Choosing a Student Violin
All of you were so helpful the last time I posted, I'm back with yet another question.
My eleven year old is apparently in need of an upgrade from her 3/4 to a full violin. We have a very basic full at home, but she says that she finds it heavy and more difficult to play, whereas when she played her instructor's (much more expensive) instrument, it 'felt weird', but not difficult.
So, does she just get started on what we have? If not, what do we look for when buying a violin, beyond comfort? Is there typically a progression in terms of what kids play as they get older? I'm thinking that I'd rather just buy a good violin that will last a few years, than keep changing them out (what do you do with the old violins, anyway?). I would obviously not want to hand a million dollar violin to a kid, but is there some sort of baseline price-wise where the 'good' violins start?
If you can find a shop with a "rent to try and buy" policy you daughter might be able to sample a few violins on the rental policy and eventually find a violin adequate to hre long-term needs (depending on how far she gets in her violin skills).
The couple of violin shops nearby basically give you fairly low grade violins to try; the bulk of their clientele are kids that play in school orchestras, but don't play year round. They would be similar to the one we already have. I think it was when she had a half that we tried what was according to them, a high quality violin, and she absolutely hated it. Near as I could tell, there wasn't a 'play a bunch of these and find what works for you' option before renting.
When my students are ready for their first full size violins, I usually recommend looking in the $1,500-3,000 range depending on their goals and their parents’ finances.
Price is not a huge issue, but it would be wasteful to spend that kind of money on a violin for a kid that may or may not play, longer term. OTOH, it might make better sense to splurge on something that will retain value, longer term. My problem would be that I have absolutely no idea what to look for, and I don't trust an eleven year old's judgment on what makes for a good violin.
Very rough geographic location?
Potter's has an excellent reputation. Teacher should be helping.
I played a $1200 (cad) European factory violin for a long time before my teacher urged us to look for something more advanced. The sound was mediocre but plenty adequate for an advancing intermediate like I was. I think that violin served me for 2 or 3 years. Mind you, my progress was very rapid during that time, because I practised absolute loads in high school.
Potter has a good reputation - as long as you are in the D.C. area there are other "violin shops" worth looking at including Weaver in Bethesda and Brobst across the river (and maybe some downtown - I haven't been in DC since 1989) - but a quick on-line search should give you some names to present here and that will surely get you some more recommendations.
Hiroshi Kono at $2800 is what I've seen others recommend at Potters. Brobst is another good shop up there, lots of older workshop instruments in a similar range, although my stereotype is that prices for those tend towards full retail, although I've seen attractive pricing there on some $10-15K modern instruments.
A friend who used to play the cello recommended Brobst. Their online reviews don't inspire much confidence, though. We have mostly dealt with Foxes Music: https://www.foxesmusic.com/ and Day Violins: https://dayviolins.com/
I rented my student violin from a shop that gave me the full cost back when I upgraded to my current instrument. I was told if my new instrument was in excellent condition if I traded up again I would receive full credit for it. I don't know if this is common or not. For a serious young student I think $1500 would buy a good instrument that would last at least through high school. My student outfit was $900 including bow and case. The violin itself was $600.
At the low end, Brobst is selling likely Chinese factory violins at 695..
Last year we purchased a 3/4 violin for my younger kid, who is only semi-motivated but a good player (she's also 11 but tiny...she may not ever make it to full size). The first thing I would recommend is making sure you are working with someone at the shop who is knowledgable, fair, and helpful. There are some shops that will try to up-sell you out of your range and need. And other shops that are just overpriced. I don't know the shops in your area, so I can't recommend anything.
Moving from 3/4 to 4/4 Violin;
I had good experiences buying my kids' violins from Potters. The middle one ended up trading in the last one we had when she purchased her "hopefully forever" violin and bow as an adult. In the early days, when money was tight, they were really nice about finding used violins that I could purchase for less money than the violins on their website.
Potter's is a great shop and they have a trade-up policy. I have purchased an instrument there for my daughter. But after you've had the violin for some months, I recommend seeking out another luthier to give it a tune-up, check the sound post, the nut, the fingerboard, the bridge, etc.
Please, please, involve your child’s teacher in this purchase.
I think I said three times now and Mary Ellen just said it again....
Haven't started with the new teacher yet; those plans are still in the works. He's the one who suggested a new violin, and I will certainly involve him in the decision. I just need to have an idea of how to go about it.
That’s great. As a parent, I would not trust my judgement alone.
Just wanted to give a quick update, that we have two violins (and three bows) at home for a two week trial. Besides price point, they have nothing in common. One is a Hiroshi Kono - very bright, projects well, to my ear, is lacking in depth???, is the one my daughter prefers. The other is an older German instrument (labeled Oskar Hermann Seidel,1887), that has a lot of bass, it feels like. This is the one both my husband and I like better, but it doesn't project as well, and the notes don't sound as well articulated. I did a test of sorts, having her play both instruments with each bow and recording it, and it was nearly unanimous by people that listened (including more musically inclined friends), that they preferred the Kono.
The violin -- and bow! -- makes a BIG difference, especially for a child advancing into more complex repertoire, or who intends to play in competitions.
sounds really high for a 11 year old child. I don't know how eastern coast kids are but my daughter is not that careful to take the responsability of such a combo of say 20k dollars..
Julien, my daughter is REALLY careful with things she treasures, and her violin certainly falls into that category. She's a bit much sometimes, and won't even let me touch her prized possessions, because I'm too rough, in her opinion. Having said that, she's too young for something that pricey, IMO. She'll be too paranoid to even play it, in all likelihood.
Hey Sue, I feel like the most pertinent question is: how advanced of a player is your daughter? I can't find the other thread you had mentioned, and I don't see any references to her advancement in this thread.
Erik, my daughter categorizes herself as advanced beginner, maybe early intermediate. Her (new) instructor agrees (others have put her solidly as an intermediate, but I think it's a function of them having a lot of young students, and not a lot of older ones). Her teacher is quite well regarded, and apparently quite knowledgeable about violins; I would trust his guidance, 100%.
Ok, good info here. Based on all the factors provided (including the fact that money doesn't seem to be an issue), I would personally recommend looking for something in the 5k-10k range. You should be able to get a really nice old german workshop instrument for that. Or something similar.
I think the $5k-10k range is very much a crapshoot. That's the range of apprentice-made stuff and instruments that might play okay but are by anonymous or unimportant makers. Resale value for those violins is somewhat dubious because there's not enough volume to establish a solid market price. You don't want to rule out trying them if you have a larger budget, but your odds of finding something good aren't fantastic. Anyone looking in that price range should be looking at a very large amount of inventory.
This is a forum syndrome, isn't it.
Gordon, exactly two people have suggested going over $10k, and both of them were assuming an 11-year-old upper intermediate to advanced student before a description was given. The average recommendation on this thread has been in the $2500 range.
Wait until I've finished editing: it's not until then that I'll know what I wanted to say, lol!
"the absolute max doesn't need to be more than 3000USD on the right antique"
Gordon, the instructor HAS given advice. Which is to rent an instrument until she develops an ear for what a long term instrument should be, and search seriously for a length of time before committing. For reasons too boring to go into, it makes fiscal sense for us to buy an interim instrument now, instead of renting. Not getting a new instrument won't work, as she has physically outgrown her 3/4.
$2,000-$4,000 is a reasonable price point at that age and level. If you decide to upgrade later, it might make sense to keep the interim instrument for taking to school or playing outdoors. Your daughter may be careful, but other students might not be. Kids are often pranking each other and are ignorant about the value of instruments.
The dark sounding Old German violin can be attractive under the ear, but projection is harder to come by.
Erik, it's a long, boring, story. But, the really short version of it is that we have a bunch of credit at a local music store (they don't exclusively deal in violins, but have a good selection, and decent staff), that we can use to get an upgraded violin. That would end up being cheaper than renting. Therefore, it makes financial sense to trade up and buy one, instead of getting stuck with the 3/4 and pay more to rent. I hope that makes sense. Additionally, when I looked at renting, the specific place that we were pointed to, does not rent their better quality full size violins. Which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole exercise, doesn't it? I do want to clarify that we aren't talking about a serious investment violin, just something that's a step up from her fairly basic 3/4.
Let's not pick fights, friends. Or try to sell your own violins by demeaning other violins.
Ahhh Sue, that makes a lot of sense and it was one of my many potential theories on why you might be stuck on the idea of buying. I think I sort of assumed that *wasn't* the case because you had brought up Potter Violins, which is well known for having very fine (and subsequently expensive) violins. But maybe you were bringing them up regarding renting and not purchasing.
And I never said anything disparaging about modern violins, just mentioned that antiques are also a good option and deserve consideration. The difference between moderns and antiques is that almost every store sells the modern brands for pretty much the same price, not so for antiques, high priced stores on average sell the same or similar antique for twice as much as some smaller shops. At full price, antiques may not be as competitive, but priced at half as much they become quite an attractive option, often beating out similar priced moderns.
Erik, I was kind of laughing about the whole thing, because this is an extremely wealthy region of the country, and showing off a kid violin would involve more money than most people make in a year (or several). Lydia was telling me today about a five year old that started off with a 300K instrument. It's a completely different mindset, not so much having to do with showing off, but more along the lines of providing only the best for their kids. Even if I could afford to do it, I'm not in the camp that believes that one must sink their retirement savings into a musical instrument.
Not a problem if someone's kid plays clarinet is it :-), where $4-6K pretty much gets you what orchestra pros play. I was over here thinking about how much I've spent on baseball and taekwondo gear and uniforms over several years, and it makes the cost of a good student violin seem like not too much.
Sue: Yeah, that's a whole different world of wealth. I guess when everyone else around is also rich, it makes it tough to effectively impress anyone. We're always bound by our peers, it seems. I have to admit that coming across excessive money in the past has kind of ruined my sense of accomplishment in anything. Beyond a certain point, the thought of being able to buy anything you want just becomes more saddening than exciting. And this is also a reason for getting a (relatively) less expensive violin early on: it leaves room for excitement down the road when you've improved enough to justify something better. I know some others here will argue than the real reward is your own musicality improving and thus we should get the best possible instrument immediately, but equipment upgrades have kept me motivated in the past, and I'm not sure I would have felt the same way if I'd started with a Guadagnini or a Postaccini. With that said, you do want something that doesn't significantly limit the player for quite some time, and I'd say the retail starting price point for that would be $2500 if the player is early intermediate. Usually, when I play violins above that price, I can call them "Decent." And honestly, if we lived in a fantasy world, that's the minimum price point I would have had all of my students start with. The setup is good, the response is even enough, they play fine into the 5th, maybe 7th positions. To me, 2500 price point gets you the "Honda Civic" range of violins. You know it'll be safe and get you where you're going, and probably reliably do that until you're ready for something better.
For all the difference you'd notice in their playing or "musicality", you might as well start a kid with a Skylark. The greater the investment, the more pressure on the parent and the kid to carrying on flogging when the horse is dead, or discovered to be irredeemably unmusical.
"Darkness", "projection". Again, context, please. 11-year-old intermediates don't need to fill the Carnegie hall, they need, apart from playability, a nice sound that encourages their efforts.
The OP mentioned two violins they were down to an old dark German one or a newish Kono (likely cheaper inferring from the post).
OK, sorry, Matthew. I missed bits of the thread (and other bits got deleted last night).
I realize that there is no right answer to this, but as a general parenting philosophy, I think it makes sense that a child earn their better quality instrument. A 3K instrument (or so) will do for now, and she can use it for orchestra, or taking it to school and on trips without anyone having heart attacks. The next step up will be a really big one from the sounds of it, and I would hope that she would have to demonstrate some sort of need.
“Not a problem if someone's kid plays clarinet is it :-), where $4-6K pretty much gets you what orchestra pros play.”
A lot of clarinetists play Buffet R13s!
I had a friend who was an oboe FRCM. He had graduated in 1975 on a basic Lorée.
Lydia, I'm re-writing my response to your because it was included in a larger post that got deleted (I still have no idea why it got deleted, and would appreciate an explanation).
The most popular professional clarinet, the Buffet R-13, which most people play, is around $3500. You need two of them, one in Bb, and one in A, so $7500 as the A costs a bit more. Then, both horns probably need a full professional setups since they have so many issues coming off the production line, and that can be $500-$1000 per instrument, so $8500 now at least. Then, you have a good mouthpiece or two, from $100-$800 depending on what you like, a decent case to haul them around ($400), a nice ligature to hold the reed on ($20-$300, depending on how crazy you want to go), and the reeds themselves, either cane or synthetic. A $10,000 budget is more than sufficient for any professional clarinetist to outfit themselves with the two clarinets they need to play in band and orchestra, ignoring the auxiliaries (Eb sopranino and Bb Bass) for the moment. Comparatively speaking, clarinets are cheap, which is why we are such gearheads. :)
I'm somewhat at a loss to remember what I wrote earlier in the thread that got deleted, and I'm also not sure why. (I did ask Lyndon about possibly undervaluing his labor, as one of the primary costs involved in an antique violin is the luthier's time spent in restoration work. I have no idea if he ever replied.) I'm guessing that Gordon's commentary on projection also belongs to a deleted set of comments.
I would worry less about filling a large hall and focus instead on having a violin that actually gives you more when you step on the gas. So many people have instruments that have no strength, with the result that they adapt their playing to savor the sweetness and never learn how to speak out. Not a great thing for a student who wants to get better.
Stephen is very right here. I spent my teen years on a (decent-quality non-workshop contemporary) violin that was singingly sweet but resisted punch (and loathed playing close to the bridge). More than one teacher told me I was in desperate need of an upgrade.
Alphayues are pretty hit-and-miss in my experience. I like Tonicas more when it comes to a somewhat less expensive string that works pretty well on practically everything. And I think their tone lasts longer than alphayues as well.
And I didn't realize one of your posts got deleted too, Lydia. I think maybe anything with the word "Lyndon" in it got deleted, lol.
your post got deleted for negative things you said about me, Erik, and about the OP's intentions, don't try to weasel out of it.
Lyndon is a good reality check, in my opinion, and censorship of what he says worries me, even if he lacks self-moderation. Yes, I am aware that I lack self-moderation.
FWIW, I had nothing to do with any of the posts getting deleted. I have spent enough time on Teh Interwebs to not be bothered by whatever someone I don't even know says on it.
To be honest, one of my favorite things about this particular forum is I always felt like it was completely censor-free (which is rare for forums). Problems have tended to solve themselves here plenty of times in the past, without need for moderation.
i am not amused, I have never called a customer an idiot, internet trolls, yes, but they aren't my customers.
And hopefully, when taken in context, someone could easily see that is the case, especially when the smiley face on the end of the sentence was taken into consideration. Of course, now there's not a smiley face, because the entire post was deleted.
Your original post was much more slanderous than you are now claiming, it deserved to be deleted.
It's truly unfortunate that it's not around for us to say, Lyndon. Now I think I know who reported it... This is the real problem with complete censorship: now you can say that I said something I didn't, and I have no evidence to defend myself.
you said I call all my customers idiots, and yes I reported it as any reasonable person would.
Well that's just a straight-up lie, as I definitely never said "Lyndon calls all his customers idiots."
Sorry I don't remember the exact words but the gist of what you said is that Lyndon sell violins cheaper but he calls all his customers idiots, so you're the liar this time.You my friend are an internet troll that is just spreading garbage about multiple people, you even admit to the terrible things you said about the OP
*sigh* whatever you say, Lyndon. I guess your tantrum got you what you wanted, so congrats. I'm officially done wasting my time talking to a completely irrational person.
Lydia in answer to your question about my pricing, I work for $50/hr instead of $150/hr like higher end and somewhat more experienced luthiers (that probably have more formal training), and I have little if any overhead as I work out of my house
Lyndon, I imagine that you if you believe that the end results are comparable, you could price your labor higher. (Buyers won't care about the training of a luthier as long as the repairs are well-accomplished, especially not in these kinds of student-instrument ranges.) Of course, lower prices can also result in inventory moving more quickly.
Lydia, while I am well qualified to work on the student and intermediate instruments that the high end shops tend to be less interested in. I'm very good at crack repair and setup, bridge, soundpost, fingerboard, pegs etc, but I'm not so good at higher end repairs like soundpost patches, peghole bushing and varnish touch up. Real experts can make repaired cracks practically invisible, but I've never been able to pull that off, the strength of my cracks repairs is just as good, I once had a top expert accuse me of super gluing cracks on a repair because he was having so much trouble getting them apart to clean them and make them disappear, of course I had just used high strength hide glue.
Though even if you work with cheap violins -- or you sell inexpensive workshop violins -- there's probably no compelling reason, other than faster inventory turns, to restore something bought at auction (or the like) for $1k and sell it for $2k when you could get $3k for it simply by figuring in a higher value for your labor.
it doesn't work that way, you would just end up losing sales and selling next to nothing
I'm a discount violin shop, take away the discount and I'm just another high priced violin shop with no reason to buy from me vs someone else, I'm quite happy providing my customers with lower prices, last thing I would want to do is change that.
Gordon, I'm pretty much a nobody but I just had a bow trial and chose a Codabow GX as the best of the four that I took home for 2 weeks. I also chose a pretty beat up Pfretzschner which played almost as well for me but it was my only opportunity to have an antique by a recognized maker so I bought it. I am now trying 4 viola bows and once again the Codabow GX seems like it will be the choice. I didn't want to try even more because of my skill level, the GX already improves my playing enormously. Happy student, happy teacher!
Most Pretzschners are not antiques, they're vintage from like the 60s, they can be picked up for about $250 on ebay but they would still need some set up, hope you're not paying much. They were German factory violins marketed by Scherl and Roth. Some are better than others but the bad ones are barely worth $250
This is a pre-1901 Pfretzschner BOW.
Sorry Pretzscner bows are the real Pretzschner family, the violins were later cheap factory units, my mistake. The Pretzchner bow will sound better than the carbon fibre, Carbon fibres forte is their playability, not their tone.
It's an HR Pfretzschner (with an F and an S). It actually doesn't sound better than the Codabow, somewhat less. The Codabow GX sounds and plays better than any wooden bow I've ever tried. It plays well above its price point.
I can't stand the sound of codabows the midrange sounds like plastic and they're way too bright
Genuine Pfreztschner bows are very good but there are a lot of fakes, the factory violins use the name but they are not the same company and are generally crap.
Ann, Lyndon is right about more Pfretzschner fakes being around than authentic. Especially on Ebuy and the like I would be cautious. But since you're buying from a reputable shop and you're talking about a "pre-1901" model it sounds as if someone had done his homework.