When to change violins?

September 26, 2010 at 01:41 PM ·

nearly 3 years ago I rediscovered the violin and treated myself to a new (old) instrument.  Since then I think I have improved a lot - and one aspect that changed was my ear to the violin itself.  I found that the sound, while loud and expressive (lots of colour), was a bit withdrawn and worse, as I worked up the fingerboard it died at 5th position (positively squealed on the G string).  My new teacher was not impressed and I realized a change was in order.

This is not easy, I am trading in my guy, Dudie.  Hmmm.  The price of personalizing an instrument.... I confess, its a bit like trading in your child....

Surely most on here have had to do the same thing: what was the incentive?  Was it successful?  Did you bond to the new instrument the same as you did to the old?  And what happened to your Dudie??


Replies (55)

September 26, 2010 at 02:43 PM ·

Oh Elise. La donna e mobile!

But in the end it's not like abandoning a dog. The violin is just a varnished wooden thing. The means through which you express yourself. And if you've outgrown its capabilities then in fairness to you both, you have to move on. You musn't confuse the message with the medium. The violin is the medium...

September 26, 2010 at 03:04 PM ·

 I have to agree with Julian.  You can not have a relationship with your violin.  It is really just a piece of wood.

September 26, 2010 at 03:46 PM ·

if its just wood, then throw it in a fireplace if you have one :o)

when i browse through ebay or other listings of people wanting to sell their personal violins, i come across this sentiment quite often; to paraphrase, something like "this is a very nice, beautiful, sonorous etc etc violin that i'm selling because i no longer play it/because i want to upgrade/because i can't pay the electricity bill/ because i'm too old and i would like to sell it to someone who will enjoy/be able to play it"

maybe a hoax most of the time, maybe not from an old person but from a pirate with one a missing eye, a rude parrot on his shoulders and a filthy keyboard... but still its a nice respectful sentiment. passing it on to someone who will enjoy it like you did so you can get yourself an appropriate source of enjoyment for your stage. then give the new boy/girl in your life a new nickname

September 26, 2010 at 03:56 PM ·

I changed last year and am very happy I did.  For the most part, listeners won't notice a big difference, but YOU will.  If you are not happy with the sound of your instrument, or the way it plays, it does not get better over time, just worse.  I wrote a blog about my violin quest if you are interested.

My quest for a professional violin


September 26, 2010 at 04:30 PM ·

New teacher, new violin, I am not surprised. When will a new set-up be called for. If the sound is any better I will be surprised. When my teacher plays my violin it sounds wunderbar, then I wonder what crap he hands back to me.

Ask a golfer how the new putter works magic immediately but has to be changed every year, or even every few months.

September 26, 2010 at 09:16 PM ·

Smiley: loved your blog account, which mirrors my quest but very much in mineature (mine that is).  The reason is that my luthier will accept full credit for any instrument returned if you move up.  So I've actually limited myself to his stock, on the mental understanding that there is no hurry.  Its just fantastic that this violin was there - curiously I did not pick it out the first time I tried it; at that time I took home instead an upscale L-H.   This violin was sweeter than Dudie, and it extended all the way up the E string.  But only at home did I discover, as you mention so well, that the price of sweetness is power (isn't that some sort of quote from the old testament??  Let me ruminate a bit..).  Dudie was clearer and louder.  Even though it was a marginally better violin it did not warrant the extra money and bother.  Armed with this new knowledge I went back and decided to only try the two modern violins in stock: The Newton and a J.B. Stensland.  Actually I had played the latter extensively before, and although it is a nice instrument it did not match so my attention at that point was focused on the Newton.  

Now I listened not only for even tone and sweetness but for carriage and power.  I also tried a couple of 60 - 80K modern italian ones - the latter being my equivalent to your 150K one, with everything I could possibly want in a violin (at this stage).  But I found that the Newton was not really that much of a compromise. 

Well, must go, I have a couple of hours spare!

September 26, 2010 at 09:20 PM ·

What determines getting another violin? For me it's Job, rent, groceries, and beer... OK no beer.

Sorry I just had too, hehehe.... ;)

And Don't Forget That After The Violin Hunt Comes The Bow Hunt!!!!!

September 26, 2010 at 09:52 PM ·

I agree very much with Smily... 

After the VSO's came my first one (beginning of what could be considered a good sounding professional violin), a beautiful golden (honey) color violin with a dark tone.  It "clicked" automatically, I declared that it was the happiest day of my life to my mom and maker (...) and there we started our new "life".  I was convinced that it was THE violin.  In addition, this violin didn't just had a good sound, it was very "chic" antique look with his honey color and golden accessoires.

But then, in 2008 around Easter time, I wanted to try other violins from my maker in my violin's  price range for fun.  My violin was having his fingerboard scraped and I had time to try some.  It was fun but they weren't mine... Suddenly, I took a very reddish violin with black ebony accessoires (chin rest, tailpeice and pegs).  Not my favorite color but...  the dream sound from first note!  I played better this instrument than my own.  His golden wasn't on his accessoires or look... it was in his sound!  It was the most charming mix of golden sound and power I could have wished.   Normally, I know many say powerful violins often sound harsh or very bright but not that one. These characteristics I seek in any player,  my violin had them!  I had the impression that I had stolen a great master's violin to fool around with playing my normal stuff (lol)    I trade it for the violin I had after a short trial period.  In fact, he gives me complexes: I find my violin much more talented than myself ; )  But that's an opportunity to learn from it...

I admit that it was hard to give back my previous and first good violin I ever had.  The one that had seen my happiest days and on which I progressed the most.  My maker let me in a little room with my previous violin to tell bye (as she suggested, telling it was a good way to proceed).  I let you imagine the rest, I had to go out of the shop with sunglasses on a cloudy day...  When I arrived home with my new "treasure", all I could do was sleeping all day having mixed feelings (happy for the wonderful opportunity and sad for my previous violin). 

I have never never regreted it since and he has always kept his sound caracteristics I love.  I'm still very impressed by his sound each time I play (but I can't say as much about my sound ; ) though it improoved a lot by playing and learning from this instrument. 

Interesting thread Elise!  Anxious to read all the stories. Don't worry, you're not the only one to consider your violin as a living thing ; )   Although I refer to my violin as "the Tiger" due to his reddish coulor, numerous stripes, black accessoires and most importantly, sound characteristics, I often tell to people he's my husband, lover, maestro (when he's capricious or when I feel not very good in comparison...)  Which usually makes people smile...  



September 27, 2010 at 12:35 AM ·

 I also got a new violin last year, and I blogged about it, April-May 2009.  This is the one where I tried out a bunch of violins:


I was sentimentally attached to my old violin, which was my first full-size, and which my parents bought for me when I was 13.  I owned it for 30 years.  But I should have upgraded sooner.  What finally pushed me into the upgrade were two things:  1.  I had a small solo in the orchestra and wanted to sound better for that, and 2. my daughter needed a full-size, so we had to procure a new violin anyway.  

So, I ended up giving my old violin to my daughter, who, at 10, was already tall enough for it.  It's now her first full-size violin.  If she sticks with violin seriously, I won't wait 30 years to get her a better one, but I think I'll still keep the old one around for a while longer.

September 27, 2010 at 01:35 AM ·

Royce:  What determines getting another violin? For me it's Job, rent, groceries, and beer... OK no beer....

not so far from the truth - a professional violin is the same price as a new car.  That can be a major ding in your lifestyle (not that you have a lifestyle when you play though).

And Don't Forget That After The Violin Hunt Comes The Bow Hunt!!!!!

Well there I'm OK for now: using the 1/3 ratio my bow just qualifies (according to a price I saw advertised anyway).

September 27, 2010 at 02:55 AM ·

"And Don't Forget That After The Violin Hunt Comes The Bow Hunt!!!!! "

Ouf I must have been pretty tired when I read this line... (too much homework!)

Or perhaps it was a sort of a visual lapsus because there were some discussions on this thread about the sentimental relationship violin owners have with their violins. 

However, I read   "After the violin hunt comes the boy hunt"  and found it a quite hilarous joke! 

This wouldn't be logical anyway because music makes you stay in your basement practicing when we think about it... 

I would only see this as logical if you would buy yourself a strad...  but be aware, the type of boy required might have a few dacades more than you...  (lol)  Have a walker home? 


Sorry, I'm off topic but it was too funny to not tell! 

September 27, 2010 at 04:25 AM · if you can stand to give the "new" violin back, it's not the right one... Before you get to attached to it, get a good player to check it in a good-sized hall; in that price range it should project well. You can go for some power and work on taming it by advancing your bowing technique. If you can get full trade-in that's good, too, cause it can take long time to sell. have fun!

September 27, 2010 at 08:45 AM ·

The Boy Hunt......Hahahaha! I can see it now, a whole new thread, 101 reasons a string instrument is better for you than a man ;^D

Sam emailed me a link to some violins up for auction! Go to Tarisio.com.

September 27, 2010 at 09:02 AM ·


I also often feel confused about my two instruments. My old, first-love Pasionaria got replaced by Casanova. While the first one had these advantages (a very old Stradivarius copy):

*it was easy to play forte without pressing, and gave a powerful, intense sound.

*dark color

*beautiful G and E-string sounds.

*comfortable to do finger vibrato with


and these disadvantages:

*pianissimo sounded bad.

*cracky sound from now and then

*difficult to do dynamics

My new instrument:

*Clarity. It means that I need to work much much more on everything in order to make it sound well. I need to have the perfect movement of the hand in position transitions...EVERYTHING is heard! It can often be also a disadvantage...


*Wonderful pianissimos, and nice legatos

*great dynamical range


*squeaky E-string (a lot of work to make sound there).

*heavy and uncomfortable neck

*super clear. difficult, difficult to intonate...but it improved my intonation!

Both instruments I bought for 200 euro respective 350 euro. Now the question is: should I switch back to my old instrument or stay on my new one? I have no money to purchase any new instrument...

September 27, 2010 at 11:16 AM ·

Lena, apart from the squeaky e-string I like your new instrument better :) have you really explored ALL avenues about that squeaky e-string ;)

September 27, 2010 at 12:36 PM ·

Lena: I agree, keep the new instrument.

And, since you don't need it any more can I have the old one :)

OTOH, how about taking them both to a luthier and making a chimera? 

But what you describe seems to be the chronic problem wiht violins, getting that all-round sound.  How come this has not been figured out yet, I mean for violins other than those in the 30K price range.  And, what will happen to the violin industry when some bright spark figures out how to make one cheaply (can't help but look East...)

September 27, 2010 at 12:55 PM ·

Royce, on a blog by Laurie. I think it was a Valentine's day blog.  I had written some reasons as you said.  So did others if I remember well. It was really funny!   Things such as  "you can put it in the closet anytime you're sick of it!"    Yes it would be a good humoristic thread... 


Lena, happy for your new violin! 

September 27, 2010 at 02:43 PM ·

 "you can put it in the closet anytime you're sick of it!"   

Hahahahahahaha! That is a riot!!!!!

@ Lena- Have you checked out the archives here for "E" String posts/blogs?  If not, take a look! There are some great discusions about "E" Strings including several that address E's that 'squeak'.

September 27, 2010 at 04:23 PM ·

@Dion:New teacher, new violin, I am not surprised. When will a new set-up be called for. If the sound is any better I will be surprised.

I was making a recording of the two violins this morning and had to ask the guy painting the basement to stop the vaccum.  When I finished I asked him if he liked the new violin - his reply: "I thought that was weird, you suddenly got a lot better."


I wish I could upload them here - the difference is astonishing.  Dudie sounds good but the new one sounds amazing.  Just worried there is going to be a problem making this trade....

September 27, 2010 at 05:28 PM ·

 his reply: "I thought that was weird, you suddenly got a lot better."

Hahahahaha! OMG! That is priceless!!!!!

September 27, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

 Please keep Dudie everyone needs two violins. One to practice on with an old bow, and the new one to play a few days before the violin lesson and for those special occasions. Dudie can come in very handy on the camping trips, and visits to foreign countries. Why bother about the trade in, or is he offering an inflated price to cover his mark up.  

Eloise did you play the new violin first or second?  My second effort is usually much better than my first attempt.

Royce the lady is not that funny she only cracks yolks.

September 27, 2010 at 07:09 PM ·

Well, two reasons why Dudie has to go: First I have two additional full size (and one half and a 3/4) for the camping trips (besides, I could not do that to him) and, more important, without Dudie there is no way in heck I could afford Gravitas.

And who is this Eloise woman that you keep talking about... sob...


September 27, 2010 at 07:19 PM ·

I'm easily entertained.

September 27, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

This is for the easily entertained :

An old boy Dudie lost his servitas

To a new kid on the block Gravitas 

The romantic performer

Ousted by an aggressive enforcer

While an arbiter in the basement painted the epitaphs 

@Eloise : It must have been a Freudian slip when every little breeze seems to whisper Elise.


September 28, 2010 at 12:30 AM ·

Well, actually it seems every breeze whispers Eloise... :-\  Seems there is someone by that name in your destiny.  Ooo...

And continuing the topic, my new teacher loved the violin.  She even said were she looking this is an instrument she would consider for herself.  It measures up pretty well to hers really, with possibly an even better G string...

Now the crunch... the shop.  Stay tuned.  And if they don't cooperate I'll just have to turn the Power of V.com on them :D 

[Which is a lot of groaning and moaning by you guys]

September 28, 2010 at 08:02 AM ·

Many a fine tune can be played on a G-string.

Which of the two is the better looking, it may end up in the musoleum.

September 28, 2010 at 08:52 PM ·

Hearing loss in the upper registers was what made me swap from a 4-string to a 5-string violin. The 4-string was an English Willam Beard (Derbyshire). Reasonably good tone all round, but a loud wolfer on the B note (A string, 2nd finger, 1st position). I lived with that for about 10 years, but after the hearing loss, I thought, enough is enough. (Paradoxically, the wolfer sounded more prominent after the hearing loss). 

I now have a KC Strings 5STAR Pro now, which has the note range of a violin and viola. So, now I have the choice of re-arranging all the works involving the high positions, down a 5th (to a lower string, or modifying the pieces to finger across the strings. Keeps me busy, and in the meantime I play exactly what the hell I want to :) 

September 29, 2010 at 12:12 AM ·

Well, violin limits started it but sound and charisma finished it - I bought my new violin (see John Newton topic). :) 

September 30, 2010 at 05:50 AM ·

it is not just  a piece of wood.. okay , it is wood but it is more than that. to me, something that i put in my precious time and effort on.. i just started learning in jan this year, i hope to change to a violin that will last a lifetime if i happen to pass Grade 3 next year..

and also that violin (which i will be getting), hopefully as a treasured keepsake to my daughter.. you know, like some ppl keep a treasured watch,, or something to the next generation,,

September 30, 2010 at 10:27 AM ·

Its a lovely thought Irene, but if she did not play the violin herself she might not treasure it quite as you do.  The use of any 'tool' seems to create a bond between the user and the implement whether its a favorite hammer, a 16 wheeler or a violin!  But the same 'tool' to anyone else is just a hammer, a 16 wheeler or, yes, an elegant and utile piece of wood.  She may attach to it as a keep sake of you but do you really want your instrument to languish in a closet somewhere?

Hopefully, by playing regularly your daughter will also get the bug and then the violin will become her cherished instrument (and not just an heirloom).

September 30, 2010 at 01:32 PM ·

We are into suzuki violin now. I certainly hope that my violin will bring back lots of fond memories to her,, when she grows up,, and not lots of frustration.. "gosh , my mama used to make me practise the violin and I hate it so much!"..

September 30, 2010 at 03:20 PM ·

Well, ... perhaps you can make the violin more fun then you are less likely to reach the possible enpoint that you are obviously aware of.  I mean one of the main reasons I gave up the first time was because the violin was associated with obligatory practise - work if you like and not enjoyment or even music.  The latter is the bigges tragedy that for some reason playing an instrument was not primarily about making music but about achieving technical perfection.  No wonder many kids give it up and take up the (rock/blues/folk) guitar (as I did).  On that instrument you get to have fun, play and sing anything you like and have a social life.


October 3, 2010 at 04:34 AM ·

 For me it was the final realization that even though I was improving, I could not get the 'feedback' from my current instrument. No matter how well I did in my lessons, it sounded flat. Essentially, there was no 'reward' for me utilizing proper technique.

I finally settled on a red 1927 Heberlein that was well-loved that is very responsive and projects well, and hums for me beautifully when I articulate the notes correctly. It also sound phenomenal in the hands of experienced violinists and fiddlers.

I think there's a lot to be said of acquiring an instrument CAPABLE of performing well - as a student, as different techniques are mastered, my instrument rewards me with gorgeous sounds when I do things correctly. This encourages me to continue studying and provides positive feedback. Not something I ever could have done with my original instrument.

October 3, 2010 at 08:31 AM ·

Julie - I think you are bang on.  From what I have read, violinists often pick their instruments for thier performance characteristics - projection, volume but the time spent on practise vs performance must be something like 1:1000 (or less).  Most of the time you are alone with your violin trying to get something to work.  To do so you have to listen to the output of the instrument. 

I posted a blog on 'the three voices of the violin' (the one in your head, the one you hear and the one the audience hears).  I noted that I was listening to the one in my head, not the critical one for a performer, the second voice (we'd like to listen to the third one but that would require a very long neck :) ).  What I've found is that I love the sound of the new violin so much it is far easier to listen to its output.

Which brings up (to me) umpteen images of violinists turning their heads and holding their ear over the instrument (look at Vengerov for example).  Looks to me as if they are trying to get as good a listen as possible over the noise of the orchestra behind (though maybe I'm miss-interpreting...).

I've never heard that advice when looking for a violin: find one that you like the sounds of!  Its certainly been one of the biggest differences with my new one.  The sound is silken and delicious and I can't get enough of it!

December 13, 2010 at 02:01 PM ·

I thought about trying to revive this thread a bit. I wonder, when does one know if one should switch an instrument or not? How does one know that the deficits in the violin sound comes from the instrument, and not from one self?

December 14, 2010 at 08:45 PM ·

In addition, how much of it is the bow?  I tried someone else's bow the other day.  It felt and sounded a bit better, so now I'm even more confused.  Are there any reliable tests for evaluating violins and bows versus one's own skill?

December 15, 2010 at 04:28 PM ·

My motives for "trading up" as a young professional were (a) people took the mickey because I had a shiny new violin and (b) my new instrument didn't blend in as well as older fiddles could. Additionally, I felt frustrated because whatever I did, I couldn't get the distinctive sound that players on Italian fiddles can obtain. I don't think my search had anything to do with wanting to boast about how much I had paid. But looking around for a good "old" violin was like entering a minefield. Piddled with ritfalls, as Doctor Spooner would have it. Even then the decent old Italians seemed ruinously expensive. Eventually I settled on a Vuillaume, costing an arm and a leg almost, but worth it. 

December 16, 2010 at 06:15 PM ·

I was very interested in this thread because I had been thinking of asking the same question.  A year ago I upgraded my bow because my teacher had put the idea of a CF bow into my head.  My new bow (pernambuco--I made that decision after reading all the v.com discussions) made such an amazing difference that I started practicing a lot more and my skills have improved immensely over this past year.  Now my $300 violin no longer inspires me and I think it's time to move on, even though I don't think the violin itself is holding me back.  It just sounds muffled to me.  (Of course I'll have my teacher and luthier check it over to be sure there's no reparable issue.)

December 16, 2010 at 09:50 PM ·

 Francesca, what you are saying reminds me of ME!

I lost interest in my violin back in February 2010, a german violin I originally bought when I started learning in January 2007, I bought it for $1170, it was new and I'd say an 'intermediate' violin, but just like you said, to me the sound started to sound 'uninspiring' and 'muffled', I never noticed before in the 3 years prior to that!

I never actually discussed it with anyone but I went ahead and bought another violin in April 2010 and was MUCH HAPPIER and satisfied, sold the german one which I had all that time.  I was in between suzuki book 4 and 5 in my ability (I don't do suzuki but I see that on here many people understand what level that is so I'll compare my ability to suzuki).

Then later in the year I discovered I had to down size to a 7/8 violin from full size (long story why, I won't go into that in this thread), but I went to my usual string instrument shop in London and asked to borrow a 7/8 violin, they only had 2 'expensive' ones, so I took one of them home for a week, the idea was only for me to see if I really had to down size and if I had to then I would search for a 7/8 to buy....

BUT I fell in love with this 7/8 violin they loaned me (with a price tag of just under $6500!!!) and long story here as well I am now the owner of this violin, the sound of it just got hold of me and I could not return this violin!!! I had to keep it!

I have reached about suzuki book 6 by now, maybe when you get to a certain level your ear has developed so much that you can really appreciate things/subtleties you could not notice before?

do you think that's what happened to you? as you matured/progressed in your learning you are now able to appreciate the tone qualities more?

December 16, 2010 at 11:03 PM ·


I plan to discuss it with my teacher tomorrow.  I've been working hard on my tone, and also listening to violinists on the radio and CDs a lot.  (My husband just upgraded our stereo system; before we were listening on cheap computer speakers.)  But I may just need new strings, we'll see.  BTW, I'm barely out of Suzuki 1; you're WAY ahead of me.  But then, that could explain why a $6500 violin leaves you uninspired while a $300 violin leaves me unspired!

December 17, 2010 at 10:34 AM ·

Francesca, no no no, I think you've read my post wrong, the $6500 violin is NOT the one that leaves un-inspired!!! it's the one I have now, the one I am in love with! LOL

the one which was muffled and I was not happy with anymore was my first violin the $1100 german one, and now all beginner violins I just could not play on, fair enough if that's the only violin I had I would be happy and VERY grateful to have a violin than having nothing at all (I don't want to come across as an ungrateful person by all means) but now that I have the violin I have I can't part with it or swap it for anything less and I now I very lucky I am to have it, sometimes I feel I don't deserve it........

December 18, 2010 at 05:01 AM ·

Sorry, Jo.  Re-reading your previous e-mail, what you said was very clear.  Sorry I didn't didn't read it correctly.  And thanks very much for relating your experience.  Based on how far I think I can realistically go (not far at my age!), it was helpful for establishing a reasonable upper bound on what I might be able to pay to make myself thrilled with a violin for the rest of my life.

Elise--if you're still following this thread of yours: my current violin would become my camping violin.  It has a lot of sentimental value to me but not much trade-in value.

December 18, 2010 at 11:40 AM ·

Still here Francesca :)

I've accumulated two other reasonable violins over the years - my original full sized (from age 10 or so; a Wolf Brothers model) and a lions head that I was (to be honest) conned into in a market place in New Orleans (I wrote about it somewhere here).  Both are decent but the former has a lot of sentimental value for obvious reasons so is rather a museum piece in my house.   The lions head has been elevated to 'travel violin'  - it does not have a lot of value but it actually plays very sweetly but with a low volume - ideal for hotels in far away places!  And I don't have to worry too much if something happens to it.  So, yes, thats my hard-knocks violin!

December 18, 2010 at 04:08 PM ·

 -------Sorry, Jo.  Re-reading your previous e-mail, what you said was very clear.  Sorry I didn't didn't read it correctly.  And thanks very much for relating your experience.  Based on how far I think I can realistically go (not far at my age!), it was helpful for establishing a reasonable upper bound on what I might be able to pay to make myself thrilled with a violin for the rest of my life.---------

@Francesca:       by the way, I have just 'turned' 41years old (started violin at 37), maybe not too 'advanced' age-wise, but no 'spring chicken' anymore either ;) hehehehe

December 18, 2010 at 07:34 PM ·

Jo, I'm 56.  I was just thinking of starting a new thread regarding what a reasonable "step-up" violin path would be for learners who don't have 50 years to spend trading up in relatively small increments.  (More like a steep ramp-up rather than gradual step-up.)   Once again, hearing your experience has been helpful.

December 19, 2010 at 07:06 AM ·

 Lena, the realization it was time to step up came from trial and error. At times I thought the problem was me, until my teacher played the same piece on my instrument, had me  try again on a different one, and also occasionally had me use his bow. Consequently, I came to understand the strengths and weaknesses of my previous violin. Seriously, if it can sound thin and flat in the hands of a professional, what chance do I have?

Over time, if you let others play your instrument, and have the happy opportunity of playing other instruments, it will become clear if and  when the problem is the violin and the fact that you have outgrown it's capabilities. It doesn't even have to be very expensive. My violin was only priced in the low 4-digits. I think it had just been made correctly enough and played correctly long enough that it actually sounds pretty nice.

I think Jo is right - your skill level and ear may have progressed enough that you can discern better what you need at this time. How exciting, you will have to tell us if and when you settle on a new violin!

December 19, 2010 at 10:56 AM ·

"Jo, I'm 56.  I was just thinking of starting a new thread regarding what a reasonable "step-up" violin path would be for learners who don't have 50 years to spend trading up in relatively small increments.  (More like a steep ramp-up rather than gradual step-up.) "

That's a tough one. People at different playing stages can have different preferences. Almost everyone has problems making big jumps from whatever they are accustomed to. Mostly, they will buy something similar to their old violin, but a little better, and they may do this several times over the years, rather than cutting to the chase. And if you hand an amateur a violin that a number of pros have really liked, they may not care for it.

I think Julie's advice was good. Play and listen to everything you can get your hands on. Also, if you can find a trusted exceptional player to help you (one who isn't getting a kickback from the seller), that can be a big help.

December 19, 2010 at 06:51 PM ·

David, THANK YOU for the advice.  A little hard to hear, but I'm sure you're right.

There was a saying I read (not sure how original) regarding finding a husband: Before you find your prince, you have to kiss a lot of frogs.  At least owning a series of step-up instruments is tons more pleasurable than kissing frogs!

December 19, 2010 at 07:36 PM ·

Charlie, regarding the bows: from my limited experience (1) the advice Mr. Burgess just gave me for violins also holds for bows (except the financial risk is less), and (2) the advice people have given throughout all past discussions regarding bows is sound: the bow is very important.  Last year I paid $300 for a bow for my violin which cost less than $300.  The improvement over my $50 bow was immense and really helped my violin skiils improve over this past year.  At the time, I also tried a $1000 French bow which I decided I wasn't ready for--I could tell it was different from the $300 bow but it didn't seem like it would be better for me.

December 20, 2010 at 03:18 AM ·

  I have been told that the bow is responsible for over 50% of the sound. Personally I tried on quite a few of them, and ended up going with carbon fiber in the end. Although relatively inexpensive, quite oddly it handles better than my brazilwood now-spare (or perhaps not so odd, given the unclear origins of said brazilwood bow). A great deal of serious consideration and soul searching must be placed on bow selection. The bow chooses the musician! and all that.

Best of luck to you...how exciting! I recall when my remarkably supportive family came together and helped me buy "Sophie", my lower-end pro instrument (cello). The rental I had been using before, while decent and my first full-sized instrument, was becoming uncooperative (and equally so with my instructor). I was not too attached to it, seeing as it wasn't technically mine...and I was growing impatient with it's lackluster performance and overall deadness. It's much nicer to spend hours a day with something that sounds good to your ears, instead of fighting with an instrument which would rather be with someone else. Ultimately, you are the one who needs to sense that a change is necessary, and you will surely find an appropriate replacement given much thought and possible scalping of your own hair in the process. 

I got off easy in the big search...by doing a silly thing and acquiring my current "partner" largely on impulse without trying any others. My then-instructor's roommate knew a fellow in the Boston Symphony who was connected with a small shop in Romania. He came highly recommended by this roommate as a purveyor of excellence of the non-bankrupting kind, and we were also assured of the guy's honest character. Thusly we underwent some correspondence...he inquired as to my specifications. Above all I desired a fiery, bright yet smooth-edged sound. I needed something that could carry me through my more advanced schooling and into an early professional career with little fuss. He told me he knew of just the one, and would have it sent to me from lovely România to try out. I trusted him. A short time later I opened the much anticipated box. An uncommonly wide figure (even for a cello) greeted me, the most beautiful thing I had yet seen...akin to a big, young thoroughbred, ember gold wood striped and strewn with blooms of red. Loud, yes...only a year old, almost overeager, but willing and accessible. 

Since this would be a major investment on everyone's part, my teacher generously ended up taking her for a few days of intense playing, including a symphony rehearsal and performance, so we could sit down and discuss the merits of the instrument...from both a seasoned professional and anxious student's point of view. I had fallen in love with Sophie immediately...he told me that if this cello clicked, it had his endorsement as a quality chunk of wood which he admitted he would consider for himself had the circumstances been different.

Given location and limited funds, I did not have the ability to try on dozens of different cellos/travel extensively to fetch them/pay for other cellos to be flown over from who-knows-where, so the input of someone I trusted who had been in the game for a long while was invaluable. In the end, I went with the first instrument I tried -- the big thoroughbred, Sophie -- and five (or has it been four?) years later I couldn't be happier. Her sound has mellowed considerably, although she is easy to "boom" and the fire is easily coaxed -- but, thankfully, still responsive to ppp, wonderfully clear upstairs, happily resonant... and she only continues to improve in tone with age (or perhaps that is my own playing? haha) This said, she certainly has her quirks, but they all do, as imperfect creations sculpted from once living material. I've learned to navigate and compensate.

The newer instruments can definitely be worth it.  I do wish I had a junker I could take camping and use in other casual outdoorsy venues. Admittedly that is one of the reasons I am learning my mother's ukelele...it's nice to have something more compact to play around the fire. 

(Goodness, I didn't mean to ramble on so!)

December 20, 2010 at 05:02 AM ·


These are the most delightful of stories!  No one is being accused of rambling here.

If only my husband's road biking digest had such interesting content.   Those cyclists care about their bikes as much as v.com members care about their instruments, but no one reveals any personal feelings for their bikes--unless they're stolen.  And with all this wet weather, they have more reason to sit in front of the computer and fixate on their own thoroughbreds than I do.

December 20, 2010 at 10:04 AM ·

Heather - what a wonderful story.  I bet you ended up with a far better instrument and deal than if you HAD done the - tour the dealers route.  Basically you bought an excellent cello without half the middlemen. 

A shop with a 100% trade in policy (which I am fortunate to have less than a mile from my house) actually results in rather a similar circumstance.  For example, if you trade up from, say, a 8K instrument to a 10 K one you have to pay 8K.  However, if you had to sell the first one you either go the private route (and probably make 7.5 if you are lucky) or consignment (for say 6.5K ir you are lucky).  These options mean spending 2.5K or 3.5 extra - with a lot of hassle. 

That said, its a lot better financially to buy from the same shop - but then your are, of course, limited in choice.  Which is my long pre-amble as to why I was incredibly fortunate to find my volin at that price.  Interesting what David said about people tend to move up to something similar.  Thats what I did at first, the violin I tried out was another french made and better, but I just couldn't convince myself that it was sufficiently better.  Gravitas is a major departure, being like yours brand new - strong, sweet and decidedly with its own character! 

December 21, 2010 at 08:44 PM ·

I have thought about that 100% trade-in policy myself.  My luthier, a violin maker who also sells instruments, has it.  But past discussions on v.com said the store should have a big enough selection to make that feasible, and I don't know if he does.  It really would make violin shopping not such a big deal.  (I put it off last year after reading Smiley's blogs.)  Regarding what David said--while replying to someone else, I realized that it happens naturally if you keep a clear head: a more expensive violin might just not seem worth it to you if you're only capable of getting a certain amount out of a violin.

Elise, do you have any insight into what caused you to make a big jump with Gravitas?  Was it just that it felt right?  My life goal is to find my "soul mate" instrument, and the descriptions of other v.commies doing that are so exciting.

Heather--your "the bow chooses the musician" reference to Harry Potter didn't escape me.  It's all very magical. 

December 23, 2010 at 05:00 PM ·

 I've been following this thread with interest.  Last year, I came back to violin after many (VERY happy) years as an orchestral violist and was playing a violin made in the town I was living.  It was bright, young, and rather dull.  My luthier was intrigued by it, and said he could offer me any one of 8 violins in his shop as an even trade.  Since this instrument is (and will be) my "fun" instrument, that sort of adventure appealed to me, so I spent the night on his spare couch, trying violins and having a blast.  Each of the 8 was totally different from the rest, and I had the pleasure of deciding what qualities I could live with, what was essential, what not.  I made my choice (the most battered looking one of the bunch, purports to be Italian, but we agree more likely "Chicago, Italy" turn of the last century).  It's just a hair bigger than usual, so, with my 15.5" viola (also a 'local' product, but much more satisfactory) I  am a very happy player, without having to turn a penny; my luthier is having fun with my old violin, so we are both winners.  NOT the way to go about picking a life-long professional partner, for sure, but I recommend it as an adventure.

December 23, 2010 at 07:59 PM ·

Marjorie - I didn't quite get that - you are switching professionally from viola to violin or just taking up the latter for more diversity/fun?  Did you bond to this italian job?  Or is it just the best of the bunch...


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