This is a list of instrument-related recommendations which are unrelated to books. Some things are hard to give recommendations on, so I have instead listed my preferences. Before anything else, let us give a rundown of places to buy these things:
I use Southwest Strings [My Rewards Link] or Southwest Strings [regular link] to buy strings, shoulder rests, rosin, and more. Johnson String Instrument has some goods that Southwest Strings does not carry (for example, a wonderful cello chair), but I usually get better coupons for Southwest Strings (20 to 25% off at certain times); Johnson Strings usually goes up to 15% off or specific categories have a discount. Amazon.com is also good for some music things, but do some price shopping. You can visit a local music store. For example, I am closest to Hunterdon Music in Flemington, NJ. Last, some luthiers carry a few strings if you have an emergency.
This is not a “Great Gifts for Musicians” list unless you are gifting to yourself or your child or, maybe, gifting that adjustable chair because it is pretty handy. The fact is, instruments are tools, and most people have preferred tools.
I am not infrequently asked about luthiers in New Jersey, whether by my students or colleagues who have just moved into the area. Students want better violins than the ones picked up on Amazon or the local general music shop and colleagues want repairs. There are not really any luthiers in Hunterdon County, a prime place to see mooing cows and selfish deer in New Jersey, so I go north. I usually visit:
Karin Menzel in Boonton, NJ. I have taken violins, cellos, and violin bows to this shop. I have bought a violin from her. I began visiting in 2014.
Mo Menzel at Menzel Violins in Livingston, NJ. I have taken violins, cellos, and violin bows to this shop. I have bought violins and bows from this shop. I began visiting when it was still her father’s shop in 1998.
It is hard to give recommendations for strings, because it is highly dependent on the instrument and your playing needs. However, the following are my preferences:
I use a set of D’Addario Helicore, medium tension, on my cello; I have not experimented at all, and I am satisfied with the sound. I do hobby and orchestral playing only.
I have played with many string combinations on violins, though. I have done enough to make a very long post. The short version is that I have always preferred Pirastro strings, even if Mo Menzel once told my mother about how Itzhak Perlman makes all his students use Thomastik Infeld Red and persuaded my mother to buy a set of Infeld Reds, which meant that I briefly used Infeld Reds and then Infeld Blues. I have wondered whether I have preferred the German Pirastro strings because most of my early violins were German-made and they somehow complement each other.
Other than a brief visit with Infeld Red/Blue and Dominant, the E string on my violin has been Pirastro Gold Label E for a very long time. My A, D, and G are usually Pirastro Obligato or Pirastro Eudoxa. I love the warmth of the Eudoxa gut strings, but having to retune them so frequently is not my thing and does not work well when playing with others. The synthetic Obligato gives me a compromise.
On another violin, I have Evah Pirazzi or Evah Pirazzi Gold. This is the one I use for for solos nowadays and for chamber music in some circumstances (as in, loud brass instrument or electric something). The EP strings came with the violin, and they definitely want me to know they are there with their bright, focused, loud selves. I prefer the comfortableness of the Obligatos.
Another potentially long post, but I think any rosin of a certain minimal quality is fine. This means no excessive dusting and rosin actually works and stays on the bow. I do not believe that rosin expires or deteriorates enough that one must buy a new cake every year. I have used some rosins for more than 2 decades. I usually stop using a rosin because it has cracked and I do not want a messy violin case. Reliable ones are Bernardel, Hidersine (but some of my students complain about the tin getting stuck), Hill, Pirastro, and L’Opera Jade.
I last used Pirastro Gold rosin for a few years. It was adequate and reliable. Then, it cracked. I am currently trying out some Sartory. My students like how the Satory rosin’s box looks.
Please note that your cello needs dark rosin. You can use light or dark rosin for your violin depending on the season, but go with light rosin generally. I use Hill Dark, for my cello playing.
Cellists and harpists can both use an adjustable chair to help with posture. For the learning cellist, this is indispensable because posture relies so much on sitting at the proper height. You also need the right height for a harp. I particularly like Johnson Strings’ JSI W-30 Adjustable Musician’s Seat, but I have never managed to buy this for less than US$125. A less expensive adjustable round stool (~US$30) may suffice for children.
Actually, this recent holiday (Christmas 2018 – January 2019), it dropped to $109!
Like strings and rosins, this could be a long post of its own. The short version is that I like the classic Kun rest. With folding legs, when possible. This may be a preference out of habit because I have used Kun rests since I began playing the violin. I also have a fancy Kun Bravo that actually does seem to make my violin sound even better, according to a few people who listened.
Everest rests looks solid, and my students who use it have not broken any of those, unlike Muco shoulder rests where I see at least one broken every year.
I also use Big Softie rests for younger violinists. Yes, it is just covered foam, but uncovered foam pads always seem to break long before we are done using them.
I do not have as much experience with different music stands, but I would recommend the Manhasset. I have used mine for 22 years, and it still works fabulously.
For folding stands, I have not been able to find ones with the right balance between weight and sturdiness for my liking. I have one folding stand my mother bought for me when I was much younger that is the best balance I have found so far. It unfortunately has no branding on it, so I have been unable to track down more of them.
The Manhasset Voyager is very nice and sturdy collapsible stand, but it is a little large to comfortably carry for long periods of time. It was also ridiculously difficult to put together for the first time (requires removing a nut on a rod that will not stay still and there is not much space for you to hold the rod still so you can turn that nut!), but I fortunately will not have to do that again after putting the base and shaft together.
I like using washi tape for fingering tape. It falls off sooner than usual fingering tape and the student is encouraged to not use tape sooner. I also choose bright colours so that the tape is easy to see and so that students become more self-conscious about the fingering tape over time.
The Bow Hold Buddy is the best bow hold aid in terms of results, I have found. It forces spacing between the index and middle finger, there is room to make the thumb curve, and the pinky has its own home. This bow accessory is more expensive than other bow aids, so I usually keep some to lend out to students.