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3/4 violin acceptable for adult woman player?

Instruments: I have found a lovely antique instrument that is a 3/4 size. Would a 3/4 size be detrimental for an average sized woman?

From Sarah Baldwin
Posted August 12, 2007 at 10:40 PM

I have a question I hope someone can help with. A friend who, like me, is an adult beginner, and I tried each other's violins. His is apparently a Swedish violin made in 1774 and mine is a new Jay Haide l'Ancienne model. His is a smaller violin and he found it too small for his big hands. I liked the smaller size of his (I am an average sized woman, 5'5"), and it had a beautiful, mellow tone. He liked the size and tone of mine. We agreed to swap for a couple of weeks and consider whether we wanted to make a permanent trade. (We both paid approximately the same price for our violins.)

I showed the Swedish violin to my teacher who thinks it is a 3/4 size. He told me that many women prefer to play a 3/4 size and that wasn't necessarily a hindrance. He thought it had a very "sweet" tone and would be a great fiddle for me. He suggested I have it examined by a reputable luthier to inspect it for any structural flaws, but otherwise thought it was a lovely instrument.

I am now seeking opinions as to whether others agree that playing a 3/4 size instrument would be acceptable. My arm length (from neck to palm) is 27." I still have my own bow which is 4/4 size. Would it be advisable to get a 3/4 bow if I decide to keep this violin? If so, that worries me a little, because there is a lot less choice of quality bows available in fractional sizes.

Any help would be much appreciated!

From Elena P.
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 11:12 PM
I'm hardly an expert, but I would say that it depends. There is definitely a significant difference between a 3/4 and a full-size sound-wise (as I witnessed myself yesterday: I have a very nice old German 3/4, but there was a vast difference between it and the full-size violins I tried). If you are happy with the sound, don't feel cramped, and don't have plans beyond fiddling around and maybe playing in a community orchestra, I don't see why you shouldn't keep the 3/4. But a full-size could offer you a lot more. It shouldn't be difficult to manage given your size. Have you tried many other full-size instruments? Full-size covers a range a sizes, and you might prefer one on the smaller end. That way you could have the manageability of smaller size while also having the bigger sound of a full-size. If after trying many full-size violins, you consistently prefer the sound of your 3/4, go for what makes you happiest.
From Bob Annis
Posted on August 13, 2007 at 12:25 AM
Your teacher "thinks" it's 3/4? You might try measuring the back. A number of people play 7/8 instruments, which can sound just fine. I recently bought a violin that was 349mm long (exclusive of button) and it can hold its own with 4/4 fiddles of similar quality.

Personally, I feel that if the sound and playability of an instrument moves me, we've chosen each other. Ask yourself how you'd feel if you missed the opportunity to keep this one; that might help you with your decision.

From Sarah Baldwin
Posted on August 13, 2007 at 02:44 AM
Thank you, Elena and Bob, for your responses. I loved my new Jay Haide, but in comparison, the antique smaller violin sounds warmer and mellower . It doesn't project as loudly as the Haide.

My teacher declared it was a 3/4, but I'm not convinced it's not a 7/8. I found a chart with dimensions online, and will measure it to be sure.

I must confess that I think I am being seduced by the idea that this is (presumably) a 200+ year old European instrument which I could own instead of a brand new Chinese model. Should I disregard my bias toward age and pedigree? I can't help but assume the Swedish violin would appreciate in value better than the Haide, but maybe it would be harder to sell due to its smaller size. Any thoughts?

If I decided to keep it, would it be advisable to replace my 4/4 bow with a 3/4 bow? That would certainly be a deterrent.

With much appreciation for your help,
Sarah

From Clare Chu
Posted on August 16, 2007 at 12:08 AM
Tell us what the measurements say. It could be a smaller full size or 7/8. Also, some violins feel smaller because they have a thinner neck, smaller shoulders. Also, do as your teacher suggests and go to a luthier to make sure there are no structural problems with the Swedish violin. I don't know about "investment" value but for me I'd like to prefer the older instrument because they ain't making them that old anymore. And just having it evokes a sense of history, culture, romance, all intangibles but might make your playing more imaginative.

Also, did you compare the response to the two? Usually the older ones are more responsive and the sound seems to come out easier, as well as get more variations, shades of sound.

I'd think there's nothing wrong with using a full-size bow if you can handle it. Let us know what you decide!

From Sarah Baldwin
Posted on August 16, 2007 at 03:53 PM
Well, as it turns out, I brought it to the luthier. He confirmed its authenticity, and that it was a small full-size Baroque violin with a very short neck. He said it was of great interest because Swedish violins are very rare. He said that because of bad repairs and its short neck, it would probably be very difficult to play, and would be of interest to him as a restoration project to preserve this violin as a museum piece rather than a playable instrument. I felt obliged to share this information with the person from whom I had the violin on loan. We decided to swap back and my friend is considering trading it in to this violin maker in exchange for a more playable instrument.

In the meantime, I am happy to have my Jay Haide back. It is indeed easier to play, and has a nice full sound. All very interesting. I learned a lot.

Thank you for your responses.

Sarah

From Shawn Smith
Posted on August 16, 2007 at 08:50 PM
It depends on your size. Are you petit?
From Daniel Broniatowski
Posted on August 17, 2007 at 06:50 AM
Hi Sarah,
When I was a teenager, my violin teacher at the time had a 7/8 size violin. They actually do exist. She was somewhere in between 3/4 and full. I don't know if she had it "custom made" for her as a modern instrument or it was an older violin. As far as the bow goes, I think her bow is a standard size but I'm not sure. You might want to consider putting your hand higher along the bow than most if you find reaching the upper half problematic.

Good luck,
Daniel

From Patty Rutins
Posted on August 17, 2007 at 07:06 PM
I myself play on a similar instrument -- a full size body with a short neck. I don't find it difficult to play at all, even way up in positions -- once I got accustomed to the different finger spacing my intonation was fine and the straight neck doesn't bother me a bit. It's quite responsive and projects nicely in an open hall. I'm only 5' tall and found that full size instruments were just a little too heavy, cramping my shoulder and back. I'm quite happy with this one.

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