Student instruments

March 14, 2019, 3:08 PM · Hi,

Is there a real significant benefit to upgrade the bridge and/or the sound post of a student instrument? (violin/viola)

If yes, what's the benefit of upgrading the bridge only? same question for the sound post?

Replies (12)

March 14, 2019, 3:19 PM · The bridges on most Chinese student violins I've seen have been thicker than a 2 by 4. Even a total bozo could sand it down to the proper thickness with some regular old sandpaper (I really doubt giving the bridge a belly on such cheap violins makes any difference).

Dunno why people lose their marbles over "upgrading" student violins with nicer hardware. It's like putting a spoiler on the trunk of your old beater sedan. The only thing it might benifit is the aesthetic and your self esteem.

March 14, 2019, 4:18 PM · I got some more mileage out of a pretty crappy violin by getting it set-up, I think with a new bridge, and definitely with a new tailpiece. It's not a terrible idea if you really can't afford something better. If you know someone that works on violins, your best bet is to bring it in, and the person should be able to let you know if there is something about the current setup that is really holding the violin back, or if it's better to just look for a different instrument.
March 14, 2019, 4:21 PM · I agree with Christian.
March 14, 2019, 8:00 PM · It depends on how well it was set up in the first place. If the bridge was not cut properly, is the wrong height, doesn't have well-spaced string grooves, etc., then it could make the difference from landfill to a usable instrument.

In my opinion, intrinsic sound is overrated and over-considered in student instruments, especially for beginners. We're not going to get much out of the instrument in terms of sound, and have a lot to learn before we can. There's no point agonising about the sound of the instrument when our own abilities make much more of a difference. Playability however is a valid concern for anyone.

Edited: March 14, 2019, 8:59 PM · I too agree with Christian. As an example, in the last two years my #2 violin, a Jay Haide (not absolute top or bottom of their range) has received the treatment from my local luthier. As a result of which a new bridge (top of the maker's range and very accurately carved by my luthier) and a new micrometer tuning tailpiece have transformed a student mid-range violin into one that now does everything I need for symphonic playing (currently Bruckner 4 and Dvorak 6). The string line-up is Pirastro Obligato Gold E (my favorite), Warchal Russian A, and Pirastro Eudoxa D and G. The Pirastro Chorda G isn't a bad substitute for the Eudoxa. To be fair, the Jay Haide isn't a soloist violin - although I've been told it can be heard in orchestra (oo-er!) - and neither would it be my first choice for chamber music, but it is an eminently playable and responsive violin. The choice of strings is important, in particular it is at its best with covered gut G and D.

My 18th c #1 violin also received similar luthier attention at about the same time. It was urgently needed - the old bridge had snapped during practice, a careful post mortem revealing a long-standing flaw in the wood. This violin has an almost identical set-up to #2, except that the A is a Warchal Amber, and the tailpiece is standard but with a Hill tuner for the E. This is the violin I use mainly for chamber orchestra, and would be suitable for solo work, so I've been told.

The important point must be made that no matter what setup the violin may have you won't get the best results without a decent bow, which need not be expensive if you look around. And no matter what bow you have, for best results the nut at the frog end should be considered to be of paramount importance ;)

Btw, for me, working on the bridge and soundpost are jobs that are strictly for the trained luthier.

March 14, 2019, 10:47 PM · I think you may compromise the sound but never the playability. So if you luthier tell you that your setting is so bad that the dimensions/string height/spacing/neck angle Etc are so wrong that it will let you develop bad posture or skills you may wish to set it up again or buy a new one.
Edited: March 15, 2019, 1:56 AM · you don't thin a bridge down with sandpaper, you use a plane!! Or your luthier should, not something to attempt yourself without serious woodworking experience.
March 15, 2019, 3:22 AM · I too had this question and hoped I would luck out and be able to get away with upgrading parts on my student violin, but I took it to a luthier a couple weeks ago and he said there isn't anything he could do to make it sound any better. Dang, looks like I'll just have to practice instead :p
Edited: March 15, 2019, 7:59 AM · One of my first violins was a fairly decent student violin I bought on ebay.

The difference before and after setup wasn't overwhelming. It made a difference though. On a 1-10 scale, it might have been a 5 and the setup put it at a 7 for a student instrument . It's a very playable instrument. A very vanilla sound though.

March 15, 2019, 12:15 PM · If you are buying or renting a student (factory/workshop) violin from a decent violin shop, it should already be set up in a playable fashion, including the bridge or the soundpost. The workable setup (including well-fit pegs and whatnot) is often what distinguishes violin-shop instruments from Amazon VSOs.

If you've bought a not-terrible VSO, yes, spending the money to make it playable is probably worthwhile unless it's so badly constructed it's basically firewood.

Edited: March 15, 2019, 1:17 PM · if you're going to buy a new VSO for $200-300 then have to spend $200 to have it set up properly, why not shop carefully on ebay and buy a 100 year old VSO for $200-300 and spend $200 to set it up, chances are you'll get a more satisfying instrument and you'll have a piece of history to boot.
March 19, 2019, 11:46 AM · One cannot "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" but one can attenuate faults to some extent. I learned a lot as a "tinkerer" trying to improve the old Lark VSOs from China, which luthiers in Paris would not touch with a barge-pole. I even have a half-sized sound post setter.
I general, I prefered a bridge in good wood (the Lark bridges looked like balsa!), thinned from front to back but not too cut away, perfectly fitted feet straddled by a strongish "beam" (rather than an "arch") and enough wood over the heart to mute the d*mned thing a little. I'm lucky to have luthier with a creative outlook who is very patient with my experimenting, and ready to offer advice.

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