Chinese Violin Options?

September 23, 2016 at 01:10 AM · Hello everyone,

I'm in the market for an upgrade fiddle, with champagne taste and a beer budget. So for the last month or so I've been studying many of the archived posts here and elsewhere, and perusing luthier websites.

I have a respectable but uninspired student instrument (early 20th German factory model). I'd like something sweeter with more range and, hopefully, better projection.

So I'm going to take the plunge, buy myself a ticket to the online instrument lottery (figuratively speaking), and try a Chinese fiddle.

After a month of studying archived posts here and elsewhere, plus perusing Chinese workshop websites, I've narrowed my shops down to four: Yitamusic, Capitalmusic, Old Violin House and Infinite Strings.

My budget is $500-$800. If I go with Yita, I'll see whether I can wait patiently and snag a Master model within my budget in open eBay bidding. (Their Master models generally go for $900-$1300). I understand there is a marked quality difference between "Best (T/M20)" and "Master," so it's worth waiting and saving up.

There is also a mystery story about an extension or offshoot of Yita, Wave Violins, which produced high-end fiddles retailing for $3,000 a few years back, but it appears to be shut down. Occasionally I do see one of their models, the Lakemont, floating around at a price point of about $1500, and I am curious about it. Anyone have any light to shed on that story?

Capitalmusic (brand name CStar) I don't know much about, except that their detailed listings indicate a fair amount knowledge and care about the craft. However, I don't see much about them written independently on the Net. Their eBay feedback indicates a far greater proportion of satisfied customers than Yita...that said, their production is only a fraction of Yita's volume (some 2400 instruments a year as opposed to Yita's 24,000). They don't make such specific grade distinctions between the different levels of quality; they say that each instrument is priced according to the quality of its tone, and their pricier ones are either the ones made from antique woods and/or made by their master luthier. Their prices also range from $160-$1300.

Old Violin House, which is only selling from its website and no longer on eBay, has gotten stellar reviews from some in this group in the past. However, I no longer see violins being offered by Yang Wei, who was their star luthier. He's now in a consultant role, and I don't see any of his work (or any specific individual's, for that matter) offered on the website nor directly on eBay. Their Master level violins from their Opera workshop are $600-$750.

However, an individual is selling their Yang Wei Master Strad copy online for $600, so that is a possibility as well.

Finally, there is Infinite Strings. Their mid-range price point for their Bench Copy level is higher than the Master level for the other three--$850 - $900.

I hear more about Yita than any other brand, but Old Violin House still gets high praise, and the fans of Infinite Strings are INTENSE in their enthusiasm.

Any advice, experience or recommendations you have to share would be greatly appreciated.

Replies (38)

September 23, 2016 at 01:30 AM · I have not tried them, but perhaps Fiddlershop would have something in your price range? They have great customer service and domestic returns.

Shar also may be an option ?

September 23, 2016 at 02:07 AM · Please read about the troubles with Yitamusic viola here:

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=28105

September 23, 2016 at 03:09 AM · Dawn, as much as I liked at least some of the bows I bought from Yitamusic, I cannot recommend neither their bows nor instruments as an upgrade instrument/bow. I would recommend them for second/tertiary instrument or bow, for experimentation.

Out of 11 bows I bought from Yitamusic, only the very last violin bow I bought from them was a "keeper"(it was worth keeping it, but I sold it locally to make budget ironically for the viola I had trouble with). Once, the "Master" snakewood bow, was warped, and haired too tightly, while a "Top" snakewood bow as actually better.

The viola I bought from them, is not terrible. What I know for a fact is terrible is the setup on it. Hopefully, with my luthier's magic touch, I'll get to hear what this viola should sound like. It was also discussed with them that I wanted a "student viola", and they offered this viola as "advanced level viola".

Maybe they do much through inspection and setup on their top or master level instruments, but again, I wouldn't gamble with an upgrade. In fact, I cannot recommend buying ANY upgrade online.

September 23, 2016 at 03:17 AM · Huh Steven... where did the wolf pack on D string go?

September 23, 2016 at 03:19 AM · They're still there, just controlled better with a mute hanging on D string, right up close to the tailpiece.

September 23, 2016 at 05:51 AM · Unless your German "factory" instrument is the lower grade, or poorly set up, I really doubt new Chinese instruments in that price range are going to be any better, if even as good, have you actually compared any of these violins you're considering to your present violin, or are you going off people's recommendations online, in which case my advice to you would be ignore them.

September 23, 2016 at 10:52 AM · Aha, we now have a paradox; Lyndon is giving you advice online, yet that advice is to ignore advice you get online....

Fascinating.....

;^)

.

September 23, 2016 at 11:04 AM · I didn't actually recommend any violin, I just suggested he compare, live, his violin, to any new ones he is considering buying and not assume anything about which are going to be better.

September 23, 2016 at 12:45 PM · There are some very good Chinese fiddles out there. You have to know what to look for though.

Old German fiddles and antique instruments of about 100-150 years old can be excellent and may be found for a reasonable price, that's if they can be found. Keep in mind that most of the good old violins of this type are already in the hands of people who want to hold onto them, and therefore most of the violins for sale are the rejects and usually total junk. In my experience a dealer with say 20 of these violins will be charging over the odds and 19 at least will be pretty awful. You have to be very lucky to find the odd one that's reasonable.

So my advice would be to look out for any violin but the chances of finding a reasonably good Chinese violin are MUCH higher than finding something a bit older.

September 23, 2016 at 01:01 PM · more garbage, where do you get this stuff, do you have earwax or something??

September 23, 2016 at 02:45 PM · As usual Lyndon you have to get personal and behave like a troll.

September 23, 2016 at 02:58 PM · I think you did some thorough research, but do you need 2 violins? Otherwise, what happens if you go to a luthier/shop and ask for a trade in, and what you'd get with your budget?

Is there anything that could be done to improve your own violin?

You could also contact Lyndon, trade yours in, buy the cheapest yitamusic you can find and have it set up properly, and then tell us which one is best. (or, when you want to be nasty, get somebody with a really good cheap Chinese fiddle (the lottery winners), pretend you got it from the ebay lottery, and then tell us that it is better than the expensive old one you got...))

September 23, 2016 at 04:02 PM · I agree with Lyndon (except for the wax). All other things being equal (and they are not), with old German mass-produced (workshop) violins, one at least knows that the wood is old. Really old. In other words, what you hear is what you get.

With modern instruments made in China, there is no guarantee that the wood was dried properly. Sure, there are exceptions, such VSA winners and workshops allegedly under their supervision, but one can not expect the same for a $500 fiddle. Chinese labor costs are very low, but the savings are also due to materials used (I doubt that they use Balkan maple). The market is not regulated and there are numerous workshops, some of them of dubious QA. Add (North American) dealers who buy at ridiculously low price and make a hundred-fold percent profit and you are in for a disaster.

September 23, 2016 at 04:27 PM · At this price range, it would be better money spent to get your current fiddle looked at by a luthier and any needed maintenance done (plane/shape fingerboard, cut/fit new post and bridge, check (and replace if necessary) the pegs, tailpiece, tailgut, fix any obvious damage, install new strings, etc. You would be impressed with what a good setup can do for almost any fiddle, even really inexpensive ones. :)

September 23, 2016 at 05:41 PM · Gene,

Really? Planing the fingerboard, etc, will make it sound better? Or just make it easier to play?

From my limited experience so far each instrument has its own character and I can get some improvement with soundpost adjusting, a well suited set of strings, etc. A tinny sounding violin (for example) will still sound tinny, if less so after the rigamarole.

I've never had any of my fingerboards planed, so I'm wondering if that indeed has a tonal effect?

September 23, 2016 at 08:42 PM · I was in your position about 7 years ago: I wanted to upgrade from my old German factory violin. I had a solo in orchestra and I wanted an instrument that would have a richer sound and project better. I ended up getting a Carlo Lamberti from Shar, which is a Chinese violin that is finished and set up in the US at the Shar shop. Mine cost about 2X your stated price range, but they have more basic models that are also a good value. I've had this instrument now for about 7 years and I'm still very happy with it. I don't tell people that it is an inexpensive instrument from Shar unless they ask, and I've had a number of compliments on its sound quality and ability to project. I believe getting this violin made a difference in how people see me as a player, because my old violin didn't speak as much as this one does.

September 23, 2016 at 09:24 PM · Yes, I've played on quite a few Chinese violins as well as of course some Modern European violins. The European violins tend to be quite expensive, and some are very good, some rather poor. The Chinese violins appear at least in my experience to be much more reliable sound wise, although I'm speaking about instruments that have been properly set up (often by people here in London) which adds a premium to the price, and they were probably chosen as very promising in the first place. These prices are in the region of £2,000 (US $2.5k?) and they have superior sound to the older antique instruments. I have found that they may not carry the sound as well as top modern violins but then we are speaking in terms of prices at least five times higher for the excellent modern European and US makers.

For a lot of students and keen amateur players these violins are excellent value for money and out-perform many of the antique instruments of which good examples are becoming much harder to find, mainly because the good ones are being held onto, leaving only the poor examples around for sale. Even old 17th and 18th century violins can sometimes be rather disappointing, although the best are of course magnificent. In fact I think I have tried a lot of instruments of the 18th, 19th and early 20 centuries that I would not even give house room to!

September 23, 2016 at 10:23 PM · Old violins can have fingerboards that have warped over time from environmental conditions and the impact of strings on their surface. Depending on their condition, they can be planed to get them to work again, or if they have already deteriorated, the entire fingerboard should be replaced. When your fingerboard has concave areas, intonation issues and buzzing issues abound...

All I'm saying is until you've done everything to give your current instrument the best possible conditions to serve its purpose, replacing it may not be the best use of your funds.

September 23, 2016 at 11:21 PM · Karen Allendoerfer and Peter Charles, THANK YOU for directly answering my question!

Gene Wie, I appreciate your viewpoint, especially considering your vocation in life, but I may have given you (and others on the list) a wrong impression. I am not a high school student with an overblown sense of entitlement and doting parents to foot the bill for my musical whims. I am an adult with high-school-aged children of my own, who has been limping along for three decades on the student instrument my music-teacher mother passed down to me in 1982 when I was 11 years old. I'm certainly not pro material at this stage of life, but I'm no beginner either. After 35 years I think an upgrade is appropriate.

Since my student instrument does have a great deal of sentiment attached to it, and because I plan to pass that fiddle along to my own child in a couple of years when she outgrows her 3/4 (my first childhood violin, also a prewar German factory model), I'm not up for a trade-in.

I'm not opposed to looking for an antique instrument either, and I do take under advisement the advantage of the older instruments' stability. The hitch for me there is that I simply have not found any antique fiddles in my price range that sound even as good as my current one, while I have heard a fair number of Chinese violins in my price range that sound better than mine.

Also, Gene, what prompted me to start this search was that my discontent with my student fiddle led me to the shop of the most respected luthier in my area (which is large and artsy enough to support two professional symphonies). He worked his magic, closed a sagging seam, added a new tailpiece, cut and placed a new sound post and strung up a set of Dominants, and it did indeed improve my fiddle's tone, but not by miles. Knowing that I have truly reached the limit of my old workhorse's range prompted me to reach for something a level higher.

Taking into account the many user reviews I have heard on instruments for a variety of Chinese and European workshops, the advice of musician friends and the first-hand searches I have done at local shops, it does seem that, potentially, there is greater value to be had by ordering direct. However, it also seems to be an all-or-nothing gamble.

It also seems that many folks point me to the category of "well, it's just a bit beyond your price range, but..." and send me right to the $2,000 rack. Even for Chinese fiddles. Is that, realistically, the true starting point for the next level beyond my instrument?

September 24, 2016 at 01:21 AM · Dawn, are there any local luthiers or shops?

I have seen some excellent-for-price violins both at my luthier's workshop and also at 2 violin stores in my town.

Most of them Czech, Chinese or old'er' German, under ranging from $400~$900.

September 24, 2016 at 01:44 AM · It sounds like you're already playing a fairly nice violin as far as student-grade instruments go. Have you had it appraised? It might well be worth $2k+ these days, which is why you're being pointed to a higher price range.

I would be surprised if a $500 Chinese violin, even well set-up, would outplay a nice older German trade fiddle. That's a starter violin range, not a trade-up-from-already-decent range.

September 24, 2016 at 07:45 AM · It also seems that many folks point me to the category of "well, it's just a bit beyond your price range, but..." and send me right to the $2,000 rack. Even for Chinese fiddles. Is that, realistically, the true starting point for the next level beyond my instrument?

Dawn, I would say that a Chinese violin in the $2,000 range might well be pretty good, even very good. However, you need to shop around and do not buy on the Internet as it's an incredibly huge gamble. In London it is quite possible to find a decent violin (Chinese or other) for less than £2,000

September 25, 2016 at 10:06 PM · Thanks for the feedback, folks. It does look like I'll need to apply more patience while keeping my eyes open and saving up.

To answer the most recent questions, yes, there are a surprising number of luthiers in my area; a couple of them are even great ones. I just don't want to be laughed out of the shop with my meager budget, and I don't want to find myself heartbroken over a gem that's beyond my means.

There is also a violin making school almost literally in my back yard. I should ask for a tour and try out some of their work. Maybe take my Girl Scout troop with me!

Lydia, I haven't had my violin appraised formally, but about 15 years ago a luthier gave me a ballpark of $1,000-$1,500 and when I had it reparied recently the luthier ballparked it at $1,500 to $2,000. My mother got it from her violin teacher when she was in college and the fiddle was less than 20 years old. It's a "Milano" Strad copy; the line was made in Germany and sold under that label by Carl Fisher in prewar America. The instrument was always serviceable, but never seemed like anything special...and now that I think of it, the fiddle was 50 years old when I inherited it and now is heading for 100, so it may indeed be a better fiddle than it was when either my mom or I got it, simply because of the additional seasoning brought on by time.

My yearning for a new Chinese instrument was fueled by the glowing reviews I keep reading, and the dawning hope that a better instrument, which I had perpetually thought beyond my reach, might somehow be possible.

Meanwhile, back to reality...

September 25, 2016 at 10:49 PM · Old does not always magically make it good.

September 25, 2016 at 11:11 PM · No, but age and playing does improve an already good violin.

Cheers Carlo

September 25, 2016 at 11:12 PM · I am not sure what you mean when you say buying a Chinese instrument direct is a better value. I guess you mean it is much cheaper. But, what value is an instrument you cannot trial or have inspected by a luthier? Please don't buy mail-order. Caution: This is not Girl Scout language: Buying "direct" is a crap shoot. Your priority is a better violin, not a cheap one, right?! The final judge is your ear, not "glowing reviews." Keep in mind, this instrument business can be a racket...shop in person. Take your time.

September 26, 2016 at 01:06 AM · Let me write again: once you create a mental construct and label it "$2000 violin made in China" you are in for a trouble.

Why? Because numeric value of 2000 does not have anything to do with the quality of sound. If you have a "$500 violin made in China" and upgrade to "$2000 violin made in China", it will not give you additional 1500 points of sound quality. It means that you are certain to leave your $2000 dollars at the checkout and that is all.

The variance within that artificial category is so big that it is by pure chance, and/or only as a result of an extensive search, that you may buy a decent fiddle or not.

September 26, 2016 at 02:57 AM · "Crap shoot" is perfectly decent language. It refers to throwing dice in the gambling game of craps.

Referencing the why-not-Chinese thread, I'll note that even if a car or a smartwatch are in the end to be disposed of, and a violin might be a better long-term investment, someone who can get $20k on no-money-down low-percentage financing for a car might have no chance of coming up with $20k in cash for an instrument. Or even coming up with $600 cash for an instrument vs. a smartphone they can get for $0 with a contract. It's perfectly rational to buy the best thing you can get for cash on hand, and that cash-on-hand for most people is pretty darn low.

Instruments in this kind of $5k-and-below price range pretty much don't appreciate, and they are hard to resell. So buy one because you like the sound and you expect to keep it, and/or you don't care if you can never resell it. Chinese or not doesn't especially matter.

But given that you're playing a violin worth likely $2k, you are probably not going to find a $500 violin that's better.

September 26, 2016 at 03:20 AM · Literally laughing out loud that we are discussing the decency of the term "crap shoot." That is all.

September 26, 2016 at 03:47 AM · I think to sum up the notions from this thread and the "never buy chinese" thread.

1.) Half of this website appears to be prejudiced towards the Chinese based off of hear say

2.) Price and pedigree should mean absolutely nothing to you, and you need to try/compare before you buy; especially in your price range

3.) Your violin is probably fine/what Lydia said (Stemming off that why not go to a local shop and find violins with comparable sound quality and see how much those cost?)

4.) Buy what sounds good it doesn't matter what country it came from or who claimed to make it because your mileage WILL vary in your price range. These are not instruments handcrafted by Ming Jhiang Zhu himself or the like, they are violins made in an assembly line format by numerous workers with varying skill levels. As well as the given possibility to get a bad instrument from a bunch.

5.) Again your mileage will vary. Why not do in home trials from fiddlershop.com sharmusic.com etc., or better yet your local violin shops. That way you can really see what will fit you.

When I bought my instrument it was love at first sight. Legitimately sounded the best out of every violin that I played above/below its price range. However, that probably is not going to happen for you. I will also say this, do not buy an instrument because it "looks nicer". I know this sounds obvious, but the thought will probably cross your mind at some point or another that you like one more because the back has a nicer flame or the varnish on one appears better finished etc. Each violin made uses different woods, fittings, makers, etc. Choosing a violin isn't like choosing a car. You have to find the one for you not the one people tell you to buy.

September 26, 2016 at 03:47 AM · I think to sum up the notions from this thread and the "never buy chinese" thread.

1.) Half of this website appears to be prejudiced towards the Chinese based off of hear say

2.) Price and pedigree should mean absolutely nothing to you, and you need to try/compare before you buy; especially in your price range

3.) Your violin is probably fine/what Lydia said (Stemming off that why not go to a local shop and find violins with comparable sound quality and see how much those cost?)

4.) Buy what sounds good it doesn't matter what country it came from or who claimed to make it because your mileage WILL vary in your price range. These are not instruments handcrafted by Ming Jhiang Zhu himself or the like, they are violins made in an assembly line format by numerous workers with varying skill levels. As well as the given possibility to get a bad instrument from a bunch.

5.) Again your mileage will vary. Why not do in home trials from fiddlershop.com sharmusic.com etc., or better yet your local violin shops. That way you can really see what will fit you.

When I bought my instrument it was love at first sight. Legitimately sounded the best out of every violin that I played above/below its price range. However, that probably is not going to happen for you. I will also say this, do not buy an instrument because it "looks nicer". I know this sounds obvious, but the thought will probably cross your mind at some point or another that you like one more because the back has a nicer flame or the varnish on one appears better finished etc. Each violin made uses different woods, fittings, makers, etc. Choosing a violin isn't like choosing a car. You have to find the one for you not the one people tell you to buy.

October 1, 2016 at 12:18 AM · "numeric value of 2000 does not have anything to do with the quality of sound. If you have a "$500 violin made in China" and upgrade to "$2000 violin made in China", it will not give you additional 1500 points of sound quality. It means that you are certain to leave your $2000 dollars at the checkout and that is all."

Rocky's right unfortunately, and I've been trying to do exactly this. My son has a Yita M20 which I think he should upgrade from because it is after all an inexpensive violin, and spending several times as much should get him a much better one.

So we tried that -- went to an excellent local store and tried out several violins in the $2000+ price range. I had Jay Haide in mind when we went there and said as much. To his ears, the Haide's were maybe a bit better or a worse, but not really an upgrade. So we continued trying, and found a couple -- now in the $5000+ range (French) which were significantly better.

To some degree, I'm sure that this is personal preference and having gotten used to the violin he has (although he originally chose it in comparison to a few others preferring the tone), but my idea of going to a store with a $2000-ish budget in mind and getting a significant upgrade, hard as it is to let go of, isn't working for me.

October 1, 2016 at 02:33 AM · Sorry, but every "expert" on violinist.com will tell you that French violins can not possibly be as good as Chinese violins. LOL

October 1, 2016 at 04:17 AM · "yes, there are a surprising number of luthiers in my area; a couple of them are even great ones."

Then I would go and visit them and ask things, try different violins, borrow to try at home and bring to your lessons/other people that know about violins(if you have) etc.

"I just don't want to be laughed out of the shop with my meager budget,"

Some might be snobs, some might be nice.

"and I don't want to find myself heartbroken over a gem that's beyond my means."

Maybe try only ones that you can afford?

October 1, 2016 at 04:25 AM · good advice

October 1, 2016 at 05:56 AM · I handled a violin yesterday with a £12,500 price tag. It may have been Itaiian not sure, but it was old - at least more than 100 years and probably 200. The sound? Small and lousy. I would not have given £500 for it. Compared with the Viotti/Bruce Strad next to it, it was a pile of junk.

On the other hand the Strad was something else. A very pure sound with clean harmonics and a big open silvery sound.

Nearly as good as a Chinese fiddle! (wink)

December 1, 2016 at 10:42 PM · Hi Dawn.

I'd also recommend considering online sellers' return policies. A lot of the "China fear" stems from not being able to audition the instrument live. But I think someone who offers returns is more interested in sustaining business than cheating one person for a quick sale. Nobody spent years training to be a luthier and hiring people, renting a shop, establishing trade relations for intermediate materials etc... just to cheat one customer who can very easily tank their business with bad reviews.

Of your options, I've only played on an Infinite Strings (though I'm sure some unlabeled "shop" violins were likely Yitas, and weren't bad at all), the price of which I bargained down to well within your range. What I got was far better in almost every aspect (fittings were a little underwhelming) than any Jay Haide or Scott Cao. More range, more overtones, better response, and more projection by a long way. Trust your ears and hands. If you like it more than a European with little potential and it costs less or is "worth" less to people who value pedigree over quality, then go with what you like. I'm still an emphatic supporter of IS.

Best of luck!

December 2, 2016 at 01:25 PM · Dawn,

Lots of responses to your question ranging from "go for it" to "don't do it" My experience with Yita Music is that buying from them is truly a gamble. You can do returns but you pay shipping costs. That can get expensive. My advice is to try and work locally as much as possible back. If you want to order online try Shar, Southwest Strings or Robertson and Sons. All are reputable and I have experience with all three.


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