Appropriate time to purchase a new violin

September 25, 2015 at 07:14 PM · Hey all, I'd enjoy getting some feedback on whether or not I should buy a new violin. Brief outline of my situation - I currently own a cheap, used student violin. I've owned it since February 2015 and have been playing the violin for the same period of time. For the first few months of lessons, the instrument was sufficient as I learned the basics ect. However, as I've progressed I've grown to actually dislike the sound of it. It sounds like a tin can. I upgraded the strings when I first purchased it, and that marginally improved the sound but it still sounds cheap. I have the desire and the means to purchase a new violin but I'm wondering if I should hold off? I've read that more experienced violinists have a better idea of what they want and purchasing a new instrument prematurely will just result in one outgrowing it. Any feedback is appreciated.

Replies (33)

September 25, 2015 at 07:21 PM · What does your teacher say?

Otherwise, it's been my experience that once one thinks one wants a new violin, one will be dissatisfied until a new violin is purchased.

So...happy shopping! :D

September 25, 2015 at 07:29 PM · I'll second the "what does your teacher say?" comment. And unless your violin is very cheap indeed, you probably haven't actually outgrown it in terms of skill after six months of playing. You are still in your infancy as a violinist, so your needs and tastes will most assuredly change. But if you do have the means and time to shop, there isn't really any disadvantage to upgrading, as you can always trade it back in and upgrade again later. Go ahead and give yourself some instant satisfaction--it's a rare and precious feeling on the violin journey! :)

September 25, 2015 at 07:38 PM · You may very well own MANY violins during your lifetime. Often the idea of getting THE ONE upgrade violin is for people headed for conservatory, college, etc.

There is no reason (aside from money) why you shouldn't go out and treat yourself to a nicer violin than the one you have now.

Go ahead and spoil yourself, you KNOW you deserve it!

:^)

September 25, 2015 at 08:02 PM · Thanks all, I appreciate the responses! Looks like I'm going to at least do some looking this weekend. As Sarah pointed out, there's really no disadvantage. I actually haven't asked my teacher about it. Not sure why...I may be subconsciously afraid she'll say I'm not good enough yet to warrant an upgrade. Although on a personal note, I feel like I’ve progressed pretty well given the amount of time I’ve been playing. I’m still terrible haha, but I can actually enjoy most of the (simple) pieces I’m playing. Playing piano for a number of years as a kid helps a lot though in terms of reading music, theory, ect. But I just feel I’d enjoy practicing even more with a quality (or at least higher quality) violin.

September 25, 2015 at 08:07 PM · Sure you will! Nice equipment is nice equipment. Getting pleasure out of playing better equipment (even if you might not 'need' it) is a valid consideration.

As long as you are being realistic...and can afford it, why not?

September 25, 2015 at 08:41 PM · Christopher, most of the world's Strads are probably owned by people who don't play professionally. Purchased at the right price, and resold at the right price, they can almost be owned for free, and sometimes major profits can be realized.

The same can be true for many less expensive instruments.

September 25, 2015 at 09:29 PM · As a teacher, I would never tell someone they aren't good enough to warrant an upgrade. That just doesn't make any sense. There's no practical reason not to have the nicest instrument you can afford from day one. Now, I might tell someone they don't *need* an upgrade. That's so they believe me when I tell them they definitely do need an upgrade!

September 25, 2015 at 09:36 PM · N.A. Mohr hit the nail right in the head there saying you should ask your teacher, and that thinking you need a new violin will lead to an inevitable want for a new one, and if you can afford it, go for it! So I'm just gonna go over the basics here:

Shop around! Listen to as many violins in your price range as you can! If at all possible, have your teacher go with you because with their experience they should be able to spot potential future problems you might have with the new violin.

...and don't forget the bow! You need a nice bow too! I've always been told you shouldn't change violin AND bow at same time, but if you are upgrading from a cheap one, you might as well try to find a good matching bow. Many shops sell complete student outfits with violin and bow included.

And now that I think of it, if possible, you might consider a rent-to-own plan, this way if you outgrow your new instrument or turns out that in a month from now you don't like it that much, you should be able to swap it for another or at least not have had put a whole lot of money into it in first place. :)

September 25, 2015 at 11:03 PM · I'll give you an advice that some people here gave me, get your hands on as MANY violins as you can. Borrow them, try them at workshops and etc.

I think I lost count after 30 violins in between June and now, I kept one that I really liked in mind and ended up buying it and I'm VERY happy with it.

If you are looking to play as a hobby, because you like playing, you should always look for the one that YOU like the most. Try below, and above your budget as well.

One thing that I've neglected at my first step-up was set-up of the violin, how easy it is to play and how well do pegs turn, double stops(usually bridge refit takes care of that, but that costs money)?

Sound should be a great factor, but there's also power and setup which are very important. Power meaning, depending on where you decide to play, it may or may not be loud enough for your taste.

My previous violin sounded great in my room, but it completely lacked power if I played anywhere else, my current violin sounds too loud in my room, but once I get to somewhere with acoustics, I just love the sound of it.

Also, I found correlation that fingerboard projection had a LOT to do with ease of playing, only small(1mm) variation made one violin much easier/harder to play. I think ease of play is the single most important factor in setup.

Also, don't criticize a violin's bright/roughness of the sound too early, because often sellers put new strings on, which haven't been broken in yet.

I should add that Fox is right about a bow, it does make a huge difference, also, some rosins cause some violins to make "grainy" sound, my experience with Hill rosins were exactly that.

September 26, 2015 at 01:09 AM · Another way to look at it is that its your money. If you want a better violin, buy one. If you are concerned about resale later on, or with getting an outstanding value, or if you want to be sure that the instrument does not have flaws that may hold back your studies or will cause you significant expense later, then get your teacher to help you choose.

September 26, 2015 at 01:25 AM · A tin-can sounding violin sounds like a tin can no matter what strings or bow or rosin you use. The difference is in the degree of tin-ness. That kind of sound is a flaw in the violin. If you are lucky, you can get a Yitamusic violin that sounds decent for no more than $250 USD with shipping and duties included.

September 26, 2015 at 04:57 AM · I second the recommendation to rent. Renting will let you upgrade immediately (assuming you get a decent rental) without a big up-front investment, while your playing and sound develops. Alternatively, buy from a shop with a trade-up program.

September 26, 2015 at 11:31 AM · You need to record yourself playing a potential new violin. With my first two violins, what I heard "under the ear" sounded dramatically better than the tone being projected to my cringing friends and family.

Having a good player run it through its paces is a mixed bag for a beginner. With the use of vibrato and expressive bowing, even a tin can will sound pretty good. But their feedback can be valuable in identifying unresponsive strings, harsh tones, wolf notes and sticky pegs.

There is no down side to having a violin whose potential you will not realize for some time. As you improve, the tone of the violin will improve along with you. You want to make sure the violin does NOT have any quirks that require you to learn how to play around them.

September 26, 2015 at 02:52 PM · "Christopher, most of the world's Strads are probably owned by people who don't play professionally. Purchased at the right price, and resold at the right price, they can almost be owned for free, and sometimes major profits can be realized.

The same can be true for many less expensive instruments. "

David, you usually give sound advice. It's hard to know what to make of the above. Some get lucky, but violins are like boats or horses: very few can buy one and realize a profit. Let alone an amateur.

September 26, 2015 at 03:11 PM · Always own the best violin you can reasonably afford. Always. keep in mind that 'best' does not necessarily mean 'most expensive'. And what is best in terms of voice is quite subjective.

The single most important thing your new violin needs to have is a proper setup. A good setup is more important for a beginner like yourself than anything else. This cannot be emphasized enough.

September 26, 2015 at 08:20 PM · Lots of valuable advice here, thanks everyone. I went into the local string shop here today for the first time and ended up talking to the owner for quite a while. He encouraged me to play any of the violins on the wall so I did just that. I played one which was ~$1000 for a good half an hour. The difference compared to what I have now was night and day. I could not wipe the stupid grin off my face. It was my first time playing a nicer violin and the experience was amazing. The shop has a trade in program and the owner said I could come back with sheet music and he'd let me play in a private room. Now that I know what I've been missing I must upgrade! It's just a matter of finding the right one.

September 26, 2015 at 08:33 PM · It's quite the 'eureka' moment, isn't it? When you first hear the difference in sound quality.

Now you're hooked...when do decide, do let us know what you come home with!

:D

September 26, 2015 at 11:08 PM · Important to take a few home and let your teacher play them too, that way you can see what they sound like when they are not on your shoulder.

September 27, 2015 at 11:01 AM · "David, you usually give sound advice. It's hard to know what to make of the above. Some get lucky, but violins are like boats or horses: very few can buy one and realize a profit. Let alone an amateur."

_______________________________

I'll take another stab at it, leaving super-expensive violins out of the picture, and taking a more pessimistic approach this time.

Let's say one buys a two-thousand to fifty-thousand dollar violin, and assume that the buyer has done enough homework to avoid buying one that's grossly overpriced for what it is, and that the owner takes good care of it. And let's say the owner gets ten years of use out of it, before selling at a 30% loss for one reason or another. That's still pretty decent, compared to the depreciation a ten-year-old computer, automobile, TV or washing machine will have suffered.

I'm not trying to say that the violin will be as necessary or useful (to someone who isn't a pro-track student or professional player) as the washing machine, computer or automobile, just trying to put it in the perspective of some things we commonly purchase, fully knowing and expecting that they will become nearly worthless, obsolete, worn out, or too expensive to maintain or repair, if we keep them long enough.

Comparing the enjoyment one might get from a new violin, versus a large new flat-screen high-definition TV? That's a judgement I can't make for someone else. I will say however that I own a number of violins just because I think they're cool (they are rarely used, and I don't play professionally), and the TV in my shop is an old tube-type.

I'll also say that my wife (who doesn't play professionally) owns three or four guitars (I've lost track), a mandolin, and an electronic keyboard. They're not mega-pricey instruments, but not cheapies either. Her car is about to hit 100,000 miles. If I asked her whether she'd rather have a new car or another guitar, I'm guessin' she'd choose the guitar. I can't really complain. She sold one guitar after owning it for several years, and got about what she paid for it. And every guitar she has bought has been selected first for enjoyment, but never without potential resale value in mind.

September 27, 2015 at 06:34 PM · Yup David - there can be generous financial and emotional gains in the sales of violins. But almost always none of the financial kind for the actual owner (think lottery) but generally the dealer.

So if there are generous financial gains in violin sales it does not take a lot of thinking to figure out where that money comes from...

But that is not the end of the story. Owners play this game because it is they that make the emotional gains from possession. The dealers just get money - and you can't put a price on the rest.

September 27, 2015 at 08:07 PM · Elise, you make some good points, and I'll disagree on some other minor points. There's no shortage of non-dealer owners who have realized substantial profits upon selling Strads-and-such that they have owned for a long time. Geez, I wish I'd taken out loans to buy one many years ago, when they were cheap compared to what they are now! Just one judiciously-purchased instrument, and I could be retired now. Sure, I'd still be making fiddles (because that's what I do), but maybe I could relax a little more.

Speaking from more first-hand experience, I know of a number of musicians who have sold instruments I made, for more than they paid. I'm fairly sure this is true for some other makers as well, but I'm trying to limit this paragraph more to first-hand experience. I've even purchased some of these myself, paying more than the original purchase price. Sure, I expect to make a little money off these, or at least break even, if it means that I can furnish clients who might otherwise go elsewhere.

Perhaps you noticed a recent thread I started, asking if anyone knew of any violins I made which might be for sale. Out of that, I purchased one in Sweden. The seller got substantially more than he paid for it. I can't sell it for the same price I paid the guy, because the trip to Sweden to check it out and purchase it was kinda pricey. And I probably don't have any wiggle room to fly it to Korea (or anywhere else outside the US) without taking a loss. (I mention Korea, because a request from Korea was the main thing that started me down that track) The potential buyer was not willing to wait three years or so. After learning more, I kinda sorta tried to bow out, when I started to add up all the expenses which might go along with the sale.

Expenses like these are some I don't deal with very often, but major dealers need to assimilate these on a regular basis.

So I won't endorse a wholesale trashing of dealers. Or makers. I think some are pretty good, and some are pretty trashy. I won't express opinions about which are which, so please don't ask. I'd rather spend time in my shop puttering around with fiddle family instruments, than in court, defending lawsuits. ;-)

September 27, 2015 at 09:18 PM · David,

It's a usual thing with successful and illustrious makers such as yourself who have a mile long long waiting list, to see their violins go for more than the asking price of a new one.

As far as older violins are concerned, let's use your example of a violin that was bought ten years ago for $50000. That puts it in the early 20th century Italian violin region and come now to sell I do think the owner will realize a substantial profit even if they sell to a dealer or give it out on commission.

Tarisio is an other option now. since they give such thorough condition reports and in most cases certificates as well, a player might be able to pick out a good violin for less that a dealer's asking price. The downside of it being that one might not have enough time to acquaint themselves with the said instrument. Of-course the ideal situation is when a violin of known provenance and condition goes from player to player in the same orchestra, or orchestras in close proximity. In this kind of transaction the seller will make the most profit out of their violin.

This is my humble opinion and I do welcome your valuable comments.

September 27, 2015 at 10:30 PM · The price of violins escalates largely in line with inflation (with the exception of the most stratospheric instruments), which means that you could have gotten those same returns putting money into the other investments.

But you get the pleasure of playing the instrument all those years, so even if you only end up breaking even (or taking a small loss after deal commissions and whatnot), it's a perfectly reasonable use of money if you've got it -- you're getting lovely utility out of it and you've purchased something that will hold its value.

Trade instruments that aren't going to appreciate are in a different bucket, of course, but even selling a trade instrument back after a couple of years more or less break-even means your primary cost was having your capital tied up in the violin instead of free for investment.

September 29, 2015 at 11:15 AM · The best time is when you have money!

very cheap violins are those which comes under 100$. And those around 200$ and above are good. I am telling the prize of China. Try buying some from china and see.

September 29, 2015 at 06:51 PM · Interesting. I'd been thinking that good entry-level Chinese violins started around 3500 dollars.

Guess it depends on what one thinks "good" is.

September 29, 2015 at 09:06 PM · $3500? That seems kind of high for an entry level violin. I honestly wasn't planning on spending that much. I played some at the shop for ~$1000 and they sounded fantastic compared to my current ~$300 student model.

September 30, 2015 at 09:39 AM · check out the websites of old violin house; and Yita music from China. Perhaps you like them. Good violins with in cheap prize.

September 30, 2015 at 02:59 PM · Christopher,

I can relate to your desire to buy a new Violin, as I am in the same boat. I started playing 18mo ago. Originally I purchased a higher-quality student model instrument knowing that low end violin are harder to play and I didn't want to make a huge investment. I have an Eastman 305. Its a really good first student violin.

Already, I can hear the difference between my violin and nicer violins. I'm learning 3 octave scales/arpeggios, 5+ positions and advancing techniques with harmonics and left hand plucking while bowing.

When I practice I have to play with noise reducing muffs on because some of those high notes just really hurt my ears. However, when I give my violin to my teacher and have her play a particularly high whiny passage, it always sounds sweet. It may be a bit bright because of the nature of my violin, but the music is pleasent.

In the back of my mind there is a voice telling me a better violin would make things easier. If only I had aprenumbo bow then I'd sound like my teacher.... but then again, if she can make my violin sound sweet (using my CF bow), then it means I have to work harder to acheive the right sound.

So, I am not saying all this to dissuade you from buying a new violin. In fact, If you have the means, then I am encouraging you to do so. For if, I had the means to buy into the next price range (~4k USD) I would be visiting stores in a hearbeat. Just make sure you are purchasing the instrument for realistic reasons.

It still will take alot of practice and work to achieve that sweet violin sound. Its not going to happen over night buying a new instrument.

I wish you the best in finding the right violin. Good luck and have fun!

September 30, 2015 at 04:50 PM · Hey Kimberly, I enjoyed reading your post, thanks for the response. It’s funny that you’d mention your teacher because I recently gave my student violin (also an Eastman, cheaper model than yours though) to my teacher to play and she too made it sound pretty good. Granted she made use of double stops, vibrato and the like. But still I was surprised at the sound she was able to pull from it. I absolutely agree with you that this reinforces the point that I am a beginner and my technique is lacking (to put it mildly).

However, my teacher encouraged me to purchase a new violin anyway. She said higher quality instruments can be more forgiving than student made and thus I’ll have a better time learning. She suggested that if I find an instrument that I play better on and enjoy playing on, I should absolutely consider purchasing it. No it won’t make me better overnight, but if it brings more enjoyment than why not?

Side note: I should probably invest in a higher quality bow as well or first. I currently use a fiberglass stick.

September 30, 2015 at 07:13 PM · Christopher,

Don't forget that your violin is one of your teachers too. A good violin will contribute to the advancement of your skills through its response. Best of luck!

September 30, 2015 at 08:30 PM · Also remember that a lot of tonal quality comes from bowing...

Just thought I'd toss that in...don't want the violin taking up more than it's fair share of the contribution to the final sound...lol...

September 30, 2015 at 10:35 PM · I agree with N.A. Mohr, often I find when I have a stressful and demanding day, my bowing arm stays tight until an hour of practice. At that time, All violin and bow combination sounds horrible.

Also, experiment with where on the bow you grip, because the Suzuki standard turned out to be the worst for me, I adapted and modified a baroque bow hold and it's the best sound and agile form to date. I am missing the tip of my right index finger, so, often when a teacher tells me "this is the proper way", I would look at them blankly and show them my finger.

October 1, 2015 at 02:22 PM · I have been playing for 1 1/2 years and I have reached a point where I can produce good tone and have very good intonation. My student violin is a $250 model but upgraded with new bridge and Infeld Blue strings. I think it sounds pretty mellow and sweet, but it lacks power and projection. So I went to a local violin shop and tried out 5 violins in the sub-$1000 range. One stood out as having what I would call a very "full" sound which projected well. It had Dominant strings. It was definitely better than the other four. Three of the other four had very well-known names. I bought it. It was not the most expensive. It was from the Qiantang shop in China but finished and set up by a local luthier. I am pleased with the choice. I hope you can do as well.

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