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Beginner's violin vs Intermediate or Advanced

Instruments: Are there unique qualities that place a violin in a shops "advanced" category? Is it just fancy branding to increase the perceived value?

From derik DeVecchio
Posted April 22, 2009 at 10:56 PM

I see a lot of violin shops dividing their stock into categories like "beginner", "intermediate", advanced, and professional.

 

Now I can somewhat understand a break for professional violins that might cost $10k or more for their exceptional age, history, pedigree, sound, or playability.

I don't understand at all what makes an "intermediate" violin different than and advanced violin or a beginners violin.

Are beginner violins something like a bicycle with training wheels?  are they easier to play?  Or perhaps they are just lower quality (and thereby less expensive) for beginnning students who might not stick with it long enough to justify spending the cash on a good instrument.

 

I have heard that really good violinists can make any violin sound nice, though one of poor quality will take more effort.  But if it is just a matter of playability, wouldn't all players benefit from a higher quality violin? 

 

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 23, 2009 at 12:37 AM

Hi, I am not a professional although I have the luck to possess a professional violin that I love very much.  I have a much better ability to feel the quality of instruments than my level of playing so this is why I can really say that appreciating a good violin is not always linked with one's talent or level.    I was a less than a year beginner when I asked my parents if it would be possible to begin the search for "the" violin of my life.  I complained about things on a student violin that I shouldn't have been complaining since they were much over my level but they just annoyed me so much. With lots of sacrifices, it was possible and I can't say one thing negative about having a better violin than your level! It's a pleasure although it doesn't play alone. So here is what I can say on the issue:

 everyone who wants to play for all his or her life should have a professionnal or very advanced instrument if they can afford it (this is the sad thing but I can assure it is a good investment and it takes value faster than money at bank).  It is not to complain or to look precious but good violins really play better generally speaking.  Of course, you can get fool and pay a violin way too much for what it worths but this is why you should always bring a professional violinist to play the instrument also and to give advice.  (this way, you are sure to not get fool)

How better do they play...

well, you can play clearer notes on the high g and e strings.  In general, cheap violin choke or get forcing to play in these areas  All the notes play well and even.

the tone is more professional (like what you hear on a good cd) and it doesn't sound like a tin can or a oboe (oboe is nice for an oboe but a violin should not sound like this in my opinion!) The "beginner's sound is also often because of their instrument.  It is not all their fault!  But yes, a pro should be able to take an excquisite sound out of a scrap... I know

The power! This is a quality very appreciate for violins in general.  The projection is better in good advanced or professionnal violins.  They resonate more. Their sounds are kind of more "haunting" (in the good sense) than those of cheaper ones.  In this category, many violins have a personality and are unique with their own unique caracteristics.  You also fall in love with one or the other for these mysterious reasons!

Here is my humble advice.  Everyone will progress faster with the best violin possible so pay for the best you can afford.  A young todler that drops his fiddle on the floor is another story and I would probably say that you should let this stage pass before giving an expensive one!!!

Common things I hear and disagree

"if you don't feel it, it doesn't worth it" but I do not agree totally with this.  Even if you don't feel it, it doesn't mean that it is not good for you!  You can learn so much from a good violin without even realize it.  Since they are aknoledged to play easier, it is easier for everyone even if they don't know it yet.

"If you buy a professional one, you will change it anyway later because when you will mature as a player, you will want another one.  Don't buy it if you don't know what you want"  I know it looks logical but if you can trade it for another one or sell it back for the same price you bought it, GO FOR IT because the worst that will happen is that you will do a trade or sell it without losing any money to get another one.  (ask before buying anything though!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go to a maker who is willing to do this)   Don't know what to look for...  That is why I recommand to everyone who is not a professional violinist to take a professinal with you! We give dogs to see for the blinds, we give little ear devices for the death to hear and professionnal violinists is the best thing (I don't like this word because they are surely not "things" but you know what I mean!!!) you can hire to test the violin for you and of course, take one you trust! Also it is ok to tell to the maker and violinist what sound you like (bright, dark, powerful, warm etc)  You can also bring a cd of a sound you like if you don't know how to describe it.

So, I am defenitivly of those who say buy the best you can afford even if you are not fully able to appreciate it.  It will come... and the worst that can happen is that you will trade it for another one later on or sell it back without loosing money to buy another one(be sure the maker wants you to trade it or to buy it from you if you don't want it anymore!) 

Only my two cents,

Interesting topic!

Anne-Marie

From Vincent Le
Posted on April 23, 2009 at 04:17 AM

Yes all players do benefit from a better violin. It generally improves your sound and skill but that doesn't mean giving a beginner a $10k violin and you got the next young prodigy. From my experience student violins tend to all be well setup instruments and easy to guide beginners onto the road of playing. Like fine tuners and fast response with decent sound.

When you get to intermediate / advanced violinsthey sound more full and project more. I also believe they become more vary in sound like. If you try 10 student violins mostly like 8 of them sound identical. While intermediate and advanced violins out of 10 only 2 sound the same. The quality and setup are greater then student violins.

When you get to professional violins they should sound good in almost every aspect IMO. But I wouldn't say a violin is professional quality if it is 50 years old and cost $20K. I would pick an instrument that feels comfortable to play and has what I want. So if you could buy a $10K + instrument then go ahead. But for me I would just try 15 random violins and pick my top 5 then choose my #1 and get the price tag. This process of picking reduces the urge to think more expensive is better. Works for me and my 2 violins [Jay Haide à l'ancienne, Eastman VL305]

From Roland Garrison
Posted on April 23, 2009 at 04:42 AM

I notice you are an adult beginner, as I am. I read your question a bit differently than it appears the others do.

When you see an advertisement for a violin and the seller is categorizing them into

  • beginner
  • intermediate
  • advancing

You should read that as

  • Unplayable VSO (Violin Shaped Object)
  • Possible good starting instrument, but could be mis-categorized VSO
  • Violin range where aspects of character start to show

This is for the price points below $1500.00. I currently have a Palantino 855 which is good for me, but I really want more. It is an instrument that has enough basic quality that a good professional setup (another thing often mis-categorized by sellers) gives a good full sound, and it is very dependable for quality. it sounds well; some of my other attempts at purchase were VSO devices, and they were more frustrating than helpful.

If you are looking for a good instrument, consider Shar; they have exceptional prices, and they stand behind what they sell. Another opportunity would be Elderly Instruments (http://www.elderly.com/), looking through their vintage and used.

From sharelle taylor
Posted on April 23, 2009 at 05:04 AM

This was my experience with bows, not violins, but I suspect the same thing could happen.

I guess I am now intermediate...ish - some vibrato, play in positions, play grade 6 and above stuff with varying accuracy,  and am looking to buy a new bow.  I went in without a price point - just let me try anything you've got.  I came down to 2 bows, 1 of which was the cheapest and one in the middle range (AUS 1900 and 2500 dollars).  I preferred for my playing the cheaper bow. but listening blind I preferred the the more expensive bow, being played on my violin by the proficient shop guy.  But I couldn't get it to sound like that - it seemed to highlight any technical inadequacy.  Would buying and using the more expensive bow eventually teach me to be a better player?  would the same problems on a better violin - just not having the skill to bring out the best in it yet, mean that you would develop those skills quicker? 

The bows classified as intermediate all were pernambucco, and genenrally had a certain look about them which due to better finish and shaping.  As opposed to beginner bows, being lesser wood, not the refinement, and not the finish. And not the capacity to help me sound much better, in my limited experience.

From derik DeVecchio
Posted on April 23, 2009 at 06:17 AM

Thank you all for your helpful replies.

 

I don't think I can justify buying a custom violin from a renown violin maker as my first instrument, but it is good to know that if I spend a bit more upfront and get something that makes a sound that pleases me I won't necessarily be stunting my growth as a player.


From Smiley Hsu
Posted on April 24, 2009 at 02:28 AM

When you get to professional violins they should sound good in almost every aspect IMO.

I agree entirely, but to be honest, I have played violins over $15,000 that sound like tin cans -- much worse than the average entry level student instrument.  I am in the market for a professional grade instrument, have tried quite a few, and still can't figure out how in heck they set the price tags.  It sure isn't based on sound.

But for instruments below $5000, it seems the chinese have everyone beat hands down.  You can get a pretty darn good instrument for under $2000.  I played a chinese fiddle the other day that was $1800 and it had a gorgeous sound. 

 

 

From Anthony Barletta
Posted on April 24, 2009 at 03:00 AM

I also began as an adult and shopped for my first violin about 4 years ago. I went straight for what might be considered an "advancing student" category of instrument because I knew I would stick with it (learning the violin, that is) and felt that the better quality and capabilties of the instrument would inspire me to practice harder and play better. I went to a reputable shop and asked one of the owners, an excellent violinist in her own right, to demo a series of maybe 12-15 violins while I sat in a chair facing away from her (i.e., a blind test). Much in the way that an optometrist performs a refraction exam by switching back and forth between two lenses ("which is better, one or two... which is better, one or two, etc.) one of the violins ultimately declared itself as the clear winner. It had a distinctive voice that I could always discern from all the others, much the way you can always recognize the sound of a person's voice. It was priced in the midpoint of the group and sounded better than instruments twice the price. It was also easier to play and "handled" more like a sports car than an SUV, the way some other instruments felt in comparison. I've been very happy with my choice. Hope this helps.

From Robert Spear
Posted on April 24, 2009 at 12:43 PM

There are a couple of ways to go about this. One can make a large run of violins, set them up, adjust them, and then sort them according to how good they sound and charge accordingly. The problem is that everyone brings a distinct and different concept of what"good sound" actually is, so this approach would best be used only at the high end.

More likely the lower grades are decided by quality of the wood (flamed, unflamed, etc.), the age of the wood, the kind of varnish (oil, spirit, brushed on, sprayed on, etc), shortcuts in manufacture (how carefully graduated, attention to bass bar, blocks, linings, etc.), whether it has a fake gemstone in the tailpiece, what kind of case-- probably a long list.

The blind test and the realization that you don't always get what you pay for are good traits to have when wandering through the student-grade instruments. There are treasures to be found.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 24, 2009 at 08:21 PM

Greetings,

there are indeed treasures. One thing I found with Suzuki made instruemnts (the better grade ones) is that not only do you rarely see a bad one (within beginner violin context)  but everynow and again one crops up that is actualya rather nice violin.  More or less factory made etc etc but good quality control on the wood and manufatcure and by luck the thing has come together very well indeed.

Cheers,

Buri 

From Eric John-Félix Livingston
Posted on May 9, 2009 at 04:48 PM

Buri, that's interesting.  When I used to teach beginners I always noticed the *very* same thing about Suzuki instruments.  And I thought I was crazy for thinking that...  

...unless you and I are two nuts hanging on the same tree ;-)

Eric

From Casey Jefferson
Posted on May 9, 2009 at 05:31 PM

Just want to share some of my views.

You'll probably find some improvements over these aspects:

1. Tone - immediately you'll find better violin will have cleaner tone, regardless of the character. Personally i'd say muffled is not the same as fuzzy and muddy (not clean), even if it's a bright sounding violin, it still can sound muddy.

2. playbility - it's quite simple, and combined few aspects here. You'll find it's easier to play some passages that you've been suffered, and easier to get the sound you want with less efforts too. One thing worth noting is that most entry level violin has got poor setup, which is not fair to compare to better ones. Because setting up need some expenses, so it's more common to do so on better violins cause they'll sell at higher price.

3. Ability to control tone colour - You don't need to be pro to tell that, a simple vibrato is plenty. Most violin i've tried that's hard to produce vibrato (to make it "happen") has got limitation on tone colour changes. I also find that good instrument will give you different sound when doing vibrato, rather than just vibrating the pitch. Good instrument will give you different tone colour by responding to different any angle, stroke, bow speed, bow pressure, and bow position (near or far from bridge).

4. Dynamics - how much contrast of soft/loud you can get out of your instrument, AND how easy to control them. Some has got reserve of dynamics when you needed them. Some can do whisper soft but you have to be really careful with the bow. Some can play very soft but sounded fuzzy and not clear.

5. Projection - very often people relate this to power and resonance. It'll not tell a thing if you're not listening them in a long distance.

The rest are pretty much covered like east of playing on high positions, response of the instrument etc etc. I might be wrong with the points i made above, just purely my own findings.

From Gene Wie
Posted on May 10, 2009 at 05:51 AM

Just remember...dealers value instruments based on condition and provenance, not sound. An average sounding instrument in excellent condition from a famous, long-dead maker is worth more money than a great sounding instrument in new condition from an unknown living maker.

Whereas those of us who use them as tools value them based on condition and sound, not provenance. Anything that is in great shape with a fantastic sound and playability makes a musician happy, and it really doesn't matter who made it or how old it is.

Makes for an interesting industry. :P

From Alexis Thorne
Posted on December 5, 2009 at 02:20 PM

 I read somewhere that luthiers value instruments first on appearance (quality of varnish, physical condition), then maker, age, and finally sound. I was surprised that that the sound of an instrument is the last factor in considering price. The business side of music, especially when in comes to buying, selling, and appraising instruments, should e better explained to us music students and lovers alike. I feel like the world of a luthier is very secretive and closed off, and what emerges are these strange instruments of varying beauty and seemingly arbitrary price. 

From Joan Coy
Posted on December 5, 2009 at 03:52 PM

As an adult beginner I knew I was going to stick with it so I spent a few thousand and bought a fairly nice violin. It sounds beautiful in the hands of my teacher, lol. In mine, not so much, but I know what it can do. I think you're better off buying a decent instrument to begin with if you are serious about learning. I can't imagine learning on a piece of junk. Violin is tough enough without making it more difficult on yourself.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 5, 2009 at 05:01 PM

I agree with John. Although recently I had an unexpected experience. While my violin was having his yearly check up, fingerboard scraping etc... my maker just had "cheaper" violins to lend me. I thought laughing, "it might sound awful" but at the same time I was happy since I wanted to know if I had the ability to play a cheaper violin because usually we say that good violinists can play anything like their own violin...

Surprise surprise it sounded good, quite powerful and was easy to play in all places.  I was SO surprised because usually, you don't see this in cheaper instruments.  My maker told me that some (but not the majority) cheap instruments were really easy to play but that they don't age as well because the wood is thinner and lower quality pieces of wood made the instrument. 

At least you find one of these, I am really for buying the best quality you can afford!  It's a joy to play on an instrument you love the sound!   I think having a good violin is helpful and gives motivation (WHICH IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WHEN THE TASK IS AS COMPLEX!)

Anne-Marie

From Shana Johnson
Posted on December 5, 2009 at 05:41 PM

I am in the market for a new violin.  I will most likely not be able to afford a professional one, so an "advanced" violin is what I am looking for.  I currently have a 21 year old German, intermediate (at best) violin.  I just do not like the sound of it at all. 

I know that it is 98% violinist, 2% violin.  What I would like are opinions on German or Italian violins.  I have an amazing luthier here in town, and will be playing probably a dozen violins before I find the one I like, but I would like to narrow the spectrum down a bit.  I'm looking around the $3000-$5000 range (I just can't drop $10,000 on a violin right now). 

Any suggestions?  Thanks in advance!

From Andres Sender
Posted on December 5, 2009 at 07:34 PM

Don't narrow it down.  Just play everything and test it in as many ways as you are able, until you fall in love with something you can't live without, whatever it is.  Lots of great advice on this in past threads.  Good luck!

From Smiley Hsu
Posted on December 6, 2009 at 03:52 AM

Shana,

I agree with Andres.  If you walk into a violin shop and ask to play just German fiddles, you might be missing out on something you like better.  Most contemporary Italian makers are probably out of your price range.  Older Italian instruments are even more expensive.  You may not want to hear this, but in the $3-5K price bracket, you really should keep an open mind about chinese instruments.  Try to forget the stigma with chinese made products, they really dominate in this price bracket.  I have played some very nice chinese instruments BELOW $3K.  Bottom line is try lots and lots of instruments in your price range and don't worry about were it was made, as long as you like the sound and the way it plays, that's all that really matters.  Good luck.  I hope you find what you are looking for.

 

From Pontus Adefjord
Posted on December 6, 2009 at 07:55 AM

I just want to give another vote for checking out some chinese instruments. My violin is chinese and it cost me about $3500 (with current exchange rate). It's an amazing instrument! 

From Smiley Hsu
Posted on December 6, 2009 at 10:33 PM

>I know that it is 98% violinist, 2% violin. 

Another point I wanted to make regarding this statement.  It is very true when it comes to the audience.  What I mean is Hilary Hahn can make just about any violin sound great, even most VSO's.  But, when it comes to the violinist, I think the violin can make a HUGE difference.  I strung up my old student instrument so I could use it to teach my 8 year old.  I'll tell you, compared to my current fiddle it is night and day.  I played a tune for my wife and she didn't really notice much difference, but to me (sound under ear), it is like a tin can compared to what I now play.  It's hard to believe I played that instrument for so many years and never knew any better.

 

 

From Connie Sunday
Posted on December 6, 2009 at 10:51 PM

I would argue a more common division is "student," "step-up" and "professional."  Where to break it down may depend on what the shop has to offer.  Mine is like this:

 

Violins

 

 Violas

 I have no idea whether this is correct or not.  It's based on the divisions by my main distributor, but my guess is that the true arbiter of this discussion would have to be some professional organization such as the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers (A.F.V.B.M.)  or perhaps the Violin Society of America

From Shana Johnson
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 04:16 PM

Smiley Hsu-

I absolutely agree with you!  I am playing what sounds like a tin can to my ears, and sounds incredible to those around me that do not know any better...although I think my instructor is just being nice and not saying anything.  It's a student violin...it's not what I want to be playing.  So...off to the luthier I will go :)


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