A Violin-Shaped-Problem

Edited: April 29, 2019, 3:00 PM · Hi,

I have lurked around the website for quite a while and finally decided to join a couple of weeks ago.

I have always wanted to learn to play the violin; I play flute-family instruments and keyboard, but have held off from learning violin due to the cost of a decent instrument and lessons; in addition there are no teachers, music shops or luthiers within a 2 hour drive away (difficult in any case as I don't drive!)

Over the past few years though, I've had more of a yearning than ever to learn to play the violin and keep looking out for second hand ones in good condition, then signing up for some online lessons.
Not perfect I know and lots of opportunity for me to get into bad playing habits.

Now, I live with my family and we all share the computer.
To cut a long story short, I logged onto the computer today, the Amazon account was open and I spotted a violin at the top of the list of 'dispatched items', or rather what I believe would be termed a VSO.

I am now rather anxious, having read and heard the many VSO disaster tales on the internet.

I take it to be that one of the family members, or possibly all of them, have decided to treat me to this VSO for my upcoming birthday.

I have read down the details of the ordered item:


* 100% brand new 4/4 full size acoustic violin
* A perfect instrument to for beginners, students or daily practice
* Featuring high quality and meticulous craftsmanship
* PLYWOOD front, back and sides
* Black-dyed rosewood fingerboard, chin rest and 4 tuning pegs
* The tailpiece with 4 fine tuners is made of aluminum alloy
* High quality steel wire as string which gives beautiful and rich sound
* Maple wood scroll and bridge
* Rosewood bow with authentic Mongolian horse tailhair
* Eco-friendly and CNC varnish brings healthy and quaint feel
* Exquisite inlaid purfling
* Quality rosin as a free gift
* A durable oblong carry case is included
* Lightweight foam interior with flannelette finish and tiny protective feet
* Double zippered for more convenience
* With a pouch at the front for notepad and others
* 2 adjustable shoulder rests and a sturdy side handle, easy to carry

The reviews vary - 49 people give it a 5 star rating "for the price", which is £50.
The rest of the reviews are awful as you would expect, with one person stating that the "exquisite inlaid purfling" was in fact, drawn on.
Most people said that it's terrible to get to stay in tune for more than 10 minutes.

The trouble is, my family are so lovely and I know they will be really pleased at the thought of me having a violin for my birthday.
£50 is quite a lot for them to spend on a gift, as funds are far from abundant for us at the moment.
It isn't that I'm not grateful to them, because I really am, but I'm just worried as to what is going to arrive.

I had actually seen a second hand violin for sale on Ebay this week that appears to be in good condition, a Stentor II, and it's not too expensive.
Of course, if I bought that and it arrived before my family's surprise for me, then they are going to be horrified by me cheerily annoucing "look I got a violin!"
I'm more terrified of them being disappointed than I am of me being disappointed, if you know what I mean.

Apologies for the rambling.

Just wanted to talk to someone about it, as I can't discuss it with those around me, being as they are in on the plot!

All I can think of is how apt Jane Austen's words in 'Emma' are:
“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.”

Thanks for reading guys, I'll keep you updated :)

Edit: In case anyone was wondering, I've made sure to use the Private Browsing window, so the family won't find my Violinist.com profile and this thread!

Replies (43)

April 29, 2019, 2:55 PM · OMG. You have my sincerest sympathy. On the plus side, you seem well equipped with kindness and understanding to navigate this well-intentioned minefield.

good luck!

April 29, 2019, 3:02 PM · Also, Amazon is good at taking things back and giving you a refund, so it may be possible to quietly return it.
April 29, 2019, 3:07 PM · Many of my students encounter this issue. My deepest sympathies.
April 29, 2019, 3:38 PM · Thank you for your replies and kind sympathies :)
Lydia - the return option would be the best plan I imagine, however it depends how long the family have the VSO before they give it to me (might be past the returns window), also it couldn't be an on-the-quiet return (we live in a small house, it's absence would be noticed) and although the listing doesn't actually say, it implies that the VSO comes direct from China.
I'm hoping for a scenario where it might either a) go astray in transit b) get damaged in transit.
In an ideal world, the company would be unable to replace because they've sold out and would have to refund instead.
Family would then say "we were going to get you a violin for your birthday, but it all went wrong, so here's a pot plant"
Too far fetched do you think? :)
April 29, 2019, 3:42 PM · And when you returned it, you could get some rosin and a shoulder rest for that money. Or, at least, a very very basic chinese CF bow.

If £50 is a lot, then it's a pity you don't live nearby - I've got some decent student grade equipment I'd give away on loan for free to somebody less privileged... Maybe there are others who think the same way. I'm which region do you live? And what kind of music style is your desire to learn?

April 29, 2019, 3:44 PM · Plywood? Yikes !!! I personally. Would not even open the box before returning asap.
April 29, 2019, 3:44 PM · Isn't there someone reasonable in your family you could discreetly talk to, and give a silent hint to take influence on this disaster?
Edited: April 29, 2019, 3:57 PM · That's a lovely thought Nuuska.
I'm from Wales.
I'm mostly interested in, though not limited to, Irish traditional music :)
I'm trying to work out who is least likely to be involved in the plot and how I could possibly bring about a return...
Bearing in mind it was by accident that I was able to see the Amazon account, it's going to be tricky.
Even posting these posts is a covert operation - luckily and ironically the rest of the family are watching a documentary about the spy Kim Philby, so are distracted from my keyboard tapping :)
April 29, 2019, 3:55 PM · I feel with you... It's tricky not no hurt anybody's feelings in this situation, no matter whether you will use it or not!
Edited: April 29, 2019, 4:29 PM · If all else fails, I can at least try practicing instrument & bow hold with it I suppose, possibly even manage to play an odd note that's in tune, say I'm loving the whole thing so much that I think it's time I got a second violin because, because, because, ah, yes, because I will need a specific violin suitable for playing ITM, does that sound vaguely plausible? - and migrate to playing the proper one more and more, until I hardly ever play the VSO.
What do you think? :)

Edited: April 29, 2019, 4:17 PM · Just checked out the seller name on Amazon - it's called truecharms Ltd.
Based in Shenzhen, Guangdong.
They appear to sell everything from fire pits and shelves, to cookers and keyrings, footstools to VSOs, well, just this one VSO actually.
This particular VSO has an overall 3 star rating out of 71 reviews.
Makes me a bit puzzled as to how no one took any notice of that quantity of reviews.
Maybe they just thought they were all being picky?
April 29, 2019, 4:31 PM · Hmm. If you want to return the violin quietly... do you have a trusted friend you can have a new violin shipped to? You may be able to order a violin, have it shipped to a friend, and bring it home when you return the VSO so that you there is always exactly one violin in the house.
April 29, 2019, 4:39 PM · Now there is a master plan Andrew!
I wonder if I could manage to pull that one off?
Would be tricky, but not entirely impossible.
I could still keep the case of the new one, just saying I bought a better case for the VSO...
One member of the family is brilliant at spot-the-difference though, so I'd have to try and make sure both the violin and the VSO had similar characteristics.
Then there would be the question of the refund to the card of the VSO.
The family are very careful at book keeping.
Edited: April 29, 2019, 8:09 PM · Welcome to violinist.com. So ... you have already discovered that you have chosen one of the more expensive hobbies. My suggestion is, get the VSO. Hang around in fiddle jams. Ask to be shown a few pointers. Compliment the other players. Excuse yourself from playing as a raw beginner. When you have come to know these people, and surely you will charm them just as easily as you have charmed us, perhaps there will be one among them with a second instrument to lend you for a time. Save your allowance for an electric violin and a small amplifier. The electric instrument will give you many years of love, and it will not need the kind of (expensive) care and feeding that a real violin inevitably needs.

Forget the switcheroo games. Lying to your family rarely comes out well in the end.

April 29, 2019, 8:53 PM · Playing a cheap VSO that is not set-up properly can be physically damaging to your left hand, including life-long nerve damage from repetitive stress.

This might be an important consideration in returning this violin.

April 29, 2019, 8:57 PM · I “like” Paul’s suggestion.
April 30, 2019, 12:25 AM · You said funds are short at the moment. What about something paid over time? I believe Fiddlerman or Fiddlershop offer time payments.

April 30, 2019, 1:33 AM · You said it yourself, £50 is quite a lot for them to spend on a gift, especially as this is a waste. Find a tactful way to let them know there is no violin on the planet worth buying at this price, but you'd certainly appreciate whatever contribution they generously wish to make.
Edited: April 30, 2019, 4:21 AM · If I were in your shoe, I will do the following:

1. Get the VSO from your family. Tell them how grateful you are.
2. Take note of the colour of the VSO.
3. Find a second hand from more reputable maker that looks about the same from a far.
4. Order the second hand and ship it to a friend.
5. Put 2nd hand in the VSO case, and vice versa.
6. Donate the VSO (now in the 2nd hand violin case) to the charity shop in the next town, or get your friend to do it for you if you don't want to be recognized. Do tell the shop clerk that it is not in original case.
7. Avoid opening the case and play the 2nd hand at home for the first few months (say, you sign up for class that starts in September). Eventually, none of your family members will remember what that VSO look like exactly. After that, you can just play at home normally and tell them how good of a gift they have chosen.

April 30, 2019, 4:49 AM · Alana, could you tell your family right away that you are interested in getting a violin, and ask them to be involved in consulting a professional on what would be a good choice, and point out things to watch out for? Could that be a good way of educating them, without any hurt feelings among the family?

I very much admire how tactfully you are trying to go about this.

Edited: April 30, 2019, 5:09 AM · Hi Paul,
Thank you for the welcome and for your kind words and suggestions.
I spent a lot of time last night awake thinking about the situation and have dismissed any idea of switcheroo games, lying or deception.
They were more flights of keyboard fancy - lying to each other is not how we work as a family, or as individuals, so I've decided I'm not about to start now.
I have instead come to the conclusion that I'm going to speak to the person whose name the Amazon account is in, say that I've spotted it and go from there.
It's not going to be easy, I know, but it is much better to be honest now than when it arrives.
There is likely going to be some embarrasment and disappointment ahead, but I can't help but feel that it's better to try and stop the situation now, before my family spend their hard-earned money on what could well be an ear-torturing device.
I put headphones on and listened to some video reviews of similar Amazon violins last night and came to the conclusion that the only thing worse than a beginner playing a half-decent student violin very badly was a beginner playing a VSO.
Even where some experienced players have tried playing a VSO out of curiousity, they can't get them to sound much good.
My dreams last night were filled with the sound of tinny, scratching strings!
I read more reviews on the one in question last night and here appear to be the top problems:
* Bow hairs falling out within a few minutes
* Bridge not installed
* Bridge broken
* Broken strings when packaging was opened
* Strings snap within a few minutes
* Very loose tuning pegs
* Constantly slipping out of tune
* Fine tuners working loose and coming out
* Fine tuners not moving at all

One person received the violin in the case with no bridge, bow or rosin.

Some customers have reviewed it as being very good for the price, but most of these reviews seem to come from 2016/early 2017, or are people who have bought it as a gift for a someone without actually trying it themselves.

As Roger suggests above, perhaps I'd be better asking if they would instead mind putting the money towards either whatever violin I find, or towards the online lessons when I get to that point.

I'll let you all know how I get on.
Wish me luck!

Edit: Thank you David, that's another very good idea. Although I will be upfront about the VSO situation, I will very much ask them to be involved in the selection process and then they will hopefully feel like they're part of my learning journey, rather than think I'm just rejecting their violin.
I did one of those personality tests for a laugh a couple of years ago - apparently I'm an 'INFP', otherwise known as 'Mediator'.
Not sure how good those test things are, but hopefully the 'mediator' bit will come out in me today :)


April 30, 2019, 9:18 AM · Mention casually in course of conversation with said member of family that you really appreciate things for their worth and are sad when beginners are put down from practice via a cheap "fiddle". :)
April 30, 2019, 4:39 PM · UPDATE:
Well, that didn't go as well as planned :(
I started off by mentioning that I'd seen the violin on the Amazon.
The family member in question looked annoyed for a moment, then said "well, you weren't supposed to see that. It's your birthday soon, so... well have you had a look at it?"
Before I could say anything they located it on Amazon and proudly showed it to me, grinning ear to ear.
"Just look at it! Doesn't it look beautiful?"
I nodded, thinking *looks-and-sounds-are-two-entirely-different-things-and-most-of-that's-probably-photoshop*
I started to say "the thing is..." but was cut short.
"I've looked at loads, then I found this one and it's really good. All actual rosewood fittings! And only the best quality ply! And the bow is made with real Mongolian horse hair!You'll really be able to get learning with this."

They must have spotted my expression as they said
"You do want a violin don't you? Don't say you don't like it!"

I'm thinking *O.M.G. How on Earth am I going to explain this without absolutely crushing their feelings?*
And realise I'm not.

So I changed tack a bit and said "Oh wow. That's so kind of you. You're not going to believe this though - I er.. put a bid on a violin on Ebay only this morning and it looks like I'm winning."
They looked totally crestfallen. I was glad I hadn't said about the VSO being a VSO.
"Can you change your mind on a bid, or is it like in a real auction?"
No, I said, it's like a real auction.
They asked to have a look at this other one, so I found it.
They were trying to be cheery, but sounded so disappointed.
"It looks nice. I wanted to buy you a new one though, rather than you have to have a second hand one. Does that one have real rosewood fittings too? What's the wood like?"
I felt really awkward saying that they were ebony fittings with a maple and spruce body.
"So.. is that better?"
"Er.. yes...slightly better yes"
They looked quite down and I was regretting saying anything.
After all, if I hadn't chanced upon that open page, I wouldn't have known a thing about it would I?

I tentatively suggested that perhaps we cancel the other, but that was immediately and strongly vetoed.
After a little while: "No. It's ok. I've had an idea." (beaming again)
"What's that" says I.
"You can keep the new one for best and use that Ebay one for if you want to take it out and about outdoors, so you haven't got to worry about it so much. Solved! Of course, you might not win the bid on it anyway."

I agreed that this was a consideration.

I was then charged not to tell the others that I knew about it, as it was meant to be a secret.

And that was that.

I hasten to add that I actually have now placed a bid on said other violin.

Maybe I can incorporate part of the earlier plans and swap them over so the Amazon one becomes the Ebay one that I take outdoors and the Ebay one becomes the Amazon for indoors.

So crisis not really averted, but at least I now have a valid reason for having two violins at once.
If I win the auction...


Edited: April 30, 2019, 4:48 PM · Ouch! Good luck on ebay! (Who would have expected I'd ever write something like this... *sigh*)
April 30, 2019, 5:09 PM · Good luck indeed! When is the auction over?
April 30, 2019, 5:36 PM · Thanks for the good wishes :)

The auction doesn't end until another 4 days.

To be honest, I'm not that hopeful of winning it.

There's also always that niggling thought of "could I buying another pig in a poke" as the saying goes.

If I don't win it, I will just have to try and start off with the VSO when it arrives, continue to save as much as possible, with a view to upgrading, but not too quickly, or it would look suspicious.

April 30, 2019, 7:35 PM · Rent. You're more likely to get an instrument which has been set up properly (or at least have a chance to choose in person or have adjustments made); get some minimal support from a store, and avoid some of the unknowns and uncertainty while seeing if it's for you.

And a few years ago it seemed to me that Yitamusic auctions were easier to win in the summer as there was less interest.

Edited: April 30, 2019, 8:00 PM · Another vote for renting. I was able to get a very nice intermediate violin via that route via rent to own. It gave me a space to try it out before paying it off.

Edited: April 30, 2019, 7:49 PM · Oh dear. I will hope for the best with the ebay auction.

You handled that beautifully, for what it's worth.

(I test as an ENTJ; INFPs are lovely people, much nicer than my sort. LOL.)

April 30, 2019, 8:32 PM · Well... Can always use one as timber in the Winter and save on wood.
April 30, 2019, 10:06 PM · When I did the Myers Briggs they said I was a PITA. LOL
April 30, 2019, 10:09 PM · While many of us would focus on the violin rather than the thoughts and feelings of those who brought it to us, it is wonderful to have their support and active encouragement (and tolerance).
Edited: May 1, 2019, 3:25 AM · I too vote for renting. As you said, the likelihood of another "pig in a poke" is quite high. I would not up my bid just in case you start getting outbid, which will likely happen at the last moment.

Highly dicey to buy a violin without being able to hear it, or without a good return policy. And violins from China usually carry a hefty return shipping charge which makes it pointless to try to return it.

Are there any local violin shops that you can talk to? Go in and try some? See if they have a rent to own policy (some do not).

Regarding renting, one thing that will likely happen is that your ear is going to change, and what you can tolerate at first might become intolerable later on. If renting, you can exchange out for another one with no hassle if your ear changes. And if you happen to find one you like, at that shop or somewhere else, you do not have to go to the hassle of trying to sell your current one. You may be out some rental money though, depending on the rental rules of where you do business.

Edited: May 1, 2019, 3:59 AM · Thanks again for all the replies.

Renting is of course another option, although I won't be able to rent or buy for a while yet, as it would look a bit peculiar neglecting the VSO to play a rented one straight away.

Mary Ellen - thank you for your kind words again.
Where would the rest of us be without the ENTJs and their rational thinking, confidence and leadership abilities? ;)
I don't think us INFPs would get much done otherwise, we're too worried about upsetting someone, so spend more time mithering over problems, rather than sorting ourselves out (sometimes this is very helpful and sometimes not!)

Cotton Mather - don't think that one will go down too well with the family ;) Might make a good ornament though?

Paul - ha ha! I think I qualify as one of those too! :)
You'll soon label me a PITA anyway, with all the beginner's questions and cries for help I'm sure to be making on here! LOL.

J Ray - I'm very grateful for my family's encouragement; no one could wish for a more supportive family than I have, so I'm very lucky.
They are vastly more important than any violin, or anything else at all, so ultimately, as long as they're happy in thinking that I'm happy, then that the main thing :)

I'm also very lucky that there is such a thing as violinist.com.
I've been so glad of the welcome on here.
I have talked on other music discussion forums about various things, but whenever I've mentioned 'violin', I have been met with various levels of 'clear off' type attitude, as though the violin sections of the forums are some sort of very elite gathering and beginners, especially beginners working with online lessons and considering violins under a thousand pounds, are definitely not allowed in.

I'm so happy to have found such a warm welcome here and I'm really grateful to you all for helping me out.

I will keep you updated :)

Edit: David - sadly there are no violin shops within the locality & I don't drive, so I'm a bit limited.
I did look at The Violin Company, online, prior to finding out about this VSO, which do set-up violins to rent or buy, but that will be perhaps something for the future.

May 1, 2019, 4:34 AM · Lol, the things we do to spare peoples' feelings.
May 1, 2019, 4:37 AM · Alana B I’ve noticed you’ve said you’re in Wales, which is the same area as me! I wonder if we are in the same part? I know of a couple of folk and fiddle traditional music meet ups in my area! Good luck with your violin journey1
Do get in touch if you’d like to :)
Edited: May 1, 2019, 8:14 AM · "Renting is of course another option, although I won't be able to rent or buy for a while yet, as it would look a bit peculiar neglecting the VSO to play a rented one straight away."

It is reasonable for one to think that they're unsure about whether or not violin is going to work out for them, and therefore not want to commit to a purchase (especially with someone else's money), and it's reasonable to do so even if one thinks they are going to carry on, because they don't know. (Most people have no idea what they're getting into, and those of us slugging on have to give up claims of rationality sooner or later.)

The way I could see this working, while still being a gift, is for the money which would have bought the violin being applied towards renting. That way, they still would have given you your first violin. Not permanently, but what is? And if we agree that the spirit is more important than the object itself, the gesture is more than the possession.

May 5, 2019, 8:17 AM · Mary Dixon - that's interesting to know. In a broad sense, I'm towards the SW of the country :-)

Timothy Smith - I'd never heard of Craig's List, but will look it up. Gumtree is quite popular around the area, although I haven't found any violins on there yet that are in the area.
My Mum is an INFJ - I read some of your comments on Quora and it could very well be my mum that had written them! :-)

I never won the Ebay auction, but perhaps that might be for the best.

The family have suddenly started listening to a lot more violin music and talking about violins; I'm having a hard time trying to keep a straight face, remembering that I'm not supposed to know a thing about the forthcoming surprise!

I will keep you posted on any further developments :-)

Edited: May 23, 2019, 9:29 AM · Hi again folks,

I now have the VSO.
First impressions: the "purfling" is drawn/painted on and I don't think the bridge is very well shaped, but other than that, I have noticed that the ball end of the G string isn't sitting into the tailpiece in the same way the others do.

I have put some photos on Photobox:
http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/5640081886

(The photos don't seem to show on the small thumbnail setting at all, but
if you click on the larger thumbnail setting, they do appear - the view settings are under the "Sort photos by" selector).

I would really appreciate it if you wouldn't mind taking a look and giving me your opinions, especially regarding the string.

Thank you :-)

Edited: May 23, 2019, 11:10 AM · It's not uncommon for G strings to fit some fine tuners differently than the other strings because they are thicker - also what I see there is not a problem for that kind of string. The bridge "sucks." it has not been shaped appropriately either to fit the top or for proper mass - it is probably twice the mass it should be.
May 23, 2019, 10:59 AM · Thank you Andrew; I wasn't sure, so thought I'd ask you more experienced folk first, just in case it was something that meant it was going to pop out on me!

I rather thought the bridge was awful too - I can see that the feet don't fit well at all.
Any problems with its alignment are mine, as I had to install it myself. When I opened the case, the bridge was wrapped up in tissue paper and wedged under the tailpiece, with the strings sprawling about :-(

Edited: May 23, 2019, 12:41 PM · Make sure the soundpost is standing up inside (about one post thickness "south" of the bridge - and the nut ("north" end of the fingerboard, where the fingerboard meets the pegbox) looks strange to me. The clearance of the strings above the fingerboard just "south"should be small, just one standard business card thickness.

Painted-on purfling is an indication of cheapness, It is there to protect the rest of the front and back from cracking if the edge is damaged. BUT, a fairly well respected California maker (whom I knew when he was alive) made himself an 18-inch viola with no purfling - that big because he was big enough to play it himself and big violas can sound incredible and no purfling because he didn't want to put in the work on an instrument he was not going to sell.

Edited: May 23, 2019, 11:29 AM · The soundpost is standing up; it was the first thing I looked at when I saw that the bridge wasn't on.
Whether it is in the right place or not, I'm not sure.
I'll have a better look later, when I get home.

The nut is definitely weird - I don't think it's had any shaping as such - it looks and feels very angular, rather than being smoothly curved.


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