How often should you upgrade your violin?

May 27, 2016 at 06:07 AM · So I have a violin right now. I had it since last summer. It is from Potters Violins, Maryland. Unfortunately, it is a rental model. I started to become very very interested in Jay Haide violins, but my parents aren't very persuaded. What is a good reason to upgrade violins?

Also, the same applies to bows.

Replies (56)

May 27, 2016 at 02:01 PM · Yes! Thank you

May 27, 2016 at 02:12 PM · I'm less enthused about the Jay Haide violins. I think they're perfectly fine for their price range but not exceptional for their price range, merely competitive with other workshop-class student instruments.

Didn't the OP ask a similar question to this earlier this week?

The better the instrument you have in the first place, the less likely you need to upgrade. Any time you do upgrade, it should probably be enough to take you through at least the next level, if not two -- something that will last you for a couple of years, especially if you can't trade it back in, since violins are not particularly liquid.

I asked in an earlier reply: Does your teacher think you need an upgrade? If not, you're probably fine with what you have.

May 27, 2016 at 05:17 PM · A better instrument will always be an incentive to study more and play better, I think.

May 27, 2016 at 08:30 PM · When you realize that your current violin is no longer apparently helping you in the way you want then that is usually a sign that you are progressing musically. There are two options: a better violin/bow, or your technique needs more work on its development. If the second option is the one you really need, then now might not be the time to change your violin/bow. Discuss with teacher first.

May 27, 2016 at 10:14 PM · Good advice from Jenny Rambo!

May 27, 2016 at 10:16 PM · I expect the Jay Haide you played was a fluke. I've tried enough of them (at the top tier) to have a sense. Ditto Gliga, Scott Cao's workshop instruments, etc. Nice for their price point but they're still student instruments. (Or I should say, typical for the price point, since what you can get at the student level is a heck of a lot nicer now than it was 20 years ago.)

The OP's had his current violin for less than a year. Per his earlier post, he's a middle-schooler, and his parents are skeptical that he really needs an upgrade. His teacher is probably the most reasonable person to decide whether or not this upgrade is really necessary, and probably the best advocate to his parents for why they should drop thousands of dollars into a violin-shaped hole. The teacher is also the best resource for how to go about finding an instrument with the specific characteristics that will help the student in their advancement.

Adults can spend their money on whatever the heck they feel like, whether or not their teacher feels an upgrade is necessary. Kids with skeptical parents had better come up with better arguments than, "I wanna!"

May 28, 2016 at 04:49 PM · "how many (violins) can one man make?"

I once asked this question of a luthier I know who retired young and became an industrial chemist. He reckoned that a luthier who makes everything entirely on his own (bench-making I think it's called) can expect to make about one a month. Say, about 120 hours work? On top of that there will presumably be essential time spent in sourcing and selecting materials, and perhaps the research involved in making to order a copy of a particular "name" violin. Bringing in assistance to do things such as carving scrolls would obviously up the output rate, but then it would no longer be bench making.

What would the luthiers here wish to add to that?

May 28, 2016 at 08:40 PM · Sorry Phillip, that argument doesn't fly.

Many times, students do not have the understanding of the potential of a violin or bow, or lack the experience with the range of available violins and bows to make an informed decision about what to acquire. This happens all the time with students...because they select an instrument based on their present *limitations*.

Unscrupulous shops love players that refuse teacher input that come in to shop for a violin. They are the candidates to dump all the old, heavily-repaired, non-notable junk on because they will buy into the hype of an "old" instrument, and drop a ton of money on it.

May 28, 2016 at 09:17 PM · I will both agree and disagree with the last few posts. I can certainly see how a teacher might have a better idea of what a student might need, to move forward, than what the student might desire, to maintain their familiarity and comfort level with what they have known before.

At the same time, we haven't resolved the issue of "teacher kickbacks", and how much money the teacher stands to gain by making a shop or instrument recommendation, or by recommending an "uprade".

May 28, 2016 at 10:00 PM · Good stuff, Jenny, and thanks for putting an emphasis on integrity in our little microcosm.

May 28, 2016 at 10:04 PM · "The teachers I know who take kickbacks aren't horrible people; they just really need the money. They claim impartiality, but I don't know how one could be impartial in that situation."

One might BE impartial, although I think that would be hard. But someone taking kickbacks shouldn't CLAIM impartiality -- at all -- that would insult everyone's intelligence.

I understand that violin teachers don't get paid much. But "needing the money" isn't an excuse for unethical behavior. "Ethical" is up for discussion, of course. I wonder if any of the big teaching organizations like SAA or NMTA have established guidelines on this.

If kickbacks are okay, how about bribes? Slip me $100 and I'll make our child first chair ...

May 28, 2016 at 10:15 PM · There's no master "Jay Haide". The instruments are named for Jay Ifshin (who owns Ifshin's in California, for whom this line of Chinese workshop instruments were created) and Haide Lin (the shop "foreman" at Ifshin's).

There are also no Jay Haide instruments in the $15,000 range. It's possible you might have tried one of Haide Lin's own instruments, though. Note that this is different from a master of a workshop who's sitting in the workshop daily -- Haide Lin is in California and the workshop is in China.

May 28, 2016 at 10:20 PM · "I understand that violin teachers don't get paid much."

Some string teachers get paid quite handsomely, and I don't see anything wrong with that, if their students have a high track record of securing stable and high-paying jobs.

May 28, 2016 at 10:32 PM · On the subject of teacher versus students choosing instruments:

I think it depends on the age of the student, their level of playing, their familiarity with ia range of instruments, their budget, and how long they expect to keep the instrument.

Players are notorious for picking "like what I have, but louder". Players often also don't know what they need out of an instrument, especially to get to the next level in their playing. Players don't necessarily have the knowledge of experience to know what's fixable/adjustable and what's just part of the character of the instrument. As Gene says, a student can often be tempted into selecting an instrument based on their current limitations. The teacher, or someone else similarly knowledgeable, is vital for most players who are picking instruments.

Children, who are not spending their own money, are at the mercy of their parents. A parent reasonably needs to take into a wide variety of factors, like their budget / what is reasonable to spend for them now and over time, how long this instrument is likely to be adequate versus its resale value (and ability to resell it, since selling a violin can take forever) or trade-in value (and the degree to which a trade-in is useful since the shop might not have a good selection of instruments at the next level up), and so forth. It's just not realistic to say that a kid should get whatever it is they want.

To take a personal example on picking instruments:

I loved the sound of my current instrument the instant I heard it -- I've played enough instruments to know what I'm looking for, which is essentially Strad-like, a sound which my teacher calls "Cremonese" and which I associate with a bell-like silvery quality rich in overtones. It doesn't sound like that under the ear, though (another potential danger a player, who has to balance hearing what he likes versus what the audience gets). And it took me weeks to learn to play it properly -- and arguably I still am, because it is so responsive that small variations in bow speed can cause big "zooms" in volume, and broadly, it can magnify every imperfection, but as a result, it is forcing me to develop a much more refined control over my sound.

But I almost didn't get this violin because my teacher had actually found it for one of his teenaged students. Said student had dibs -- but she rejected it, apparently in large part because it really bugged her that the pegs slipped and she found it difficult to tune. I had the pegs rebushed when I bought it, problem solved. If she had brought up the peg problem rather than just saying that she didn't like the violin, no doubt she'd have been told that was a trivial fix, and she'd have ended up with a (IMHO) much better instrument than the one she eventually chose (as far as I can tell, chosen for being loud, though still a very nice violin).

May 28, 2016 at 10:42 PM ·

May 28, 2016 at 10:57 PM · Lots of things to consider.

Personally, I'm hard-pressed to see how I would be comfortable putting a high level of reliance on a single teacher's recommendation.

May 28, 2016 at 11:45 PM · There's an element of personal taste that goes into a selection, certainly. But I don't see how else a student can easily get a recommendation.

By the way, I've been cheated by a teacher before. A teacher of mine persuaded my parents to buy my 3/4-size from her. I didn't like the violin, which was substantially lower in quality than my (very good for what it was) half-size. The instrument turned out to be worth less than a quarter of what we paid for it, and I ended up suffering with it for years because my parents really couldn't entirely afford that violin (it was $1,600 back then, a big stretch for them in the early 1980s) and therefore couldn't just take the loss and buy me something better. So I am certainly aware of the dark side.

May 29, 2016 at 04:12 PM ·

May 29, 2016 at 04:24 PM · I'm curious why Philip, who can type huge long posts, decides to drop the "a" and "e" from "are" to save two keystrokes out of hundreds. The "you" and the "u" is a weird back and forth, too. I keep reading his posts and wondering if he's actually a teenager pretending to be an adult on this forum.

There's nothing wrong with people spending their own money on whatever the heck it is that tickles their fancy, at least in the violin realm. But I'll remind you again that we're not talking about someone spending their own money. We're talking about a kid who wants to persuade his reluctant parents to spend their money.

A responsible teacher would not, IMHO, simply tell a parent to upgrade when that upgrade isn't needed fairly soon, especially if the kid has recently gotten an instrument -- the OP mentions their last change of violin was less than a year ago. The rental instruments at Potter's are decent (particularly at the top tier). There's a huge difference to a parent between renting a violin outfit at $50/month, and plunking down $3k + $1k for a violin + bow.

May 29, 2016 at 04:54 PM ·

May 29, 2016 at 07:12 PM · Yes Jenny and Lydia. I am a middle schooler, so I am a teen. I've read Philip's posts and comments. I have realized that he sometimes uses some immature language. Such as when he said BS in other posts. Also, his abbreviations, (r, u, etc.) are abbreviations that many teens these days use. So I'm not positive, but you guys have a good point.

May 29, 2016 at 07:13 PM · Now, Philip. I dont have anything against you, but I'm just saying...

May 29, 2016 at 08:59 PM · Now Mr. Philip. Did I say anything against you? Maybe you should say something to them not me? If you are a teacher, what a rude teacher you are.

May 29, 2016 at 09:19 PM · "Menuhin played the same violin from he was 12 till he died!!"

...err... No he didn't! He used a bunch of Del Gesu and Stradivarius, among other famous makers! His most famous was the "Lord Wilton" Del Gesu which he got when he was about 62 years old.

David Kang, if money is no concern, one upgrades their violin whenever they feel like it. If money is a concern, then one needs to have a more justifiable reason for upgrading. If you are a student, you /really/ need to get the opinion of your teacher on the upgrade, as they will guide you in what to look for that will carry you through the next phase of your studies. If you are learning on your own, try to get someone who plays the violin to check out your current one and give you their opinion.

May 29, 2016 at 09:30 PM · Phillip, I most certainly do decide if a student is competent or not. How else is anyone supposed to plan a curriculum if they cannot assess what someone can or cannot do at that point in time? That is everyone's job as a teacher, whether that subject is engineering or music. Like many students, it appears you don't understand that someone giving you criticism is not being disrespectful. Learning to accept and work with criticism (even if you don't personally agree with every single thing someone says) is essential to building a career in any field.

David, I am against the entire practice of teacher kickbacks from music shops for any reason, and refuse to participate in those schemes. It's for that reason that I also do not personally sell instruments or bows to students directly, and always refer them to several competing shops (as well as online options) to make informed comparisons.

May 29, 2016 at 09:35 PM · Thank you Mr. Wie

May 29, 2016 at 09:35 PM · Thank you Mr. Wie

May 29, 2016 at 10:51 PM · Hello everyone. Just my personal experience to answer the original question. I have now been playing for a year and a few months. I bought a new violin three days ago.

Honestly I bought a violin MAINLY because I had the money.

That said. I was ultimately the one who decided that I "needed" a new violin. The factors that played into my purchase were that, without me asking anyone about it I had no less than 5 different much more knowledgeable individuals mention that I should probably get a new one. One is my teacher who has been saying that for a few months. In addition, I practice all the time and love to play. My old violin I have put hundreds of hours on is not a bad violin necessarily. It stays in tune and its tone, while not great is passable and a good violinist can certainly play something on it that to most people will sound really good. But it's color is hard, brittle, overly bright, verging on shrill. Also, I have had some recent mechanical issues with it which caused me to lose confidence in its reliability.

Why did i buy the violin I bought? For dozens of reasons. I tried probably 40 different violins over the last few months and this is the first one that sounded, felt, and played amazing. I tried it for a few days before actually deciding to buy. I had it evaluated and the price I was getting was more than competitive with the same model at other stores and online. I am as confident as I can be that I made a good choice at a good time.


May 30, 2016 at 02:38 AM · Getting back to the OP's original question, which was, "What's a good reason to upgrade?" :

Typically, you upgrade when there are things that you need to do that the violin simply won't support, or requires such effort that you run the risk of incorrect technique.

For beginners, there's a balance between how forgiving the instrument is (that is, how bad it sounds when you do something incorrect) and how responsive it is (its ability to produce different sounds in response to proper technique, i.e., its reactivity and how well it "suggests" what you should be doing). Too unforgiving and a beginner can become frustrated and/or it exaggerates how bad they sound. Too little responsiveness and the beginner doesn't get the feedback they need to play better.

As a player advances, greater and greater responsiveness is needed from the violin. That also comes with the ability for the violin to produce a greater range of colors -- essentially, tonal variety created by both left and right-hand technique. The bow also needs to respond precisely and predictably to more and more complex right-hand techniques. Teachers typically will say that you need to upgrade when they feel like the violin or bow's response to your physical execution is holding back your progress and/or not producing the quality of sound that you need to play your best in performance or competitive situations.

I was about your age (12) when my teacher wanted me to go from a 3/4 to a good full-size. I needed an instrument which would be suitable for what I would shortly be doing -- two years later I was concertmaster in high-school-age orchestras and I was routinely playing CM solos, the solo part in concerto grossi, playing competitions, and so forth -- including big romantic concertos where it would be necessary to project over an orchestra. My parents had a budget that was about a fifth of what two teachers suggested that I needed (my parents were told they needed to spend around $30,000 in late-1980s dollars, for an instrument suitable for professional playing), so the budget dictated that all I got a nice apprentice-made contemporary instrument, and an excellent contemporary bow (if not the one I wanted, because I got a deal on a particular one from a maker that would otherwise have been unaffordable). Sometimes you just suffer with what you have regardless of need, and my teachers simply grumbled about it.

Once I had my own money as an adult, I really wanted a better violin and had started quietly looking by the time that my teacher told me that I badly needed an upgrade after one too many times of her being unable to figure out why something that physically looked right simply wasn't producing the right sound -- and trading me her violin and discovering that yup, works just fine on her violin, mine just wasn't responding well enough. So I bought something very nice (if actually still not as good as the kind of instrument that my teenaged teachers wanted me to get).

I've played dozens upon dozens of violins in shops over the years, both contemporary and antique. The next upgrade beyond that point, bought simply because I wanted it, has been a huge boost to my progression as a player (I think my teacher is of the opinion that a month with it did more for my playing than the previous two years of lessons, and it is continuing to drive my improvement as it teaches me how to play), but it's arguably what I need -- I'm a CM playing routine solos, plus the occasional concerto. I really love my current violin but I'd buy a Strad if I could afford it. :-)

Ideally, advancing players starting the professional-level repertoire (call it Bruch concerto and beyond) would have professional-class instruments, but of course, most people are on a budget. So one of the valuable services that a teacher can perform is to suggest what compromises are acceptable to get something in the right price-range for the available budget. For instance, responsiveness and tonal quality can probably be prioritized over raw volume or even projection for most students; players are often attracted to loudness but honestly, in most playing situations, maximum volume isn't what you need.

If you're at that level (Bruch or better), OP, you probably won't have trouble persuading your teacher to convince your parents that you need an upgrade -- whether or not they can afford it is another matter.

May 30, 2016 at 08:24 AM · I would say that it is going to be the violin that I use for a really long time phillip. The only way I could see myself buying another is if I again happened to have the money and I somehow got good enough that this violin began to frustrate me and my teacher in some way.


May 30, 2016 at 09:22 AM · hi Lydia, I would be interested in a number of concrete examples of things that a decent-but-not-great violin will not support. please, my question is not ironic or anything (gotta be careful on this forum ;-) I am just genuinely technically interested. perhaps some relevant passages from example repertoire pieces? if it is too much work don't bother. best regards!

May 30, 2016 at 02:00 PM · Those who have tried a number of both the J Haide and Scott Cao instruments -- what price range were they from? There seem to be several tiers. Did you try ones in both the 1200 and the 3000 or so ranges? Were they fairly similar within each price?

Is there a significant jump in quality in the higher priced violins?

I'm currently playing a Scott Cao that was in the 1200 range. After a number of years, it's starting to feel a bit clunky to me. I don't know if that's me progressing and I need a better violin. My teacher hasn't said anything (and I haven't asked).

Also, in the Scott Cao violins, there are all these different models. Are the differences just cosmetic? Or are there actual differences in measurements and such? If I had the chance to choose, I'd probably be better off with a violin that was ever so slightly smaller -- in the diameter of the neck for example, but it would also be great if the notes were a bit closer together. I don't know if all violins are strictly the same in this or if there is variation.

May 30, 2016 at 02:33 PM · A rental is a rental. An upgrade is an upgrade. Correct me if I am wrong but I think rentals are of a little less quality wood often making sound less desirable than a violin you buy. I am happy with my Heinzel and look for the sound you like. I am getting contradictory info on upgrading my violin or buying a new one so I continue to explore and will most likely have a luthier upgrade a few things if I decide I trust one looking today

May 30, 2016 at 03:26 PM · Yes, you are totally correct. The rentals, in my opinion, are very low quality and my violin rental right now has minor hole in my soundpost. :(

May 30, 2016 at 04:43 PM · A little 'stab mark' on the soundpost is normal, it's how the soundpost setting tool 'holds' the soundpost to place it in position inside the violin. ;)

May 30, 2016 at 06:02 PM · In addition to what Fox has said, if there is actually a problem with the soundpost, Potter's will fix it. As far as I know, it won't cost you anything.

Jean, the incident that finally frustrated my teacher too much was with the Khachaturian concerto, in the 3rd movement, where there's some complex off-the-string stuff that simply wouldn't sound on the violin I had -- it came out muddy. More broadly, that violin also had a lot of problems producing sound close to the bridge. I could get a sul ponticello if need be, though it didn't project (consider the first Prokofiev concerto, for instance, with its ponticello section), but an ordinary high-volume forte near the bridge, no. Previously, another teacher had griped that I really needed to produce a different sound to be able to project over a thicker orchestral texture, but the instrument simply couldn't support that kind of playing (for the Tchaikovsky concerto).

The instrument that I most recently upgraded from was excellent for orchestral playing -- minimal effort needed to produce a nice airy blended sound -- but it was extremely sensitive to pressure, so the delta between "just enough arm-weight for maximum projection" and "too much weight, sound crushed" was very tiny, which can be problematic for solo playing.

The better your tools, the more you can do with them. :-)

May 30, 2016 at 06:23 PM · many thanks Lydia!!

May 31, 2016 at 02:12 AM · Dont buy the most expensive violin, there are stradivarius violins that sound horrible. Look for the sound you like. The ring at the end. And then when that dies after much practice get new strings and debate about a luthier, a luthier can move the bridge and soundpost if needed and move strings to where it is easier to play. A luthier (correct me if wrong anybody) does not change the violin to make it sound amazing, just brings it back to its original tone, or the best that violin can be. If you like in the first place the violin then they can fix it so it plays easier and sounds great

May 31, 2016 at 03:05 AM · I'm willing to bet there are no properly set up Stradivari violins that sound horrible, maybe some that sound more like $50,000 than several million bucks but not horrible.

May 31, 2016 at 07:22 AM ·

May 31, 2016 at 07:34 AM · Maybe, but its still not a "horrible" violin.

May 31, 2016 at 07:50 AM ·

May 31, 2016 at 08:26 AM · Tonnes of great violins have wolf tones, its a testament to just how great they are that people love to play them anyway.

May 31, 2016 at 09:42 AM ·

May 31, 2016 at 09:52 AM · The best violins are usually not the easiest ones to play, at least that's what I have heard.

May 31, 2016 at 10:08 AM · "How often should you upgrade your violin?"

How long is a piece of string ? I'm reminded by the story of a man in days gone by who, asked about his hygiene regime, replied "I take a bath once a year whether I need it or not".

To some questions there just isn't a "right" answer. Anyway, who is this Phillip ??

May 31, 2016 at 05:31 PM · Most violins have wolf tones, actually, and it's very common for extremely high-quality instruments to have them. It doesn't affect the base quality of the instrument, although in general you probably want to avoid violins that have a wolf on a note you're playing all the time and is going to frequently annoy you. (Most high-quality instruments have a wolf somewhere on the upper G string, often the high C.)

The thing about a great instrument is that it's basically a precision machine. It's like driving a high-performance race-car. It's going to react to every tiny thing. In some ways that's awesome, because you can get exactly what you want out of it if you have the skill to control it. Developing that skill makes you a better player, period, though you also have to learn the reactions of this particular instrument.

Or to use a different analogy, it's like working with a painter's palette. If you only have a handful of colors and brushes to choose from, you can still paint, but you won't get the same precision that you'd get from more colors and more tools.

June 2, 2016 at 01:49 AM · @David. I'm sure that quote re. the bath refers to QE1. She washed once a year wether she needed it or not...

I have always upgraded when I could afford it. I think no longer now. My latest baby is a 1610 Amati.

Cheers Carlo

June 2, 2016 at 02:26 AM · That's about a million dollars, you're sure its genuine??

June 2, 2016 at 02:53 AM ·

June 2, 2016 at 06:09 AM · Forgive my rudeness, Carlo, I checked your profile and it seems quite likely you could have acquired a genuine Amati, But they are quite rare compared to Stradivari's. Such violins are more than a little outside my league!!

June 2, 2016 at 08:48 AM · The experts in London seem to think so... and charged enough for their opinions!

Cheers Carlo

June 2, 2016 at 09:10 AM · Congratulations, I'm assuming you won the lottery or picked it up for somewhat less than its full retail value?? I would love to hear you play it, what an asset to your career.

I've never seen a violin close to that old, let alone a real Amati, I've only experienced one genuine long pattern Strad, and a smidgeon of 1700s Italians. The closet thing I have in my shop is two appraised as probably and a possibly Italian, 200 and 100 years old respectively.

I once sold a Cremonese Italian violin in pieces for $5000, several months later the expert that bought it was claiming he thought it was a Storioni, then several months later, not sure again. But I have had genuine Italian violins in my hand, and they are a thing of beauty and incredible craftsmanship, I wish I could say the same for the highly touted modern instruments everyone is raving about, but no.

June 2, 2016 at 09:14 AM · I know players with Amati's - but they bought them a long time ago - probably in the 1960's and 70's. In 1960 you could by a Guadanini for between £1,000 and £2,000 and a Rocca or Prescender for about £500-600

Even Strads went for less than £50,000 (I think) and you could buy a Ricardo Bergonzi for £100 although he was only a year or two old at the time! Top Hill bows for £30.

But the Amatis are getting a bit long in the tooth now, so lets see in another 50 years if they will be worth as much ... (Sorry, Lyndon, I'm winding you up! But you could prove me wrong if we are both still around in 50 years time, but I may be on the (antique) harp by then ...)

June 2, 2016 at 09:22 AM · " But I have had genuine Italian violins in my hand, and they are a thing of beauty and incredible craftsmanship, I wish I could say the same for the highly touted modern instruments everyone is raving about, but no. "

Oh, come on Lyndon, stop insulting David Burgess of this parish, and the many fine outstanding modern makers whose expertise and craftsmanship is inspirational! I'm sure most of those old Italian masters would pay homage and would have loved to have worked with David and Ricardo and the other US and Italian makers (to mention only those) who are contributing such great instruments to musicians the world over. I don't know if you play a stringed instrument, but you have to play at a certain level to appreciate the quality of a modern stringed instrument and the level of outstanding workmanship witnessed by our eyes as well.

June 2, 2016 at 09:55 AM · I am a maker, I play my own stringed instrument that I built, you can see it on my website if you click on my profile.

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