Trying out violins

June 30, 2023, 2:53 PM · I am currently on the hunt for buying a violin. What do you typically look for in a violin? What do you play/ try (any techniques or passages?) when you are in the violin shop?

Replies (11)

June 30, 2023, 4:31 PM · It really depends on your skill level, but I'd say at minimum, some medium-paced scales that go from low to high (e.g three octave G major scale) and any excerpts from pieces you're working on that showcase the full range of the instrument register-wise. It may also be worth playing something in, say, the higher positiions of the G string to check for sound quality there kinda thing, but yeah.
June 30, 2023, 5:23 PM · Take it home for at least one, preferably two weeks. Violins can sound very open and be very easy to play--for a time. Then they can reveal their "true colors."

Why? Often, dealers keep them at a low tension and only raise them up to pitch for a sale, and violins that have sat for a while at a low tension will sound fantastic temporarily.

June 30, 2023, 5:24 PM · When testing an instrument I have always liked to go as high on all the strings as I can possibly reach. It can make a very big difference to your ultimate satisfaction when tackling some music in the future that you don't even imagine at the time of purchase.

I went into some bow and instrument purchasing ventures with a small set of passages that would test them to my then current ability. It is good to stretch them as in the previous paragraph. It is also good to get other players to come with you so you can see how they project.

July 1, 2023, 2:05 AM · How long did it take for you to find "your" violin?
July 1, 2023, 5:22 AM · 1 hour, my luthier is very trustworthy, I tried a few different ones and the one I picked with his input, I have had 4 years and its still improving all the time as I learn. Maybe eventually I will outgrow it, but I don't think so., maybe I was very lucky.
Edited: July 1, 2023, 8:09 AM · If you have to ask - then I think you have to get help. At the least you need to hear the instrument played by a competent violinist - but you also need to have expert opinion on the aspects of the violin that you may not have reached technically yet. And I learned this all the hard way. One of my first violins (since returning) was a French Dieudonne workshop instrument. It was fine for my level at that time - but just died in the higher positions when I was ready to explore.

A teacher is often ideal as a violin tester - as long as the violin comes from an independent source ;) And if your teacher offers you an instrument 'speak softly but carry a big stick' comes to mind. Get an independent 'second opinion'.

July 1, 2023, 8:35 AM · C KL,
Are you asking me?
Specifically, one of the purchases was a cello bow for which I tried 66 bows, found two I thought were satisfactory. It turned out they were the only two by the same maker-I chose the cheaper one. That was about 20 years ago shortly before my 70th birthday. I was happy with it for a long time. Now my judgement about anything related to my instrument playing (and "sound")would be suspect!

July 1, 2023, 3:14 PM · When my daughter (then a teenager) needed a new violin we followed the advice of her teacher. She chose two contrasting test pieces that she could already play from memory, one with a lot of passagework (baroque) and the other requiring tonal beauty and expression (romantic). Plus scales. Using pieces she already knew well meant she didn't have to think about playing the music, she could concentrate on what it felt like and how easy it was to get the effects she wanted. We took her current violin along as well for comparison, and used the bow she was familiar with for everything.

And then we worked our way through violins, she getting the feel of what they were like to listen to and me what they sounded like across the room. There were a lot in the violin shop to try in our price range, and we could only manage so many at a time although a few got rejected rather quickly. The luthier let us take away the two we liked best for her to play more and to get the view of her teacher, and then we returned to try more using the best of the previous bunch for comparison. It took quite a few visits to choose the one we bought!

It certainly helped to have a systematic way of approaching each violin, and of course it was also important to have such an understanding local violin shop.

July 2, 2023, 1:27 AM · Just to complicate the issue, I recently discovered that an unfamiliar violin I'm trying out may make a quite different impression according to which bow I'm using. This game doesn't get any easier.
July 3, 2023, 8:02 AM · I agree with Elise. Always have another player play it.
July 3, 2023, 10:36 AM · And bring your best bow(s), and don't be afraid to ask for a better one from the shop when you are auditioning.

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