenty of cheap violin outfits in the shop, and they often cost far more than they are worth in repair work, just to make them playable. After all is said and done, taking the time to look for a good quality used violin will probably cost less and definitely give you better results.

When it comes to buying new instruments, you definitely have more choice. Rather than hunting down and comparing individual used violins from different sources, a shop will have many instruments of many different tones and wood quality that you can try and compare all at once. If you're buying a new instrument, shops will often be able to change fittings or strings to your preferences. At our shop,  most of the violins that we sell (except some vintage instruments) can have Wittner pegs, mechanical pegs which are relatively new and are often have not been installed on used instruments.  (We can install Wittner pegs on any instrument, new or used. The cost is currently $300 for violins and violas, and $375 for cellos.) With new violins, you can be sure they are in good playable condition and you will get more guidance and flexibility in the process. Our new instruments also come with a one-year warranty. Inexpensive used instruments are usually sold "as is" with no warranty. You can be surer of getting exactly what you want, but at the same time, this means new instruments are more expensive. With buying new or used, the cost of insuring the instrument (which we recommend when purchasing violins worth $1000 and over) will also be something to consider.

Wittner Pegs, which we love and put on almost all our instruments

With purchasing both a used and new instrument comes "pride of ownership". Having an instrument to call your own is a source of pride, and this can be especially helpful for children. We've seen that students who own their violin practice more and take better care of their instruments. Rentals definitely have a place in the music world as a way for students to try out instruments and size up, but owning and caring for your own instrument is part of the musical journey and often cheaper in the long term.

So, you've heard what we have to say, but let's look at some cold, hard math. I'll break down the cost of buying new, buying used, and renting a violin for three years.

Rental Instrument
Most of our rental violins are $33 per month so I'll begin with that. That price includes a service plan that covers string replacements, bow rehairs, and everything except complete loss from fire or theft. For three years, that works out to $1188. Since the service plan covers everything, that cost is about all there is to consider. Our upgraded violin rentals cost $53 per month, and most of our basic cello rentals cost $60 per month, which would work out to $1908 and $2,160 respectively.

With our rental program, the value of the first eighteen months' payments (not including the service plan) can be used as credit toward an instrument purchase. That means at the end of the three years, you would have accrued $450 for a basic violin/viola rental and $810 for a basic cello rental. This emphasizes my point from the blog post, rentals are a good option for the short-term, but quickly become more expensive than you think!

A Stainer model Violin from the 1920s that will be set up and used as a
$53/month rental or sold for around $500

Back of Stainer violin

Used Instrument
A good used instrument that is in adjustment with some working strings and a good bow will cost about $350-$550. So, I've used a cost of $450. Used instruments could have some repaired cracks or other repaired damage, but should otherwise be in good working order. I've added in a cost for one bow rehair a year, which is $95 at our shop. If you own an instrument, you also have to consider the cost of strings, and that cost is significantly higher for cellos. But for a violin, adding a full set of Helicore strings with a Steel E for $66 plus tax once a year for three years will give you a total cost of $933.

New Instrument
One of the cheapest full sized violin outfits we offer is the Apprentice Violin by GEWA for $650. Made in Germany, these are pretty nice sounding wood violins, but you'll also have to worry about maintenance and care. With a bow rehair and a new set of strings once a year for three years the cost would work out to be $1,133.

GEWA Apprentice Violin

Handmade instruments just go up and up in price, seemingly infinitely, but our handmade full sized outfits begin with our Grand violin at $1,189, so I'll use that. With the cost of a bow rehair and a set of strings once a year the total cost would be $1,672.

D. Albert/A. Fein Summit Violin

D. Albert/A. Fein Summit Violin

If that was too long, here is a chart that summarizes the cost of renting a violin, buying used, and buying new:

Expenses After Three Years


New- Grand
Rehairs ($95/rehair)
New Strings ($66/set)
*If a violin is over $1000, we would also highly recommend insuring the instrument. That cost is mostly covered in our rental service plan, but would be an extra cost for owning an instrument.

In the end, renting was more expensive than buying used (over double in the case of a $53 per month rental). But, we would really recommend rentals when you're first beginning an instrument and aren't sure whether or not you will continue. And we would really recommend renting for children who need small-size instruments, as renting really simplifies the process of sizing up.

When deciding whether to purchase new or used, consider where you are financially and what you want from a violin, viola, or cello. Is it simply a good tone or do you also want to consider physical appearance? How important is it that the violin is easy for you to play and tune? Do you want more or less guidance during the process of picking a violin? We always like to emphasize-find an instrument that is right for you! If it's done right, buying new or used can both result in great violins that will be played for years and years with proper care.

There are a few other financial considerations too-
To qualify for a rental with us, we require two charge cards in your name. One can be a debit card, and the other must be a credit card. Why? One, we charge the rental automatically on one of the cards each month. Two, many rentals are more valuable than the amount many people have in the bank account attached to their debit card. It rarely happens, but we need some economic recourse if we never see you or the rental instrument again. So, if you don't have those two cards, buying a new or used instrument will be your only option.

A cracked and damaged cello. If you own it, the repairs would cost a few thousand dollars. If you're renting it from us, you have the Service Plan and the cost is $0.00. That is, Free!

Service and Damage: We've all been antsy kids before, right? With our Service Plan, even if you or your child breaks the instrument or bow, you're not financially responsible for the cost of the repairs. If you own the instrument, it's your responsibility. The Rental with Service Plan can save you hundreds of dollars!

We also offer BETTER QUALITY and PROFESSIONAL GRADE RENTALS. These are especially convenient for people flying into town for short-term gigs. Especially cellists. We recently helped one quite panicked cellist rent a nice cello from us after her cello was stepped on and broken in an orchestral rehearsal. And she was flying from London to Minneapolis/St. Paul for several gigs the NEXT DAY! Yikes!

You can find out more about our rentals here-

If you're interested in buying a nice violin, viola, or cello, come visit us at Fein Violins and

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