Surprised by a good-sounding "cheap" violin

March 10, 2006 at 09:33 PM · Hi all v.com people

I recently borrowed a "cheap" chinese violin (I think it's a Palatino) from a friend.

Well, expecting it not to be/sound that good, I was amazed to find that, with who knows what strings on it, a bent bridge, and a bow I'm not sure what to think of (the screw is at an angle to the stick of the bow), the violin still has a surprisingly good sound.

I have a couple of things I'd like to ask all those knowledgable people on v.com:

Is this actually a good brand of factory violin? I'd never heard of them before borrowing this one.

The sound was reasonably good, but sounded as though it was getting 'trapped' inside the body of the violin. Is this just how Palatino's sound? or is this a bow/soundpost/string/bridge issue?

Otherwise any and all comments welcome.

I normally play a stentor 1 just so you know what I'm comparing it to ;o)

Thanks in advance.

KJ

Replies (100)

March 10, 2006 at 02:57 PM · sorry, I have a PS:

This violin hasn't been played in some time, and I've heard some new violins have to be "opened up" before they reach their potential.

So I also wondered if this could be the reason for the trapped sound?

March 10, 2006 at 09:39 PM · I know the Palitino vn450 is recommended by one fiddler's website as a good starter instrument. I have one at my mom's to practice when i'm there and after replacing the strings with Dominants it sounds pretty good for the money.

March 10, 2006 at 09:43 PM · You never know when you might luck out! If you've got a few bucks to drop into the thing, get the bridge replaced, pick up a decent bow (some of the Glasser fibreglass can be surprisingly good as well, but you've got to try them out), put some new strings on it of whatever kind you like, and see if it helps. Playing on it for a couple of weeks can also "wake it up", certainly. However, you should have a decent sense of how well it plays even without that.

March 10, 2006 at 11:17 PM · i bought a 1000 dollar unlabled violin this summer. it was hanging in the corner, covered wtih dust. Then i took it to a violin shop and compared with 3000-6000 price range violins(including ruth, sophia,and christepher white? violins). Mine sounded the brightest and the warmest. So i guess sometimes you could luck out.

March 11, 2006 at 02:20 AM · It's funny... whenever someone buys s cheap violin it always manages to sound "a lot better than violins 50135130953190531 times the price".

March 11, 2006 at 02:31 AM · It happens every so often... a cheap violin sounding good... kind of a gift... :-) Congratulate your friend on their luck.

I recall that, a good many years ago, the Guarneri Quartet picked through a bunch of Nagoya Suzuki instruments (those cherry red shinny things) and played a concert on them... to kinda' make a point. They soon went back to their own instruments, though.

March 11, 2006 at 11:40 AM · Gotta love those bright red chinese violins. Well if you are on a budget, why not.

March 11, 2006 at 11:25 AM · A teacher friend of mine compared six violins for myself and my family. He played each violin,first fast, then slow, in high position, low position, scales, Bach, Mozart, Sarasate etc, etc. For each exercise he changed the order in which he played the instruments, but always kept a note of the order in which he played them. We rated the instruments and all came up with the same favourite, a new, hand-made Chinese violin that cost 1600 euros. The others cost between 4000 and 20,000. Our least favourite was the 20,000, an old French instrument.

I bought the Chinese violin and have had great fun with it. Several teachers have commented favourably on it and have been surprised at its origins. Since then I have been given the use of an Italian violin, reputedly worth 70,000 euro, but twice at masterclasses teachers have lamented the absence of my own cheapie, not knowing what it was.

In anticipation of having to hand back my lent violin I dug out my old friend, and oh, boy, am I glad to have him back!

My violin is far from perfect, but absolutely no worse than, and often better than, many of the other violins I have tried.

March 11, 2006 at 04:09 PM · Pieter wrote: "It's funny... whenever someone buys s cheap violin it always manages to sound "a lot better than violins 50135130953190531 times the price"."

You're wrong here, Pieter. I have one of those good-sounding cheapies (we're talking really cheap here), but it only sounds better than violins 5013513095319 times the price. So stop exaggerating.

March 11, 2006 at 11:11 PM · Pieter wrote: "It's funny... whenever someone buys s cheap violin it always manages to sound "a lot better than violins 50135130953190531 times the price"."

That view probably continues far past the point of "cheap" violins. Most players I know who are happy with their instruments feel similarly... and I'm pleased that they do... but it's probably a good reason not to base appraisals on performace alone.

March 12, 2006 at 12:36 AM · I have seen these running about $210. new in the catalogues.

I wouldn't spend that much on a Palaino new. I'd wait till I could get it at a garage sale for $35.

It might be good for playing at the beach on the sand in the humidity. It might be a good choice if you like to back pack in the desert or on the mountains. Or put a pick up on it. A thicker finish will give it more power if you amp it. I've seen some people paint them up pretty and put them on the wall with flowers.

I do not let our parents waste money buying them at full price. And certainly not as an instrument to start a child on.

There are other student level Chinese violins for about $500. that are better quality and that actually increase in value over the years if they are cared for.

March 12, 2006 at 09:13 AM · Yeah, Chinese violins are really quite nice, I've had two chinese violins, one I got for 200, the other for 1000, and now they've been appraised at 800 and 1800 respectively. So ... hey maybe just buy some and bring them back and sell them!

As for violins, I've found that when I upgraded to a nicer violin, I couldn't really tell the difference. However, as the years pass, and I've grown accustomed on the nicer one, and played on the old one, the difference is quite clear. I think it takes a while to get used to and then really take advantage of a nicer violin ... it needs better technique to take advantage of, while a cheaper one is just fumbled upon. And if you're a beginner, and you take your fumbling technique to a nice violin, you probably shouldn't expect it to sound that great. But with practice I'm sure it will. So don't be so quick to judge... ask someone significantly better than you to try to tell the difference.

- Wenhao Sun

March 13, 2006 at 09:53 AM · My son played on a 90 euro Palatino (1/2 size) as a starter instrument, but add the price of a new "real" bridge and a set of Dominants to that. His teacher actually wanted another chinese? make "Kreislar" but it was temporarily unavailable at the time. It was OK as a beginners instruments, but he soon outgrew the sounds i.e. he could play better than what the instrument let him...so changed to a 1920's French violin (3/4).

In a recital the other day, there were 6 of them playing either Seitz or Vivaldi A minor (from Suzuki-4) and 5 were on Chinese starter instruments. Not taking individual playing into account, the difference in sound quality was really evident, with the Palatino and the others sound dull, no resonance and very little sound projection. I would put it on here for you as I recorded all 6, if I knew how to turn my miniDV audio into MP3 or something!!

March 13, 2006 at 10:55 AM · Hi All,

Just want to really thank you all for your comments, not all of them in agreement, but I was looking for "both sides of the story" so that's actually great!

Parmeeta, I'd really appreciate the recording - though, could I ask that you mail it to me as I don't know that I have the kind of access to download a file... Thanks.

After playing for a while, the instrument does seem to be "waking up" as someone termed it. Maybe it is only "ok" as a beginner's instrument, but as that's what I'm used to it sounds pretty OK to me. (though oddly enough it sounds 'better' playing Irish-type fiddle tunes than complicated classical pieces. Oh well!)

Again - thanks to you all!!! really apreciate it!

PS wanted to add that my friend paid R800 for this violin which is about $100. For the $500 mentioned before, you can really pick up something quite decent here - I would never pay that much for a beginner's outfit (like only just starting). Hmm... Unless I were really rich, that is ;o).

March 13, 2006 at 07:12 PM · Jeff,

It's one thing to love your instrument... it's entirely another to be one of those people (and this type of person seems to be quite abundant) who goes around saying that their 5 dollar violin sounds better than the Del Gesu that's in the shop where they bought it from.

March 13, 2006 at 08:07 PM · Keep in mind that the value of violins is based only partially (and sometimes not at all) on their actually sound quality and playability, but rather on the maker and history of the instrument. This is often for good reason -- those particular makers tend to make a particular quality of violin, so if you buy that maker, you have a good idea of what you're getting.

However, every violin is different, and sometimes luck will have it that a factory instrument made with poor quality control will actually be quite good, or that an unlabeled instrument (therefore no real indication of quality) is actually exceptionally good. They're lower in price because it's like playing Russian roulette (only without the explosions, hopefully). You don't know what you've got until you play it, wake it up, etc.

So it's quite improbable that a $5 violin sounds better than the del Gesu. But it's not actually impossible. Who knows? Maybe it's a Strad missing its label! :)

March 13, 2006 at 08:37 PM · Greetings,

actually the Nagoya Suzuki violins although all beginner instruments come in a series of models of which only the lowest is merely a way for a beginner to get through the basics.

As you go up the range you can get surprisingly good results. There is a perfetcly goodreason for this. The company in question has worked damn hard at quality control, and consistency interms of both materials and workmanship.

Also they are usually yellow rather than red.

Cheers,

Buri

March 13, 2006 at 09:21 PM · Is there no relations between "Suzuki" the teacher and "Nagoya Suzuki" the company? Suzuki is a pretty regular surname in Nippon, yes?...as in my Suzuki RM-z450 dirt bike?

March 13, 2006 at 10:30 PM · "Also they are usually yellow rather than red."

Buri; The student models were what the Guarneri Quartet used... and, at least at that time (which was about 20 years ago), they were quite red.

March 13, 2006 at 10:58 PM · "It's one thing to love your instrument... it's entirely another to be one of those people (and this type of person seems to be quite abundant) who goes around saying that their 5 dollar violin sounds better than the Del Gesu that's in the shop where they bought it from."

Why is it an entirely different thing, Pieter? The $s?

My point was that this happens at almost every price range... and with a great many players... To me it's not much more of a stretch when someone says the same about a 20K or 30K violin. It simply shows that they love their fiddle.

To go on to the next level, many players who love their Vuillaumes tell me that "but it doesn't really sound like a Vuillaume".

Hmmm... it does to me. :-) That's not a bad thing, though. I like good Vuillaumes.

I hear "it sounds like a Strad" from owners of everything from Joseph Curtins to Gaglianos.

Is this bad? I don't think so. Seems to make the players happy... and many of the fiddles are excellent sounding instruments. Do they sound like a great Strad or del Gesu to me? No. Does not commenting on that fact at the time hurt anyone? I don't think so. Are the players selectively delusional? I think we all are to some extent. Does the belief that a less expensive violin sounds like the red violin hurt sales of the fine old Italian instruments in my inventory? No. If they were really clients for old Italians, they probably wouldn't be quite as satisfied with what they already had.

So, "those people" really aren't hurting themselves or me... and are happy that they own what they do. Seems like no one loses/everyone wins. :-)

March 13, 2006 at 10:44 PM · Greetings,

Jeffrey

>The student models were what the Guarneri Quartet used... and, at least at that time (which was about 20 years ago), they were quite red.

I expect they were embarrassed at being in such illustrious hands,

Cheers,

Buri

PS NO the company and the teaching method are not related (I hope...)

March 13, 2006 at 10:47 PM · "I expect they were embarrassed at being in such illustrious hands,"

Hadn't thought of that!! :-)

March 13, 2006 at 11:18 PM · Jeff,

I'm extremely happy with my Gadda, but I don't lie to myself and others by telling them that Tom had nothing better in the shop at the time and that my Gadda sounds better than his Rocca and Fagnola or whatever. I just say, hey, this is a great instrument. Read this website. Whenever someone talks about their cheap violin or cheap bow, it's funny enough, always better than the gold mounted Pecatte or the Vuillaume in the shop... I like people who tell it like it is.

I think my Gadda is great for what I paid, but I will certainly not go the route of telling people that it sounds as good as a Del Gesu... maybe it sounds better than some Scarempellas that I've tried, but I am realistic.

March 14, 2006 at 12:15 AM · Greetings,

I love this kind of discussion because I have always been fascinated by what makes a good violin and the complexity the question generates becaus eof player listener idiosyncracies.

One tentative conlusion I have come to if one works from a pure sound perspective as opposed to factoring econmic, name value and the like is that it is about reserves of color and depth.

There was a similar discussion to this a long time ago on this list in which some world class players argued very strongly that a good player can sound good on any instrument, but it is the degre eof effort involved in producing what they classified as good which made the difference. I have to confess I don`t quite go along with that bearing in mind my criteria I mentioned at the beginning. I suspect it is true down to a certain level of instrument. For example, a Guarneri versus a Scarampella or one of today`s top modern instruments.

But when one hits the bottom end of the spectrum things begin to change. I wa s very struck by a comment reputedly made by Ms. Delay in `Teaching Genius.` in which she admonished a talent studnet not to try and get somethign from the instrument that just wasn`T there. There is only so much money in the bank that can be withdrawn.`

How I regard that relating to the criteria I follow is that -up to a point- a very good sound can be produced on a diverse price range of instruments right at the bottom end of the scale. Some of them may be easier to play than others and suit a player better so both the player and the listener may well have no problem about identifying a sound to be equally good on two instruments of very differnet (relatively low) value. However, this really is only one kind of aspect of sound and i don`t think it actually tells us thta much about the insturment and its capabilities for expressing what we want. A much deeper test is to take the time to explorer whole bows and rapid notes systematically on all five lanes between the fingerboard and bridge followed by something that really tests balance and vibration like the Sarabande from the d minor Partita. The first test quickly shows that although both instruments produce a `good sound` the cheaper one will usually not sound good at the finger board in quiter passages and the tone `breaks` very quickly in this region. As one works towards the bridge the is less gradation between the colors possible in eacg lane and the actuall maximum sound is often less. The break point comes sooner. When you apply this range of col0ors and breaking point to the Bach the result of the previous academicky exercise becomes very clear. The degree of difficulty in producing chords with breaking notes, sustaining double stops with differnet colors and proportions of power is palbably different. In many cases the music really is beyond the capabilities of the instrument.

Just two cents,

Buri

March 14, 2006 at 01:36 AM · Yes Steven, most crappy instruments can sound passable when pushed. I've not found an instrument that sounds good sotto voce and more assertively that was of a bad variety.

March 14, 2006 at 05:29 AM · "I'm extremely happy with my Gadda, but I don't lie to myself and others by telling them that Tom had nothing better in the shop at the time and that my Gadda sounds better than his Rocca and Fagnola or whatever. I just say, hey, this is a great instrument. Read this website. Whenever someone talks about their cheap violin or cheap bow, it's funny enough, always better than the gold mounted Pecatte or the Vuillaume in the shop... I like people who tell it like it is."

It's funny for you. It may be that those who make those posts are just inexperienced...

Are you insecure in your own ability to determine what is poor, good and great?

If you are secure, I don't understand why it bothers you so much when others, with less experience, tell you how they see it... even if you don't agree or find their view inexperienced or naive.

Maybe you believe I’m too tolerant, but I’ve found players either have enough experience and skill to understand what makes a geat instrument great, or not... and sometimes the players that do understand come up with some surprising “finds” from what many of us might think of as the “woodpile”.

As I said, everyone probably fools themselves a bit... Maybe you're realistic about your fiddle than others. Maybe your less realistic about other things. It doesn't really matter to me... How's that for telling it like it is? :-)

Buri; Nice post.

March 14, 2006 at 02:02 AM · My insecurites have nothing to do with my instrument, and this is an issue that shows itself in every facet of life, at every level. Society is obsessed with material things, often negating quality for brand recognition. If people don't have it, they lie about it.

I don't mind spending money on quality, but I will never to try convince others that what I have is superior if there is much better out there. It's this materialism that bothers me. It comes down to me being happy with what I have and not having to play up what I wish was better.

March 14, 2006 at 02:09 AM · Pieter, I'm glad you're so well balanced and secure.

March 14, 2006 at 03:17 AM · Who said anything about being well balanced and secure? You're putting words into my mouth. I just said that with regards to things that are tangible, I at least try to be happy with what I have and what is possible.

March 14, 2006 at 05:05 AM · Buri, I like what you wrote. Thanks for taking the time to phrase it so well.

March 14, 2006 at 08:48 AM · Same here Buri,

You put that into words very well.

This happened to the Palatino I talked about...even Suzuki 3-4 pieces got difficult on it, in the sense that you felt that instrument was not picking up all the things the player was doing in playing the piece.

March 14, 2006 at 10:53 AM · Hi all,

Thanks especially to Buri for a great post, and to everyone else for your comments!

Uh, Pieter? I can't remember ever saying that the Palatino sounded BETTER than anything else. Sorry if I said anything that caused you to think that that was what I was saying - it seems to have caused some confusion and quite a lot of heated discussion...

All I wanted to say was that I was surprised that this "quality" of violin could sound as good as it does, that was all...

Anyway, it seems that most people who've had them say the same thing - they're fine right in the beginning, but will limit you later on/it's better to move on to something better later on.

Thanks again to you all for taking the time to reply... ;o) much appreciated!

Kate

March 14, 2006 at 02:15 PM · Anyone have experience with the "Silver Creek Model 8" violins? They are imported (and perhaps private labeled) from a Czech town of luthiers by Musician's Friend and sold for about $700 U.S. Two of my students have them, and after a time of playing they sound very good. Did we "luck out," or is this violinmaker a cut above the ordinary? I have not yet put the fiddles through their paces, and will throw "The Chaconne" and a concerto or two at them to see how they stand up to tough stuff. But they seem like a really good value. My most advanced student provided an entire evening of salon music (unaccompanied!) at a dinner. The hall had a low, acoustic ceiling, but even her piano passages carried beautifully into the farthest corner, and that over the top of conversations at the table. I have a notion to buy several of these for my other students before demand drives the price up. :) (List price is around $1500).

March 14, 2006 at 04:40 PM · KJ,

My comment was much more general than that.

March 14, 2006 at 07:11 PM · Hmmm Pieter, you know, it's a moot point anyway. Pretty soon we'll be able to precisely copy your precious violins in carbon fiber and any schlepp will be able to buy one for $5 at the local Walmart. Watches are a great example of this trend- my LITERALLY $5 watch keeps orders-of-magnitude better time (thanks to quantum mechanics and quartz technology) than the finest, most carefully crafted watches of the 1920's. Insanely accurate watches are a mass produced commodity now. So let's stop spending so much money for that "old violin smell" and start demanding $5 violins instead!

March 14, 2006 at 10:07 PM · Howard, the phenomenon you are describing has never happened, ever. Craftsmanship and handiwork will always have a place in society.

As for your watch quip, this isn't a timepiece forum, but here is a challenge: go over to timezone.com and say what you just said. To many people, or at least some people, there is an appreciation of craftsmanship and the idea of something being unique. It is irrational, luddite even. However, there is just something special about it. There is no digital watch that can match the wonder and unbelievable complexity of a Patek Phillipe with multiple complications. But again, this depends on your values.

March 15, 2006 at 09:22 PM · Sorry, Pieter, but it's your argument that has "multiple complications". Ornamentation aside, what makes a watch a watch is its ability to tell time accurately. In that regard, my five dollar watch really is the equal of the fine watches you mentioned, regardless of what they say on "overpricedtimepiecesforsnobs.com". Also, speaking of craftmanship, you shouldn't ignore the almost miraculous science and amazing talent and craftmanship that went into designing and making millions of watches that tell time using a PIECE OF CRYSTAL. I almost weep when I look at my plastic Timex and think of the precision and knowledge it represents! To me, that's more important (and more beautiful) than gold crusted, diamond studded housings, no matter the artistry.

But back to violins- you said that "the phenomenon you are describing (meaning I guess, the replacement of "finely crafted items" with mass produced goods) has never happened, ever." The point of the "watch quip" was to refute your argument. Of course it's happened, and many times. The crude "craftmanship" of fine buggies gave way to the machined precision and speed of cars. The beauty of hand printed books gave way to the inifinitly more beautiful ability to get any book I want cheaply (and with photos too!) at my local bookstore. So, you see, it's just a matter of time before these pucillanimous amateurs you mention can say truthfully that their $5 violin sounds as good as a strad!

March 15, 2006 at 10:20 PM · Pieter,

I have a couple of friends who own Gaddas, and they have a saying...you "gotta" get a Gadda! =)

I really liked the ones I played, they were definitely better than some Scarempellas I've tried.

I like my Enrico Politi! Wouldn't mind having my teacher's 1701 Strad though...

March 15, 2006 at 10:30 PM · Howard,

I'm not sure if I understand your analogies. A watch's ultimate purpose is to tell time as accurately as possible. A car's ultimate purpose is to transport the driver from point A to point B as efficiently, swiftly, and safely as possible. Admittedly, literature's ultimate purpose is an artistic one (at least some literature), but bookstores and high-speed printing presses do not alter the information/art contained within the books, they merely allow the reader better access to them. These purposes are not overtly artistic - I'd call them practical. All of these purposes can be reduced to functions with a relatively low number of variables. It is possible to approach optimization.

Violins, on the other hand, exist for the sole purpose of creating beauty in art through music. (Oh boy, I'd better put on my flameproof plate mail...) There is no cesium atom of the violin-making world that we can find and use to create "the perfect violin." There is no "perfect violin." Ultimately, Beauty is not something that can be measured with increasing precision or graphed with absolute accuracy. Even if you don't believe that the definition of beautiful music or pure tone goes beyond the graph of an overtone series, scientifically, it is very difficult, really impossible, to "copy your precious violins in carbon fiber." There are so many variables, many of them unknown, that go into the production of sound on the violin, that describing the process falls into the realm of chaos/complexity theory. For much the same reasons that weather patterns are inherently unpredictable, every violin's sound is inherently unique. It is simply impossible to reproduce the random defects of the organic molecules within wood which contribute to the mode in which it vibrates. Chemical analysis of varnish can only tell us so much, though I believe people have gotten very close to a good reproduction of a Strad's varnish. Because varnishes are hand-applied, the thickness varies, even if by tiny amounts, at every point on the plates. Heck, we can't even make a 100% defect free metal lattice more than a few dozen atoms wide, let alone a perfect molecule-for-molecule reproduction of the 300 year old maple front plate on a Strad.

Certainly, makers like Curtin or Nagyvary are doing admirable work in approaching a similar sound to the masters, and they use scientific techniques, such as analyzing the differences in the overtone series graph between a Strad and one of their own, and adjusting various things on their own violin until the two graphs match with an acceptable degree of precision. But even their "standard," the Strad or Guarneri graph, is only an average of a series of tests performed in a controlled environment. It doesn't take into account the ultimate uncontrollabe variable - the player. And yes, they've had blind tests where 400+ people, some of them experts, couldn't tell which one was the Strad and which one was the copy. But it doesn't mean the Nagyvary is an exact copy of the Strad, or a "perfect" violin - merely that it's tonal portrait closely resembles that of certain fine Stradiveris or Guarneris. There will always be infintesimal differences, however, and each violin will have its own unique voice, which the player I'm sure would notice. The audience would notice too, over time, in the same way that people have difficutly telling identical twins apart until they've known them for a while. There is also the question of how aging affects sound quality - another huge set of variables which are inevitably left to chance. Curtins and Nagyvarys are being built to sound the same new as Strads and del Gesus sound after 250-300+ years. Who knows what they'll sound like when they are that old?

In the end, though, I think the biggest thing that contributes to the sound and beauty of a violin is love - of the player for his instrument, of the maker when he crafted it, and of God when He looks down on those who are using the talents He gave them to create beauty and art. And that's something that definitely cannot be graphed, precisely defined, or reproduced by any scientific means avalable to us.

-N. Tavani

March 15, 2006 at 11:27 PM · Howard,

The mass manufacturing process may eventually turn out some pretty good violins (it's already happening with good mandolins with computer-guided carved tops, but they're in the 2,000 dollar price range). However, it's not going to happen that a really cheap violin is going to rival a great Strad or Guarneri. IMO your statement makes it sound as if you don't fully appreciate how much better those instruments are. Having never played one, I know I do not fully appreciate them either, but I feel I know enough to voice my opinion here. I know some violin builders and guitar makers, I know some good players, I play, I listen, and I read. I'll bet that if you stay tuned in to the industry long enough you will realize the error of your statement.

March 16, 2006 at 12:37 AM · Good points made by Nicholas and Mike.

If one could mass produce strad quality you would become very rich, but it just aint going to happen, lets face it. Well not in my life time anyway.

March 16, 2006 at 12:41 AM · Ok Nicholas,

So you believe in magic. I believe that if the player can hear it, then we can copy it... eventually. The carbon fiber part was a joke, but the copying idea is not. I agree with you that there are many variables in violin making, however people still manage to understand those variables and master them, and make nice violins over and over again. This is a crude form of copying, isn't it? If it were truly just magic, then you would expect the occassional $5 violin to sound like a strad- just by magical chance. So STILL Pieter shouldn't be so hard on folks who claim their $5 violins sound like a strad- they might just be right!

As for cars (and watches), they are EXACTLY like violins. They too have a functional dimension (like the violin) AND an aesthetic dimension (just like the violin). With cars especially, people express themsevles by the choice of car and again in how they drive it. Cars have well defined and noticably different characteristics when you drive them, like a violin when you play it. Different drivers bring out different characteristics, depending on how they drive the car. You could even say that watching a great driver in a great car (like in a Nascar race for example) is like watching a great concert. And of course, contrary to your argument, cars DON'T just get you from point A to point B, unless you happen to be a poor musician and can't afford truly beautiful, modern automobiles! Anyway, my point was that mass production, craftsmanship and High Art are not mutually exclusive. My point to Pieter, of course, was to lay off the amateurs.

March 16, 2006 at 02:36 AM · Howard,

I am as much an amateur as anyone. I'd be hopeless as a dealer of instruments and my level of expertise only goes as far as knowing what I like. I agree that great things can be copied well. I've always believed that people don't have to own a Strad or a Del Gesu to own a fantastic concert instrument. I've heard other violins which are compartively cheaper which are all fantastic. Makers like Gofriller, Pressenda, Montangna etc... then you have the great French instruments and modern italians, not to mention all the stuff being made today. I don't think that people need to completely idolize strads and guarneris to the degree that they do. If they don't have it, they have to boast to everyone that what they have is just as good.

March 16, 2006 at 02:49 AM · Actually Buri (commenting on your post from a couple of days ago)

Suzuki violins and Suzuki method are related if I'm remembering correctly. It's the same family. (Suzuki's father I think?) The violin company started first and Dr. Suzuki used to play around with some of the violins as a child. It's how he was introduced to the instrument which he later studied as an adult. (I belive he started formal study at 17 or sometime around then, but my memory is fuzzy on the details).

It's all in his book Nurtured By Love.

-Laura

March 16, 2006 at 04:34 AM · Greetings,

good job he wan`t a jockey or we`d be stuck with talking about horses all day,

Cheers,

Buri

March 16, 2006 at 06:44 AM · Howard,

I guess you misunderstood me. I didn't say I believed in magic; I was demonstrating that regardless of whatever beliefs one may hold about the existence or non-existence of a non-physical dimension to tone, art, and beauty, it is scientifically impossible to produce an "exact" copy. If you understand chaos theory and/or quantum theory, you'll see that a violin are an inherently complex system that cannot ever be exactly reproduced, the same way that we can NEVER know the exact position and momentum of a particle in space simultaneously, and the same way an electron never exists at a single spot around an nucleus, but exists as a "fuzzy" probability distribution orbital. It's not that technology simply isn't advanced enough yet, and in a hundred years we'll have "perfect" violins, as per the development of the watch - it's a case of inherent limits put there by the laws of physics. So I don't think technology will ever replace hand-made craftsmanship in the violin-making industry. It's certainly a very helpful tool, and there is certainly a lot of what you call "crude copying" going on. Of course there are certain variables whose ideal values have been found and generally accepted - this is why violins all look and sound similar. But to suggest that all variables have been mastered is erroneous.

(P.S. to this paragraph - really, we'll never have "perfect" watches or "perfect" cars for the same reason, but you get my point.)

As for cars and watches - I never denied that they had aesthetic dimensions. A car or a watch can definitely be beautiful, and in some sense, excellence in their design which results in performance closer to their ideal of perfection can be seen as beautiful (Oh boy, now I sound like an Aristotelean). Unfortunately, they are not "EXACTLY like violins." We may just be dealing with semantics here, but a watch's main purpose, according to you, is this:

"Ornamentation aside, what makes a watch a watch is its ability to tell time accurately." Thus, its functional dimension takes precedence over its aesthetic dimension. The same can be said about cars, though the aesthetic dimension here certainly has a bit more precedence than that of the watch. Regardless of whatever extra comforts or entertainments a car has, its fundamental purpose is still transportation. The functional dimension in violins, however, exists soley for its aesthetic purpose, that is, to create beautiful sound and music, therefore making it fundamentally different from either cars or watches. Whether or not a NASCAR race is as much of an artistic experience as a Beethoven symphony is a topic for another thread, I think.

I agree with you that mass production, craftsmanship, and High Art are not always mutually exclusive. I think in the violin's case, though, craftsmanship will always take precedence and mass production will never replace it, merely streamline the processes which are possible to streamline. I also agree with you that technology has made it possible for many amazing and beautiful things to exist, including many very well made violins. Finally, I definitely agree with Pieter that there are many "lesser" instruments that are completely fantastic in their own right, and I admire his non-materialistic attitude towards having Things.

And now that I've COMPLETELY hijacked this thread!!...

KJ, it is definitely possible that your violin may sound great, regardless of it's heritage. Maybe some fortunate "accident" in the factory...=) So don't think that just because it's a "cheap Chinese violin" that the sound is likewise cheap. As for the sound being muffled - I am definitely not a luthier. But in my experience, experimenting with all four of the variables you mentioned - "bow/soundpost/string/bridge" - can make drastic changes in the sound of an instrument - often for the better. Take it to your luthier and ask his advice about changing/adjusting any one of those four variables (though I'm sure you have already).

March 16, 2006 at 08:22 AM · Nicholas,

So you claim to understand quantum mechanics and chaos theory? Ahhhhhh.... I don't think that reading a few popularized books on the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle qualifies you to lecture me on the feasability of copying violins! Flame on you! I mean SHAME on you... Anyway, according to Mr. Heisenberg et al., we should be able to have our cake and eat it too, as long as nobody looks, whatever THAT means. But I digress...

Seriously though, you seem a bit stuck on the idea that I meant we could make perfect copies of instruments (we can't and I didn't). What I meant is that hopefully someday we'll be able to make perfect enough "functional" copies so that you or I or some other great violinist won't be able to tell the difference under any normal circumstances. Then, hopefully, we can buy them for $5, which was Pieter's target price. Since the violin's PRIMARY purpose is to function as the source of a palette of sound, having a no-name $5 violin that sounded in every way as good as a strad would be just fine with me.

Of course, really I was mostly just having fun with Pieter and wasting time at work, but I stand by my argument nonetheless...

Give my regards to Cleveland!

h

March 16, 2006 at 08:58 AM · Howard,

The pleasure was all mine.

March 16, 2006 at 11:01 AM · um, sorry to break the train of thought...

to all those who've had Palatino's, how long did it take you to realise that the sound wasn't as good as a/the better violin?

also - wanted to ask if these violins usually have a flattish bridge, or if this was just a feature of this particular violin? my stentor seems to have a more curved bridge (please excuse my ignorance if there are more technical/correct terms for all this), so I'm used to moving further on string changes. now I keep hitting other strings because they seem so close together.

thanks to all and anyone who comments...

kj

March 16, 2006 at 04:08 PM · KJ -- a flattish bridge can be a sign that the instrument was used as a "fiddle" rather than as a "violin". Folk fiddlers often appreciate a flatter bridge for the same reason that you dislike it -- it facilitates the hitting of other strings.

Howard -- we already have cheap, mass-produced violins. They're called Nagoya Suzuki, or Palatino, or whatever, and can be purchased on ebay for $20 each.

And there are Walmart violins -- they typically have a button that you can push to have it play "Old MacDonald" on an internal synthesizer chip while you pretend to bow and finger.

Both of these kinds of violins satisfy the primary requirement of an instrument -- to make sound. But I don't think anyone is going to confuse the Old MacDonald violin with a del Gesu anytime soon.

March 16, 2006 at 04:39 PM · Howard, you stand by your argument and I stand by mine: you don't know as much as you think you do about violins and tone. In fact, I'm willing to bet that Nicholas knows as much or more about quantum mechanics and chaos theory as you do about violins and tone.

March 16, 2006 at 05:54 PM · Mike,

Well you might just be right about Nicholas, since I happen to know he's a physics/ violin double major at Case Western/CIM...

March 16, 2006 at 06:14 PM ·

March 20, 2006 at 11:20 AM · Hi all

Patty - thanks so much for your response!

kj

March 20, 2006 at 03:42 PM · Kate,

did you get my recordings? Sorry they were so poor, but you could still hear the difference I hope.

March 24, 2006 at 11:22 AM · Hi

Parmeeta - Sorry, I haven't received the recordings! we had a problem with email a while back so that could be the problem... could I ask you to resend please?

thanks so much!

kj

May 3, 2011 at 01:21 AM ·

 OK, I know that this is a real old thread but I have to tell you all about a cheap fiddle that I tested just to see if I could even get an acceptable sound out of a 99 dollar fiddle. I expected nothing but disappointment but was very positively surprised. I made a video demonstrating it in case anyone is interested in hearing it for themselves. Also incredible is that the violin came with a case, extra bow, extra bridge, extra strings, chromatic tuner plus free shipping as well. I don't profit from promoting this fiddle whatsoever, and am even raffling off the violin on June 11th for those who are interested in becoming eligible.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO.

May 3, 2011 at 02:09 AM ·

Pierre,  I was really impressed until I went to the online store you mentioned and saw the same video there...

May 3, 2011 at 02:23 AM ·

I will be surprised if this is still here tomorrow:)

May 3, 2011 at 04:27 AM ·

 They asked me if they could post it and I didn't have anything against it. Is there something wrong with that? I don't really understand why you would be surprised Rebecca. Am I missing something? Please explain.
Lots of people ask where they can find cheap violins and I never know what to tell them. I was trying to help out. I would gladly test them all out but I can't afford it. I figured that I could afford this one since it was only 99 dollars. I really wish that I could get a kickback but no one has ever offered me any.

Pierre

May 3, 2011 at 04:38 AM ·

I have a Palatino VN855 that plays well above its pedigree. It is a factory made violin, I assume with some level of hand finishing, but with the luck of the draw, mine sounds great.

That said, I hear their face is a bit soft, and will not last as long as a better made violin; I don't expect this one to last centuries. I'll be happy with a decade more or so.

A good setup sounds like it may help; different strings, possibly.

I like mine; it is releged to 'second fiddle', but still very playable.

May 3, 2011 at 08:10 AM ·

Previous comments aside, my personal experience with Palatino instruments ranks among the bottom feeders of the violin world.  Two students of mine purchased a Palantino from the local music store.  Both were literally unplayable, and I told them to take them back and get something playable.  (The pegs did not hold pitch, one had a bow that warped so bad it curved the other direction, and the neck on one violin was twisted so that the E string touched the fingerboard at ungodly locations when you put a finger on it.)  The student who returned the violin switched to a rental program on a very nice entry level model and continues to make excellent progress to this day.  The other student went back to the store, where they convinced her that the violin was fine but the bridge was inserted backward (it was not).  To make up for the twisted neck, they flipped the bridge, and she played on this disfigured semblance of a violin for a semester while I struggled with the pegs and everything else to help her make a decent sound.  She eventually quit, but I saw it coming a long way off.

Maybe if a highly skilled professional walked into my studio, they could take that piece of garbage and pull a nice sound out of it.  But if you're a beginner, you're better off looking for something that increases your chances of survival.

May 3, 2011 at 09:21 AM ·

Cannot comment as I have no idea what a good violin sounds like (though Buri has made some interesting comments in this thread). I can identify a 'good' player. Vengerov's sound is often good but when he played the Cannone (travelling with a full-time luthier to set it up) the results were disappointing according to a review on a Vengerov fan website http://maximvengerovfans.co.uk/#/364-50306-cannone-re/4517105214. I was was in the hall that evening. It is possible he would have sounded better on a good Palatino with top-notch, money-no-object setup, dealing with the Palatino setup problems noted by Emily above. If that had happened, which would be the better-sounding instrument?

May 3, 2011 at 12:29 PM ·

 I don't really know what a Palatino violin is. Is Cecilio the same thing with another name?  I did wonder how much better this fiddle might sound if I at least changed to Dominant strings. I noticed that the strings that come with it only cost like 10 bucks.  If I had the means I would even bring it to a Luthier and have a new bridge fitted and check the sound-post just out of curiosity. But in a way the test should be all about playing with what you get without spending all kinds of extra money.

May 3, 2011 at 07:53 PM ·

Who asked you if you could post what? Perhaps you are referring to the comment above mine.

May 3, 2011 at 08:39 PM ·

I can only echo what Emily G.  wrote.  I have a couple fractional sized Palatinos here that are barely playable.  If you get one that you feel comfortable playing for several years, then I'd say you lucked out.  Knowing the general price and quality of these instruments, I'd think twice about throwing a bunch of money at them for a good setup.   The return just isn't that great.  Makes more sense to me to spend a couple hundred more for a better quality instrument, from the get go, from a reputable violin shop, with the setup already done right.

May 4, 2011 at 01:05 AM ·

Yes Rebecca, I was referring to the post above. Joyce said that she was impressed until she visited the site where I bought the violin and saw my video, I answered that the music store asked me if it was OK to post it and I said yes.

 Then I just wondered why you said that you would be surprised if this post would still be here today?

@ Craig - you are probably right, however I was checking a super cheap solution for those people who really don't want to spend much more than $100 for something that they are still not sure that they will passionately pursue or have enough drive and talent to succeed in any way. I really didn't expect to receive anything playable at all.

May 4, 2011 at 01:35 AM ·

If you are impressed, then that's all that matters.  I wouldn't feel comfortable recommending them from my experience.  It's like sending a soldier to war with nothing more than a uniform and a dagger.  Looks the part, but doesn't stand a fighting chance.  

May 4, 2011 at 02:11 AM ·

Pierre, I was disappointed when I saw your video there, because it looked like an advertisement in that context - there was no mention of it being a customer review, and I thought of two possibilities - either you are in some way profiting from vouching for them (Sorry for being a cynic!), or they use your video without telling you. Either way I lost the desire to shop there -- I was thinking about ordering a white one just for fun before seeing that page. I think the store should put a disclaimer next to the video stating that you are just a customer and they have your permission to put the video on that page to protect both of your reputations.

Regarding Palatino - a friend asked me to pick a 1/2 violin from a few hand-me-downs for her son. One had a warped fingerboard and neck, terrible setup and sound, and it was a Palatino belonging to her friend's daughter. I asked how the girl is doing with her violin study now, and was told that she was deemed untalented in music and stopped lessons after only few months. Her parents may never realize that they set her up for failure by giving her an unplayable VSO...

May 4, 2011 at 02:34 AM ·

It just seems to me about you promoting their product, and they are promoting your skype lessons. You asked for comments, so there you are.

May 4, 2011 at 10:55 AM ·

Very impressed with the tone you managed to draw from the violin. That may say more about you and your proficiency than it does about the fiddle.

The video does give the impression of having been created to sell the package.

May 4, 2011 at 01:58 PM ·

 tough crowd here...as usual.

i find pierre's clip entertaining and fun to watch.  where did the freaking extra bridge go!? :)

not surprised that the violin sounded good in his hands,,,not surprised some cheap violins can sound decent.   similarly, not surprised that some expensive violins sound cheap.  just the way things are.

pierre is not in the financial industry where he needs to disclose his activities.  i think he has clearly explained his situation but as usual, there will be non-believers.  time for pierre to show us a photo as proof.

ps.  my kid plays on a cheap, crooked,  chinese bow, and used to play on cheap chinese violins.  she did not fail in my opinion because of the equipments.  she will fail, however, if one day she completely loses interest and i completely agree with her choice.

most beginners quit not because of bad sounding violins.  most beginners stay on not because of expensive or better sounding violins.   there are many other reasons for quitting, such as lack of support from teachers and parents.  pele started playing soccer using rolled up socks.   conversely, there is no evidence to suggest that those who have quited violin would not have done so if they were offered better sounding ones.  it is at best a theory, a thought, taken out of context to serve the purpose of a self belief.  between no instrument vs a low quality instrument, for a beginner, some argue for a better, more expensive one....nice~!

time for another experiment:)

offer 10 kids who have just started violin couple week ago to try on 2 diff violins.  one very expensive, one cheap off ebay...i know how i will hedge the bet!

 

May 4, 2011 at 03:40 PM ·

Al, I think the discouraging part has less to do with sound, and more that some super-cheap violins are exceedingly difficult to tune and play.

I'd rather suggest that someone buy from a conventional shop or dealer. Sure, you might easily pay twice as much, but the dealer needs to somehow recover the cost of  the violins received which aren't up to spec, aren't worth working on, and need to be thrown away. It's better than you getting stuck with it.

May 4, 2011 at 03:47 PM ·

 good point, david.  on that, i concur.  IF the teacher is not skilled at doing some minor trouble shooting or damage control:) and the family walk in proudly with a violin aka junk that is wrong in every way, it can be a major letdown.  

it will probably a better policy for teachers to tell the students about quality venues that the teachers prefer, places where that is backed with service.   BE GREEN.  BUY IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME.

but then suspicious parents will wonder if there will be a kickback arrangement....can't win :)

May 4, 2011 at 04:04 PM ·

Repair people can get a little irked about some of these fiddles.

Let's say a customer comes in with one that has a buzz. A quick look reveals that the fingerboard is completely the wrong profile. Maybe there's enough material to plane it to the correct shape. So you try to remove the upper nut, but it won't come off in one piece, because it's glued with the wrong kind of glue. Then you try to plane the fingerboard, but the grain isn't straight, so it "tears out" under the plane blade. When you finish, it needs to be re-painted with black paint.

All together, including making a new upper nut, you've spent $200 worth of time on this $99 violin, and there's still plenty that's not right. What do you charge the customer?

You could tell them to send it back (if they still have that option), but it turns out that would involve $30 shipping, plus a 20% restocking fee, so they're out half the price of the fiddle.

May 4, 2011 at 07:14 PM ·

Perhaps 7 or 8 years ago the owner of a regional violin shop which now largely does rentals of high quality chinese violins (for which I am the rep in my city)  said that his company tracked the results of two pools of rentals.  The first consisted of a mix of hit and miss violins from older rental pools consisting of German, American,  East European, and older Chinese factory violins.  Pool B was composed of new violins from China.  Both pools received the same service set-up but had greatly different results.  He claimed that after a year 80% of students receiving the violins from the first pool had quit and returned the instruments;  only 20% of the students using the newer Chinese stopped during the same period.  I can't verify the scientific rigor of the experiment to say the least but it is not surprising.  

May 4, 2011 at 07:37 PM ·

 Joyce, I don't blame you for being suspicious. If you are still considering buying a white violin, maybe you could find a violin shop nearby that carries the same brand to test it first and make sure that you are getting a good one. I used this one on a trip I recently took for practicing since I don't have insurance on my own violin. I could even consider getting one for outdoor concerts.

Rebecca: Thanks for your honesty.  I like promoting their product (for free) because I was impressed by what so little money could get you. But I did it on my own, spent my own money, and never expect to see any profit from any of this. As a matter of fact I lost $99, my time,  and will pay for the postage to ship it to the winner out of my own pocket.

If this violin had been a piece of junk I would have said it and advised people not to buy these instruments. It's kind of like when someone does a dining review. The only difference is that I only tested one violin, but would GLADLY test a lot more if I could afford it.

As far as Skype lessons are concerned, I only have 3, and no new students since that video.  Come to think of it, I would like it if they posted my Skype lessons on their site. Thanks for the idea ;-)

Whenever something or someone works well for me I want to share the information with as many people as I can. Whether it be a great plumber, mechanic, teacher, tool, etc

@Al and Don - Thanks for your support

@David - Good point about tuning. This violin is a little difficult to tune but I think very much due to the steel strings. Much more sensitive to the slightest movements. Also the pegs feel a little week. It plays easy though. Maybe with synthetic core strings the violin would play poorly for lack of pressure on the bridge but tune easier.

May 4, 2011 at 10:36 PM ·

wondering if you - pierre - could even make a cigar box with rubber-bands sound good.

i have a limited amount of money to spend on musical instruments and i have to say that so-far - read "cheap" - life (and ebay) has been good to me.  but i can't help but wonder if you were to take a judicious amount of rubbing to that black paint covered fiddle with some steel-wool ... i wouldn't be surprised if the tone would be improved even more.

just recently i read about beautiful sounding wood which looks terrible - could black paint hide a black swan?

 

 

May 4, 2011 at 10:58 PM ·

Same thing happened to me a few years back. My first viola a 15 in had a terrible sound. I then swithced to a 16.5 in of the same make, and it sounded better that my instructors viola which was made in 1947. The only difference in tone in mine and my insstructors, is his sounds more worn, while mine is very focused and LOUD!! First time I played it, I drowned out a few cellos and the 2nds.

May 5, 2011 at 01:17 AM ·

 Bill - I would love to remove the black paint and test it. The problem is that I'll be giving away a very ugly violin that nobody will want.

I bought a new "Jan Larsson" violin in Sweden about 22 years ago. It looked really "RED" to the point that it almost hurt my eyes and was a little embarrassing to use. But according to Jan, that's the way the old violins looked when they were new.  This violin received a high placement in a very prestigious competition in Cremona and I tested it against some very nice instruments, including a Guarneri. Everyone who listened to the test agreed that I had to buy it. Soon after I bought it I had to play an outdoor summer concert in direct sunlight which resulted in the soft red varnish cracking all over the violin. 
I brought the violin back to the maker to have it fixed and his solution was to remove all the varnish and make it look old. The varnish that he used the second time was harder to resist cracking in the future. It has never sounded quite as good since then. 

May 5, 2011 at 08:24 AM ·

Pierre, I must say, I really enjoyed watching you talk and play!

May 5, 2011 at 01:41 PM ·

i'm beginning to wonder how much varnish is actually needed.  the sound board on my M-4 mandolin (mid-missouri/big muddy mandolins by mike dulak) doesn't have any varnish at all and it's one of the loudest i own - lovely tone as well.  the replica instruments i mentioned earlier don't seem to have a huge amount of varnish either.  could be a case of "less is best."

May 5, 2011 at 04:21 PM ·

@Bill,

Could you clarify about the varnish on your Mando? I don't think the varnish built up on top makes much difference (in the positive), but if there is a spirit or oil base that has soaked into the wood, it can significantly change the wood characteristic. As an example, buy a piece of cedar or some soft wood at a local store. Rub some linseed oil (possibly with a teaspoon or so of turpentine mixed in) on one end of it, and leave the other end completely untreated. Rub it into the wood, wiping off any surface oil when you are done.

Wait a couple weeks for the oil to get fairly dried (depending on the oil, it may take months or years), See how the two ends of the stick feel relative to each other.

May 5, 2011 at 05:34 PM ·

... i should have said the mandolin top doesn't appear to have any varnish - the ways of luthiers are mysterious and marvelous and way beyond my ken.

May 5, 2011 at 06:44 PM ·

 Thanks Emily, 
I appreciate that :-)

May 6, 2011 at 02:50 AM ·

 Cheap instruments can hold you back because they are not set up right.  My son had a rental instrument once at school that was an absolute piece of crap.  Just awful. The setup was so bad (I am a pretty decent player) that almost literally I could not play it.   Bottom line is that bad setup is a huge obstacle.  Incorrect string height, crappy strings, uneven fingerboards, twisted necks, slipping or sticky pegs, buzzes, rattles--the possible problems are legion.

However, let's assume that you acquire a correctly set up, but inexpensive, instrument from a reputable shop.  In this case the setup won't hold you back.  You can learn to play correctly and you won't be making pernicious adjustments in your playing just to overcome the instrument's mechanical inadequacies.  Nonetheless, cheap instruments, even with good setup, can still make the player work hard to produce a large or attractive sound.   Great instruments produce great sound without having to kill yourself to produce it. 

 If you can afford it, you will never be sorry buying a good instrument by a craftsman maker. 

 

May 6, 2011 at 11:05 AM ·

Tell that to my mom she got me a 2000 peso (Philippine Peso) Lazer violin I am a nearing intermediate level player and it sounds great but the sound isnt really loud or large...And the fingerboard when I got it was dented and after only a few weeks of practice the side of the fingerboard paint was fading and the nut was dented....

May 6, 2011 at 02:04 PM ·

 one way for me,  a close to know nothing outsider, to check out violins is the higher registers.  all the way up on G and E strings in particular.  by doing that, i have seen some expensive instruments not being able to handle the higher registers as well as cheaper ones able to do so without effort.

however, more often than not, "bad" instruments have issues in that 2 extremes.  "great" instruments can maintain the sound quality in that 2 extremes.

if we put a "bad" instrument into the hands of a beginner,  as long as the mid range is fine, the up to 3rd position is fine, i don't see the instrument affecting the beginner's progress. quality of the violin has no bearing on intonation training.  one can learn that on a cigar box and rubber bands.  similarly, a better violin does not make bowing straight easier.

if it is determined that in fact it is affecting the progress, then it says more about the player's rapidity of progress than the instrument's deficiency.  in that case, upgrade accordingly, but there is a need to go through the process because that is the right thing to do. you get better, you look for better violins.  not the other way around for the most part.  it is probably fair to say that there are more beginners held back by things other than the violins than beginners held back by the violins.  like a million to one.  we always want to find an easy way out, a no fret solution.  we look for different strings when we should focus on better bow contact.  etc.

IF the perceived quality/pricing of the instrument  truly affects the player psychologically, then perhaps having a better instrument to solve this psychological problem is just a patch, not a long term solution.  like,,,when the going gets tough, the tough goes shopping.

instead of speculating in the dark, a simple solution is to show a clip of the playing.  it won't take more than 5 seconds for other people to see through the issues.  

May 6, 2011 at 05:25 PM ·

 Pierre, I really enjoyed your review video about the black violin. You seem like a great guy and your website is great for people to get interested in the violin. Are you still performing professionally?

Small update: the black Cecilio violin now goes for $299 on their website, so it seems you made a great deal for those $99!

To everyone following this topic I have a question I always wondered about but never dared to ask. When on a typical violin, you play E on the A-string, the open E resonates with it "sympathetically". It sounds amplified. The same happens when you play D on the A-string, or A on the D-string, D on the G-string. Or a G on the D-string, and so on. The open strings resonate with the played note because it is the same note (possibly up to an octave). It even happens when you play high up on the G-string.

Now my question: is this indeed typical of every violin, even the most lousy ones? Or does it only happen on non-lousy violins? Sorry for the very naive, perhaps stupid question.

I actually started wondering more about this question after I heard Gidon Kremer play, on the radio, the 3rd movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto. Everytime he played an E it sounded so loud that it seemed to me that he played all his E's on the open string, but that seems highly improbable, it is more probable that the sympathetic resonance on his violin is extra loud. Because it never struck me with the many other violin performances I have heard.

May 6, 2011 at 06:44 PM ·

Having tried cheap and not-so-cheap fiddles (but not really great ones), I find there is a difference between the bad ones and ones that deserve to be called fiddles.

The cheap ones have a box attached that may make some amplification, but the primary sound is coming from the strings. With this, the harmonics exist, however they do not reach the resonance of a violin.

With a not-so-cheap violin, it actually reinforces and enhances some sounds, but each fiddle is a bit different. Some of the sound is actually coming from the fiddle acoustics, instead of being primarily strings.

If you want to have your better violin sound more like a cheap fiddle, take out the bass bar and the soundpost.

May 6, 2011 at 09:37 PM ·

Jean, I have a Cremona SV130, a $130 violin, and the strings vibrate sympathetically exactly as you describe.
 
Al, I picked up a violin for the first time 4 months ago and I've been playing a musical instrument for just as long and I have to agree with you almost completely.  Long story short, I was one of those who thought, "it's not me, it's you" about the equipment.  Then I asked my teacher if my violin was ok and she made it sound a WHOLE lot better than I could.  "It's not you, it's me" was more accurate!  It was both depressing and encouraging at the same time because at least I knew I needed to keep working at it to make that fiddle sound good like her.  Nevertheless, I had to confirm it.  I wanted all the edge I could afford.  After all, I wanted to remain motivated and improvement in tone would do this. I shopped around and tested several violins in the $1000 range and the minor improvement in sound didn't justify the cost.  It was confirmed -- it was me.  She did recommend a new bow, however, and rather than spend $1000 on an instrument I bought a $350 bow.  That's almost 3 times the cost of my violin, but I believe it made a difference.  She told me to wait a year for the new violin, but I will say this: when the poorly fitted pegs with which I'm fighting become too much to bear I may be back at the string shop in 6 months instead of a year.
 
Having said all that, as an adult I had the presence of mind to go through the whole thought process I've described.  A young child may have a lower threshold and the probability of losing interest may be greater.  What must also be considered is the budget that the parent must adhere to.  A low cost instrument can be the difference that allows a child the chance to discover the world of making music if they are truly up to the challenge.
 

May 6, 2011 at 10:18 PM ·

 you have made a lot of good points, charles,  including the one about agreeing with me mostly:)

what makes "bad" instruments worse often is that the even the redo setup is not taken as seriously.  as long as the sound post is in the "right" place and bridge lines up "correctly", it is considered ok.

very often, in my own biased experiences, there is so much to explore with all the possible combos with sound post and bridge.  ducks are not swans, but there is a range of how a "bad" instrument can sound.  but, as i said, since the stigma is that the "bad" instrument is not worth more time and effort, many "bad" instruments end up worse in beginners' hands, in the music slums, haha.

i concur with the distinction between adult vs child beginners.  adults tend to be more inquisitive of the next step whereas i do not think there are many children questioning their teachers or parents on whether they need to upgrade soon.  so parents and teachers are in the position to proactively gauge this for the kids.

i am thankful that my kid is not picky at all.  she will play whatever i put in her hands, although she can tell easily which instrument sounds better.  but she is not obsessive about it.  

but in the very unlikely event that she will be crazy about playing the violin seriously, i will be first one to drag her into a good shop or meet up with a good maker to get one.

 

 

May 7, 2011 at 04:36 AM ·

Thanks Jean, that is nice of you to say. Yes, I still play professionally. I recently gave up my full time orchestra position in the Malmo Symphony Orchestra in Sweden to move back to Florida after 20 years away. I now freelance in quite a few south Florida part time orchestras and am fortunate enough to have kept busy.

May 11, 2011 at 03:48 AM ·

Small update: the black Cecilio violin now goes for $299 on their website, so it seems you made a great deal for those $99!

@ Jean? - I checked their site out of curiosity and found that the fiddle is back to $99 again. Don't know whether or not the reg. price of $299 is just a gimmick (which is what I suspect) or not. I suppose people will buy a violin quicker if they think that they are getting 67% off :-)

May 11, 2011 at 05:13 AM ·

Here are some of my many, many reasons why I do NOT recommend buying the cheapest violin you can find. There are many good student violins out there, but they tend to cost at the very least about $400. A $120 violin is firewood.

Violins made by a luthier tend to be in a completely different class. You may think that you can't tell the difference, but if you were to spend some time with a better-quality instrument, then go back to the cheapie, you would understand at least some of the ways in which the cheap violin does not support your efforts. 

May 11, 2011 at 11:44 AM ·

 @ Laurie

When you say made by a Luthier, do you mean set up by, or made from scratch?

There is no question that they are better but what is the least that you can pay for a hand made instrument?
I think that it would be nice to find a luthier that buys the best of these cheap violins, sets them up properly with the best bridge, sound-post  and strings, making sure that there are no serious flaws, then allowing people to test them in his shop. It would be well worth at least the $400 you are talking about and probably more.

August 16, 2016 at 03:03 PM · Hi there I recently purchased a 5 string violin from China. spruce top, maple side and back. I also felt the sound was trapped inside and it sounded very dull (well when it comes to sound I find it always difficult to describe). I changed the bridge to a better bridge (sorry can't give more details since a luthier did it for me) that cost me about 20 bucks and I changed to helicore 5 string set medium tension. As for rosin I used Hidersine violin rosin. And now the sound has been brightened to a perfect level for me and it's no longer "trapped". Well my skills still aweful but at least the sound is what I love now. I know each violin is unique but hopefully my experience will help :-)

August 16, 2016 at 04:53 PM · I bought some Chinese items back when that was on the verge of treason.

15" viola. Poor sound quality.

16" viola. Really sweet sound but poor projection. Worth the money.

Cello. Amazing!

August 16, 2016 at 05:42 PM · Judging violins is not an easy thing, you have to try many many instruments, good and bad, in order to build a reference table to judge them. It is an acquired ability.

It is a knowledge that even very good professionals lack, and that's why some of them buy fake violins, we see that every week.

August 16, 2016 at 06:39 PM · Palatinos are nothing more than VSO instruments. Sometimes these can sound loud and not too tinny. Sounding "good" no, "reasonable" maybe.

Cheers Carlo

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