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Violin/What to look for when purchasing a fiddle


I like bluegrass music and want to learn how to play the fiddle in this particular music style.  I am not interested in classical violin, Suzuki method etc. What is the difference between a violin and a fiddle, and what kind of things am I looking for in an instrument when I select a fiddle for this kind of music technique?  Thank you for volunteering your time to answer questions so those of us who are less informed can benefit from your expertise!

ANSWER: Hi Beth,

Great questions!  Fiddle playing, as opposed to classical, can really be a lot of fun.  I wish you the best with it.  I'd recommend that you find yourself a teacher who specializes in bluegrass music.  If you don't have anyone local, then try online.  (You can get lessons via Skype, now.)  Getting feedback and advice from a pro about what you're doing right and wrong is essential.  And, perhaps even more important than that, find yourself a regular jam session.  Ask around to see if your area has a folk music club.  Check the local bars and restaurants for jam nights.  Finding a group to play with will go a long way toward learning the instrument, the repertoire, the style.  And, it will make learning the instrument a lot more fun.

In the beginning you'll be learning the basics - notes, posture, bowing.  So, your teacher may recommend Suzuki or another classical method to get you started.  But, I'd ask them to also help you get started learning the most popular fiddle tunes, as well, in a basic form.  If nothing else, you can start listening to recorded bluegrass fiddle music and getting a taste for what you want to learn.

As for instruments . . . Technically, a fiddle and violin are the same instrument.  There is no difference between them.  And, as a beginner, I would just advise you to get the best quality instrument you can.  Rental programs are usually the best way to start without sinking a lot of money into it.  As you progress, you'll learn that fiddlers do tend to prefer certain kinds of strings, certain bows, etc.  You may even find that you want to have your bridge re-carved with a slightly shallower curve, to facilitate the playing of double-stops.  But, as you get started, I wouldn't worry about these very subtle preferences.  Just get a decent violin, and you'll be good to go.

Best of luck with it!
Jim Fisher

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Can you recommend certain brands or models?  My price range is somewhere between not wanting to have to take out a 2nd mortgage to afford it, and wanting a quality, versatile instrument that will be used on a daily basis and will take me from beginner to intermediate without having to upgrade to a new instrument.  Any suggestions?  Should I stay away from Ebay or is that a good place to start looking?  (I live in a rural area without any local musical instrument shops - another reason I'd rather buy upfront than rent...) Thanks again!  You're very helpful!

Hi again, Beth.  My apologies for now answering your question more fully the first time.  In regards to what to look for . . .

The quality of the setup is most important, not the brand.  There are a variety of violins currently being imported to the U.S. under many brand names that would all be ok to learn on.  Even some of the ones you find at Ebay are ok in terms of the instrument itself.  But, instruments are usually setup by the dealers who sell them.  By that, I mean that the bridge, strings and tailpiece are selected, installed and adjusted by the shop that sells them.  A good setup and adjustment will also include adjustments to the nut, pegs, and soundpost.  If these things are done well, then even a cheap factory import is going to be ok to learn on.  It may sound a bit nasal, but that's not the end of the world for a beginner.  However, if the setup is bad (and 9 out of 10 times it is) then the instrument may be difficult or impossible to learn on.

Think of it this way.  A cheap instrument is going to have cheap wood and possibly a poorly tuned interior.  That will lead to a closed-off, nasal sounding violin.  A bad setup, on the other hand, will lead to strings that are too high and difficult to press, too close together so that you can't place your fingers correctly, too low so that they buzz, etc. etc.  A bad adjustment, even on a fine violin, will make it very difficult to play properly.

Bottom line . . . purchase a violin from a dealer that you feel you can trust.  I'd stay away from Ebay, personally.  Find a shop with a good reputation, even if it is not close to you, and give them a call.  Shipping a violin usually runs around $15 - $20.  You don't need to spend a lot of money for a good "quality" instrument, necessarily, as long as the dealer is able to assure you of the quality of the setup.  Decent, low-priced student instruments, including an inexpensive bow and case, usually run around $500 - $1,000.  Choose one from a dealer who has set it up him or herself.  Avoid buying instruments that are sold as-is, with the manufacturer's setup.  If you're not sure where else to go, I'd be happy to help you myself.  We use the Eastman model 100 in our rental fleet, which is quite a nice little fiddle.  But, I also have several lower-priced instruments in stock that I could set you up with, if you're interested.  Call anytime: 800-372-4151.

Thanks for your question.

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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