Instrument for adult begnner

September 12, 2007 at 04:50 AM · I am an adult beginner, having played the violin for only 2 and /2 years, and I am a very frequent visitor to this website. I can say that I am at least as passionate about the violin as any of the other adult beginners who post to this discussion board. My question is about an instrument for someone like me. I would like to skip the stages of going through increasingly better violins as I progress (very slowly) towards a certain level, and just get the nicest violin I can afford. What I would like to know is how good a violin should I get, that would make a difference to me in my playing and practicing? And knowing that my technique will never be wonderful (in this lifetime), how good a violin is too good?

Replies (26)

September 12, 2007 at 05:44 AM · Seems to me that you might be missing an interesting and educational process by opting out of the gradual upgrade path. Given a dearth of experience it might be tough picking out the violin you want to spend your life with; how will you know it if you don't know what you like, and what you dislike?

But that's perhaps not the main issue. Sounds like you want to get a good violin, and are looking for a price limit. Again, tough situation. It really depends on what you can afford. If you have plenty of money, get something nice with a good certificate, and it'll probably increase in value over time.

The problem with getting into it with insufficient experience is the danger that you may develop a taste for something else in time; then there's the problem of trading up (or sideways) to consider. If the new instrument is coming from the same source as the original, you ought to get a decent allowance for the trade, but if it's another shop or a private seller the trade may not be favorable, or even possible.

At any rate, get a better instrument than you think you deserve, and don't be afraid to pay more than you think you can afford for the right instrument, once you decide what it is.

September 12, 2007 at 01:30 PM · I don't see a great need for you to go through a number of upgrades. You can find very nice-sounding violins for under $5000, and some will play so much more easily, a prime consideration for adult novices. Don't neglect spending on a bow, though. $3000 for a violin and $1500 is not the conventional proportioning, but might work well for you. Sue

September 12, 2007 at 06:34 PM · In this same thread, I think I'll go ahead and post a question I've had for some time.

I hear a lot of talk about how better violins "play more easily" than lesser instruments. Given that the majority if not all of the playing is done with bowing and fingering, what about a violin can make it easier to play?

If it's a matter of how much effort one must use to press the strings against the fingerboard, a change of strings or bridge cutting/filing will take care of that.

I thought the playability of a violin was determined more by its setup than its construction, given that it's not built to such low standards that it simply falls apart when you play it. Isn't the rest of the violin's quality of construction to do more with tone, balance, etc?

I know there're such things as tones, overtones, (and even wolf tones) to deal with, but are these factors in determining the ease with which someone can play a certain instrument?

And, though I often mix facetiousness in with my posts, in this case, I'm truly curious. What, exactly, is meant by one violin being easier to play than another? :)

Now, for my answer to Catherine's question, first, I want to tell you that you shouldn't assume (or accept) that you'll never be as good as you want to be. If you're able to do all the things you must do just to play the violin, there's no reason I can think of why you can't constantly improve your playing, as long as you're practicing as you should, paying attention to everything as you should, etc. Though it's hard to justify spending many thousands of dollars on an instrument if your intention isn't to make tons of money playing it, if you can afford an instrument within that range, and you just feel like you have to have it, then go for it.

I think, for everything I'm ever likely to do with a violin, the one I have now (which actually cost less than $1,000.00, but as I've said before, I keep hearing from folks that I got damned lucky to've found it for what I did) will suffice, but even if I decide to step up to a better one, I can't imagine I'd have to spend more than a couple thousand on one to suit my long-term needs/goals.

Beyond this, though, I honestly can't offer any advice, especially since I'm discovering peoples' beliefs and opinions about violins are as varied and passionate as those concerning religion and politics. Even to discuss the instrument is to invite full-on debates, accusations, name-calling, etc.

Welcome to the site! *grin*

September 12, 2007 at 04:04 PM · I'm a beginner too, having two violins at the time (cheap Stagg chinese violin, and slightly better no-name violin from around 1910, which isn't worth much as a luthier told me). The difference is that no matter how I try, Stagg feels cheap and my sound is harsh, while on the other one I can literally sing or cry having a lot of fun and intensity playing. Maybe that's what everybody else meant talking about ease of playing?

September 12, 2007 at 04:13 PM · larry, ever heard of that saying that itzhak can make a student violin sound like a strad?:) exaggeration but i can imagine to some extent, using more effort, employing his skills, he can improve the sound of the violin by his playing.

now, imagine a well made (also well adjusted) violin that is highly responsive, to commands for both subtle and dramatic changes, without overexertion on the part of the player. a prof using such a violin can play for hours per day with relative ease because he can do more with less energy and effort. that me that is what playability is about.

September 12, 2007 at 04:02 PM · Good comments here. I second the argument that says you can't know right now what it is you'll want to get from your violin five years down the road. It's like deciding to buy six cases of wine when you're just starting to develop a palate for fine wines. Tastes change as experience grows.

I shopped for a new violin after 15 months and had a similar feeling of wanting to upgrade two steps up, as opposed to getting a new violin just two years later. My teacher told me to take my time, try out as many violins as possible. (For a purchase like this, trying 50-100 violins out is not a bad thing to try for. I found The One at number 50.) Again, it was a lot like wine tasting, in that I knew some were obviously good, some were obviously not to my liking, but there was a huge number in the middle and frankly, I felt my inexpertise acutely. I brought in a few violins for my teacher to hear me play, and then hear her play, and after I'd found three very solid contenders, I brought them all in and we did "blind tastings" to see which one scored highest. It was very very interesting and I highly recommend this process, as a lot of times, we get attached to what looks "right" and doesn't necessarily sound the best. Interesting, too, when the teacher is handed the violins blindly, because they, too, can develop a bias and play one differently from another based on that.

On cost - I had a $2000 budget and at one shop, the guy helping me brought over an $850 violin and I told him no thanks, that I wasn't interested in that low of an upgrade, if you will. He said "trust me" and I did and wow, he was right. Larry - you made a comment about "playability." Well, this one just sang, it just felt so right, it was uncanny. Just a few open strings and a G major scale, and I set the violin down and stared at him and said, "What kind of bow IS this?" (Very very stupid of me - that day I hadn't brought my own bow and violin. Guess it was sort of an unexpected stop, at a guitar store, of all places. But hey, we're talking a very serious guitar store, one of the best on the West Coast.) The guy laughed and said it wasn't the bow, it was the violin. And it was. And no, it wasn't even the set up, because that was my biggest concern in the end on buying it - the bridge and nut were too high and it hurt my fingers to press down on the strings. When I bought the violin, he took care of all that for me right then and there (and installed four fine-tuners). It was something more ineffable - the sound the strings made, the ease at which the sound poured out, the balance, the way the violin felt under my chin and left palm. It was light in weight - I loved that. It just felt so right, tucked there under my chin. I stopped feeling so judgmental, and just enjoyed it.

So. I would argue for you to try violins that are both above and below your budget and try tons and tons of violins. Sue made a good point as well - a good bow is a big deal. If you have a beginner's bow right now, frankly, I'd upgrade the bow first. And that doesn't have to be a shocking thing - again, I found something much lower in price than I'd intended, a $100 Chinese pernambuco bow that has my teacher shaking her head at how good it sounds for such a low price. (She has since tried to get one for herself to serve as a back-up, but the same bow/price has not reappeared in the shop.) With a better bow, though, you're at a much better advantage to judge what sound/instrument you want to carry you through the next decade. And on the violin purchase, like Bob said, don't be afraid to pay more if you really think you've found The One. But bring The One into your teacher, along with a #2 and even a #3 and let the sound decide which one wins.

Good luck, and have fun! It's a very exciting purchase. Happy to report that a year after I bought my own, I am still thrilled beyond words at my violin (A new Romanian fiddle made by Euro-Workshop, called an Enesco Antiqued - worth checking if any shops in your area have one in stock.)

September 12, 2007 at 09:04 PM · Hi Larry,

I can try and answer your question about what makes one violin easier to play than another.

I upgraded my violin two years ago to a slightly smaller and slimmer violin. To tell you the truth the previous one was a bit of a brute, but I hadn't realised that before. I'm 5'2" with hands in proportion to the rest of me, so having a shorter narrower violin makes double stopping and sliding up and down the finger board more easy. But someone who is a lot bigger than me might find my violin difficult to play.

Good violins definitely play better higher up the register than not so good ones, and they have a more consistant tone and volume across the whole range.

You're right in saying that you can take measures to improve the sound by altering the setup, but there are limits to the possible improvement. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

September 12, 2007 at 09:29 PM · Thank-you for all your responses! I know that like al ku said, a master can make any instrument sound wonderful; my teacher could play on anything, even a shoe box with 4 rubber bands, and it would sound perfect.

I would like the opposite, a violin that would make ME sound great without too much effort!! Of course I am joking a bit, but I have played on one violin that I immediately fell in love with, and unfortunately it wasn't for sale.

Since that time I have bought several violins (4) from that ultimate violin source eBay, only to be disappointed, and this after investing time, money and hope in getting the instrument set -up by the local luthier (who doesn't have a violin that I would like, as he put it). Right now I'm playing on a violin by Elek Bela (from eBay) but it needs some work.

Still, I can see how not knowing what I want and how far I can go sort of limits my options.

September 13, 2007 at 12:38 AM · Thanks for the responses to my question about playability. I always appreciate all the input I can get from folks. :)

As I'm seeing from folks' responses, a better violin seems only to have better tone/sound. I'm still not clear on how this makes them easier to play, as it were.

I still think the playability of the instrument depends more on setup than anything else. Beyond that, it seems more of a sound quality issue, which I can see being somewhat tied to how easy it is to make good sound with an instrument, but considering no real violin is self-playing, I would think the ornamentations and other flourishes one adds to his playing would be equally easy to perform on any violin that is properly set up. Is there something I'm missing in all of this? :)

I honestly don't know what, exactly, an instrument's playability involves beyond being able to be played without undue stress/effort and without falling apart as it's played.

And, Catherine, you might look for Eastman, Knilling or other such violins, even on eBay. They might need to be tweaked a bit by a local luthier after being shipped, but they generally are very well set up. In fact, as long as the sound post doesn't fall in them in shipment, likely the only thing you'll have to tweak will be rectifying the bridge after you've brought it up to tune, which is something you can do yourself. It's simply, but just to be safe, there're tutorials all over the internet on how to do that. :) Knillings, Eastmans, and other such student violins will run several hundred dollars to buy, generally, but you'll at least be getting, perhaps, a better instrument than it sounds like you've so far managed to get off the site. Most of their instruments are student models, but some of their step-up instruments (which cost anywhere from $1,200.00 $5,000.00) can give much more expensive violins a run for their money. Heck! They even have models that sell for around $20,000.00, if you REALLY want one! Though, for that much money, I'd really shop around to make sure you get more for that $20,000.00 than just bragging rights. ;)

September 12, 2007 at 10:31 PM · I see from your profile you're an M.D. You probably drive a nice car. Maybe even one that could handle 150 mph on the autobahn :) Is it too good for your driving? One time I was going to get an expensive sports car. I was talking it over with somebody and I told them it wasn't practical. They told me I was too old to be practical. My only recourse to that was to think I was too young for midlife crisis, so I didn't get the car, in that case ;) There's no reason not to get something nice if you can afford it. I'd probably get a new one from an established top American maker at the going price. If they were in demand, you could probably even turn it around for what you had in it; always a nice characteristic. Occasionally treat somebody for free to help balance things out.

September 12, 2007 at 10:24 PM · Larry, as I understand it the aspects of ‘playability’ which do not fall under setup have to do with the instrument’s innate responsiveness. On some violins the notes all start easily and fingered notes on a single string in one bow respond so quickly they seem almost to ‘pop’ into sounding. On less playable instruments such starts can be fuzzy and fussy. Although it may fall under ‘tone’ in your view, the range and ease of tonal modulation is greater in a good violin, and can be nearly non-existent in others. These aspects of response can be made better or worse by setup, but their limits are set by the instrument.

September 12, 2007 at 11:42 PM · Yes Jim, but will a more expensive instrument automatically make it more 'playable', as Larry and Andres are describing? More rewarding to the beginner? Also, I read some threads about how playing the violin helps develop its tone. What if I ruin a nice violin with my playing?

September 12, 2007 at 11:55 PM · I didn't read about playability, but an expensive one is likely to have a better setup, which is playability and sound. The cost of the best setups means they're likely only to be found with expensive violins, says Burgess. Will you ruin it with your playing? If it happens, send it to me and I'll see it gets disposed of :)

September 13, 2007 at 12:25 AM · Catherine, you won't automatically get a better instrument by buying an expensive one, but the higher price ranges include more instruments that work better inherently and so are more responsive to maximization through setup, etc.

As to 'ruining' it by your playing, at worst it will be temporary, and if you own the instrument it's not really anyone else's business how well you play. The violin-police will not come knocking at your door. ;-)

September 13, 2007 at 04:01 PM · I recommend to my more advanced students to get a violin between $1000-$2000 dollars. If you look around and get a teacher's help, you can find some good instruments (nice sound quality, "easy" to play) at this price. If you are going to spend $2000 or more, you should go to a luthier or dealer of fine violins because even their lowest-end instruments will be set up well, and most of them will let you trade the violin back in if you upgrade.

Of course, you can always spend more to get a better instrument. However, I've noticed that as I've upgraded instruments I bring a different perspective and rigor to the instrument each time. My ear has developed, and the sound I hear in my head changes as well, and I thus I have a more specific idea of what I really want. In fact, I spent almost three years searching for my last violin (a little extreme!)--but now have something I truly love. Also, you might not be ready to hear the difference between a $5000 dollar instrument vs. a $10000 one yet, so I don't think it would make a huge difference in your playing and practicing.

I think if you get a good quality student instrument now and let your playing develop over the next few years, you will have a much better idea of what you truly want in a violin. This will allow you to make a better and more personal (as opposed to what a teacher or colleague thinks sounds or feels good) choice. I imagine that you if you spend the next few years on the student instrument and then upgrade one more time when you are more advanced, you probably won't need to do so again.

Good luck! Violin shopping is exciting.

September 13, 2007 at 04:49 PM · Thank-you all for the helpful responses. It is very exciting to buy violins, but it's probably even more exciting to buy the 'right one', at least that's the way I'm beginning to see it. And reading the responses, especially the first and last ones, it's making me think that the 'final upgrade' I'm dreaming about, might end up not really being that! I'll just take it slow, and keep on looking.

September 13, 2007 at 05:05 PM · Hello everyone! I came upon this posting today and just had to respond. I have taught many adult beginners and gone through a violin/bow selection process for myself several times. As a professional, I can say that even if a violin is very cheap, and a master plays on it, it will still sound cheap. It also hugely depends on several things as well 1) if the instrument is even set up properly, meaning the bridge and the soundpost are in the right place and have been cut to fit properly, 2) the fingerboard, peg box and nut are also made to fit the violin well (not too high or too low for example) 3) if it is a workshop violin or a handmade one made by one person, 4) where it is from 5) how much it costs 6) what kind of sound you the player is looking for 7) of course the big one : budget

This being said, a lot of my students have found that the Maestro violin from Shar, or any of the intermediate level violins that have been set up and play tested properly will have better results than something off of Ebay, which we call 'violin shaped objects' because they may be sold by someone who isn't a player, or has a clue about proper set up at all, again this all depends. You can find a good outfit- instrument, case, bow, for under $1000 these days. If you are looking- try whatever you can and get a teacher or another experience player with you to help you- to give you another set of ears and eyes. The better the set up is on the violin, and usually, I say usually the more expensive, the quality of the wood, craftsmenship will make it easier for you to play and get more out of the sound, making it less work for you, and you can just play.

Hope this helps!

September 13, 2007 at 05:13 PM · PS A lot of violin shops will ship things to you on approval for minimum charge to try out for a week or more...

September 14, 2007 at 04:11 AM · I would highly recommend you decide what you want to spend on a violin and then start looking for one that you like that is within your budget. I have had a lot of people come to me to ask this question, often thinking they needed to spend $10k for a great instrument only to later learn that a $2000 or $5000 instrument suited them better.

What you really want is something that sounds good under your ear, feels good in your hands, and responds well to your playing style. Proper setup is key of course, but you really have to just try, try, try, until you find what you want. And the challenge with violins is that every one sounds differently in different hands.

For instance, I made a violin for both Anne Akiko Meyers and Martie Maguire (Dixie Chicks). The wood was from the same tree. The pattern was the same, yet in their respective hands the instruments take on completely different tones and colours.

That said, I will state that the difference between a cheap eBay violin and one from a dealer is usually night and day. It's like kids who learn to play guitar on cheap instruments and then they get a Taylor or Martin handed t othem and they can't believe how gorgeous the sound becomes. So figure out your budget -- and get a good bow that sounds good on the violin you choose -- and just visit dealers and see if you can find what you like.


September 14, 2007 at 06:02 PM · Once again, thank-you all for your great responses. They've given me something to think about. Being really frustrated with my previous eBay violin-buying experiences, I was just ready to 'get it over' with and buy one, any one, from a dealer. I still plan to do that, but I can see that I need to do at least some more research.

My real problem is that I live in a small town on top of a mountain with no violin dealers!!! I know I can get violins mailed in for trial from some dealers, but it's a risky and expensive process (although not too different to what I've been doing so far, come to think of it), I mean, what if that violin gets lost or damaged? Also, I am still trying to figure out how much I want to spend, but I think that it will ultimately depend on the violin.

September 14, 2007 at 09:22 PM · It's not risky if the instrument is covered by proper insurance at every stage.

September 19, 2007 at 05:03 AM · Like you, I am also an adult amateur learner. I have recently acquired a very nice violin from an ebay seller called "old violin house" ( His violins are made in China in small workshops and are reasonably priced in the $300-$400 range (after shipping cost to USA). The violin was set up well, except I replaced the strings with Thomastik Visions. I use a Code Aspire bow, and this combination produces a very nice-sounding and easy to play instrument for well under $1000 total.

November 8, 2007 at 10:52 PM · Hi everyone,

I see myself in a similar situation to Catherine.

I live in Brazil and violins here are much more expensive than in the US. My sister lives in the US and my parents visit her often. And I thought it would be a good opportunity to buy a violin and ask them to bring me. The problem is that I wouldn't be able to try any violin before I get it here. Therefore, trials or returns are not practical options for me.

I'd be grateful to hear your suggestions and/or violin recommendations.

Thanks Folks,


November 9, 2007 at 01:19 AM · The bow.

The setup of the instrument.

You could spend thousands on an instrument and be extremely unhappy if you neglect these things.

November 9, 2007 at 01:22 AM · Gustavo,

Trade a stack of those most excellent Brazilian sticks for the fiddle of your choice!

A Brazilian violinist who can source good Brazilian bows? You should be able to have several excellent violins!

good luck

November 9, 2007 at 01:34 PM · Thanks J, for your words.

Indeed, I can get a silver mounted bow from Arcos Brasil for about US$ 470 here, instead of US$ 700 there. But that is all. In terms of instruments and cases they are much cheaper in the US. After researching at this website and others I was wondering if a Jürgen Klier or a Karl Joseph Schneider would be good choices. I was thinking in spending about US$ 2,000.00 in the instrument, about US$ 180 in the case and get the bow here, of course.

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