How many violins do you use?

May 15, 2018, 7:36 AM · Hi, I wanted to see how many violins violinists normally use. Remember, I'm asking about the ones your use, that is those that you practice with in a constant basis, not those violins that you own but you use once or twice a year.

I asked this to my teacher, actually how many she owned, and she said she owned 5 violins. Then I thought... ok, unless your violins have the exact same setup, when you work on tough repertoire you really need to know your violin, I guess, to adapt your playing to that violin. Some may respond very bad to "heavy" bow strokes, others will sound fierce and amazing when played "with violent care", hahaha.

My point is... I thought you really can master one violin, you can feel comfortable playing hard stuff on your very own special violin that you've been playing for years. May be I can get that you need a baroque violin/bow, a classical violin and may be even a violin for jazz/fiddle.

Are these presumptions of mine correct or you can play comfortably your heavy stuff with any random violin?

A few weeks ago I used for the whole lesson another violin and I noticed instantly that the angles of the strings in the bridge (bow angle) were different, I played all the time sharper than I use to play, and overall the bow was way more difficult to control. Specially the bow, it was so different I couldn't even do some bow strokes without shaky bow. It was cheaper/worse, that is true.

Replies (20)

May 15, 2018, 7:43 AM · A lot of players have a primary violin and a backup "outdoor" violin for gigs in which they don't want to risk their primary violin.

I know quite a few adult players with multiple mediocre violins, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses, which they switch between depending on what they're playing. I sometimes wonder why they don't take the money spent on those, and trade them in for one primary violin that is better overall, but there's clearly different preferences amongst players for which approach they prefer.

Edited: May 15, 2018, 8:55 AM · I agree with Lydia completely. I just want one really good violin. That's basically what I have, only it's not nearly as good as Lydia's. I don't play nearly as well either, though. It crossed my mind to buy a better violin someday but I really doubt I will need to. A lot of solo recitals just aren't in the cards for me. My dream is to do one every five years, possibly starting this fall. I'm transitioning to community-orchestral and chamber playing, so we'll see how that goes.

But look at Raphael Klayman -- he's giving a recital of the Vivaldi Four Seasons playing each concerto on a different violin and those are all fine violins. Could he sell them all and buy a Strad? No, I don't think so. The price-to-quality curve is not linear, more like exponential.

May 15, 2018, 8:59 AM · One. But I'm an amateur. I keep my childhood instrument for sentimental reasons (and to play if we have guests and want to do quartets). But it's hard to go back to it.
May 15, 2018, 9:11 AM · I have two. But if the instruments are properly set up and not too dissimilar then there should be no problem in changing one for the other. (I have one expensive violin and one much cheaper one).
May 15, 2018, 9:48 AM · I have three that I play on each day, dividing practice and playing time about equally among them. I find that no one instrument really has it all -- there are particular qualities about each of mine that I exploit for different repertoire -- or different room acoustics -- using particular string combos that suit each instrument.

For instance, my 1869 fiddle, which I have set up with Thomastik Infeld Red A-D-G + Goldbrokat Medium E, sounds to me like a viola in the low notes. The 1921 instrument, when I had it set up this same way, didn't give me the viola sound. I now have it, the 1921 fiddle, set up this way:

E - Goldbrokat Medium
A - Vision Solo
D - Peter Infeld Aluminum
G - Infeld Red

For me, this combo is a winner -- on this instrument. The same combo is too high tension for my 1883 instrument, which does much better with the same E + Eudoxa A-D-G. And the D-G have to be the stiff versions. The regular D-G were a letdown.

One caution I have to observe is that the finger intervals are not quite identical among the three fiddles. No surprise there. So I have to stay alert to this when switching from one to another. I'm used to it now -- but it still keeps me on my toes.

May 15, 2018, 1:57 PM · One at a time. No matter how good I get, there are still limits.
May 15, 2018, 2:11 PM · I currently have three, just sold one. I have a main one that I use, but is exceptionally loud. I have a much cheaper one that I use in my house, or when I don't quite trust the physical environment. (I teach middle school and sometimes I don't want to bring a decent instrument.) Lastly, I have an electric, which is currently on loan to a friend that cannot practice in her apartment on a regular instrument that is even muted.

Despite this I look for new instruments all the time. I am currently debating a mid-1800's Amati mould (pattern) that has a wonderfully rich sound, minus ample volume. It is better than the cheap Chinese-made Stainer mould that is my back-up.
May 15, 2018, 3:38 PM · I am one of those with multiple mediocre instruments; 4 violins and 2 violas, that have different strengths and weaknesses. I don't trust myself with a really valuable violin, because I am a little clumsy. I have scratched or damaged all of them. One fiddle is for outside, with an electric pick-up, one is loud but hard to play, one has good low notes, another good high notes. The two violas are different sizes, 15 1/2 and 16.
Edited: May 15, 2018, 4:51 PM · I'm an amateur, but I have three. My main violin that plays well (though it's not the fantastic violin a professional would require), the violin that my grandfather bought me when I started (this is the one I would save in a fire. He was dear to me and is long dead) and a cheapo I store at a local church to practice on during lunch that I wouldn't care if it got stolen.

I only use the main one other than the aforementioned lunchtime practices.

Edited: May 15, 2018, 10:49 PM · I’ve got 3 pretty much because I never got rid of my previous instrument when upgrading. They sort out into my main violin which I play the majority of the time, a backup instrument which is ok, something I would play in a questionable environment and a modest student level instrument that I’m saving for my son when he moves up to a full size violin.
May 15, 2018, 8:53 PM · I own three: a very nice violin with a label from an amateur Italian violinmaker in 1832 (no idea who really made the instrument or what it is actually worth; it was a gift), an excellent Klotz that is currently for sale up in the Indianapolis area, and a decent Chinese student instrument that I use for outdoor weddings. I also have the use of a Kuttner. I sometimes use my good instrument and sometimes the Kuttner in the symphony, depending on what we're playing, and teach on the other one.

It's never been a big deal for me to go from one instrument to another, or from violin to viola for that matter. Any adjustments necessary are instantaneous and unconscious.

May 15, 2018, 10:04 PM · Like Mary Ellen, I also don't have too much trouble switching between violins, even different-sized violins and viola. I never have more than one violin in active use, despite playing outdoors when the weather's good. I've never had problems with my violin getting damaged during outdoor use, but I always try to keep my violin out of direct sunlight and rain so I don't risk damage. I used to have a second violin with viola strings on it (I don't know if that counts), which of course acted as my viola, but I don't need that anymore as I am now able to use a real one.
May 16, 2018, 6:15 AM · On the subject of being familiar with the instrument ...... Hans Keller related a tale of one of the VPO leaders (Arnold Rosé?) who, if he had a big solo, would trot along to the local luthier and ask if he had 'something special' which he could borrow for the evening! Of course, he would play flawlessly on the unfamiliar instrument. Noting some of the comments above, maybe this is something which some players find easier than others. I used to have a primary instrument and a 'rough' one for outdoors etc. I don't recall a problem switching - much harder was down-sizing to my son's 3/4 size for duets when he grew into using my full-size.
Edited: June 10, 2018, 4:55 PM · I (we) probably have too many in my (our) family. Currently, only my younger son (who is 16) still plays once a week (yes, just once a week), but he is gifted.

Since he got an amazing new modern Chinese, a 2013 Snow JHS, our second Snow JHS, two months ago, the others, including quite a few German/Bohemian, four French, and an Italian, etc., are all idle now.

I play violin once a while for myself. Regardless of provenance, a between-war Guarneri copy made by a known Bohemian maker is my personal choice. It, besides the great appearance, sounds so robust, pure, and even, with singing timbre, deep bass, and sweet and crisp middle. I am truly fortunate to play and enjoy such an instrument.

Since own many violins, mostly old Europeans, I start to agree that good violins could be from anywhere, and old and new. The provenance is definitely associated with the price, but not necessarily with the tone or playability.

June 10, 2018, 1:42 PM · I use three.
My very best is a Guarneri copy J.B. Vuillaume 1857 in an as original condition as you are likely to find, which I use for solo work, recently bought a C.1830-50 Jacquot from the auction which proved to be almost the equal of the Vuillaume. This I use in the orchestra. My third violin is a modern one made for me in 2003 which I also use in the orchestra and outside. Now don't ask me how many bows I have, bows are where my true interest lies.
June 10, 2018, 1:47 PM · I own 3 violins. I have a shopping addiction. I constantly have to buy something. However, I don't have time to sell off my old toys. I traded my 4th violin for a cello, which I sometimes tinker with.
June 10, 2018, 3:31 PM · Just one viola and one violin. The viola is a 1979 American bench-made viola, a professional-level instrument. The violin is an early 1950s German workshop violin, good enough for the rare occasions that I play violin. I'm not in the market for more instruments.
Edited: June 10, 2018, 8:57 PM · I recently gave a recital called "Four Seasons with Four Seasonings". I played the complete Vivaldi "Four Seasons" each with a different violin from my collection and I played an encore - a slow mvt. from another Vivaldi concerto with yet my 5th violin! I also used 3 of my bows - all as follows:

Spring - Vittorio Villa, 2011, Amati model, with bow by EA Ouchard, c. 1920's

Summer - Edward Maday, 2011, basic del Gesu model but with lion's head and inscription on ribs, with bow by FR Simon, c. 19th cent.

Autumn - violin labeled "Giuseppe Rossi 1928" (Not sure what it really is yet but sounds quite good.) with bow by Louis Bazin, c. 1920's

Winter - violin by Vittorio Villa, 2010, del Gesu model, again with the Bazin bow

Encore - Ed Maday, 2008, modeled after Paganini's "il Cannone" del Gesu with the Simon bow

My other bows include 2 very good bows by one of China's top makers, Hong Wang and some cheaper Chinese bows. I also have a number of non violin family instruments, including a fine late 19th cent. grand piano by Knabe, a mondolyra - a mandolin in the shape of a lyre, made in Napoli, 1912, a sitar, erhu (Chinese fiddle), a zhang (Chinese mouth organ) a small relative of the bazuki called a baglama, a balalaika, bells and recorders. Also, collectable cases and carved wooden music stands. I suspect that I am the first kid on my block to have these!

I have one viola - well I HAD one viola. I left it in my trunk after teaching the other day to go get a bite to eat. When I came back, I saw that someone had broken into my trunk - and placed an additional viola there! ;-D

June 10, 2018, 10:04 PM · Old days players would have two instruments as the gut strings broke frequently, and could therefore swap instruments during performance. I have 2 1/2 instruments, but only play one. #2 is for sale, #1/2 kept for sentimental reasons. I say 1/2 as it is a vaguely violin shaped object made by my grandfather, a carpenter by trade, which plays like a 2x4 with strings! I don’t think there is one single dimension that is right with it... but it got me started.
June 11, 2018, 12:31 PM · BTW, that pesky extra viola that the crook put in my's quite a problem! I was sorely tempted to get rid of it but I was afraid to get into trouble. You see, there's a law in New Jersey - not many people know about this - that you're not allowed to let a viola out into the wild. Violas are notorious for for wreaking havoc with the environment and the ecology. They gobble up all kinds of flora and fauna and grow very big and fierce. They've often been confused with Sasquatches because they make similar sounds - something like BBRRRRAAAATCH!

So I'm afraid I'm stuck with it. :-(

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