Why are they all precious?

May 7, 2011 at 06:29 PM ·

I've noticed something 'odd' with violins and other bowed instruments.  They all seem to be considered 'precious' regardless of their quality/price point.

Is that because, regardless of manufacture, any violin has a potential be a superb soul-rending instrument?  Or are we all hoping we find ourselves in possesion of a missing Strad?

Some of us are very price-oriented.  If it costs a lot of money, it MUST be a valuable instrument, sound quality notwithstanding.  Others seem to be age-oriented.  If it's old it MUST be good.  Some of us are brand-oriented (look!  The faded label says it's a Strad!).  Yet others are local-oriented.  If it's German or Italian, it's inherently better quality than if it's made in China.  If you happen to own an expensive, old Italian violin with a label in it, you've won the jack-pot!

But even being aware of all this  I'm still surprised at what lengths we'll go to to defend, protect and repair cheap equipment - be it the violin or the bow.

I'm as bad as anyone.  For fun and out of curiosity, about 3 years ago  I purchased a $50 violin package.  The other day I hauled it out of the closet.  I laughed at the painted purfling and the oddly shaped bridge and then spent some time tuning it (which is probably a valuable learning exercise, because it's really, really hard to tune) before I played it.  The strings are unevenly spaced making it hard to finger and it buzzes when you play it.

A beginner could never learn to play on this instrument.  I have no idea who it's even made for.

When I had my fun, I carefully loosened the warped bow it came with.  Put the violin back in the case, covered it gently with the cloth, zipped it up and carefully put it back in the closet.

I know it's not worth anything - really.  Maybe the case has some value as a spare but that's about it.  Yet I still treat it carefully.  I wouldn't be this careful with an old computer, or an old car, or anything else that's cheap and essentially useless...so what is it about a violin?

Replies (25)

May 7, 2011 at 09:18 PM ·

 I'd argue that NOT all violins are precious. When a student bring in some $50 ebay thing that's been sprayed with orange urethane and won't tune, I want to run the other way. 

May 7, 2011 at 09:46 PM ·

If your violin is precious it is because it has become part of you.

May 7, 2011 at 09:51 PM ·

Or is it because a violin is shaped somewhat like a woman? ;-)

Getting back to what Scott said though, aren't there also plenty of $50 women, painted up like a cheap fiddle? (probably men too, but my buddies don't talk much about that). LOL

I think one needs to spend at least $99.95 on a fiddle.

I've probably spent over 100 grand on women (including buying back my house several times), so I still don't know what the entry level price needs to be. (emoticons: sad: smirk)

May 7, 2011 at 11:56 PM ·

Some of it may be just because a violin often is the oldest thing someone owns, and they associate age with value. In that vein, I was just looking at bicycles on Craigslist this morning, and people were trying to sell 40 year old bicycles that were bad when they were new for WAY over their values. $250 for a beat up Schwinn Varsity?????? I think not.

May 8, 2011 at 01:50 AM ·

When my teachers insisted on me being careful with my violin even if it was only a $200 violin, I got the feeling that they were trying to teach me the way to treat a "decent" violin--that they did't want me to  learn bad habits for treating any  violin and later possibly ill-treat a better violin out of habit.

They had a point--witness the stories on v.com of excellent violins being damaged because they were left in an unsafe manner (hanging from a music stand, sitting in an open case on a chair).

May 8, 2011 at 01:52 AM ·


I won't believe they're not all precious until I see a pile of discarded violins and bows somewhere!  I was thinking of taking my $50 wonder and using it for target practice, vs. tucking it away safely in the closet, but I just can't make myself do.

I could potentially hang it up as a wall ornament...but it's bright orange and too ugly.

I was wondering if I could use bow to prop up my philodrendron...but I dunno...

I'd also like someone to explain to me why the cheap violins HAVE to sport a bright orange varnish.  Even my spare, decent, Eastman 80 has it.  The Eastman 100 looked remarkably better...


May 8, 2011 at 01:54 AM ·

Michael, as the proud owner of a 1963 Schwinn Hollywood, I object. ;) No, kidding, really. But the price-points on those sixties-era Schwinns vary so wildly! If I'd judge by Ebay and Craigslist, my bike could go from anywhere from $10 to $250...

Anyway, to the subject at hand. I'm that way with all violins, too! But I'm also the same way with books. The greatest lesson I took from childhood was "every book is a sacred thing." My mom reiterated again and again that it is a tremendous privilege to be able to read, and we need to give every book respect since it has the capability to teach, instruct, enlighten, and comfort. All these years later, I'm still irrationally protective about books (mine and others), even the cheapest secondhand paperbacks. I never write in them, never fold the pages, never bend the spine back; etc., etc., etc. Even if it only cost twenty-five cents! Why do I do that? No idea, but those early habits are incredibly difficult to break, and for some reason, I don't know that I would want to! I think a similar impulse might be at play with instruments.

May 8, 2011 at 02:02 AM ·

Francesca and Emily; I think you're onto something.  I was taught to be careful with my violin too, those first few lessons...and I had the same background regarding book care that Emily did...

The first time I deliberately dog-eared a cheap, used paperback I felt the earth was about to open up and swallow me for the horror of it...

May 8, 2011 at 10:20 AM ·

OK... so this might sound really weird but I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who thinks like this. I got my violin of Ebay as a package for like $100 or something, I've had quite a lot of changes made to it but it still isn't that great and can get really frustrating sometimes. I'm looking at getting a new violin soon but... I don't think I'll ever be able to throw this violin out - possibly give it away but never throw it out.

I think a violin is to much like a friend, I mean it does kind of look like a person and people talk about a violin as being able to sing and it is said to be the most personal of all instruments (i think) and I mean I spend hours with it every day - I've even named my violin (am I the only one who does that?). I think a violin is so much like a person that it almost demands our respect - I dunno, that's just my two cents worth! 

My violin is like one of my closest friends so I'll never really want to part with it even if I get a better one.

May 8, 2011 at 02:08 PM ·

I think the question is not difficult to answer. Violins (like other musical instruments) and books are not only tools, but symbols of something greater. Music and books are two of the greatest achievements we have. It's wise to teach children to esteem them, no matter if they were cheap or expensive.

I'm glad I was brought up with that respekt, but sometimes this habit makes it hard for me to throw away useless books or fiddles. But this is not my fault, it's the fault of those who produce useless fiddles. It's a fault of a business system that produces anything, as long as people can be manipulated to waste their money for it. I always get angry when I see that rubbish in the supermarket. Not one of those instrument imitations can be played at all, but the sell them nevertheless.

May 8, 2011 at 03:20 PM ·

For adult owners I think when it comes to price point, people tend to buy the best they can afford (there are exceptions) so that in of itself makes the violin precious to the owner. (Cue the snobs) If something were to happen to my Snow, I would be hard pressed to replace/repair it so I take the utmost care of it.

Also we have all purchased an instrument to learn to play/master the violin, so our instruments are our gateway to achieving our individual goals and we treat it with care so we can continue to advance.

After playing with it for six months I've learned to love my particular violin's merits; I would genuinely be sad if something were to happen to it.

I love the finish, even though I can tell it wasn’t applied by a master luthier, it’s a very pretty red over a golden hue. I love the slight signs of bear claw on my spruce top near the fingerboard, more than this though I love the way it vibrates and sings when I hit a note just right, love its range in terms of dynamics, and based on its performance when my teacher was at the helm, love the responsibility of learning to unlock its full potential.

Here’s a mini album if you are curious. I know it’s not a del Gesu but it’s truly precious to me :)


By the way I'm also an avid "don't crease the spine, don't dog ear the pages" book reader. Not an issue with my Kindle :)

May 9, 2011 at 03:25 AM ·

 Agree with Meli 100%, couldn't have said it better myself!

May 9, 2011 at 04:58 AM ·


We will need some clarification:

Did you spend $100,000 on one woman, $10,000 on ten women,  $1000 on 100 women,  $10 on 1000 women, or $1 on 100,000 women?


May 9, 2011 at 06:21 AM ·


Not sure and don't mean to sound biased or chauvinistic here, but it seems like DavidB ran into a bunch of, not sure of the terminology, maybe DΘló g!gg3(s. Doesn't appear to be related to gold-tipped violin bows, or bows with gold fittings.

On a serious note, I know of collectors who collect all kinds of stringed instruments and bows, from the El Cheapos to ones costing several 100Ks. Just like guitar collectors (50s Strats, 50s Gibsons, Martins Ds) suffer from GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome), it looks like violin collectors suffer from VAS.

May 9, 2011 at 11:44 AM ·


We will need some clarification:

"Did you spend $100,000 on one woman, $10,000 on ten women,  $1000 on 100 women,  $10 on 1000 women, or $1 on 100,000 women?


LOL. When I got divorced in 1981, a financial analyst friend did some quick calculations, and said that going to the massage parlor would have been cheaper than being married. ;-)

By the way, where can I find these $1 women?

May 10, 2011 at 05:00 AM ·

I recently was thinking about the same thing regarding bows.  I was looking at a bow that I got new and is now stained around the frog and the bottom of the silver winding.  i assume this is due to my sweat/oils and hours of using the thing.  Somehow it seems like a comrade to me...

May 10, 2011 at 05:17 AM ·

 They are precious because they are made of thin carved wood that is glued together while the belly is put under 40 pounds of pressure by two extremely small feet. It's amazing that they are so tough.

May 10, 2011 at 08:35 AM ·

Everyone personifies.  When I was little, it was plastic model horses.  I treated them fairly and made sure to rotate their places in my room so that no one would feel left out.  I actually got scolded for sneaking out of bed at night to rotate them.  (See how completely neurotic I was, even as a kid?)  I felt that they cared.  I suspect we project that violins care, as though they are living creatures, even though they are not.  My fingers give a sympathetic twinge even when I think about destroying a violin.

May 10, 2011 at 02:46 PM ·

Well, there is a resemblence between a violin and a puppy.

Both need a soft bed and a blankie, both need water so they don't dry out, both need to be played with so they stay healthy, both need periodic trips to see a specialist for some TLC...;)

But still...all those VSOs out there...

May 10, 2011 at 04:30 PM ·

When I was little, it was plastic model horses.  I treated them fairly and made sure to rotate their places in my room so that no one would feel left out.  I actually got scolded for sneaking out of bed at night to rotate them.  (See how completely neurotic I was, even as a kid?)  I felt that they cared.

Emily, I did the same thing with stuffed animals! I had an actual chart about who had time with me! That's hilarious. I didn't think anyone else would do that.

May 10, 2011 at 06:49 PM ·

$1 women?  That'd be worse than $1 violins.  You'd have to call them WSOs (as opposed to VSOs).  Like the song says, "She ain't pretty, she just looks that way."

I share the feeling about books that others do here.  In fact, sometimes my wife (definitely not a $1 woman) will deliberately dog-ear a page of a cheap paperback just to watch my face.  I feel that way about all physical things somewhat - which probably explains why gadgets of all sorts tend to last longer in my hands than in others'.

May 10, 2011 at 08:41 PM ·

I think of it as 'respect for the uniform'.

If it is shaped like a violin, you treat it with respect. If you think of a VSO that besmirches the name 'Violin', then you take appropriate action. If you don't think it besmirches the name, but doesn't live up to the standard, you pity it.

This is not a bad thing. Look what Guitar players do with their instruments; burn them, smash them, etc. Let's not start doing that!

May 10, 2011 at 11:26 PM ·

Hey Emily, maybe it's an "Emily" thing!

May 12, 2011 at 05:33 PM ·

I've been reading through some of the other threads, with this concept of what's precious in mind.  This is such a subjective topic.  There are so many variables that affect the playability/value of a violin that's it's hard to generalize (well).

I think too much is mind-set over matter when it comes to manufacture.  People are still convinced that a violin made in Country A  must be superior to Country B - based on nothing more than the local.  All it's going to take is one or two 'inferior' violins to get top billing (for whatever reason, valid or not)...and the entire mindset will change.  We're all sheep at heart.

May 15, 2011 at 01:17 AM ·

I had the same thought as John.  A violin is a beautiful thing.  It's carefully proportioned; even the F-holes look artistic, and if you're lucky you can find one with an exquisitely carved scroll...it's in the proportions and the details...much like the great old cathedrals.

Plus, it's so often a reminder of something that one worked very hard to gain (and for most people, learning an instrument is, at the least, not a stroll through the park).  A hard-wrought victory is sweeter somehow.

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