Inexpensive Baroque Violins

June 12, 2020, 4:31 PM · There are plenty of cheap musical instrument shaped objects out there. This being said, there are functional student level violins that cost less than 1,500 usd. Baroque violins do not seem to be found for this price. There are the slightly more expensive lu mi, ifshin, and Charlie ogle instruments. Higher than these the prices jump to 8k and up.

I am writing to ask about less expensive violins that are advertised as baroque. Some of these are obviously not baroque at all, they simply have a shorter fingerboard, but come with a modern tailpiece and chinrest. They also all come with modern strings.

There are more expensive ones, that now cost approximately 900 usd, that look a bit more the part. They have more proper looking baroque tailpieces. However they appear to have a modern neck angle. Does anyone have one of these instruments? How do they sound and play? Do they have a baroque saddle? How about the radius of the fingerboard?

Replies (35)

June 12, 2020, 6:37 PM · I surmise that the manufacturers of baroque violins are betting that their customers will all be individuals with "disposable income."
June 12, 2020, 7:18 PM · Baroque violins are made by smaller workshops, I imagine. And not necessarily by poor people in China like the vast majority of modern student violins. So, the maker may expect some liveable pay for their work.
June 12, 2020, 7:29 PM · Baroque instruments aren’t quite as plentiful because demand is not as great. There are some inexpensive ones that surface from time to time. At the shop we’ve repaired a few “transitional” instruments that we sold to early music departments at a couple universities.

You really might have to set aside a little more for one. You might contact Sarah Peck in Philadelphia. She specializes in period instruments and does a lot of retrofitting.

I think it has been pretty well demonstrated that the idea of baroque neck angle being lower is a myth. The fingerboard was made in a wedge shape, but the neck was often set at the same angle that we use today, based on the angles of some intact necks and the angles found on templates. There are several more important construction characteristics to pay attention to in baroque construction, such as bass bar length and shape, arching shape, method of attaching the neck, and the materials and design of the fingerboard.

June 12, 2020, 8:43 PM · Lyndon Taylor has some antique instruments with original necks in a very reasonable price range from time to time. These $900 instruments you're talking about seem to be from du-shi at ebay? They do look like a "mixed" style indeed, but for that price, I don't think you're can get anything better. For new instruments, I think the one that comes closer to your price range is Ogle. It might be worth contacting William at Olde World Violins, as he has some of these new workshop instruments, in a discounted pre-owned condition sometimes. That said, I must say I am pretty impressed with how my Jay Haide sounds in the concert hall, so it might be worth the higher investment.
June 12, 2020, 9:31 PM · Thank you for your replies. It is true that makers may assume that buyers have disposable income. However, most highly paid professional violinists need a modern violin. A baroque instrument is secondary. Thus modern high end baroque instruments tend to cost less than modern violins. Amateurs generally are not willing to spend all that much. Maybe that is why the instruments cap out around a few thousand dollars.

Cotton commented that the instruments may be made by small workshops, however du shi is not that small.

I am aware of Sarah, and some other luthiers. I have also seen Lyndon’s posts here.

I am still curious about these instruments. Do they have a baroque bass bar, etc.

I assume that they are some kind of hybrid. Mortised neck, etc. However, if they are carefully graduated, then it may be possible to perform some more limited work such as changing the bass bar.

There is such great baroque music for the violin, it seems a shame that the instrument is not more accessible.

Again, if anyone has played one, or can point me to recordings of the instruments I would be most appreciative.

June 13, 2020, 12:40 AM · When one customer brought his $3500?? Jay Haide, the baroque antique violins I had for $1700 sounded much better, and he ended up buying one. I've never heard the really cheap Chinese ones, but I wouldn't expect much as they're not even proper baroque violin specs.
June 13, 2020, 7:10 AM · It is important to dispel myths, even if we just confirm them as fact. Thus, I was hoping for first hand accounts of the 900, or other inexpensive baroque violins. They do seem to sell, thus they are out there somewhere.

I also wanted to comment about neck angle. My understanding, from .Pollens 2009 is that the Medici tenor has a neck angle of 86 degrees. Although this is not 90 degrees it is also not 83 degrees. Is there evidence to suggest that the neck angles of baroque instruments are identical to the angles of modern ones?

I have played a Jay Haide baroque violin, as well as some more expensive ones. I have not played a lu mi, or ones sold by Charlie Ogle.

June 13, 2020, 7:40 AM · baroque dimensions were all over the place, but were not modern, which is what most of the cheap Chinese "baroque" instruments are. The Jay Haide is in the realm of historic dimensions, though.
June 13, 2020, 10:18 AM · If you are interested in a period violin by a well known maker of these instruments you can look at http://www.timothyjohnsonluthier.com/

They are played on by a number of period instrument players in the NYC, Boston area and elsewhere. They are reasonably priced at about $12,000.

June 13, 2020, 11:47 AM · Jay Haide is probably your best entry model.

In order of importance for one's learning experience:
1) appropriate bow for different periods
2) gut strings
3) thicker neck for exploring low holding positions
4) tailpiece and bridge
5) fingerboard
6) bass bar (myth there's a "baroque" bass bar; measurements all over the place as stated above)

With $900 which is not much, I would put that towards a really good bow that I can learn from, and next is to get gut strings. Then you're already 70% there. The rest are nuance, aesthetics, and pursuit of an (impossible) authenticity.

June 13, 2020, 11:52 AM · As I said I have 200 yr old baroque set up violins that sound much better than Jay Haide for half the price, how is Jay Haide the better option??
June 13, 2020, 11:59 AM · @bruce, yes it is possible to obtain instruments from established luthiers such as Warren Ellison and Douglas Cox. They are not inexpensive, as they are professional instruments. They do not make the baroque violin more accessible to students.

@dorian, I agree with many of your points. However, I still want to learn about the inexpensive model. 2500 usd or more for a student violin is not inexpensive. I cannot know if the haide is the right one without knowing about the others.

June 13, 2020, 5:03 PM · Hi Michael,

I had the same buying strategic thoughts you are thinking now, so I think I understand. This is what I would tell my past self:

If you have $2,500 to spend on equipment, I would spend those on a long baroque bow (model is up to you, do your research), let say good for ballpark 1700s Bach and Handel all the way to Hadyn, and a short bow you might use for perhaps for Monteverdi to Lully. Those are your best teachers in learning articulations, bowing choices, color, different bow holds, etc. Throw in some gut strings on a spare violin if you have one.

There are so many professional early musicians whose instruments are essentially modern, just senza chin rest and an inch or two of the fingerboard chopped off for aesthetics. Many reasons for why people do that, won't go into that here.

I advice you save up to buy something worthwhile, because a $900 violin, modern or Baroque, ain't gonna be good.

Oh yeah there are those really strange eBay Baroque violins, some with fantastical shapes. I think they would be fun for hanging on a wall as decoration. But seriously, don't fall for them.

June 13, 2020, 5:09 PM · Hi Lyndon,

My first period instrument is a late-18th/early 19th-century violin that I was lucky enough to get for literally a quarter of the price of a Jay Haide, after which I threw in some modifications. So, can you can a functioning period instrument cheaper than a Jay Haide, yes of course.

I'm only making a blanket recommendation for Jay Haide Baroque instruments because I've heard/played multiple of those and can say they get the job done for entry-level.

I don't have the pleasure yet of trying your instruments unfortunately.

Edited: June 13, 2020, 5:15 PM · A smaller number of Baroque spec violins continued to be made till about 1850, these early 1800s violins are not especially valuable but can be very effective historical baroque instruments, every bit if not more historical than modern baroque models. These instruments have shorter baroque necks where the neck continues into the body instead of having a top block like a modern violin, the neck is set at a lower angle requiring a wedged baroque style fingerboard to get the proper bridge height, a lot of them still have the original baroque saddle which is flush with the top instead of extending higher like the modern violin. Finishing with a quality baroque bridge and quality gut strings can give a much more rewarding baroque sound than more expensive modern baroque instruments. If you look at my website I show pictures of a couple of these instruments.
Edited: June 13, 2020, 6:21 PM · I do want to thank everyone for their responses. However, I want to make clear that the purpose in starting this thread was to gather factual information on inexpensive baroque violins, in particular the types that show up on eBay. Peoples experience playing them, etc.

A primary school will not buy a dozen instruments from Doug cox for their string program. Even universities would probably not purchase such a set.

The issue of investing in bows and strings is still separate. Violins need to be purchased. The question remains: are any or all of these inexpensive baroque violins actually violin shaped objects?

I also do not mean to be ignoring Lyndon. I do not doubt that his instruments are suitable. I am just trying to find out about other instruments that at this point are mysterious.


Edited: June 15, 2020, 6:29 PM · A violin in baroque setup is not required for first steps in the exploration of baroque music in the baroque idiom. Dorian is right about the bow being primary (although high holds on modern bows get favorable mention occasionally for first explorations). I would add that because not all violins respond equally to gut strings, the next change to make will depend on the instruments available.

About the baroque neck angle: the actual *neck* of baroque era violins is always at a flatter angle than the modern setup. There is no controversy about this.

The top fingerboard surface is another matter. There is disagreement about this issue. Many makers argue that with the wedge fingerboard the top surface ends up at a height and angle similar to modern violins, so that the string angle over the bridge (an important factor) is similar. There are two other schools of thought on this though. One has to do with the setup requirements for the [surprisingly high] string tensions revealed by evidence of historical stringing. The other has to do with the assumptions of the first generation of modern thinking about baroque violins, which is still quite dominant in the US, and involves low string tensions. Oddly both of these latter schools of thought end up with lowish bridges and flatter string angles than modern.

Michael you are trying to find out whether the $900 instruments are a solution to your requirements. If they are, they are bucking a trend. The trend is that you will get more violin for your money going modern in that $1,000 and less price range, especially if you shop in person.

June 14, 2020, 6:25 PM · Thank you for the reply.

Shopping for an instrument in person is all but essential. When buying a car you test drive it. It is important to do the same with an instrument. This is all the more so, as some instrument shaped objects are not functional. It is important to compare instruments side by side. If you do not go to the store, then several instruments need to be shipped to you.

I agree that a baroque bow is important.

In terms of what a student should begin with is a matter of debate. A student of renaissance keyboard music could start on a piano, or they could have a mother and child virginal. The virginal is not essential, but is clearly superior to the piano.

I am still just trying to obtain information on the inexpensive baroque violins. Despite this being the internet age, some information is still not that easy to obtain.

Even information on lu mi baroque violins is scarce.

June 14, 2020, 7:05 PM · Were I in your shoes and this was worth the time and effort, I would start tracking down pro baroque players and university teachers to ask. You will find that early music people are a kindly lot on the whole.
June 15, 2020, 3:44 AM · I think you may be misinterpreting the situation. I have a baroque violin. I am interested in information on inexpensive baroque violins.

Professional players may not have played these instruments.

The quality of instruments coming out of China can be good. It can also be dreadful. I am wondering if these inexpensive instruments are good violins.

June 15, 2020, 10:24 AM · Professional players often teach on the side and thereby will have experience with the instruments of student players. I am aware that you tried to constrain this thread to a specific question, and that has turned out to be a case of trying to herd cats. I empathize, although in my experience that often happens, even when the full context of a question is given.

But as far as your "situation" is concerned, if you review your posts (which I have done several times) you may find that what "the situation" is is anyone's guess. :-)

June 15, 2020, 11:35 AM · Hi Michael,

Perhaps you're the perfect person to buy one and report back to us. I am certainly and genuinely curious. It was unclear from your original post that you already have a Baroque violin, and if I had known I wouldn't have use the time to write the whole spiel.

None of us so far have experience with those Chinese $900 Baroque violins and the photos look decent. They might be a good as an emergency back-up or for those gig days and you're playing at different pitch levels.

June 15, 2020, 11:45 AM · I assume he was thinking with his students in mind??
June 15, 2020, 12:01 PM · I do appreciate the advice and it is good for beginners.

The $900 instruments are odd. Some special attention has been given to them. They gave somewhat appropriate tailpieces, as opposed to modern ones. Some of them have Stradivarius style bridges, as opposed to the Guarnerius ones that are now standard. The neck angle, fingerboard radius, and bass bar are a mystery, although maybe close inspection of the images may indicate the radius. The saddles are not baroque and they do not come with gut strings.

I could buy one. However, sight unseen it is a huge risk. It would also be an experiment with a sample size of one. If it is a good instrument it could be a fluke, same thing if it is bad.

Also how about people with Lu Mi and Charlie Ogle sold violins? Any experiences?

I will wait a bit and see if someone responds.

June 16, 2020, 1:23 AM · As to the question of neck angle, the Pollens article states that the baroque setup typically came within a degree or two of the modern setup. The neck was nailed to the ribs without the top and back, so measuring projection wasn’t part of the process until much later, as setup was being done. Because of this, the fingerboard wedge would be designed to adjust the projection to the right height. So the angle of the neck to the body might not have been identical, but the overall projection would be. Modern fingerboards don’t have the wedge underneath, and we now adjust projection by altering the neck mortise.

Pollens addresses this in “Some Misconceptions About the Baroque Violin” and Roger Hargrave does so in his article, “Period of Adjustment.”

June 16, 2020, 3:19 PM · Ben Ruth wrote a fun article for The Strad years ago on a speculative reconstruction of Brescian making methods in which he demonstrated a very simple method for controlling the future projection of the neck + fingerboard during a baroque neck set.

If, however, one's goal is to reconstruct a plausible procedure based on extant relics, one will prefer not to require a tool of which there is no record. Roger Hargrave did a tremendous job of this for Cremonese making in the article he wrote for the Biddulph Del Gesu set. Yes, he is an important voice in the "same as modern" camp re: baroque setup, and Pollens must be contended with as well despite his frozen argumentation about The Messiah.

In Roger's articles on baroque making for The Strad however, his understandable eagerness to knock some myths on the head led him to be a tad unclear about neck angles in a way that has flowed downstream. But I will spare the general reader a repetition of my quibbles on what is really a very clear cut issue.

We have yet to see a "unified field theory" for baroque setup. The three camps I mentioned earlier retain their conflicting rationales: the low-tension school has prevalence (in the US, anyway) and momentum; the "same as modern" has famous names and fairly persuasive arguments; and the "historical stringing" school has facts with clear implications, but hasn't reached critical mass.

Edited: June 19, 2020, 12:32 PM · Michael, I have just seen this post and it looks like you haven't gotten the information you were looking for.

I play in a baroque group—or did until coronavirus—and set about to buy a baroque viola about a year and a half ago. My first contacts were the local shops, neither of which had or could get anything. (Violins and cellos, yes.) Lazar's Early Music, who listed Charlie Ogle's instruments on their website, was no longer carrying them. Inquiries to Ogle's website were not answered, although I heard from the gentlemen at Boulder Early Music Shop later—they are the current source for the Ogle instruments. Internet searches got me nowhere.

Long story short, I ended up purchasing a Chinese baroque viola from Yitamusic, with one of their snakewood baroque bows, for about $600 including shipping. I took it straight to my local luthier when it arrived. The pegs fit well. He replaced the soundpost, changed out the miserable strings it came with, and attempted to fit the bridge. The bridge had some problems, so he ordered a beautiful baroque-style bridge and installed it.

Several people who have looked at it, all of whom know much more about baroque instruments than me, have spoken well of it, including the arching, neck set, etc., as well as the sound. The bow I got with it is not my favorite of the three I own. Baroque Hub, out of Portland, carries nice baroque bows that are a big step up from the $100 (or less) ones without the price tag of custom bows. They also have instruments, but not in the price range you are looking at.

I hope this helps. Mine was not ready to go straight out of the shipping box, but with some extra work, and of course money, I ended up with a decent baroque viola for substantially less money than I was willing to spend.

June 19, 2020, 6:54 PM · Thank you very much for the reply. It is always good to hear people with first hand experience. Do you happen to know if the fingerboard radius is the same as a modern violin, or if the neck has a modern angle?

The T20s are a bargain. And as you point out, they make violas as well, which are even harder to come by than baroque violins.

June 20, 2020, 11:03 AM · Comparing it to my modern viola, I would say the fingerboard curvature is slightly flatter. The tailpiece, of course, is quite flat. The neck angle looks to be somewhat of a compromise: it meets the instrument at a bit of an angle, but not as steeply as on my modern viola. The arching on the baroque viola's belly is quite high, which complicates comparing the two. The fingerboard is shimmed, but not as steeply as I have seen on other baroque instruments. The baroque fingerboard runs much closer to parallel to the top, and the bridge is lower. Again, the high arching factors in.

The other violist in my group has a Charlie Ogle instrument that she has owned for a few years. The consensus is that our instruments sound good together. I usually play the tenor line and the 16" Yita has a lovely lower register.

June 20, 2020, 12:25 PM · Thank you so much for the additional information. It sounds like an instrument worth trying.
June 22, 2020, 12:26 PM · I love the baroque style violin I bought new from the Boulder Early Music shop a year ago, made by the Charlie Ogle workshop in China. But I am not an expert judge (or player) of violins.
June 25, 2020, 6:09 AM · Michael, at that price range I'd be inclined to find a suitable modern set-up instrument which will string well with gut strings, and get a good bow. You can convert the fiddle later (which is what I did) or look for one already set up as baroque when you have more money. No point getting an authentic instrument which is a bad violin... (I've done that too, nice wall hanging).
June 25, 2020, 9:26 AM · There comes a point where if you're not willing to pay for a decent instrument, maybe you're just better off finding another hobby??
June 25, 2020, 10:32 AM · I appreciate the feedback Bram, but I am not sure that I agree. It does sound like a good idea, to get a good instrument and then to have work done on it. However, an instrument that is good in a modern setup may not be as good in baroque set up. String tension is different and that effects his the plates respond.

I also hear you Lyndon. I am just trying to get info on these entry level instruments to see if they are suitable. Some people think they are functional, and have positive things to say about them.

June 25, 2020, 12:00 PM · It might help if Michael clarifies his purpose for getting $900 Baroque violins from a Chinese workshop via eBay.

If it's for a cash-strapped school music program trying to introduce students where something is better than nothing, it may be an excellent idea. Or maybe he is looking for a second instrument and he already had a fabulous period instrument, which may also work.

But I think we can all agree at $900, no one can work miracles.


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