Any limit to the quality of a beginner violin?

December 30, 2009 at 01:23 AM ·

I am an adult about to begin learning the violin, and I should be grateful for some advice on buying one.

I notice that many cheaper violins are described as being appropriate for students. But, I have some money to spend, and am not keen on the idea of buying a cheaper instrument to start with and having to upgrade soon after. I like the idea of having a moderately good instrument to start with, not super expensive, but 'respectable', probably up to around $2000.

Is there any disadvantage in a novice buying something more expensive than a typical 'student' instrument (other than the obvious risk of newcommers losing interest and abandoning the hobby)? For example, is there a significant risk of damage by a novice (bearing in mind I am a responsible adult who will be careful!)? Is it better discipline for a novice to learn on a 'rougher' instrument in order to make it more challenging to create a pleasing sound? Are more expensive instruments harder for learners to master as they acquire basic skills? 

Any advice would be warmly appreciated.

Replies (35)

December 30, 2009 at 01:48 AM ·

Why not get a good violin? Chances are it'll hold resale value reasonably well (meaning, of course, that a dealer will offer you half what you paid; consignment sales might net a better percentage). If you buy from a shop with a good stock you can trade more or less even up later once you gain experience, in case you find yourself wishing for something different.

I've always held that it's a good idea to get the best you can afford, as it will aid in the learning process and you won't have to fight the instrument to get a decent sound.

A quality bow is also indicated. Rule of thumb is about a third of the cost of the instrument, but it depends a lot on both you and the instrument.  If I was in that position I might go for a really good carbon fiber bow, and wait to select a pernambuco bow once I had more experience under my belt. Your mileage may differ, of course.

December 30, 2009 at 02:27 AM ·

I always say this but many say: get the best you can afford and the best deal you can find in the price range you look in (for this, it is good to have a professionnal violinist/teacher with you!) I agree so much with this!

Good luck!

Anne-Marie

December 30, 2009 at 04:33 AM ·

I completely agree with the previous posters - why not get the best violin/bow you can afford?

I'm an adult re-beginner and I bought the best violin/bow I could afford and have absolutely no regrets. My new violin/bow give me feedback that I never heard on my low quality setup. It really keeps me motivated.

Good luck! 

December 30, 2009 at 05:16 AM ·

As an adult beginner who started out on a VSO, getting a better violin is definitely a good idea.  Having a better violin will help you out immensely and let you concentrate on what you are doing and learning without having to sort out bad sounds that are being produced by the violin, and not by you.  Why play on a bad violin and struggle more than you have to?  violin is hard enough as it is.

keeping that in mind, going all out and buying a really expensive violin would be insane at the moment for the simple fact that you probably won't be able to tell the difference in sound and playability while choosing a violin.  Chances are that a couple of years down the road after your playing has developed a bit, you will have a better idea of what kind of sound you want and want you want in a violin.  For that reason, realize that you might still be replacing your violin after a couple of years.  Also, when you are looking for a violin, I would recommend taking someone with you who can already play and get their opinion before you buy.

December 30, 2009 at 06:49 AM ·

A good idea is to start off with a violin in the $300~$500 range, china made or lower range gligas. Not too cheap to struggle learning, not too expensive to throw around.

Then from there, you will know what you're looking for along your journey of learning the violin. Choosing a violin is part of the learning progress, you'll never appreciate good violins if you haven't play a bad violin (by no means they're junk, just being bad if you compare to the real good violins).

Get a decent bow too. I came across china made carbon fiber bow that are so cheap at $60 but very durable and play better than wooden bow cost twice or 3 times as much. I sincerely think CF bows are godsend for beginners, much better than wood of the same price range, and yet more durable. By the time you learn advance techniques, you'll want a fine wooden bows, they beat CF bows by miles, both in sound and playability (I happily sold my Arcus Cadenza Gold after acquiring my lovely old french bow, no comparison!).

December 30, 2009 at 02:13 PM ·

 I'm more of the idea of spending a bit more, but have someone you know (teacher etc) help you pick it. Beginners do notice when something sounds bad, I get my beginners giving me their violin saying it sounds bad (they think it might be out of tune), but really, it just sounds bad....

Don't forget to budget for a case, the cases that might come with a violin aren't usually worth it...

December 30, 2009 at 04:52 PM ·

I started as an adult, and I was in a similar dilemma.
I had a difficult time identifying what I was reading about different violins.

Some of the more basic ones that say 'teacher approved' are well below the quality level of a real violin. I would suggest checking with a place that allows the full value of your purchase to be applied toward the purchase of an upgrade.
An alternative would be to rent an instrument for a time (it could even be a month or so), until you can feel what the violin can provide to you.

When you do purchase, make certain you have the chance to try the violin first. Many dealers will let you try it for a couple weeks or so.

Buying a violin is not deciding which violin to purchase then buying. It is more trying the violins you think you will like, then when you find one you like in your affordability range, you will have some comparison.

Once you get a better idea, you may decide to purchase a violin on-line with fewer options, however if you do so as a beginner, it is almost a certainty you will buy a violin worth much less than you spend. So, if you do buy on-line, do so through Shar, Gigla, or a similar shop with the ability to let you try the instrument.

December 30, 2009 at 08:13 PM ·

This is totally off topic.  Sorry, don't mean to hijack your thread, but it is great to see so many people taking up the violin that are not youngsters.  I was once an avid windsurfer, and I watched the sport take off in the 70's and early 80's, but eventually suffer a slow but sure death in the past 2 decades.  I don't know if music is growing, dying, or holding its own, but its nice to hear about people who share the same passion.

Regarding the instrument, there was a similar thread a few weeks ago.  My advice would be to find a local shop that is well stocked and rent a violin to start.  You can then apply the rental fee towards the purchase.  That way you have some time to develop an ear for the type of sound you like and also to get a feel for the playing characteristics that suit you.  $2K is a sizable investment so it makes sense to get something that will suit you at least for a few years. You really won't be in a position to make that judgement until you have played for at least a year or so.

December 30, 2009 at 08:48 PM ·

For $2K - $3K you can buy a good China-made violin of sufficient quality to last a lifetime of playing, no matter how good you get to be. I know some really good violinists who play on such instruments (Jay-Haide a l'ancienne, for example, or Scott Cao).

Decent instruments do what you ask them to when you ask them to, no matter what it is. Typical beginner instruments are often barely acceptable for only the most elementary things; learning to play on one of those things will probably make you a rougher, gruffer player than you will want to be, and as you upgrade to better instruments you will have to drastically change your style.

If you learn to play on a good instrument, there is a good chance that if you are forced to play on a bad instrument, you will still know what you want to hear come out of it and adjust your playing accordingly. I have played on instruments that cover about 5-orders of magnitude in "value," from $50 on up (in today's market), Easiest and best was the one at the top.

Go for the best -- but get help choosing. Not all instruments at the same price are the same, not even those of the same brand. The more violin friends you can get to go along on the selection the better. I once went along with about 8 other people when one of them (an accomplished player) wanted to buy a new violin. We did lunch too. Have fun!

Andy

December 30, 2009 at 10:08 PM ·

Harry

I'm not too sure about Casey's idea of a lower end Gliga. I started with a mid-range Gliga. The problem with these instruments is that a good professional setup and set of strings would cost a significant pecentage of the instrument itself, so even the better dealers tend to cut corners to maintain their margin. I quickly hit issues with mine, and when I took it to a good luthier the quote for sorting it out was prohibitive. If you do take this route, you absolutely need to purchase with the help of someone who really knows about setup, to ensure you get a playable instrument.

Rather than spend so much on sorting out such a modest instrument, I decided to take the plunge and invest in a good violin. I can honestly say that no material purchase I have ever made has given me more pleasure. It's much easier to play, and responds to good technique (while my old instrument required a heavy hand to get it to sound). But above all it's a joy to play - and as adult beginners, why are we doing this if it's not for enjoyment? So if you have the budget and are confident you are committed to this rather long and arduous path, I'd encourage you to go for the best instrument you can afford. But you will need help from a teacher or experienced friend - there are bargains to be found but it's a jungle out there...

December 30, 2009 at 10:10 PM ·

I am an adult who started playing 4 years ago.  Get the best instrument you can get.  ABSOLUTELY!!!!!  A better instrument will inspire you to play because it sounds better and in the begining a good sound isn't always easy to get.  ALSO, get it from somewhere that you can trade it in and get most if not all of your purchase price back towards another.  After a year or two your ear will get better and your abilty to pinpoint what you like and don't like in a violin sound will become more refined.  You need to be able to make a change and not feel guilty about it.  My neighbour was kind enough to lend me a decent violin which I still have and use to play along with my daughter.  I switched to the viola 2 years ago and just downsized from a big viola to a smaller on and it was really easy to do because the maker had a fabulous exchange policy.  Finding the right instrument takes time so leave yourself lots of room. 

I hope you get as much joy and satisfaction out of learning to play and I have.  :-)

December 30, 2009 at 10:32 PM ·

I'd agree with what Geoff said about Gligas.  My first violin was an Eastman and my second violin was a Gliga, and they were both great instruments - the setups just sucked.  They tend to come with Wittner composite tailpieces with built-in fine tuners, so that's all right, but the bridges are horribly cut, even on their higher-end models, and you might need to get the soundpost looked at as well.  The nut is usually okay, and the pegs work well.  The guy who I bought both these instruments from strings up everything he sells with Dominants, so I wouldn't worry about strings too much.

December 30, 2009 at 11:29 PM ·

Even for an absolute beginner, $2000 isn't an absurd amount of money to spend on a violin set-up.  You'll be surprised how fast it will go by the time you choose an instrument, bow, case, shoulder rest if you will be using one, and get an appropriate bridge, chin rest, and tailpiece if any of these are lacking in quality/comfort.  Buy from a shop that will be fair about trade-ins or upgrades, should you so desire over the next few years, and who will be there for you for repairs, adjustments, etc., as needed.  Such a shop will also be a help in choosing this first instrument for you and in making sure it is properly set up to begin with.  The advice others have given to take someone with you is important.  An experienced player or teacher will see and hear things that you won't.  Eastman has nice outfits in this price range, and so does Snow.  I have found that in this range, well-made Chinese often bests European, but don't rule anything in or out until you (and a friend or two) have tried it.

December 31, 2009 at 06:28 AM ·

My 2 cents: Get a moderate priced beginer $500 range, but make sure the shop will take the old one back as a trade in when you upgrade.

December 31, 2009 at 07:04 AM ·

I agreed about the comments about gligas too, which is what I lefted out. Setups are just sucked on those instruments but if they receive decent care and setup, they can be good.

I suggested gligas because they tends of have very dark sound and less power, but they're so gentle to the ear which most beginners will love to hear. Plus they're not expensive, just to watch out for the setup as mentioned, bring along someone who know what to look at is the best choice.

December 31, 2009 at 10:02 AM ·

Get the one with the bear head scroll!  RAWR!

December 31, 2009 at 10:24 AM ·

I hesitate to disagree with anyone on this website since you're obviously all much more experienced than me - but I would suggest you get a cheap fiddle to start with & wait a bit to upgrade.

I've only be learning 10 months & started with a really cheap second hand instrument off ebay (please don't groan!) that cost me £35 (about $60 US) including case & 2 bows. I did a bit of adjustment to the bridge height & pegs (after some basic research to see how to do it) & it saw me through quite happily till recently when I decided that I was going to keep going & wanted a better fiddle.

There's such a lot of choice out there and when you're just starting out you have no real idea of what's available or what to look for - after you've been playing a while I think you'll have a better idea. Plus you'll sound so awful at first that it won't make any difference - and you can at least blame it on your cheap fidde!!

December 31, 2009 at 07:54 PM ·

 For many production violins you're paying for the varnish and the name of the company that makes it. Be careful. 

Here's my idea of progressing instruments: you pick any violin to start on and when you are advanced enough you will be able to play a violin and see if you like the sound or not. It's good to have a cheap violin to compare the better ones to. 

Start from the beginning, don't take a shortcut and skip a step by spending a lot of money on a violin that you might not like when you can play well. I would say it would be better to save your money for when you outgrow your cheaper instrument so you can afford to get what you truly want rather than settle for second place when trying out violins.

December 31, 2009 at 09:18 PM ·

I agree with Andy's analysis (and several others'): obviously, you're too early in the game to decide if you're a Strad player or a Guarneri guy.  So don't get too deep.  Nevertheless, there are some surprisingly competent instruments out there for around $2K and if you get one of those and have it set up well, you won't be assuming that the bad sounds that come out are someone else's fault.  And when you make an improvement in your technique, it will be heard.

Just be sure that you get as much help as you can from competent violinist friends or teachers, and choose trouble-free over idiosyncratic if there's a choice.   Don't forget to get a half-decent bow.   A bad bow can really hold you back and you might never know why.  A player can give you a solid opinion about your options there. 

BTW, I don't know what Scott Cao's cheaper instruments are like (I did try a certified hand-made one at Shar that was very nice indeed), but the Jay Haide line can produce some remarkably good sounds if you choose carefully.    Remember that even from the most consistent maker, violins vary.  It's more like bottles of Burgundy from different firms and years than, say, Japanese cars.

January 1, 2010 at 05:49 PM ·

I would never buy a Gliga, it sounds as if there is a metal mute on it. The best bang for the buck at the moment is Yitamusic on ebay (yes, ebay!). Their violins are really amazing and they are so cheap that only Santa Claus would sell them for that money! The pictures are very detailed, you get what you see, the sound is great, warm and bright.

January 1, 2010 at 10:55 PM ·

west coast string instruments and eastman have some lovely models in your price range....

January 2, 2010 at 01:55 AM ·

I am also an adult re-beginner and bought a good Gliga after my 20+ year hiaitus.  Two years later I went with a better instrument (made by a local luthier).  My rationale was to 'buy' the best sound and playability my budget would allow.  I also invested as much in the bow as I did in the instrument.  Now, two years later, I am not at all sorry for upgrading and wish I had done it sooner.  I didn't really think about re-sale value.  I was totally focused on finding the best instrument I could to best support my learning and playing.  Also, a lot of shops have trade-in or upgrade policies you may want to ask about.

I've found that as much as loving the sound of an instrument (which can be altered to some degree by strings, bows, humidity, etc), is comfort and playability. 

The hard part is the number of good and not so good instruments and bows at all price points.....but I'll leave that to another discussion thread.  I say find the one you love (and I agree to leave some budget for a bow - they are amazingly important!).   I think if you like it now,  someone else likely will, too, should you decide to sell it later.       

 

January 2, 2010 at 08:54 AM ·

I'm an adult beginner as well and i'm very excited about my first lesson today !!! I guess that's evident as i'm up and about at 3:30am prowling the internet, unable to sleep :). I was going to post a similar question when i found this thread, and am i glad i did. I'm renting a student outfit that my music school has on hand for $19/mo until i'm certain that i'm going to continue with the lessons. I had all but made up my mind about gettting a GLIGA Maestro (abt $1600) for when it was time to buy, i'd done a bit of research on the net and found mostly positive reviews from students and their teachers abt this maker, but after reading the above comments i'm thinking again :( So if there's anybody else that's ever tried a Gliga i'd greatly appreciate your comments. If you have other recommendations( around $2K) i'd welcome those as well. Thank You!

P.S : Found these videos of a student on a Gliga just for reference, there isn't any info abt the strings(standard is evah pirazzi) or the bow being used but even so... 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu_-zW1B5vk 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRlxWHfRewg&feature=related

January 2, 2010 at 09:33 AM ·

 Ditto what was said already.

The most important part is trying out the fiddles.  Hopefully you live near where there are some shops.  Also, keep a really open mind.  Fiddles in a lower price range can definitely outplay or be a better match for you than higher priced fiddles... so try everything you can.  :)  As time goes by and your technique improves you may prefer other things.... so I guess another angle to consider is whether it would affect your future finances, in case you want to change from the first fiddle you bought.  Ditto what was said about checking out the shop's trade-in policy.  I think once you actually try out the fiddles, you'll figure it out. :)  When my students try fiddles, there is usually one, sometimes two, that just seem to be "the" one.  And not infrequently, it is not the most expensive one they tried either.

January 3, 2010 at 04:56 AM ·

Yes. I also think that you should buy the best violin and bow of your budget.

However, by my experience, violin of 2K is not in any local shops around you, and ordering violins of more than $400 on the Internet is risky of paying the shipping cost for the returning violins. My friend got one from China mainland at 1K and a half K when his friend works there for 2 years contract. I am willing to pay 2K or more for this violin. My most expensive Violin costed me more than a thousand from a local shop 8 years ago for it was the only one available, but my best violin costs me only $400 from eBay. I watched its photos carefully, thinking that the wood worths $400, no matter how its sounds and its responsiveness. It does worth more than that. It is China made, and it is said to be hand made, but I know for sure that it is factory made, manually varnished.

In short, I want to say, buying by the look of the violin, you are sure at the range below $400 dollars, but at thousands of dollars, you need to try it or some experienced people try it.

January 3, 2010 at 09:39 PM ·

I agree on "buy the best you can get for your budget", but I doubt that "buy the best you can afford" is a good advice for a beginner, because this rule is based only on your wealth, ignoring your needs.  As a beginner you may be very motivated now to learn playing the violin, but soon you'll figure out how difficult it really is.  It's not unlikely that you, like many beginners, lose interest in violin after a year or two, and want to switch to guitar or some other instrument, that you find easier to play.

The "trade-in policy" means you get your money back when you upgrade your instrument to a more expensive one. But you won't get your money back as a refund just because you give up playing.

January 4, 2010 at 12:32 AM ·

Since you're an adult, if you're really serious about learning the violin and you're going to stick with it, you should get something better than a cheap student instrument. There are lots of nice sounding instruments between $2000-$5000. Try finding 3 or 4 at a shop or from a catalogue and have a violin-playing friend play them for you and listen for which one sounds the best to you. Most shops and catalogues will give you a free or low-cost trial period. Pick the one that you think will be able to tell a story the way you want it to.

January 5, 2010 at 03:27 AM ·

Ok i've looked into it some more and found a few more contenders namely Eastman VL305 and Angel CA01AT both under $1500, any thoughts. I want the instrument i finally buy to see me through for several years, long enough for me to realise if i have the talent and the perseverance to be good enough, to justify spending more money on a really good pro instrument. I know the BEST way to shop is to walk into a store and try them out myself and find 'the one" but my local stores have VERY little choice ( jay haide, sandner) so i have to look towards online shops... i would appreciate recommendations of a particular "brand"(maker) and a website where i can find them ( if possible). Thanks.

January 5, 2010 at 04:37 AM ·

Are the local choices good enough for now and can they be traded in?  

At this price level you could follow recommendations from people you don't know and try other brands, but the Fedex costs do add up if you start returning things and asking for more to sample.

January 6, 2010 at 01:22 PM ·

Go to a shop that deals specifically in bow stringed instruments only......they will have by far the best range (from $250 to thousands of dollars) and the person you're dealing with will most likely be a string player or luthier....and the instruments "set-up" will be done by a professional.

If you buy from a general music shop, they have a very limited range, and quite often they're not even musicians let alone bow instrumentalists.....the violin will either have a factory "set-up" or they'll send it away to a luthier at extra cost to you...

Enjoy your new found interest in the violin....I'm loving it..

January 6, 2010 at 04:28 PM · Foftunately for me there are several violin shops in the Baltimore/Washington area. I opted to rent a violin from a violin shop instead of the general music store where I will be starting my lessons. Yes, I said starting as I have never played before and I am pretty excited to start at age 42. Wish me luck. It just made more sense to rent for now.

January 6, 2010 at 05:15 PM ·

Rick,

You're way ahead of me by a decade! I was 53 when I started, and I never regretted it (except I wish I had started earlier!)

January 7, 2010 at 07:30 AM ·

Hi

I am new to the site, please be patient. help if I'm posting at the wrong place. I am also a beginner and will start my first lesson on the 18th. I'm 39 and bought a Stentor Conservatoire II violin (is this a good instrument?). I'm very excited. O and I'm in South Africa

January 7, 2010 at 07:46 AM ·

Welcome....I'm sure you'll have much enjoyment learning...I was 64 when I started, and my teachers oldest pupil was 92 when he started and still learning.....Stentor are good Student entry violins....but it won't be too long before your ear will define the difference between ordinary with excellent and you'll want to upgrade.....

January 16, 2010 at 06:41 PM ·

Hi

I'm a new adult beginner, and my first violin I brought was a Stentor Andreas Zeller Superieur, which retails at around £225, but it may cost a bit more now since the price of instruments go up after Christmas. I also brought a P & H London carbon fibre bow for £90. It's a nice sounding violin, and it's in Stenor's mid-to-high price range. If you are planning on spending a bit more they is also the Sentor's Acardia & Elysia violins, and these range from £500+. I'd forgot to mention the violin just comes on it's own, so you'll need to buy the bow seperate. The P & H London bow is carbon fibre, with a nickel screw and furelle, with abalone shell for the eye, screw end, and the ferulle slip ( I think that's what it's called).

The sound that the violin produces is a strong & even, and it works well with the P & H bow.

I hope this information helps you in buying your first violin.

Loz

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