Do you use your primary instrument?

May 2, 2009 at 09:25 PM ·

The title says it all. Will you bring your prized instrument (or even not expensive, but it's your beloved instrument) around for daily event? Like, teaching, gig'ing, where it'll expose to the risk of accidents? For instances, stepping on the cables on stage and you can see the violin flying without wings, water splashing by drunk idiots, slipped off hands because somebody hit you accidently (as close as the musician sitting beside you), or anything you can imagine that'll happen.

So I've come across a freakin thing happened today when a lady asking about violin lessons in the music school where I'm teaching, she didn't know how much my violin is worth and she knocked the back of my violin with her *nails* because she's excited to look at a beautiful violin and the hand is probably out of control, as like many people will sometime knock on the vase, or other merchandise when you go "ooo that's nice, *ding!*".

Luckily, she didn't use much force, and there's no scratches and dings, but that kind of sound it'll literally freak anyone out! I wouldn't blame the lady because she didn't know that such move can cause the owner to nuts even if it doesn't make any damage, although it's a common sense that it's very rude to touch people's belonging without asking. I should've leave my violin inside the classroom, but she wanted me to play some songs and there's only a badly setup 3/4 violin, so I thought I want to make some nice music and I brought my violin out to play for her, and didn't expect this to happen.

Lesson learned, I'll have to be extra careful when facing the public with my instrument, and inform them not to touch it right from the beginning  if possible. But I wouldn't want to keep my primary instrument inside my house and only play it for myself whenever I'm at home. I want to share the beautiful sound to everybody, so I'll still bring my primary violin around but I'll be really careful with the publics (especially kids!).

How about you?

Replies (25)

May 2, 2009 at 10:04 PM ·


I think there is no reason not to use your main violin for just about everything.  But,  I never let  students near my violin.  Laurie wrote in a blog a while back about a great teacher who let her kids handle a very valuable instrument. That was generous but I would just not be able to handle it.



May 2, 2009 at 11:44 PM ·

As a maker, I like the idea of professionals having 2 or more instruments for "risky" jobs such as teaching children, playing outdoors, travelling to extreme humid places, playing in pubs,  etc.  It's good also when your instrument have to be repaired so that you have a spare instrument.

If your # 1 instrument starts sounding bad due to climate change you can use your # 2 instrument, that's why some soloists travel with 2 violins in  a double case.

We can't predict accidents, and they occur. A situation that was considered safe is transformed in a fraction of a second. We are the present owners of our instruments, they will last for generations if well cared.

May 3, 2009 at 12:26 AM ·

I'd take a del Gesu down the pub.

I have been taking my best fiddle down there for over eleven years, and no harm has ever  happened.

Why should it?


May 3, 2009 at 12:46 AM ·

I remembered that when I was a fairly beginner. My teacher told me I could try her 1798 english violin to see how I liked her setup (chinrest, bridge etc)  I was really careful and managed to bow really carefully.  She probably saw that I was very respective of other's precious things. I've always found this was kind of her.  Really I think this is not something one can put a general rule on.  I am not a pro at all but often some relatives want to try my violin which is way more talented than me!  When they are responsible and calm, I take a rest to be sure they will not drop it and just help to hold the bow so that they do not knock the sides (but I am talking of people who never never played).  This is a very good way to make try riskfree a good violin to a real beginner!  I would say that fingers on the varnish (if you let people take it like a teddy bear in their hands) is way more dammagable than hold someone's hand that is bowing your violin and thus direct the bow!!!

But if the woman took the violin out of your hands, well this is kind of impolite (even if done innocently :)


May 3, 2009 at 03:23 AM ·

Don't you dare touch my girls

May 3, 2009 at 02:46 AM ·

From what I see they have nice reddish hair!  lol


May 3, 2009 at 07:16 AM ·

I think that if you plan on using your best (or only) instrument around young students (and sometimes old), you need to stay on your toes and be creative when thinking of all the possible things that could happen.  I've seen some pretty crazy stuff in my studio, like sudden backflip dismounts from the piano bench, or bows launching across the room like arrows.  Just be ready for stuff like that.

When it all comes down, though, I'm my own biggest threat to my instrument. 

May 3, 2009 at 05:33 PM ·

I use my old student violin to play outdoor gigs.  Poor thing, it gets rained on sometimes...I also use my 3rd best bow for outdoor gigs, and to teach with, at least the little ones.

I do use my good violin to teach all my students with, and although Guido isn't a Strad, it is a fairly nice violin with a good tone.  I do a lot of demo in my lessons, and I think it is important for students to get a nice sound in their ears.  My first teacher taught me with her Gagliano, and it was so inspiring to hear a fine player on a fine violin every week.  But that is private lessons, not group classes.

I remember playing at a Women's Club years ago, as part of a scholarship obligation.  After I finished, one of the elderly ladies asked to "look" at my violin.  I held up Guido, and she took him with her hands, long painted nails and all, and got fingerprints all over the varnish.  She was gently, but her nails did scrape a little.  No scratches that I could see, but it did freak me out.  I held my tongue though, as I don't think she knew any better, and it was a lot of scholarship money.

I don't let my students play my violin, but my chinrest is super high, so I have an excuse.  My teacher in grad school used to offer me to play his Vuillaumes many times in lessons, which was a real treat.

May 3, 2009 at 06:01 PM ·

I use my primary instrument most of the time, but I keep a second fiddle for rough gigs.  When it comes to the teaching of very young children, I keep my instrument out of reach.  Also, unless you have cat-like reflexes or are an experienced fencer, you may consider wearing safety glasses when working with bow wielding children under the age of 7.

May 3, 2009 at 07:56 PM ·

I was playing a show at an Irish bar and someone I knew, who was a little too toasty, leaned over my violin case with a beer in hand.  I held my breath and didn't say anything startling, for fear that would cause him to withdrawl the beer to quickly and then you can imagine..... Well, luckily, there was no harm to my fiddle.  Couldn't bear to play on anything but the one i love.... so i recently insured it with Anderson Group.

May 3, 2009 at 07:59 PM ·

 I guess it depends on what sort of gigs you do. I do a fair bit of outside playing and rain is not uncommon and hot direct sun is fairly normal. Sometimes, I'm even called to play outside in the cold! I wouldn't dream of taking a decent violin out in these conditions. When the carbon fiber violins come down in price I'm getting one!

May 4, 2009 at 12:57 AM ·

The region of the lower wings on the f holes is particularly fragile. If pressed  with a finger, the lower wing will behave as a lever and crack the top above it, as we see in many instruments.

May 4, 2009 at 01:04 AM ·

Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences!

I agreed that, anything except outdoor that that'll expose under any weather should be avoided or use something cheap or play a carbon fiber instrument. In fact, even if it's sunny day, I couldn't bear to play or else the whole violin will be covered with sweats just in a mere 10 mins of playing. Oh and I wouldn't bring my primary violin for beach events too.

But there're musicians I've come across don't even dare to bring their instrument to ballroom gigs. They don't play on it except in the orchestra and concerts. Even as a band/group member, I felt uneasy with the harsh tone whever they play on cheapos in regular gigs.

And couldn't agree more, the violinist/owner is the biggest threat to the violin! lol

May 6, 2009 at 05:46 PM ·

I use my primary violin to teach and gig.  My gigs are in temperate situations 99.9% of the time.  The exception was 5 years ago, when I brought my secondary instrument to Ireland with me.  When I teach the little ones, I use my less expensive bow lest I drop it or hit it against anything.  My students know not to get near my instrument. :)

May 6, 2009 at 07:52 PM ·

I was at salchow a few months ago and this guy randomly handed me his Strad.

So I guess some people aren't too afraid.

May 7, 2009 at 04:06 AM ·

Allan, what a story! So did you play the strad? I saw no mention about it in your blog entry. Don't worry about not taking a photo or anything, because the most beautiful memory is always the one that's resided inside your heart forever, not anything you can physically seen or touched. ;-)

May 7, 2009 at 12:15 PM ·

So Allan, what did you think of the Strad?  I'm sure it was worth millions, but how did it sound?  Was it easy to play?  I played a Strad once, but it was not for me; not enough power.

May 7, 2009 at 01:13 PM ·

This thread has indeed given me food for thought. I am so darned careful not to take my Jaeger case or a "good" bow for back-up, for fear the case might be "lifted" when not under the surveilliance of my four eys, and yet I bring my instrument into perhaps not the best of playing environments and situations.  HOW STUPID!!!  (I feel like I'm in a V8 juice commercial). Well this will now change. I have a quite nice sounding violin, with no pedigree or high appraised value  that shall now become used instead of being a closet queen. I think I shall give this "pound puppy" a new set of strings right now. Thanks, Casey for your thread and for pounding some common sense into my noggin'

nopity.gif No Pity image by TGrosjean

May 7, 2009 at 04:55 PM ·

I own two violins. A 1696 Rogeri that has belonged to my family since early 1800's and a fair Hellier copy. On tuesdays I (along some other children parents) play with a small orchestra in my doughter's school. Is really nice and fun playing with the kids, but I never take my Rogeri there as there are too many youngsters around. But on fridays I play  with the parents, and then it is when I get the Rogeri out of the case. Of course at home I play with "The Grandpa" as I call him.

Conclusion: It's better to keep fine violins away from people under 15.

May 7, 2009 at 04:56 PM ·

Sam - glad it helped, was just trying to share my story and some foods for thoughts for the public. ;-)

Nicholas - the lady I mentioned probably in her early 30's. I don't think it has nothing to do with age. I think grown up violinists will know what is it all about, while the general public don't, regardless of age.

May 8, 2009 at 07:26 AM ·

Casey, I don't think guys and gals between 8 and 14 as grown up violinists. So I keep my G.B. Rogeri safe at home on tuesdays.

PD: We are performing at a 1200 seats theatre next june 7th. We are amazed it is sold out! Promise some pics!

May 8, 2009 at 07:32 AM ·

Nicholas - Even if those between 8~14 want to try I don't think it'll work out, most of the time a full size violin doesn't even fit their hands well (well at least in Asia). ;) Looking forward to your nice photos!

May 8, 2009 at 12:53 PM ·

 We have a saying here in Spain: "Curiosity killed the cat". And another one "It's better to prevent that to heal"

May 8, 2009 at 03:57 PM ·

Nicolas - I think that is a wonderful story about having an old instrument like your Rogeri in the family for so many years.  What a precious heirloom! 

I've always felt that there are some people who you know you'd never, ever let near ANY of your violins, never mind your best instrument, while there are others where you feel completely happy to do so.  I've met other orchestral violinists who are always dropping mutes, bows, stands, shoulder rests and pencils on the floor - and would personally not risk them holding Johannes the  violin!   Others, you feel comfortable about letting them try your best violin because you know they are aware of its fragility and preciousness.

As for children, it seems a shame to deny them the chance to hear a really fantastic instrument simply because of the "what if...?" risk, but certainly a lot of caution is required - such as always putting the instrument away in a fastened case when not in use.  I do remember when I started playing in my very first orchestra as a child, one of the first things we were taught was that you NEVER EVER EVER run in the rehearsal room and you NEVER EVER EVER leave your violin out of its case when not playing it!  

I think the most thrilling experience I have ever had as a violinist was when Martin Beaver of the Tokyo Quartet allowed me to hold and examine his Strad from the Paganini quartet that they play on.  But he'd seen me looking over some violin music during the rehearsal so I guess he knew I'd know not to scrape the varnish!  

May 8, 2009 at 10:50 PM ·

Guys, no, I didn't play the strad

I turned it over in my hands and examined it for about a minute. I was so nervous I'd drop it or something. So in the end I didn't hear it played which was a big regret. I really should have asked him to play it for us.



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