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Violin/Are different violins really more difficult to play?


Hi Jim,

I have a quick question about the different violin playing levels.  I wish to purchase a nice violin for someone who is just beginning to learn the instrument.

I'm curious what makes one violin more difficult to play than another?  As I have been shopping around, I see ones that are advised for beginners, intermediate, advanced, concerto violins, master violins... I have no direct experience with the violin, but play other instruments such as piano, flute, guitar, etc..  The only difference I have ever noticed with these instruments is that the nicer the instrument, the better made, the easier it was to play.

The person who I am purchasing the instrument for is very serious, and has wanted to learn for many years.  I'm not concerned about the price tag, but at the same time, I do not wish to hobble a beginner with an instrument which will be harder for them to learn on.  Are concerto or master violins truly so much harder to play than a student violin?  If so, why?

Thank you very much for your time and assistance.  Have a great day!

~ Mick

Hi Mick,

Thanks for your question.  As with most questions of this sort, things can get complicated very quickly.  So, let me start with a simple, direct answer and expand from there.  Generally speaking, more expensive instruments are easier to play, not harder.  And, if money is not an issue, I would recommend getting the best violin you can afford for your friend to learn on.  If you can find a good older instrument that has not been damaged, that would be ideal.  I would recommend going to a reputable violin shop and asking to look at older instruments in your price range.

It is true that amongst professional quality instruments - say $25,000 and up as a very rough figure - some instruments are referred to as soloist instruments.  What people mean is that the instrument is one with a great deal of power and projection.  A violin that has a great deal of power would not be ideal to learn on because the sheer amount of vibration and volume makes it harder to control.  Some very old, soloist violins are also known to get temperamental , reacting dramatically to changes in humidity and temperature.  An original Amati or Strad would be a terrible instrument for a student to learn on, for example (quite apart from the damage that the student might inflict on a fine violin).  

But, that's really not a consideration at the level you're talking about.  Every violin is different, and it's more of a matter of finding a violin that suits the player's tastes and style.  

'Beginner' instruments (whatever that means) - that is to say violins under about $500.00 are almost never properly setup.  And, if you are lucky enough to find one that is, it is almost guaranteed to be made assembly-line fashion in China (or other similar location) out of cheap wood.  A badly setup instrument is horribly difficult to learn on because the strings are not the correct height off the fingerboard, or they are too close together, or too far apart, etc.  And, badly constructed instruments or those made with cheap wood are less responsive - slower to speak, easier to squeak and squawk.  Also, they have a very poor tone.

'Intermediate' instruments - say $800 - $2000 - are more apt to be properly setup (though not guaranteed to be so, by any means) and may have a better response and tone.  But, there is a great deal of variation out there.  You can sometimes find good older instruments in this price range that are both easier to play and better sounding than new ones.  But, be sure to buy from a reputable shop that will stand by their violins after they are sold.

And, if you can afford to purchase (and feel that it's worth the investment in) a professional quality instrument, your friend is very lucky.  Look for something mellow and responsive.  You don't need power, just a fine, smooth tone and easy playability.

I will also just mention that there is a great deal of variation in the clarity of different violins, as well as different strings, bows, rosins, etc.  You'll find, when making comparisons, that some instruments, bows, etc. produce a clearer more precise tone than others.  A clear, precise sound is a good thing, though it does require the player to be more careful, as mistakes can more easily be heard.  Old, worn out strings, for example, often allow students to get away with sloppy intonation, simply because the pitches are so muddled that the out-of-tune notes aren't noticed.  And, when they put on new strings, they suddenly are required to be more careful, as every note can be heard clearly.  This is another reason that people sometimes talk about more expensive instruments (which speak more clearly and precisely) being more difficult to play.  But, a clear, precise tone is better for students, as it helps them to hear what they are doing wrong, and allows them to play more beautifully when they do everything correctly.

I hope that helps.  If you can't find a good older instrument (I was lucky to learn on a 100 year old Jon Wasson, worth about $2500.00 in today's dollars), then check out the upper level instruments distributed in the U.S. by Eastman Strings.  For new instruments, they are quite good.  And, be sure to get a decent bow as well.  CodaBow makes some fine bows in the under $1000.00 range.  And, if you can afford to get a good pernambuco bow (starting around $1500.00), so much the better.  (We offer free bow trials by mail at our shop, if you'd like to give us a call!)

Best Regards,
Jim Fisher  


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James S. Fisher


Please Note: For an accurate appraisal of your instrument's value or history, I must advise you to take it to a local luthier or string shop for an evaluation. It's really not possible to do this with any accuracy via email.

However, I am happy to answer other questions about violins, bows, violin playing, and violin/bow repair. I can also talk with you about what bows, rosin, strings, cases, shoulder rests, etc. might work best for you and your particular instrument. (There are some great new products on the market.) I've taught violin and fiddle playing for the past 18 years and will answer questions about playing and technique.


I've been studying the violin for over thirty years. I started teaching in 1996. In addition to my training at Lebanon Valley College and at the Violin Institute, I handle violins, bows, and customer questions of all sorts on a daily basis in my shop - J.S. Fisher Violins,


I hold a Bachelor of Music degree from Lebanon Valley College, as well as certificates in violin repair, violin maintenance, and bow rehairing from the Violin Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

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