Shall I get an untested violin?

September 28, 2004 at 05:23 AM · Hello everyone,

Greetings to all of members. I've been lurking here for the past month and finally registered yesterday, seeing as you guys seem to be a band of merry, kind-hearted folk, eager to share your experiences, good and bad, and various advice (prunes and bananas are a staple for me now). I was also encouraged by the fact that I'm not the only one taking up violin past the usual starting age. Quite a way beyond.

I'm Ariadne, born and bred in the Philippines. I've wistfully thought about taking up violin for the past 18 or so years, ever since giving up piano at 11. My teacher then was the old-school type who wrote the notes on my fingers with pentel pen and smacked my hands with a wooden ruler when I hit a wrong note. In any case, I just started seriously planning to study violin within the past 2 months, and visited various forums, discussion boards and websites to see what I needed to prepare myself for. I've interviewed potential teachers, and settled on one. I intend to start this October.

My stumbling block is the violin. I haven't got one yet. You see, in all the music stores that I went to, they don't let the potential buyer take an instrument home and test it for a few days before making a decision, like all of you have shared. Here,it's either you buy it or you don't. And my future teacher expects me to have 1 ready a week from now.

Anyway, I've settled on the Cremona SV-100 (full-sized). Is it alright if I just get it straight from the store, after making sure it hasn't any (obvious)defects? I have no idea what to listen for in terms of sound (deep, warm, rich etc.)or even how to produce them.

Thank you for anything you can share.


Replies (13)

September 28, 2004 at 06:20 AM · You can compensate by spending hours on end - or is that no end? - trying one fiddle after another until they see things your way. Remember the first law of commerce. It's your money and you can take it elsewhere.

September 28, 2004 at 08:28 AM · Hi, since you're a beginner, I feel that the quality of the violin is not as important as how dedicated you are to the study of violin playing..... as least not now. I started with a cheap skylark many years ago (24 years) and only much later I am able to learn something about the desirable properties of an instrument.

If you feel you are comfortable with the Cremona SV100 so be it. The choice of a violin is largely the violinist's. My (or any other people's) choice may not be suitable for you at all.

As long as the violin you are about to buy is properly fitted, looks OK, sounds OK, then go ahead and get it. Don't be surprised when in the years to come, you will tend to acquire other violins, probably much better ones. that's normal. I've had at least 6-8 violins pass through my hands before, many of which I've outgrown and later sold off or just given away.

After all, suppose you've never had a car before, you don't naturally start by getting a Ferrari or Merc, do you?


September 28, 2004 at 01:07 PM · Hi Ariadne,

Are you by chance based in Manila? Looking at your profile, you mention Quezon? The only reason I'm asking is because you may want to contact a local violin maker by the name of Amador Tamayo. I believe he sells workshop violins there which is cheaper than his own violin (I'm just not sure how much they are).

Otherwise, the other alternative is for you to ask your teacher if he/she could come along with you when you pick up your violin so he/she can inspect it before you buy. I don't know what tradition is over there, but here in the U.S. we usually offer to pay the teacher his/her usual fee whenever we ask him/her to come along for a test drive.

The problem with getting a violin from a "music store" instead of an actual violin shop is that the violin's setup may be out of whack and you don't really have anyone knowledgeable to fix the problem. I don't agree it doesn't matter if you have a badly setup violin to begin with. It matters a lot. The violin does not have to be expensive, but at least it should be properly setup. Otherwise, you will end up hating it and not feeling comfortable with it. Even worse, a bad setup could cause damage to the violin itself in the long run.

Good Luck to you! I wish you the best in learning to play the violin.

September 29, 2004 at 03:29 AM · My teacher has a hand in helping select an instrument. I would at least have someone who plays the violin come along and try out the instruments, because that person will know what to look for. It's not just a matter of getting a violin with a beautiful sound at this stage: it's a matter of playability.

I have very strong feelings about this because of the nightmare I went through. My story is the extreme of what can go wrong because store bought violins would at least be of standard proportions and shape. My first instrument was apparently hand carved ("with a kitchen knife" the luthier commented a year later) but deftly enough to look real. It was bought on my behalf by a kind soul and I thank the instrument and the buyer for bringing me into the violin world. The neck was narrower than usual but very thick from top to bottom. There was a bit of a bump on each side cross-sectionally and when I played with my adult-beginner tight hand that bump would go into my thumb joint and send an electric shock feeling like when you hit the "funny bone" of your elbow. Shifting to 3rd position felt as if my hand was being pried apart because the neck there thickened noticeably. The neck was set into the violin in such a manner that the bridge could not be lowered properly, meaning that the strings were relatively high, meaning that I got into the habit of pressing quite hard for each note not to mention elevating my fingers steeply because of the ultra-close strings. I have finally gotten over my "violin neck phobia" but have a lot of work still to get my left hand in line. The weak sound was actually a good thing: I learned to work for sound. I took that violin to the luthier after playing it for a year who warned me not to continue playing it I would lose any technique that I had gained. Imagine.

Choosing a bow is equally important. The bow that came with the instrument was ultra light and the balance point was totally wrong. To get an even sound I soon began to sink the bow into the strings around mid-bow. A very fortunate thing happened: the bow broke after 6 months. When I first started to use the bow chosen by an expert this time, I still had the bowing from the unbalanced bow. On the good bow every bow stroke sounded like an exaggerated < > It took several months to get out of that habit even after playing such a short time.

September 28, 2004 at 06:24 PM · Um, yeah, what he said.

September 29, 2004 at 11:14 PM · Its surprising we have the same experience. I was just curious to try violins and had the same deal when i purchased one when i was still in the philippines. So i went to a commercial music shop in one of the shopping centers there. without knowledge on sound etc... I dont think it is very important to consider those things if you are just starting out. just feel the instrument and see if you are comfortable holding it. remember you will spend a generous amount of time a day practicing that and you want to stay as comfortable as possible. Eventually you will grow with your instrument and it will come to a point where you will feel you are done with it and it cannot satisfy your needs as a musician anymore. I got a cremona years ago too until i felt the need to step up and now invested on a fine instrument... just practice hard... and get yourself immersed on it... and of one these days you will feel the need to step up. good luck!

October 12, 2004 at 01:35 PM · Hey!

Thank you all for your shared insight. I was sick for a while, too much stress from juggling my studies and getting supplies for my jewelry designs, so I couldn't respond immediately.

In the end it all went very well. An aquaintance of mine helped me out, he even set up the bridge and tuned my new violin for me. When he checked it out, my violin teacher was suprised at how strong (loud?)the violin was. Now the next thing on my list is playing "Twinkle, Twinkle" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" without squeaks and squees!



October 12, 2004 at 07:14 PM · Congrats! Glad you let us know how it all worked out!


October 14, 2004 at 10:27 PM · I would definately test the violin, and several others. I would pay my teacher to help out. The violin shop here lets you take violins or bows for a week with no deposit. If they didn't, I guess I would just move in to their shop for as long as it takes.

November 26, 2004 at 05:01 PM · If you have time you can show me your violin. I charge a fee only if I have to do something with it. But simply looking at it is free. Advice is free.

I have adjusted lots of China made violins. The cheaper ones usually need new bridges and the fingerboard nuts have to be lowered if not changed to ebony, a harder wood.

I am a certified German trained violin maker. So far the only one in the Philippines. You can contact me through these numbers- 364-5050 or celfone 09178246127.

January 9, 2013 at 12:26 AM · I think I may be a bit late responding to this post. This was written nearly 9 years ago. I suppose you must be advanced level by now. Regarding the "home trial", I would like to say a few points on this. No one would let you take home a violin, not even in other countries in Asia or Europe without settling the payment in full, not unless you give them a guarantee, like a swipe from your credit card, freezing a certain amount, etc. In other words, if you make a scratch or dent on that violin, don't bother taking it back. I think that is a fair deal. They do this in the US after a thorough identity check but for rental instruments only, not for FINE instruments. I am a good client of this huge violin shop in A big capital of artisic life in Western Europe, I would not even dare ask the store manager to hand me a violin and take it home for testing. What I did was go there for several days, test it on different occassions until my money was enough to pay for it in cash, provided the violin is still there. I don't want to be responsible for damages or theft of something that does not belong to me. If I take it home, it means I assume full responsibility for it, and if damage or loss occurs, that would be good as sold. Those type of violins should only be tested in the shop under enormous scrutiny. Don't forget there is no such thing as a free meal. For a store owner in his right mind, why would he allow a violin which is $6,000 to $ 30,000 be brought home by a total stranger with no guarantee that this stranger can pay in case in it's lost or damaged. Get the best sounding instrument you could afford.

As a future investmment it's definitely worth your money investing $3,000 or more on an Amador Tamayo violin. These instruments are not mass produced. They're made by the only TRAINED AND CERTIFIED LUTHIER IN THE PHILIPPINES.

Contrary to what you may read on forums such as 8notes... This luthier did not visit Italy or Germany. When you visit a place, you are a tourist. How many tourists do you know go to a country for several months and learn the language fluently? It's an indicator that he or she received higher education in that country. The best violin making schools are mostly found in Italy, France, Germany and the Czech republic and Bulgaria as well. Now this impostor who said he owned a Strad, is simply jealous of Mr. Tamayo's achievements. He cannot even speak any of these languages at all, let alone spell Italian correctly. He claimed his natural father was Italian American, and that he knew Italian. Again, he victimized the wrong person. I immediately spoke to him in fluent Italian, and this Edgar Patenio could not reply a single correct phrase.

Take note of this. A lot of pretenders would claim that they are this and that, especially in the Philippines. I caught two already, lying and fooling naive musicians who are ready to believe anything. One of them was this Edgar Patenio and his Antonio Marino violins. Another one was a pastor who insisted Milo Stamm bridges regular had two M's after he was contradicted by the CEO of Milo Stamm himself. I told him to check the grain of the wood. He ended up being shamed when distributors in Germany, the US, and the factory itself said that they did that on purpose to make the regulars with one M to fool counterfeiters from China. This pastor from Bacolod, said he's a professional like Tamayo, but he is 0 in product knowledge and can't even play a decent piece on the violin correctly. The other guy told me that he has the Messiah Strad in his apartment in Paranaque. I never met a person who owned a real strad and declared to a total stranger that he has a Strad. It's usually the contrary. What is even more incredible is what people believe before making any research themselves. He tried "victimizing", the wrong person this time. I alerted the authorities and all major auction houses. Interpol has a database of expensive instruments and their "whereabouts." He turned out to be a fake. Obviously I knew it since the beginning but I needed a piece of paper and declarations from Sotheby's, Tarisio, Christie's, Pirastro Germany, so on and so forth, that they do not know who the hell this guy is before other musicians started believing that they were fooled.

Going back to Tamayo violins, That explains the price difference between mass produced stringed instruments you could buy on the internet for less than $ 800.00. Let's face it, there is no such thing as a "Master level" violin less than $2,000 dollars. That's just a price of an entry level Lothar Semmlinger. I paid more than four times more that price for mine from a not so known maker, and even more for another instrument. That's just the violin. I'm still saving up for a "decent bow". Even Chinese makers who have won competitions charge as high as $ 4,000 ++. A lot of people use this term " abusively", "Master Violin". You often see some "Master level or pro level" violins with a blank bridge, uneven peg works, blank bridges. First indication. If it's indeed a master level violin, why fit it with a cheap nameless bridge or a counterfeit Aubert grade D? If you check the market today, it's saturated with fake Dominants, and fake Aubert and Despiau bridges. The antiquating might be nice, but these are not for the serious professional. the price alone is an indication. The only thing that can't be counterfeited is the quality. Judging from the quality alone, not the stamp on your bridge, nor the label on your instrument, a pro Luthier can tell how much your instrument is worth.

The country of provenance says little about the instrument. One could get an excellent instrument from China and a crappy instrument from Germany. The question you should ask is the track record of the maker, not the country where he made it. Germany makes cheap student violins as well for 500 euros. The paper works also make a huge difference.

For a master violin, $ 3,000 is a very small amount compared to what you get. You can't find that price in Europe, north America, Korea, Japan and Singapore. Owning an antique does not mean much either. If it's well preserved from a reputable maker, it could be worth a lot, but there are thousands of copies out there. Some people wanted to sell me an "Amati" for a hefty price. I told them to have it appraissed before we can start talking about business. It turned out to be valued less than $1,500. It was an antique copy. The varnish alone was not typical of the Italian school. It was definitely, Not by Niccolo, Andrea, or any member of the Amati family.

January 10, 2013 at 12:35 AM · Is there a way you can get someone else to play the instrument from a few yards away?

It's difficult for a beginner to judge an instrument before he or she learns to play it and even hard for experienced violinists sometimes, because they are right on top of the instrument.

If you could hear someone else play it from a distance, or better yet, have him/her play three different instruments, that's ideal, if it's possible.

January 10, 2013 at 12:35 AM · "My teacher then was the old-school type who wrote the notes on my fingers with pentel pen and smacked my hands with a wooden ruler when I hit a wrong note."

Yikes. One of the most important things a musician has to learn is to relax. Hitting a child (or anyone learning an instrument) teaches the muscles to tense in anticipation, the opposite of what a musician needs to do.

It also indicates poor priorities. Getting the flow of the music first is often better than getting the notes perfect. Even the most brilliant violinists hit the occasional wrong note but they play on. A perfectly pitched note isn't much good if the phrasing is all wrong. When learning a piece, work on the overall tone and phrasing first and then polish out the rough edges when the edges are all in the right places.

Sigh. Saddens me to hear there are teachers out there like that.

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