To rent or to purchase?

When beginning an instrument, your first step is probably to head over to your local music store and ask about pricing for rental vs. purchase of an instrument. Odds are they will give you a spiel which includes semester pricing, instrument prices, and a pitch about how renting an instrument offers so much more bang for your buck. Often this exchange can grate against your sense of frugality: can’t you buy a complete setup for a violin on Ebay for less than half the cost?

You may be surprised to hear that instrument rental CAN be one of the very best renting scenarios man’s ever invented. As someone who has worked at a music store and who’s been on the renting end on both a personal and professional level, I have a few tips and thoughts to consider and you choose. Dependent upon where you live and what stores are nearby, opting against the neon orange violin on America’s favorite used merchandise bidding site may save you a world of headaches.

1: Think about what growth your new player will undergo over the course of his or her school years.

Your student’s instrument size will vary, based on the height and arm length of your student. As he or she grows, this will change. A rental program usually will allow you to change sizes of instrument for no or minimal cost, and will usually apply some of the rental fees toward the future purchase of an instrument from their stock.

2. Conduct a cost- benefit analysis of the features offered within a rental agreement.

Instrument rental programs also usually include maintenance of the instrument, and will not charge for usual wear and tear done to the instrument. In contrast, purchasing an instrument (whether from a store or online) includes no such benefits. If your student is prone to be less than careful with breakable objects, you may be in for some expensive repair. Here’s a list of average repair costs to a student instrument- and I know these prices to be a really good deal in my part of the country. (click on the graphic below for the price list)

Repair Price List

The most common issues with first- and second- year instruments usually involve bridge refitting (the bridge is held in by tension and can fall or snap when the instrument’s dropped), and for cellos, getting the endpin repaired.

3. Rental instruments often are of MUCH better quality and durability than instruments available for purchase on the internet.


4. When you purchase an instrument, make sure it’s one that will give your student the best experience for the price.

Instruments purchased sight-unseen are like cars purchased sight- unseen: you may be getting a great deal, but you take a gigantic gamble. Especially if you are considering an instrument of strange color and/ or suspiciously low price, you put your student at risk of high frustration- such instruments are a royal pain to tune, keep in tune, and generally keep together. A good piece of advice if you’re set on purchasing is to find a third-party expert: a teacher or other professional in the strings business to “test-drive” instruments for you before making a purchasing decision- they’ve had lots of experience with instruments and will be able to quickly tell you whether or not it’s an instrument worth buying. If you need someone to do this for you, please contact me. I love test-driving instruments. 🙂

Another option you have is to just speak with a local dealer of instruments. These folks have likewise experience handling instruments, and often if you find someone who deals exclusively with orchestral instruments (read: NOT a band store who sometimes rents a string instrument or two!), he or she will shoot you straight about what features are best for a beginning player. I just spoke recently with the owner of the above store (the link with the pricing), and he’s a great resource on this topic.

As a parting comment, let me just give one final piece of advice in this section about buying an instrument: if you’re looking for a great instrument to get your student through high school and college, please don’t run out and find the most expensive instrument you can afford. Many, many, many instruments will function exceptionally well for any audition or performance your student will encounter and cost not outside the ballpark of his or her first car.(unless you plan on handing the keys of a brand new model to your new driver. Then my advice here is null.)

The key here is the same: find a dealer, maker, or resource who will give you reliable advice and will allow you to “test-drive” instruments to ensure it’s the right one for your student’s age, ability level, and ambition in the field.

In the spirit of supporting my local community, here is a list of music stores around my area which I’ve had interaction with enough to recommend to students. This list isn’t exhaustive, and if there’s someone left off this list who needs to be here, please let me know!

Beautiful Music Violin Shop: (785)856-8755 (Lawrence)

Amos Hargrave Violins: (785)838-3457 (Lawrence)

Manning Music: (785)272-1740 (Topeka)

Dan Lawrence String Instruments: (816)524-8420 (Lee’s Summit)


Posted in Lesson Enrichment Tagged with: ,