Buying a decent violin on a college student's salary.

December 15, 2004 at 07:02 AM · I've been browsing this site since last week, and finally decided to sign up and get involved.

I'm a college music ed major who's hit a major wall. I've had the same violin since I started over 11 years ago. It's been great and has taken me so far in my musical endeavors. I went to one of our local violin shops a few weeks ago to have my violin looked over and found out that it's basicaly a piece of crap. I was getting a bit discouraged with my skill since no matter what I did in regards to my technique, my tone would NOT change. The shop told me I needed a new violin (which I've known but have conviently ignored) and it should be in the $7000 and above range.

Now maybe that seems like chump change to some, but hearing that figure sunk my spirits. I tried various violins there, and found out that I have some expensive taste! Every violin I said I liked was in the 5 figure price range, and my favorite bow was 2k.

My dilemma is that I'm going to be going to a new college soon, and I want to do my best on my audition. I need a new violin and would love a workshop violin by a master luthier, but of course my pockets just laugh when I mention it. Chinese violins are notorious for their poor quality, but I seem they are making a dramatic turn around. I've looked up possibly getting a violin that's carved in china, but set up and varnished in the US.

Of violins in the 1500 - 2000 dollar price range (I know that's "cheap" for violins, but it's the best I can dream of doing right now), what do you recommend.

Tone-wise, I like a deep, rich, dark tone and tend to stray away from brightness. I play in chamber ensembles as well as large orchestras. I play mostly modern music, but have on occasion dabbled in baroque stylings. Soloing is not something I focus on, but when I do choose to solo, I enjoy playing minor pieces that deal more with sustained tones than intricate and fast fingerwork.

Any help you could offer would be GREATLY appretiated, because honestly I've never been so discouraged with music in my life. The last time I practiced I ended up kicking over my music stand, sitting on the floor and bawling. :( Once again, thanks for the help in advance.

Oh yes... I live in the Seattle Area just in case you know of other violin shops that may have what I need.

Replies (47)

December 15, 2004 at 04:21 PM · The first thing I would say is that if you're about to start a relationship with a different teacher, wait until after you start to buy a new violin. Your new teacher will undoubtedly have opinions on what you should be playing on, based on your strengths and weaknesses, and what he wants to concentrate working on. You don't want to show up for the first lesson with a brand new purchase that your new teacher insists needs replacing ASAP. Even if you can't afford much, make sure what you get is going to be appropriate for the new situation, and gets the approval of the person you'll be working with. Borrow a violin for the audition.

Second, get a realistic assessment of your future potential, so that you can form realistic goals. By this I don't mean what you *want* to do, but what a good teacher thinks you should be training to do, given your abilities. Choose a violin based on where you're headed, as much as possible. I guess that part's obvious, but I'll say it anyway. What it means, though, is that you shouldn't short the future because of present problems--in the long run, that will cost you more.

If you're focused on becoming a professional AND have the ability, you may find it unavoidable to mortgage the farm and spend more than you think you can. Be prepared for that, and concentrate on making it happen, if that turns out to be what's needed. It's not impossible to raise money--just difficult.

December 15, 2004 at 04:49 PM · Depending upon the college you will be attending there may be grants or endowments for students that help with purchasing instruments. If you are staying in the Seattle area, I know that at one time the U.W. and S.U. and Cornish had patrons that would help in this area. It is worth a try to discuss this with your new teacher and the department in which you will be located.

At any rate, you should ask your new teacher to refer you to luthiers with whom you can discuss payment terms to see what you might be able to afford.

As Michael has stated, you may need to truly focus on this purchase. Where there is a will there is a way.

You may find that you require various combinations of financing sources. Look beyond your own savings account.

December 15, 2004 at 04:53 PM · Check out the jay Haide violins. If you contact Ifshin Violins www.ifshinviolins.com, they can ship violins for you to try out. I was in a similar situation to you. These violins are awesome! I got mine for about $2000, and it sounds and looks beautiful!

December 15, 2004 at 05:06 PM · " deep, rich, dark tone" - shoot, you're describing our "extra" violin (violin student turned violist = redundant instrument). Hungarian, strong sound, darker tone being first impression, high end intermediate leading to university level or slightly beyond (obviously a professional wants a handcrafted "professional" instrument). I would want anyone thinking of buying it to live next door so they can feel safe in trying it out so that doesn't work. Drats.

December 15, 2004 at 06:52 PM · I would check out stringworks.com. Their Kallo Bartok violins are suppose to be awesome for their price of $1800.00 and it would be perfect according to the sound and tone you are looking for.

December 15, 2004 at 07:27 PM · I think you can find something that will work for you for $2000 or thereabouts...at least until you graduate and can afford more...

This past weekend I had the opportunity to play a $12,000 and $15,000 violin...

...and was very pleased to find that I honestly didn't prefer either of those to any of my two much less expensive violins...

...I bought my new violin from Steve Perry at Gianna Violins...he's very helpful...you can call him toll-free and see what he says or has on hand that might do in your price range...

...it's certainly not the same as trying things out in person, but he will play them over the phone for you...

...it worked well for me...I'm very pleased...and have had excellent feedback from other players on my instrument...(I play in our community orchestra)...

December 15, 2004 at 09:35 PM · I second the notion that Steve Perry is knowledgeable--he reworked a vioin of mine and it sounds much better. And he's made a few fiddles as well.

In that price range you also might want to check out Snow violins. If you can go a little more (between 2 and 3k), they have a model or two which I think will surprise you.

December 15, 2004 at 10:27 PM · I second Michael Darnton's opinion. Wait for your new teacher or department to make a recommendation and help you in your search. You never know if they might have a student or associate that has a violin that they will be willing to lend to you or even let you purchase the violin on a payment plan.

I've had experience buying online and within 3 months I traded the violin in at a violin shop where I bought my current violin. I still have the dud bow and will probably give it away at some point. Since you are not a beginner and have very particular expensive tastes, you need to take a lot more time with violin & bow shopping and more personal attention from your teachers, friends, and other players. You'll need a shop that allows you to take out on approval, try the instrument in all sorts of venues, go to your usual classes, rehearsals, etc.

That said, good luck, there are good/acceptable violins in your price range, usually from apprentices of famous makers. If you want new violin, you should e-mail some makers for example, http://www.fritz-reuter.com/makers/cremonaviolinmakers.htm and see if they have apprentice instruments you can try.

But you might want an old violin, in which case, your professors or school can give you leads. Good Luck!

December 15, 2004 at 10:36 PM · Oh, I didn't read what you wrote about the audition, and why you want the violin now.

Establish a relationship with the violin shop, and ask them if you can take out the violin you like on approval, then go to the audition with it. Let them know you're a serious potential buyer.

December 15, 2004 at 11:20 PM · I second StringWorks.com. The Michael Todd is $1400 and the Kallo Bartok is $1800.

Good luck on your search.

Karen

December 16, 2004 at 12:09 AM · ALRIGHTY! Hi there, I live near you! If you go to Hammond Ashley in Des Moines they have lots of violins for a very cheap price. I bought mine there for 2000 and it's amazing! If you type Hammond Ashley into google their site will come up and you can get directions. When you go in they have a case on the right of the counter that has expensive violinins but above the desk there are violins in the cheaper range. Try them all out for sound! They have bows too and the people there are soooo nice.!

December 17, 2004 at 04:32 AM · Hi Natalie,

Here's my $.02. I was in pretty much the same situation as you, except I didn't have a violin at all. I had been borrowing one that had belonged to my teacher when he was in college. I eventually used it to audition for a different college. See if your current teacher will let you borrow one of his. Also there may be a decent local maker who will let you try one out on extended loan. Sometimes they have made several fiddles and are desperate to sell. That was phase two for me. Maybe you could work out some payment plan.

I agree with what was said about waiting until after you've started at the new school to switch violins though for various reasons. Maybe the school will have one you can borrow. My school had a couple old Italians donated by alumni on loan to various students at various times. My teacher's teacher gave him a bow when he started with him because he didn't have a good one. Lots of things may open up at the new place.

I think, at the audition, if the teacher is impressed by everything about your playing except your tone and realizes that it's the fiddle and that you plan on getting a different one, then it shouldn't be a problem. I would feel out the situation and the teacher and maybe even discuss it on the phone with him. If he's worth having as a teacher he will understand. But frankly most teachers at most colleges would be in awe of a student just playing in tune with good rhythm. Concentrate on that.

End of my $.02.

December 17, 2004 at 10:39 AM · Dont be fooled by high price tags either... some instruments are valuable purely for their provenance, ie: how old they are and who they were made by. It definitely does NOT mean they sound good. Best advice I had given was to go and play as many as you can and listen to them dont look at them and dont look at their labels !!!! Buy the one you fall in love with. I bought a new, handmade instrument that outsripped in sound anything old at the same price. Hopefully it will continue to improve with age and playing too !

My second choice for sound was a £600 violin made in France 1900 that had a small repair to an f hole but boy could it sing... I may still go and buy it as a second fiddle.

Don

December 17, 2004 at 07:33 PM · i've known some great violinsts who had strads and such, and many of them had 2000 dollar instruments that they liked almost as much as well.

December 17, 2004 at 07:36 PM · ...if that's true...and I belive it is - in many instances ...then why this seemingly constant push towards buying more expensive instruments?...

December 18, 2004 at 04:39 AM · Isn't there in the choice of a violin more than just a good or beautiful sound? I know that of the four instruments that I've had a chance to play, the last one seems to be much more responsive to the subtle things I do, the range over which harmonics play is larger, and other things that I don't have a name for - it seems that as I improve in skill, the instrument will keep pace and do what the technique wants it to do. That's a poor way of putting it, but I know there is a point where a beginner quality violin has to be exchanged for a higher quality one not just for the sound but because of how it "functions" (?) - the demands placed on it? I can't address the professional end of it because obviously I know squat. Personally even if I magically became tomorrow's Paganini (yes, and pigs can fly) an expensive rare instrument would probably intimidate me too much to go beyond timidly holding it if I dared do that much.

Natalie, have you managed to find a solution yet?

December 18, 2004 at 04:53 AM · my suggestion would be, go to a couple shops and take home two or three violins/bows for a week or so, and use your favorite at the audition. that way you would be able to get even more specific with what you want in a violin/bow and be able to play a nice violin for your audition without dipping into your pockets. There are some very nice chinese violins out there, but you should probably look for a safe money investment as well as a great violin. you may have it for the next decade into your professional career. and I think it would be difficult to find a Chinese violin varnished in America, unless you know a luthier that specializes in that. Anyway, that's my two cents. Welcome to the site! Take care.

December 18, 2004 at 06:37 PM · I am only a beginner, so take that into consideration. But the Karl Jospeh Schnieder Guarneri model makes a sweet, full and clear sound that is to the darker side. Also I asked a knowledgeable maker about that brand and he said that it is a good quality for that price range. Look at Shar music in Ann Arbor

Peter

December 18, 2004 at 11:21 PM · Hi Natalie,

Sorry to hear your violin appraiser trashed your violin. I had that happen, too, and it's a sinking feeling.

But do keep in mind that when a violin maker or appraiser looks at your violin, they may be referring to its craftsmanship, value, aesthetics, history - and not necessarily how good it sounds.

Perhaps your new college also has an endowment of instruments you may be able to borrow? That may be one way to "tie you over" until you get your new instrument.

December 19, 2004 at 05:06 AM · First, let me thank you all for the responses. I haven't had a chance to log on to reply until today.

I'll be going to Ashley Hammond violins tomorrow hopefully so that I can try out their violins. I spoke to one of their luthiers, and he offered me a glimpse of hope.

I'll see what I can do about asking the school or borrowing one from a teacher, but it will be a whlie since I'm trying to restart with a teacher I used to have, but lost when I moved away.

I've started saving my pennies for whenever I can get a violin. I'm hoping to purchase one by the start of summer, but we shall see.

Thanks again for the input!

December 20, 2004 at 05:32 AM · If you find an honest dealer.

The Chinese violins are great for the price. Great wood and craftmanship, not to mention the tone. Rumainian violins are of great quality, but the tone is often okay. If you want more info. please contact me.

December 20, 2004 at 06:19 AM · What Gypsies would sometimes do to get a dark tone is get a 3/4 size viola and put violin strings on it.

December 20, 2004 at 04:02 PM · I think it would be fairer to say "some" Chinese violins...there's a lot of junk out there as well as some great stuff.

December 20, 2004 at 05:28 PM · Hi,

There are a lot of good violins. The range between like 1500 and 10000 is wide. Go for sound in this range. There are some 3000$ instruments that sound better than expensive ones. Chinese violins can be a good bargain, as can modern Hungarian instruments (price 1500-3000). My students picked a few good ones, and one just got a great Hungarian violin that beat anything to 10000 she tried for 3000$CND. If you want to spend more there are some very good modern American violins. David Cox is affordable, and I think that Marylin Wallin charges about 10000$ for some very good Guarneri model violins.

Good luck and Cheers!

December 20, 2004 at 11:03 PM · Some Chinese violins are superlative. For example, Shan Jiang and his brother Feng both won medals at the VSA competition.

I am not affliated with them or have heard their violins, and do not know Johnson Strings, but at their website they have two Shan Jiangs. A comparable price for a VSA winner who is American or Italian would be in the $15K range or higher.

Good luck!

#N-VN2510 Shan Jiang, Beijing 2004

Antiqued golden brown varnish, lightly shaded on golden ground. 354 mm $5,000

#N-VN2511 Shan Jiang, Beijing 2004

Antiqued golden brown varnish, lightly shaded on golden ground. 355 mm $5,000

December 21, 2004 at 02:19 AM · Clare, please don't misunderstand--I play a viola made by Guang-Yue Chen which was far and away the best I could find for the price. It's a pleasure to play. I think the Snow (also Chinese-made) instruments are a fantastic deal. But I've seen other instruments coming out of China which I would not want to play or for students to buy, that's all I 'm saying.

December 21, 2004 at 03:28 AM · I would (in spite of suggestions to call me) follow Mr. Darnton's advice. Find the teacher, then the fiddle. One thing that happens in colleges is that students advance pretty rapidly. You may well find a good deal from someone stepping even further up, find a violin to borrow, etc. Music programs are surrounded by instruments. That one is available for use or inexpensive sale and that you like it isn't unlikely at all.

Steve

December 21, 2004 at 03:30 AM · The Hungarian violins at that price with that kind of sound - Christian, I bet they come from the same shop and maker as our violins + viola. Would the newest your student got be an Alexandar Gaspar by any chance?

December 21, 2004 at 04:17 PM · I have to agree with a lot of people on this forum. I second Mike Harris' opinion - check out Snow Violins. I believe their website is www.snowinstruments.com. I have a few friends that own Snows and they sound absolutely beautiful!

For a little more, also check out Gregory Sapp or Sofia violins. The Sapp violin runs about $4500. I own one and I think it sounds better than most expensive (greater than $10k) violins that I've played.

First and foremost - check out your local shops. You may even want to travel a bit. The local shop that I go through allowed me to do a year payment plan. Basically, I pay monthly payments on my violin for 12 months when it's paid off. Some other local shops may allow you to do that as well. It's an easy way to be able to afford a nicer instrument when you didn't originally think you could afford it.

December 26, 2004 at 10:04 AM · At the risk of boring anyone who knows me from other forums .. :)

If you want it deep rich and dark then you must at least try a Gliga Gama. It is well below the price you are quoting which would leave you a lot of room for a professional setup and a good bow.

I do agree with Michael though: no point in spending a lot of money if you are about to change teachers. Perhaps your present teacher has a violin you could borrow for the audition?

Liz

August 28, 2010 at 04:04 PM ·

First off, just have to confess that I did not read through the responses to your post before deciding I had to say I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL!  I read your post and though, wow that is exactly what I am going through right now with my instrument.  I have been playing this instrument for the past 11 years or so, like you, and I will be performing a concerto soon, and also play in a string trio and just feel I need a better instrument.  I also found out that it is worth nil and I don't have the cash to fork out to support my expensive taste either. 

In a way it was a bit of a relief to find out it's not worth selling. I am rather attached to it and we have been through a lot together!  But it also means I have no assets to work with...

Must read through your comments now.. best of luck!!

August 28, 2010 at 04:42 PM ·

 Natalie,

I find it interesting that you suddenly decided your violin was worthless only after the local shop told it was. How did you feel about it the day before? 

It's like going to a car dealer and asking if you need a new car. And even scrupulously honest violin dealers are going to be inclined to find fault with whatever comes in the shop.

Very few students have great violins, so I wouldn't get all bent out of shape just yet-even at the doctoral level, many of my classmates had low-quality instruments, and it didn't affect their career. Before you need something for professional auditions or competitions, you have plenty of time to look for a decent fiddle. What you need is not a new Chinese violin, but a bargain of another sort, and it may take some looking. There is value out there, usually from private parties, or older violins without labels that have been restored. The best values in violins are probably not found at the retail level.

If you have financial room to maneuver, using student loan money to buy an instrument may actually be a wise investment (probably wiser than using it for laptops or late-night pizza).

Scott

August 28, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

 Scott Cao violins are amazing... at least the one I tried @ $1,200.  Give them a try  too.

 

August 28, 2010 at 06:38 PM ·

Don't forget to try relatives too ;)  You may be pleasantly surprised that the aunt that could not stand you and your high school partying may see it as a way to save your soul to buy you a fiddle....

But in any case make it a long term project.  Get the information out that you are looking for a new violin - I did this a long time ago and picked up a 3K violin for a tenth of its value from a rich amateur that wanted to encourage a student (and I wasn't even a music student).

And please ask your violin to forgive you.  It loves you really ... ;)

August 28, 2010 at 07:39 PM ·

Eek! You could say that the same happened to me although I'm  playing 0.7/11 of the amount you are. The first luthier (and the last currently) hinted on the tone and the architecture of my violin, laughed and called my bridge illogic (experimentation stuff and yes, I heard improvement).
Then I got put down and almost considered walking away with a different violin although it didn't take me long to remind myself how dear the violin is to me.

I came home, played an amazing solo(for my level) and decided to let the luthiers comments pass by. Although... I do keep wondering if it's the violin or just me when I have one of those bad days. Sometimes it's funny how I can play a lot better on an instrument I have never touched rather than the one I have been playing with the longest.

Cheers,
Theo
 

August 29, 2010 at 09:33 AM ·

 Anyone happen to notice this thread is 6 years old?  She's probably graduated from college by now.  I'm only pointing this out because this kind of thing seems to happen a lot here.

August 29, 2010 at 11:02 AM ·

Michael, thats pretty funny!  I must confess I did not think about it.

OTOH it might yet be useful to some other struggling college student and we would, of course, LOVE to find out what she did. 

August 29, 2010 at 01:28 PM ·

 I don't really understand why an undergraduate (especially an ed major) would need a violin that costs almost ten thousand dollars...

August 29, 2010 at 02:20 PM ·

 It's worth pointing out that a sub-4 figure new violin (which could be Chinese) that has been set up by a luthier who knows what he's doing can be a desirable instrument, eminently playable and with a decent tone and volume, well good enough for up to advanced amateur standard.  I've seen and heard several examples (I even own one).

Pity the poor cellist, though.  There aren't so many cellos, they're more difficult and expensive to make, and consequently tend to cost 50-100% more than a violin of comparable quality and build.  

November 23, 2010 at 11:51 AM ·

Im in the same position, and have played student violins for 14+ years!

Im also a uni student, so my budget is about AUD 2.5K

If anyone from Sydney or Blue Mountains area in Australia could point me in a direction...? Help..please...? :)

November 23, 2010 at 01:49 PM ·

If anybody in this situation is in, or will be visiting the New York City area, get in touch with me. I may have something for you.

February 7, 2011 at 02:05 PM ·

Another solution for an affordable,yet excellent sound and tone violin, is to call Martin Swan, Scottish violinist . You can go on his web, Martin Swan violins, He orders them from an Hungarian violin maker, then tunes them himself. He also has great left handed violins.. It's difficult to try the violin before buying it, since he lives in England, but you can return the violin if you don't like            it,without difficulties. He is extremely pleasant to deal with, very helpful.

February 7, 2011 at 09:26 PM ·

Lauren - the shop I bought my violin from is called Logans Pianos, in Burwood (Sydney's west). They have quite the range of instruments there and the sales staff is amazingly helpful. If you're in the Sydney area I highly suggest checking them out. :) 

February 10, 2011 at 06:57 PM ·

So where do we think Natalie is now....6 years later?

Did she graduate?

Is she playing in an orchestra?

or did she cave in to become an accountant?

February 10, 2011 at 08:00 PM ·

I wrote her an email and asked if she'd give us an update.  We'll see...

February 13, 2011 at 09:17 PM ·

hi,

Unless you are going to play to very serious audiences who will pay you top bucks! do keep to a good yet not too expensive violin. Remember 90% comes from the violinist and his ability and probably 10% from the violin. See another discussion in the same vein above 

February 13, 2011 at 09:24 PM ·

I would rephrase the concept of 'worthless' for your current violin.

I would try and make an honest assessment of what you could get if you sell your existing violin, and look in the range of what you can afford beyond that. Don't purchase your new violin until you sell your existing one.

If your existing violin brought you this far, it is definitely NOT worthless.

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