How often do you play your backup instrument(s)?

Certain situations call for a “backup” instrument. A backup can be an old instrument that took a back seat when you got a nicer one, or it can be an instrument that you purchased or acquired expressly to be a “back-up.” It can even be a different instrument – like a violinist having a backup that is a mandolin!

The most obvious use for a “backup” instrument is when your violin is in the shop for repair or upkeep. While many shops will loan you a violin (or viola, cello, etc.), it can be handy to have another instrument that feels familiar and comfortable to use.

But there are plenty of other occasions for using a backup instrument. For example, you might not want to use your beloved and (possibly very expensive) primary instrument for an outdoor concert, especially if the weather looks particularly cold, hot, humid, windy or threatening. When I was in college, I spent a summer playing three shows a night at EPCOT, in Orlando, Florida, which is notorious for sudden changes in weather. There were dozens of concerts in which a surprise rainstorm sent us running off-stage, mid-show! A backup violin would have been very useful in that situation.

As a student, back in the day, I kept a backup violin in my locker at school so I didn’t have to bring it back and forth, and so that I didn’t have to take my better violin to school. The better violin stayed at home, for practice and youth orchestra.

As a teacher, I have a “backup” — a nice-sounding student violin — that I use in classroom settings, especially if I’m teaching, say, a “pre-Twinkle class” to a group of small and wiggly children, with lots of games and activities.

Travel can also be a good time to use a backup. In an early interview, violinist Hilary Hahn talked about going on a rafting trip and taking a junior-sized Martin guitar, just to have something to play while on vacation. With airplane travel as difficult as it is, taking a backup instrument might feel less stressful. It also might be the best choice for a long car trip, where the instrument will be in the trunk, in hotel rooms, etc.

The Colorado-based fiddler Andy Reiner provides an example of perhaps the most interesting use of a backup instrument: he skis down mountains while playing his violin! He calls the violin he uses for this a stunt instrument or, with affection, a “beater violin”!

For many musicians, a “backup” instrument might simply be an instrument they use for a different genre of music. You might have one instrument for the concert hall and another for playing bluegrass at a nightclub.

Do you have a backup instrument? How did you acquire it? For what occasions do you use your backup instrument? Please participate in the vote and then tell us all about your experiences with backup instruments.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.