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Things to Consider When Buying a Violin

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Ye Olde Violin Shoppe Featured Article

Things to Consider When Buying a Violin


When Buying a Violin for Children...

It is wise to rent a violin for children to determine if they have the discipline and enough love for the violin in order to learn a difficult instrument. Only once this has been established, do I offer the following advice in regards to buying a violin for a child. Many parents or loved ones will not hesitate to pay $1,000 for a piano, but will not pay the same for a violin for their child. The truth is, the great majority of violins priced less are junk! The child that could have made great progress is disappointed with the poor quality of tone that he or she produces from a cheap violin that even a master would find difficult to play.

Condition of Violin:

Many parents and the child look for new, shiny instruments free of scratches which are usually cheap violins that are factory-made. These cheap instruments are of inferior construction with no real bass bar, are poorly arched, with no attention paid to the thicknessing of the violin top and back. The only thing they possess is the hard, shiny "shellac" sprayed-on varnish. Well-repaired cracks and and scratches have no noticeable effect on tone. One genuine Stradivarous violin has 17 repaired cracks and still has the lovely sound of a "Strad".

Violin Wood & Varnish:

Contrary to popular belief, the beatiful tiger stripe wood contributes little to the sound of a violin. Some very fine toned old Italian violins such as the Storioni have little or no flame in the wood. The quality of the top wood made of spruce is more important to the violin tone. The finest toned Italian violins have very straight medium grained spruce free of defects. Most violin wood is aged several years to avoid warping in fit of top plate to ribs. A soft oil varnish is ususally best.

Corner Blocks & Purfling:

Four corner blocks in the violin indicate an upper grade of workmanship and the bass bar is a separate piece specially-made and glued to the underside of the top instead of being just a thickener part of the top wood. The purfling made of three strips made of wood, well inlaid and perfectly mitered into the corner is a good indicator of a fine violin. Very cheap violins have fake purfling lines "painted" on. If you can see the wood grain continue through the purfling, it is not inlaid but, rather, painted on. When buying a violin online, if there are no clear photos on the listing showing such details, try to get them. It pays to ask questions when purchasing a violin from an eBay seller.

Fingerboard, Pegs and Tailpiece...

These should be made of Ebony, Rosewood or other hardwood. Cheap instruments costing a few hundred dollars generally have a well-worn fingerboard and pegs because of inferior wood that has been "ebonized" (just stained black).

If An Inexpensive Violin Is Your Only Option...

It is to be expected that factory made violins are generally inferior to those hand-made by an expert luthier. That said, I personally have found French factory violins to have an excellent tone. Often these inexpensive instruments have rather plain wood in the back and are rather flat arched similar to a Stradivarious patten. Some of the Mittenwald (Germany) violins by Klotz and others are fine sweet toned violins, but sell for several thousand if genuine.

But just because a violin is old doesn't necessarily mean it's of high quality, either. Many old violins have a poor tone because they were cheap, poorly made instruments when new because of incorrect graduation of the top and back. Also, many have a bass bar that was not made separate and glued to the underside of the top but, rather, is simply part of the top wood left thickened in the area of where the bass bar should be located.

Violin Bows...

I would recommend a Pernambuco violin bow because of superior playing qualities and its ability to retain camber and straightness. New ones can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.

Some Final Thoughts Worth Mentioning...

A new violin improves in response to much playing due to the new violin adjusting to the great pressure of the bridge which distorts the top on the treble side.

On many old violins, the right F hole reveals much of the sound post when viewed from the side.

After all is said and done, I think the instrument and player can be compared to a "marriage" because each must make adjustments to the other to achieve harmony.

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