I have now auditioned four instruments:
#1 Sheng Liu #6– An instrument out of Beijing, I believe – roughly about circa 2006 (can’t remember). It features a nice medium tiger striping on the back and ribs, with an evenly-applied medium-dark brown varnish. It plays evenly across the strings and has a dark velvety voice, but with limited projection from what I can tell. This is the one I played in a few lessons, so it didn’t get the workout in the big performance space or the at-home scrutiny the others did. It may be better than I am remembering. I may try it again on Sunday if the restoration has been finished. My initial impression was that it has a great sound, but it’s muffled.
#2 Tong 100– From Tong violins in Indiana, about 2011. The fittings on this one are the most beautiful, with round pearl inlay eyes ringed with brass on the pegs and end button. It has gorgeous light striping on the back and ribs, with a medium wide grain on the top. The varnish is tawny gold blended to a rather striking orange. Not unpleasant, but bright. The bridge is not good – very cheap and clunky. It would need to be replaced. The sound post is thinner than I like but the instrument has great projection, with clear tones and good resonance. The E is a bit on the harsh side. There isn’t really much depth or color in the voice, and it loses some integrity when attempting to play pp. It’s a pretty straight forward violin that would make a very nice beginner instrument any student would be proud to own.
#3 Wilhelm Klier – Of German origin circa 2005, it has a slightly variable deep golden brown varnish that is the most attractive of the four options, in my opinion. There is nice striping on the back and ribs, with a very elegant scroll. The top has a narrow center grain moving to medium on the outside. Visually, I prefer this one above the others. The sound is dark, and rather growly, particularly in the bottom register. There is definitely a maturity to its voice. Not as round and clear as I like, but it has depth. One can play ff to pp well with this instrument. It was the easiest to play of all the options. According to my research, this model has positive reviews; and my husband prefers it to any of the others. I like it. This violin has great potential.
#4 Josephus filius Matthais Albani 1719 (copy) – Also of German origin, circa 1890s. It has an evenly applied, rather dull medium brown finish over lightly figured, almost plain wood. There are several stable surface cracks, all on the top table. They do not affect the sound, but one is visually distracting. The scroll and f-holes are clumsy, and the plates have sharp corners, one of which has been broken. The instrument has clearly had a fair amount of restoration, including a new bass bar if I don’t miss my guess. Of the four violins, this is the least visually appealing, though it is by no means ugly. The sound is even, round, colorful, mature, and clear, with delightful overtones and decent resonance and projection. The G string loses nothing when you really dig with the bow, and responds well in general. The E string positively sings. This violin plays equally well mf to pp. Playability was good, if not as easy as the others. I am cautiously enthusiastic about this instrument. The visual aspect is a bit of a deterrent.
All four violins are Stradivarius patterns, with ebony fittings and composite Whittner integrated fine-tuner tail pieces. They have slightly different set-ups, but all feature a Dominant D and A. The chin rests are low, center mount side rests. The instruments represent a fairly wide price range, presented low to high.
I think I know what I want, but I keep going back and forth. This is harder than buying a car.
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