I’m 68 years old and I want to learn how to play a violin. I have the time, the ambition, and the patience. There is only one big problem. I need a fiddle and a bow. What do I do? Well, my first action was looking online to see what is out there. To my surprise, it was very easy to find a violin! It seems, as with guitars, violins are everywhere. So, I looked at eBay, and within a matter of minutes I found a violin for just $111. What a deal! This was a package that included a bow, case, rosin, and a violin designed after a Stradivarius! I clicked “buy” and that was that. Simple right?
Well, yes and also a huge NO.
I quickly learned I’d been seduced by pretty pictures and a low price. I also learned I’d bought something called a VSO (Violin Shaped Object). When it arrived in the mail a couple of days after I’d ordered it, I slid the case out of the cardboard box. My first cue that something was wrong was with the case itself. It was amazingly light. In fact, it felt too light, as if it was made of Styrofoam rather than a solid material. Opening the case I saw the VSO. It looked great. It looked too great. The shine on the wood resembled a well-polished coffee table. I could see my face in the wood on the back. Clearly, this was not an instrument to be played and explored. This was an ornament to hang on a wall.
I put the object back in the case, slid the case back into the cardboard box, got a return label, and sent it back to wherever it came.
I was back to zero, but I’d already learned my first lesson – when it comes to musical instruments, don’t be cheap. Get a good one. Spend a little more money and get something that really works. Also, if you are going to buy something like a violin, it is wise to actually see it, play it, and hear it. Don’t order it online because it has pretty pictures. Hear it and see it before anything else. Now, if you can’t play – like me – have someone play it for you.
The irony at this point is I ended up buying a violin from a company with an excellent reputation for selling violins online. How and why did I do this if I’d just been skunked by getting an online fiddle?
Well, I was lucky. I live just 25 minutes from the actual store where the violins are sold. Kennedy Violins is in Vancouver, Washington. From what I know, they have an excellent reputation for online sales and service. Since I live just across the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon, all I had to do was get in my car and drive to their shop.
So that is what I did. I drove up to Vancouver, and bought a good student violin. I had a budget of around $400. I knew I wasn’t going to get an expensive violin, but I also knew I’d be getting a good student-level violin, and for my needs, that was exactly what I wanted.
The salesperson at Kennedy Violins was great. He was patient, good humored, and played several violins for me to hear and judge. He even tossed in a free shoulder rest since my last name is Kennedy! Now, that is good customer relations.
I got home, opened the case, took out the violin and then realized I had no idea how to hold it, how to hold a bow, how to use a shoulder rest how to attach a shoulder rest, or even how to tune the violin But that wasn’t really important. Those things would come. For the moment, all I could do was look at it and admire how amazing it looked. I crossed hurdle number one. I have a good violin.
Next week: The Internet.
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