Intermediate Violin

March 3, 2019, 2:35 PM · I'm looking to upgrade my violin to a midrange one - I'd like to keep it between CDN $3000-3500. Any suggestions? or where I can learn more about violin luthiers?
I came from playing guitar so I know about Gibson, Fender etc.. and what type of guitar is good for what type of music. I'm curious to learn more about violins.
Thank you
- Jordan

Replies (81)

March 3, 2019, 2:47 PM · It's difficult to find instruments worth the price in that range, especially if you don't know exactly what you're looking for.

If you're not a full-time violinist, maybe you can find a decent production instrument, like the Holstein line from Fiddlershop. Amateurs seem to be happy with those.

Edited: March 3, 2019, 3:56 PM · There are plenty of workshops all over the world producing decent instruments. E.g. from german production this would make a Roderich Paesold PA803 plus proper setup by a competent luthier (setup usually makes a huge difference in this price range) and a nice bow, if you're lucky. If you're looking for the most bang for your bucks, some Chinese instruments in that price range might be "better", but eventually harder to resell for a good price. (Disclaimer: I'm not experienced with Asian violins!)

If I'm not mistaken, CDN $3k is approximately €2k. As Cotton mentioned this is a very tricky range. In my humble experience it's not hard to find a great instrument in the €3-5k range (although there's a lots of crap either), be it older or new. Most new top workshop instruments sell in that range, and there are lots of good early to mid 20th century makers from Germany, France or Hungary to be had for that price. (There's one especially lovely Hungarian fiddle from the 1920ies I'm currently thinking of...)
Around €2k, you'll usually find a "better student violin", whatever this may be. Good enough to study intermediate level repertoire, but no way for performing. If you're happy not to perform, it's probably all you need. There are usually instruments with a decent tone which can be played up to the upper third of the fingerboard, given an optimal setup. As long as you're not performing, this "my instrument is holding me back" topic we amateurs are so hot about is mostly bull***t. The player matters much more than the instrument.
And don't forget, a good bow (that fits the instrument) often makes more difference for less money than a one-step upgrade of the instrument. You'll seldomly hear "my bow is holding me back" - but I'm sure this is the case quite often. And again, it's not all about money.

Edited: March 3, 2019, 4:01 PM · In that price range it's either vintage or factory made instruments, and if made by an individual luthier probably his/her first ever made. There are some decent factory instruments in that price range, but for any given brand, likely to vary considerably in tonal quality even for the same model, hence best to buy from a reputable shop. Vintage instruments depends on many things, but you can find some pretty decent ones also in that price range. You must however be cogniscent of not so obvious issues, such as un-repaired hairline cracks that may require further (and possibly expensive) attention. Where do you live? Outside Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, options can become rather limited.
Edited: March 4, 2019, 8:59 PM · If you look hard enough, you can get something good between 1000 - 3000 USD. I saw Collin Mezin for around 1500 that was a pretty good. You should be able to get a decent bow for no more than 1000. Try to negotiate.
March 3, 2019, 6:50 PM · Nuuska wrote, "As long as you're not performing, this "my instrument is holding me back" topic we amateurs are so hot about is mostly bull***t."

This isn't even the least bit true.

There is a reason why students tend to steadily upgrade as they advance. The violin (and bow) do hold you back, and that's true whether you're a child or adult learning. A student will reach the limits of many cheap instruments long before they reach the level of a professional performer.

March 3, 2019, 7:17 PM · I am very happy with my Fevrot viola.
March 3, 2019, 7:26 PM · correction, you can get a fake Collin Mezin for $1500
Edited: March 3, 2019, 7:39 PM · $3000 buys a pretty decent Chinese violin. My MJZ viola was $3500 and I'm quite happy with it. If I were a serious (e.g., conservatory) student of the viola, I would have to upgrade as the playability would not be enough. But the tone is great.

At the student level there is (hopefully) not much variation in the general types of wood used to make the instrument. The sides, back, neck, and scroll are made of maple. The top is made of spruce. The other small parts from some kind of harder wood.

March 4, 2019, 2:16 PM · I'm always a bit mystified as to what exactly it is about a violin that would hold someone back, as long as it's not an unplayable VSO. The bow I can understand - some really cheap bows simply will not do some advanced off-the-string strokes. But the violin? I'm pretty sure a great violinist will sound awesome regardless of the instrument you put in their hands.

Maybe it's because I was a horn player first (and still am primarily) that I'll never be able to see the violin as anything other than a tool. Furthermore, I know that as much as I like my Alexander horn, I'd still sound like me regardless of the instrument. Maybe I'd have to work a little harder.

I sold my Haide violin a while back and have had to play more recently on a "backup" Carlo Lamberti Sonata that I impulse bought on clearance from SHAR. It plays all the same notes my Haide did. So I'm not sure I can really blame the instrument for any of my shortcomings as a violinist.

March 4, 2019, 3:10 PM · I bought my violin and bow last year in Canada with the same budget, so my experience might be useful to you. I'm a returning adult student, currently playing around RCM Level 7-8.

In the violin world, the big name manufacturers tend to focus on the beginner market. Eastman would be an example of this type of manufacturer that's commonly available in Canada. One manufacturer of intermediate instruments that you'll see fairly commonly in Canada is Jay Haide. There are also lots of smaller manufacturers from eastern Europe and China who're producing instruments in your price range, but each dealer tends to stock instruments from different manufacturers, which makes it difficult to comparison shop. The same seems to be true of the market for new bows. In addition, there are decent older instruments in your price range, if you search for them.

My personal shopping experience involved trying a small number (about 12) of modern instruments in my price range at a specialist violin shop where I had credit from renting an instrument that I could apply towards the purchase. I already had a pretty clear idea of the sound I was looking for, and was fortunate to find my ideal instrument quite quickly. I tried a few European instruments, in addition to some Jay Haide ones. I considered one of the Jay Haides, but its tone was a little harsh under the ear.

I ended up getting a violin by Klaus Ludwig Clement from Germany, which has power and projection, a sweet warm tone with lots of colour options, and plays beautifully in all positions. My teacher, who had no financial interest in the purchase, feels that it compares favourably with violins costing 3-4 times more, and I’m extremely happy with it. After choosing the violin, I tried about a dozen bows. I ended up with a modern German pernambuco bow by Knoll that plays beautifully and brings out the best in the violin. The violin and bow together were less than 3500 CDN before tax.

I’d also like to recommend The Sound Post if you’re in the Toronto or Ottawa areas – I was very happy with the selection and service, and would happily buy from them again. Good luck!

March 4, 2019, 3:12 PM · MD - speaking as a former low brass player the variation in playability is much greater on string instruments than on brass instruments.

I'm just going to link to an article on judging violin tone.

While not all of the listed qualities affect playability, some have enormous effects on playability. The most important thing when learning a string instrument is that the instrument has to reward good technique; if good technique sounds no better than flawed technique, then it becomes much harder to practice effectively as the ear is much less able to distinguish the two.

March 4, 2019, 3:22 PM ·  I'm always a bit mystified as to what exactly it is about a violin that would hold someone back, as long as it's not an unplayable VSO

Distance between strings can make double stops challenging, height of the strings can make playing beyond 3rd position difficult, lack of sonority makes accurate tonal development difficult, lack of response when pressure is applied to vary tonality limits expression, and I could go on and on. Comes a point where the instrument limits technical development.

March 4, 2019, 3:38 PM · @Roger St-Pierre - most of what you're describing sounds to me like setup issues rather than qualities inherent to the instrument, no?
March 4, 2019, 3:48 PM · Only the first two are necessarily setup issues.
Edited: March 4, 2019, 5:51 PM · Lydia - this is a difficult topic. Let's say we're not talking about conservatory students and cigar boxes, or instruments with technical problems and weird conceptuation, but amateurs digging into intermediate rep.
If you got money - fine, go and indulge yourself. If your financial power is limited - no problem, you can still reach your goals. Just get your gear out!

My son's violin, a no-name 21st century german trade fiddle, was bought for €1,8k from my luthier. It's not possible to fill a hall with that one, but it is all one needs to study, including the finer modulations. It's still his first instrument and he's definitely far into intermediate level rep. When I was in shopping mood I asked his teacher when it would be time for an upgrade, and he asked only, "why?" Indeed there are other instruments for the same money I'd prefer not to touch, even with a broomstick... But this is not do much a question of $$ or €€.
BTW, my teacher used a no-name €3k instrument during his whole conservatory life. Most of the time with a €350 hybrid bow, in his last year he moved up to a 3k bow, and only after finishing conservatory he got a 12k violin and started auditioning. (He won the second one right away.)

To be honest, I have to suspect that I might not have enough experience with flawed violins. I'm lucky to have a very good luthier, and the other three in my region also seem to know very well what they are doing. They're not selling crap, and the stuff I tried somewhere else was usually in a higher range.

(And Lyndon, most probably that's true!)

March 4, 2019, 5:52 PM · Anything less than a Strad would be likely to hold you back, relative to the Strad itself. Of course, the better the tool, the better you learn!

However one of my best teachers (who’s among the most popular and busiest instructors in my city) always plays on her students’ instruments whenever she needs to play to demonstrate a technique. I think it’s one way for her to assure the students that their instruments are ‘sufficient’ for what they play. Needless to say how awesome and consistent her playing is, across such a big range of violins. She will be very likely to assure students who blame their technical faults on their own instruments.

In my situation, a good teacher is a lot more important than a good instrument, though both are important. They will help you identify mistakes a lot more easily than what your instrument can tell you. They are also the people telling you when you would need to upgrade.

Edited: March 4, 2019, 6:58 PM · It's a matter of when, really. A $2,000 violin is plenty for most amateurs to use for life. Most will never reach the "Bruch level" that keeps getting mentioned around here as the beginning of advanced study. But if you're one of the small percentage of violinists who develop the technical ability to study Romantic concertos or play 1st violin parts in Romantic symphonies (this is "advanced" level but still nowhere near professional), that violin will hold you back. You can still use that $2,000 violin, but it will be harder to play if you're playing that kind of rep.

By the way, Lydia's words were "cheap instruments" with no price level specified. I'm wondering how people are interpreting those words, and what Lydia actually intended them to mean. I tend to think of a "cheap instrument" as being a functional, non-VSO instrument under $500. That's the kind of instrument that will hold the average learner back within two or three years. I definitely don't think of $2,000 as "cheap."

Edited: March 4, 2019, 7:22 PM · So much for free speech, it appears we're not allowed to criticize's advertisers, no matter how shady they may be!!
Edited: March 4, 2019, 8:13 PM · I have got a great intermediate fiddle I paid $400. I will give you a $500 discount, so it can be yours for $3000!
The difference between me and a dealer is the following:
I have got a great intermediate fiddle! If you are a serious buyer, I will give you a $500 discount. It can be yours for $3000!

Never disclose to the seller how deep is your pocket.

March 4, 2019, 8:36 PM · Lyndon, criticism can be levied without obscenities.
March 4, 2019, 9:34 PM · Lyndon, I didn't touch your response, but enough people thought it was spam that it was automatically removed.
March 4, 2019, 9:58 PM · I think recommendations for fiddlershop are spam!!
March 4, 2019, 11:33 PM · Lyndon, have you ever seen a string instrument less than 100 years old that you don't think is terrible?
March 4, 2019, 11:40 PM · Andrew, pretty close. I was thinking "cheap" in the $700-ish and under range for an outfit (violin, bow, and case), where you can get a functional instrument whose limitations are likely to frustrate a student by the time they reach late beginner level.

There's a really big difference between already knowing how to do a technique (having learned it with equipment that offers the precision feedback necessary to properly control that technique) and then executing it on something that is pretty unresponsive, and someone trying to learn how to properly do a technique on something that doesn't respond and/or responds imprecisely or unexpectedly.

Plenty of people can get through conservatory on inadequate equipment, but their learning won't be as efficient as people who can use suitable equipment.

I mean, think of it like cooking with a dull knife, a mediocre stove and oven, and a handful of less-than-fresh spices. Sure, you can get the job done, but it's sure going to be more frustrating and the end result may not be as appealing.

March 4, 2019, 11:46 PM · There are quality instruments being made today in China, its just that they tend to be quite a bit more expensive than similar quality antiques, at least at my shop.
Edited: March 5, 2019, 2:37 AM · If I was a conservatory violin student, I can't see myself playing on anything less than 10K (it can be cheaper or more expensive, but it should sound at least as good as an average, correctly priced, 10K instrument), since it's the one I bring to exams, pivotal conservatory performances, fruitful practice with my teacher during those years, and at least some initial years of my career later on. Even presuming I don't have lots of money as a student. A 10K violin, chosen carefully, won't lose much resale value after all.

Having said that I agree with Andrew, that a $2K, correctly priced, violin would be good for an amateur playing below Bruch concerto level, although for better playing experience one needs to spend a bit more. No doubt everything will be a lot easier if a learner had all the money.

I think in the case of my teacher, by herself playing on whatever her students have on hand, she does a great job in ensuring her students that, while their violins aren't the best, they are 'sufficient'. Some students simply don't have the budget to upgrade (their parents don't approve, for example), and they are pretty much in a situation of either 'cooking with a dull knife', or 'no cooking at all'. If changing your tool is not available (or desirable) as an option, then it is always better to convince yourself that your available tools are good enough (so long as they aren't VSO), rather than being haunted with a thought that they are significantly holding you back (the thought itself, correct or not, will do no good to your mentality).

March 5, 2019, 12:57 AM · I was asking because I got the impression that several people in the conversation were reading "cheap instrument" as something in the $2000-3000 range, the type that will hinder a conservatory student but not most amateurs.

Like Nuuska, I've never had to deal with a really cheap instrument before, but I've always been aware that I'm lucky in that regard. (I started both violin and viola on instruments in the ~$1500 range that I didn't have to pay for, a violin rescued from my uncle's attic and a viola I borrowed for four years.)

Edited: March 5, 2019, 2:56 AM · In my rather limited experience, most adult learners set goals to just play pop/country music they like, possibly to family or groups of friends. It's not particularly exciting playing Bruch at someone's birthday party. Some classical repertoire is ok nonetheless, but it's hard to compete with simpler catchy pop songs that your clueless audience knows well, can clap along, and all can enjoy.

Most adult starters probably wouldn't be able to touch advanced repertoire anyway.

Elite amateurs who began practicing at a young age, and who play at community orchestras and above (like Andrew and Lydia) are already a lot more serious than the average amateur I know. It's no surprise if a similar advanced amateur spends $$$ for an instrument - people can spend a lot for a hobby too.

March 5, 2019, 3:29 AM · Lydia said:

"There's a really big difference between already knowing how to do a technique (having learned it with equipment that offers the precision feedback necessary to properly control that technique) and then executing it on something that is pretty unresponsive, and someone trying to learn how to properly do a technique on something that doesn't respond and/or responds imprecisely or unexpectedly."

This is precisely true. I've seen it be the case time and time again with beginner students. I always tell them that a better violin will quickly pay for itself because they'll get much more value out of each lesson, and lessons are by far the most expensive part of learning. How come people have no problem spending a few thousand dollars a year on lessons, but always freak out about spending more than 300 on their instrument?

It's sort of ironic, but the thought that "a beginner only needs a beginner violin" is completely opposite of the truth. A beginner needs a good violin more than anyone else. An advanced player will sound better on a better violin, but might not *need* it. The beginner *needs* something that operates correctly, so their motor skills can develop properly. Sort of like how a newborn baby needs very specific circumstances to survive, but a grown adult can survive in all sorts of different environments.

The tone is relatively unimportant in the initial learning process, but the violin responding accurately to sound point adjustments and having a quick response to articulations is of utmost importance.

And this is why I always recommed renting when you're getting started. You get a decent, playable violin without having to splurge.

March 5, 2019, 3:55 AM · So... I didn't start at a young age at all, I started a little before my 17th birthday and didn't take on advanced repertoire until I was in my late 20s. There aren't that many of us serious players who started late, but we exist.

What this means is: I've only really started to spend a lot of time around very serious players in the last few years. For most of the time I've been playing I've been around more typical amateurs who play pop songs or fiddle tunes for family and friends and maybe get involved in a casual community orchestra that also mostly plays in front of family and friends. (Note: I also recently spent a few years as principal violist in a casual community orchestra that accepted string players as low as Suzuki Book 3 level.) Even though I now own a professional viola, I have to say I feel some culture shock with the varying interpretations of "cheap instruments." Until relatively recently it's been much more normal for me to hear people talk about a $1,500 violin being the dream violin what they plan to buy and use for the rest of their life once they reach a certain level. For that matter, on the rare occasions that I switch back to violin, I still use a violin in that price range (my great-uncle's old German workshop violin that I started on).

At least it appears to be a consensus that a $2,000-3,000 violin won't hold most amateurs back. It just seems odd to me for people to be citing those violins in disagreement with Lydia's point about students quickly reaching the limits of cheap violins.

Edited: March 5, 2019, 7:23 AM · Problem is, if you begin on a cheap instrument you can only theorise that it would have been easier on expensive (wishful thinking, perhaps denial), and if you begin on expensive, you can only theorise that it would have been harder on cheap (cognitive dissonance).

I began on a £99 plastic, not Bakelite, oboe ($300 in 1973 - the exchange rate was 3 dollars to the pound) and after 4 years had been told twice that I sounded better than some professionals. I doubt I'd have been playing Kalliwoda after 6 weeks if my parents had had the money for a Rigoutat.

I'm past caring. If you buy a kid an expensive CG, that thing will get smashed into a lot of furniture, doors and walls before the kid learns how to manipulate it. If you've got $10,000 to burn, burn it. If not, don't worry.

Nicola Benedetti's Strad has more than one wolf note - start a kid on that and he'll sound like crap.

I assume this isn't just an advert for Cecilio: -

Edited: March 5, 2019, 5:11 AM · dealers have every bit as much right to comment on this forum as anyone else, when have I been guilty of shameless promotion like so many others do???
March 5, 2019, 5:18 AM · you're the one that's trolling the forum, you've been reported
Edited: March 5, 2019, 7:16 AM · I really don't see Lyndon's posts as self-advertising except perhaps in the most generic way. Perhaps it's because I've been listening to his rants for a very long time, but his pitch is for shops generally that sell antique violins in the lower price ranges. His argument has always been that if you know where to shop, you can find antique violins that are actually cheaper than intermediate-level Chinese violins but sound at least as good. There are lots of shops like that, not just Lyndon's. How many of us would drive to California to buy a $3000 violin? Nobody's going to do that. Nobody calls out David Burgess for commenting that modern bench-made violins are competitive with Strads for sound quality. Nobody calls out Dimitri Musafia for arguing in favor of bespoke plywood-construction violin cases. Maybe y'all could just calm down a little.
March 5, 2019, 7:18 AM · Yes, I think if we were to have a battle for self promotion, David Burgess would have me beat, hands down!!
Edited: March 5, 2019, 7:23 AM · I mean seriously if I was all into self promotion, I would be talking about the violins I have for sale in the OPs price range, and making claims about them etc etc.
Edited: March 5, 2019, 8:58 AM · I come at all of this from the angle of having spent many years playing a guitar. Well, actually several guitars. If you want to see people spend money on musical instruments, talk with guitar players. The siren call beckoning guitarists to get the next Fender or Martin, or Taylor, or Gibson is intoxicating. Over the years I've had over 30 guitars in search of the perfect sound. I've had top of the line, bottom of the pit, and everything in-between. People buy them like crazy hoping for the magic to bless their fingers. Guitars fly off the shelves and then sit in closets for years. They don't call those stores Guitar Center for nothing. After all, ever heard of a chain of stores in shopping malls called, Violin Center? The biggest problem, of course, is the fact that no matter how good the instrument sounds, it's secondary to the skills of the player. If you can't play that thing, what difference does it make? So when I put down my guitar(s) and moved to the violin, I got a good instrument for $1,500. Ya, I know, "cheap" eh? Well, not in my bank account. Anyway, I thought about an upgrade, and even went to violin shops and tried out more expensive instruments. Then I stopped myself and woke up. I don't need a new violin. The primary upgrade I need to buy are the lessons I'm taking to improve my own skills. at $50 a lesson, I'm spending between $2,000 and $3,000 a year to learn how to play a violin. This is going to take a few years. I don't know about you, but to me, that's a lot of money. To me, that investment in lessons is probably the best application for my money at this time. My teacher agrees. I haven't moved beyond my current instrument in terms of needing something where I can truly express myself. For the foreseeable future, I'm going to focus on my own skills, and when my teacher says I've outgrown my current violin, then I'll consider buying something else. Even then, I'm going to be realistic. Some people here seem to think $3000 to $5,000 is limited. Well, the way I see it is I'll just have to spend more time looking for a good one, because I know I'll find it.
March 5, 2019, 8:51 AM · No surprise that I agree with Michael. And he hasn't even mentioned the guitarists who try different strings every week!
March 5, 2019, 10:31 AM · I 100% agree with Michael. Playing ability counts for infinitely more than the instrument. Let's be honest. If Hilary Hahn and I swapped violins, which one of us would you pay to hear perform? ;)

I've even had the experience of a less-than-ideal instrument being a good teacher (within reason, obviously). I'll have to defer to my horn playing experience here, but some instruments can make things too easy - yeah, a weird thing to say about the horn of all instruments, but it's true. Some horns just make high notes and slurs so much easier that they forgive lapses in technique. But an instrument that's not quite as easy to play will force me to use better technique to get the sound I want.

March 5, 2019, 2:06 PM · I didn't actually say anything about having an "edge," but now that you bring it up, actually playing another instrument at a high level DOES give an "edge" relative to someone coming to violin with no musical background whatsoever. The most important part of playing any instrument is the development of one's ear.

That's also why it can come across as so condescending here when experienced violinists pat us on the head and tell us that we can't possibly know what we're talking about when it comes to appreciating good violin sound.

Edited: March 5, 2019, 2:46 PM · if you're not looking for an especially loud "soloist" violin, your options within a given price range are considerably wider. I have had many exceptional sounding violins that are not super loud, exceptional sound and super loud are hard to find, at least in this price range. Now loud and obnoxious, that's pretty easy to find, specially among new instruments.
March 5, 2019, 2:53 PM · @Timothy - apologies for sounding a bit prickly. :) My comments about condescension on this board were not directed at you - just a general observation.
March 5, 2019, 2:59 PM · Players need different things at different stages of their development.

A brand-new beginner needs a functional instrument that has been properly set up. It needs to produce a tone that's pleasing when played with a beginner's skill, so that the sound isn't discouraging. A new beginner needs a violin to be quite forgiving, because they are a long way from acquire good control. A beginner doesn't want precision instant response from a violin for the same reason that we teach people to drive in the family sedan, not in a F1 racer.

As control develops, what a player needs in a violin shifts from "more forgiving" to "more responsive". And as a player moves into the intermediate stage, they learn a wider range of techniques and use a broader range. So now you want dynamic range, a broader tonal palette (range of color), clear and even response all the way up and down the fingerboard and across the strings, fast enough response to teach proper off-string technique, and response that is predictable so that the violin gives good feedback for one's technical approach.

It's okay for beginners to start with intermediate-level instruments -- i.e. the higher end of the workshop ("student") violins. For practical reasons, though, most beginners will start with a rental (most shops seem to rent outfits worth roughly $700 to $1,200, which are solid choices for beginners), or a similarly priced purchase. (Here I'm speaking of beginners who can afford to, and do, take private lessons, versus the autodidacts who make do with VSOs.) For many beginners, as they advance towards intermediate, they'll want better sound, and that will drive an upgrade into the $2k-4k range.

An advanced player needs an instrument that responds to nuance. Because control is either fully developed (or quickly getting there), forgiveness is entirely discarded in favor of maximizing responsiveness. You can get better without having access to equipment with precision responsiveness, but it will certainly hamper your learning.

Timothy, what you are describing are workshop violins. Many workshop violins carry a trade name that might sound like a maker. The Japanese "maker" you are referring to, for instance, is almost certainly Hiroshi Kono. That is the name of a Japanese workshop producing violins under that name (actually quite nice violins for the price). I'm not sure that such a person actually exists.

Nobody buying in the sub-$3k range is looking for a "custom" anything. You won't find single luthier made instruments in that range unless you're talking about amateur makers or the like. At that price point it's all workshop violins, whether you are buying current new violins or vintage ones.

Edited: March 5, 2019, 3:46 PM · Lyndon could be right or wrong (like everyone else), but he's honest in his opinion I believe.

Antique violins can sound better than an intermediate-level Chinese violin of the same price range. Previously I found this really hard to believe, given all the hypes around modern Chinese makers and their reputation as offering outstanding value for the price.

Until I had the chance to try some antique German violins in the 3K plus. The good ones are a lot better than similarly priced Chinese violins. So much warmer and a lot more responsive.

Maybe for anything less than 2K, Chinese violins are still 'unchallengeable'. But if you have a little more to spend, I strongly recommend including antique instruments in your search.

March 5, 2019, 3:29 PM · Actually, Lydia, in my experience, I haven't found that beginners benefit from having forgiving instruments.

I used to think the same thought until I witnessed it many times, but here's what I've found: new players need feedback from the violin. They need it to tell them where their bow is without having to look. If a violin is too "forgiving," generally meaning that it plays a similar tone no matter where the bow is, then the student has a much harder time developing a sense of sounding point. Their bows might wander away as much as an entire inch before the sound finally "gives out" entirely, rather than having a whole spectrum of color changes that warn them the bow is moving. To put it another way, a violin that is too forgiving is far too binary in its feedback.

As advanced players, we automatically listen/feel for even the most subtle changes in color to determine bow positioning/speed/pressure, but beginners need something more obvious. Thus, the "racecar" violins are ideal, if they're in the budget.

The only exception to this I've found is players with extremely sensitive emotions in response to bad sounds. You know, the ones that physically "lock up" whenever the tiniest crunch is heard, thus leading to more crunching. However, these players can simply use a musicians earplug in the left ear, while still getting the other benefits of a more communicative violin.

Edited: March 5, 2019, 7:28 PM · We have quite a few violins of different provenances from later 18th to early 21st centuries. You probably could imagine the wide range of value of these instruments. However, one of the two modern Chinese, Snow JHS, at not-so-cheap price (>5K) turns out to be the favorite for my son, who is an amateur, as he, while talented, is not pursuing music for career.

With several good options, I play a Juzek Master Art (1920s Strad copy) most frequently. It is not a loud instrument, but sounds pleasant, smooth, sweet, and noble, perfect for self-enjoyment. I would think that you, if lucky enough, may acquire one of those factory-made, but really nice instruments, in your or little above your price range.

March 5, 2019, 8:45 PM · Erik, that's why I think that it's fine for beginners to start with the higher-end workshop violins. Think of it like the difference between driving a junker and driving a new Toyota Camry.

I've recently been loaning for my violin and bow to a young intermediate-level player in concerto rehearsals with orchestra, and that has been immensely instructive in understanding the impact of equipment at even that level.

Edited: March 6, 2019, 3:57 PM · Depending on what you mean by intermediate, you shouldn't have to pay anywhere near $3,000. Go to a violin shop and try some Chinese fiddles in the $800-$1500 range. Then put on some good quality strings and have a luthier properly adjust the bridge and soundpost. For beginner/intermediate violins, setup and strings make as much difference as the violin itself.

And, agreeing with Landon's point, in many shops you can find nice 20th century European workshop fiddles in the same price range. They can look a little dated with ugly varnishes and not a lot of wood character, but that won't affect the playability. Sometimes the ugly violin is the best buy sound-wise.

March 7, 2019, 2:35 PM · What galls me is when you see people spending $3500 or $4500 on an "artist model" Chinese violin from a maker like Ming-Jiang Zhu or Jay Haide, and when they found out I spent $3500 on my daughter's violin (German, Eduard Reichert ca. 1890 according to Dalton Potter), they all say, "Oh, you overpaid for that" even without hearing the instrument. It's a really nice-sounding violin. Yeah, sure maybe there are Reichert violins on the market for much less, but my daughter's violin sounds just as good or better than their Chinese violin. I would have bought it for myself if I didn't buy the Topa.
March 7, 2019, 3:34 PM · Here's something I've always wondered.

Say we could take a bunch of violins ranging in price and have some way of agreeing that they were fairly priced for their quality. For the sake of this thought experiment, I'd leave out the extreme outlier violins where price is based more on antique/art/collectible value.

Now if we were to create a graph with price on the x-axis and quality/value (a combination of responsiveness, evenness and tonal richness) on the y-axis, in what price range would the curve be steepest, and at what point does it flatten out?

Yeah, I know it's impossible to get everyone to agree perfectly on a violin's quality, but I'm guessing that a fairly priced violin will be priced that way because enough potential buyers will likely believe it to be worth that amount.

So I guess my ultimate question is, approximately where is that "sweet spot" price, after which the marginal increase in violin quality starts to diminish rapidly?

March 7, 2019, 3:43 PM · "in what price range would the curve be steepest"

IMHO there is a big jump in quality between a <$500 beginner instrument and a ~1K violin. And then between 1K-2K and 3-5K. Beyond that I don't really know, but my guess is that the difference should get progressively smaller for the same unit change in price (or even the same percentage change in price) as the price goes up.

March 7, 2019, 3:57 PM · its an exponential curve a 2x price increase may be as little as a 25% increase in sound quality. But a basic violin costs about $1000 below that you're getting into VSOs that aren't even pleasant to listen too.
Edited: March 7, 2019, 4:49 PM · I'd say Lyndon is being a little harsh on student instruments. To me, a VSO is an instrument that is either so unplayable as to hold back a complete beginner, or likely to cost more to make playable than it did to buy.

That said, I'd say there are various steady slopes, leaps, and plateaus (with relatively small marginal increase in quality) below $5k, and then a curve with diminishing marginal returns above $5k. From what I've heard played by people around me over the years:

Under $800: not much difference between different price levels as long as they're functional student instruments and not VSOs
$800-1,000: transition to workshop instruments, big leap in quality
$1,000-$2,000: steady increase in quality
$2,000-$5,000: mostly good workshop instruments and some less-experienced artisan makers, somewhat of a plateau
$5,000+: maybe a bit of a jump in quality around $5,000, then a curve with diminishing returns above that.

It's really hard to judge the $2,000-$5,000 range. My impression is that it's where the highest percentage of the instruments are either overpriced or underpriced, because people shopping in that range (and dealers selling in that range) are most affected by biases about age or country of origin.

March 7, 2019, 7:48 PM · "its an exponential curve a 2x price increase may be as little as a 25% increase in sound quality."

Small point but I would describe this curve as logarithmic rather than exponential.

March 7, 2019, 7:49 PM · I would argue that in the $2k - $5k range, you're largely paying for sound and condition, and not anything else. There might be a bit of brand associated -- i.e. the workshops sell wholesale at a certain price, and therefore retail prices for those models will be in a relatively narrow range regardless of what shop you buy from.

That $2k-5k range is something of a sweet spot for the market. It's where you get decent instruments that will satisfy most casual players, and which are functional for some sorts of professional use (i.e. you could teach school using one, or play outdoor weddings, or the like).

After that, I think you generally need to take a jump up to $10k to really start seeing a quality difference. The range between roughly $4.5k and $9k is occupied by apprentice makers and low-cost-of-living-country makers and some stuff that occupies a kind of middle ground where a violin in the white gets finished by an individual maker. Things in that range seem to be priced by what the maker thinks they are worth. They can be better or worse than the $2k-5k workshop violins.

The problem is that you can't really quantify sound as "25% better". But there are definitely tiers where the difference is audible and palpable.

March 7, 2019, 9:04 PM · More broadly, the curve is a concave function of price, IMO.
Edited: March 7, 2019, 10:02 PM · what I meant was something like sound quality is on average proportionate to the square root of the price
Edited: March 8, 2019, 12:50 PM · Parts of this discussion are amusing because violins are not priced by tone.

Violins are priced according to maker (brand), condition, appearance, age, geographic origin, and provenance. That’s it.

Tone has nothing to do with price.

When you walk into a good reputable dealer to buy a violin, they will offer you a selection of well-adjusted violins priced according to those qualities only. Then you pick the one you like the most based on your tone preferences.

If dealers priced violins according to tone, then some 18th century Italian violins would cost $1k and some factory violins would cost over $100k. Or a dealer would be able to dramatically change the price of a violin simply by changing strings, moving the bridge, or adjusting the soundpost.

If a dealer tells you that X-violin costs more than Y-violin because of its tone alone, then you should find another dealer.

March 8, 2019, 1:26 PM · I think that $2k-5k is really more roughly $2,500 to $4,500. It basically spans the range from Hiroshi Kono to Jay Haide l'Ancienne.

I think the playing qualities of violins in that range all tend to be pretty similar. Individual violins can be better or worse than average for a given model, as usual.

Yes, $2k is a pretty broad band of pricing variability. I'd think of this in terms of, say, cars. You'll see different car manufacturers price, say, similar-ish compact cars with these kinds of differences, but how do you say objectively what results in brand X being more expensive than brand Y? Or think about clothing. Why is shirt from brand X more expensive than apparently similar shirt from brand Y?

Edited: March 8, 2019, 1:33 PM · A really good violinist can get a good sound out of almost anything. I don't know if you can tell from the video above, but Fiddlerman is working really hard to pull that sound out of the violin. He's also not playing with any variation in dynamic range or tone color- probably because he knows he can't on that instrument. I don't think he's being very honest about his $109 tests- there is no way *most* players below advanced levels would be able to pull that sound out of that violin.

You should be able to get an excellent instrument in your price range, but I recommend going violin shopping with a teacher or equivalent. Also, try out violins in the $25k range, $10k range, and then your range. That can help you see the difference and help you narrow down qualities you're looking for.

Edited to add: don't forget about the bow. A good bow is just as important as the violin. If you have a cheap crappy bow, you need to adjust your violin price range to account for purchasing a new bow as well.

March 8, 2019, 1:31 PM · "Violins are priced according to maker (brand), condition, appearance, age, geographic origin, and provenance. That’s it."

I disagree with that 100%. A violin with all those boxes checked won't sell unless the tone and responsiveness are there. A dealer can price according to your conditions, but again, if the tone is poor, it won't sell and market forces will dictate that he'll have to lower the price.

March 8, 2019, 2:16 PM · "I disagree with that 100%..."
Well I disagree with your statement 100% as well. I have looked at tried a lot of instruments old and new, especially in the price range we are talking about here. George has got this right. A violin can sound like crud but with the right other attributes will sell much higher than one with a good tone and responsiveness but some other defect(s) of his list. I have had dealers and maker/dealers tell me as much as well. I've also seen dealers (many) who can't play at all and never heard the instrument they are selling price totally on the factors George mention...
March 8, 2019, 2:40 PM · Asking price and selling price are two different things. A dealer can ask whatever s/he wants; look at the sales prices. If a dealer can price a cruddy violin and afford to wait possibly years for a naive buyer to come along and buy it, then maybe. But that's the exception, not the rule. They've got to pay their bills too.
Edited: March 8, 2019, 4:20 PM · Julie, I think Fiddlerman was being honest with that 109 violin test. There are tons of other test videos on YouTube for cheap violins. To name a few:

The old guy in the first video is Dietrich Lasa who owns Animato Strings in Queensland (all sorts of reviews on Google). He was selling a 230 AUD violin (160 USD approx). Fiddlerman, together with this guy, are people with good business sense I believe. If their businesses were intended to cheat people (for example, by unduly overstating the quality of a cheap violin), they won't be able to sustain and develop their businesses to this scale.

Not to say that violins under $300 can last you for long time. But most of them, surely, aren't VSO.

March 8, 2019, 3:14 PM · A top Los Angeles dealer I met told me below $5000, instruments are based more on tone than antique value, above $5000 not true.
March 8, 2019, 3:18 PM · In my experience with instruments so far:
I would say that a reasonably well set-up violin in the $300-$800 range will get you from absolute beginner to about the Suzuki book 3 level, by which time you will have maxed out the abilities of most of these instruments, if you really want to improve your tone quality and technique.
From about $1000-$2000 (give or take) you will usually see an improvement in tone colors, dynamic range and playability, but the overall tone will be pretty basic, although more pleasant than the cheaper ones. It is ideal to start in this range if you can.
From about $2000-$5000 you will generally get a better range of tone colors, dynamic responsiveness, and playability, plus an instrument that sounds decent all the way to the end of the fingerboard. It is possible to play advanced repertoire on these instruments, but you will be limited in small ways by playability and range of dynamics, tone colors, and responsiveness. Many students go off to college as music majors with instruments in this range. Unless you are going to a major conservatory, you will probably be fine for at least the first couple of years (but if you can afford it, upgrade).
$5000-$10000- generally a dead zone for string instruments, but the range most college/advanced pre-college level players will look first before ending up with a $10K-$15K+ instrument. You might get lucky and find something in this range, but most will be either overpriced intermediate workshop violins, unlabeled (and unidentified) antiques that may or may not sound great, or new maker duds. You may get lucky and get one of the first violins from an up and coming maker, or an unlabeled but really nice older instrument.
$10K-$25K You can find most Modern Maker's instruments in this range. A good one could be the last instrument you ever need.
$25K+ Unless you are wealthy, have a full-time orchestra/University job, or are an aspiring or established international soloist, you probably don't need to worry about this price range.

I also feel that part of the upgrading problem is that you often don't get the full impact of an upgrade until you have been playing the new instrument for awhile and figure out new ways to play it. I'm a professional teacher/freelancer and agonized over whether or not I "needed" a better bow last year. I had the funds and decided to go for a modern maker bow around $5K. Did I need it? not really, but I've found that my bow technique and sound have improved in ways that I didn't expect, but the improvements have been gradual, not immediate, but I don't think I would have been able to improve in the same way without the upgrade.

To answer the original question. For violins in this range, the best way to find one is to try as many as you can get your hands on in your price range and choose your favorite. I would get your teacher's imput (or that of another professional or advanced player friend) if possible.

Edited: March 8, 2019, 4:21 PM · Julie -

As a dealer friend told me:

“I can have a violin that sits in my inventory for years and then one day somebody plays it and says, ‘This is the tone I have been searching for my whole life.’”

This is an example of why dealers don’t set prices based on tone, even for less expensive violins (under $5,000). Price selection is up to the dealer; tone selection is up to the customer. And dealers cannot predict what tone a customer is going to prefer.

When dealers purchase wholesale factory-made violins, they don’t buy wholesale and sell retail based on tone. They buy at a wholesale price, and mark-them up to a uniform retail price. Good dealers will set-up each individual violin up to try to optimize the tone and performance characteristics.

Tone is a totally subjective thing. Furthermore, no two violins sound the same, and an individual violin can be made to sound drastically different by simple adjustments, string changes, and different bows. No reputable dealer is going to be able to do a sound post adjustment and then double the price because now the violin sounds "twice as good."

Edited: March 8, 2019, 4:41 PM · Ingrid, very well said. It's not a definite answer to the original question, but it describes the market pretty well. I'd just like to add that I think the 5-10k dead zone describes mainly the situation with new / contemporary instruments. But (rather in the 6,5-10k zone, to narrow it down a little) you can find plenty of authentic and really nice old and mid-aged violins from Bohemia, Hungary, or the more obscure makers from Germany and France. Where I live these are quite popular among professionals who use it for teaching or as working horses in orchestra, but do not regularly perform as soloists, except maybe weddings and such. It seems that one of several sweet spots in the market lies there. Many players (especially those who also are a lot into chamber music) do upgrade when they can afford it, but also not a few stick with that type of instrument for a lifetime. Not sure if this correlates with how ambitioned they are...
Several 18th century violins from Austrian makers in that range as well being in professional use around here, but no surprise that they're played where they were born.
Edited: March 8, 2019, 4:57 PM · I personally find it rather irrelevant to talk about "sweet spot" of violin price. Violin is like wine. You always want more provided that you're rich enough. If you can afford, you won't drink and be content with $10 wines because its "marginal return decrease afterwards".

Sure it would be a waste if you buy great wine without the ability to distinguish it from the cheaper ones, the ability to appreciate the nuances. But it's your personal freedom to spend your money after all.

March 9, 2019, 1:58 AM · There are some folks who just do not like how heavy most expensive wines are... But in violins you're right, at least until we reach the 20-25k where you can get a custom made instrument by a top contemporary maker. Old violins with italian names are always tempting, but these would rather interest me from a collector's point of view, if I had severe money to burn. IF these really were more desirable than top contemporary instruments (and obviously it's impossible to clarify this for all of us) then I would not be the one to distinguish these last nuances, unfortunately. Finally, I believe that the market for old Italians has overheated long times ago.
Edited: March 9, 2019, 7:30 AM · Be aware, that while for many $30,000 is "nothing", there are many serious violinists in this world that love their instrument and who likely still have difficulty getting funds that high for violin that may or not be better than what they have (or in the many cases when it *is* better, doesn't make a practical difference at the price, even when it's fair.)

I remember an old thread where people were complaining about players wuth expensive cars and cheap violins. I am rather talking about players with either no cars or cheap cars as well. Well-off violinists are a fantasy in many parts of the world, even though one would think it's the norm when reading this forum or based on what one may see at the most expensive music schools.

So take care of-and *love*-your modern maker or amazing provenance, old violin, as it's a privilege many are not likely to ever have.

For "the poor", I will generally recommend to keep looking on this aforementioned "sweet spot" of instruments-many really good ones may be hiding out there among the unknown makers and the best old workshop instruments. These will never be "recognized" among the more elitist crowd, but if it plays and sounds great to you, while also working for your purposes, then you are set. If you can afford a modern maker instrument, that's great too, but I have witnessed that it's not guaranteed that a newly commissioned violin will surpass a "no-name" old instrument (not as a general rule, but can-and has happened.)

Be well, and enjoy your instruments, affordable or not-playing the violin itself is an immense privilege that shouldn't be taken for granted.

March 9, 2019, 8:22 AM · " I'm looking to upgrade my violin to a midrange one - I'd like to keep it between CDN $3000-3500. Any suggestions? or where I can learn more about violin luthiers?"

1. That's an extremely narrow price range, considering the diversity of offerings available.

2. Price ranges are by themselves misleading and meaningless. It's fine to have certain physical and performance characteristics in mind when looking for an instrument. It's probably a mistake to assume that certain price ranges will have those characteristics and not others. To be clear, I don't mean 'made by X' or 'made in Y country before date Z' to be physical or performance characteristics in this context. Such factors will influence the price. Correlating those with assumptions about playing characteristics and the converse (the lack of those characteristics in others) is dubious, although many people believe in such associations. What I'm trying to say here is that it's perfectly fine to focus on that actual attributes of the instruments, less so the associative ones, such as price or country of origin, etc.

3. Most instruments in that price range come from unknown luthiers. Literally unknown - from factories/workshops with many luthiers/etc., not just lesser-known makers.

4. There's no such thing as an 'intermediate violin'. It's a marketing term. If you're in a mass-market store of all instrument types, "intermediate" might mean e.g. $800-$1200. In other words, it's just a price range label which the store chose for its target customer. Whether or not a particular instrument serves your needs is mostly about you. Have you actually outgrown your current instrument? Can you not learn on it?

It's fine to want a better instrument. It's fine to like or want old instruments just for their history. But what is an actually better instrument and one with which you can perform and learn is actually a different question from what it cost, who made it, and where and when it was made.

Edited: March 12, 2019, 10:25 AM · Lydia wrote that a violin in the $2k-5k range might be useful for "outdoor weddings." Interesting qualification. :)

I remember one day when my daughter's violin teacher was tuning her half-size no-label (almost certainly Chinese) violin. He spontaneously started playing some tune. The tone he was getting was incredible. That experience has made me rather reluctant to assume that my own difficulties are the fault of my instrument. I bought a violin my own teacher said he would eagerly own if he had the money. If I upgrade in the future, likely that will be my bow.

March 12, 2019, 11:06 AM · A Hiroshi Kono is a workshop violin that comes in a single model, as far as I know, so there should be very little pricing variability. I'm guessing the $5k is someone with an unrealistic consignment price.
March 12, 2019, 2:31 PM · Timothy wrote, "A seller who is also a maker or has an attachment wants the best buyer for the nice instruments."

I was super attached to my last violin and hoped it would go to a player. It didn't. A collector paid a nice price for it and I was glad to have the money. Honestly, I think sellers mostly care that they get paid.

Makers working on commission generally are working with experienced players. I imagine that they prefer working with pros who are going to give them high-profile endorsements, but I'm guessing that some clients are more fun than others, based on what they want.

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