Struggling to Find The Right Violin

February 26, 2004 at 06:02 AM · I have put up a couple postings now asking for advice on searching for an upgrade on my current violin. You all have been very helpful, but I need more help.

Here's my story: I was originally (1 year ago) playing on a $500 student German violin. I put up with it until I told my parents I had had enough (I bought it in fourth grade). Then about a year ago I started my search for a new one. First at All-State with no results. Then I started shipping back and forth with the String House in Rochester. And nine months ago I thought I found the one. A $2,500 factory-made Czech violin from the twenties. Well obviously it wasn't the one. The problem is I bought it before I knew that. So for about two months ago I restarted my search for THE violin. I have been shipping non stop! Some of these people want over night shipping back so it ends up costing alot. My parents are getting fed up with shipping and my mom says I am too picky. But my teachers agree with the fact that I haven't found it yet. This search is becoming very disheartening): My parents object to flying anywhere because they said that I will get there and not find anything and the whole trip will be for nothing. Or I may find something and then we get back to Florida (may I say that Florida is the worst place to have a violin)and it will change and I won't like it anymore.

I'm looking for a violin that:is around or under 10K. My mom says I am too young to have such an expensive instrument! But I am 14 and I think I am fully ready to take on the responsibility.The violin needs to be clear and very responsive and should have a big open and sweet tone. A violin that makes you feel like you don't have to work at all to play it. It makes YOU sound good. I'm a very serious violinist and want to go pro. I'm probably going to end up going to ENCORE this year and I need a good fiddle to play on.

So what should I do? Am I asking to much of my price range? I am not hearing a Strad's sound in my head, am I? If any of you have tried violins in my price range that really impressed you....please tell me about them. Is it really the best if I go to a violin shop? I live in St. Petersburg, FL. Any good places close to me?

Thanks in advance,

Ryan

Replies (15)

February 26, 2004 at 10:15 PM · hi i was going through the similar dilemma of searching for "the violin" with a similar price range (under 15,000) My advice to you would be to get your hands on as manty instruments possible. give the dealer a general price range but don't inquire about the price until after you have played it. Another suggestion would be to play it with your eyes closed so you won't be subjected to any biases of the maker or country in which it was made in. I was lucky enough to find my instrument in only four months and significantly under my price limit. Good luck with your search.

February 27, 2004 at 02:37 AM · One of my students was violin shopping recently. He went to two good violin shops and, after a couple of hours playing many instruments within budget, borrowed three violins from them on approval. We had a violin-testing lesson, where both he and I played mainly scales on all violins in front of a third party 'judge'. We compared them to each other, to the student's old violin, and to mine. We narrowed down to two, but it was another few weeks plus an objective opinion by another luthier before the student made a decision. I don't think you're going to find 'the one' when you're trying them one by one; you need to compare them, and play each one for a reasonable length of time. Play them to your friends and family. Get second-opinion valuations. 10k is a lot of money. Make an appointment and travel to a good violin shop, lay down a deposit if required and borrow your favourites.

February 27, 2004 at 09:25 PM · I agree with Sue. I think you have to compare them. When I bought my new violin, I went to a local shop that makes violins and sells old violins. I did ask for a general price range and played about 10 different violins. Plus I brought my old student violin with to compare. (It was a 500 dollar violin like yours.) I found this one that I fell in love with right from the start. I was also able to trade in my old violin towards the price of the new one. (which was 2500.00) You will just know when you find that one, that you fall in love with.

Also, don't get too caught up in price. I have my doubts on whether price indicates how good a violin is. I have played 1500 dollar violins that sounded far better than 5000 dollar violins.

In fact, a person that I know that used to work at a top violin company, said that one time the 3000 dollar violins weren't selling, so they raised the price to 5000 dollars and they started selling like crazy. He said that people just have it in thier heads, that they have to spend a lot of money for something good.

Kevin

February 28, 2004 at 01:23 AM · Wise words, Kevin; the student I mentioned ended up with the cheapest violin of his selected three, even though it went against all of his criteria, and the objective luthier believed this one to be the best quality instrument as well.

February 28, 2004 at 01:20 PM · Thanks for the tips! If I were to go to a violin shop, which it looks like may happen, which one do you recommend?

I guess it cam be anywhere in the counrty.

February 28, 2004 at 04:07 PM · Here's my two cents:

Check out "Beardens violin shop in St.Louis. They keep an excellent supply of violins in all price ranges.They've been around since 1942.

http://www.beardenviolinshop.com/

Mr.Bearden his wife and son cater to professionals whereas other shops may tend to cater to students as far as violins go.

While I checkouted the other violin shops in St.Louis the others just dont compare in terms of violins.

I brought my violin there!And am thinking of going back when Im ready to trade up.

As for finding the ONE!When I was looking around for a violin.I'd have somebody else play it and I would just listen.Point being I could just concentrate on falling in love! Intestingly enough only two violins had this effect on me.The one I did buy and the one I should have brought! LOL!(Both of them I found at Beardens)

February 29, 2004 at 02:45 AM · Hi. I am also 14 years old. A year ago I also went on my search for "the" violin. Price didnt matter to me...I would have paid for it myself if I had love it that much. I live in New york, so I went to just about every top quality violin shop in the city. THEN! I heard of this place called William Monical's & son: dealers and restorers of fine violins. And it was right near me! right on Staten Island. so I went there, they set up a long row of violins, and I slowly picked one up at a time, playing a few notes, putting it down....playing a few notes, putting it down...I could not believe their quality! All of their instruments were different from the rest, no 2 I saw there were the same! I saw this gorgeous BRIGHT red and orange violin, and I knew that was the one. whenever I go there for a minor repair, or such I now see somebody else finding that "certain" instrument...The one that I bought...was only $1200 and it included case and bow. So don't worry about price...because if you go to William Monicals, everything there will just blow your mind! I went back about 3 months ago for a repair on my bridge which had warped out of my neglecting to straighten it...and I saw this beautiful, deep red/chocolate colored cello. Now...I don't even play cello...but I took it home that day on a trial basis...I bought it a week later for $3200. The place is A LOT more expensive than that usually...but if you try this place out...I am SURE you will find the instrument that you want to cater to your needs. I have used that cello for only 2 months now..and I will be ready for all-state youth orchestra by next year...also, I went from level nothing, to the top level in the new york state...just by playing their instruments...so do they not only sound absolutely amazing! they improve your playing as well.

March 2, 2004 at 05:12 PM · Can you give me the names of some more violin shops in New York City (I may be going there for spring break!(:!)

March 3, 2004 at 12:09 AM · I get to watch people select violins all the time. There are the "play anything in any condition" folks, the "technicians" with their checklists, and the folks who know violins. The first kind does best if I simply pick something out that will survive them and sound good. The second set are the best customers. They're always trading out and trading up and doin this and paying for that. If they put half the energy into playing! The final group usually screens violins quickly, ends up with a couple. Screening is based on the question "will this do the job I need done." The final selection seems to be more of looking for a "click" than anything else, for that chemistry.

Something else to think of is to find a builder who likes the things you like, then visit. All my violins have very different character (in part on purpose), but all have a certain fast response and intensity of focus that I like.

Steve

March 3, 2004 at 06:16 AM · Ryan, one thing I've learned about sound and playability--the setup of the instrument can make a huge difference. For instance, if the bridge is too high, it can make a great violin sound screechy and tight. If the soundpost was adjusted for low humidity and you live with high humidity, the soundpost may become too loose and cause the sound to become dull or boxy. The point being that you should find a dealer or violin maker in your area who knows how to adjust instruments. You may be passing over very nice violins that simply have not been set up properly. It's like passing over a potential girlfriend with a beautiful face and great personality just because you didn't like her haircut.

A very wise violinist (who has played on more than 200 Strads in his life!) told me that you can change almost everything about how a violin sounds by adjusting the bridge, soundpost, strings, tailpiece, fingerboard, bow, etc. He also said that if he were to set out a nice Strad along with 10 lesser (but still nice) Italian violins, then had 10 violinists play them and take the one they liked, no one would pick the Strad. Why? Because it takes time for a violinist to learn how to bring out the charms of a nice instrument. A violin that immediately responds to your playing style and draws your ear probably (unfortunately) responds and sounds like your old violin. If anything, a nicer violin is often harder to play and not as forgiving.

So the two questions I ask myself: is the instrument in great condition (no major cracks, etc., esp. if newer)? And do I like its general personality? If yes, I can buy it with confidence b/c I know that everything else can be adjusted over time to suit my tastes.

One more place you may want to call is Robertson & sons in Albuquerque. Ask for David Brewer (he is a violinist). I have worked with many major violin shops in the country, but he is the only one who knew exactly what I was describing and sent me instruments to match. Needless to say, I recently purchased a very nice violin from them.

Are you looking for an old or new instrument? A new violin may give you more for your money, and I definitely wouldn't rule them out in your price range.

BTW, I know many people who went to Encore and became professionals, and none of them had a violin worth more than $3000 at the time. A great violinist can make any instrument sound good, but a great violin won't make anyone (except a great violinist) sound good.

March 3, 2004 at 09:46 AM · It seems to me that choicing a bow is as much important as choicing a violin.Buy a new bow may be sufficient . What do you guys think of it ?

March 3, 2004 at 11:03 AM · Greetings,

Alain, once again you said something I was itching to say. In general I find many postings on thisand other lists that seem to downplay the significance of the bow. Yet, I was always taught that a general rule ofthumb was to have a bow that was at leats a third of the value of the instrument, and on the whole, I have found that to be good advice.

Cheers,

Buri

March 3, 2004 at 09:42 PM · When i was at All-State I spent alot of time with Robertson and Sons. To tell the truth I spent alot of time falling in love with violins way out of my price range. Like Pablo de sarasates Guadignini!! LOL.

Eugene- how do you suggest going about finding out how to play a particular violin to get the most out of it. And can you define personality of the violin in your terms. Many people use "personality" to describe many things dealing with the sound of the violin.

Another problem is there are virtually no violin shops in the State of Florida. The ones that exist I have aleready tried. I'm thinking about going to new york for spring break and looking for one.

March 3, 2004 at 09:50 PM · Tell me some names of good modern violin makers.

March 3, 2004 at 11:28 PM · Alain, I do believe you're right that the bow is very important. However, it would drive someone crazy to look for both a new violin AND a new bow at the same time! Find a violin first, then a nice bow to go with it. I think Buri's rule of thumb is at the high end of the range.

Ryan, by personality I meant the general sound of the violin, excluding playability and responsiveness. You used words like "clear", "open", and "sweet". All of these can be adjusted through soundpost settings, strings, etc. Rather, do you like the way the violin generally sounds, even though it may lack something you are looking for? Does it seem capable of many different colors? Is the G string dark enough for you (it's hard to make the G string darker)?

When I listen to a violin, I listen for a certain amount of brilliance and color in the sound, as well as the depth of the G. This indicates to me that the violin has possiblities, even though it may not be as "open" or as "clear" or as "responsive" as I would like. I then play around with strings, make sure the soundpost is set properly (I go to a very good local violin dealer for this). For instance, a Sgarabotto I recently purchased had a fuzzy sound on the G string. Changing the G to an Infeld Blue (from Infeld Red) made all the difference. I can also make it sound "sweet" with some Zyex strings, and "clear" and "open" with some Evah Pirazzis.

Also, almost all good violins have wolfs, which may be viewed as "unresponsive" by someone not used to them. The Sgarabotto had a G string wolf which the local dealer fixed with a side-mounted chinrest (as opposed to a Hill style, which goes over the tailpiece). You would be amazed how much difference a chinrest can make.

There are simply so many ways you can change and adjust the violin, you just need to find one that you have a good gut feeling about. Don't worry so much about meeting all of your criteria, and definitely ask for your teacher's opinion.

In terms of playing, you adjust your bow speed, pressure, distance from bridge, etc., to each violin. So the way you play your violin may create a horrific sound on a Strad. Nicer violins demand much more attention to bow technique.

I would call Robertson one more time, talk to David, and look at what they have in your price range. Good luck.

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