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I'm an violinist. At least I used to play. I played for over twenty years from a very large age. My original violin was destroyed and my sister purchased a new violin for me for college graduation. I haven't played in almost a decade and my "new" violin is of very poor quality. I miss playing and want to get back into. However, I'm not sure which violin brands are reputable anymore.

There are tons on the Internet but I'm not interested in purchasing another lackluster instrument. I used to play in a community orchestra in my adult years and would like something of intermediate quality if possible. I am willing to pay upwards of $600 as I know that it will take me some time to get back into the groove of things.

I have also heard mixed reviews about doing rent to own programs as those violins are not quality either.

I may be able to fix my current violin but I know for sure that it will require at the very least a bridge, new fingerboard, etc. I'm thinking it's better to just start all over with a new one.

What types of woods should I look for? Which types of varnishes? Does the brand really matter? Etc.

Any suggestions or help you could give me would be greatly appreciated! I am very serious about getting back into music and performing in general. I live in southern NJ if you are close by and could recommend any violin shops, that would be great as well. Searching on the Internet has been very difficult.

Thank you so much for your knowledge and expertise!

Hi Porsha
I am not sure what quality of a violin you played on many years ago, but a $600 violin will be a top quality beginner level to low level intermediate. So if you truly want something at an intermediate level, I would look in the $750-1500 range. There are certainly plenty of instruments that can be looked at in that level.  Since no two violins of the same brand/model will sound the same, a brand name recommendation is sort of useless. Many violin shops do rent upgrade instruments as well as the standards and if you get any from a violin shop, either a purchase or a rental, they will be quality instruments that are set up properly with quality parts.  That may not be the case from a general music store or most internet sellers. And since it is the sound that is of utmost importance along with the quality of the set up, an in person evaluation is really most important. Many of the upgrade rentals are in the $650-1500 quality range, and more often than not they are a rent to own program without tying you into only that instrument. In general violin shops have that policy with all their rentals.

All violins of any quality are made from the same basic materials, so ad copy is not really useful. Maple for the back, neck and sides, Spruce for the top and Ebony for the fingerboard. The pegs should be Ebony or Rosewood and sometime boxwood if the instrument isn't too cheap, low end boxwood is not very good. The varnish should be spirit or oil, an oil varnish is often considered the best, all of the great Italian makers used it. Spirit varnishes are quicker to apply since they can be sprayed on, so most of the lower priced instruments use that as it is less labor intensive, avoid any lacquered instruments.

Some names to possible look at are:
Eastman 200 -
Eastman 305 -
Dunov Standard 401 -
Dunov Superior 402 -
Century Strings 320 or 420 -
Cao models 600 to 850 -
Gliga Gama model -

- not that it will tell you much but check out their websites, the Dunov Superior especially  and the Eastman 305 are often my favorites, both manufactured by Eastman strings, one of the biggest companies in the world that sells quality instruments (they used to have a distribution center in Maryland a few miles from my shop, so I could have my pick of the best) -

Of course there are many more and these companies make instruments ranging from under $600 to over 2000, so you really need to look at them personally.

I don't know any shops in southern NJ unless you consider Philadelphia as southern and then there are a number of good shops there. Many shops also sell a "shop label" which will be from one of the major manufacturers but re-labeled with the shop brand so that no one can compete with them.  Sometimes it may be the best deal as they are not restrained by the manufacturers advertising policies (called MAP pricing), but it makes it harder to sell or trade in the instrument down the line especially if you leave the area where the shop is. Be sure to understand the firms trade in/upgrade policies but usually they are very good for instruments beyond the very basic beginner ones. If you do end up renting an instrument, be aware that the "rental value" will most likely be the list price and not a discounted outright purchase price. Most instruments under around $1500 will include a bow and a case.  I often will recommend if you have it in your budget, to upgrade the bow so that it is at least 20% or higher of the overall value. You can't learn very well on a bow that is too soft or not balanced.

If you have a player or teacher that can assist you, that will be the best, but at least you have played before.  Listen to as many instruments in your price range as possible.  


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David Lashof


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.)


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.

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

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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