New violin: how long do you give it?

April 30, 2007 at 04:05 PM ·

Replies (25)

April 30, 2007 at 04:35 PM · If you don't like it from the start there is a good chance you will never like it. A good violin is good from the start. It might be a little rough sounding which always dies away. That's all.

Move on!

April 30, 2007 at 05:00 PM · I completely agree. As a player, you have judge the instrument on its current merits. Tehre is no guarantee that it will change and if it does, there is no way of knowing how it will change. The investment is too great for a gamble!

April 30, 2007 at 05:11 PM · Thanks. I guess that's exactly the advice I'd give someone else. It's hard to really know what a modern violin will do.

April 30, 2007 at 05:15 PM · I've heard of people in your situation and they changed the strings and it made quite a difference. But I agree you must fall in love with it.

April 30, 2007 at 05:21 PM · Yes, the sound changes as varnish dries.

On my own instruments, I wouldn't send a violin for someone to try until the varnish is completely stable. The result is that the varnishing process takes a long time (varnish underneath must be completely dry before applying successive coats) and that a violin might sit here for a very long time before someone tries it.

But otherwise, a player has no idea how the violin will change with time. Suppose they like the sound with "wet" varnish, and the sound becomes harsh and brittle when it dries?

I believe that offering an instrument for sale before it's stable is short-sighted, having the strong potential to alienate customers, because either it doesn't sound as good as it could, or it might change down the road from what the player liked initially.

David Burgess

April 30, 2007 at 08:34 PM · I also agree with David,

There is a necessary "cure" time with newly varnished instruments. And, depending on the type of varnish: oil based vs. spirit based (alcohol) and the ingredients used within the recipes, the drying times can vary greatly.

Go with your instincts on this one, sure strings, set-up, sound post adjustments can all improve the sound of an instrument if properly done but, if you have exhausted all of these avenues, perhaps you need to consider another instrument.

Good luck, Scott W. Hershey

April 30, 2007 at 09:18 PM · A couple questions from a new buyer...

How long is long enough (if there is an average) to wait for oil varnish to be completely dry.

Also, after a new violin has been under string tension for a month would it's sound usually be improved with a sound post adjustment?

April 30, 2007 at 10:51 PM · "A couple questions from a new buyer...

How long is long enough (if there is an average) to wait for oil varnish to be completely dry.

Also, after a new violin has been under string tension for a month would it's sound usually be improved with a sound post adjustment?"

What he asked.....

May 1, 2007 at 03:14 AM · From Craig Paulaha;

"A couple questions from a new buyer...

How long is long enough (if there is an average) to wait for oil varnish to be completely dry."

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There are so many variables that I can't give a broad answer. I give my own varnish a month of intense ultraviolet exposure (artificial sunlight) before I'm satisfied that it's reached a stable plateau. Without sunlight, it would take a year or more.

"Also, after a new violin has been under string tension for a month would it's sound usually be improved with a sound post adjustment?"

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Yes. With either a new instrument or an old one which has not had strings on for a while, they will initially change hour by hour. Hopefully the instrument stays in the shop until most of these changes subside.

David Burgess

May 1, 2007 at 03:13 AM · In my experience with brand new instruments after playing on them for about 2 weeks, and this means a lot of playing they will change substantially. After that about in about 3 months there will be further change, but not as dramatic as the first 2 weeks. After that alteration in basic quality diminishes substantially.

On instruments that have been "played in" this time frame is different. For instance I played on a Strad which had not been played on for quite a while. Initially it sounded rather pathetic, but after about 2 hours of playing it "woke up". I could actually feel the violin start to pulsate and vibrate and all the sudden sounded magnificent. It was quite a startling phenomenon.

May 1, 2007 at 03:59 AM · Oh, to play on a strad...

May 1, 2007 at 05:33 AM · David,

I would of course never think to argue with you about violins (!!!) but it seems to me your point about varnish ahs mostly to do with the high frequencies, no?

The OP mentioned " the lower strings are a little muffled." Yes, tht could certainly be due in part to the varnish muffling the whole instrument, but since he didn't mention the upper strings, I'm thinking it has more to do with the stiffness of the top.

If violins react at all like guitars (I know they are very different in many ways) then after a few years of playing, the top should loosen up a bit which will give more LF response and overall body. That certainly seems to be hapening with my 2005 German.

I know some luthiers believe in humidity cycling the finished violin, to help it loosen up (we have discussed that here, previously) and others use "vibration boxes." I pump music into my German via a small speaker, and I am 100% sure that it helps, at least a little. (the violin seems particularly responsive to Aretha Franklin - I'm not kidding)

I have posited before that many modern luthiers might fall into the "trap" of making their tops too thin around the perimeter, thus resulting in an instrument that sounds very full right away, but may turn to mush in a number of years. I am just guessing, but this is absolutely true of guitars.

The best luthiers may have the guts to make an instrument that needs to break in well, yet will then be more stable and have more timbral depth as well. They can probably due this because A: they have informed, intelligent clinets, and B: They have a proven track record which adds confidence to the purchaser.

Of course, the very best luthiers can make an instrument that is reasonably full and open when new, but everyone knows that they all open up more over time. I suggest to the OP that this tightness MAY be a sign of quality. Go buy some Aretha cd's and crank up those speakers!

On the other hand, I could also be completely insane.

May 1, 2007 at 05:34 AM · I have a beautiful new violin by Edward Maday, which was custom made for me. The varnish is still drying - not obviously to the touch, but to the smell - and the inside wood treatment even more so. He told me the day I took possession of it a few weeks ago, that whatever veiled quality it had should come away as the varnish completely dries and hardens over the coming months. Well, after just an hour of playing when I got it home, the violin opened-up remarkably, and continued to do so every day for the next couple of weeks. Since then the upward curve has been less sharp, but it's still coming along really well. It's been drawing nothing but high praise from colleagues for its rich, deep, full tone close by, and its surprizing degree of projection at a distance. I took it to a recent auction showing and it trounced every violin there, including some pretty expensive ones. (And not just according to me.)

But that's just it. It was really good from day one, and I have little doubt but that whatever slight sappy feeling I have under the ear will continue to clarify. Also, I know this maker well, have had other instruments of his, and he gives a 60 day, money-back guarentee. If two strings are or even one is, a serious problem, I'd pass.

May 2, 2007 at 03:47 AM · To all who answered,

Well, after a weekend of opera rehearsals, yes, the fiddle has started to respond on the lower strings. It no longer sounds muffled or choked up. There is still the rigidity of a new violin, but the basic sound is quite nice and clear. Also, the maker had put a new bridge and strings on and shipped it, so there was some settling that had to occur.

Tomorrow I'll be comparing it to a maker whose fiddles sound incredibly open right from the start. It's an interesting question: what do you trust? I'm always suspicious when I play a new instrument that sounds too good to be true. As one maker says:

"the only trouble with new instruments is, they're new."

Has anyone heard of Finannza violins from Brazil? My teacher at Peabody pushed them on people, and they did sound great when new. I wonder if they've held up over the years.

May 2, 2007 at 08:22 AM · i tried a 1979 Finnanzza that had a big open sound that is initially attractive. but over time you realize that the sound is rather one-dimensional, and uniform across the register and across strings. the violin lacks complexity, and is difficult to produce colors on. the sound is not sweet at all.

just my opinion, based on one violin.

May 2, 2007 at 12:27 PM · Many years ago I briefly worked for "Ideal Music" in NY. For a time thet were the exclusive sellers of Finnanzzas in the US, and pushed them pretty hard. Yes, they sounded interesting and colorful at first, but ultmately were nothing special.

Scott - who is this maker whose violins sound open right away?

David - most interesting about how long you keep your violins in a UV box! Is this considered unusual? Is that 24/7 during this long period or an hour or so each day? I've heard of makers keeping a newly-varnished violin in the box 24 hours a day just from one day to a week.

Re my Maday - if this were made by a maker whose work and reputation were unknown to me, I would be a bit suspicious about how responsive and open it was within one hour of playing. But besides other factors, it had a head start with the wood that we selected together. He has an ever decreasing stock of wood that he uses only on some instruments. It's 80 years old, and was originally in Wurlitzer's cache. It's not the most broadly-figured, which is why many customers have freely passed over it. But I told him that acoustics come first - and I'm so glad I did!

May 3, 2007 at 05:16 AM · Raphael,

Interesting that you worked for Ideal. I saw a Finannza there I really liked, but they wouldn't let me take it out of the shop so I said "see ya." The maker whose new fiddles sound very open are by John Harrison in Redding, CA.

Scott

May 3, 2007 at 12:27 PM · Yes, that's the way they are, unfortunately. You walk two feet out of the store, and you bought it forever!

May 3, 2007 at 04:09 PM ·

May 7, 2007 at 05:55 AM · interesting topics

My luthier, Ed Dietrich, does not release any of his violins until after: they have cured in his shop for at least one year; and he has played it thereafter daily for at least a month. He says only then will he know the true quality of the instrument. He can discern quality "in the white" though, and will scrap anything that does not pass his expectations, before completion.

So, if the new violin you try sounds like a dud, then very likely it is a dud. No amount of tweaking or time will improve it. If tweaking and time were the magic ingredients, then all cheap violins would someday sound great. Often I see violinists suffering from what I call "setup neuorsis", by their constant obsession to fidget with post, bridge, strings, whatever - all to their dismay. Then we have the Nagivarry guy who tries to convince us the sound is from chemistry: varnish, water, borax, whatever. As I find very few violins capable of great sound, I have come to the conclusion the skill of the maker is paramount.

February 23, 2012 at 06:11 AM · I just bought a brand new violin, just out of the shop. It has an excellent sound on the lower notes, but the E string is a bit muted. I will hang on to it for a month or so and see how I like it then. It also sounds like the sound stays inside the violin. I'm hoping that within a few weeks, it will really open up. I have another violin from the same maker and it is excellent. I have never played a violin, except for the firebird, that has had such exceptional qualities. I hope that this violin will turn out like that one.

February 23, 2012 at 12:14 PM · Hi Nathan, the bass region is more problematic, if you like the basses I am sure that the E string can be cured easily with a different E string brand or some adjustment in the soundpost.

www.manfio.com

February 23, 2012 at 01:07 PM · I would just try different strings. Even though I know the violin will open up more, when I was looking for a new one I could tell what was going to adjust. If you feel that it might just be the instrument, experiment with a different G-string.

February 23, 2012 at 03:40 PM · The problem may be the strings. Try other(s) G string(s). But yes, new violins tend to have a "closen" sound (I don't know how to call it in English, this is what we say in portuguese). Playing an average of 3-4 hours a day it takes about a whole year to "open" the sound of an instrument, plus many years to get it mature. It is not something you will notice in two or three weeks. Be patient, or buy an old violin. You can get a very good one for this price.

February 24, 2012 at 06:29 PM · From what I understand, while a new violin certainly takes some playing in... I've read estimates ranging anywhere from 15 minutes to 100 years (funny stuff)...that generally a 'good' violin sounds good right from the start.

From my own experience, I'd say I stopped hearing any obvious differences within a month...

However - the set-up has so much to do with it...and strings do make an obvious difference...so too might be the bow you're using...

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