Step Up from a VSO - Stentor?

June 5, 2012 at 04:33 PM · I'm currently playing a Chinese instrument that's probably one step up from a VSO - and I'm interested in making a step up to something in the up to £300ish range. I know I'm not going to get anything stunning for that money, don't worry.

I'm going to go into my local violin shop (Strings of Penn) later in the week and have a chat about the options, but I was wondering whether the, say, Stentor Conservatoire/ Conservatoire II outfits (at just under £200 and £250 respectively) would be worth it? I'd probably go for the latter I think - would that be a sizeable step up in quality from the Chinese one, which I'd have to put good strings on anyway to start with. (We had some cheapies on to make it playable at all, always knew I'd have to upgrade soon but not having touched the violin for seven years I didn't want to spend too much initially).

Tl;dr: I'm just restarting on a Chinese VSO-ish instrument we had in the house (which I could YouTube a video of?) and am considering upgrading to the Stentor Conservatoire II - opinions?

Replies (56)

June 6, 2012 at 04:45 AM · The violins you describe are only a very small step up from VSOs. Of this type of student violin the Yamaha model is the best of the bunch. The Stentors are Chinese made as is the Yamaha.

Go onto eBay and see what the seller Yitamusic has to offer. Their T20 line has some "real" violins in your price range.

Cheers Carlo

June 6, 2012 at 06:38 AM · These ones?

Thanks for the advice :) are their standard bows/'strings serviceable?

And from those are there any that are particularly good or should I just choose based on looks/ price?

June 6, 2012 at 08:02 AM · You can also take a look at the violins that OVH offers. In your price range they have what they call "Pro+" line. Very nice violins for the price.

(Copy and paste into yor browser, I can make violins, but can't put a link)

June 6, 2012 at 08:06 AM · Lily. Those are the ones. Go for the T20 or M20 model. Choose the one you like based on the looks but upgrade the bow, case, and strings. In my experience these are well made and set up, and knock the socks off any violin under £1500 retail.

Cheers Carlo

June 6, 2012 at 09:19 AM · Carlo, thanks - I've taken a closer look and it appears that only the E has a fine-tuner - what implications does that have for string choice/tuning etc?

So it seems it's a toss-up between

the Old Violin House one


the Yitamusic one

Also, here's a YouTube clip of the current instrument.

June 6, 2012 at 01:24 PM · Lily, Professionals, as a rule, use only one tuner on the E. If you want to have four, fit a lightweight tailpiece with four already fitted. However getting used to tuning with pegs is no biggie. Try that first.

Cheers Carlo

June 6, 2012 at 03:17 PM · Awesome :) Do you know how it works Customs-wise, since it comes from China?

Also set-up wise, will there be anything needing doing that I can't do myself (ie beyond strings)

June 6, 2012 at 05:02 PM · I bought a Vecchio violin from Old Violin House (China/ebay) a few months ago. I am more than happy with it. The tailpiece was immediately replaced with a Wittner tailpiece (four built in tuners). The action was too high so I had to take about 3mm of the top of the bridge to get it where I like it. The pegs could probably use some work too but I have left that for the moment while I think about fitting Wittner geared pegs. The strings were not too good ; I thought that the tension too high and the sound was quite harsh. I put on a set of DÁddario Pro-Artes and it sounds lovely now...even with me playing it !

The Yitamusic violins seem to be properley set up and ready to go. I have not bought one myself but others speak highly of them. I will eventually be buying one of their T20 models as per your link. Expect to pay about $500.

If the Stentors are properley set up then they are pretty good. The music shops here sell them and the music teachers quite like them although I find them a bit 'uninspiring' for want of a better term.

NOTE : Why is there a link around the words 'built' and 'expect' ? I did not put that there.

June 6, 2012 at 06:24 PM · I can get a Stentor Conservatoire for a bit more than a hundred pounds less than the Yitamusic one (£180) - is that a good deal?

June 6, 2012 at 07:49 PM · The Yitas are set up well. You are getting a much better fiddle for only a little more money. The stentor is what it is, one small step from a vso. Your choice.

Cheers Carlo

June 6, 2012 at 07:59 PM · I think overall (with the exception that I may go into Strings and see what they can offer me in the way of part-exchanges) I'd go for the Stentor - by the time I've sorted strings and so on it'll be upwards of £200 and while I'm okay for money right now my job (private tutoring) finishes in a month and a bit and then I've no income til I start uni in September. Plus living in halls etc (and then in second & third year having to travel all over Bath) could wreak havoc and I'd rather save that extra £100 towards the next upgrade/ lessons at uni.

June 6, 2012 at 09:18 PM · @Lyndon. I couldn't disagree more. The Chinese violins that are sold by Yitamusic are well made good sounding fiddles. These ARE the ones that violin dealers retail at up to £1500.

Cheers Carlo

June 7, 2012 at 11:40 AM · I went into Strings and tried a Stentor Conservatoire and a Zeller outfit and I loved the Stentor, it was so warm! It was a hundred pounds more than I've found it online, but I bought some strings so that I was still supporting the shop.

June 7, 2012 at 02:20 PM · @Lyndon. The top range of Yitamusic violins sells at about $700US not 200 as you suggest. I suspect the mark up to 1500 is probably normal for dealers.

The real VSOs, in my opinion, are the factory made German and French violins made in the late 19th century. Heavily wooded and sealed in hard varnish they sound feeble. Modern Chinese violins have reduced their commercial value to almost nothing as they sound very good in comparison.

Finally, there is no need to swear on this website even with Xs. You dilute your argument, show your prejudice against modern instruments, and sound racist.

Cheers Carlo

June 7, 2012 at 02:41 PM · @Lyndon. Insulting me will not support your argument. You will get your point across if you use less emotive language and defend your position with well thought out ideas.

Cheers Carlo

June 7, 2012 at 03:05 PM · Also Lyndon, I'd like you to tell me where I'm meant to get 1000 USD from:

1) I'm a student

2) No shops here accept USD ;)

June 7, 2012 at 05:31 PM · Lyndon, you're being very unreasonable here. VSOs are unplayable. I own a $200 store-bought Chinese instrument that's very playable, if not on the same level as more expensive instruments. Yes, the sound isn't very nice, but it's not bad and what makes an instrument a VSO is its playability.

Also, you are the only one with your opinion and everyone else here is disagreeing with you (I think).

About the violins on eBay, do they have warm and mellow sounds? I want a new violin but can't stand anything that's bright.

June 7, 2012 at 05:35 PM · Lyndon -- you're perfectly entitled to your opinion, but please don't stomp on everyone else's.

I don't think price is the only indicator of a violin's quality. For the past 2-1/2 years I've been playing a violin that retailed at a little over $600 (USD). I decided to purchase a lower-priced instrument as a more "rough and tumble" companion for some of my more adventurous musical outings, so I wouldn't be putting my primary violin at risk. The violin I just purchased retails for $300 (although I bought it used, so didn't pay that much). Guess what -- the lower-priced violin is FAR more playable, based on comfort, tone, versatility in dynamics, etc. It'll never be more than a nice student-level violin, but that's all it needs to be. I'm VERY happy with it, and it's gotten very good reviews from other violinists who've heard it.

I think Lily is demonstrating a lot of wisdom in her choice of the Stentor. She knows her financial situation best, and saving money now toward buying a better instrument when her lifestyle is more stable seems to me to be the best path to follow.

June 7, 2012 at 06:42 PM · @Lyndon. I take offence at your tone and personal comments. I am a professional violinist with a collection of Italian violins and French bows. There is nothing wrong with my ears or my ability to play and judge fine violins.

The poster of this thread was asking for advice on buying a violin at a specific price point, which I gave. I believe that Chinese made violins from Yitamusic would suit her well, sound very good, and are bargain at the price. I have heard you rant about modern violins and Chinese instruments on other threads before now. Prejudice and xenophobia come to mind.

On your bio you do not say you are a violinist. I do not wish to be rude, but I wonder if your playing ability is sufficient for YOU to be able to judge a good violin?

Cheers Carlo

June 7, 2012 at 06:59 PM · Lyndon --

Haven't had anyone covering their ears or fleeing to the parking lot yet! My orchestra conductor and violin teacher both like my older violin. Neither has heard the new (used) one yet (I've had it less than a week), but there was highly favorable reaction from a chamber group I played with yesterday. Could it be that your definition of a VSO might be too all-encompassing???

June 8, 2012 at 03:57 AM · @Lily. My students and I, have never had any trouble with customs. They just come straight through with no charges. Postage takes about 10 days from China and is tracked all the way.

@Raymond. I would describe the sound as powerful and full. In the examples I have seen and played, the colour has tended towards the brighter end of the spectrum.

Cheers Carlo

June 8, 2012 at 04:45 AM · I have said it before and I will say it again : with violins you do NOT always get what you pay for. I have had $1000 violins that were rubbish and I have had $200 violins that were great. If you want to take your chances with a Chinese violin from ebay then go ahead. I did and I have not regretted the decision. I like Chinese made violins and I will be buying more of them in the future. The last one I purchased has a lovely mellow tone once it was fitted with good strings.


June 8, 2012 at 06:24 AM · Lyndon - I tried a Zeller violin yesterday with a really warm tone and a price decidedly below 1000USD

Also, le plan is to bid on a couple of the Yita ones and see if through luck I can get one at the price of the Stentor (I know I won't, don't stress naïveté xD ) amd then as I probably won't be able to, go for the stentor

June 8, 2012 at 07:20 AM · @Lyndon. Neither the Paulo Castello nor the Panormo are very bright. The Capicchioni however, is brighter. All six of my violins do project but none could be described as a "screamer".

Warmth and sweetness, on their own, are not positive traits that professional violinists are looking for. Those characteristics are better suited to the amateur player. Maybe, as you are not a professional violinist, you may not understand this.

However, let's call a truce. Let us both stick to what we know best. I'll go back to, what we in the business call, playing the violin; and you go back to fixing eBay wrecks and repairing at the lower end of the market.

@Lily. Zeller, in my opinion, is not better than the Stentor model that you were looking at. Re bidding, the best way to bid is to use sniper software that bids in the last couple of seconds of the auction. You can find this online. Don't bid early as you will just push up the price. Good luck and let us know how you get on.

Cheers Carlo

June 9, 2012 at 05:26 AM · I lost the one I'd bid on, but including shipping it totalled about £180, so I know one of the Yita violins is a distinct possibility.

June 9, 2012 at 05:59 AM · @Lily. Bad luck with the auction. Hang in there. It will be worth it if you can get a real violin for so little. Did you try sniping software?

Cheers Carlo

June 9, 2012 at 06:28 AM · I don't use sniping software, I can't stop myself from thinking it's 'just not cricket' (funny how I'm British when it suits me and of indeterminate European origin when I'm not)

I'm hanging in there, no fear, but also looking at some Old Violin House ones and a second hand Stentor Conservatoire.

June 9, 2012 at 03:53 PM · Let it go, Lyndon. "Insult-Fest" is over.

June 9, 2012 at 05:09 PM · I won a Stentor Conservatoire for £102 on eBay. :)

June 9, 2012 at 06:29 PM · Well done. Enjoy your new fiddle!

Cheers Carlo

June 9, 2012 at 07:56 PM · Congratulations, Lily! I'm very happy for you. Let us know how everything's going after it arrives. :)

June 9, 2012 at 09:32 PM · I'll post a youtube when I've got it all sorted :)

June 10, 2012 at 01:28 AM · Thanks Carlo! A bright violin was exactly what I wasn't looking for.

I am stereotyping three different types of violin -

Violin A -






Violin B -







(muscular is more full, robust is more transparent)


Nasal in the Bass

Piercing/Tinny in the Treble


So these are my definitions. My violin has all the qualities of a VSO, but not as extreme. The A and D string are more on the sweet side, but the E string is piercing and the G string is slightly nasal. So, my violin is half-VSO.

Which violin do you guys prefer, A or B?

June 10, 2012 at 07:20 AM · @Raymond. I have favourite qualities that I look for in a violin, but if you don't mind I will make my own list.

Powerful. A violin must be able to play loudly. However, it needs to be able to play all dynamics from pppp to fffff.

Clear. The sound must not be wooly or fuzzy in any position. You need to be able to play to the top of each string without the sound cracking or becoming choked.

Projecting. The sound needs to carry past the first three rows of seats even at pppp.

Malleable. It can't be a one trick pony. The violinist needs to be able to change the tone colour. I don't look for sweetness and warmth in a violin. I can make any good violin sound sweet and warm myself.

Comfortable. Well set up to play in any position with correct string clearances. The neck needs to suit you as does the size of the instrument.

Beautiful. It has to look attractive. I spend a lot of time with my violins. I want to appreciate their looks as well as their sound. (I used this when I got married also)

It's starting to look like your list B!

Cheers Carlo

June 10, 2012 at 07:37 PM · Actually, it was her voice first of all, she was on stage singing the role of Lauretta in Gianni Schicci. I was leading in the pit. Hard to play with tears running down your face but I managed it. Decided there and then she was the one for me. Good decision. Married for 18 years and still counting.

We are getting slightly off topic :-)

Cheers Carlo

June 10, 2012 at 10:28 PM · Hmm...since Lyndon apparently prefers really old violins to young, er I mean new, ones...

Well...let's just leave it at that, as far as choosing a spouse goes. ;)

June 11, 2012 at 12:55 AM · ^lol :P I prefer new ones, because then I can shape its sound into what I want it to be...

June 14, 2012 at 03:57 PM · Hey guys :)

So it's arrived and it's a beaut (seller wasn't joking when he said case and bow needed replacing :p) - however in transit the soundpost has got dislodged (though from the amount of bubble-wrap I'm not sure how), do you reckon it would be fair for me to ask the guy to refund the cost of getting that fixed?

June 14, 2012 at 03:57 PM · Hey guys :)

So it's arrived and it's a beaut (seller wasn't joking when he said case and bow needed replacing :p) - however in transit the soundpost has got dislodged (though from the amount of bubble-wrap I'm not sure how), do you reckon it would be fair for me to ask the guy to refund the cost of getting that fixed?

June 14, 2012 at 04:05 PM · Congrats on getting your violin.

Frankly, if the seller wrapped the instrument properly, and the sound post still came loose, I think it's now your concern. He took reasonable care, and soundposts do come loose regardless.

It's not a huge expense to have it reset.

June 14, 2012 at 04:12 PM · Yeah, I've checked with Strings and they say £10, may as well try and get him to refund me that much, no harm in trying, haha

June 20, 2012 at 09:53 AM · Lyndon wrote:

"so you choose looks over sweetness and warmth, did you use the same criteria for your wife??"

Your comparison between violins and wives, combined with the information in your other posts has me curious about a number of things:

What is the minimum one needs to spend to get a wife with good function, as opposed to ending up with a WSO (wife shaped object)?

If a wife is a "screamer", is this necessarily an undesirable trait, or does it depend on the circumstances under which they scream?

Is an old German woman a better value than a newer Chinese one?

Are Italian women overpriced?

Since the average marriage lasts only nine years, which kind of wife has better trade-in value? Or is it better to keep the old one around as a spare, or for times when you don't want to use your "better" one, like for outdoor gigs?

Since there are also female readers here who doubtless have similar questions, will your answers apply to husbands too, or will that need to be addressed separately?

June 21, 2012 at 09:25 AM · you're a cheeky bugger, David :)

June 21, 2012 at 12:02 PM · Does a wife, who is a soprano, count as a screamer?

Cheers Carlo

June 21, 2012 at 01:22 PM · David, you could use different bow strokes to change her tune........:D

June 21, 2012 at 09:27 PM · Millie, that sounds like a lot of work and fatiguing mental focus, compared to mindlessly sitting on the couch, drinking beer and eating corn chips while watching sports. :-)

I realize you were only trying to help.

June 21, 2012 at 10:18 PM · "Does a wife, who is a soprano, count as a screamer?"

And what about a man who lets out an occasional Tarzan yodel? (not like we haven't all done it, maybe when we thought no one could hear)

June 21, 2012 at 10:52 PM · David. I don't think it's as common as all that. You're letting the cat out of the bag...

Cheers Carlo

June 22, 2012 at 07:32 AM · It seems like she spoils you David, corn chips and beer and all that laziness.

Would that be a wolf note you'd be yodelling instead perhaps? Slightly less embarrassing than the impersonating the great Tarzan, all by yourself on the couch, of course. ;P

June 23, 2012 at 02:52 PM · By the way guys I now have had the sound post reset and so on and it's beautiful!

June 23, 2012 at 07:15 PM · Excellent!

Who ended up paying for it, and how much was it? Just need to answer if you'd rather not...

June 23, 2012 at 09:43 PM · The seller gave me a £15 refund, and getting the sound post reset and chinrest moved was £13.70 plus VAT

June 23, 2012 at 10:06 PM · Thanks! My curiosity is satisfied!

Let us know how you find it, as you get some time in on it...

June 25, 2012 at 02:07 AM · Forget about names... They are all different. Just look for something you can afford that you like. Also, do not neglect the bow; much increase can come from a better bow.

June 30, 2012 at 07:04 PM · My 2 cents as a very poor violinist yet accomplished luthier and guitarist.

I just bought what I have to think is a Chinese violin and case off the local craigslist for $30. Sounded screechy. Pulled the bridge, cut it down, tweaked the sound post, cut the nut properly, did a little planing on the fingerboard, and replaced the strings. Now while not the most beautiful sounding instrument ever made, it plays quite nice, is very responsive, and sounds pretty decent for an investment of one hours work and $60 out of pocket.

I guess my point is, with the budget you are looking at, I would be more prone to find a luthier to give your current fiddle the works and make it the best it could be, and in the mean time continue to save for a true step up, and get a bench made instrument from a lesser known maker.

July 12, 2012 at 03:56 PM · Regarding Yitamusic and the "bidding strategies" discussed in this thread, I highly recommend you do not bid on the auction until the very last few minutes. Just add it to your watch list and make a note of when the auction ends. The reason being, those Chinese EBAY sellers (including Yitamusic) engage in shill bidding and all you're doing is bidding up the price. Also, they set minimum floors on models, so, for example you're not going to get a T19 for $100 total (and if you do see one transact at that price, there's a 99% chance that the "winner" was on of their shill IDs).

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