So what do you do with VSOs?

April 14, 2008 at 05:40 AM · Hello everybody, I have a question.

I have recently acquired a lovely old Strad copy VSO with such lousy tone it makes my home made from "HOW To" directions in a Popular Mechanics magazine fiddle sound great. I put new strings and a nice chinrest on it, trying to improve it, it has a nice case. I'd like to be rid of it. I don't want to burn it, or stick some poor student with it...might turn off a future in music for somebody. Ideas?

Replies (38)

April 14, 2008 at 08:08 AM · Give it to your teacher to use as an example what not to buy when looking for a beginner violin. Demonstration is so much better than words, as in "See! it does *look* very nice, doesn't it?! But can you *hear* this? can you tell the difference?!" ;-)

April 14, 2008 at 09:37 AM · Why did you buy it in the first place?

I think the only thing you can do now is to hang it on the wall,it will be a great decoration.

April 14, 2008 at 12:26 PM · I'll warn you:

I'll bet that VSO burning, much like piano burning, is against the law. :>)

April 14, 2008 at 12:45 PM · You could dress it up in doll clothes, or make it into a table lamp with supplies from: (copy and paste in)

April 14, 2008 at 02:10 PM · I have my Grandmother's 1920s Sears VSO. It was neglected in an attic for years, so now it hangs on the wall. It makes a lovely decoration.

April 14, 2008 at 02:22 PM · I suspect some of the old Sears VSOs were made by the same outfits who re-graduated all the 100k modern Italians, so might want to check it again, just to be sure :)

April 14, 2008 at 05:12 PM · You may want to put on a new bridge and adjust the soundpost. I have tweaked some life out of a few clinkers that way. Also check the fingerboard projection (e.g. does the violin have really low bridge). Many old "factory fiddles" have this problem and it leads to a nasal "stuffy" sound. All else failing you could probably find it a good home on ebay, where many restorers lurk.


April 14, 2008 at 05:04 PM · Good idea Benjamin, a warning to the unwary. Because it looks so good. Red finish over pale blonde ground. It does have some wear. Somebody tried for awhile to make music with this beast. Maybe a lot of somebodys, for a brief while each...I guess that beats putting it out in a garage sale for another go round. That's how I found it, no strings or fittings, lying there in a new looking dart case. Cheap. Couldn't hurt to get it dressed and see what it sounds like, I thought. But I'm moving soon, and more in the getting rid of mood than looking for wall hangings or lamps;>)

Reminds me of the old joke...

Why is a viola better than a violin?

Burns longer.

Why does it burn longer?

Usually, it's still in the case.


April 14, 2008 at 07:32 PM · Release your inner artist and paint it, or take up hard rock fiddle and use it when you're smashing violins onstage. Or, save it for future violin-therapy when you're particularly fed up. I've had those days . . . never smashed a violin over it, but I have a VSO that cowers every time I open its case after a bad practice session . . .

In all seriousness, is it that bad? I mean, maybe it's worth donating to a school orchestra program? I've seen some clunkers in school orchestra, but at least it gets them playing.

April 14, 2008 at 05:49 PM · I would also suggest making sure the set-up is optimized, otherwise donate it

April 14, 2008 at 06:27 PM · Sell it on E-Bay, there's an endless market for VSO's there...

April 14, 2008 at 07:53 PM · Take it apart or give it to someone that would learn from it!

April 14, 2008 at 09:56 PM · What does VSO stand for?

April 14, 2008 at 10:05 PM · VSO= Violin Shaped Object


Violently Stinky Onion

April 14, 2008 at 10:06 PM · Give it to a local school for their strings program

April 16, 2008 at 11:04 PM · I guess the best idea is to give it to a school program, problem is, I've called several local schools and most have music programs, but no strings. Three music program directors have not responded to my messages at all yet, so we'll see.

April 17, 2008 at 05:03 AM · I've long entertained the idea of buying up every sub-$50 VSO on Ebay, and glueing them all to my walls, floor to ceiling. If you made each alternating row upright, then upside-down, they would sort of fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

It might look really cool, and would probably make for really good acoustics. (g)

April 17, 2008 at 05:13 AM · That would be a nightmare to clean though :-)

April 17, 2008 at 05:17 AM · nah, glue them in star patterns with a genuine skull at the center of each star. I guess then you'd have good acoustics AND an audience...

April 17, 2008 at 07:57 AM · A friend and colleague of mine was at a beach bonfire with his music students a few years ago.

They had with them a VSO quality cello.

The kids took it body surfing.

Later, one girl had to beat it on the cinder-blocks that formed the fire pits to reduce its size so that it could be used to roast marshmallows.

Let's just say, people at adjacent fire pits were stunned silent, and watched in a mixture of horror and amazement.

April 17, 2008 at 08:26 AM · Gene, that's hilarious! They should have sent somebody to the neighbours the next morning asking "Did you guys see my Stradivarius cello?" :-)

April 17, 2008 at 04:21 PM · I love these replies; they're interesting and hilarious.

I'll join the "wall-hang it" group. I've got plenty of blank space on my wall, Carol. Send it to me! : )

April 18, 2008 at 08:26 AM · I had a beautiful little o man i hated that instrument. I was going to donate it, but my 10 year old nephew asked me for it. I gave it to him....three weeks later he is switching his open strings smoothly and scratching out his first twinkles. He'll get a real violin for Christmas if he keeps plugging away at it. He doesnt care what it sounds like. He is quick to point out to me he is playing the unplayable violin.

Personally, I love the campfire story. oh man, that was funny!!

April 18, 2008 at 04:17 PM · I loved the bodysurfing and bonfires! Funny and horrifing all at once. And skulls, OMG!

The schools don't want it, garage sale next weekend...

April 18, 2008 at 09:23 PM · When I played in the Yale Symphony, the principal second "played" a VSO with a ripsaw during one Halloween concert. I was horrified and intrigued at the same time. I have a somewhat alcohol-fuzzed recollection about the whole thing, but I don't think he was able to get the saw to go through completely, and he had to do a Pete Townsend at the very end to complete the job.

I still have my very first VSO. I bought it at a country auction when I was in high school, and it cleaned up magnificently. It's a 120-year old hand made French violin, in perfect condition, with absolutely no damage to the finish. It's also the stiffest violin I've ever played, and it sounds like a cigar box. Soundpost and bridge work has done nothing to help the sound, and I have used it only for "rainy day" outdoor gigs. I'm keeping it as-is for possible regraduation someday. And, thanks to its age and condition, it actually has a real appraised value. But it still sounds terrible.

April 19, 2008 at 03:35 AM · Donate it to a local woman's shelter. Someone may find it comforting to have a violin available, no matter how horrible sounding.

April 20, 2008 at 05:24 AM · Fascinating subject. :-)

I like Mendy's suggestion to donate it to a shelter -- though does it need to be a women's shelter?

Hmmm... The Halloween story makes me think maybe I should actually go buy a VSO just for that purpose -- well, for dress-up that is. :-) Every year my kids ask me what I'll dress up as. And every year I end up w/ nothing -- and they just assume I'd just pretend to be a photographer (since I always lug my camera gear :-p ) or something like that. Last year, I said how 'bout I dress up as a "fiddler on the roof" w/ a fake chimney and a fake box VSO (like what most Suzuki programs do for child beginners). Maybe I should just buy a super cheap VSO just for that purpose this year. ;-)

And yeah, that bodysurfing/bonfire story is hilarious (and a bit wild for the imagination). :-)

But I absolutely love the anecdote about the young nephew who loves the violin so much that he's sawing away at it anyway (and proudly proclaims how he's doing well despite the bad VSO) and basically inspires his parents to get him a real violin by year's end.

Not everyone can afford to give his/her child every opp to make the most of his/her talents. Sometimes, that needed opp doesn't present itself w/out a combo of factors, including a VSO and some loving relatives (or other benefactor), to come into play.

I always wished I coulda had training in the arts and/or music when I was growing up, but my parents were not well off and needed me to go the more pragmatic route toward a good college education (and preferably, to become a doctor) so I can make good $, make the family proud, and even help the family out some (as the oldest of 3 siblings). Art and music just were never possible (outside of what the public school system offered) though I loved both. Still, my fairly wise and openminded grandfather was there to help broaden my horizon w/ certain other interests like the computer (and bought me my first computer, a Commodore 64). And now that I'm a software engineer making solid $, I do what I can in terms of the arts for my own kids (and also helped my sister out w/ her photography education). And when an opp presents itself, I also offer what little help I can to others who may need just that little bit of outside help to put together some real opps for themselves.

Boy... this stuff is all just wetting my eyes now... :-/ Hope I'm not getting too sappy for y'all...

Peace and much blessings to y'all...


April 20, 2008 at 05:39 AM · "I like Mendy's suggestion to donate it to a shelter -- though does it need to be a women's shelter?"

I guess Mendy is right on this one. Chance being that if you give it to a male shelter, some guy will try to turn it into booze rather than try to make music on it :-P (tongue in cheek)

April 20, 2008 at 05:59 AM · Ben,

You may be right, but I'd prefer to be a bit more optimistic about it. Besides, one would hope the shelter will do better than let just anyone have it, no? Perhaps, maybe donate it to a specific shelter that would be wiser about lending it out to people?

The man in this photo certainly doesn't look like he was using his beat-up (and non-functional) GSO for what you suggested (tongue-in-cheek or not) -- or maybe he is for all I know:

And there are probably a good handful street performers in Manhattan over here who might well be "living" in shelters as far as I can tell -- and they are *all* men (though I haven't personally noticed any fiddlers who'd fit that description, but who knows w/ so many poorly paid, out-of-work fiddlers around town?).


April 20, 2008 at 03:00 PM · You just never know who might turn up in one of those shelters! Some years ago now, a guy was found wandering the streets with amnesia and taken to a hospital. He had no ID, and could tell nothing about himself. In fact, he may at first not have spoken a word. (Sorry for my patchy recollection). Anyway, this hospital had a chapel, which housed a piano. THis chap happened to find it, sat down and for four hours played non-stop classical music.

A search went out over Europe with his pic in the hope someone would recognise him as he so obviously had talent. I think some relatives finally traced him, though it became difficult to follow the story after a while.

April 20, 2008 at 03:24 PM · Well, tongue in cheek means tongue in cheek, but if you want to be serious, ponder this one: The Grameen bank has pioneered what is known as micro-loans to help poor folks to get out of poverty by starting a small business with a small loan. Grameen bank and it's founder were awarded the nobel prize for this. He says, he started lending to women simply because nobody else would but after many years of operational data it turns out that the women are the ones who will make better use of the money (that is to the benefit of the family) and are much less likely to default on the micro loans.

Similar projects in Africa have since spawned off using the same concept and everywhere the experience is that maximum benefit to the communities occurs when they give the money to women, not men.

Another anecdote: Paganini had a stradivarius which he lost while gambling. Then he couldn't generate any income cause he had no fiddle. Doh! Somebody then donated the Cannon to him so he could continue to play and earn a living. Ok, he didn't lose the Cannon, so you might say he learned his lesson.

April 20, 2008 at 06:15 PM · You could hang it on the wall as a decoration.

April 20, 2008 at 07:01 PM · I decoupaged (paper and glue) a VSO with a paper that had old-looking music notation print. It's hanging on my wall and it's quite lovely.

April 20, 2008 at 07:32 PM · Benjamin,

Sorry if I offended w/ my response, but my point was not that a men's shelter would be a better choice or that Mendy (and you) was wrong to suggest that a women's shelter might be better statistically speaking, IF we have nothing else to go by for a given area, people group, etc. etc.

I was just saying it'd be good to be a bit more optimistic and a bit less cynical about it, particularly if the idea is to do it out of charity. I'm not out to say I'm right and you're wrong -- though admittedly, that's how it sometimes end up whether intentional or not.

Take it easy there...

Peace and much blessings...


April 20, 2008 at 08:13 PM · I think the ideas to make it into an artwork are very sensible, you could do something incredibly contemporary like semi-dismantling it and surrounding it with music-related garbage in the middle of a bare white room; or pickling it in formaldehyde a la Damien Hirst; or cover it in mould and make it into a decaying outdoor statue entitled: "The end of classical music...?"

Then you call up some major New York City art dealers and start a bidding war which ends up selling your creation for $5000000 and getting a feature article on your artistic concepts in the New York Times... ;-)

April 21, 2008 at 01:40 AM · Benjamin & Man -

I was thinking of a women's shelter for one reason - I had to use one once many years ago. These shelters deal with abused women - who often have to leave their situation (and their instruments at home) in hurry and have no where else to go. A VSO (or a CSO) would had been appreciated until I could get mine back.

April 21, 2008 at 07:26 PM · Mendy,

That is indeed a great reason for your line of thinking -- and I'm very sorry to hear that you had to go through something like that and hope all is well w/ you now.

Thanks for sharing that bit of personal insight (and hopefully, it has not brought back any unnecessary pains as a result).

Peace and much blessings...


April 22, 2008 at 05:02 AM · Man - that was a VERY long time ago, and just a faint memory. But since then I always think of those shelters first when I have something that I no longer need.

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