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April 2024

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How To Buy A Violin... Or Something Like That
Laying out money for music.
Article By Roger Skoff


How To Buy A Violin... Or Something Like That Laying out money for music.


  It's only been about a century since, if you wanted to hear music, you either had to play or sing it yourself or get somebody else to do it for you. Sure, the first music recording was made back in 1860, by a Frenchman, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, and, sure, the phonograph (but not in a form we'd recognize it today) was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison, but it wasn't until 1925 that electrical recording came along and made buying a record for an evening of listening a practical reality. And it wasn't until the 1940s that even any attempt was made to record and reproduce what we now call "High Fidelity" sound.

Before then, if you wanted to listen to music at home, you either had to make it yourself or invite people over to make it for or with you. And, with music lessons a regular part of even the public school curriculum at the time, pretty much everybody could either sing or play an instrument to at least some degree.

Now, let's suppose that you were living in those days and that you wanted to buy an instrument a violin, for example. How would you go about it? Would you buy it by mail-order? (it was quite common, back then) Or would you go to a dealer?



If it were me, the first thing I'd do would be to ask myself "How serious am I? Do I want (or do I have the interest or ability) to get good at playing the violin (or whichever instrument)? Or do I just want to get good enough to please myself and be able to play along with my friends?"

That would be what would determine where I'd look to buy my instrument: If it was just going to be something for an occasional bit of fun, or to play with, instead of play, I'd probably want the cheapest "just-good-enough" instrument I could find, and I'd probably look to order it by mail-order, in hopes of making the easiest purchase at the best possible price, even though I probably couldn't expect to get anything more than just the bare minimum of service, instruction or advice from the seller.

If, on the other hand, playing the violin was something that I expected to be important to me and to my lifestyle, I'd want the very best instrument I could possibly afford; I'd want a reliable source of information and advice on which instrument to choose, and why; I'd want an ongoing source of reliable service, strings, music, and support as I learned to play it, and, for all those reasons and more, I'd definitely seek out the best, most knowledgeable, most reputable, and best-stocked dealer I could find to buy it from.

It's very much the same with hi-fi equipment what most of us get our music from now, instead of making it ourselves and very much the same kind of considerations apply when deciding what to buy and where to buy it.



If you're only a casual listener, just wanting to hear a favorite tune occasionally, or in need of something for in-home entertaining, as background music for a dinner or a party, you may very well be better off looking for what you need on the internet today's version of mail-order shopping.

Like mail-order in the old days, what you'll find on the internet if it's from a reputable source tends to be "good enough", brand-name merchandise, often at attractive prices, easily and conveniently available for home delivery. Or sometimes it will be goods you've never heard of, or "house" brands at what are claimed to (and may actually) be bargain prices. Internet merchants, because they have no physical store overhead, and may have no sales staff to pay, really can offer lower prices than conventional stores and still make a profit. The problem with them is that, like in the old days when rural women used to buy their clothing from the Sears or Montgomery-Ward catalog and couldn't try them on or check their quality before they bought them, you can't actually listen to stereo bought on the internet until you get it home.

And even if it's good, and you're perfectly satisfied with it, how can you be sure that there might not have been something else for sale there that you might have liked better or that might have been better suited to your needs?

Even when internet goods are absolutely great, you still have to buy them without a demonstration. And, with no help in making your purchase other than the product blurb pushing it, how can you be sure of making your best choice?



I doubt that this has ever actually happened, but Amazon does sometimes offer truly high-end stuff. What if Amazon, at a time when you were looking for and, of course, could afford a masterpiece violin, had both a Stradivarius and a Guarneri on offer? Both instruments are truly outstanding, and both would be described in glowing terms, but violins do have significant differences in how they sound and how they play, not only from maker to maker, but even between individual instruments.

You might know Stradivarius and Guarneri from articles or reviews, but how could you feel comfortable in purchasing these particular instruments without a genuinely knowledgeable guide and, even then, without the opportunity to try both violins for yourself?

Internet purchasing might be fine for some people for some things, but If you're serious about your music and about the equipment you buy to play it on, I definitely recommend that you go to a qualified dealer to actually hear it before you buy it. Even that isn't perfect, of course. There's no way to guarantee that the acoustics of the dealer's showroom and your own listening room will be the same, but it will still give you several important advantages that you can never have otherwise.

For one thing, your dealer and his sales staff are almost certainly audiophiles and (unlike the internet or even the "Big Box" stores) actually have a deep and perhaps life-long knowledge of not only the products they carry, but of our whole industry and all that it has to offer. What that means is that they, just by being there, have already done you a considerable service: Like the reviewers for the audio magazines, they've heard much of what's available, and have chosen what they think is the very best or best value in each kind of gear at every price point. Good! That's something that, if their knowledge is good and their tastes in sound and music are similar to your own, can save you a tremendous amount of time and effort in "ruling out" what you won't want to buy.



Next, because their store does carry, and has carried lots of different brands and models of gear over the years, and because they've actually tried it in all kinds of different combinations, they can give you valuable recommendations for products in your specific price range and to your particular tastes, that will work best together in your system and in the room that you will play it in. This is particularly important with speakers because of their differing sonic and dispersion characteristics. What may be terrific in one room may not work well at all in another. It all depends on the size and shape of your listening room and how it's furnished and/or treated.

Dealers can also supply or advise you on accessory and support products cables, acoustic treatments, power products, record cleaners, and other things that can help bring your system up to, or work to keep it at, the full level of performance you expect and are paying for. Without experienced help, unless you already know about these things, you might not think to add them to your shopping list. Or, if you just buy what you see pitched on the internet, you could end up paying good money for things that either aren't necessary, don't work, or do work, TWICE improving the sound of your system once when you put them in and once, again, when you take them back out.

To help make sure that your buying decisions are the right ones, many dealers will let you try products at home, in your own system, in your own room, and on your own music, to make sure that they are right for you before you buy them. They may even come out and help you hook things up and get your speakers properly placed in your listening room. (HUGELY important for every speaker in every room).

All of these things are possible because a dealer, as a fellow audiophile, takes a "whole-system, including-the room" approach to selling to you, instead of just regarding you as one more mail order sale to a customer never to be seen or heard from again. They and their salespeople do know the difference between (figuratively speaking) a "Stradivarius" piece of gear and a "Guarneri" one, and, besides just making the sale, they truly want to share their knowledge with you, help you to get the very best system possible at whatever your price point may be, and maybe even inspire you to join our hobby.



Either way, when you buy your system and its accessories from a qualified dealer instead of the internet, you're not only benefiting yourself by being able to take advantage of them, but you're helping to keep these services and knowledge available to everyone else by keeping local dealers in business.

NEVER, EVER, GO TO A DEALER FOR YOUR DEMOS AND THEN SHOP THE GOODS ON THE INTERNET FOR THE LOWEST PRICE. It's not only dishonorable, but it means that, in time, there will be no more dealers to go to, which will hurt us all.

If you buy your system from a qualified dealer instead of from the internet, you're not only more likely to get the best of everything your money can buy, it is the fact that you're also more likely to...


Enjoy the music!


  Roger Skoff
















































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