In my first violin lesson, just over three years ago, I was crushed when my teacher said the full-sized violin I had borrowed from a friend was too big for me. He loaned me a ¾ instrument and fiberglass bow on which I spent my first year. At the end of the first year, my teacher was kind enough to source a much nicer old German instrument and a Pernambuco bow, which I purchased and have been playing since then.
That instrument has served me well over the past two years, but I was starting to have issues with it. I struggled with fifths on the G and D strings that were never in tune. The bow was so flexible; the hair pressed up against the stick if I used any weight at all, and spiccato was a nightmare. Higher positions were difficult because my arm felt cramped. And I just couldn’t manage double-stops on the A and E strings at all, even though I could on my el-cheapo campfire fiddle. Given all that, and the disappointment I felt when my instrument sounded so tinny next to my fellow adult students in ensemble, I began to wonder what else was out there.
Some casual exploration in the local area confirmed that a full size instrument was still not in the cards. It hurts to play one. So I began looking for a nicer ¾ instrument. However, there really is very little selection available locally. My teacher and my husband weren’t convinced that I needed a better instrument. Perhaps they felt my technique needed polishing and that would cure my issues. I kept looking anyway.
My work is the kind that requires that I take a certain number of days off in a row for audit purposes. A couple of weeks ago I found myself taking vacation to meet that requirement, but with no trip to go on because it had been unexpectedly canceled. Seizing the opportunity to do a quick road trip, I made an appointment to see some violins at a violin shop out of town that is known for having a wide selection. I let them know what I was looking for, what my issues were, a price range, and the type of music and venue I generally play in, and they agreed to assemble a likely selection of candidates for me to try.
Then I went to my lesson and confessed what I had planned. My teacher inquired as to where I was going and seemed OK with it so I mentioned that I couldn’t find anyone who had time off in the middle of the week to go with me. He had never been to that shop and was intrigued so he offered to come along. Yay!
Now I know how I am, and I was planning on an exploratory mission; however, I know better than to do these things without a budget and sufficient funds to cover in the event that something really struck me. The trip was a lark, and neither my teacher, nor I expected that anything would come of it except the opportunity to play a bunch of violins for a few hours. But one never knows, right? I was prepared for almost anything.
Upon arrival at the shop, they set us up in a lovely showroom and brought out four instruments. We tried them out and kept two for further consideration - a ¾ and a 7/8. Every 20 minutes or so, the staff would remove the rejects and bring more violins. This one didn’t have a sympathetic ring on the A string. That one sounded beautiful under the ear, but scratchy from across the room. Another was too unfocused. After more than two hours and about 25 violins, we narrowed our favorites down to the first two we set aside. The ¾ had a buttery-smooth, clear, round and mellow sound, but it was a bit quiet and had some repairs. I worried that it wasn’t a big enough improvement over my existing violin. The 7/8 was more edgy than the other one – clear, focused, brilliant, warm, and resonant. It sounded identical under the ear as it did across the hall, and my teacher couldn’t seem to put it down. I debated whether the size would prove to be a problem after playing it for a while.
With the selection narrowed down to two, we turned our attention towards bows. There was a formidable selection in the room, and the staff continued to bring us more. Going through the same process as before, we found ourselves seriously considering three bows, one of which was twice the price of the other two. I really wanted to like one of the less expensive options, but the expensive one seemed to do anything we asked it to. Both of us ran it through everything we could throw at it, and it continued to beat out the other two. We couldn’t even make it crunch. However, we were sure the price would keep it out of contention.
Hesitantly, I asked the price on the two violins we were considering, knowing that the answer would be the final determining factor. Both were the same price, which was right in the middle of the budget I had set. It meant that I could easily afford the more expensive bow no matter what I picked. In the end, I purchased the 7/8 instrument with the big sound, the expensive bow and a new case since I didn’t own one big enough. I could have taken it out on trial, but I knew that this combination was the sound I had been searching for. Even my teacher agreed it was the right move.
My search is over for the moment. It’s far more violin than I need or deserve; but it makes me truly happy.
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