Fiddlerman Soloist vs Eastman VL-305

Edited: May 18, 2020, 3:26 PM · Yes I know I should go to a reputable violin shop and try in hand. But I'm not there yet. I have had unpleasant experiences in the few I've been to. I have walked away with the same feeling I get when buying a car. Anyway...

Has anyone played both and how do they compare? Both seem to have good reviews and I'd like an opinion from someone who has had first hand experience.

I'm an amateur getting back into playing after a 20 year hiatus. I am currently playing an Eastman VL-100 which I got from Goodwill which is far above the Mittenwald German violin I had started on years ago when I was taking lessons as a teenager. Mostly interested in Irish Traditional Music for my own enjoyment.

These both seem to be within my price range.

Replies (26)

May 18, 2020, 10:09 AM · They're both factory instruments. My first violin was one of those Eastmans they use for rental instruments. You can't expect the tone to be particularly inspirational, but the violins are well-made from a technical point of view. Better than starting on an instrument which was made with non-standard proportions and then having to readjust when you upgrade!

I think I would go with Fiddlershop just for the customer service.

Edited: May 18, 2020, 10:56 AM · My adult son has been very pleased with his dealings with the Fiddlerman shop (he has spent thousands on bows from them). I have only bought a few accessories there.

If you are serious about purchasing one of their Soloist violins and you are purchasing the "kit" (with case and bow) I would suggest calling or emailing them first and talk about a bow upgrade (their suggestion) and about the tonal variations of the violins they have in stock.

Instruments procured from such "factory production" will tend to have a range of tonal and playability qualities because wood properties vary and these productions will follow strict patterns without the special "one-off tailoring" a professional violin maker can apply to individual instruments.

May 18, 2020, 12:32 PM · Cotton and Victor, thank you both for your replies. Victor, I did buy a Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber bow from them back last year and it has become my favorite bow. I will take your advice and call them regarding tonal variations and a bow upgrade for the kit.
May 18, 2020, 12:49 PM · I just answered on a post similar to this,

have you tried checking out Infinite Strings? They have some of the best value on almost professional instruments. I recommend you check out their site if looking for a hand made violin. I'm confident you could get one of their masters builds down to about 1000. They use great materials such as 15-year aged tonewood as well as imported varnishing material. Not to mention they have a professional setup with top of the line strings which you won't find in most Chinese violins. With this, you won't have to worry about neck alignment ana a new bridge etc. Not to mention they individually record each exact instrument so you can hear it first. I own one myself and highly recommend! The owner Lance is a retired college strings professor so I'm sure he would be glad to help select the violin best for your needs.

Hope that helps!

May 18, 2020, 3:28 PM · Thanks Ben I will look into Infinite Strings as a contender
May 19, 2020, 1:10 PM · Personally, I think Infinite Strings is a bit lower in quality compared to the Soloist or Eastman 305; all three are Chinese workshop violins though. The Infinite Strings Master violins are not bad from the sound, and I did consider one when I was looking for my most recent violin purchase, I just don't think they match the quality of the other two you mentioned.

Between the Soloist and the 305, I would pick the Soloist no question about it; it's an outstanding violin and a great value; I just purchased one after playing several German violins and listening to a couple of Ming Jiang Zhu's; the Soloist was the best of them. Fiddlershop will make a custom video for you to compare instruments also. They were founded by a professional violinist (concertmaster for several orchestras in Europe), and they have several highly experienced luthiers who set up every instrument. They also offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee and lifetime warranty on the instrument.

Note: I'm not in any way associated with Fiddlershop other than as a very happy repeat customer.

May 26, 2020, 8:34 AM · Richard thanks for your reply. Could you tell me more about why you think the Infinity is a lower quality? What does one look at to see the quality differences? I’m new to all this and any direction is appreciated.
May 26, 2020, 11:55 AM · Hi Neil,
There are several reasons I think Infinite Strings is generally lower quality. The first reason is the online reviews on here and other sites from people who bought them; generally the comments are along the lines of "It's ok but not great", and many people complain that the setup is bad and needs to be redone. I also saw a number of posts from people wanting to upgrade from their violins to something else like a Scott Cao.

The next reason is the sound quality based on their sound samples; most of them sound on the thin side to me, which is another common complaint I saw on the reviews. The Master violins are pretty decent sounding, but a lot of that may be because of the expensive strings they use on them.

Also, they started their business as a wholesale importer, not as a consumer violin shop; and their website seems a bit "tricky" in their wording. For example calling their $800 violins "bench models"; this is highly unlikely to be true; a bench violin can have 2 meanings: the most common is that its a violin made by a single luthier from start to finish, and the other meaning is that its an exact copy of another instrument, made with the other instrument "on the bench" for comparison. Neither of those is likely to apply to an instrument under $800.

By comparison, Fiddlershop's house-branded bench made violins start at $3900.

Furthermore, they don't have any place on their website for customer reviews of their instruments; only the select few testimonials that they posted, some of which are 7 years old and more. For me, that alone is a red flag.

Finally, they only sell their in-house instruments; and don't really provide much information about them. The pictures are really too processed for you to be able to tell what you're actually getting also.

That was my opinion on them based on the research I did before purchasing my most recent violin. Hope it helps!

May 26, 2020, 2:46 PM · Ben wrote:
"I recommend you check out their site if looking for a hand made violin. I'm confident you could get one of their masters builds down to about 1000. They use great materials such as 15-year aged tonewood as well as imported varnishing material. Not to mention they have a professional setup with top of the line strings which you won't find in most Chinese violins."

That sounds like typical marketing fluff. Do you believe it, and if so, why?

Edited: May 26, 2020, 3:32 PM · Neil,

First off I have no association to infinite strings except as a customer.

I won't comment on opinions about the instruments tonal quality because that is subjective. However, I will comment that he says they only sound ok because of the high-quality strings. I don't find this not to be a good argument as they use Evah Pizzaris that really would make any bad violin sound shrill or harsh.

first off if you look up Infinite string on this forum you will see mostly see a mix of opinions many from people who have not even ever tried one for themselves. There is a review from on youtube that seems pretty unbiased and gives great information.

Second Richard claims they have testimonials from years ago. If you go on their site there is many from just a month ago mine one of them. He also claims that they don't give much information about their instruments however I feel they give more than most. Does fiddle shop or Eastman tell you the exact tonewoods age and origin as well as the varnish?

Lastly, Richard claims that the pictures are to processed however this is most likely due to consistent lighting to equally capture each instrument. Fiddlerman and Eastman don't even let you see the exact violin you are getting unless requested. The varnish in the photos look bit more yellow than in real life and the varnish work really is quite nice.

Overall I am not trying to make you get an IF string violin I am just sharing my experience from a satisfied customer. I feel most of its criticism is about how it labels their violins such as their bench copy or master builds. While their master builds are built by a more experienced violin maker, of course, you are not getting a Cremonese built quality violin for under 2000. Fiddlerman and eastamn tend to do the same though as are you going to see a soloist with thier soloist violin outuft? In my opinion, they are way better value for the cost than other third-party sellers in similar quality or double or triple the price.

May 26, 2020, 3:56 PM · Ben just to clarify a couple of things:

1. Yes there are a mix of reviews, on this forum and others; I agree with that; to me that's somewhat of a red flag though. If you have 30 or 40% of the reviews saying the violin is just so-so, or has a bad setup, or whatever, then for me that's something to stay away from.

2. I said some of the testimonials were from years ago; it was worrisome to me that in 12 years of selling they only have 17 testimonials they're willing to post. And no way for customers to post their own reviews; most reputable violin shops do have this feature (Shar, Kennedy, Fiddlershop, etc.) Again, another red flag.

3. Yes it may be due to consistent lighting; very true. On the other hand Fiddlershop will not only let you SEE the actual instrument, but they will actually make a comparison video with up to 3 instruments and let you choose. Plus they offer in-home trials of any instrument over $1k, and 45 day 100% satisfaction guarantee, and a lifetime warranty. Infinite Strings has no in-home trials, only a 14 day return policy and the buyer pays shipping (both ways!), plus no information on warranty at all. Three more red flags (no warranty, no in home trial, very short return period).

They may be decent instruments; I don't own one, so I can't say for sure, but I saw enough red flags to keep me away from them. I did see your review on their site; though I'd also wonder what you were comparing it against... for me, I was comparing the Fiddlerman Soloist against two Ming Jiang Zhu's, a Conrad Gotz Metropolitan, a Gewa Germania Roma, as well as a couple of local violin shop house brands. All were in a similar price point ($1500 to $2000).

May 26, 2020, 4:07 PM · All crap fiddles, get your head out of the gutter and buy a real violin!!
May 26, 2020, 4:24 PM · Lyndon I was wondering if you'd chime in.. We may never agree on this, but the Soloist is definitely not crap at all, its a fantastic violin and I absolutely love mine. Though I am surprised to hear you bashing new German workshop instruments (Gotz and Gewa)... I thought you just bashed the Chinese ones. :)
May 26, 2020, 4:26 PM · Your claiming to be an expert on crap fiddles, who cares!!
Edited: May 26, 2020, 4:41 PM · Richard,

The violins I have compared similar in price is the west coast strings peter Kauffman, Some Eastman strings violin I can't remember the model of, and a violin from my local violin shop that was Chinese made but labelled under the shop. Keep in mind I got my If string for 1200 as that is all I had at the moment. The main reason for choosing infinite strings wasn't so much the tone color of their violins but the easy playability and fast response. I could of got a great deal on an old Jhon Juzek violin made in Prague by him himself however I knew, in the long run, a violin with these attributes sounding soft and sweet under the ear really couldn't withstand playing higher-level pieces like Bruch or Mendelson. With the other student violins, I tried they all where every decent and sounded nice however did not compare in overall efficiency and power. Currently, im working on bruch and having a more efficient violin is really helping me shape my skills.

May 26, 2020, 4:40 PM · I'm claiming the knowledge that I have that's relevant to this post; about midrange, well-made violins. I know from personal experience that at least the Soloist, Gotz, Gewa, and Ming Jiang Zhu's are well made, good sounding, quality instruments for the price, easily the equal or better to any antique violin in the same price point ($1500-$2000).

When I was looking, I did check Shar, Corilon, LA Violin, and several other shops for antique instruments in the same price range. Some were very nice, but none were as good as the Soloist I chose. Of course that also depends on what inventory a given shop has at the time; if I checked again in six months, I might find an antique that I liked better than the Soloist.

May 26, 2020, 4:48 PM · @Lyndon - I'm sure you do have antiques for $800. Whether they sound better or not I can't say since you don't post sound samples of your instruments :). The ones I heard and saw in the under 2k price range were just not as good as the Soloist I chose. Not as good projection, too muddy, or in some cases too bright; I like a violin that's a little warm in the lower registers, and singing in the upper ones, but not muddy at all; the Soloist was perfect for what I wanted.

@Ben - Thanks for the info; I don't know much about the instruments you mentioned so I can't really compare them to Infinite Strings. Though I still think any professional violin shop that doesn't offer in home trials and at least a 30 day return policy is a bit sketchy.

May 26, 2020, 4:56 PM · If you had your way you'd put every real violin shop out of business and all we'd be left is Fiddlercrap and Shar, wouldn't that be a nightmare??
Edited: May 26, 2020, 5:35 PM · @Lyndon - Yes that WOULD be a nightmare; absolutely and totally agree with you. Fiddlershop is a great company but having CHOICES is incredibly important, that's why I checked 5 different shops before deciding. Everyone has different tastes and opinions about instruments and the more choice we have, the better. Having great options like Fiddlershop and great local violin shops also helps keep the less reputable places from gaining much of a foothold.

Also, as I'm sure you know, Fiddlershop IS a real violin shop; they have a brick and mortar physical store, and at least 2 luthiers who make their own instruments in-house, and they were founded by a first class professional violinist.

May 26, 2020, 6:10 PM · they're a Chinese virus! The sooner we get over them the better.
May 26, 2020, 7:44 PM · @Lyndon, I don’t know if you really think like that, or if you just like to stir things up with those kind of comments. Either way, they serve no purpose at all.
May 28, 2020, 1:26 PM · Thank you all for your input and advice. What I took away from this discussion was 2 votes for Fiddlerman and 1 vote for Infinite Strings. Looks like the Eastman is out of the race.
May 28, 2020, 2:18 PM · Sounds about right, though I’d suggest talking to Fiddlershop and tell them what you want, such as bright, warm, etc and ask them to do a video for you with a couple of instruments for comparison. It’s free and it really helped me with my decision a lot. They could do two different Soloists or a Soloist and another instrument or two. Good luck!!
Edited: May 28, 2020, 7:46 PM · Neil,

Whenever you decide it I think it would be brilliant to let us know which one you went for!

Try not to take any of the advice on this forum too seriously as you should have majority influence as it's your decision.

Hope in the end you find a great instrument that makes playing enjoyable for you!

Edited: May 28, 2020, 9:42 PM · @Neil, not sure how much help I can give, but I would definitely agree with at least doing home trials of several instruments if you'd prefer not to go in store. I haven't purchased any instruments online, but I have a few friends who have. (Disclaimer: This is just my experience. Results may vary) I tried my friend's Fiddlerman Soloist before and while I agree it's a decent sounding instrument, certainly miles above Amazon VSOs, if you're hoping to really push yourself to the next level, I'm not sure how well it will do that. However, it served my friend a good few years (from a beginner's stage) before she realized she wanted something "more" and borrowed a German instrument.

I was also able to try the Eastman before, which I was mildly excited because I had heard so many good things, but honestly I hated the tone. Even in that price range, there are better sounding instruments IMO.

If you must shop online, I would also recommend Johnson Strings/Carriage House Violins. They have trial periods of instruments that I would consider much better quality than the other shops. Of course the price reflects this. I have nothing against the other shops. Fiddlerman provided excellent customer service even when I only purchased rosin.

Of course, with everything, instruments are a very personal choice and it depends on what you hope to get out of your violin. You might love something that I personally find awful. It really just depends. That's why most people on the forum will tell you to try before you buy.

May 29, 2020, 12:07 AM · @Ida, good points and good advice; though I would point out that Fiddlershop does offer home trials on every instrument above 1k, and the instruments they carry go up into the 30k range.

I’ve heard good things about Johnson Strings, I know they carry the whole Eastman line and the Jay Haide instruments, which are quite good but at a higher price point, starting at about $2400 I think.

For the Soloist, it does depend on when it was made, they recently switched it to the same workshop that makes their much more expensive Holstein line and the ones from that workshop sound much better than older ones in my opinion.

Mine is a new one and I’d say it would be ok for anything short of a professional audition or orchestra position. It can handle playing in higher positions without choking and has good clarity and projection for its price point. Certainly no problem playing Bach, Paganini, etc.

Though of course every instrument is different, which is why home trials and a solid return policy Is a must for buying online as Ida said.

I totally agree with Ida and Ben that this is a very personal choice, your choice. You’ll get good advice here on which shops are reputable, and what policies to look for, and a lot of opinions about individual instruments, but it’s still your choice.

Wishing you good luck and hope you find the perfect instrument for you!

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