The option to rent an instrument makes sense in a variety of circumstances. Understanding the variables should help players decide what’s right for them.
To rent or to buy a violin? This is the question parents of violin students generally ask. The answer depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is how enthusiastically the student embraces their musicianship. But simply knowing how it works should help the parent sort through their options.
First, if your student violinist is …
Very young and therefore small in stature. As violins come in eight sizes, enabling even very young children to study the instrument, it makes little sense to purchase the smallest of sizes unless you are very confident the small stringed instrument will be used by other, subsequent children. The three smallest sizes – 1/10, 1/8 and ¼ — should be rentals while the 1/2 and larger instruments might be worth purchasing.
Just beginning. There are beginners who are 3 years old and others age 30 and 60 and even later (fyi, studying an instrument is recommended as a way to prevent cognitive decline). It’s reasonable to rent in the first year at least to determine if the interest in playing will endure – at which time a purchase might make more sense.
Experienced enough to appreciate good tone. Rental instruments are sometimes of a lesser quality than what the student wants. Higher quality, fine stringed instruments are easier to play. As musical proficiency increases, so too does the need for a better instrument, quite likely one he or she owns.
Second, understand the variables of violin rentals …
Renting costs include instrument rental, instrument set up, and insurance. This might be $50 or more per month ($600 per year), however that balances against what insurance and maintenance (string replacement, for example) costs would be with an owned instrument. With rental instruments string replacement is usually included.
You can rent-to-own. Some stringed instrument shops will allow you to accumulate credit toward a purchase of a violin, a cello, or viola with monthly rental payments. It’s a good option for people who think ownership is a distinct possibility, but most violinmakers will not treat it the same as monthly payments on credit. Rather, it will more likely come with limitations, such as how value from rental fees will not exceed 50% of the value/price of the instrument.
Renting to own can be a smart plan for growing children, as it allows an accumulation of money as the child’s needs a larger instrument (the rented instrument is not necessarily what ends up being owned).
Rental instruments are sometimes poorly maintained. As with rental cars, it’s a “buyer (renter) beware” situation. The fact that stringed instruments are subject to changes in humidity, or may have been mishandled by a previous renter, suggests that the instrumentalist renting a violin should work with a trusted local violin shop with a good reputation. That dealer, typically a skilled luthier, would provide a thorough examination of the instrument to ensure it was in optimal condition.
Sometimes a purchase is just not affordable. At the lowest end a violin can cost as little as $100 – but the student who shows talent and enthusiasm might expect to spend ten times as much (and much, much more if the child progresses to serious study). If a family cannot afford that a rental instrument might make sense until the resources can be mustered to buy it (the rent-to-own option may or may not be available).
So there is no “right” or “wrong” to renting. It all has to with the circumstances of the student and his or her family.