2 old Violins, One Parent needs help

July 10, 2011 at 11:27 PM ·

Hello.  I am the parent of a young violin student.  I bought the two violins below, in hopes of taking them to a local luthier for set up, new fittings, etc.  Can you tell me if either one looks like it might have potential to be a good quality 3/4 instrument?



I have attempted to do some homework on good student violins over the last 2 weeks by calling numerous shops, online shopping, and speaking with local teachers.  I won't name any teachers or shops, but the violins I have considered are:

Scott Chao 750

Eastman 305

Jay Haide 104

Bai Li Xing Professional Strad http://www.chineseviolins.com/Finished.asp

Zhou Ping Professional http://www.chineseviolins.net/Finished.asp

Or this: http://cgi.ebay.com/3-4-HANDMADE-CONCERTO-1715-STRADIVARIUS-REPRODUCTION-/260815119590?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3cb9cae4e6

After 2 weeks of diligently searching, not being a violinist myself... They all look like violins to me.  My head is spinning.  Further, I have never seen a trade or profession run the way the violin biz runs.  With a lot of shops, the first things I am asked (unapologetically) are: 

  1. How much money do you have?
  2. How much do you know about violins?

When I asked a couple of shop owners (honestly seeking their advice) what made one student violin worth $1500 more than another, the answer was.  "Just because it is".

HELP!!  Can I just take my 2 e bay fiddles to a local luthier, set one up for classical, one with steel strings for fiddle music and be done with this?  My daughter would have fun choosing the fittings and seeing the project happen.

Replies (20)

July 11, 2011 at 12:10 AM ·

Welcome to the bizantine world of the violin - which I see you are already well initiated into.  Perhaps the real problem is that the first step is to find yoursef a knowledgeable guide.  People on the forum can only look at the pictures - and these are not much use for your daughter since they need to hold them, look at them and most important play them.  And thats why you need to find your daughter a teacher who had some credentials in violin and can act as that guide.  Why not take a pause from trying to set these up yourself (a daunting task even for a moderately experienced student) and take the big important step of finding that teacher and asking them for help?

July 11, 2011 at 06:04 PM ·

I am just guessing, but I think it will cost you more to set up the instruments you got on ebay than what they are worth. I would suggest you go to a violin dealer near you (not a music store), and try out some instruments. Otherwise you can have a dealer ship you a couple to try out. (i imagine Shar or Robertson's violins would be happy to help you out.) The advantage to going to a trusted dealer (and repairperson) is that you can trade in your instrument for a 4/4 size.

July 11, 2011 at 10:07 PM ·

I'd suggest asking a teacher for help too.  Ultimately, the instrument has to play well enough for your child to progress with (vs. holding her back).  Otherwise it's not a big issue if she'll be trading up as she grows.  But you can't tell by looking at pictures how an instrument will sound.

If you don't have a teacher, you could try asking a luthier if he knows of someone selling a decent instrument.

If you're buying on-line then do stick with a brand with a good reputation.  The ones you listed are all fine - and should have some resale value as well, if they're in good shape and you're not expecting to get 'too much' for them (ie. you purchase price).  I personally have a entry-level Eastman 80 as my back-up violin.  I'm very happy with it...for what I paid it plays very well...the 305 has a very good reputation as well.  It would also give you a good standard for a future basis of comparison.

Personally, I'd avoid eBay. *Edit*  sorry - reread your post and saw you went ahead and purchased the eBay violins.  Now you will need to take them to a luthier to be checked out and upgraded if you plan to keep them.  Of the two, the one with the name scratched on it looks like it might have more potential...but again, you need to hear them being played to know for sure, which requires that they be set-up.  Bit of a catch-22 at this point.   Forget the bow for now, buy a new CF one.

July 12, 2011 at 09:05 PM ·

 Beware of buying a violin that may need setup, because it may get costly with a new bridge, a new soundpost, a new set of strings, and then there may be work for fitting the pegs, and who knows the nut or the tailgut may also need work or replacement!  Yikes, if you have to adjust the fingerboard (either plane, raise, or lower).... pretty the cost of the repair will be more than the violin's worth!!

Your better bet is to find violins that's in playing condition and compare the sound.  Reputable places would have people who know how to play, so you can at least compare the sound.

For student violin, you need the violin to give you a decent sound, so that at least you can hear the difference when you are doing something "right".

Good luck with it!

July 13, 2011 at 04:52 PM ·

Just take them to a good luthier and let her/him tell you what works each one needs and how much it will cost, then you can decide whether it's worth it.  The catch is that even after spending money on setup, there is no guarantee that the violin will sound good or play well.  That's why everyone here advises against buying violins without trying them first.

You did not say whether your daughter is new to the violin and if she has a teacher yet.  You should find her a good teacher before worrying about the violin. If she is new, it might be better to rent for a while until you are sure she will stick with it. Go to a reputable shop that will apply rental fees toward an eventual violin purchase, and that has good trade up policies.

Next time when you shop for a violin, have someone in the shop play the violins for you if you cannot find someone knowledgeable to go along - most good shops have people who are good players. In my opinion, it's important to also try violins outside of your price range to see if your budget is reasonable for the kind of violins you want. A reputable shop should allow you to take a couple violins out on approval for at least a week, so your daughter can bring them to her teacher for approval.

Good luck!

July 13, 2011 at 09:01 PM ·

Daughter has been with a private teacher almost 2 years..

Can you tell me if tapping on the top is any indicator of potential?  The JTL gives a thud, while the other produces a resonant knock.

July 13, 2011 at 11:20 PM ·

The one violin has the soundpost in place, the other doesn't. That alone will create more difference in sound than anything related to the qualities of the violins.

July 13, 2011 at 11:42 PM ·

As you suggested, take them to a luthier for opinions and costs. Don't expect great sound from a 3/4. To my eye, the L&L MAY have a little more promise, but I could tell more by handling them. Depending on who does the work, it may not be that expensive.

If the length of the bow is accurate, it is a 1/2 size rather than 3/4 and needs at least a new button along with rehair. Unless it is exceptional a new fiberglass bow would be a better buy.

July 14, 2011 at 12:20 AM ·

The soundpost crossed my mind about 30 min. after I posted the question.  Makes sense.

The bow thing is interesting.  Didn't think to check length since it was paired with the violin.

I'll take the violins to my guy, and see what he says (there are actually 3 including a strad copy made by ? I picked up for next to nothing).

You know...  I'm probably over thinking all this considering my girl is young and has been playing just under 2 years.  We're not in the market for a big ticket pro instrument.  Just looking for value per dollar spent.   I want to make sure what I give her will help her move forward the next few years.  There is plenty time ahead to look at bigger, better, more costly.  Can't help it, just want to make a good decision and keep her on the right path.  NOTE TO SELF:  The more you tell people about yourself, the easier target you become.

I am also beginning to consider...  I think I am being very covert gathering info., but I wonder if those I have spoken to (shops, techers, etc.) have read this post?  My name is right here for all to google.  John Thornton found me and spoke to me by phone a while.  Didn't offer to sell me a violin, and gave some helpful suggestions.  I'll let you guys know what I end up doing.  Thanks to all who've offered thier help!


July 14, 2011 at 12:57 AM ·

Please, folks, don't try to save a little money by buying cheap violins, hoping that they can be made into something decent with a good setup. It's not that this can't happen, but figure a quick and dirty setup at $100, and a stellar setup running into the thousands.

I'd recommend dealing with a shop which has already invested in  the setup they feel is appropriate for the price level, and won't leave you with too much guesswork. That way, what you see (or hear) is what you get. Yes, you will probably pay more. You will probably pay less in the long run.

I'm not in the "student' instrument business, and I don't accept sales commission from anyone, so please take what I say at face value.

July 14, 2011 at 09:33 PM ·

If you're having fun 'hunting' for beginner violins in the hope of snagging a treasure, that 's fine too...lots of fun...but you need to know what you're doing or you'll end up with a LOT of VSOs...

July 14, 2011 at 09:37 PM ·

Come on David, you sell student instruments.  You just cater to wealthy students :-)

July 14, 2011 at 10:05 PM ·

Yup, if it wasn't for us students the market would be a whole lot smaller (and probably a whole lot smarter, but thats another story...)


July 15, 2011 at 09:29 PM ·

If one is looking for a good quality 3/4 instrument for the best possible price I'd recommend letting other teachers know, or putting an ad at your local credible music school.

There are always kids out there who are outgrowing their instruments. And there are always parents out there with an instrument that their kid has outgrown who have no idea what the best way would be to get rid of it. You also have a much better chance of getting a well setup instrument from someone who has recently used it.

Sorry, I just realized I really am not quite answering your question. But you still may be better off going this route, even though you've bought 2 instruments.

July 16, 2011 at 01:26 AM ·

Hi Kevin:


Welcome to violinland! I know how you feel.


In my experience, if you buy a decent nice sounding mid 20th  century 3/4 German fiddle for $1500, you wil have a hell of a time trying to sell it for retail, even through a shop. You might get between $500 and $700 selling it to a shop. That's what my experience is. But if your child has great interest and makes music and really needs the better fiddle to progress, the "lost $100" after resale is worth it. It is less than the lessons in the same period of time. That's how I justiffy it.


I agree with David with respect to setup, if you are paying any more than a couple hundred.


July 18, 2011 at 11:47 PM ·

Thanks for the input everyone.  Any recomendations on affordable bows?

July 19, 2011 at 01:45 AM ·

We went the route of a cheapish Chinese 3/4 violin (John Wu, Spring plus), that had the advantage of already being set up by a local retailer (I'm in Australia) and we could try it.

Interestingly we tried a couple of the same model and the one we chose was significantly better than the other and gave a twice-the-price without a case or bow old French  violin a good run for its money. What I got out of that is that Chinese factory made violins are variable even from the same model and factory and it's well worth trying a few to see what you can find.

This is a good enough violin for a decent student who was going through a major growth spurt and we didn't know how long it was going to last her!  In the end it looks like it will last her until she gets to High School next year (so that's about eighteen months), by which stage she will be ready for the full size violin and it becomes worthwhile investing a bit of money into it. Her teacher really likes this little violin and will recommend it to as a second hand purchase to one of her other students who is upgrading so we should be able to recoup some of the purchase price.Which is what we have done with all her previous small violins (except for the half size which was a bit of a dog so I gave it away to a kid whose alternative was a falling apart school violin)

July 19, 2011 at 02:40 AM ·

Bows: depends on how far along she is. If she is a beginner, just get a Glasser fiberglass. If she is 3 years into it and shows interest and some good sound--then you can and should go "bow shopping".  It is about sound and control. Moving target. Try at least 10. You can get them on trial locally and by mail order. You shouldn't need to spend more than $300 at the 3/4 size. Be sure to try wood, not just carbon fiber.  There is a big difference. They have a different sound.

July 20, 2011 at 01:58 PM ·

Because I live within 30 minutes of the Ifshin Violin Shop, I tried to put my developing young students into Jay-Haide violins, developed by Jay Ifshin and his chief tech, Haide Lin - although they are manufactured in China.

I was always able to find a very nice 3/4 rental violin for my students, but I could not just take "pot luck" because some were better than others - the same with the bows.

Don't let anyone tell you that 3/4 violins can't sound or play well. Years ago, the young virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers (at age 12) soloed with our community orchestra, and the sound of her Mendelssohn E-minor concerto on her 3/4 violin was phenomenal (it had worked well when she soloed with the LA Philharmonic a week or so earlier). (By the way, she had grown up in our town, so soloing with our orchestra was a gift back to the town - and a visit to her first violin teacher.)


July 21, 2011 at 03:46 AM ·

 Kevin, the best thing you can do is ask your child's teacher to help you select a violin outfit for her.  Otherwise, you will probably be throwing good money away in search of a violin.  Your daughter's teacher should be willing to go to violin shops with you and play the instruments.  It really does take a very experienced player to know a good violin from a average violin from a bad violin.  

Your teacher will also help your daughter to find a bow to match with the violin you decide to purchase.  


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