I'm an adult beginner taking lessons on a serviceable student violin borrowed from my instructor. There's no pressure for me to purchase my own instrument, but I really want to. Of course, it feels a bit like a minefield, and it seems difficult to convince folks to show me a 3/4 size instrument when I would probably be fine with a 4/4. But my instructor feels strongly about this issue, and I trust him, so I'm going with it.
On my first exploratory mission this week, I visited a local dealer who offered to let me try a couple of violins on the spot and assembled some ranging from just below to just above my stated price range. There were four, and after playing them, I immediately picked two whose sound stood out to me, without knowing what they were or what they cost. One was the bottom of the range, and the other was the top.
They both have similar resonance and volume, with the lesser priced one having a tinny and slightly muffled sound though it has better action and a very attractive finish. It was definitely miles better than what I'm currently using. It's a 2003 Scott Cao 017 model. The higher priced violin had a positively divine sound (so far as I can tell) both under the ear, and played across the room by the dealer. The big downsides are the price, the large repaired cracks at top and bottom of the right f-hole - extending all the way to the purfling, and the crudeness of the manufacture. This one is a 1900 Maidstone.
This violin is no beauty queen - more like folk art. The scroll is crudely chip-carved with no attempt to smooth it. The ends of the C-bouts don't match up well with the top plate, the cracks, though stable, are very obvious, the fingerboard is a low grade of ebony (very streaky-not all black, but attractive), and the wood used for the sides and back doesn't look like maple at all. It's like a dog that is so ugly you can't help but like it.
I have been allowed to take both instruments out on trial and still prefer the Maidstone enough that I'm planning to take it to my instructor tonight for his opinion. My family has heard it and agrees that it sounds better than the Scott Cao. At this point in time, I know that I want to try more instruments before I make a decision, but this one may be on my short list for a long time because of how I feel about the sound. It fit me comfortably too. The positioning of everything felt very natural. Maybe that's why this crude instrument has enjoyed such a long history. Who knows?
Maidstones don't generally cost as much as this one. I expect the price has to do with the level of restoration it has had rather than its antique value, but it's still above my original price range.
Am I crazy to short list this one? Does a violin's sound really outweigh the poor manufacture? Will I eventually regret owning an instrument that is not aesthetically pleasing? I'm interested in hearing your opinions and your advice on this.
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