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Why Can't I find a Nice Violin for less than 1K USD?

February 13, 2012 at 11:29 PM

I've started playing the violin this year. I had sold my German Strad copy for $3800 USD when I was about 33 because my family needed the money. 16 years later I'm having such enjoyment again playing the violin. My story here is about violin choice. Like every other hard-working American, I'm always looking for a deal. I told my wife in December that I wanted a violin to play for enjoyment. I have a bunch of nice guitars but I wanted to play the violin again. I purchased one of Shar's Franz Hoffman Maestro outfits.

When it got here, it didn't look like the picture, and the varnish job wasn't the best. The bad spots, runs, bubbles, were left around edges and not rubbed out. The majority of the instrument was probably machine rubbed with pumice. Anyhow, it came with a nice case and a bow. And, it sounded okay. It sounded better than I expected. I wasn't satisfied.

I then found a Jacob Stainer copy violin supposed to be made in 1794 (label marked). It was not strung but I could refurbish it and probably get a really nice "sounding" violin that "looks good too". So I was off to the workbench every night trying to get this violin back together so that I could play it. Someone had broken the button and re-glued the neck with epoxy. I was able to glue the sides and the back with hide glue (the right way) and then re-varnish the entire instrument. It turned out beautifully, however the neck was left as-is. I setup the violin with new fittings all over and fit a new bridge. When I put a new set of Dominants on this violin, it sounded beautiful. The problem is that the fingerboard needs to be replaced, reshaped, and the bridge done correctly. I purposely fit the bridge with the strings high because I didn't want to mess with the fingerboard. The violin will be a excellent starter instrument because the lower positions sound awesome. I'm still not satisfied.

I next find an Alfred Stingl Hofner AS-360 (approx. $700 retail) outfit on eBay and I get that. It arrives and I can't believe the volume of this violin. It's LOUD! It's so loud that I don't realize it for a while practicing and then a few days later I compare violins (all 3). Guess who wins?

The Shar student violin (the cheap one) actually sounds better than any one. And, it has the least need of a luthier. The Hofner may be a very good violin if it had a soundpost adjustment. I did the soundpost on the Stainer copy myself so I also moved the soundpost on the Hofner and it didn't change the sound. I didn't take it to the luthier.

The moral of my story is that I want a violin and I guess I want a violin that costs more than a $1000 USD. I talked to John Montgomery in Raleigh and he said I need to try a few violins between the 1K and 3K range and I will probably find one I like. I can't afford that now but I guess that's what I should have done when I asked the wife for one for Christmas. If I had said 1-3K she would have said no. Uh-oh! So I guess now I keep telling myself, wow! this Franz Hoffman with the pine neck really sounds good.

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