Shiny, pretty instruments

February 14, 2008 at 07:06 AM · I have this perpetual problem where some of my students' parents figure that it is financially more reasonable to buy their students fraction size instruments. Now, while I am against that idea in general (they grow out of them), many of these instruments have a super shiny high gloss finish, unfitted bridges, and pegs that always slip. Plus, they have zero tone, and even my better students don't sound as good as they could and are always out of tune.

I have no idea where they are getting these instruments from. Do you?

Without stepping on anyone's toes, how do I keep people from purchasing these instruments? Who in their right mind is making them? Oh, the horrors.

Replies (28)

February 14, 2008 at 07:42 AM · They come from ebay. They're imported by the shipl;oad from the far side of the world, where they're made by elves working for slave wages. WHen they sell enough of them, they'll be able to buy Rockefeller Center and a few elected officials.

I bought one for my grandson. The shipping cost more than the Violin-shaped-object.

You can't stop them unless you shut down ebay, or persuade the President to use the Nukuler Option.

February 14, 2008 at 09:22 AM · I wish that I could screen a bunch of entry level violins of various sizes that are actually playable. I would refuse to take any new students unless they rent/purchase one of my pre-approved instruments.

That's how much I hate those cheap fake violins. I spend the first ten minutes of the lesson trying to get them in tune, but the pegs are faulty and won't stay put. Then they torture themselves trying to balance the bow on just one string when the bridge is practically flat. Then they frustrate themselves trying to press the strings down when they are suspended like a tight rope, high over the fingerboard. And of course, the sound is like fingernails on a frosty windowpane.

Shiny, pretty instruments? Shi**y, pretty instruments!

February 14, 2008 at 02:24 PM · It is quite doable to screen the brands & models of small-size instruments available at local stores. If you have many students, use whatever leverage that will gives to encourage them to stock what you like. Also consider preparing a flyer that begins with, "No instrument is good enough for a beginner!". Then describe what is needed to make a violin function reasonably, the frustrations,loss of time, money,success to student-teacher-parent when dealing with an instrument that will never work. Point folks to shops that offer generous trade-in on purchases, or accumulate money towards a purchase. But be REALLY careful of how they figure this up in rent-to-own "schemes". Be factual and clear about the dangers of eBay vlns. If you don't need to accept whoever asks to join your private studio, be upfront about not teaching a student who comes with a vln. that will never work. Ask to see any vln. they "find" before the first lesson. Sue

February 14, 2008 at 03:43 PM · "I bought one for my grandson. The shipping cost more than the Violin-shaped-object."

Yeah that is the first sign to run the other way on E-Bay, they do this for two reasons:

1. E-Bay charges on final sale price not shipping costs, so they pay less to sell thier items.

2. They offer a full refund (less shipping and handling) but no kidding some of them charge $25 for the instrument and $55 for shipping.

Good racket, not everything on E-Bay is garbage you can find edcent deals still, but if a violin is selling for $9.00 with $50.00 S&H don't expect anything more than a VSO.

February 15, 2008 at 07:23 PM · I once purchased a violin off ebay for my daughter and got lucky. However, it was not super cheap and no one else even placed a bid. We were very happy with the violin and with the price but were lucky.

When we recently moved to full sized fiddle, we contacted Paddah_Hound and he sent 4 for us to try. None of them turned out to be what our daughter was looking for, but they were nice instruments and were taken back without question.

I would never by a super cheap violin from ebay and always would be sure I was dealing with an honorable person.

February 15, 2008 at 07:48 PM · Don't misunderstand my position. I was thoroughly aware that I was buying a VSO. The 3-year-old grandson wanted to imitate his big sister, and enjoyed sawing away on his POS. When the time comes that he may be ready for lessons, he'll have a real violin to play on; meanwhile no harm done.

Of course, anyone thinking they can get a real violin for ten bucks will nevertheless be getting what they paid for.

February 15, 2008 at 08:42 PM · "sawing away on his POS"

That made me laugh...

My 6 year old son wants a violin but I'm thinking of getting one of the e-bay specials instead of wasting even $200 on a beginners outfit.

It's always buyer beware on e-bay though, I recently won a Klaus Becker violin bow that turned out to be a viola brazil wood bow with plastic hair. Someone took a decent amount of time branding it with Klaus Becker though. There's $67 I'll never get back.

February 15, 2008 at 08:47 PM · The thing that gets me about the $9 violins on ebay are the negatives people give the seller like "not a quality instrument" or "bought for my husbands birthday and it is unuseable". (It's a $9 violin lady why are you buying your husband a $9 violin for his birthday cheapskate?) or I've seen another that said "had to glue bridge back on, other than that it's fine"...

February 15, 2008 at 08:58 PM · Even a $200 beginner's outfit sized for a 6 year old will not wow you with it's quality.

It's likely to be the minimum you should look at if it is to be played and learned on.

February 15, 2008 at 09:02 PM · "had to glue bridge back on, other than that it's fine" lol

is there a follow up complaint that the bridge is lopesided, now E string side is way too high?

what does POS stand for? possibly original strad?

February 15, 2008 at 09:01 PM · Haha, gluing the bridge. I hate it when the glue doesn't hold up! ;) (just kidding!)

Other than that, yes, it's a "get what you pay for" sort of deal. I have no idea what these parents are spending on the VSO's, but I would bet it's the $25 with $50 shipping types.

And not to shoot down all ebay instruments...I appreciate those of you who actually try what you buy and realize that must be done.

Before parents buy instruments (when I know they are going to), I strongly urge them to have their children try out the instruments themselves to find a good match. I even offer to come with to a music shop and provide good references.

But do they listen? No.

My fear is that even my most talented students won't be able to grow on these POS VSO's!

February 15, 2008 at 09:09 PM · I look at violins on e-bay alot hoping to one day find that guy who doesn't know what he has and lists a $10,000 instrument for a $500 buy it now or something. And you can find some funny comments in sellers feedbacks. One guy bought an old German strad copy and gave the seller a negative stating "Not a real Stradivarius" the seller's reply was "buyer expected a 1.5 million dollar instrument paid 232 bucks"

February 15, 2008 at 10:56 PM · In my preliminary discussions with parents about teaching their child, I lay out my expectations about the instrument their child will use. I preface it by telling them that I need to measure them for a violin so that they don't waste their money going out to get an instrument. I either rent them one of my own instruments to start or send them to a violin shop where my requirements are known. I stress to parents that their child will make much better progress if they rent/buy the best instrument they can afford. I only have two students using instruments I would like to trash and both students were transfers from another teacher. When a student is ready to buy an instrument, I try to be involved in the process. I do not get "kickbacks". It is time-consuming, but it saves me a lot of frustration in the long run.

February 15, 2008 at 11:27 PM · "I wish that I could screen a bunch of entry level violins of various sizes that are actually playable."

In effect you could do that. Theoretically, anyway. Beats the alternatives. It's like if you were a skating teacher, how would you handle a student whose skates were missing a wheel.

February 16, 2008 at 07:50 AM · Pardon my ignorance, but how much do these parents expect to pay for their child's first instrument? 25 USD + 50 USD shipping? Do they really budget in the up-to-100 USD range?

I had assumed that most people would expect to pay at least somewhere between 300 and 500 for an eco-starter outfit.

February 16, 2008 at 08:27 AM · Al, POS stands for "piece of s**t."

February 16, 2008 at 08:48 AM · "I wish that I could screen a bunch of entry level violins of various sizes that are actually playable."

Okay, to explain my own quote, I need to elaborate on the context, which is a small town in the middle of nowhere with two largely defunct music shops run by guitarists who don't know a lick about violins and can't seem to remember to order anything I ask. When a new student comes to me, they have usually already purchased something, either on line or at the local guitar shop. If I get lucky, I intercept them before they've purchased something and tell them to rent from Johnson stringed instruments on the internet, or go to the violin shop in Anchorage, where they may pay more for something, but at least I know it will work. SHAR also provides good options.

I try my best, but those crappy instruments are circulating through this town like bad pennies.

February 16, 2008 at 09:28 AM · I guess what I would do is if possible head them off at the pass at the initial inquiry. Have your ten second spiel ready. If that's not possible then tell them not only will their dog not hunt, it won't bark or crap either. But I hate telling people they got snookered. Especially if they thought they were doing something for their kid. Hopefully they didn't spend a lot. But you know in the old days, music teachers would do a lot of repairs themselves, at least on school instruments. For precisely the same reason you've got - no one else around to do it. Now they can just email a bow off and get it re-haired. Paid for by your ever escalating taxes. The damn roads are all paved now too.

February 16, 2008 at 02:12 PM · Our teachers always have required that we bring in any violin or bow we are considering purchasing for their approval. Our first teacher kept Shar and Southwest Strings catalogues in the studio with the instruments she would most recommend marked. This way we knew what to expect in the way of expense. She also had a set of violins in all the fractional sizes that she would rent to students. As my sons grew older and more advanced, the expectation on the part of the teacher for instrument quality also increased.

February 16, 2008 at 08:53 PM · "Our teachers always have required that we bring in any violin or bow we are considering purchasing for their approval."

If you don't do something like that, and instead agree to teach them on a truly unplayable instrument, I would say you just want their money.

February 17, 2008 at 03:49 AM · I'd feel 100% comfortable saying I would only teach the students if they are on a quality instrument. I teach in a public school program in group lessons of 4-5 kids each; I can't refuse to teach a child in this situation.

February 18, 2008 at 01:49 AM · I would like to confess that not long ago I was among such parents. Guess by telling you what we thought might help.

Here we are still under the shadow of "kickbacks". So we did not know where we should lay our trust in the beginning. I was hoping to get a sign to convince me to trust them to go to the shop she recommends. But it did not happen in a short time. All the teacher said was that the cheap violins cannot be played, were not setup properly, etc. Well, even if she explained some details of that, when I did not understand all that I simply couldn't. She sometimes would praise someone's violin (in a group lesson), and this could work in both ways especially if we knew that violin comes from the that shop. And, in that beginning stage they all sounded the same to me...

Also, at that time I was not sure whether my kids would pick up and keep playing, and you know how naughty kids can be. How can I put something worth $200 on their hands? You'd say, then we should rent. Yes we did that, but not for very long. It was very hard to resist something that costs only 2-3 monthly rent and serves for a year. I was even thinking that, if it turns out that the bridge top was too flat we could even have it fitted again.

Now I know everything our teacher said is true. I know the recommended shop is offering very competitively nice businesses. But that's only after I am becoming more educated.

The only new ideas I can think of now, are:

(1) keep one of such VSOs at your hand. Would be even better if you can have a low-end minimum acceptable violin. When you spend time explaining the importance of a proper violin show them to the parents. Let the parents play and tune them.

(2) I am sure in US the issue of kickbacks is much less so our problem does not entirely applicable to your cases. But I just wish that we could have trusted each other more, and earlier on. How? I don't know. any suggestion?

(3) Also sharing tricks of teaching the kids to take care of the instruments should help. In our case we started to give the violins names. I remind my kids how I cared for them when they were babies. It's their turn to care for their "babies". It's a lot of fun. We still get occasionally issues like pegs or bows broken, but it was ok. Instead of scaring us with sad stories of losses, knowing what to expect helps.

February 18, 2008 at 03:23 AM · I once tried Shar's beginner beginner beginner violin, the Hoffmann Amadeus. It actually wasn't that bad-Definitely worth the $140 bucks. The sound is actually quite strong, with some aspects of warmth. The sound also doesn't crack as easily. Definitely beats a POS from Ebay.

February 18, 2008 at 03:23 AM · I once tried Shar's beginner beginner beginner violin, the Hoffmann Amadeus. It actually wasn't that bad-Definitely worth the $140 bucks. The sound is actually quite strong, with some aspects of warmth. The sound also doesn't crack as easily. Definitely beats a POS from Ebay.

February 18, 2008 at 04:54 PM · Carolyn, your post got me to thinking.....

What do you think of the idea of a violin maker / dealer supplying teachers with superior instruments they could rent to their students?

You could supply them with good instruments at reasonable rates, change sizes for free, and the parents wouldn't end up getting stuck with an unsellable instrument if the kid loses interest. Plus, many dealers apply rental credit to eventual purchases, and have liberal trade-in policies on upgrades.

The dealer benefits by getting early exposure to students who will be buying upgrades later on. Not much profit to begin with, but could pay off in the long run.

I haven't thought this all the way through yet, but it seems like a decent idea on the face of it. I'd be interested in knowing what teachers think of the idea. The money part would have to make sense of course, and as long as everything is in the open and the instruments present a superior value, I don't think there would be too many ethical problems

It's sooooo much easier and more rewarding to learn on a decent instrument. Seems like everybody could benefit.

February 19, 2008 at 04:42 AM · I love a beautiful instrument.

February 19, 2008 at 10:34 AM · Yes, we all love brown paper packages tied up with string, but nothing was ever sung about the dried fecal matter inside the package.

February 19, 2008 at 02:49 PM · If it seems to you that the parents are not financially capable of affording an adequate instrument for their child, then it would be worth your while to work with the school district and parent support group to find the money to purchase instruments for the program. Our city youth orchestra draws players from all of the public schools, most starting violin in about 6th grade. Very few of the students take private lessons and many come from very difficult homes. At the beginning of the year the conductor looks out at the 80 or so students and says "Who needs an instrument? Who needs a better instrument?". He looks at what they have or don't have (some come without an instrument the first week) and makes note. The next week he has an instrument for each of them. As the president of the board of directors for this group, I worked with the school district to set the budget for the program and made sure that we had in our budget instrument purchase, instrument maintenance, strings etc... We augmented this by way of grants from charitable organizations. The students have the instruments on loan as long as they continue to participate in the city youth orchestra, sometimes six years, or until they are able to afford their own. We purchase these instruments with absolute care since they need to be stable, easily tunable, and to produce a nice tone. We have a shop in town that has been very helpful in helping us find the best student-quality instruments.

We also have an arts magnet elementary school that has a Suzuki program that begins in Kindergarten. Each child gets a private lesson once a week during school as well as a group lesson during school (not after school) and practice time with adult volunteers. This school has the highest poverty rate of any in our city, which has some patches of very high poverty. The local Suzuki association parents donate instruments their children have outgrown to the program. This school has also successfully applied for instrument assistance and other music support from charitable organizations.

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