Getting the Most from Your Visit to a String Instrument Shop
By Judy Olmstead
All string instrument players (violin, viola, cello or bass), at some time or other, will have to visit their local string shop to purchase or repair an instrument or bow. Strings may have to be replaced too.
In today's big box retail, self-check-out and "30 minutes or it's free" mentality, your trip to a string instrument shop will probably be quite a different experience, and so you should be prepared. Most importantly, a string shop will be staffed by a luthier, someone who makes stringed instruments. And you will probably find another employee assisting the luthier.
I should mention that there are shops that sell string instruments and supplies yet are not staffed by a trained luthier. Never visit these shops for repairs, and only purchase supplies that you know or have been recommended by your teacher. I have had students show up to a lesson with a shiny set of new strings that sounded so shrill they had to be replaced after a week.
So, here are a few pointers to help with your trip to the string instrument shop:
• Do your homework before going to the shop. There is no use in just visiting a shop to browse before purchasing an instrument. To the untrained eye, instruments all look mostly the same. Your teacher will be your best resource from the start.
• Your next resource will be your bank manager. Deciding your budget and telling the shop employee will get you started looking at instruments in your price range. There is no sense having your child try instruments costing $2,000 when your budget is $600.
• The next most important consideration is how the shop is set up for choosing and trying out instruments. Wooden instruments are very breakable and cannot just be grabbed off the shelves like a product at Walmart. Choosing and trying your instrument will involve one store employee getting the instruments from the shelves and having you try them one at a time. This is not the place to bring the whole family, toddlers or anyone else not involved in the long process.
• Another consideration is whether you will be purchasing a package (instrument, case and bow) or all parts separately, as one frequently does when going to a 3/4 or full size instrument. Choosing those parts separately can take a lot longer than purchasing a package. Something might have to be ordered. For example, if your child will be busing from school to lessons with their instrument, you will need to consider the specific wear and tear on the case. A more robust case might have to be ordered.
Repairs are another reason to visit a string instrument shop. Whether you know what is wrong with your instrument or not, this will likely involve the luthier taking a look to give you an idea of the extent of the repair and cost involved. Some less obvious problems may need further investigation to discover the problem.
Whatever the reason for your visit to a string shop, remember to go prepared, and leave yourself time to let these professionals help you get the most enjoyment from your instrument.