A Short Guide to Successful String Instrument Rentals

string instrument rental

[Editor’s Note: The following post is intended as a resource for parents of first year orchestra students. Feel free to link to this post in your communications with parents and students.]

Renting, rather than purchasing, a string instrument can be a wise decision. This is particularly true for beginning string students, for whom purchasing a string instrument may be either overwhelming or difficult to justify. But there are many things to consider when renting a string instrument, and it is important to work with your string instrument retailer to gain a clear understanding of the rental process. This guide will help towards this end, and will highlight some of the important decisions to make before renting: They will have implications for many years to come.

Before You Rent

Know that string instruments vary widely in their overall quality. Because they are made of wood, there is variation between the quality of different selections of wood, and two same-model instruments from a maker therefore can be very different in overall quality and sound. Thus, it is wise to have an independent third party (preferably a knowledgeable string player/teacher) look at the specific instrument before committing to the rental.

You might also search for reviews and discussions of the particular string maker online; this information will give some indication of the long-term quality of the instrument, and will provide a sense of the resale potential of the instrument if you end up owning at the end of the rental term. And make sure that the instrument is rented in a playable condition, with quality fittings, good strings, a quality bow (often overlooked, but extremely important!), a quality protective case, and a professional setup to make playing as safe, easy, and enjoyable as possible from the very beginning.

Some, but not all, rental agreements have a return policy for the first month(s) of the rental agreement. This policy is helpful if the student decides not to continue after the first few weeks. So if there is any chance that the student will not be able to make a long-term commitment to playing, make sure that your rental agreement has a return policy.

Finally, be clear about the rental terms: How many months is the rental? Do you gain equity in the instrument over the course of the rental period (i.e.: is it rent-to-own)?  Does all of your rental payment translate into building equity into the instrument, or only a fraction? How much do you end up paying during the rental term, and how does this compare to the ultimate value of the instrument? Are you able to trade up to a larger sized or better quality instrument during the rental period with all (or only part) of the equity you have put into the instrument, and how does this affect the terms of the agreement? If you decide to purchase the instrument well before the rental term is up, can you receive a discount on the purchase price?

All of this information is vital to have before you pay over the course of many years for an instrument that you ultimately may not want to own, or may be worth only a fraction of what you paid into over those years.

During the Rental

In my fifteen years of classroom and private string teaching, I have seen more variation in the midst of string rentals, and how issues arising after several months of renting are handled by various dealers. Often these issues catch the renter by surprise, so it is helpful to consider how these issues are handled, prior to renting.

The first variation is dealing with routine maintenance. : Fingerboards need to be dressed (the wood of new instruments often warps over time, necessitating a follow-up planing of the fingerboard or a bridge refitting), seams may open on newer instruments as the wood continues to age and shrink. Bow hair breaks and wears out, and strings need to be replaced. Find out if any or all routine maintenance is included in the rental agreement. Strings are often not included in routine maintenance.

If you rented from a dealer outside of your current area (either online, or after you moved out of the area), find out if shipping and shipping insurance are provided by the dealer, or if you have to pay shipping in either or both directions. How long will the student be without an instrument, or does the dealer provide a loaner? Does the dealer have a reciprocal agreement with a local repair person, in order to avoid shipping?

The second variation in rental agreements concern is dealing with catastrophic maintenance. Is there insurance included in the agreement in case the unexpected happens? If so, is there a deductible? Is any needed repair work done onsite, or does the instrument get sent to a third party? What is the general quality of the repair work? (This will affect the resale value of the instrument if repair work is not done to a high standard.) Again, if the instrument is rented from out of town, what is the shipping policy, and is there a loaner or replacement automatically provided?

Finally, there is the variation of handling string instrument defects. Even the best quality instrument makers can produce an instrument with a structural problem or a bad piece of wood. What is the warranty on the instrument? If there is a defect, does the instrument get replaced or will the dealer attempt to repair it first? Is there a “lemon” policy, where the instrument gets replaced after a clear number of repairs, or is it possible that the instrument will spend repeated periods in the repair shop, and hence draining any motivation for playing?

End of the Rental

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a clear understanding of the end of the rental before you begin the rental. Will you own the instrument at the end, or do you have to return it to the store? Is there a penalty for early termination of the rental, and if so, are there any circumstances that would be an exception?

If you return it to the store, do they have a record of any damage on the string instrument, and might you end up responsible for any wear and tear on the instrument? If you paid an additional deposit, will that be returned at the end of the rental? If you rented-to-own, will you end up with an instrument that is worth keeping—and one that can hold its value over many years? Are you able to trade up to a better instrument before the end of the rental term, and how will this affect the terms of the rental agreement? (i.e.: does all of your equity transfer to the new rental?)

In summary, I have provided a checklist to help you make informed decisions and gain clarity into the rental process. Happy renting!

  • Rent, or rent-to-own?
  • Return policy for the first month(s)?
  • Penalty for early termination?
  • Deposit is refundable?
  • Transfer of equity is clear?
  • Instrument is made by a quality, known, string maker?
  • Good setup and bow/instrument case, ideally as verified by an independent string specialist
  • Any damage on a rental of a used instrument is noted, and store policy on routine wear is noted
  • Warranty on instrument?
  • Routine maintenance is provided, with clear exceptions (strings often are not covered)?
  • Lemon policy in contract?
  • Insurance is provided, with reasonable terms?
  • Shipping, in case of move?
  • Repairs are handled onsite or locally?
  • Loaners are available?

My objective in this post is not to make the process seem daunting, but simply to suggest the questions you might ask before an agreement is made. I hope this eliminates confusion later and contributes to a happy rental experience for all involved!

Richard Niezen is a double bassist, conductor, and string teaching specialist. He currently oversees the strings program at Colorado Christian University, and has worked as a conductor and adjudicator throughout the Rocky Mountain region. He has a Master’s Degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and a PhD in Educational Research from the University of Colorado. Dr. Niezen has spent his last decade actively working as a private studio instructor, with an emphasis in addressing the needs of older learners. He has also been developing curricula, as well as researching music career preparation and educational policy issues.

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