My worst fears have been realized

Edited: July 11, 2019, 11:36 AM · A new student (12-14yrs old, I don't remember) came to me with an Amazon violin for her first lesson. She also takes classical guitar at the same studio, and has been playing guitar for several years.

Her mother bought it for her for Christmas, and she's only messing around with it for the summer to see if she likes it, but my heart dropped a little when she said Amazon.

However! It looks like the beginner model Cecilio violin, and to be completely honest, I don't hate it. The strings stayed in tune for the whole lesson, and the pegs were cheap, but not horrible. I had her start with bowing open strings after showing her the proper setup, and it didn't sound nearly as bad as I thought it would. The bridge looks decently cut, and the action looks pretty good. She had lovely posture for the first lesson.

The bows, however, are not great. One is already warped, and the other doesn't have any tension until it's tightened so far that the stick is straight. The mom said they haven't taken it out of the case yet, so my student didn't mess with the bow. If she ends up really liking violin and making good progress, I might suggest that they replace the two bows with a better bow, probably a carbon fiber unless she shows real genuine interest in keeping up with violin.

Can you guys tell me about your experiences with students and their Amazon instruments?

Replies (23)

July 11, 2019, 11:44 AM · I've never seen one, but I can imagine being really discouraged if I had had to start with one. On the surface, it makes sense to buy cheap "just to see if you like it". But the quality of an instrument has such an incredible effect on the experience of playing it that even a beginner could feel that theirs is of poor quality (although they'd probably assume it's because playing is "not for them" and not because the violin is cheap).

Maybe suggest that they find a good rental from an actual music shop. I think that's much better for a beginner overall than buying a cheapo on Amazon that's just going to be firewood later.

July 11, 2019, 11:54 AM · Right, I agree, Cotton, I wouldn't want to play on a cheapo either. I've got a cheap Anton Breton one I used to play and I hated it. This one obviously is not made with top grade wood, but the top at least doesn't look like the it's a $40 instrument.

I'm wondering if she'll actually end up asking about a better instrument. She's got good ears from guitar. I think I'll let her play on this one for awhile to make her mom happy, as we haven't had the chance to develop a relationship yet, and then see where it goes when school starts. If it gets her to the end of summer and she decides that she wants to continue, then it will have done its job! :)

Edited: July 11, 2019, 12:19 PM · Fiddlerman's entry violin is basically the Cecilio. My first was a $50 Chinese violin. The only thing wrong with it was the nut was too high, which threw the intonation out. E.g. if I played a second harmonic on the A string then stopped it, expecting to hear D, I heard D#. I was lucky enough to find a CF bow on Amazon for $18 which was a good match for the violin. I've kept it and I will fettle the nut one day and maybe take it on stage with my uke group or a friend's folk group if I ever get that far. Otoh I've just bought an EV, so maybe not.

My current violin is a Stentor. Nothing wrong with it, perfect nut action, but the B in first position on the A string is a bit of a wolf note. But then Nicola Benedetti's Strad has two or three wolf notes.

Edited: July 11, 2019, 3:26 PM · The bow might be helped by reducing the number of hairs (trimmed evenly across the "ribbon," of course).

The number of hairs (probably, more correctly, the mass of hair) should be correlated inversely with the stiffness of the stick). But hair thickness on a bow usually covers a range.

When I have trimmed bow hairs I've trimmed no more than 5 at a time. I would probably never go less than 125 horse hairs of typical thickness range.

July 11, 2019, 12:29 PM · Hm Andrew, I'm not sure if removing some of the hairs would do anything, since to me it looked like it was pretty thinly haired to begin with, but it might! The stick is pretty straight even when it's loose; hardly any downward curve at all, if any. It's really poorly made. I'm also not well-versed in bow-making terminology, so I'm sorry if I am misunderstanding!
July 11, 2019, 2:36 PM · Someone at work bought a $50 outfit for their 3yo daughter (a 4/4 sized violin!?!?!?!?!) on Amazon... needless to say, after a few nights of messing around with it the instrument was put back in the case and that was that.

I was tempted to buy one to have shipped to my vacation location, since I will not attempt bringing my violin on an airplane to a tropical destination, but I could not bear the thought of working with an instrument like that even for a few days.

July 11, 2019, 2:50 PM · I started on a $80 violin from Amazon. Within 2 weeks I was annoyed to the point with its response and tone that I sold it to some people who needed a violin for a play. Plus the fingerboard wasn't ebony and it was pretty unwieldy. I promptly went to Shar and bought a ~ $600 Student violin that was miles better, lighter, and actually sounded like a decent violin. Honestly the Amazon violin was a waste for me but it can make sense to people who have no idea if they are serious about learning violin.
July 11, 2019, 3:21 PM · Kristen,

I tune instruments for the local youth orchestra and every September a couple of Amazon Specials show up. I have a printed letter to the parents where I detail the problems that I observe while tuning their young musician's violin. Some of them aren't all that bad, others are terrible with a host of issues from strings wound the wrong way, bridges to high or low, fine tuners that don't work and the occasional sound post rattling around inside.

I suggest that they either return the instrument for credit and get a good instrument from the local violin shop or at least take it there to have things fixed. I cannot say that most of the parents are happy with my assessment but I have to be honest with them.

Generally the young musicians who have really bad instruments drop out before the end of the season and that is the really sad part.

July 11, 2019, 3:55 PM · Such things as violins and dogs should never be Christmas presents. If it's not the right one, you've got a lot of emotional barriers to overcome exchanging it.

A warped bow isn't going to keep your student from playing Twinkle. So maybe you can wait a few months for the X-mas aura to wear off before suggesting an upgrade.

As I am writing this I am listening to Grieg's "Holberg Suite" on the radio. Lovely piece.

July 11, 2019, 4:42 PM · I'll just tell you this factoid: almost none of the students who have come to their first lesson with a cecilio violin have lasted very long, even if they upgraded afterwards.

Cecilio violins generally indicate several things about the student:

1) Impulsive
2) Not good at problem solving
3) Not very committed
4) Not motivated to research

Students who come in looking to rent or already having a rental, however, tend to be the most committed and longest lasting.

July 11, 2019, 9:49 PM · Hey guys, thanks for all your input! It's all appreciated! We're not sure how serious my student is, but since I know her commitment to guitar is very strong and I know she's a hard worker (mentioned by her guitar teacher at our studio), I'm happy to put forth the effort for her for the summer.

There are some issues with my boss/owner of the whole studio (class A narcissist/sociopath, not even joking), so I probably am not in a position to be able to really speak my mind on buying an Amazon instrument (seeing as they've already done it), since anything that goes wrong is automatically my fault even if I'm right.

So, I guess we'll have to see how things go. She seems excited and driven to practice and improve, so she might outgrow this instrument fairly quickly. Then, I can swoop in and give her some sound advice on where to look next. :)

July 12, 2019, 7:47 AM · Erik doesn't your list kind of apply to most kindergartners?
July 12, 2019, 1:01 PM · Did the instrument have block in it?
July 12, 2019, 2:24 PM · I am still trying to figure out what the "worst fear" was. If you don't want to play a $40 instrument, then spend more!

As an adult student, I buy all my strings from Amazon. I have, two years ago, brought a Diamond GX CF bow (around $700) as a back-up/outdoor bow from Amazon.

No problems; no fear.

July 12, 2019, 2:33 PM · Paul, my list does indeed apply to most very young kids, but at least with them I'm hopeful they'll grow out of those traits.

Edited: July 12, 2019, 5:14 PM · I once got a new student, an adult, who wanted to explore the violin. For that reason he had bought a cheap violin from the local supermarket. That is a shop which normally sells food, but the shop had bought a stock of cheap violins, and now the customers could buy one and try out violin playing.

So he bought one and enrolled in the music school where I work. The violin costed something in the range of $60-70. A decent beginner bow alone costs more than that and here he got a whole set, violin, bow and case.

The nut, the bridge and the pegs were acceptable actually. They are typically the weak points on a cheap violin. But the strings were really terrible. I talked him into buying a set of Dominant strings which costs almost as much as the whole violin set. But that made wonders, the sound quality was so much better that even he, a total beginner, could hear the difference. Just by playing an open string you could hear it.

July 12, 2019, 7:38 PM · 11 years ago I went into a guitar shop and impulsively bought the only violin in the store --a used Gliga "Genial" violin. The shop owner let me walk out with it on the promise I'd come back with $250 when I got my income tax check, and a month later I paid him out of that tax refund. I fooled around with it for a few months and then put it under the bed until a little over 4 years ago, when I decided to get serious and teach myself how to play it. I LOVE that violin, and about 2 years ago when I took another (antique) violin to a luthier for repair I also brought along the Gliga "Genial" fiddle, and my luthier had only good things to say about it, validating my naive but genuine love for that instrument. Therefore, I recommend these as very high quality for the relatively low price:

Edited: July 13, 2019, 5:46 AM · To fill in some detail, since you asked, but pointlessly, as it's clear no-one is interested in a good Amazon experience, my Amazon instrument was a Theodore; it cost $60 for the whole outfit. The nut is high, but the intonation is not as bad as I thought, and the action in high positions is not high. It's solid spruce and maple and if a kid gets discouraged from playing twinkle twinkle on such an instrument, then the same kid will be discouraged by any instrument, no matter how expensive. Having said that, I did put Tonicas on it.
Edited: July 13, 2019, 7:00 AM · Amazon is a reseller. Only very recently did they initiate manufacture under their own brand such as "Amazon Basics," and even this is really just rebranding or OEM at most. As far as I know, there is no "Amazon Basics" violin. When I type "violin" into Amazon's search bar, I don't see "Amazon" listed down the left among the brands. Then the violin's quality really isn't Amazon's fault. It's like buying a violin on eBay. You're not really buying it from eBay. You're buying it from another vendor; eBay is just taking a sales commission. If you don't like the brands that are purveyed at Amazon, shop elsewhere. At the same time, if you think you can get a playable violin as part of an entire kit with bow, case, rosin, SR, etc., for $70, you're probably mistaken.
July 14, 2019, 3:15 AM · Yes, Amazon is a marketplace, always has been.
July 22, 2019, 11:35 PM · My son's grandparents bought him a department store guitar when he was about 6. I went to a music store for lesson books, a tuner (pitch-pipe, actually) and strap. My mother-in-law announced to the family that I had spent more on those things than the guitar had cost. Of course a guitar is a far cry from a violin, but the point is, you can't compare the base cost to what you'll have to put in to get anywhere with it. (Same with shelter pets, for that matter.)
Edited: July 26, 2019, 9:47 AM · The biggest problem I see here is that VSOs are sold in otherwise reputable generalist (read guitar, keyboard and drum) music shops and it's very hard to explain to parents why they need to buy a violin from a specialist shop. I try to explain that they don't arrive from the factory 'finished.

Mostly this is irrelevant cause the families I teach can't afford to buy or hire and instrument anyway (They use stentor-grade or slightly better violins I bought second hand). But one of my refugee students' dads saved up to buy her an eBay violin for $A80 which she brought to me to set up. Intonation was hideous even when I put tonics strings on, and I ended up swapping it out for one of mine without telling her. I took the entire string group across Sydney to a violin shop as a school excursion after that! The staff knew they were coming and were very nice about letting beginner kids play with different price ranges so they could hear the differences.

I just wish I knew a way to stop trees being wasted in ways that turn kids off playing music.

July 26, 2019, 7:42 PM · My daughter had some psychological issue with renting an instrument when she was young. I understand all the reasons to rent rather than to buy, but she wanted an instrument that was "hers," and didn't want one that had ever been used by anyone else. Her cheap violin was basically ok, but I was afraid I was going to get called out and yelled at by the music teacher for several years, until she got bigger and I could give her my old one (at least that was okay with her), because of all the anti-cheap violin rhetoric that is basically everywhere.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Akiko Meyers
Anne Akiko Meyers

Nathan Cole's Violympics
The Violympic Trials

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine