The Fickle Violin

July 17, 2015 at 05:25 PM · I am at the point where Shar "intermediate" is looking doable but my progress is being seriously threatened. I have considered giving it all up.

The problem is that I am weary of finding my violin may have a different personality every day. Sometimes I will abort a session after a few bars. Sometimes the music is so good that I wonder who is playing! Sometimes I have to play 15 or 20 minutes to "wake" the violin up.

Maybe it's me? The violin? Are the gremlins in the bow? The rosin? The weather?

Am I the only one with this problem?


July 17, 2015 at 07:59 PM · If you are a busy person (like so many of us) then I would recommend starting each practicing session just playing some very slow scales just to see how well you are able to focus your attention.

July 17, 2015 at 09:01 PM · Darlene, have you brought your violin to a luthier to have it looked at and adjusted as needed? I think a good luthier has uncanny intuition when inspecting an instrument and will say you need this done or that done, and ask you permission to make these changes. If your instrument has been frequently looked after these adjustments will be seem subtle or barely perceptible, but a violin that has not been cared for in a while could possibly sound immensely better with a few changes.

You have been an ardent poster here for over a year, I hope you do stick with the violin, it is so easy to get frustrated and give up at times. Possibly the violin or bow doesn't suit you, would it be possible to try out another instrument that would allow you to shine brightly in your solos?

July 18, 2015 at 05:39 AM · Darlene, when you say you consider giving it all up, you mean this violin, don't you?

July 18, 2015 at 12:40 PM · You seem to post these. "I'm about ready to give up" threads on a regular basis.

Violins ARE fickle instruments. You either accept their capricious ways and embrace it, or seat yourself down at your piano and call it a day.

July 18, 2015 at 12:42 PM · This space for rent for whomever wants to post the ever ubiquitous "HOW ABOUT GETTING A TEACHER" reply.

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July 18, 2015 at 01:09 PM · My violin sounds different all the time...

Some of it I can definitely attribute to the environment...especially this year when we are having extremes of drought and rain...

Some of it I can definitely attribute to things such as new strings, old strings, the bow...too much rosin, not enough rosin, etc.

The rest is definitely me! :D

July 18, 2015 at 04:20 PM · My violin is extremely stable. It pretty much sounds the same all the time. Same with my daughter's violin. Mine is a 2006 Polish instrument and hers was made in Germany in 1895 or so. We both have gear pegs, which helps a lot.

I suggest buying 15 different cakes of rosin and trying them all over a two-year period. Then report back to us how it went.

July 19, 2015 at 11:29 AM · To be clear...these are very subtle changes in sound I'm talking about...under my ear. I notice them, but I doubt anyone else would, other than perhaps my teacher.

July 19, 2015 at 12:54 PM · I notice the "muggy-ness" as I call it every humid days, no one else notices it but myself being closest to the violin, I cannot stand the sound of my violin when it rains outside. Basically if the case humidity indicates over 75%, I let it sit for the day.

July 19, 2015 at 05:11 PM · "The problem is that I am weary of finding my violin may have a different personality every day."

LOL, not unlike husbands. But if husbands stay the same from day to day, we get accused of being boring. Danged if you do, and danged if you don't. :-)

July 19, 2015 at 05:26 PM · Yes, we have no chance. We are never on the same wavelegth.

Might as well just resort to alcohol ...

July 20, 2015 at 07:17 AM · It might not even be worth saying, but, if you are struggling for the sound you want, to you ever check to see if there is rosin caked on the string? That affected me for a while before I realised what was happening, and shifted to a lighter rosin that did not do this to the same extent.

July 22, 2015 at 12:07 PM · Yes, I have been giving up the violin for a long time while I do a lot of soul searching.

What is my purpose for playing the violin? Sometimes I feel that the effort exceeds the rewards. I'm finding the piano to be much more user friendly.

Then too, there is the challenge of personal progress. I am in "mid violin crisis". I could turn the corner and be much better with some serious ,focussed , effort

Then there is my violin. I am finding that I'm beginning to "outplay" my violin which is not surprising. I would guess my "sounds good" threshold is now about $5k. To. 10k.

Finally, what to expect as a layman player?

Come to think of it, not uncommon to find piano players who also play violin.

Economy of scale !

July 22, 2015 at 12:42 PM · I'm wondering if you're subtly pulling the bridge when you tune.

My instrument sounds dramatically different in its amount of resonance, with just a small tap of the bridge into the right or wrong place -- certainly within the delta caused by normal tuning especially when new strings are breaking in.

July 22, 2015 at 02:47 PM · If the bridge is being pulled out of position (however slightly) during tuning this can only be due to friction between the string and the bridge. Two things to bear in mind:

1) The string must be a correct fit in the groove (if the groove is too narrow or its profile is incorrect the string will tend to jam). The remedy is to correct the profile - it's fairly quick and easy for a violin technician if you don't feel up to it.

2) Minimize the friction between the string and the groove in the bridge by rubbing soft pencil lead into the groove - 3B will do. I do this regularly because I tune from the pegs, and always when I change strings.

The same considerations apply to the grooves in the nut at the peg box end of the fingerboard.

July 22, 2015 at 03:48 PM · is it the bridge moving, or the string getting caught on something and being stretched slightly more or less?

July 22, 2015 at 10:33 PM · " Sometimes I feel that the effort exceeds the rewards."

I think the violin is not a good choice for a hobby unless the effort itself is already part of the reward.

July 23, 2015 at 03:45 AM · I would have to agree with Paul. I learn the violin because I feel I must. It is the constant effort and struggle involved which I find interesting. Yes, on some days it sounds awful but on other days it sounds pretty good. I do not blame the violin ; it is me. I am a shift worker and I notice that it is hard to get a good sound when I am tired and lack sleep.

I also fail to see why you have to spend $10,000 to get a decent violin ? A good violinist can make even a VSO sound good. I know because I have heard them do it.

You can blame the strings but never the violin !

July 23, 2015 at 07:19 AM · "I also fail to see why you have to spend $10,000 to get a decent violin ? A good violinist can make even a VSO sound good. I know because I have heard them do it."


Yes, a really good violinist can make almost any violin sound good. But there will be a difference in how much of their total concentration reservoir is required to do this, and how much effort. And there will still be significant differences in how the various violins sound and project.

When considering instruments, virtually all good players will play them in front of their professional peers at some point to get feedback, often numerous times. If they could make them all sound the same, there would be no point to doing this.

That's not to say that just any ol' 10K instrument will necessarily be better than any 5K instrument, or that a 30K instrument will necessarily be better than the 10K instrument. Depends on the specific fiddle. If utility and sound always had a firm relationship with price, musicians would be able to make a decision on price alone.

July 23, 2015 at 12:07 PM · If a fine violinist can get a good sound out of a $500 VSO, however, then what kind of sound will (s)he get from a good violin?

The other thing is that as we progress as violinists, our ability to hear the difference between an okay violin and a good violin likely improves. So either you stop going up in price once you can no longer hear the difference, or you pay a professional with better discernment to help you shop until you reach the limit of your budget.

July 23, 2015 at 01:03 PM · it's a big mystery to me. It's one thing I wanted to ask you violin players about since you probably track this stuff better than anybody - if you can detect slight changes in violins, like varnish, wood types, etc. I don't mean oak vs. mahogany. I mean maple grown in Canada vs. Vermont. And if it's worth the money. I know about some blind strat tests where people were plenty embarrassed. Which leads me to ask maybe strats get WORSE with age, not better. At least after a certain point. Also if the player can tell the difference, can the orchestra? how about the audience? I know guitarists who agonize over finish types, joint types, finish thickness, etc. I've heard some incredible stories. I can't imagine paying 80,000 for an instrument. I know of only 2 or 3 guitars that cost that much, and its 95% because they are collectors items. Almost nobody plays them. I don't understand it. I can't imagine a violin is that much more difficult to make than a guitar.

July 23, 2015 at 01:12 PM · Ezra, I think the short answer is that guitars are not violins. There really is no similarity in how they are made or the expectation that players have for tonal quality. That is probably mostly because the guitar is not a bowed instrument. My first "real" violin was made by a man who was primarily known as a guitar maker (Claude Watson of San Diego, long deceased), and it's an *awful* violin. But very pretty.

My perception is that the choice of certain types of wood and other materials is a matter of not only final tonal quality but also the physical characteristics from the vantage of the luthier (strong, workable, ages predictably, takes varnish well, long-term stability, etc.)

I think one reason why folks keep making violins out of the same materials is precisely because of how WELL certain instruments have held up for 400 years. They've been taken apart, altered, reassembled how many times? And they still play great.

July 23, 2015 at 01:17 PM · I can't agree with you so fast about the guitar being so much easier to make or the expectation for sound. There is a durability question though. There are no 400 year old guitars because they didn't exist back then. And from what I remember, they eventually warp. But thats because they are bigger. A violin has much more wood per square inch. Can you tell differences between finishes for example? Are these 80k instruments very very old? Very old guitars (relatively speaking) also cost a mint. Those are expensive because they are rare. But I put no value on an instrument because it will last 200 years. I don't care. I just buy a new one. But also New guitars are cheaper than new violins.

July 23, 2015 at 01:25 PM · Just found 2 articles. One here! another on a good guitar site. It takes a similar amount of time to make each instrument. more for the violin, but it's in the ballpark.

July 23, 2015 at 01:27 PM · What are the different varnish types and how do they affect the sound?

July 23, 2015 at 02:08 PM · Even at a high level, most players don't know or care what type of wood or varnish is on their instrument. Violins are a collector's item and are also seen as an investment, which has inflated the high-end price. What determines the price is going to be some combination of the maker's name, whether the maker is still alive, and the violin's sound and playability.

July 23, 2015 at 02:13 PM · Ezra, my classical guitar teacher (also a luthier) told me many years ago that guitars (and pianos, for that matter) tend not to hold their quality of tone when they age, whereas the bowed instruments do.

Irene, I'd add "who has previously owned/played the violin" to your list.

July 23, 2015 at 02:28 PM · Guitars warp because they're bigger? What about cellos?

Most violins that are priced at $80,000 were made by people who are now dead. But not all. A violin maker once told me, "You should buy my instrument. I'm over 70. It'll double in value when I die."

July 23, 2015 at 03:52 PM · Cellos have much more wood in them than a guitar.

Well I'll just be happy my instruments are much cheaper than yours. But I was hoping to solve some mysteries. You see guitar players agonizing over minutia. There are so many variables it's difficult to test anything. I can't imagine owning one instrument. I never bring less than two to a performance.

July 23, 2015 at 04:21 PM · Paul, in violin making school, we're taught to put emphasis on our risky behaviors, even if we need to invent them. In my case, it's being a hardcore biker. ;-)

Ezra, most good violinists don't obsess about instrument construction minutia. They care more about whether the instrument does what they want it to do, and a maker's long-term track record, both of which are better indicators of quality and sound than what a full-time violinist or guitarist can possibly learn about all the details of instrument making, in a fruitless attempt to second-guess a successful maker. A player's opinion about construction details might be worth about as much as a luthier trying to teach a player to be a successful soloist. ;-)

I fully realize that the guitar world can be a lot different. Guitar makers tend (more than violinmakers) to put emphasis on technical highlights. Added to that, guitars have "morphed" a lot more than violins have, over the last 500 years. Would any pro guitar player make a Stradivari guitar their main performance instrument these days, because it sounded better? Probably not. But a Stradivari violin is still considered one of the ultimate reference standards today.

Web address of one of the few surviving Stradivari guitars, should you be interested:

July 23, 2015 at 07:15 PM · David, is that really you on the Honda Metro? I have one too ... it's a 2007, with 7300 miles on it. It's my main transportation to and from work. I'll send you a photo sometime. Down here in VA we're required to wear helmets with those, I think it might be a local ordinance.

Ezra, you don't know what "agonizing over minutiae" is until you've read a dozen or more threads on this site in which the participants argue about rosin.

July 23, 2015 at 07:29 PM · It's really me, a few years back. The Honda was my wife's. She loved that thing. When she switched jobs to one further away, requiring(?) freeway travel (the Honda would only go about 35 mph), we sold it, and she cried. She still misses it, but she also loves the Harley that she replaced it with.

She'd still have that Honda, along with about 30 other motorcycles of various brands and vintages, if I'd go along with it. LOL

I'm still being punished. Last weekend, we had to redo the dining room, even though it was perfectly fine before. But that's better than me having to maintain thirty motorcycles, I reckon. ;)

Yes, we wear full-coverage helmets 99.9 percent of the time (although helmets are not required by law in our state), along with a good compliment of other safety gear. This was just a silly photo on the residential street in front of our house.

We've both damaged helmets while wearing them. Hard to say what the impacts would have done to our nekked heads. Might not have been pretty.

I had to take a two-year break from making cellos, due to injuries from a motorcycle accident. People die all the time on them things. Nothing to be entered into lightly. What might be a minor fender-bender in a car, can easily be a fatality on a scooter!

July 23, 2015 at 08:35 PM · You had to stop making cellos, but violins were still ok?

July 23, 2015 at 09:01 PM · I could still do violin work, more or less. Pretty slow though. Making cellos is much more physically demanding.

July 24, 2015 at 01:43 AM · Yeah I suppose so. Anyway I put a picture of my scooter on my website ( It's a close-up showing my nifty license plate. Linking that picture here would have been tricky.

July 24, 2015 at 06:56 AM · Paul: Yes, I saw the Rosin thread. It looks quite familiar actually. you should see some of the test demos on youtube of guitar parts being compared. But a big attribute is sheer volume. Yes I'm talking about classical guitars. It's a quiet instrument. The louder a guitar you can get the better.

I didn't know strad made guitars. The holy grail of guitars was always the Hauser guitar for classical guitars. My teacher had one. THe regular mortal people had a Ramirez if they could.

For electric guitars, it would be the Diaquisto. Those are astronomically priced.

I imagine bow rosin would be pretty important. I'll look that up. it sounds interesting. Guitarists don't rosin anything. Since especially electric guitars and amps can swap parts out fairly easily, there are endless debates on endless parts.

July 24, 2015 at 08:54 AM · My guitar was a Taurus. My teacher, a luthier, out of professional curiosity peered inside it with an endoscope and discovered near the bottom and quite out of sight, Ramirez' signature. Interesting.

July 24, 2015 at 10:16 PM · Darlene, is there any way you can rent or borrow a violin for a short term? You could find out whether you have the same issues with a different violin without investing a lot of money. It could be a simple way to determine if the problems are with the violin or with your technique.

July 24, 2015 at 11:02 PM · Darlene, don't dismiss the possibility that it is you that isn't earning the same every day. Many factors affects our earning, as many factors affect the quality of the sound you generate. We all have bad and good days. The room you play in will affect the sound quality, the humidity level, temperature, roisin, bow tension, focus etc. Etc. You say that sometimes it takes 15-20min to wake up the instrument, when perhaps it's what it takes for you to warm up and get focussed. On the other hand if you are looking for a reason to upgrade instrument...

July 25, 2015 at 02:11 PM · La violina e mobile...

July 25, 2015 at 06:08 PM · Darlene, I feel like I have the opposite problem to be honest. I feel like my violin sounds pretty much the same on a day to day basis. This is frustrating, because I usually like a little bit of suppleness. Sometimes I try to do something different to get a different type of sound out of it, and any type of difference I try to force out of my violin seem subtle. I tried another violin at the shop recently, and that particular instrument seems to have a much wider range of response. I don't think your setup or rosin would significantly alter the sound.

July 25, 2015 at 09:14 PM · Usually, cheap instruments sound the same no matter what you do.

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