Where to Buy/Rent/Repair Stringed Instruments

Parent Q&A

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  • Where to get a violin fixed

    (3 replies)

    I have an old violin that is of pretty good quality, but has been languishing in a corner for years, if not decades. I want to take it in to get it shipshape again, get the bow rehaired, etc. Can you please recommend a reputable place in the East Bay? Closer to Alameda would be awesome, but willing to drive for a good place that it has an amazing reputation. Thanks!

    There used to be a well-known & highly respected luthier on Colusa near the Kensington Circle, but I'm not sure if he's still in business.  I'd call the Berkeley Symphony and/or the Cal music department and ask for recommendations. 

    Tom Croen

    A real professional recommended by my friend who plays, teaches and collects valuable instruments.  


    Joan Balter is the luthier extraordinaire in N. Berkeley. I have taken instruments to her for repair. I have purchased instruments and bows from her as well. She is competent, knowledgeable, and kind. Her hours are limited, so if you need another place you can try Ifshin Violins in El Cerrito. They are a large, established violin shop, but some of the employees there are grumpy and unhelpful. I walked out once and went straight to Joan because the Ifshin employee was so rude to me. I should have gone to Joan to begin with, but that time my daughter's violin teacher had recommended Ifshin for some reason. I also have purchased instruments from Ifshin and taken them there for repair. They will get the job done, but going to Joan is a much more pleasant experience.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Looking for a 1/2 size violin

Sept 2015

My daughter is growing out of her 1/4 size violin, but would like to continue with her instrument. Does anyone have a good used 1/2 size violin they are done with? Perhaps languishing in a closet somewhere? We would be glad to reimburse you, but figured we would check here before buying something new. Thanks!

f you don't get a satisfactory response, check out Peter Van Arsdale (vanviolins.com). You should confirm, but I believe he has a trade-in policy that would let you keep trading up in size for the same student violin model for no money except for the cost of any necessary repairs. He's a good guy. I bought my student violin ('Christino Prelude') from him many years ago and have since traded up to a more expensive violin as well as bought a viola from him. The student model he sells is a very decent violin. You can tell him I referred you. Francesca R

Vintage Violin Repair

Jan 2012

I have a violin that is at least 50 years old and is in great condition but could use a new set of strings and other minor repairs. Are there any repair shops in the East Bay or South Bay that specialize in repairing vintage violins? Thanks. jen

I recommend beginning your search with Ishfin Violins on Fairmont Ave, just above San Pablo, in El Cerrito. coco

I'm glad you're wanting to get your violin in shape! And I hope you'll enjoy playing it. But, first of all, a violin that is 50 years old is not really a 'vintage' violin; it would actually be considered fairly new. (My violin was made in 1712! Not kidding!) For most repairs, and certainly for re-stringing, Ifshin Violins on Fairmount in El Cerrito is perfectly adequate. You can ask them to look over your instrument (and your bow) to see if any additional work is needed. They're trustworthy and competent. Check out their website at http://www.ifshinviolins.com A Berkeley violinist

I would like to recommend Rachael Soroka. She used to have a website but it looks like it is down? Although I have not experienced her repairs myself, I know that this is her specialty. You can reach her at (415) 317-0581 or email rachael [at] sorokaviolins.com. She is in the East Bay and does this by appointment only. Good luck. anon

Where to buy a cello

December 2001

I am looking for a cello for a 9 yr. old. Any suggestions old or new welcomed. Thank you diana

Whether or not to buy a cello for a nine year old depends on many factors. How serious a player is your child and for how long have they been playing? What size cello are you looking for? Do you plan to trade the cello in for a larger size when your child outgrows it or will you be reselling it yourself? What is your budget? Decent small size cellos, the maker called Jay Haide, can be rented from Ifshin's in Berkeley for $50 per month. They have cheaper, lesser quality cellos for rent as well. To buy, a good quality small sized cello will cost from $2,000 to $3,000 (or more). Joan Balter, a private studio in Berkeley, 524-4333 has a good collection. Kamimoto String Instruments in San Jose is a good source, 408 298-8168, and Roland Feller in San Francisco, 415 567-3708.

Sometimes, as in our case, a Master teacher will have fine cellos to lend to students. It is very difficult to find good small cellos, easy to find mediocre ones. There is not much of a re-sale market for cellos smaller than 3/4. Lucy

And now a response to the where-to-buy-a-cello request: Try Ifshin violins on University Ave. in Berkeley. Jane

We rent our cello from Ifshin Violins at 1633 University Avenue. They outgrow cellos so quickly, even though it's costly, it seemed less costly than buying. Also, if you rent, Ifshin will take care of any problems (buzzing strings, slipped bridge, change strings when needed, etc). They also sell cellos, if you really want to buy.

For rentals (if Ifshin doesn't have the right size at the moment), you could also try Aeril Whitback, who runs The Cello Orphanage in Danville, at (925) 837-3814. She repairs damaged cellos and generally rents them out, although sometimes sells them as well.

There is also a catalogue company, Shar Music, that has reasonable priced cellos (relatively, the least expensive begin a bit below $1000 and go up from there). They have a web site, http://www.sharmusic.net/home.htm. Cynthia Kroll

How wonderful your child is taking up the cello. I have a nine year old son who has been playing for a year now. Perhaps even more important than where you buy, is that you get assistance from your cello teacher. I do recommend Ifshin on University Ave. in Berkeley, and they are knowledgeable, helpful, wonderful. Ideally, meet your cello teacher there and he/she can help you through the process, choosing the right instrument for your child. Ifshin does rent, but we purchased an older cello, which Henry has now almost outgrown. Ifshin has an excellent buy back program when you trade up to a larger instrument. Hope this helps Nuckypuff

Where to Buy or Rent a Violin

March 2008

I am looking for a reliable shop to rent a violin for my son. I was renting at Ifshin in Berkeley, but upon returning the instrument, found they and I did not agree on what the insurance I had been paying for covered. I understand that there are good Chinese instruments available and am looking for one. violin mom

I don't know anywhere else to rent, but if you want to BUY a good Chinese violin at a good price, Peter Van Arsdale (www.vanviolins.com) sells one, $400 for the violin, bow, and case. I bought one from him a few years ago and at the time he had this trade-in policy: will buy the violin back from you for the amount you paid minus cost of repairs when you buy another violin from him. My violin teacher was VERY impressed with my violin. Francesca

A really good resource you'll want to know about is Ifshin Violins (1633 University Ave., (510) 843-5486). In addition to renting and repairing string instruments, they can provide you an extensive listing of teachers in the area, iincluding their specialies (classical, fiddle, etc.) ages taught, and methods. They, too, have their own web site: http://www.ifshinviolins.com/

From: Becky

My daughter played viola for a few years and we really enjoyed the atmosphere at Ifshin Violins at 1633 University Avenue. They give lessons there, and I'm sure they could recommend some at home instructors. There's another place at 2035 University called Berkeley Violin Center, but I know nothing about them.

Consider Ifshin Violins at 1633 University Avenue (between Jefferson and McGee). Phone 843-5466. Also has a rental business upstairs - phone 843-5486. We purchased a Jaye-Hayde violin for my sixth grader there for $1000 + after he spent a year on a $100 violin from an ordinary music store and showed some talent. He loves the better violin: so much easier to play. For us uneducated folks, violins all seem to look alike, but not so! We're currently renting a good-quality viola for my fifth-grade daughter. --Bonnie

Where to Buy a Half-sized violin

Feb. 2003

My daughter has outgrown her 1/4 size violin and we are now looking to buy a 1/2 size violin. Do you have one in decent condition you would like to sell or can you recommend a good place to find one? Thomas

I'd talk to Ifshin Violins on University Ave. in Berkeley. They sell a line, Jay Haide, that all of our teachers thought sounded very good for the price. They are a model of probity, and a pleasure to deal with.

You may want to consider renting, instead of buying, especially if you have no younger child to inherit an outgrown instrument. Ifshin rents, too. I believe Ifshin will credit 6 months of your rental payments toward the purchase price of a fiddle should you decide to buy the one you are renting, as we did. Some rental fiddles, though, they simply refuse to sell, no mattered how enamored the would-be buyer! sreilly