Violin A vs. Violin B

September 19, 2011 at 02:15 AM ·

So, I'm in a bit of a quandary, and I need some advice. I have been looking for a violin to upgrade to from my student instrument, so I can take it to college for violin performance. The search narrowed down to two nice instruments with virtually no difference in price. Violin A I absolutely LOVE with as much love as you can have for an inanimate hunk of wood, but I'm starting to think that Violin B might be the better instrument and can take me farther. Violin B definitely has more power, and my teacher says she thinks it might have a richer tone, but that it's totally a personal preference. I have spent more time with Violin A, as I got to play on it for a few days before I tried Violin B, and to all intents and purposes I would have gotten Violin A as it was better than any of the others I had tried, IF I hadn't tried Violin B.

I would get Violin A, it's just that I am very serious about what I want to do in college, and I don't want to purchase an instrument that I would grow out of in a year, as I am starting to think would happen with Violin A. But at the same time I think Violin B is the ugliest instrument I've ever seen, and the ONLY thing I like about it is the sound. And I feel a very real affection for Violin A, but I am really starting to think Violin B is better........I am rather conflicted. :)

Thoughts would be appreciated!! :)

Replies (29)

September 19, 2011 at 02:38 AM ·

Hi Betsey. See if the violin comparison test on the "writings" section of my website - - is of any help in focusing your comparisons. BTW, must it come down to violin A or B? Might there be a violin C that is better than these two? Anyway, best of luck to you!

September 19, 2011 at 03:04 AM ·

Although I'd prefer to hear and see and play these two instruments myself, I can tell you what I did 6 years ago when I faced a similar quandary.

I had a couple of finalists at the same time for an in-home tryout that lasted about 2 weeks.  I would play on one, then put it away and try the other.  The next day, I would do the routine in reverse.  I had to live with these two fiddles that long to see which one I really felt like investing in.  They had similar tone, but the one I finally settled on was the one with more power.

Whatever instruments you test, try them with different string combos and different bows.  That should help give you a bigger picture.  And try to play in rooms of varying sizes and acoustics -- especially the rooms where you expect to play recitals, if you can fit this in.

Regarding A versus B: Looks aren't everything, and they can be quite subjective.  Who knows?  I might be delighted with the look of B.

It can take some time before you're ready to make a decision.  That's the way it was for me.  Bottom line: You'll want to be sure you're making a decision you won't regret later.

September 19, 2011 at 07:37 AM ·

 Difficult choice, indeed. I'd choose A if I'm you. I'm not a person who choose instrument based on its look, but I will not take the ugliest instrument for seemingly slightly better sound. If violin B has MUCH better sound and playability, then that's a different story.

Don't worry about outgrowing an instrument in a very short period and rendering the choice being a mistake. Just enjoy the process of learning and outgrowing any instruments you come across, you'll make a better choice when you feel the need to upgrade again than doing it now which you'll never know how far the instrument can take you to. Oh and not to mention, good looking violin has better chance to offload. ;-)

September 19, 2011 at 07:56 AM ·

if possible, compare the two early in the morning - just after waking up - and trust your instincts.

September 19, 2011 at 12:43 PM ·

I purchased a German shop violin about five months ago now. As you did with violin A, I fell in love with it. At the time of purchase there was a hand made violin available locally but the owner wanted more than twice what I paid for the shop violin ($4,500).

Fast forward four months and the owner of the hand made instrument dropped the price to just $300 less than what I paid for my shop violin ($1,600). My teacher also liked my shop violin and tried to purchase one like it for one of his advanced students. Fortunately for me the dealer I purchased mine from didn't have one in stock at the time.

Long story short, I sold my shop violin to his advanced student, took the cash and an additional $300, and went straight to the owner of the hand made instrument and purchased it. Took the violin to a local luthier that same day and had him lower the bridge, adjust the sound post, and just give it a once over.

One thing I didn't have was the opportunity to play the hand made instrument before purchase. The owner came over to my teacher's home and allowed him to play it so that he could give me his opinion. My teacher liked it and the sound is warmer than the newer violin I had. It should be since it's now ten years old.

The only thing that bothered (past tense) me was the finish. The shop instrument had a nice light spirit varnish, that when held, felt more wood like if that makes sense. It was also very beautiful in appearance. The hand made violin has a thicker lacquer varnish that initially I didn't care for and had considered having removed and refinished. I even posted here regarding this issue wherein I quickly decided to forget the idea of refinishing it. It was just my having to adjust to another instrument with its own unique qualities.

Now that I've had about a month to adjust to the hand made instrument I am certain I made a very good decision regardless of the finish being less than my liking at the time of purchase. It was just different from my first violin and now I really like it, finish and all.

My current violin is much easier to play and the sound is more refined than the newer shop instrument. It's just a finer instrument overall. I wouldn't worry about ugly if violin B is a finer instrument and will serve you in the long run.

Don't let ugly get in the way if it's just a finish issue. Playability and sound are your primary considerations in my amateur opinion.

September 19, 2011 at 12:52 PM ·

Hi Betsey-Let's see, one is good looking but may be just a passing fling the other is not so good looking but will support and provide for you in the long run.

Hmmmm where have I seen this scenario before? Choosing a violin is a bit like choosing a partner and aesthetics can play a part however you're a performer so sound should be your first priority.

I think you probably need to play some more fiddles I don't think either of these is your soulmate. Searching for a new violin can be fun and frustrating all at once but when you find "the one" you'll know. Play the field some more.


September 20, 2011 at 12:49 AM ·

The only reasonable follow-up to Maurice's post is:

Buy 'em both.


September 20, 2011 at 02:49 AM ·

 See if you can get them both for an extended trial and alternate between the two and take notes about what you like/dislike about them.  Take them into rehearsals and perform on each of them in as many spaces that you can.  Record that if you can and then listen to it a day or so later.  

Luckily, violins don't vary as much as violas do in regards to size and shap, so I would hazard a guess that it would be more about the sound you are wanting to get.  The only real way to determine that is to record yourself playing them.

September 20, 2011 at 03:12 AM ·

Although looks are important, sound and playability are most important. You didn't really mention any issues with shape or feel, so I will assume that both violins are equally comfortable.

If you are daring enough, I would suggest that you have someone blindfold you and have you play them both and see which you prefer. Another option is to close your eyes and have your teacher play them both and see which violin you like more. You might find that your eyes were simply deceiving you.

As others have said, try both violins in as many environments as possible. If you're more interested in being an orchestral player, take both violins to an orchestra rehearsal. If your heart is set on being a soloist, try playing in an empty hall and have your teacher and musically-inclined friends and family sit in the back to listen.

There's good peer pressure, too. If you have violinist friends who are at your playing level or higher, ask them to play the violins and listen to what they have to say. Good luck in your quest!

September 20, 2011 at 01:43 PM ·

My initial reaction is to go with violin A, but if you are going to music school, power is very important.  You will need an instrument with good projection because you will be playing in groups with musicians that have powerful instruments. You don't want to be struggling to project. 

At the same time, you don't want to be playing on an instrument that you think is ugly.  Yes, someone else might think it is beautiful, but your opinion is the only one that really counts.

My advice is to keep searching.  When the right instrument comes along, you won't have to ask us which one to choose.  You will know. 

September 20, 2011 at 01:48 PM ·

BTW, be prepared to spend weeks (months) searching for the perfect instrument.  You might have to try 100 instruments or more before you meet your perfect match -- it all depends on luck and circumstances.

September 20, 2011 at 03:27 PM ·

Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. I don't know about most people but I don't look at my violin when I play. It's the sound that matters, and the playability. However, it is extremely difficult to separate emotion from practicality, and you don't want to be stuck with a violin you hate, for whatever reason. I'm with those who advise you to keep looking.

September 20, 2011 at 06:09 PM ·

I guess I'm on the 'sound' school.  For me as long as the instrument is well made if it sounds great thats all I care for.  Perhaps when I have 100,000 to spend I will expect everything but till then finding a violin that creates beautiful music is all I care for.  Remember also that when you are doing a recital you will get credit for the instrument as well as your playing, its just paprt of the game - if school was fair they would insist every student did their recitals on the same violin but it aint.  Think about that before committing to a pretty violin (the panel does not see that) over a sonorous one...

But I still agree with the advice to look at more instruments.  I think what will happen is that you will find that that will make you either discover neither are right or suddenly get a panic attack that 'your' violin (A or B) is an amazing bargain and may be bought by someone else...

September 20, 2011 at 06:14 PM ·

 Betsey, you say you "narrowed" to these two instruments.  I'd suggest you widen out again: you have now had more experience with these two, but you aren't able to decide.  Seems like you need more variables--counter-intuitive? It's not, really.  

Make sure your dealer will trade you back (at least close to even); that lets you take one instrument now, and, if you do outgrow it, you can get a more 'mature' one in a year or three.

You can't imagine how your playing will change; if you change teachers, you don't know what that will do.  All you can do is the best you can for the you you are now--with a little growing room.

September 20, 2011 at 07:49 PM ·

Thank you all for your wonderful input!! I'm sorry it took me awhile to respond, but I was traveling and couldn't get on the computer.

Many of you have mentioned that I should keep looking until I find "the one". The answer to that is, I have already found "the one" (I started playing it and my teacher and I almost cried), but unfortunately it is over three times my budget. :'( Maybe grad school......sigh....

Sooooo, my price range being what it is, I have to look for the one that I like the best. And I would love to buy one, and then if I don't like it to trade up for another, but each violin is from a different company, so I want to choose wisely where I spend (my parent's) $5000. 

Now, I have another question. As some of you so graciously advised, I took them both to orchestra rehearsal last night. I played them both multiple times during rehearsal, and tried to play them as evenly as possible through the pieces so that I could hear how they sounded different in the same types of passages. And I discovered that when I played Violin A fortissimo, I could still pretty much hear the rest of the first violin section, but when I played Violin B fortissimo, almost all I could hear was myself. Does that mean anything? 

Thanks again for all your wonderful help!! I really appreciate it!! :D

September 20, 2011 at 07:57 PM ·

The question of projection can be tricky. I've played more than one instrument that was plenty loud under the ear, but didn't soar well; conversely, one I love is quiet to me, but sends its sound for miles (well, ok, that's an exaggeration).  Again--you'll need both to play and to hear played the pair of them before you can answer that question for yourself.  Get a colleague (one who isn't looking for a violin...) to play both while you go out into the hall to listen.

It could be sheer volume, but it could also be the quality of sound--the one that lets you still hear the other violins may simply be more elegant.

Btw, I wasn't suggesting that you would go back to buy Violin B in a year or so--it's going to be gone--but that as you grow, other instruments will be waiting for you.

September 20, 2011 at 07:57 PM ·

In your case I would wait until you know what you really need. For me buying a violin should be a very clear decision. And don't give up searching until you found something totally matching your needs.

If you need a violin NOW make sure you can resell it for a good price in a year or something.

September 21, 2011 at 03:22 AM ·

 I'm curious to know what Violin A is and what Violin B is.  Who is the luthier that crafted them or what particular manufacturer/model are they?


I've played hundreds of violins in my life/career.  I've played $6000 turds and $600 Gems.  I've heard absolute beauty out of a horrible looking instrument and saw beauty on a terrible sounding chunk of wood.  In my opinion looks don't matter.  Cosmetic flaws (character) are typically only seen by you, not your audience.  Most other players have a violin with battle scars, so don't be afraid of them.  

September 21, 2011 at 03:24 AM ·

Okay, I ate some chocolate, and now my brain feels clearer. :)

Thanks to Marjory, I started listening to the sound quality coming out of both violins, instead of sound volume. I'm finding that Violin A is always giving me what I want with quality, while Violin B is giving me more power than quality--sometimes, though, Violin B has some really nice moments with the perfect mixture of the two.....

Tomorrow I'm going to go play them in my church building, and while it isn't the greatest acoustically, it should give me the basic idea. And I'm going to have my mom sit in the back and record them on her phone, so I can hear them afterwards. My teacher and I did do some blind tests (she played and I listened with my eyes closed), and she said I was completely split 50/50.

Thanks to all your advice, I'm starting to get more of a handle on what I'm doing now; thank you guys sooooo much!!

September 21, 2011 at 03:32 AM ·

And I totally understand what y'all are saying about the whole beauty and sound thing. I must admit that I rather exaggerated. I didn't mean to sound like I was against Violin B because it looked "ugly", I was just trying to say that I didn't care for its looks nearly as well as Violin A. My teacher's sister has the most beat-up looking violin you could ever see, but when she plays solo Bach I want to cry.....

September 21, 2011 at 04:46 AM ·

 Quality can be subjective at times depending on the ability of the player. Also record your teacher play both and record it so that you have a good comparison against your own recordings, preferably with the same pieces that you did.  Take some of it with a grain of salt given the differences in the room acoustics.  

If it is still a 50/50 at the end of the day, put more weight to your teacher's opinion on how that instrument will work for you over the next 5-10 years as your ability progresses vs. what you are playing today.  

September 21, 2011 at 01:40 PM ·

Hi Betsey;

Is there any particular urgency in making a decision? If not, my usual advice is that the first stage in buying a new violin be to play everything you can get your hands on, including those of friends or ensemble members. Pay particular attention to those which you have heard "through the grapevine" are unusually good sounding. It doesn't matter if they're out of your price range. You can still learn from them.

Another thing you'll learn is how different instruments want to be played. It's not unusual to see someone pass up a really good instrument, because the technique they developed on a student instrument doesn't optimize the better instrument, and that's the only way they know how to play.

I'm mentioning these things because of something which comes up from time to time: Hand an amateur or student a violin which has widespread approval from high-level pros, and they may not care for it at all. Typically, they prefer a violin which is very similar to the one they're most familiar with, but marginally better. The most progress can be made if the first step is to get "unstuck" from what's familiar.

I certainly wouldn't fault anyone for caring about appearance. I do too. Musicians are artists, after all, so it's only natural that they would care about the artistry woven into their instrument, and be able to derive enjoyment from that. Evaluating appearance is a learning process too though, and some of the same principles apply to appearance that apply to sound. Taste in appearance can change depending on what one is exposed to.

September 22, 2011 at 03:04 AM ·

So I was recorded both violins in a hall, today; I played up on stage, and my mom sat in the back and recorded me. And, um, when I played back the recordings the violins sounded almost exactly the same!! I was so shocked I had to play them about three times--it was so weird that Violin B which sounded like an airhorn/express train/supersonic jet under my ear would have the same volume level and tone as Violin A!!!

Sooo, I sat down and did some thinking. My teacher had said earlier that she preferred Violin B, but that it was purely a personal preference, and that both instruments would be just fine for college (and just to make sure I called her, and she reminded me that I had already asked that question about ten times already and to stop psyching myself out and make a decision). And then I analyzed what I was hearing under my ear: Violin A was always sweet, it always gave me a good tone, and was rather powerful when compared with my student violin. And, when I compared it with my student instrument, they sounded completely different, so I knew I wasn't just liking it because it was like my old one. The only thing I could have wished for in it was more power, but maybe I was just expecting too much in that price range. Violin B was extremely loud under my ear, and most of the time sounded a little harsh, actually, except for a moment or two that would come out where the sound/tone/volume was exactly what I wanted. I'm just not sure if the moments that were few and far between were me or the instrument. And then I thought of what my mom had said earlier when I was crying on her shoulder about making this decision: she had said that I should think about if I really wanted to put up with the lesser tone quality I was hearing in Violin B for the sake of its power, or if I wanted to play something I knew I loved all the time. And if I really liked Violin B as a whole, or if I just was liking its loudness.

Long story short, I picked Violin A. And now I'm going to go to bed, and if I wake up in the morning feeling the same way, I'll be really happy. But if I feel any other way, I'm not quite sure what I'll do......throw myself off a cliff???? ;)

Thank you all for your amazing advice, I have really appreciated it, and you've really helped me clear my head and think about what was important. And for those that wanted to know, Violin A was a John Cheng Guaneri copy c. 2010, and Violin B was a Charles Colpley c. 1997.

September 22, 2011 at 05:59 AM ·

Judging by what you said, it sounds like your heart is set on violin A. And if the sound carries just as well as violin B while maintaining a pleasing tone without the under-ear brashness, then I'd say you found yourself a violin that fits you perfectly. I'm sure you'll wake up smiling. :)

September 22, 2011 at 10:03 AM ·

Sounds like a great decision all round.  I think you are already in love ;)  All you need now is a name - I think your violin is a girl...

And welcome to the world of new violins - mine is 2010 too ...

September 22, 2011 at 10:33 AM ·

I call my violin "baby" so if I change it's not that much effort for the brain. It's an good advice for the boys out there too ;)

congratulations to your new violin. enjoy it!

September 22, 2011 at 02:05 PM ·

 Betsey, it sounds like you did everything possible to be fair to both violins. If A has equal projection with B AND sounds better under ear, you want that violin--who wants a less-than-lovely practice experience if it's avoidable?  Your decision seems right by both objective and subjective criteria.

I shudder to think about what lies in front of you if you are confronted with two apparently near-equal choices for life partner...just imagine!

September 22, 2011 at 02:08 PM ·

 So violin A was made just last year? It will only get better. Congratulation on making your choice!

September 22, 2011 at 05:12 PM ·

For a recently made violin, I might choose one that was a bit brighter than my taste, to have a better chance of being right for the long haul. With time, or playing, or some combination of the two, they seem to mellow.

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