Violin Requiem

April 4, 2015 at 07:53 PM · I have decided to put the violin aside and go back to piano studies after almost 7 years of violin. Maybe I could benefit from second opinions?

Actually, I have enjoyed playing the violin and I think I've made good progress for an amateur. I've played in church a few dozen times over the years and that has been fun.

I am losing the patience for the constant attention that the instrument may need almost daily. An example is my box of violin strings which I would value around $500! And I've lost track of chin and shoulder rests.

Do I own the violin or is it the other way around?

The point is that my violin never gives me a break for too long. What is the violin price point for consistent behavior?

What do the pros know that I don't know about violin maintenance ?

Replies (99)

April 4, 2015 at 08:03 PM · What issues are you having?

April 4, 2015 at 08:50 PM · As far as I am concerned, it's a mutual labor of love-the more you give your violin, the more it gives you back. In my opinion, it's sort of a musical marriage, and similarly deserves proper commitment. That said, I don't consider it a burden, though it requires daily attention and "showings of love" (some players get away with less commitment, and as difficult as piano is, it is probably easier to take days off the piano than with the violin.

April 4, 2015 at 09:11 PM · This morning, my cello sounded pretty poor. Temperature was 62.6 F, humidity 62%.

Now it sounds great, like the cello I know and love, at 63.0 F, 59% humidity.

It's infuriating. I hate it. I have lost about $100 dollars worth in rock stops (worth about $5-10 bucks, the kind I get), broken about $100 in rosin, ripped easily over $1000 in strings, not to mention replacements, have had many extensive repairs on my cello, which still needs about $1500 in repairs if I ever decide to sell, and my winding on my bow popped (salt from sweat and friction wore through the copper/nickel), so it has a bit of my cleaning cloth tied to it as a temporary winding. Which I have had there for about 5?6? months.

I hate it. I have calluses on every finger, my thumb is on fire at the end of every practice session...

I hate it!!!

But it's my darling cello. I love the music it makes. If it were a human we'd be married and get into fights about 4 times an hour, and throw dishes, but the makeup, well, it's great.

Don't give up violin! It's yours; it trusted you, so it spoke to you, flirted. You married (nowadays they say "bought") it, and have spent 7 whirlwind years with it. It is your love. Maybe you get some on the side from piano; fine. So did Rostropovich. I practically have a harem; cello, violin, piano and recorder, and I'm buying another cello today. Probably.

But me and my cello are still married.

So rosin up and go make love, er um, I mean, music.

Hope that helps? Sorry if it's a bit weird.

April 4, 2015 at 09:16 PM ·

April 4, 2015 at 09:52 PM ·

April 4, 2015 at 10:44 PM · I have spent quite a bit of money on my beloved instrument the last few years. It's not even a "valuable" violin, but it is invaluable to me. I had it undergo "new fittings surgery" last month, and as usual, I like experimenting with strings. To be honest, I would never part with it even if I had the money to buy something "special". The ideal kind of violin I would like to also have is beyond my means at this time, anyway. My current one is thus receiving the "jewel of my eye" treatment as of now... and it's thanking me by sounding better than ever (I wish it was just romantic wishful thinking on my part, but it's really doing well now in all regards-it's as if they were "alive", and in part, they really are.)

I do quite honestly believe that the more love you pour on it, (hours of careful practice, commitment to it having a good setup and sound, proper care, learning its "likes and dislikes", etc.) the more it gives you back. You could do MUCH worse than spending some lovely time together with the instrument you love.

(I like how violins tend to be "finicky," the wood or general response "misbehaving" according to the weather and many other variables. Feel quite lucky with mine, despite all the quirks it can sometimes exhibit.)

April 5, 2015 at 12:44 AM · My violin complaint is not mainly about money. However, I can get very irritated about having great practices for a few days and then find that the instrument sounds like early EBay! Or, why can my violin hold almost perfect pitch for a few days and later I have to retune a couple times per session?

Sure, I could spend a lot of "loving care" time at this point just messing with parameters but I don't need that and I sure do not love it!

I can almost be swayed by the "romance" of the violin but there is also a point of diminishing returns. Sometimes my violin sounds incredible but is "sometimes" enough?

April 5, 2015 at 01:06 AM · Your situation sounds absurd, honestly. A violin being kept in reasonable conditions shouldn't be that temperamental, even if it's super-duper cheap. (An old, heavily-repaired instrument is much more likely to be temperamental, but most people with inexpensive violins don't have that kind of violin.)

The room that the violin is kept in should be at a reasonably steady room temperature. If you are keeping it against an exterior wall of the house, or right near a heating/cooling source, or in a place where direct sunlight is shining on it, don't. Put it someplace where the temperature is going to be fairly constant.

Hold the humidity as constant as you can, but you are likely to still have to deal with seasonal humidity changes; it's not unreasonable to expect that if you want it to sound optimal, you'll probably need a soundpost adjustment (just a placement, not a new post) with every major change of season (likely twice a year).

Pick a decent set of strings and stick with them. They need to be changed once every three months or so. Modern synthetics should be extremely stable unless there are major temperature and humidity changes, and even then they should be stable once tuned in an environment. You might have peg-slipping issues related to temperature and humidity changes; that's fixable with peg-compound.

There is no reason why you should be constantly changing chinrests and shoulder-rests. Go to a decent shop. Try combinations until you find something that works for you. Then stop. Do not continue to fool with this. Most violinists find a model of each that works for them and then stick with it for the remainder of their lives (subject to major changes in their bodies that would require some different configuration).

April 5, 2015 at 01:12 AM · Perhaps you've outgrown your current violin and wish for something greater? Wholly valid. It's hard to fall in love with a violin you no longer even like (not bashing your instrument, BTW-just making an observation.)

I would, however, be wary of quitting altogether just because of "bad violin days", if you really enjoy the violin and want to keep improving. "Upgrading" may be a worthy goal at some point, whenever you can afford it (and if in fact your ccurrent instrument is at fault for your partial disappointment.)

Best of luck!

April 5, 2015 at 08:18 AM · I'm struggling to tell if you're joking or not. Why, as an amateur, do you need a box of strings worth $500? (Actually, I'm not sure why anyone would--a set on the fiddle and a spare set is plenty.) Why do you have so many chin rests and shoulder rests? Is it just a matter of looking for the right set-up? And why does the violin need daily maintenance other than tuning? Unless you mean practice, but then that would be the same with piano.

April 5, 2015 at 08:20 AM · Oh, I apologize. I somehow missed the other responses to this thread, thinking I was the first. I agree with Lydia. It sounds like you are fussing over it excessively. I would say the changes in the sound are due to the player, not the instrument. :) We all have days that sound better than others. As for why it stays in tune one day but not the next, it's probably just humidity.

April 5, 2015 at 09:17 AM · Practice sessions are just that. You will have good days and bad days, no matter the instrument. Even if you do go back to the Piano, there will be days you can pull off every technical aspect of a piece and then days where your fingers stumble like they're drunk no matter how much you focus. Sounds like frustration to me but, the trick is either working through the drunk fingers or just taking a break.

Far as the amount spent on the Violin, heed others advice. There's no reasons to have a whole lot of shoulder rests and sets of strings. By your seventh year, you and your luthier should have already figured out a proper setup. Hell, within the first two years this should have been done. I think in the past year, I've spent all of $100 on my violin. That was just for a yearly check up. Also, your strings can last a good while. A lot longer than three months, but again your shop and you should already have things selected by this point.

Tuning is part of playing. This really shouldn't be a surprise to needing to do. If you find one string particularly keeps slipping then, again talk to your luthier. But you will always need to tune the instrument. Wood is temperamental. It expands and contracts. Surely this isn't part of a serious complaint as to why you are quitting?

April 5, 2015 at 11:58 AM · A violin player taking care of his/her violin is nothing compared to a singer taking care of his/her voice. The off days for a singer can REALLY be felt!

April 5, 2015 at 12:27 PM · Michael Rabin once complained to Heifetz about his dissatisfaction with his del Gesu. Quoth the Great H: "Maybe it's not the fiddle"

April 5, 2015 at 12:31 PM · I confess that when exhausted, I sit down at the piano.

April 5, 2015 at 02:11 PM · Darlene; what makes you feel the violin (in general) or your violin (in particular) needs so much maintenance?

April 5, 2015 at 02:15 PM · I bet there are many who seek refuge with a piano. In fact, I determined that a large percentage of the string section in a college/community orchestra were there because they could not carry a piano as easily as a violin. (but they were piano players at heart).

Kevin C ... I know about singers. My son is a member of the Tanglewood chorus and I'm not expecting that he will recover.

Absurd? Did I hear "absurd. " ??? How about my first luthier who was supposed to adjust my sound post. Some improvement ..... bill for services $100.

Six months later I just still was not happy so I went to a high visibility guy with a really neat web site. Same sound post but it must have been better because this bill was $200. I DON'T NEED THIS! Should I go for a world record $300 sound post adjustment??

I am not discounting the possibility that the violin simply does not possess the pedigree to be as good as I want.

April 5, 2015 at 02:26 PM · @N. A. Mohr

The tone quality. It's not only a matter of "sounds good". I have more difficulty with intonation if I have a nasal-like racket going on. Under better conditions the notes just fall where they should.

(Others have told me that I have a "good" ear which might just be a little better than average.)

(I won't even think about a 4-figure bow!!)

April 5, 2015 at 02:43 PM · Before hanging up your hat...would you consider trying out a 'better' violin?

If your current instrument is limited, then it might just be limited and no amount of tweaking will get it to sound the way you expect it to.

That's why I bought my current violin...I wanted to be sure that I wouldn't outgrow it. I wanted to know that if I didn't sound was me and not the instrument (outside of regular maintenance and environmental conditions of course).

April 5, 2015 at 03:09 PM · Maybe.

But I would want to have the instrument for at least a month to feel confident about it. Perhaps that means a rental?

That might be a good idea.

Would you tell me about your violin and your price range?

April 5, 2015 at 04:16 PM · A quick way to change your violin is to put on different mutes, or even various quantities of blue-tack on top of the bridge. This won't make the violin "better", but it may reduce annoying resonances, and give your exhausted ears a break.

Except that a friend asked me why I stuck my used chewing gum on my bridge!

Even the best ear can become "saturated" by a strong formant in the tone; like the retina after looking into a bright light.

April 5, 2015 at 04:27 PM · $200 for a sound post adjustment? Seriously? The local luthier adjusts mine for free. Takes five minutes.

Maybe you mean an entire new sound post? In that case, it seems to me that you are being exceptionally badly served by the luthiers you are going to. Never opt for major surgery when it's possible that medication (adjustment) can fix the problem.

April 5, 2015 at 04:46 PM · I see three possibilities here:

1. You're chasing the unicorn of the perfect set-up. While the instrument, bow and set-up absolutely do make a difference-- sometimes a very drastic difference--the violin is also an extremely difficult instrument, as you well know. I have seen a lot of players, particularly adult students, obsess over every detail of their instruments, when really the solution is just practice and patience. (As far as the sound post adjustment, some people want to spend several hours on it, so if that was the case, I can see why the luthier would charge for his or her time.)

2. You really have outgrown your violin. In that case, I suppose you need to decide if you're willing to invest in a better one. I think after seven years of playing, it would be a shame to toss it all aside now due to this issue. Most shops will allow you a free trial period before buying, although it's usually about two weeks. If you did want it an entire month, you would probably need to pay to rent it, but it should be a fraction of what the instrument itself would cost.

3. Some combination of the two points above. This is the most likely, I think. Can you tell us more about the violin you currently play?

April 5, 2015 at 06:09 PM ·

The $200 sound post is more than just a sound post story and borders on being criminal. I won't bother with the details but I am forever suspicious of luthiers as a result. I also know that there are some outstanding people making great violins but out of my price range.

Adrian I often use a plain tourte mute to kill some high frequency noise but even that only helps to a point.

I Googled Blu Tack and will try some.

My violin was made by a local person who originally was a gunsmith. I've been in his shop which is meticulous. He actually does his best work with carvings on rifle stocks. I've owned other violins and can say that his are OK as student instruments.

April 5, 2015 at 06:46 PM · If you have the interest, you could take a course on violin repair and restoration or set up. Then you can do all kinds of adjustments yourself. Of course it takes a lot of practice before you feel confident enough to work on a somewhat valuable instrument. Since I learned to make violins, I have been doing many of the adjustment things myself. It is a lot of fun and liberating because you don't have to work with the luthier's schedule. But if I had a $4 million Strad, I would still entrust the work with someone who does that level of work.

April 5, 2015 at 07:10 PM · If it is a struggle to afford the cost of maintaining a violin, then that is understandable.

But most things that people desire to do well come with an ongoing cost. Compared to many things people do, the ongoing cost of a violin is rather inexpensive.

For example, back more years than I wish to recall, I was a decent collegiate tennis player. The cost of replacing broken strings, worn grips, torn-up shoes and dead balls ran almost $500/month.

Then there was new clothes to replace the sweat-stained ones every few months, new rackets every year and court rental time during the winter and the occasional session with a teacher.

When my son took up the sport (he now does it professionally), I bought a stringing machine and restrung his rackets myself (I still do) or else face bankruptcy >g<.

By comparison, the only ongoing cost for my violin is a new set of strings every 6 months or so. A decent set runs about $35 and a very expensive set with strings purchase individually might run about $100.

April 5, 2015 at 08:56 PM · The $200 sound-post adjustment is a rip-off. $100 for making a new post and spending an hour with you to adjust it *might* be reasonable, but there are probably places who do student violin soundposts for $25. If a soundpost needs five minutes and a love-tap, the shop will probably do it for free; if you want to spend an hour, they'll probably charge you a bit for their time (but certainly not $200).

I've known players who like to have the set-up checked before each major performance in which they'll be individually heard, in addition to an adjustment each season. If you're in extremes of climate, you might have two soundposts (a winter and a summer post, basically). But you shouldn't need to constantly be messing with the soundpost, or any other aspect of set-up.

Adjustments can help optimize an instrument but won't change the basic character of the violin. The more expensive the violin gets, the more it makes sense to pay for tweaking, since the tweaking is only a small percentage of the cost of the instrument. The cheaper the instrument is, the more it makes sense to save that money for an upgrade instead of blowing it on tweaks, especially short-term tweaks (more expensive strings, frequent adjustments, etc.).

I stand by my assertion that a properly cared-for violin shouldn't be exposed to sufficient deltas of temperature and humidity to dramatically change its sound day to day.

April 5, 2015 at 09:42 PM · I have wondered about just how much effect ambient conditions might have and I do not doubt your cautions.

However, I live in North Carolina where we can go from tropic luxury to arctic express in a day and then have to deal with jungle conditions for a few months in the Summer.

But I don't know the realistic answer to this problem and I have to wonder if "better" violins are more immune?

April 5, 2015 at 10:33 PM · Better instruments aren't likely to be any more stable and some of them may be worse (antiques with more repairs, for instance). Wood is, to some extent, wood.

Even with significant changes outside, though, the environment inside your house should be pretty stable, assuming that you have A/C, heating, and don't keep the windows open constantly (which would lead to more humidity fluctuations). If you don't have good environmental control inside the house, I'd suggest putting the violin somewhere that tends to be more stable (an interior closet, maybe) and trying to practice in a room that's more stable.

Even so, the impact shouldn't be that great. My violin survived just fine day-to-day through 100-degree Philadelphia summers when I had no A/C and left the windows open for a breeze, although it did need an adjustment for the weather (but ONE adjustment, not a bunch). Violins survived just fine in earlier centuries, too.

If you play your violin outside, all bets are off. If you do that, figure that it's going to sound like what it's going to sound like, and consider steel strings for tuning stability.

I notice that you mentioned that your violin was made by a local fellow who might or might not be a professional luthier. It's entirely possible that your instrument has issues that others don't -- a glue formulation that's temperamental with small environmental changes, wood choice, varnish composition, etc. I leave it to one of the luthiers to enumerate what can go wrong if a violin isn't made in an expected fashion.

April 5, 2015 at 10:53 PM · I think the answer is to borrow a nicer violin from a shop and see if your problems go away. If they don't, you're probably either doing something wrong with where you store it (my husband has great stories about people keeping instruments directly over air vents and wondering why they go out of tune so often!) or it is just a matter of you being dissatisfied with your current level of playing.

April 6, 2015 at 12:47 AM · I almost wish the problem was my level of playing because then I would know what need fixing :)

Rental seems like a good way to go.

April 6, 2015 at 12:56 AM · Quite honestly, two main problems that could bring dissatisfaction and more importantly, slow down progress is 1)poor playability and 2)too low volume. A nicer sound can be more or less negotiated with strings and setup, but as long as you can play without hurting your technique-or even yourself-and can draw a decent tone, the violin is working out for you.

Nothing wrong with liking the piano more-it does feel, however, as if you are blaming an inconsistent violin for your lack of interest to keep working on it. If I was really interested, I wouldn't quit even if I had a much poorer instrument than what I currently have. So, of course you are not me, but as I said, either see a new violin as a goal to works towards for, or just commit to piano-as it's difficult enough-if that's what you really enjoy.

Of course you conceivably could do both, but it would probably take all your effort and commitment to keep both at a very high level.

Many great players have had to play on "poor" instruments due to circumstances beyond their control. Violins can get expensive enough, and to find that old no name instrument that sounds really great (I.E. a great value violin with a "professional" tone) is really difficult, taking a bit of luck. Let those players be an example to all of us, and always remember that most of the tone is in our bow arm and fingers.

No offense intended. Good luck, whatever your choices may be.

April 6, 2015 at 02:31 AM · Sounds like you're a piano player at heart. Second opinions shouldn't have any bearing on where your heart is. Honestly, if problems like these seem like a good reason to actually give up the instrument, then that's what you should do.

April 6, 2015 at 11:12 AM · Life is too short for drinking bad wine and playing an instrument you don't like.... get a violin you like to play.

April 6, 2015 at 05:11 PM · My ears perked up when you said your violin was made by the local gunsmith. Was it his second or third violin, or his 102nd or 103rd? If the former, go to the local violin shop and try a few $500 Chinese violins. Buy the one you like the best and don't look back.

Otherwise just stick to the piano. I play both and I can see where one might do that.

April 6, 2015 at 05:36 PM · Before giving up violin entirely, try viola. It's a lot of fun to play and a bit more forgiving.

April 6, 2015 at 05:45 PM · Everyone I've talked to says the viola is even harder to get right in terms of setup -- maybe not a good choice for someone who has tried dozens of CR/SR combinations on the violin.

April 6, 2015 at 06:02 PM · Wait until you get the bill for a piano tune up....

I suggest the kazoo.

April 6, 2015 at 06:41 PM · Paul: Indeed, finding the right size viola and strings (see Rod Brown's threads) can take forever. But as far as making sound goes, it is easier to make a less screechy sound on a viola than on a violin.

I say forget about chinrest and shoulder rest. Just go for broke, uh I meant baroque!

April 6, 2015 at 07:08 PM · I'm still finding my right set up, but it's immensely helpful to have a Kreddle adjustable chin rest (expensive) and a few sheets of 1-inch foam from the fabric store (cheap, as in $3 cheap) held down with rubber bands. I cut up some pieces, slip a few here, slip a few there, until it's comfortable, and then strap it down with the rubber bands. Then I play it for while and figure out that shifting is hard, so I adjust the foam or the chin rest. Then play it some more and figure out what works and doesn't. I've been changing things over weeks. Curiously, my foam formation looks a lot like the back of an Acoustagrip. After some time, I could go out and buy an Acoustagrip, but I didn't spend tons of money figuring out that I needed one!

April 6, 2015 at 08:16 PM · Kevin

After a violin, even a 15" viola feels heavy and people make cruel jokes about violas!


The gunsmith actually has a few EBays hanging in the shop for his wife's student business. His violins seem to be OK under the circumstances.

(I wonder if he ever made a violin that also shoots bullets?}


Pianos go out of tune?


Your story really resonates with me. Get out now before it"s too late.

April 6, 2015 at 08:58 PM ·

April 6, 2015 at 11:35 PM · I'm in basic agreement with all you say about string cleaning BUT something else happens. The violin sounds sweeter OK but only for maybe 20 minutes. (Hey, I don't know 20 minutes of music anyhow!)

April 7, 2015 at 01:34 AM · In my area piano tuning goes for $85, that is in the same ballpark as a bow rehair by the time you include shipping to Miami, and my piano (a Yamaha U3) needs tuning once per year at most. It's a 40-year-old piano and my piano technician advised me to get a new set of bass strings that cost about $700 including installation. He also installed a humidistat in it which cost a couple hundred maybe. That's the total outlay for my piano which I've had for about 15 years. Even that $700 is much less than I've spent on violin strings in the 15 years that I've owned this piano. I did have to pay to have it shipped to my home from Philadelphia, where I bought it, but I don't need a rider for it on my homeowner's insurance because pianos are considered furniture. If you want a really low-maintenance piano I recommend Yamaha digital pianos highly. You can practice at all hours with headphones.

April 7, 2015 at 02:57 AM · Yamaha seems to have a good reputation for musical instruments.

Our newest church organist, a real pro, was seriously worried before we got a humidistat.

Your dollar figures for piano maintenance are less than I pay for strings.

April 7, 2015 at 03:30 AM · Why do you buy so many strings?

Was it to search for the "right" sound for your violin?

Was it because you wear them out too fast? (I believe you use Helicores? So Id be surprised if was that)

April 7, 2015 at 03:51 AM · I replace my strings about every six months. Generally by this time one of them will have winding coming unraveled anyway.

April 7, 2015 at 04:09 AM · Right.

So if someone (that's normally the case) replaced their dtrings every 6 months. That's two sets of strings a year. Times that by years played (in this case 7), multiply by an average string set cost of $50, let's say...

That'd be $700.

That's the cost of doing business. It's not like the strings are wasted, they get used and then replaced. Same goes for your toothbrush, the brakes on your car, etc

April 8, 2015 at 03:16 AM · What is a refined bridge?

I would suggest at least 20x to track rosin splash.

Congratulation on identifying string widgets !

April 8, 2015 at 03:16 AM · What is a refined bridge?

I would suggest at least 20x to track rosin splash.

Congratulation on identifying string widgets!

April 8, 2015 at 04:12 AM · My money is on the gunsmith violin being incorrectly made in one or more small details. I agree with the suggestion to try a rental student violin of step-up quality from a reputable shop.

April 8, 2015 at 04:00 PM · Try a different violin! You could have put that $500 spent on strings toward a decent chinese step-up violin.

On the string front -- pick a known-to-be-good set of strings and stick with them for a while. It's easy to be seduced by the latest "sounds just like gut" or "makes your violin sound like a strad" string statements, but I find that most of the top string brands work OK on a violin setup for that particular string. Just get some Dominants, Visions, Evahs, or whatever and go practice!

Or, you could quit and just play piano. Violin isn't for everyone and some would say we're a bit crazed.

April 8, 2015 at 04:27 PM · Seraphim someone said that piano maintenance is expensive but my point was that violin maintenance in my experience is more so.

April 8, 2015 at 04:40 PM · It also happens that I am in a "next level" situation in addition to my violin issues. I have satisfied my early ambitions. Is "next level" worth the commitment?

April 8, 2015 at 06:08 PM · Messing with the setup costs money, but practice doesn't cost any money.

April 8, 2015 at 06:15 PM · Time is money. And practice takes time. So practice costs money. LOL.

April 8, 2015 at 07:48 PM · That's why I don't practice much.

April 8, 2015 at 07:58 PM · I think Ms. Roth already made up her mind. That's OK. It was not the violin at fault, as she said-and even if the instrument wasn't ideal, but lack of commitment/interest. "That's why I don't practice much" and "is the next level worth the commitment?" were among the most telling comments. That said, every instrument will take some time to master-even the piano, though it's harder to make unpleasant tones with the latter.

Even as an amateur, if you love it you will put the effort in it. There are no magical shortcuts for a violin to sound better. You get better, the violin sounds better. It's a long road before you really sound excellent playing the violin (and I do not mean to disparage your playing skill, as you can sound good even now.) Amateurs could possibly reach and maintain virtuoso levels of playing, if the work is there, and while there may not be thousands of them, there have been such players throughout history.

April 8, 2015 at 10:04 PM · A few major differences between violin and piano:

Pianists hardly ever get into experimenting with different strings, chinrests, shoulder rests, bridges, tailpieces, afterlengths etc.

Darlene, maybe all the easily available options and experiments on a violin are too stressful for you, when you might do more like a piano player, and just play the darned thing?

April 8, 2015 at 11:34 PM · I can certainly understand one not appreciating the attention a violin might require - especially in an adverse climate. It was the story of my life from age 4 - 27 living on the east coast. OH! THE WAY THE PEGS WOULD STICK or SLIP. And the discomfort of my chinrest and the teachers who would not let me use a shoulder rest (in fact I'd never heard of shoulder rests).

Well my problems are now largely solved.

1. I moved to California when I was 27.

2. Synthetic core strings arrived when I was 36. And more and more brands of better and better strings.

3. Started trying different styles of chinrests and discovered shoulder rests in my 30s

3. And geared pegs (Pegheds, Knilling Perfection Planetary Pegs, Wittners) starting when I was about 70 - almost in time to sooth my arthritis.

4. My body had changed enough when I was 75 that it was time to look into different chin and shoulder rests (sorry Lydia!).

So now -- I've got nothing to blame it on but myself - but after all this time - I've earned it.

But I remember sitting at orchestra rehearsal before the session started 10 or so years ago when the harpist rolled in with this grand-piano-shaped case on a dolly. She opened it, carefully levered her harp to the floor and started to tune it - so she does is about 30 minutes of tuning for about 10 minutes of playing - actually even when its a concerto her part is not much longer than that!

Violin ain't so bad!

One other thought - If the glue holding the neck block is not good hide glue, the violin could be slowly collapsing - check it out!


April 8, 2015 at 11:35 PM · SORRY - double post!

April 9, 2015 at 12:59 AM · I guess piano would be a good choice for the casual player. After all, someone new to piano can make a decent sound on the piano in exactly 0 seconds of trying. But a violin-player needs up to 1 year (suzuki method or some other method?) of playing on a cereal box in order to even begin trying. Then when you begin trying to play violin, you may not even produce a decent sound.

Piano sounds decent at all levels of playing. Violin, however.... I've heard students who have been learning for more than 10 years only be able to play at an okay level.

Violin is also more dangerous -- the awkward positioning of hands/arms, strain on the shoulders, allergies to nickel, finger callouses, wrist strain, bruises where your right index finger and top right corner of the right thumb presses into the bow and the numbness that results from that -- I get some of these after playing for a day. Playing piano, however -- no injuries at all, after over 10 years of playing.

But violin is so worth it! Personally, I believe that violin is has a much bigger range of expression. It sounds like a voice! It has emotion! Piano, in comparison, reminds me of a passive, mysterious thing that could be an alien. It doesn't speak the same language. And this may just be me, but I find that I cannot part from my violin. When I play on other violins, I feel guilty for betraying my own. But when I play on other pianos, I feel fine -- violin is so much more a personal thing.

But I don't know. It's up to you -- think about why you decided to play the violin in the first place -- is it because you love playing violin? If so, don't give it up for piano -- if violin isn't that big of a deal to you, don't worry about it so much and just switch to piano. If you don't have the resources (time, money, patience) to commit to violin, which is a huge commitment, stick to a casual relationship with the piano. hehehe.

:) Good luck!

April 9, 2015 at 02:03 AM · There is another important aspect to consider. Typical violin music arrangements call for other instruments. I know that there is plenty of important violin solo music but that is not a typical role.

The piano is much more satisfying on a stand alone basis. Not only for the listener but the performer as well.

April 9, 2015 at 03:58 AM · Perhaps it is time to give up playing the violin.

Have you considered taking up playing a fiddle instead?

April 9, 2015 at 04:19 AM · The world could always use more cellists...

Piano is nice too.

Dat cello tho.

April 9, 2015 at 05:28 AM · My daughter kidnapped the cello.

My son borrowed the guitar 12 years ago.

April 11, 2015 at 06:51 AM · Having spent the last 15 years setting up violins I agree with Lydia Leongs post of 5th April. The fact you have some good times shows your fiddle has potential to satisfy your playing needs. All violins change has been stated with environmental conditions, but for it to be unplayable is odd. As Lydia says settle on a shoulder and chin rest combo that suits you best. Pick a set of strings that have a good reputation for stability and stick with them (you can change later). Then note down , on paper, over a period of a few weeks the issues you have with the violin and take them to a reputable luthier ($200 sounds like a rip off). They should then be able to offer you solutions. That is how I resolve issues with tricky violins. Stick with it, issues can always be improved and usually cured.

April 11, 2015 at 07:54 PM · You may be just the person to address a certain question. Is it sometimes legitimate to simply "outgrow" a given violin? Why do people upgrade?

I would only continue with the violin if an upgrade was in the future. Sure, some of the problem will always be me but the violin shares a lot of the "blame".

(Part of the problem is that one studio let me loose in the "good" showroom where I could play from $5000 up. Maybe that was a mistake :)

April 11, 2015 at 08:33 PM · Darlene, you wrote: "There is another important aspect to consider. Typical violin music arrangements call for other instruments. I know that there is plenty of important violin solo music but that is not a typical role.

The piano is much more satisfying on a stand alone basis. Not only for the listener but the performer as well."

I disagree with you. Forty years ago I was playing classical guitar and my teacher gave me the Segovia transcription of the Bach Chaconne. He told me there was enough music just in the Chaconne to last for a lifetime. I played it and played it until I had large portions of it memorized and then decided I wanted to play it on violin. There is so much music for solo violin - enough for several lifetimes. And so much more for violin/piano and for small chamber groups. That's my pitch. I hope it's helpful.

April 11, 2015 at 09:02 PM · My intent is not to suggest that one kind of music is somehow better than another.

I just want to come away with the feeling of enjoying what I play and maybe providing some entertainment along the way.

I don't think I've ever noticed a public concert where the feature was a solo instrument?

(I would amend that for classical guitar which I think might be the most difficult of instruments.)

April 11, 2015 at 11:34 PM · Yes, you definitely can outgrow an instrument. You may have done just that.

April 12, 2015 at 12:08 AM · Violinists sometimes give solo recitals without an accompanist. More often than not this is solo Bach (the unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas), sometimes mingled with the Ysaye solo sonatas. But there's certainly other unaccompanied music; Wikipedia has a list:

You can certainly outgrow an instrument, and in fact you are largely expected to outgrow a low-quality instrument.

When I was a kid, my parents bought me my first full-size violin (a contemporary instrument by a reputable maker), which my teacher deemed inadequate nevertheless but which he decided he could live with. My next teacher insisted that I needed an upgrade but my parents couldn't afford it. When I started playing the violin again as an adult, I felt like I wanted a better instrument; shortly after I started looking, my teacher told me that I needed to upgrade, which was fine.

In the last two years of playing again, I've always had the lust for a better instrument but the feeling that my existing violin (a nice "modern" Italian) was perfectly adequate. I've just practically impulse-bought a better violin, though, which probably wasn't entirely rational (but it is clearly making me a better player, so even though it wasn't a necessary upgrade, it is a beneficial one).

Nice thing about being an adult: Being able to indulge in buying the things that you want, assuming they are within your budget and/or your willingness to sacrifice elsewhere.

April 12, 2015 at 01:03 AM · To say there is plenty of solo violin repertoire like the Chaconne has kind of a "let them eat cake" ring to it. You have to wotk up to that level first. On this point I'm with Darlene. But there are always pianists around who are willing to run through stuff. I never thought I would be one to say this, but this is where the "social media" can help. Organize!

On the other hand, if you've already polished the Chaconne and you're still bored, there is always 'the last rose of summer' by Ernst...

April 12, 2015 at 02:54 AM · I might be afraid that I WILL find the violin I can't resist which

(of course) will be right at the tipping point of my budget.

Maybe I just should not shop (but I will).

April 12, 2015 at 06:33 AM · Solo violin recitals are very inspiring and amazing. Hoping to see Mr. Shaham play the 6 Sonatas/Partitas at Carnegie Hall later this year, but the Bach/Reger solo recital Ms. Shoji gave about 3 years ago at the Kennedy Center has stayed in my memory as one of the most impressive and moving of all time.

Of course, most recital worthy solo violin music tends to be very advanced, and even in the few cases where the technical demands are not as high, the performer must play at a very convincing musical level.

I do agree with the idea that a better instrument will help you get further ahead-as well as better inspire you on your journey-granted that you put the work on it. If the violin's playability is very poor and it's too hard to draw a decent tone, progress becomes not only slow, but it's also much harder to remain motivated for many players (no amount of string fiddling or setup can help a very problematic instrument.)

(Of course, one has to also be realistic and not expect a "super violin" is out there for a super low price-maybe, but not likely. When shopping on a budget, don't go for provenance, but more for playability, projection, and tone, and bring help with you if possible.)

April 12, 2015 at 11:44 AM · Hi Darlene, I tried to send you an email but it bounced back as undeliverable. I have something I would like to offer you to try out on your violin. Please contact me if you are interested. I have been following your various postings and find them interesting and helpful. I hope you continue on with your violin. I played as a child in school. After I graduated from high school I got married and had a family. Well, 44 years later I picked it up again. I am thoroughly enjoying myself, sort of wished I had picked it up earlier. I have an excellent teacher who is very patient with an older player. I can not imagine life without my music.

April 12, 2015 at 02:29 PM · Seems you have a good thing happening and that is nice to hear.

About this thread .....

There are many posts in defense of one sort of music or another but I'm not interested in that subject right now.

My concern is about rewards. What are the personal rewards of my playing violin? The good sound and stability of a decent violin should be one of the most important rewards.

April 12, 2015 at 02:46 PM · I agree. If you are struggling with sound quality...then find an instrument whose sound rewards your efforts.

It could well be that your current instrument is a dud...or that you just don't like the way it sounds. No need to feel bad or guilty about that.

The nice thing about being an adult is that you can make your own purchases. You are not relying on someone else to decide for you.

If you want to buy a violin that is 'too good' for your current playing ability...go ahead and buy it (provided you can afford it).

Having/taking pleasure in an instrument isn't one-dimensional. You can take pleasure in the sound of the instrument, in the look of the instrument, the maker of the instrument, the provenance of the instrument, the investment potential...etc. They are ALL valid.

Life is just too short to deny yourself reasonable and attainable pleasures...

April 12, 2015 at 03:22 PM · I happen to have an acquaintance who is in the violin business and maybe I should give him a call (for old times sake) ?

Just to say "Hello".

April 12, 2015 at 03:27 PM · Sure! Why not? Could be fun!

What about your teacher? What do they say?

April 12, 2015 at 04:42 PM · Only had a teacher for a short time but I think the accumulated wisdom from this forum is hard to top.

I may be criticized for not having a teacher when I really have dozens? (and they all like better violins!!!)

April 12, 2015 at 04:54 PM · It might be worthwhile to get a lesson or two...from a good help you sort out some of your questions.

It's one thing to get advice on-line, and quite another to get advice in real-life.

We can't see or hear your instrument.

April 12, 2015 at 08:08 PM · My game plan includes a teacher. I tinker with some violins in her little showroom and she complains that I use too much bow pressure but I never had scheduled lessons with her.

I might wind up in her shop again before it's over.

April 12, 2015 at 09:28 PM · I hope I don't come off as offensive, because I have no such intentions.

The violin is harder than everything else, all things considered. Holding the violin alone-not to mention, the bow arm-feels initially very unnatural for the body to adapt to. It's very hard to advance on one's own, especially when one is not at a more advanced stage. Indeed, a good teacher will help you teach yourself better, but it SEEMS you may not be at that stage where you can rapidly advance on your own(accept my humble apologies if that's not the case.)

Of course, it's much better to keep at it while being careful than to quit altogether due to lack of teachers, and many can be expensive (and for good reason-they do deserve to be paid well.) My point is not to forget about it if you don't have a good teacher, but to consider how impossibly difficult it is to advance without proper guidance.

I certainly don't doubt that your current violin may be troublesome, but be aware that normally violins are not as "moody", even the older ones-at least not enough to totally ruin one's hopes for a better tone. A teacher did tell you that you may be pressing or perhaps "crushing" the tone. I cannot say anything about you, but this won't ever sound good (when professionals apply pressure, it generally sounds clean and powerful, not crushed.) Bad practice days happen, and especially given that you are not practicing as much-the instrument is quite unforgiving in not allowing you too much time off, at least if you want to keep improving and sounding good at a steady rate.

Playing the vast violin repertoire is its own reward. Why should one practice Paganini Caprices if not for its own intrinsic reward? Yes, you can gain a lot from studying difficult things, but besides attaining and maintaining technical (and ultimately, musical) facility, in the end you just don't keep at it for a magical reward other than playing great music with the violin. If you don't want to advance further, that's totally OK. But there are no carrots towards achieving better violin proficiency. Not even money is enough-one works hard on the violin because one loves its musical possibilities-gauging if "it's worth it" is out of the question, as far as I am concerned, because it's jut what you do as a violin and music lover.

I would suggest for all violinists of all levels, beginners to masters, to keep listening to great performances of music (recorded or even better, live), in order to remain inspired, when feeling a bit "off" with their instrument. Sometimes we don't realize how incredibly lucky we are to even play a single open note on our beautiful violins. Live in it and for it-the "sacrifices" are nothing compared to the amazing potential of making incredible music with our bowed string instruments.

April 12, 2015 at 10:07 PM · A great violin can sound terrible in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to play one. It is like giving a beginning driver a Lamborghini. It is not clear if the OP actually needs to upgrade or downgrade.

April 12, 2015 at 10:47 PM · I couldn't disagree more. A better instrument will help almost any player advance faster. The OP most certainly does not need to downgrade. I'm not really sure how possible it would even be to downgrade from a violin made by an amateur maker who is a gunsmith.

The playability of an instrument is a different thing entirely from its sound quality (I find Gaglianos very difficult to play, not that I am in the demographic to afford one). The OP would benefit from a well set-up violin with a good sound that is easy to play.

April 12, 2015 at 11:57 PM · So a Lamborghini is good for a beginning driver?

I know a kid who sounded terrible on a decent old German violin but ok on an Eastman.

April 13, 2015 at 12:25 AM · I think a more apropos comparison would be learning to drive on an 09 Accord vs a 71 Dodge Dart. Nobody is talking about acquiring a Lamborghini.

April 13, 2015 at 12:28 AM · I'm game to try the Lamborghini!

...just puttin' that out there...

April 13, 2015 at 12:34 AM · I have played some very good violins in studios and have come away feeling like they played by themselves. True bliss!

My current violin has some good moments (seasons ?) but is very moody.

This is very distracting and not something anyone would enjoy.

April 13, 2015 at 12:41 AM · Violins will react to weather/climate/ambient temperature changes (and all that).

Are you sure that's not what you are finding unpleasant?

April 13, 2015 at 11:58 AM · The only time anyone could possibly benefit from a downgrade is for Old Time. For that you basically need a box with tin strings to sound legit. Otherwise, no one ever needs to downgrade.

April 13, 2015 at 03:31 PM · N.A.

I may have noticed that my pegs behave differently with the seasons but I am suspicious of short range changes. After all, Strads today are just the same as a few hundred years ago. ( that is stability !)

April 13, 2015 at 03:51 PM · Darlene, you're joking, right?

April 13, 2015 at 05:31 PM · Yeah!

My info says that most existing Strads have been modified or repaired so maybe I should surf under "used instruments" :)

April 13, 2015 at 06:37 PM · Maybe it should be a new thread, but I'd like to ask some of the really experienced teachers and professional players (like Mary Ellen) more about the importance of the violin to the player's tone. I realize promising students should have good instruments that they can grow into. But yesterday, my daughter and I attended a master class with cellist Steve Doane (wonderful). A high schooler played some of a Beethoven sonata, and as Mr. Doane was working with her, he played some short passages from it too. The difference in sound was tremendous. The young woman was playing a modern American cello that is in the $20-25k range. Doane's cello is undoubtedly superior. But how much so? How much of the difference in sound that I heard was due to the cello, and how much to the superior skill of a master cellist vs. a talented student? I don't think mine is an uncommon observation, surely you have seen this in master classes too.

April 13, 2015 at 08:57 PM · ... and how much was it due the bow? In fact, the sound is product of: the instrument, the player and the bow.... plus the listener.

April 13, 2015 at 09:12 PM · Too true, Rocky! :)

While I'm not as experienced as Mary Ellen, I think the player is the most important factor in the sound, but of course it's a combination of everything involved. Also, there's an alchemy between player, instrument, set-up and bow that can't be overlooked. Even amongst instruments of equal quality (all the way up to the Lambos...), some players will respond better to certain instruments than others.

April 13, 2015 at 09:14 PM · Paul, Steve Doane is an amazing player. Good luck trying to differentiate between the instrument and his playing skill.

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

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

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

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

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian 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