Last Updated 28/9/21

Beginner Violins

Orchestral strings are deceptively complicated instruments. Looks can be deceiving to those without a trained eye, and a "good value" beginner violin may not be as good as it seems on paper. In this article, we'll teach you how to choose your first violin, cello or viola with confidence.

Skip to: 

  1. Tone Timbers & Construction
  2. European or Chinese?
  3. Why Setup Matters
  4. Bow & Case
  5. Sizing
  6. Best Beginner Violins
  7. Best Beginner Cellos
  8. Best Beginner Violas

Tone Timbers & Basic Construction

Parts of a Violin

Despite the fuss many violin sellers and teachers make about ensuring you find a "handmade" the vast majority of violins, violas and cellos sold in Australia are hand made. A violin salesperson overemphasising their "hand made" instruments does tell you one important thing though: they probably don't have anything else to say about the instrument they're trying to sell you. Stressing a violin is hand made as a selling point is a little like stressing that a car has wheels, or a table has legs. It's something you should be able to take for granted on any bowed string instrument.

Similarly, you will sometimes hear to salespeople refer to things such as "solid top", "all solid" or "laminate" constructions. This simply refers to whether the instrument is made from solid pieces of timber, a mixture of solid timber and laminates, or all laminate. To put matters simply, the more solid timber, the more resonant your instrument will be. The strength of laminates and compound constructions prevents vibration through the body of the instrument, deadening the sound of your instrument.

As a general rule, we recommend all solid instruments, however we understand some allowances must be made for people's budgets. In larger, more expensive instruments like cello and double bass, a solid top will be adequate for the first year or two of playing, but anything other than an all solid violin and viola will be more difficult to learn on, and significantly more difficult to listen to.

Typically, the life cycle of a violin starts in a plantation. In Europe, China and North America, enormous forests of Spruce are used to supply the soundboard needs of all kinds of instruments, from violins, to pianos, to harps. 

Spruce has ideal properties for an instrument's soundboard; a tight grain that can provide brightness, and plenty of flexibility for volume and durability. As a general rule of thumb, the tighter the grain on the soundboard, the more complex the violin's sound. Therefore, the best quality spruce comes from cold areas with slow growing varieties of spruce, such as Alaska (Sitka Spruce), Germany (Englemann Spruce) and Romania (Carpathian Spruce). In fact, it is generally believed the violin makers of Cremona (i.e. Stradavari, Guarneri) were able to make such phenomenal violins owing to a particularly fine supply of Italian Alpine Spruce in the area.

The back and sides of a violin are typically made of harder timber to create a durable, reflective resonating chamber for the soundboard. Maple is the most common material by far, but other materials like cherry, poplar, willow and ash are not uncommon. lighter materials like willow and poplar will typically produce less volume, but a more "open" sound.

All instrument timbers must be seasoned for use, either by leaving them in a dry store for up to a decade, or by use of a kiln in order to remove moisture and imperfections from the timber's grain. Typically, drier timber will produce both a louder, and more detailed sound. Again, consider the legendary reputation of "older" violins. It is simply untrue that violins were better made two centuries ago, but having the additional time for the timber to age and dry, it will be closer to reaching its potential as an instrument.

Figuring in the form of flame or birds eye maple is common on the back and sides of violins. While it is a stylish addition to your violin, it won't improve your sound anymore than painting flames on your car will make it go faster.

Whether the back is made of one, or two bookmatched pieces of timber will impact the sound, however. A one piece back will typically produce a more focused sound than a two piece. There is no better or worse here, simply a matter of personal preference.

Our Advice:

  • Don't get too bogged down in the idea of something being "hand-made". So long as it's all solid, it will be.
  • When choosing between two instruments of the same type, a finer grained top is generally better.
  • Don't get distracted by how something looks - instruments are made to be played.

European or Chinese Made?

People still make a lot of the provenance of a violin, cello or viola and this is not without reason. Almost every famous string instrument, and string manufacturer is located in Western Europe. The Cremonese school is particularly dominant, having produced hundreds of violins with multi-million dollar valuations over the past four centuries.

Violin making is a relatively new artform in China. The first violins were made in China in the early part of the 20th century. This was a mixed success, with high quality instruments appearing in small numbers in Shanghai and Guangzhou as well as large numbers of inferior quality instruments. 

During China's cultural revolution, Chairman Mao Zedong declared violin a "revolutionary instrument", starting something of an instrument making revolution in China. Many of China's most promising instrument makers travelled around the world to study with the world's best makers in Italy, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

The instruments that come from China today are part of this legacy. While there are still many exceptionally poor instruments made in China, there are almost as many fantastic ones, and provided it meets the requirements of the player, we have no hesitation in recommending Chinese instruments to our players. 

Particularly in the intermediate range, a Chinese instrument will typically offer better value for money than a European made instrument. This is of course not always the case, but this is why for anything beyond a beginner instrument, it is strongly recommended you try them yourself, and take what speaks to you, regardless of where it was made.

Our Advice:

  • Provided it is all solid timber, a Chinese made violin will generally offer better value than a European made instrument

Why Setup Matters


The construction of a violin is no doubt very important, however it is only as good as it's final setup.  A well set up beginner violin will be a pleasure for a student to play. Similarly, even a professional violin will sound and play poorly if it is not set up properly. The first question you should ask any violin salesperson is whether a violin includes a professional setup or not. 

Violins are not sent to retailers as complete products. Typically, they will include "factory" appointments like strings, bridge and pegs. These are not designed to be played on, but rather just to make the instrument look like a finished product. There is a dying tradition of music shops employing luthiers to set up instruments like violins to put them into a playable condition prior to sale.

This is a complex process that requires a high level of skill to complete. This set up includes properly cutting and fitting the bridge to each instrument, peg box set up, adjustment and fitting of a soundpost and proper lubrication of pegs, nut, bridge, tailpiece and bow frog. Each instrument is then played and checked for any further adjustments.

Violin Setup

Importantly, this needs to be completed to spec for every single instrument. No two trees are exactly alike, and therefore no two violins are identical. Bridges, soundposts and pegs in particular require patience, experience, and a steady hand to fit perfectly. 

Furthermore, an experienced luthier will set up beginner instruments differently to advanced instruments, focusing on lower strings to ensure the best possible playability rather than the best possible projection and tone, which will typically require higher strings.

This process is normal and necessary on all violins, and any specialty retailer (like Logans Pianos) will ensure all instruments include a full professional setup with every instrument, as well as one year free servicing to make sure your instrument stays in good condition for years to come.

At Logans, we offer a full professional setup, including all the necessary appointments with every violin we sell.

Our Advice:

  • Make sure your instrument includes a setup by an experienced luthier. A violin that has not been set up by a luthier is not ready to play.

What About the Bow & Case?

Many violins come with a bow and case pack to make life easier for customers. While a case is simply a place to put an protect your instrument, it is important to consider whether a bow is fit for purpose before purchase.

Bows come in all shapes, sizes and materials. We advise you don't get too bogged down in all the options that are available, and just look for the two that make up the preponderance of good beginner bows.

Most beginner bows are made from either Brazilwood (a generic name for South American hardwood), or carbon composite. Brazilwood tends to be heavier, than composite, offering more grip with less pressure. Carbon composite is lighter, and stronger; generally more comfortable for an absolute beginner.

While it is possible to source high quality, synthetic bow hair, it is uncommon, and exceptionally expensive. Some cheaper bows are haired with nylon, which should be avoided at all costs. Nylon hair stretches, wears rapidly, and due to its smoothness and elasticity, offers poor grip.

A beginner bow should always be strung with horsehair. Most commonly, this will come from Mongolia, which produces both the best quality, and highest quantity of horsehair for bows in the world. You can easily distinguish horsehair from nylon by colour. Horsehair will typically be between bone, and beige in colour, whereas nylon will be grey-white, and often slightly transparent.

While there are a number of other parts that will impact the overall feel and quality of the bow, a beginner will rarely notice the difference between these, and most options are equally valid. The exception this is the wind, which should always be made of something that will not corrode on contact with your hands. Most good quality bows offer either nickel or silver winding.

What to Choose:

  • Brazilwood or Carbon Stick
  • Strung with Horsehair
  • Nickel or Silver Winding


The best way to check the size of a violin is to get it into a prospective student's hands. Violins and cellos are commonly found in 4/4, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 sizes, with other sizes like 7/8 and 1/16 not uncommon. Violas can be anywhere from 16.5" to 11", again, with the occasional outlier.

Like shoes, sizing on an instrument is an inexact science, and it's more about how things feel to the player, than any universally applicable law of sizing. We strongly recommend you speak to a salesperson or teacher about instrument sizing before purchase to be absolutely sure you are getting the correct size.

While the ideal size is...well, ideal, if you have to choose between too small and too big, too small is almost always better. The larger violin will sound better, but it's also far more likely to cause physical discomfort during practice.

To test the sizing of a Violin:

  • Put violin in the playing position on the left shoulder
  • Have the student reach out towards the scroll with their left hand
  • If they can wrap their fingers around the scroll with a slight bend in the elbow, the size is right
  • Fingers can't reach = too small
  • Elbow in deep V shape = too big

To test the sizing of a Viola:

  • Use Above method, substituting the nut at the end of the fingerboard for the scroll

To test the sizing of a Cello:

  • Extend the Endpin approximately 30cm from the bottom of the cello
  • In a seated position, lean the back of the cello back against the middle of your chest, nursing the neck with your left hand
  • If the lower left peg sits near your left ear, and you are able to complete a full draw of the bow, the size is right 
  • Scroll lower than chin = too small
  • Scroll above temple = too big

Sizing at Home

While sizing at home will never give results as precise as sizing with an instrument, in many cases you can size yourself for an instrument at home. The Below charts are indicative sizing only, and we recommend you contact us for further advice when in doubt.

VIOLIN SIZE LENGTH (Neck to wrist)
1/16 33.5 cm or less, 13 ¼ inches
1/10 36 cm, 14 ¼ inches
1/8 38.5 cm, 15 ¼ inches
1/4 44 cm,17 ¼ inches
1/2 48.5 cm,19 inches
3/4 52 cm, 20 ½ inches
4/4 54 cm, 21 ¼ inches
12" 6-7 years
13" 7-9 years
14" 9-12 years
15" 10-12 years
15.5" Average adult
16" Large adult
1/8 - 1/4 Below 4 feet
1/2 4 - 4 1/2 feet
3/4 4 1/2 - 5 feet
4/4 5 feet and above

Best Beginner Violins

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✅All Solid Construction
✅Full Professional Setup
✅Includes FPS Hardshell Case & Brazilwood bow
✅ Exceptional price for a beginner cello

✅All Solid Construction
✅Full Professional Setup
✅Includes FPS Hardshell Case & carbon composite bow
✅ Oil finish for fine, mellow sound

✅All Solid Construction
✅Full Professional Setup
✅Includes FPS Hardshell Case & Carbon bow
✅ Focused, detailed sound

Cons ❌Synthetic finish


❌None at this price


❌Poplar back will not suit all players

Best Beginner Cellos

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✅Excellent price
✅Full Professional Setup
✅Includes case & brazilwood bow
✅Durable construction

✅All Solid Construction
✅Full Professional Setup
✅Includes soft case & carbon composite bow
✅ Classic warm cello sound

✅ All Solid Construction
✅ Full Professional Setup
✅ Smaller players will enjoy the narrow build
✅ Incredible value, will also suit to late intermediate players

Cons ❌Sounds a little "Boxy"

❌Doesn't include hard case

❌Does not include bow or case
❌Only available in 4/4

Best Beginner Violas

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Pros ✅Teacher recommended beginner viola
✅Full Professional Setup
✅Includes case & carbon bow
✅ Oil finish for fine, mellow sound

✅Excellent price
✅Full Professional Setup
✅Includes case & brazilwood bow
✅ Set up especially for beginners

✅Full Professional Setup
✅Includes case & carbon bow
✅ Oil finish for fine, mellow sound
✅ Rich, warm sound

Cons ❌Darker sound can be hard for early learning ❌Some teachers may not like the brighter sound

❌More expensive than Gliga 3 or Strad Student


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