V.com weekend vote: Have you ever upgraded your full-size violin, viola or cello?

April 1, 2016, 10:54 AM · It's a little rare, that the first violin you ever own is the one that you stay with forever.

Depending on how long you play and how serious you become about the violin, you may find yourself seeking out a new instrument that responds more easily to your efforts, one that gives you more reward for your vibrato, a richer sound with more overtones, a faster response.


This week's article by Michael Sanchez about the perils of cheap Chinese fiddles contains much truth, and if you bought a non-functioning VSO ("violin shaped object"), then you should take action right away to get something better. But if you currently play on a rather cheap violin and it's working for you, please don't despair or feel strange about being happy with your violin.

I remember well when I started playing the violin, and certainly, I had no idea what made for a good violin, other than a little bit of gut instinct. To be honest, my gut instinct, without much playing experience or ability, did not get me far. I chose my first violin, a student model (it was about $225 in the 1970s -- cheap has actually gotten cheaper since then) and to be honest, I think I chose the worst one in the room. At the time, I loved it.

A few years later, my grandmother gave me a family heirloom: her old German violin. Could it be better than the one I was playing? As it turned out, it was truly a step up, and I was thrilled. I was just learning to vibrate, and I discovered that this instrument gave me much more reward for my efforts. The notes rang, and I could hear that consonance with open strings and learn good intonation. This instrument lasted me a long time, and probably for sentimental reasons, it took me a bit too long to realize that I could not do everything with it. I bumped against that reality a lot, but the big bruising bump came when trying to learn the very high passage in the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. My teacher at the time just threw up his hands, "It's not going to happen on that violin, no matter how hard you try."

Do you mean it's not entirely my fault?

At that point, and it took about a year of looking, I upgraded to a lovely modern American violin . It was very deep and mellow -- and rather yellow, my favorite color! It had a richer tone in every register, and it kept me happy for years. Until, that is, I fell in love with my Gagliano, and well, I've told that story. I was at the point where I had been playing for about 30 years and I really, really knew what I wanted. I was willing to pay for years to get it.

The point is, if you are happy with your violin, then continue to play it. If you find that you are seeking more, then start looking. But it's a process that takes time, a very personal kind of consideration, and yes, money.

So let's take a poll to see where everyone is at:

Have you ever upgraded your full-size violin, viola or cello? (We aren't counting changing sizes as a child, unless there was a serious quality upgrade in that process)

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April 1, 2016 at 06:17 PM · I chose "upgraded once", but it is somewhat disingenuous. I upgraded from one heirloom violin to another better one but both had shown up at the same time. I transitioned from my original to the better being my primary when I returned to playing after a very long break.

April 1, 2016 at 06:25 PM · Very interesting poll! I have upgraded once from my new Czech first 4/4 violin to an old German violin from 1840. I do recognize the thing you say about being at a point that you know exactly what you want. I didn't even search or try out different instruments when I switched (oops, that's not what I advice my students). My current instrument was just offered to me in my shop and it was just exactly what I wanted, so why look further? Well... that's a very short version of the story... the full story is this: http://violinlounge.com/column-my-new-old-german-violin-and-its-story/

April 1, 2016 at 06:32 PM · I upgraded last year for the first time. And what a story that violin had! I started to get the feeling for quite a while that I need a better instrument, but as a student in a 3rd world country, I obviously didn't have money for the caliber of violin I needed. So the new old violin came to me in a state of utter neglect. It was a gift from a previous violin teacher in a different town who I visited. He gave the instrument to me just as something to practice technical repairs on. So neglected was it, it had 8 cracks (though not all where right through the plates/tables, thank goodness), the top plate was covered in tar, and lo and behold, it had an old piece of hornet's nest inside!! So I carefully opened the violin up as purely an exercise, and do repair work for the same reason. When I took off the tar, the most beautiful colours emerged, and I started to get very eager to play it. For three months, I restored intensely this old violin, until one day in August last year, she was finally to be stringed and set up. And what a gem it was!!! As I played a bit with the sound changing entities, she developed a beautiful voice as the very old wood started to sing. And what's more, she matched my new needs, technically and tonally, for which I am most grateful! :-)

April 1, 2016 at 07:00 PM · I'm on my fourth violin in my 30 year playing career. Having played on two student instruments through early high school, I was fortunate to upgrade to a Soriot built instrument in the early 90s, which was played on from 93 until 2015. It saw me through high school, college, grad school (not in music), a post doc, and the years after.

I never thought I'd outgrow it until I started taking lessons again and spending quite a bit of time in the upper registers, and not liking what I heard. I started looking and found a wonderful instrument built by Stephen Sherman (he's working under Feng Jiang now, but the instrument was built when he was still in St Louis last year) that I absolutely adore. I tried quite a few instruments and it was funny how this one just jumped out from the start. Nice overtones, a bit harder to play than my previous one, but it's forcing me to be more exacting in my technique, which is what I wanted. It was a fun experience and I'm glad I did it because I'm seeing more progress in my technique now...

April 1, 2016 at 07:35 PM · I recently upgraded from a Mendini MV500 to the Shar Carlo Lamberti V11 Sonata. It made a huge difference! Granted it is still what many would consider a cheap student violin because it was only $500. From the moment I picked it up it was overwhelmingly lighter. I also noticed I accidentally hit other strings far less often. The angle of the strings is taking a bit to get used to because the bowing angle changed so much. It projects much louder. I will definitely be using it for a long time. Honestly I would not have appreciated this instrument as much if I had not purchased and played the MV500 first.

April 1, 2016 at 08:11 PM · About a year ago I upgraded from my inherited mothers violin to another one I purchased at a failing violin shop. A one man do everything type of shop. The squawking sounds that came from that violin after a few months drove me nuts. I returned the violin with a financial loss. The shop owner demanded 20% of the sale price. I was so discouraged I put off shopping for a year.

I bought a more expensive violin from a very reputable shop. That one sounded like a duck after a few months, I took it back and upgraded to one slight more. That was three months ago and it has a buzz in the A and D string.

I read articles on this site on how to get rid of them. A Luthier did a little filing, tweaking and managed to get rid of most of the buzz on the A string. My friends play the violin for me and said they don't hear anything. I put a new A string on last week and that has helped a lot. This instrument is so brighter, louder, smaller, fits better than my original violin I inherited it's taking a while to get use to the feel but it feels great.

The bowing is different. I hit the other strings more, what I call ghost notes. I have to be on the tip of my fingers more: be more exacting which is good. Tonight is a concert and I hope my Freida will hold up to the running 16th notes without squawking. If she gives me a hard time, I will have to find another. I will keep searching if I have to. No one has mentioned price on this site. How much does a person have to pay to acquire a good violin? I know it depends on your level and frequency of playing and where. I know the mark up can be horrible.

April 1, 2016 at 09:17 PM · Saddly.....I've actually had to "down"grade my violin. I was given a beautiful older violin to use. It had belonged to a friends old uncle who was a professional player in NYC back at the turn of the century. He died at the age of 103 and had played well into his 90s. My friend had given me the violin to use/borrow because she couldn't stand to see it lay around unused. I played it for almost 14 years and it has a gorgeous wonderfully projecting tone. I had one professional violinist play it and she described it as "soooo rainbowy". Saddly...her son won't let her sell it because its a family heirloom...but no one in the family plays. I finally saved up and bought myself a "nice" Romanian violin...it's pretty and sounds nice...not like the Ole gent I'd been playing. Ah well....it was nice while it lasted :-\

April 1, 2016 at 09:39 PM · I got my first violin in the U.S. when our family had absolutely no money and a luthier friends of my parents have them an old German Violin with cracks in ii and a couple screws holding the back on, and the neck angle all goofy making anything above 5th position impossible. But it sounded great to me and I played it several years. After 25 years away I began playing again and got a refinished old Italian Violin which was usable with good strings and good setup. This last year upgraded to a violin made recently here in central Europe and am enjoying the many more resonances and being able to use the higher positions.

April 1, 2016 at 10:27 PM · Taking up violin at an older age has been a real challenge for this guitar player. I have a home made violin that my luthier told me was a pile of junk, another one reset it and what a nice surprise playing it was. My friends who play well, love it and it sounds great when they play it. I also bought an old Jusek in rather battered shape, it still plays nicely and I love the mellow sound. I guess I will never know "What I sound like" but both sound good across the room with a friend playing, 1st was $400 2nd $600 (I know I could have bought the jusek on the internet for $150 however it would have taken time and travel so I bought from a shop.

April 2, 2016 at 04:31 PM · I have upgraded my bow several times, but the violin only once. That was in 1966, when my then-teacher Rene Benedetti told my parents I needed a better violin and spent a day at his luthier choosing one for me. I have never found any reason to change since then, given how good his choice was.

April 2, 2016 at 04:52 PM · I upgraded my violin back in 2009, and I blogged about it then: "Speed Dating with Wolves."

I was upgrading from my first full size violin, a German factory violin that my parents bought for me when I was 12 or 13. At that age I was too young and my ear wasn't developed enough to know what I wanted out of a violin, so I think I was unduly influenced by looks. It was quite beautiful--still is, except I gave it to my daughter as her first full-size violin and it got a little banged up going to school and back. At this point she's playing the viola and bassoon and may not play it again, so I've been thinking I might get it restored and try to sell it.

I'm still playing, and still quite happy with, the Carlo Lamberti that I got from Shar during the upgrade. I haven't reached its limits, anyway. I upgraded my violin bow a few years later after I broke the old one, and then I most recently upgraded my viola bow last month.

I've just been taking it in steps every couple of years. If I go in order, the next thing to do would be to upgrade my viola, but I'm still happy with that too at the moment, probably because of the new bow.

April 2, 2016 at 09:12 PM · I upgraded in 2008. Until then, I was playing a string of "family violins". My father had played in his youth (1930's), and his mother was in the habit of visiting garage sales and picking up violins. Some of them were pure garbage, some needed so much repair that they were unplayable, and some were fairly decent. In my youth I had played a fairly good German 3/4 violin (but of course, I outgrew it), and then settled on a very battered-looking old Mittenwald from the late 1800's, which wasn't very pretty, but it did have a deep, furry tone. Another German factory violin with a narrow neck I gave to my daughter (it suited her much smaller hands). It served me for quite a few years, but then I got into an orchestra, was playing seriously, started taking lessons again, and found that it definitely had shortcomings (high positions, anyone?). To propel the discussion, my old violin needed repairs that exceeded its value to properly keep going.

I went to a few violin shops, played various violins in my "upgrade" price range, found a couple I liked, and mulled things over. Then the concertmaster of my orchestra told me about a violin in private hands. Apparently these people were descendants of an old violin shop owner, and they inherited a huge supply of string instruments, which they, over time, found new homes for (via consignment, etc.). What was attractive is that they were selling this violin at a very good price themselves. They had put it on consignment several years ago, but it hadn't sold at that price. At its private-party price, I was very pleased with what it could do, and its tone. The one drawback this instrument had was that it was a bit "closed" and quiet, but I liked everything else, so I bought it.

The excellent news is that this violin was closed and quiet because it had been sitting in a case completely unplayed for decades. One thing I can say without hesitation is that this violin likes to be played, because it has opened up for me marvelously over the past few years.

My violin teacher (who had checked out this violin for me, and approved) later told me, in a rather understated way, that I had gotten everything I could out of the old violin.

April 3, 2016 at 08:24 PM · Upgraded from ScottCao 1500 to ScottCao Campbell,CA studio Shui de Mai Kreisler del Gesu and was pleased with the sound. Even better though was a stock bow to a Louis Bazin 1920. That made a bigger difference.

April 3, 2016 at 11:55 PM · I said I upgraded once, but during my shopping for a new violin, the luthier at a reputable violin shop told me, "By the way, you do know this is a 7/8 violin, don't you?" It is made of birds-eye maple and I suspect the maker could not quite get a full size violin out of the piece of wood he had available. Following up on Kirk's comment about his new violin being lighter, I also showed my 7/8 violin to Dalton Potter, because I was asking him if there was anything that could be done to bring out more sound. He took it in his hands and shook his head immediately. No, he said, this violin is way too heavy, probably the plates would have to be completely regraded and the corners remade, and he didn't think even that would save it. But the other luthier offered me a good price on regrading the top, so I decided to let him try. Well it opened up a little but it still was rather dead. Anyway I did ultimately upgrade and the new violin really is 4/4.

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