Violin recommendation for in intemediate/advance student

November 10, 2017, 6:58 AM · Hello list,
I am the parent of a violin player. My son has been playing for 5 years through the school program. He is also part of the school chamber orchestra and plays in the first violin group. We have been renting the instrument through the school program. Recently his teacher recommended we upgrade to an intermediate/advance violin. My son has also told us that his violin is not sounding as it should, especially for few notes. The store which rents the violin , through the school program , gives parents the option to purchase the instrument. I called them to ask his he can purchase a instrument better than the one he has (mathias thoma 401 4/4). I was told that all the model they have are student violin, which I understood as meaning they do not offer intermediate violin. The best option would be for us to go to a violin store have him play some instruments and pick the one that fits best. The caveat with that is that he, given his ear, most likely will pick an instrument way above our budget of $1100 max. I read a few threads which suggested that in order to get a great sounding violin at a low price an option is to get it from a luthier in china. Can anyone recommend good luthier in china, from who you have purchased instruments and are happy with. Another option is to buy a used instrument but this is also tricky since I don't have enough knowledge to evaluate an instrument.
thank you for your help.

Replies (32)

November 10, 2017, 7:07 AM · I don't think it would hurt to visit a real violin shop and have your son try a lot of instruments to gain experience. The last time I bought a violin (it was for a remote family member more than 15 yeas ago) I visited 5 shops and played a couple of dozen instruments.

I actually took one on approval from the 1st shop,
found none in the price range at the 2nd shop,
bought one at the 3rd shop with return privileges,
found nothing in the 4th shop,
found a good one in the 5th shop but decided the one form the 3rd shop would probably be better in the long run.
Finally returned to the 1st shop to return the one I'd taken from there.

November 10, 2017, 7:11 AM · At $1,000, you are already buying a Chinese-made instrument in all probability.

You need to discuss this issue with his teacher, because you need to figure out if $1,000 is going to be adequate to meet his needs. My guess is that it won't be -- rental instruments are often in this price class or better. An intermediate/advanced student instrument is typically in the $2k-$3k price range.

At that point you'll have to decide whether to delay an upgrade (his teacher can explain the likely impact of that), or take out a loan, or if his teacher can find him some other option.

Edited: November 10, 2017, 7:26 AM · Well, the price/quality ratio depends very much from where you live, i think.

When i was living in france, i found the most lovely violin for a very affordable price. It was an old mirecourt instrument.

Dont be afraid to take an older instrument, provided you get your luthier to take a look on it first. In your price range, this might be the best bang for your buck. Maybe aim at old german or french/ czech instruments (again, depends on where you live)

Oh yes, and there is no such thing as an "used" violin. These are not like cars.

November 10, 2017, 7:28 AM · Ah, one more thing: dont save on the bow.
November 10, 2017, 7:38 AM · @Bruno, I am in Boston.
@Lydia,aAren't the 2-3k range instrument also made in china?. The prices I saw online for local shops are 4500 upwards.
Edited: November 10, 2017, 7:40 AM · Yup. The $2-3k instruments are generally also Chinese-made unless you buy an older instrument. Don't worry about the origin at this price point; the only thing that matter is playability and sound.

Local shops don't put their inventory of student instruments online, and in general, websites don't accurately reflect inventory anyway. Ask your teacher for a recommendation for a shop or three to look at. (Try Carriage House violins in Boston, perhaps, for starters.)

November 10, 2017, 10:07 AM · Can you afford anything more than $1000? If not, you could try a bunch of affordable violins, as price-sound ratios are not that exact. You could also ask to borrow a violin.
November 10, 2017, 12:05 PM · @Ella, No I cannot go higher. He needs two instruments. One for school of one for home so he doesn't have to carry it back and forth as he has lessons everyday. I still need to pay a little in order to but the instrument he is currently renting and then get another one.
@Lydia I contacted the teacher and I will take him to a shop for him to try few violins.
November 10, 2017, 6:29 PM · After trying out some affordable violins and choosing some favourites to take home, I recommend that you show them to the teacher and get some comments.
November 10, 2017, 6:49 PM · K.C.,

I think buying one better instrument and carrying it everyday to school is a better option, esp. when your budget is tight.

November 10, 2017, 7:00 PM · That's true, though I can understand the inconvenience.
Edited: November 11, 2017, 6:06 PM · Although terms such as "intermediate" and "advanced" violin appear to make communication easier, they, in my opinion help only the dealer.
Your son needs a better violin - the one he will be happy with and can not wait to open the case again and start playing.
Now, from your point of view, (the one who pays the bill), you want to get the best violin for the least money possible.
No difference from a real-estate, especially when it comes to dealers muddling the market.
Your son seems to know what he is looking for. Meet him at "what is affordable" and forget about terminology.
November 11, 2017, 11:52 AM · Rocky is right on the ball. Ratings like "intermediate" or "advanced" are used in such subjective ways that you must find things out for yourself.
November 11, 2017, 8:49 PM · I disagree that "buy what's affordable" is necessarily a good solution. A teacher that says a student needs a better instrument almost certainly feels that the student is being held back by the lack of a better instrument. Buying something that is "affordable" but only slightly better may not actually solve what the teacher is concerned about, and it may actually be better to wait and save, or for a more serious student, to borrow to afford something appropriate.

The teacher should be asked to be very specific about the trade-offs, as well as what they feel that when the next upgrade is likely to be needed, so that it can be saved for. Or the parent can simply decide it's not worth investing in their child playing better (or winning more competitions, or doing better in auditions, etc.), but at least that trade-off should be made consciously.

Edited: November 12, 2017, 9:02 AM · Meet him at "what is affordable" is not the same as "affordable" by all means.
November 12, 2017, 9:19 AM · I am reading this as the teacher is the school orchestra teacher. In my area that means the teacher may or may not be a string player. Without more info on that, I am not sure that going by the teacher's recommendation as to which violin best suits the student's needs is a good idea.

It could be that a $1000 violin from a music store school rental program is a very different sounding and feeling violin than a $1000 violin from a violin shop. In my area, that is typical.

If you order a violin directly from a manufacturer in China, you will most likely need to take it for set up to a local violin shop which will cost money and possibly irritate the violin shop. And you have bought something without trying it. So, I say start visiting the violin shops in your area and see what they have in your price range. You will then be in a better position to evaluate your options.

Have your son play some. Parents often don't think they will be able to hear a difference between instruments. They can and you will be able to as well. Your son will be able to also feel the difference between instruments - and as already mentioned bows.

For bows in the lower price ranges, I far prefer carbon fiber bows. More consistent and unless very abused, they won't break.

Also consider making some sort of budgeting options for when strings need replacing, bows need rehairing and the violin needs to be checked over and adjusted which adds up as well.

November 12, 2017, 12:36 PM · I totally aqee that buying an affordable violin that's not a whole heck of a lot better than his current violin isn't a great idea. I do think that it is best to find something that's noticeably nicer that his current violin that's affordable, or wait a bit. If you end up purchasing an outfit and are happy with the bow and case, I don't see the point of looking further.
Edited: November 13, 2017, 9:36 AM · Thank you everyone for you responses. I am sure that getting a better violin will help my son improve. It is just that given his ear sensibility, I am anxious to take him to the shop. I will take him and see how it goes.
I just feel that $1000 is not a small amount for a middle school student, considering I have already paid 700 for the instrument we are renting and still have to pay more to own it.
What ticks me is that violins shops are selling over $4000 instruments they buy in China for around $800, shipping included. I understand they have to be profitable but selling the item 5 times at the purchase cost, I feel is a stretch. I want my son to be happy and enjoy playing, I find the cost quiet steep considering he is not auditioning for a music school .
November 13, 2017, 9:30 AM · I will note that it's worthwhile for a player to try things that they can't afford -- to try the very best-playing instruments the shop has (which aren't necessarily the most expensive, by the way) in order to develop their sense of what a violin can offer them.

A player who has that knowledge is better equipped to decide what trade-offs they can accept in a lesser violin.

And as a parent, you will also get a sense for the ways that your child may be potentially held back by the quality of the violin that they have access to -- or where they're simply not yet good enough to take advantage of a violin beyond a certain level of quality.

November 13, 2017, 9:53 AM · It does sound like a lot of money, especially to the uninitiated. I sometimes have to contextualize it. People out here sometimes spend $300 on concert tickets (not classical, unfortunately). Plane tickets to Europe or Hawaii? $1000+. A trip to a Disney resort, similar cost.

For what it's worth, other hobbies are expensive too. Figure skates cost hundreds of dollars and they need to be replaced once a year or more (depending on how much skating one does). An entry-level racing bike costs $1500 and many folks quickly upgrade to something 3x the cost.

Violins aren't an investment but they aren't really disposable either. This isn't like buying a laptop or a car. Properly cared for, its functional life should outlive its owner. Renting, on the other hand, is money down the drain. It's a sunk cost at this point, so I wouldn't take it into account––but I would absolutely do as another reader suggested and put all the $$ you anticipate spending on a rental into your purchase. If your son is old enough to have a decent instrument, he's old enough to care for it en route to school and elsewhere. People do this, all over the world, in all kinds of weather.

I have no idea whether you'll be able to find something good for $1K. You could get lucky and find something used that is undervalued. But my hunch from looking around and talking with other parents in the area is that the instrument that will get your son to adulthood is more likely to cost $2500. I don't really see the point in an intermediate price point––you don't get what you need and are unlikely to be able to recoup the cost.

Here's some food for thought: Owning a violin that he enjoys playing will increase the likelihood that this childhood investment in rentals, lessons, etc. pays off in the long run. Your son is much more likely to adopt music as an enduring lifetime hobby if he has a decent instrument that will get him through college and into adulthood, at which point if he's lucky and does well, he might be able to buy himself a very nice violin with all the $$ he makes in tech. :-)

Of course, if you don't have disposable $$, you don't have disposable $$ and no amount of context will change this.

November 13, 2017, 9:56 AM · PS: I know others said not to skimp on the bow. I would say the same...and/but/also I have a carbon fiber bow that cost a lot less than decent wood bows and it is serviceable and sturdy. If I had a teenager and was spending $$ on an instrument, I'd probably go CF for the bow and hold off on a nicer wood bow.

You should also budget for a decent case. I recommend Bobelock.

Edited: November 13, 2017, 11:20 AM · Please keep in mind that the OP may be in a difficult financial situation, so we shouldn't push them to buy something they really can't afford. I think it is great to try some expensive violins to get a feel for a great violin, but then again, there's the chance that you'll really want that expensive violin and not want to buy anything else.
November 13, 2017, 11:58 AM · Every player runs into the practicality issue. I really want a Strad. :-)

In the end we all buy what we can afford -- and sometimes we decide that the delta between what we have and what we can afford isn't sufficiently large to warrant an upgrade.

November 13, 2017, 12:43 PM · I remember the old adage, "Pay me now or pay me later."

I tend to agree with the idea that you're most likely in the 2500-3000 range for intermediate.

Of all the things I have researched, the violin has to rate up there with one of the most difficult things to quantify. There are really few straight answers. To add to the complexity is the fact that perceived player ability and future prospects toward ability are sometimes considered important in making such decisions. This is one of the few subjects that has someone telling you that if you fall into category A. You might want a better violin than if you fall into category B.Because presumably you won't ever get good enough to need a good violin. Go figure.
You would think a thing made to similar specs across the board would have, by now , come to the place where we can pin this down better.

Almost everything seems to "depend" on something else in making a choice.

We can weed some of it out if the main concern is practicality. In a purely practical tightwad sense, the 2500-3000 range is ok for an intermediate made in China by reputable distributors who aren't past sending a bad model back if it isn't up to snuff.

1000 down. Make the kid get a part time job and get the better violin would be my recommendation.

November 13, 2017, 2:10 PM · I have several good sounding antiques in the $1000 range, while they may not be good enough for the prodigy soloist type, they'd be quite adequate for high school orchestral work. Which is what we are talking about, isn't it??
November 13, 2017, 2:37 PM · @Lyndon, I don't know how good he is. Not being a musician it is hard for me to judge. But I know he ears notes and can play a melody just by ear.
November 13, 2017, 2:50 PM · For $1000 at my shop you can get a violin that sounds good on every note, just maybe not incredible or super loud, that's the trade off.
November 13, 2017, 2:51 PM · A prodigy is someone that would be playing violin concerto solos at 14, for example.
Edited: November 13, 2017, 8:09 PM · I also feel that even a thousand dollars might not be much of an upgrade from a rental though I haven't played violins in that range in a while. Might just have to wait until a higher range will give your son multiple jumps in quality.

But do give it a shot, there are bargains to be had. I'd also recommend asking the store's in resident player to help as well, usually since they are asked to maintain quality control they have their own favorites, since they have played everyone of them most likely.

Also lets briefly talk about what makes a good violin besides tone (which can be so subjective). It should also be easy to play, sound even when you cross strings, and have some projection to list the major checkpoints. I do agree that getting a better violin esp. if it's a much better one will motivate a person to play and to practice more. Maybe a better bow will make more of an impact at that range.

Have you thought of appraising violins online. Sharmusic and other major dealers seem to boast that their student violns are the best 500, 1,000, etc. money can buy. Let's see if what they say is true. They can also be quite competitive in pricing as well as they are so big plus other factors that they might be okay in selling violins at a lower price as to lure potential future lifelong customers. And from their ads these violins are chinese.

November 13, 2017, 8:03 PM · You'd be better off to work with a full service local store that offers 100% trade in value for upgrades.
Edited: November 13, 2017, 8:04 PM · Not only what Lyndon said, but: The OP is in Boston, which has so many shops, with such a large inventory of instruments, that there's no point in going through the pain of trying a handful of online instruments when the OP's kid can go to a shop and probably play two dozen violins or more in an afternoon.
November 16, 2017, 1:59 PM · I'm of the opinion that "rent-to-buy" is just a clever mechanism to guilt-trip people into buying a violin that they don't want, at a shop they don't like, at a price that's artificially inflated. Same reason a "large" fries is only 5 cents more expensive than the "small" fries at Mcdonalds. "Well, I don't really want a large fries, but I feel like it's just money down the drain if I don't get the larger size!"

Treat the rental money as just that - rental money. You don't avoid moving to a new apartment or buying a house because you've sunk ____ dollars into your previous rental, and I feel that violin rentals should be treated the same. IF a shop offers "rent to buy," I feel they should call it "installments" or a "payment plan." Otherwise I see it as a form of deception.

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