Inform me on "step up" instrument brands

October 25, 2017, 6:13 PM · As an adult beginner violist, I may be looking to upgrade some months down the line. I don't have a local shop, so no one to school me on the brands. I am an experienced guitarist so I am familiar with some makers importing Pacific Rim instruments fully or partially finished under their name. How does it work with violas? Are Eastman, Doetsch, Klier, et al, all from different factories, or made in same factory with different specs? Finished in different US shops or one US shop distributing several brands? Curious to know how this works in order to make a more informed decision when the time comes.


Replies (10)

October 25, 2017, 6:35 PM · What kind of violin are you using now?
October 25, 2017, 6:45 PM · Louis Carpini viola from Kennedy Violins.
October 26, 2017, 10:05 AM · Here’s how I did it with by violin:
I played on a cheap factory-made Cremona for a year
First upgrade was to a 1999 Wilhelm Klier—with the bow it was $3,000.
After half a year or so i started renting my teacher’s violin, its worth measuring at about $5,000 according to a few shops.
Now I purchased an instrument of a higher calibre (in terms of quality) but without any identification (the luthier swears it’s a French instrument from late 1800’s, probably around 1880) for $3,000 for “old times sake”.

I’ve been going around shops trying instruments of different calibre and for violins, Kono seems to be a nice choice, although I could definitely find myself something far more superior like an 1880 Caussin for a couple hundred dollars more. I assume the process is similar with violas but with different price ranges. If you have a teacher, he/she can probably give you more insight.

As a side note, how do you plan on purchasing instruments if not from a local shop?

Edited: October 26, 2017, 7:54 PM · I would possibly purchase via internet sale. I have done that with guitars with no problem, but there seems to be much more variability in the bowed instrument sector, hence my confusion. For example, a Martin 00-18 is pretty much the same no matter where purchased, as all are finished in Martin factory. Same for Collings, et al. For bowed instruments looks like Eastman is responsible for several different brands if you look at the website, so are they all really Eastman, built elsewhere and sent to Eastman to finish, or exactly how does that work? Atlanta would be the nearest place to me with a good selection, but those shops appear to have a number of the Eastman brands. Just curious how all this works. Most likely for a viola purchase I will go to a shop somewhere and play in person.
October 26, 2017, 8:46 PM · Eastman is just a marketing brand for mass produced factory Chinese violins, whether they're made at one factory or more than one factory I wouldn't know. The Eastman's I have tried are not that impressive, but they're not expensive so, its up to you.
October 26, 2017, 10:36 PM · The universal advice is don't buy on Amazon, because even many of their "intermediate" violins are terrible, and that if you have a dedicated violin/strings shop that's the place to go and look. After that, people also say that several of the online shops are pretty good (Shar, Southwest Strings).

There's also some debate on what a "step-up" violin is. For me, learning as an adult along with my kids, what I've done is looked for the 2nd or 3rd level up of mass produced violins on sale on ebay or craigslist (violins that went for more than $1000, i.e, not the lowest student instruments). For instance, you can probably get a 200 or 300 level Eastman that was $1000-$1500 new for $3-500 on ebay. You'll likely need new strings and probably new bow or rehair, but it's not a bad way to get started. You can also often find violins that were in this range from local US string shops that are being resold with little use and are well set up.

It also seems as you say that there's less consistency in the strings world than among other musical instruments. The question you ask on factories is a good one. For instance, I have had good luck with Yamaha, but I don't know if they have one factory in China or have had several, and I don't know whether those factories produced instruments just for Yamaha or for many others. Yamaha to me has seemed "more standard," whereas with, say, Knilling, each instrument I've seen by them seemed quite different. It is a weird field. As another example, I have bought two Sheng Liu violins, which I think are sold wholesale to shops and then are set up by the local shop. I bought one for me that is really nice, but then I bought one for my son and the quality seemed much lower.

October 30, 2017, 12:06 PM · If you do use the internet, you should check and see if they allow returns so you can fully try the instrument before finalizing your choice. You can also check out catalogues (Sharmusic, Tarisio, other instrument shops?) instead of actually visiting shops if it's just the brand and price range you seek after.
October 30, 2017, 1:05 PM · Everyone's taste in violins is different, you need to find a way to go to a shop and try out multiple violins in your price range, mail order should be a desperate act of last resort IMHO
October 31, 2017, 12:29 PM · A lot of people like the Jay Haide instruments sold by Ifshin (if you're looking for another option in the intermediate price range). But in my experience they vary considerably in sound and you'd want to try a bunch of them out before settling on one. If you live somewhere with a lot of conservatory aspirants, a better solution might be to buy one from someone about to upgrade. I think Lydia indicated that kids in her area were playing $$$$$ instruments; surely some of them had an intermediate-grade 4/4 size instrument first.
October 31, 2017, 1:16 PM · Around here, Hiroshi Kono workshop violins (at about $2500) are considered a great student-grade violin. They're not entirely consistent so they do need to be tried, but the better ones are about as good as instruments in this price class get.

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