Is there truth in, 'You get what you pay for?'

July 27, 2011 at 03:56 PM ·

 I am about to take up the violin. As I have heard time after time that getting a teacher is mandatory, I am going to be taking private classes. As for an instrument, I was wondering if anyone here can shed some light on the brand Cecelio? As I stated in the title, I know you typically get what you pay for. I came across this instrument on Ebay and I am wondering if it would be suitable to begin on. I like the fact that it is a silent instrument, but at $95 are there any playability issues I should be wary of? Dealing with guitars I do know that cheap instruments usually have horribly unplayable action. Would this same problem be inherent of a cheap violin? Any input would be appreciated. Thanks.

Replies (21)

July 27, 2011 at 05:05 PM ·

 Do you have a link?

July 28, 2011 at 12:12 AM ·

Hey Dustin,

First of all, I have no experience with Celicio and can only give my experience on acoustic instruments (which in my opinion are much better). In my experiences, cheap instruments can be of excellent quality. I currently play on a Chinese Yitamusic violin that I purchased for $169 US dollars. This violin dominates over the Gliga Maestro I have in tone, projection, and playability which I paid well over a thousand dollars for. I also previously bought a Yitamusic M20, 16.25in viola for $269. I threw some Warchal strings on it and I could not be happier. I’ve also gotten six bows (two viola and four violin) which I love. The build and quality of these instruments and bows is outstanding for the price paid.

Best of luck,




July 28, 2011 at 01:03 AM ·

The public school music program I volunteer in ended up with a few Cecilio violins some poor, misguided, non-musician in the district purchasing office bought.  The top of one of them cracked within a few days of receipt.  Most of them had dysfunctional bridges with bizarre string spacing, etc.  They were somewhere between difficult and impossible to tune. The bows with them were close to useless.  That batch, at least, were the sort of thing where it would have cost a few hundred dollars to make them playable.

The cases they came in were really nice, though.

Do you get what you pay for when buying inexpensive violins?  To an extent, yes.  Just remember, you can easily pay about $100 just for a set of strings!  Or having a bridge fitted.  Several people on this forum have written about buying inexpensive instruments, some with better results than others.  You're better off buying from a local dealer or one of the large, reputable mail-order places, such as Southwest Strings, Shar, or Johnson Strings.  These places check instruments over before they go out, and they'll stand behind them in a way an overseas Ebay vendor may not.

July 28, 2011 at 01:53 AM ·

Hey, if you really can't afford anything--and I mean can't afford lessons at all, either--then maybe there could be some sort of justification for attempting to start to learn on a $95 "silent" violin. Except it is silent. So that means needs an amp, and that costs money....


If you are planning on taking lessons, then do yourself a favor: consider the instrument part of the lessons! Set out with a budget no less than $500 including bow and case. This gives you just enough wiggle room to find something quite good to learn on. There are some decent learning instruments being made in Romania, as well as China. Setup can vary, many of these imports do much better when a knowledgeable staff sets them up, but not necessarily.

Eastman, and Snow, and the subsidiary brands of these "lines" are available through many local dealers who often do their own setups. Same goes for the Romanian stuff. You can find some Romanian stuff on Shar now as well, and one of the Romanian factories has a U.S. direct distributor in Pasadena, CA. All of these places will ship to you for trial, some offer a portion or all of the shipping free.


Renting can work--generally don't do this more than a few months--but you have to be picky about the instruments. Again, the local dealer who does the renting is really important--some do a great job and others don't know what they are doing.

This can be chicken and egg because you don't know what to look for until you have played! A player or a teacher is hugely helpful in this. Do you have any violin playing friends?

July 28, 2011 at 08:26 AM ·

i'd say "no" - there's an element of "reassuringly expensive" in the purchase of most top end items that may - or may not - have anything to do with the thing itself. 

i'd also try to talk you out of buying a "silent" instrument - better to get yourself an honest-to-goodness fiddle and let 'er rip.  if you're afraid of disturbing the peace with your playing, a cheap rubber violin mute will do just as well ... and! ... you can remove it when the time is right and make people dance and tap their toes.

July 28, 2011 at 09:14 AM ·

Why not start with the teacher and THEN get the violin?  That way you have an expert in hand who will likely have a relationsihp with either a company or shop to get you started.


July 28, 2011 at 06:42 PM ·

Those instruments are not completely junk, but they are so poorly setup that it will take some investment in new parts to make them workable. You'll have to invest the time and finances to get those things fixed, and in the end it might be better to pay more for one that doesn't have these issues.

The cheap metal fine tuners (lever style) are so flimsy they bend under pressure after only a few days at tension. The tailpieces are awfully heavy, the bridges are usually miscut, the strings are nothing more than wires, and the tuning pegs just don't hold. Usually the fingerboard isn't actual ebony, just a cheaper, less-dense wood painted black that pits and wears far too quickly.

I'd strongly recommend going to Shar Music ( and looking at their low end offerings. At the very least, you will get a properly set up violin, even if it isn't designed for the long-haul...having a working setup is critical for a beginner!


July 28, 2011 at 06:53 PM ·

Some of those "bargain" instruments ARE definitely junk!  I set out to purchase a violin as a total beginner -- no advice from anyone knowledgeable.  I found a Florea Recital II, regularly priced at $99.99.  When I immediately had trouble with it, I was directed to a local luthier who found the neck was badly twisted, the fingerboard had a crack (and a big lump) in it, there were chunks of wood-filler falling out from between the neck and the fingerboard, the nut was WAAAAY too high, etc.  It would have cost far more than the violin would ever be worth just to TRY to make it playable.  Since then, I've seen other Florea Recital II violins that didn't have this degree of drama, but I still think it's like playing musical Russian Roulette. 

July 29, 2011 at 05:28 AM ·

    To be quite honest, the thought of asking the teacher for guidance thru instrument selection never crossed my mind. I have never taken a "formal" lesson on any instrument. So, I am not familiar with all that goes with them. This is going to be a new experience for me. I am just used to having an instrument and learning to play it.

   My initial plan was to rent an Eastman for six months until I got the money saved up to buy one. It has been my experience that the "start on a cheap instrument" usually leads to failure, or rather, burn-out. They usually have un-godly high action and don't play well at all. Though, I don't know if this applies to violins. Then the Cecilio popped up. One of you confirmed my fear that they are prone to being poorly set-up. So, that quashes that idea. I would rather be a little patient and wait that is actually worth something in the end.

Thank you.

July 29, 2011 at 07:28 AM ·

That instrument can work.

That is, after you replace the tailpiece/tailgut, cut and fit a new bridge, replace the strings, plane the fingerboard (and probably repaint it since it isn't real ebony), adjust the nut, work on the pegs so they turn smoothly, etc. Deal with all the major setup issues.

I see new students pop up with these from time to time, and it's frustrating to know that they've essentially thrown $100 down a hole, because it will cost another $100-$150 just to make the violin halfway-decent, and if they had just spent $250 at a place like Shar they would've gotten something *much* more usable and worth far more as a trade-in.

July 29, 2011 at 09:48 AM ·

On the cheap vs expensive violin issue - listen to Zuckerman on near the end of this video at about 2:10 the student excuses his tone because of his violin...


July 29, 2011 at 12:48 PM ·

 There is truth in "you get what you pay for" and here are a few of the reasons why you shouldn't waste your money on an extremely cheap violin:

A teacher can definitely help you choose a violin! Even if you are choosing among less-expensive violins, there is a difference from one to another. Teachers are accustomed to helping students in this way, so I definitely would consider that idea.

July 30, 2011 at 01:44 AM ·

 After watching that YouTube video, I was reminded of a similar masterclass video I watched of Segovia. (Please excuse my propensity for guitar references; it's what I know.) In the video Segovia took, and played the student's guitar in much the same way as this violinist did. It was rather comical.

I enjoyed the article as well. Thank you all. 

July 30, 2011 at 09:11 AM ·

[Did you ever hear Segovia live? - I heard him three times, once I sat 2 yards from him ....  In his old age it wasn't  that he didn't make mistakes - he would just make them beautifully!  Consumate master...]

July 30, 2011 at 05:54 PM ·

Set-up, set-up, set-up. That is what matters most for a beginner. That is the difference and what is worth paying more for, for your 1st year. It isn't the tone, the depth and lustre of the sound and all that . It is the set-up. The balance of the fiddle, the shape of the fingerboard, the bridge in relation to it, the nut, the angle of the strings to the table, even the shape of the neck and its width.

Really that is what matters.

The second thing that matters,  is that it have a pleasing sound when played by someone competent. There shouldn't be any really awful problems. But it doesn't need to sing like Kate Smith to be worthy.

July 31, 2011 at 05:25 AM ·

   Having never played the violin I agree fully with you Bill. In the early stages of learning instrument, the quality has to be sufficient to allow the student to learn the basics while causing any undue pain/frustration.

  I personally am planning to buy something in the $1200 range. This is what I have seen in the lower spectrum of the intermediate level violins. I see the premise behind buying a less expensive instrument in the beginning. I just don't see the sense in it, not for me anyway. At 34 I know that this is an instrument I want to learn to the fullest extent of my capability, so it seems more logical to buy something that will last me through more than merely the beginning phases.

In response to Elise, sadly, I was not able to Segovia play. But, my father did get to see him play. And, afterward at a meet-and-greet my father told him that the performance was the greatest thing he had ever seen. Without blinking an eye the maestro replied, "Yes, I know."

July 31, 2011 at 05:52 AM ·

For 1200, if you put some work into it, try a bunch and listen carefully to the sound played by your "confederate" whomever that turns out to be (someone who can play), you will be able to get something that is quite good--should have a pretty good sound and won't be outgrown quickly. At the same time, you never know how you are going to grow in your sound!

Don't forget the bow. And that is what you might find especially useful to progress with. The right hand makes all the sound. The left merely finds the notes :-) (Think of Wes Montgomery, whom people get all crazy about because he played octaves [like so what!]--when what was truly brilliant was his musical sense and how he touched the strings in a truly musically potent way....with his thumb...I think another example of someone who "gets it" in that way is George Benson--he is really versatile.) As you grow as a new violinist, the left hand ain't going to be no big deal--you already get that from guitar. Just invert it and forget the B string and it will click. Put a lot of effort into the bow and you will be amazed at the progress you will make.

July 31, 2011 at 03:44 PM ·

 Yes, you get what you pay for...AND there are exceptions. You aren't going to get a professional-grade instrument for cheap unless someone made a serious mistake, but many people I know have found very nice sounding student-grade instruments for FAR less than they should be worth. You need luck and someone you can trust to tell you the difference. Also, don't ever buy a violin on sight. You should always be able to keep it for a few days to have a teacher take a look at it.

My suggestion would be to see about renting, but it depends on the place where you rent. Some violin shops have a deal where they will apply your rent to your first purchase. That way you can rent a violin to learn on and the money you spent will go toward getting a nice instrument when you need it.

July 31, 2011 at 04:35 PM ·

[Did you ever hear Segovia live? - I heard him three times, once I sat 2 yards from him ....  In his old age it wasn't  that he didn't make mistakes - he would just make them beautifully!  Consumate master...]

I once had the great fortune to sit in his dressing room after a concert while he tried out a guitar that I made. The world stopped for a few seconds while he looked it over and plucked a few notes before flipping his tuxedo tails back and sitting down to play it.  I was in heaven, it really was the highlight of my career. He was 80. I was 34.

July 31, 2011 at 05:38 PM ·

Let's reverse engineer this a bit.

The cost of reasonable quality tonewood for the face is a bit more than just a piece of wood from the local lumber shop

The cost of reasonable to good quality aged maple is also a bit more than from a local lumber shop

There is a bit of skill that goes into the making different pieces, as the sound characteristics of different pieces of wood vary - making everything the same thickness regardless of those characteristics would result in reduced quality

There is a level of care required in the workmanship; attention to detail as to how much glue at what point, how to finish the small details, how smooth the f holes are, things like that.

Then add the quality of the finish and setup; neither of them trivial.

Some bargains are out there, but for the most part, if some company is making a profit on $99 dollar fiddles, I have a suspicion they are marketers, not musicians. As Celcelio makes a number of cheaper fiddles, I suspect they market them, not make them for musical use.

August 8, 2011 at 03:21 PM ·

I would say NO you dont get what you pay for .. I just spent an afternoon trying out some more expensive violins.  I have a  couple of Chinese Violins, one was sold to me as an 1880 French violin.. hmmm...I've since been told, although not authenticated, that it is probably an antiqued Chinese violin just a few years old.  It still sounds lovely though!

I thought I would progress to something a little better quality.  My budget was £2,500 (USD$3,800).  Well I have to say nothing in that price range sounded half as good as my Chinese violins or looked as nice.  I tried one (French) that was £5000 ($7,700) and it did sound nice and looked pretty but not to warrant the price.

I can honestly say that the Chinese violins, bought on ebay, are certainly value for money.  I am a little concerned about the human aspect, considering their record on human rights but I guess it is creating work for some honest souls.  All in all I would say you get a lot more than you pay for, for these instruments. I've just ordered another one of their "top end" instruments just to compare. Even if it is no better than what I have, for the price I haven't lost a great deal !

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