What makes a good violin

March 23, 2005 at 06:33 PM · Hi,

I am not very familiar with violins in general. I have been playing for a couple months now and still have an instrument from the music school but I plan on studying abroad for a while and since I can't take the borrowed instrument abroad I would have to buy my own one.

But I can't afford a few thousand dollars still I would like to have a relatively good instrument.

I am not under pressure right now to buy something. I just want to keep my eyes open and it would be really helpful if I knew what to watch out for.

Is there a special wood that is rather good or one that I should avoide...etc. Things that I can maybe see with my own eyes or find out by reading an instrument description.

Everything would be helpful.

Thanks

Steffi*

Replies (12)

March 23, 2005 at 09:07 PM · Most violins, both good and poor, are made with spruce tops and maple back, sides, neck and scroll. Fittings (like the tailpiece, fingerboard and pegs) are typically of ebony, boxwood or rosewood.

Because the top is spruce, it's vulnerable to cracking. Make sure that the purfling is real (the decorative line around the edges of the top and bottom is important -- it should be inlayed, not painted on. That inlay can stop an edge crack from going further into the body). An older violin may already have cracks -- make sure that they've been properly repaired, so that they're not likely to open up again. You shouldn't see excess glue, and if you can, it had better not be Elmer's! The only real killer crack on a violin is a "soundpost crack" -- one that passes over the area where the soundpost sits inside. Because of the immense pressure on the wood at that point, a crack there can kill the tone and could open up again pretty easily.

Oh, yeah, and make sure it has a soundpost (on the E-string side) before you string it up and play it. If you buy a violin on e-bay or from a junk shop, make sure you take it to a knowledgeable repair-person to vet it out.

When you buy a violin, the most important thing is that you are happy playing it. You don't need to spend thousands for that, as long as your tastes aren't too rarified! :) When you go to a violin shop, or junk shop, or violin maker, or even a guitar shop, make sure that you can pick up the violin and play it. If you bid on e-bay, make sure that you can send the thing back if you don't like it (or that you can afford to lose the money you're bidding). The violin should be comfortable, not too heavy (a small weight change can make a huge difference in ease of playing). If you're small (like I am), consider a 7/8ths or slightly small full-size instead of a standard full (4/4) size.

It should have an even tone on all four strings -- it shouldn't be tinny or scratchy. If you've only been playing a few months, you're probably not playing in positions yet, so have someone else play the violin up to the 5th position on all strings -- again, it shouldn't sound tinny or weak or scratchy. High positions are where you'll find most of the flaws in a violin's tone.

Of course, if you're not planning to play in positions (which will depend heavily on your kind of music), the high positions won't matter much.

Good luck in your search!

March 23, 2005 at 09:41 PM · Thank you so much for your advice. I will definitly keep it in mind when I look for an instrument next time. I know I can't really judge myself and I was thinking about asking my violin teacher to come with me and have her play the violin, too.

I want to play in positions because I want to be able to play everything from Vivaldi to Irish folk songs. I know it's a long way to go but I don't mind that.

Thanks again. :-)

April 9, 2005 at 06:48 PM · I am 19 years old and bought a violin of of ebay. I have always loved classical music and as a hobby for the summer figured I could take some lessons. When I got it and tried to play it, it makes no sound. Is it that i am so inexperianced that it is me, or is it the violin?

Thanks

April 9, 2005 at 06:56 PM · You need to rosin your bow.

April 9, 2005 at 07:23 PM · Sorry, that I post that in this topic, but I'd like to mention the sound in higher positions. Is there any specific technique to play higher (>3) positions on G string? No matter how I try I can't get a rich sound from that string, on D, A, and E I can get to the end of fingerboard and sound... let say decent (but that's not the exact word, I'm only a beginner). I tried two violins - a new one, German manufacture, about 100 years old, which I'm playing now, and my old Stagg student instrument - are both violins not-so-good to play well on G, or it's just (hope so) my technique?

Thanks,

mateusz

April 10, 2005 at 09:10 PM · Hi,

For me a good violin can be best described by three things: range of colour/range of dynamics, and most importantly RESONANCE!

Mateusz, yes there is. Watch the angle of attack of your bow. If the bow is angled more towards the C of the violin on the G string side, you will get a fatter, deeper tone. Make sure to bring your elbow up too! Hope this helps!

Cheers!

April 12, 2005 at 02:15 AM · This seems like a great place to brag...

I am fortunate enough to have inherited a violin made by my great great grandfather in 1907. The sound is so much sweeter knowing its coming from something he made.

April 12, 2005 at 10:18 AM · Hi,

You asked a good question. I, being a violin maker, am looking for such an answer for over ten years.

As I see it today, violin, to be a good violin must be able to create by a good sound. But what it means? Violin is so enigmatic instrument, and it creates lots of almost philosophic questions.

I tried to describe some 'ingredients' of violin voice in my article "Ideal violin sound".

There also other questions that must be answered. I am trying to do that in our web site: www.kulviolins.com

So probably my answer will create even more questions. I am sorry, but, to my knowledge, still nobody can answer such questions.

Ces

PS I am sorry for not so good English

October 30, 2010 at 02:59 AM ·

i am looking for a violin, and Pro-Music has some selling for $200+...how about sears, should i purchase it for $169.99? it is nova...i am a beginner...thx in advance! :)

October 30, 2010 at 03:40 AM ·

there are things you want to look for. and my suggestion is do not go for an instrument just because it is cheap. you will be heavily disappointed and so will your teacher. since you said that you have time, you need to see what is the most you can afford on an instrument. Then look for a good quality instruments in that price range. Ask your a teacher or a friend who is a good player to help you pick one out. There ear will be better trained to find a good quality instrument. my strongest suggestion would be go with a good violin shop to purchase an instrument. they should know what good quality is. stay away from the VSO's (VIOLIN SHAPED OBJECTS) were the black wood is not real ebony. Or the instruments that are painted. they are made with cheap woods and will not sound good. They will be poorly set-up and will be difficult to play. hope this helps. I hate to see people struggle with poor instruments. it just does not help to save a buck in such a matter.

October 30, 2010 at 04:49 AM ·

If you are really having a problem with budget and can spend only $200+, then I suggest checking out yitamusic on ebay.  For the money, they are hard to beat.  Occasionally their T20 or M20 series end in auctions for under $200 and includes a bow.  The setup in one I've encountered was quite playable. Difficult to beat with real ebony fingerboard etc.  Even the case is an oblong rather than triangular so in all, I'd say an excellent value. 

JT

October 30, 2010 at 12:27 PM ·

You really need to find someone who is an advanced player and willing to try a few instruments out for you. Only then will you have some idea of how good the instrument can potentially be.

Listen some distance away - say 15 feet or preferably more - as some instruments sound great under the ear but do not carry well. Make sure its not in the usual dealers room which is often deliberately over-reverberant. Test it in a dry accoustic.

Then try and knock the price down!!

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