Would you recommend this violin?

September 9, 2010 at 07:39 PM ·

I am having a difficult time getting my new students to spend the extra bit it takes to end up with a playable, decent sounding instrument. 

Case in point:  mom and daughter show up with a violin they bought at the local music store, which knows nothing about violins.  The violin has not been set up properly, and when you play a G natural on the E string, the string touches down further up on the fingerboard, creating a squeal that resembles a dying kitten.  As politely as possible, I explain that the local music store sold them a piece of junk, and though you can find cheap instruments, they are often unplayable.  I then offered her the name of a business that is selling quality entry level instruments for ~$400, and you can make $20 monthly payments, all of which goes toward the purchase, and all of which may be traded for the next size up, or even the next quality up.  I tried as best as I could to explain what it means to play on a violin that has been properly set up.  These violins have hand-fitted bridges, pegs, tuned fingerboards, Whittner tailpieces, and give a decent sound for their level.

A week goes by.  I contact her again, and she explains that she would rather buy this item:


This comes after a week of lesson after lesson of violin malfunctions.  One student plays on an unfitted bridge, and the E string is probably 1/2 cm too high.  Another brought me her instrument to tune it, only to have it blow up when the cheap plastic tailpiece busted.  On another instrument, the nut is so high that it bends the pitches so that the first half step sounds like a whole step.  Still another one came with a bow stick that was practically straight, it was so warped.  That, and the pegs were drilled so that they will never have a chance in hell of staying put.  These were all new instrument, folks; they came to me this way. 

I need your help, guys.  Tell me what you think about this instrument.

Replies (56)

September 9, 2010 at 07:40 PM ·

 It's a Violin-Shaped Object. Firewood.

September 9, 2010 at 07:42 PM ·

 I'll add that I strongly feel, after more than 20 years of teaching, that a student's instrument is one of his or her teachers. Most of your learning comes from working with this instrument, and it's very unrewarding to try to create beautiful sound on something that is incapable of it.

Would you spend less on your violin than you would spend on a few violin lessons? It's a false economy, buying a bad instrument because it's cheap.

September 9, 2010 at 08:20 PM ·

JUNK !!!   Ive had a couple of those low end instruments.  Since I like to tinker with them Ive made them somewhat playable after cutting new bridge,soundpost adjustment.etc.


Best to spend a little more and get something decent

September 9, 2010 at 08:30 PM ·

If these people won't go look themselves, would your local shop be willing to lend you an instrument to have on hand when this kiddo next comes for a lesson?  Perhaps if you were able to actually show the parents the differences side by side they would be more likely to understand.

As an aside, several years ago one of my kids was ready to move to a full-size violin.  While in the local Target, we found some they had on sale, for only $79.95, violin, bow, case.  You got to put the bridge up yourself, although the post was in.  (Screwed or glued in to withstand shipping?)  The whole thing had been dipped in a vat of polyurethane, very shiny.  We still laugh about the great deal we passed up, and my son still loves the Snow we bought instead.

I remember thinking at the time that I had payed close to $80 just for a set of strings.

September 9, 2010 at 09:22 PM ·

If money is a problem, then that's the obstacle that needs negotiating.  Get them in touch with other parents of similar means who can give them advice on how to get a decent instrument.  Just saying, "Well, you just have to," to a family doesn't make money appear.

Is her family of more modest means or is her mom just balking at the expense?

September 9, 2010 at 09:47 PM ·

That's why I thought $20/month was so appealing.  You hardly notice $20.  You could throw change in a jar and come up with that.  Besides, if you're forking money over for the lessons to begin with, certainly you can pay for the instrument that will make them worthwhile.  You are simply setting yourself up for failure with an unplayable instrument, and then you've gone and wasted a bunch of money that you didn't have to waste. 

Part of the problem is our local music stores only carry junk violins.  That's part of why they keep showing up.  People call for lessons, saying, "I just bought a violin, and we'd like lessons."  Ideally, it would be the other way around.  The other issue is perhaps the commitment.  If you invest more, you are committed to more.

September 9, 2010 at 09:57 PM ·

 I find these questions quite tricky really... in some ways I think you can get a fairly decent instrument quite cheaply (after all, a beginner is not going to know much difference between playing a more advanced instrument or a beginners one), however, if these violins come with the mountain of problems you have described then I would say stay well away!

People now are looking for complete, cheap, easy sets that are a quick and simple buy, but the sad fact is you'll almost certainly end up splashing out more money getting things adjusted or fixed or replaced than the violin cost in the first place! 

I think you should definitely advise people to spend just a bit more on a more decent, longer lasting violin than some crappy one that will just be shipped out and not taken care of at all. 

But yes, as an answer to that question - those violins look, probably sound and feel crappy and come with a huge amount of problems. I'd just stay well away! 

September 9, 2010 at 10:06 PM ·

 One genuine musical use for a rubbish fiddle is to use it to pre-stretch new Dominants before transferring them to your real violin.  Dominants are known for having a metallic tone, which some find harsh and unattractive, until they've been played in for a few days, and then they're fine. A Baroque player could also do the same to pre-stretch a set of gut strings.

September 9, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

It depends on how much money her family has whether or not $20 is hardly noticed.  In the family I grew up in, $20 would not have been hardly noticed, much less a commitment to continue paying it 20 more times, and any talk of continually having to buy and finance new instruments over the next N years would have been the last nail in the coffin.  I've been a pianist for most of my life, and I grew up learning on substantially less-than-ideal instruments.  We had no choice.

If it's not a money issue but a judgment issue, then just telling them to get something better is plainly not the answer for people who have no experience to judge what "better" is.  Putting together a packet on how to buy a violin may be better.  If there are lots of stores that sell crap, then you'll just have to expect it and deal with it after the fact.  Find a couple of places online that sell modestly priced but nice student instruments (people like Gliga and Stringworks, and even the better ones from eBay) and list them in the packet.  Title it something like "how to get a good student violin without breaking the bank" as opposed to "you're just going to have to pay more."

September 9, 2010 at 10:30 PM ·

My judgement was formed after thorough research as far as getting the most for your money.  No interest, no refinancing, all of it trades in to the next instrument, what more do you need?  They even put awesome strings on them and provide free repairs.  Free shipping.  Nicest people on the planet to work with.  As far as I'm concerned that's probably the best $20 you'll spend toward your music.  Other than paying me for lessons, of course.  ;)

September 9, 2010 at 10:31 PM ·

Plus, setup is everything to a beginner.  I don't buy this notion that beginners don't know the difference anyway.  It's hard enough as it is without having to deal with a bridge that's too flat to play on just one string at a time, or strings that are way too high, or a bow stick that's warped backwards.

September 9, 2010 at 10:51 PM ·

No, I don't mean your judgment -- I mean if the family isn't pinching pennies because of modest finances but because they can't tell what a "good" instrument even is.  Are they picking junk because they haven't got the money or they haven't got the experience, in other words.

Again, I think the best thing to do would be to put together a little pamphlet of "how to get a good student violin without breaking the bank" with links to places to get good ones mail-order or via the net, especially since there are a lot of easily obtained cheapies for sale in your area.  If you don't want people to head towards the garbage, then tell them where they should head instead.  Other than that, it sounds like you'll just have to resign yourself to informing people that what they bought was junk.  :-(

September 9, 2010 at 10:55 PM ·

I don't know how remote an area you live in, or how far you are from a larger city, but it sounds like there is more than one local shop.  Could you interest any of them in carrying reasonable beginner's instruments?  Especially if there are other teachers, school music programs, etc., it could be worth their while.

Sounds like the option you prefer is mail-order.  Do you find people are leery of that? Does your website, if you have one, mention that you would like to talk to folks before they select an instrument?  That might keep a few out of the local Target! 

September 9, 2010 at 11:58 PM ·

I actually just talked to the local music store to work things out with them; after all no one really wants to begin a feud here.  I explained that I couldn't recommend the instruments they currently carry.  They explained that they can't keep higher quality instruments because there's not a big enough demand for them and people won't pay for them.  I do like to support local business whenever possible, expecially when they refer students, so I hope we can find a way to make everyone happy.

Janis, I do like your pamphlet idea!

September 10, 2010 at 12:06 AM ·

Emily --

Steer her clear of the Florea Recital II!!!  Show her this post if it will help.

I bought a Florea Recital II violin in January.  I was having arthritis problems with an old 4/4 violin that I'd been given, so I thought buying an inexpensive 3/4 violin was the answer -- a smaller violin would eliminate some painful stretches I had to go through with the 4/4.  My budget was extremely tight, so  I figured I could begin learning on it, and upgrade as the budget allowed.

I had problems with it from the beginning.  It squawked and squealed like an entire menagerie of farm animals!  Yet, when I tried playing the same thing on my 4/4, it sounded perfect.  I called the store and told them what I was experiencing.  They gave me the name and number of a luthier in my town -- someone who'd done work for them in the past.  I called and set up an appointment to have him look at the Florea and tell me if there were any structural problems.

After he looked at it, he did everything but issue it a death certificate!  The neck was extremely twisted, the fingerboard was cracked and had a big ridge in it, the nut was too high and the bridge was too low.  The manufacturer had used wood filler between the neck and the fingerboard to disguise gaps -- the wood filler was chipping out.  He marked all the problem areas with a white pencil -- by the time he finished, the fingerboard looked like a zebra!  He told me to take it back to the store and insist on a refund or a replacement.

I let the store know that I was returning it (and why), and told them that if they had another violin of the same model (Florea Recital II) without all the drama, I'd be willing to try another one.  Evidently, even they didn't trust the other FRII's -- they made good on the replacement, but with an entirely different kind of violin (which I'm totally thrilled with!). 

During a subsequent visit to the store, they were offering a few used violin cases for free.  I picked one up, opened it, and there was the Florea Recital II that I'd returned!  I asked them if they knew it was there, and they said, "Yeah -- just take it home and make wall art out of it!"  Seems about right to me............

September 10, 2010 at 12:06 AM ·

what stops a shop to charge the same violin 400 dollars? :)   i am not sure if people here can tell if junks priced at 400 dollars are "better" than this 99 dollar junk. 

we are talking about entry level violin here, essentially mass produced, most likely from china. 

dollar stores are all over USA.  some parents are looking for 99 dollars deals, a small price to pay to learn about violins.

perhaps some parents have exits in mind, in case the kids do not want to continue after a short while.


September 10, 2010 at 12:14 AM ·

Reading this makes me most grateful there is a shop here in town that has nice, reasonably priced student rentals, with trade-ins for sizes, and an equity program for ownership and/or trade-up. 

I do know teachers that own their own rental fleet, and tack on a violin rental fee for the monthly lesson bill.  If the teachers don't operate a rent-to-own and/or equity system, the renters aren't doing themselves any financial favors, but at least the student gets a playable fiddle. 

I also know teachers that buy student violins wholesale, and sell to their own students.

Those are strategies you might want to consider.  For what it is worth, I've never had a student show up with a VSO (almost always from Ebay) that was good for anything but to be wired to a wreath, spray painted gold, and hung on the front door at Christmas time.

September 10, 2010 at 01:50 AM ·

If they are on a limited budget, the basic student outfits from SHAR and southwest are good options.  We use the Klauss Mueller Prelude outfits from SW strings for school; they hold up well in the classroom environment-if you looked through the used instruments you can find some good deals.  Those are rental returns; and they might have a minor blemish, but they do not send them out without being set up properly and they will still come with a new fiberglass bow.  I am not allowed to recommend any dealers to parents, and we have one store that sends out junk often with non-working previously used bows.  All I can do is give them a sheet of guidelines and hope they read it.

September 10, 2010 at 03:00 AM ·

Any violin in this price range has the purfling by Sharpie rather than inlaid purfling, unless it specifies otherwise.

If the user is looking in this price range, rental would be a better option. I noticed the same instrument and price at WW&BW, and one of the reviewers mentioned the sound 'Has a treble-ish feel to it that makes it go well with jazz...'. (http://www.wwbw.com/Florea-Recital-II-Violin-Outfit-470000-i1323505.wwbw). This makes me think that the instrument makes all the sound with the strings, not with the body (poor sound post placement,  machined plates with no regard to tone, etc.).

One other thing they do with some cheaper violins is use veneer covered plywood for the back; not a wood that conveys the sound with any qualities.

I would suggest the student get a chance to play a REAL sounding violin, and then identify that if they want to make sounds like that, they need to have an instrument capable of producing such sounds.

September 10, 2010 at 04:20 AM ·

It is a bit strange. I would have listened to the teacher's advice and buy the violin recommended. If you trust her enough to let her teach your daughter violin, she must be a really good teacher.,  After all, your daughter's experience in music, developing interest, her effort, time , practice, lesson fees.. is much more than a violin.

So why not trust her but rather trust an online store?

September 10, 2010 at 04:27 AM ·

 @ Irene

Well said.

September 10, 2010 at 04:29 AM ·

I don't get it, did your student send you the link to musicians friend?  Did they not read the reviews of the violin on the page?  Who would still purchase this item after reading those reviews?

September 10, 2010 at 04:32 AM ·

Ha, funny! Did anyone else notice the ads that are showing up on this thread?  Mine are all for VSO's

September 10, 2010 at 05:18 AM ·

After driving across the country checking out violin shops and their products, comparing prices and service, I should hope people would trust my advice.  I live in Alaska, just to clarify.  This fact alone leaves us with more expensive and less local choices to begin with.  I've never had the courage to recommend anyone but SHAR or Johnson strings for mail order, until I was finally able to go visit some shops for myself.  The main difference between shopping at a website like Musician's Friend  and using the options I've gleaned is that you get to deal with a knowledgeable violinist  you trust who individually selects the violin and makes sure it works properly before he or she sends it out.  I would give money only to someone I trust, if I can't hold the product in front of me. 

You will find few people who are more budget conscious than I.  I spare my students as much expense as possible when choosing supplies, and I never push anyone to buy something if I feel they don't absolutely need it or cannot afford it.  If someone comes to me with a budget violin and it's playable, I leave them alone, even if it means lengthy tuning sessions and a bit of caterwauling.  I won't even push them for strings unless I think they want them or the ones they have become unplayable.  I understand what it is like to not be able to spend even though you still need to play. 

But under no conditions would I let someone break their heart over a God-forsaken piece of rubbish like the one here in question.

September 10, 2010 at 05:27 AM ·

Patricia, thanks for the information, and I'll be sure to check out their deals!

September 10, 2010 at 05:46 AM ·

I carry a little tool case in my teaching bag, it contains a sound post tool, sharp knife, small files, sandpaper, measure and pencils and a watchmakers eye glass. Usually I can make the fine adjustments to improve the instruments playablity during an half hour lesson after which I have persuaded the student to agree with the work to be carried out. Sometimes I bring the fiddles home if I can return them in few days, I am always prepared to replace the fiddle if I muck up, so I am very careful with the more expensive model, I have'nt mucked up yet. But these entry level fiddles, straight from the conveyor belt are never set up properly, they always allow a little extra height on the nut and bridge which is most always too flat. I would just hate to tell them to go out and buy another fiddle! I can make this one playable and if Johnny shows signs of becomeing the next Raganini, then's the time to buy him a really good fiddle. 

Maybe it's just because I believe in getting the student playing music as soon as possibble, even at the first lesson, playing open strings with me playing the melody or strumming chords on the guitar, yeah, I know, I gotta fix the fiddle first!  Then they leave the lesson all happy and smiling, and looking forward to the next lesson. Must admit, I think I lost a student for failling to file down the nut a bit, and then it;s too late. I can honestly say that I've never seen a fiddle that is unplayable, not unless the neck and finger board are twisted which warrants a replacement.

September 10, 2010 at 06:31 AM ·

different teacher has different requirement as to what is playable and what is not.

bottom line is, if the parent do not have the trust and respect for the teacher , neither will the child. how would you expect the child to listen to instruction in lesson, let alone practise at home?

September 10, 2010 at 10:14 AM ·

 "Only $99, such a steal!"

"Steal" is the operative word in this case!

September 10, 2010 at 01:05 PM ·

Henry I agree with every thing you said, where on earth can one still find people like you. 

September 10, 2010 at 01:48 PM ·

 If you don't mind recommending Shar, why not recommend their inexpensive entry-level instruments?  We owned a couple of these and they didn't have the problems you're talking about.

September 10, 2010 at 03:38 PM ·

don, that is an astute observation and argument.  knee jerk reaction comes in handy and easy.

really, what do we call a vso with fitting bridge, better strings and backed with shop service?

further, i understand it may be a steep learning curve for violin teachers to play around with bridge and sound post or other set-up issues.   but things can be learned, right?


September 10, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

Don, I think the definition of a VSO precludes it being usable, other than as a planter.  There are inexpensive violins that are just fine for what they are- maybe not a great tone, not a lot of subtlety, but fine for a student.  The latest one to foul Emily's studio has pegs that don't work, a bridge that makes it much harder for a kid to find the right string, a fingerboard that makes playing in tune impossible, and a bow that won't allow a student to learn anything.  There are plenty of inexpensive yet playable instruments out there; this one would probably need 3X its purchase price in repairs and adjustments to be playable by anyone's definition.

September 10, 2010 at 05:22 PM ·

About 3 years ago when I bought a $100 Chinese VSO to learn the violin once more, I learned a valuable lesson!  When a co-worker was going to buy a violin for his daughter I warned him about VSO's!  To have a student try to learn playing one of these monstrosities is like trying to run the 2 minuet mile on your hands & knees! Total set up for defeat!

September 10, 2010 at 06:02 PM ·

Let it be noted, I do not claim to have any training as a luthier.  Why would you trust me to go to work on your violin?  Want me to take a look at your car next?  I wouldn't do anything to your violin that I wouldn't do to mine, so the most I will do is string changes and bridge adjustments.  And I'll sell you some dope if you think it'll help.

September 10, 2010 at 06:20 PM ·

@ Don- I bought it on eBay.... The flame in the wood was just a sprayed die, and the problems others have listed here it too had... for what a luthier would charge to set it up and all that needed to be done would not make much improvement.  So what I would have had to spend it would be best to just apply it to a better instrument.  This is what I heard from several teachers and luthiers that I and mom consulted.  Mom bought me a violin from a Luthier in Colorado Springs.  I sold the cheapie at a pawn shop.

The co-worker that I spoke about bought a violin with very pretty inlay from eBay... made in Viet Nam. When I played it, even with the cheap steel strings that it came with it played and sounded incredibly well! And when the strings were switched to Visions and Bernadel rosin it is fantastic!  The arch of the bridge was too shallow and so he had another bridge fitted for it which is much better!

September 10, 2010 at 06:37 PM ·

Don, you're confusing me.  I already mentioned that I trust Shar's service.  I tell folks to shop there all the time, and as far as instruments go, you get what you pay for, but at least at Shar you know it will be playable, and they'll take it back if it's not.  And I recommend Chinese instruments all the time.  But just because a factory can plug out 25,000 violins (where did you get that figure?) doesn't say anything about the quality or playability.  If they're garbage, it just means they've gotten a lot of fools to buy their garbage.

September 10, 2010 at 06:42 PM ·

Don, I haven't bought instruments from Shar, Southwest Strings, Johnson's, etc., as I am lucky to live in a town with a good shop, but I would be very surprised if they sold anything unplayable.  As you said, they have good reputations they have spent years building.  On Ebay, all bets are off.  Same with certain local retailers- a place that primarily sells band instruments or guitars might not know enough to evaluate violin-family instruments.  As I said in my first post, I saw one at Target once, and another at the local Hastings, that were at least as bad as what Emily describes.

I would argue that there are perfectly reasonable low-priced set-ups out there, but there's also plenty of junk of the worst sort.  It's not a question of snobbery.  Some inexpensive instruments, given a good set-up and reasonable strings, sound great.  Others are too flawed from the beginning to ever work properly.  Spending half of a kid's lesson trying to get his or her instrument in tune isn't a good use of anyone's time or money.

September 10, 2010 at 06:56 PM ·

 Let me tell you why I don't think that a VSO is even a good "introductory" violin: they sound bad and are a struggle to tune. Would you train your child to speak by tying rubber bands around his throat and having him breath in helium before speaking? 

I made the mistake of using VSOs for a class of first graders, giving in to the parents who didn't want to spend anything for "just an introductory" violin. So a group of parents bought the very cheap violins, and they were horrible to tune, maintain and hear. One day, one of the children who had a VSO forgot her violin, and I lent her one of the school's violins. I had insisted that the school spend its money on some decent little Scott Caos. She took it in her hands, started warming up on her open strings and pre-Twinkle songs. After less than a minute, her eyes widened. "Mrs. Niles! This violin!!!!! It's so different, it sounds so good, oh can I take it home?!"

No more VSOs.

September 10, 2010 at 07:25 PM ·

"Renting makes so much sense ..... I think." 


September 10, 2010 at 07:44 PM ·

I am glad that Emily mentioned renting!  And if the student shows the commitment of, "This IS what I want to do" then see about prorating  what has been paid toward a purchase.

Bare in mind also that people like myself who live in a small town like Laramie, there really is no other choice but to go out of town to try a violin out. I can't even imagine living in Alaska in an area that to get out of town one my have to wait for things to thaw!  It's like that here in my town, there are several communities in a 54 mile radius that can be snowed in for an extended period of time!

There are VSO's and there are violins that are not bank breakers.  If a budget friendly instrument passes an audition then why not use it?

September 10, 2010 at 08:23 PM ·

Well, that totally explains the rash of garbage violins infiltrating my community, then.  They must be gearing up for a major war!

September 10, 2010 at 08:59 PM ·

Okay wow, that's an awesome idea for a movie.

September 10, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

People who cannot and do not do setup for violins call them 'junk' and 'unplayable' . It is the same with my wife when the battery is flat, then the whole car must be replaced because it is unusable junk, when it only needs a new battery or a replacement alternator ( that is the funny little gadget that supplies current to the battery). 

September 10, 2010 at 11:54 PM ·

 Don, actually the point about Shar was addressed to Emily.  Shar sells some violins that are not unplayable (I know, I've played a couple) that cost $139, which is less than half of the $400 that the other one she mentioned costs.  I have no doubt that the $400 violin is better, but the difference between $139 and $400 is not trivial.


I bought this one for my daughter because she freaked out at the rental store.   I agree with all the pro-renting arguments, but my daughter wasn't having any of it.  She didn't even really want to touch the rentals, let alone play them.  It was something about the rental belonging to someone else and not being hers.  I didn't really understand it, but there at Johnson String, surrounded by rental instruments, even with my nice friend from orchestra who works there trying to help us, her reaction was there in my face:  NO (my daughter was about 8 at the time).  We weren't leaving with a rental instrument unless I picked it out myself and forced it on her--not exactly what I had in mind, or wanted to do.  But she was quite content with her $139 Shar violin when it came in the mail, even gave it (and the bow) a name.  

I will also offer a perspective from the point of view of a violin-playing kid with frugal, non-musician parents (I was such a kid).  I had at least 2 not-very-good violins as a kid.  They were, however, what my parents thought they could afford.  My parents were not poor, they were middle-class.  However, they didn't "get" it in the sense that musician parents might, and they were not convinced by any of the sorts of arguments offered on this thread.  Whether they "should" have been convinced or not is beside the point.  The consequences for me of hearing teachers and peers criticize and denigrate these violins were still hurtful.  Having my violin called "firewood" or a "VSO" or "no good" or whatever by someone in authority who ostensibly knew better did nothing to improve the situation or get me a better violin, it just made me feel bad and ashamed.

I would just suggest considering the consequences for the student in making flippant or denigrating arguments that are really aimed at the parents.

I am not saying that Emily is doing this--I think she is doing the right, and even heroic, thing, by working with the cheap violins if they are at least playable.  But I also think that parents who are not receptive to a $400 "solution" to this problem will always be around, and their kids shouldn't have to suffer twice (once for having to play the bad violin and once for having their teacher criticize and complain about what a bad violin it is).

September 10, 2010 at 11:58 PM ·

Nice Points!!!  All the violins I played through public school were school loaners and they were NOT a fine Cremonese violins! 

Karen- What was your impression of your daughter's violin when she got it?

September 11, 2010 at 12:17 AM ·

Karen, the rental program I mentioned deals with new instruments for the most part in which the customer makes payments toward its ownership.  That provides one with more of a feeling of ownership than other plans in which you borrow a used instrument.  You can bail after three months and only lose $60 and not be stuck with a violin you don't want anymore and can't sell.  But like I repeated, I also recommend Shar. 

And no, I would never insult someone's instrument directly.  I speak generally, and leave out names when relaying stories in order to protect feelings; after all we all have relationships with each other and our instruments which should be respected.  Any action otherwise would be unprofessional and unkind.  I even hate to point out issues that must be dealt with because I don't want to create an awkward environment in my studio.  First lessons are also first impressions, and we do want it to be positive.  That's why it causes me so much angst when we start with an unplayable violin.  ...I kinda feel sorry for the poor thing, actually.

September 11, 2010 at 12:52 AM ·

Do any of you who teach also think about how your trained & seasoned ears will hear a violin differently than your students?

September 11, 2010 at 01:39 AM ·

 That same piece of firewood use to be $79.00.  For that kind of money, you can simply check the want adds in the paper or craigslist.org.  I am certain you will find a much better deal.  

September 11, 2010 at 03:30 AM ·

VSO = Violin Shaped Object.  I agree with you...for $400 you can get a terrific (plain) entry violin or even an outfit.  West Coast Strings Rosalia model or Eastman entry level are worlds beyond this.   Not to mention the lousy strings her original fiddle probably has on it.  *shudders*

September 11, 2010 at 05:28 AM ·

Well, there are so many topics on this thread, I need to limit myself, or I can be all over the board.

  • Although a novice may not be able to reproduce a good quality sound, they may be able to hear it; although they may not be able to get the richness that training can bring, they still can recognize poor quality sound. That is why you don't need to be a musician to pay over $1000 for an audio system.
  • I have some experience with VSOs, and there is a world of difference between them and a musical instrument. I purchased three on Craigslist, the most expensive was $60. One I tore apart, just to see how it was made; plywood back, top plate was pressed into shape, not carged (I have been a woodworker for years before my current career, so I can recognize the difference). Before the teardown, it sounded more like a $25.00 ukulele; the body was not contributing a significant amount to the sound. One I sold for what I bought it for, and I threw in a tuner because I felt guilty. The other I gave to my grandson to play with. None of the three had real purfling. None of the three could coax any depth of sound, even with good strings.
    That said, I have purchased three Chinese violins on ebay, and all three were under $275 each.  The least expensive was about $145, with shipping counted as part of that cost. The difference in instruments was phenomenal! The Chinese instruments were much better quality.
    I also purchased a used violin on craigslist. It was a Palatino VN-855, and it was very well set up by the previous owner. It  cost me $225, but it sounds much better than it should for that price.

So, short version, you do not need to spend a lot, but if you spend too little, you are basically wasting your money; rent instead.

September 11, 2010 at 05:29 AM ·

 When I was shopping for my entry level violin I found two different positions on the local dealers:

1) I am a generic music store and I know little if at all about violins

2) I am a professional string shop and you better come in with a master degree in violin performance and a very fat checking account.

I could not find a place where I could have my questions answered without a condescending smirk. Shopping for a violin can be a very intimidating experience. Add to that the fact that you don't know how a good violin should sound, or how to play it. What do you do?

I would like to find a store with the same attitude toward their customers as Guitar Center. I am a repeating customer there, and since the first time I had someone who knew what guitars where all about and let me play any of the guitars in the store. You can walk in and tell any assistant to get you the beautiful Gibson Les Paul with a price tag of $8,000 and to provide a cable and an amp. They will even give you a pick. And after you play for a while you just leave the store without buying anything and without any pressure from the sales people. They know you will be back and if not the Les Paul you will buy something. Over the years my sons and I have bought many instruments at Guitar Center.

Eventually I bought a violin online. I don't know if I got lucky, but my violin is a very reasonable instrument with a nice sound. It may not have a big projection, but so far I am only playing in my living room.

Anyhow, that is too much ranting. I agree that any student should get the best instrument she or he can afford. And that can be a different proposition to different people. I have a good income and spending a few hundred dollars in a violin is not big deal, but I can see someone struggling to pay for a $400 instrument. The commitment for the instrument should come from the student and in the case of a minor from her parents.

September 11, 2010 at 03:12 PM ·

 Emily, that does sound like a good rental program.  I think the fact that they deal in new instruments is surprisingly important.  I wouldn't have thought of that until the experience with my daughter (she also didn't want to rent through the school--more borrowing of used instruments, and at a zoo-ishly crowded session in the school cafeteria to boot . . . she's a little high-maintenance).  

She wanted to try the flute out over the summer and we found a similar program at a music store, rent-to-own a new instrument, with a 90-day trial period for $21.99.  But I don't know if it's a good flute or an "FSO."  She can get a sound out of it, play a scale and Hot Cross Buns and something called "Waltz Melody" in the beginning flute book.  My impression is that it's easier to standardize and make decent entry-level flutes than it is violins, but I could just be ignorant.  We've got about a month left on that and I still don't know if she has time for two instruments, especially because orchestra is getting more serious this year.  Even if we end up returning the flute, I certainly think it was worth $21.99 for the ability to try it out.  

Parent frugality in area of kids' musical instruments is alive and well, especially in this economy.   The 3/4 Shar violin is now being played by a friend's son.  And the half-size was played by another friend's daughter until it was run over by a car . . .

The parent group associated with the school district's music program maintains a list of instruments for families to borrow and share with each other.  Would having a list like that be a possibility for you for your students?

Royce, my impression of the $139 Shar violin that my daughter had was that it was surprisingly good.  It was a 3/4 size and some of my impression could have been just that it sounded a lot better than the 1/2 size because it was larger, but it had a bright sound and wasn't too tinny.  The fine tuners worked well and it held its tune well enough that it rarely needed to be tuned with the pegs, just the fine tuners.  The fingerboard and bridge shapes were fine, the strings were adequate.  She played it for about a year and then when she was ready for a full size, I upgraded my own violin and gave her my old one, which was the "good" one that I had played in high school.  It's not that great an instrument either, but I do remember another significant jump up in how my daughter sounded when she switched to it from the Shar violin.  She can be a little shy but she sounded more substantial and confident.  

Don, your granddaughter and her family should come to some of our Arlington Philharmonic concerts!  That is the orchestra I've played in for the past several years.  The first concert is Nov. 7, at the First Parish Arlington church on Mass Ave and Pleasant St.  Although depending on her age, she might appreciate the Family concert and the POPS concert at the Town Hall more (They're in February and June, respectively and have shorter pieces, some from non-classical genres).

September 11, 2010 at 06:43 PM ·

If it works out great!!!!  Step up instruments are a great incentive to get that part time job when one is old enough!

September 11, 2010 at 08:55 PM ·

Don, at least in my mind, "VSO" and "Chinese" are not interchangeable terms.  While many of the 300,000 violins coming out of China are certainly are VSOs, others are pretty terrific.  All of Eastman's instruments are Chinese (where do you think the name comes from?), Snow makes everything in China, many of Shar's, even some of the ones with German or Italian sounding names, are Chinese, Jay Haide also.  These include some fantastic instruments. 

One of my kids outgrew four Chinese violins (three Eastman and one Snow) before going to a full-size Snow, another kid is on his fourth Chinese cello (Eastmans and Scott Cao's), the violinst kid has a wonderful Eastman viola, and I adore my Snow viola.  (My German violin must feel a little left out.)  These have all been great instruments.  All these companies, though, have done their homework in studying how to make good instruments, and their craftsmen are highly trained.  There are other manufacturers from China about which one cannot say the same.

I'm sure if you look hard enough you could find VSOs from other countries as well.  In my opinion, though, people who are uniformly critical of Chinese instruments haven't given the better ones a fair try.

September 11, 2010 at 10:05 PM ·

had to look up what VSO means - found this:


2 of my 5 mandolins came from china; both violins i own were probably made there ("sander" is a german co. but who knows where the instrument was made) and my favorite, very inexpensive - nothing "cheap" about it - baroque bow came from there as well - i don't "dis" orient.

if i were to be asked for an opinion under similar circumstance i'd recommend a smaller, potentially more responsive, on-line vendor. 

September 11, 2010 at 10:59 PM · Emily, My advice would be to simply give the first lesson on one of your own instruments and tell the parents that they need to see a luthier urgently. Let the luthier give them the bad news, including the cost. If there is no luthier available I guess that's tough. Like buying a used car without knowing where to get it fixed.

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