With rental season starting soon, you may be wondering whether you should buy a new viola or rent one. The answer is not simple and usually requires weighing not only the upfront monetary cost, but whether the student will continue playing for years to come or stop three months into starting. My parents personally bought me a used viola straight out of the classifieds for $80 with no idea whether I’d continue playing. Sure enough, seventeen years later and I’m still playing strong. I’ll start my analysis of the problem of whether to rent or buy a viola with an overview of the typical costs of of renting and buying a viola.

How much does buying a viola cost?

Brand new beginner viola outfits usually range from ~$100-$250 on Amazon depending on the brand. We highly recommend the Cecilio viola brand for beginners due to the quality and sound provided for the price. Used violas are usually cheaper and can be found in most local music shops. In addition, local music shops can often be negotiated with since they usually buy in bulk and are looking to get rid of inventory. The main benefit of buying a viola is that it generally retains its value throughout its life which makes trading it in for a larger size or higher quality instrument very viable.

A typical new beginner viola outfit includes:

  • A student model viola ($50-$150 value)
  • A beginner viola bow ($15-$50 value depending on whether it’s fiberglass or wood)
  • A viola case ($50 value)
  • Extra strings ($50 value)
  • Extra bridge ($20 value)

It’s generally best to buy an entire viola outfit since the individual components could easily end up costing double to price of the outfit package.

How much does renting a viola cost?

The other option you have when acquiring a viola is to rent it. Generally this is done through a local music shop and you pay a monthly rental fee. My old music shop, Foxes Music, charges $10-$20 per month for used violas and $18-$25 for new violas. Since you do not own the instrument, music shops will often tack on a nominal insurance fee ($4.50 a month for Foxes) to protect themselves against the instrument being damaged or lost. It’s important to note that this fee does not cover expendable items such as strings or accessories.

The most important benefit of renting a viola is that you don’t own the instrument, so if it’s damaged or your student wants to quit, you can just return it to the music store. No need to pay a repair bill or find a buyer.

Most music shops also provide credits toward buying an instrument when you rent. Foxes Music credits your account 100% per month for the first year rent and 50% per month thereafter. Not a bad deal, but let’s do a comparison.

To Buy or To Rent – An Example

Let’s assume your student decides to play the viola for one year and you choose to rent a new viola for $20/month. At the end of the year, you’ll have spent $294 (12 months x ($4.5 insurance +$20 monthly rental fee)). You now have $240 in rental credits from your music shop to use towards a new viola of equal or greater value. However, if your student no longer wishes to play viola, you have just spent $294 that cannot be recouped.

Now let’s assume your student decides to play the viola for one year and you choose to buy a new viola from Amazon. Let’s say you pay $200 up-front for the instrument and buy a $15 two-year protection plan. You’d end up spending $215, but you’d own the instrument and have the same protection as a rental. In addition, you’d have an instrument worth about $190 (assuming the value decreased slightly over the year because of slight damage) which could be traded-in for a better one or sell back or $190 if no longer interested.

If this is confusing, a table showing the overall costs might help.

Buying
Renting
Total Cost $215 $294

Total cost after 1 year of playing viola

Clearly the “buying” option is cheaper in this case, but how does it stack up to trade-in and resale values?

Buying
Renting
Trade-in Value $190 $240
Resale Value $190 $0

Total values after 1 year of playing viola

Here you can clearly see that because the “buying” option has a much higher resale value, you will be able to recoup most of your costs if your student decides not to continue playing. Even though the trade-in value is higher, if your student decides not to continue playing, you won’t see any of that value.

Conclusion

Choosing whether to buy or rent a viola is often a tough decision that requires cost analysis and judgement. Compare all the new violas on the market and consider whether your student will likely continue playing the viola for longer than a year. Since violas rarely depreciate in value, buying a viola makes more sense than renting in most cases since even if the student decides not to continue, you can always sell the viola for almost full value.

In short, renting a viola can be worth it if:

  • Your budget dictates a monthly payment instead of the full cost up-front
  • The student is uncertain about whether they will continue playing viola
  • You don’t want the liability of owning an instrument outright
  • Your student is trying out different instruments and is unsure about whether they want to commit to the viola

While buying a viola can be worth it if:

  • You can afford to buy the viola up-front
  • You’re okay taking on the ownership of a musical instrument
  • You are fairly confident that your student will continue playing after the first year

Choosing to rent or buy a viola is a personal decision and we hope that this guide will help you with your decision.

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