Violin vs. Violinist

March 25, 2009 at 02:18 AM ·

What's more important to you... the insturment or the musician?


I will add more later but as of right now, I am a tired teenager.

Replies (34)

March 25, 2009 at 03:03 AM ·

For me, both in a way.

I won't be the first to say that I think the player is more important, to start with. I have seen countless examples of this. Players who are really good, in my experience, will pull "their" sound out of whatever instrument comes their way, even a cheap student model. Moreover, on the most basic level, the physical and emotional energy comes from the player.

However, the instrument is, in the most basic sense, the conduit of choice for all of us violin players. And conduits can be better or worse. At a certain point in a player's development, an upgrade can be helpful. I have experienced this myself, in just recently getting a new instrument, which is a far cry from my last violin, a student model I've played on for years. Granted, I pulled a decent sound out of that instrument having played it almost 6 years. But it was time for a change. I could feel when the instrument was clearly at its limits. So taking the instrument to the next level helped immediately: passages that I wasn't sure I really had clear on the old violin were clear and brilliant on the new one, intonation was clearer in all dynamics, open strings sang more on their own, the dynamic range is much greater and the overtones much more pronounced and "alive." 

So basically, I think it's primarily the player, but if you've reached the point where it is definitely time for a switch... then switch and enjoy!


March 25, 2009 at 04:46 AM ·


if I had to choose between a relatively mediocre instrument and a good bow or the reverse I would go for the good bow.   It has a very significant influence on both the palying and development of the player.



March 25, 2009 at 10:11 AM ·

Top players like Zukerman will get a good, huge sound from a potboiler.  Many will think he is playing a del Gesù. Most of the sound is from the player, the instrument just make things easy to him.

March 25, 2009 at 12:26 PM ·

The violin is very important, and so is the bow. But without a doubt, the violinist is more important. Imagine your favorite violinist playing on a mediocre violin and a very mediocre violinist playing on a great Strad. Which would you rather hear? Once after a concert, Heifetz was complimented on the sound of his beautiful violin. He picked it up to his ear and said "funny, I don't hear anything".

March 25, 2009 at 04:37 PM ·

Violin vs. Violinist

Which is more important?


The violinist. 

March 25, 2009 at 04:54 PM ·

Ditto, the violinist, but a good violinist also needs a good tool.

March 25, 2009 at 07:20 PM ·

I used the same Heifetz comment when someone complimented me on my instrument while warming up before a rehearsal.

It was the next morning that I fell on the ice, landing on the violin and completely crushing it.  Ironic because I always loved to discuss my violin and its qualities. 

Perhaps it sacrificed itself in a fit of self deprecation.  God I wish I had kept my mouth shut the previous night...


March 25, 2009 at 08:55 PM ·

 There is a story about Heifetz that i remember reading. The story goes that when he was south america his violin came apart because of the humidity. He then borrowed a local fireman's violin for the concert he was about to give. At the end of the concert a gentlemen said "Your guarnerius* sounds wonderful" 

answer = the violinist.

*(I don't remember if it was guarnerius or stradivarius)

March 25, 2009 at 10:14 PM ·


I think Kreisler often toured with a nondescript instrument which he introduced to everyone as the Parker Stradivarious.  



March 25, 2009 at 11:21 PM ·

Once a wealthy amateur was looking for the ultimate del Gesu, which he felt should play as closely as possible to Kreisler's. He thought he'd finally found it at Wurlitzer's, and took it home for a trial. Meanwhile he heard Kreisler in concert. The next day he returned the del Gesu back to Wurlitzer's, saying that it wasn't as good as Kreisler's after all. Shortly after that, Kreisler, himself paid a visit to Wurlitzer's. "Mr. Kreisler," they ruefully said, "you cost us a sale". "It gets better," replied K. "I was using my Vuillaume that night!"

Once an amateur approached Jacques Thibauld, saying that he had a great Strad that he wanted the Master to try. "OK" said T. He tried it, and he really liked it."Yes", said the owner as he took it back and un-self-conciously scraped away at it, "isn't it beautiful?" "No longer so beautiful" quipped Thibauld!

March 25, 2009 at 11:19 PM ·


BTW since the art of violin lies in the bowing could we not alsdo have a thread entitled `Bow or bowist?`

Or if you prioritize strings `Gut or gutter?`   No,  that one doesn`t seem to work for some reason....



March 26, 2009 at 12:17 AM ·

Bowing but not scraping!

March 26, 2009 at 01:54 AM ·

Ok this is how this came about.


In December, my string quartet coach let me borrow his old (but better than mine, or so I thought) violin.  Pretty  much everyone I knew raved about how much better I sounded.  In January, I switched teachers (actually my string quartet coach), and expanded my skills/sound even more.  Last night at youth orchestra practice, I had to use my old violin.  While it did sound kind of "dead" to my ear because I hadn't really used it in three or so months, I (and my stand partner) were both presently surprised at how good it sounded.  I was struck by how loud and clear the E-string sounded.   Monumental shifts came out bright, but somewhat fuzzy.

 My complaint with that violin used to be that I couldn't really hit extremely high notes with it, and with the one I was borrowing, I suddenly could do all of these things and more.  In using my old violin last night, I realized that maybe I just couldn't do those high notes and things with the old ones becuase I couldn't at the level of skill I had, but the violin always could. 


So what do you think about this?

March 26, 2009 at 08:44 PM ·

If you're better, you can get more out of your instrument.

When I bought my new violin, I had my instructor play it for me.  It's certainly not as good as her violin  - even I could hear that - but boy - did she ever make it sing. It has a lovely tone. At least I know what it's capable of and that I'm not in danger of out-growing it any time soon.

Made me feel good.

On the flip side - I've gotten much better over the years as well.  I, in turn, played a friend's son's violin (he's just starting).  She was worried it wasn't good enough - it was a hand-me-down.  She was surprised I could make it sound as good as I could...(so was I!).  It will certainly do them until they decide if the child is serious.

March 29, 2009 at 06:43 AM ·

Well, considering the various Stradivarius' and Guanerius' that have been played by great violinists over the centuries... I don't know.....I mean,,, you can always get another violinist, can't you?




March 29, 2009 at 02:04 PM ·

I like the last point, but when we think about it, the violin always lasts longer than the violinist.

March 29, 2009 at 05:13 PM ·

- unless the violinist accidently sits on the unfortunate violin!

March 29, 2009 at 11:41 PM ·

I had an opportunity  to see this question in action this weekend.  My daughter was playing in a festival, and during the adjudicators comments, she would often grab the students instruments to demonstrate a point of articulation.  At one point, she was addressing the student next to my daughter, and used his instrument to demonstrate her point.  She then had him stand up and try it on his own.  When he wasn't getting it, she grabbed my daughter's violin to do it with him.  It was a stunning aural difference, to hear her do the exactly same thing with first one instrument then another....there was a HUGE difference in tone. 

Oddly, the other student (using a student instrument) could make his own instrument sound better than she could, so there is obviously some level of learning the how to draw sound from the individual instrument.  Still, the difference between his and my daughters instruments (French 1900ish) was pretty striking.

March 30, 2009 at 02:11 AM ·

Actually, the question is quite a philosophical one.

Suppose a disaster occurs, and you had a split second to decide which to rescue first, the Strad or the violinist, how would you choose? This question was posed to some pros, and the answer was similar to …. Well, we can always find another violinist.  

True, the passing of all the great violinists lessens the world, but so too would the loss of one Stradivari or Guarneri, and perhaps more greatly. The assessment depends upon the individual’s philosophy.  

Surely, the talents of the violinist cannot be ignored. My prof can pull a far greater sound from my violin than I can, and in all respects. But, ultimately the sound is entirely dependent upon the violin’s capacity. The virtuoso can adapt his technique to optimize any violin, but the limiting factor is and will remain the violin. No matter who plays my violin, it will never reach the paradigm of a Strad.

At the virtuoso level, the violin is of more importance. 



March 30, 2009 at 02:51 AM ·

I highly believe it is the violinist and not the violin that really matters.  Violins will always have different tones yes, but to really bring out the full potential of said violin, the violinist must know what they are doing.  For instance, when I was first starting out I had my little student grade violin, when I played it, it sounded ok, nothing special about it really.  But one day my much more experienced friend came over and played it.  You would have thought it was a completely different (and much more expensive instrument.)  It was a world of difference.

March 30, 2009 at 02:53 AM ·

The violinist is more important, but at some point, the violinist has to "take lessons" from a very fine instrument.

March 30, 2009 at 12:05 PM ·

A Strad and a violinist overboard...which to save? That's a toughie. For me, it would depend on who the violinist was. Many I would gladly save. Some would sorely tempt me to save the Strad and keep it for myself!

It's a much easier question if we're talking about a viola and a violist. Neither. I'd simply advise the poor wretch to finally put the viola to good use, and use it as a flotation device!

March 30, 2009 at 05:52 PM ·


You have a good analogy of choosing to save the violinist or the violin from disaster but here is another.

If you were granted one of only two wishes from a genie which you choose: 1) the ability to play like a renowned violinist, or 2) the ownership of a renowned strad or guarnari?

I'd choose to play like Heifetz rather than own his violin!

March 30, 2009 at 07:05 PM ·

Exactly. Me too.

March 30, 2009 at 08:59 PM ·

When I had my epiphany about my old violin, I leaned toward the side of violinist, not violin. 

In the end, though, we must come to terms with the fact that even though they are great treasures, violins are just wood, varnish and metal, but it is what is done to these simple things that makes them into what they are.  I would much rather save a violinist than a violin. 

March 30, 2009 at 11:56 PM ·

I agree with you all.  I just have my measly 1/2 cent to add.  I find myself going to concerts because of the violinist.  I didn't, for instance, tell all my friends I was going to see the Ex-Huberman in concert.  It adds to the allure, but I'm pretty sure I would be happy to go to Itzhak Perlman's concert even if he were playing on my violin (which, incidentally is NOT a Strad).

March 30, 2009 at 09:41 PM · I have to agree that a lot of it is in the bow, the strings' response to the bow and the player's strengths/weaknesses in regards to the bow and string relationship. I realized this (again) when I recently had my bow rehaired and was without it for a few days. And the time leading up to the rehair when it wasn't responding well. It wouldnt have mattered what violin I was playing I think...since the bow wasn't useable. As for the viola and violist... That is even more debatable as it is so hard to find a viola that FITS AND sounds good and is of high quality (of lasting workmanship). Since there is not such a standard for measurements, they are more unique when they are wonderful..and that can be rare (size and weight not too much for player as well). Jennifer

March 31, 2009 at 12:35 AM ·

I agree with Kimberly.  You would just sound silly saying you were going to see the insturment.  It's the combination of the two that makes playing the violin such an art.

March 31, 2009 at 02:19 AM ·

I think it's both. I am an ok player and have advanced faster than I thought I would but I have a $100 violin...this doesn't help me at all. 

March 31, 2009 at 09:15 AM ·

Hi everyone,

I have to agree that the player seems to be the biggest factor when it comes to one's sound. I play with a fellow in a string quartet who seems to have a different violin at each and every gig, and I really can't tell the difference in his sound from one gig to the next. I will say, however, that the cut of the bridge ,angle of the fingerboard, the bow and choice of strings can really make a difference in how well a person plays. It's a bit of a challenge to get all of that just right, but  a good place to start is to play a bunch of fiddles and find the one the plays the easiest for you, then have your main instrument adjusted to a close approximation of that instrument. When looking for a bow, it takes about a minute to tell when you've got an acceptable bow, as you can put it through a series of techniques in a short amount of time, and using a portable cassette recorder can be helpful to determine what kind of tone you're getting.


Jim Price 

April 1, 2009 at 12:09 AM ·

A top player will make a potboiler sound good. The problem is that he will have to use 90% of his energy to make the potboiler sound good, and that's not good for a musician.  With such instrument in the end of the Beethoven concerto the player will be worn out.

With a good violin the player can trust in the instrument and focuse on interpretation.

April 1, 2009 at 05:01 AM ·

I would say it is 90% the violinist. The only problem with the combination of a good player/bad instrument is that the player puts more energy into getting good tone. After a 30 minute concert, there going to be ready to drop.

April 1, 2009 at 04:25 PM ·

Do you play on a violin that takes up to 15 minutes to warm up to a mellow and round tone??

My second violin is like that.    It sounds harsh and piercing when first played, but improves as you play it. If you are playing an audition or playing in church and must get up and play a 5 minute solo after sitting silently for ½ hour, you will never get the violin to sound at its best. There are also many times  where there is no separate room for you to warm up in.
Has anyone else been in such a situation??

April 2, 2009 at 02:54 PM · There is probably a temperature and humidity level at which your instrument responds best. Find that environment and get whatever accessories needed to make your case that "friendly" environment. Keep the instrument in the closed case until it is needed. WQe alll know how humid/dry weather (cold/warm) can affect not only hands and their response, but the instrument (and bow agility) as well.... Jennifer

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