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Violin/advice on buying a new violin

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Question
I always wanted to learn how to play a violin and up to now was not able to find some time but yeah since now i am done with my studies so i am looking to buy a violin and get busy. i learnt guitar, piano, drums and flute without any professional lessons or anything so yeah i am keen to try a violin. I can spend max 500 bucks but i have no idea what to look for when buying a violin. And since i haven't even touched a violin in my life before so yeah am a bit naive in almost every respect. so i need a very elaborated advice on what to look for when i buy a violin. And please see, i know i am a beginner but i don't want to get a 'beginners violin' or anything of that sort as i want it to last longer. so kindly help me with all the things (wood, type of strings etc.) that you reckon is the best i can get for under 500 dollars.
thanks!

Answer
Hi Sam
Although there are some good U-Tube videos out there - those by Professor V are very good, the big problem is that the violin is not at all intuitive to play and you need the feedback from someone that is watching what you are doing. If you are comfortable holding the instrument, you are doing it wrong. The violin is a very hard instrument, harder than any of the other instruments you learned.  With all of them, if you push the right key or with guitar place your finger anywhere in a 1-1 1/2" space, you get the right note.  The violin won't be in tune if you are 1mm off. If the instrument is not held properly you won't learn how to play in tune. shift properly, bow properly and you won't ever get past the scratching out the notes stage. This is why any string player that knows what they are talking about will tell you the same thing - get a teacher at least for the first year or so, which is how long it will take to get the basics of finger placement, instrument and bow hold and sound production.

As far as instruments go, teaching someone that doesn't already play the violin what to look for and listen for in choosing a violin is almost impossible, certainly not in an email. Your under $500 budget will still get you only a beginner's violin as the instruments that you see advertised under around $300 are simply junk and not worth purchasing. The ones in the $300-450 range are acceptable but are just very basic instruments that will work but won't be especially pleasing in sound. In general, a beginners instrument in the $450-600 range is the normal - these are what are rented out from violin shops and many music stores.  So if you want an instrument above the beginners level, you need to look more in the $600-1200 range.  I strongly recommend that you go to a violin shop to look for an instrument. The things that are sold on the internet are really mostly junk, are poorly set up and come with poor quality parts that just won't hold up. They are typically not set up by trained violin makers and are hard to play because of this. As no two violins of the same brand/model will sound the same, those that know best don't recommend a specific brand.  Rather you need to try out the instruments or have someone play them for you so that you can decide what you like.

Except for the very cheapest of violins, all of them are made from the same two materials, spruce for the top and maple for the back, neck and sides. So simply knowing what they are made from doesn't help, it takes years to learn how to look at the instruments to determine quality of those materials and the workmanship that went into making them. There are many appropriate strings and many inappropriate strings. To list them all is too difficult. The internet instruments often come with the cheapest, lowest quality strings whereas those sold in violin shops are set up with the correct strings for that violin.. As I said before, each violin is different and when set up appropriately, the strings are chosen for that specific instrument and thus will vary from the ones on another of the same model instrument.

I wish you luck in your violin pursuits, but I strongly recommend you start out with a teacher. If you do get an instrument in your price range from a violin shop rather than the internet, an advantage is that they will take it back in trade for an upgrade, you won't get that if buying on line from most internet sites.

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David Lashof

Expertise

I can answer questions on violin, viola, cello and bass making, repair and maintenance as well as supply general violin value ranges and information on instrument makers’ assuming the instrument's as labeled. I don't give values for modern makers as many of these modern makers are yet unknown to me. I can only give you feedback based on what information you give me, and no authority on the instrument can know every maker's work that ever lived. I have access to many books on makers and auction prices on over 25,000 makers, as well as having 36 years of experience with selling and appraising violins. Without having the instrument in hand, any estimate over the internet is just a guess as the label inside an instrument is more often wrong than right, so just having that information is not very useful. Pictures can sometimes be helpful but only so much, as the "feel" of the instrument along with small clues in workmanship and varnish cannot be seen in pictures. Any pictures should be high quality close-ups of the top and back. Additional photos of the front and treble side of the neck are also useful. It is always best to have an instrument seen in person at a violin shop that does appraisals. I can also provide advice on bows, rosin, strings and other string instrument accessories. As I am now retired, I have no bias towards selling anything; I only wish to share my knowledge and experience by providing information for those that may be getting confused by misinformation, misdirection or conflicting statements. (While I have seen many thousands of instruments and have performed numerous appraisals; if I have not evaluated an instrument in person, any information I set forth in an opinion is just that, an opinion based solely on what you have provided. Thusly, no financial decision should be based on that opinion, but rather, further investigation should be performed by having the instrument examined in person.)

Experience

I am a retired violin maker and repairman with 35 years experience having worked in Chicago and Maryland at 5 different violin shops and music stores including the first violin repairman at William Harris Lee in Chicago, the head repairman at Weavers Violins in Maryland, and in my own shop of 25 years. I have made 160 instruments and have restored countless professional level and student grade instruments. I am an accomplished violinist having performed with semi-professional as well as amateur groups although I haven't played for years and mostly stay away from questions about playing. I have taught violin making and restoration to about 20 students; three of which have gone on professionally and now have their own shops. I know violins from playing, selling, repairing, making and teaching.

Organizations
Violin Society of America (VSA). American String Teachers Association (ASTA)

Education/Credentials
I graduated from the prestigious 4 year Chicago School of Violin Making in 1981 under Master Violin Maker Tschu Ho Lee. I also studied with violin maker Willis M. Gault in Washington DC from 1973-75, who was the former owner of the oldest known example of an instrument from the modern violin family, an Andreas Amati Viola.

Awards and Honors
2008 Chester Petranek Award for service to the music community. ASTA award for service. Top All Expert in Violin for 2014 and 2015.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked with many professional musicians from DC area Symphonies as well as players from all over the US. Here are just a few, Leonard Slatkin - Former conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Doris Gazda - Nationally renowned string specialist and composer. Bernard Greenhouse, Tanya Anisimova - Internationally renowned Solo Cellists. Jody Gatwood, Mark Pfannschmidt, Lori Barnet, Doug Dubé, Judy Silverman - National Philharmonic Orchestra. Robert Blatt, David Hardy, Glen Garlick - National Symphony Orchestra. Eddie Stubbs, Brendan Mulvahill, Nate Leath - Professional Fiddle Players. David Basche, Pat Braunlich, John Knudson, Romano Solano, Ed Ferris, Fred Lieder - freelance musicians.

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