From Emil Albanese
Posted November 2, 2007 at 02:16 AM
Some sellers try to allay the concerns of consumers by boasting the virtues of their own quality controls. One seller of violins claims to have the violins made in an overseas workshop and then brought here to be properly set up. It is almost illogical that you would entrust a Chinese luthier to select the tonewood and handcraft the instrument but for some reason the bridge, accesories and soundpost are a stretch?
I am very suspect of the 'we import them from China and regraduate them to certain specifications', as well. If you really want to impress, take a 14" wooden shoe from Holland and regradute that into a fineinstrument. Turning an already well made violin into a well made violin is not very magical.
What experiences have others had with violins fron China?
Has anyone used a modestly priced one as their primary one professionally?
The bottom line however is to buy the best instrument you can afford. Doesn't matter who made it, what it's heritage is, or how inexpensive it was. What's most important is you have an instrument to play, to learn on and to enjoy.
It sounded fine, although the fingerboard/neck set-up was a little odd. I wonder who made it? Where was it manufactured? What will be the level of quality over time? Will anyone buy it when I want to sell it? How will it sound in a few years?
Good violins made by skillful craftsman of quality woods are suppose to get better with age, but some lower-price violins actually get dull. It's called the "new instrument syndrome." If you search the internet you will find an article in Strings magazine about this.
The quality of the wood is so important when making a violin. Violins are best when they are made with aged maple that has come from trees grown in high altitudes, such as near the Alps and then aged. Some woods have been aged many decades and even over 100 years. The trees grow slower at high altitudes, which makes the wood grain more compact. And then the wood needs to be the correct thickness. Too thin wood can sound more appealing at first but then is more vulnerable to break later under the tension of the strings.
The varnish used to make a violin is also very important. Indeed, exceptional varnish is considered one of the reasons why the million-dollar Strads and del Gesu violins sound so great, I read. Master luthiers guard their varish recipes, often passed down through generations. Bad varnishes can muffle a violin. How a varnish ages over time is also very important, I read. Some varnishes can harden over time and dampen the ability of the violin to vibrate. How will certain Chinese violins age?
For the Chinese violins that are a good value, such as Snow violins and other brands, this is not a big concern for the price. You are getting a good violin for a lower price. But I would be a little cautious when investing money on a more expensive instrument.
China has the potential to make great violins cheap, but for now I would like to see more.
Sound and playability are critical when buying a more expensive instrument, but so is the quality of the craftsmanship, because you want to have confidence that your investment is still going to sound good in a few years. This is a general statement and not targeted at Chinese instruments.
Other factors in a purchase include the the marketability of that violin, because someday you may need to sell the instrument. Factors include the quality of materiels, the reputation of the maker, such as a master maker or at least under a master's supervision, the appearance (such as flaming) which can affect it's long term value, and the general condition.
I once was shown a different violin for $2,000 that had varnish that was horribly uneven, as if it had port wine stains. It sounded fine at the audition, but could I ever sell the thing? And with that inconsistent varnish, how will it sound over time with the varnish so poorly applied unevenly?
As I have said elsewhere, for the $2,000 to $5,000 range, you can find quality violins made under the supervision of a master maker. I think master luthiers in Eastern Europe are making great violins for the under $5,000 range because labor costs are lower in Eastern Europe, yet the makers are master certified. Makers in Sofia (several makers under the Sofia name), other areas of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Luby, Czech Republic (such as Josef Holpuch) come to mind.
Above that price range, you have other choices, including used violins of good reputation and various other master makers, including in America.
That's what I think. I think the potential in China is tremendous, and I would buy a good value Chinese step-up violin but not an expensive one - yet. I think we need to know more about the various Chinese makers and methods.
Chinese woods are not equal. There are 2 sources: north and south. The southern maple has broad flaming. The northern has narrow flaming, and can appear as stripes. The northern wood is what you want: it has the potential to improve sound with age. The southern wood will not improve sound as it ages. Northern wood will always cost more, and could keep its value. Southern wood has almost no resale value.
Overall, I find the better Chinese violins good for beginners, as they can be a low-cost useful learning tool. For the 1/8 to 3/4 size, perhaps Chinese can't be beat for price. But any serious student at the 4/4 size will want something better. Certainly, no advanced student in China plays on a Chinese violin - this is very evident by a tour of the conservatory. So, this says something.
Everything has a price for the quality. Chinese luthiers have certainly improved, and can now offer a reasonable quality and price, and fill a market need. Nothing wrong with this, and an advantage for the beginner.
The aging argument sounds very strange to me, too. With wine I can still understand it: Rotten grape juice tastes less awful if you give it more time to get rotten - possible. But violins? Who else than violinists and other string players would invest into a unfinished product? Imagine a painter (e.g. Rembrandt) buying a rather expensive brush knowing after 200 years of use it will be the best brush in the world?
One could buy a $2000 violin every year and burn it after a year and this for 50 years and spend about $100000 in total without getting nervous how the instrument will age.
Europeans broke Chinas porcelain and paper monopolies; China will break the European "good violin" monopoly in no time. Violinists should use this to their advantage, by putting much, much more price pressure on non-Asian vendors and by supporting the Chinese competitor as much as only possible. If - what I seriously doubt, because I know leaders and soloists playing $2000 Chinese instruments today already - Chinese will never be able to produce good instruments then there could be a niche for European and other manufacturers who will then depend on Chinese wood, most likely.
That being said, I certainly haven't tried those instruments in any comprehensive or even orderly way. I just played what was put in front of me at various times. Perhaps out there, somewhere, is a wonderful Strad-like fiddle from Guangzhou. And, perhaps, there is a purple moocow prancing along in the fields of Ireland. I can't prove there isn't one. But I've yet to see evidence that there is.
Mere assertions that SURELY one day the Western hold on violinmaking will be broken don't qualify as proof, though. If past performance is an indicator, the future holds more cheap, mass-produced, crude pieces of factory-made firewood flooding the market from the East. Which should give Dr. Nagyvary all the ammo he needs to once and for all prove that he is Antonio Stradivari reborn.
My usual analogy is that one doesn't need a Formula One car, or even a "mere" Ferrari, in order to learn how to drive. As a beginner, one wouldn't be able to appreciate or utilize what tools of that caliber have to offer. What makes a Ferrari better than a standard Volvo comes into play only at the level of comparison between two professional drivers.
My daughter plays a violin made by Feng Jiang's brother, VSA silver medal winner Shan Jiang (http://www.jiangviolins.com), who happens to reside in China. She really likes it, so does her teacher, and it seems to me that the price I paid (slightly under $7,000), while high for a "Chinese" violin, was just right for a Shan Jiang violin, and represented an excellent value compared with similar-quality U.S.-made fiddles -- that is to say, fiddles made by VSA-award-winning U.S. makers.
There's a lot of poor Chinese violins out there, (my violin actually doesn't really look or sound anything like any of the other lamberti instruments that I've played) and my instrument has some peg box issues; I'd be hesitant to drop five figures on one, but you can really find some amazing deals if you look around- I've probably spent twice as much on bows as I did on my violin, and I'm using in college now.
The result is a reasonably decent-sounding instrument that is suitable for a beginner that can be priced low enough so that the family is not financially strained. For a student who will be studying more than just a few months, it turns out to be much cheaper than renting an instrument, especially since I guarantee to buy the instrument back for 50% of the selling price for as long as the instrument is in good shape (the instrument can usually be sold for more than that, but it is sometimes more convenient).
Of course, these are not world-class instruments, and a serious student will be looking for a better violin in a few years. I tell my customers this up front, and they know what they are getting, and are generally happy with it.
Silver Medal for Workmanship
Borja Bernabeu 17
Raymond Schryer 88
William R Scott 197
Silver Medal for Tone
Jeff Phillips 136
Zu-Liang Wu 37
Certificate of Merit for Workmanship
Feng Jiang 60
Krzysztof Krupa 45
Philippe Mahu 192
Jan Spidlen 43
Shiquan Zhao 187
Certificate of Merit for Tone
Dorian Barnes 158
Jan Bartos 157
J. Peter Bingen 195
Xueping Hu 120
Feng Jiang 60
Shan Jiang 34
Ryan Soltis 121 "
This List will speak volumes if you choose to read it in it's entirety here Violin Society of America
I tell my clients, without hesitation, if your purchase is under $6,000,Play It....doesn't matter country of origin or age....(if you like the sound and it's vintage Great....it will probably remain that way...if new...good...only gets better..)
Play them...Enjoy them...Share your music with us...!!!
"The new china made instruments of quality sound that I deal with usually retail in the $1500 to $3000 price range and are made with 100 year old select solid woods."
And what steps have you taken to verify the age of this wood? ;)
It had a nice, sweet sound. I'd love to have that back for a teaching or travel violin (my Scherl & Roth, then made in Germany is okay, but just doesn't ring anywhere close to my good violin now, or the Landi Sheng).
They are fine.
Have I think three more.
I started with chinese violin. It was good quality after upgrade given by a luthier but not exceptional. Mine was a bit heavier than other violins I had pleasure to try. After that I realised that I needed a chnage and that I needed something that will satisfy my level of playing. I got strunal Czech violin and it was so much different. After that I got violin from German manufacture.
I really don't know what to think about chinese instruments. They are cheap and often oddly made but luthier can do some tricks to prove their sound and it's not that expensive to do.
I've played one violin known to be of Chinese origin (I am sure there are quite a lot of them around disguised as something else). The instrument was new and of good, clean workmanship, however it was re-graduated and varnished here in the states. The sound was even and full, with a nice sizzle. Were it not for the fact that I am currently playing on a much older German instrument from 1894, with absolutely gorgeous tone, I would have been tempted to take the Chinese violin home for a trial (given the asking price and all). No, it was not the perfect violin, but neither was the Lorenzo Ventapane I played a few weeks earlier.
FWIW To comment more about woods:
cured 100 years? extremely unlikely. the tree may be 100 yrs in age, but not cured this long. but the Chinese do cure their woods. based upon my conversations with the luthiers, this ranges from 3 to 20 years. some luthiers use imported tone woods,so even greater variation for age.
I am not biased or impressed by brand names. To me, a violin should sound and play well: who made it and where are irrelevant to me. I am ever on the lookout for "the steal" or the "hidden gem". Alas, it just so happens that each end every violin I have ever heard having a proper sound commands a high price, regardless of the luthier, nationality, age.
whatever the woods, finishes, methods, the simple fact is I have yet to hear a proper sound come from any Chinese violin I have tried. they can be sweet on E and A strings, but the D and G are always a "closed-in" sound. the overall tone can be pleasant, and well balanced, but muted. the sound cracks when played with vigour. to my ear, all the ones I have tried and heard have a touch of ErHu in their sound. great value for learners, but I think any aspiring or accomplished player will want something more.
Globalization has ensured that talented makers, regardless of their national origin, have had the opportunity to study under masters from the world over and as a result there isn't an identifiable national characteristic to handmade instruments although certain shops tend to have similar traits spread throughout their instrument lines (ala Scott Cao). And places like the William Harris Lee workshop in Chicago has been both the training ground and home for makers from many different countries (including China) and quite a few of those developed makers return home to share their acquired knowledge with others, improving their craft at the local level.
The reality is, the thousands of kids that I interact with every year here play on excellent instruments that cost somewhere in the $500 range, most made in workshops in mainland China. They are superior in every way to the $1500 German clunkers of the 80's, and never before in history have we had this quality of "student" instrument. My little 4th graders actually have true violas with tall ribs (albeit 12" in the length) that sound pretty good instead of restrung violins, because these workshops are willing to produce high quality fractional instruments.
"Proper" sound? That's an impossible standard...find ten people on this board and you'll find ten different opinions on what a violin is supposed to sound like.
I recently bought a $1500 Carlo Lamberti violin from Shar, which I think is one of those made in China set up in the US brands. I've been trying to let other people form their own opinion about it by just having them listen to it before I tell them that it is a Carlo Lamberti from Shar, and when I do that, the comments are uniformly very positive.
My teacher thinks it was a great deal, financially. And I think that's maybe the most important point here in this price range. I couldn't afford more, even though I would have liked to. And I'm not a professional, I don't depend on my violin for my living.
Getting this new violin really made a difference in how I feel about myself as a violinist. I like listening to myself practice more, and practicing is more rewarding. I had gotten the same sort of benefit a few years ago by buying a good student viola that I really liked the sound of. I was almost ready to make the viola my primary instrument because I enjoyed its sound so much more than that of the violin. But now that I have a violin that I like just as well, I'm realizing it's not the viola, per se--I actually like both instruments about equally well, for different reasons.
I don't think I could have done that in the violin market the way it was 20 or 30 years ago. Thirty years ago, what was available in my price range was what I was playing on before (a German factory instrument, about 150 years old, but of uncertain provenance otherwise)--and the difference is really quite amazing. So I'm grateful to the Chinese makers who've raised the bar like this.
Very good points, Karen. The thing with violins is that they are all different, just like people, and as such there are always exceptions to the rule (the violin I play now being one of them, it being an older German instrument of questionable provenance, but with great arching and fabulous tone).
I don't understand all this stigma around Chinese violins. Personally, I own a Chinese made instrument and it plays fine and sounds wonderful. I guess that with so many cheap run off the mill things being made in China these days people just naturally assume that a Chinese made instrument is naturally mediocre. I don't know.
However, all I can say is that mine is a very good violin, mabe others have had different experiences...
As a teacher, and for entry level instruments, most of the Chinese ones I've seen with students ( contrasting Gene's experience, but I'm sure there are wonderful entry level ones out there) had major problems with the pegs and just the violin feeling like every part was NOT carefully measured.
However, I know a few dealers who have been dealing Chinese violins...one in Maywood NJ and the other in Syracuse NY....these instruments they get are decent...My Chinese violin (Landi Sheng, I believe, the La Crescenta model) was purchased from Richard Gagliardi in Maywood, and was great....I loved it...it was only $1500, so it wasn't a professional instrument by any means, though I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only weird thing about it was that there was too much lacquer on the neck of the instrument, and the lower range didn't get as smooth and deep as I wanted...other than that it was wonderful to play on and I miss it. I only gave it up because there was no other way I could afford the next violin I purchased.
http://www.violinist.com/media/367/ ...this is me playing as a sophomore in college with the Landi Sheng...it definitely wasn't a bad violin (though I am not the greatest violinist ;) ) but maybe it will give you some idea...
I owe a Chinese violin and it´s a great instrument in my opinion. Many students in my music conservatory use Chinese violinst and they are all extremely good instruments. I once got a really nasty comment about my violin. It was following: "So you´r violin is Chinese, my teacher says all Chinese violin suck." Just like that my violin was deemed a bad one just because it was Chinese made. In my opinion China produces just as good and bad instruments as any other country. I´ve listened to both excellent and extremely bad sounding Chezch instruments and German as well.
So why in the world should the "nationality" of a violin be able to say whether the instrument is good or not?
Bigotry overrides objectivity in a lot of people.
If it weren't for China, lots of beginning students would be paying lots more money for much less instrument. I agree that there are some pretty good step-up instruments coming out of there as well, drat it! (Haven't had a chance to look at any pro level instruments.)
If you have tried Ming Jiang Zhu's violin, your perception about Chinese violin may change. His violin is always light in weight and very very easy to play. I have talked to Mr. Zhu. His secret is in the wood. He only uses high quality wood that is particularly strong, so the plate can be made thinner, yet hold its integrity for develop better tone while aging.
You may visit www.bestviolinstore.com for Mr. Zhu's high end violins. We carry from model 909 to 920, and these violin are sold with signed certificate from Mr. Zhu. We offer a very low introductory price you will not find anywhere. As always, your total satisfaction is guaranteed.
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles is in New York to cover the biennial event at The Juilliard School, including classes by Brian Lewis and Sarah Chang.
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