I don't think $100 violins are as terrible as people say.

Edited: February 19, 2021, 10:44 AM · If you check online, you'll see lots of people who say that $100 violins sound like crap. I have a $100 violin myself, and from my experience, that isn't true.

My violin doesn't sound like a Strad obviously, but it sounds OK when I play it, and I'm only an amateur. This means it would sound even better in the hands of someone highly skilled. It definitely doesn't sound like crap.

Here's a recording: https://voca.ro/1d8QkL3abEZe

Here's a recording involving all the strings: https://voca.ro/1bvclR2soIlG

Replies (57)

February 19, 2021, 9:28 AM · Its nice. Can you add a recording of the G and D strings? If you can, work your way up each string at least one octave.
February 19, 2021, 9:40 AM · Whenever I’m dissatisfied with the sound of my <€400 violin I just ask my teacher to play something with it, and It fixes the problem really fast, as he makes it sound quite nice...
February 19, 2021, 6:30 PM · I quite agree. I have had a $200 violin (Australian money) which was much better than my $1200 violin. It is all the luck of the draw !
February 19, 2021, 7:05 PM · Enjoy it and play it a ton!!!
February 19, 2021, 7:20 PM · You don't have to work on them!
February 19, 2021, 7:40 PM · As a dyed in the wool frugal person I love inexpensive violins. I don't like the word cheap because to me it implies carelessness in manufacture.
February 19, 2021, 7:48 PM · There is no such thing as a new $100 violin that was not careless in manufacture,
February 19, 2021, 9:33 PM · Sound quality can be subjective and the player is responsible for at least 90% of the matter. Often it takes a trained ear to discern a master instrument from a mediocre one. If you’re satisfied with a $100 fiddle that’s great. But I think that type of instrument can take a musician only so far.
February 19, 2021, 9:52 PM · Is it a $100 violin because that is what it is worth, or because that is what you paid for it (i.e. it would go for a higher price but you got a crazy deal and only paid $100)?

February 19, 2021, 9:58 PM · But the setup of the bridge, pegs and fingerboard is not subjective and is abysmally bad on $100 violins
February 19, 2021, 10:10 PM · If you're enjoying your violin, that's all that matters. As your playing progresses, you might find that your "ears are opened" a little more and your ability to produce sound creates increasing demands on your instrument, and you may wish to upgrade. But you also might decide that the violin is not for you, and then you haven't overspent.

My one concern about a violin when the price of a new instrument is as low as $100 is the nonzero likelihood that it was made, at least partly, by slaves.

February 19, 2021, 10:26 PM · Lyndon I agree completely. A decent set of strings runs $100 these days. A proper setup as your describing would be substantially more given the amount of time and materials.
February 20, 2021, 12:37 AM · People don't like $100 violins because they are typically made of inappropriate materials that (for instance, the fingerboard is not ebony but rather wood painted black), poor construction (commonly pegs that don't fit and won't stay), and poor setup. It's not uncommon for a $100 violin to be entirely unplayable. By the time you fix it up enough for it to work at all, you could simply have bought something that is, at least, functional (generally about $300 or so).
February 20, 2021, 6:17 AM · John Alexander wrote: "A decent set of strings runs $100 these days."

Because we choose to pay it. Like many here I stuck by this too and used Evah Golds (gold G) costing a small fortune. However, after a return to gut for a while I looked for a lower tension synthetic sufficient for long term lockdown. I am really pleased with the one I found, Warchal Ametyst (yes, Ametyst, not Amethyst, bit confusing) - and they only cost $35 a set. For full disclosure, however, I really like the Evah platinum E ($16; I have not actually tried the one in the Ametyst yet). These strings are not as loud but I find these low tension strings to be more responsive to nuances. Perhaps you will give them a try.

Edited: February 20, 2021, 6:34 AM · Elise : would you consider the Warchal Ametyst strings better than Pirastro Tonicas ? They are not much cheaper than Tonicas in Australia but I am curious to try something new.

Where did they get the name 'Ametyst' from ?

February 20, 2021, 7:33 AM · Hi Brian: sorry, I have not tried the Tonicas yet. Are they a high- or low-tension string?

[Can you order from outside Australia without excess duties?]

February 20, 2021, 7:39 AM · tonica are the best value for the buck I know of and available for about $35 a set, just as good as Dominant that sell for $50+
February 20, 2021, 8:44 AM · If the instrument works well for you, that is wonderful. It may be all you need.

I have seen some terrible $100 violins. Like bricks, tuning pegs barely work, not set up properly. With such ‘instruments’ I am concerned that they are unplayable. I would not expect them to make a beautiful sound.

Strings have been mentioned. There are costs involved in playing the violin; strings, bow rehairing. There is a minimum cost for these. Many people opt for more expensive instruments so the money they invest in the strings and hair goes ‘further’ on a better instrument.

A violin can last longer than a lifetime. It is worth the investment.

February 20, 2021, 9:26 AM · A $100 violin is a violin that took less than 10 hrs to build, a proper violin takes 200 hrs to build, that should tell you something about the quality or lack thereof of $100 violins
February 20, 2021, 9:57 AM · Thanks for the four-string recording Kennedy. I'm going to guess that you did this using your cell (which is fine). I hope you can hear that there are good, and not so good qualities to the sound. The good news is that the tone is clear and the violin sounds responsive - there is no obvious hesitation to the start of the sound. That is critical for playing anything other than moderato pieces. Also, it sounds fairly even - the sound is consistent between strings.

On the not so good side (and of course this is to some extent technique dependent) the sound is 'pinched'. Its a bit as if you held your nose and sang! This is a common problem with the cheaper violins - but also often encountered in very expensive and/or 'good providence' (famous maker) instruments. One thing that will greatly improve the sound is a bit of vibrato - but once you have reached that stage you will inevitably try playing on somebody else's instrument and you will wonder why its so hard to make yours really sing.

However, (within the limits of your segment), as a starting instrument it really doesn't sound that bad.

February 20, 2021, 9:58 AM · Lyndon - have you tried the Ametyst? I'm intrigued as to how they compare with the Tonicas too.
February 20, 2021, 10:06 AM · Ive tried the much more expensive Amber and found them not any better than Tonica, if not worse.
February 20, 2021, 10:15 AM · The advantage to Tonicas is, much like Dominants, they are a neutral string that sound decent on virtually all instruments. And they are way less expensive than Dominants. (Though it's worth mentioning that Visions are very good on many student violins, and they too are inexpensive and long-lasting.)
Edited: February 20, 2021, 10:52 AM · Brian, I believe the strings are spelled the way the word is pronounced in German.
February 20, 2021, 11:45 AM · It all depends on to whom you paid the $100 and when you paid it.
Ninety years ago my father paid $125 to his violin teacher for a Stefano Scarampella violin and two bows, one F.N. Vorin and one R. Weichold.
February 20, 2021, 12:04 PM · Do you still have them Andrew? And of course I have to ask, have they been revalued?
February 20, 2021, 1:14 PM · I had the bows revalued 41 years ago.
I sold the violin in 1959.
February 20, 2021, 1:26 PM · I merely meant that it isn't careless to make them so that they can be readily affordable.
February 20, 2021, 1:27 PM · To start, a proper set-up costs more than $100; bridge, sound-post, pegs, etc. Sometimes a surprisingly good instrument will come off of the assembly line by dumb luck. I have a $400 Viola that after about $200 of work I played professionally, and it fooled a lot of my colleagues.
February 20, 2021, 2:15 PM · Years ago I went through 20+ Chinese carbon fiber $100 bows and found one that, as Joel said, was actually quite good. I showed it to my then teacher who was a career violinist with the Toronto Symphony. He was so impressed he asked me to get him one. I went through the pile again and found a second one, about the same. My teacher was so happy with it that that night he left his Peccatte home and used it at a symphony performance! However, I don't know if he ever repeated the stunt.
February 20, 2021, 3:08 PM · Just weighing on the Warchal Ametyst strings. I used them on a Chinese made violin, and very much enjoyed them. Not as stable as I would have liked, but a nice sound nonetheless. However, if you want a good all-round sound, I would go for the Tonicas. Of course, every violin behaves differently with different strings, trial and error is often good.

@Elise Stanley, that is astonishing. I wonder if your teacher at the time really did repeat the stunt, and if anyone would have noticed!

February 20, 2021, 4:11 PM · https://soundcloud.com/user-369394757/opus-21-kate-helene
February 20, 2021, 4:51 PM · @Rebecca Brown, I actually got my violin second-hand from someone who was going to get a better one. He sold it at about $100, so it's likely he bought it at a higher price. Perhaps it originally cost $150.
Edited: February 20, 2021, 6:21 PM · I have been using Tonicas for a long time now but in Australia the price has crept up to $56 (plus postage). This is still reasonable but there now seem to be many forgeries on the market and I have been caught out so I am looking for something else to try.

The Warchal Ametyst and Karneol strings are both the same price. Has anybody compared the sound of the two : which are the warmer sounding strings ?

Tonicas are very stable in the tropical enviroment and they last a long time so it will be difficult to find a substitute.

February 21, 2021, 11:30 AM · I've not tried the Karneol strings, but my antique violin really likes the Warchal Ambers. They enhance the warm resonance that already existed and really opened up the sound. My former Vision Solos sounded fine on it - or at least I thought so until I tried a set of Ambers (at half the price) and was really surprised at how much better they sound. My Luthier (who refurbished the violin) was also surprised - it was his first experience with Ambers.
February 21, 2021, 8:56 PM · I have not tried the Warchal Amethyst yet, but have tried the Karneol and Amber. The Karneol is certainly competitive with the other nylon core brands like Corelli crystal and D'Addario Pro-arte, and less expensive than Dominant. Amber is great , and the E-string is --unique.
Edited: February 22, 2021, 8:15 AM · Actually Guarnieri del Gesu was under a lot of pressure to produce many violins since Stradivari was so successful. Some Guarnieris are asymmetrical, the f-holes were sometimes asymmetrical too. It looks like he had to produce violins in a great haste to be able to sell them cheap. Today his violins are considered by many to be the only ones matching Strads or are even preferred by some violinists.
February 22, 2021, 9:52 AM · Joel - your comment on the Amber E string made me laugh. My Luthier had no idea what the Amber strings are - especially that E - when he offered to change my strings on my new (to me) violin. His eyebrows climbed quite a bit when he took that string out of the envelope :-)
February 22, 2021, 4:10 PM · Joel - Ametyst ;) Don't ask me why. Maybe so we post twice as much about it!
February 23, 2021, 11:32 AM · In German "th" is "t" so amethyst is pronounced ametyst.
February 23, 2021, 1:31 PM · Ah! Thanks Ann. That explains it, well sort of. Since (I just looked it up) Amethyst is spelled 'Amethyst' in German too. LOL!
Edited: February 24, 2021, 1:20 PM · In fact, Warchal is based in Slovakia, hence Ametyst is the slovakian spelling - at least as far as Google Translator is concerned ;-)
Greetings from Northern Germany, Anne

Edited following Elise's friendly gibt-my german spell corrector has intervened.

February 23, 2021, 2:21 PM · And some so-called Swiss cheese is properly called Emmenthaler, pronounced Emmentaller. Aren't languages fun!
Edited: February 23, 2021, 2:50 PM · Everyone pronounces Beethoven in that funny way without thinking about it, but just memorize it as one of those quirks. In fact, that pronunciation is completely normal according to German rules. On the other side of the coin, consider how in German, Volkswagen is pronounced "folks-vagen" - literally, the people's car.

I got my $100 violin from a friend in exchange for a stove. Nothing much, but playable. While jamming late one night at a bluegrass festival, one of the other players (who happened to be a luthier) noticed that my sound post was in the wrong place. Next day I went to his table and he fixed me up. I had to hold the violin firmly on the table while he stuck a chisel through an F-hole and whacked at it with a hammer - the sound post was glued in place! He made up a new sound post, positioned it where he figured it belonged, and my VSO sounded like a brand-new instrument. Best $40 I ever spent. It really liked the set of Tonicas I then put on, and is now a usable spare instrument.

I once tried a $100 mandolin. It was dreadful.

February 23, 2021, 4:47 PM · Charlie, I once lived in a town in northern Wisconsin where just about everyone pronounced Volkswagen "correctly." The town was about half of German descent, half of Polish descent. Lots of great food there.
Edited: February 24, 2021, 3:15 AM · Thal is an older spelling of Tal (dale - valley), kept in traditional things like place names.
Beet-hoven. All languages are hard until you know how compound words are formed of other words and how to separate syllables.
I don't know a word of Russian, but I'm sure that's easy once you know it.

It's not Mote-zart, it's Moh-tsart!

Specially for British people - Emmenthal means Emmerdale (that's a joke, but it might actually be true!)

February 24, 2021, 7:02 AM · Hi Ann - you wrote "Warchal is based in Slovakia, hence Amethyst is the slovakian spelling - at least as far as Google Translator is concerned ;-)"
I'm pretty sure you mean Ametyst is the Slovak spelling - that was a typo after typing this so much :D

So that is the answer!

February 24, 2021, 7:47 AM · Blimey, Gordon, it's MOE-zaaaaarht.
Edited: February 24, 2021, 8:01 AM · That was a joke really. You often hear in England, "it's not moe-zart, it's mote-zart" and I'm always tempted to be snotty, but I know it wouldn't go down well.

(now, what on Earth was this thread about? Oh, I remember! :-)

February 24, 2021, 6:00 PM · Gordon, sometimes it's "interesting" to give in to temptation.
February 24, 2021, 8:53 PM · It's not Larry's art. And it's not Curly's art. It's Moe's art.
February 25, 2021, 4:18 AM · @Paul, it took me a while but I got it!! :-)
February 26, 2021, 8:06 PM · A similar thing can happen with bows. The bow that I practice with the most is a $50 "brazilwood" octagonal bow. For bows what counts is weight, balance, taper, straightness, strength, ... The price and pedigree are far down the list.
February 27, 2021, 12:18 PM · Joel - see also above ;)
Of course, the difference between the bow and the violin is that the later is mostly about sound and secondarily about playability whereas the bow is precisely the other way round. I don't think anyone would buy a (general use) bow that made a fantastic sound but could not play 16th notes at metronome 100. However, many buy violins that have that sound but are limited in articulation.
February 27, 2021, 12:22 PM · @Dimitri I have to credit one of my high-school piano teachers (Jim Amend) for that one.
March 2, 2021, 10:40 AM · Over the years, they quality of instruments has improved while prices have steadily dropped. Taking into account inflation of course! As long as the construction is sound and the correct woods are used, there's no reason a cheap $100 violin can't be transformed into a decent instrument. My kids play on $125 violins that were practically unplayable when I got them. After shaving down their overly thick bridges, cleaning up the tuning pegs, adjusting the nuts, changing the strings, and a good set-up, they now play and sound fairly decent. I don't believe you can easily find a violin that one would be satisfied with for many years for around $100, but to start on, yes. Would I recommend going this route? Not unless you can do the work yourself. Otherwise, it will likely cost you a few hundred. Better to spend $300 or $400 at a shop that will properly set-up and adjust the instrument.
March 2, 2021, 12:20 PM · I certainly don't see any push to higher quality in modern vs antique violins, if anything there's a push to focus more on appearances and less on sound quality.

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