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The Search is Over

Krista Moyer

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Published: August 20, 2015 at 3:10 PM [UTC]

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.

Posted on August 20, 2015 at 3:25 PM
Well done.
I still have a 3/4 that I can't sell. Nobody wants 3/4 instruments.
7/8 sounds like a better plan. At least it is closer to full size.
BTW going from 3/4 to full was a universe of sound. I think you basically found the same thing...albeit in a petite 7/8.

One question: what is the exact length of your strings, from edge of nut to edge of bridge? (The vibrating length).

From jean dubuisson
Posted on August 20, 2015 at 3:40 PM
Beautiful story, congratulations and thanks for sharing!
From Kate Little
Posted on August 20, 2015 at 4:05 PM
Good hunt & good find, Krista! Congratulations on finding what you like. Enjoy playing!
From marjory lange
Posted on August 20, 2015 at 6:54 PM
I love it when things work out that way. And how nice you were able to introduce your teacher to a new experience, as well. Hope your new voice soars to the angels.
From Christina C.
Posted on August 20, 2015 at 6:59 PM
Hooray! How wonderful that your teacher could come with you to help you decide, so very reassuring that the right choices were being made..... and that your teacher seemed really enthusiastic about the violin you ended up buying, you really know you've made the right choice. Congratulations on your new baby.... and sidekick! It's great that you were also able to buy a bow that suits your instrument. Wishing you many happy years together & thanks for sharing.
Posted on August 21, 2015 at 3:46 AM
Glad your search succeeded Krista.

I am always interested in your progress as you started violin about eight months before I did.

By the way - an issue you wrote about earlier - have you got on top of the second violin part of Bach's Double violin concert (Suzuki Bk. 4)?

I found the transition to it fairly seamless*, albeit with the preparatory help some other pieces outside Suzuki.

Hope it continues going well.

*which is not to say I'm playing it well - just that there were no big problems encountered.


From Paul Deck
Posted on August 21, 2015 at 1:47 PM
Didn't Potter have a 3/4 Vuillaume on sale for a while?
From Pamela Carr
Posted on August 21, 2015 at 2:20 PM
How interesting! I had a similar experience, ended up with a 7/8 violin which continues to feel better and better.

I'm curious as to the size of bow you bought? I'm currently playing with a 3/4 length brazilian bow but have looked for a 7/8 bow and they seem to be very rare!


From Krista Moyer
Posted on August 22, 2015 at 10:11 PM
For the commenter who asked, the distance of the strings between the nut and the bridge is approximately 12 and 3/8 inches. Sorry, I don't have a metric tape at hand.

I've got a good handle on the Bach Double. We're just polishing it now, trying to get all the articulations and dynamics just right.

I think Potters did have a 3/4 Vuillaume, but I don't know if it's still there. I didn't feel like driving all the way to Bethesda and it isn't on their website right now.

My new bow is 27.5 inches long. It was labeled as a 3/4. As a comparison, my old bow is 26.5 inches long. Not sure if that qualifies it to be a true 7/8 bow, but it works just fine. Maybe it's the light weight (59.9 grams), but it feels like I have more control than I did with the old, shorter one.

From Pamela Carr
Posted on August 22, 2015 at 10:59 PM
Thanks for sharing. My 3/4 bow is 27"and only 55 grams - so yours is a wee bit longer, and probably 7/8 size.

The biggest problem with 3/4 bows is that they don't fit well in full-size cases - they tend to flop down. I'm keeping my eyes out for a 7/8 bow - always good to have a quest!

Enjoy your new instruments!

Posted on August 27, 2015 at 6:28 AM
I had an adult student who was so petite that when she played a full size violin, she couldn't even reach the tip of the bow. The violin was too big for her in every way. Even in this area (near Wash. DC), a good 7/8 violin is hard to find. She rented a cheap one until my luthier (Lashof Violins) got a good one for her. Her playing improved and she felt happier about playing. It was a great improvement, and she loves her violin. Don't say that you really did not deserve your 7/8 violin. Be grateful that you found it and happy that you now own it and can play it any time you want to. When you have a good instrument, you will learn to play better. Congratulations. Enjoy.

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