Starting to think of a violin upgrade

Edited: October 29, 2018, 4:49 PM · Hi everyone. As you may know from my earlier posts, I'm playing on a Yamaha V5 violin. It's open, loud and bright, even shrill at times. It sounds better as my technique improves, but it's not inspiring at all. Its sound seemed to dampen a bit when I got a new bow, which is as expensive as the full Yamaha violin starter set (around €400). I'd like to upgrade it, but I don't need/want to rush (maybe I'll get it in some months, maybe in a year... who knows?) After all, I'm not very advanced technically (I'm starting Trotts double stop book on November, and perfectioning 3rd position).

I have some questions to ask you before even starting to try new violins:

(1) Which would be in your opinion a reasonable minimum budget to spend?

(2) In the shop at my town, I could get a better Yamaha violin at a discounted price. Which is your opinion on these instruments? It's not that I exactly like the sound of my current instrument, but maybe it's because it's the lower-tier model they carry.

(3) What key points should I look for when I'm trying a new violin?

(4) And finally... I can commission a violin from a Bulgarian maker (P. Stoinov) at around €4k. It's a bit out of my budget currently (I had thought of something around 2-3k max) but I could save for it if it was worth. What do you think of this option? Do you know this maker?

(5) Any other general/concrete advice is welcome.

Thank you very much.

Replies (16)

October 29, 2018, 6:36 PM · Come to your local luthier and ask to try some of violin in 2-3k range. And pick the one you like best.

From the video on youtube showcasing P. Stoinov violin, he seems to make great sounding violin. If you can, come to his workshop, have a talk and try some of his current violin. I'm sure he won't mind.

October 30, 2018, 3:20 AM · Thank you, Daniel. I'll try some violins at my local shop when I can. Unfortunately, I can't go visit the Bulgarian workshop. It would be a "distance" deal.

October 31, 2018, 1:48 AM · Perhaps take your violin in for a soundpost adjustment?

An overly shrill violin can be toned down with a proper adjustment.

It can make a significant difference on some violins

October 31, 2018, 2:43 AM · Sounds OK to me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQwgjSfKpwg
October 31, 2018, 3:20 AM · Craig: With time, I'll take it. I plan to keep my current violin since it was a gift from a close relative and therefore it has some sentimental value to me. I'd like to make it sound at its best.

Andrew: Yes, I know that video! My teacher says that my violin is slightly shriller than other violins of the same model he has heard. Unfortunately, I'm a bit more sensitive to shrillness since I tend to get headaches. But another thing my teacher says is that my violin seems to be a bit more consistent in the upper positions than the other V5 violins he has tried.

Regarding this violin, I'd like to make it sound the best I can. Great part of it involves right hand technique, but I still have to try some different string sets, and in the long run, I'll take it to a luthier. I plan to keep it as a second violin when I get a better one.

October 31, 2018, 4:35 AM · So Craig+1, perhaps.
Edited: October 31, 2018, 5:26 AM · There's room for a huge discussion of upgrades - how many, and when, and are they just an excuse for not improving fast enough; are they a shop's money-spinner?
My violin is supposedly suitable for up to grade 6, but I call bullshit on that one - I reached ABRSM grade 8 on a Boosey and Hawkes plastic oboe. However, the argument goes "it would have been easier on a better oboe".
My violin upgrade plan is to ignore my own advice and pretend that the shop's advice is correct. Reaching grade 6ish should coincide with my 60th birthday, so on that day I will buy an entry-level pro violin and a Coda GX and a case, all for £3,000 (which is a joke, given the future I predict for the British economy. Otoh, there are some good American products, and the American economy may parallel the British economy).
If I had stayed with the oboe, I'd have bought an entry level pro oboe, although they cost more than £3,000.
October 31, 2018, 6:31 AM · My ideal upgrade plan would be just upgrading it once. Finding a beautiful sounding instrument that is easy to play on and that I'd like to keep for the rest of my life. Maybe this is a bit of an utopian thinking with my budget, but I don't plan to be a professional and just want to reach an intermediate-advanced level where I can enjoy music. I don't even plan to follow any grading system or taking violin exams. I just want to enjoy it.

From my experience with piano, I can say a fine instrument definitely helps to improve faster. But as you stated, it is not a requirement.

Most of times, shops and manufacturers try to make us believe that an instrument is just for a determined level (I've even seen shops which divide violins in 6-8 levels of playing!). They decieve customers in order to sell as many instruments as possible.

October 31, 2018, 7:23 AM · "They deceive customers"

I didn't want to be quite that forthright. But there is a top shop in London which my teacher took a student to to get a violin on the shop's professed part-exchange upgrade policy, then when they went back for the upgrade, the shop flatly denied that it had any such policy!

Edited: November 4, 2018, 6:18 PM · From my experience with €1-3k "student" violins (mainly german and romanian) setup matters a lot. So Craig's advice about soundpost adjustment might be the cheapest way to go, eventually your luthier could also check the bridge and tailgut length - many student violins leave the company's workshop in a really pityful shape, regarding the setup. But for €500 or so, the workshops cannot invest a lot of time into this fine tuning process, so this is what you'll get.
If you are planning to keep this instrument anyway for sentimental reasons, then get it to it's best first before considering an upgrade. Maybe this will last you another two or three years and allows you to save up for an instrument you really fall in love with, and eventually gives you the time to learn what you are really looking for by trying any violin that crosses your path.
If you want your next instrument "to last for a lifetime", then you're looking for a professional instrument, although guys like the two of us will never need a "soloistic" instrument but will be happy (and even happier, regarding your headache issue) with a smaller / warmer sounding instrument with which it is easier to blend into an orchestra or a chamber group. People (at least in my place) often say that one had to invest at least 10k to get the real fun out of it - quite snobbish in my eyes. I think this may be true if you are in a hurry, but if you can take your time there are lots of real gems to be found. There are quite a few instruments from the german speaking part of the world from the 5-8k range (still a lot of money) that I'm absolutely in love with (although I don't need one right now, but it's always good to know). A selected intermediate level Roderich Paesold with optimal setup might do similar, but bought from a luthier with optimized setup you should expect a retail price up to 50% above the cheapest online price. (I'm talking about an investment of ~€3,5k.) And I've met some early 20th century hungarian violins which offer a really great quality for the money and are usually 30% cheaper than their german contemporaries. (Not to mention the Italians...)
In general I think that if you're on a budget but need (or wish) a pro grade instrument, contemporary makers from an eastern european country, especially Poland and Romania, offer a high value for 3,5-5k. And if you choose wisely it's also a good investment (especially with some certain names from Poland). I know several pro orchestra section players with decent sounding and beautifully built instruments from Poland. Personally I feel that the violin making traditions from eastern Europe produce instruments with a bit harsher sound, but it's just a tendency and my personal opinion.
I will not go into the discussion about instruments from asian production again - they do make good instruments, but reselling is harder if you want your money back.

Having said all this, just a single short thought about your headache induced by shrill sounds - have you ever tried to swap the E-string for a viola's C?

November 5, 2018, 4:01 AM · Nuuska M.: Thank you for taking your time and giving me such a detailed answer.

If you are planning to keep this instrument anyway for sentimental reasons, then get it to it's best first before considering an upgrade

This is a good idea. I definitely want it to be at its best, but being a cheap instrument, I don't know how worth is it. I mean, maybe the adjustment requires spending half the value of the instrument, and doesn't really do much because of the instrument limitations.

Another thing is that I think the nearest luthier I have is at a 3h drive, and I can't move at this precise moment. Maybe I could ask my teacher about it.

If you want your next instrument "to last for a lifetime", then you're looking for a professional instrument, although guys like the two of us will never need a "soloistic" instrument but will be happy (and even happier, regarding your headache issue) with a smaller / warmer sounding instrument with which it is easier to blend into an orchestra or a chamber group

Of course I will never need a soloistic instrument! I just want to enjoy music in my leisure time, but I won't become a professional who needs to project over an orchestra in a huge hall. Even if I wanted to, I would probably never become one. I'll have a look to your instrument recommendations. I'm interested on them.

In general I think that if you're on a budget but need (or wish) a pro grade instrument, contemporary makers from an eastern european country, especially Poland and Romania, offer a high value for 3,5-5k.

That's what I was thinking, and the reason why I got interested on Bulgarian instruments. I don't know very much about Polish ones, though...

Having said all this, just a single short thought about your headache induced by shrill sounds - have you ever tried to swap the E-string for a viola's C?

I need further explanation here, seriously. Does a viola's C placed where the E string should be sound like a warmer E? Does it increase the overall volume? (As you can see, I have never tried that!)

Thank you very much again.

November 5, 2018, 2:35 PM · I think that was a joke -- a suggestion that you should consider switching to play viola instead.
Edited: November 5, 2018, 4:35 PM · Well, I don’t get these kind of viola jokes. Maybe that’s definitely a sign that I should try it. Now reading it again makes all the sense. English is not my first language and, although I’m reasonably proficient at it, sometimes I just don’t get it.

And regarding the suggestion, I don’t know what to think. I have never tried a viola. Maybe I end up loving it when I do. But what really caught my eye (or ear) was the violin. It’s a really beautiful instrument.

November 5, 2018, 4:59 PM · Lydia's got it. Just give it a try. I didn't give up the violin, but playing the viola was - and is - a very relaxing experience.

Jan Pawlikowski from Krakow is the first name that comes to my mind. He's said to produce consistent work, and the two or three violins I've seen from him were very fine for that money (3-4k). Nice wood, decent workmanship, tasteful antiquing, very resonant and responsive, even and clear sound, a little bit edgy maybe (which eventually should improve when played in) but for sure not shrill. His violas are even better IMHO.
And there are others.

I wouldn't commission a violin, but rather choose from available instruments. Don't buy a pig in a poke. Try the best instruments you can, learn from them, then look for the same qualities in instruments within your range, no matter age nor origin, and allow yourself to fall in love. If this will not happen, you probably haven't saved up enough. Meanwhiles, get your current instrument checked.

November 5, 2018, 5:01 PM · And Miguel, take your time and enjoy the process!
November 6, 2018, 10:20 AM · I don't really know how did I understand your sentence in such a difficult way. It was funny how diplomatical Lydia was when explaining it to me.

I'll give viola a try, but I'll probably wait to improve my violin technique a bit before doing so. The idea of being able to play Bach cello suites is tempting.

I'll start going to my shop and trying what they have there. From that, I'll see what conclusions can I make.

And Miguel, take your time and enjoy the process!

Of course I'll do! For me, music is for enjoying it. From playing to trying new instruments.

Thank you!


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