Reply To: Resisting the urge to upgrade
I spent around 2 hours at Loveland Violin Shop in Santa Rosa today, and played over a dozen different instruments. My intent was to audition a ~$500 Romanian violin that the shop owner told me was quite popular with trad players due to its darker, more subdued tone. I brought my violin with me so that I could compare any instruments I tried with the one I currently own. The Romanian instruments I played (they had two of the same make/model) were definitely mellower than my German factory-made student instrument from the early 1900s. However after playing them a while (along with a few Chinese-made, sub-$500 violins, none of which sounded ‘mellow’ or sweet to my ears) I realized that 1) the woods and workmanship were notably sub-par compared to what I envision as an instrument that would satisfy me long-term; 2) the tone of these instruments, while not as harsh, wasn’t what I hear in mind’s ear as the tone I want to achieve; and 3) the nut width was slightly wider than all the other violins I’ve played, making them feel notably different in my hand. After about a half hour of focused attention with these Romanian violins, I realized I wouldn’t be satisfied with one of them.
I moved on to Chinese-made violins of comparable cost. I played around a half dozen sub-$1000 Chinese-made violins, and there was one in particular that I kept picking up to play. It had lovely figured wood for the back and sides. The finish had been purposefully ‘aged’ at the factory to make it appear as though it was an antique instrument. I was more focused on tone than anything, but I did like the look of this instrument a lot. I spent a good 45 minutes or more with this batch. I was pretty much sold on the one that I kept coming back to, with the pretty antiquing treatment and nice warm tone. I asked the shop staff if they had any more inventory of that particular make/model, since I’ve learned from years of shopping for guitars and mandolins that every instrument is unique. They only had that single fiddle, but said they could bring out a few others that were similar, so it was back to the audition room.
This time, I was presented with five more violins, ranging in price from about $800 to $1400. Every one of them – except one – sounded too bright/loud for my taste. But there was one of these that had the warmest, most open, resonant tone of all. It was much more complex and ‘open’ than any of the violins I had played up to that point. The figure and finish were really beautiful as well – with much higher grade of wood compared to any of the ~$500 violins I played. I spent a long time going back and forth between the antiqued, $500 violin and the higher priced one with the fancy woods and amazing tone. The less expensive violin was really nice, but it didn’t have the complex, open, resonant tone of the higher priced instrument. That one was priced quite a bit more than what I had planned to spend, but the shop offered me an additional $100 off their already-discounted price, and I took it home. I know I’ll never regret stretching my budget for the better instrument.
I’m really excited to have this instrument to inspire me – I’ve been struggling so much to get a sweet tone from the old German violin I’ve been playing, but now I have an instrument that is intrinsically more pleasing to my ears, even with my beginner’s bowing technique.
Speaking of bows – I also played three new wooden bows at the shop – all in the ~$100 price range – but none of them sounded as good as the carbon fiber bow I purchased there a couple of months ago.