Still Confused About Buying a Violin

July 26, 2004 at 11:05 PM · What to do? what to do? someone on here recommend an article about violin outfits and what's out there. All violins and bows were tried out to see how well they played and what not. Someone else recommend a violin maker in china that makes violins, but since these violins are made from stratch how would you test it out and see if you like it? So my questions to all you is this, well actually two questions. First, on the online article I read that some violins are factory made so doesnt that make them not as good? what's the difference between a factory made violin and a workshop violin? Second, would it be wise to buy a workshop violin even if its just the violin alone?

Replies (27)

July 27, 2004 at 12:39 AM · Hi Pedro,

Factory violin are made to cater for the lower range. They make it in volume so that the general prices are lower and more affordable. Typically factory violins cater to students (or parents of) who do not want to invest too much. One cannot say that factory violins are of lower quality than handmade ones, but when you play, say a 20,000 dollar handmade violin and compare it with a el cheapo Skylark, it is like the difference between driving a Merc and a wobbly pickup truck.

The point here is ***CONTROL***. A cheap violin is very difficult to control. The sound will go off tune by itself and it just wouldn't resonate properly, in addition to the screecy notes produced.

A cheap violin would affect your mood adversely. Many times when I pick up my cheap violin I don't feel like I want to play at all. I don't feel the joy of playing. But I am still forced to play for the sake of playing or for entering auditions or exams.

A good violin is simply a joy to play. Like driving a sports car it goes where you want it to go. It is so responsive.

Therefore the general consensus is that, a well handmade violin by an experienced luthier is generally much better in all aspects than a factory made one.

When one has more money to invest, or when thinking of making a career out of music, or just simply performing in public or in church, it would be WISE to invest in a good handmade violin. A cheap student violin just wouldn't do.

A factory violin is made by factory operators who may or may not know how to test the violin. Thay may not know what makes a good violin. It is doubtful that any or all of them are also violinists. They are there simply for the sake of ekeing out an honest living.

A hand made violin is typically made by an experienced luthier from start to finish, sometimes with apprentices or students. He or she knows what materials make a good violin and will select the materials appropriate for its price range.

A good violin would have these qualities when fitted appropriately with good quality strings and accessories.

SOUND ASPECTS

1. Warm and rich sound.

2. Sound is STABLE and EVEN across the registers

3. Will not or not likely to produce "screeches" or "wolf tones" when played fast.

PHYSICAL ASPECTS

1. Lightweight

2. Made of traditional aged maple and spruce.

3. Appropriately varnished.

4. Bass bar and sound post fitted and in good condition.

There are more qualities to look for in a violin but they'd fill a book.

When buying a violin, test it before you decide. Many dealers would allow you to test. In fact they will even propose that you test before you buy. One can buy a violin without a bow too. It's not a problem at all.

Well I have said my 2 cents worth. Some people may or may not agree with my points but please, do correct me if I'm wrong.

Regards,

AARON

July 27, 2004 at 03:35 AM · Aaron gave a great overview for you. Factory made violins are very often made from lower grade wood and machine cut then hand finished. Workshop violins are often made in workshops where dozens of workers construct an instrument, often assembly-line style. Handmade violins are usually classified as those made by the hands of one maker (example, purchasing a Gregg Alf violin).

Violins can range wildly in terms of quality so it's best for you to play as many as possible and pick one that performs well for you and meets your tonal requirements.

Many shops and most makers will ship you a violin to try. It is often required that you pay for it, but if you return it in the same condition in which it left the shop, you should get your money refunded. It's a good tactic to offer to pay for shipping.

Bill

www.amatifoundation.org

July 27, 2004 at 09:36 AM · Hi,
very good and structured post, Aaron. I just beg to differ in two points

  • it has been said (e. g. by Yehudi Menuhin) that the very best violins also require the very best players to "conquer" them, much like a fine race horse won't develop it's potential under a bad rider - I've never played a Stradivarius or ridden a race horse, so it's just hearsay, but still, ...
  • less well made violins are generally not susceptible to "wolf tones" since this only happens when all the wood has been worked to the utmost limits of acoustic responsiveness
The main reason why no factory made (i. e. "machined") violin can ever be better than one crafted by hand (even if machined parts might be used at the outset) is that each piece of wood is individual. The failed experiments of copying famous violins millimeter by millimeter prove that. Doing this guarantees that the copy will be inferior to the original, because the material is different and thus has to be treated differently.
However, the cheapest fiddle can be improved by a proper setup, the right strings and a good bow (most underrated part of our equipment). It is just a question of economics: Tweak a cheap fiddle with high amounts of effort and money or buy a better one from the start.
To me, playing the violin requires so much effort and dedication (think "time is money") that you shouldn't limit yourself with inadequate tools. People spend thousands on a car without thinking twice. The car will last for some years and then be utter junk. A good violin will live for centuries and never loose its value.
Bye, Juergen

July 27, 2004 at 02:55 PM · So how to distinguish whether it is factory made or hand made? more expensive one is probably handmade, but if there is any more observable way?

July 27, 2004 at 03:16 PM · Just my two cents...

I play a Jay Haide Al' Ancienne and absolutely love it. Such a beautiful warm sound. I would say it is a step between a factory and workshop violin. It is supposedly made by the best luthiers in their shop. The wood quality and craftsmanship is superb. Anyway. You can get one of these on trial from Ifshin Violins. Or you can trial other brands. That is the best way to find out if you like a particular violin. Or go to a dealer and try the their most expensive antique workshop violin and compare it to the lowest end models that they sell.

July 27, 2004 at 04:51 PM · It's easy to tell the difference. Check the scroll of a violin, the factory ones can't actually create a scroll. It's more like a stub there. Touch the scroll as well. If it feels like cheap plastic than it's factory.

July 27, 2004 at 05:21 PM · Keep in mind though...a lot of what makes a high-quality violin a high-quality violin won't be found in a $1000 or $1500 model (and I think that's the price range Pedro was wanting).

If you're trying to find a $20,000 instrument for $1000 you're gonna drive yourself cuckoo...(unless you luck out and win the lottery...which does happen...)

;)

July 27, 2004 at 10:00 PM · Thanx for answering my questions its all clear now. The reason I asked if because someone recommend a violin maker over seas. He makes violins for about the price Im looking for and I just wasnt sure if I should considered him. They're hand made violins and you have to wait for it to be made and if you dont like how it sounds you can return it and he'll refund your money. But I heard so much about European violins being the best I just didnt trust spend that much money on a violin thats not made in europe or that at least comes from that area. Any suggestions here...

July 28, 2004 at 12:36 AM · It's not necessary that non-european violins are any less good than its european counterpart. In the past I've tested one handmade violins made in China. The unit was a single piece back with absolutely breathtaking diagonal flames. It was retailing for about USD 1200. The voice was very good despite being fitted with the typical dominant strings.

There was nothing in or on the violin that I didn;t like.

Unfortunately there was no label inside and the dealer can't tell me much about the luthier except that it's handmade in China. It was simply gorgeous and stunning to look at. This same violin if it carries a european luthier's name would probably retail about 10,000.00.

I think you can also get similar handmade violins in stores near you. They deliver quality without burning a hole in your pocket.

Handmade Chinese violin can get very high quality. But then I had the fortune of trying it out first.

Commissioning a violin from a luthier can be a very touchy subject. Unless you know E X A C T L Y what you're looking for, it can turn out to be a bummer for both parties. You must be sure and precise about the specs you want. For example, it is not enough to say you want a violin. you must say something like you want a Maggini model or a Stradivarius model of a particular year.

You want a single piece or double piece back. The spruce or maple must be of a particular age. With or without flames, and what kind of flames. Tiger stripes? Bird's eyes? Types of varnish. Colour. Some people want it "in the white" so they can varnish it themselves.

The type of scroll. Typical double turn scroll? Or triple turn? Or something unusual like a carved lion's head or a perhaps a mermaid? How about Mozart's head staring back at you when you play?

I could probably write ten chapters on the dirrefent parameters and specifications of the violin.

The sound is highly subjective. While all of us want a Stradivarius sound, but what turns out may be completely different. So its important to go over the details with your luthier first. My take is that the outcome of the resultant sound is beyond the control of any luthier. And be very careful about miscommunication due to languages.

But when all is done and you are happy with the result, you will have a violin that is yours and personally yours literally, because it carries your personality whenever and wherever you play. That is the biggest advantage of a commissioned violin.

Regards,

AARON

July 28, 2004 at 08:51 AM · Hi,
the most valuable ingredient in a handmade instrument is the craftsman's time. Everything else - even the fancy wood or the old wood - is secondary to that (as far as economics are concerned). If the builder lives in a society where either living is cheaper or where his skills are exploited, he can put in the same amount of love and expertship at a vastly cheaper cost than a luthier with similar talents living in the G8-countries.
Building violins doesn't involve any fancy high-tech tools - so there's no inherent advantage in coming from a rich, modern country.
Bye, Juergen

July 28, 2004 at 09:50 AM · Often factory made violins are easy to tell as the label inside the violin might have a number (eg 2 of 1500) which means the violin has been mass produced, or the the label has a company name (EG Ashton, Suzuki) instead of a Maker's name (Stradivarius, Klotz, etc).

Any violin that isn't it's natural colour (eg Ashton's) are factory produced and aren't really the best quality violins. The Colour is painted on, and if chipped, a very light coloured wood underneath is revealed (i think it might be pine).

My Suggestion, if you can afford it, look around to find a good quality violin. A few years ago I was able to find a copy of a strad Prelude that was made in China. It was about AUD$1500 so it is a bit above the suzuki's etc. It's a good violin and although I sold it now I would reccommend it for someone for their first violin purchase from a el cheapo one.

Look for one that has a fairly small production (my strad copy was 1500) as that probably means better quality.

I'm not sure why, but someone told me that the chinese made violins were doing pretty well, but have a look into it, and have a look at some local luthiers, you might be able to find someone who is willing to make you one.

Also, it is possible that you might be able to find at an auction a really cheap violin. Have a luthier check it out and possibly change the set up a bit, and bob's your aunty

July 29, 2004 at 12:50 AM · No one has asked Pedro yet about his playing level, and his budget. The first is paramount; a decent student violin will almost certainly be sufficient for the first couple of years, after which the student might wish to upgrade. My beginners make a perfectly good sound on Stentors and Primaveras which cost £100 for the whole violin kit. In fact, I went violin shopping with a student at Grade 4 level recently, and we found that he made the same sound on a violin priced at £500 as he did on one worth £3000. Therefore it would've been ridiculous and pointless for him to be looking at a more expensive instrument as his playing ability just didn't justify the expenditure.

Pedro, if you don't mind my asking, what is your budget?

July 29, 2004 at 02:02 AM · He mentioned he's in Suzuki Book 2 and is looking for an instrument (or package?) for about $1000.

July 29, 2004 at 06:21 PM · Apologies for missing it:)

July 29, 2004 at 06:32 PM · I've been reading (and participating) in a few places, and I must say...beginner's asking which violin or package to buy has to be the most commonly asked question...LOL...

...and I don't blame them...it's all very confusing and overwhelming when you first start looking...

July 29, 2004 at 11:54 PM · Yeah Mohr,.... especially when they all look alike to the beginner. One can walk into a violin dealer and see rows of identical violins at first glance. Except some price tags ar 300 and some at 10,000. So it sets one wondering, why the big difference for something that looks similar?

So Pedro, have you initiated the purchase of your violin yet? Do tell us.

AARON

July 30, 2004 at 05:15 AM · Well my budget is 1,900 I've been saving for a couples of months because I wanted to buy my own violin eventually. I have actually ordered a violin already, it'll be made by a luthier in china Which has 30 yrs of experience, Here's the website if any of you might be interested www.chineseviolins.com, the only thing is that it will the violin alone so I still have to buy a bow. I still have some time because it'll take him a couple of months to make the violin. So I'm going to look around in the mean time for a bow, any suggestions??

July 30, 2004 at 02:58 PM · Well again...how much are you willing to spend? Is your $1900 for everything...or was that just for the violin?

July 30, 2004 at 03:00 PM · Just go to your local music store, they should have a range of bows at whole different prices ranging from el cheapo $30-60 bows to the bows more expensive than your violin.

Just try out the ones in your price range and find which one you like best. There'll probably be a few different weights and it's just a matter of finding one that feels right and reacts the way you want it to

July 30, 2004 at 03:09 PM · BTW...I looked at the web site you posted...looks interesting...

...let us know how the violin turns out when you receive it...:)

July 30, 2004 at 04:20 PM · sure thing, I'll let you know how it turns out.

September 6, 2004 at 12:43 PM · Do not underestimate the quality of Chinese violins, they have come a long way.

http://www.fretland.com

September 6, 2004 at 08:45 PM · I must speak about the Nicotera violins that I became aquainted with about eight years ago. I purchased the Guiseppe Nicotera, and now have upgraded to the Salvatore Nicotera. My teacher is very impressed and in fact recently purchased the Giovanni Stefano violin for professionals, she owns a very expensive instrument which she plays in the Minnesota Orchestra, but is now preferring her new one. My violin is handmade, and sounds beautiful..very warm and dark like I like it. I have been playing for nine years and am a senior in highschool this year, and will be going away to college. I hope to be able to upgrade to the Giovanni Stefano in a few years, however, I am very happy with the one that I have now. I had to speak about these violins because I think that they are a real find. I have some beginner to intermediate students that I teach under the supervision of my teacher, and we are all very excited about these violins. We were using the other student and rental level instruments, which I don't think I should mention the brand names, but they were not giving the right tones that we wanted for the students to accomplish. Just thought that you might be interested in this information.

September 10, 2004 at 06:36 AM · Just an addition to what Ben said.

Those Ashton Violins have a maple top.. Yick! You can imagine the crappy resonance of something like that - Maple doesn't have a very straight grain at all. Even guitar companies very rarely use it for electric guitar bodies because the sound is too sharp (bright and snappy) (of course it evens out a mahogany bodied guitar quite well).. anyway guitars for a different forum.

Ashton might as well make their tops out of plywood - at least it would be robust and cheap.

September 19, 2004 at 03:08 PM · So Pedro have you got your violin yet? Do let us know.

AARON

September 19, 2004 at 05:32 PM · no not yet, its going to take him 3 months to finish it, but I'll let you know.

October 26, 2004 at 05:05 AM · Hello,

I gottan a few questions on my violin, my violin isnt finished yet, so far he's only carved out the woods, if you're interesting you can take a look at a few pictures of the wood

front: http://www.chineseviolins.com/UpLoadPic/2004101015855Front.jpg

Back:

http://www.chineseviolins.com/UpLoadPic/20041010151054Back.jpg

side:

http://www.chineseviolins.com/UpLoadPic/20041010151231Side.jpg

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