How does a cheap violin affect progress for a beginner?

May 4, 2011 at 04:28 PM ·

I'm convinced that part of the reason for my very slow progress is the brand.  I was just reading a previous thread on good sounding cheap violins, but I still have my own question.  In that thread the person has a Palatino.  So do I.  I just started playing 5 months ago.  It was only 3 months into that I finally felt I improved.  But since then, I feel that I have not improved.  That I keep hitting a wall. I practice 2 hours a day 5 days a week, sometimes 6 days depending on my schedule.  I've been taking weekly violin lessons.  And still, with all that, I can't seem to get over the next wall.  I was thinking, it can't be all me can it???  I also have a very cheap brand trumpet, but I can play beautifully on it with no problems.  But, I have been playing brass for years and years, so maybe that is why.  When I decided to learn violin, I was not ready to pay $1,000 for one until I knew it was something I really wanted.  So I went with the cheapest, most inexpensive one they had, which was a Palatino.  The guy who sold it to me even said there is a difference between the one I'm choosing and the more expensive ones.  At first I thought, he was just trying to get me to spend more money.  I practice hard.  I take my practices seriously.  I love playing violin.  And I know its something I'll continue pursuing.  I get frustrated because I keep thinking my lack of progress can't be all me.  I don't want to blame a cheap violin for my lack of progress, but is it possible that something here?  That my lack of progress has something to do with the cheapest violin in the world?

Replies (19)

May 4, 2011 at 05:09 PM ·

Go to a violin shop and ask to try a few violins in different price ranges, and you will find out soon enough whether it's the instrument holding you back.

May 4, 2011 at 05:28 PM ·

I started out, as a child, on a VSO...but didn't know how bad it was until I was an adult and started up again (after a long hiatus).  I then got a good violin, and WHAT a difference that made to my playing, and to my pleasure in playing.  I could actually hear what I was doing wrong, and I couldn't before because the instrument did not respond well enough that I could tell what was what.

Having said that, and having had the opportunity to test drive many violins over the last 5 years, a responsive violin does not have to be expensive.  As a rule, the more expensive violins are better, but you can get a very good beginner violin, that is nicely responsive, for very little money.  Last summer I purchased a $350 Eastman 80 package as my spare...and it's very good for the price.  Had I started with such an instrument, I would have progressed much more quickly.

I also want to add, that if you want to purchase a much better quality violin (and can afford it), for the sheer pleasure of it, go right ahead too.  I  don't appreciate the sentiment that a 'high' quality violin is wasted on a beginner, especially an adult. 

May 4, 2011 at 05:54 PM ·

as discussed in another thread, generalization can make it more confusing.

for example, some violins are ok, but set up poor, so the sound production is poor and the violins mislabeled as bad.

some violins are bad no matter what.   people with limited experiences may not be able to tell what is what.

some fraction violins for beginners, constrained by size and makers' lack of interest to put in extra effort to make them sound good (does not pay), are so so no matter what.  they are meant to be transitional tools for a period of time.  we need to balance being ideal vs being practical.  a $10K rare italian 1/4 violin does not make a young musician.  ask around those competition winners from all over the world.  did most of them have the luxury of a great beginning violin?  

i think it is perfectly fine for an adult beginner to dabble into the market with a lower priced one.  but personally if i were to pick out an instrument for myself, i would not go the new, chinese route; i would pick out an older german violin.  couple hundreds bucks can't go wrong.   i find it odd that individual violins get branded as if they are models of cars.

about enjoyment.  sure, if you have the money and interest, go for it.  it is great for the economy.  and one's own pride and,,i am worth it!   if you don't, buy something within the means and learn to appreciate what really make the violins sing. in addn, i think a better bow can make a good violin sound better earlier than the player him/herself, haha.

May 4, 2011 at 07:04 PM ·

Inexpensive violins don't have to sound bad or be hard to play - good sounding violins can be found in any price range, but easy-to-play violins are harder to find in the cheapest ranges (unless you are willing to shell out more money for a good setup).

I believe that kids are much more tolerant to bad equipment than adults - I had a short affair with the violin when I was 12 and it was a bliss. My mom bought me the cheapest 4/4 outfit, but it sounded good and looked beautiful to me. I progressed so fast that my teacher thought that I could have been a prodigy... I did not need a shoulder rest, and everything was so easy.  As an adult learner, I have been searching for a suitable violin for almost two years (even tried 1/2 size violins), and I struggle with discomfort and left-hand techniques.  When I saw my childhood violin, I was stunned - it fits the descriptions of a VSO to a T - heavy, shiny, painted fingerboard and purfling, plastic fittings, and cotton twine as tailgut. I used alcohol to clean the rosin crust off the top and did not hurt the "varnish"... The bridge was at least 1 inch too close to the fingerboard and way off center, the string spacings were all wrong. BUT - it still makes decent sounds, and is pretty easy to play...  The same with the bicycle -  when I was a kid, I could ride a cheapo single speed that was too big for me for hours with ease, and now with a much fancier well-fitted bike, it's laborious and painful sometimes...

May 4, 2011 at 07:50 PM ·

I started learning the violin just over 10 months ago.  I can tell you that sometimes you feel you make good progress and sometimes you hit a brick wall and think it will never get better.  Then one day you realize that you can learn a new piece faster or maybe that snarkey noise you use to make all the time takes you by suprise because you haven't heard it in so long.   As for the instrument, I was lucky to have rented for a few months at first.  It was a cheap violin and a cheap bow.  But it made an ok sound that wasn't annoying and it was easy to play.  When I had money to actually purchase, I went to a shop that sells many violins that have been refurbished or are on consignment.  I played each one in my addmittedly low price range until I found the one the felt good and sounded good to my ears and to my friends ears.  Most people would still consider this a cheap violin but it sounds good to me and gets the job done. 

As has been mentioned on other threads - maybe take your violin to a luthier that sells bows.  Consider replacing your bow and see if that helps. 

May 4, 2011 at 08:28 PM ·

 Having a really cheap violin can have a very adverse effect on your progress. I've talked about the reasons why before, in this blog. It may not be fair, but it just is what it is. A violin that gives you poor response is a lot like a very, very slow computer that has low capability. You will not accomplish the same thing on a violin that does not support you.

May 4, 2011 at 10:20 PM ·

I took a shot at it in the Surprised by a good-sounding "cheap" violin thread, but Laurie's blog is well worth reading, should you have questions about the matter.

I don't sell inexpensive violins, good or bad, so I have no financial axe to grind. Just trying to help.

May 5, 2011 at 02:28 AM ·

 If you get it in your head that the instrument is holding you back, that psychological block can be more limiting than the instrument itself.

If you have a sound in your head and you want to hear that sound bad enough, you will produce it, no matter what VSO is in your hands. You should hear the miracles that a lot of kids in Venezuela are performing on very cheap violins.

May 5, 2011 at 04:28 AM ·

Go try out some other violins. If the instrument is unresponsive you can 'outgrow' it technically rather quickly, because it will not give you positive feedback (beautiful tone) when you play correctly. I went through this and traded up twice until I found my current instrument.

That being said, price isn't everything. When looking, view each violin as an INDIVIDUAL, and try not to place too much emphasis on maker, especially in the lower value instruments. The price tag isn't necessarily an indication of that specific violin's tonal quality, especially when you're looking for a suitable student instrument.  My son's  ($600) violin is new Chinese and sounds very full and warm and fairly well balanced (strangely much different than the others in the same shipment!) 

You won't be able to get the most out of the upgraded instrument in the beginning, but as you improve you will grow into it's capabilities, and the violin will 'reward' you with sound when you play correctly. A bad violin sounds bad pretty much no matter who plays it because it's not capable of good tonalization. I concur with the statement that nicer instruments are NOT wasted on the newer student!  Being rewarded with beautiful tone inspires you to keep learning and positively reinforces correct technique.


May 5, 2011 at 05:26 AM ·

... Considering that the most of us DID NOT get a good violin until we were about 18 (and a lot of us start when we're toddlers), I highly doubt it's your cheap violin. None of us started with 1/4 size Strads.

String responsiveness only start affecting after you've hit Suzuki 4 or so. And to be honest, a good violinist can make ANY instrument - including those that you can buy for 100 bucks - sound amazing. (You may ask why we pay so much for our instruments then. Well, it's just easier to practice with good violins. For one thing, they're generally lighter and the sound reverberates through the body with less effort.)

May 5, 2011 at 07:18 AM ·

I'm with the others here, do try some other violins to see if they are different to play.  My teacher used to lament to me that I had to work 'far too hard' to play my very old and rather tired violin and I never really knew what she meant, until she let me try her own very good one.  Then I understood. Her violin was very easy to play and the seemingly effortless production of a good sound even from a rough player like me, impressed me no end.  Even playing in the higher registers gave a clean fine sound without even trying, instead of the usual breathy scratchy tone from my own.  That is what is meant by a 'fine' violin.  Naturally I went shopping immediately!

Of course, violins, good and bad, are subject to many variables that affect tone.  Strings can become 'old' and go false in as little as a few months, especially if you play a lot.  Or the sound post might have moved if the violin has received a bit of a bump, or the bow might need re-hairing after a year of vigorous playing, or even better quality rosin can improve things, especially if you are using the beginner's $3.50 block.  That's usually fairly nasty stuff!  Most violinists have a preferred luthier who regularly services their instruments each year, and checks them out when things like sound start to change for the worse.  Although if your instrument was very cheap then you may prefer to start looking for a new one rather than have your current one checked by a luther.  Just bear in mind that violins, like all instruments, need regular maintenance to sound good.

May 5, 2011 at 10:12 AM ·

 You do not say what is the opinion of your teacher on the question. Your teacher's guidance on the choice and (at least as importantly) professional setup of an inexpensive violin is likely to be most valuable, as he /she can see the instrument you are working with. Teacher should also be able to diagnose reason for lack of progress. (Unless by 'weekly lessons', you mean class lessons, which I doubt are very useful, but who knows, maybe class teaching works occasionally.)

Best of luck! A German trade violin for $250-400 (possibly more than double that from a specialist violin shop with good setup & guarantee) can be adequate for most practical pusposes I would think. But it is important to select a reasonable one, some of them are fairly horrible.

Some people might think I should not mention the point, but teachers often receive a commission when a student buys an instrument. That is not unreasonable as the teacher's advice can save the student money, but IMO it is fairer if is done openly.

May 8, 2011 at 11:01 AM ·

I also have a cheap violin. Perhaps, as mentioned above, look at replacing the bow first. But also, it may help if you replace the bridge, I did that for mine and it made a HUGE improvement and only cost $50 or something. Just make sure you get a bridge that is good for your finger shape ie. make sure your fingers don't slip between the strings and make sure that the strings aren't too far off the fret board this can be REALLY annoying and hinder your playing heaps. I know through experience. Also you could look at getting some good quality strings. If you have a cheap violin then you probably have bad quality strings too (unless you've already replaced them) I use Pirastro violin strings which are by no means top of the range but aren't bad and only cost about $50 a set.

Good luck - hope this helps.

May 10, 2011 at 04:52 AM ·

I have a childhood friend who has been playing violin his whole life and works with it from time to time. His parents bought him an expensive fiddle from Bein & Fushi about 25 years ago. I don't recall the name but a late 1800 early 1900, Italian violin in good cosmetic shape. I recall that his parents paid over $20,000 for his violin which was good money for a violin back then. Recently, I was invited to his house for a party and the guests were pushing me to play something on his fiddle. I felt like a beginner on his violin and had to work extremely hard to get a decent sound. I didn't take the time to see if anything needed to be adjusted but my friend is competent enough to recognize obvious problems and probably would have taken care of it.
I was in the market for a new instrument for a span of about 5 years and tried many violins up to $300,000 and can tell you that there are plenty of bad and difficult to play, expensive fiddles out there.

Maybe the best thing anyone can do is to find dealers with a lot of violins in their price range and test them. For a complete beginner, maybe rent a violin or buy one that cost so little that you can use it as firewood in your grill when you grow tired of it or ready to step up to something better.


June 25, 2014 at 11:57 AM · Correct me if i am wrong. You are concerned or not contented with the tone/sound of your violin?

As for me, i've been playing for 5 years on a $60 violin, made in China.

I think replacing your string than your violin would be a better idea to test first before buying a more expensive ones.

I also play on Metal Core String which is around $10(set) and i'm dying to buy a Synthetic Core one.

I think most of the tone production problems can be eliminated with a softer and more responsive synthetic core string though i am yet to test one.

Also, every violin, cheap or expensive has it's own tone/color, it's a matter of taste. I also can't help to think that an expensive violin with have a "5-star class" taste, so to speak.

June 25, 2014 at 04:46 PM · much good advice here-- a few years back, I purchased a low-grade student violin online, gold sparkle varnish, dyed fingerboard, machine made. I think it was about $50-- but I took the time to set it up correctly, good bridge, post and strings. The thing really sang-- I would have been comfortable playing classical gigs without feeling hindered by my cheapo fiddle. I have long since parted ways with it, but many clones are available through ebay or Amazon, or contact one of the reputable online vendors such as Shar, Woodwind & Brasswind, Johnson String, etc and ask about their setup. Next to careful daily practice, bridge, post and strings are most important.

June 25, 2014 at 11:24 PM · Steven:

Look forward to an interesting search for your next instrument. But take your time and learn for yourself about violins. First, read all that you can find on the net and in print about the machine called violin. and The Strad are my favorites but The Strad is expensive; it is even $60.00 for the online version. But, from their site, they make available some of the older yet still useful articles. Just browse the site and see what you can learn.

Antonio Strad Violin is a San Antonio violin store with a branch in Mc Allen. I have only read the advertisements therefore you will have to learn for yourself how good they are.

It is possible that you can find a good violin shop in north east Mexico. (I presume that you speak the language.) There was a good article in The Strad about a violin making school in Mexico. This means that there are some good luthiers in Mexico.

Should you have to drive out of town, you might write a letter with a question that is on your mind at the time a week before the trip. Also tell them what you have entered the forum; therefore you won't be a stranger after driving 60 miles. And there will be things that you learn about them from their reply; both written and unwritten.

Each violin is an individual instrument therefore you have to try every one that you think you might like. (ebay doesn't allow you this insight.) Listen for an instrument that rings. You will discover this on octaves; it is tool for getting your third finger in the right place. In the purchase of a violin, the profit that the shop earns can be a good investment for you.

Again reading will fill you in on what your teacher doesn't have time to explain or in another set of words that you get. Reading will give you the insight to both sides of an explanation that a luthier or salesman give.


June 26, 2014 at 01:38 PM · We haven't heard from Steven since he posted back in 2011...

I hope he's okay and didn't give it up! If you're reading this - we'd love an update!

June 27, 2014 at 08:35 AM · I recently read through a lovely 2006 thread 'Calling all adult beginners .... share ...' Some of these names I recognize; their owners are still active here today. I'd love to hear where the others are at, violin wise. So much violin passion cannot be spent, I hope. Being an adult beginner of 2,5 years I certainly hope to be still around here in, say, 2020.


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