V.com weekend vote: Can a $100 violin be a decent instrument?

March 6, 2021, 7:48 PM · Lately on Violinist.com a spirited debate has developed on a discussion thread called I don't think $100 violins are as terrible as people say.

Is it possible that a $100 is "not terrible"?

I thought it would make for an interesting vote and opportunity to share experiences with cheap violins.

cheap violin

While a cheap violin might sort of "work" for a while, it's generally a false economy, as I've illustrated in this article. If you are buying a $100 new violin, you'll probably have to spend $300 fixing it up, and even then it will disappoint in the end due to the poor craftsmanship, materials, etc. etc.

But there might be some circumstances under which a $100 violin is not so bad. For example, if an innocent non-musician was selling her grandfather's Stradivari from the attic for $100, not knowing it was actually a real Stradivari. Or, if the violin was being sold for $100 in the year 1840, when $100 was more like $3,500. Or...

You catch my drift. I've structured this vote to allow your creativity, and that's what I expect! Under what circumstances can you imagine a $100 violin being a decent instrument? Or is this just not possible? Or are you okay with a very cheap fiddle?

Also, you are welcome to share your experiences with very cheap violins, whether for yourself, a child, a student or an acquaintance.

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Replies

March 7, 2021 at 02:40 AM · My first violin was a $300 "kit" sold to me by a local luthier who has a good reputation. He went to trade fairs and tried out what was available, then imported some violins that he thought were decent from China, set them up, and put them together with a $50 bow and cheap case. I didn't appreciate just how good it was until after I had sold it back to him for what I paid during a trade-in for my viola. It was obviously a first violin but it was by no means a VSO. If I had known then what I know now and had also been able to predict how little I would continue to play my second violin, I would have traded in my second violin for my viola instead.

March 7, 2021 at 03:49 AM · Barring some exceptional case such as finding a great violin on Craigslist or at a yard sale, I don’t think it’s possible to get a decent violin for $100. The first violin I purchased was a VSO for less than $50 over 20 years ago and it was so bad it discouraged me from violin for a couple of years. After that, I learned more and spent about $200 for a decent student instrument and have had many others since then. I think the entry point for a beginner violin that won’t cause frustration or need extensive work is about $250 today.

March 7, 2021 at 03:32 PM · I am not voting on this. I have never been in contact with a $100 violin (or VSO).

I could however imagine that with modern manufacturing processes and strict quality control it may well be possible to produce playable instruments with acceptable tone and sell them for $100.

March 7, 2021 at 03:34 PM · If a good player can make a mediocre instrument sound decent, a great player can no doubt make a dirt cheap instrument sound decent as well. The build quality of a $100 instrument would definitely show and won't hold a candle against higher valued instruments. The worth of the resulting tonal qualities (depending on the player) on the other hand, is an entirely different debate.

Just as novices won't bring out the full potential of an expensive instrument and thus undervalue them, great players could play $100 instruments and make them sound relatively decent, and naturally make them seem more expensive to the (hopefully uninformed) audience.

March 7, 2021 at 04:05 PM · If the seller is not greedy. Something is worth only what someone is willing to sell it for. It could be a $10,000.00 violin but the seller is willing to sell it for $100.00

March 7, 2021 at 04:55 PM · In general, you do get what you pay for so... A $100 violin will not be much violin. But you can get lucky, for example when my niece first got interested in violin at 9yo, we bought her a $100 "used" 1/4 size beginner violin at the local music store. I tested it to be sure it was playable and it was good enough to not be terrible. After she had stuck with it for a year, on her next visit we went to the luthier I go to and upgraded he to a $500 1/4 size kit.

Plus, the luthier ended up offering the same in trade-in as we had originally paid!

March 7, 2021 at 07:56 PM · One day an acquaintance asked me if I would like an old fiddle. Sure! It turned out to be a 14" Karl Meisel viola, 1950's vintage, strung as a violin. It was coming unglued from the tension of course. And the bows had been worked on by carpet beetles, the case having been in the back of the closet. I took it to the luthier who took it apart, refurbished it, put on Helicore viola strings and I had a wonderful "free" instrument. I got a new student Erich Steiner bow and a new case. I love it. I have no idea of its provenance, but the finish is pretty dinged up. It plays very well.

March 7, 2021 at 08:15 PM · $100? Only if it's drastically undervalued by the seller, e.g. an old violin found in someone's attic being sold at a yard sale.

There's an enormous difference between a $100 VSO and a decent beginner violin that sells for $200-300.

March 7, 2021 at 08:22 PM · I voted "yes, but only if..."

...it was temporary. Like, really temporary. Although I would never recommend a prospective student to buy a cheap violin, I have seen friends and family buy them and actually learn to play basic things, and they were happy they did it, so I couldn't argue.

A months ago I had a new student show up with a $79 violin (I looked it up on Amazon). Her family was so excited about her learning, but they didn't have much money and I knew lessons were a sacrifice for them. I didn't say anything right then, but went ahead teaching the basics. A few weeks later when she was learning how to rosin the bow (the rosin that came with the kit) she couldn't produce a sound on the string, no matter how much rosin she put on. I had her try my rosin for a few strokes, and it worked. So, she bought new rosin. Then, her shoulder rest broke (also part of the kit). Then, her bridge began to warp. I know there will be more issues as time goes on. However, she is learning how to properly hold the violin, fingers, basics, etc, and loves it! I am pretty sure she will need a better violin soon, but now that her parents know that she enjoys learning it, and they are seeing the limitations of it, it will be easier for me to explain why she'll need something better (actually, I don't need to explain, they're figuring it out on their own).

March 7, 2021 at 09:41 PM · My first violin cost £26,that was a long time ago... I gave it away when I moved continent wonder where it is now. It worked well for the price.

March 8, 2021 at 12:30 AM · Put a price tag of $100 on that Strad, Filius Andreae, or Serafin, and I'll let you know.

March 8, 2021 at 12:59 AM · My experience with a $100 violin was a student who got a purple one somewhere, probably Ebay.

The varnish was a slippery polyurethane, and the bridge was misaligned because, well, everything was misaligned. So if you attempted to slide the bridge back to the middle it would slingshot off to one side.

It's like asking: can you get a good seafood meal at LongJohn Silver? Well, it depends on how low your standards are.

March 8, 2021 at 02:31 PM · I purchased $1500 violin and had about $300 or work done on it to get it playing and sounding just the way I like. I also installed a $100 set of strings. So my $1500 violin cost me $1900 to get up to a level where I was happy playing it. If I purchased a $100 or a $10,000, violin, unless the work has already been done, I would expect to spend about the same to get it up to speed. After all the work, my $1500 isn't going to command a $1900 price tag and a $100 violin isn't going to fetch $500. So, yes, I believe a $100 violin can be a decent instrument. You just have to fork over a few hundred dollars more to get it there. Is it worth it? Unless you're doing the work yourself, probably not. You're better off spending a few hundred dollars more and finding an instrument that's of better quality and already setup to a level you are happy with.

March 8, 2021 at 10:40 PM · Best violin I've ever played was a $20 pawn shop fiddle. My friend bought it without strings or bridge. I put some good strings and fitted a new bridge for him and reset the sound post.

I've played hundreds of quality, expensive violins and I would rather have that one than anything else. Definitely not the norm though. Most hundred dollar fiddles are junk, but the gems are floating around waiting for someone with an ear.

March 10, 2021 at 10:54 AM · Imagine your wife is mad and she wants a divorce, but you refuse out of spite. She sells your violin out of pure vindictiveness! For a measly $100! Then, and only then will a 100 dollar violin be good!

March 11, 2021 at 04:15 PM · These stories remind me of one my teacher told me long ago: she had a new student whose parents were from India. They couldn't afford much for an instrument so, without consulting with the teacher, bought a $79 violin from India. When my teacher went to tune the instrument, it blew apart. It turned out that the violin had been built for playing a type of Indian classical music that is tuned lower than western music and it couldn't take the greater tension. My teacher was in a quandary, trying to decide whether she should pay the parents what the violin cost, because she was the one who "broke" it, or let them suffer the consequences of their actions.

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