Amazon now offers cheap violins

February 6, 2009 at 04:16 AM ·

So I noticed that Amazon now offers super cheap instrument packages.  You can get a violin, bow and case for about $50.  Places like Target, I've noticed, also offer extremely inexpensive options.

On the one hand, I think it's great that there are now options out there for families that may not be able to afford an instrument otherwise.  On the other hand, I have to wonder if these instruments are going to be counter productive.  I have this sneaking suspicion that the largest consumer for this product will be the parents (or maybe even adults) who just want a cheap option.  They hand over the violin as a Christmas gift to their kid, the kid plays three notes and then gets frustrated/bored.  If the parent had been forced to buy a nicer instrument, it would have been more of a commitment from the start.  There's a better chance they would have also looked into lessons for their child at the same time.

What are your opinions on this?

Replies (60)

February 6, 2009 at 04:37 AM ·

the kid plays three notes and then gets frustrated/bored. 

hardly limited to a violin...the instant gratification is an epidemic


February 6, 2009 at 04:42 AM ·

If they only play open strings, maybe it's not so bad!

I'm thinking of little kids who love the idea of playing violin but are too young to start for real.  Unfortunately, the Amazon VSOs are probably only 4/4, right?


February 6, 2009 at 05:26 AM ·

Actually, I took a quick look, and some of the $39.99 VSOs are in 1/4, 1/10, etc.

I am considering such a purchase for my grandson (6 years old), but I can also get a consignment one from a local luthier for $50.00.... with the setup guaranteed. Although the instrument may be only a little better, I am certain the work is more than worth the difference.


February 6, 2009 at 06:56 AM ·

Amazon does offer sizes other than 4/4.

Still.... listening much less playing a violin of that quality is not usually a fun experience.

February 6, 2009 at 12:50 PM ·

meanwhile, many americans currently live on 99 cents stores and mcd's dollar meals.

of all things considered,  a bad sounding violin imo is the last thing that makes a kid or the parents quit.    on the top of the list of reasons to quit,  no offense intended, is possibly the teacher.  a wonderful teacher is capable of making a child crazy about violin through a cigar box.

pele the soccer great started by kicking rolled up socks.

why is that i do not see enough teachers that acknowledge a bad sounding violin with the family but still make the commitment with the child to make the bad violin sound better with skills?  

think about it...what are you really teaching not to settle for what you have or how to make the most of any situation?




February 6, 2009 at 01:07 PM ·

Al, it's not the sound that is a worry with a VSO, it's the setup. The angle of the neck and fingerboard, the distance of the strings from each other and from the fingerboard etc. For your first steps like twinkle star it doesn't matter much because no matter what the angle is, it is least apparent playing on a single string in first position, but as you do shifts and rapid string crossings, double stops, and the higher you go up the fingerboard, then a bad VSO can be not only a pain in the butt and awkward to play, but it can actually make you pick up bad habits that will later be difficult to correct.

February 6, 2009 at 01:37 PM ·

ok, i will give you that, though i think people are as concerned about the boxy sound:)  what is really inside the amazon thingy we are not sure.

"but as you do shifts and rapid string crossings, double stops, and the higher you go up the fingerboard"

for an average student in regular suzuki class made up of students from all over,   when do you think it usually takes to reach that stage?

imo, at least 3-4 years later, but i can be mistaken.  

i think my point remains, which is, between a better violin and a better attitude, i advocate for the latter. 



February 6, 2009 at 01:52 PM ·

I have seen people order VSOs and they arrive with the bridges on backwards and GLUED on!  Not advisable!

February 6, 2009 at 02:15 PM ·

perhaps this is a situation that should follow a ground up approach, that is, let the families decide how they spend their money on the first set.   i am going to assume that if someone is able to navigate the internet to buy a set from amazon, that person has sniffed around enough to make that decision.  may not be as wise a decision as a violin teacher would make, but look at that as cost of learning.  considering the cost of mistakes in life, 50 dollars is pretty cheap.

we got our set at around 29.99.  nobody died.  as my child progresses, we upgrade, a process that never ends anyway if you read! :)  

what i would like to see is a study,,,randomized kids into 2 groups, one with free 20 dollar violin and the other with free 500 dollar violin.  track them for progress monthly for couple years.  give the option to the 20 group to upgrade every 6 month, but cap it at 500.  the 500 group stays with it.  then we compare notes.   my suspicion is that if the numbers of kids studied are large enough, the outcome will be similar.  


February 6, 2009 at 03:12 PM ·

"or an average student in regular suzuki class made up of students from all over,   when do you think it usually takes to reach that stage?

imo, at least 3-4 years later, but i can be mistaken."

I am not a Suzuki teacher so I don't know how long the bulk of students will need to reach that level, but even then, it should very much depend on how much time and effort one puts in. For example, the ABRSM curriculum and exams are designed with the expectation that one will be able to do one grade per year, yet some do two grades per year (the exams being May/June and Nov/Dec, thus two exams per year). I skipped the first two, took and passed grade 3 after only nine months of starting lessons, then embarking on a schedule of two grades per year. That's just a function of regular practise, others I know who started at about the same time or even earlier haven't had as much time to practise and they are now much further behind.

At my pace I can say that the setup on my violin got in the way within less than one year. And I didn't buy a cheap VSO either. I was able to have the setup changed by a local luthier and it was acceptable again, but when I try a fine instrument in a violin shop or at a violin fair, I can definitely tell the difference in playability. On such an instrument it often feels like my skillset just got a boost of an extra year or two of playing. People who know my playing and were present at such trials were very surprised how well I played, so this wasn't just my imagination ;-)

Even with that experience, I couldn't tell just exactly when a bad setup on a cheaper violin will become a problem and it is quite possible that even the cheapest VSO with a bad setup will be sufficient for the the time it takes you (or your child) to know whether or not you (or your child) are (is) going to continue and it is worth spending some more on a proper instrument.

But even in such a situation I would honestly be worried that the bad VSO is the main reason that the student gets frustrated and gives up. This happened to me as a child when my parents got me a trash piano that couldn't be tuned properly. For this reason I spent several months on intense research before I bought my violin. I knew I was serious and I was determined not to quit no matter how hard it was going to be but still I was worried that a trash violin would be the kind of handicap that that trash piano was when i was a child. So I didn't want to take the risk and I spent 1500 USD on the first violin. I am sure I could have spent less and fare about the same, but still I think there is a point below which I wouldn't have wanted to go.

February 6, 2009 at 03:46 PM ·

ben, your points are well taken.  again, you are a self earning adult with some prior music experiences in combination with a lot of life experiences, so your decision to go with a 1500 as your first makes sense.  but to be facetious, one can argue that you should have got a 15000 violin to skip the headaches of upgrading.   and you know i am right in retrospect!

and it goes back to something both of us are talking about,,,what to test the water with... but i consider a piano that cannot hold the tuning different from a  violin that can tune the bad tone very well:) 

again, i want to clarify that i am not advocating people go out to get the cheapest thing possible for the price only.  but if they decide that is what feel right at that moment, after exploring a bit, it is ok.  i find the assertion that a bad sounding violin to a 5 yo beginner is the only reason for the kid to quit not comvincing.  i just do not want to hear teachers holding this against the students, as if good progress is impossible or unlikely because of the poor sound quality.  

since you are computer expert, i think the same thing applies if i ask for advice on computer to get for a 5 yo.  it can run the gamut, right? 

February 6, 2009 at 03:45 PM ·

I have had students show up for lessons with cheap Ebay VSOs.  I have had students show up for lessons with $5000 violins.  Price points are no indication of commitment to music education.  I would rather listen to a 5K violin every week, but in the end I prefer students that practice.

I actually encourage the parents to rent.  Renting makes everything easier:  repairs, size trade-ins, affordability, and general quality. 

If $50 violins allow a whole new tax bracket of students to study violin, swell.  If $50 violins are a tempting impulse buy for a parent that has the "bright idea" that violin study is great for a child that already has 4381 other activities on the plate, uh, probably not. 

February 6, 2009 at 03:52 PM ·

like I said, I didn't think that a bad sounding instrument was the issue but a bad setup that makes the instrument awkward to play. As to which instrument is just about good enough for whom, when, where and for how long, I'm afraid I have no silver bullet to offer. I certainly didn't mean to suggest everybody should spend 1500 USD on their first instrument. All I can say is do your homework.

February 6, 2009 at 03:52 PM ·

I am a beginner player with a new $150.00 violin and the bad sounds that I am projecting does not discourage me from playing, but makes me want to practice more to try to get a sweet sound from my violin as my instructor did out of it. If my instructor can make it sound good, I feel I can too some day.

My ear is tuned from playing guitar for years and thinking it won't be long before the weak spots on my violin do bug me enough to want to upgrade soon. You have to have a violin to learn what it is supposed to sound like to train your ear, so I guess it is best to develop your ear with a cheap one, and later know what you want in a violin and how to acheive a specific tone when purchasing your next one. I would hate to spend a lot of money on a violin and not being experienced enough to notice the flaws, and before long be disapointed with my purchase.

Although, when I played a violin for the first time this past Christmas, It was a Palatino and I was able to get a inspiring tone which led me to my first purchase of one.  I can see where a $50.00 violin verses a 100 to 150 dollar violin might make a difference in tone or playability to keep a child or beginner player excited to practice. I never played or heard a 35 to 50 dollar violin, but I think by having someone experienced play the student violin to demonstrate what it can do will be enough to motivate the owner of that instrument.  I would say the 50 dollar violin would need to be set up, where the 100 dollar violin will be somewhat ready to play.

I think if the instructor is a player and demonstrates the violin to the student, that will be enough encouragement to motivate one to practice. If the professional is not able to get a decent tone( and will have to be a total piece of crap if the instructor can not achieve one), then the student will never get one and probably not want to play that instrument.  A 500 dollar violin will just give bragging rights to someone if not interested in playing and will just brag on his nice violin and make the student with the cheap violin try harder to outplay the one with the better violin. God only knows!


February 6, 2009 at 03:53 PM ·

I bought one of those $50 Amazon violins. I adjusted the soundpost,put on good strings and use a different bow. It was my first violin, I still have it and Im not afraid to take it outside and play.


Its not as good as my main violin of course. But  it'll hold its own against a $150 music store model.

February 6, 2009 at 04:44 PM ·

Folks, don't worry about the sound. Worry about the setup.

Unfortunately, for a complete beginner there is no way to know without getting help from somebody who knows what to watch out for. If rental is affordable where you are, that may indeed be a good option to begin with.

For a beginner who has worked (or almost worked) through Suzuki book 1, I recommend the Bach Minuet 2 as a litmus test. It starts with rapid string crossings from D to A to E, to A, to E and back to D, all in first position. Playing this in good tempo while getting all notes and string crossings clean without making unwanted surplus noises can be challenging. If your setup is bad, such as strings too high over the fingerboard, neck angled to shallow etc etc, then playing this will be even more difficult.

Even if you are far beyond Suzuki book 1 when you are shopping for an uprade, I recommend this piece as a litmus test. On a good instrument this should feel much easier to play, you will likely be able to play it faster and with fewer mistakes or surplus noises than on your VSO.

And this is all in first position still, a bad setup gets much more noticeable when playing in higher positions. On the original setup of my violin the strings were positioned such that when I pressed down a note above 5th position on the D string, the D string moved entirely BELOW the G and A string which means there was no way I could have bowed on the D string unless I had bowed it  somehow from UNDERNEATH :-o This also made it much more difficult to play notes on the D string in lower positions without accidentally also bowing on the G or A string. If you don't know this, you think "heck, why do I always hit the G string when crossing from A to D?" and can't seem to improve your technique, yet it's not your technique but the setup which is bad.

February 6, 2009 at 04:55 PM ·

i think one thing many parents or some adults have to go through initially is to get a violin through a commercial brand.  not against it , as long as we realize the severe limitations,,we have to trade ideas over some common currencies, but there are many other sources,,,some cheap older germans can sound wonderful and not that expensive, if you can consider the combined value of couple "cheap" violins.

the other thing is that we tend to draw a bow on a violin and immediately fall in love.  for experts with databank in the head, perhaps, but for even beginners with no prior ear training, many if not most can tell the difference between 2 violins side by side.  often, the difference can be striking on playability and feel under the ear/finger.  this i think is on the same vein as ben's set up concern.

if i were to do it over again, i will probably visit a luthier and proceed that way.  would have saved a lot of aggrevation over ignorance.

February 6, 2009 at 05:53 PM ·

This is good news...Now owning a violin could be a bit easier. But it could also be a source of frustration if these violin were not set up properly. I am a bit distrubed of ordering violins online (unless there is some money back guarantee) because one cannot test drive it before hitting the cash registers.


February 6, 2009 at 05:58 PM ·

The violin is not the expensive thing (at least for starters), lessons are. So if you child is pretty committed, don't stinge on the instrument. A violin is not a toy. However, if you are not too sure, then rent.

February 6, 2009 at 08:51 PM ·

It is bad.

Yay for cheap crap.


Amazon has had them for a while.  I taught several beginners with these Violin Shaped Objects...whose parents proudly talked of being "thrifty" after shopping on Amazon and not consulting anyone who knew anything of the instrument.  Most had glued on bridges...most had warped fingerboards that were not even glued on straight.  They all sounded awful, and were hard to play.

These junk heapVSOs need to go away.  Pardon my strong verbage, but  I echo my students frustration at trying to play one of these in the name of being "thrifty".

February 6, 2009 at 10:40 PM ·

50 bucks is the final price....    so the cost of the instrument on the factory may be 25 bucks or less. 

There is not the like of free lunch,..... someone is paying for this. There may be hidden human and enviromental costs there. But I may be wrong.

February 7, 2009 at 01:09 AM ·

I think Luis makes a very valid point...

February 7, 2009 at 09:59 PM ·

I believe have to agree with Marc.  I too have played on one of those cheap set ups and they are awful.

When students are first starting out it's difficult for them to draw the line between their skill level and the quality of violin.  If the "violin" is poorly made, it's extremely discouraging to practice on.

February 8, 2009 at 07:09 PM ·

Well, they might (and probably DO) sound awful. Nonetheless, I believe that most children who hear beautiful violin playing will NOT hear it on their own instruments first! They're more likely to hear it and be inspired by it through recordings and/or their teachers. I think that these Amazon instruments are a good idea, until the young student "outgrows" them musically.

February 9, 2009 at 04:43 AM ·

Come hang out with us in the fiddle world where tough questions like this are debated endlessly withoug resolution

See you there!

February 9, 2009 at 03:13 PM ·

I haven't seen or heard these $50 Amazon violins, but I think, e.g., the entry-level Shar sets that cost about $139 are a reasonable compromise for kids just starting out in a school program.  Shar does set them up such that they are playable, have decent strings, a correctly placed bridge, and a correctly-shaped fingerboard in the right place.  The sound is not professional or even advanced amateur quality, but I have to say, having listened to my daughter play one of these instruments for a year (said instrument which was later run over by a car, making me quite glad I didn't spend more than $139), the entry-level Shar violin was not  the limiting factor on my daughter's progress, or even in how she sounded, early on.  Much more important for her in deciding to stick with it (or not) have been issues of teacher and repertoire, as mentioned by others.  

The cost of "nice" violins for kids is definitely a sticking point here where I live in the middle class suburban U.S.  Even the cost of renting through the school program makes some parents balk.  I find it lamentable that these same parents are in some cases much more willing to spend more $ on soccer cleats or other sports stuff, than on a violin, but I don't think that criticizing their values and priorities by calling these violins "trash," etc., is productive either.  I think that especially for non-prodigy, non-professional-track kids, a cheap violin can be fine, and the anti-cheap-violin snobbery exhibited by some music teachers has the unfortunate effect of being much worse for the kids' morale than the cheap violin itself.


February 9, 2009 at 04:04 PM ·

In the spirit of what Luis said, I think it's tragic that decent wood is going into these instruments.  I'd rather see older student instruments put back into play. 

February 9, 2009 at 11:32 PM ·

If the wholesale cost to Amazon is 25 USD, how much of that will be shipping cost from the manufacturer (presumably in China) to Amazon in the US. Even when considering bulk shipping that will probably be in the order of 10-15 USD. Further considering plant cost, energy and materials, the workers who make these violins will likely get less than 1 USD per violin.

I reckon that among the people who buy these violins are folks who otherwise criticise low cost labour countries such as China for poor social standards.

February 10, 2009 at 01:16 PM ·

I would say its a safe bet that every household in america has something made in china. It interesting that folks will complain about purchasing a violin made in China ,while more than likely the very keyboard they are pounding out the complaint on is also made in china.

February 10, 2009 at 02:01 PM ·

i am curious enough to look at the reviews on amazon on one model that sells about 50 bucks.   it seems to me that on the average, those who have bought the violins and tried them seem to be reasonably satisfied.

unless i am going into this line of business, it is not my business to question their costs and profit margins and wonder aloud, without facts, how things are too good to be true.   i am puzzled when people raise issues of morality and ethics, on things like human and environmental costs.  since i am not well versed on how factory violin making interfere with human rights and the environment,  i am all ears, although facts won't hurt in the interest of time.

interesting that the previous poster mentioned about computers and its components,,,turns out china is also the graveyard for junk electronics.  we recycle our junks, but the middlemen ship them into china to be burned to extract and reclaim metals. human and environmental costs?  yes, sir.  would caring and concerned critics stop using computers?  oh no,,we are just talking and wondering ....

yes we are green than ever and proud of it, under the guidance of al gore who has since greened his bank account by 300mil dollars as the frontrunner.  lets pick one item and take a look,,,the energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs.  because of the environmental impact due to mercury,  western nations can never allow the bulbs made in the west.  what to do??? ahhh, china.  lets make it there, make it cheap, then we enjoy the benefit and blame china for human and environmental costs. 



February 10, 2009 at 02:06 PM ·

I would be surprised if there were households in the US without goods made in China, not necasarily because everyone is buying the cheapest goods possible, but because it is almost impossible to find anything made anywhere else - my family and I always try to buy non-China made goods, and they are hard to find.

As to cheap violins.  I can understand the argument of buying a cheap VSO for a child beginner when they will outgrow it soon, although I think in that situation renting is the better option.  But as an adult beginner who began playing on a VSO....the first time I began playing, I ended up quitting because of my violin - my teacher had moved, there was no one else around to teach me, and I had no way of knowing that a lot of the problems I had were caused by the violin and not by anything I was doing.  After starting again last year from scratch, it only took about 2 months to get to where I really really needed at least a decent violin, which most people after only playing two months wouldnt know if they want to continue playing or not.  So I cant see the purpose in mass-producing cheap instruments.  Also, the danger that I see with selling cheap instruments on amazon is that most people dont know anything about violins and dont know what they are getting.  By the time they've bought and had time to figure out what they really bought, then they either have to put a lot more money into if they want to really learn to play, or the money they have spent (and while cheap for a violin is still a good amount) is lost.

February 10, 2009 at 02:12 PM ·

so elizabeth how do you explain yourself that you yourself had bought a vso in the first place?


February 10, 2009 at 02:26 PM ·

dunno, my keyboard is made in Singapore

February 10, 2009 at 02:46 PM ·

ben, you lucky dog!  does that come with a certificate?  a lot of good citizens in the west would pay an arm and a leg for it:)

although caning for not discarding chewing gum properly concerns me,,,

February 10, 2009 at 02:44 PM ·

al, I didn't buy it.  It was a violin that my grandmother played on while she was in highschool.  We got it set up when I finally had someone willing to teach me while I was still in highschool.  Granted it might be better if it had a good set up (we had originally taken it to a generic music store, not even knowing such a thing as a luthier exists), but I'd really rather not put any more money into.  Especially as my current teacher has taken a look at it and doesn't think it would be worth.

February 10, 2009 at 02:59 PM ·

i see, thanks.  interesting you mentioned set up,,,i have a violin that is a well made violin imo, but did not sound that good.  i have been tempted to sell it because sound to me is the most important thing.

then i got a new set up.  the new bridge (the older one to the best of my recollection was a bit lower) made all the utopian difference:) 

a good sounding violin, you just cannot really describe it. 

February 10, 2009 at 03:51 PM ·

Al, not sure if it counts as a certificate, but there's a sticker underneath with all the regulatory approval logos, the serial number and the phrase "Made in Singapore". I don't think that faking keyboard labels has become quite as popular and anywhere near as widespread as faking violin labels ;-)

As for "Made in China", here in Japan, most people will definitely not buy any food items that come from China, no matter how cheap. Several people found themselves poisoned with the most dangerous carcinogen chemicals in Chinese dumplings a couple of years back and the Chinese government then claimed that it was all an anti-Chinese conspiracy by the Japanese government ordering the Japanese importers to poison the food so that they could blame it on China. After some further investigation the Chinese conceded that they had some rogue elements in their food packaging industry who tried to poison us. Ever since then, you will hardly find any Japanese knowingly buying food items from China anymore.

The Chinese then proceeded to poison their own baby milk. Way to go. Two of the executives of the company that the Chinese found to have been responsible for the poisoned baby milk were executed last week or the week before. I don't recall that anybody ever got indicted for poisoning the dumplings they exported for sale in Japan, though. Anyway, we won't buy Chinese food items no matter what may come. Am I biased against Chinese food items? Yes, you bet I am! Is this a bad attitude? Perhaps it is, but it definitely is a healthy attitude, "healthy" as in "avoiding potentially poisoned food", "potentially poisoned" as in "repeat offender".

As for violins that retail for 50 USD and presumably come from China, for all I know, they may well have been glued and varnished with poisonous substances. It would not be the first time that Chinese too-good-to-be-true-cheap products contain poisonous substances and it would not surprise me in the slightest. for the kind of profits they can make on such a labour intensive item at such a low retail price, I say these products are prone to having been produced in a fashion that cuts every corner that could possibly be cut, including the use of toxic materials.

February 10, 2009 at 06:18 PM ·

"The Chinese then proceeded to poison their own baby milk. "

ben, i am not a native english speaker, but i take issue with the sentence structure  which has wide range implications.  you know i know what you are talking about, but it is misleading. 

for instance, recently in the usa, there are issues with peanut butter safety.  turns out some in a peanut butter plant knowingly sent out infected items to even schools.  i don't think it is appropriate to state,,,americans try to poison their own school children.

i am not defending china or any countries for that matter, particularly if they are at fault.  i am also not trying to influence your dietary inclinations.  however, i do think your conjecture that 50 dollar amazon violins (presumably made in china) have poisons is irresponsible.    i  think it is a detour from your due diligence when you analyzed the online photo comparisons for us all. 

in other words, you have cut corners on this one, pal:)

February 11, 2009 at 07:13 AM ·

No Al, you are wrong. China is a repeat repeat repeat offender when it comes to product safety. There have been many more problems with Chinese products containing toxic substances than it is possible to even list here. The cases are documented. Denial is futile. This is not your odd case of an individual in a company gone bad, this is happening on a large scale and with the full knowledge of the executives of those companies. Not because they are any more evil than people in the West, but because there is absolutely no oversight and rampant corruption which even the threat of capital punishment does not seem to be able to stamp out.

Also, I am not making any leap when I say that dirt cheap VSOs from China are prone to contain toxic materials. First of all, China is a repeat offender in exporting cheap non-food products which contain toxic materials, there are enough cases to establish not only precedence but a pattern. In these cases where toxic materials were used, why were they used? Did the companies who used toxic materials intend to poison us? Very unlikely that was their motive.

When it comes to ordinary glue and varnish for more mainstream products such as furniture, it is no secret that certain toxic glues and varnishes are cheaper than safer alternatives. Why would glue and varnish for violins be any different? Now if Chinese VSOs are much cheaper than other Chinese VSOs, how did they achieve their still lower cost base? At some point the costs have been driven down that much that the only way to cut cost any further is to take risks, such as using unsafe materials. Thus, cheaper than dirt cheap products are prone to be unsafe.

Sure I don't know where exactly the lowest possible cost for a safe VSO is. It may be at 50 USD, it may be at 25 USD, it may be lower still. But there is no denying that the lower you go the higher the risk that the product was made crossing that limit, thus cheaper than dirt cheap is prone to cross the line. It is bound to happen at some point. As long as I don't know what exactly that point is, as long as the source country has a track record of toxic products, I am being perfectly reasonable when I consider this kind of product a risk and stay away from it.

And no, the wording I used did not in any way imply that the Chinese wanted to poison their babies. It meant what it said, that they did poison their baby milk. And BTW, they did this knowingly, at least that is what the court case claims to have established. Thus it is the Chinese court which says that the baby milk was poisoned by those responsible on purpose, out of greed. Yes, it would seem possible that confessions were obtained under pressure, that these guys were made scapegoats to show the enraged Chinese public that the government was dealing mercilessly with the problem. But even if that was the case, it does not change the fact that these things happen with such regularity in China that any reasonable person can conclude without prejudice that Chinese products are prone to being unsafe. Even the Chinese government admitted to that when they entered into negotiations with the EU and Japan trying to work out how to prevent import bans. No, Al, I am not making any leap here, none whatsoever.

February 11, 2009 at 02:21 PM ·

hello ben,

if you insist that "The Chinese then proceeded to poison their own baby milk. " is well constructed, i will let it slide.

you have made a strong case against elements in china and those involved in the china trade who have engaged in deplorable activities in the pursuit of money at all cost.  it is a fantastic argument and a good reminder about the consequences of human greed.  those sickening abuses in china cannot be denied,  and therefore i miss the point why you assert to me once more, unless to lead up to your conclusion: 

"I am not making any leap when I say that dirt cheap VSOs from China are prone to contain toxic materials."

there is a leap.  since the topic is on the amazon 50, an item sold by one of the largest retailers in the world,  i think it is prudent to set theory apart from fact.

earlier you have made an estimate on the shipping cost of 10-15 USD per violin.  one of my friends has a manufacturing base (conair, cuisinart)  within china.  he pays about 4000 dollars per 40-feet container.   i do not know how many violins can be squeezed into a container, but i think  the shipping cost of ONE violin can be much lower than 10-15 dollars.  i hope this information can help satisfy a portion of your curiosity on the cost basis, although i do not think it will necessarily change the essence of your rhetoric.

February 12, 2009 at 02:17 AM ·

Al, I specifically said that I do not know the exact breaking point at which a product is too cheap to be manufactured without cutting corners that make it unsafe. You might want to read that paragraph again. Also, it seems to me that you aren't paying attention to my choice of the word "prone" or perhaps you don't fully understand what this word means, you mentioned yourself some concern about your English and I am not sure if this was just a figure of speech or not. In any event, being prone means that there is an increased likelihood. A person who seems to be involved in freak accidents a lot is called accident prone. A person engaged in a dangerous job is also prone to something happening to them relative to folks in other jobs. A cheaper than dirt cheap product from China is prone to contain toxic materials simply because of the factors I listed: 1) it happens on a regular basis, 2) there is no oversight, 3) there is rampant corruption. There is no rhetoric involved. Things are as they are. I don't make this up.

February 12, 2009 at 03:45 AM ·

Let me chime in here, and put this battle to rest. You both can agree to detest each other, but there is no need to do so in public; get a room.

China has experienced a significant number of instances where items not deemed safe enter the market.

The US also has distributed tainted products. They have also brought the world economy to it's knees.

All the above are due to inadequate oversight, and greed. NO COUNTRY HAS THE MARKET CORNERED FOR GREED!

Every country has it's strengths and weaknesses, and the more we fight over our differences, the more we miss out on the big picture.


February 12, 2009 at 07:39 AM ·

You are confused. I am neither saying that China is evil nor that the Chinese are evil. All I am saying is that all else being equal (e.g. Chinese labour costs for supplier X compared to Chinese labour costs for supplier Y), the risk that a product is unsafe increases a) the lower the price and b) the more often products from the same source have been found unsafe as a result of cost cutting in the past.

You are confused again when you suggest that the number of such incidents of unsafe products in the US is comparable to those in China. It is not. This doesn't mean the Chinese are greedier than other people, it simply means that there is more opportunity in China for greed to translate into unsafe products due to lack of regulation and corruption.

February 12, 2009 at 11:59 AM ·

haha,  roland has a good point.  prunes for everyone.

February 12, 2009 at 03:08 PM ·

Maybe in this discussion, the real question is whether or not an unplayable "violin" would poison a young child's budding interest in music. Are the violins offered on Amazon or Ebay or Target or BJ's for less than $100.00 playable? Would a beginner ever be able to draw any kind of decent tone from one? Would they be tunable? Is the bridge set up so that a child could do string crossings?

If the answer to these questions is "yes", then hooray for anyone who can make music lessons affordable. If the answer to these questions is "no", then perhaps these violins should have to come with a warning label - "Warning: the Concertmaster General has determined that using these violins can be hazardous to your child's enthusiasm for learning to play!"  (my five year old with a really really nice violin - he might not be perfect, but he loves it!)

February 12, 2009 at 03:45 PM ·

$2.67 per violin with 1500 violins per container. The shipping once the violins come stateside is likely to be higher than that. You have to handle the container--that's about $500 and unload it--varies depending on load, or trans-ship it--OTR tariff applied....I don't think it is unreasonable to expect a minimum $10 total shipping cost--and more likely $15 even with bulk pricing.

February 12, 2009 at 04:41 PM ·

Lead-based pigments and additives are endemic in Chinese-made products. They are *not* endemic in U.S. made consumer products. Many U.S. products contain lead, but these are not *consumer* products--fishing weights excepted. But it is lead that is hidden and unknown that is most dangerous. Lead that is known is not--you know not to eat it, keep it out of children's hands etc.

recent stories:,0,4050347.story

This one is too funny. From the U.S. perspective it is somewhat Pot calling kettle black but it is progress:

This one explores the Law of Unintended Consequences.    Basically the new law will squash out what little U.S. manufacturing still exists! Yet another proof of my general position--keep the government out of my business!


2007 stories:

The last one is especially interesting.

Other countries have serious issues with poisoning, too, particularly in the middle east and india, with what we would call eye shadow but they call it something else. Every year in the U.S. a number of children are treated for severe poisoning due to this traditional practice.

February 12, 2009 at 05:20 PM ·

bill,, that is some good digging there,,good read and thanks.  pretty scary.  

by far the largest  lead exposure to children inside the usa is via older homes from decaying lead paint.

i wonder if there is a tradition of incorporating lead into varnish making for violin.  understandably lead has been used for paint,,, is violin varnish different or similar in that respect? 

February 12, 2009 at 06:17 PM ·

Lead compounds have been added to coatings for a variety of reasons. But the one that is of utility in all coatings which use evaporative or chain reaction curing is metal soaps--such as lead napthenate, cobalt napthenate etc. These compounds accelerate the cure rate.

When I was a kid, I was an artist and I specialized in oils. I used Naples yellow and many other very poisonous heavy-metal pigments. Maybe that's what's wrong with me.

Lead paint poisoning in houses is one of the most ridiculous cases of people being stupid. I've had old lead paint in all my houses. You simply don't do big scraping and sanding projects with small children around. And yet thousands if not millions of duufus DIY  "home improvement" types subject their young children to this every year.

Also when I was a kid in the 70s I lobbied hard to have lead fuel removed from automobile fuel. (Ironically I was using lead paint at the same time, but I knew that and knew not to eat it). It finally happened, but not for all of it. My friend and I wrote to president Carter and we even got a form letter back. Unfortunately lead was not removed from all automotive motor fuels in 1973--but nothing came of my efforts. The Euros were the really dumb ones. They didn't get it done until the 1990s. Today, aircraft  "avgas" is still leaded, as is automotive 110 octane racing fuel.

I also used to use old-fashioned shaving cream with a badger hair brush on Mischief Night. Back then, shaving cream used CFC's.

The lead paint in houses thing points out that you really cannot save people from themselves, but you can help to reduce the number of people who are incapable--through education. Frankly, Public Health spending is absurdly low in the U.S. You get far more bang for your buck in public health than with treating people who are already damaged. We have a long way to go in this respect but one thing is clear--we cannot tolerate foreign-made products which more than set the clock back 50 years in terms of public health.



February 12, 2009 at 06:33 PM ·

Lead compounds can be incorporated into  violin varnish as colorants, or to accelerate the drying of some kinds of varnish.

They were common in printing ink until that use was banned.

February 12, 2009 at 07:01 PM ·

"Maybe that's what's wrong with me." :)

apparently lead is also used in the making of tea cups, particularly those made in countries with certain firing techs.  when very hot boiling water is poured into the cup, lead is slowly released into my oh so fragrant jasmine tea.  

Maybe that's what's wrong with me as well:)

on house paint,,,some kids actually eat the peeling paint.

from my observation on this site, if you tell me that some violinists are so crazy about their violins that they actually lick them,,,i will buy it:)

February 12, 2009 at 07:57 PM ·

"The Euros were the really dumb ones."


February 12, 2009 at 08:39 PM ·

Hi Tobias. I hope you aren't taking that out of context.  I obviously speak not of people but of government and industry policy. I hope you wouldn't defend the German, French and British  government obstruction against banning lead for all those years.  Lately there has been a lot of European political smugness on environmental issues. I think this is a very stupid way to be. Every nation has had a  terrible environmental past or present, and the U.S. has in fact been a vanguard for change--leading most European states on many issues...but on the lead issues, and with the understanding that lead causes dumbing of the nervous system, I think it is more than fair to say that the Euros were the dumb ones....


When I lived in East Germany in the late 90s, my colleagues told me of the way the snow used to turn brown...even then, the smell of coal smoke and tobacco at night, and diesel exhaust by day, was very strong for such a small city. It is hard to imagine how bad it was, and how far they came so quickly.

February 12, 2009 at 09:03 PM ·

This article explains the history of lead added to gasoline. Warning: it will make you ill.

My father used to tell us not to use (leaded) gasoline for anything--that it was poisonous with skin contact.

February 12, 2009 at 09:49 PM ·

Hi Bill,

"the U.S. has in fact been a vanguard for change--leading most European states on many issues..."

now if this ain't funny...

"When I lived in East Germany in the late 90s, my colleagues told me of the way the snow used to turn brown..."

It's a question if eastern germany ever was part of europe. Most of the dirt in the environment came from the extensivly used brown coal, not from the lead or other poisons. The DDR was stupidly managed, and in addition most of the money had to be transfered to the USSR, that's why even some intelligent efforts to change had no chance.

But we should keep politics out of this fine forum. In fact lead has been banned, and only few sheep have to die for oldfashioned violinists, the USA have a democratic authorized president, and we will survive the crisis. Yes we can.


February 12, 2009 at 10:13 PM ·

Hi Tobias,

On politics I'm afraid the cat(gut) is alredy out of the bag...but I agree with you on that score in general. I actually bit my tongue all through October for that reason.

Yes, the brown coal--that was what they told me--and when I lived there it was hard coal instead. I remember asking a couple guys if they knew Russian and they all said, "no--we took that in school but forgot it long ago." Then you'd ask them a technical question and if he had to look it up, your colleague would reach for one of many books on his shelf with cyrillic titles and he'd *read* the index and *read* the section and say in english, "a yes of course, that was based on the octahedral criterion and you are using the maximum shear criterion." So the bitterness over Russian occupation was at many levels.

American world leadership in environmentalism goes back a long way--and runs in parallel with those who would destroy. We see pieces of that vein all the way back in the Pastoral period, we see it in Thoreau, we see it in John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club who is generally credited with making the national parks possible..lots of others...I have to mention Rachael Carson, who's "Silent Spring" ultimately galvanized the public--and congress---to pass the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act--landmark legislation which ultimately influenced western European nations...Europe has many heroes in environmentalism as well, along with enemies. We all struggle to balance these problems but that is my point--as people we are together in our needs and wants--even when our governments may be out of whack.

Attached is a photo of my slaughtered lamb:

It isn't from Amazon, and I don't know if it is leaded, but the inside smells like my grandmother's corner cupboard where she kept the candlesticks.



February 12, 2009 at 10:51 PM ·

Yes, the slaughtered lambs...

I just got a CD this morning, Haendel Sonatas by Andrew Manze. The booklet tells about the used Violin - 17xx blah blah, bow 19xx etc, harpsichord copy of blah blah

I'm just worrying if the sheep gut used for the strings is from a sheep race that existed back in the 1700s or from a modern breed, what obviously would result in a not period correct tone. Horrible thought...

BTW: The music is beautiful...

...must have been some NOS gut strings ;-)

February 13, 2009 at 01:32 AM ·

Chinese violin technology as a review---

Very Cheap Student models Only------  Pressed wood particles, faked Inked on Purfling, steamed too form with high heat and pressure. No wood Grain what-so-ever, so they fake a grain maybe with varnish! Tuning Pegs that hold and Slip, erratic, drive you nutz. String set cost them $1.99 New, bridge is okay, sometimes too high over the fingerboard. vibrating tail piece, wolfing sounds. Sound post okay. Bows are horror shows, bend and flex, like spaghetti, horse hair is synthetic will drive you nutz to try and figure out why theirs no sound from the strings. All wood pieces pearwood and black painted, cheap!  varnish technique orange , opaque, terrible. Syrofoam feather weight case, best part with pouch!

Conclusion-----    Dont waste your time!  Or a fool is soon separated from their Money

Possibility--- redo tuning Pegs, change to better strings, carve bridge, use Glasser bow,,, almost get nice sound out of Violin, But you will need to re-do it!

Shock-er---- China does make better violins---- You get whay you pay for!

New line i have seen in last three months called Amore, wonderful. Real aged spruce wood, tight density, Great tiger stripped maple two piece backs beautiful, Wonderful varnish technique. great tonality. Tuning pegs hold tight. sales kit says they Come in sales grades of AAA,  AA, A, B, etc.  Sound quality, very high for $399.00 investment. Even a student violinists will make it sing!  Hard to find Amore violins in USA, try web search,,,,, I have a demo model its so good. Regards, Don



February 13, 2009 at 04:51 AM ·

"we cannot tolerate foreign-made products which more than set the clock back 50 years in terms of public health."

Amen to that.

Although, it should apply to domestic products as well.

February 13, 2009 at 06:00 AM ·

I'll add a bit of info on lead paint, as I have been exposed to enough of it in my childhood.....
One of the memories I have as a child was playing around on the exterior walls of my home, which was painted with an exterior lad paint. The paint had a 'chalky' feel to it, and if you rubbd your hand on it, it came away white.
This was the lead paint, which as it aged, other paint components leached out, leading a coating of lead to protect what was underneath.
Not all lead paint comes off in chips. It is a very soft material, and abrades very easily.

Mabe that explains a lot about me....but since I still remember it, it couldn't havebeen too bad!

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