Time to upgrade or too soon.

May 19, 2018, 6:58 PM · I am currently playing on a violin made in 2015, most likely a workshop white violin that has been finished by someone. The price was about 2500 USD and while I do like it, the violin is very bright and it noticeably loses volume from 4th position or higher. I have had it looked at by both a luthier and the professor of violin at the conservatory near my town to see if it was an issue with sound post or set up, but they both concluded it was just an inherent limitation of the instrument. I am currently at about level 4 by violinmasterclass.com standards so I didn't know if it was too soon to invest into an upgrade or not. The price range would be up to roughly 7,000 USD. I do feel I know what I want in a violin now, as opposed to when I first started and I had no idea what I was looking for. I just don't know if it is too soon to upgrade at this stage or if there is even a big enough difference between a ~3k violin versus a ~5-7k violin to warrant an investment. The reason I ask is because I have to travel a fair distance to the nearest reputable violin shop and it's not something I want to do if it's not worth it. My first violin was purchased through at-home trials, which is convenient, but 2 or 3 violins isn't enough to try in my opinion.

Replies (28)

May 19, 2018, 7:33 PM · Price doesn't always equal quality of sound. In your case, you should get a new violin, but you don't have to look for something noticeably more expensive. You can just look at violins priced around the same as your current and see if there's anything better. I don't think you have to spend more than 5k.
Edited: May 19, 2018, 8:44 PM · I agree with Ella.

For reference, you're a bit further along than me - I'm at about level 3 with that ranking. My first violin was about $2K and it was suitable for a beginner. But as I got better I noticed it had the same limitation as yours, so off shopping I went. I visited several local shops, taking home to evaluate many in the $3-5K range. ALL were significant improvements over my beginner, and I honestly couldn't decide. One of the salespeople asked me what I was looking for (dark, bright, warm, etc.) - I had no idea, really. Just something better. Also, I contacted who I bought my beginner violin from online, and had him send one that listed for $5K. Of all the ones I tried, I liked that one for some reason. It just seemed to have the most, I don't know - 'character'? What made it easy was the shop gave me full trade-in value on my beginner violin to the purchase. Sales people at two of the shops I visited commented on how much they liked the bow that came with my beginner ("who made that bow?" "It's pretty nice," etc.), so I kept that one. After 6 months and lots of different strings, I've settled on Passiones, and I really love it now. I'm relatively financially well-off, so the money wasn't that big of a concern, but for me it was definitely worth it.

Edited: May 19, 2018, 9:22 PM · I would trade laterally, looking for a violin in roughly the same price range ($2k to $4k) with characteristics that are more pleasing to you. If you use the same shop, you should be able to get full trade-in value.

Your budget isn't large enough to make a significant difference in tone quality.

May 19, 2018, 10:56 PM · Well, the problem is that I trialed 2 violins from a shop and this one from an independent luthier recommended by the violin professor. I don't think shops accept trade-ins that didn't originate from the shop unless they are extremely valuable.
May 20, 2018, 2:25 AM · You don't have to necessarily trade up to a better instrument before learning to play the one you have. As an ex-professional I bought a £700 violin for a while and it was Ok to get back into playing the violin after only playing viola for some time. It did however have better sound than some of the £2,000 violins I tried.

I don't know what level 4 is on that masterclass website you quote. It sounds as though you haven't been playing for very long. By the way, a lot of more expensive violins can sound less good once you go above 4th/5th position, but it could also be because you have not yet learnt how the get a good sound.

May 20, 2018, 2:42 AM · You don't need to spend any more money at the level you're at, to be honest.
May 20, 2018, 5:01 AM · The violinmasterclass.com website includes in its Level 4 syllabus:
Bach, J.S. Concerto in A-minor, No. 1
Bach, J.S. Double Concerto in D-minor for 2 violins
Bach, J.S. Concerto in E-Major, No. 2
Rieding Concerto in D Op 5
Elgar Salut d'Amour
Dvorak Sonatina Op 100
Accolay Concerto No 1 in A minor
Haydn Concerto No 2 in G
Monti Czardas
Rachmaninov Vocalise Op 34 No 14

In Suzuki terms these would rank at technical levels 4 and upwards. Suzuki levels 9 and 10 are Mozart concertos 4 and 5.

Edited: May 22, 2018, 7:03 AM · A $2,500 violin can be expected to be pretty decent. You have to realize that except for trading up with your original dealer you can probably expect to get no more from any other dealer you trade in your old fiddle to than half of what he expects to sell it for - that's just the business - and I think I have seen even those with the best reputation love to trade a $12,000 fiddle for another $12,000 one and give $6,000 on the trade-in- it's just business.

Bridge and soundpost adjustments can make a big difference and different strings can make amazing changes to sound and playability. Different rosin and bow also can be significant.

For older people I think it is worth getting a hearing test before buying an instrument. In fact there are on-line hearing audiology tests that give the same results as having a professional exam. The hearing test I found effective has become hard to find with a google search - it seems to get buried by proliferation of websites by hearing-aid sellers - but here it is: https://hearingtest.online/ .

May 20, 2018, 7:00 AM · I would like to add some thoughts which might or might not fit for you: I guess you are playing for fun, this is not work and business we are talking about with optimized cost/benefit ratio. If something is "worth it" then only depends on if it is worth it to you, no need for outside feedback.

At the level you are, I guess you have a clear view on what kind of sound you like. So, try some violins once there is a good occasion anyway (or have them send to you on trial), and if you decide you want another one and you can afford, go find it and get it! Second opinions can make sure you do not buy garbage sound and value wise.

There is no law against owning a better violin than your playing level would deserve according to the opinion of other people.

May 20, 2018, 7:30 AM · I’m a little surprised that a $2500 violin isn’t better. You should have a pretty decent instrument at that price. Have you had your teacher or other professional play your instrument to see where its ceiling is?
May 20, 2018, 7:44 AM · It's perfectly fine to upgrade to something really nice at the intermediate level. The problem is the OP's budget. At $7k, he's likely buying an apprentice-made contemporary violin, or instrument from a contemporary luthier that doesn't have much of a reputation for quality, or an older violin of similarly unimpressive provenance.

But the workshop-made violins in the $2k to $4k range these days are actually very good. The delta between, say, a top-of-the-line Jay Haide or Hiroshi Kono or the like, and a violin at $7k-ish, is likely to be extremely small.

If the OP wanted to spend $15k on a contemporary violin, I'd be giving this the thumbs up. He's advanced enough to be able to take advantage of it, and that price delta would offer a major boost in playing qualities.

Edited: May 20, 2018, 12:48 PM · I, for your information, just share some of my experience.

I have been searching for the best sounding violin(s) within our budget for the past 15 years for our two talented sons. During that time, we have tried many, and bought approximately 15 violins, all relatively old (at least 80 yrs), but one, since I always prejudice for the old European. While the majority of them are, given what they are, not expensive (1-5K), we did pay up for those with popular names, including a big name 19th century French, etc. Believe or not, we just ended of another new Snow JHS, a top line workshop Chinese for the younger son, as we bought one for the elder son 10 yrs ago.

Now I do hope to end this exhausted, expansive, and everlasting searching process.

The Snow we just acquired is simply better overall than any of the others we have, especially with respect to tone (powerful and refreshing, yet balanced and smooth with a hint of sweetness), quality, and playability. My son loves it so much, and thereby refuses to touch any others, including a few nice ones, with more elegant and expensive appearance, and mature (or so-called sought-after) tone. Even more embarrassing to me, he is only using the no-name Chinese bow bought together with the violin now. even with the better ones available.

The point here is that the price does not determine the sound and quality, there are excellent choices in the price range in your budget (<7K), possibly among the high-end more-than-functional Chinese instruments.

May 20, 2018, 12:06 PM · this sounds like ad copy!!
May 20, 2018, 12:50 PM · Get a third opinion, and a fourth. Before you give up on it, find a luthier who is genuinely willing to work on it to tune it up (it's only an hour or two of luthier time), not a luthier who is offering a casual opinion or just wants to sell you a different fiddle.

Your description doesn't totally make sense. If the violin sounds good at 1st position it should sound fine at 4th position -- especially on the E and A. The D and G, tone production naturally gets more challenging in high positions but that is true for all violins.

And even if your fiddle does have a problem, setup and strings absolutely should be tried. If it's a newer instrument, it's possible the spruce plate has shrunk a little as it dried, or the arching has changed shape slightly, and the sound post is no longer making full contact with the plates -- this is a very easy and inexpensive fix.

A friend of mine who owns a very good viola was having a devil of a time with it -- wouldn't stay in tune, sound was dead in spots. Half an hour with the luthier -- just fractions of millimeters in bridge/soundpost adjustments -- and the viola was back to good health. It's kind of like what a chiropractor can do to an aching back sometimes.

You are talking about issues at "4th position or higher" so that probably means your E string. So -- instead of $7,000, try spending $30 and experiment with some E strings (I'd suggest a 26 gauge and a 27 gauge Westminster for starters).

A higher tension E can sometimes force the top down tighter on the soundpost and give you more sound over the whole violin.

But really, the best way to address the problem is to replace the soundpost. Soundposts are cheap, violins are expensive, I don't know why people don't get soundposts checked more often.

Edited: May 23, 2018, 6:08 PM · Hi Lyndon, my apologies for the impression you got, which is not the purpose for my post.

This is just one person's experience, which is still quite limited. For instance, I have no experience with the instruments from any known modern maker, or any truly high quality old instrument, simply because of budget and time. Remember, the price range for the OP is <7K. I have implied that I prefer old instrument in both appearance and sound. However, sound is very subjective, and it should be and was the call by my son not me for an instrument to suit his play.

Probably applicable to many makers (or brands), not all violins with the same grade are of same quality. For example, after evaluated >10 Snow JHS and some others in two trips this time, my son came up one he really likes. However, it was rather a disappointment the first trip when he tested 4 JHS, as all were very loud, but rather bright and somewhat coarse.

I always prefer old instruments with mature and more sophisticated tonal characters. However, I would think that we should open our mind for more options, especially for those in the low price range.

Edited: May 20, 2018, 4:21 PM · The violin has been adjusted by a luthier already. The projection in the higher register is the limitation of the violin. My teacher has played it juxtaposed to hers and there is a very clear difference. It’s not the strings either, I’ve tried about 8 different sets of strings and the volume issue persists. The top plate of the violin is fairly thick compared to other violins I’ve seen which probably dampens the sound. Maybe I made it sound worse than it actually is in my original post. The biggest issue I have is the brightness of the violin. I dare say it’s a bit nasally sounding. I would much rather have a violin with a darker, fuller, more complex sound (then again, who doesn’t). To give you an idea of the sound: If I play an open G it sounds like a goose honk XD.
May 20, 2018, 7:29 PM · Christopher: I think the potential investment is worth to ask for a second opinion from another luthier. The symptoms you describe are pretty much what improves or worsens with setup. I have suffered them (weak E, honky-G, horrible strangled high positions) and they could be fixed by a lot... and I mean a lot of try and errors of setup. Not a 30 minutes messing with the soundpost setter. Lots of soundposts, different bridges, and days of wait and trial to see if it worked or not.
And regarding the above, most of the times when changing strings it is necessary a tune-up of the setup, which is why I don't support the echo of V.vom of jumping around trying strings unless one has a luthier or assistant tuning up the setup.

Your feeling of a muted violin (which is what you describe) could point to a necessary change of bridge (and, of course, of soundpost), or some bass-bar problem. In any case I think it would make sense to check all that before changing instrument, only to find that it was something repairable.

However, I understand that once the moth of doubt in your instrument nests in your conscience, it is difficult to kill. So if changing the violin allows you to not think about it and to play with more confidence, and if you have the funds for it, that would be the right answer.

Regarding the price of your current violin and your current budget, I want to remind you that price doesn't mean anything at all. This I say not like the Yanny/Laurel discussion in V.com about modern/old instruments or about Chinese violins.
The price is only what the seller wrote in the paper. The same instrument in a different shop could be priced three times more expensive, or one third of what someone is asking. That goes also for your current instrument, or any of ours.
I think that you can have a very good violin with no issues at all for less than the money you are planning to spend, and actually you will have a hard time choosing it, because past the "no issues" chapter, you will be comparing subjective qualities such as the voice of the instrument and your feelings playing it.

Suming up this long post, my advice is to spend some more effort trying to find out and fix your current instrument. Even if it ends without success, it will be a very good exercise for your next violin. And if that fails, take your time looking for the next one because I think you have margin to choose.

May 20, 2018, 7:35 PM · There's also probably the question of who your luthier is. If it's someone who is really good at doing set-ups, it's a different case than someone who doesn't do many set-ups or isn't all that good at it.
Edited: May 21, 2018, 3:56 PM · I got an old German violin (ca. 1890) for my daughter and I paid around $3500 three years ago. She and I and her teacher are very happy with it. Some have told me I overpaid. I don't care. I almost bought it for myself until a local pro showed me a Topa he was willing to sell to me.
May 20, 2018, 9:21 PM · Thomas Boyer said: if the violin sounds good at 1st position it should sound fine at fourth.

ime...maybe, maybe not...should sound fine at fourth may be iffy for a 2.5k fiddle.

May 21, 2018, 5:46 AM · I play outdoor weddings on a 1.8K fiddle that sounds pretty good - certainly there is no drop-off between first and fourth positions. A 2.5K fiddle should be usable for an advancing student. I’m not questioning the OP’s assessment of his violin but I do wonder about its choice in the first place. At that price, it shouldn’t be firewood.
Edited: May 21, 2018, 6:32 AM · Yes-- that's about the price of a Jay Haide instrument. Not all of those are equally fabulous, but if you looked at no other brand you should still be able to find something quite adequate for most needs.

While I'm a great proponent of not getting hung up on buying antiques, it is worth remembering that new instruments are usually priced, to some degree, on the cost of labor and materials going in. That could be well over the value of what comes out when you play it.

Which is to say that you have to be alert when purchasing no matter what the price or category. The possibility of great deals often implies the likelihood of some that are less good.

Edited: May 21, 2018, 2:45 PM · The volume issue doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the brightness since the things I play rarely go above third position so far. I really don’t like how closed and a nasally it sounds. When I first started playing I had no ear for such things so it didn’t bother me.
May 21, 2018, 3:59 PM · The tone of every violin sounds different in higher positions than it does in first position. You can learn to brighten the higher-position tone somewhat with your technique.
May 21, 2018, 4:56 PM · Jay Haide makes some good violins.
May 21, 2018, 8:50 PM · General conclusion: It's not that you needed to have spent more money, but you got a dud of a violin for the price.

Either trade it in or write it off as a bad buy, but you don't need to go shopping in a more expensive price range. You should be fine in a $2k-4k range. (It is an object lesson in why most experienced players and teachers will recommend that a beginner rent for a while, though.)

Edited: May 22, 2018, 2:57 AM · If the violin is too bright try a set of mellow-sounding strings as John C suggested. He mentioned Passione, you can go even further with Eudoxa, though they need tuning more often. A set of Passione is not cheap but it may turn out there is nothing wrong with the instrument. Cheap strings tend to be bright on any instrument (leaving aside plain gut strings).

Incidentally my rather good (IMO) modern violin was a real struggle to make sound in higher positions until yesterday. I took the luthier's advice to change the strings, and the difference was like night and day. The strings were not a cheap brand, just worn out.

May 22, 2018, 9:21 AM · If you can afford it and enjoy playing it then go ahead. A violin that inspires you is a great source of encouragement, this is an investment in itself.
Onwards and upwards.

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