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Pauline Lerner

Marvels from the Marketplace

February 15, 2006 at 8:51 AM

I keep up with the low price end of the violin marketplace through my students. Most of them are beginners who don’t want to spend much on an instrument at first.

Recently one of my new adult students went to a violin store and told the staff that she wanted to learn to play bluegrass music, and they recommended a bow to go with the violin. It was obvious that the stick was not made of wood. I tried it and found that it was lightweight and easy to control. I figured that it was a good bow for a beginner, and I was right. She was able to draw the bow smoothly and slowly across the strings and keep it parallel to the bridge much more easily than most beginners would with a brazilwood or pernambuco bow. I thought that it was probably made of carbon fiber, but I was wrong. It was fiberglass, as I should have known from the name stamped on it: K. Holtz FG. It costs about $40 at stores near here. I had thought that fiberglass bows were nearly indestructible and therefore well suited for kids in school. This one actually drew a good sound from the violin. I have another beginning adult student who was experiencing the usual trouble controlling the bow, and she said that her shoulder got tired quickly. She could only practice for a few minutes at a time. She then told me that she had had surgery for her rotator cuff on her right shoulder about two years ago. As part of the surgery, some muscle fibers were cut and then ligated. She took physical therapy after the surgery to strengthen her muscle. She is very active physically, and I was surprised that she had this muscle weakness and hadn’t noticed it. She told me that this muscle is not used much in ordinary, everyday activities. It certainly is needed for bowing. I suggested that she resume the strengthening exercises and buy a Holtz FG bow. She has had the fiberglass bow for one week now, and she handles it much more easily and with much less fatigue than she had with her old bow.

When new students come to me with a violin, bow, and case, they almost always have rosin, but never have a shoulder rest. I let them use one of my old shoulder rests for their first lesson and tell them to buy a Kun or Resonans shoulder rest. One such student came for her next lesson with two shoulder rests on a trial basis. They cost $50 apiece. These were not ordinary shoulder rests, but Comford shoulder cradles. (See their website for photos and description.) One was much higher than the other, and both had unusual construction. They attach to the violin with two, rather than four, feet. They really do look and feel like cradles. The foam part is quite high and thicker on one end than on the other. The foam itself felt very comfortable to me – neither too soft nor too hard (like Goldilocks and the three bears’ beds.) I especially liked the higher of the two. I have a very long neck, and the Comford shoulder cradle is only the second shoulder rest I have tried which is comfortable for me. The one I use now is a Bonmusica. (See my photos below.) It is very high, and the part that goes on the shoulder is curved like a giant hook. The Comford may be just as good, but I’m not going to spend $50 on one now.

One of my new students had tried to tune her violin and had trouble. “The fine tuners don’t seem to work,” she told me. I tried, and they didn’t work for me, either. I looked at them closely and saw why: there were no physical connections between the fine tuners and the strings. Maybe they were there just for decoration.

Another new student had Red Label strings on his violin. I wasn’t familiar with these, so I looked them up. I found that their major advantages are low price ($19 for a set of four) and high durability. They are commonly used in student-grade violins in schools.

I wonder what’s next.

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