Beginner Basics: Where to get started

Your kid just came home from school and announced that he wants to join orchestra. How did THAT happen, especially since nobody else in the family has ever touched a stringed instrument before? Basically, your child has three to four choices, depending on the orchestra program — violin, viola, cello, or bass. What makes these instruments different? How can you decide which instrument is best for your child who is suddenly excited about their budding career as a musician? And, how can you decide which size you need for your child?

Most people are familiar with the violin. There’s a fancy wooden box with four strings and a bow that pulls the strings to make sound. Usually, that initial sound is stereotyped as something screechy and piercing. If you were to put that sound on a diagram, it would fall a few notches above nails across a chalkboard. But, really, that sound doesn’t happen that often if you invest in a quality student instrument and properly care for it.

To set the violin apart from the other choices, it has the highest range of notes or pitch. It is tuned in fifths starting at the G below “middle C.” Even if you aren’t a musician, this is a reference point for the other instruments to come. The violin has the smallest body size, so it will be the lightest and least expensive instrument. Violins come in sizes from tiny (1/32 or lower) to full size (4/4). There are charts online that can help you measure your child to help you decide which is the best size for your child, although I have seen the greatest amount of error when using these charts. Usually, a teacher can help figure out which size is the best for your student, or an experienced string player at a violin shop can usually figure it out very quickly. This holds true for all of the stringed instruments.

The viola is somewhat larger than a violin, but it is still played between the shoulder and chin like a violin. It has a lower range of notes starting at the C below “middle C” and is still tuned in fifths. That gives this instrument a deeper and darker personality that most people appreciate right away. One of the unique things about playing the viola is learning how to read alto clef, which is pretty rare compared to the treble clef (violin) and bass clef (cello and bass). Up until the student reaches about five feet tall, she can usually use a violin strung as a viola, although some teachers would argue this point. There are smaller sized violas available, too. The main difference between a small viola and a fractional violin is the thickness of the body. The viola will have a thicker body which allows more room for the sound to travel. That’s a good thing. Violas are measured in inches — 12″ to 16 1/2″ are most common.

Most kids think the cello is cool due to its massive size. All cellists play their instrument while sitting and resting the end pin of the cello on the floor. The cello is tuned just like a viola, but it is an entire octave lower. We’re talking TWO C’s below middle C now. The main reason some people do not choose the cello is due to the cost. Cellos can be expensive, not to mention cumbersome. Many families choose to rent a cello in the beginning because of the price tag on a good cello. That isn’t a bad way to go if you can find a rental program that allows you to accumulate credit toward the purchase of an instrument later down the road. Cellos are measured in fractions like violins. These also range from tiny (1/10) to full size (4/4).

The least common of these instruments is the double bass, which is even bigger than the cello. That means you should have a vehicle that will fit a gigantic instrument without having to stick it out the window or leaving the trunk wide open. The bass is tuned in fourths and starts with a very low E. Basses are available in fractional sizes as well. Some programs will have kids playing bass very early, while some wait to add them until the kids get older, which brings up a good point.

If your child starts with one instrument now, is it possible to switch later? Absolutely. There are many string players who are able to play more than one within this family, but they usually are strongest with one of them. For instance, I started playing viola when my high school teacher sent me home with a school owned viola and told me to take it to youth symphony rehearsal. Before I knew it, I was enjoying a completely different section of the orchestra. I had to adjust the position of my hand and read music from an alto clef, but playing the violin made it very easy to translate everything over. Another common transition is from cello to bass, although most string players understand the basics of all of the instruments if they are involved in a group program.

So, here are the basic questions to answer once the shock of this new venture as been leveled out.

  1. Which instrument will your child be most interested in playing?
  2. What size does he/she need?
  3. Should you buy the instrument or rent?

At Kennedy Violins, we are all string players and look forward to helping people answer all of these questions. We have experienced teachers who answer the phones and emails from people who just want information about how to get started, even if you don’t know which questions to ask. Contact us and start with the three questions above. Our affordable violins, violas and cellos are available for purchase or rent, and we take such great pride in them that we offer a 45 day return policy. People who spend time talking to us by email or by phone often comment that we give great attention to detail just like your area music store would, even though we run a website that serves people across the country. It’s like finding a local violin shop on the internet, and we are passionate about helping kids get a great start on their path as a string player.

Luthier Life

Marisa, one of the luthiers at Kennedy Violins
Some luthier tools

The back-to-school time of year has everyone at Kennedy Violins very busy! Let’s take a look at the luthier department during this exciting fall season.

In this picture, you can see part of the luthier area. Thousands of violins, violas and cellos are worked on, set up and inspected in this area before being shipped to customers all over the country.



We use several different knives when working on stringed instruments, as well as chisels, files, and scrapers. All the measurements used in luthier work are very precise and exact, and most things are measured in millimeters using flexible and rigid stainless steel rulers, dividers, and calipers.

When setting up and inspecting an instrument, we check to make sure the tailpiece is in good working order, and tighten the fine tuners so they won’t buzz. We also apply peg compound to the pegs so that they will run smoothly.

Another thing we check is the sound post. In the picture you can see a view of the sound post as it appears when you look through the end button hole on the bottom of the violin.

A sound post inside a violin

Luthiers use this hole to view the fit of the sound post. We check to make sure it is making good contact on both the top and bottom plates, that it is straight, and that it is in the proper place within the violin.

We spend quite a bit of time on the nut and fingerboard. The nut needs to be shaped correctly, and we achieve this using a file. Both the nut and the fingerboard are sanded smooth, using dry sandpaper, wet sandpaper, and steel wool. This process leaves the fingerboard incredibly silky-smooth. The string grooves are carefully filed in the nut using specially sized flat and round files.

A finished nut

The bridge also requires lots of attention.

A violin bridge and bridge knife

We make sure that the feet fit the top plate of the violin perfectly. We also shape and thin the bridge so that a subtle taper and bevel are achieved. The string height and top curve are measured and applied, and we also make special cuts on the arms and heart of the bridge.

The bridge in place on the violin

Next, the strings are installed. We wind the strings on the pegs using a special method which keeps the pegs from slipping, allowing the violin to stay in tune longer.

A Louis Carpini violin outfit

The violin then undergoes a final inspection, and is now ready to play.

Last of all, the violin is put together as an outfit. The violin pictured here is a Louis Carpini violin outfit, and it is available for purchase on We inspect and rosin the bow, and make sure that all the accessories are included. The violin is then packed up and shipped to its new owner, where it will be happily played for many years to come.

New Contest! We want your Reviews!

Hi There,

Thanks to all those that participated in our Back To School Contest last month. It’s now time for a new one!

Our customers are great. They always call or e-mail us to let us know how they are enjoying their instruments. We usually get a phone call, an e-mail, and the occasional Facebook message. We LOVE hearing from you! Now we want to take it on a grander scale. We are looking for reviews from anyone that has come into contact with one of our instruments. Parents, friends, students, teachers relatives, etc.!

Starting September 15, 2011, any review that a customer places on a review website will be entered in a drawing for a $300 Kennedy Violins gift certificate!

Here are the rules:

1. The review must be placed on a website designed for reviews. This includes, but is not limited to,,,, etc. Reviews will also be accepted from sites that host forums about musical instruments. This includes, but is not limited to,,, etc. PLEASE NOTE: Reviews posted on Facebook are not eligible.

2. The review has to be submitted by 11:59pm PST on October 15, 2011. Any late reviews, while appreciated, will not be eligible.

3. The review should contain the product information of the instrument that was purchased.

4. Reviews must comply with the rules of the site that you post on.

5. Reviews don’t necessarily have to be “good” ones, we are looking for honest feedback so that we can better serve our customers and the community.

Please call: 1.800.779.0242 or e-mail if you have any questions. We looking forward to hearing from you!

Good Luck!


**UPDATE 10/13/11**  We’ve started pulling reviews from the websites we are familiar with in preparation for the upcoming drawing.  So far, we have checked,,, and  If you have placed a review on another site, please e-mail us or call us to let us know so that we can make sure you get entered!  Only 2 days left!!!

How To Buy a Violin

For an experienced violinist, the path to finding your “new best friend” may be somewhat simple in it’s initial approach.  Go to a violin store, play several violins that fit into your budget and buy the violin you like the most. However, figuring out how to buy a violin when you’re not the most advanced player can be a daunting task.  If you don’t play the violin, how can you test one?  What if you don’t have a violin store in your area that has a large selection of violins?  Perhaps most confusing of all, is the fact that most violins all look the same and when you look at one to another, the price ranges are huge and the price differences seem to be nebulous and random.  How can you be sure you’re not getting ripped off?  How expensive of a violin do you need to purchase for your child anyways; especially considering they may be a beginning student?

Your new violin!

Fortunately, with the advent of the internet, buying a violin has become much easier.  The preferred method of buying a violin is always to play one and then decide which is best for you.  However, since most people do not have playing expertise or they are geographically isolated, purchasing from the internet has solved many of the problems that have historically plagued most violin purchasers.  Because of the internet, anybody is able to search thousands of violin across the country, investigate the companies they are interested in buying from and they can educate themselves about every aspect of a stringed instrument.

If you’re looking for the best price, it is usually best to go with a company that has a large presence on the web and are used to selling stringed instruments all around the country.  If you purchase from a small store that just happens to have a web site, they will probably have a small stock of instruments and purchase their instruments from local distributors and in small quantity.  When they purchase in small quantities, it means they have to pay a lot for their violins, and that high cost will be passed on to you.  If they sell small quantities of violins every year, then they have to make more per violin to pay the overhead costs associated with running their business. Small companies also lack the power to determine many aspects of the violins construction and overall quality when purchasing them.

President and CEO Joel Kennedy working directly with violin maker

Conversely, purchasing from a company that is well versed in the art of providing a high volume of stringed instruments all over the U.S, will be able to negotiate lower prices when purchasing their product from their sources and will have more leverage in controlling the materials, construction and overall quality of the violins.  Also, you want to make sure that your violin is sent fast and is packaged very well so it is not damaged. A company that ships thousands of violins every year, will have the expertise to package your violin safely and have the stock of instruments that can ensure that you will be sent your instrument in a quick and efficient manner.

At Kennedy Violins, we have been offering stringed instruments to the public for over 10 years.  In that time, we have become extremely proficient at setting up violins very quickly and efficiently.  We have a system that ensures the quality control is very high and the end product is very consistent.  We are unique, in that we purchase the majority of their instruments directly from the makers themselves.  Not only do we negotiate the best prices from our makers but we can even dictate the materials, design and construction methods of our violins.  We have a large stock of instruments, so rarely will an instrument not be in stock.  We are also owned and operated by string players, so we know our product very well, and have created a product line-up that is applicable to beginner students and advanced ones.

Kennedy Violins: Your source for high quality, affordable violins!

If you can’t find the information you are looking for on the web site, you can easily call us Monday through Friday and our friendly and knowledgeable customer service staff will be able to answer any questions that you may have.

Living in the present time has made buying a violin easier than ever, so start your search now and have no fear!






Back to School Photo Contest Winners!

About a month ago, here at Kennedy Violins, we announced our first ever Back to School Photo Contest.  It was great getting to see picture from some of our wonderful customers and even some new friends.  Yesterday the contest came to a close and we are pleased to announce a winner.  But first, some honorable mentions!

Sister violins!
Crazy cellist!

Our winner was actually a last minute entry, but we were so glad to see and receive.  It comes to us from the lovely Dorman family  in Ashville, NY.  Congrats guys!  You will be receiving the Accessories Prize Package!

Sibling sweetness!

We’d like to thank everyone that participated.  If you weren’t a winner this time around, don’t worry, we will be hosting more contests in the future.  Check on our Facebook page or back here at our blog for the latest contest news here at Kennedy Violins.

Injured List

For a few weeks now, many students in the U.S. are back at school. Here in the NW, just starting this week. School starting means many things. Homework, lunch ladies, soccer moms…the list goes on. One thing that going back to school means, however, often escapes most people’s mind. I’m talking about injuries.

Think about it: Families are busier now, going to school, to sports, to scouts, to music lessons, to the library and that’s just on Monday. Plus, the students are in new classroom environments that they don’t know and on a new schedule that they are used to. Not to mention that, musically speaking, they have a heavier load, literally and figuratively, with a new instruments that are often bigger than what they had last year and more music to practice that is more difficult that what they are used to. All of these factor combined translate into bumps, bruises, sprains, strains, or worse. Sigh, it’s a jungle out there.

Why is this topic on my mind? Well, almost 12 years to the date, my brother shut my hand in the sliding door of our minivan right before a cello lesson. The door shut and locked with my fingers in there. I broke two fingers and was unable to play for about a month. It was totally an accident and with our busy family it was only matter of time before something like that happened.

So, how can we keep ourselves from being on the injured list?

Communication-This is huge! Communication is necessary every day, but if good communication is practiced between parents, students, and teachers, then possible injuries can be prevented.

Tools-Giving your students or yourselves the proper tools to work in new environments can also prevent injury. For instance, the proper shoulder rest for a new instrument can prevent muscle strains in the neck and back.

Sleep-Countless studies indicate that there are many benefits to a good night’s sleep. In addition to health benefits, good sleep can decrease your chances of accidents like falling or running into things.

I’d like to say that I learned my lesson 12 years ago and have avoided injury since then, but that would be a lie. I totally busted my lip by slipping on a puddle and face planting on a stone floor hours before a flute final in college. Still, those three things have lengthened the time between injuries. Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.