Choices, Choices - what's a beginner to do ...

March 7, 2016 at 03:15 AM · Hi All - I am an adult learner and about 3 months into lessons. I have acquired 4 violins and my teacher is asking me to settle on one :-)

So here's the dilemma. I bought a new Eastman 305, based on very positive feedback and quite liked it. Then in my travels I was able to get an older French violin (nothing special but looks nice and sounds quite interesting, stated as perhaps 70's) and an older German Violin (quite worn and slightly compressed tone but sounds quite balanced). I also acquired an older Eastman 305 which has a similar playability to my other 305, but smoother and richer in tone. The trouble is, I am finding the playability of the Eastman violins to be problematic - more correctly, I am finding the playability of the older German Violin much easier - intonation is easier for me, as are string crosses and creation of a much more consistent tone for my current skills.

So here's the question: should I be focusing on the violin that is easier to play vs one that sounds better and is more difficult to play? What is better for my short term and longer term development? I am not necessarily anxious to get rid of any of the violins, but am concerned (as is my teacher) that I should be focusing on one instrument for my learning.

What do you think?

My preference right now would be to focus on the easier to play instrument - tonight, for example, I did the majority of my daily practice on the "easier to play" instrument and I found the time was passing very quickly and I found far less fatigue and I was more interested in continuing the practice since I did not feel like I was fighting the instrument as much. But I don't want to impact my long term growth if choosing this path is only something I will need to fix later.

very interested in your opinions :-)

Replies (30)

March 7, 2016 at 03:37 AM · Your teacher is right. Learn with a single instrument. Most violinists tend not to own more than one violin.

Sell all four, and use the money to buy one good instrument that involves fewer compromises.

March 7, 2016 at 06:25 AM · Alternatively, you could keep the German violin and sell the others. If you love playing the German violin and think you will make faster practice with it, why not hold onto it until you become more discerning in other ways and the German instrument is more of an annoyance than a benefit?

March 7, 2016 at 06:36 AM · Lydia Leong said: Most violinists tend not to own more than one violin. I wonder if that's true for this site. I guess the only way to find out would be to start a thread. I may just do that.

...also, I would go with Francesca's advice. If you sell them all, it may not be that easy to find that one good instrument. That may take time and who knows how much money. and I think that only being 3 months in, it may be too early to tell what you really want in a violin. If you find the German easier to play, learning to play might be more of a pleasure.

March 7, 2016 at 08:50 AM · I know a few professional and semi-professional violinists who have at least two violins. Doesn't Anne Akiko Meyer have a Strad and a Guarneri?

My suggestion is sell all of them and buy one that is both easy to play and good-sounding.

March 7, 2016 at 09:30 AM · I'd recommend using the violin that gives you the most pleasure, is easiest to play, and allows for the development of your skill foundation. It doesn't sound as though the German has anything particularly against except its not the same sound as the 305's. Meh. The 305's won't sound like much at all if you aren't playing them.

March 7, 2016 at 10:25 AM · You should ALWAYS own at least two violins. What happens when your main violin needs work ? Not everything can be fixed while you wait even if you do have a violin shop nearby. It may be a few weeks before you get it back. A second violin is a must-have item.

Practise on the easier-to-play violin. It may sound better with different strings. What strings are on your violins now ?

March 7, 2016 at 01:06 PM · Think of it as your own personal version of "Survivor".

Take your least favorite violin and sell it. Then do likewise with the next down the line. That'll leave you with two, which allows for a less confusing head to head comparison.

Someone above mentioned that you may want to wait unt you really know what you want before selling them all off to reinvest in a more advanced model. Eastman 305s should carry you a number of years as a beginner, so it's not as if you're starting out on junk, you have some quality gear there.

Or you could sell off two or three of the violins and get a viola...

March 7, 2016 at 02:02 PM · Have you determined why the German Violin is easier to play? Are the strings the same? Did you measure the instruments to see if there are differences (string length, body size, neck width)?

Take note of the differences and sell the others. After a few years you will be much better informed tonally and physically what you would like in an advanced violin.

I also second buying a viola. :-)

March 7, 2016 at 02:40 PM · Keep two instruments, one hardest and one easiest. A serious instrument, and one "party" instrument.

practice with the hardest, and carry around the easiest. This way, you can practice easily wherever you go to, then challenge yourself at home with the hardest one.

Unfortunately, I could only afford moderate-ease one that complements me entirely, it also costed me a small fortune, and it's too precious for me to carry around.

Also, I always get into this dilemma, I buy a cheaper one to carry around, I don't like the sound of it, I sell it, then I need a number 2 again, I buy another cheap one, then sell it, etc. It's a vicious cycle. Seraphim will probably tell me to send him my good one again to solve my dilemma, once he reads this.

March 7, 2016 at 02:41 PM · I agree that *some* people own more than one instrument, but it's not really all that common.

I have yet to encounter a situation where I've had a violin that needed work for a few days, where I wasn't able to borrow a violin, usually from whatever luthier was doing the work.

Multiple instruments are a luxury. For most people, the money spent on owning several violins would be better put towards one higher-quality instrument. That holds doubly true at the lowest end of the market where relatively modest deltas in price can lead to significant differences in quality.

That said, I agree that a beginner is ill-equipped to choose an instrument for the long term. But buying from a shop with a liberal trade-in policy can mitigate the risk of doing that.

March 7, 2016 at 03:55 PM · I have several violins. But in reality I play one 90% of the time. For the other 10% having a second is really handy. I would recommend having a spare. It's been convenient for when my preferred violin is in the shop. Saves me from having to find, rent or otherwise deal with a loaner. Much nicer to pick up a violin you are familiar with. I also use the spare as my 'outside' violin, or when I'm playing somewhere where I'd rather not take my good violin (such as at an elementary school demo or something along those lines).

Another thing too...which is nice from a beginner's POV is that since each violin plays/handles a little differently, switching from one to the other makes you 'listen' more carefully to what you are doing and teaches to account for miniscule changes in fingering, hand position, etc. which I think is a valuable exercise.

Keep the two violins you like the most. In your case I'd suggest the German and whichever Eastman you prefer. Designate one as your main instrument and keep the 2nd as your back-up.

March 7, 2016 at 08:48 PM · Thanks All - I was not expecting so much valuable feedback so quickly :-)

And for more information, the German instrument is a Magini copy, apparently of German construction and the French instrument is an Henry Clotelle, stated as made in France. And I was mistaken in my post - it is the Clotelle on which I find improved playability (for me).

@Lydia, Kevin - I actually took your advise when I first started - I took what I thought was an appropriate budget and visited a local reputable shop and viewed a number of instruments. Then, being at a very early stage in my violin journey, I let them play the instruments for me and I chose based on playability feedback and sound quality. So given my low knowledge level as a newbie, I tried to find the instrument with the fewest compromises - which was part of what pushed me to the 305.

@Francesca, Dave, Sharelle, Brian - this is what drove me to this post - it feels like the benefit of an instrument that has easier playability is positive for me as a learning player. I was just concerned that perhaps working toward a more advanced instrument has some potential longer-term benefit. I do have a variety of strings on the different instruments - this is something I will do for the Clotelle I think to see if I can coax more sound out, all other things being equal.

@Dave, Seraphim - this is part of the question in my head - it feels like a smart play to progress to a point in which I can personally discern the individual characteristic of an appropriate instrument as I grow in my skill.

@Steven, N.A - I have found benefit in having a variety of instruments - on some practice days I find the change to a different instrument provides just enough change to help me get through the practice work, so I do think a 2 violin strategy might be good for me in that regard. Just not sure that focusing practice on the difficult instrument will be as satisfying. That said, as my technique grows, it feels like keeping my best instrument (sound, potential ...) is probably a good option in addition to the one providing the better playability.

@Kimberly - this is also a question for me. In general terms, what are the variables that define playability and can they be replicated? So for example, lets say I love the playability of the Clotelle French instrument, but not the sound. Are there characteristics that a Luthier can determine that could indicate why it night have a more advantageous playability for ME? And then it is likely that these characteristics can be adapted to a better sounding instrument? I expect the answer is "it depends", but as a general question, if one has more than one violin, is similar playability an ambition or is the uniqueness of different instruments the joy.

And as a point of reference, when I talk about Playability, my main issue right now is in string crossings. On the Clotelle, for whatever reason, I find string crossings (up or down ) to be of much higher quality and sound. The Magini copy and the original 305, I seem to need bow closer to the bridge when playing 3rd/4th finger on A string for a clean and acceptable (to me and teacher) sound. On the other 305, I seem to need to bow closer to the bridge on the D string with 3rd/4th fingers again. My teacher is working with me on bow angle (angle tends to move around) and consistency. When I am performing better, I can get reasonable sound, but the margin of error on the 305s, and to a lesser degree on the Magini, copy feels very low, requiring very high precision.

Thanks again everyone for the feedback! It is very useful and much appreciated.

March 7, 2016 at 09:13 PM · Oh. Playability in that sense seems to be a matter of set-up to some degree.

Your teacher should be able to tell you which of these instruments is actually the best one to learn on. For instance, you want an instrument that gives you solid feedback on when you're in the right area in terms of where you're bowing.

For beginners, there's often a trade-off between responsiveness and forgiveness. More forgiving allows you to produce something that sounds better now. But more responsive means that there's better feedback on what you're actually doing, as there's more of a change when you do something right than when you do something wrong, and when you deliberately do things.

It's less frustrating to learn on a more forgiving instrument, but for precision, you have to go up in responsiveness as you get more advanced.

March 7, 2016 at 09:21 PM · What about your bow(s)? Do you have a good bow? :)

People (beginners specially) often underestimate the difference a good bow makes!

I'd suggest keep your favorite violin, for whatever reason it's your favorite: Playability, sound, etc, and keep your second favorite as a spare or for when you want variety, and sell/trade the other two for a nice bow if you don't have one yet.

March 7, 2016 at 09:34 PM · Hi Fox - I have an interesting assortment of bows - one german Knoll Brazilwood, which is nice, an eBay MiC Pernambuco which is so/so, a carbon fibre (unknown source) which is quite nice to use but a bit tone dead, and a couple of acquired older bows that are OK, but not special in any way aside from looking good :-)

As I continue this thread, I am really becoming aware I have too many things for my current skill level.

I am also a golfer and have too many golfing instruments as well .......

March 8, 2016 at 12:09 AM · That's a lot of bows for a 3-months-old player! I guess the advantage is that you do get to experience variety and that should help you pick what you like best. The disadvantage is that those who had to deal with one crappy bow when they were learning will shake an angry, jealous fist at you. ;)

March 8, 2016 at 12:17 AM · Fox,

One of the joys of being an aged learner is that some of the limitations of youth ($ and perhaps time) are not as big an issue. But I surely wish I had started earlier....

I have been lucky (?) to have acquired a number one instruments that had bows included. Yes, the variety, in bows and in violins, has been an interesting experience in contrasts, even at my newbie level.

I do like your idea about using the proceeds from the sale of extra instruments to invest in a better bow. The only issue being - at my current skill level, how do I evaluate :-)

March 8, 2016 at 05:27 AM · let's see if we can get the Clotelle sounding better. Hopefully that won't change the play-ability, coz that can happen. you mentioned a 'compressed' sound, please elaborate. Would you describe it as warm, medium or bright? Are you satisfied with whatever the former is? Do you know what I mean by focused or rich?

you mentioned ease of string crossing. Exactly what strings are on it? imo strings are the single most thing that can make a significant change, besides a bad bridge or post. different strings will change the sound, but they could also change the play-ability that you like. Differences in string tension being the main factor as related to play-ability...imho.

March 8, 2016 at 06:38 AM · I started with a $300 kit (but had to replace the bow early on); bought a nicer violin after a few years when my starter violin got annoying, then bought a viola and traded in the first violin. I found that I wasn't playing the first violin at all, and every time I took it out, it was terribly out of tune. Right now I'm playing both the viola and violin. I'd love to upgrade the violin but can't justify it. So I plan to upgrade my viola bow and put money into the violin if I can figure out why it is no longer pleasing to use.

March 8, 2016 at 09:45 AM · Try ebay or local ads. My £42 ($60) purchase a few weeks back was professionally valued at £800 ($1140) yesterday. Thousands of violins out there. Supply massively exceeds demand and at the 'student' level...just do a bit of research and use some common sense. Mine was 'collection only' on ebay (so fewer bidders) and I didn't mind the drive as I had done a little research on the instrument prior to bidding. I also doubted an elderly woman was going to invite me to pick up a violin from her house and simultaneously lie to my face about its origins. I guess you pay your money, you take your choice...maybe a smaller budget can be a good thing at this level, that's all I'm saying.

March 8, 2016 at 09:49 AM · So because you just happened to win the ebay "lottery" your suggestion is that everyone else buy their tickets, in which about 99% lose their money, about as bad advice as you can give.

March 8, 2016 at 04:22 PM · Lydia/Dave/Jon,

Exactly as you have called out - I am trying to balance the forgiveness or a learning instrument vs the responsiveness or a more capable instrument. I have parallels in my other pursuits - for Guitar, it has been my general experience that a more advanced instrument produces improved playability - which was why I have taken the approach I have described. For golf, it is a closer parallel - more advanced golf clubs require more out of the user but provide considerably better responsiveness - you can feel when mistakes are made and to a degree where and why. So it feels like I should focus on the Clotelle and see if I can get it sounding better as suggested by Dave and I should also keep one of the Eastman 305s to validate changes in my precision as I evolve. Hopefully the evolution of my skills will afford more opportunity over time to then push the 305 to its limits.

Jon, you are correct - there is an absolute plethora of instruments to be acquired out there - I had no idea when I first started this journey. And this vast availability has made it harder for me :-)

March 8, 2016 at 04:47 PM · Dave,

I am not sure which strings are on it - can't remember, but I used a string guide web page to identify they weren't junk although they may need to be replaced. I would describe the Clotelle as polite. It doesn't yell but rather speaks consistently. It is for sure mellow. IT is a very resonant instrument - it really sings and rings when I get intonation right (rare but it happens). E string is nice and smooth with no ice pick stringency. A string seems OK, D String is bland and lifeless and G string is not very full of character. For example, the Eastman 305s both have a very full G and D string presentation - rich and complex in open and well executed notes.

For string crossings, the ability to hit a clean cross from, for example 1st or second finger E string to 4th finger A string, just feels so much easier and seems more accurate on the Clotelle. By far I feel I get a more musical presentation on my practice efforts on the Clotelle vs any of the other instruments I have in my stable. But it is very polite with a slightly constrained projection. I will probably change the strings in the next couple of weeks to see about the difference in tone. Then I will probably pay a visit to a local shop to see what the Luthier team thinks. The challenge I have already encountered is the focus on selling new equipment vs repairs so will need to see what is viable for tweaks to make the Clotelle sing with more authority (if possible).

March 9, 2016 at 10:59 AM · Please let me (us) know what happens with the Clotelle. My Louis Lowendall made in Berlin 1893, is quieter than average, more so under the ear, but it does project more of what it's got, which is a very even, focused, sweet sound. If it was louder, it wouldn't be the same violin.

Foe some reason I feel an affinity with the Clotelle, as I really like how my German plays.

I hope you can get it more to where you want it.

March 9, 2016 at 07:29 PM ·

Dave,

Well I changed the strings on the Clotelle last night and it has for sure changed the violin, in fact much more than expected.

It went for polite to brash/bold - new strings are dominants with Steel E. Character on G and D strings has improved - A and E are a bit shouty and bold so I think I am getting closer. But it certainly made a change on the lower strings - much more authority and texture now.

Now, I will need to figure out how to tame the A and E strings ....

March 9, 2016 at 07:43 PM · I don't know about the community here on v.com, but my musician friends and I generally agree that the Dominant E is dreadful. I'd suggest some Pirastro Gold (which doesn't really have gold), Zyex, or Evah Pirazzi or Oliv gold plated strings for the E if you want a more pleasant sound.

But it wouldn't hurt to take the violin to a luthier and see if the sound post needs adjusting also.

March 9, 2016 at 07:46 PM · Hi Fox,

I do have a Pirastro Gold E I can swap in - will do that and see the result. In this configuration, it would be identical strings to the nice sound of my more favourite Eastman 305 so a good comparison.

March 9, 2016 at 08:01 PM · Christopher, if you trust your teacher, and it is the teacher who is recommending that you focus on one instrument, how about letting the teacher decide which of your violins is best for you?

March 9, 2016 at 08:12 PM · Hi David,

In my lesson last night we had that specific discussion. She was in agreement with the suggestion to focus on a single instrument that I can enjoy playing. She was not overly unhappy with the sound of the Clotelle so it was a nice form of win/win. But she did assure me she would push me out of comfort when I make progress on the Clotelle - we have a good partnership formed even at this early stage.

So I think the decision has been finalized. I will play the Clotelle now and retain the better Eastman 305 and move to liquidate the other instruments. And I will resist more purchases :-) Now just need to ponder how good a Czech instrument I have stumbled over will be .... stay tuned :-)

This has been a nice addiction so far. Thanks all

March 10, 2016 at 05:16 AM · Dominants can be rather harsh and boomy on some violins imo. but it's good that the G & D are working

finding just the right strings can be a lengthy and costly challenge. I've often used combo sets. On my German I've got a PI G, Evah Gold D, ViolinO A, Prelude E... and the combo is very even. If the A is still too much, there are some that would tame it to varying degrees. if the A is really out of of line, I wouldn't be afraid to try a ViolinO A. The down side of a different A would be if it blends for both sound and tension. Also, as previously mentioned, a post adjustment may help the A, but there is always the chance of a post adjustment adversely affecting the other strings. it can be touchy.

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