Violin shopping with friends

November 14, 2010 at 01:11 AM ·

I went violin shopping today and came home with a beautiful instrument that I am totally in love with.  Since I haven't been playing long, my husband and I invited friends along.  Lynn has been playing the violin for 4 years.  Her husband has been playing various instruments for over 50 years, including the violin.  It was very interesting comparing the different violins.

First we looked on the wall and found my cut off on price (well, a  little over).  Then we backed up and went down the wall choosing the ones that we wanted to try.  We took the first two on the wall.  The first one was nice, but I didn't like the look of it.  Very bright, shiny and orange.  I know, looks shouldn't matter I really didn't like it.  

Violin #2 was off the list before Lynn even got to hear it.  It repulsed me immediately which was very shocking.  When I bowed the open D it was as if all the sound came out of the f holes, surrounded my head and socked me in the face.  I practically threw it at Lynn.  Get it away from me!  

Violin #3 had a better sound than #4 but was quickly replaced by #5 which was Romanian, workshop made and had a nice, bright sound. 

#6 sounded very nice and mellow but #7 was nicer still (obviously going up in price here!).  So we narrowed it down to #5 and #7.  There was about a $400 price difference.  I started playing each violin quickly back to back.  I liked the sound of both but prefer a more mellow sound (I use to play the cello).  The more I played one then the other, I started leaning towards #7. 

So Lynn said it was time to pick out a bow.  She picked out two - one carbon fiber and one brazil wood.  My budget was quickly eaten up by the violin so I had been leaning towards a very cheap bow with the idea of upgrading later.  This is about the time our husbands joined us by my husband was not allowed to look at the price tags.  He was told to just listen.  I played both violins several times with both bows and we all agreed the carbon fiber sounded good on violin #7.  It also felt very well balanced and very easy to hold compared to my rental stick that I had been using.  I was amazed at the difference the right bow makes (keep in mind I have only been playing for 3 months)

Lynn then played both violins one after the other.  #5 sounded much brighter and crisp and on some songs I thought it sounded preferable.  #7 was darker and more mellow and held it's undertones better.  They asked my husband which he preferred to hear since he would have to listed to this daily.  I told him to go to the other side of the door because that's how he normally hears me!  In the end, we all agreed that #7 (the most expensive one!) was the best one for me.  It sounded better to my ear when I played it.  My husband knows the music that I enjoy and agreed that #7 would bring more enjoyment for me.  Lynn said it was a joy to play and her preference as well. 

From the tag:  1990's Chinese - workshop made - refinished and set up at Acoustic Corner summer of 2009.  Purportedly a Samuel Shen imported in the White and unlabeled in the 1990's.  Badly finished then refinished.  All rosewood fittings (pegs, chin rest and saddle).

My violin is a beautiful dark bay color with nice flaming on the back.  The refinish job was very well done.  My husband is a woodworker and I admire beautiful wood in all it's art forms.  The rosewood fittings really set off the color well.  It's very chocolaty looking.  It's beautiful to look at and (for me) to play.

Best of all, I got the violin I wanted, a better case than I could afford, a better bow than I could afford and a free set of strings and after a little bargaining I was within my budget by $1.36.  What a happy day!

Replies (43)

November 14, 2010 at 01:25 AM ·

Congratulations - a happy day indeed (from one who very recently changed violins and went through the bonding all over again...).

Make beautiful music together OK? ...

November 14, 2010 at 04:08 AM ·

Cool!  A nice journey to the two of you! 


November 14, 2010 at 11:23 AM ·

 Ohh great! I keep 'bumping' into your posts here and lots mentioned you were planning on buying soon! I couldn't wait to hear what happened! And now it has happened, I'm so pleased! Well done on your purchase and I can't wait to hear how you get along with your violin over the next few months!

P.S. You must have great bargaining skills! 

November 14, 2010 at 11:44 AM ·

My friends have great bargaining skills :-)  I would have come home with a smaller case that I didn't like, a very cheap bow and no strings for the same price.  My friends were a lot of help.  She told me how to play each violin so I could better compare.  I had to laugh when it came to the bow.  I wanted the Ophelia Carbon Fiber but could get a Brazil wood for half the price.  I said I would buy the CF in a few months if business picked up.  She then went in to the speal about inflation and how the CF bow will continue to increase in price in the coming months so better to buy it now.  I looked at my husband and said gee, where have I heard this argument?  I've been a realtor for many years.  That's my line!

I was a little frustrated when I got home last night.  This violin had a little tighter margins for play the right note and I kept getting a lot of screeches and squaks.  I assume it's because of the new bow.  I kept putting rosin on it and it seemed to get better.  

November 14, 2010 at 11:53 AM ·

 Susan, it will take a while to fully adjust to a new violin. 

I bought a new violin not so long back and it took me a few weeks to start getting the best sound possible out of it. Generally when people upgrade to higher standard instruments they do find that it takes more precision in order to get the right note.

I also own a CF bow!! I enjoy the feel a lot more than wooden bows which also tend to be slightly heavier in my experience. I will be upgrading my bow soon though to a better CF one hopefully. 

Just keep playing, the violin will start to get used to you and you to it. Keep rosining the bow - some people say for every hour you play rather than the standard 6 hours until it needs rosining. Keep a good old microfibre cloth near by to keep the fingerboard and wood clean :) 

November 14, 2010 at 11:21 PM ·

Thanks!  I haven't gotten to play yet today since i was at a dog show all day (my other love).  I thought (hoped?) that I was just use to the other violin and that I will eventually find the sweet spots on this one as well.  I just seemed to play it so much better at the shop!  The two violins that I had narrowed down were very different but both sounded beautiful.  Mine is very deep and mellow with good undertones where as the second choice was bright and crisp.  I really want to make mine sing so it's frustrating when it squawks instead.  I kept wiping down the strings and even cleaned the strings since there was rosin build up from people playing it in the shop then not properly wiping it down.  It did seem to help but it wasn't the miracle fix :-(    I guess we just need time together.

The bow is AMAZING!  Everyone said that a bow will make all the difference and I understood that without really believing it.  The CF bow is wonderful!  It immediately felt more balanced in my hand, not heavier but sturdier.  It also felt better to grip. 

November 14, 2010 at 11:34 PM ·

There are many reasons for possible squeeks but two of the most ovious are: that the bridge angles are different from what you are used to and that the angle of the violin on your shoulder is different.  I assume you have a different chin rest.  Did you also change the shoulder rest (if you use one)?  Both of these can make you catch a neighbouring string and make a squeal.  And both will go away quite quickly as you adjust.

Another thing to look at is: are you (still?) bowing in a straight line?  Its hard to over emphasize how important this is not only to avoiding slides and squeeks but also to the generation of a rich tone.  I would spend a few practise sessions playing without music - scales, baa-baa black sheep - anything, but while watching your strings as you bow and yourself in a mirror.

November 15, 2010 at 12:37 AM ·

I really appreciate everyone's help.  I just practiced for close to an hour.  I had a lot of squeaks and squawks but it did improve as time went on.  I tried to watch the angle of my bow and also the angle of my left hand as I realized I was getting a lazy wrist and hitting the strings more with my finger pads instead of my tips. 

The chin rest is different than my other one.  It's actually more comfortable.  I have the same shoulder rest and I think it's at the same angle but it doesn't take much to be off.  This violin also has a classical set up where as my last one had a fiddle set up.  I know it's going to take a while to adjust.  I'm still happier than frustrated.  In a couple of weeks I'll be progressing again.....

November 15, 2010 at 02:32 AM ·

Hi Susan,

I hope the violin works out for you.  I think the lesson to be learned is never buy an instrument without taking it out on trial.  I did a rather extensive violin search last year and generally found that instruments tend to sound better in the shop.  They usually have trial rooms that are boomy and lined from wall to wall with other instruments, so you get a big sound with a lot of reverb.  On a few occasions, I took an instrument on trial, thinking it was the best thing ever, but after getting it home and playing in my rather "dead" practice room, found that the sound was not as good as I thought.  For anyone buying a violin or bow, I would recommend at least 4-5 day trial period before committing to the purchase.



November 15, 2010 at 10:24 AM ·

I would certainly agree with this.

I once took out a modern Italian viola which sounded wonderful in the small room I tried it in. I went straight to a recording session in a really nice large hall, and handed it to a friend who tried it. He handed it back and said he didn't think much of it. When I tried it then it sounded awful, a thin sound and very uneven accross the strings. Total rubbish.

I'm now very careful and if I'm trying an instrument in a "flattering" accoustic I won't bother taking it home as I know it will probably be dissapointing.

November 15, 2010 at 12:29 PM ·

Oh, I still like the sound at home.  I'm just having more trouble playing it without screeches and squawks.  There are a lot of thing different from what I am use to so it's a matter of getting use to it.  Part of playing it better at Acoustic Corner was probably that my husband and two friends were hearing me play up close and in person for the first time so I was sort of on the spot.  I'm sure I get a little lazier at home :-)

November 15, 2010 at 02:26 PM ·

were you playing with no or hardly 'squeaks and skwacks' on other violins before this one?

if so I'd be very wary of the fact that you produce squeaks on this one to begin with, meaning is the set up a good set up? is the violin ok?

I do agree with Smiley in any case anyway, always a good idea to trial for a week or so, but still, all good shops will refund/exchange within 14 days if you're not happy and I would if the squeaks are not gone by then, or at least ask a very experienced player to test it out for you.....

November 15, 2010 at 03:58 PM ·

I should have been more clear in my post.  There is a lot more to a violin than just the sound.  In my personal violin search, I visited 5 well stocked shops over the course of several months and in each case took a violin home on trial, but ended up returning them all.  In some cases, it was due to the sound; other cases due to something else, perhaps difficulty playing it, or not being comfortable with the instrument.  I remember one instrument sounded nice, but something about it made my left hand tense after about 1-2 hours of playing.  I never figured it out, but needless to say, the violin went back to the shop. 

I wrote a blog about my violin search.  Most people are not as crazy as I am - or fanatical, anal, picky, detailed, analytical, pick your adjective.  But here's my blog if you are interested.

My quest for a professional violin


November 15, 2010 at 04:21 PM ·

"I remember one instrument sounded nice, but something about it made my left hand tense after about 1-2 hours of playing.  I never figured it out, but needless to say, the violin went back to the shop. "


Well of course it might be the instrument but it could also be something wrong with your left hand technique.

Your blog is very interesting and well thought out and written.

I listened to your videos on youtube from your profile. Of course it is difficult to say with recordings because of mic positioning etc, but assuming this was your old fiddle, I could hardly hear it. But I would be interested to know how much of an increase in sound your new violin produces.

I would comment on the point in your blog about instruments with a big sound are usually edgey and bright. This may be so, but some players can still make them sound warm and smooth.

November 15, 2010 at 07:22 PM ·

Well of course it might be the instrument but it could also be something wrong with your left hand technique.


That is entirely possible, but I have not experienced that problem with any other fiddles I have tried.

I listened to your videos on youtube from your profile. Of course it is difficult to say with recordings because of mic positioning etc, but assuming this was your old fiddle, I could hardly hear it.

Actually, that is my new fiddle in the Beethoven.  I agree, the balance is a bit off.  The piano over powers the strings in the performance. 


November 15, 2010 at 08:43 PM ·


That should never be the case that the piano swamps the violin, even if the pianist is heavy handed. I would have thought that if the video camera mic was being used and it seemed that way, that you being closer would have been favoured.

I played in a piano trio the other day and when the pianist got a bit heavy handed on a grand piano I belted it out by playing nearer the bridge using more bow. It's the only way, as some pianists just dont have the technique to play lets say less loudly ... (The only other answer is to shoot them before the concert ...)

November 15, 2010 at 09:58 PM ·


Then you are a heck of a violinist.  I have been to concerts where virtuoso violinists playing on strads and guarneris were drowned out by the piano.  Sitting in the audience, I remember wishing they would close the darn top on the piano.  But I agree with you, it is harder to play a piano softly, than loudly.   As much as I appreciate your feedback, it is a bit off topic so feel free to email me directly if you wish to continue this discussion. 


Sorry for sidetracking your thread.

November 15, 2010 at 11:32 PM ·

@ Smiley - that's ok.  It happens :-)

I was asked:  "were you playing with no or hardly 'squeaks and skwacks' on other violins before this one?" 

Answer - yes, including this one.  BUT - I was also playing all violins, including this one, with my old rental bow.  The squawks happened once I got the new carbon fiber bow which makes me think it's the new bow that needs breaking in.  The squawks do decrease the longer I practice at home so I am reserving judgment for a while.  It's very possible that I had no squawks with the CF bow in the store because at that point I had been playing for 3 hours which is a stretch for me but I certainly would have been well warmed up by then.  Also - I was starting to get a few squawks with my rental violin in the week before I turned it in.  I thought that I had some build up or something on my string but it's very possible that I am doing something different that I don't  realize.   I did have a more experienced player with me who listened to and played this violin and approved of it as well.  I wasn't about to go about this alone.  I knew I needed someone with me.  If I do find that I have an issue I know the luthier will work with me to solve it.  They have a very good reputation in our area amongst the local fiddlers and we have quiet a bit of talent in that area here in the mountains. 

November 16, 2010 at 01:09 AM ·

It's the right hand that does all the real work and the real art. It takes time and of course you are sqeaking! Bea patient :-)

November 16, 2010 at 02:47 AM ·

It's got to be the change of bow and change of everything I am use to on the rental violin.  Tonight I practiced for an hour and had noticeably fewer squawks.  I also notice that I get more squawks on music I have memorized but hardly squawk at all on music I am trying to learn.  The only thing I can figure is that the old music gives me time to think about technique so of course, I flub it up.  With new music I am trying to read the notes and get them right so I kind of forget about technique for a while.   Do you ever reach a point where you can pick up a totally foreign violin and play beautiful music without any adjustments?

November 16, 2010 at 02:57 PM ·


I've started a new thread (which hasn't appeared yet, I expect Laurie is still sleeping!) about grand pianos and balance with strings. Hope you find it interesting and will respond. I thought it might be more useful than emailing each other, but I can do that too if you would like, or prefer.

November 16, 2010 at 03:53 PM ·

Hi Susan,

Be Patient. Yes. of course, when you get better, you'll be able to pick up any fiddle and immediately play it beautifully. Just give it time.


November 16, 2010 at 10:32 PM ·

Thanks Bill :-)  

November 16, 2010 at 10:42 PM ·

 How's the playing going now that you're getting to know your new violin a bit more? :) 

November 17, 2010 at 12:05 AM ·

Last night was better.  I haven't been able to practice yet tonight but I expect it to go well.  Thank you for asking.  So much is different about it.  It may look the same but it obviously doesn't play the same!

November 17, 2010 at 12:20 AM ·

Susan: changing from a fiddler's to a classical bridge would be enough to throw off even the most elite violinist - you guys are in early days, just getting to know each other.  I still feel the same way with Gravitas - I had the fingerboard sanded a bit today, the E edge was too sharp and I'm getting a callous (I know, I'm probably also gripping side to side too much).

Whats particularly interesting is getting to know the sweet and less sweet spots and how best to bow them to maintain tone and keep it even.  I still have mornings when he sounds like he caught a chest cold - but by aftenoon its usually cleared up!

November 17, 2010 at 02:30 AM ·

Practice tonight was much better!  I hope I can eliminate the "chest cold" by Monday :-)  We are having our office Thanksgiving lunch and one of our co-workers has terminal cancer.  Me and another realtor plan to bring our violins and two other guys are bringing our guitars so we can play for Belinda and have fun.  I think that's what most upset me.  I know my new friend is much different than the rental but I had been practicing a few songs for Belinda and when I suddenly got cat screeches with every other bow stroke it just broke my heart.  I think I'll have it together by Monday though.

November 17, 2010 at 12:34 PM ·

Brand new bow.  Brand new strings.  I've been applying a lot of rosin since I read that new bows are often too fresh.  For the first time last night I saw rosin dust when I am done playing.  I have been wiping down my strings every 30 minutes of playing which seems to help.   The bridge looks fine and I assume the sound post is.  This violin was sent through workshop with the luthier that I bought it from and she has a good reputation in our area.  It seems I get screeches mostly on music that I know and don't need the sheet music for.  On pieces that are unfamiliar that I am trying to learn, I hardly get a screech at all.  That tells me it is something I am doing when I am concentrating on technique - I just need to figure out what it is!  

Since I was playing screech free from the get-go with my rental, if I am not screech free by next weekend I will go back to the luthier and have her take a look.  That will be two weeks and certainly after 45 minutes to an hour of practice every day I would have adjusted to the differences and eliminated those dreadful sounds by then

November 17, 2010 at 01:09 PM ·

I just started a new thread with photo links of my bridge.  It should post soon.  I do wonder if my bridge is angled wrong.

November 17, 2010 at 02:24 PM ·

 You may want to tilt your bow a bit to get less hair contact with the strings.  I found this helped on my son's new CF bow and new violin.  Like you he finally got his own violin and bow after renting for 2 years and the "squawks" came back.  I rolled  the bow about 10 degrees so the stick was closer to the fingerboard and the hair closer to me and the "squawk" stopped.  I don't know why but it worked.

November 17, 2010 at 05:54 PM ·

How long has it been since anyone has played this violin regularly?  They do take some time to "wake up" after sitting idle for a long time.  It's really surprising how much difference tiny variations between instruments make.

November 17, 2010 at 10:34 PM ·

This violin went through workshop a year ago by the place I bought it from so it may have been a while since it's been played.

I have found that when the CF bow squawks, rolling it out seems to help!  Hmmmm.......

November 18, 2010 at 08:54 AM ·


The "advice" you got about a carbon fibre bow going up in value more than a "wood" bow is decidedly dodgy.

I have been told that CF bows will hardly incease in value, whereas Permanbuco wood bows will do so, all things being equal. Of course with a severe reccession taking place none of these things may increase in value, and we should buy with the thought that we may only just get our money back in xx years.

I think you need much better advice before you spend your money, from people that really know their stuff.

November 18, 2010 at 12:17 PM ·

My choice was CF or Brazil wood.  I couldn't afford the purmanbuco.  Her argument was the same one we are told to use as realtors.  I knew it was dodgy when she said it.  She also knew I preferred the CF bow over the other but  I was being money conscious and she was trying to get me to throw that issue out the window - within reason.  She was also making the argument for my husbands benefit who was trying very hard not to look at price tags that day.

I was going to buy a cheap brazil wood bow and come back for the nice CF in 6 months if business picked up.  She said the original purchase was a waste of money as then I would have two bows, one of inferior quality.  She suggested that I should pick out what I want, then approach the shop owner and haggle a bit, which is what we did.  In the end, we stayed in budget and I came home with exactly what I wanted.  She really was a big help that day.  It wasn't just violin shopping.  She helped manage my husband which was a HUGE help!

November 18, 2010 at 12:49 PM ·

Well I probably wouldn't (and never have) taken my wife to the violin dealers but then she is a pianist! On the other hand she has a good ear and can say if she thinks an instrument has a big sound. She picked out the bow I purchased recently out of two I had brought home, both of which were very good and had big sounds, but the one we both chose had the slightly bigger sound and was a better known English bow. Both were the same price. ($100,000 !! ONLY JOKING ...)

November 18, 2010 at 09:16 PM ·

I knew better than to leave my husband at home.  We've been together for 22 years and I have figured out how to manage him.  Bring someone whose opinion he respects and let them explain to him why I need the more expensive violin, bow and case and then make sure our friend ushers him out the door when it comes time to pay the bill.  Worked like a charm :-)  Without their help, I would have compromised on what I wanted.

November 18, 2010 at 09:52 PM ·

I got to hear the history of my violin today which was kind of neat.  The shop was swamped Saturday so I went back today with a bridge issue and had a chance to ask a lot of questions.  The shop owner, Stephanie, has known this violin for a long time.  It was made by Samuel Shen who sent it to the states in the white in the early 1990's.  A friend of Stephanie's bought it and painted it - with oil house paint - olive green.  She was horrified.  She is the one who has cared for this violin for may years now, doing repairs and adjustments as needed.  She has always loved its sound.  She was going to show the owners how to refinish it.  I think she said the owner (who has played for many many years) planned to give it to his wife and she hated the green color.  Before they could refinish it the wife bought another violin so instead they sold it to Stephanie.  She said that's whey the color is a dark, chocolaty color, I compare it to a dark bay horse with black points.  Very similar.  The dark color covers where the green just didn't want to give up.  I think she did a beautiful job on the finish.  My husband is a woodworker so I can appreciate her efforts.   Kind of neat knowing all of this!

November 18, 2010 at 10:01 PM ·

 Susan, that sounds completely BONKERS! I love the fact the first owner painted it olive green! I'm glad you are seeming to enjoy having your new violin and finding out about it. Also, did Stephanie say anything about the bridge? If so, what is being done (or not being done maybe)? 

November 18, 2010 at 10:47 PM ·

The bridge is fine.  It was angled a bit and she adjusted it.  It's the correct width at the feet, straight up the back but the front tapers to the top.  So the thickness / thinness is good.  It is not a classical setup.  What's funny is that my friend and I couldn't figure out the bridge type.  Not flat enough for a fiddle but didn't really look classical.  Come to find out, Stephanie uses a bridge somewhere in the middle.  Our area is thick with fiddle players, many of them Grammy winners.  So we have a lot of adults that want to play the fiddle and a true fiddle bridge is difficult to learn on.  She says that her bridges are popular in our area.  She also showed me the bridge in relation to the sound post.  This one is a little forward but she had worked on it enough to know that for this instrument, it was the proper place to put it for the best sound.  It was an educational day!  I am glad I went back in!

November 18, 2010 at 10:59 PM ·

 Oh very good! I'm also glad you went back - it is always great to find out something new about the violin, especially if it is your own! Also, the bridge design sounds interesting! It sounds like it has been a very good, constructive day for you! Keep in touch with Stephanie often - you might become good friends - who knows? :) 

Take care!

November 22, 2010 at 02:07 PM ·

Thanks Pierre!  A lot of this is EXACTLY what friends and I are working through.  It turns out that the luthier that I bought this violin from has known this violin for a long time and has been giving it "tune ups" for years.  The bridge is offset from the soundpost a bit because that placement sounds best.  She also has synthetic strings on it as steel strings - what most fiddlers in our area use - sound better on this violin.  The strings currently on my violin are Pirastro Tonica

Yesterday I went to a music jam with friends.  One friend brought another bow for me to try and it did seem to be better.   I thought my squawk issue might be my new CF bow.  But my friend used my bow for several songs and didn't have any problems.  So maybe some of it is me adjusting to the different balance of this new bow which feels better but is definitely different. 

Then another person at the jam traded violins with me and played mine for several songs.  We then went outside to discuss it a bit.  She said she got a few squawks on the A string and found that the A string - when holding it to light - had a shiny spot.  She said my violin has a beautiful sound and good undertones.  She really liked it.  She suggested that I change the strings since I have no idea if they are brand new or have a little bit of use on them.  Since I was given a new set of strings at the time of purchase I went ahead and changed them, so we'll see how that goes.

 She also commented on my bridge which is kind of a fiddle hybred.  It's not flat like a fiddle bridge and not as sloped as a classical bridge.  It's actually the same type of bridge that was on my rental and I didn't get any squawks with my rental.  She thinks that my A string needs a little more pressure but that I am actually lessening my pressure to avoid hitting double strings, causing me to "skate" and make a squawking sound.  She suggested that when take my violin in for it's 3 month tune up (as requested by the luthier) that I have the bridge swapped out.  

So I got a lot of good, useful information yesterday and reassurance that it was more me than my violin.  Good to know because I can fix my problems if I know what's wrong and what to do about it.  

Something else that seems to help reduce the squawks:  When I first tune up, if I then vigorously bow about 8 long bow strokes on each string a couple of times (and the A string a couple more) I then have much fewer squawking issues when I play.  I don't know if it's because I am reminding myself of string position, warming up my violin and strings a bit or what???? Or maybe it's just my imagination?????

November 22, 2010 at 04:42 PM ·

It sounds like a lot of these violin "adjusters" may have recently escaped form the loony bin?

November 22, 2010 at 06:55 PM ·

My teacher has started giving me pieces with harmonics.  Some come out OK, while others are very difficult to bring out.  I suspect that this might be a good test for a violin; certainly it is for a guitar, with which I have more experience.  A good guitar is a paradoxical combination: in some ways it's flexible enough to vibrate freely, but in other ways it's rigid enough that those vibrations are not damped out but can ring.  I suspect the same applies to violins.  Guess it's time to go to a shop and test the theory.

I do know that good sound is a combination of instrument and technique.  While having a new sound post put into my cheap violin, the luthier handed me another violin and bow to try out.  It sounded much better - but those squeaks I sometimes get while crossing strings were still coming out loud and clear, even though I was playing a $4500 violin with a $2500 bow.

If I were shopping for a new violin, I'd take someone along who really knew what he was doing - and then we'd play a lot of things on a lot of violins.

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