Review / Problems of my Ming Jiang Zhu MJZ 909 G
This is a follow up of a post some time back asking for advice about MJZ here.
I want to share the experience I have buying directly from MJZ workshop (Tommy and Carina) so someone that is in the same shoes and looking for a brand new violin can benefit from this adventure. I want to tell a bit of the story why I got it also. It is a bit long but will give context on the problems.
I started my journey with the violin a little more than a year ago, once I knew nothing I just went to a local shop and bought a 150 usd violin just to get started. As I got more into it, I wanted a better sound, as there are not specialized violin shops where I live and it was the pandemic I decided to try a 350 USD violin from Aliexpress.. not a good experience neither, but I didn't know better.
Then, I've seen all these raving reviews about MJZ in Fiddlershop, the videos and what not about how great they are. I wanted something true and tested so I discarded getting a used one, also because there is nowhere here to find variety or a luthier that I knew was good in the area. I know it was best to go with someone that knows to a shop but that was not possible for me.
So I decided to take the plunge as buy a 909 directly from MZJ workshop a little over a year ago.
Shipping was fast and free using DHL. I really liked the sound compared to my other two violins as well as the weight of the instrument, was feeling much lighter. The is a bit dark and deep which is my preference. It came with a case and a decent bow, at least for my beginner skills but I noticed some problems.
As soon as I got it I took pictures of the violin, you can see them here along with some more detail:
Reddit post and images https://www.reddit.com/nb0sq1/
1) Bridge was warped and when contacted Tommy he said it is normal, which clearly is not
2) Chinrest was not properly leveled on their feet so there was uneven pressure, seems someone at the factory decided that instead of fixing it, overtighten them would be a good idea. I was sent a replacement chinrest BUT Tommy insisted in that the damage was normal. Maybe normal for an old used violin but I don't think it is for a new one.
3) The backplate varnish job was sloppy. Took me several emails for Tommy to confirm this, to which he didn't do anything about. He said with playing the violin it would blend. If someone can explain me how with a shoulder rest or even without can you reach to the middle of the violin be my guest.
4) The tailpiece had a mark from a label that wouldn't come out, I got a replacement when I got the new chinrest.
5) Pegs were not as easy to tune as my 150 USD violin, now are a bit better but come on. MJZ recommended to use some peg paste.
6) The neck started to feel like it was dragging my hand, so I was suggested my MJZ to sand it a bit, which I did and was instantly improved. Not sure if this is normal o not, but these kind of problems that are easily solvable are the ones I would expect.
7) Last and more importantly, now, a year later, the back started to peel and bubbles started to appear. My violin doesn't leave home, when I don't play is in the case they provided with a boveda 49% and a digital hygrometer that marks 23 degrees Celsius and 50% to 60% humidity. This is constant throughout the year. I remove the rosin residue after playing, clean the strings, take care of the instrument.
I wanted to return it at that time but I was faced with me having to pay shipping and "taxes" back to China with some ridiculous amount and not certain something could happen in transit. So I had no other option than to accept some discount from Aliexpress (MJZ store). I was even willing to get a higher model if that assured better quality, but they wanted me to pay for shipping twice and what not. I contacted them again once I saw the peeling and the last answer, and I quote is, "I will suggest you to repair it in the local store". We are talking about a violin that retails for 3k and this is what I get.
Maybe the quality went down when MJZ passed away as this was quite a bitter experience. Maybe I should have waited till I could travel to Europe to try and see violins on the flesh. But as I feel in love with playing the violin, I wanted an instrument that wouldn't hold me back.
Some people here took it very lightly the post I wrote about the varnish, but for me a new instrument is something I buy for the piece of mind that everything is alright, specially knowing I don't have many experienced luthiers where I live. One local luthier told me that if he applies some varnish it will not stay the same as the original, hell I don't even know if it is going to affect the sound?
TL;TR: I wouldn't recommend a MJZ and the shop takes no responsibility about their craftmanship. So many problems on the finishing, bridge, fittings and I could only get a new chinrest and tail sent to me.
Hope my experience helps someone else.
I would have a different take on your experiences.
The bridge appears slightly warped forward, but that could be since you owned it.
Hi Lyndon, the bridge is as such from the beginning.
no it is not, and the feet are too thick
That stuff about oil is all hooplah. Luthiers can't actually tell a well-cured oil from shellac once it's done. If mixed and cured correctly (ie in strong sun or a uv box) oil should be perfectly hard by the time it sees the customer's hands.
Couldn't a varnish only have a neutral or negative effect on tone? I mean, I can't imagine how it would cause the violin to resonate more, but I suppose it might tamp down some resonances, which could be done on purpose. Is there a consensus on this among makers?
Oil varnish tends to damp the highs, shellac tends to damp the midrange and make the highs more harsh sounding.
Both oil and shellac harden by forming long polymer chains... as far as I know the only differences between them arise as a result of admixtures and the method of preparation. There are some oil varnishes which were put on thick and went gummy, or which were made from oil that wasn't fully pure. Those varnishes could have some deadening effect, but if you can even isolate that effect from how the instrument naturally sounds on its own I couldn't say.
Lyndon what I meant to say is that the bridge came like this from the beginning which means it was not properly shaped or bent from the shop itself . I’ll get it fixed or replaced tomorrow.
What was your reason for not buying a violin directly from a luthier? That way you probably would have had a well set up instrument, with a chin rest that was not over tightened etc.
Hi Damian -- Maybe you already know this, but the side of the bridge facing the tailpiece is supposed be perpendicular to the top plate. The other side of the bridge will be curved. That being said, looking at your photo, the perpendicular side does appear to be warped ever so slightly...
Cotton, on the subject of violin varnishes, best not to comment on something you know very little on!
TO M ZILPAH: Regarding your suggestion to Damian to order from a luthier---I think it would be quite difficult to find a luthier who would build an instrument for $3000. Maybe for $9,000, where I live...
There are no luthiers or violin makers where I live, let alone specialized shops. And not in my town, in my entire region and country!
@Erin, I meant a luthier shop, who would carry a variety of stock.
Damian, this is not meant judgemental, and I do understand your situation.
Lyndon, having pored through such a large volume of internet discussions and texts on the topic of varnish, I've started to think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who truly knows more than very little, haha!
Thanks for the kind words Nuukusa, yes I guess this must be the case where brick and mortar local shops have an edge in setting up the violin. As I said the violin sounds good to me, I'm just enraged by MJZ attitude, Carina and Tommy. In this era, me being an owner of a recognized shop, I wouldn't risk an unhappy customer and I don't think my observations are unfunded. I also told them before buying to make sure every bit was ok as I didn't have a local luthier I would trust, but hey.. maybe my next violin if ever I will be able to play good music on it. I'm also very detail oriented person so it doesn't help :D.
Damian, I'm sure it only needs a competent hand and maybe some 300 dollars to set this violin up properly. Don't get too frustrated about it. In the end, it's a functional piece of wood. And even if you tend to regard things from a more romantic point of view - would you leave your spouse because of that scar from a mole removal on her back?
I wonder if the varnish was damaged as the violin was being shipped to you. The cargo belly of a 747 is not known for exceptional temperature control. But this is the responsibility of the vendor too.
I whish Paul! I don't think there is enough people interested in violins here!
Violin buying is a tricky business indeed! I once owned an MJZ and got rid of it soon thereafter. I would never buy another Chinese or factory-made violin again. I am a huge fan of modern American makers. You will spend more for a good instrument. But it’s worth every penny.
I've always heard that Chinese violins sold on sites like eBay and Aliexpress, even ones from relatively reputable brands, tend to be the ones rejected by shops and sent back to the manufacturer. And there is a difference in setup too. In particular, if buying directly from Chinese factories or workshops, the bridges tend to be cut hastily and are often too high.
I agree Andrew. In fact the lack of quality set-up probably goes beyond just the bridge cutting. Peg fitting, fingerboard planing, sound post fitting, and neck setting are all given minimal attention by questionable craftsmen.
My MJZ viola had nice-working pegs at the beginning but they weren't so nice-working after a month. But that's okay since I was planning to get Wittner Finetune pegs anyway. The pegs, tail piece, and chin rest of MJZ instruments are typically made of jujube. It's beautiful wood, actually, but not sure how much that contributed to the rapid failure of my pegs.
I agree with John and Alexander. I have had nothing but bad experiences with Chinese violins. And I'm talking $2,500 and up. Another thing people don't realize is that the wood they use is kiln dried. Most of the time they don't wait for it to be completely dry. After a year or so, the fiddles sound thin and screechy. This is what happened to me. There are a number of violin shops in Chicago that won't even take them in trade.
Yes Leon. Some claim to use quality, aged tonewood. But I have my doubts.
When you're buying from AliExpress, you're basically buying wholesale. There's no guarantee that you're getting a good set-up or the like. The value added by Fiddlershop (or Shar or Potters or any number of other online dealers who have a Chinese workshop or buy wholesale from Chinese workshops) is that they serve as quality control, good set-up, and decent customer service. For that, you play a premium.
Clearly, the OP does not know anything about violins.
I don't know how much the OP ultimately paid, but he is trolling at the very depths of the instrument market. Cheap Chinese junk. Expect it to make a squeak and little more.
$3000 Chinese violin is not Cheap Chinese junk, $300 Chinese violin would be that. The OP deserves better for that price.
Either a $300 or a $3000 violin which someone buys online could be decent, or junk. I'm not operating anywhere near that price range, so have no personal enrichment prejudices attached.
The MJZ model the OP is talking about is a perfectly respectable higher-end workshop model. It's in the price range of something like a Jay Haide l'Ancienne (Chinese workshop), Hiroshi Kono (Japanese workshop), or an upper end Scott Cao (US Campbell workshop). For that price, a buyer should be able to expect good wood, competent workmanship, a decent basic set-up, and excellent playability. This is the "advancing student" range, a perfectly common amateur price range, and the range of backup violins for pros.
Rosa and Scott, thanks for sharing your inputs! I guess this is not the topic for you people with a budget of 10k+ on a violin! But as others said, at least I was expecting a proper setup and decent QA.
Again, you're never going to get a proper setup or decent QA off Aliexpress, no matter how much you spend. Much of the setup is typically left to the retail shops, and has always been. And buying off Aliexpress is almost what one might call negative QA: it's how they get rid of the violins that shops rejected.
Within the inventory of workshop violins at any of the big resellers there will be a substantial variation in tone and often quality among instruments of the same maker and model. You need to pick your way through them to find a decent one. If you can’t go there in person have them send you 4 and then you pick the best of the lot.
I had a friend from south africa in my company called damion martin a wee while back, dont think he was a violin enthusiast though. anyway, i am not sure if you got given a lemon or if it was bad luck, either way if you were not happy with the purchase, i would have expected them to return the violin and give you another one at their cost. USD 3000 is by no means a small price for a chinese workshop violin. i doubt if anyone from MJZ workshop would read these, but would serve a lot of people wanting to buy from their aliexpress shop! you can buy a guitar, wont matter too much, violin is a different ball game. it needs to have a soul and factory violins rarely have it.
I guess lesson learned, and the purpose of this post is to help other people as well. This violin will get me through lessons if I ever reach an advanced level, by that time I'll be better prepared and for sure will pick a violin in person :).
Just my 2 cents (as far as that goes) but places like Aliexpress, wish, and even Amazon to an extent are well known for counterfeits mixed in with authentic products. It may have been better to go with Fiddlershop, who would be able to spot the difference in the real deal vs a convincing counterfeit and would have intervened in the name of quality control prior to it reaching your hands. Not to say that your violin isn't authentic, but your post clearly states obvious issues/defects that would be unacceptable in an expensive instrument with a quality set up.
The issue with this thread, and the one the OP started on reddit, is that he trying to create a public service announcement about this workshop. I looked at the AlieExpress listing for similar violins and they are either rejects or--just as likely--counterfeits. Counterfeiting is a big business in violins, just look at recent threads about strings.
If AliExpress is selling counterfeits without saying they're counterfeits, then that's not the OP's fault. If you go to a fast-food restaurant and you get food poisoning, you don't want people telling you, "Oh you should have expected to be poisoned there." I agree that we should be vigilant, but I also don't like blaming the victim of a crime.
" Heck, the reason I went with MJZ was because of Fiddlershop reviews and demos,"
Often the hardest lessons are the ones best learned. It's obvious Damian has learned a tough lesson about fiddle buying. I think we can all agree unless you are a seasoned expert it is best to purchase violins from a reputable and expert dealer.
Damian says: "That would concern me even if I buy it from a reputable shop."
Andrew is right. I don't think readers need to be afraid of MJZ violins; they just need to be afraid of AliExpress.
I was just about to purchase a new MZJ 909G violin from a local shop and then this thread comes up...
Depends on the vintage violin. If it's well setup, some can be really good, but their price is going up all the time, so it's not always easy to find good old workshop instruments at that price point (especially good french ones.) Do not blind-buy either Chinese or old workshop instruments to be sure.
Ted B asks if a vintage violin would be a better choice than a popular brand. Once you decide to go that way you could get lost for a lifetime. The metaphors that spring to mind are sweetshop, Aladdin's cave, garden of delights, jungle, minefield, shark-infested water...
Maybe it wasn’t clear, but this violin comes directly from MJZ workshop, they just use AliExpress as a platform, so this is not a counterfeit and I have the certificate as well as official communication via emails.
There are some good Eastern European made instruments that may be an affordable alternative to Chinese. I believe StringWorks sells a line of workshop instruments called Kallo Bartok. They are made in Romania and finished in Northern Italy. The final set-up is done by StringWorks luthiers in Illinois. I think they price out in the 3-4K usd range.
Through Fiddlershop I had two trials of three violins each. The first trial consisted of MJZ925, MJZ909 and a Holstein "soil". All of these were interesting and the 925 was full and warm. The other two instruments were "good", but didn't approach the 925 in warmth and projection.
Ted B. My experience with Chinese instruments is with more than one brand. The owner of the last violin shop that I visited told me she won't deal with Chinese instruments anymore. She also suggested that if you have to have a Chinese instrument to make sure it is at least 5 years old.
Good observation Leon, there are many stories like this. I think the same as with cars, guitars or anything as such, there is quite a bit of leeway in the QA specially something that is a craft such as violin making and many times the representatives will insist that it is already as it should be. Best would be to either learn oneself to pay attention to these details or have someone that one really trust take a look at it.
A reputable shop will easily spend (material and labor combined) $250-400 equivalent in setting up a freshly made "quality" Chinese instrument before selling it, not to mention they won't even keep the bad ones. Many will shop elsewhere thinking that they can saved a few hundreds, but in the end often end up with a dud that will cost them more.
I just put a 1/2-sized cello on consignment at a violin shop in Charlottesville. It's just a cheap student instrument (probably worth about $1500 at full retail). I pointed out the very obvious problem that one of the strings had failed and would need replacement. The luthier who runs the shop said (I'm paraphrasing), "That's okay. I have to build a new bridge for this cello and do some other adjustments anyway." Obviously this person is not someone intent on passing off a poorly set-up instrument to an unsuspecting customer.
Sadly, it looks like that model of violin is only about 20% cheaper on Aliexpress.
Yes, the only problem is there is none where I live that have any decent violins and let alone a violin luthier in their shop. Anyhow the violin is still under repair, will report once I get it back.
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