Which violin to pick?

August 13, 2016 at 01:29 AM · I went to a violin shop in Richmond and the luthier there is named Don Leister. He handmakes violins and sells them.

I've tested four violins at the shop and picked two to take home for trial. They both sound fabulous, but there's one problem.

One is a nicely flamed, boxwood fittings with nice pegs, antiqued, and looks like a strad, but sounds okay.

The other is not antiqued, I cant feel the varnish, dont see a shine, is very dark(the violin), it has ebony fittings with the typical ebony peg, but it sounds a little better than the other one...

Both of them are the same price and were handmade.

Which one should I pick? The better sounding one has dominant strings, while the better looking one has vision. So strings might be another factor...

Basically, it all comes down to one question.

Better looking, or little better sounding?



The other is

Replies (22)

August 13, 2016 at 01:57 AM · Better sounding! ALWAYS BETTER SOUNDING, unless you're going to hang it on your wall to look at. ;)

August 13, 2016 at 01:58 AM · My advice is sound over looks every time. I still think your teacher needs to be part of this decision. What does she say?

August 13, 2016 at 02:00 AM · Definitely the better-sounding instrument, because looks are worth exactly zero... but then again, I would vote "neither, right now".

I definitely wouldn't just choose between two instruments from the same luthier. I would look at as many violins within your price range as you can before you make any kind of decision.

There are hundreds of violins in your price range, within a reasonable drive of where you live. I would, at minimum, look at several dozen violins before making a decision.

Most importantly, your teacher should be helping you. Many teachers accompany their students to the shop, and/or pick out a few violins from each shop that they think will suit the student, and at the very least, evaluate everything that their students are trialing.

If your teacher is not doing this, your parents should be asking some very tough questions -- both about why you're doing this without your teacher, and asking your teacher why she isn't helping you. (Some teachers want to be paid for time spent at the shops, which is very fair, but if they're not looking at your trial instruments during your lesson and offering strong opinions, something is very wrong.)

This is a lot of money. If I were your parents, I would want to be spending it wisely, and nothing about what you've posted thus far suggests that this is the case. If I were you, with no realistic expectation of an upgrade for probably 15+ years, I would want to make sure that I buy something that will be adequate for my needs for that entire time.

August 13, 2016 at 02:00 AM · If you have to ask this question, you are not ready for a better instrument. Period.

August 13, 2016 at 02:06 AM · Listen to Lydia.

August 13, 2016 at 02:10 AM · While eye appeal is seductive, ear appeal has top priority. Folks in the back row won't even see your violin.

Personally, I find "antiquing" is a turn-off and of no import whatsoever. Anyway, it seems to be quite early in your search...be patient, try 30 more!

August 13, 2016 at 07:38 AM · While I would personally always pick sound over appearance, let's not forget that people have different aesthetic appreciation and value. The violin is not just a music box, it is a work of art, from the sculpting and carving of the wood to the varnish and other details. My violin happens to sound beautiful, but it also looks stunning, and I get joy and pleasure from that every time I see it.

To decide which is worth more out of the auditory or visual experience is entirely an individual evaluation.

@ Duane, that kind of condescension is nasty and unwarrented, no one is here to be judged in that way

August 13, 2016 at 08:43 AM · KD,

It isn't condescension. I am a violin Maker. I own a shop. I have seen this before both in my shop and in other shops.

A violin is a work of art. I have a Gagliano that is butt ugly. It sounds wonderful.(This violin has been referred to, by those in the trade, as the most ugly violin that they have ever seen!)

Try more violins, as many as you can, but ignore the labels and names, the countries that they come from, what color they are, whether the back is one-piece or two. Just play them.

After the violin making school, I spent a couple of years with Mike Scoggins and his wife Carrie, both fine makers. At the time, their instruments were $8500. Carrie's instruments were prettier, Mike was fast, and they both sounded good. A teenage girl was down to 2 instruments after a lengthy search. One was Mike's, the other Carrie's. The mom asked which she wanted and why. She liked Carrie's violin. Why? She said that it was prettier. They left without anything. Mom said that at that price and level of instrument, choosing the prettier one wasn't going to cut it.

I do this for a living. I try to guide players to the best tool within their budget. I want them to be happy with their purchases and for them to provide pleasure and a vehicle for expression. Anyone beyond the rank beginner should not choose a violin based on it being pretty or not.

August 13, 2016 at 08:56 AM · "If you have to ask this question, you are not ready for a better instrument. Period"

You seriously saying this isn't condescension? If an adult posted to say they like 2 violins but will choose one because, while the sound is slightly inferior, the appearance is to their liking, would you feed them that line, or do you only do so because OP is a child.

As I pointed out, values are subjective, so I don't know what gives you the right to judge. Or determine when someone is 'ready' for a new violin, is there a number or a grade or a level of appreciation and understanding required, or is it based entirely on your opinion, Duane? In that case maybe you could let me know when I'm ready for my next violin.

August 13, 2016 at 09:00 AM · Feel free to drop by the shop. 12-6 Tue-Fri, 10-6 Sat, Closed: Sunday and Monday.

August 13, 2016 at 09:19 AM · Duane, just a helpful hint, you might consider putting a proper html link to your website in your profile text, in case people might not know to click on CONTACT to get to your website, I didn't, I went to google to look if you had a website before I Thought of clicking on CONTACT, also for a one time fee of $200, violinist.com offers you a full page ad site in the directory of luthiers (top of page DIRECTORIES; FInd a luthier) you might try clicking on my name, then CONTACT to see an example of what I have done with my Violinist.com one page directory listing. I have a website, but my violinist.com directory page consistently shows up higher in google searches than my website, but I've been listing in the directory for quite some years, and my website is quite new. Good luck, and best wishes to you.

August 13, 2016 at 05:44 PM · 100% agree with Lydia, every word.

But based on the OP's other posts, I'm not convinced he needs to move up in violin right now anyway. I think he needs to get a bow of adequate quality first (JonPaul Avanti or similar--doesn't have to be the bow of his life)so he can make an accurate determination of what his current violin is and is not capable of.

August 13, 2016 at 06:31 PM · I've played on my violin with a $600+ bow and it still lacks many qualities that I need in my playing. Finger harmonics, resonance, etc. I see what you mean. I'll do further testing

August 13, 2016 at 06:36 PM · David,

Get your violin teacher involved in the selection process ASAP, if you haven't done so.

August 13, 2016 at 07:57 PM · Trying it with one $600 bow isn't adequate. You need to try a range of bows as well. (A shop that has one $600 bow probably has 10 or 20 of them, at minimum.)

David, what is your teacher saying and doing with regard to your violin, bow, and case-hunt?

August 13, 2016 at 08:34 PM · There are lots of violins out there. Keep testing them till you fall in love with one. No reason to settle at this point. Enjoy the process of trying them out!

August 14, 2016 at 12:59 AM · David,

Here's another luthier to check out- David Swanson . He is located in Hillsborough NC which would be a reasonable drive from you. He is very talented violin maker and very pleasant to work with!


September 7, 2016 at 02:43 PM · I was just thinking, reading the fittings thread, that I'm totally surprised that David Kang, with his Joshua Bell worship, isn't jonesing for one of those Scott Cao copies of Bell's "Gibson" Strad. :-)

September 7, 2016 at 05:21 PM · lol, i was considering that, but Scott Cao... eh

September 7, 2016 at 05:38 PM · This does raise the point : how do you compare two violins when they have different sets of strings ? I know that strings make a huge difference to the sound so unless they have exactly the same strings on both violins how can they be judged fairly ?

September 7, 2016 at 05:48 PM · David, Scott Cao's personally-made instruments are very nice violins. (They are well beyond your price range, though.)

Strings make a moderate difference in a violin but don't change its fundamental characteristics. Dealers will usually make the effort to put decent strings on a violin. Less-expensive violins tend to get Dominants or Tonicas, both good-quality basically neutral strings. Higher-end instruments tend to get Peter Infelds or Evah Pirazzi Golds, high-quality strings that emphasize brilliance and projection without killing overtones. You'll see regular Evahs and a smattering of other string types on more expensive instruments, too, though I think the variance might primarily come from consignments where the strings have been left as-is.

If you don't like how a violin sounds and responds with Dominants or Tonicas, chances are you won't like it with any other strings, either.

September 7, 2016 at 06:31 PM · Dominants are lower tension than Evahs.

Changing to a higher tension string sometimes brings out a woolf.

James Ehnes uses Dominants on the Marsick Strad - seems to

work for him.

Agree that usually changing strings doesn't make that big a difference but the overall set-up certainly can.

I imagine both violins are very well set-up.

Also remember that what a violin sounds like under the ear is not what the audience hears.

Another reason to have your teacher involved.

Sometimes I use an earplug in the left ear to get a better idea about projection.

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