How to buy a violin above current skill level?
Hello, I've been lurking for awhile, but this is my first post. I'm looking to buy a new violin and am excited and nervous about the process.
Background -- I am an adult beginner in my 50s who was gifted an inexpensive full size violin about a year ago. I have been taking lessons and am really enjoying learning to play. One of my challenges has been my very small hand size, and reaching the notes has always been difficult. Over the summer, I developed capsulitis in my index finger, most likely due to a overuse/misuse on the violin. I took 4 months off of playing anything other than open strings to let it heal.
I'm now resuming playing, but the injury has left my index stiffer than it was before, and my teacher has become convinced that the size of my instrument is a problem and I need to downsize to a 7/8. I agree, and had an opportunity to borrow a 7/8 violin for a awhile, which confirmed that the 7/8 feels much more comfortable and playable for me.
So, I'm ready now to buy a 7/8 violin. I would like to spend enough to buy something that I can grow with as a musician for the next few years and have tentatively set a budget o $3,000. I live in a very rural area, and the closest store that sells 7/8s is Ifshin's, which is about 3 hours away. I plan on heading there this week to try out some violins. It's too far for my violin teacher to accompany me, so I'll be there by myself. Questions:
--Am I right in thinking that 3K will get me a solid violin that will take me though to, at least, advanced beginner/intermediate stage? Conversely, is this too much to spend, as it will be a while before I will have the skill to appreciate a nicer instrument.
--How best to evaluate the violins, given how very basic my skill level and playing abilities are? Will I just know it when I hear it? I also am faced with the reality that choices for 7/8th violins are going to be limited.
--Ifshin's is associated with the Jay Haide line of violins. It seems like they have a pretty good reputation. Any thoughts on them?
--Any other tips so that I will feel even less like a complete idiot in there testing out nice violins by playing scales and one, dumbed down, line from Ode to Joy.
Many thanks in advance.
I would recommend not to spend as much in this early stage, but purchase a high level student model, which has been set up by a luthier. Inexpensive violins usually come straight from the factory floor and are most always set up too high at the nut and bridge, this maybe the cause of the index finger problem as a result of the excessive pressure required to press the strings down.
Thank you Henry, for your response.
Ifshin Violins store is 30 minutes from my home. It has been my go-to violin shop and luthier for almost 25 years. I have bought 2 cellos and a number of bows there and had work done there on all my instruments and bows. I have played great instruments in their back rooms including one 1698 Stradivarius and an Andrea Guarneri and at least touched bows by the greatest makers who ever lived. But they also carry beginner instruments and have a very knowledgeable staff.
That's really helpful and reassuring, Andrew.
Linda, it didn't compare with the 17-teen one I played in 1964, more than 30 years earlier. That one had been owned and played by the great virtuoso, Olé Bull. Of course by then my ears were 30 years older, so I have no idea how much I could no longer hear!
Stores typically allow the borrowing of instruments on trial for a week or sometimes more. Stores are also quite used to instruments being bought by people who don't have great playing ability - notably for beginners and children. Be honest about your experience and abilities and you should feel no need to be overly self-conscious.
Ifshin's is a good shop and the Jay Haides in the $2k+ price range are pretty nice for the price. In that price range you'll also want to try Hiroshi Kono, other Chinese workshop violins (since you're in the Bay Area, it's worth taking a trip down to the South Bay and going to Scott Cao's), and random antique German/Czech/French trade instruments. Pay your teacher to come shopping with you, I'd suggest.
the OP needs a 7/8 violin, that severely limits options as they are not that common.
There are so many 3/4 violins out there that my guess is you've got a better chance of finding one of those that sounds really good than you do at 7/8. But I second (third?) the endorsement of Jay Haide. I know a girl who did fine with a Jay Haide 4/4 pretty much right up to the Bruch Level and possibly a little beyond that.
@Linda Blue, if you go to Ifshin, try to go on a weekday, if that is feasible. Weekends are usually really busy over there. Ask them to recommend a day for you to come so they can pay more attention to you. Usually Tuesdays or Wednesdays are not as busy as weekends.
Thanks everyone for your responses. I have a lot to think about.
Oh, and yes, I'm familiar with how awful Bay Area traffic can be! I used to live there. I will need to get into zen mode before I get behind the wheel.
Ifshin's opens at 10:30 in the morning, so traffic will have abated somewhat by then (also depends on what direction you are coming).
Getting realistic, and in agreement with Henry's first post, you're a beginner with a finger injury who needs a 7/8.
As long as you can comfortably afford it, I don't think there is anything wrong with spending $3000 on a violin. The only reason not to spend that is if you aren't sure you will stick with it. Otherwise a $3k violin should be enough to get you an instrument you can play and learn on for years, possibly forever. In string instrument terms $3000 isn't that much, but should get you an instrument that won't limit you until you are at a pretty advanced level.
Jay Haide instruments (I assert based on having played exactly one of them, so not much of a sample size) sound quite nice, and are definitely worth looking at.
There is a good reason why your violin will sound better in the violin-trying room. Because of the resonance with all the other 30 violins that are hanging in there.
I agree with those who say not to spend so much at this point. I might even suggest renting a 7/8 for 6 months - 1 year. Looks like Ifshin has some Model 101 rentals in 7/8: https://www.ifshinviolins.com/Services/Rentals/instrumentselection
Linda, try calling Scott Cao's shop in Campbell, CA (near San Jose). They can tell you what they have available at the shop.
Ifshin allows "trade-ups." I say I bought 2 cellos from Ifshin, but really I bought one and about 5 years later I traded up for a higher level model. My entire initial purchase price was credited to the 2nd purchase - except for some minor touchups.
If you go to one of the shops with higher inventory like an Ifshin you may also get access to wider choice by asking to try a small 4/4 size violin.
Thanks, again, everyone for all the great input. I really appreciate the time and thoughtful responses I have gotten.
I also have small hands and purchased a Jay Haide a l'ancienne Guarneri model in the 7/8 size. It's a LOT easier for me to play than my old 4/4, although I still have problems with 4th finger extensions. I also tested a Balestrieri model that I really liked. I am probably an intermediate player (currently working on the Handel E Major sonata, just finished the first movement of the Dvorak Sonatina) and do not anticipate outgrowing this violin any time soon. I agree that, if possible, you should get someone else to play all the instruments that you are considering so that you can hear what they sound like *not* under the ear. Also, if possible, try to test more than one of each model. Sample to sample variation is a real thing! Happy hunting.
I have a Jay Haide and am happy with it. I was thinking that you might want to try renting one? You can rent for several months and then buy that very instrument if you like it, and most of the time they will put the amount you've paid for renting towards the purchase price. :)
"in addition to having XS women's hands, I been blessed with a small pinkie that is 5mm short of the second knuckle of my ring finger"
"Have you thought about learning the piccolo? ;-)"
Well, I'm back from Ifshin's with a 7/8 l'ancienne for a two week trial. I'm a bit tired right now from the long drive and several hours spent testing violins, but all and all, I had a very good experience there.
Slight curve ball: what you detect under the ear is often unrelated to what reaches the audience. So a teacher’s feedback can be useful when you are making comparisons. Still, being easy and pleasant to play is something only you can measure, and it sounds as if you’ve made a meaningful improvement. Hope it continues to go well.
DZ Strad has been mentioned. That's a strange one. I remember looking them up a year or more ago because someone else asked about them. There are two companies who trade under that name, one probably very good, the other, who knows - it looks like a front, lol! I eventually found the latter (or was it the former?) on GoogleEarth Streetview, and their premises were about 12 blocks from the supposed business address on their website. I think I'd be careful not to attempt to buy any violin called a DZ Strad, least of all from Amazon.
@Linda Blue, Congratulations! I'm glad you had a good experience picking your violin at Ifshin's. Enjoy learning to make music with your new violin!
I wanted to give a final update, having had the violin for almost a week and having had my teacher examine it. I have been enjoying it although a part of me was holding back a bit in thinking of it as mine until I could have my teacher weigh in on it.
There is, of course, no such thing as a violin above current skill level - There are only violins BELOW current skill level. No violin is going to make you play worse because it's too good for you.
I agree completely. A better violin will always be a help and never a hindrance. Same with bows.
Is the new violin a 4/4 or a 7/8 then?
Paul - Linda said it is a 7/8.
Yes, it is a 7/8th violin. So far, I'm really enjoying it.
While I 99% agree with John Rokos and Raymond Concannon and have a rather strong opinion about good instruments being good teachers, there's one thing I observed. It depends on the character of the student, his approach towards measuring success and his problem solving strategies, and maybe also to which grade he is in command of advanced fine motor skills, but there are not few students at beginner / early intermediate level getting frustrated by a very responsive instrument, even if an instrument like this is the best ticket to intonation, dynamics and overall bow control - if one is able to enjoy the trip...
Linda, congratulations and good luck! What were the characteristics you preferred in this instrument?
I liked the tone of it the best, it sounded smoother and less "brassy" for lack of a better term, then the others. It was very close between my top two picks, and I went back and forth a bit, but, in the end, I liked the e-string on my first choice better -- it sounded more in balance with the other 3 strings. I'm not sure I have enough experience yet, to assess responsiveness to any great degree, other then noting that t was more responsive than my old 4/4, and I didn't have to press the strings as hard to get good sound.
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