Bowstring musical instruments are considered the most difficult to play. That hasn’t stopped many new students from taking up the violin. It remains the fifth most popular musical instrument that people play, behind the piano, guitar, drums and flute.
In St. Louis County, the go-to shop for new and used violins, either for sale or rent, is Top Notch Violins at 3109 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood. Top Notch is one of the independent shops along Sutton that has made Maplewood a hotbed of creative entrepreneurship. A couple of doors down from Top Notch is region’s one and only cat café.
Top Notch has only been in business for just four years, but it has gained a reputation for customer service and quality. They also offer expert craftsmanship in repairs and restoration.
The secret to their success is that the trio of Top Notch partners—master craftsman Ted Moniak, sales guru Stephen Nowels, and operations/logistics chief Chris Clark—love what they do.
All three grew up in the St. Louis area. Their enthusiasm for music and stringed instruments is infectious, and they make a special effort to educate customers, Clark said.
“We begin educating our clientele when they walk in the door,” he said. “Most of them don’t have a lot of experience with violins. They can be intimidated, so we try to deflate that, by explaining the difference between a $9,000 instrument and a $900 instrument.”
Most new violin players don’t need to spend thousands of dollars, Nowels said. Entry-level instruments run between $300 and $500. Rentals are even more affordable, at $170 per year. And three years of rent can be applied directly to the purchase of the rental instrument.
The inventory at Top Notch includes much higher-end instruments as well. The objective is to match the customer with the right instrument.
“Our niche is our relationship with teachers,” Nowels said. “There are a lot of people doing it for the love of doing it, there are teachers we have longstanding relationships with, and we help them and their students.”
In addition to violins, Top Notch sells and services violas, cellos and double basses. In 2018, they also plan to begin manufacturing instruments, in their Maplewood facility. That will be sweet music to violin students in St. Louis County.