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How good should a beginner's instrument be?
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (1 votes) 
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Martha
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January 12, 2018 - 6:33 pm
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I've been entertaining suspicions about the quality of my current rental instrument, but I'm so much a beginner that I can't be sure.

Two PRINCIPLES have percolated up in my mind, however. (Would like to hear others' thoughts and ideas.)

(1) A beginner instrument shouldn't require non-standard accommodations to play it. Analogy: I have a very dull knife in my kitchen. If I grab it, I have to do all sorts of dull-knife things to achieve basic results: poke the tip into the tomato before (attempting to) slice with the edge, etc. I know there are some players who could make (almost) any instrument sound (somewhat) good. But I'm thinking that a beginner instrument should be good enough that it doesn't require compensations to coax it. Good standard technique should be enough.

(2) A beginning player is not only bad, but is also very inconsistent. There's a gift hidden in that fact. If the best of 10 attempts, the best of 100 attempts, is significantly closer to well done, AND the instrument sounds noticeably better on those "best" attempts (preferably a lot better), AND the learner is paying attention, there is a clear, shining beacon toward improvement. If it sounds a very little better, one is more likely to not notice the difference, and plod along trying to form the correct angles, movements, etc. Possibly also ignoring the sound. 

The most and most consistent feedback you're going to get, however you are taught, is ALWAYS going to come from the instrument. So I'm thinking a beginner instrument should be good enough that it clearly--not just slightly--rewards the better moves a beginner sometimes accidentally makes. This also rewards listening.

So that's my current theory: a beginner's instrument should be good enough to not need exceptional coaxing, and good enough that it can reward and reinforce the random good move.

So: what does it take to hit those goals? And how does one assess whether an instrument is doing that, or not?

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Bob
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January 12, 2018 - 7:01 pm
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Oh, I hope you can get a definitive answer to your query 🙂 I have three completely different violins. Two I bought after trying several mailed to me from across the country. One is a Anton Schroetter, not known for being a very good maker, the other one is marked US NAVY with a contract number. The US Navy one I had a Dallas Luthier work over and it sounded pretty good, but VERY bright. After adding Fiddlerman strings it toned down some of the brightness and now is my favorite.

In 1999 I had a local luthier make me a new violin. It turned out pretty good, but seems to have a lot of weird harmonics that don't please me. 

I keep trying each of these violins hoping to find the one I really like the sound of, but because of my inconsistent playing abilities, one day I think one violin is best, then the next day try the other and it sounds better.

I wish I still had a teacher ( he left the state after teaching me for several years, cause and effect?  😉  ) that I could have play each one and give me feedback, but I'm now retired and live on a farm many miles from "civilization" (i.e. Dallas) and a teacher is not available nearby 🙁 

So even with more that one violin to choose from I can't decide if one of them is good enough. I guess I'll just keep practicing and see if the violins get any better (grin).

Bob in Lone Oak, Texas

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AndrewH
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January 12, 2018 - 7:21 pm
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I'm not sure what the price range is in order to meet those standards (I've never had a violin or viola worth less than $1000 because I started out on my late great-uncle's violin), but it's also a good idea to make sure you're not buying a VSO that will cost more in repair work than it would have cost to buy a decent violin in the first place.

I think the best way to assess a violin, if you're a beginner, is to go to the shop with a more experienced violinist who can play with good technique and tell you if it doesn't feel right.

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Amateur
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January 12, 2018 - 8:27 pm
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I've found only one must-have for a beginner instrument, of any kind. That is a good set-up. The other must-have is desire and that can't be bought.

You can develop your musician's ear even with a cheap instrument, provided the setup is at least usable.

For most beginners, I would recommend purchasing from a real violin shop that is full service and getting one of their student violins. Setup work is done and they usually guarantee/warantee them. They usually have trade-up policies as well.

Having started off on a cheap violin, I'll tell you that you'll need to do your research and make your tweaks to get decent playability out of them. Any cheap violin that has not had set up work from the seller is not going to have a very good set-up.

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Irv
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January 12, 2018 - 9:57 pm
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I am going to second Amateur's post.  And I wish to give an example to reinforce it.

I began playing on a Cecilio electric (silent) violin since I thought that my first sounds on a violin would be so disturbing that I did not want my wife to hear it.  I am a technical person by nature and via reading (mostly topics on this forum) and looking at various Youtube videos, I soon determined that the bridge that was supplied with the violin was too high and poorly shaped.  I practiced still more weeks on it while I obtained a supply of inexpensive unshaped bridges from China for me to work with.

I was initially very happy with the new bridge that I made since it met all of the technical criteria that a violin bridge should have and the sound was much better and louder through my head phones.  But it was so radically different from what was originally supplied that my bow arm could not kinesthetically locate where the various strings were any more.  Talk about frustration.  I ended up taking several weeks to retrace my previous progress through a method book with the new bridge and I am just now getting back to where I was on the old bridge.  This could have been avoided had the instrument been properly set up in the first place.

I am aware that the majority of woodwind student instruments have badly sealing pads and the number of wasted practice hours must be in the tens of thousands per year.  It is my understanding that young student violins are rarely tuned due to the difficulty with the standard peg.  How is it possible to obtain a good ear for intonation starting with an out of tune instrument?

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Ferenc Simon
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January 13, 2018 - 8:48 am
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@Martha  - Something similar has been brought up in another topic in the past. It was mainly about choosing between two violins to upgrade to and even though I painted a rather black and white picture about those two, I kinda went sidetracked and pretty much dumped my opinion about student / beginner violins in general there :)) 

Maybe you'd find that as an interesting read: https://fiddlerman.com/forum/the-violin/upgrading-violin/#p88416

 

Edit: Oh and trust me, your observations are completely correct... I started out with a 'violin' that would've functioned better as a simple toy... but thankfully I recognized the situation really fast and spent pretty much more than the initial cost of the violin just on parts so that I can upgrade it at home... Imagine if I had to have a luthier do all the work... (though most would've probably turned it down just by looking at the instrument). - In the end I managed to get it really playable and sounding really well, but at that point my real violin I had on order was ready 🙂

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Martha
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January 13, 2018 - 12:49 pm
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Bob: I can really relate to your 3-violin quandary!

I'm going to ask a question that is both slightly pushy and slightly subtle--please just disregard if it just doesn't fit for you. Here's the question:

What if, rather than asking which violin you like best, or which sounds best, or which you are able to play best, what if you asked, What does each have to teach? That is, what that is new to you does each one ask for, or reward? If you follow where it leads, where is that? And then, is that somewhere you want to go?

If you can articulate even a tiny sliver of an answer, I'd be very glad to hear it!

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Martha
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January 13, 2018 - 12:54 pm
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@Irv The wrongly-curved bridge is a great example of my dull-knife principle--thanks for that!

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Martha
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January 13, 2018 - 1:22 pm
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@Ferenc Simon I read your old post. There's a lot I agree with there. A beginner needs something really decent, if not necessarily excellent, because the instrument is shaping how they play. Also shaping whether they continue to want to play, or feel like playing is possible. 

I'm just now at a stage where small improvements in the agility needed just to play a simple tune are "growing in" fast enough to be rewarding--a set of rewards not greatly dependent on the instrument. (Though I do wonder about 7/8ths and smaller-necked instruments.) And I think the instrument I have rented (from a local luthier) is probably adequately set up. So I'm not in a blind hurry.

But the E string is such a shrieker, even after I replaced it, and the A seems oddly dead, even after replacement. (And before the replacements, the E would sound--rather loudly--and visibly wiggle--if I played a B on the A string. And no, I was not touching the E string.) I wonder if it is not my badness or the string, but something about the violin itself? Maybe that's why it came with such an odd set of strings: G and D Dominants, A a D'addario Prelude (=steel core!), E unable to identify from charts on the internet. I initially attributed this mix to the previous renter's random replacement(s) (and luthier not bothering to change them for a new renter), but maybe it is related to some odd quirk(s) of the instrument itself?

Anyway: I'm romancing possibilities in the $1K to $1.5K range, with the idea that it would just be my violin from here on out. (Though that is WAY more than I initially intended to invest in this experiment! Looking at Scott Cao 750s or 850s, higher-end Fiddlerman and lower-end Holsteins in this range too, Snow, and some others.) But while not in a blind rush to dump the rental immediately, I'm not sure how much of a sedate hurry I'm in--3 months? a year? AND YET, the chances that I'll still be doing this two years from now depends in significant part on getting that "good enough" thing nailed.

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Ferenc Simon
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January 13, 2018 - 7:06 pm
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Hmm... well the good thing about violins is that unlike most other things... they don't necessarily lose their value as they age. So you can always sell them at a later stage in case you want to upgrade or if for some odd reason you decide not to pursue this hobby anymore.

If I were you and unsure about how to proceed.. I would probably call Fiddlershop and ask about one of their cheaper violins, like the Apprentice.. or even the OB1. Even those will be properly set up and come with a good bow in the outfit, so you will pretty much instantly realize if your old instrument had some negative features greatly hindering your performance.

So, chances are that you will instantly receive a 'better' violin than the one you're currently renting, and of course one that you can call your own.. In any case those instruments have nothing wrong with them and can be used to learn without hindering you in any way. Like I said in my post on the other thread, I consider those the 'true student instruments' since they've got nothing wrong with them, are properly set up, and can be played on just fine. The only major difference from there on compared to expensive violins is going to be the wood it's made of (mainly the age).. and the special tonal characteristics of the sound, again from the wood. Now the other good news is that I've read on the forums that they also accept trade-ins.. so basically once you decided that indeed you want to pursue this further and want to invest in a more expensive instrument (that 1-1.5k$ one) maybe a couple of months from now..  you can simply send them back your Apprentice / OB1 and they'll subtract it's value from your new purchase. 

Anyway, it can't hurt to give them a call, apparently people here really like chatting with them on the phone and everyone is saying that they don't try and pressure you into buying anything, which is a good thing! But yea, this would probably be my 'smart shopping plan' when it comes to violins 😀 

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Bob
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January 14, 2018 - 9:26 am
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Martha said
...
What if, rather than asking which violin you like best, or which sounds best, or which you are able to play best, what if you asked, What does each have to teach? That is, what that is new to you does each one ask for, or reward? If you follow where it leads, where is that? And then, is that somewhere you want to go?

... 

@Martha your questions hit the nail on the head and go to the point of why I keep switching between the 3 instruments. Each has it own voice and I'm having difficulty deciding which one to stick with.

The US NAVY fiddle has the most uniform sound, but tends to be a very bright, but the setup (bridge height, string spacing, etc.) make it easier to finger. To me it sounds very good especially when playing fiddle tunes, but I'm starting to like it even for classical pieces.

The Schroetter fiddle lacks the projection power of the other two, but has a sound that is quite pleasant and even across the strings. Unfortunately, the bridge cut is not uniform and the e-string is too close to the finger board and doesn't feel right when playing. I've ordered new bridge blanks from FM to see if I can solve this problem.

The violin I had made in 1999 by William Johnson is a blonde color with rosewood fittings. It looks quite nice and had a more deep sonorous tone. Unfortunately, in the lower strings there is a tendency to "howl" (maybe woof, I'm not sure). I keep a rolled up paper towel wound through the strings between the bridge and tail piece which helps keep the howling down. When playing slower pieces (Meditation, Swan, etc) this instrument sound nice to me. 

So "what does each have to teach me"? ... that I still haven't decided on what kind of sound I want to hear when I play 🙁

Anyway I'm going to keep playing all of them and I'm sure each will find a place in my life 🙂 

Thanks for the probing questions. We all need someone else to ask them, even if we know what the questions are.

Bob

Bob in Lone Oak, Texas

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intrepidgirl
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@Martha This is a great question when you are just starting. If you are renting an instrument, it is a good time to potentially try a few different instruments of varying quality and price range to see if you can hear or feel the difference in sound produced and playability. Unfortunately most of us jump in and buy one, before we start to think how far this instrument will get us.

The comments above are all good. One that is a pragmatic comment is how much can you afford. Some places (like Fiddlershop, I think) will do trial periods for a few weeks, and you can return the fiddle if it is not the right one for you. The Fiddlershop also takes trade-ins, as someone noted above, I think.

Good luck with your choices!

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Irv
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This is an interesting topic and I put some thought into what I would purchase, knowing what I now know (unfortunately, this changes daily) as a beginner.  Assumptions are that I am an adult and live where I can practice a violin without bothering anyone (the second is a very important consideration.  I would purchase a Cecilio electric violin of the color yellow if I lived in an apartment or was married.  The yellow is actually a polyethylene finish with dye and I believe that they are made better than the painted variants).  Here goes.

Violin -- Cecilio CVN 600 for $300.  The Cecilio CVN 500 is cheaper at $180 but I am not a fan of pistachio colored violins.  If you like a darker sounding violin and don't mind pistachio, an interesting variation would be to purchase a Cecilio CVA 500 viola in 14" (also $180) and string it as a violin.

Bow -- The bows on the Cecilio CVN 600 (it comes with two) are not bad, but the Fiddlerman Carbon Bow is excellent for a beginner and is a steal at $80.  Unfortunately, it is a tight fit in the CVN 600 case and certainly will not fit in the smaller CVN 500 case.  Perhaps others have a work around for this.

Strings -- A Fiddlerman string set is another steal at $30.  The D'Addario Pro Arte strings are not as good but are satisfactory.

Rosin -- The one I like is D'Addario Kaplin Artcraft Rosin, Dark at $10.

Pegs -- The pegs on the Cecilio CVN 600 are likely to be well fitted to the instrument.  The CVN 500 will have good material but fit may be suspect (depending upon who in the factory does it).  For convenience I would purchase a set of Knilling Perfection Pegs at $60.  You will only need a fine tuner on the "e" string if you use the Knilling Perfection Pegs, and I would look into getting a very small fine tuner for the "e" string as you improve to give you a longer string after length.  I gave up using fine tuners completely.

Setup -- Few lutheriers will have anything to do with Cecilio products.  The Rosa String Works is certainly the exception.  Jerry Rosa has many videos on Youtube and likes people to send him their instrument directly from the seller for a set up.  I am sure that he could easily install the Perfection pegs as well.  Since he sells strings I don't know if he would install Fiddlerman strings or you would have to purchase the D'Addario products.  I am estimating the fee to be $100 since the peg installation will be more than a standard set up.  I am sure that Fiddlerman would be willing to provide the same service at a similar cost.  I would certainly talk to them before I did anything since this is the only item that I did not actually get a price for before I wrote this.

I like a shoulder rest of unusual design and construction.  It is titled "Beautifully Crafted Leather Padded Violin Shoulder Rest for 4/4 and 3/4" and sells for $30 on Amazon.  

I would put a rubber practice mute in the case for $5.

With the advent of smart phones with their apps, many people use their smart phone as a chromatic tuner.  Make sure that it tells you what octave you are tuning to or you will be breaking strings.  I really like the Korg OT-12 Orchestral Tuner which is no longer made but you can get a nice second hand one on eBay for about $25.

Summing up, the cost is $645 more or less (about $100 less substituting the CVA 500 for the CVN 600).  You may be able to save 10% to 20% by waiting for Black Friday sales, Amazon Warehouse Deals, or purchasing used, but I think it unrealistic to put off the fun of learning the violin.  I hope that this is of some use or the spring board for further thought.    

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Ferenc Simon
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I don't know Irv... 🙂 Don't get me wrong, I really like your plan and how all the details are worked out. I just think that's too much 'beating around the bush' to get a cheap violin that sounds good.. and it ends up being not so cheap after all.

I mean you could get an OB1 outfit for $299... that comes already professionally set up... with the FM CF bow included.. you can probably also ask for Fiddlerman strings straight-up (though I think they match the strings to the sound of the violin, which might be better, regardless of brand), it has a way better case.. comes with a shoulder rest and decent rosin.. and it's actually a real violin and will blow pretty much any Cecilio violin out of the water that hasn't been to a luthier for a setup. That's the thing that has been bothering me for quite a while :)) that OB1 outfit just seems 'too good to be true' as a beginner outfit, yet people have bought it and are really satisfied.. I mean it's a really good offer and hard to beat.. I suppose those are the perks of having a luthier shop within your store lol. 

Anyway, I'm not such a fan of Cecilio violins (the 600 is basically the only one I really like based on what I've seen online - never actually owned one), but just going by the fact that they're mass-produced factory instruments with almost non-existent setup (again I think the 600 is the one where they really start paying attention to what they do..) they kind of remind me of my Stagg (even though that was probably much much worse than even the CVN 100 would have been...). So yea, simply based on the amount of headache that Stagg VSO caused me.. I wouldn't ever recommend buying mass-produced factory stuff to anyone really wanting to learn the violin. (That thing scarred me for life! - Oh well.. at least I learned some basic luthier work like carving a bridge and fitting pegs because of it..  so there are some positives there) 

So.. back on topic. Like I said I like the plan you laid out and that would pretty much result in a really playable, decent student violin... but then Fiddlershop strikes again... and for a bit of an extra (~$150) there's the Master outfit... which is a whoooole different kind of beast and in a totally different league than anything that Cecilio makes.. 

I'm really trying not to be biased here, but based on what I've seen so far I really like what Fiddlershop is doing, wish I lived in the US so I can order random stuff from them all the time without having to deal with customs and all 🙂 Obviously it's not magic and 'not everything that shines is made of gold' (I'm not that naiv) but compared to the rest of the market they seem fair. 

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AndrewH
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Martha said

Anyway: I'm romancing possibilities in the $1K to $1.5K range, with the idea that it would just be my violin from here on out. (Though that is WAY more than I initially intended to invest in this experiment! Looking at Scott Cao 750s or 850s, higher-end Fiddlerman and lower-end Holsteins in this range too, Snow, and some others.) But while not in a blind rush to dump the rental immediately, I'm not sure how much of a sedate hurry I'm in--3 months? a year? AND YET, the chances that I'll still be doing this two years from now depends in significant part on getting that "good enough" thing nailed.  

Caveat: I haven't bought an instrument from Fiddlershop, and my opinion is from more than 10 years ago, so the market may have changed significantly since then.

Back when I looked at violins and violas in the $1k to $3k range, it seemed to me like it was best to just skip the $1k to $1.5k range entirely and go straight to the next tier. I didn't feel $1200-$1400 was any better than $700-$1000, but the $1.5k to $2k range was a giant step up.

That also means I wouldn't be in that big a hurry to shop for a permanent instrument. At least as of 10 years ago, I'd guess that a $500-$1000 violin would be enough to get you all the way to the level of playing ability where it's worthwhile to put down $2k or more.

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Irv
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Please don't take the above post as a knock on Fiddlerman products.  Everything that I have purchased from him (violin case, bow, strings, and some lutherier tools) have been excellent and a good value.  I am sure that his violins are of equal status.  I get a kick out of purchasing low cost violins (mainly Cecilio) from eBay or Amazon Warehouse and attempt to upgrade them.  I have obtained a Cecilio CVN 600 and, although I did put Knilling planetary pegs (removing the fine tuners) and new strings on it, it is so nice that I am reluctant to do further work on it (although I believe that the sound post is too long and further from the bridge than is optimum).  

I also have a CVA 500 (14") and have no reluctance at all on working it over.

The point of my post was that paying approximately $650 should obtain a really nice beginning outfit that should remain suitable to the community concert level.  

My favorite violinist is David Oistrakh.  He had a beautiful, full tone.  I believe that Itzak Perlman said, "I've played his violin and it's not the violin."

  

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Charles
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@Martha,

Your point #1 I can agree with completely.

Point #2 is partially true. There are gotchas in the process of trying to learn violin from the violin intermixed with better instruments.

For example, I have a $250 Stentor (with $350 worth of work to correct the lack of setup and get rid of some common mass-market problems that lower end violins tend to have (specifically, the action is much to high and the fingerboard much too deeply scooped, both done to make absolutely sure it doesn't come back to the factory for buzzing.)  (Another good argument for a good setup.)

I also have a Ming Jhiang Zhu 909 (about $3K).  The action was higher on it than I liked (I had gotten used to the super low action that my Stentor has), so I shelled out another $250 to have the same action and fingerboard work done on it that I'd had on my Stentor.

The Ming is unquestionably a better violin than the Stentor, but I've had times when I liked the sound of the Stentor more, and could play things on it that didn't sound good on the Ming.  Most people say that a better violin is easier to play than a poorer one. When you're contrasting a medium grade violin (like you're considering) to a piece of junk (like Ferenc's Stagg), that's true.  But I got the Stentor after doing considerable research because it seemed like a decent beginner's violin. And after the work I had done on it, it definitely qualified as that.  It would sound better (and help you identify right/wrong ways to play much better than something like the Stagg would.  But the Stentor is like an average horse. It's dependable and predictable, but will never compete in the Kentucky Derby.  The Ming is a thoroughbred. It can do a lot more, but it's also a lot easier to have some things go drastically sideways.  Your control has to be considerably better to get it to sound good. When your control is good enough, it sounds much better, but until then, it sounds worse.

So trying to teach yourself by what the violin sounds like could backfire if you get a thoroughbred. You'd avoid things that would be good once you learned a few more tricks, because when you first started doing them, they sounded horrible.

Please note - there were a lot of "could" and "might" statements in that.  It's also possible that a better instrument could work (for you) exactly as you're hoping. I just want you to be warned that that's not a guaranteed thing, by any means.

The second issue is with evaluating one.  My teacher was able to listen to my Ming in comparison to a couple of others that I was considering, and immediately tell that it would have much better sound down the road.  Better-quality violins go through a process usually called "opening up" as they are played.  (I suspect this is wood fibers, and possibly even individual cells, rupturing, stretching, and shifting in response to the vibrations the wood is experiencing. Knowing how to cut and shave the wood so that the stuff that is reinforced is what you want, and the stuff you don't want is blocked or at least not reinforced is why really good luthiers get paid big bucks for their instruments.)

I'm starting to hear some of the stuff he knew we would be hearing when he first heard it.  Even if I knew what it was, I couldn't begin to describe it to you, because English is just not that good at describing sensory data. You have to have years of experience with many instruments, both hearing them new and after they'd opened up to be able to distinguish it.  If you spent a fair amount of time with an expert, you might be able to learn it faster than that, but as a beginner, you're just not going to have that knowledge. That means you're going to have to trust the judgement of someone who does have that knowledge.

That lack of knowledge leads me into my next point. I've heard the advice for bows, and I think it applies well to violins also, "Don't just buy one because there's something better/more expensive out there. Know what limitations your current one is placing on you, and get one that doesn't."

Of course, another bit of advice that's common with violins is "Get the best you can afford". The sweet spot is hopefully somewhere between those two. 🙂

One last note: I agree with Andrew that you're not going to get a lifetime violin for that kind of money. (Unless you're not planning to work at it for long and or don't have long to go.)  I DO think you can get a quite decent instrument in that price range, one which will not put limits on you for 2-5 years. (Depending on your natural talent and how much you practice.)  I would not break the bank to go to a higher end instrument at this point. The higher up you go, the more individual the instruments get. You want one that will fit your individual tastes, and you probably haven't learned to hear the subtleties enough to know which one(s) that would be yet. Given that you almost guaranteed cannot get a lifetime instrument yet, I'd recommend staying within a budget that's comfortable, and get one that addresses all the problems you see in your current one.

Also, talk to Fiddlershop about possibiilities, and in particular getting more than one shipped to you so you can try them out. You'll have to pay shipping back for the one or ones you don't choose, but I can tell you from experience, it goes a long way toward getting rid of that "Am I making a huge mistake?" feeling.

Let me know if you want comments on any of the ones in that range.  I listened to a lot of them. Of course, you'll mostly be getting my tastes, not yours, but if you think it'd help, holler.

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Martha
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What a wonderful bouquet of suggestions!

@Irv I'm pretty sure I'm not interested in an electric violin--but what an interesting idea to entertain, albeit briefly!

Was thinking about Perfection or Wittner pegs. (The rental's pegs require careful bracing and counter bracing, then quite a bit of force, to get a small movement. Which is often too much.) But have recently read that really "working" the peg a lot (when changing string) can get it to moving freely enough to be actually useful as a tuning device. (Which it is alleged to be...) So maybe that decision is farther down the road than replacing my current rental.

Several of your other recommendations are on my shopping list: FM bow, strings, etc.

And I do get it about trying to get old stuff to work! Bought an old bowl-back mandolin on ebay just a few days ago--anxiously awaiting delivery when I can learn whether I have invested in (1) firewood, (2) a woodworking project and later, with luck, a playable instrument, or (3) a playable instrument. (1) would be sad, but (2) and (3) are both good in my book...

@charles I don't think I'm going to get a "thoroughbred" for $1K, $2K, or even $3K. Maybe a horse that can place in a race at the county fair. A friend's daughter-in-law plays a real Kentucky Derby winner--on loan to her, and worth some millions. Most likely, it has quirks that fairly well standardized Chinese workshop violins don't.

My on-line reading has suggested that (with careful selection) $1K-$2K could get something that could serve a somewhat serious (but non-prodigy) student from high school into college. Probably not through to the end of a performance major, and definitely needing an upgrade before auditioning for, say, a job at the local symphony.  

@AndrewH I wonder how this fits your sense of price-and-quality breaks? For the Scott Cao's, the 750s and 850s ($1.2K and $1.5K) are the Chinese workshop models. His cheaper models are the Chinese factory violins; more expensive are both US workshop and individually bench-made models, from both places I think. Somewhere around $1K-$1.5K seems to be the break, now-a-days, between factory and workshop models. Does that seem right?

Anyway, there's some room to suggest that something suitable for a high school or early college student IS (in Ferenc 's phrase) a "really playable decent student violin." (At least, for a grown up, who can be expected to take care of it.) 

But this is maybe all I need. Seems clear that the longevity of this project will depend (mostly) on two things: how rewarding I find the playing, and to what extent I can find social contexts for playing, i.e. ways to play with other people. I am 64, so a "lifetime violin" is a violin for the next 1 to 3 decades, probably, and with no thought of becoming professional.

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.

The Ming is a thoroughbred. It can do a lot more, but it's also a lot easier to have some things go drastically sideways.  Your control has to be considerably better to get it to sound good.

Well, perhaps.

I'm willing to believe that, compared to any given violin "x", each other violin in the universe will be easier and/or more difficult in one or many respects. These differences may or may not follow price or quality lines. Some differences will have the quality of "more" or "less" of something required, while other differences may be "dull knife" moves that would be unneeded with a decent instrument.

But just reading your statement (and not knowing you, or your violins), it could be that the "moves" you learned on the Stentor just don't work well on the Ming. They might (or might not) have been as easy to learn to begin with on the Ming. But then they wouldn't work as well on the Stentor. So, is it more control, or learning different control? 

Seems (to me) inevitable that one will try to follow the better results one gets, and will try to avoid the worse results one gets... and so the results the instrument delivers will shape the player's playing. And that this is as it should be. Unless one learns not to hear, and to execute moves mechanically...? (Let me know what I'm not getting, here, please.)

Well, this is a mess, because I have intermingled points addressed to various people here, but I can't spend more time on it just now.

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AndrewH
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I know this is off-topic, but I wanted to add a little side note about the science of violins "opening up." All violins do, to some extent, even the cheap ones. Wood has two major components, cellulose and hemicellulose. Cellulose is the hard, strong part. Hemicellulose is softer, and has a damping effect. Hemicellulose decays over time, and that decay is accelerated by vibration. An old violin will sound better because more of the hemicellulose has decayed in the parts that vibrate most.

String instruments get harder and harder to play as their value goes up. I've heard that a Strad sounds awful in the hands of anyone who isn't at least near-professional caliber, though I haven't ever heard one being played by an amateur violinist so wouldn't be able to confirm. That said, even in the $10k-20k range, my viola is not forgiving at all, and can sound worse than a student instrument when I'm having an off day. (But perception also changes with your ability. I'd consider a $3k Ming Jiang Zhu to be a medium-level violin and easier to play than what I'm used to.)

But it's probably not necessary to think about any of that until you get to the level where you can do something with a high-quality instrument. When you're looking at anything under $2k, it's still in the range where violins at least aren't getting harder to play with increasing value. And again, a mid-range student violin ($500-1000) should be good enough to use until your playing ability justifies spending $2k or more.

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AndrewH
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Martha said

My on-line reading has suggested that (with careful selection) $1K-$2K could get something that could serve a somewhat serious (but non-prodigy) student from high school into college. Probably not through to the end of a performance major, and definitely needing an upgrade before auditioning for, say, a job at the local symphony.  

@AndrewH I wonder how this fits your sense of price-and-quality breaks? For the Scott Cao's, the 750s and 850s ($1.2K and $1.5K) are the Chinese workshop models. His cheaper models are the Chinese factory violins; more expensive are both US workshop and individually bench-made models, from both places I think. Somewhere around $1K-$1.5K seems to be the break, now-a-days, between factory and workshop models. Does that seem right?

Anyway, there's some room to suggest that something suitable for a high school or early college student IS (in Ferenc 's phrase) a "really playable decent student violin." (At least, for a grown up, who can be expected to take care of it.) 

But this is maybe all I need. Seems clear that the longevity of this project will depend (mostly) on two things: how rewarding I find the playing, and to what extent I can find social contexts for playing, i.e. ways to play with other people. I am 64, so a "lifetime violin" is a violin for the next 1 to 3 decades, probably, and with no thought of becoming professional.
 

The break was probably around $1500-1700 when I was shopping in that price range, in the early 2000s. At the time, there were virtually no Chinese workshop violins, so everything under $1500 was factory made and everything in the $1k to $1.5k range seemed to be European or Japanese. The break may have gone down a bit now that the Chinese are in the market, but I'd still guess it's no lower than $1200.

"College student" is a really wide range. I play in an orchestra where the majority of the string players were performance majors in college, and I don't know a single person who even started a performance major with a violin worth less than $3k... and this is what I picture when I think of serious students who aren't prodigies. But $1k-$2k would not look out of place for non-music-majors in college orchestras. Not common, but there are a few in every college orchestra, and I've seen people in college orchestras with instruments all the way down to $600.

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