Advice needed for buying a professional grade instrument

March 19, 2009 at 04:31 AM ·

First of all, let me apologize if this topic has already been discussed.  I spent a few hours reading past posts and did not find the answers I am looking for.  I am a proficient amateur musician, currently playing a 1907 Heberlein, Maggini copy.  It is a very nice instrument, but I feel the sound is a bit harsh, and the response sluggish at times.  Also, it is especially easy to “crush” the notes, especially when playing double stops and chords.

 

So, I plan to look around at violins in the $10-20K price range.  But my knowledge of violins is very limited and I have so many questions.  So here they are.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.

 

  1. Can you buy a top-notch instrument for $10K?  I know there are instruments that cost much more than that, but is there really a big difference in sound and playability?  If so, how much does one have to spend to get into the top echelon of violins?
  2. How do you ensure you are not overpaying?
  3. What types of instruments in the $10-$20K price range will retain their value best?
  4. Can you recommend a particular maker or shop that I should contact?
  5. Would it be better to go with a modern Italian instrument, or an older French instrument?  My understanding is that older Italian instruments would be a better investment, but will probably be out of my price range.
  6. How do you go about trying different instruments?  From past experience, after trying 6-8 instruments in succession, it gets pretty confusing.  How do you narrow down the selection?
  7. Does it even make sense for an amateur musician like myself (no where near professional level) to purchase such an expensive instrument?
  8. Is it a good idea to get a professional violinist to help me make a selection, knowing that they probably get a spiff from the violin shop?
  9. Any other comments related to violins in the $10-$20K price range?

 

Thanks in advance for your help!

 

Replies (100)

March 19, 2009 at 05:40 AM ·

Here are my opinions, by no means I'm a professional:

1. There's no absolute answer to this. There're people who got their instrument for $10k but plays really well and probably out do most $10k instruments or even more expensive ones. There're also instruments cost $100k that don't sound better than a $20k instruments. It really depends on luck, but generally a $10k will get you a very, very good instrument.

2. Easy. You buy for something you're very happy with, then you'll not overpay it. Overpay, in my opinion, is to pay for something you don't like. When we spend money, we have to ensure it's the best for us. Don't worry, there'll be no two violins sound identical, even from the same maker using the wood from the same tree/chunk. So just spend for something you can afford and you're happy with.

3. I guess violins at this price point should maintain a good value as long as you know what you're getting. Buying label-less or unknown origin violins is risky, but that doesn't mean they're bad instruments. There're bad or unplayable stradivarius but still sell for millions, because of the name.

4. I'll leave this to other experienced member to answer this. =)

5. Again, there're so many fine makers from all over the world, so you pay for what you think it's worth it. Sometime you'll find gems that play and sound wonderful but end up paying half of what you initially planned.

6. I'd choose the best playability, like respond/feel/tone color changes. Then I'll go for the best tone and projection. Then finally, take price tag into consideration.

7. Fine instruments are a joy to play. And you'll definitely learn more with fine instruments. You can discover something you can never do before on the fine instruments. If you can afford it, by all means go for it.

8. Yes, definitely. And also take into consideration that, you also need to love the instrument too. Even if it's a fine instrument it might suit the professional violinist, but not you.

9. Again if you can afford them, just go for it. However, I got mine for much less, as mentioned in your previous topic. Not to say it's better than all $10k~$20k instruments, but it really suits me well and it's the best for me. You might end up paying much less for something you'll fall in love. You can email me if you want to know more.

Hope that helps!

March 19, 2009 at 10:08 AM ·

"Does it even make sense for an amateur musician like myself (no where near professional level) to purchase such an expensive instrument?"

 

Lots of amateurs purchase very expensive instruments (even Strads) and seem to get a lot of joy from them. Only you can decide what makes sense for you.

Regarding the challenges of choosing a violin, one option is to refine your taste by trying other people's violins, and also visiting a city with many shops and trying a lot of violins, even those out of your price range so you can get a sense of what they have (or don't have) to offer. If you find all the choices confusing, no problem, this means you can hang on to your money for a bit longer and take another stab at it at a later date. :-)

I don't think I'd purchase anything until the confusion starts to clear up. Input from a pro could be very valuable, if you can find someone who you are certain isn't  "on the dole".

March 19, 2009 at 10:17 AM ·

"What types of instruments in the $10-$20K price range will retain their value best?"

Ok, what computers, cars,  video cameras will retain their value best? The ones I've got in the last 30 years are worthing nothing now...

www.manfio.com

 

 

March 19, 2009 at 11:03 AM ·

  • deal with reputable firms
  • be up front and tell them exactly what you are in quest of, but in a pleasant "non-demading" manner
  • take your time and try as many different instruments as you can
  • note what you like and dislike

As for value in the future? An instrument by an individual maker as opposed to a shop violin will have the best chances

nopity.gif No Pity image by TGrosjean

March 19, 2009 at 01:18 PM ·

Ten Grand ought to buy you a very fine violin. Getting into the top echelon of violins can cost tens of thousands more, but remember that beyond a certain point you are paying for it as an object of art with collector's value and other factors (such as who made it and when) that do not necessarily translate into better sound. Here's the odd part; as the instruments become increasingly expensive, the differences between them become increasingly smaller and more subtle.

The price you pay might reflect more than the price of the instrument. For instance, a dealer with a big shop in a big city might have big expenses. He will need to charge more than will a dealer in a smaller city or a location with lower overhead.

If you take good care of the fiddle you buy in this range, it should at least hold its value. Buying an instrument as an investment is like taking a shot in the dark if you are not skilled in this area. Just look at what happened to the stock market!

If you Google "violin shop" you will find many sites you can browse anonymously. It will give you a feel for what is out there and where you can find it. I would suggest that you start with the shops listed on this site.

In my humble view and completely unbiased view (;-)) the best violins ever made are being made right now, and a great number of them are being created in the USA. An ideal situation for you would be to find a maker you like who has something in your price range. If it's a good fiddle, others will also patronize this maker. If his (or her) reputation grows, your investment will grow as well.

Trust your own judgment, and good luck!

March 19, 2009 at 01:27 PM ·

Smiley, (good name)

 

It seems that your questions have been answered but what if we change the question? Do I need to spend $10K to get what I want?

I say this because I think you might be leap-frogging over the instrument that will allow you to grow as you develop the need for something beyond your awareness.

Start trying violins in the $2400 - $3200 range and then some in the $3400 - $4800 range (good workshop violins). You will find some very responsive, powerful violins in each category.  You will find one that performs the way you want as you continue to develop your musical personality. Your eventual growth will take you beyond this type of violin but to where, only you will know...later on.

The next level is really just as simple as the previous one but might appear like a double-knot-spy mission from where you are. You will not know what more this violin will be able to do for you until you know what the nice workshop violin can't do. This will help you develop your playing enjoyment and bring goose pimples. This is your $10K to $20K range and would include some modern makers violins on the used market.

Good luck!

 

March 19, 2009 at 03:11 PM ·

7. Does it even make sense for an amateur musician like myself (no where near professional level) to purchase such an expensive instrument?

I firmly believe that you should have an instrument that gives you pleasure on top of being functional.  If you can afford a 'professional' instrument why shouldn't you buy it?  Part of the joy of playing an instrument lies in the individuality of the instrument itself and with the wooden instruments that joy is somehow more intimate.

Collectors who can't play the violin are drawn to its beauty, so why shouldn't  someone who can play it?  If you can play it, you can connect in a way a collector can't.

8. How do you go about trying different instruments?  From past experience, after trying 6-8 instruments in succession, it gets pretty confusing.  How do you narrow down the selection?

Try and play as many different violins as you can.  Ask to play friends' instruments.  I know that's considered  'rude' by some, but if you explain you're in the process of purchasing and would like to see the variety of violins available to help you choose - most people will be happy to hand over their instruments for a few minutes.

In the shop, keep narrowing the selection.  Ouf of 6-8, you'll clearly have 2-3 favourites.  Keep those out and put the rest away.

Look at violins UNDER your price range - you never know what you'll find.  And never look at violins OVER your price range.  People being people, odds are you'll decide that the perfect instrument for you is one you can't afford.  The mind is a marvellous machine.

I've been fortunate enough to know a shop owner who calls me on occaision when he gets new instruments in because he knows I appreciate the instruments themselves.  And what I've learned is that some $15,000 instruments aren't a better match for me than my current instrument (a new instrument which I paid approx. $2500 for about 4 years ago).

I've also had professionals play my current instrument - and they're able to draw sound out of it that I can't.  It's quite incredible!  So I also know I have lots of room for advancement on it.  That keeps me content with it.

I also have a older violin  (1900s) that's worth more - very nice sound, but primarily as a collectors item.  It needs repair, so it's in storage until I can either repair it or sell it.  But I was always 'scared' to play it - waiting for something to break.  I have much more freedom playing my 'new' instrument - since I'm not worried about it either breaking, or somehow compromising it. 

So be aware that if you get something you consider to be 'precious' it might hold you back.

And finally - don't underestimate the value of a good bow.  Again, I've been lucky enough to be able to try several out - up to the $3000 range. 

Again, more expensive isn't necessarily better for you and your violin.  My preferred viola bow was only $150.  I made that choice after looking at 6 bows ranging in price from $150 - $2500.

Good luck!  Let us know what you end up doing!

 

 

     
     

March 19, 2009 at 03:37 PM ·

 Claudio,

I didn't understand your answer. Violins are not consumer electronics. 

(By the way, my Mamiya 6 sells on the used market for what it went for new. My Leica M2 is probably much more now than it was new.)

 

Scott

 

ps,

Smiley, yes, there ARE bargains out there. You have to look. I may very well purchase an old (1740) German instrument restored by a local maker. It's not pretty, but it responds and sounds better than anything I've heard in a long time, and he wants $9500. 

March 19, 2009 at 03:54 PM ·

If you're a proficient amateur, even if not a professional, and you love to play the violin and you have the discretionary income to afford it, then spending in the $10-$20 K range or even more makes sense.   My experience has been that there are many good contemporary violin makers -- and not just Italians, either -- whose instruments will deliver more value in terms of the qualities that violinists (as opposed to investors) look for, i.e., richness and depth of sound, evenness across the strings, responsiveness, ability to project, than older French instruments (which are moving up beyond your price range, at least the better ones, anyway).  In fact there are several excellent violin makers living and working in the DC metro area, as well as a number of dealers, so you have an opportunity to try a wide range of instruments without travelling very far.  But if you buy a new violin from a violin maker or an older violin from a dealer, you can't expect to sell your instrument for full value in the immediate future, especially if you're faced with the need to sell it in a hurry.  It's a mistake to view a violin as an investment -- buy a violin you love to play with no expectation of recovering your outlay in your lifetime and you'll be very happy.

It would indeed be a good idea to seek advice from a professional you trust, and they won't necessarily be getting a kickback.

If you set your limit at $20,000, however, you can expect to fall in love with a violin with a price tag beyond your limit and you'll be faced with an excruciating decision. . .

March 19, 2009 at 04:34 PM ·

 Smiley,

About 18 months ago, I tried a large number of 19th c. French violins at a major Chicago shop. I was amazed at how totally sucky they all were. There was nothing under $30,000 that didn't sound like cr*p. Just my personal experience at one shop--you might have better luck. But at this point if I had, say, $15,000, if a shop said "we have 3 very fine French violins to send you for trial" I'd say no thanks.

Scott

March 19, 2009 at 04:42 PM ·

I am going to partially dissent from some of the advice.  I assume you have the money so that buying a violin in this range is not a sacrifice of something else you need.   Otherwise, you should probably not spend that much money on a violin.  I also assume that you are nowhere near professional in your talent.  

The problem with buying a much more expensive violin than your talents would warrant is that the likelihood of your getting the kinds of pleasure out of the violin that it has to offer are not that great.  I would probably sound somewhat better on a Strad or a violin in the high five or low six figures range, but not enough to justify the price.   In a very real sense, those violins would be wasted on me.  I have heard at least one professional violinist say a Strad would be wasted on her.  So, if money is no or little object, by all means see what is out there.  Go and try lots of violins, enjoy yourself, and then pick something.  And, remember that picking a price range is somewhat arbitrary.  It is quite possible to find violins that may sound great to you for significantly less money, particularly if you spend some money on a good bow to go with it.   When my best teacher went out and chose a violin for me, he picked the one that sounded the best in a fairly wide price range, and it was not as expensive as many he tested in that range because it had no certificate of authenticity. 

You are in the DC area.  Go see Bill Weaver in Bethesda and Brobst in Alexandria.  I think Howard Needham is in Annapolis; he is a very good modern maker and may be in your price range.  Ask your teacher for recommendations and be sure to let your teacher help you pick one out.

Good luck!

March 19, 2009 at 05:21 PM ·

You can make yourself crazy trying to decide what will hold its value best.  If you intend to keep the instrument and play it forever.  It shouldn't make much difference.  If you are keeping an eye open to resale, then remember, you are probably buying retail and will sell wholesale (to a dealer or at auction).  So, your chances of being able to recoup your money at a specific time in the future involves more than just retaining value. 

Buy a violin that you can afford to pay for simply to enjoy playing.  Then, if it appreciates in value, your children will be grateful.

Elaine

March 19, 2009 at 05:36 PM ·

Elaine, excellent post. Simple and straight forward.

March 19, 2009 at 06:05 PM ·

Hi, as I said in a earlier post, at least you are yourself a professionnal symphony player or soloist, you can not really test it by yourself even if you have to try it too!   Really find an honnest professional musician that you trust and listen to his/her advice! Otherwise, you can seriously get fooled!  About the maker I told you about, she is really excellent and has some violins in this range!  But other makers are good too and finding THE one is hard!

Anne-Marie

March 19, 2009 at 06:35 PM ·

Smiley,

I agree with the suggestions here, but I'll add that the confusion that you are experiencing could be from not knowing what you want - yet.  If the cash is no problem, then there is no real consequence to jumping into this price range.  If it's going to be a financial stretch, I would suggest you start at a lower price rang, buy from a shop with a good trade-up policy/inventory, and spend a few years upgrading into the professional price range.  A good shop here in Atlanta gives 100% trade-in for any instrument purchased at their shop (minus a $100 service charge.)  This is a good way to refine your tastes while keeping it financially feasible.  Ultimately, you will end up with an instrument that you researched for instead of guessed on.

 

March 19, 2009 at 06:51 PM ·

Do higher quality intruments have a similar trait as far as wood grain in the top plate? Does a tight grain sound choked and a wide grain sound warmer? Which type grain in the spruce top is best to look for in choosing a quaility violin?

March 19, 2009 at 08:19 PM ·

There are good violins with tops with tight grain (The Amais liked them) and with wide grain (some Guadagninis have wide grain). I believe that the sound is much more from the maker than from the wood. There are top instruments (mainly old ones) that were made with wood that would be considered unsuitable today, such as wood with knots, runout, ciipollature (don't know how to say that in English) etc. Even wood with woodworm was used by some makers, and even so these instruments sound good.

Scott,  your Mamiya 6 and Leica M2 are classics, they are exeptions that confirms the rule.  If you get a classic instrument the possibility that it will hold it's value is increased also.  

www.manfio.com

March 19, 2009 at 09:03 PM ·

I am a lot more successful using wide grained spruce. The violin I completed recently has a 10 grains per inch spruce top. http://www.flickr.com/photos/d1tseng/3310970532/

March 19, 2009 at 09:42 PM ·

I like it too David!

Smiley, if I were you I would visit some contemporary makers and give a look on second hand instruments by contemporary makers too. The good thing about big cities (such as NY) is that you can visit many many dealers and play many many instruments there....  Perhaps you may end falling in love for one of my violas there!!!

www.manfio.com

March 19, 2009 at 11:39 PM ·

I can (privately) name quite a few violinists playing with major symphonies - even concertmasters and touring soloists - who regularly play modern violins costing less than $15,000.

Don't be fooled by hype and high prices.  Shop around and compare.  You not only have to find a good instrument, but one that suits you in particular.

March 20, 2009 at 01:00 AM ·

...funny thing.  A couple of professional musicians I know won't take their good instruments out of the house (one is an wooden oboe that wants to crack if the humidity changes at all)...and they play on subpar instruments instead.

That I don't get at all.  Fine.  Leave your good instrument at home (even though I think if it's that finnicky, it should be replaced).  Fine.  Don't spend a fortune on your backup.

But how can you (esp. if you do this for a living) play on a subpar instrument knowing it won't play in tune?

 

March 20, 2009 at 02:17 AM ·

My experience (admittedly somewhat limited) with instrument purchases and prices has been that for older "name brand" violins (with proven value growth), my breakpoint for acceptable occurred in the neighborhood of $35,000.

However for new name-maker violins (people who do well in the competitions) the $15,000 - $20,000 range offered some outstanding violins (5 - 8 years ago).

The last super-surprise violin I have seen were made by known-name Chinese makers, and if you knew how to get to China and function in that environment (as the owner of that instrument did) you might have found some real "concert violins" for less than $2,000 a few years ago.

Andy

March 20, 2009 at 02:57 AM ·

Well, I reside in China, and I can tell you I have never seen or heard anything made here that comes close to a proper sound.  And good here is no longer cheap: $5000 for hand made is common now.  No competent player here uses a Chinese violin.  This is not a price matter, it is a sound matter.  Overall, a Chinese violin is very good value for students, but not for pros.

One comment made above is there are likley more very good luthiers now than ever before, to which I agree.  But these are not in China, yet.

Some day, I might embark upon a world tour to seek out a few hundred luthiers and try a few hundred violins.  I can't think of a better object for a tour, nor of better variety. A quest really.

fwiw

 

March 20, 2009 at 03:52 AM ·

The only way to shop is to know exactly what you want and what you are looking for--and why what you have now is not good enough.  You also need to take into account your own approach to violin playing now-and how that might change later.

Having a professional help shopping is good-but by help that means someone who listens to you on a group of violins and helps you make a call.  Said professional can offer input as to whther or not you are getting you money's worth or not while they are at it.  But, there's no reason to spend obscene amounts of money on a fiddle-if you, as a non-professional player, cannot personally hear and feel and appreciate the differences between violins.

Once you get into the $10-15k territory, you get much more into personality rather than playability differences.

As far as value appreciation-it can be a very hit or miss thing, even for violins $20k and up.

 

March 20, 2009 at 04:25 AM ·

Hi Smiley,

I just recently bought a violin in the lower end of this price range last month.  I initially searched by going alone to a vioin shop I trusted and felt comfortable with, but I ultimately didn't feel confident about my decision until I asked my teacher to come with me to a couple other shops in the area.  He was such a huge help, both by being a second set of ears but also because of his knowledge of "what you get for the money" in terms of sound.  If you could find a professional to help you in your search, I think you would find a much better instrument for the money.

The advice he gave me about violins in this range as a potential investment: go modern Italian.  There is something about modern Italians that keep their value, and a lot of them sound really wonderful.  I got a great deal on a 1971 Dario Verne, which I found projects much better than the older French instruments I tried.  In fact, most of the modern Italians I tried had better projection than the old French instruments and tended to be very solid in general. 

Hope this helps.  Happy violin hunting!

Lisa

March 20, 2009 at 05:00 PM ·

Apropos of Tom Holzman's excellent point as well as those of others, here is an example that should be considered by anyone contemplating laying out major bucks for a fiddle. Many years ago, I took three cellos I had made to a cello convention in Maryland. As I tended my booth during the day and heard dozens of people play the instruments, I began to notice something interesting. Many of the professional musicians and teachers gravitated toward cello #2, but their students preferred cello #1 because they said it was easier to play than #2. No one seemed to like cello #3 until late one afternoon when one of the visiting virtuoso players stopped by. He played about ten seconds on #1, 30 seconds on #2, and about 45 minutes on number three. His comments about #1 and #2 were that they were too easy to play, but that #3, although the most difficult to handle, offered him the most to work with. The few others in that league who played all of them felt the same way.

It's logical to think that if the best players liked #3, then #3 must be the best instrument. But, in fact, it was only the best instrument for them. If all three cost the same, and if Smiley were a cellist and didn't listen to the advice of anyone else, he would have picked the one that best suited him. If he believed that wearing a better running shoe makes him a better runner, then he would have to guess where he was going next and which instrument was suited for that purpose. I think I would advise Smiley to get the fiddle that he really loves to play. If he outgrows it in five or ten years, he can look for another for the next step.

March 20, 2009 at 04:42 PM ·

Good point, Robert.

I usually try to steer an amateur toward something a pro would like, in the belief that it will serve them better in the long run. This doesn't always work out though, and both pros and amateur's tastes can change. On average, I probably swap out one instrument per a year with someone whose taste or playing style has changed.

March 21, 2009 at 01:31 AM ·

Wow!  Lot’s of great advice here.  This will be a tremendous help as I embark on my search.  I have read all your comments and here are a few of the nuggets that I will take with me.

 

-         I should be able to obtain a professional grade instrument for $10-$20K

-         Don’t get too hung up on resale value if I plan on keeping the instrument for the rest of my life.

-         Try lots of instruments until I find (and/or figure out) what I want

-         It is a good idea to get a second opinion from a pro, but sound and playability are subjective, so I have to be the final judge if an instrument is the right one for me.

-         There are many living makers that are making outstanding instruments (not sure if this is against v.com rules, but would anyone care to name a few?)

-         It is perfectly OK for an amateur musician to own a professional instrument, provided it makes playing more enjoyable

-         Set aside some money for a good bow

 

When I think about it, the search for a violin is a lot like finding a spouse.  Every fiddle is unique in its own way.  There is no such thing as a perfect violin.  Beauty, or in this case sound and playability, are in the eyes of the beholder.  I have dated my current instrument for a little over a year now, and as much as I like it (love it?), I am ready to move on.  There was a thread a while back about people that name their violins.  I thought it was a bit weird, but now I am beginning to understand. 

 

I will report back from time to time to update you on my progress.  In the mean time, if you have other suggestions, please keep them coming.  Thanks again for all the advice.  This community is great!


March 21, 2009 at 03:32 AM ·

Hi Smiley,

Just to add what some of the others have said -

When trying out a lot of violins, try to play them in a variety of different settings and styles of music.  You may find you love the way the violin plays in a string quartet but it just doesn't sound right in a community orchestra.  You may find it sounds really loud in your bedroom, but get it on a stage and it just won't fill the room.  You may want to see if you can try out your top 3 instruments for a week or so - 10 to 15 minutes in a violin shop is really not enough!  Just like you said, its like finding a spouse or a really good friend - and you wouldn't pick either of them based on a 10 minute date unless the Angel Gabriel tells you this is the one!

March 21, 2009 at 05:48 AM ·

Smiley,

Looking for a violin can be a lot of fun, but there can also be some confusion, as you stated. I know that to be true because I've been there. I would say if you reach a point where you are starting to get confused, then try focusing on a different parameter. For example, say you have narrowed down to four violins, and you are pretty sure that they all sound about the same. Then don't think about the sound any more, focus on ease of playing, comfort, etc.

It is true that you can find a good sounding violin at almost any pricepoint. I'm going to recommend Anton Krutz's violins. They are in the $10- $12K range and they sound phenomenal. Right now I have a workshop violin from his store (KC Strings) and I love it, it sounds phenomenal too, but then when I play his own violins, it's really a delight. If it weren't for my college student budget...

And as has been mentioned, finding a good bow is also very important. What you need is to find a violin and a bow that work well together. This might mean a relatively expensive bow+ a relatively not-so-expensive violin. Or not. There's lots of options out there, try as many as you can.

March 21, 2009 at 04:39 PM ·

So what is a professional violin? Let me quote James Ehnes in his CD/DVD HOMAGE: "Our finest string instruments possess a perfect combination of tonal beauty, range of colour, clarity, and projection. It is not uncommon to find an instrument with one or even two of these traits in abundance, but to find all of these elements in the same instrument is rare indeed."  If you are not a soloist, you can look for a violin with tonal beauty and range of color and forgo response and projection.

March 21, 2009 at 09:35 PM ·

Thanks for posting that quote! 

I was thinking though, that a more pragmatic or 'technical' definition would be handy - something the industry could use in their advertising.

Ehnes' quote is too general...

March 21, 2009 at 08:31 PM ·

violin available at Johnson Strings in Boston by Marten Cornelissen, 2005, American maker from Northampton Massachusetts...$16,000...I have a viola by this luthier which is just exquisite in construction and tone as well as playability...CHECK IT OUT

March 22, 2009 at 01:52 PM ·

"If you are not a soloist, you can look for a violin with tonal beauty and range of color and forgo response and projection."

Projection, maybe, but response?  Every violinist, soloist or not, needs a responsive instrument.

March 22, 2009 at 01:58 PM ·

Agreed. A responsive instrument is what any violinist put it on top priority, perhaps 2nd to tone.

Playing trills or running notes on responsive instruments feels like heaven...

March 23, 2009 at 02:14 PM ·

What is a violin worth? Like selling a horse: whatever the buyer's willing to pay! From my experience, I've seen little difference between some $50 violins and $300 violins. And then, some $300 violins play and sound better than $1,000 violins. I haven't started comparing $10,000 to $100,000 violins quite yet.

I do think it's a good idea to have some idea of what to look for in a good violin. I've found this site quite helpful:

http://www.regalmusic.com/pointers.htm

 

 

 

March 23, 2009 at 05:18 PM ·

"I've found this site quite helpful:
http://www.regalmusic.com/pointers.htm

____________________________________

Sorry, but I need to point out that there's quite a bit of misinformation on that site. Maybe someone can provide a different link?

 


March 23, 2009 at 11:03 PM ·

Most violin talk is subjective so your concern is understandable. This is the most objective presentation I've been able to find. It'd be great if you or someone could find a better one. 

 

March 24, 2009 at 01:43 AM ·

Honestly that website seems far from objective. Looks like it was set up to sell a particular brand of electric factory violins. 

March 25, 2009 at 01:46 AM ·

Just an update for anyone that is interested.  I took my current Heberlein violin to David Chrapkiewicz this morning to have him adjust the sound post and bridge.  Before making any adjustments, he asked me to play it and he was very pleasantly surprised.  He was not only impressed with the sound, but the workmanship as well.  He said he had come across Heberleins in the past and was not overly enthusiastic about them, but he felt this instrument was better in quality and sound than the ones he had seen before.  He was able to improve the response somewhat, and also open up the sound by moving the sound post and shaving off a little meat from the bridge.

While he was doing the adjustments, I tried a few instruments he had in his shop, ranging in price from $3K to over $20K, and none were substantially better in sound or response compared to my Heberlein.  This is the second time, someone else has really liked my instrument, so I'm beginning to think it's not so bad after all.  But I plan to continue searching to see if I come upon something substantially better. 

Based on feedback I've gotten, I expected to find a pretty big difference in sound and playability of higher priced instruments, but now I'm beginning to wonder if that is true.  It is very possible that I am simply not good enough to distinguish the difference.  If that's the case, then ignorance is bliss.   Or in this case, ignorance is a heck of a lot cheaper anyway.

I've really only just started trying instruments, so it may be too early to make any judgements.  But I plan to continue my search and will report back on what I find.  Kelvin Scott is sending me one of his instruments next week.

 

March 25, 2009 at 03:15 AM ·

Smiley,

I am a parent who knows little or nothing about selecting an instrument.  I'll just share what happened recently as an example of how one *might* find an instrument more to their liking.  It also could be, as you have discovered, that a particular violin needs some adjustments and fine tuning.

Our luthier was recently in town and my son's violin has been temperamental lately, so we were eager to see what he could do.  As he was working on my son's instrument, he let my son try a few of his violins that he was selling.  The first one was an $8000 violin he had just finished and hadn't really been played on.  My son began to play and we both looked at each other with the same thought, "Wow!"  The tone was radically different than his violin.  It was full, deep, rich, and produced a totally different sound quality than his violin.  I was very tempted to buy this, knowing that my son's $5000 violin would get full trade in value....but really, I don't have any money to upgrade.  I even called later after he'd returned home to see if he sold the violin.  Turns out he loaned it to the violinist that works with Yanni.  I guess they have an arrangement.  Still, he said if she returns it, it would be available.  My son only played it for 10 minutes and it wasn't at our house, so it really was much too short a time to tell what it might sound like in the long range.  Still.....sigh!  Interestingly, the other violin he tried was more expensive but we liked the $8000 better.

At any rate, he moved the sound post and told my son his fingerboard needs to be moved up.  This will be very inexpensive for him to do but will require us to ship it to him during a break in my son's schedule.  His violin is a nice one but it has been harder to play because of the slipping of the fingerboard, so I know he's looking forward to getting it fixed.  We also purchased a nicer bow than he had.  His first bow gets a louder sound but the new bow gets a clearer sound.  My son's violin has a big sound, which he likes, but I would still love to have given him time to play the other instrument more. 

 

March 25, 2009 at 01:27 PM ·

Smiley - thanks for updating us.  The lesson you learned is an important one: there may well be ways of making a current violin sound better, and perhaps as good as more expensive ones.  Keep us updated on your adventures.

April 3, 2009 at 04:30 AM ·

 Smiley,

I have many times compared my cheapish violin (KC Stings workshop) to much more expensive violins. Recently I was at a fine instrument dealer where I even got to play a Guarneri!! A real one, they told me it was worth a little under $1,000,000. Almost without fail, I usually prefer the sound of my own violin over anything else I try. I believe there is a difference in the way some instruments react.

I'm no expert so don't quote me on this, but from my experience, this is what I've found. With a modern instrument, what you hear under your ear is pretty much the same as what you'll hear out in the hall. With older instruments, those two can be very different. At times I've played older instruments that to me sound rather weak, but then I hear them played by someone else from a distance and the sound is beautiful and robust.

I know this is too much of a generalization, but like I said, this is just my experience. I hope you find it helpful.

April 3, 2009 at 03:49 PM ·

April 4, 2009 at 01:37 AM ·

Manuel,

I can't agree more.  I have spent quite a bit of time playing various different fiddles in the past few weeks and I've reached the conclusion that the best sound and playability can be had for $20K or less.  Any more, and you are paying for name recognition.  I'm not saying that fiddles over 20K don't sound good, but whatever the sound you are after, warm, bright, loud, sweet, you name it, you can find it for less than $20K; it's just a matter of taking the time to search. 

I am not yet ready to report on my findings, but so far, I have tried the following makers and each has it's strengths and weakness, but I would say that all these makers are producing some really nice instruments.  Needham is over 20K now, but all the other makers are between 10K and 20K.

Laura Vigato (Italian)

Tetsuo Matsuda (Japanese)

Kelvin Scott (American)

Anton Krutz (American)

Nicolas Gilles (French)

Howard Needham (American)

 

April 4, 2009 at 02:27 AM ·

I'm glad to see you've tried Anton's stuff. If you couldn't tell, I'm a big fan of his work ;-)

Definitely let us know how it works out for you!

April 4, 2009 at 09:57 PM ·

Smiley,

How have you gone about trying new vioins?  Are you just going to various makers in your town?  Are you having violins shipped to you to try?  What specific qualities do you like?

My son said he may want a different instrument by the end of the year but I don't know how to begin to help him look.  We've always bought from the same dealer as we get 100% trade in value.  My son's been happy with what he has but his current instrument has some limitations and at least one other dealer seems to think it's not worth what we paid. :-(  The sound has matched my son's playing but as he's gotten better,  he's thinking he might need something different soon.  Particularly as he plays more double stops at the highest positions and begins to learn his first major concerto, he may need an actual professional grade model.

I would love for you to share how you've gone about it, how much time it's taken, and if you've found some pleasant surprises in your shopping.

Thank-you!

April 6, 2009 at 02:22 AM ·

Hi Rebecca,

I think a lot of good advice has been posted in this thread.  If you read through the postings, you'll find lots of great tips.  I am fortunate in that I live in the Washington DC area and two very good shops are nearby, Potters and Weavers.  The 100% trade in policy is hard to beat, so that would be the first choice if possible.  In my case, Weavers deals in instruments that are $10K and up, so if I buy something for $10-12K, I can always trade up if I decide to make a change. 

But, as I have started to realize, finding the right fiddle is difficult indeed.  I have tried dozens, and have not come across the exact fiddle I am looking for.  So I am not limiting my search to the local shops.  Kelvin Scott and Anton Krutz shipped their fiddles to me.  Most makers (and shops) will pay the shipping to you and you pay the shipping back.  It usually runs about $30 to ship one way.  Since I am looking at instruments up to $20K, even shipping 10-20 instruments is a small expense compared to the price of the instrument.

The only advice I would offer if buying directly from a living maker is to consider the resale value.  Since you are not protected by a 100% trade up guarantee, it is nice to know that in the event you want to change fiddles down the road, you will be able to sell it, and hopefully get most (all?) of your investment back.  For that reason, I am not considering Chinese makers.  Though I'm sure they are making some fine violins, I think the resale value will be lower, and perhaps harder to sell.  I think the Chinese dominate in the $5K price and below; perhaps the best choice even, but above $10K is questionable.

My general experience has been that something will sound great in the shop, but then I'll bring it home and discover something that I do not like; for example, it doesn't have enough power, or the sound is not open enough, or certain notes just don't resonate very well, or it is impossible to play pppp.  Usually, it only takes a day or two to figure it out.

So my search continues....

 

April 6, 2009 at 12:42 PM ·

"The only advice I would offer if buying directly from a living maker is to consider the resale value.  Since you are not protected by a 100% trade up guarantee, it is nice to know that in the event you want to change fiddles down the road, you will be able to sell it, and hopefully get most (all?) of your investment back."

Smiley, I don't think you can count on getting most of your "investment" back with any violin, new or old.  Maybe if you're able to unload the violin privately, without going through a dealer, you might be able to recoup most of what you paid.  But that's difficult to pull off--how do you get out the word that the violin is for sale and reach the one violinist in the world who want to buy YOUR violin?  Word of mouth?  The classifieds?  Craig's List?  Flea-Bay?  Don't count on it.  Especially if the instrument isn't a low-end, commodified one. 

And if you sell through a dealer, you will have to take a haircut because dealers need to buy at a discount and mark instruments up substantially to stay in business--to cover overhead and expenses (including the opportunity costs of having an inventory) and make a profit.   That's what you pay for the valuable services they provide as middlemen (middlepersons?) in offering buyers a good selection of violins in a given price category and letting them take them out on trial, and offering violins for sale to a large number of customers.

If you sell at auction, you'll have the same experience, because the buyers are largely dealers and those who aren't are not expecting to pay retail (i.e., the price you'd pay a dealer).  After all, would you pay a substantial price for a violin that you can only try out for a few minutes, at most?

And no matter what they tell you, violinmakers ask retail or close to it for their instruments.  After all, wouldn't you sell your violins for as much as you could if you were making your living as a violinmaker?

Bottom line:  try out a lot of violins in your price range, find the best one you can, be prepared to take a hit if you need to resell, and enjoy your new violin without ulterior considerations!

April 6, 2009 at 05:51 PM ·

Hi Bill,

Point taken.  Perhaps it is impossible to get ALL your money back on a resale, but if you go with a maker with established name recognition, odds are much better you will take less of a beating and be able to sell the instrument in a reasonable amount of time.  The problem is, makers with name recognition tend to be more expensive, but there are still some well known makers charging less than $20K.

April 6, 2009 at 06:45 PM ·

Smiley - Bill has more of a point than you think.  Markets are notoriously unpredictable for instruments, even those from "name" makers.  Unless you have very big $$ to spend, you may easily find that today's "name" is "so 2009" when you try to sell.  IMHO, anyone who buys a violin with any expectation of doing better on the investment than taking a beating is engaging in wishful thinking.  Your best bet is to choose something you will give to one of your younger relatives when you are too old to play.

April 6, 2009 at 07:15 PM ·

There are exceptions. I will generally pay what the buyer paid for a violin of mine which is undamaged and doesn't need any work, and I have paid more on occasion.

Anyone know where there are any for sale?

April 7, 2009 at 12:42 AM ·

I had a pretty astounding revelation today.  I was practicing the 1st fiddle part of Schubert's Death and the Maiden (4th movement) using one of the "pro" instruments I have on trial, and realized I was able to play some of the more difficult passages almost in tempo.  Wow, I thought to myself, I'm really improving.  Then I took out my Heberlein and realized I still could not play those passages on that violin.  So the violin really DOES make a difference.  It just took a little time for my fingers to adjust to a different instrument.

 

April 7, 2009 at 01:35 AM ·

Smiley,

It's always a good idea to play any given violin in several different settings. If I were you, I wouldn't dismiss an instrument just because it's sound is not the same at home as it was in the shop. That doesn't mean that the dealer is trying to deceive you or anything, it just means that different rooms have different accoustics.

Of course, it all depends on what you're going to do with the violin. If you are only going to play it in a specific room, and it doesn't sound good in that room, it wouldn't make sense to buy it.

My teacher always makes me try violins out in a concert hall. I will play for her and then she will play for me. In her case, as she is already a most mature and accomplished artist, any violin she plays on will sound like her. She says that the difference is how hard you have to work to get that sound you want.

And by the way, I'm playing the Schubert right now with my quartet, it's a great piece! I play viola in the quartet. It's such a workout too! How long is it anyway, like 45 minutes? One time we played the last movement at a library and when we finished a lady exclaimed "Good Lord! Talk about burning down the barn!" :-P

April 7, 2009 at 02:15 AM ·

Smiley,

That's exactly what we're realizing about my son's current violin.  He's able to play more easily on his old teacher's borrowed violin right now.  He is getting the projection raised on his violin which will make playing easier (we hope) but as you explained, the violin *does* make a difference.  Of course, so do strings, shoulder rests, chin rests, bridges, bows, etc....sigh!

April 8, 2009 at 07:44 AM ·

Smiley,

Heberlein is a good make of fiddle. Trouble with "crushing the sound" in double stops is a "point of contact" problem and you might find it more profitable to change your bow rather than the instrument. Your bow might be too stiff.

I have a modern Cremonese violin that cost only £2,200 direct from the maker in 1994 and it now sounds very well - but 10 years or so of playing was needed before it began to open out & sound really good. That's par for the course. 

Decent old violins are hard to find, so don't be in too much hurry to ditch your Heberlein !!!

 

 

April 8, 2009 at 10:52 PM ·

David,

Very astute of you.  In the process of trying violins, I have been trying better bows -- more expensive anyway.  And I have found that "good" bows ($2000 and up) tend to be much softer than my current bow which is very stiff.  And you are right, my Heberlein sounds pretty darn nice considering it costs a fraction of the fiddles I am considering.  So I may well keep it as a backup.

As for the play in period.  I have heard 6-8 months to play in a new fiddle, not 10 years.  I'm curious to know if others have similar experience as David for the play in period.  If it really takes 10 years to get a fiddle to "open up" then perhaps I should only look at fiddles that are 10 years old or more? 

 

 

April 9, 2009 at 06:40 AM ·

Smiley,

There's playing in, and er, PLAYING IN! A new instrument should settle down in about a few weeks. I auditioned successfully for a professional orchestra on a violin that was about a month old. What you get at first is what a writer on violins aclled "the beguiling softness of new work". But the full power & efficiency of an instrument begins to emerge after playing for 10 years or so. Violinist and Composer Lugwig Spohr tried a number of Strads that survived unplayed and gave 10 years as the time needed to play up the instruments to full potential.

I have known one professional player working on a Heberlein, also another colleague who worked his entire career on a Markneukirchen instrument, not Heberlein but Ludwig Glaesel. Try to keep your existing fiddle !!

I'd suggest going to the Marquis violin shop near you and having a go on a Raffael de Biagio instrument - and, er, perhaps a Tubbs bow on your Heberlein.

The sound of the new Cremonese will be different from your Heberlein.

Cheers.

 

April 9, 2009 at 07:20 PM ·

It wouldn't surprise me if a well-constructed new violin continued to improve over 10 years.  But if you're happy with the violin at age 3-6 months, I don't think that's a reason to stay away from it.  Get it and you might have 9 years of upside improvement to look forward to.  Although even if that happens, the changes are likely to be so gradual that they're not apparent to someone who is playing that instrument every day.

April 10, 2009 at 05:56 AM ·

 Sorry, Smiley,

For some reason I thought you were in Pasadena. Senior moment. No need to go to the Marquis shop!

As regards the Schubert "Death & the Maiden", Maggini models are big (back length over 360mm) and tend to be slower speaking, rather like playing viola. Resale value is better if an instrument has dimensions closer to Strad, back for example about 356 mm. The Maggini model seems to be out of vogue now, one reason for keeping the Heberlein if it has the dark deep and brilliant sound the model sometimes gives.

Best of luck.

April 10, 2009 at 02:33 PM ·

Maggini models are big (back length over 360mm) and tend to be slower speaking, rather like playing viola.

Yes.  Precisely why I am looking to upgrade.

April 11, 2009 at 04:53 AM ·

Smiley,

I hope you will reveal the results of your search. At what point DOES "professional" kick in these days, and in the USA? Can a cash value ever be put upon it ? For the generation before me in England professional respectability seemed to start at Gagliano but then prices of old Italians went crazy. I was content with a Vuillaume for years, but am now back to being "the man with the shiny violin" and enjoy playing no less. But it seems more exacting playing on "new". Retirement aerobics !

April 11, 2009 at 09:53 AM ·

not going to be of much help to smiley's adventure.  just want to relate an experience this week where i was able to play a violin of the violin teacher.  he got it at 40k but i did not ask where and when.  made in the late 1800s.  don't want to drop names.

oh.my.god.

i never knew a violin made of wood can generate sound waves like that without a built in turbo engine.  it is metaphysical because how can a gentle stroke elicit an atomic explosion like that?!  it is so full, thick and round that it is sick.  no matter how hard you drop the bow on the string, the sound never breaks and the violin dares you!   it is entirely overwhelming.  i don't do drugs, but through this acoustic experience i think i can relate. :)

April 11, 2009 at 09:01 PM ·

At what point DOES "professional" kick in these days, and in the USA?

David, I think around $8K, you start getting into some of the best violins that are professional quality (whatever that means).  Perhaps someone could enlighten us.  At any rate, violins in the $2-8K range are usually referred as advancing student instruments.  And above $8-10K are considered "professional" grade.

Al, I was trying violins yesterday at a local shop and had a similar experience.  They handed me a Vuilluame, and the sound was enormous and rich.  But to be honest, I would not play it because the sound in 3rd position and higher was not nearly as nice as the open strings and first position.  Bottom line, uneven response, and $150,000 price tag -- another one for the reject pile.  If only I could find the Vuilluame power and sound, but consistent across all strings and in higher positions.  Now that would be the dream fiddle. 

 

April 12, 2009 at 01:28 AM ·

this has got to be one of the most interesting threads on v.com, a fun read so far and i bet every violinist is at one point or another interested in getting that next violin that will end all searches,,,haha, dream on:)

whereas i can appreciate the truism that good violins may not be that expensive and expensive violins may not sound that good, somehow my suspicion is that even though this adventure for smiley may be as frustrating as it is fun as it is educational,  10-20k retail for may not go that far these days,,,

smiley may need to push the ceiling up couple notches to accomodate his escalating taste! :)

April 12, 2009 at 06:46 AM ·

Al, I have known a Postiglione violin (from Naples and in that price-bracket) with that sort of oomph. Guarneri copy.

As for Vuillaume, Smiley, the one I had was great as an orchestral violin but what's written about those fiddles in books seemed true - when I got a concertmaster to play the instrument on a platform the sound was very disappointing way back in the hall. The same often seems to hold for other big-name French fiddles, such as Silvestre. Didn't Scott Cole say avoid spending big money on French? I agree unless needed for day-to-day work in a large orchestra.

Incidentally, buying USED 20th. century Italians can be dangerous because there used to be a great "regraduation" vogue and sometimes so-called experts could be a little too enthusiastic when thinning down the plates.To get rid of that nasal newness, I expect.

An assistant in Beares violin shop, in London, said to me, years ago - "There's no substitute for an Italian fiddle". IF that's what you want, that's what you have to get. But I found that players using German of English violins often have problems with the sound Italian violins, old or new. I knew one pro player who just could not bear to play a Girolamo Amati II the concertmaster was prepared to lend him, not because it was "valuable" but because he found the sound "harsh". it's a different world. It might pay not to be TOO hasty in rejecting a new Italian, which might seem a bit fizzy at first, by comparison with the Heberlein.

I tried my first good Italian at the age of 9. Its owner was playing in the same concert as I, put on by my teacher. Compared with my small factory violin it sounded under the ear like a steel-works but from the back of the hall !! I am haunted by the memory. I think it was a Carlo Bergonzi. Always check the sound from a distance if you can before buying.

PS I am not a dealer, just a retired player who has settled on 4 Italians to enjoy in retirement, my best being Lucci and the others by living makers who I shall not name so as not to be thought to be promoting them for my own financial gain ! There are some great names working in the States and even if you can't afford one of his violins the website of David Burgess is not one to miss.

 

April 12, 2009 at 10:18 PM ·

Hey Smiley,

Just thought I'd report that after the $160 repairs on my son's violin, it sounds new and incredible.  Sometimes, a violin may just need some work.

April 13, 2009 at 01:13 AM ·

Rebecca,  that is great to hear.  If you don't mind, I'd be interested in hearing the details of what the luthier did and how it affected the sound and playability.

Here's an update on my violin search.  I took two "pro" instruments to my violin lesson today.  An interesting thing happened.  For the sake of discussion, I'll call them violins A and B.  My teacher and his wife are both phenomenal violinists; both play in a major orchestra.  My teacher and I both preferred violin A, both in sound and ease of use, but his wife liked the sound of violin B and she also thought it was easier to play.  I've always known that sound is very subjective, but I learned today that ease of play is also subjective.  Some instruments just fit your hand better than others and since every hand is unique, it stands to reason that some violins fit some hands better than others.

 

April 13, 2009 at 07:38 AM ·

Al - "i never knew a violin made of wood can generate sound waves like that without a built in turbo engine."

It's seductive when one comes across an instrument like that.   One wonders if so much of the power is converted into local vibrations (that one feels in the fingers, shoulder, ear) that projection suffers, but sometimes you just have to bask in it and enjoy it.    It's also possible for an instrument like that to lack complexity and depth, but i doubt that's what you experienced.

Smiley - I'm curious if the particular violins your teacher and his wife favored were similar in sound to their own instruments.   The violins that we are used to playing form the basis for what we like or dislike in other instruments, more than we realize.  Most of the time we're simply looking for an improved version of what we have, and tend to dismiss or overlook certain violins which are different from what we know, even if the violin could be really superb.   But I don't think you need to cerebrate that much about it.   You'll know the violin is right for you when you are simply smitten with it, kinda like what Al describes.   It'll be love at first sight.  But this depends on chance and trying lots of violins.  I hope it happens for you.  

April 13, 2009 at 02:24 PM ·

Jim,

One concertmaster I knew thought that players would choose a violin that sounded like their own voice. I doubt that this could be true in my case, but I think there might be inbuilt preferences. In my early youth I didn't like to listen to "Strad" players such as Menuhin or Milstein but preferred Szering, Stern and other players of Guarneri violins. 

In the 1960s there was a Ruggiero Ricci LP called "The Glory Of Cremona". I expect James Ehnes' new offering on CD and video does the same thing, showcasing the sounds of different classic instruments. The Ricci disc was reissued by "The Strad" on CD and doubtless many readers of this thread will remember it. I liked the Guarneris, and thought the Strads sounded like skating on very thin ice, which maybe they are !

When offering a colleague a violin to try they'd either give it back almost at once, or within a few moments make it sound exactly as they normally did on their own instrument. 

April 13, 2009 at 05:36 PM ·

David,

i used to think i preferred a guarneri to strad.   but over the last couple of years i think i'm becoming more of a strad person.   but really most of this guarneri vs strad debate is horse puckey because how many of us have touched real strads and del Gesu's?    And are those who have had the luck qualified to make generalizations based on a few  examples of each maker's work?   (I've tried one strad in my life that seemed to me rather weak.  I've only seen two real del Gesu's up close behind glass).    I've watched the Ehnes DVD a dozen times, and I doubt anyone would refuse any of those instruments (del Gesu's, strads, one awesome Pietro Guarneri) if offered the opportunity.  they are all amazing instruments, especially in Ehnes' hands.

April 13, 2009 at 08:57 PM ·

This has been such a fascinating discussion.  My son has almost been tempted to join in. LOL  For now, while he does his calculus III homework, I do the inquiries.

Smiley, my son had his projection raised and fingerboard smoothed.  The luthier also smoothed out the part of the violin where the strings go over before they loop through the pegs.  My son had been shredding his A strings a lot and this repair with stop that from happening.  The result of the projection being raised (about 1 mm) is that the violin is easier to play, particularly in the high positions, and the sound is fuller than before. 

We also did a listening experiment.  While his violin was being fixed, he borrowed a very nice violin from his old teacher.  After he got his back, he played a song for me on both without me looking, and I preferred the sound of his violin.

April 14, 2009 at 12:37 AM ·

Actually, I had an interesting experience at KC strings, probably about a year or so ago.

While I was there trying some instruments and bows, an older lady and a young girl came into the shop. The older lady was the girl's teacher. I don't really know who either of them are, I've never seen either one of them again. What happened was that I overheard their conversation with one of the shop's employees. They were recommending to the lady that for the budget that they were working with, one of their less expensive workshop violins would be the best way to go. The lady insisted that those violins sounded very powerful but too shrill to her ears, that the violins had just no sweetness to their sound. She was pretty set on buying one of the older instruments that they had there, I think it was an old german and an old italian, both of which looked pretty beat up.

I wanted to know what it was about the workshop violins that this lady disliked so much, so while they were busy with something else, I grabbed one of the violins that they had been trying and started playing some Bach. After a little while she came to me and asked me if her student could try that violin, because she really liked the sound. When I told her it was one of the ones they had previously tried, there was a certain disappointment in her face, and they still ended up taking the two older violins on approval...

April 14, 2009 at 09:02 AM ·

Jim,

My point is that folk seem to have innate preferences. In my case my preference for listening to Guarneri players had nothing whatsoever to do with my teacher, whose violin was one of those old highly-arched egg-shelly things, acid-sweet but not strong.

And, that it's as well to know that your biases are if approaching a dealer or maker with a view to purchase. It might lead to a speedier result. I tried a few Strads, but never one of the great ones, never a Guarneri del Gesu --- so far ! It's very likely I couldn't play well enough to do justice to a decent Guarneri, so I hope no-one ever gives me one !!

April 14, 2009 at 11:33 AM ·

My teacher was telling me about a Del Gesu he tried that was absolutely phenomenal.  The most gorgeous sound and power of any instrument he has ever played.  Problem was, it had not 1, not 2, but 3 wolf notes on the G String.  Basically, the instrument was unplayable, except for repertoire that does not use the G string.  But it was still valued at $4.5 million.

He also mentioned that an amateur musician with more money than sense, owns a couple of fiddles worth over $300K and asked him to play his fiddles for a while to give them a workout.  He said both fiddles were awful and he refused to play them. 

Besides the Vuillaume I tried a Brobst, I have also played a Strad (another story), and several instruments over $100K and what I've learned is that in the violin world, dollars do not always equate to quality.  There is certainly a correlation, but is it not a direct one. 

 

April 14, 2009 at 03:54 PM ·

Smiley,

A benefactor loaned a beautiful long-pattern Strad to the Hallé orchestra, but the leaders were not over-enthusiastic. It was hard to play, like a viola. I did try it myself,briefly. Not immediately beguiling !

I guess you have embarked on the craziest learning curve of your whole life. Money will not buy happiness !!!!!!

April 14, 2009 at 05:32 PM ·

Al Ku- After reading your thread of you describing the teacher's $40K violin...... Pant, Pant, Pant, Drool, Drool, Drool!  }:^D

April 18, 2009 at 07:03 PM ·

I'm an amateur player and I bought the best violin I could comfortably afford (unfortunately, not 10K) and that sounded the best to me. I am very glad I did, I love opening my case and seeing it, I love playing  it, and it certainly sounds better than the other violins I owned previously.

I understand the dilema of: can I (at my current level) really appreciate the difference in tone and music-making that a really expensive violin can make? Tha's a personal assessment, that maybe your teacher can help you with.

None of my teachers were able to help me with this, their own tastes were too much toward the bright side for me. I actually ended up picking the violin form an online collection, based quite frankly initially on looks. It turned out to be a very good violin.

If I had your dliema (I wish), I would spend a good several weeks-months going to different violin shops in different cities and write down my impressions using colourful language such as 'sweet sounding', velvety, husky, easy to play, demanding etc.

April 21, 2009 at 09:28 PM ·

David Tseng, thank you for posting the following quote from James Ehnes.  It really hits on the crux of the problem:

 

"Our finest string instruments possess a perfect combination of tonal beauty, range of colour, clarity, and projection. It is not uncommon to find an instrument with one or even two of these traits in abundance, but to find all of these elements in the same instrument is rare indeed."

 

This is precisely the problem I am facing, although I would put it in slightly different terms.  The traits I am seeking are power, warmth, ease of play, and even response across strings.  I have played instruments with all these characteristics, but have not come across a single instrument that possesses all these traits.  Even the instruments with 6 digit price tags didn’t pass.  I have found that instruments with a lot of power tend to be harsh and edgy (like my current Heberlein), and those that are warm tend to be softer or muted.

 

I was starting to grow pretty fond of one instrument in particular and was considering purchasing it, but I took it to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore this past weekend and played it in the concert hall while a friend listened and also recorded the sound from the back.  Although the sound was big and warm, it was slighty muted.  And while it may be possible to correct this with a new bridge, or a sound post adjustment, or different strings, I don’t want to take a chance with such a large investment, so for now, I am continuing my search.

 

April 22, 2009 at 01:53 AM ·

If James Ehnes has those kinds of problems with the greatest and most expensive fiddles in the world, God help the rest of us!

I still think one should be able to find a good instrument in the $10 - $20,000 range.

April 22, 2009 at 02:16 AM ·

Smiley,

Those warm sounding instruments you tried being soft or muted, as in under your ear, or in a distance?

There're quite a lot of instruments (including my violin) that'll sound soft, warm, muted under the ear, but surprisingly strong and clear at a distance. Also, don't just hear instruments being played solo in a distance, you have to have at least a piano to accompany just to see if the instrument can truely project above other instruments, that's where it truth revealed.

April 22, 2009 at 06:45 AM ·

Smiley,

New instruments are relatively inefficient, disappointing in large halls unless played by absolutely fabulous players. I suspect that those trials where someone like Albert Sammons made a new Vincent violin sound better than a Strad took place in small rooms. After some years of playing instruments "open out". I know now from nearly 40 years experience that this is neither an illusion or a dodgy dealers sales pitch.

Did you try your Heberlein in the hall too ??

A local concertmaster found a new violin in the local fiddle shop, a "Must Have". But when he played a solo in the orchestra it proved almost inaudible above a hundred-strong orchestra and the violin was abandoned. If you persevered with a new instrument for 10 years or so the rewards would be yours - the greatest temptation to abandon the struggle comes after about 2 years.

See my earlier posts. It's clear you are learning a lot, and fast !!!!!

 

April 22, 2009 at 11:14 AM ·

Smiley Hsu wrote:

"I have found that instruments with a lot of power tend to be harsh and edgy (like my current Heberlein), and those that are warm tend to be softer or muted."

It's often true that violins which do well in a hall will have more "growl" or "sizzle" or "edge" under the ear. It can even help if a violin sounds a little unusual when playing against an orchestra. A violin which sounds like all the others in the section has more of a tendency to blend. For example, and oboe isn't very loud, but it cuts through an orchestra pretty well because of the unique character of the sound.

Amateurs (and even some pros) have a tendency to seek the sound, under their ear,  which they hear at performances and on recordings. The problem is that when doing this, they are comparing sounds at very different distances. Even when recordings are close-mic'd, it's still not nearly as close as the ear of the player, and the sound will be very different from what the player hears. So choosing a mellow sound under the ear, trying to match what one hears at a performance or on a recording, will often result in a violin which sounds rather lack-luster in a hall.

One of the choices a player needs to make is who they want to please. If they want to please the audience in a hall, it may require some adjustment to the sound under the ear.

 

April 22, 2009 at 12:08 PM ·

David Beck wrote:

"New instruments are relatively inefficient, disappointing in large halls unless played by absolutely fabulous players. I suspect that those trials where someone like Albert Sammons made a new Vincent violin sound better than a Strad took place in small rooms."

Trials have taken place in many types of environments, including large halls. There are the "formal" trials, but also the trials which take place every time a prospective purchaser hangs out in the hall after rehearsal, grabbing a Gagliano or a Strad from a colleague for comparison. There are also the trials where a violin is tested in an actual performance.

Those who have been involved in a large number of such trails generally report conclusions which are somewhat different from yours.

April 22, 2009 at 03:32 PM ·

Interesting thread.

Something I've experienced in my own instrument search is the need to choose between the instrument that is most fun to play (plenty of oomph, growl, and hiss)  vs. that which sounds most beautiful, both to myself (as player and listener) and to others. I'm stuck between 2 violins/makers, which exemplify each of these two ideals.

 

April 22, 2009 at 05:03 PM ·

David Burgess,

I'm absolutely in accord with your advice in this thread, and elsewhere. I am sorry if I have no experience of formal trials. You can hardly blame me for being sceptical about the possibly apocryphal Strad versus Vincent  contest, aware as I am of the disparity in price between the two products ! Actually, our student String Quartet was loaned a Vincent quartet to play on. The instruments sounded really good with Lycon (fleximetal) strings but less brilliant with Eudoxas.

May 12, 2009 at 04:10 PM ·

I went through a hellish period a year and a half ago, trying out lots of violins in the $15000 and under range, finding only one that fit my playing style and had most of what I was looking for -- ease of play, responsiveness, complex sound. But it still wasn't the right sound. It was very much what I think of as a Strad sound (and was a Strad pattern violin). What I finally did was somewhat of a risk. After doing lots of research on this website and elsewhere, I decided to commission a Guarneri style violin from Kelvin Scott. A little over a year later, the violin arrived. I took it out and played it. I was immediately impressed by the depth of sound and response. Kind of like playing on a trampoline; push hard and the violin pushes back just as hard (in a good way), just what I think of when I remember what people say about playing real Guarneris. The sound was a little muted, but there was still twice as much power as the violin I had been using. There was some unevenness, and certain notes that were less responsive than others. After playing for a few weeks, the violin relaxed a little, but I was still annoyed by what seemed an overly dark character. Kelvin mentioned that he had made two bridges for it and had put the "darker" one on because I had wanted a dark-sounding instrument. I guess I shouldn't have said "dark", as that usually misleads people as to what I mean! I'm not looking for a viola, after all. He sent me the other bridge, which I put and, and when I played again I said, "Wow, that's bright!" I could "feel" the wood now, and notes were clearer and more projecting. What a difference a bridge makes! So I kept that bridge on for quite a few weeks. Several weeks ago, out of curiosity I put the first bridge back on, and interestingly the violin didn't sound overly dark any more, it just had more of a solid ring to it and less woodiness, and actually a bit more responsiviness. I really prefer a woody quality to the sound, but I was about to play a bluegrass gig, and the sound with the first bridge was perfect for that kind of music, so I kept it on. In the few weeks I've had this first bridge on, and interesting thing has happened though. The sound is getting woodier, and now I have the full ringing sound but also the wonderful woody quality, and when I dig in it's like having a rocket under my ear. The high registers absolutely soar, and the low end, which was always rich and full from day 1, has clarified. The middle registers were a bit lackluster when I first got the violin, but they have opened up to be wonderfully clear and singing. Now, I just can't stop playing this thing. I almost feel like a drug addict; I wake up wanting to hear that sound and feel that open, woody resonance in my body. The tone quality is rich, complex, beautiful, and "old" sounding. The notes just pop out. When I listen to recordings I've made with the violin, even on blazingly fast passages, every single note is clearly articulated. And the violin is only three months old! I played a jazz concert recently, and someone who heard the violin at a jazz concert I played at the same place the day after I received the violin came up to me and said, "wow, that violin has really opened up". There is just one "tight" note (C on the A string) that was stubbornly refusing to sing openly, regardless of the bridge or soundpost position, but it is just now starting to relax. I'll be very interested to follow the wonderful friend's development over the years to come!

Regarding wolf notes, this violin had one in the typical spot (C or C# high on the G string) when I got it. It wasn't too bad really, but was there. I switched from the Guarneri chinrest to a Kaufman rest, which is side-mounted. Now that wolf note is completely gone. I mean not a trace left. In its place is a very slight wolf note at B-flat! It's not very prominent, so it's easily surmountable by proper bowing (which I should be doing anyway!). Has anyone else had this experience when changing chin rests?

May 17, 2009 at 09:15 PM ·

Great news!  I found my fiddle.  I want to thank everyone who posted to this thread.  Your comments and suggestions were extremely helpful during my search.  For those of you that are interested in reading more about my search, I created a blog entry under my profile. 

www.violinist.com/blog/smileyh1/20095/10115/

I hope that my observations are as helpful to others as your comments were to me.  Next task, finding the perfect bow to go with my perfect violin!  I wonder if I should start another thread :-)

May 17, 2009 at 08:35 PM ·

Greetings,

Smiley you still have the perfect bow hair and perfetc strings to go.  Then we have to find the perfect wine....

Cheers,

Buri 

May 17, 2009 at 09:58 PM ·

Congratulations, Smiley!  I wish you a long and passionate relationship with your new friend.  (Blog info was quite useful too - thanks).

ab

May 18, 2009 at 07:05 AM ·

I think the USA has many really fine bowmakers - I don't know who they are and someone might tell me !! However, don't ignore the English "Hill" and their offshoots - makers who trained in that shop. Finding a bow can be even harder than getting a violin, so you need to be EVEN MORE patient than you have been when buying your violin !!!!! Like violins, the antiques can be ridiculously expensive.

May 18, 2009 at 06:26 PM ·

Then we have to find the perfect wine....

Yes Buri, but no wine for you until AFTER you perform.  For you, prunes only, but try not to get carried away on those sudden accelerandos at the end of a piece. :-)

 

May 18, 2009 at 07:44 PM ·

Again I repeat, when you take prunes before performing, there is no need to do accelerandos if you agree to play to everyone the wonderful Pachelbel canons (...) as an encore.  You don't need to practice this encore, it will come naturally! 

Anne-Marie

May 18, 2009 at 10:54 PM ·

What's with Anne-Marie's and Buri's fixation on prunes...and all this time I thought they were just regular folks

http://www.prunes.net/

prunes

 

May 18, 2009 at 11:05 PM ·

Greetings,

Sam, many moons ago I felt an utterly compelling urge to introduce a metaphor/heuristic device into the world of violin playing that would serve both as a powerful tool for facilitating communication and a reminder that keeping the bowels open is important.  In this I feel I have been largely sucessful and am confident that a memo to this effect will be scratched on my gravestone.

Cheers,

Buri

May 18, 2009 at 11:32 PM ·

LOL hardly is enough...I'm rolling on the floor in laughter

May 19, 2009 at 12:44 AM ·

Here is the link... Buri uses (on the latest news I heard) Passione strings, I recently fell in love with Eudoxas...  Prunes = gut = bowels...  I think it is an indirect effect of using gut strings...

Please think twice before providing gut strings to your students...

With my Pachelbel canons encore and my new official title of Prunes de Kayser. (Please, do not confond with the real P de K wich is technically really far far ahead from prunes level) I think I am getting slowly as bad as Buri.  Well, not really, because at my age, I steel have a long way to go before the prune's stage.

I think I must sleep!

Smily, wonderful post sorry to be off topic for this comment! I am so glad for you!

Anne-Marie

 

May 19, 2009 at 02:19 PM ·

The previous is my last silly comment on this thread don't worry!

Anne-Marie

May 19, 2009 at 02:47 PM ·

Prunes in relation to gut strings........ Now why didn't I think of that!

I would love to see a Baroque violin made for Buri but instead of a bust for the scoll it be a Prune!  Heck, I hope I could afford one!  Or have it as a contest prize... the official V-dot-com violin...... Prunus Guinarious!  Or the Del Geprunus.

Come to think of it....the violin the V.com Kokopeli is playing, the scoll looks rather prune shape?

SMILEY- the last coment, #100 should be all yours dear sir!

May 19, 2009 at 04:28 PM ·

Thank you Royce, don't mind if I do.  Thanks again to everyone for your kind support during my fiddle hunt.  I have discoverd one problem with my new violin.  I play it so much that it really cuts into my work time -- good thing I'm the boss :-)

For anyone else that is looking for the perfect instrument, I hope my observations and the postings in this thread are helpful to you.  This discussion forum is awesome and the members are truly an amazing slice of humanity. 

Deep breath.... exhale.....now, on to finding the perfect bow!!

 

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