Violin Materials

May 18, 2020, 11:41 AM · I hope every one is well!

I'm the parent of a musically talented child. He started piano at a young age and decided to try his hand at violin 4 to 5 years ago. He's playing at a high level and continues to progress.

At least I think so. Unfortunately his mother and I are pretty much void of any musical knowledge or talent.

We would like to purchase a second higher quality violin for him which is creating some questions.
He is a current satisfied owner of a Ming Jiang Zhu and would like to trial a Ming Jiang Zhu 925 and 930 violin. They are both made of the same materials except for the "Top material" as listed below. The question:

Is maple superior to spruce in the performance of a violin?

Also open to any advice offered on a new violin purchase.

Thank you!
Rich D.

Model Number: VN 925
Top Material: Spruce
Bow Material: Brazil Wood
Fingerboard Material: Ebony
Face Material: Spruce
Tailpiece Material: Zizyphus Jujuba
Back / Side Material: Maple

Size: 4/4
Model Number: VN 930
Top Material: Maple
Bow Material: Brazil Wood
Fingerboard Material: Ebony
Face Material: Spruce
Tailpiece Material: Zizyphus Jujuba
Back / Side Material: Maple

Replies (14)

May 18, 2020, 12:20 PM · Whichever website you got this information from has an error. The tops are all spruce. A quick google search revealed the website to be one of those mega retailers. You'd do better, if you want a Ming Jiang Zhou instrument, to try one of the more reputable violin-centric dealers who sell them, like Fiddlershop or Violinpros.
May 18, 2020, 12:20 PM · Also, if you're looking at the same website(s) as my google search indicated, then you are paying too much for an outfit with a brazil wood bow.
Edited: May 18, 2020, 5:00 PM · Hi Richard,

A spruce top and maple sides and back are the standards for most violins.

However not all spruce and maple are the same. there are factors like how long the wood was dried usually at least 10 years as well as the overall quality of the wood.

While materials are very important it's hard to judge a violin by only them. Quality and Craftsmanship are key and could make the difference between a violin that has a fast response and is efficient as well as a pleasant tone which is very important for shaping skills.

Lastly, I'm not sure how old your child is, however, many wooden bows if not done right could be heavy and off-balanced making them hard to manage.

The Ming Jiang Zhu violins are a pretty common violin and haven't heard anything negative about them so you shouldn't worry about sloppy workmanship etc. However, 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 an international 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 a new bridge etc. Not to mention the individually record each exact instrument so you can hear it first. I own one myself and highly recommend!

Hope that helps!

(Edit) David Burgrass,

As said on the site this is listed as well as more information as of what type of wood like Bonsinion maple or Alps as well as the varnish. This also shows in the varnish itself as you can't fake oil varnish. Anyone could lie about materials even luthiers. Their shop is based in California where all the instruments are set up. They even have many professional-grade VSA competition instruments. their site seems very trustworthy as like I said it reflects in their instruments.

May 18, 2020, 3:00 PM · Ben wrote:
"They use great materials such as 15-year aged tonewood as well as imported varnishing material."

Ben, how do you know that?
By the way, Ming Jiang Zhu is deceased.

May 18, 2020, 3:20 PM · If your son is playing at a "high level" after 4-5 years, then he must have an excellent teacher. That is the person you should be asking what kind of instrument to get next, or even if one is needed at all. If you do this without the involvement of your child's teacher, you are committing at least two very serious errors. First of all you are not tapping the primary source of knowledge about your son's playing, and second, you risk gravely offending that individual.

MJZ violins have a deservedly strong reputation of being good for what you pay. Those are workshop violins. They were not made individually by hand by someone, but that's fine for a young student. I own an MJZ "AA" series viola, and I like it. It's worth the $3500 that I paid. Jujuba fittings (tail piece, pegs, and end button) are trademarks of MJZ's look-and-feel. The pegs were crap -- after 1 month I replaced them with Wittner Finetune pegs. The tailpiece seems fine. The jujube fittings are also trimmed with the cheapest plastic faux ivory imaginable. Probably they are all mass-produced somewhere with even cheaper labor than China (for example, India). The end button has a little ball of plastic faux ivory on it (about 2 mm in diameter), that made it very annoying to rest my viola on my knee during orchestra rehearsals, so I just filed it off.

May 18, 2020, 3:47 PM · Please please please have this discussion with your son's teacher. Paul is correct.

It is so upsetting to have a student show up with a piece of crap instrument that their parents bought without even thinking to consult me. Or a decent instrument that the parents paid 3X too much for.

May 18, 2020, 4:18 PM · Please don't just buy a random violin. At the price range of these violins, your child should be going to different shops, trying different instruments, and then bringing them to his teacher for evaluation. Of course, during a pandemic, this process is a bit different, but most shops will still ship you a variety of instruments to try, or do curbside pickup. There are tons of new and old instruments in this price range, and your child and his teacher should be able to evaluate one that suits your child's strengths and desires.

I assume since you are looking at full size instruments, your child is at least 11 or 12. That is plenty old enough to have preferences about an instrument and the ability to distinguish between them, especially since you say he is "high level." Please let your son and teacher try a wide range of instruments instead of just ordering a stock instrument off the internet.

May 19, 2020, 7:24 AM · Piling on, but there is no way for a parent or young student can navigate the violin market on their own. Even with the help of a teacher, we found it helpful
To set up “blind” strategies to avoid assumptions about price, age, etc. (on everyone’s part, the human mind is not to be trusted).
Violins, from what I have gathered, especially old ones, are not primarily priced on their sound quality. You also need to try violins in a variety of performance spaces, as some can sound lovely under your students ear, but disappear in a hall. There are a number of national companies who will ship new and old violins, Shar, String House, Potter. Search the threads here, lots of valuable info. Many offer gauranteed trade ins on the next leveling up. Since selling a violin yourself is usually at a big loss, it’s not a bad strategy, though it can lock you into a relationship with one dealer.
My daughter played 30 some violins the last time, and While pretty happy with the current violin, wonder if we should not have taken more time.
Having a really good violin makes a difference to a talented kid, randomly buying something without help or guidance is a bad idea.
Edited: May 19, 2020, 8:17 AM · Learning about violins is a LONG learning curve. Advice on a particular model from a column online is not enough to buy; one needs guidance from at least one knowledgeable person (teacher and/or luthier), contacts with reliable dealers, many in-person trials, plus much curiosity and interest to gain the info needed to make a wise decision. Happy you asked. Good luck on your journey!
May 19, 2020, 11:21 AM · In your price point there are a lot of great option, the Ming Jiang Zhu’s are certainly wonderful violins, but I agree with Dmitri that you should get one from a reputable dealer that does proper setups and offers a return and trial policy. Shar and Fiddlershop both do this, but Shar’s prices on their Mings are artificially inflated by a good amount.

Getting your sons teachers input should be very valuable but that also depends on the teacher; some are better than others about giving useful advice on violin upgrades, and I know of at least one teacher that won’t give purchasing advice at all other than very general ideas about what to look for.

Trying a number of violins in a local shop with a good reputation is the best option if it’s at all possible for you. Good luck to you and your son!

Edited: May 19, 2020, 11:24 AM · Thank you all for your responses. I have much to learn and a lot of catching up to do.

The condensed version of this advice is that I need to educate myself, trust and rely on his teacher and the input he can provide. Involving him in every step of the process.

I appreciate all of the advice, I think? As I stated in my original post, I am a true music illiterate. I can barely tell when my son's sheet music is right side up or upside down. True story.

Every step of my son's progress has been a challenge. Some of the biggest challenges are access and exposure for my son. We live in a small town (Norwich, NY) several miles from any substantial population center. We had little choice in teachers. The one he had was a bad match from the start. He may have quit altogether except for the encouragement from the school's music program. Our school system is the only district in about a 50 mile radius that has a string program.

We now drive 2 hours, twice a week, for my son's piano and violin lesson's.

This distance has created a problem in my son's confidence. He is not sure where he stands musically among his peers beyond the confines of our small rural area. I said he was at a "high level" in my post which some of you also put in quotes. Maybe I don't really know and, more sadly, he has no clue.

So my next question is....How do we find out how he stacks up against the many other kids who are considering a possible career in music?

Once again, Thank you!


Edited: May 19, 2020, 1:28 PM · According to my phone I’m 169 miles west of you in rural NY.
First, there are two great violin shops in Rochester, The String House and
Sullivan’s both run by nice people. Well worth the 2 hour drive. A broad range of instruments, supported by the presence of Eastman. Both have contemporary and antique. You are in proximity to Ithaca, which compared to us has many opportunities and many good teachers. My daughter’s primary teacher teaches there, we meet in Corning. He is excellent. I don’t know how to have a private exchange here...... There are a couple more in Ithaca that commute to teach in the city. There is an advanced “Heifetz” course that is part of the Ithaca Suzuki Institute (post-Suzuki, concerto and solo Bach). Ithaca has a long history of Suzuki and so many teachers (not just Suzuki)
Will be on line this year but generally at Ithaca College. There are 2 concerto competitions this fall, one in Ithaca and a statewide one in Syracuse.
If you google Sequence of Violin Reprtoire there are lists of Mimi Zwieg and
Dorothy Delay, University of Wisconsin, I think. I might get push back for this,
but as a very rough signpost, I have felt my daughter would at minimum need to be playing the Bruch well by 12. And that is just to make a reasonable chance she could attend a quality performance program when she reached college age. Susan, who posted above has posted previously the expectations of repertoire her son is being told. Glad to give you a couple names, If we can do it privately.
Really String House and Sullivan’s are both great.
May 19, 2020, 3:09 PM · And just as an addendum, if I lived where you do and had a talented motivated kid I would likely be spending Saturdays driving to Manhattan and back. We’ve thought about it and it’s 5 plus hours for us. (Cleveland is closer!) Eastman does not seem to have a dedicated pre-college program for violin, maybe I’m missing something. Obviously there are some great teachers there.
May 19, 2020, 5:14 PM · If you want to know approximately what level your child is at, let us know your child's age or grade and current repertoire. You can also link a video, because kids definitely play pieces at different levels -- some may be playing hard pieces badly or easy pieces spectacularly.

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