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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Would you buy a violin that sounded good, but looked ugly?

August 26, 2012 at 4:00 AM

For this weekend's vote, I'm taking an idea from one of our discussions this week, entitled, Could you love an ugly duckling if it sang instead of quacked?, submitted by Krista Moyer.

In other words, would you purchase a violin that sounded good, but looked ugly?

Certainly, one could argue strongly for either side of this. The "looks" of a violin -- the quality of its varnish, whether it has nicks and cracks -- affects the instrument's monetary value, sometimes more than the sound does! Also, the violin is such a beautiful, elaborate instrument, certainly the details of its craftsmanship means a great deal.

At the same time, no two violins sound alike. If you are a musician and you fall madly in love with the way a particular violin sounds, you may spend the rest of your life looking for that sound, to no avail. What is a beautiful fiddle, if it doesn't have the sound?

So let's say you have the money and you are committed to buying a violin. Would you buy a violin that sounded good, but looked ugly?

From Patrick Tinney
Posted on August 26, 2012 at 5:18 AM
Ol' Brownie.

When I first tried playing fiddle (some 20 years ago) I went to buy a heavy metal mute.

I went into Richard's Music (long gone) and while talking with Richard I asked about a violin hanging on the wall.

He said "'ol brownie' looks horrible, sounds wonderful."

I asked not because it was ugly but because even amongst several other instruments there was something very special about this instrument. I could feel something.

I feel in love, though I never saw it again.

From Annette Brower
Posted on August 26, 2012 at 10:48 AM
Assuming the violin is in good repair, I think I could safely say, I have never seen an ugly violin....must be love:-)
From Cheam Tiong Ann
Posted on August 26, 2012 at 12:01 PM
We are musicians, violins are just tools to us. What we really want are good sounds and end-product music. Isn't? So why we care the appearance of it?

Posted on August 26, 2012 at 1:12 PM
For me, appearance is important too. A violin is more than a simple tool. It is also an object of beauty in its own right. "Objects ultimately look like their owners". If I ever buy an ugly violin that sounds beautifully, I would immediately take it to a good luthier to improve its looks. The objects we possess reflect much of who we are. I would not trust someone that lives in a filthy house ... would you ?
From marjory lange
Posted on August 26, 2012 at 3:04 PM
Although a musical instrument is much more than a 'tool,' to me, how it looks isn't any more important than whether my friends are 'lookers.' If the friend is interesting, loveable, fun, whatever, I don't care about her/his appearance. Why would I with a violin or viola?

Now, cosmetic appearance is different from structural soundness. Like the pp., if I found a wonderful violin that needed help being healthy, I would take it to the luthier. If it's just a matter of appearance? no.

From Pam Guntrum
Posted on August 26, 2012 at 4:10 PM
I think I may have responded differently to this question as a younger player, when it was the norm to compare "looks" of our instruments and not uncommon to ask fellow orchestral players to "swap" instruments for a few passages! But as a more experienced player, I've come to appreciate the sound quality. I think if there were major scratches, it might cause me to wonder how the instrument became cosmetically damaged. Thanks for a great question!
From Nicky Paxton
Posted on August 26, 2012 at 6:21 PM
While I voted Yes to this weekend vote, Marjory has made a very important point in writing:'cosmetic appearance is different from structural soundness'. I wouldn't mind buying a violin which looked ugly, say, because of its varnish or poorly-carved f-holes, but I would be unwilling to buy a violin with cracks unless I was sure that they had been very professionally, and very thoroughly, repaired.
From Malik Chaney
Posted on August 27, 2012 at 4:10 AM
Honestly, I don't think so. I find myself very susceptible to beautiful violins. And a violin is more than just a tool; it's a life partner. I love the sound my violin produces, and it naturally works with my personality, but I've also just sat for half-hours at a time just admiring what a beautiful violin my violin is, and what a lucky guy I am to have it. Though that said I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on August 27, 2012 at 1:14 PM
I did a side by side with a musician in New York who pulled out a god-awful looking instrument (I mean I actually GAWKED at it - it was so ugly)but when played it was like listening to the voice of ethereal beauty. Once the Quartet was finished, the owner of the instrument grinned at me and said,"Looks are deceiving, huh? I saw how you looked at it when we tuned up."

---Ann Marie

From steven su
Posted on August 27, 2012 at 2:18 PM
It's like asking a person "your wife is fat and ugly. Why did you marry her?"
but then I would still make sure the violin will live longer than me :)
From Jack Taylor
Posted on August 27, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Yes, in fact I have an ugly one. It's a Johann Gottfried Hamm, 1764-1817. Its color is very dark and there are many very small nicks in the finish. It is not the easiest to keep in tune. But, I like the sound and it plays easily. I would describe the sound as having less high frequency overtones than most, which I like. I picked it out of many violins I played in a price range of $2,000-3,000 in Munich 11 years ago.

But, others may not like the sound since beauty is in the mind of the beholder.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on August 27, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Only an ugly sounding violin is an ugly violin in my book. Violin is an extension of my voice and how my voice looks is irrelevant to me.

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