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Frequently Asked Questions

Instrument Outfits What is an instrument outfit?

An outfit comes with the different accessories your child will need to get started. If your child has never played before, it’s highly recommended that you buy an outfit. An outfit includes not only the instrument (violin, viola, cello, or bass), but also a bow, a case and rosin. If you do not buy an outfit, you will only receive the instrument but no case to put it in. The bow and rosin (both of which are necessary to play) are also not included in an instrument only purchase either.

Instrument Recommendations What instrument is recommended for a beginner?

Almost all of our student violins can be purchased as an outfit. We would recommend these three outfits for a student who is just getting started: the Franz Hoffmann Amadeus Outfit, the Franz Hoffmann Prelude Outfit, or the Franz Hoffmann Danube Outfit. All three of these violins sound great for a beginning instrument, and are priced very attractively.The Amadeus has gone through a three-step inspection process to make sure your child’s instrument functions flawlessly. We crafted our Prelude as an instrument that might allow a beginner to advance further before having to purchase a new instrument. With better quality pegs and tonewoods, the instrument will be easier to tune and sound better. The Danube has everything the Amadeus and Prelude does--quality pegs, quality tonewood, and the benefit of our comprehensive instrument set up--but is also handmade in Romania, so it has a warm, European tone at a student price. Another plus: besides the violin, these outfits include everything your student will need to get started (a bow, a case, rosin). Our advice to parents is to not spend too much on your child’s first instrument, because you want to see if your child will sticks with it. Then, once you know your child will continue playing, you can invest a bit more in his or her instrument.

For viola beginners, we would suggest these outfits: the Franz Hoffmann Amadeus Outfit or the Franz Hoffmann Etude Outfit. These outfits come in several sizes, from 12” through 16.5”. Since we inspect and set up all our Franz Hoffmann instruments in Ann Arbor, Michigan, your child won’t be frustrated by poorly installed pegs or bridges. For expert set up and no frills, go for the Amadeus. If you want a viola that’s a slight upgrade, try the Etude. It’s handmade and finished with spirit varnish, and will sound like it costs quite a bit more. We carry most fractional sizes as well. As mentioned above, purchasing an outfit is definitely the way to go because besides the instrument, an outfit includes everything your student will need to get started.

For cello beginners, we would recommend these outfits: Franz Hoffmann Amadeus Cello Outfit or the Franz Hoffmann Prelude Cello Outfit. Either choice is available in sizes from 1/10 through 4/4. It’s hard to find a non-laminate beginner cello at a reasonable price. That was our goal with the Amadeus. Made with a solid maple back and finished with a durable and attractive varnish, the Amadeus is an instrument you won’t regret buying. If you happen to have more to spend on a beginning cello, the Prelude is a step up in sound and quality.  Because it’s handmade from aged flamed maple and straight-grained spruce, this cello looks and sounds terrific.

For bass beginners, we would recommend purchasing the Franz Hoffmann Amadeus Bass Outfit, which is available from 1/10 to 3/4 (full) size. There’s no way around it: a double bass is an expensive instrument. We did our best to keep the price down on the Amadeus without skimping on quality. Our shop technicians adjust each Amadeus bass and then pass it along to a test player, who makes further adjustments. While most instruments made of solid wood instead of fine laminates will sound better, it’s not a bad idea to start off with a bass made of laminates. You’ll pay less and find that the instrument has the advantage of being less susceptible to damage and cracks.

Cases What should I look for in a case upgrade?

A: For violin students, you might consider the Toshira Oblong Case if you have a child who plays a fractional smaller sized instrument.  Featuring sizes from 1/32 through 4/4, this foam case features decent-sized compartments and is lightweight. (In fact, if you’re rent or buy an outfit from us, we include the Toshira case in your outfit.) This case provides adequate protection for your beginning student’s instrument. When you’re ready to upgrade instruments, you might consider upgrading your case at the same time, but it’s unnecessary at the beginning stages to spend a lot on a case. After all, it doesn’t really make sense to spend more on a case than on the instrument itself.

If your student does stick with the violin, and you eventually upgrade to a nicer instrument and case, we would recommend one of the Bam cases for their durability, protection, and minimal weight. They’re easy to carry, attractive looking, and very popular amongst serious students and professionals. They’re offered in different styles and colors, and you can customize your preference.

If your student plays the viola, the Bam case can also be a good choice for a big upgrade. However, we also proudly carry the Heritage Deluxe Challenger viola case.  It fits violas from 15”-16.5” and it can adjust to fit your viola’s specific size. Once your student upgrades to a higher level viola, this case isn’t a bad choice because it can fit a lot of sheet music, carries four bows, has a spacious compartment for accessories, has a shoulder rest velcro to hold your shoulder rest in place, and best of all, it weighs so little that it’s easy and comfortable to carry around.

For cello students, it would be good to go ahead and purchase a cello case with a shell if your student currently only has a cello bag. Cello cases with a shell (or hard body) will protect the instrument much, much better than a bag. We would suggest buying the Heritage Mobile Lightweight Cello Case, which is lightweight, made of foam so it’s protective and insulates well, and comes with wheels. Wheels really come in handy when you have the option of walking up or down a ramp; you can wheel your cello alongside you instead of having to lug it up and down a staircase. Wheels can also make it easier for a smaller child to take responsibility for carting around his or her own cello. The Heritage Mobile Lightweight case is available in 1/2, 3/4 and 4/4 sizes. We would also recommend the SL Super Light Hybrid Mobile cello case as a stronger protective option. It has a carbon shell and comes in 4/4 size.

For bass students, you will be using a bass bag. There are different options with a varying thicknesses of padding. If you’re looking to upgrade, we’d suggest purchasing a bass bag with thicker padding, although these upgraded options are usually reserved for full size basses.

Strings I need to upgrade from student strings. What strings should I choose?

A: For violin students: We would recommend trying Helicore strings. They come in 1/8 through 4/4 sizes. They’re reasonably priced and are known for their longevity. If you’re looking for even more of an upgrade, you might consider trying Vision Violin strings or Dominant strings. Both are very reasonably priced, and they are available in different sizes 1/16 - 4/4 (although not for 1/10). Vision Violin strings are a popular choice, while Dominant strings have been known as “the reference standard”. While a set of strings won’t sound the same on every instrument, Dominant violin strings are a great place to start exploring more options. All three of these brands are used by professionals and students alike.

A more advanced player might be able to pull a wonderful, nuanced sound out of a string like Evah Pirazzi, but these strings can be costly and more than a beginner or intermediate student might need. For players on a budget, you’ll want a string that will perform well and give a great sound at a reasonable price point. All three of these brands of strings—Helicore, Vision, and Dominant—meet both of those considerations.

For viola students: We would suggest Helicore strings, which come in 14, 15 & 16” sizes and won’t break the bank. We would also recommend Kaplan viola strings, which come in 15-16” sizes, and are priced a little higher but offer a great sound and value. Again, while a more advanced violist would be able to pull a rich, nuanced sound out of a string like Pirastro Obligatos, these strings are costly and are more than a beginner or intermediate student needs to invest. For beginning students, you’ll want a string that will deliver a warm sound at a reasonable price point. The Helicore is an especially good choice because it comes in the 14” size for the student who might be using a smaller viola.

For cello students: We would recommend Helicore strings, which are available in sizes from 1/8-4/4, as a good beginner’s string choice. These strings come in small fractional sizes, and like the Helicore violin and viola strings mentioned above, they deliver a warm sound without a tremendous sticker price. Another popular brand, both with developing students and professionals, is Jargar. These are only available in 4/4 size, but they deliver a premium tone and are still in an affordable price range at under $100 for the set.

For bass students: We would suggest D’Addario Prelude strings, which are available in sizes from 1/8 through 3/4 (full) size, or Helicore strings, which are available from 1/4 size through 3/4 (full) size. These popular and durable strings are great for beginning or intermediate students looking to upgrade to a better sounding string while still being a good value for students on a budget.

For more suggestions or advice on purchasing strings, you might consider consulting your child’s teacher

Bow Options I need to upgrade my bow. What are the differences between your bows?

A: We would suggest upgrading to a bow made out of pernambuco wood, which is a more responsive type of wood, or a higher quality carbon fiber bow. Pernambuco wood is dense and flexible, and it has more springiness and strength than brazilwood. A pernambuco bow would certainly be a step up from the brazilwood bows that most beginners use.

In particular, we’d recommend the Meinel pernambuco bows, available for violinists in sizes 1/8-4/4. They come in only 4/4 for viola, 1/2-4/4 for cello, and full size only for bass. These bows are the starting point in price and quality for pernambuco wood bows.

For an even higher upgrade, we’d recommend the R.A. Meinel pernambuco bow. Its violin sizes are 1/2-4/4, its viola bow is 4/4, and its cello sizes are 1/2-4/4. This bow is even eligible for an in-home trial, so you can find out how it sounds with your violin. These bows represent a great value for intermediate and advancing students who have outgrown their basic outfit bows and are developing a wider range of bowing techniques.

There are also fantastic options from the bowmaker Guy Laurent. Their price range is fairly wide; that said they’re also eligible for in-home trials. One caveat: the Guy Laurent bows are available only in 3/4 and 4/4 sizes for violinists, and only 4/4 for violists and cellists. A Guy Laurent bow will allow for more depth of sound and give the player the quality bow needed to refine their bowing technique..

Carbon Fiber Bows What are the advantages of carbon fiber bows?

A: Pernambuco bows are hand crafted, delicately nuanced, and come from a long line of artistic excellence. Many players feel that they are the preferred type of bow and most professionals use pernambuco bows. However, carbon fiber bows have been gaining popularity and there are wonderful options on the market these days. It’s common for professional players to own a carbon fiber bow as a second bow or bow for playing outdoors. While some players might feel that you sacrifice some agility and bow control when you play with a carbon fiber bow, you do get more durability and strength in exchange. As carbon fiber technology has advanced, bow makers have been able to mimic the springiness and flexibility of pernambuco while retaining the durability of carbon fiber. This is a definitely a good thing. Because the Portuguese and other colonizing nations irresponsibly harvested pernambuco in the past, pernambuco has been placed on Brazil’s list of endangered flora. While most bow makers practice more sustainable harvesting, carbon fiber definitely sidesteps the environmental concerns of pernambuco.

So, if you’re finding that your active young student might benefit from a more durable option (or perhaps he or she has already had an accident and broken a wooden bow!), then you might consider going the carbon fiber route. Carbon fiber bows are extremely strong and durable and increasingly offer great control, sound, and playability.

Our PRESTO Carbon Fiber bows are available for players at a student to professional level. They can be purchased for a violinist in sizes from 1/4-4/4. For violists, we carry sizes 1/2-4/4. Cellists will find options from 1/4-4/4 sizes, and bassists can choose from 1/4-3/4 sizes in either French or German.

Another popular carbon fiber bow brand is Coda Bow. Many professional players use Coda Bows, but they carry options for developing musicians, as well, in the form of the Coda Prodigy.

Rosin What rosin should I buy?

A: We carry a basic student rosin made by SHAR. You can purchase either the large round cake of SHAR Rosin or the wood block holder of SHAR rosin. Wood block is a popular choice for younger children because the woodblock protects the rosin from cracking and is easier to hold.

As your child advances to an intermediate player, your child will most likely develop a personal preference for a particular type of rosin. This is because different types of rosin can slightly alter the sound of an instrument. Very generally, lighter rosins produce a more crisp tone and are well suited for warmer climates since the harder texture holds up to heat well without melting. Darker rosins has a softer texture that is better suited for cool, dry climates. Its softness makes it a little stickier, which helps create a stronger grip with your bow and a richer tone. If you are interested in exploring different rosin options, you might consider purchasing the Bernardel rosin or Hill Rosin to start, both of which are popular choices for students and professionals.

There are also hypoallergenic options available if you or your child is allergic to pine resin. We carry Jade Rosin, which is imported from France and produces a smooth, even tone, or Super-Sensitive Clarity and Clarity Spectrum, which holds up well in cooler climates and produces a crisp tone. One further rosin tip: in general, light rosin is for violin and viola, and dark rosin is for cello and bass, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule. You can experiment with different brands and with both light and dark rosins to see which rosin sounds the best with your instrument.

Method Books How do I select a method book?

A: Talk with your child’s teacher about which method book to buy. Your child’s private teacher or orchestra instructor will likely have a curriculum that they’d like you to follow.

If your child does not have private lessons or an orchestra instructor, we would highly recommend that you find your child a highly qualified private teacher and begin lessons. This is really the best way to learn. However, if you’re unable to afford private lessons for your child or simply unable to find a suitable teacher for your child, then you might try the Strictly Strings or Essential Elements books for beginning study. These books offer a good introduction and basic instruction, along with a comprehensive progression of songs.

While the Suzuki method is a very popular and well-respected method of learning a string instrument, it’s not really something a beginner should go about on their own. Really, you should begin the Suzuki method with a Suzuki-certified teacher. The Suzuki method encourages a high level of parent, student and teacher involvement, creating the ideal learning environment for most children. So, if you’re going it alone, both the Strictly Strings or Essential Elements methods do a little more hand-holding and beginner explanation than the Suzuki books would, helping a student to figure out how to begin what we hope will be a wonderful musical journey.