Professional 3/4 Violin?
Hello! I am currently studying violin performance in my first year of undergrad. Lately, my professors and I are starting to realize that I need to upgrade from my 7/8 intermediate violin to a professional instrument. HOWEVER, here is the catch: I might need to potentially step down to a 3/4 violin. Before University, I had no problem playing on a 7/8 violin. However, as I start tackling Paganini caprices and the harder violin concerti (such as the Tchaikovsky violin concerto), my hands are starting to feel strained. To give you an idea of how small I am, I stand at around 4 ft 8 inches. So far, I have heard about a violin/viola maker known as Douglas Cox who makes high quality fractional-sized instruments. Has anyone had experience with any of his instruments? Please feel free to leave the names of any other fractional sized violin makers/vendors. I currently play on a 7/8 Ming Jiang Zhu 903 Model.
I was lucky to have once been loaned a very nice 3/4 violin that's like a full size in virtually every aspect. However, such instruments are, unfortunately, a bit difficult to find. Mine was an older one made in Europe, I guess. I'd try a variety of 3/4 violins in the thousand-dollar range and pick your favourite. Alternatively, a 7/8 with smaller dimensions might be an option.
I may be able to help you with a professional level 3/4 or 7/8. There are several nice antiques in that size right now, French and German instruments, fine 3/4 JTL in Gand & Bernardel like workmanship, mint 7/8 JB Colin, good Berlin and Markneukirchen 3/4.. You can contact me and I can get more specific info regarding dimensions and length of your arm. String length is an important factor as is the upper bouts for Paganini. www.bayfinestrings.com
There is a maker named John Young who works in Salt Lake City who made a custom violin for a friend of mine (professional) with mobility issues, with a shorter string length and smaller upper bout (the violin appears like a normal fullsize to the casual eye). He also makes 3/4 violins. I recommend seeing if he can help you.
My local violin-maker told me that there are a great many small adjustments that the maker can apply to the design of a new instrument that will allow you to have the same approximate string length but with a smaller overall instrument -- and vice versa. Of course the difference between 4/4 and 3/4 is significant, so one should perhaps not expect miracles. Still, as Mary Ellen suggested, you could consider commissioning something. The thing is you might not get the same "try before you buy" guarantee that makers sometimes offer for standard-model instruments. That's why I think it would be smarter to see if you can get to a shop (perhaps Thomas's shop) where there are at least a few decent 3/4 in stock because then all you're risking is the airfare to get there. Potter used to have a 3/4 Vuillaume, I don't know if they sold it.
You might want to look into the maker Lukas Wronski based in NYC. I recently got to hear one of his instruments and it was fantastic. He might be able to make a custom instrument for you, if you can afford it.
There are lots of great makers, but maybe not so many with experience making fractionals. You want to look for that.
I believe Lukas makes fractionals.
I thank all of you that have contributed to the post so far. Thomas, I am interested in the violins you suggested so expect an email coming from me soon. In terms of price range, I know that good quality fractional instrument will cost in the thousands so I am definitely keeping that in mind when searching for my next instrument.
I have made a couple of 3/4 violins that turned out quite well. I have a friend who has a 3/4 Gagliano. I have, in the past, sold a Jacques Camurat that was quite fine, and have seen a 3/4 David VanZandt that was wonderful.
Paul, just to clarify that when I said "thousand-dollar range" I referred to 3/4 violins that cost at least $1000. That can mean $5000, or $10000, or whatever. The OPs interpretation was the one I had in mind.
Tenths and other big extensions feel like a strain to most players. If you haven't spent a lot of time doing extensions in the past, you may need to build some strength and endurance, and possibly learn to place your hand properly for maximum stretch.
I do agree that you'll need to learn to stretch and place your hand optimally for 10ths. If that doesn't work for you on a 7/8, go for a 3/4 or try other 7/8s to see how they fit you. Strain injury prevention is still a high priority.
Sure Angelica,happy to help. There is some leeway with setup to find the optimal string length for your playing dependent on your arm and finger length, not necessarily your height. Possible solutions are likely an elongated 3/4 violin vibrating string length, or possibly shortened 7/8 violin string length. I have a lot of experience with setup, so its best to see musicians in person to work on ergonomics considering the special requirements you have for playing the violin. Maximizing resonance is an arcane thing and although there are set formulas for setup, deviation can do wonders for instruments. I enjoy working with colleagues to address their issues and requirements, it is my specialty!
When we were shopping for good violas last year we ran across a beautiful one by Canadian maker John Newton that although full-sized with a very full sound, had reduced string length, upper bouts, and neck width/thickness, to the point that everyone's comment was that it handled like a violin :-). Perfect instrument for someone with smaller hands and stature, it gave up nothing in the sound. I think this is the point that several other folks here are making, you can still have a full-size instrument if you find a maker who has had success at these adjustments. (BTW I only have experience with his violas but Newton was super to talk with and pricing was almost too good to be true for such fine workmanship.)
Also one to try: Hermann Janzen in BC makes a really nice del Gesu model that is something like a 7/8, but has small shoulders.
I've made and heard successful 3/4 size violins.
I generally agree with John. Also consider neck thickness/width. Stretching exercises are a good way to help spread the fingers out more. However, be very cautious when you do them because if you overstretch too much, especially to the point of pain/discomfort, you'll very likely get serious strain injuries. To minimize your chances of strain injury, try to stretch your hands out in small increments and stop when you feel any pain/discomfort.
This is a discussion of personal interest. A few years ago I had a complete shoulder replacement because of an accident. The big problem I have now is a deficit in exterior rotation in my left arm. This means I can't push my forearm to my left to get it under the violin. I have devised a way of holding the violin (essentially at a 45 degree angle) which makes it possible to play, however, not to be able to shift from 3rd to first position on the g string. It is easier on a 3/4 instrument. So my question is are there any adjustments of the instrument that can be made to make it possible to do this. I am looking into getting a 7/8 fiddle by the way.
I personally know a luthier that makes a full-sized professional violin with good sound, but it has a cut-out in the upper right quadrant which makes playing in high positions, particularly on the G, very easy.
The problem is not playing high on the G, but low (first and second Position.) Thanks, though, Eric
Erik, might be of interest to the OP, though a shorter string length is in order for her as well.
4ft 8 in? Wow. Yeah you should probably use a 3/4 violin. Although like what everyone else has also said, you can try to find a smaller 7/8 violin. Also though, your hand size might affect playability too however.