What Do You Do When You Just Can't Afford a "Good" Violin?

June 18, 2017, 7:01 PM · Hello...nice to meet everyone!

My name is Mel. I am 49 years old and took up violin two years ago. I will be honest, I'm not great. However, I think I have been avoiding longer practices because I feel so frustrated. I have turned a new leaf and am amping up practice length (per practice). I do practice between 5 and 7 times a week.

I took a year of lessons and have stopped due to financial constraints, but I do not want to stop playing.

I have been playing on a Cecilio 300 - please don't judge. This is the best I have been able to do, financially. I was considering a CVN 500 but I wonder if the quality will really be all that different.

What do you do when you truly can't afford a decent instrument?

I would he glad to grab a used instrument on eBay even if it wasn't a looker but I don't even know where to start.

Anyone have any ideas for me? :)

Replies (90)

June 18, 2017, 7:13 PM · Also, opinions on Bunnel G2?
June 18, 2017, 7:20 PM · Are you anywhere near a shop? I mean a shop dedicated to violins, violas, celli, not a general music store. If so, get to know the folks, try instruments, explain your issues. Sometimes an instrument with no real resale value shows up, but sounds better than what you've got.

Ebay isn't for the impecunious, because you have no idea what you are getting. Working with someone local can pay big dividends.

Edited: June 18, 2017, 9:14 PM · Maybe rent a violin or try a variety of affordable violins and pick your fave.
June 18, 2017, 8:02 PM · I would rent, if you can afford it. Lots of violin shops do a kind of rent-to-buy program, where the money you've paid renting the violin goes towards buying one. When I rented, I rented a ~$900 violin for $20 a month.
June 18, 2017, 8:14 PM · Hi Mel, I've done the ebay/amazon/craigslist route (I have 3 kids and started along with them) and have yet to have problems. I've done (in order of worst to best): Cecilio 300, Knilling Student, Sheng Liu, Samuel Shen 300, Yamaha. The Cecilio and Knilling were just basic violins with iffy set-up, but the other three had all been shop adjusted and were good student violins. There are a lot of folk selling $500-700 shop-bought instruments for $100-200. I'd probably look for something like a Yamaha V5 for ~$200. Expect to change the strings and buy a new bow, but it will be a big leap from the Cecilio.
June 18, 2017, 10:35 PM · Anybody near you with violin know how you can ask to help?
Nobody will judge you for the violin you play. It is a bit hard to get something decend within your price range, but not impossible. If you are not in a hurry and live in a vivid area I would try to find a good privat sale, but only if someone can help you to check the violin.
Otherwise a shop would be the place to start. Most people buying online I know bought at least a handfull of violins whereas localy most times exactly one. In your case there is no money to waste on multiple violins but you need a one shot hit.
Good luck and keep it up!
Edited: June 19, 2017, 12:52 AM · You don't need a really good violin or viola as long as it is set up properly. I used a pretty poor violin and viola right up until I left music academy and joined an orchestra. Later i got somewhat better instruments, both antique and modern.

You have to learn how to get the best out of the instrument you have. Just make sure its set up by someone who knows what they are doing.

If you were in London I could recommend people who might help, but I expect you are in the US. (That's why it's good to put in your profile where you live ...)

Edited: June 19, 2017, 2:47 AM · Melanie, since you have a good instrument to get you by, it is really just a waiting game. Keep your eyes open and get the word out to family, friends, neighbors, music teachers and such that you are looking for a violin. Sometimes you find out someone has one sitting in a closet and they want to see it go to a good home. My daughter's violin teacher has a few violins people gave her because they did not know what to do with them and wanted to see them go to a place that may find them a proper purpose. Sometimes they end up being pretty good. They usually need new strings and such and sometimes a whole lot more. But it is worth taking a chance when the price is right.

Good Luck and happy hunting

Edited: June 19, 2017, 4:02 AM · Hi Mel

Your violin is maybe not that bad. Some low cost violins are just fine for almost all purposes.

Think about fitting decent strings (Dominant or better). You'd be surprised how a good setup + decent strings can transform an instrument.

June 19, 2017, 6:03 AM · Or you could just do what some of our posters have done, buy a really cheap violin and then go on and on about how great it is and how its sounds better than violins costing 10 times as much, if that makes you feel better???
June 19, 2017, 6:15 AM · Check local pawn shops.

Sometimes you can find amazing bargains. The one time I saw a violin in a local pawn show I went in and tried it - it was a Conn. I never realized that maker of band instruments had made violins - so I checked it out on line - and sure enough. Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Conn company had actually imported Italian violin makers to the US and they were making instruments competitive with some of the best Italian violins of that period.

I did not buy that particular instrument for its $600 price but alerted a violin dealer who did - they were reselling for about $3,000 at the time. ( was sent a $100 finder's fee - that I had not requested.)

June 19, 2017, 6:30 AM · My recommendations as a violin teacher.
1. If you have a violin shop in your town, Rent a violin. Most shop rentals are MUCH better than a Cecilio and most shops will apply at least a portion of the rental fees towards the purchase. (Most rental outfits around here would retail for around $600-$1000 and you only pay $20 per month).
2. If you have a local shop, ask about payment plans. Most shops don't advertise this, but some (not all) will allow you to make monthly payments on a violin if you can pay 1/2 or more down.
3. If you don't have a local shop, check out Sharmusic.com. Even the entry level violins (around $200 for an outfit) at Shar will be properly set-up (I've yet to see a Cecilio well set-up straight from the factory). Shar also offers rentals, Trade-ins, and I think payment plans for some instruments.
4. You could also consider finding a good shop and seeing what they can do in terms of set-up on your current violin. Most Cecilios come with poorly shaped bridges, cheap strings etc.. $100-200 for a new Bridge, Soundpost Adjustment, and new strings could make a big difference in the sound, although I'm not sure it is entirely worth the money for such an inexpensive violin, but they can advise you at the shop. Hope this helps!
June 19, 2017, 8:12 AM · Mr. Taylor, what's the point of attacking other posters in this forum? One can have strong opinions without need for that.

Surely I don't love many "value" new instruments myself, but to each their own.

I also acknowledge that *some* older, "no names", affordable instruments can provide terrific value for the money, but I don't see the point of hitting others over their heads with one's deeply held points of view. This should be a friendly forum where ideas are exchanged. It is valuable to pinpoint possible flaws in people's thinking-or to offer additional options-but it can be done amicably.

(This is not meant as a personal attack-if deemed as much, moderators, feel free to delete my message.)

I agree rentals may be a good choice, besides making sure the current instrument is at its 100% capabilities, properly setup (sadly, a great setup can cost more than a very low priced instrument, making their supposed affordability questionable.)

June 19, 2017, 8:47 AM · Good points Adalberto - and yes, a really good setup can be expensive.
June 19, 2017, 11:26 AM · These are such great suggestions. I am going to start putting feelers out and also am going to check into renting and see how rentals at my shop feel. I will check into payment plans too.

I appreciate it so much.

I did take my poor cheapie to a luthier. He changed one or two things and was a horrific, nasty, mean snob to me. The kinder I was to him the more he attacked. It is too bad as there are no other luthiers in my area. But perhaps there's a reason for everything and "my" violin is out there waiting for me. :)

I have better strings on the violin than the original and it did seem to make a difference. I am going to practice longer and more pinpointedly as perhaps a larger part of this is just that I'm really not great. I figure by doing all these things I should get closer to loving how I play.

Thanks so much!

June 19, 2017, 11:35 AM · If you start making contacts, perhaps going to folk fiddle conventions and so, you might find amateurs who fix up violins, and who sell perfectly usable German instruments for a small price. There are a lot of violins out there which no one is using...
Edited: June 19, 2017, 5:10 PM · Melanie,

I would travel a little further and never give that person your business again. Unprofessional.

Also don't let Lyndon's hard on against anything Chinese scare you off. You're on a tight budget. Get the best you can and run with it.

Edited: June 19, 2017, 7:00 PM · Strings, rosin and bow can make a HUGE difference and can be kept when you upgrade.
Try a less expensive good string like pirastro Tonica if you can. If that's out of range, D'addario preludes are consistently made student string with a decent sound. Some less expensive rosin are available from Millant, Melos, Hill, and Pirastro. These will likely give you much better tone and control.
Some carbon fiber bows can give you a much more forgiving and pleasurable experience as you are learning. A second or used Glasser Braided Carbon Fiber or codabow can sometimes be found for a bargain.

All in all, these may be less expensive than a few months' rental fees. Generally, you pay a premium for a better rental instrument and keep In Mind, life may pull you away from consistent practice, but those fees will remain due each month.
If you own it, you don't have a bill.

June 21, 2017, 2:04 PM · If you are going solely on what is written here, you ideas of what constitutes "good enough" and how much that might cost are likely distorted. I only know about Violas. My daughter went through a series of progressively larger rental instruments that always sounded muffled, though the last 15" did greatly benefit from spending $120 on a string set. Long term, the rentals were a waste except that she needed a new one every year and I was able to donate it at the end. I did find a viola that sounded "good enough for her to sit in front of youth orchestra", and an even better sounding (and lighter) hot rod instrument https://spaces.hightail.com/space/NWArK4B85d for much less than the $5k minimum usually kicked around.

If it's decent, you will have and can use it for many years. If it isn't, you'll soon grow tired of it.

Like Edward said get decent strings, even if your instrument is crappy, re-hair your bow, and use rosin!

June 21, 2017, 4:53 PM · I'll suggest something that no one else has, and it's the same answer as "I can't afford__________, what can I do?" The blank can be anything--a car, or house, or whatever:

You save up money, and/or sacrifice something else.

June 21, 2017, 6:07 PM · Those who can't afford a "true pro", expensive violin generally can't also realistically save up for a car or a house. Even if violin playing is their #1 priority-not cars or homes. Not an excuse to not get the best violin you can afford, but something to consider.

Of course, if you CAN afford it, save up and buy the best violin possible when you have reached a practical monetary amount for your needs. It should be a priority over "cool" cars (etc.), if it's important to you.


Edited: June 21, 2017, 6:56 PM · I certainly am not saving up for any other big ticket items at the moment and FWIW, I drive a 9-year-old Chevy Cobalt, bought used.

We are not poor, so I'm not saying that. We have a home (mortgage) and we live a middle-class lifestyle. With that said, yes, I have thought about how to save the thousands I would need for something for pleasure, in the face of supporting a special needs family including special tutoring for the kids to help them toward, I hope, independence. For one that is a pipe dream as he has an intellectual delay and we must consider, when and if a windfall should happen, how to invest it toward the likely 30+ years he will still need to eat, buy medical care and clothing after we are dead (the life that can be had via SSI alone is generally fairly grim and remember, we do love this young man, currently 14 years old). So yes, saving thousands of dollars for something simply to make me feel happy doing, takes a back seat though that is not for lack of passion, I promise you, but rather for an overload of responsibility.

Nevertheless I plan on saving $20/week when possible...I don't even want to do the math on that and do keep in mind that I am almost 50 at this starting point.

Regardless, this is my plan for now, along with the great tips given here. And I absolutely plan to continue in the meantime to saw away at my poor Cecilio daily in the meantime. Haven't stopped yet, don't plan to. I love that after decades of wishing, I finally am of the means to learn an instrument even if only one that others laugh at and call a VSO. At least I'm making music. At least I won't die saying I never tried to achieve this dream. What I am most of all is grateful I can do what I'm doing right now. Anything else would be gravy.

Thanks, everyone!

p.s. "Cool car," I have to smile. No offense. You'd...just have to know me, that's all. You'd laugh too. Good-naturedly but you'd laugh. :) My hobbies have never run toward the pricey. Well, until now, apparently!

June 21, 2017, 7:41 PM · To be fair, Ms. Henson, I wasn't referring to you in particular (even though you are the OP), so it is my sincere hope I did not offend you. It's an issue with only a few people and in some cases, parents of violin students. Some are poor, while others have the means but don't make it a priority for them or their children to have the best they could afford-though I am referring more about "serious" violin studies (not that you aren't serious in your endeavors, however.)

The $20.00 savings plan will help you find a better instrument soon.

Good luck in your musical adventures, and best wishes with your particular situation.

June 23, 2017, 6:22 AM · "What do you do when you truly can't afford a decent instrument?"

Try a Stradivarius?

Ref: http://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=187

Besides the joke which I didn't resist, the point is that the evaluation of violins is highly subjective. What's a Stradivarius to some is just another violin that doesn't meet their needs as well as something else to some, and what's a great student instrument which performs well above its price is just another instrument made in China to Lyndon (as are virtually all student-priced instruments).

What's wrong with yours that you think might improve with a replacement?

Are the brand, model and price of your current instrument bothering you? Do you think things would improve by simply 'upgrading' those?

Virtually all 'affordable' new instruments are made in China, and regardless of brand and model, they are all variable and they're made with natural products with vary and by different people, who vary even more.

If your violin is uncomfortable to use -- parts of the neck are rough or the nut is poorly smoothed, or if the strings are too high, I'd consider repair or replacement.

If you decide to keep it and haven't already done so, I would replace the supplied tailpiece with a Wittner with built-in fine tuners. That shouldn't be expensive, and should be easier to use and probably also better sounding. I would also probably do that with most new purchases, and I'd also research for a chin rest and shoulder rest (if I used one at all) which suited me best.

If your bow performs like a wet noodle, I'd consider replacing it with an inexpensive carbon fiber one, or an inexpensive brazilwood bow from Yitamusic-violins.

Otherwise, it might be best to stick with what you have for a while, until you can use your saved funds with the greater wisdom you have gained through experience -- perhaps to buy in person judging a bargain used violin based on its performance rather than its brand name or price, and even perhaps, after some time, to not do that as your wants have shifted.

And the occasional violin lesson from a good teacher, though expensive, might be a better investment than a better instrument.

All this said, I should add the qualification that I don't know your instrument, or what you might find as an affordable replacement, so I'm not able to judge one vs the other for you.

Edited: June 23, 2017, 7:26 AM · oh to be an expert on ridiculously cheap violins!!
June 23, 2017, 7:40 AM · I still don't see the wisdom of constantly attacking fellow forum members just for holding different views. Humans just like to argue for its own sake, I guess (or for the sakes of "winning" arguments.)
June 23, 2017, 7:46 AM · I think it is arrogant to call stuff ridiculously cheap if that is the only thing somebody can afford!
June 23, 2017, 8:15 AM · I bet you think Top Ramen is gourmet food, too!!
June 23, 2017, 8:23 AM · Seems like you're no longer allowed to attack the quality of cheap violins, without somehow being responsible for insulting their owners, I'm not that stupid, I think most owners of cheap things know full well how cheap the products are, its the people that like to go on and on about how truly great really cheap violins are that drive me nuts.

Making and buying a decent violin usually involves spending a bit more than you might spend on a decent guitar, or microwave for that matter. Good violins are not easy to make and their price reflects that, I don't think I'm being unrealistic in advising the advantages to getting a better violin, within reason.

Edited: June 23, 2017, 8:54 AM · "Oh to be an expert in etc!" attacks both the quality of the cheap violins you despise, as well as any who would deign discuss them as a valid alternative for some. It it is not a comment only about the violins themselves.

I am not too much into the cheapest instruments, but to each their own (plus please direct me to really affordable violins at $500.00 or less-or even a bit more-of any provenance that sound magnificent. I am "sure" they exist but are the rarest of the rare.) Some people love chinese violins because of their relative value-why should I care so much?

I *know* modern luthiers deserve to be paid a lot for their hard work, and that older instruments often have the "right" to be expensive. The issue is that there are more violinists than there are affordable violins, and not every musician really has the fortune to be able to purchase a $150,000 violin (even $15,000, for that matter) at a whim. Thus, value instruments are important (chinese or otherwise) even for the professional musician, either as back-ups, or because they cannot afford the "super pro" instruments they are "supposed" to play.

June 23, 2017, 9:12 AM · you're anthropomorphizing cheap violins, its the violins I don't like, not poor people, I'm a poor person, many of my friends are poor people, we buy cheap things, but if you're a musician, maybe, just maybe that's the one thing you should be spending just a little bit more on. Its kind of like driving a car, you can buy a car for $500 but you still have to pay hundreds for repairs and insurance and registration, If you can't afford that you don't have a car, maybe a bicycle. If you can't afford a violin that sounds like a violin, maybe you should take up guitar, or recorder, you don't have an innate right to a good violin, and buying a really cheap one and claiming its really good does not make it so.
June 23, 2017, 9:24 AM · Lyndon, I myself own violins of a whole different world and I would by no means be satisfied with one of those old German violins you like to talk about. I know the differences but that is not the point. And no, I only buy good food and cook myself, a supermarket is not a place where I find my food and only very few incrediens, another pointless attack. I think of eating good and healthy of beeing one of the priviledges I use my income on and be thankfull to be able to do so.
If the op could somehow afford something better I would highly recommend it but thats obviously not the case. No one wanted to argue that she can get a very good violin (which for me is not to be found for less than 20k, but I guess everybody has his own number in his head). But we tried to find a way she can still enjoy the violin and it is possible. Substituting it for a guitare is bizzar.
June 23, 2017, 9:43 AM · So now you're attacking old German violins, while Germans are responsible for most of the older production violins they are also responsible for many of the finest violins, there were literally tonnes of great German makers.
June 23, 2017, 10:20 AM · Jesus, I dont attack them, I just say I like to play better violins than German manufacture instruments or anything else in the price range you often told us you can find good violins in. It is all a matter of perspective. Ask other players here and they tell you even higher prices, that you need to lay down at least $100 000 for a good violin and $20 000 for a bow. I do know there are also good makers here, I live in Germany and played a lot of those violins. In fact my main instrument is made by a contemporary German violin maker that is quite well known and I also used to own a violin from the Ficker family.
Will it help the OP to tell her that I needed to spent more than $20 000 and search nearly 5 years to find a violin I liked? No. Will it help to tell her there are better violins in the 2k range? Neither. Its both not affordable for her.
June 23, 2017, 10:20 AM · Jesus, I dont attack them, I just say I like to play better violins than German manufacture instruments or anything else in the price range you often told us you can find good violins in. It is all a matter of perspective. Ask other players here and they tell you even higher prices, that you need to lay down at least $100 000 for a good violin and $20 000 for a bow. I do know there are also good makers here, I live in Germany and played a lot of those violins. In fact my main instrument is made by a contemporary German violin maker that is quite well known and I also used to own a violin from the Ficker family.
Will it help the OP to tell her that I needed to spent more than $20 000 and search nearly 5 years to find a violin I liked? No. Will it help to tell her there are better violins in the 2k range? Neither. Its both not affordable for her.
June 23, 2017, 3:58 PM · Thanks to those who have offered suggestions!
Edited: June 23, 2017, 5:25 PM · Hi Mel, you may want to stick with your current violin for a while and to see how good it can sound. I'm saying this because I got a feeling that you are someone will find your own way to make things work. Also because I believe that it's a better feeling when you can made good sound out of a cheap violin than making not so great sound on an expensive violin. My first violin was also a cheap one; so cheap that you may have never heard of: it was ¥25 (about$5) when my parent bought it for me during the 70s. I played it for 6 years with great passion. I sounded better and better as I worked through scales, etudes, concerti, performed in chamber groups and even soloed in high school. Ok, it was then in China, not a fair comparison to today's violin-flooding world.

My point is that, although it may not be in your case, it's very tempting to look for a better instrument when we are frustrated with the sound we produce on the current instrument. Often the issue is not the tool, but it's us. I know some talented violin teachers play violin cheaper than that of their students. I didn't ask but I would be ashamed if it turns out my violin is more expensive than my teacher's. The fact is, we are all frustrated from time to time, no matter how advanced we become. I'm not saying the quality of the tool is not important, but I believe as a student, even as an advanced student, we are not always able to judge whether buying a better instrument is the proper solution when we are frustrated with our playing. I've seen again and again, a better violin may sound a little better under our ear; a good player will always sound good with almost any instrument. You had teacher in the past, I wonder what is his/her view about your instrument.

My position on this matter probably has a lot to do with my cultural background. As someone who was taught to practice Chinese traditional paining and calligraphy at a very young age, I was not allowed to use good brush and ink to practice for years. Good tools had to be earned by years of hard practice. But when I finally became fluent and earned my "right" to use good brushes, the astonished feelings were indescribable.

June 23, 2017, 4:45 PM · Melanie, I want to make clear that my comments were no way directed at you, but rather long term posters who always seem to be recommending the cheapest violins. Your difficulties may not be easily solved, I am not familiar with Cecelio violins, but as other posters pointed out just about all these cheaper violins can be improved if not outright need, better strings, proper bridge fitting, and other adjustments. Still any given violin is going to have limitations that not even the best set up will overcome, but if you don't have the best set up, almost certainly your violin is not playing at its full potential.

At my small shop, I endeavor to use the best set up I can do on all my instruments even the really cheap ones, that way I can insure that each violin is performing to the best of its ability, the rest is up to the players.

June 23, 2017, 5:53 PM · Thank you, really, really good points. I better get to practicing. :D
Edited: June 23, 2017, 7:06 PM · Having read here MANY times that a good player can make any violin sound great, I would spend more time practicing and less time regretting that I don't have a "better" violin.
It is true that any violin improves with the right set-up and bow, but no matter what violin you have, there is always a better one out there somewhere. So, why fret? Maximize what you have: your talent and enjoyment!
June 23, 2017, 8:44 PM · I am taking this advice and trying to self-improve. It makes sense. I have seen a violinist or two take on a less than stellar instrument and still make it sound at least melodic. I will stick with what I have while I save up.
June 23, 2017, 9:45 PM · Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't answer what my violin teacher said about my violin. She was neutral about it though she did ask me to take it to a luthier to have a buzzing issue fixed. (I did that.) She told me when I was eventually ready to upgrade she would be glad to help me if I wished, but she isn't personally associated with any shop as far as I can tell and I was the one who brought it up.
Edited: June 23, 2017, 10:42 PM · Mel, I think you've made a wise choice. When you do decide to upgrade, make sure you get good trial period (at least two weeks) so that you can ask your teacher or more experienced violinists to try it before finalizing the purchase. This is particularly crucial when you are buying an expensive one but even a violin is under, say, $1,000, it's still a lot of investment for many people. More importantly, it's a commitment -- you have to live with it for some time; that is, you and your new violin will grow together for some time so I'd do everything to avoid emotional/impulsive purchase. I've been there twice myself. I've learned the lesson. Last year, after years of thinking, reading and watching how professionals do when they upgrade their instrument, I bought my current violin, Topa, in a different way: I found a reputable dealer online, and I got a one-month trial period for the Topa. When the violin arrived, for the first week, I asked my teacher and her professional colleagues to play it at different venues. I listened and got their feedback, did some playing and comparison with other violins and bows I could get my hands on. I then brought the Topa to my luthier to check it over. It turned out that the new instrument needed some minor work on the fingerboard. I got the dealer agreed to reimburse the repair cost before finalizing the deal. I'm not only very happy with this violin but also have a solid feeling about the process of the purchase.
You've asked a very important question. I didn't have the courage and wisdom to ask such question when I was in the similar situation. Brava, Mel!
Edited: June 24, 2017, 2:21 AM · These discussions about instruments always come down to arguing and squabbling from a certain quarter and it really makes me, and possibly some others, turn off from reading and posting on this forum.

We all have views about violins and how good they are or how bad some are. But personal attacks and deliberately distorting the opinions of the many reasonable people who post on here is not conducive to a reasonable discussion, and is confusing and really unhelpful for the OP who needed some advice.

A cheap violin to one person is an expensive violin for another, and it is all relative.

I think I've said all I need to say, and most contributors will know what I am hinting at. I need to stop before I'm thrown off the site.

Cheers.

June 24, 2017, 2:39 AM · As usual your main contribution to the forum amount to thinly veiled personal attacks.
Edited: June 24, 2017, 2:40 AM · I became a "tinkerer" of violins when my class was miles from any luthier, and the Parisian ones wouldn't touch those (wait for it) Lark violins. I learned to get the best out these VSO's, and built up a very useful toolbox. Just to be funny, I even thought of inventing a rubber bridge!

So with approprate surgery, these Larks could give a dullish, pleasant sound without half-a-dozen screaming notes along the way. I vigourously reject thenotion that a horrible sound is "OK for a beginner"..

As we improve, we find that such a violin cannot respond quickly and evenly: it just can't play fast, at least not on every note. Then we need something better.

June 24, 2017, 7:01 AM · True, true, true. I started on a Lark, literally and figuratively. It took 50 years but I worked up to a commissioned instrument. It's so nice how the present leads continually into the future...
Edited: June 25, 2017, 5:52 AM · I also smiled at Lyndon's comment about bragging on your cheapie. It is especially important to do this if you "upgrade" from a $200 violin to a $250 violin. For example, "My new violin sounds just as good as one of those German workshop-made violins from the 1890s," or "I had to pick through three dozen $50 fiberglass bows until I found the right tonal match," or "The instrument really started singing once I replaced those awful Vision Titanium strings with Red Labels."

Seriously, though, I thought Ingrid's suggestion of renting-to-own is a great one.

Someone else on v.com can then buy your cheapie on eBay, whereupon they will rush to their computers and post online about how they bought something with incredibly lush tone and responsiveness from someone who had no idea what she had.

June 24, 2017, 7:35 AM · I will point out that there ARE bargains in violin-buying land. But you have to know where to look for them.
First, stay away from big shops. It's like buying a used car: the prices on big car lots are obscene.
Look for violins by younger makers who can't charge as much. Look for violins that were damaged and rebuilt but have lost value. A violin may be half the price because of a well-repaired crack in the back that doesn't affect the sound. Look for a violin with no label or one that is being sold cheaply because it needs a major repair. Look for the ugly violin, like those French violins of a certain age that were blackened with acid that no one will buy but that sometimes actually sound good. Modern makers sometimes sell something at a discount because they screwed up the varnish or something else. There are always people around with violins that they'd like to sell but haven't because it's been in the family or just haven't gotten around to it. They just need some impetus.

It's like buying anything else--cars, real estate, a boat---the bargains are there but you have to find them. While Peter is right that violin quality is relative, I'd say to generally stay away from something that has a model number or a cutesy name, like a "bluebird #932-A." There are better values out there.

Edited: June 24, 2017, 8:54 AM · Just to be clear, I am by no means bragging about my instrument and surely am not claiming it performs on par with a quality piece. That comment mystified me from the first particularly as it is I who am saying I undoubtedly need to upgrade and that I have a cheap instrument. The comment was picked up on again, so I'm addressing it; I had a semi-bemused "what the...?" smile on my own face reading it once, but I felt twice warranted a reply. Because I mean come on. :D NOT being in denial is what made me ask this question...? I'm not being cranky, just clarifying.

As for tone (leaving aside the actual performance, responsiveness and so on), it is a bit reedy/windy/thin, yes, even pimped out with better strings (these DO make a difference but there are limits, so...yeah). I hate that. I love a deep, throaty, emotional tone. I know hardly anything about distinguishing tone but I know that much. Even so I'm not really tempted by the viola (though I can appreciate the sound, for sure). So that's not a lot to go on but I think because of it, I am pretty conscious of, say, squeaks which obviously register pretty high in pitch. And I tend really not to squeak on this instrument. So it is not a great sound but it is not really a nightmare that way either.

I do think the responsiveness is slow but I also can see it improving which tells me while that may be partly the violin, it is also obviously partly that I am no prodigy. It couldn't be getting consistently better if this were the instrument's fault. I am hearing this is about inconsistency which I think would be more of a mixed bag.

Crunching...I never crunch. That much I can say for sure. I may have once in a while for about the first week that I played. Though when it comes to crunching isn't that usually on the player...? I could be wrong but that's my impression. I started out pretty ham-handed with my bow but was helped with that problem immediately.

In short I do think I would be encouraged further with a better quality instrument, which was my initial motivation here, but on the other hand and on reflection following some comments here, I'm a grownup. I'm not a six-year-old whose Mommy is desperately pushing me and thinks she can tempt me to have more motivation if she upgrades me. Although I CAN be bribed with candy bars...so there's that...

I am going to keep working my poor little baby until I KNOW I have technique down to the point of being beyond it (the violin). But in the meantime I will put out feelers and saving where I can and if a nice old piece (playing wise, not looks wise) falls into my lap I'm sure not going to say no. This may sound weird but I may not just throw the violin up on eBay when I am done with it. It was my first. I have kind of an affectionate feeling toward it. I don't know that I want to shove it at some stranger for $40 or whatever when really it did give me my start.

Edited: June 24, 2017, 8:42 AM · Yixi, what sweet words, thank you. And thanks for everyone who took the time to respond and gave such good thoughts and help. That means a lot.
June 25, 2017, 5:52 AM · Melanie,

Don't let those comments dissuade you. They are references to other behavior in other threads and they're making them in an inappropriate spot - especially if it's making you uncomfortable.

Don't let their chasing an open ended vendetta make you feel like you need to defend yourself.

It's the weekend, go find a park and play FFF! :)

June 25, 2017, 6:51 AM · Hi Mel, go to Fiddlerman. com forum. There are specific threads about your violin (the 300) and many voices concerning life with less than a 5k violin...and no bickering. My favorite violin is a $30 plywood which I play more (and better) than the other 3. I have owned a couple of 300s, so I understand the tone of the violin and that you are not playing high on the G, but I think they sound great.
June 26, 2017, 1:01 AM · Hi Mel,

I think you've decided to upgrade the instrument you already have? Anyway, I'm currently using the violin from the Bunnel Pupil outfit from Kennedy Violins. I'm pretty sure it's a G2.

It's not the worst by any means, but I do plan on upgrading late in the year. If you'd like, I can send you my violin, all you have to do is pay shipping. I have a heavy Bobelock case, so it's possible that you may want to buy the G2 new instead of paying $100+ for mine. If you want it, let me know. I planned on donating it to a school across the street from me.

June 26, 2017, 3:06 AM · It is interesting to compare violins to coffee! Cheap VSO type instruments are like instant coffee served in a chipped enamel mug. Whilst real violins are like a single sourced, freshly ground espresso, lever pressed, and served in a fine porcelain cup.
One is a delight to all senses and one is "instant gravy browning". Similarly a fine violin is a delight to all senses whilst a "VSO" is not.

Cheers Carlo

Edited: June 26, 2017, 3:17 AM · My first violin was a "Sky Lark". It was a truly awful VSO. Never has a violin been named less honestly. "Parrot" would have been a more appropriate label.
Never-the-less I did learn on this instrument, and in time as my ability and budget grew I upgraded. One can learn on any instrument but only so far. You will need a real violin eventually.

Cheers Carlo

June 26, 2017, 7:55 PM · Bon, that's an incredibly generous offer. How may I contact you? This may be serendipity...I'll let you know why. Is it okay to exchange emails here or is that a TOS thing...let me know if you wouldn't mind?

Thanks again, everyone. Yes, it was the weekend and actually we were away, enjoying the mountains. <3

June 26, 2017, 9:04 PM · Actually I'm not sure how to exchange contact info here. I don't want to give my email address in the thread.
Edited: June 27, 2017, 9:19 AM · I don't mind giving one of mine but I worry about rules and that I'm missing this one...? Mods, if this is incorrect please delete with my apologies.

In the meantime feel free to contact me at my yahoo. Autumngirl896 @ yahoo . I appreciate your even thinking of me, just that means a lot so either way I do thank you.

I forgot to say thanks to the previous poster who suggested fiddlerman.

June 26, 2017, 9:21 PM · Your can add your contact info to your profile. This lets a member email but it is not on a public forum.

Cheers Carlo

June 26, 2017, 9:28 PM · Aha, thank you, Carlo.
Edited: June 27, 2017, 3:32 AM · Another general suggestion: never write it directly down as bots search for such stuff. Use a picture with the adress instead for example
June 30, 2017, 10:12 AM · Melanie and Bon, let us know how the story ends. We are on a cliffhanger...

Cheers Carlo

July 1, 2017, 10:53 AM · There are some quite amazing antique violins you can find for below $2000. Alas they require some repairs first, they play very amazingly, and I had the amazing chance to play a $1700 French violin that was no Stradivarius, but it was the most beautiful violin I have had the chance to play.
July 1, 2017, 12:45 PM · Never seen those though.
Some sound ok under the ear, but thats all I met yet (and quite some above the magic 2k).
Edited: July 17, 2017, 11:42 AM · It's never been a better time to be a violinist on a low budget.

There are TONS of sub-$1000 options for violins that are perfectly acceptable for students and even moderately advanced players, and sometimes cheap fiddles can surprise you. I bought a "spare" fiddle on Ebay from an outfit called Yitamusic that was really good (Yes, Landon, it is a better violin than another fiddle I own that cost 10 times as much -- sorry to say, but it's the simple truth.)

Setup and good strings are critical regardless of what you buy.

This is true for bows as well. There have never been so many decent under-$400 options for bows. Decent pernambuco bows can be bought on Ebay from Chinese resellers like Vingobow for $200-$300 (or twice as much from shops in the U.S.) For many beginners and intermediate players a $100-$150 carbon fiber bow (Like the Presto sold by Shar) is an excellent option.

The problem is you really should try before you buy, or at least be able to return what doesn't work. If you don't have a friendly shop nearby, there are a number of good mail-order services (Shar, Johnson String Instruments etc) that will ship instruments and bows to you with good return policies. You have to pay for shipping but it's worth it.

I wouldn't buy on Amazon or Ebay unless you have some experience adjusting and setting up violins or you have a good luthier available who will work on cheap instruments. If all you have nearby is a snotty luthier trying to sell you something for $10,000, just expand your radius and try to find another.

I know violin shops deserve every penny they earn, but an awful lot of people have overspent on violins for their kids and there are too many $5,000 violins out there sitting in closets. There are great shops out there but there are also luthiers who hard-sell people into spending more than they should for a beginner or intermediate player.

Playing violin can be very inexpensive. Playing an inexpensive instrument won't hold you back at all. The player is ALWAYS more important than the violin.

July 17, 2017, 11:40 AM · And if you believe those Chinese bows are Pernambuco, I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn!!
Edited: July 17, 2017, 11:47 AM · Well they are. Not saying all Chinese bows labeled pernamuco are pernambuco, but some certainly are.

You certainly have a lot of opinions but you are not persuasive. I'm not interested in bridges or whatever else you're selling, but I do admire how much energy you put in to try to sell them.

July 17, 2017, 12:15 PM · A simple answer is to work hard at making a relatively inexpensive violin sound beautiful and play well. It can be done under the guidance of a good teacher, provided of course that the instrument isn't an absolute dog, but the teacher would point this out soon enough.

July 17, 2017, 1:17 PM · "Playing an inexpensive instrument won't hold you back at all."
Did you ever try to play a Brahms concerto on a vso? Good luck on that! Or a relatively easy piece like the Thai Meditations? You have absolutely no chance to perform it with an orchestra if the violin cannot be played with little bow close to the bridge.
You cannot learn to find the hundreds of colors available if they are not. You cannot learn bow positioning if the violin doesn't allow to. Same for the bow, show me your sautille and riccochet on bad bows.

"an outfit called Yitamusic that was really good (Yes, Landon, it is a better violin than another fiddle I own that cost 10 times as much -- sorry to say, but it's the simple truth.)"
If a Yitamusic is better than your 10 times more expensive violin the problem is either that you cannot play it correctly and only scratch at what a violin can do or the violin is bad, I mean really bad.

I do see the need for cheaper instruments and I would not recommend to not play at all if you cannot afford a good instrument, I think this gets pretty clear from my previous comments, but this is very distorted description of violins and what they do.

July 17, 2017, 1:52 PM · Thomas, I suggest you learn what Pernambuco is, or buy my bridge, your choice.......
Edited: July 17, 2017, 2:02 PM · In general, I do think there's a minimum quality bar for violins in order for them to be playable enough to learn on. They are properly made and properly set up, with decent strings. You won't get that from an Amazon cheapie, but you will get it from low-level models from a reputable dealer like Shar.

At some point in time, an inadequate violin will hold you back. But most beginners, especially adult beginners, won't hit that point for years. (And that is especially true for people who are self-teaching, who make much slower progress than students with a good teacher.)

July 17, 2017, 2:04 PM · I wonder what is the percentage of violinists who are able to play the Brahms, or even the Thai Meditations, to an acceptable level (by which I mean good enough to get further engagements)? A pretty small percentage I guess, and they'll most likely have access to the best instruments. The vast majority of the rest of us are usually happy enough to have a violin that does the job in orchestra or band.

This last weekend I used my #2 violin, a student-level Jay Haide strung with steel strings - and with an inexpensive CF bow, in a big performance of the Verdi Requiem. Everything went well and the JH was a pleasure to play. I could have used my 18th c #1 violin (an heirloom) that I use regularly in chamber orchestra, but I doubt whether it would have been any more effective than the JH in the Verdi.
July 17, 2017, 2:09 PM · I took those pieces as an example where it is very obvious, of course the same problems hit earlier. I dont think every beginner needs a very good violin, but there is a point where you get hold back (happend to myself as a teenager too).


I think there are quite a few players out there able to perform an decent Brahms without having access to the best instruments (yet).

July 17, 2017, 7:20 PM · When a person says "I've experienced these two violins, and [this] one is better," and others respond with "You just don't know how to play it, obviously!" without knowing *anything* but the price of the violin—the credibility of their criticisms is suspect.

Marc and Lyndon, I'm sure this is not what you intend, but you're both looking very dogmatic, and I don't think this will do much to persuade anyone.

An illustrative example:
"Did you ever try to play a Brahms concerto on a vso? Good luck on that!"

The term "VSO," if I'm not mistaken, is "Violin Shaped Object." This is a term used to describe *bad* violins. That being said, why is your question relevant? Trevor didn't say "I have a bad violin that I can play well," he said "Now, more than ever, you can buy cheap violins that *are not* bad." (that is, they are not VSOs).

These kinds of responses, in blatant disregard of what the person you're responding to actually said, make you look... well, dogmatic.

July 17, 2017, 7:31 PM · I'm curious, Trevor -- why steel strings on the JH? For tuning stability for a violin mostly used outdoors, I'm guessing?
July 17, 2017, 11:40 PM · Javi King,
its a bit of a mixup what I tried to say. First there is the thesis stated by Thomas Boyer that a violin never holds back a player. That is why I choose the extreme example of the Brahms concerto. This was not about his specific violin but violins in general, they can hold you back, of course this does not mean that every beginner needs a terrific violin.

The second part is about the Yitamusic violin. I have seen a couple of those from beginners. I sometimes do sectionals with the youth orchestra here and have seen a lot of cheaper instruments in this context. They look quite nice and play ok considering the price, but they cant compete with good violins from a 10 times higher price. Of course a specific 10 or even 1000 times higher priced violin might be bad. There are bad violins in all price categories.
I agree that those violins are an option for some players but I disagree that they are capable of competing with significantly higher priced violins. Other options are always that players cant test the violin appropriate, that is happing often and in this current playing state those players can be very happy with not so good violins.
Single objects always fall out of this rule of course.

Edited: July 18, 2017, 10:07 AM · @Javi, it appears you may have inadvertently misquoted me! I didn't actually write "Now, more than ever, you can buy cheap violins that *are not* bad," although I agree with that particular point.

@Lydia, the previous evening I had been playing in a concert with another orchestra, the programme being Rossini, Beethoven 5, and Tchaik's "Swan Lake". For that I used my gut-strung #1 violin as usual and that was fine. I use my #2, the Jay Haide, generally for folk music, playing for dancers, practice, and occasionally in a rehearsal - and of course it's useful as a reserve instrument.

I have tried out various string types combinations on the JH over the years, including gut (as a pseudo-Baroque fiddle!) which was OK up to a point, but after taking advice I have recently been using on the JH a complete steel setup, which, a little to my surprise works quite well.

The Verdi "Requiem" I was playing in the next day is, as you know, loud and operatic. We were a 60-piece SO (including exuberant brass, w/w and percussion) together with a choir of about that size and four professional soloists. The venue was a 250-seat auditorium in a newly-built (and very expensive) theatre in one of Bristol's larger and older grammar schools. Given the orchestral and choral forces I was working with in the Verdi I decided it wouldn't do any harm whatsoever to give the steel-strung JH a run - and I was right, it worked out well. However, I wouldn't use that setup in my chamber orchestra or most regular symphony concerts; my #1 violin is far more suitable for those occasions.

Edited: July 18, 2017, 11:10 AM · Thomas Boyer wrote:
"Playing violin can be very inexpensive. Playing an inexpensive instrument won't hold you back at all. The player is ALWAYS more important than the violin."
___________________________

I disagree that playing an inexpensive or poorly working violin won't hold someone back. It may even cause them to lose interest.

The flip side of that coin is that learning to master a few difficult violins could help one accommodate more quickly to some of the most difficult and famous violins, like Paganini's Guarneri.

July 18, 2017, 3:54 PM · Is it only my hunches, or others would agree that advocates of "player matters the most" also never have or play on cheap and non-reposnsive violin?
July 18, 2017, 4:56 PM · The player DOES matter more, but a cheap instrument may take extreme effort to mold to preference, and even that will not fix the the slow trill, an dead vibrato and doublestops and muddy notes and lack of volume that comes from playing on a cheapie, no matter how great you may play. :D
July 19, 2017, 10:21 AM · Jesus, Lyndon needs chill out (as usual).

I think former posters said all that could have been said. There is certainly quite a difference between cheap and expensive violins, but if you can only have a cheap violin at the moment, stick with it, simply because you have to. It does not mean you have to stop practicing, though I understand the frustation.

A cheap violin that you could get relatively soon with your savings is the Carlo Lamberti Sonata
https://www.sharmusic.com/Instruments/Violin/Intermediate-500--2K/Carlo-Lamberti-174-Sonata-Violin.axd

Bear in mind that you still need to get a better bow.

Edited: July 19, 2017, 10:24 AM · Yeah, I need to chill out while people shamelessly promote cheap violins from companies they may or may not have financial relationships with.
July 19, 2017, 10:49 AM · Dear Mr. Taylor, I present you my apologies for recommending what I consider a reasonable alternative given the specific circumstances of Ms. Henson, instead of a +$2000 violin she cannot afford but should very much have.

Also, there may be a need to point out that it isn't right that is not true that I do not have financial relationships with shar. I have the bad habit of recommending companies I have had good experiences with, and of pointing out the bad experiences when occur.

July 19, 2017, 1:51 PM · A more expensive violin for a beginner will pay for itself, in my opinion. Of course, I don't know how much of a beginner you are, so it's hard for me to get an exact idea of how much it might help. But my belief is that the NEWER a player is, the MORE important their violin is for the speed of their progress.

I'm about to go on a ranty-type-thing, so my advice to the OP is this: RENT a better violin if you can't afford to buy one outright.

Now, for my rant:

Let's take the example of 2 brand-new players. Let's say they pay about $2000/year for lessons. Now, one bought a $50 cecilio because they figured it didn't matter for such a new player, and the other bought a $1000 violin that is set up properly with good strings, straight fingerboard, all the good stuff.


1st lesson: teacher spends entire lesson just setting the cecilio up because it didn't even come with the strings/bridge on. It needs to be tuned, re-tuned, and re-tuned again and the teacher hopes this will be enough. So, at $40/lesson, the cecilio student has already lost $40 as opposed to the other student whose violin was already good to go, albeit maybe a quick tuning that took 15 seconds. So they actually had a LESSON, as opposed to the cecilio student who must now wait until the next week to start learning.

2nd lesson: Cecilio student is taught how to hold the bow and the basics of making a good tone on open strings. But there is such a small sweet spot on the cecilio that the student spends the next 3 weeks being able to produce a decent tone with acceptable technique and has built up a bunch of tension in the process. Meanwhile, the student with the better violin only took 1 week to be able to produce a good tone, and didn't build up tension because their violin was more forgiving of variances in the sound point and pressure. So, at $40/lesson, the cecilio student has lost another $80 because they took 2 more lessons to achieve the same result as the other student.

5th lesson: Cecilio student can now kind of use their bow - although they have learned tension in their right arm - but the teacher starts to introduce fingers. However, the bridge isn't cut correctly so the A and E strings are basically razor wire, which is made worse by the thin steel strings that the violin came with. In addition, the fingerboard isn't completely even, so the finger pressures must vary a lot between each finger. With these difficulties, combined with the already-existing hardships that the bow-response is providing, student takes another 2 months to scrape out a rendition of Twinkle. By this point, they are feeling discouraged because they've had to work so hard to learn the most basic song, and it still doesn't sound very nice to them. Meanwhile, the student with the better instrument has learned the 4th song in the book, and their tone is pleasant. They have less tension, better technique, and have completed 4x as many songs. Therefore, they are encouraged and consistently practice. The cecilio student, however, feels like they just suck naturally and maybe they're just not meant for this instrument. So, their practice becomes less consistent and this multiplies the difficulties they're already encountering.

After 1 year (assuming the cecilio student hasn't quit yet): cecilio student is half-way through book one, with pretty bad technique due to both stress and tension being built up from playing a very difficult violin. They are discouraged and feel like a lot of effort has been wasted.

Meanwhile, the other student has completed book 1 with decent tone, they haven't built up tension, they are encouraged and and not stressed. Their songs actually sound like music.

In summary: being that lessons are about $2000/year in this case, and the student with the better violin has made at least double the progress of the cecilio student, they have essentially saved $1000 worth of lessons by having the better violin in the first place, which allowed them to fully utilize each lesson. The violin has paid for itself. From then on, their better attitude and technique will carry them exponentially further than the cecilio student.

Meanwhile, perhaps the cecilio student listens to their teacher and finally purchases a better violin. Well, sorry to say, it's too late! They already have too much tension and stress associated with the violin, so now when they switch, they have to unlearn a million bad habits and they feel like they've wasted a year. In addition, the mental damage of feeling like a failure has already occurred, so they'll be less encouraged trying any other instruments in the future. And, none of this is taking into account the monetary value of the time that was spent fighting for good technique when a better violin would have allowed it to come so much easier.


I should mention that in this example, I was citing a VERY cheap violin compared to a relatively expensive beginner violin. The results would be less dramatic if we were comparing a $500 violin to a $1000 violin. But my point remains that the better instrument will essentially pay for itself by making the whole learning process easier.

July 19, 2017, 2:18 PM · good points!!
July 19, 2017, 2:40 PM · While the above is generally true, that's why renting a better setup, "beginner's" instrument makes more sense in many cases-rarely does the novice violinist is able to afford right away the $2,000 dollars "beginner's" instrument, even if having the means.

What annoys me the most about the cheapest of violins more than their tone is the horrible setups and/playability issues they are often riddled with. Every violinist deserves a violin with a playable bridge and "proper" action regardless playing level (though the latter is often a matter of opinion and/or personal preference.) Often a really good setup costs more than these type of instruments.

Edited: July 19, 2017, 3:09 PM · No guarantee a rental instrument is well set up, also.

At my shop, a full set up, new French Aubert Luxe bridge, new properly fit soundpost, properly leveled fingerboard, pegs lubricated optimally, new Tonica strings, seams glued, etc comes to about $200.

I would venture to guess that few instruments in the $1000 price range, rental or otherwise are set up properly to my standards.

July 19, 2017, 3:52 PM · I offer my own rentals which I have been very pleased with, and I recommend that students buy the same brand if they don't want to spend money renting from me. They're only $250. Problem is, they're not really a "brand" but a wholesale company, so they must be special ordered through a shop. I don't sell direct because then I'd have to keep buying more violins to use as rentals, and I'm lazy about that sort of thing.

So there are definitely decent violins available for less than $1000. The key is to go through a VIOLIN SHOP, not a general music store, and especially NOT through amazon! A violin shop should be expected to have decently set-up rentals.

You can also get good brand-name violins but you're paying a premium for the consistent quality that is expected with that brand.

Anyways, for the OP, I'm pretty sure renting is the best option for now. I think shar offers rent-to-buy.

July 19, 2017, 6:56 PM · Since a professional set up at my low labour rates costs $200, that doesn't leave room for a very professional job on a $250 violin!!

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