Are you interested in your instrument?

December 8, 2011 at 04:39 AM · Has anyone else noticed a general lack of interest, for the most part, that orchestral players have in their actual instrument/equipment?

Over the years I've asked a number of people (in our community orchestra) questions about their instruments - and by far and large they have no idea of what they have. Basically, if it works, they're fine.

I'd love to talk about woods, tonal quality, strings, rosin choices, and all the other minuatiae - but nada. Through desperation I even hit up the go there either... :D

Sometimes it makes me wonder if my priorites are a little skewed...

Replies (85)

December 8, 2011 at 05:26 AM · Nah, your priorities are fine. If you had asked me I'd have been happy to talk shop with you. I like knowing all about what kinds of things people prefer and why, I like to know who made their instruments and what they like most about their bow, strings, mute, etc.

December 8, 2011 at 06:11 AM · yes Mr. Mohr, I'm very interested in my instrument. I'm also very interested in other peoples instruments. But I don't have any orchestra members or much of anyone else I can talk violins with. That's why I very much appreciate sites like these where people love violins.

December 8, 2011 at 09:07 AM · By the time folk get to be playing in an orchestra, the selection and purchase of their violin is past history. Most of my professional colleagues stuck to playing on instruments acquired years ago. Equipment freaks were few and far between.

This is hardly surprising, because buying a fiddle rates poorly as "retail therapy". If you find a violin you really like, you can't afford it. So you probably need to run the gauntlet of dealers, who seem to talk in riddles. Then along come the scientific boys, who can make you feel that you are simply unqualified without a Ph D to make a choice. See the thread.

Anyone who survives the minefield and actually buys a violin deserves a medal ! The professional player needs something on which to earn a living. That's called "keeping the wolf from the door". Wolf notes, yet another minefield. When getting tooled up for the job can be so traumatic, little wonder that so many simply don't want to talk about it, let alone become violin geeks.

December 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM · Actually, in that violin phd thread I think David Burgess pretty much summed it up when he posted:

I was a violinist before I was a violinmaker, so I think it's fair for me to assert that there's little which can enhance your playing as much as practice, and good instruction. There are really good violins, both old and new, but there is no magic. :-)

As one of the most respected makers in the world he's more qualified than most to comment!

In the sessions I go to there's a lot of instrument trying going on, and my ears tell me that a good player on a poor instrument will always sound much better than a poor player on a good instrument.

December 8, 2011 at 10:03 AM · Geoff

You have just beaten me by 5 seconds in my posting of David's quote on the other thread!!

He is probably suffering from burning ears now with so much attention!!

December 8, 2011 at 11:27 AM · "In the sessions I go to there's a lot of instrument trying going on.."

That's very interesting. In the symphonic circles in which I moved players weren't very interested, by and large, on trying each others instruments, or ANY instruments, for that matter. A self defeating, "if I liked it I could never afford it", negativity.

Judging from threads players in the USA have a greater interest in trying fiddles.

I think that in the UK so much of the decent stuff left the country years ago. With rare exceptions, almost anything a player can buy is something he/she feels the need to apologise for. Also, there's that British "reserve" thing; too much curiosity about a person's spouse or violin can seem like an intrusion! Gossiping about consumer "boyz toyz" and such, however, is a different ball game, IMHO !

December 8, 2011 at 12:01 PM ·

Actually, most of the instrument trying is initiated by me! I don't think it happens much otherwise. As you say, you do have to be a bit tactful about who you ask...

I love trying other instruments, though if I'm honest it's mainly to reassure myself that the investment I made in my lovely Martin McClean fiddle was money well spent. So far I've found nothing to touch it, and I've tried some expensive instruments. (Forgive the plug, but he deserves the exposure).

You are right about the UK dealers - in my experience they price anything old that plays well at pretty crazy money, even if it's just a trade fiddle. Much the best value was offered by up and coming modern makers. But we're drifting OT...

December 8, 2011 at 01:03 PM · I've always been interested in trying other people's instruments - probably started when I was in my middle teens and accellerated when a schoolfriend started buying Roccas and Precendas and even a Guadanini. This carried on in orchestras - and I do think most (or maybe just some) orchestral players were quite interested - as it could enhance their careers with better instruments.

The worst cases seem to be with amateur players here in the UK who see no reason to try better instruments or upgrade. One I know told me she had got her viola whilst at school about 50 years ago and saw no reason the change it! ("It" is in my opinion only fit for firewood).

But of course this is not entirely true as some do show lots of interest.

I suppose it is too general and wrong to state that it's often the better players who show the most and continuing interest, but I'll say it anyway!! (wink)

December 8, 2011 at 01:20 PM · "You are right about the UK dealers - in my experience they price anything old that plays well at pretty crazy money...."

I wasn't intending to attack the dealers - it's just a matter that if you are an inexperienced buyer a large percentage of the sales-talk will go right over your head. The same thing applies to buying many consumer goods, as you will know. If prices in the UK seem high, try looking at prices abroad and you will note that folk in, say, Japan are ready and willing to pay even sillier prices. Multinational companies know we will pay higher prices here than anywhere else for electronics, cars and such, (and take full advantage), yet for some reason we will pay LESS for fiddles than buyers elsewhere.

I know that by the time I'd begun to work out what was or was not a good prospect at a dealership I had retired !

December 8, 2011 at 02:11 PM · ..

December 8, 2011 at 02:12 PM · Something I find very wonderful and makes me feel good is that if you read the blog about Mikhail Simonyan you will find that he has chosen a brand new instrument OVER the choice of using a Strad, del G, and others.

Listen to the clip of the last mvt of the Khachaturian. It's temendous playing and the fiddle has incredible clarity and a great sound. Of course the player has to have that too.

We have a player here in the UK, Ruth Palmer, who is pretty good, but she says her career is held back because she can't find anyone to lend her a Strad, Guarneri etc. Something wrong there? Maybe she should get some tips from Mikhail Simonyan!!

December 8, 2011 at 03:04 PM · I'd say that my colleagues who maintain active studios as well as active playing careers are more interested in discussing equipment than those who "only" play.

Sometimes there's a kind of bashfulness, too. One stand partner (outspoken advocate of 'restless' playing) was recently seen using an Augustin Diamond. When I asked him, he was almost embarrassed to admit he was having shoulder problems and his PT had suggested trying a different angle for a while. Seems to have helped (he plays very well).

December 8, 2011 at 04:43 PM · Geoff wrote:

"Actually, most of the instrument trying is initiated by me! I don't think it happens much otherwise. As you say, you do have to be a bit tactful about who you ask..."


Lest you be accused of violin promiscuity. ;-)

When trying other people's violins, also keep in mind that it's considered bad form to sniff them....(grin)

December 8, 2011 at 05:17 PM · I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes it all...

I can see not being overly interested, once you have what equipment you need - and being more interested in the process of making music...but I'm still how many violinists aren't even interested in what I consider the basics...

For example: changing strings at least once a year. A number will only change strings if they break, and then buy the cheapest they can find. And they're happy to announce "I've had these strings on for 10 years, and they're such good strings I've never had one break."

December 8, 2011 at 05:33 PM · I truly believe that it's all in the person's personality: whatever I do, I do it FULL ON, and I realize that if I'm not interested enough in something, I do something else, that I know I will have all the interest in the world in. I would love to "talk shop" all day long, if possible, but alas, we all have work to do !

December 8, 2011 at 05:34 PM · I know a violinist in a local orchestra, who has been playing for decades and may fairly be considered well experienced, who takes her violin to the local dealer to have the strings changed. How often that may be I don't know.

A local folk fiddler I know, also experienced, genuinely hadn't noticed the black bit about 1/4 inch long on the A-string in the region of the 3rd finger in the 1st position, until I said something about it. It was where the winding had worn through to the core, probably caused by the finger-nail. When I said that the string would probably break soon at that point, or the rest of winding would unravel, the player then thought it might be a good idea to change the string sometime.

December 8, 2011 at 06:14 PM · I’d hoped I wasn’t an oddity so I am glad to see this thread. In my case it’s the whole world of music. In my current position of “Music Resource Person” for my parish, whatever that means, I have found that my eclectic interest have paid off.

I am not an organ player, but I have studied organ construction. I once studied a two volume tome on tracker construction. I am constantly going between my other interest and my on going study of the violin; and I am currently reading Farga’s Violins and Violinists.

My teacher noted last Thursday after a discussion of her new bridge and its relationship to the sound post and the bass bar that with my interest in the instrument I would probably make a good repair person.

I hate to admit it but I have been told by several trained musicians that I am more musicologist than musician and I think this applies to being a luthier also. Though I did spend time destroying a couple of decent recorders and had some luck with PVC renaissance flutes, decades ago.

My main surprise here is the difference shown in the violin world from the brass world.

David Burgess stated. “When trying other people's violins, also keep in mind that it's considered bad form to sniff them....(grin)”

When I was going to try someone else’s trumpet, coronet, baritone or even a sackbut or tuba, my first “trick” was to finger or slide the instrument while holding the mouth piece close to my nose. The line I often reverted to was “Oh, wait, I better not. I have a sore throat.”

There is a back compression wave and valve oil tongue is one thing, mildew tongue is another. Plus I have developed somewhat of an allergy to molds and the like, irrespective of what fun guys they are. Sorry for the bad pun, sort of.

I am starting to get used to Rosin tongue, fortunately it’s rare. But it does seem to be as long lasting as I remember valve oil tongue being, but that was decades ago.

Oh, Trevor, over twenty years ago a young lady asked if I would change her guitar strings for her. She shows up at my home with two instruments, a six string and a twelve string. Both bought used and having the strings they had when she bought them.

They had about 2mm of dirt under the strings. I also cleaned her fingerboard; there was mucho accumulation behind the frets. She’s asked me to change her strings again for htis Christmas season. I didn’t hold the bad guitar hygiene against her.

December 8, 2011 at 06:33 PM · If you told her she had a nice body, would she hold it against you?

December 8, 2011 at 07:24 PM · As a former trumpet player with a Mount Vernon Bach Strad,a '73 Bach Strad, and a pro Yamaha flugelhorn, I can say with all certainty that we never played other players horns using their mouthpiece. At least I didn't, and didn't like to play other people's horns anyway because of sanitary reasons. lol

When the occasion did arise to play another's horn I (we) used our own mouthpieces on the other horn.

December 8, 2011 at 08:26 PM · Yes horn sharing is usually very rare. The sackbuts were at a Early Music Festival and we did use a nasty tasting spray, PW, pre wipes.

December 8, 2011 at 08:42 PM · ...which reminds me I have an old trombone I really should try and sell...

I'll wash the mouthpiece first though...

December 8, 2011 at 08:59 PM · Always trying other people's oboes. But yeah, the unspoken etiquette is that you use your own reed. Same with French Horn- but less because of damage and more because you get so used to your own mouthpiece you wouldn't play as well anyway.

My bow is as cheap as chips. It actually literally cost the same as a bag of chips. I was trying to play something the other day and it went 'rzzzz, gangg gannngzzz spoink' instead of 'la la la laaaaaa...' . My teacher said (after I'd stopped laughing at the weird noise I just made) that to be honest, part of the problem was probably the bow. A decent one would make all the difference in the world. "Here," he offered, "try mine." And he handed me his own, several-thousand-poundsworth-of bow.

I tried the passage again.

"Rzzzz, gangg gannngzzz spoink."

It wasn't the bow. :-D

December 9, 2011 at 12:15 AM · I know I'm making a generalization here, but it's been my experience that men know more about the equipment than the ladies. When we still had a Nashville Chamber Orchestra about twelve years ago, I attended their concert at the Warren County High School. What I didn't know when I bought my ticket(for ten dollars[well worth it!]) was that they had an intermission where the orchestra was served refreshments in the lobby of the auditorium. The audience was granted a meet and greet that to me was worth the ticket price. I asked some the players, male and female, about their bows and strings. While the men usually knew what they had, the women did not. The woman playing second chair violin told me to ask David Davidson, "he'll know what strings I've got."

A string quartet from the Chattanooga symphony had two women on violin, and men on viola and cello. The women had no idea what strings they used or when they last changed them.

December 9, 2011 at 12:19 AM · "Rzzzz, gangg gannngzzz spoink." Love it.

I tried an expensive violin and bow and got all my own familiar squeaks out of it. And others have played my own cheap violin and made it sound good. So I'm in no hurry to get a more expensive instrument; that's not the limiting factor.

December 9, 2011 at 01:09 AM · I tried a CODA Diamond GX the other day while test driving violins before purchase and I have to say that even I sounded good with that bow. No scratches, hissing, whistles, etc. Just soft (if I wanted it) or loud musical pronouncements from each of the several violins I played. Looking forward to the day I own such a bow.

December 9, 2011 at 01:25 AM · Tony, have you tried a Berg bow?

December 9, 2011 at 01:51 AM · "When trying other people's violins, also keep in mind that it's considered bad form to sniff them..."

Now David, give me some credit please - I'm far too well brought up! I just stroke them tenderly in their sensitive spots. Maybe one day I'll have the opportunity to get intimate with one of your delectable offspring (though it would probably be wasted on me).

December 9, 2011 at 02:10 AM ·

Randy's anecdote is interesting and perhaps telling: the glass ceiling will not be broken until women take technology seriously. Seriously. Or not. But it *is* noticeable with cars, computers, snowmobiles, chainsaws (with very noteworthy exceptions of course!).

When my generation was little, our parents thought they were so forward-thinking and were raising their daughters differently. Not.

December 9, 2011 at 02:40 AM · As for bows - I once had an experience that suggests Eldorado may exist.

A dealer handed me a Hill bow and said he thought it was something a bit special. Sure enough, there was an extraordinary feeling of effortless control, even with my uncultured bow arm. There was a sense that it forgave my sins and was guiding me on the path to truth and beauty :-)

I was with a retired pro who tried it and felt the same.

It had a magical quality that I haven't experienced since, even when trying other fine bows.

Sadly it was way beyond my means. I know, I know - it wouldn't have turned me into a Perlman. But it sure would have been fun! If I ever get the budget together, I imagine I could get mildly obsessed with trying to recapture that feeling as I work my way through every bow-drawer in the country...

December 9, 2011 at 07:22 AM · Geoff- let's rob a bank together! I'm often down your end of the A38. If we time it right I could be your getaway driver.

December 9, 2011 at 12:13 PM · Observing the way in which men and women approach the tech of the violin and their relationship with it is hardly misogynist, if such observations are consistent with reality. I don't think you have to worry about your female customer base as they clearly know now you're "one of them."

I doubt women are as non-involved in the tech as some have described, but my experience suggests that women spend less time with the tech side of life, whatever the interest, than men do. I believe it's just the difference in men and woman and there is nothing wrong with pointing out these differences. ENOUGH of the insanity of political correctness already.

December 9, 2011 at 01:15 PM · Lyndon you didn't read my post very closely...or you want it to say something else apparently...

December 9, 2011 at 01:54 PM · ..

December 9, 2011 at 02:14 PM · Weird, I didn't find it at all offensive. And I'm a girl.

Even if there were people who were offended, It's only an off-the-cuff opinion, on an Internet violin forum at that... which in my case at least contains more than a grain of truth. I once booked my car into a Volkswagen garage, not realising it was *actually* a Vauxhall.

Can't help thinking we all need to save our protest energy for the things in this world that need changing and the situations where that outcome might actually be achieved.

Thanks though. :-)

December 9, 2011 at 02:15 PM · Gentlemen: it's sad but true that most rhetorical tones(humor, sarcasm/irony, whatever) do not transmit well via email or chats. Maybe that's why they are called 'tones'--they need the living voice.

December 9, 2011 at 02:19 PM · A modest proposal indeed...

December 9, 2011 at 02:30 PM · There's a difference between misogyny (hating women) and pointing out general differences between genders.

I fall inbetween...I'm interested in technology to a point...and then it becomes too mumbo-jumbly for me. For example, take tractors...I appreciate a nice shiny John Deere...but I just can't get into all the intricacies of the various working parts like some of my acquaintances can. Nor can I, to my shame, back up my truck with the 30' trailer attached (well, without hitting anything or getting stuck, at any rate...).

In the meantime though, there's a part of me that would love to have my own strings store if I ever retire . I just don't think it's economically feasible...but there was a little shop in Prague I visited back in June...and I was delighted! Antique glass display cases, instruments everywhere and the smell of rosin...

December 9, 2011 at 03:39 PM · ..

December 9, 2011 at 04:26 PM ·

For reference for other readers, the FULL QUOTATION is here:

"Randy's anecdote is interesting and perhaps telling: the glass ceiling will not be broken until women take technology seriously. Seriously. Or not. But it *is* noticeable with cars, computers, snowmobiles, chainsaws (with very noteworthy exceptions of course!).

"When my generation was little, our parents thought they were so forward-thinking and were raising their daughters differently. Not."

December 9, 2011 at 04:40 PM · At the risk of gender stereotyping:

Boys...please play nicely...

BTW...I looked misogynist up too...

December 9, 2011 at 04:40 PM · Whoops...okay, Bill took his last comment away (well, sort of, leaving one parting shot) while I was I'm removing mine

December 9, 2011 at 04:52 PM ·

N.A. to move away from this damned gender crap, I think it was interesting that you looked at other instruments, too. But you didn't look at guitars. Lots of equipment worship there. A couple times I have listened to great guitarists say during interviews something to the effect, "learn to play *music*, not guitar" which is I suppose a good piece of advice universally.

But that is not to say one should aspire to eschew the finer points of understanding one's instrument--far from it! To be musical requires understanding one's instrument and its potential, how its sound fits into the mix etc.

December 9, 2011 at 05:04 PM · are a world unto themselves I find. I had a couple of lessons way back when, but I wasn't interested enough to continue...I think my fingers were too sore at the time...;). I can play the mandolin though (mostly picking, less strumming). I even have a bandolin. I developed great callouses when I was actively playing.

A guitar is a beautiful instrument as well...and I love listening to acoustic guitar.

Electric anything I'm not so fond just doesn't resonate the same...

December 9, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·

December 9, 2011 at 05:19 PM · Different...plays like a mandolin, but has a banjo head to it sounds more banjo-y. Also called a banjo-mandolin.

I have antique one, not worth repairing I don't think, and one new one...that needs some kind of adjustments. I did take it in when I first bought it and realized it was wonky...but the store I purchased it from were, er, disinclined to repair it properly (if they even touched it, which I doubt).

When I find someone who knows how to fix it properly I'll take it back in...

December 9, 2011 at 05:33 PM ·

December 9, 2011 at 05:45 PM ·'re is confusing...

Maybe it's a case of local naming customs?

I know them primarily as banjo-mandolins...but was told to call them bandolins...but they're mostly called mandolin-banjos on line.

Mine was purchased at a local guitar defunct. Hm...wonder if had anything to do with their customer service?

December 9, 2011 at 05:52 PM ·

December 9, 2011 at 06:36 PM · Lyndon, cut it out.

December 9, 2011 at 06:57 PM · I'm female, and the other female didn't have issues with the comments either...if that changes anything.

Bill...those are both the same instrument...the first guy just removed one of each of the string pairs - I'm at work, so I didn't see why (makes it hard to tremolo).

And the 2nd guy plays better than I did...:D

December 9, 2011 at 08:13 PM · I think it's usually concert masters, section leaders and a couple more in each orchestra who show a real interest in instruments and strings. But when I borrowed a room at a symphony orchestra a couple of times, where they didn't have a violin shop in town, almost half of the string players would stand in line to get adjustments and small repairs done. Many of them were stunned when a small adjustment made their violin or viola play and sound so much better. So I think there's probably often a reluctance to go to the luthier's shop - like going to the dentist - but if it's easy and relaxed, more people will do it. Maybe anesthetics would help? Candlelight and incense? A glass of wine...I'm getting inspired now..."The Luthier's Wine Bar"...hmmm

December 9, 2011 at 09:44 PM · I don't have an issue with the assumption made by one poster that because some women players he asked said they didn't know what strings were on their instruments. I understand the code, often the "I don't know" answer from a woman to a man translates to "not getting sucked into a conversation with you". To my mind, a more plausible explanation for their answers than not knowing what strings were on the instruments.

December 9, 2011 at 10:17 PM · "Geoff- let's rob a bank together! I'm often down your end of the A38. If we time it right I could be your getaway driver"

Or maybe we could make our escape down the Dart in a punt. (Sorry folks - Cambridge in-joke). I'll start casing the joint. If you ever have a free evening perhaps you might join us for one of our many local sessions and we can plan the details.

December 10, 2011 at 12:10 AM ·

December 10, 2011 at 03:53 AM · ..

December 10, 2011 at 04:28 AM · This stuff is ruining this site, one day it's racists rants, the next, somebody calls a wonderful knowledgeable member's comment "stupid", now it like two little boys having a fight. GROW THE HELL UP OR AT LEAST HAVE YOUR FIGHTS VIA PRIVATE MESSAGES.

December 10, 2011 at 04:51 AM · I agree, Rebecca. I often wonder why some people feel free to write things on chat posts that (I hope?) they wouldn't say face to face unless they were very drunk or talking to very good buddies who know them well enough to make allowances.

December 10, 2011 at 05:57 AM · Perhaps the reason that women don't talk about their instruments is that they know the boys will just start chest-pounding duels as a result, and they would rather not see them escalate to axes and clubs.

Perhaps it isn't women at all. Perhaps it is men. Men talk too much and care about boring crap that doesn't really matter.

Perhaps it isn't men nor women. Perhaps violinists wisen up, regardless of sex, to the great danger lurking inside these wooden boxes and know that the "devil's instrument" is best not taunted.

Perhaps the mystique of the violin is so strong that people are afraid to touch them and leave them to the experts when they finally have a problem.

Perhaps if you take an interest in your fiddle, you *are* crazy. I take an interest in knowing how they work, and I seem to be judged crazy by at least one if not two people in this thread.

December 10, 2011 at 09:48 AM · @Rebecca - I heartily agree. I value as a haven of courteous and informed discussion. In the last few days the same two members have hijacked two interesting threads, forcing Laurie to pull one of them, and exposing valued members in this thread to extremely unpleasant personal attack.

If you can't be civilised, please find somewhere else to push your agendas...

December 10, 2011 at 10:39 AM · Coming from other forums where this sort of thing is a bit more common I am dissapointed to see it here. I know I can hardly talk because I can be a bit up front myself, but I think I mostly avoid getting too involved in personal attacks.

It's always best to agree to disagree and move on. We are but frail human beings and the tempation to go for the jugular is always there.

Why not kiss and make up, after all there has also been much of interest in other areas from the people involved?



December 10, 2011 at 12:54 PM · Of course Lyndon it is very hard to buy an instrument and may take months or years to find something one really likes.

I've spent about 20 months looking and trying instruments in my price range, which has by the way increased by over 60% over this period because I could not find anything I really liked or anything that was even as good as my cheap German fiddle which I bought over two years ago.

In the end one fiddle has grabbed me by the throat - and I love it. But of course I'm aware that there may be better violins out there (even the odd Strad [wink]) but I know that price has to be a limiting factor, and you can pay ten times more for a fiddle that may be only marginally better.

This won't stop me from occasionally trying other people's violins if they let me and showing a lot of interest. That's how I got to play briefly on a Guadanini and it was lovely. But I would need to win the European Lottery to be able to get a fiddle like that, so I don't even think about it.

I don't have a career anymore so all the playing I do is for me, and not for some other organisation/person - so when I draw a certain sound out of this fiddle I am gratefull that I'm still able to pull the bow over the strings for my own selfish reasons, and I can still hack it a bit.

And yes, if someone offers me a go on their Strad, Del Gesu or whatever I will gratefully accept and try not to knock a corner off!! (wink)

December 10, 2011 at 04:02 PM · ..

December 10, 2011 at 05:06 PM · A maker at an exhibition here deplored the fact that on their conservatory courses budding players received very little information about instruments, bows, and the evaluation thereof. They are pitchforked into the professional world unprepared, as lambs to the slaughter.

Instrument seminars for dummies urgently wanted; or is that dummies for instrument courses, Tony ?

December 10, 2011 at 05:09 PM · Back to the topic, I am a woman extremely interested in the technical aspects, but that interested was sparked with a new found focus on playing years back. All the information available on the internet is great for learning. There are sites for luthiers that provided a lot of information, love to look at the pics on the auction sites, even ebay once in a while. is great for feedback about so many of the particulars, strings, chin rests, cases, mutes, etc. When the more knowledgeable get into the physics of music and the violin, I am lost, but still find it interesting to a point.


December 10, 2011 at 07:16 PM · Most of the you know whats on here are over-fed anyway ...

DNOFTT ------ !?!

December 10, 2011 at 08:16 PM · I just read through this topic - it was quite easy, most of the posts were blank :)

I think know everything there is to know about my instrument - except of coursse, that known by the luthier. The reason why is I even got to know the luthier and learned the origin of the piece of wood (the front is from the beam of an old warehouse!)... the laqueur the choice of fittings, why those strings, aging, limitations, etc etc. And I now play with and know the luthier very well too - and his charming wife and kids and house and... oh, and I've tried (and bought) strings syntethic, metal, wire wound gut, pure gut and, at last count, four different chin rests, five shoulder rests (there managed to get that into the topic). I think I could open a violin shop in my basement.. Did I mention I've had the instrument about 8 months?

Does it get any geekier? And, sorry if I sound menogenist but the guys I know who play the instrument simply aren't interested...

December 10, 2011 at 08:46 PM · I do think Tony and Bill have shown their stripes. Goodbye, you two.

December 10, 2011 at 09:01 PM · I told my teachers that the reason I'm interested in all things violin is that playing is so darn hard, and researching is so much easier... I can identify all the strings I have tried, just because I tend to remember things. My collection of chinrests and shoulder rests/pads is larger than Elise's, and I have tried many more, but that's out of necessity... I also own 4 mutes, gadgets and tools, and experimented with various pencil wraps and surgical tubing on my bows (because my right thumb tends to develop callus) - all in less than 2.5 years since I started.

Only one of my teachers is interested in equipment, but that does not prevent the other two from winning positions in full-time orchestras. It's fine if you like knowing your instrument, but I doubt that it will give you any edge in becoming a better violinist.

Elise, do you mean "misandrist"?

December 10, 2011 at 10:07 PM · 'Elise, do you mean "misandrist"?' I just looked it up (I knew the other one, honest) and yes thats it - but I did have fun making my version up :)

But I beg to differ a bit about the violin geekiness and effectiveness. Surely all that background knowledge will help in many areas - how to make your violin sound its best and also when the time comes to buy a new one. Other aspects include ease of playing (string tension) when something needs fixing (rattles, buzzes) and avoiding violin downtime (prevention of damage by say humidity and polar bears...).

Not only that but you get to post on V/com and get sensible answers by not sounding like a 100% idiot (you see 95% is well above average :) ).

December 10, 2011 at 10:50 PM · Not to mention, Elise, it's easier to explain to your luthier when something's not quite right if you know what might be wrong.

AND it's fun.

December 11, 2011 at 03:47 AM · For me, it is mainly about the machine called violin. And the complimentary instrument called the bow.

Playing hymns at church on my mezzo is just a byproduct.

But what else would you expect from a car guy with a minor in music?


December 11, 2011 at 06:05 AM · In my last orchestra, a number of people had stories about their instruments. One person had her bridge on backwards.

I'm in the throes of VAS. I've gone electric and have been researching power stuff-- passive piezo pick-up, so I had to research impedence & pre-amps, but mainly I am wondering if using a carbon fiber sawzall blade will give me better effects.

December 11, 2011 at 07:49 AM · Ever looked to see just how many violin makers and fiddle-shops there are now, and how many have operated successfully in the past ? William Henley's "Universal Dictionary" is a huge book. Today there are over 100 makers in the tiny city of Cremona alone, and thousands of others word-wide.

Even the most knowledgeable and curious of players can merely scratch the surface of the global scene. What we know and love about our own instrument is personal to us. "Sharing" (which sometimes descends into showing off) can so easily offer a way in for the know-alls to put us down. And, surely, does anyone really like to pose as the "all the gear and no idea" sort of person ? Let our playing speak for our violin !!

December 11, 2011 at 11:52 AM · I confess to having a bit of a geeky interest in my violins. I love the way they're put together out of so many different things in such a seemingly difficult way and that it all works together somehow. Even when we introduce new technology to old such as synthetic strings or extra light tailpieces, they might enhance or detract from the final output, but they don't intrinsically alter the way the violin works. I enjoy the way we've studied them over the years and reading and attempting to interpret various charts, wood types, sound box design, body length statistics and string configurations. I've rolled around in various positions trying to gawk inside with a penlight, breathed the lovely musty old wood smell, marvelled at the strength and yet lightness, admired the prettiness of the maple flame. I've wondered if other types of wood have been tried, such as the local redgum, now that would make a beautiful looking instrument, but would it sound any good? I've tried many chinrests, shoulder rests and strings. Who cares if I can't play all that well? They're such fun just to have.

You guessed it, I'm hooked.

December 11, 2011 at 12:47 PM · Does it get any geekier?

When I was auditioning violins at shops, the first thing I did was measuring the string length... I have taken detailed measurements for more than 20 violins that I took out on approval during my violin searches. Those measurements include string length, fingerboard width at nut, fingerboard width at bridge end, neck height, neck girth, string spacings at nut, string spacings at bridge, etc., but again, it was out of necessity, not because I wanted to compete in the super geek contest. :)

December 11, 2011 at 01:07 PM · Well, I have had photos of the raw timber sent to me, discussed dimensions, thicknesses, varnish, free-plate tap-tones etc.etc. with the maker of my violin - but still think I cannot be fully qualified as a geek since my tiny amount of verifiable knowledge is dwarfed by the huge volume of things I know nothing about !!!

Did Stradivari REALLY tap the trees ?

December 11, 2011 at 04:16 PM · Nope - that would be a canadian luthier working in sugar maple :p

BTW surely geeky-ness is less about how much of a subject you known and more about how interested you are in its inane details.... Thus, you can be a university professor geek or a child wondering why the string wobbles like that...

December 11, 2011 at 05:20 PM · "BTW surely geeky-ness is less about how much of a subject you known and more about how interested you are in its inane details.."

The devil's in the detail. Yep.

December 11, 2011 at 07:40 PM · Why is it that the letters "P h D" came to mind? ;)

December 11, 2011 at 10:58 PM · psychopathic headbanging detailer?

You called?

December 12, 2011 at 07:22 AM · Alas, Lyndon, they tell us all is lost because the best timber was cut during a mini ice-age, circa1650-1720. Now, we now have global warming.

I forgot to get assurances from the maker of my violin that the wood was split with an axe, and not sawn, and from trees felled in winter. As to the blocks and linings, willow or pine ??

Years ago makers went up a blind alley when trying to reproduce the "secret" varnish. Hearing it described as "amber" because that's the color, they assumed it was made from amber. They burned down workshops trying to fuse it, because it is presumably impossible to bring it into solution in the usual solvents. Similarly, could early makers have been "tapping" spruce trees to get the resin ? (- for bows, of course. )

Trouble with trying to be geeky is that there seem to be more questions than satisfactory answers !

December 12, 2011 at 10:17 AM · I think there are lots of surviving varnish recipes, going back to way before the violin was invented. Although experts have always maintained that the "real thing" was oil based, a 1704 recipe much quoted looks to be a sprit one. One poster on this site maintains that J.B Vuillaume used spirit varnish.

I have 3 violins by the same maker. One has a propolis mixture. spirit-based somewhat after Sacconi; one has a spirit varnish based on shellac; and the third has an oil finish. Really, I think any differences in sound are down to other things than the varnish !! Experts of old certainly liked to bamboozle us, IMHO.

An English maker, Lawrence Cocker, tried Yacht varnish and is said to have obtained a tone of great brilliancy.

Debunk the myths, I say !

December 12, 2011 at 11:04 AM · whatcha mean - as an example of 'interested in your instrument' this has to be close to the acme. A question that has all interest and absolutely no answers... congratulations!

December 12, 2011 at 11:42 AM · Folks, look at

You will see what I meant by an alleged 1704 recipe that doesn't include a mention of linseed. More like the stuff you get on Gaglianos, I suspect.

Having bought ourselves a violin, we need a rest from all the mind-boggling and often misleading information we have had to suffer before parting with the cash. Little wonder if some among us are reluctant to relive the trauma by discussing our purchase afterwards ! If it works, be thankful. Over and out. DB.

December 12, 2011 at 02:53 PM · Rants aside, thanks to everyone for sharing their interest in the instrument and all the accessories, etc....

I was getting lonely thinking I was the only one...:D

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition
ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program Business Directory Business Directory

AVIVA Young Artist Program

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine