Violin upgrade help

February 21, 2017 at 09:02 PM · I'm looking to upgrade my violin. I currently have the Eastman V100. I had been using one borrowed from my director as I had 2 children playing. It saved on buying a 3rd. Then I just kept my sons after he decided he didn't want to take it anymore. For a student level violin the sound surprised me. But I'm looking to upgrade to a better instrument.

The violin shop is 90 miles from me but they have let me borrow 3 violins.

Josef Regh that I found sounded a little harsh. $1500

2012 Scarampella copy (can't recall maker) $1200

2016 Eugen Rubner Amati 1690 copy $1800 not sure on the 1690 as hard to read

Of the 3 I like the Rubner best. I'm not sure if there are others I should be looking for. He mentioned sending me a Lupot from the Eastman line but instead sent me the scarampella that was a different maker.

For background, I play in a community symphony that is adult players and students from the studio. Music is generally show tunes and movie scores. We don't play classical. We have songs that are intermediate level to challenging John Williams pieces. I'm one of 10 1st violinists.

I feel like I'm stuck with this shop since I bought my current violin there. They will give me a trade of $700-750 for my Eastman V100. I know they sell cheaper and this shop may be more but they are also giving me what I paid. Are there other shops that will take a trade if you didn't buy from them?

Replies (25)

February 21, 2017 at 09:21 PM · I suggest you try a variety of affordable violins and pick your favourite.

February 21, 2017 at 10:50 PM · Great advice by Ella. I definitely don't recommend trying a bunch of violins and picking your least favorite.

February 22, 2017 at 03:39 AM · The problem I'm having is being 90 miles away I can only try what they send me (so far 3 in 2 trips). I wasn't sure if anyone here had intermediate level violins they use or could recommend as good quality instruments and possible share their reviews. There are so many out there it seems. For example I don't need an instrument for solo work and I play in auditorium setting.

February 22, 2017 at 03:39 AM ·

February 22, 2017 at 05:30 AM · Internet recommendations can be of some use, but every human has a different taste for sound, so what one may really like, the other might hate, though there are negative sound qualities like dull, shrill, sharp, etc that no one likes. Your best bet may be to try a variety of violins one after another in the shop, but that could lead to some confusion.

February 22, 2017 at 06:05 AM · Might also check out craigslist and see if you could try instruments one at a time that way. Might find a good choice.

Otherwise, maybe you should wait until you are traveling again and check out several violin stores. It sounds like you want to try a dozen or more before settling.

The thing that makes me cautious is that the Eastman 100 seems pricey. It's nice they'll give you the trade in value, but it might mean you're treating a street value $300 violin for a $600 violin. If you sold it on ebay you'd like get ~150-300, so what does that say about the cost of the other violins? The violins you have been offered sound like new copies of famous labels. Are they shop adjusted Chinese violins or where are they from? For that price I think you want a wider selection of choices.

February 22, 2017 at 03:30 PM · J Seitz thank you for your input. While I realize I need to find one with a sound that suits me I think we all agree it's not that simple. I'm trying to find out how to get some to try or a little guidance as to what I could try.

The problem I have is I live in rural Midwest . I have little options. The state chain store has student violins or antiques that are all $5000+ So not much for the intermediate player. The other store is the one that has given me ones to try. I found a store the other direction but it's even further. Probably 150 miles away. And not in an area is "travel to". I don't see Craigslist being viable due to area either. And quite frankly I'm not comfortable with Craigslist. I don't know how I'm going to find "dozens" to try when I've struggled to get 3 that are probably overpriced to begin with.

And yes..these violins seem to be new models of copies. I tried to find them online but couldn't find any videos or reviews. I'm. It opposed to a new version of a copy of it's something I like.

With the overpricing, I'm not against just buying a violin straight out. What matters is I find one. A gal I work with has a grandfather that takes lessons and will be needing a full size in a few years. So hopefully she would be willing to buy it from me, esp since it's probably what she will get anyway since the studio uses this violin shop.

February 22, 2017 at 04:07 PM · There have been some buzz here about the Jay Haide violins. I tried only one and was surprised by its quality. If I remember correctly, the owner had paid no more than $1500 CAD.

I have tried their violas, and the quality was not as good. As others agreed, there are sometimes huge variances in quality of violins coming from China.

Try to find a dealer willing to send you a violin by mail. You can ask them to send the best of JH within your price range. Inquire about the trial period and return policy.

Good luck and keep us posted!

February 22, 2017 at 04:22 PM · Thanks Rocky, I too have read things about JH. The shop 150 miles away from me does offer them as well as Scott Cao. I think I may have to look into getting violins shipped to me. Share has one that is highly reviewed as well.

I'm not sure the shop I've been dealing with is being overly helpful. The person I talk to mentions sending me 2 or 3 and mentions the makers. Then I get only 1 and it's completely different maker. Makes no sense to me.

February 22, 2017 at 04:47 PM · Some of the Jay Haide violins are way better than the price would indicate.

Some are just pretty good, but I haven't played any that were terrible.

February 22, 2017 at 05:30 PM · Some may not like my advice, but when I try instruments or bows I try to play the best* I can find in the shop. That way, when I move down to my price range I have knowledge of what the "best" offer and what I am losing at my compromised price. Sometimes I've not lost that much - at least not that I can detect at my skill level. I figure this gives me a broader and deeper basis for my selection.

Always take your own instrument and bow(s) to a shop when trying other instruments for purchase there.

* (In shops I have played instruments made by Antonio Stradivari, Nicolo Amati, Andrea Guarneri and three years worth of the traveling Cremona "show" and come away without a whole lot of jealousy.)

February 22, 2017 at 05:46 PM · Think that is great advice Andrew. Particularly bringing your own bow/violin.

Interesting approach with trying the 'best' in the shop. At the very least think it is a good idea to try something above your planned price range. But hey...if it gets ones hands on a Stradivri or Guarneri etc, that is an experience in itself (many of which we'd be fortunate to have). Never know unless you ask!

February 22, 2017 at 06:01 PM · Andrews, I do the same. I bet you shop for suits this way too?;) We do need to be aware of the pricetag bias based on the fallacy of "you get what you pay for", as well as the decoy effect sales persons sometimes use to get you buy what they want to get rid of. But in general, try the best in shop then try the ones in your price range to see where is the best for your money. Mind you, the market is flooded with old and new violins under $2k. An old violin under $1000 could sound as good as one priced at $5000 after some repairs by a luthier. I had one like that and played it for more than 5 years. So don't rush. Let a pro or an advanced player help with your choice before you finalizing the deal.

Also, perspective, if you are serious about learning violin, remember the initial cost of a good student or even a professional level instrument is relatively fix and manageable in comparison to that of the lessons,camps/workshops, etc.

February 22, 2017 at 06:30 PM · Anyway you can bite the bullet and take a road trip to Chicago, or ann arbor? Get a hotel room and try to decide in a couple of days? I know of 2 good shops in the chicago area (North/Northwest suburbs. Both have good selections in the 2 to 5K region

February 22, 2017 at 07:57 PM · "Might also check out craigslist and see if you could try instruments one at a time that way. Might find a good choice."

Waste of time.

February 22, 2017 at 08:09 PM · Thank you for your ideas.

I did call the violin shop 150 miles from me. They have 30-40 violins in my price range. So it looks like I will have to make a trip one day.

Also...when trying violins in a shop do they have rooms or do you just play in their lobby? I'm not a horrible player but I'm no professional by any means. But playing solo in a store terrifies me. Not even sure what to play other than scales. I'm not going to be able to go in there and slay some Bach.

February 22, 2017 at 09:11 PM · Hi Dee, I am in a similar ship as you as I am also looking for a upgrade to my current violin (Eastman 305) and I also live in a rural area. The closest string store for me is a 2h drive (~85miles). Since I play on a 7/8 my choices are even more limited.

Even though the store only carried 2 student 7/8 violins, I made the trip anyway. I needed to hear for myself what everyone else had repeated about hearing the instrument yourself to make a choice.

I was amazed at the tonal differences. There was no price consistency across the violins. I specifically remember playing this one violin that I thought sounded worse then my 305. When I looked at the tag it was marked 4000. I was pleasantly surprised with a student snow instrument at 1000. It didn't project at all, but It had a really nice even clean tone and was so easy to play on. I absolutely loved the antique I tried at 5500. I could make that violin really sing at times when it was a struggle on my 305. It was just so awesome that I would have traded my violin and brought it home with me even though it was waaaay out of my intended price range. (It wasn't a 7/8.) The owner even let me try a luthier carved 7/8 25k violin. It was beautiful but I didn't find it easy to play on.

After the snow melts, my plan is to take either a trip to Boston or NYC and stay over. I am thinking of asking my teacher to specifically pick out good etudes and repetoire to study for the sole purpose of violin shopping. I also need to make a check list of things I want and things I must pass over. I found it really easy to get distracted when I tried so many the first time. After the first 8 or so, it becomes all blurred together.

I really rather just point and click and have something mailed to me from amazon, but I know how important it is at my price point to hear and play a violin before buying one.

February 22, 2017 at 10:29 PM · Dee,

it varies. Seman Violins in Skokie (Suburb of Chicago) has several small trial rooms.

String Project in palatine doesn't, WH Lee in chicago doesn't, Bein and Fushi does. Sometimes the salesperson will stand there while you trial, and sometimes not....What city are you driving to?

February 22, 2017 at 10:55 PM · Almost all shops have trial rooms, although it's common for storage rooms to double as trial rooms. Those that don't tend to be a single luthier who has a one-room workshop.

February 22, 2017 at 11:40 PM · My own story, few months ago... (I have to admit that compared to you I'm in a very privileged situation, with four luthiers nearby and three cities with major violin dealers within 3 hours driving distance...)

When I purchased my current violin, I set myself a price limit, but then acted like Andrew, just to see what could be possible. Although I'm a late starter and yet quite a beginner, I played all the violins my luthier had on stock at this time, maybe 30 of them, from €1.4k via his own for maybe 18k to an old italian for... a few bucks more. ;-) He was so kind to remove all the price tags, only thing I knew was which ones were built by himself - obviously, for they are extraordinary beautiful.... I sorted out the six I liked most, took them to his back room and worked on them in the middle of some staples of tone wood, his power drill and the band saw. I lined them up according to my own preferences and only then asked for the price. To my own surprise my line-up almost matched with the increasing pricings, so this did make sense to me. (At my playing level, you bet I didn't test them above the 6th position except on the E, and I didn't care about higher positions than 3rd on the G at all...) The range was from €4,5k to 10k, which was quite above my limit set, but still somehow within the inofficial "reserve" if heaven should strike me. Only thing was, a week or two earlier I happened to meet a pro-playing friends violin he had purchased for something around €10k and which I really really liked (actually it was this instrument that forced me away from my "student level" rental), but none of the violins mentioned above - even in the very same price range - could give me a similar WOW! So maybe it still wasn't all about money...

Finally - I was ready to go - he pulled out another violin ("Oh look, I almost forgot about this one..."). At the first sight I thought like, oh please, no! For it had some cosmetic issues which cannot be retouched. But as I was already there I tried it, and after the first scales (litterally hit me in the guts) it was hard to hide that grin in my face - which hasn't left me since.

To make a long story short, I took it home for trial, two weeks became almost three months. I just wasn't able to return it. In this time I tried maybe 80 more violins (mostly €3-10k, but even a few beyond the €50k where I have to admit that - maybe mainly due to my own playing inabilities - they didn't make any difference to me anymore, so far for the money bias...), found a few more I liked and I could afford, had them at home for trial, but no one came close to my Cinderella which seems to have waited just for me in it's shelf, for more than eight years...! So finally I bought it.

It's not made by a prestigeous maker from a prestigeous region, and due to it's cosmetic damages I expect it to be nearly unsaleable for an adaequate sum, although after all I learned about violins, it feels like I got a good price - but to be honest, I'm so in love that I do not really care... My luthier's very liberal trade in policy helped me at the beginning, but for the moment I can't imagine giving it away again. Since we're together, every day is a good day for me. Please don't tell the wife...

So. What could somebody else learn from that? Maybe nothing, as it's only a single case report from a privileged guy far as can be from being an expert, highly subjective and extremely irrelevant.

I can only wish you a similar love story. And I'm sure there are others around here with similar experienced.

My humble advise?

- Trust your own feeling. The help of advanced players can be helpful to keep you from buying total crap, but in the end it's you who has to be motivated for everyday's practice.

- Even if usually you get what you pay for, it's not all money that matters. Feel free to stick with your own opinion.

- As Andrew mentioned, play as many instruments as you can, no matter if they are far over your price range or not, and no matter if they are for sale or not. Ask the violinist colleagues in your orchestra if you can try their instruments as a reference (let them know that you are out hunting), and rather point out what you like in them, then everybody will be happy. Calibrate your preferences, and find out in which price range for YOU the real fun begins. (Don't use my story as a gauging, it's just stupid numbers, and I do not have any experience than with german, french, italian instruments plus a few from Austria and Switzerland, so I guess with contemporary intermediate level chinese or romanian instruments the game might change drastically.)

- A price limit is useful and even necessary for most of us who weren't born with a golden spoon in their mouth. But as taste and needs can change, you also might consider the aspects of an instruments "investment value" or at least the resale value. From today's point of view you'd seem to be better off with a central european or american made instrument, antique or not. You can experience this already with student level instruments, and the higher the price the hugher the gap. Only very few workshops from Asia or south eastern Europe are reputable enough that a +/- stable resale value is guaranteed over the years. Maybe times are changing, but for the moment.... On the other hand, as long as you are limited to a price range of let's say <3k or so, chinese instruments might still be the better option as for sound, playability etc, who knows. You only can find out by yourself!

- If you fall in love with an instrument slightly above your price limit, and you can afford it without risking your families fortune and future, take it. The money isn't all gone, most of it is just parked... Finally a violin is not like a car or consumer electronics...

- Only buy from whom you trust. Don't buy a violin you didn't have at home for trial.

And... sure you do not have any plans about visiting a major city for a holiday?

February 23, 2017 at 12:03 AM · Epic failure. Instead of writing a novel, it would have been smarter to make it simple. So, this is my upcycling-downgrade attempt:

If you find the opportunity for shopping around, and if you do so, chances are that it's rather the violin that will pick you than vice versa... No science or esoterics.

February 23, 2017 at 05:36 AM · Nuuska, thanks for sharing your experience. I do agree that like you, I will know it when I play it. Just seems so overwhelming with the number of options. Guess that's a good thing. Now all I can do is wait for a free day to make the 165 mile trek to the violin shop with the 30-40 selection. Of course the weather was 70 today and this weekend is supposed to have bad winter weather. That's Iowa for ya.

February 26, 2017 at 04:21 AM · I have not read all of the posts so I hope I am not duplicating an answer but have you tried Shar Music for violins? I believe they will send you violins for trial. I have not done this so I do not know their policies. You might look into it as an option.

February 26, 2017 at 02:34 PM · Yesterday I made the 2:40 trek to the violin shop. I tried every violin in my price range. I wish I had counted but it was 30-40 of them.

The winner was a 2012 Sandro Luciano. It was about 3/4 into my price range and about spot on what I wanted to pay.

Their "violin room" had doors but wasn't private but I had to do what I had to do. It's so intimidating playing at my level knowing everyone that can hear you is playing at an amazing level.

After I had my top 2, $5 apart in price lol, I had one of the makers play each so I could hear their sound away from me. Surprisingly, it was my second favorite that I liked better so I'm glad I had someone else play it. But that violin was the one that I liked the quickest.

He used my bow and struggled a bit with it at times which made me feel better about my struggles so I got a new bow too. All for $49 less than my top budget amount so I feel like I did well!

I forgot I was going to have him change the chin rest but I'll just do that. Not worth 5 hrs travel. Oh well.

I was so tired of playing the same measures of different pieces for the 2 hrs I was there but feel like for the first time I have an instrument that I enjoy playing.

Thanks for everyone's input!!!

February 27, 2017 at 06:54 AM · If you want to try Ifshin Violins (see Rocky's post above), I recommend you ask about the Kremona (aka Kremona Studio) violins. They're made in Bulgaria. I have the highest model viola (V1) and I love it. From what I can tell, the less expensive models are made in the same way but with lower quality woods (I'll bet that's how lots of no-name violin series are done).

I did a quick google--a place called Audubon Strings sells them and says the name is Kremona-Trade; brand is "Howard Core"/ I believe both these name refer to the distributor--they really do seem to be good value. The website with the information is

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