Make a cheapie decent?

April 20, 2009 at 09:19 PM ·

I'm considering getting an acoustic, and I've always been a sucker for flashy instruments.

So I seen these on (yes, I know...) eBay, and think they're lovely.
Reviews all over the place are mixed, but err on the side of being bad. There aren't a ton of reviews though, and the very nature of reviews is that someone is more likely to post a review if they hate something than if they like it, and he does indeed sell a lot of stuff, and has a lot of positive feedback. When someone likes something, they tell their friends. When someone hates something, they whine about it on the internet. So my findings there are inconclusive, and I still kinda want one.

This one|66%3A2|65%3A12|39%3A1|240%3A1318|301%3A0|293%3A1|294%3A50

So, I know this isn't likely to be a terribly great instrument, but I was wondering what it would take to make this instrument be better.  I would imagine that it would likely need bridge work, sound post adjusting, etc (granting that it doesn't crack within the first week I have it).

Any ideas as to what might be needed from something like this to make it decent? Any estimates as to what I can expect to pay a luthier to do such things?

Replies (24)

April 20, 2009 at 11:03 PM ·

Hummm... if I were you I would look for one of those decend old German or French violins. They have good wood, good model etc.  You will have to spend some money with the set up, as usual. Good luck!

April 20, 2009 at 11:24 PM ·

some immediate observations

  • 5 strings on a violin fingerboard...drove me nuts, never got used to the crowding
  • is  fingerboard  ebony, or "ebonized"; fancy word for painted black
  • are the inlays merely a varnished over transfer
  • I do ebay often and would be suspicious of any ebay ad where the buyer's ID is kept private
  • he spent 3 months on this and yet it is a mere $75.00...let us know how it turns out

April 21, 2009 at 01:10 AM ·

Buy at your own risk.  You might be able to improve it a little...but there's also a fair chance you're going to buy a varnished 2X4 here. 

April 21, 2009 at 01:16 AM ·

Be careful!  But it depends, what do you want to do with it. Play, flourpot, halloween costume...  But if it is for money concerns, I would be careful with fiddles you can't try before buying them.


April 21, 2009 at 01:49 AM ·

And there is this endorsement:



April 21, 2009 at 02:42 AM ·

FWIW, I've seen a few really nice Neapolitan mandolins that this guy Tsai has "improved" with his inlays. Very sad. On the other hand, he's inlaid a bunch of stuff that was just dreck, so no real harm there.

Regarding fancy inlaid instruments in general, I've found that they're very much a hassle. You have to worry about pieces falling out, not to mention the structure being messed with by the process. If they don't come from the original maker with the fancy stuff, it pretty much destroys any value they might have had from that connection. Inlays on the fingerboard make it nearly impossible to adjust or repair in future.

While I'm not a fan of this sort of ornamentation in general, I confess to owning a Hardanger fiddle; but on that the ornaments are appropriate. Still, they have to be treated with care, and repairs ought to be done by someone familiar with the instrument and its tradition.

Personally I'd prefer buying a pig in a poke from a dealer who offers money-back satisfaction guarantees. There are a few that I trust on ebay, and they're in the continental US to boot, which makes the whole transaction much more controllable. PM me if you want some links.

April 21, 2009 at 04:56 AM ·

I've purchased a couple cheapies, and the first question someone should ask is
If this could command a better price, why is it not priced at the better price?

It specifies the spruce is 12 years air-dried, but since it specifies the spruce, it would be normal to specify the drying time of the maple, which I think is more important.... it does not. Therefore, the maple may not be stabilized.

For the wood quality it used nonsensical terms that sound good. There is no specific meaning to the phrase 'Top Degree'. There are other rating systems for wood that are not used. Therefore, I assume the wood does not meet those standards.

Now, for some more 'fun' interpretations: an internationally-reknown Taiwanese inlay artist and luthier
The maker has some relatives in other countries that have heard that he makes violins and does some inlay

...After choosing only the best wood and materials, we spent three months building this fine instrument
Three months ago, I started to build a coffee table. Somehow, the plans I ordered on ebay got mixed up, and this is what I ended up with. Now I need to sell this so I can buy more wood to make the coffee table.

April 21, 2009 at 11:01 AM ·

All that inlay looks like serious buzzes just waiting to happen. When some of these parts begin to loosen from vibration, and from expanding and contracting at a different rate from the wood, it will be a nightmare to track down and fix.

Even much simpler ornamentation on pegs and tailpieces alone is a common source of buzzes.

As Annis mentioned, normal methods for re-surfacing or reshaping the fingerboard can't be used on this violin. Be prepared to spend big bucks when this is needed.

"Best" wood alone cannot be had for 75 bucks. Let's see.... if we take a "decent" set of (5) strings at $40, and a "half-decent" set of wood at $200, that leaves minus $165 for labor. It's difficult to find people who will work for negative pay, even in China. ;-)


April 21, 2009 at 12:40 PM ·

Hello, Dawn--

There's an old saying that "you get what you pay for." Or, hmm, is it "you don't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need?" If this violin is just to scratch that itch to see what a flashy 5-stringer is like, you probably won't find one cheaper. When it needs new strings, a new bridge, a soundpost, and fingerboard planing, and my guess is that it will need them soon, you will find that it will be cheaper to throw the fiddle away and buy a new one.

Buying an item like this at an Internet auction from a seller who doesn't want you to know who he is raises warning flags. If you can afford to take $75 and throw it out the window, you can afford this violin. If not, stash the cash in a bank account and build it up to an amount that will get you something better.

April 21, 2009 at 12:43 PM ·

Save your money for something better, and try before you buy. It is all about the sound, isn't it? How can you accept any violin as good enough without trying it out first?

April 21, 2009 at 01:18 PM ·

Personally don't think I'd buy on eBay, but have had several friends take chance and do OK. A couple high schoolers bought those $1 electric fiddles ($35 or 45 shipping) on a giggle, and they actually worked for what they wanted to do. One man got a VERY acceptable 15 1/2" Romanian viola a year ago for $50. Another who was interested in learning repair and construction bought a couple hundred violins over 6 or 7 years. Now he has a shop in LA, & has been to builder's school in Chicago. A few of those turned out to be pretty nice, a bunch were OK for sale once tended to. He has 20 or more that he probably won't do anything with. The remainder he's gradually making as-good-as-he-can, giving them cases and Holtz bows, and donating to some programs for rural kids to learn to play. Win-win. Sue

April 21, 2009 at 01:22 PM ·

I have to agree with about everything that was said in the previous comments from others.  I can't say I didn't buy one myself, off of ebay, and I bought one that was pink, to match a music lover's room that was painted, obviously, pink.  I got curious and did play it a little bit, and left the steel strings on there as the decoration purposes. However over a 6 month period, the endpin did start to be wedged a little, cause of the strain of the strings on the insturment, and everything came really loose, and I noticed that the type of wood was just plywood just painted over. So, just my litlte warning, use it only as decoration, not playing.  As a fellow violinist, I hope know that you can find something better somewhere else. Good luck though!

April 21, 2009 at 01:37 PM ·

Don't give ebay a bad rap! If you are buying a pink violin for $49.00 or best offer with free shipping that also comes with Case, Bow, 2 Sets of Strings,2 Bridges, Rosin & Shoulder Rest, you should only expect a wallhanger. Picasso may have had his Blue Period, but to the best of my knowledge Stradivari never had a Pink one.

April 22, 2009 at 12:27 AM ·

Fascinating and rather horrifying to look at the pictures at the bottom of the link in the original post.  Just counting the number of violin shaped objects stacked up like fast food cartons on the workshop (sweatshop?) bench and on the walls...   

That turquoise blue violin is giving me a headache looking at it.  Imagine a whole section of 2nd violins with blue and the firsts in pink!

April 22, 2009 at 01:22 AM ·

and if you have a pink instrument wear a turquoise dress and vice versa....

April 22, 2009 at 03:55 AM ·

I don't have a turquoise dress; can I wear my fuschia one, and use turquoise jewelry?

April 22, 2009 at 04:22 AM ·

only if i can wear my bikini.

April 22, 2009 at 05:27 AM ·

The green plaid one, or the one with polka-dots?

April 22, 2009 at 06:04 AM ·

I mix and match as I see fit.

April 22, 2009 at 01:39 PM ·

 Hi - About 2 years ago, I bought a purple violin on ebay for $4 (plus $60 shipping & handling). It came with a case, bow, rosin. I wanted purple wall candy.

Other professionals we've spoken to have assessed this violin at being worth almost $100! I guess we got lucky.


April 23, 2009 at 06:56 PM ·

Three years ago I purchased a VSO (violin shaped object) on eBay.  It was listed for $75.  It sounded awful.  $450 dollars later, I could play it and get a reasonable sound out of it.  18 months later, I upgraded to a professional instrument.  It was like going from a Yugo to a Masserati.

April 23, 2009 at 11:56 PM ·

Make a cheapie decent?  do you have an ax and a fire place?????

April 24, 2009 at 03:55 AM ·



Be advised it is against federal law to burn violins (or pianos).  If the EPA finds out, they'll yell at you bit time.

Not that I have ANY personal experience in this area WHATSOEVER.  No.  Not me.  Nada. ;>) 

May 22, 2009 at 08:40 PM ·

Hello Marc,

You didn't mention violas...or does the bounty still apply?

Cheers, Carol

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