Choosing a New Violin

November 20, 2009 at 02:00 AM ·

This past summer, I purchased a new violin at the advice of my teacher.  It was around $4000-5000 (I'm not sure of the exact price or maker). However, I'm now having problems with the new violin.  My teacher says that I'm becoming a much better violinist and my violin simply can't do many of the things he thinks are necessary to bring me to the next level.  We decided that, in a few months, I should start looking for a new violin. 

Now my problem :  I'm not completely sure what I should be listening for when I play the violins.  I'm looking in the $20,000 area, probably with dealers such as Bein and Fushi (since I live in Chicago).  Sadly, I won't have another violinist friend to play it so I can listen.  So what should I listen for under my ear?

Replies (34)

November 20, 2009 at 02:42 AM ·

Is the response even?  Play a scale, arpeggio, or passage that covers all 4 strings.

Does it speak easily? Play something a little complicated that can cause a violin to hit the guardrail.  Also, a fast-moving passage.  Many better violins give a little "ping" when you change notes that tell an audience when you're moving. 

See how easy it is to play in tune.  Some violins actively reward good intonation by resonating up a storm when you get it right.  Even better is when everything just falls into place without effort.  Others sound equally good (or bad) if you're a little off.  The ones to avoid are the ones where overtones clash and you always sound a little out of tune.  They can give you tendinitis from all the little corrections you feel you have to make.

Is there a large dynamic range?  Try something loud in high positions but also something soft to see if it responds and carries.  The really awesome Italians will make a pianissimo audible in the back of the hall.

Is the dynamic range fluid/flexible?  Some violins have different gears but require audible shifts between them.  So if you do a crescendo (or a diminuendo) on one bow, is it as fun on one end as on the other?

Does it sound like a violin, or more like a tin can?  If it is musical, is it the sort of voice that you like? (Don't be drawn too quickly to this part-- a lot of advancing or mediocre violinists get drawn to the "dark, rich" sound of something that won't make an ugly noise, but won't communicate for beans.  Alternatively, it's easy to start off wanting a bright sound and get intoxicated by something that's not going to serve you well in the long run.)

If you can, play some instruments that are well out of your price range so you can get an idea of what's available, and what traits you might want to seek out-- or avoid.

B&F had a very decent Matsuda-- and one less good one-- when I was last there, and those would be in your price range.  There are lots of other good makers in Chicago, one of whom--Michael Darnton-- posts here.  And yet others that I don't know.

If you want some other specific ideas, e-mail me at  I've spent the last few months meeting as many makers as I can, and have found a lot that really do fantastic work.


November 20, 2009 at 06:23 AM ·

I wish I could so casually relate that I'm "looking around the $20,000"  instead of having to make payments for a $3,000 instrument. Remember to thank your family profusely and sincerely.

However, on the topic, what about all the advice offered in Smiley Hsu's long running discussion about purchasing a good instrument/

November 20, 2009 at 11:32 AM ·

BTW, at this price level you should be able to work out 1-week trials.  So you can bring candidates to your lessons and have your teacher look at them.

November 20, 2009 at 02:35 PM ·

Smiley's threads:

Violin :


Take the violin to the hall and test drive there, if you have the chance. Bring along another violinist, perhaps your teacher, so you can play and also listen to someone else plays it.

Also, play together with a piano if you can. I recently attended a live performances by Igudesman and Joo. I don't know which instrument Igudesman was playing (supposed to be a gorgeous Seraphin) but it sounded tiny and sounded like the sound wasn't coming out, and was drown by the piano accompaniment pretty easily. It sounded fine when he played alone, though (but still, it was a little disappointing). It was held in the MPO hall, which is a fantastic hall for unamplified concerts.

November 22, 2009 at 07:58 PM ·

Yes, I'm quite lucky that my family's willing to finance part of it.  But I've been working a lot too.  Just glad that it all turned out well.

Thank you guys so much!

November 22, 2009 at 08:06 PM ·

as a beginning violinist I can't fathom paying over 10,000 dollars for a violin I know that the better the instrument the better the tone and sound but still I would be happy with my ( if I had ) 5,000 violin

Randy <<old fart

November 22, 2009 at 10:03 PM ·

Actually, I've casually tried a few in the "between 10,000 and 20,000 range".  I'm a more advanced violinist, however.

It's not just tone, etc. - it's what the violin can "give" when you push it technically.  These simply can "give" more!  I have an old, battered mid-1800's Mittenwald violin currently, with fairly good tone & sound (one major plus is that my current violin "rings" so easily), but after trying out some of these others, they simply can "give" more than mine can. 

It's the same thing with the bow - I had an O.K. student-level bow, but I upgraded a couple of years ago to about a ~$600 bow, and I couldn't believe how much MORE I could do with this bow.

November 23, 2009 at 03:27 PM ·

Hi Lena.

I am posting this message on behalf of a friend. She is looking to sell her violin---a beautiful Matsuda that she bought from Bein & Fushi several years ago. I believe the B&F asking price for these instruments is generally around $20,000 (if not more!) but her asking price is well below that. The instrument is in pristine condition. If you are seriously interested in buying an instrument, I would highly recommend getting in touch with her. She is extremely professional and reliable. Please let me know and I would be happy to give you her contact information.

November 23, 2009 at 04:06 PM ·

Current retail on those is $18K.  And the better ones are indeed rather good.

November 23, 2009 at 04:34 PM ·

I was looking for a violin too earlier this year.  I was in a much lower price range, but I had the same question--what are you listening for?  I think Steve's recommendations are great.  

Where I then had trouble was picking pieces or passages to play that really showed what I wanted to show--but two passages stand out as having been really helpful.  One was the opening to the 1st movement of the Bruch concerto:  starting on the sustained low G and darting quickly up.  It gave me a sense of all 4 strings in quick succession.  The other one was the bariolage passage from the Bach partita in E.  I was trying a violin that I thought I liked quite a bit, but it did not have an even sound between strings, and playing that passage, the E-string stuck out like a sore thumb.  That passage also gave me a good sense of ease of string crossings.  

The violin I ended up buying also rang nicely when I was exactly in tune.  My old violin was one of those that sounded equally good (or bad), tone-wise, no matter what the pitch.  My teacher was always telling me to "find the clarity" in pitches, and with the new violin, when I had it home for a trial and was practicing orchestra music on it, I finally got a better sense of what she was talking about.  I finally felt like I had found the clarity.  That was when I decided to buy it.

November 23, 2009 at 07:04 PM ·

 Even if you don't have musician friends that can listen to you, have someone listen to you far away with the fiddle.  What sounds good under the ear may be completely different in the hall.....

One of the most reliable people when it comes to this have been my parents.  They only briefly played musical instruments, piano and mandolin, as children, and don't even know how to read music at this point..... yet they're extremely accurate when it comes to this (maybe all my years of playing developed their ears?).  So when I chose my last violin I had them listen to a few at a distance and they were able to capture in words precisely the tone quality and color of each.  Your opinion matters, too, of course, but I just feel that the sound at a distance is a *huge* factor (unless you plan to only practice for yourself and never perform) that what other people hear is of equal importance.  I also think that a lot of the time..... you just "know."  You find that one, and you know that no matter how many other violins you play, you have found The One.  No matter what specific things you may be looking for, it's always seemed to me to be washed away by just "knowing" that that is your instrument.

November 23, 2009 at 10:48 PM ·

My opinion is to stay away from dealers...they always have to take comission so the price is almost always hiegher then fair. I would advise you to go directly to violin case if you are ok with new for it yourself...from private owners... good luck

November 24, 2009 at 02:40 AM ·

Hi Lena,

Unless you get super lucky, be prepared to spend months, even a year or more to find the right fiddle.  At 20K, you can expect to find a professional grade instrument that even a violin virtuoso would be happy to play -- it's just a matter of figuring out what you want, and being lucky enough to stumble upon it. 

There is something to be said for buying directly from another owner.  Some of the best instruments are being hoarded by their owners and unless there are special circumstances, they will never sell.  In my case, I bought my violin from a professional musician that suffered a shoulder injury and she was downsizing to a 3/4 instrument to relieve the strain to her shoulder.  Now that it is in my hands, I am quite certain I will never let it go.  So keep your eyes open for private sales.  They don't come up all that often, but when they do, it is probably worthwhile to check it out.

When dealing with a shop, or if buying directly from a maker, get to know them and let them know that you are serious about buying.  Try to be first in line to try a new fiddle.  The best fiddles go pretty fast and it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time. 

Best of luck in your search.  I hope you find the fiddle of your dreams.

[edit] By the way, if you go to Bein and Fushi, I'm sure they have a professional violinist on staff that can play the violins for you.  Any decent violin shop will have someone around that can play violin; they may not be virtuoso level, but they will definitely be able to play well enough so you can hear the difference.

November 24, 2009 at 11:36 AM ·

I would not exclude dealers. I think that in your price range a contemporary instrument would be a good idea - new or second hand -  and  dealers are particular and demanding about contemporary instruments. 

A good dealer - or an employee of the firm - may also help you to choose the instrument according to your playing style.  If you are an agressive player, for instance, he will spot that imediatly and bring instruments that fits your playing style. Another good thing about dealers is that they have instruments by many makers so that you can compare them. 

But I may be wrong. 

November 24, 2009 at 12:34 PM ·

Without stealing the OP, I too am looking for another violin but not in the region of $20,000 - my teacher from many years ago once said that 'more is not necessarily better' – some student violins that passed through his hands sounded just as good as his fine old Italian violin and some of these ‘student’ violins were worth a fraction of what his was worth.


To say that dealers charge more is true, but so do some private deals as well and it’s difficult to know what price is fair and what is not.


Some online shops do let you have a trial period e.g. – this online shop seems fair – they offer a 30 day trial period and if not happy, you send the fiddle back (in original condition) and get a full refund – they even pay the shipping back for you.


The site also has an excellent violinist demonstrating the violins – there is one Chinese made fiddle worth about £300 that sounds just as good as a violin worth £6000.  I made an initial enquiry regarding a fine violin by Frank Reiner and a couple of bows etc – the Frank Reiner violin sounds great for a decent student violin – I did want to try out a Gustave Villaume but it was sold.


Does anyone have any dealings or experience with this online violin shop?

ps - Another e.g of ‘more is not necessarily better’ is Hillary Hahn’s Villaume violin.  Obviously not worth as much as say a Stradivarius/Guarnerius but sounds absolutely beautiful compared with.

November 24, 2009 at 01:14 PM ·

I don't know those guys at all, but I notice that they have a Nagyvary violin listed.  It could be fun to try one, as they have been the object of much hype and suspicion.

November 24, 2009 at 01:24 PM ·

One of the problems of choosing a good violin is knowing what a good violin is, in terms of sound and building features.

It may appear simple, but it's not. As with other things you have to develop a reference table to judge instruments, it's not an easy thing and requires time to develop an "informed taste".

Some players, for instance, will not care about how a violin sounds on the 7th position on the G string till they start to study the repertoire that uses these notes and discover wolves and rasped notes in this rather complicated tonal region.

November 26, 2009 at 01:37 PM ·

A recent poster asks about  I have bought two violins from them in the past few months (including, I think, the Chinese violin referred to) and both instruments are, for my purposes, superb instruments at bargain prices. They will pay return postage if you are in Germany, where they are based. Otherwise, you pay for return carriage. Fair enough. And the 30-day trial is an excellent offer - as well as the trade-up option if you want to get a finer instrument at some later date. The shop is run by Dr. Annette Roeben and she is a fair dealer in my experience. One word of advice: if you are an English speaker, and know some German, check out the German version of the site. You might get a snippet of extra information, given that this is their first language. There was an extra opinion on the Chinese violin which was a great help, and also an ambiguity in the English was easy to clear up by reference to the German.

Usual disclaimer: no relation or business interest other than as a very very satisfied customer.

November 28, 2009 at 02:15 PM ·

I agree with Luis Claudio that you should consider a new violin.

I was recently looking for an instrument as a serious adult learner who had outgrown his student instrument. My budget was smaller than yours, and I visited many of the main dealers in the UK without finding an old instrument that came close to feeling "right".

In my price range new instruments seemed to offer better value, as you are not paying for the "antique" value. So I started a search for the right maker.

I was fortunate enough to find a luthier, Martin Mcclean of Moneymore in Northern Ireland who has recently studied with Geary Baese. Geary has developed something of a legendary reputation for his insights into the golden age of Italian violin making (search this site and you'll find a fair bit about him).

I can tell you that the instrument is quite remarkable: huge  tone, effortless response, evenness up and across the strings - it positively sings! The violin lifts my spirits every time I take it out of the case. Pretty much every time I play it, people come over and ask me what it is. I've had the opportunity to compare it to some fine old German and Italian instruments recently, priced up to $80,000 or so, and I feel that my instrument is more than a match for any of them on pretty much every dimension - there are bargains out there if you look hard enough.

The decision was pretty easy - even as a beginner I could tell that I had found something special. I'm not discounting the more technical advice given above, but in my experience it's more like falling in love - you just "know" when you've found the right musical partner!

So I'd encourage you to find a talented modern maker - ideally someone up and coming like Martin Mcclean whose prices are still reasonable. You could do worse than look for a student of Geary Baese - Martin's work suggests to me that Geary really is on to something. Or if you want a more established maker using Geary's methods, I don't know what Needhams go for these days but with your budget it might be an option if you stretched a bit.

Good luck with your search!

November 28, 2009 at 08:49 PM ·

 Hi Lena, in the original post you wrote $4000-5000 (I'm not sure of the exact price or maker). However, I'm now having problems with the new violin..."

I don't want to put a damper on this thread, it must be an exciting prospect to get a great violin at this stage for you. but I'm interested in what the current violin can't do. Is it a fault of the violin's structure, or is it a set up problem?

The reason I ask, is that the violins I recently looked at here in Sydney, which is nothing like the market I suspect you have access to in the states, violins at $5000 were pretty good.  I had good (professional/teachers etc) play them, and they managed the excerpts of Bach, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Wieniawski the players threw at them.  I didn't end up having even $5000 and so am paying off one that is $3,500 and even that my teacher is very confident would get me past AMEB Grade 8.  I'm not saying it is the sound you are going to get from a fine violin, but it has the allowance for the virtuostic skills to be played with ease - not by me though :) and a good projection and tone. I would have expected that a well made instrument for US 4-5,000 would be a shoe in, and the discrimination would have been only on preferences. 

November 30, 2009 at 11:25 PM ·

I concur with Sharelle...also a couple things strike me as odd...only a year ago, at the advice of your teacher you purchased a new violin for 4-5 k (if you can't remember the makers name, look inside the f hole) and now at the advice of your teacher you have outgrown his (her) recommendation within a year and need something better? I would get a second opinion.

December 1, 2009 at 12:34 AM ·

Geoff, you mention Martin McClean and violins but how much do they cost? - his website seems limited with no sound samples or pricing etc



December 1, 2009 at 04:01 AM ·

I also wonder if Sharelle's question may be the most important on this thread.
Some teachers get a commission when they suggest a student to certain violin shops. It is not illegal, not necessarily wrong, but it could possibly be mis-used. Why are you needing to change violins so quickly?

I would make certain that if you DO make a change, you purchase somewhere that has a guaranteed trade-in value for your violin if you need to purchase another upgrade; that way, the money spent on this instrument will be useful for your next instrument.
Below is a quote from the Shar website (you can see the complete text if you browse the details of any finer violin). There are other places with similar policies; I would strongly consider those options, as well as look to Sharelle's question.

"100% - credit of the original purchase price for better quality instruments".

December 3, 2009 at 12:36 AM ·


I don't want to say too much about cost, as Martin is still thinking about how to price his new work since he trained with Geary. Let's just say he's in the mid market for a new instrument,.

As for value, I'll simply repeat that I've found nothing else in the same price range that even begins to approach Martin's work, and I searched from Bristol to Edinburgh. As I said, it more than holds its own against instruments many times the price. My first violin, a fine Ceruti kindly loaned by a relative, recently sold in Sotheby's for $120,000 and Martin's instrument knocks spots off that as well. The Ceruti rather spoiled me for the dealer instruments in my price range, but now I've no regrets at all over losing it.

I've found Martin a great man to deal with, so I'd suggest you simply call him up for a chat. I think he's planning a trip to the mainland quite soon, so if you're in the UK that might give you an opportunity for a trial.

By the way, don't be put off by the website - it's out of date. The violins are his old model, pre his training with Geary. As you can see from the testimonials they were popular instruments. But I've tried his old demo instrument and the new model is in an entirely new dimension.

Geary keeps his methods confidential, but the few snippets I've picked up are fascinating. Your best source is Howard Needham's site: The navigation is a bit baffling - you have to hover over "menu" in the top left, then click on "A Perfect System". To scroll, you click on the flower shaped ends of the bar on the left. (Who dreams up these things?)

I understand that right now Martin has finished instruments for sale. But I wouldn't wait too long to try one - once word begins to get out I suspect that his prices will rise and his waiting list will begin to grow!

December 3, 2009 at 09:58 PM ·

Well having thought hard this time round (usually go to one place and try out a few fiddles then buy the one I fall in love with), I decided to start my search for that perfect violin by visiting a shop about 50 miles from where I live. 

With a budget of just £1100, I decided to try out a range of violins within my budget range.  I tried several fiddles ranging from new Chinese to old German and French violins as well as the odd English one and some un-named.  The ones I really liked I placed to one side and the others were put back where they simply belonged.

Luckily, each violin had the same set of Dominant strings on them and I played the same music on each violin to give a fairer ‘test’.  I checked for resonance, response and playability and narrowed it down to about 4 violins.  I was there for about 2 hours trying them all and really getting stuck into them. 

I then tried some bows better than mine and what a difference that made, even to my trusted student fiddle.  This made me really think, ‘is it the bow or violin or a combination of both?’  Without despair, I asked to try one of their ‘better’ instruments and was handed a fine Italian valued at £5000.  Now this spoilt me rotten for I started playing beyond what I thought I was capable of, a concerto here, Kreutzer study there and was truly enjoying myself but all the same realising that I couldn’t afford this instrument just yet!!  But the different and more expensive bow really did make me think.

The two contenders were a fine French and German violin both higher in value than my budget allowed.  I kind of hoped the luthier would do some miracle deal but she didn’t.  They offered a decent part-ex against my fiddle but the price of the German fiddle and new bow was far higher than I hoped. 

I dug deep and held back, knowing that there were other places to visit so I killed the impulse and said thank you to the shop and left.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and I hope to secure that ‘violin’ soon.

I went to my local luthier who let me try out some of his, a couple of new Chinese violins and a cheapish old German violin and wow!! All three violins sounded, responded and resonated like no other I’d tried earlier on.  These violin were equal to if not better than the more expensive German and French violins I tried earlier.

What a day I’ve had and it’s only the beginning!!  I’ll keep you posted as to what I eventually get but I’m not buying on impulse this time round.


December 4, 2009 at 04:56 PM ·

I am an adult beginner playing on a 700-dollar Chinese student violin, so I make no claim to expertise, but I find myself thinking thoughts very similar to Sharelle's warning.  Lena writes that she knows neither the make nor the cost of her present violin. For someone contemplating the purchase of a very expensive instrument, that seems odd to me.  It is also odd that she cannot say exactly why her present violin is not up to the task.  And it is strange that the teacher who counseled her to buy her present one so recently is now urging another purchase.  Ordinarily, one would expect a buyer or potential buyer of anything to know an awful lot more before embarking.

Which leads to a topic that is on my mind:  Should a player wait till he or she is dissatisfied with an instrument or just leap up to a presumably better instrument whenever the budget will allow it?  After reading Smiley Hsu's description of Laura Vigato's violins, I found a luthier near Paris who has one and went to play it.  This is the first time I've gone shopping like this.  Honestly, I wasn't thrilled with it, but I did really like a less expensive (7,000-euro) instrument from the same part of Italy made in the 1930s.  It was love at first hearing and playing.  But my ears are hardly well formed, and I am not really sure what I'm responding to.  I really have no idea if that instrument is worth 7,000 or 3,000 or anything else.

It seems to me that taste in violins requires time and experience, much like taste in wine.  Unfortunately, it is far easier to sample a more expensive wine than to, for most people anyway, spend 20,000 dollars on a new violin. (Although maybe anyone lucky enough to be able to spend 20,000 dollars on a violin should do it immediately and just be grateful!)

My plan is to play it safe and sample many more instruments, but in the meantime any tips on developing one's appreciation for violins' virtues and flaws would be appreciated.

December 5, 2009 at 08:37 PM ·

Interesting to read that Geoff, as my violin is also made by Martin McClean. I've had it since February 2007 and I made the decision to buy it within about 5 minutes of picking it up. Previously I owned a Klotz violin from about 1800 and am much happier with this violin.

It possesses a remarkably rich sound and other professional players are always coming over to me and asking to play it.  I think as a maker Martin has something extra that gives his instruments a real heart and that comes through the music.

So it certainly is possible to find a really stunning instrument that you'll be happy with and doesn't cost an absolute fortune. I tried some quite expensive instruments and even if I had a bigger budget, I'd still have chosen this one every time.


December 5, 2009 at 10:00 PM ·

So the Baese influence spreads.  Needham, Jantzen, now McClean.  Anybody else?

n.b.:  Geoff-- forgive my casual choice of words, of which there is too much online.  No ill intentions meant, either to the source or the recipients of what seems to be some very interesting and useful insight.  My intent was actually to find more makers following this vein of discovery.  I've liked the few Needhams I've seen, and am prepared to like work from the others of the group.

December 8, 2009 at 11:48 PM ·

Hi Stephen

"Mafia"? As in "secret criminal conspiracy"? Not sure I understand what you're implying...

As far as I can see these 3 guys are simply making very good instruments that give people a great deal of pleasure. What's the problem with that? It's not as though there's a shortage of other options, if you are not drawn to their work!

I've got no insights into Geary's working methods but I can judge the results. As Vaughan has said, Martin's instruments before studying with Baese were rather fine and by any standards the new model is a step improvement. So it seems to me there is clearly some substance behind Geary's reputation as a teacher.

I've got no interest here beyond offering UK readers of the opportunity to enjoy the work of a fine emerging maker while he's still affordable. And I'm trying to convince Lena that you really don't have to spend $20,000 to find a wonderful, professional quality instrument provided you can find the right contemporary luthier.

Stephen, if you give one of these instruments a try you might be pleasantly surprised. And I'm pretty sure you won't be given "An Offer You Can't Refuse"!

[Edit: Stephen - thanks for clarifying and editing your comment - I'm glad you don't have any ill-will towards these fine makers...]

September 9, 2014 at 01:30 PM · This is indeed an interesting but difficult subject.(-:

I bougth my French violin at

European Violins

In the mid. price range they have nice instruments and their pricing is ok in my opinion. (-:

September 12, 2014 at 11:05 AM · One important point in the OP: the sound "under the ear". I would put a cotton plug, or a speciallised silicone one, in your left ear to "distance" yourself from the violin your are trying.

September 12, 2014 at 02:33 PM · If your teacher is the one saying that you need a new violin of that caliber $$$$$$$.

Isn't it his obligation to help you to find one?

September 13, 2014 at 04:17 AM · I will add that I didn't feel confident judging violins on my own until I had been a professional for several years. I always brought prospective instruments to a teacher or trusted mentor to evaluate. The usual problem is that we grow to like what we're used to, and reject anything that has a fundamentally different sound, even though that may be precisely what's needed.

October 2, 2014 at 03:52 AM · Couldn't fail to notice that the responses to this thread are now 6 years after the initial post! This said, I tend to think that if one has to ask such question(s), that he/she isn't quite ready to move up to a $20K instrument yet, no matter what the teacher might say (not to mention the fact that she suggestively outgrew her $5000 instrument in one year?)! In this price range, I would think that one has a very clear idea of his/her own current instrument's limitation and consequently know what to look for. I wonder what the OP ended up doing in the end?

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