Professional violinists and their $$$ violins

February 3, 2006 at 03:14 AM · What would a violinist (professional or otherwise) do with their violin if they were leaving one place (in a car) and wanted to stop somewhere on the way home, like at a restaurant, the gym or the grocery store? Let's say the weather/temperature isn't an issue, so the car trunk is neither too warm nor too cold. Would they (or you) always bring the violin with them? Would they leave the violin in the trunk for two hours if the neighborhood were safe, and they didn't feel like clunking around in a restaurant?

I'm intensely curious about the relationship a dedicated violinist must have with his/her instrument, particularly if it is antique and/or costly. Do some violinists get obsessive about having it nearby, or is it something you just get used to at some point, like owning a Ferrari? (Because I myself am very comfortable with my Ferrari. The red one, that is. The other one I won't drive in the city. No way.)

Thanks for considering this rather eccentric question.

Replies (40)

February 3, 2006 at 03:23 AM · In most insurance plans, if you leave your instrument in the car, and it's stolen, it's your problem. I think that says everything there is to say.

February 3, 2006 at 03:47 AM · My violin may not be a Strad or a Guarneri, but it is a modern Italian and a professional-grade instrument. I bring it EVERYWHERE when I'm out and about with it; I couldn't bear the guilt if something would happen to it, and I feel like I'm preventing an accident by keeping the case with me at all times (although, on second thought, I'm not convinced that I am). The few "great" violinists I've seen have all kept their instruments close to their side while signing autographs after the show. I don't know what the rest of the world does, though.

February 3, 2006 at 04:56 AM · Security and convenience are two forces at loggerheads.

February 3, 2006 at 05:23 AM · Joshua Bell's been posed with this question numerous times in interviews, and he pretty much takes his $4 million Strad everywhere. He compares it to having a baby...yeah, it's incredibly valuable, but you take it where you need to go.

February 3, 2006 at 05:16 AM · Mine is attached to my shoulder.

No really, I had it grafted's goes with me everywhere. The only time I leave it somewhere is when someone I trust is with it, or if it is locked up in my studio, or if I leave it at the violin shop.

Otherwise it goes with me. I've been some really interesting places with my violin....let's see; the beach, the bathroom, many restaurants, Gas station, movie theatres, shopping malls etc.


February 3, 2006 at 07:52 AM · Great, interesting responses, everyone - thanks.

Preston... the BEACH? OMG!

And Karin, I'm not surprised at Joshua's reluctance to let his Strad go - that's the one that was stolen from Bronislaw Huberman's Carnegie Hall dressing room in 1936 and not seen again until 1985, yes? (Rumor has it Huberman was onstage at the time, playing his Guarnerius. There's a moral to this story...)

Okay, so now I want to hear from everyone who totes their violin around everywhere - what's the strangest situation you've found yourself in, due to (or in spite of) your beloved wooden companion? How many people have asked you to play something? Anyone ask you what's REALLY inside the case?

February 3, 2006 at 08:35 AM · I've often been asked by security at various places if there was a machine gun in the case.

February 3, 2006 at 09:25 AM · Yeah, and you're a bunch of coppers, see? You won't take me alive, see? Neayah neayah.

February 3, 2006 at 12:04 PM · Being from Chicago, I've always had a similar problem, especially when I was in college and had co-op jobs in different cities. I'd walk in with my violin case and tell them I'm from Chicago, and people would actually back up a few steps.

My violin was made by William Walls of Tampa, Florida, in 1964. It was the 2nd violin he made as a copy of the Guarnerius del Jesu owned by my teacher at the time. I paid $500 at the time (it may be worth a few thousand now, I don't know). The Guarnerius is, of course, worth a little more.

February 3, 2006 at 02:35 PM · My violin is not that expensive. I am not a professional. But it's still very dear to me, and I couldn't imagine being out with it and letting it out of my sight. The closest I've gotten is stopping to fuel my car on the way home from a lesson... but I pay at the pump and it never leaves my sight!

February 3, 2006 at 04:58 PM · My violin isn't worth near the amounts that many people play on but it is an old instrument and I have it on loan.

I never leave my violin in a car or anywhere unsupervised except for home, my teaching studio at work or....that's it. It is like having a third arm but you get used to it. Instrument theft is starting to become more of a problem and I do not want to take the chance that I would be one of those unlucky people to have it taken.

February 3, 2006 at 05:22 PM · This is all fun to hear - keep it coming!

So, here's my problem - I drive 40 mn to my lesson once a week and on the way home, I stop in a state park (Neil and Mendy, that would be Henry Cowell Redwoods state park) to jog. It's midway from home and the lesson, so I can't very well leave the violin there. But to JOG with a violin? I can't see even Preston's graft holding that position very comfortably. Right now, it's not an issue, as my violin is worth a humble $250.00, but it seems to me that otherwise it would be a bit of a conundrum. I know, I know, people will tell me to hell with the jogging. But it's such a nice routine, the redwoods all around you, the music from the lesson bouncing around in your head, as you either work off the frustrations of a bad lesson or speed around in triumph from a good lesson.

Thoughts? Hey, maybe for a future violin, I'll get one of those jogger strollers that exercising moms use for their babies. Can't you just see it now? People cooing as they look closer and ask "how old?" and you respond with "one hundred twenty three years..." and watch their faces crease in confusion.

February 3, 2006 at 07:33 PM · I'm sure everyone has heard about the time that Yo Yo Ma left his cello in a NYC taxi...that must have been horrible! Does anyone know how he got it back?

...I worried enough when I accidentally left mine at school once... ahh

February 3, 2006 at 07:43 PM · i take my strad everywhere with me too. its like my little sister:)

i could never think of leaving it somewhere...i cant even sleep if the violin is not in my room.

no way i forget it ;)

February 3, 2006 at 08:19 PM · My Del Gesu goes wherever I go, but I admit that I can be a little careless with my strad (I mean it's not from his golden period or anything).

February 3, 2006 at 08:21 PM · I can recall situations where I SHOULD HAVE left my violin somewhere.

February 3, 2006 at 09:06 PM · (Alexandra)

Die ist Ihre Strad Violine?


Die ist keine Ihre Strad Violine?

February 3, 2006 at 09:30 PM · My dad once left his two guitars worth about $12000 each I think (that's like an old Italian in the guitar world) on the grass by a terminal in LAX. Half way home he remembered, went back, and miraculously they were still there.

February 3, 2006 at 09:56 PM · I guess insurance doesn't cover leaving them locked in your car, but probably covers leaving them outside in the grass.

February 3, 2006 at 10:46 PM · I only payed $280.00 for my violin, often after lessons I leave it in the trunk when we stop to have lunch or something. Our trunk does'nt lock, but no one knows that. It is'nt like my violin is worth alot but I really like it alot. Mabey I should stop leaving it in the car?

February 3, 2006 at 11:28 PM · I left a modern Italian in a locker (like many students do), along with a decent bow and they got pinched.

As tragic as that was, I would have never gotten this great instrument I have now if that didn't happen...

February 3, 2006 at 11:56 PM · I used to carry my good violin in a backpack and bike to the University (didn't have a car). It was a great exercise until one winter day I got hit by a car which slipped on the ice. I know it was extremely stupid to be on the bike in the snow and ice! My bike was tottaled, my leg badly bruised but the violin did not even get out of tune! I checked it the moment we got to the emergency room. I couldn't believe my luck.


February 4, 2006 at 12:07 AM · I heard a story about a violinist who came to town (I think a Korean violinist...not sure) who got a ride to the concerto hall. When the drivers stopped at a grocery store (a local chain) she carried her violin into the store with her.

I remember hearing Joshua Bell compare his violin to a baby he carries around too O.o

February 4, 2006 at 12:33 AM · My custom-made (by me) 24-fret Rhoads cost me about 1500$ of guitar parts mostly Jackson made, and countless hours of work over about a year, and then a few months more work when i decided to take it apart and fix/improve certain things that were bugging me.

The Randy Rhoads guitar design is the most playable, well balanced, versatile and comfortable electric guitar shape ever designed, especially for a classical guitarist (Randy also played classical guitar) ... but they're 22 fret, at least the real Jackson/Charvel ones, which sucks - and the cheap imitations by ESP, Kramer, etc. suck even more. So i basically added what i felt was missing in the design (most notably a complete fretboard) and fixed the things that annoyed me, like the clumsy "strat" bolt-on design where the neck joint feels like a 2x4 nailed to the gtr body.

I really took my time with this one, and went for the very best in every aspect of it. When i'm not playing it, it's always hanging on the wall next to the other guitars.

February 4, 2006 at 12:36 AM · Eric... there's a reason many prefer a 22 fret design, and it has to do with harmonics and resonance nodes.

February 4, 2006 at 12:48 AM · Is this it here?

February 4, 2006 at 03:12 AM · Lucia, I LOVE your story. I love all these stories. (Although Kimberley, I could hear people shivering when they read yours. I think you know what people's advice would be...)

February 4, 2006 at 05:32 AM · My "favorite" experience lugging around my violin (no I would never leave it. I need an upgrade, but I still love my instrument) is when I take it into Walmart or Sam's club after a lesson or a gig. The checker at the door always wonders what it is and if I bought it there. Imagine buying a several thousand dollar violin at Walmart! That'll be a sad day....

February 4, 2006 at 08:48 AM · Where I used to live, there were some stores (which you could say are comparable to Walmart in concept) where they have a security officer at the entrance, to prevent theft.

Problem is, that part of their wonderful theft-prevention tactics, includes sealing any packets you carry in with you with sticky tape, and putting a sticker on any items that you are carrying in with you.

The one time, I remember I went into the store, and I had my violin with me. The security guard insisted that I open up my case to prove that there is something inside (might I add that he had NO idea what a violin is!!). He saw the violin, and proceeded to insist that he put one of his sticky sticker on my violin too!! I outright refused, and tried to tell to him why that is really not a good idea, but he just wouldn't let up! He claimed that I could swap my violin with one in the store, and then there would be no way of proving that I had brought it in to the store with me. I explained to him that his store doesn't sell violins at all, and there is no chance that I'm going to stick my violin on the shelf and replace it with a hockey stick or something, but this was all quite a futile conversation.

I think in the end the manager was called and he allowed me in with the violin. Needless to say, I used to DREAD going to that store with my violin, and many times I'd carefully co-ordinate things so that the security guard wouldn't see me entering at all...

I always take my violin everywhere with me, and even during orchestra rehearsal breaks, the result being everybody asking me if I'm going home!! I say no, and then they ask why I'm carrying my violin with me. Gaa!

February 4, 2006 at 03:08 PM · Laura and Larry - too funny!

February 5, 2006 at 06:18 AM · > there's a reason many prefer a 22 fret design, and it has

> to do with harmonics and resonance nodes.

Um, whatever.... actually the 5th and 24th frets fall exactly at 1/4 and 3/4 the string length, where the harmonic nodes give a note 2 octaves higher than the open string, since you're multiplyinig the frequency of the note by 4. Frets 7 and 19 (which is 1 octave +7) cut the string length at 1/3 and 2/3, giving a harmonic of an octave and a fifth above the open string. So if the bridge intonation is correct, you should have a harmonic equal in pitch to the fretted note on each string at frets 12, 17, and 24. What happens most often however, is that when you press a string against the fretboard, you raise the tension of it -slightly- because it's not totally straight, especially on thicker strings. So the string saddles (or entire bridge) need to be placed a few millimeters back from their "theoretical" placement so that the notes don't go sharp when you're playing up the neck. That's why the saddle on steel-string acoustic guitars is placed sligthly in diagonal in the bridge.

Jim: hahaha i laughed my ass off at that site!! Yeah that's what a lot of guitar listings on ebay look like =) Personally i'm not much into those "vintage" or "own a piece of musical history" instruments that belong in a museum or something.

February 6, 2006 at 02:49 AM · Hi Eric,

The 5th fret is not at the 1/4 point, but it is close. (The "4th" on a guitar is an equal temepered 4th, not a perfect 4th--it is about 1.3348 times the frequency of the open string.It is slightly sharp of the 4/3 that would be a perfect 4th position. Similarly for the 17th fret. Of course it is so close that you really cannot see it. The 24 is where you say. Of course this is "theoretically." My guitar is messed up enough that I cannot really demonstrate this discrepancy.

February 6, 2006 at 04:12 AM · You know, you're right.

If we take the frequency multiplier for 1 semitone, which would be the 12th root of 2 (because there's 12 semitones in an octave, and an octave interval is half or 2 times the original note's frequency) then take that number (about 1.05946309) exponent the number of semitones by which we want to "transpose" the original frequency, we get the constant by which we should multiply that frequency (or divide the string length, which _theoretically_ comes to the same) So, in this particular case,

(12th root of 2) ^ 5(th fret) = 1.33483985 ...which like you said is pretty close to 1.333333333 but not exactly =)

.... and similarily, for the 7th fret we get 1.49830708 which is very close to 1.5 (a perfect fifth) and for the 19th we get 2.99661415 which is very close to 3 (an octave and a perfect fifth, or a perfect fifth x 2)

So, placing the 5th fret at 1/4 the string length would give us an A on the first string of 439.50341 instead of 440. I don't think anyone would be able to notice the difference (: (:

February 6, 2006 at 04:12 AM · With a scale lenght of 24.75" that comes out to about .03". I've been looking into guitar making town of Paracho, Mexico where they make their measurements with pieces of knotted string.


February 6, 2006 at 04:22 AM · yeah, except 24.75" (gibson) scale feels a bit awkward because standard scale for guitar is 25.5" (64.8 cm) .... just barely enough difference to feel slightly weird on the upper frets.

February 6, 2006 at 04:23 AM · The World Guitar Maker's Association of the Whole World (WGMAWW) standard?

February 6, 2006 at 02:23 PM · Hi Jim, and Eric,

You ever listened to Quinto Bajo? The base notes always sound ridiculously sharp--they don't cut a compensation into the saddle for the octave strings, and so that's what they get. In fact I don't think this is done for the 12 string either, except electic. I also notice this on my charango--I have to "temper" the tuning to take out the sharpness in little chunks from string to string, rather than all at once, where it will wolf against a fretted unison.

I find that the equal temperament, which has a narrower whole step and a fatter half-step, is very noticably different from the "natural" scale (pythag) on the violin. If I go through an hour of scale practice on the violin, and then go to the guitar, I can hear how flat the leading tone is. If I bend la and ti, and play do without bending, it sounds like the violin scale :-)

But if I wake up and start playing the guitar that morning, I don't notice it.

Recently I saw a classical guitarist tune up his guitar using harmonics--and I have now tried it, too--but it is goofy, because that slightly wide 4th and sligntly narrow 5th is built-in to the frets, and so if you tune by harmonics, your fretted notes will be inconsistent. The most outstanding way to bring it on is to tune to harmonics so that you use a wide "just" minor third of 6/5--then all the notes on that string are sharp.

February 6, 2006 at 02:40 PM · link

February 6, 2006 at 11:24 PM · Jim, will heavy gauge strings make my violin students stay in tune better? :)

February 7, 2006 at 01:08 AM · I dunno. Bill, write us a report.

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