Choosing an Instrument

Choosing an instrument is a major decision for any musician, not only because it must work well, but it also must suit the way you play.

You may already be clear about what you are looking for in an instrument, in its tone, its response and how it feels to play. This is a good position to be in as you look for a new instrument. If you are less sure, a good first step is to learn to identify the tonal qualities of different instruments, so you can better compare them and to find out what you like.

For younger players in particular, I recommend playing a number of instruments, perhaps borrowing those of your friends, to find out how they vary. This will help you decide what you are looking for, both from the point of view of tone and playability.  You are then in a much better position to make a good decision when looking for an instrument to buy.

Tonal Characteristics

When you play any instrument for the first time it is going to feel different, a little strange, even if it is much better than the one you have been playing. Some features of an instrument may be immediately obvious; it may be easier to play, or have a bigger or more distinguished tone. Other characteristics may take a little longer to discover.  Does it respond to the bow in a similar way across the range, on all the strings? Can you play quietly, can you play quickly? Is it comfortable to hold?  Is it an interesting sound that you are drawn to? Some of the attributes of an instrument are going to affect all players in a similar manner, but others are very personal to you and the sound you aim to produce.

A new instrument should essentially show its true tonal characteristics right from the start, though in the very beginning it may sound a bit raw. It should speak easily, sound even across the strings and be comfortable to play. With playing, the sound loses any rawness it may have and becomes more refined. It will become freer, more responsive and any slight difference in the quality of adjacent notes will even out. The better and more often it is played, the quicker the playing in process will be, the biggest improvement occurring in the first few weeks. However, the essential quality of sound must be there at the beginning.

Trying an Instrument

I always let musicians have an instrument on approval for two to three weeks, so you have time to get to know it. It is important to try every technique on it, and to play in different acoustics, on its own, in chamber groups and orchestras, to find out how it works in different situations. Playing in different settings helps you become familiar with the instrument, and whilst concentrating on the music, allows you to briefly forget you are playing on a different instrument. Then you remember, and hear the instrument afresh.


Because as a string player you need to put so much into your instrument, I often think that your instrument becomes almost a part of you. For that intimate relationship between player and instrument to develop, it is vitally important that you are happy with your instrument, and that it works for you. I am always happy to discuss any questions you may have. Over the years that I’ve been making instrument and talking to musicians, I have experienced the process of choosing an instrument many times, so I know just how important it is, and understand the questions that are going through a musician’s mind. You are welcome to talk to me by phone, but I realise that at the beginning of your search you may not know what you want to ask.


So, I have written more about choosing an instrument in an in-depth guide, which you get by filling in your email address on the home page and I’ll send it to you now.

Contact me

I'm happy to talk about instruments anytime, whether you're a professional, student or a keen amateur. Call me to talk through what you're looking for.