How to overcome

January 31, 2012 at 04:13 PM · Odd "problem" here.

Though a lifelong musician (symphonic percussion & voice) I am a adult violin student (1 year of study but doing quite well) and absolutely loving it! I am going with my husband in March to a convention in Salt Lake City -- so many violin shops there (we have virtually none in Louisiana) -- and I know I must visit some.

My problem is my fear of intimidation in visiting these shops. Will my explanation that I am, in fact, "one of them," sort of, in a musical sense help? I have read of high-end shop snobbery. Will I be looked down upon? I will mainly be bow shopping; I just hope that I can play well enough to discern what will qualify as a good bow. I hope to also visit Moroz Violins, but don't feel as much intimidation there, as I have already communicated with him, and he understands my background, so to speak.

I just wonder if any other-instrument musicians have ever suffered this dilemma and how they may have handled it?

Replies

January 31, 2012 at 04:34 PM · You've answered your own question: there are lots of shops in SLC. If one place seems to think you stepped in a cow pie right before entering, turn around and walk the other way. There will be another place that will be happy to have your business whether or not you are looking at Tourte bows. Most shops are quite friendly, and smart enough to realize that your money helps keep the doors open even if you're not playing Carnegie next week.

January 31, 2012 at 04:58 PM · If you have been playing for one year then my guess is you are not looking at $20,000 bows, but I guess I should not assume that.

My suggestion is to communicate your specific needs, situation, your playing level (perhaps as defined by the Suzuki Book in which you are presently studying, or whatever) and yes, I think you should also tell them your anticipated price range to the shop before you arrive and make sure you have an appointment where they have committed to having a staff member available at least periodically during your visit to help you with your selection. I'm not sure how rosin is dealt with. Does anyone know that?

Every shop that I've visited has always been quite welcoming to me even though I'm an amateur and frankly not very skilled. I brought music to play -- easy pieces -- and there was always a stand available in the trial room, just for guys like me who freeze up when they're trying to play something from memory with a stranger in the room. Remember that business is, quite generally speaking, not all that great these days and they want to make sales, and they know they won't do that if they're mean.

Depending of course on the price range that you have in mind, if it's under $2000 then I suggest that you try both wood and carbon fiber bows, and that you ask the shop to prepare a selection of no more than 5-6 bows to examine, because trying to evaluate more than that may become difficult. Of course that depends on your mental stamina which might be better than many others because of your experience as a musician.

Good luck -- I have never done any serious bow shopping and I don't envy the task frankly.

January 31, 2012 at 05:33 PM · With bows and with violins I follow some rules wich keep me self confident and asured in a violin shop. First rule: Know what YOU like and don't listen too much to violinmaker opinions and prices. Of course try in your pricerange... Most violinmakers will play worse than you while having a very certain opinion over their instrument. But they have no clue about what YOU need. With bows it is the same but even more personal. A bow should not just sound well, but also have a great feeling for YOU. And that may be the cheapest bow in the shop, maybe because you are used to a similar model. Never forget: Its a stick with hair! So, if you know what you are looking for, you don't even have to care about the sellers opinion. If you like them, maybe you listen to them, but trust me i don't think they know more about what you need as you know by yourself.

Advice above is good, if you don't like a shop, just walk out, they don't deserve your interest. If they have good violins and bows, well then you have to go through it, if you want them, but mostly you will have more from a shop, where the seller is open to you and supportive rather than manipulative. A good violin maker should not care too much about who is buying the instrument but to satisfy the customer.

Also you don't have to play a concerto in the shop to test a violin or bow. Just check the material, play a simple scale for checking the tone. Play chromatic scales up all strings to check for wolf notes or other unequal sounds. Doing that with one finger in slow tempo is even better than showing off with fast scales and miss the actual weak spots. Same for response, you just need first position and slow scales. dynamic range also, play piano pianissimo cresc. to forte fortissimo on one note. I could go on... regarding the bow testing: Look if its straight with the hair. check its flexibility (carefully!), you can do that on the strings with just pressing the bow on the strings until the wood touches at different bow points. Adjust the tension then to a for you comfortable point and play long notes on open strings or slow scales to check the control and steadyness of the bow from the frog to the tip. If you care for a bouning bow, check that by throwing the bow carefully at the strings and find the jumping spot, I would not use open strings (too loud and too much ring)but one note for that. If it jumps easily everywhere, take another bow :D. More important over the bouncing is in my opinion sound and control. You can make every bow bounce with the right technique as far as it is straight and balanced. Check if under pressure the bowstick doesn't break out to one side or another. After all you will feel imediately if a bow fits you! Concentrate on what you want rather than concentrating on what impression you will make to the violin maker

January 31, 2012 at 07:11 PM · Scoggins Violin Shop in SLC is very friendly. They are family run business and sell their own instruments as well as dealing in others (primarily new). They aren't the most high end you'll find but might be a nice place to start if you're feeling shy.

January 31, 2012 at 08:34 PM · I have used the suggestions by Buri on an older similar post - have a nice clean wiping cloth and wipe the bows after use. I play them without looking at the prices or model etc, and then put them down in order of what I prefer from left to right (most to least), and I play each one again to confirm, then ditch to last couple and ask for a couple more, still without looking at price - even when I was looking at well under $1,000 there was a definite difference in feel and sound. although it is probably true that the cost of the bow doesn't have to relate to quality, to my miserable discovery I have found that it is a consistent relationship. I always love the most expensive bows. The three shops I can deal with (my luthier, and 2 retailers - this is Sydney, not New York), have always had a nice attitude when I say I am learning. I have always had my rosin available, but the attendants have rosined the bows as they lay them out.

After my first most nervous trials, I found that having a small memorised number of bars helped, not that pieces need to be played through to end. I use a piece I am very familiar with how it feels and sounds on my own set up and a scale or two.

I recently accompanied my teacher when she was looking to scout a violin and bow for one of her more advanced students (Grade 8, conservatory level entry). She played and I listened. One combination sounded great, and then we realised we hadn't played the best sounding bow with the 2nd best sounding isntrument, and it was a perfect pairing. Both of us did that 'wow' look. Again, the bow was the most expensive one in the range, the violin wasn't.

I still can't afford a great bow, but I always try a good bunch above my range whenever I have access, as the more you play the more you learn.

Enjoy your day/s.

January 31, 2012 at 09:33 PM · I wouldn't necessarily ignore the recommendations of the shop employees. Sure, they might be trying to sell the stuff they need to move, or with the highest profit margin, but they can also sometimes be highly experienced people with good advice to offer.

Perhaps you can establish two categories: What you like, independent from other input, and what others are recommending. They may be separate, or overlap in ways which allow you to extract useful information.

As far as being intimidated by people wearing starched shirts, don't worry so much about that. You might run into them in their formal work environment, but I run into them when they're off the clock, and maybe have had a few drinks. LOL

If you can get beyond the facade, they're usually not a whole lot different from anyone else. ;-)

February 1, 2012 at 08:42 AM · I am also pretty sure, that there is a relation between the quality of the bow and the price. But it seems to be similar with violins: When you come to a price range, where you can afford good new bows, between 3k and maybe 6k € then you will have problems finding anything much better in an higher price segment. The quality of the old antique bows can vary a lot due to condition, but new bows from a good maker will have a high standard so that you get what you are paying for.

@David Burgess: I am sure many violinmakers are honest people, who you can have a nice and interesting talk with. I personally just like to seperate business from private information. Buying a violin is for me an quite detached process. I discovered some violinmakers who tried to manipulate my feelings towards a violin and make it a personal process. In front of an amateur this process would be unfair because they may respond to that manipulation.

cheers

February 1, 2012 at 11:38 AM · Simon, maybe it's better for some people it they don't "break the ice". It works differently for me.

Once upon a time, I was in a fancy jewelry store, looking at engagement rings. The head salesperson was dressed in an expensive suit, and very stiff and formal. With a few questions, I learned that it was his wife who made the custom jewelry which was part of their line, and he was the salesman. Knowing that the snobbery is often just a facade in businesses like that, including the fiddle business, I joked,

"So she does all the work, and you're kind of like a pimp?"

There was laughter from the back room, and snickering from another part of the store. After that, all the people in the store just acted like ordinary people, were happy to answer my questions about the inner workings of the jewelry business (including typical price markups), and we had fun. :-)

February 1, 2012 at 11:58 AM · Sara,

Don't be afraid. By all means go into as many shops as you like. I am sure you will be treated friendly. Granted, I don't know more than a dozen of violin/bow makers, but they are all a welcoming bunch of extremely skilled people. BTW, in my experience most people working with wood have a friendly disposition.

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my whole life was succumbing to this kind of fear and NOT visiting violin/bow makers from the start. They are very much aware that not every fiddler can (and should) be a Joshua Bell. In fact, they'd have to wait really long in between customers if they only catered to the stars and those able to afford products in the top price range.

In my opinion, the relationship between a violin/bow maker and a violinist is very similar to the kind you have with your physician - there has to be a lot of trust and you have to develop that relationship so that the professional can give you the right kind of service.

Go for it - and good luck!

Greetings,

Jürgen

P.S.: Just because you are a professional musician - though in another field - you're bound to be hypercritical of yourself. Would you expect a professional violinist who just started to take an out in your musical specialty to be as proficient as you are - and offer harsh criticism if he our she weren't able to perform at your level? Hardly, I suppose, and neither will the violinists/violin makers/bow makers out there.

February 1, 2012 at 12:31 PM · Sara, can you take your teacher with you to evaluate bows? That way you can help him/her play them and your teacher can also evaluate how you sound.

February 1, 2012 at 02:23 PM · If you go someplace and they're not helpful or respectful, whatever your background or skill level, you're free to take your business elsewhere ;) My favorite shop has welcomed my adult novice & intermediate fiddle students and friends with open arms. They know which side the bread is buttered on, but they also want people of all ages & pursuits to be happy & successful.

February 1, 2012 at 06:41 PM · One other piece of advice, Sara: remember the scene in the first Harry Potter novel where the young, befuddled wizard-to-be goes into the shop to buy a wand? The wise old wand maker looks him over, has him try a couple of things, and then matches him up with the single wand that will allow Harry to spend a lifetime conquering evil. That's NOT what buying a bow is like! You will try lots of bows that will be a good fit for you. There's no magic involved, no single perfect bow, just lots of good choices. You can't go wrong at this point in your life. What you buy now won't even necessarily be the bow you will be using in five or ten years. You don't have to marry it. Have fun looking.

Speaking of marriage: David, did you buy the ring? Did she say yes? Still together? You have to finish the story.

February 1, 2012 at 10:22 PM · Uh, uhm, it's kind of a long and convoluted story.

You already heard the best part. :-)

Suffice to say that a fancy ring doesn't seem to be related to marital stability. LOL

February 2, 2012 at 03:29 AM · sort of like Harry Potter....

February 2, 2012 at 03:50 AM · I don't know how many shops there are in SLC but for sure stop in at Prier's Violin Shop. He sells to kiddies getting their first violin and to pros buying Strads.

February 2, 2012 at 03:17 PM · Are you familiar with luthier Anya Burgess in SW Louisiana??

February 2, 2012 at 04:24 PM · Heh heh, was that question directed at me???

Poor gal, what a pathetic name for a luthier. Doesn't sound the least bit Italian. LOL

To the best of my knowledge, she and I have never met, although I've been told she's a nice person and a good fiddle player.

On another funny name-coincidence note, the associate concertmaster of the North Carolina Symphony left a message on my answering machine the other day, saying that someone from the audience came up after a concert to ask what kind of instrument he was playing (don't know why, maybe he had a solo part or something?). He told him, and the guy looked a little befuddled. Turns out the guy's name was David Burgess. LOL

February 2, 2012 at 08:50 PM · Don't worry, even those of us who've been doing this since we were little kids get treated with snobbery from time to time. I've sometimes been dismissed because I don't look like a stereotypical violinist. Even when I'm all dressed up there's something about me that says "I'm here to unclog your drains", and I'm OK with that because I have unclogged more than a few and it doesn't mean I can't play Beethoven and Brahms.

My best advice: venture forth with sincerity and a smile on your face. See what you want to see because you love violins and bows and don't let anyone else's hangups get to you. You deserve to enjoy violin shops because you are one of us and it doesn't matter if you're a newcomer or a veteran! Have a good time.

February 2, 2012 at 10:56 PM · Great advice, Michael.

February 3, 2012 at 05:17 AM · First of all, I just want to make a quick blanket "Thank You!!" to everyone who has posted in reply to my quandary. I will have some follow-up questions/comments/answers after I absorb it all, but I wanted to pop in and reply so as not to be a "hit-and-run" poster :)

February 3, 2012 at 12:15 PM · very nicely said michael. and if they're especially nasty, open up a vial of termites :o/

February 4, 2012 at 06:33 PM · I know what you feel about intimidation -it took me at least 6 months after I started learning to even be able to carry my violin around in public in case someone might ask me if I played and how good I was!

All suggestions are great about how to choose your bow but to help you feel less intimidated why not phone all of the shops before hand. Have a list of questions to ask and see how they deal with you on the phone. Anyone who seems dismissive or snobbish just doesn't get the pleasure of you and your credit card entering their shop. It's MUCH less upsetting being brushed off on the phone than in person and also might save you a lot of walking around town. Plus when you get there your time will be better spent since the shop will know what you want and not waste time showing you things which are inappropriate for you.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

E

February 6, 2012 at 08:46 PM · Anya Burgess, great person, honest luthier. Makes violins too. We meet Anya most summers at the Michael Darton workshop in So. Cal.

February 11, 2012 at 06:38 AM · I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to respond to my post. I am humbled by the kindness and wisdom and just want you all to know how much I appreciate every word.

@Lisa: Thanks! Great advice. I am hoping that being friendly and honestly seeking to purchase will trump "cow pie." :)

@Paul: Thank you for the tips communicating budget/level/etc. I will bring something simple enough that I can focus on what I'm hearing and feeling rather than struggling with the music.

@Simon: Your second paragraph is already printed so that I can study it and perform the tests you've outlined. Thank you!

@Freida: Thank you! I am absolutely loving studying violin. It is strange how I've spent so many years behind the violin section and yet knew so very little about the instrument. I am now a sponge :)

@Erion: Thanks for the tip re: Scoggins.

@John: I will make certain to bring my own bow for comparison. That will be an excellent way for me to ascertain distinguishing characteristics. I had not thought of that. Thanks!

@Sharell: I like the process you outlined very much. And I so look forward to this learning process!

@David: I, too, am a break-the-ice type. I do hope to get beyond any facade early, if only by the fact that when nervous, I probably tend to be a self-deprecating jokester, which should be easily accomplished in this case :D

@Simon: Thanks! I hope to not encounter any unfair manipulation, but I suppose I will have to prepare for that possibility.

@Juergon: I loved your comments. Yes, I agree it would be a mistake to not visit as many shops as I can. Thank you for the reverse-comparison re: if someone were a beginning percussionist--that puts things in much better perspective for me.

@Erica: I'm sure my teacher would *love* to come with me, but it will be a two-week trip, and, well, I love her, but...

@Sue: Thank you. Great advice and totally true.

@Lisa: "No magic involved"..."You can't go wrong"..."You don't have to marry it"..."Have fun looking." I must repeat these phrases over and over! Thank you!

@Corvin: Thanks for the tip re: Prier's!

@Michael: What a great sentiment you expressed in your second paragraph! Thank you so much. I do hope that my enthusiasm will trump my nervousness.

@Ellie: Great advice. I actually did contact one shop already by email through a tip messaged to me via v.com. I received the most gracious, kind, and informative reply. I am encouraged!

Thank you again, everyone, for helping me with my quest. I will be certain to report back. My trip is March 7-21.

~Sara

February 11, 2012 at 06:42 AM · As an aside, my husband finds it comical that I am having any difficulty with any violin/bow purchasing process, when, I had so very little difficulty purchasing a 5-octave, 9-foot-long, 300-pound, rosewood & cherry marimba a decade ago. :D

March 14, 2012 at 04:06 AM · Well, here I am...in Salt Lake City.

I am so disappointed to report that the first established into which I walked did, indeed, treat me as though I had first walked "into a cowpie before entering" :( Now, to this violin maker's credit, I did walk in stone-cold, out-of-the-blue and unannounced. I was learning my way around the TRAX light rail system and realized that at one stop on which I had departed the train, this particular violin maker's shop was but one block away. How could I resist?? However, I truly not made to feel all warm and fuzzy -- quite the opposite -- even after explaining myself briefly, apologizing several times for my unannounced visit (the doors *are* unlocked) and offering to make an appointment to visit with him. I was so disappointed. Perhaps I truly totally caught him off guard. I hope that is the case. I left with a heavy heart -- but I shall resume with another visit to another shop tomorrow. :( I will not name the violin maker here, but will respond to a private message, if anyone is interested in knowing my experience.

March 15, 2012 at 07:14 PM · It doesn't matter if you caught these people "off guard." If they keep business hours, if the door was unlocked, if there wasn't a sign on the door asking you to call for an appointment, forget it. Assuming you didn't just walk unannounced into this guy's home kitchen, this is the sort of thing that gives the business a bad rap. Move on.

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