Category Archives: Instrument Rental

Kennedy Violins Opens Its First Retail Location

Founder Joel Kennedy in front of our the new Kennedy Violins store in Vancouver, Washington.
Founder Joel Kennedy in front of our the new Kennedy Violins store in Vancouver, Washington.

For over a decade, Kennedy Violins has been one of the nation’s premiere sources of affordable string instruments through, an online store for instruments, accessories, sheet music, and more. Kennedy Violins is now opening its first retail store serving the Portland-Vancouver area. Located at 508 SE 117th Avenue in Vancouver, Washington, this new location is easily accessed from the Mill Plain Exit off of I-205, just across from Cinetopia.

In addition to string instruments for purchase and rental, Kennedy Violins offers lessons in its private studio and instrument repair by a staff of professional luthiers in a full-service violin shop. The large showroom of Kennedy Violins’ extensive line of instruments also serves as an acoustically vibrant performance venue for recitals and concerts by local performers.

Grand Opening Concerts
A grand opening concert featuring 2011 National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest winner Aarun Carter will be held on Saturday, March 2 at 1:00pm and 2:00pm. Admission is free with a reception to follow. A second grand opening concert featuring violinist Emily Wu will be held on Friday, March 15 at 7:00pm, also with free admission and a reception following.


Fiddle champion Aarun Carter performs at Kennedy Violins’ first grand opening concert on Saturday, March 2.

How It All Began
Joel Kennedy, founder and president of Kennedy Violins, is an Oregon native and professional violist. After completing his education at the Eastman School of Music in New York, he began his career as a music educator and professional violist. Joel currently plays with the Portland Opera and privately instructs up-and-coming youth performers.

The seed for Kennedy Violins was planted years ago when Joel became frustrated by the overpriced and poor-quality string instruments his students were purchasing. These mass-produced violins made with poor materials and improper setup were hardly playable—especially for beginners. He quickly became determined to find instruments for his students that not only cost less, but were of higher quality.

Joel discovered that the only way to provide genuinely superior instruments was to work directly with the makers, ensuring that each individual instrument be built according to his specifications and standards. By forging relationships with instrument makers around the world, Joel established a way to provide students with superior violins and violas at a lower cost.

A Unique Approach
This unique approach to purchasing directly from the maker led to the formation of Kennedy Violins, which since 2000, has brought an impressive collection of high-quality, low-cost string instruments to musicians throughout the U.S. and Canada. These instruments are not only satisfying to play, but also beautifully handcrafted.

The ability to find unique solutions to common problems is a skill Joel learned in his childhood. While a young and rapidly advancing music student, Joel needed a high-quality viola. At the time, however, advanced student violas cost between $8,000 and $12,000—far out of the range of affordability for his family. Tom Kennedy, Joel’s father, happened to be a skilled woodworker who knew how to solve the problem. Although he had never built a musical instrument, he learned the luthier trade to craft a viola for his son.

Since then, Joel has played exclusively on violas that built by his father. Tom Kennedy’s handcrafted violas are now being played in professional symphony orchestras around the world.

When Joel began Kennedy Violins thirteen years ago, he has had the pleasure of extending his father’s determination by providing instruments to students around the country. Now Joel’s youngest six-year-old daughter plays on a Kennedy Violins instrument. The love of music and determination to make it accessible to everyone has now reached a third generation.

More Than Just a Music Store
Over the years, Kennedy Violins has become more than just a music store; it represents the entire music community. In addition to selling and renting instruments, Kennedy Violins has been a long-time supporter of school and community music programs across the country through the donation of instruments, cases, and bows to students in need. Beyond these and other charitable contributions, the organization is a resource for music education and performance opportunities.

In a world where the arts are being pushed from center stage, organizations like Kennedy Violins bring promise to the music community both in the Northwest and throughout the country. More than ever, the affordability of musical instruments matters to budgeting families hoping to provide a musical education for their children. And thanks to visionaries like founder Joel Kennedy, these hopes are being brought to fruition—one violin at a time.

Stereotypes & Misconceptions Part I: Classical Music is for Rich People

What kinds of people listen to classical music?  Photo by Caitlin Doe.
What kinds of people listen to classical music?
Photo by Caitlin Doe

Some strange kind of stigma has become associated with classical music, and I want to get to the bottom of it. It isn’t unusual for stereotypes about classical music and its listeners or performers to exist; after all, there are similarly plenty of opinions out there about Twilight-loving teenagers, Bronies, Trekkies, band geeks, and people who wear sandals with socks.

It’s nothing new, then, to assume that all classical music and its listeners can be stuffed snugly in a box tied up with music-note-printed ribbon and mailed to Austria. But for a brief moment, I’d like to debunk some myths about classical music.


1. Classical music is for rich people.
I can see how this myth originated; in the 18th century the wealthy nobility were the patrons and commissioners of classical music, opera, and live performance. Watch a Jane Austen movie and you’ll see how playing the piano forte was as a mark of refinement.

Today, however, I will take this opportunity to inform you of some heartbreaking, but fairly well-known news: a great number of artists and musicians live in poverty. Even centuries ago they did. Music majors are among the ranks of graduates who receive the lowest starting salaries out of college. While the society at large believes in the great value of music and the arts, this is not proportionally reflected in the funding of the arts.

There definitely still remains the association of classical music with those who drink tea with their pinkies raised, or the nobility of the old aristocratic patrons. But, with the introduction of mass media and the internet, classical music is now accessible to listeners from all backgrounds around the globe.

2. Anyone who takes music lessons comes from a wealthy background.
Where people invest their money is a reflection of their values. Yes, weekly private lessons can add up as a monthly or annual expense, so are often quickly crossed off the budget when things are tight. And with the recent recession, as many families simplify their spending, it’s understandable that lessons often fall by the wayside.

However, there are so many affordable and even free opportunities to provide both children and adults with exposure to classical music. Many public schools offer orchestra programs with instruments students can use for free. Quality violins purchased online are more affordable and accessible than ever. Community centers and programs often sponsor free concerts, workshops, and even individual music lessons and scholarships for interested students.

In essence, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Be sure to take advantages of the wonderful resources that are available!

3. Music without lyrics is boring.
Yes, one might assume that because a piece of music isn’t accompanied by dramatic lyrics, fog machines, neon costumes, plastic surgery, and loud flashing lights that it must be boring. But classical musicians will tell you just the opposite.

While pop and folk music are often written with the same three chords and simple rhymes, I would almost argue that because pop music is “boring” in it’s composition, it’s easier to listen to. (Note: I am in no way arguing that classical music is “better” than pop music; the two simply serve different purposes and audiences.)

Unlike most pop music, classical music is composed with the richest of harmonic variations, the widest array of instrumentation, multiple melodies in one piece, and an incredible range of motion, tempos, and dynamics within a single composition. I believe that this is the reason why classical concert-goers sit silently while viewing and listening to a live orchestra; there are so many nuances in the music requiring focus and concentration to absorb. This is the opposite of boring–in fact, it’s both captivating and stimulating for the mind!

4. All classical music sounds the same.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. [Utterly ridiculous? Anyone?] To say that all classical music sounds the same is like saying all Asians look the same. There is so much variation and personality provided by individuals within a culture and pieces within a genre of music. Listen to Stravinky’s Rite of Spring and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending to hear a vast contrast.

5. Classical music is great for atmospheric background music.
I recently had a horribly memorable experience sitting through extremely loud, staticy rendition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons being forced down my ear canal while waiting on hold. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think classical music sounds its best from the receiver of a telephone.

As far as other background music goes, I absolutely 100% support the use of live classical music performed incidentally at receptions, parties, and other gatherings. Likewise, some classical music is wonderfully appropriate to play over the speakers in a store or restaurant. But again, I reference point number four. With the wrong set list, you may have guests or customers nodding off in their seats or running for the doors as Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance by Samuel Barber blares down from above.


To be continued!

Rent or Buy? That is the question!

1950's Music Store

Around this time every year, as the musical season gears up again, we see a lot of new string players preparing to start a new adventure.  There are inevitably A LOT of questions, and we are happy to address them.  In the past, on the blog, we have covered many topics about Beginner Basics.  One that we haven’t gone over in too much detail, though, is the question of renting vs. buying and in these tough economic times, how you spend your money is important and worth considering.

Renting is usually more affordable in terms of the monthly payment.  Our rental payments range from $14.97 a month to $92.50.  The amount you pay is determined by the instrument you need and the quality of that instrument.  Also, all stringed instrument stores have a rental agreement.  As part of the rental agreement, you may be required to commit to a minimum number of months, which is important to keep in mind.  For instance, the store may require a minimum of 6 months of payments and that amount could be close to or equal the cost of just purchasing the instrument.  Another thing to consider is what happens to the money you pay each month.  Does it go towards the eventual purchase of the instrument?  If so, how much of the monthly payments go towards the purchase?  At Kennedy Violins, we don’t have a minimum rental requirement and we set aside 55% of all rental fees as store credit that customers can use towards the purchase of any instrument.

Buying an instrument certainly requires the most  money up front, but it can be the most affordable in many cases.  If you are part of a family with several children, purchasing would give you the ability to keep the instrument after the oldest child grows out of it or looses interest and pass it on to younger children.  Or, if you were like my family and you required at least one year commitment to whatever new thing you are trying out, purchasing could be less expensive in the long run.  For instance, if you purchased Kennedy Violins’ Bunnel G2 Violin outfit, based on our current rental price, it would pay for itself in about a year.  Plus, purchasing usually means that you have “trade-in” power later when it’s time for a new size or an upgrade.

Either way, the most important factor in the decision making comes down to what the customer is comfortable with.  At Kennedy Violins, we are happy to provide both options for people ready to start the adventure of learning to play an instrument.

Violins in several sizes

Safe Travels: 8 Tips for Transporting Musical Instruments

Photo by Zoagli


With vacations nearly in full swing, you may be packing your bags to head out on that much-deserved trip to the Bahamas, your family reunion, or a huge holiday celebration. Are you planning to take your instrument with you? Whether you’re serenading a couple down the aisle, fiddling for your grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, or joining a holiday jam session, here are a few tips to consider when traveling with an instrument, large or small.


1. Know airline policies. Most small- to medium-sized instruments (such as violins, violas, ukuleles, etc.) can be brought on board as standard carry-ons. For larger instruments (such as cellos and basses), depending on the size and the airline, you may have to pay an additional fee or even purchase a ticket for your instrument companion to cross the country with you. Check out these airline policies for musical instrument transport for more details:


2. Get ready to go through security.

With random luggage items being subject to inspection, TSA recommends including “short written instructions, where a security officer will notice them, for handling and repacking your instrument.” They allow you to check a personal item, carry-on item, and musical instrument through security. Be sure to allow yourself extra time (up to 30 minutes) to get through security with your instrument in case it needs to be unpacked, inspected, and repacked for flight.


3. Prepare your instrument and bow.

Before traveling, loosen your strings a little bit–not enough that the bridge may fall over in transport, but enough that should the temperature or humidity change effect the tautness of the strings, your strings won’t snap or put too much pressure on the face of your instrument, which could cause a crack. And, as always, loosen your bow hairs to prevent your bow from snapping due to similar climate changes.


4. Pack your case well.

Planes and car rides can be bumpy! If your instrument doesn’t fit snugly and securely in your case, add some extra padding (foam, washcloths, socks, etc.) to make sure it doesn’t get jostled around too much. Consider even wrapping up your rosin to keep it from shattering or wrapping your bow in bubble wrap or carrying it on (if your cello/bass is underneath the plane) in a separate bow case or cardboard tube. Be sure to securely fasten your case shut before putting it into an overhead bin–you don’t want to pull your case out in a hurry to get off the plane and watch your violin and accessories scatter across the aisles. Check out some of Kennedy Violins’ durable and lightweight cases that are great for travel.


5. Put an ID tag on your instrument.

A musician’s worst nightmare is losing their instrument on their way to a performance. Put a proper and easy-to-find ID tag on your instrument including your full name and how to reach you: phone number, e-mail, and address.


6. Be sure you have an up-to-date insurance policy covering your instrument.

If you’ve never had your instrument appraised, that’s the first step to including it in your insurance policy. Most professional luthiers can appraise your instrument for you for a modest charge, or sometimes for free if you’re a regular customer. If anything happens to your instrument during travel (such as damage or theft), most airlines can do little to replace or repair your instrument, so being covered through a legitimate policy is essential. Contact your insurance agent for more details.


7. Consider the elements.

Especially if you’re driving, NEVER put your instrument in the trunk of your car for an extended period of time. Leaving a violin in the hot trunk (or cab) of your car can ruin the finish, melt the varnish, melt your rosin, warp the wood, cause open seams, or render your instrument in need of serious repair. If your larger instrument has to go under the plane, it may get a little cold, but for a short flight it will probably be okay. Also, consider the climate of your destination. If you’re going to a dryer climate, be sure to use a Dampit instrument humidifier to maintain a healthy humidity level in your case. The majority of Kennedy Violinscases also have a hygrometer to measure humidity levels. 40% humidity is a healthy level for most wooden instruments.


8. Think about purchasing or renting an instrument specifically for travel.

Kennedy Violins has a great selection of affordable violins, violas, and cellos that are perfect as backup instruments for travel and touring, which is a smart idea if you don’t want to risk traveling with an extremely expensive, antique, heirloom, or collector’s instrument. Our affordable instrument rental program, starting at $14.97 per month, is also another great option. We can even ship your rental instrument to your destination location (as long as you or a friend/family member were available to receive it) for your convenience.


As usual, feel free to contact us at Kennedy Violins with any questions. And wherever you’re headed with your instrument, enjoy your trip! Bon voyage!

Musical Identity: Defining Instrumentalist Personalities

The Borealis String Quartet. Photo by Vancouver 125.

Which instrument you play (or even want to play) somehow becomes an indelible part of your identity. Even now when I talk about my musicianship with strangers, I often hear, “Oh, I played the cello growing up,” or “I’ve always wanted to learn the guitar.”  To the former I say, “Do you still play?” to which they sometimes say no. So I respond saying, “Hey, it’s never too late to pick it up again!” To the latter, I say, “Hey, it’s never too late to learn!”

Either way, the fact that these individuals have, had, or want to play an instrument is a part of their identity which helps them both establish their background and relate to me as a fellow musician. It provides us with common ground and a shared interest.

But deeper than that, the instruments we identify with not only become associated with our identity, but even define our identity. Over time, as you play your instrument and spend time in your section, your orchestra, or your practice room, you may find that your specific instrument teaches you something or molds you in a specific way.


Instrument-Associated Personalities

I’ve found, as a bass player, that most bass players have similar personalities: relaxed, a little rebellious (we run off and join punk bands in high school), perhaps more introvert, “chill.” We’re often the type of people who stand at the back of the orchestra making sarcastic comments about the “uptight” violinists who don’t know when to stop practicing and take a break. (Am I stereotyping here?) Bass players usually have less competition than violinists, so we are usually less competitive individuals. Not to say we aren’t driven or dedicated, but . . . there are just a different set of demands that shape a bassist player versus, say, a violinist. Make sense? Of course these stereotypes aren’t always accurate, but still, you’ve probably noticed a difference between choir buffs, band geeks, and orchestra nerds.

This poses the question, do you choose the instrument, or does the instrument choose you? From a Kennedy Violins standpoint, it’s fascinating to observe customers choosing a violin or viola for purchase. What causes one individual to choose the rich, dark sounding Gerard with the dramatically flamed back while another chooses the Antiqued Giuliani Violin with the lighter yellow, distressed finish and a different sound altogether? What draws one towards a reddish violin, like the Giuliani Etude, and another to a dark chocolate brown, like the Bunnel G1?

Beyond choosing a specific violin, choosing which instrument to play, especially as a child, is an important decision that can shape the rest of his or her life. Helping your child choose an instrument may come down to practical decisions such as already owning a specific instrument in the home for them to begin. Do you allow the child to choose the instrument, or do you choose it for them? It’s an important decision, one that requires a balance between the child’s interests, personality, and any other factors.


Switching Instruments: Identity Crises

While the instrument that you associate yourself with will always be an important part of your identity, I hope to discourage the tendency to feel trapped or stuck playing a certain instrument. For example, I’ve heard of many children who want to play the cello or bass, but begin on the violin because it’s smaller, easier to carry, more affordable, or more accessible. Some never switch over to the instrument they intended to play, while others do. I’ve know of concert violinists switching to play the viola in college and succeeding tremendously. I’ve known many bassists who started on the cello and switched over. And I know of many violinists who have made excellent guitar players later in their musical careers.

Is it preferable to start on the original instrument you intend to play? Not necessarily. However you choose to define your musical identity, don’t be afraid to try something new. Renting a different instrument than you currently play from Kennedy Violins may be just the change you’ve been looking for to refresh your interest and personal development as a musician.

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.

Violins Are Like Legos: They’re Meant to Come Apart

The bridge, which connects the vibration of the strings to the body of the instrument, is held in place only by the tension of the strings. No glue or adhesive is necessary or even desirable. (Photo by CavinB)
You’ve seen it before. Intermission commences at the junior high orchestra concert. The suspect, a rather uncoordinated violist (who shall remain unnamed), trips over a cello and the audience gasps as it faceplants on the ground. The bridge goes flying. The strings go limp. A harried seventh grader fights backs tears as she runs to her fallen instrument thinking all is lost, her life is over, and her parents will surely disown her. And to top it off, it’s a rental.

This is usually the time in life when a young musician realizes that 1) string instruments aren’t invincible, and 2) bridges aren’t actually glued on. Who knew?

From food to furniture to clothing to vehicles, the modern era has redefined the production of life’s staples through the use of assembly lines, man-made materials, and machines. But when it comes to string instruments, there’s a reason why violins aren’t made of plastic, commercially manufactured and slapped together with duct tape.

For one, that would sound terrible. Really terrible. But has it ever occurred to you that your instrument is supposed to come apart?

For example, did you know . . .

  • The bridge is held in place by the pressure and tension of the strings. As strings stretch and tighten over time, the bridge may even lean towards the fingerboard and can be adjusted by hand. And if you were to *remove all the strings at once, the bridge would simply fall over.

*This is not recommended, especially while changing strings. Replace strings one at a time to keep the bridge properly positioned and tension on the sound post.

  • The tailpiece is suspended and held in place by the tension of the strings.
  • The sound post (the wooden dowel seen through the f-hole) is also held in place by friction and the pressure and force of the strings on the face of the instrument. Loosening or removing all the strings creates the risk of the sound post falling, which can greatly affect the sound production and quality of your instrument. The sound post can even be moved to affect the sound of the instrument for better (or worse!).
  • The endpin is not glued in but can usually be pulled out by hand.
  • Tuning pegs aren’t glued or secured in place (obviously, as you have to turn them) but are simply held by the friction created by raw wood on wood. If the pegs are difficult to turn and are sticking (sometimes creating a cracking or creaking sound as you turn the pegs), applying a substance called peg dope acts as a lubricant.
  • The face, ribs, back, fingerboard, and neck are glued in place using a water-soluble adhesive called hide glue. Hide glue, which is actually made from animal hides, has been long-used in woodworking and lutherie. The water-soluble characteristic of hide glue allows instruments to be easily taken apart and put back together without damaging the wood, which aids in both assembly and repair.

So why are violins meant to come apart? If they weren’t, parts couldn’t be replaced or repaired easily, especially without sacrificing the entire instrument. Fingerboards, nuts, bridges, tailpieces, endpins, and even necks can be replaced and restored as individual pieces of a larger and beautifully crafted puzzle.

At Kennedy Violins, we take great pride in upholding the historic tradition of handmade string instruments. As each violin, viola, cello, and bass is hand-crafted, setup, and inspected by professional luthiers, you can be confident that every piece of your instrument is expertly constructed and in its place. Top that off with Kennedy Violin’s Lifetime Warranty and you can expect your instrument to truly last a lifetime.

And that’s even more impressive than your nephew’s Lego collection, if I do say so myself.