Recently I have tried a violin double of my original violin's price (5000 USD, 10 years ago). It beats my original instrument in every way it possibly can.
The instrument I currently own is alright, a bit nasal tho.
My question: in your experiences, do you buy a new violin really because you have "learnt past the limitations of the instrument", or just out of greed?
Does your instrument matters?
If the former, you probably want to have a conversation with your luthier about whether your set up could be improved to get your violin to sound more like its twin. If the latter, well price is well known to be a very poor indication of violin playability and tone, especially considering how subjective both those features are. It may well be a violin which suits you better.
We all have our own reasons for making a switch. Mine was to get a richer sound.
You can thing of it as ranges. Each player has a range of sounds he/she can produce. Each instrument has a range of sounds it can produce. It's a multiplicative relationship, at least in my opinion.
You can sound better with a better-sounding violin (which may not cost more than what you have, but probably will). A better player will sound better than you with your violin. A better player, with a better-sounding violin, will sound much better.
Yes, your instrument matters but it needs the best possible set up including bridge, soundpost and strings - and vigilant care by the owner.
Another important factor is the quality of the "hearer's" hearing. I suggest having a hearing test. This on-line hearing test will allow one to self-calibrate (although there are other factors as well that require professional help):
In 1951 my father and I visited a Baltimore, MD violin shop to select a new violin for me. The violin-maker owner had laid out 5 identical appearing newly-made violins on a table in the shop. I found it possible to select the one I liked best. However, before taking it home for trial, the shop owner took an Amati out of his safe for me to try. I preferred my new violin. The maker insisted we keep that violin for a year before he accepted payment.
As my hearing has continued to fail during the past 35 year of the 72 years of aging since acquiring that violin, so has the sound I hear from that violin. In 1963 I had the opportunity to compare that violin with a "golden age" Stradivarius that had been owned by the virtuoso Olé Bull - no comparison except for some similarities. In 1974 I spent a week comparing that violin to a violin made in Cremona by Stefano Conia (the "elder" who was also one of the teachers at the Cremona school of violin maker). Although the two violins were completely similar in plaability, the G string on mine was much better. In the early 2000s I had the opportunity to compare my violin with a 1698 Stradivarius in the Ifshin Violins backroom (while they were still in Berkeley, CA) and I did not hear or feel significant differences. I have no way to tell if the violins really were similar of if it was just the state of my hearing.
Over the years since then I finally found (in Walter Hamma's book "Italian Violin Makers") the Stradivarius those 5 violins copied: L'Emperor. Obviously, the maker had found maple wood that matched the beautiful pattern of that 1715 violin's back and that's what he used to make those 5 "antiqued" instruments.
In the beginning of my second decade of playing, my teacher encouraged me to upgrade. I tried a number if instruments, had my teacher play them, and took his recommendation and purchased a Reinhold Schnabel that sang when my teacher played it.
Sadly, in my hands it howled. It demanded better bowing, better finger placement, all the higher level skills. Unfortunately, the new job that provided the money required to purchase the Schnabel was a high-travel position (80%) that restricted the time I had to play/practice. I never got good enough to make it sing.
13 years later and a regular no travel job and I had time to play. My frustration with the Schnabel rose to the point where I sold it to a local violin shop.
I adopted a new approach. Occasionally I would ask another violinist who has much better skills to play my original (late 1800's German factory violin with lots of intarsia). There was always a difference between my playing and the better violinist.
In the past six months I've asked some of the better violinists to play my instrument and finally, I get the same sound quality that the much better violinists get.
The question becomes, in my mid 70's with osteoarthritis, and playing only form my own enjoyment as well as teaching some late starting adults, should I upgrade now?
I can afford a much better instrument, but to what end?
There is no perfect answer to the basic question: "Is it you or the instrument?" I'm on the side of "It's the violinist until you can play it equally well as a the best violinist you know."
My bottom line is t
Beginning violin (mass produced) - hard to play, poor tone
Early intermediate violin (modern workshop) - easier to play, OK tone
Late intermediate violin (upscale workshop) - bit easier to play, good tone
Conservatory violin (say, average modern luthier) - similar to play, very good tone
Excellent violin (top modern luthier, average older master) - similar to harder to play, superb tone
Classic violin (best of the bunch) - similar to insanely hard to play, unique and memorable tone (guessing on this one, never got that far...)
I had a chance to try a friend's Villaume. Its tone was deep and clear, and wonderfully easy to produce. It showed up every irregularity in my bowing...
In my lessons, parents would notice that when I played played my student's violin, it sounded better than usual, but nonetheless less good than my own.
The instrument must correspond to the player's possibilities and aspirations!
Having been fickle in my preferences for the last 5 years I'm currently playing an anonymous Mittenwald violin from about 1820 that cost me a bid of £150 plus commission from Amati.com. I'd never have thought of it as a potential number one, but if you're willing to play the field you can find nuggets in unexpected places (apologies for the grotesquely mixed metaphor).
Superior instruments are more versatile and can produce a variety of colors. With that versatility, however, comes more sensitivity and thus requires more finesse in the bow arm. That can seem a downside at first, but the fact that a great instrument does not tolerate certain ways of playing can actually serve to teach the player better technique.
I think it's important to acknowledge that a lot of bad technical habits can arise from a player trying to get a deep or loud sound out of an inferior fiddle that simply does not want to generate it. When many of us upgrade, we find that we have to relearn our muscle memory, play with less "force", and let the equipment do more of the work.
It was a good decision in regards to both sound and an instrument that could accommodate me the next 10+ years as my skills advanced.
That said, it sounds, “no pun intended” that your current violin’s quality is very good. So if you have not already, First, I would discuss the issue with a luthier to see if anything can be done with your current violin to meet your expectations. Different strings, new bridge, etc.
Do not forget to include the option of a different bow in the equation. (What bow did you use on the violin you are considering? Have you tried using this bow on your current violin?)
I'd say that there IS a correlation... but not so strong that you could bet the farm on it. Who made the instrument is a significant factor in both price and performance... usually. But you have to evaluate each individual instrument for yourself.
As a player who is interested in contemporary instruments from living makers, I do think you get what you pay for.
So clearly they thought the instrument made an important difference. In addition after some time and progression to higher levels, eventually I discovered the equipment was now holding me back. This was 2 years in give or take. At that point I was required to change. I very quickly noticed a difference, particularly with the bow, as my violin, although German trade, was not that bad. But the new violin did make a difference, too, just not as immediate and abrupt a change.
However, I don't buy the argument that just because a better player can make your instrument sound better than you can, you aren't ready for an upgrade. Chances are, the better player developed their technique on a fiddle more responsive and sensitive than yours. It's easy for someone with superior technique to make an inferior instrument sound good.
I think the more useful metric is to have your teacher try to produce different colors or explore the instrument's dynamic range. If he or she has trouble doing something that comes easy to them on their own fiddle, then you know that your instrument has certain limitations. Whether you've reached those limitations as a player is something you can generally sense.
Noticeable issue with it though - Paganini Caprice #2, very interesting "noises" coming out of instrument when jumping from g string to e string high up on the fingerboard ( first page before the descending thirds), particularly on dry sunny days. Maybe its the violinist at fault, here .... lol. not sure. However, I think the higher end instruments have better quality sound all the way up the fingerboard and this is an immediate observation you can make if testing two different instruments of significantly different quality.
It's definitely true that you will grow out of your instrument after a while especially when you start discovering that your instrument is not capable enough to produce all the sounds/tone colours you want in a piece. Sometimes you might also want to consider about what type of bow you are using because based off my past experiences, sometimes the sounds/tone colours of the violin can be changed by enchancing your bow.
But your own playing is also really essential and it's not always about what instrument you're using. Let's say someone gave you his/her Strad and you started to play it, but you will realise that you might not sound like him/her. I think the key thing is yes, you do need a good instrument, however your own style of playing is just as important.
So while it's true that better players can make poor instruments sound better, my main problem is mainly... me.
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But that said, it's more the the payer than the instrument.
My violin retails for around $6k and I make it sound terrible most times.
If Hilary Hahn were to play it (and I wish she would!), she would sound just like Hilary. I truly believe she could make my violin sound like heaven in her hands..
Yes, a good instrument is good to have but it's the player that makes it sound the best.