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How good should a beginner's instrument be?
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Irv
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January 17, 2018 - 10:25 pm
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I am currently reading a wonderful book which, I think, would allow you to critically choose those points that are important in your quest and those that are myth or suspect.  It is called "The Violin Explained" by James Beament.  He has two chapters on how the ear and mind characterizes sound which explains how a partial series of harmonics (unique to each instrument) determines instrument tone.  He also has a chapter on purchase, maintenance, and children's instruments.  In his opinion, the feed back loop between what your mind wants the sound to be and the bowing changes made to achieve that sound is so unique that having someone else (such as a teacher) play an instrument is of no benefit to a purchase.      

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AndrewH
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Irv said
I am currently reading a wonderful book which, I think, would allow you to critically choose those points that are important in your quest and those that are myth or suspect.  It is called "The Violin Explained" by James Beament.  He has two chapters on how the ear and mind characterizes sound which explains how a partial series of harmonics (unique to each instrument) determines instrument tone.  He also has a chapter on purchase, maintenance, and children's instruments.  In his opinion, the feed back loop between what your mind wants the sound to be and the bowing changes made to achieve that sound is so unique that having someone else (such as a teacher) play an instrument is of no benefit to a purchase.        

I'm not convinced that's true for beginners. For that kind of feedback loop to exist, the person playing the instrument would need a certain degree of bow control, which complete beginners would not have.

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Fiddlerman
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@ Martha - I'm a bit late to this post but aside from your examples I want to point out the most important difference between inexpensive or bad instruments vs great instruments.

The sound is obviously very important and you probably shouldn't have an instrument that you do not like the sound of but another huge point is the instruments playability.
A great instrument is easier to play. It is more vibrant and open sounding. It is easier to do a good job when you do not have to struggle to get a sound. It's easier to achieve dynamics on an instrument that you don't have to press on..... etc.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Martha
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@Irv Thanks for the book recommendation, it sounds like one I would enjoy, and chipublib even has a copy (tho currently checked out).

There are two feedback loops in question, I think. One is in using existing skill to get a good or desired tone out of a given instrument--useful in determining whether a violin is "right" for you, assuming you = an experienced player. But the other is the feedback loop that SHAPES one's playing approach, as one learns--shapes that skill... 

@AndrewH Thanks for the clarification of demographics of what is a somewhat serious college student.  

I'm thinking that the advent of Chinese workshop violins, along with effective quality control processes and the supervision of skilled luthiers, has been something of a game-changer, in terms of price points.

@fiddlerguy Yes, I'm thinking what I need--on my hypothesis that the instrument is always, inevitably, one's most constant source of feedback--is something nice-sounding, not requiring quirky compensations, responsive to good standard technique, and able generously to reward happy "accidents" (that one then learns to repeat).

At my stage, I need a teacher or luthier or other skilled advisor to help me assess whether an instrument is good in those ways.

While no-one knows how my skill will develop (and that will depend partly on what I play on), there are some things I know already about my taste: I prefer lower sounds, "darker" sounds; a violin capable of responding to its E string in a way that does not set my teeth on edge... (though maybe I should cultivate higher expectations of the E string).

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Irv
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Another book which you might find of interest is American Luthier: Carleen Hutchins by Quincy Whitney.  I would certainly read the previously referenced book first since I think that it more relates to your interests.

I concur that you will likely find a Chinese factory made instrument which meets your needs.  I think that the value per dollar spent is currently extremely favorable to the consumer, if you are willing to spend beyond the "violin shaped object" category.  I still think that a total expenditure of the $650 range should get you something that will be very satisfying.  

If you are partial to a darkly biased instrument, I again suggest that you may like to obtain a 14" body viola, string it as a violin and use a perlin cored string set (like the Fidderman string set).  It is possible to have a luthier increase the sound of the lower strings relative to the upper strings by adjusting the heart and eyes of the bridge and adjusting the location of the sound post, but these steps are generally done to even out the instrument and not to cause a dark bias.  

I think that you will learn to enjoy the e string as your technique improves.  

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AndrewH
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Buying darker-sounding strings might be enough to bring any violin to the sound you're looking for.

In general, new instruments tend to be biased toward a brighter sound, especially in lower price ranges but even at the professional level. The sound will get a little darker with age and as it's played, so it may be worthwhile to look for a used violin at a local shop; some are available for under $1,000.

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Ferenc Simon
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Okay 🙂 I've read up on all the comments since....

What can I say... To me, some of it sounds waaay over-exaggerated. I mean in terms of needs as well as what we actually attribute to those high price-ranges. 

So let's just do a small reality-check, given that the topic is about beginner instruments. (though there seem to be multiple definitions of "beginner" and "student" throughout this thread 🙂  )

To me a proper violin is one that is set up correctly and doesn't hinder you in any way.. (action isn't too high.. bridge is fitted and angled correctly.. etc etc..). This alone can take care of almost every single physical aspect of violin play (the only remaining physical factor being weight, though the 'non-hindering' part kind of indirectly addresses this). And violins that fit the above description can be found even at around ~$300.

Once we have the above violin.. (and an equally decent bow) it can theoretically take you through your entire learning process from novice to master without ever having a physical need to 'upgrade'. Unless you can actually name an object or a part of the violin that is there in PLUS on the 10k+ ones that the poor 1k one doesn't have and it improves your playing (I'm assuming you can't..) , we're not even talking about opinions, but actual facts.. since unfortunately the laws of physics apply to violins as well. 

Now, once we go BEYOND that initial violin that would allow you to learn every technique and master violin play due to it's matching of violin specifications and proper setup, we are no longer talking about play-ability, but the more subjective aspects.. like sound.. tone.. feel.. looks.. 'prestige' (yes violins have a brand-syndrome as well).. etc.. and THAT'S where a big portion of the remaining money goes, all the way up to.. pretty much 'priceless' if something has the exact combination that you fall in love with. 

I'm pretty sure there isn't a single piece of music that Fiddlerman can play on his personal 'expensive' violin, but simply cannot play on a random, but properly set up Apprentice violin from his shop. Of course, it might not sound the same, but that is a totally different matter and completely subjective.. (some might prefer the cheap one), but he will be able to do all the shifts.. hit all the notes.. do all the harmonics.. and everything related to technique so long as the violin doesn't have anything wrong with it. In fact most of you probably seen the video where he gets a better tone out of a freshly unboxed Cecilio 100 (which.. is really close to not even qualifying as a violin and probably has a ton of set-up problems.) than any of us here on our more expensive violins...

Anyway, don't get me wrong, I do enjoy reading all the high-priced violin discussion 🙂 The purpose of this reply was simply to point out that sometimes we might be having unrealistic expectations of highly priced violins, but when it comes to learning, anything that makes a sound and is properly set up is more than enough and there isn't any price-tag, regardless how high, which will get us a violin that will magically teach us to play better than the amount of work that we put into it ourselves. 

 

Based on that, in your specific case Martha, I still have the same recommendation as before.. maybe get something that is properly set up, but still cheap.. OB1 / Apprentice if you're getting it from Fiddlerman or something similar if you want it from other shops. Make it your own... Learn to play it.. to a point where you know you're not going to abandon it. The more you play it, the more you can tell for yourself which part of its specific tone is bothering you and what would you like instead. Furthermore, you're not going to be scared of experimenting (based on the other thread with counterweights etc) as you might be with a more expensive one. If you play it for a while it's basically going to become a 'free' backup for the future, since the rent would sooner or later add up to that ~$300 anyway. After you go through all these stages, take all the information you learned and buy the violin of your dreams, with the tone you want.. with the flamed back you want.. with the feel you want.. etc. 🙂 

Obviously this is just a suggestion and if you have the money to burn on this hobby straight up, by all means, you can go as big as you like. But more often than not people's money is tight when it comes to hobbies like these so I'm basing my recommendation around that.. and this would be the 'economic' option that still has the potential to get you the same learning results.

Wow.. this turned out to be one of those 'way too long' posts that you start typing super-tired and after 2 hours you realize you're still typing it.... 

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AndrewH
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Again, to clarify, I'm recommending AGAINST spending over $1000, because a violin costing under $1000 is enough to get all the way to where you're ready to jump straight to a high-level instrument. This was in response to the talk about buying a $1k-1.5k violin. Basically, I'm recommending sticking with the beginner violin until you're ready to skip over the more expensive factory instruments completely, and go straight to a workshop or bench-made violin. For virtually all beginners, this will take at least several years.

Please note that I stuck with my first viola, which was a factory-made instrument (a high-end factory instrument, but I think what I'm saying applies to mid-level factory instruments too), for about six years before jumping straight to the viola that I expect to play for life. Given that I started just before college, by the time I graduated I was one of those non-music-majors playing in a college orchestra with a factory viola!

I'm also putting prices into context: there is a whole range of student levels below the "prodigies." The $3k-$5k range (and maybe a little above that) is sometimes referred to as the "pre-professional" range, because it's commonly played by performance majors and top high school musicians on their way to being performance majors, but they tend to upgrade to a "professional" instrument ($5k and up) before they graduate and start going to auditions, because auditions are highly competitive even for regional professional orchestras. High-level amateurs playing in competitively auditioned community orchestras or semi-professional orchestras also tend to shop above $3k.

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Irv
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Amazon Warehouse Deals is currently offering a Cecilio CVN 600 with a case and two bows for $255.  And it has a flamed maple back.  Just saying...

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Martha
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What a lot of strong opinion this has stirred up!

@Ferenc Simon Was it Samuel Clemens who once wrote, I'm sorry this letter is so long, I didn't have time to make it shorter?  (= I get THAT principle.)

While I am a woman of very limited means, $1K or $1.5K is NOT a "high priced" violin--as violins go. (As things I might buy, it is very expensive: = 2 to 3 months rent! But musical instruments, if they are any good, tend to be quite expensive: per pound, per inch, whatever).

I was never suggesting that some things are playable on some super-duper violin but are unplayable on an inexpensive one. Just, that the feedback a learner gets from the instrument will inevitably shape their playing. 

...once we go BEYOND that initial violin that would allow you to learn every technique and master violin play due to it's matching of violin specifications and proper setup, we are no longer talking about play-ability, but the more subjective aspects.. like sound.. tone.. feel.. looks.. 'prestige' (yes violins have a brand-syndrome as well).. etc..

Sounds like you are saying, a beginner's violin shouldn't require any special "dull knife" techniques, but it doesn't matter whether it is able to reward--much less reward generously--the random better move, because the learner isn't listening anyway. Maybe this is true, perhaps especially if he or she has learned from the instrument not to bother to listen. I believe this can and does happen, for example with children attempting to play very cheap and poorly set up instruments.

And--perhaps this is just a difference of opinion, and we will have to agree to differ--I am saying that the instrument will inevitably shape the learner's playing: sharpening the better moves that it rewards with better sound, leaving untouched the better moves that it does not reward with better sound (or with marginally better sound). Assuming that the learner is listening, which I will insist that the learner should do. 

@andrew What I'm considering doing is skipping over the factory-made instruments and getting a workshop violin, which--in contrast to a decade or two ago--seem to be available in the $1-$1.5 range. The price points you describe do not seem to take that development into account. (???)

I will note that the luthier from whom I am renting--in whose opinions I currently have very mixed confidence--also told me that there is a major quality difference available at around the $1.2K price point.

Maybe the story will help understanding here. I had brought to him a $250 violin I had bought online (from Woodwind & Brasswind), with the expectation that it would probably need roughly another $125 in work to put it into good playing condition. In the course of talking, I confided a curious misgiving I was having. Exploring that instrument with my fingers, tapping it gently (imagine trying to make the sound of raindrops), it really didn't even sound/feel like wood. (I am reasonably sure it WAS wood, and not pressed wood either. Though it did have a very heavy polyurethane varnish.) It sounded rather like plastic, and like plastic that was somehow stressed, at that. He looked at me kind of funny, left the room, and came back with two violins that he wordlessly handed to me, one at a time. I repeated the gentle tapping on each, front and back. DEFINITELY wood, and acoustically quite interesting wood. (One was an older American fiddle, the other from a Chinese workshop (didn't say which)--both $1.4K.) 

He was not unwilling to work on the violin I'd brought him, saying, I can get it very playable, and then you should play it until you pick up someone else's violin and say, Hey, I sound better on this one!

But as I let my tactile/auditory experience settle in, I decided to send back the instrument I'd bought, and to rent a violin from him. To whatever extent that tactile/auditory experience is relevant: (1) some parts of some of my furniture have more interesting and more pleasant resonances than that cheap violin; and (2) if I could get the stressed plastic box that it sounded and felt like to talk--or to sing--my impulse would be to want it to SHUT UP! Which, I realized, was not the ideal relationship with one's first instrument... 

Currently I am renting a rather beat-up instrument, no name/label/etc, valued (for the rental agreement) at $400, but apparently originally in the $600-$800 range. (This guy also supplies the rentals for Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music--among other things. And says that is the range of his rentals, and that his rentals are indicative of what's available in that price range.)

I am not really sure how much of its deficiencies are set up, how much the instrument itself. The strings are sunk rather far into the bridge--that dull A string almost wholly swallowed up. And the nut looks like a disaster area, though less so at the D and A strings where I am mostly playing than at G and E. Maybe it is a fully OK instrument, just that my luthier somehow did not find the time to re-do the set up between renters. Maybe it is not. Tapping gently, it feels/sounds like wood, not plastic--but very uninteresting wood.

SO--some of my motivation is to get WELL AWAY from phenomena like (a) the cheap thing I owned for about 36 hours, and (b) the instrument I currently have rented (whose issues are not yet apportioned between setup and instrument).

@fiddlerguy I did not type "fiddler guy," some automated correction/suggestion must have changed it and I did not notice! 

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coolpinkone
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My amatuer experience.  I had a 3-4 hundred dollar violin that I used for two years. I made progress. 

I went from ProArts to Zyex strings  and used a CF bow. I then got a better violin and used zyex strings for a few year and that violin had a big voice and as Fiddlerman mentioned, getting sound and quality from it was so much easier.  It was a huge motivation to see the strings vibrate and make such a good sound. 

Year four I upgraded to another violin MJZ and Larson strings.  I use Larson strings for both violins now and I feel very very happy with both violins.  And still yet the MJZ plays more easily for me.

And to add to that, I added a nice wood bow to my ensemble and Now I feel I get the sound I want and I feel that when I put my effort into learning a new series of notes ...ect., I feel rewarded.  I don't have to work extra for basic sound.  

If that makes any sense.

My violins are

1st generation Fiddlerman Soloist

MJZ 905

FM Perm bow

I want to try to the FM strings on my violins but I feel very very spoiled with the Larsons and I am afraid to try.  I changed strings on both violins last time...so doing changing out both sets now with Larsons robs my piggy bank.  🙂   I am over due for string change.

I am working on a project now so my reward should be strings.

Just my ramblings.   I will note that I have seen many successful beginners start out on very very inexpensive violin set ups  and do very very well. 

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Ferenc Simon
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Martha said

@Ferenc Simon Was it Samuel Clemens who once wrote, I'm sorry this letter is so long, I didn't have time to make it shorter?  (= I get THAT principle.)

I really like this! 🙂 It's one of those twisted, yet accurate descriptions! 🙂 

Martha said
While I am a woman of very limited means, $1K or $1.5K is NOT a "high priced" violin--as violins go. (As things I might buy, it is very expensive: = 2 to 3 months rent! But musical instruments, if they are any good, tend to be quite expensive: per pound, per inch, whatever).

See? This is sort of what I assumed your thought process is, that's why I was trying to present the 'other side' of the story as well. I completely agree with this statement that in the 'world of violins' the $1K or $1.5K doesn't even scratch the surface when it comes to 'high price', in fact they're actually still on the 'cheap' side..

BUT I guess one of the things I was trying to say is: don't get fooled by the price tag or the general 'dogma' around violins, when we say 'major difference' (let's say between a $1k and a $4k violin) most of the time (assuming both are set up properly) we're actually talking about very minor and insignificant details in terms of 'what makes a violin a violin'.. Sure, these differences exist to some extent (up to a certain price point) when it comes to the quality of the wood.. the quality of the craftsmanship etc. but a $1k violin already has literally every chance to be better than a $4k violin, since the subjective differences start to kick in after they both satisfy that initial 'demand' of not physically hindering you due to its setup.

To bring up an example on this topic so we put it in context: To me for example, that particular Fiddlerman Master violin that Pierre used for the demo video on the site sounds better than 99% of everything else they sell and even though it costs a mere $800 for the full outfit, I can easily compare it to bench-made violins they sell at $2.4k and declare it a winner over those. And as long as it has the proper setup that is a perfectly good violin. 

Martha said

Sounds like you are saying, a beginner's violin shouldn't require any special "dull knife" techniques, but it doesn't matter whether it is able to reward--much less reward generously--the random better move, because the learner isn't listening anyway. Maybe this is true, perhaps especially if he or she has learned from the instrument not to bother to listen. I believe this can and does happen, for example with children attempting to play very cheap and poorly set up instruments.

And--perhaps this is just a difference of opinion, and we will have to agree to differ--I am saying that the instrument will inevitably shape the learner's playing: sharpening the better moves that it rewards with better sound, leaving untouched the better moves that it does not reward with better sound (or with marginally better sound). Assuming that the learner is listening, which I will insist that the learner should do. 

This is another one of those points where 'I apparently messed up' when writing my post, since I should've clarified 🙂 The first part is correct, that is what I was trying to say that it shouldn't require any 'dull knife' techniques, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be rewarding or motivating you. Contrary to common belief, a cheap violin CAN be just as much rewarding as a more expensive violin so you don't have to break the bank to get a taste of that. That's why I was suggesting to not even attempt to 'break the bank' and try something cheaper at first so when the bank breaking actually does happen in the future you'll know exactly what you'll want and even if you only spend 1-1.5k on your final violin, that is going to be worth waaaaaaaay more to you then, than anything you can buy for the same price now (since you'll develop your personal taste for tone, thus making that 1k violin worth way more to you). Andrew pretty much suggested the same thing, but with slightly higher price ranges (if I understood correctly) so I'm sort of backing him up on this, while noting that you don't even have to spend that much to get a similar result. 

Remember that horrible Stagg VSO I talked about.. and Charles mentioned it again 🙂 That's not even a violin.. and yes it was horrible and there were plenty of times when it frustrated me.. but after I did some basic set-up work on it (carved a completely new bridge.. put on new strings, fitted with new wooden pegs since the originals were plastic and sticking) even though I learned all of that stuff at the time, so you can barely even call it an 'amateur setup', guess what.. it started being pretty rewarding, especially for what it is..

Here's my last video I made with that VSO as an example (was learning Oh holy night for the Christmas project).. Even though I was only at 2 months into violin playing, there are some pretty rewarding sounds there... if you cover your eyes you'd never guess those sounds are coming from this 'thing' with a cracked top and a spray-paint job... (to quote Mandy (regarding the crack): 'It opened up... literally' lol). So again, I'm fairly confident that if I, with my very very limited abilities was able to get this 'toy' to produce sounds like these, then a properly set up $300 OB1 can be more than rewarding enough.  

Oh and lastly 🙂 It's not really a 'strong opinion', like I said, I just wanted to present the other side of the story and make sure you are fully aware of what you're jumping into before jumping. And that you are aware that you can get the same result from a cheaper instrument in terms of learning, while still having the same amount of fun doing it. Chances are that if you simply go by the 'wide-spread / public opinion' surrounding violin prices without considering the information here, you might end up dishing out $1.5k for something.. then regretfully questioning yourself after it arrives if it's even better than the one you used to rent.. 

As you can see in the other thread I linked before, when it was about buying the Artist or the Master violin, I was kind of 'advocating' towards the more expensive one, so I'm not a 'cheapo' by any means :)) I'm simply trying to help out by making sure you ask the right questions to yourself, obviously at the end of the day I will be happy for you, regardless of the route you choose and will be awaiting to see your posts of your new violin, whenever that happens. Sometimes it's just good to ask yourself questions even if you already made up your mind. (And I should probably take that advice as well.. since I have plenty of experience when it comes to jumping into buying stuff without giving it enough thought :))) ) 

Cheers!

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Irv
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Hello Martha (and all).  A ways back in the thread, you mentioned the experience you had with your local shop.  If you can spare two minutes to view a video, I think that I can illuminate what you went through.  Go to Youtube and look up "Upton Bass:  Double Bass Repair Scares."  

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Martha
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@Irv I watched the video, and no, really, the story I told isn't a parallel of this. I brought up the "plastic-y" resonance I experienced with the Cremona SV-175, he let me experience a couple of other violins in that odd (?) way, I made my decision.  But it was already true that when I opened the box the day before, my heart sank, mostly at the handling characteristics of this little wooden box. It had WAY more wrong with it than the rental I'm playing... which at least feels and sounds like wood.

Still, it is true that virtually every luthier in existence has something to sell and would like to sell it--so all advice from expert sources comes with a grain of salt. Or sometimes a mountain of salt! 

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Charles
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Martha said

Charles, I can't see an alternative to "trying to teach myself by what the violin sounds like." Ignoring the acoustic feedback of one's playing (in order to attend to what?) seems like the antithesis of becoming a better musician. This seems so clear to me that it suggests I may not be understanding you.

Hi, Martha,

If I gave you the impression that I meant you shouldn't listen to your playing, I definitely garbled things. I'll try to put it more directly with less rambling.

It takes a trained ear to listen to two new violins and tell which one is likely going to be the better sounding several years down the road.  So you're going to have to trust someone else to tell you which ones are how good.

Since a "lifetime" instrument is probably not financially possible, the question is how long an instrument will last you before you start running into limits to your playing caused by the instrument? That's going to be hard to call, because no one knows how talented you are or how dedicated to practicing you are. If you're naturally talented and going to practice religiously 2+ hours a day, you're going to outgrow a particular violin a lot faster than someone like me, who is not very talented, and practices 2 or 3 hours a week.

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Charles
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Note to self - read all the posts before replying to a thread. 🙂

Re the quote, it was Blaise Pascal. According to the Internet, the exact quote is: I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.

And yes, editing stuff down to a reasonable length does take a good bit more time. (Or more time up front thinking how to say things.)

I agree with Ferenc that a more expensive violin is not going to teach you much more (or much faster) than a cheaper one (at least, not with beginner techniques), but the sound? That's a whole different story. So yes, if you have to get into the $1K-$1.5K range to get things that sound good to you and can afford it, go for it. (That's one reason I have a $3K Ming - I got to listening to a lot of different ones, and always having had a case of champagne tastes...)

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Martha
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I really appreciate all the attention that has been given here to my question--yes, even when I have argued with it, I have learned a lot.

@charles Reading your response above, I have realized I have at least one unstated assumption. Under most likely scenarios, I'm more able to afford a $1-1.5K investment now (a stretch, and limiting what else I can do this year) than some years down the road. So if I spend, say, $500 now, and am happy enough for 2 or 3 years, and then want to upgrade--well, that may not be an option. If not, the $500 instrument (or whatever) becomes, by default, the lifetime instrument. I think this has been influencing my calculations, possibly in an unhelpful way. (My financial situation is odd, and undesirable, but I don't expect advice here on how to manage it. Just putting that card on the table--and glad that you folks have helped make me conscious of its relevance.)

@Irv Possibly belaboring the point, I think when we ask "Who benefits?" we have to be careful to think about the benefits involved.

The luthier from whom I am renting had a choice. He could have encouraged the $150-$200 business in fixing up the cheap-o violin (plus giving me reasons to return to buy a better one).  

OR he could have encouraged me to spend $25/month to rent a different instrument from him (plus giving me reasons to return to buy a better one, with part of the first year rent applied to purchase).

Since $300 (a year's rental) minus $225 (75% of first year applicable to purchase) is less than $150-$200 (set-up)--and the set-up is front-end loaded and a sure thing, while continued rental followed by purchase is not--I would say his financial motivation was slightly more on the side of working on the cheap-o rather than renting to me. 

He seemed to me to present the situation in a neutral way, which I think is to his credit.

And he took seriously my impressions--as a woodworker, I have always been intrigued with the resonances of wood. I daresay this is an interest that any wanna-be luthier must develop, if he or she does not already have. And he did so not urging any actionable point, but by providing a means for me to enlarge my experience.

And he didn't have any suitable rentals that day, so I went away having paid NO money, and had to pester him by email. It took 3 emails from me and a month's time before he could say, come on down and pick up a rental. (Maybe his business would do better if he took the "win by intimidation" course... but on the other hand maybe there's a reason several people in the community recommended him.)

So here's a branch question: how would any person develop a broad enough awareness to be able to evaluate a violin after 1 or 2 or 3 years? Note: I do NOT mean, to make an educated guess about how a particular instrument will mature.

What I mean is: to be able to tell whether the instrument's capabilities match one's own TASTE, and whether one's own capabilities are right to draw out the good that is in the instrument. This is in contrast to what I imagine would happen if, say, one worked on the same violin for 1-3 years, only occasionally and briefly trying someone else's. Under that scenario, I think what one could mostly tell is whether a given violin responds to the same things the one violin that shaped my practice responds to.

What comes to mind is, one could change one's rental violin several times, thereby gaining broader experience and balancing the effects of idiosyncrasies of each on one's playing. Other ideas?

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Irv
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January 21, 2018 - 5:37 pm
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Actually, I have a couple of ideas.  First, I would capitalize on your woodworking skills.  In no way would I would I continue to use a rental having a bridge with a cut through e string (no wonder you don't like the e string) given some woodworking knowledge.  Purchase about 4 each violin bridges.  Shipment from China will take too long.  I would recommended purchasing two sets of Cinderella violin bridges from Amazon (about $8 per set of 2).  Make a templet on cardboard of a 42 mm arc.  Look at the violin setup videos on Youtube from Fiddlerman and Rosa String Works (most of the others are coy on the actual process).  You need some chisels (perhaps you own some) or buy cheap ones from Harbor Freight and sharpen with a piece of leather and a bit of polishing compound (also Harbor Freight) or some 100 grit sand paper, a ruler, a stout pin, a wax pencil, a cheap set of diamond coated needle files (Harbor Freight) and some blue painter's tape.  I also like to use a hand-held belt sander, but that is not necessary.  

Work with a set of 2 bridges.  Start with carving (or sanding) the bridge feet to the violin top, then use the pin taped ruler to find the point where the fingerboard would intersect the bridge.  Add about 4 mm on the G side and about 3 mm on the e side.  Use the templet to draw a curve through the two points and carve away excess material from the line.  Carve away excess material on the fingerboard side of the bridge so that you have about 2 mm thickness on the top and about 4 mm on the base.  I like to have a "belly" in the center of mine for added strength.  Sand a relief on the back side of the bridge top and use needle files to mark the placement of the strings (not too much; more than 1/2 of the string should be exposed above the top of the bridge).  The first set of two should work.  After a day or two pondering improvements, the second set of two should have a an air of professionalism.  Put the best on the instrument and the second best in the case for a spare.

Second, I would buy an inexpensive 1:30 violin peg reamer from China or Amazon (about $20) so that if you purchase a violin you will be ready to install the Knilling planetary pegs (I can walk you through how to do that as well).

Third, do you know how to install your own strings?  If not, learn.  It is an easy skill and would allow you to try various synthetic strings (look at trying a Fiddlerman set $30 or oem D'Addario Zyex on eBay $24).  Fiddlerman changes his strings on a bi-monthly basis and has offered members his old strings for free upon request.  Keep the old set and reinstall when/if you return the rental.

If you take lessons, have you ever tried your instructor's violin?

When you go on vacation, take your bow and visit a string instrument shop.  Leave your credit card on the hotel room.  

I remember viewing a Fiddlerman video where he was playing a "Cannon' violin something and thinking, if one of those ever ends up on eBay for $300, I'm pressing the button.  But I would never base a major purchase decision (I'm sure the actual violin was more like $2,000) on the sound though a 2" computer speaker, or worse a second hand recommendation like the ones I have seen above based on the sound though a 2" computer speaker.

Try the Amazon Warehouse deal of the Cecilio CVN 600 (and use another set of strings, using the above referenced process).  They have free return if you don't like it.  If nothing else, you will have tried another violin for a few weeks at no cost to you.  The CVN 600 is likely to be less than 1 per cent of their sales and few people have any idea how nice they are (based on the number of Amazon reviews.  The lower CVN models and the violins models of the related company have hundreds of reviews.  I believe that there are only about 6 reviews of the CVN 600).  Cecilio does not sell their top of the line CVN 700 and CVN 800 on Amazon.

Finally, another quote of Mark Twain on his reason for being tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.  "I would have preferred to walk, but they made me feel so important."

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Irv
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By my addition, I have reduced my previous estimate a good amount.  $45 by purchasing the Amazon Warehouse Deal Cecilio CVN 600.  $120 by doing the set up work and Knilling planetary pegs yourself.  $30 by scrounging a set of Fiddlerman's used violin strings.  -$20 by the recommendation of purchasing a 1:30 violin peg reamer.  I now suggest that you use some of this new found wealth (assuming you like cats) to purchase something decidedly frivolous.

A "Buy It Now" item on eBay entitled "Kitty Violin Case -- Full Size 4/4 #2803" is not a conservative statement of fashion, but it looks to be a very nice case for the price.  The case provided with the Cecilio CVN 600 is about 80% as good, but certainly not equal as a fashion statement.

Another item not previously mentioned.  Until Christmas 2017, the Cecilio CVN 600 was selling on Amazon for about $480.  They are now $300.  The Cecilio CVA 600 sister viola is still on Amazon for $480.  Either they are not selling or Cecilio is trying some marketing to determine optimum price point.     

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Ferenc Simon
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Irv 🙂 really nice post!!

But just one small comment! 😛

Fiddlerman records their violins with a set of really high quality studio microphones.. :)) I, for example, have professional AKG studio headphones with a completely flat response, hooked up to a pretty decent semi-professional external sound card.. and if you watch those videos in the highest available quality not much of it is lost.. so.. the sound of the violins are really really close to what you would hear in person.. it's almost as if you're in the room and can feel the vibrations. So, at least in my case the '2" computer speaker' part isn't so true.. 

With that being said though, I totally agree that when we're talking about the 'permanent' violin and not just an object we can flawlessly learn on... and when every little nuance of the tone matters she shouldn't take anyone's advice and should instead listen to it herself and simply go with the one she likes most, even if we all say that it sounds bad 🙂 

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