Your violin-purchase priorities - and not.....
The insurance came through and I am not looking for a violin-partner and I would love it if you came along!
At this point I'm intrigued as to the priorities that other violinists put when looking to purchase their primary playing instrument (I have a very nice german workshop backup). Note, this is about relative preferences, not absolute how much the fiddle will cost. However, I do include 'investment value' in the list since this can also be an important relative factor.
Thus, if you bear with me, can you list the things you look for from most to least important. I have a list below but by all means add your own. Please also mention what kind of player you are - for example (its up to you) beginner, intermediate student, advanced amateur, professional-track, professional. If we have a good response I will collate the results at the end.
Here are a list to get us started (in no particular order):
Absence of false or loud notes
Tone to the ear
Tone to the audience
Response time (latency from bow movement to sound production)
Evenness across strings
Thanks everyone - I think this could be useful not only to buyers but also to our luthiers.
Physical comfort and/or weight and balance?
I like your list! I'd add 'Conformity to standard violin sizes.'
Good thread idea.
Scott - you get a point for adding a new one (one that isn't discussed that much - but its sure obvious when you play someone else's violin) and I added it to the list.
The priorities seem good. I suspect, from having recently bought a viola, that one or two will simply stand out for you as you try them, without respect to the priorities you have listed.
What about playability? Some seem to play much harder than others for some reason.
Timothy - I think its a great point but somehow 'playability' seems too broad as a testing feature. For example, response time is really a part of 'playability'. Can you think of a term that is a bit more specific?
I tried to post, but it keeps erasing my response... one more try!
What insurance came through? Where can I get some?
I was thinking about this and realizing that it's kind of like making a list of requirements/priorities for a spouse. You can have some idea of what you're looking for, but in the end, you kind of just fall in love. I think picking a violin or a bow is much the same way. I do think that you should have a list of things that are things that you
Elise's list seems more applicable to violins below, say, $30,000, or even below $20,000, where there might be non-ideal characteristics or even actual flaws that require thoughtful prioritization. I'll stop short of extending that thought to Lydia's marriage analogy, even though I think it would be possible to do so.
These are all things measured on relative scales, too. What is a good color in a $3,000 violin is kind of at a "yes, I can live with this" level, for instance, relative to other instruments in that price range.
Lydia - the idea for this topic came from testing one violin in the 15-20K range) and discovering that its 'response time' permitted me to play considerably faster than I could on my previous instrument. Having discovered that I wondered if there were any other properties that I should be looking for that I might not have prioritized myself.
Paul wrote: "Elise's list seems more applicable to violins below, say, $30,000, or even below $20,000, where there might be non-ideal characteristics or even actual flaws that require thoughtful prioritization." Is that really true? I keep reading about the 'other' Strads that have flaws the player has to 'work around'. Are expensive instruments really that good?
Bow (I think I care more): speed of response, total match with violin, balance (I like frog bias, many currently seem to prefer tip bias), light weight, bounce control. The fewer bows you want to carry, the more qualities you need in one. For me, response speed and balance are transformative.
Love your list Francis - and I too play without an SR. This changes the relationship somewhat as the violin has to be easily manipulated by the L thumb and hand (and preferably not too heavy either.
People would be surprised how many things on their list say as much about the shop that set the violin up as about the violins. Response time is one of those things.
Really Darnton? Could you give us a hint how one speeds up response time by setup?
Certainly setup is a huge variable...I don't know how to pick an instrument other than by picking a setup. A far as how, I'll defer to Mr. Darnton who is an expert luthier (and I am nobody), but I suspect bridge height, post placement, bridge material/treatment and string selection are the main variables the can be changed easily after instrument construction. Edit: I forgot tailpiece position and string after length.
Elise, see my testing procedure in this old thread:
The influence of "setup" on sound and playability tends to put large error bars on the quality of a violin. We all face the dilemma that we might be turning away an affordable gem just because it's not set up well. You would think good shops would spend time setting their violins up well to help them sell.
As Francis says, everything about post, bridge, and strings affects everything. They are the path through which you have to go to get to the sound.
I don’t think the priorities are so simple. IMHO workmanship is probably #1. Just from a visual perspective I can’t imagine anyone paying a large sum of money for a poorly made instrument. Likewise a poorly made instrument would have a lower probability of good sound quality. I would say there are a top 3 to 5 priorities where there is some balance vs a clear ordering.
Thanks Michael. I want the Lotus Elise - I'm happy to spend the hours learning how to drive it at 250km/hr! But I take your point to heart in particular when buying from the most able dealers since they will be able to dress up the performance of a good, but not great violin better than the less able. Interesting point that I never thought about.
Annie - by workmanship I was not referring to whether the violin is robust and will hold together but whether, for example, it hits all the points required to win for structure at a show. This is important for people who see the instrument as a work of beauty but less so I think for those of us who see it as a tool to make sounds. Perhaps I should have been more clear.
Hi Lydia - thanks for that link, very interesting reading! I'm certainly not averse to buying a new instrument but I have heard some cautionary tales that some of them can age badly over the first few years - perhaps someone can comment here. Thus, if you buy one that's a few years old you may be more sure that it will stay true to form.
The instruments I liked best at that exhibition were not new -- they'd had several years, and in the case of the Gusset, several decades, to settle in. I have, however, tried just-off-the-bench instruments that held a lot of promise for the future. I think you have to be careful of violins that have false promise -- there's a lot of folks there who like bright ring-y loud-under-the-ear violins that don't turn out to age well, especially if the tops are made too thin.
People should just listen to Lydia.
"But you loose a point for not following instructions :D I'd love to hear your priorities ..."
Okay I'll add a "priority": The opinions of professional violinists that I trust to understand what violins should sound like, how they should play, and what they should cost. If I am able to have my teacher play and evaluate the violins from which I am choosing, and another local pro that I trust, and they say "Paul, this is a fine violin, it has what you need and the price is reasonable," then I am going to be strongly inclined toward that purchase because to some degree it's easier to convince myself that I like the sound of a violin that a fine professional violinist says is good, than it is to convince myself that I should trust my own ears, which I already know are faulty (continuous ringing, etc.). When I bought my violin (a 2006 Topa) pro opinions probably got me at least halfway there, and since buying it I've really enjoyed it and others have complimented me on it as well. Just an additional two cents' worth from a committed amateur.
Michael, people at my workplace have occasionally suggested that T-shirt too. ;-)
Take a prospective violin on a loan for 7 days.
Lydia, I appreciate what you are saying but this individual is one of rare experience and erudition.
Oh yeah, I wasn't speaking of your guy, Paul -- from your description he's clearly someone who handles a lot of instruments.
LOL Rocky. And that is exactly what I am hoping for. But this topic has given me ideas as to how to run the instrument through its paces a bit more so that I don't fall in love as I did with my first real-life partner :o :o but go for the soul-mate up front ... [which I did find ;) ]
Paul - my teacher helped me pick out my instrument with those variables in mind. I'm glad I had their guidance with my relatively short selection process.
It's interesting to me looking at how various people approach a violin buying decision.
I agree Tim. Things change.
Arnie - I also took advantage of the 'upgrade policy' with two violins years ago. However, unless you buy at a dealer with a very extensive stock indeed, it has diminishing benefit as you move up to more expensive violins as you are then limited solely to the current stock. At this point I want to try instruments from many dealers and luthiers for that matter to find Galatea.
Trade-ins are great for kids who upgrade in size every year or two, as well as beginners slowly saving to get a decent violin, especially if the top end of their upgrade path is a high-quality top-of-the-line workshop violin (like a top-end Jay Haide model or the like), and gradually trade up to their final violin.
I agree with Lydia about appreciation. Sometimes we don't think our instruments have "investment value," but excluding damage, even a workshop instrument should appreciate at nominally the same rate as the consumer price index. If you buy a $5000 violin at Potter's (just an example), and in ten years you trade up, they're going to turn around and re-sell your $5000 violin for $6000, and they're going to charge you a fee (perhaps $350) to prepare it for sale. Another way to look at the instrument that you're trading up is as an essentially free rental. The dealer can look at is as free storage. Eventually, though, you do reach a point where you're going to be on your own because the dealer won't have what you're looking for at the next level up. And at the rate people give up playing the violin, die, etc., the odds definitely favor the house.
Gulp. Third violin I tested... I may have found it :o