Purchasing a violin

October 6, 2015 at 03:10 AM · I have been debating between purchasing a new violin versus an old and I'd like to share my experience with you. The idea of a brand new violin sounds nice but you run the risk of buying an instrument that would take hundreds of hours to break in.

However, I was lucky to stumble upon www.corilin.com and its owner Dr Annette Roeben who was kind enough to understand my requirements and recommend a violin that was made in Morecourt, France around 1900. It took about a week to receive the instrument from Germany and it arrived in a professionally packaged box and ready to played.

I am sharing my experience with you because this is a website that can definitely be trusted and I do highly recommend that if you're considering to purchase a music instrument, to buy heritage and something that has history.

Regards,

Mohammed Hajjar

Replies (46)

October 6, 2015 at 03:30 AM · I'm glad you're enjoying your new-to-you violin. I hope it brings you many years of playing and practicing pleasure.

The notion of breaking in a violin by playing it is controversial. Lots of people insist that it happens, but these things do not lend themselves well to controlled scientific study. My hunch is that "break-in" for a new violin has more to do with weathering of the newly carved/exposed inner surfaces. I further surmise that the player gradually learns to adapt to the violin's idiosyncrasies. Thus it is the player who is being broken in by the violin, not the other way around. But these are only hunches -- not claims.

Finally, buying a violin without having played it first is probably something that not very many people would recommend. Presumably (hopefully) you had the option of returning it for a refund if not satisfied.

October 6, 2015 at 10:14 AM · I think the Corilon shop has a 30-day return policy.

However, it's a shame to have opened up that old can-of-worms, new versus old. Why are folk so intent on concentrating on the extremes when there are so many good middle-aged instruments around ? 1900 is two-thirds of the way between the days of those legendary old Cremonas and today; that violin you have received is neither new or really old.

Still, that recurring new-v-old debate is a lot less tedious than the shoulder-rest controversy.

A Mirecourt instrument from around 1900 can be pretty darned good.

Though I was a pro violinist, I did own at one time a Mirecourt viola. I had spotted it on offer for a VERY low price in a music shop when on holiday.

A colleague eventually bought it from me and was delighted. This man, whilst a student at the London "Royal Academy of Music", was allowed to play on the Stradivari "Archinto" viola they owned. He didn't like it much and liked playing my viola more !!

Paul Deck has contributed many wise words.

October 6, 2015 at 10:49 AM · I purchased three new violins from China a few years ago. One of them sounded okay from the start and never improved much after that. The second one sounded great right from the start. My luthier was very impressed when he set it up. It has not changed its sound at all over the years ; it is still good.

The third violin sounded awful when I got it. My luthier made a few jokes about it not measuring up to the standards of the others. But I played it for a few weeks and it seemed to sound better over time. I assumed that it was just me getting used to playing it. When my teacher heard it for the first time, he was amazed at the sound for such a cheap violin. He thinks it is a superb violin. It is a shame he never heard it when I first got it.

Anyway, my experience is that SOME new violins do improve with playing but this does not apply to all violins and I have no idea why.

October 6, 2015 at 10:52 AM · Paul Deck,

My experience with new Vs. old violins when it come to playing in, I'll have to state my experience with the two primary violins I'm currently the owner of.

I play a new violin made in 2002,commissioned by myself, that sounded great when I first put a bow across and after numerous adjustments and sound posts over the years I would say it has developed further.

My other violin is an excellent Guarneri copy of J.B.Vuillaume in like new condition which I bought in 1990 from the Hill brothers. This violin as I was told remained in their vaults for about 30 years unplayed.

It has also undergone several adjustments with a number of new bridges, sound posts and a new bass bar.

If I was asked which of my two violins has changed more over the years, I would definitely say the Vuillaume although it was made in 1857 and the new one in 2002.

October 6, 2015 at 11:08 AM · Paul Deck wrote "Finally, buying a violin without having played it first is probably something that not very many people would recommend."

Well, well, when a King, prince or bishop commissioned a violin to Stradivari they could not play or listen to it. And that still happens today.

90% of the Italian art was commissioned, and that was based solely in the artist's name.

October 6, 2015 at 01:25 PM · There are various degrees of new. From my experience making violins, a violin that is fresh out of varnishing is NOT something you want to buy right away. After a violin is strung up, the sound can change a lot in the first few months. In fact, you can experiment with this yourself even on an old violin: Loosen all the strings completely for a few days. Then string up the violin again and play. It'll sound different.

I think new violins are like new houses. You want them to have gone through a few seasonal changes before buying. Any major problem will surface in those few years.

October 6, 2015 at 03:05 PM · A new instrument can be gotten quite stable within a month or so after first stringing it up. It takes a good deal of extra work and some tricks though, like deliberate humidity and temperature cycling, and accommodating the need for soundposts of different lengths.

Variations in humidity may be one of the significant things going on when an instrument "plays in". While in use, a violin is in a micro-climate near the player's body, where temperature and humidity are quite a bit higher. Between sessions, it returns to a normal environment.

So far, we are lacking good evidence that vibration is a factor. Not that it couldn't be, though.

October 6, 2015 at 04:07 PM · There may be something to be said for fitting a new violin with plain gut strings. The tension of the strings will vary naturally with changes in temperature and humidity, thus varying the forces on the body of the instrument more than stringing with synthetic or metal would, and perhaps enabling it to "breathe" more naturally.

October 6, 2015 at 05:39 PM · The false bottom of a shipping trunk ! What was it doing there ?

October 6, 2015 at 05:57 PM · Joe Green is lucky.

The luckiest I ever got was to find my grandmothers fiddle in the attic in a dismantled state, I took it to a luthier who told me it's not worth putting it back together. That happened 45 years ago.

For everything I have I paid hard cash at the time's market prices.

October 6, 2015 at 06:17 PM · Joe wrote:

"Makers of "modern" style violins don't have a clue as to how that could possibly be so."

____________________

Ha ha, don't make me come down there and kick your azz! (wink)

October 6, 2015 at 06:47 PM · Ah, the 'old vs. new' debate!

It is a bit of a fact that throughout history, there have been amazing violins that were made, and there have been mediocre violins, and bad ones, regardless of when, whether in the 1700's or the 2000's.

Violins being these incredible organic things they are, they do benefit from some aging (through processes we don't fully grasp yet and some don't even believe in), so it is possible that an old violin will have actually gained an edge over a brand new one with time. However, there's also a matter of 'natural selection': Old violins have been around for a while, there's been time for people to play them and decide if they were good enough to pass on, or if they weren't worthwhile. So chances are that the 'old violins' that are available and praised are simply the ones that were deemed 'good' from the batches from whatever time they come from. Modern violins haven't yet had this opportunity, we're still picking through them to find out which ones will be the treasures of future generations, and which ones won't. So statistically, it is likely that it is easier to find a 'good old violin' than it is to get a 'good new one'.

Personally, I think sound and feel is everything on what comes to instruments. So I would recommend putting on a blindfold when you're going to try them out to buy, and simply know nothing about them other than that they are in your price range! This way you won't be distracted by things such as looks and age and pedigree, and will concentrate only on the way it sounds and feels in your hands, which to me is foremost, whether it's a brand new fiddle or a 200+ years-old one.

October 6, 2015 at 07:46 PM · "Mr. Burgess,

I am quite certain that we don't know each other."

And I'm quite certain that we do.

"Are you a maker of "modern" instruments?"

That's easy enough for anyone to look up.

"If so, you should revert to the Old Master's way of doing things."

Since you claim that we don't know each other, and that you don't even know if I'm a maker, what makes you think I'm not already doing that? ;)

October 6, 2015 at 08:07 PM · "The Da Salo, Maggini, Amati, Stainer, Guarneri, Stradivari, et al were also "modern" during their own periods. Right? Exactly!"

Personally I never include Stradivarius and the 'superstar' violin makers of old when discussing violins in general, because those are phenomena, they are way beyond a mere "very good violin", and as such, their works are not generally accessible. Your average violinist can't just get up one day and decide they want to go to the store and get themselves a Stradivarius.

We can talk Stradivarius vs. Del Gesu (or anyone else) on a different topic if you like. Those guys are on a completely different level than "my old German violin sounds great" type of instrument. That's as the old saying goes, like comparing apples to oranges.

But let's not forget that even Stradivarius are not all created equal! I mean, why would we have a 'golden period' if they were all magnificently the same? ;)

October 7, 2015 at 12:29 AM ·

"Well, well, when a King, prince or bishop commissioned a violin to Stradivari they could not play or listen to it. And that still happens today..."

That's because they were probably wealthy dilettantes who couldn't tell the difference between a good fiddle and junk. Kind of like a pro athlete player who buys a mansion, and orders a garish white Steinway to sit in his foyer only because it's what the piano guy sold him and he recognizes the label (but can't actually play the thing).

Besides, no one can listen to a commissioned instrument anyway by definition-- until it arrives

October 7, 2015 at 03:18 AM · Mr. Joe Green,

are you against modern violins all together or against violins not built along the traditional classical Italian lines.

Let me assure you that the violins Mr. Burgess makes are along those parameters and of exceptional beauty and sound quality. He possesses the secret of a great varnish and the few I have been fortunate to have tried were exceptional in all respects.

This can easily be proven by advertising, expressing interest to buy a Burgess violin. You will see that no one will want to part with theirs.

October 7, 2015 at 06:44 AM · Mohammed Hajjar is not a highly experienced player. It's unlikely that he is looking for a showdown between a Stradivarius and a Burgess.

As I read his post, it seems that he has heard some off-putting things about the "playing in" of new violins.

My experience with new fiddles has been that in the early days there's usually an ambiguous woolliness in the sound. Pleasant enough. One early expert (sorry, can't remember which) referred to "the beguiling softness of new work".

In my area of the UK the climate is temperate. I have not needed to keep changing the soundpost and set-up during the early days as folk in the continental climate of certain areas in the USA have to.

I have found that the violins I owned from new began to "find themselves" after ten years or so. The sound came in out of the fog. However, my adventures with 6 instruments hardly qualify as scientifically significant. The sample-size is too small.

What I did find interesting was that the sound of a VIOLA I own by the maker of 3 of my violins improved over 10 years despite being seldom played. So, I do suspect that other factors other than continued playing might be involved.

A professional 'cellist I knew bought a new 'cello from one of the Italian Bisiach family. He had problems. He thought to take it to a maker to be "thinned", "retoned" or whatever.

But he did not. He left it in the case for 10 years, and hey, presto. Liked it.

Sorry, never thought to get a Burgess. USA is a long way for me to go, and I never saw one of this maker's violins in the UK. Maybe one day ....?

October 7, 2015 at 01:01 PM · Hi Mr. Beck;

Apologies, I haven't really made any effort sell outside of the US. Fortunately, demand here has been strong enough that I haven't needed to deal with the time, expenses and complications of traveling to show or deliver instruments, dealing with customs, posting temporary import bonds, purchasing carnets etc.

I much prefer making instruments to paperwork, red tape, and travel. :-)

October 7, 2015 at 04:19 PM · Hi, Mr Burgess,

Of course; the measure of the worth of a maker is whether or not the world will beat a path to his/her door.

Violin purchase can become an excuse for a nice holiday, but I'm retired from orchestral playing now & far too long in the tooth for gallivanting across the pond.

Please excuse my sales resistance !

October 7, 2015 at 04:55 PM · In the original post, it seems there is more emphasis placed on the recommendation of the business rather than any argument of old vs new.

Be aware that the poster lives in Saudia Arabia, which I'm guessing has few alternatives for buying a violin.

However, I do not think it very relevant for those in the US, where late-19th-century Mirecourt violins are a dime a dozen and can be found in thousands of shops across the country without paying large shipping or customs charges. Perhaps one would venture abroad when looking for a certain Strad or Del Gesu, but that is a different matter.

As for old vs new, historical significance of a Mirecourt violin is like that of a used Hyundai--irrelevant. They are mostly student/ advance student instruments, but rarely worth looking to Germany for. I've seen many soloists performing on new modern instruments, but none using Mirecourt violins.

The best French instrument I've come across recently has a been by Miremont, but he also worked in the US. Other than that, I haven't been impressed by many French instruments, old or not.

October 7, 2015 at 05:53 PM · Scott Cole,

Maybe you haven't tried too many Vuillaumes and Lupots.

October 8, 2015 at 04:31 AM · Villaumes and lupot are of course something entirely different. These are soloist-level violins. What I mean is the type of French fiddle that will be commonly found in conservatory student hands-those in the range up to perhaps $20,000. Theses are the Honda Civics of the violin world, like Collin-Mezzin, Roth, etc. certainly playable and dependable, but rarely outstanding, and again, not necessary to search for outside the US.

October 8, 2015 at 04:50 AM · Scot in this respect I agree with you, but those violins were never intended to be made for soloists.

They were mostly workshop violins, just a bit better attention to detail than the German boxes of the period.

October 8, 2015 at 06:13 AM · Mirecourt violins are indeed "a dime a dozen", as Dr. Cole observed, but for an adult beginner such as Mohammed Hajjar a violin such as the one he has received from that Corilon shop could serve him very well for a quite a few years.

Making a satisfactory purchase of "new" takes some experience, and the ear needs to develop sophistication IMHO.

A bigger problem in Saudi Arabia might be the preservation of whatever violin he gets. The climate might play havoc with an absolutely new instrument unless it is kept in a constant humidity-and-temperature controlled environment.

My first teacher had worked in India for many years, and to protect his Alfred Vincent violins from TERMITES whilst there he had especially constructed METAL cases for them.

A google search has revealed a learned source on termites in which it's claimed "In a general survey covering all regions of Saudi Arabia, 12 species belonging to 6 genera and 3 families were recovered...."

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1439-0418.1986.tb00875.x/abstract

October 8, 2015 at 11:51 AM · Joe Green,

How can you not know David Burgess? He is a famous carpenter. He has instructional videos on youtube for using a sawzall -- highly respected in the hispanic contractor community.

October 8, 2015 at 11:51 AM · ** deleted double post **

October 8, 2015 at 11:55 AM · I see Luis's point, but it's quite different to commission a violin from a reputable maker than to order a violin of essentially unknown pedigree (e.g., "Mirecourt") from a dealer.

October 8, 2015 at 04:39 PM · "..it's quite different to commission a violin from a reputable maker than to order a violin of essentially unknown pedigree (e.g., "Mirecourt") from a dealer."

Yes, good theory, but in this case our original poster Mohammed Hajjar has already received a "known quantity", i.e. that violin from Corilon.

October 8, 2015 at 08:14 PM · The most important reasons I decided to commission my violin from Isabelle Wilbaux was the high quality of her workmanship, the ability to try out a few of her instruments, and also the fact that I removed the middle-man from transaction.

All things being equal, I would always reward a good maker rather than a dealer.

This is not to deny that good (and honest) dealers should not be compensated for their services, but in mid price-range transactions their compensation often exceeds reasonable amount.

October 9, 2015 at 12:17 AM · David, that's certainly true, but the question is whether the procedure can be recommended to others in the future.

October 9, 2015 at 03:05 AM · As Paul said it is best to try before buying however the most famous violin sale in history was most likely buy before trying. That was when Vuillaume bought out the Tarisio heirs. Some 60,000 francs worth I believe. I have no idea what that would be in today's money!

October 11, 2015 at 10:38 AM · I wrote :- "Mohammed Hajjar has already received a "known quantity", i.e. that violin from Corilon. "

There's an old saying:- "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".

"Commissioning" a new violin requires experience. The potential buyer needs to have a clear idea as to what he/she is looking for; tricky for a relative newcomer to violin-playing such as our O.P.

A "dime a dozen" violin served me up to ABRSM Grade 8 (distinction).

It took me until I was over 50 years of age and a seasoned professional before I began to trust my own judgement. By then I was able to stop being put off purchases by the dodgy advice from colleagues, and I could no longer be led by the nose by dealers.

Violins I "commissioned" from the age of 51 turned out well, but new fiddles bought in my early days did not turn out to be "keepers".

Of course it's also possible to buy a new violin off the peg. This can sometimes turn out well; but again. extensive personal experience or the unbiased advice from a teacher is needed for any purchase to result in a "keeper".

October 11, 2015 at 09:50 PM · In my experience, a properly-made, well set-up instrument will sound good "in the white" and after being properly varnished. If you have acquired one such, you are lucky!

If you have not been so lucky, adjustment or change of soundpost, bridge, tailpiece, chinrest, strings, bow, rosin may each result in improvements.

4 of the 6 violins (plus one viola - that makes 7 total) I have acquired in the past 63 years were brand new when I got them and 2 were less than one-year old. (I have also played violins from the early 20th century and from the late 17th/early 18th century - and many very recent new instruments from Cremona.) I have not found any particular superiority of the good older instruments, other than one of the Strads. I believe that good older instruments are more likely to stick around than poor ones, however!

A good setup can work wonders - even a 1 mm movement of the soundpost or bridge can make amazing improvements.

Andy

October 24, 2015 at 09:01 AM · It's amazing how the new versus old violin topic still generates w lot of debate.

I appreciate all the comments and views and please allow me to share the main reasons why I bought an older violin through Corilon:

1. I'm currently working in Saudi Arabia and don't have access to good luthiers

2. I got confusing recommendations on how to select a violin. It seems at the end it's an art not a science

3. I selected Corilon because of their reputation and since I had convincing recommendation from the owner who had a PhD in older instruments. She was well respected and knowledgeable.

The result is that I'm satisfied with what I bought. Sometimes we have to take affordable risks in our lies.

October 24, 2015 at 07:31 PM · Two statements that come to mind:

A bumper sticker, I think attributed to Sam Z.,"Strad made new violins!"

And a former colleague,"Old Sh*t is Still Sh*t!"

Those who are biased against new violins will pay the price for their closed minds.

A PHD in old Violins?? No such thing. And this might just start to explain why:

http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/333438-a-university-setting-for-violin-knowledge/

Congrats on your new violin. If you like it and enjoy it, you made the correct choice. If you don't, don't tell anyone and go right on playing!

October 24, 2015 at 07:53 PM · If one works in the Saudi Arabia and has no access to a good luthier, it makes sense to buy an old already settled violin that will likely remain stable for some time to come, as opposed to a new violin that the owner would probably have to change the sound post in a year's time.

Since in this case the sound is agreeable to the buyer, it has been a safe purchase if it can be kept in a relatively controlled environment and I believe every building in Saudi Arabia is air-conditioned 24/7.

I'm all in favor of new violins as in the last 30 years or so luthiery has made tremendous progress and well made modern violins usually sound better than old battered full of cracks mostly re-varnished relics.

October 24, 2015 at 08:16 PM · I spent 9 months in the Saudi Desert.

My opinion is that the instrument, old or new, will have problems going to that climate. Better to purchase something from a shop that is in a dry climate to minimize the change.

Old or new, it's going to come unglued when it goes to a climate that is that dry. You just re-glue it and go on.

October 25, 2015 at 08:46 PM · C.M.Hutchins found increased vibrations once the test instruments had benn played over a long period.

October 28, 2015 at 01:59 AM · For "playing in" instruments, there is the Tone-Rite. (This is not an endorsement nor a condemnation, just a statement.) A better idea was a man I heard of in the early 70s (a recording engineer) who attached a transducer (the speaker driver) to a bridge and played Bach Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas though his instrument (used like a monophonic hi-fi speaker) 24 hours a day for several months. He claimed to have had miraculous results with the sound of the instrument. He also did the same with guitars with (he claimed) the same miraculous results. I see the logic of his argument. The constant vibration would open up the top (actually all of the instrument) through the vibrations, causing micro cracks in the varnish (and some breaking free of the wood fibers) that take years to develop through normal playing). This freer-moving sound box then sounds much better.

October 28, 2015 at 02:21 AM · There is only one rule: An instrument can be old; it can be new; it can be expensive, it can be cheap. What matters is that it "feels" good when YOU play it, and that it "sounds" good when YOU play it!

October 28, 2015 at 05:26 AM · I tried tone rite on an old newly restored violin and it does make a difference, but not a big difference. It's a bit more than the difference you feel after you warm up the violin with playing and before when you pick it up for the first time in the day.

October 28, 2015 at 08:39 AM · Adrian wrote:

"C.M.Hutchins found increased vibrations once the test instruments had benn played over a long period."

Joel wrote:

"He claimed to have had miraculous results with the sound of the instrument."

______________________________

Many others who have experimented have NOT experienced these results.

I highly suspect that the changes are most dramatic when one starts out with the strong belief that they will be. ;-)

November 9, 2015 at 01:03 PM · Hi Mohammed, you are quite right Corilin do have a good reputation, although I have heard they do not stock a very wide range and tend to specialise in German instruments.

Another site well worth looking at is:

November 9, 2015 at 01:10 PM · Hi Mohammed, you are quite right Corilin do have a good reputation, although I have heard they do not stock a very wide range and tend to specialise in German instruments.

Another site well worth looking at is West Country Violins

They do tend to specialise in French violins but they know their instruments, have an excellent selection and very good prices so well worth a look! See link below.

November 10, 2015 at 05:12 AM · brian, Shouldn't you also mention that you are the owner proprietor of West Country violins, which you not surprisingly so highly recommend!!

December 20, 2015 at 06:14 AM · Of course.

I don't think the old vs. new thing is so important but you should still consider whether or not to buy a new or used violin. Even used violins may require a two week-one month play-in process, as violins are prone to tonal losses due to long-term storage. See this blog post for more information on this topic.

I've played violins before and they don't sound very good because they were kept in long-term storage.

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