Buying a violin

Buying a violin

Hello, I was classically trained (boo hiss) for 10 years and in the last few years I’ve discovered folk fiddle (hooray).
I’m looking to buy a new fiddle as mine’s not great, but what do I need to look for when buying a violin for fiddling rather than classical? Are violins for the two different styles made differently?
Your comments would be greatly appreciated, thankyou
Fran ๐Ÿ™‚

Re: Buying a violin

"Are violins for the two different styles made differently?" The construction and dimension of a violin vs. a fiddle are supposed to be exactly the same. But, historically speaking, folk musicians generally did not have access to the best violin makers in the world, so often the instruments they played aren’t exactly ‘perfect’, but there is not any recognized ‘fiddle’ model that is copied like a ‘stradivarious’.

So, you have the freedom to go out there and buy the best instrument money can buy or the most interesting instrument on a budget. It becomes a fiddle only when you play it like a fiddle ๐Ÿ˜‰

Re: Buying a violin

All the above.
Also, in the folk tradition there realy are no rules. Try out as many fiddles as you can, borrow them if you can, buy what you think sounds good and feels good. I have a rubbishy mass-produced 19th C. German lions head fiddle which I love but a classical musician wouldn’t give it house room.

Finally don’t get bullied into thinking that a fiddle has to have a different set-up, ie. low flat bridge, etc. I like a low bridge but you may not.

John.

Re: Buying a violin

They are exactly the same although some fiddlers may have their bridge set/cut slightly lower.

I wouldn’t necessarily get the best instrument money can buy as it might not suit you. Best to try a few until you get one that you feel good/comfortable with playing. When I bought my last fiddle, I rejected some more expensive models because the tone, action etc did not feel right. So, more accurately, Buy the best instrument FOR YOU that money can buy.

John

John

Re: Buying a violin

When buying a brand new instrument, make sure you get it from a reputable dealer who will set it up for you - e.g. correctly matched and shaped bridge and soundpost, hardwood pegs that turn properly, strings of your choice, micrometer adjusters as necessary, but certainly one for the E, and an action to your requirement. Apart from playing it in, you shouldn’t have any problems, but it should be checked over after 6 months (a bit like a new car), at which stage you might like to upgrade the strings.

What to look for in a new instrument? Assuming it’s been set up properly, I’d look (listen?) for a good resonance and a clear tone without harshness or buzzing. If the instrument sounds a bit "dead", then I’d most probably leave it. Compare the weight of the instruments - the better ones are often significantly lighter in weight than the also-rans.

Gently tap the front and back of the fiddle. If there’s a buzz or rattle then there’s a problem. Visually check both outside and in, as far as you can, for any cracks or splits, especially round the f-holes, or anything that is loose (fingerboard especially). Anything like that will need immediate attention. Check the string grooves in the nut and the bridge to make sure a string isn’t going to jam or bind - a sure way of stripping or loosening the outer winding of a string, as well as making tuning difficult. The grooves should be properly shaped and very smooth, and it’s always worth dry-lubricating them with a soft graphite pencil lead - 4B at least. Make sure the fingerboard is straight and hasn’t any grooves in it. A well-used fingerboard will naturally wear and will need to be planed smooth eventually.

With regards to playing in a brand new fiddle, the more you play it the quicker its tone will develop, but even so the process can take at least a couple of years. Ultimately, of course, with a fine instrument it’s not likely to reach its best tone within the lifetime of anyone around now! In reality, the instrument will probably sound at its scratchiest in the first few weeks, then the inprovement in tone will get more and more noticeable.

Finally, if you haven’t got one already, invest in the best bow you can afford. No one item is more likely to affect your playing. If you get a really good bow that enables you to do anything you want, then you might change your fiddle one day, but you won’t change the bow!

Trevor

Re: Buying a violin

Btw, no need to be ashamed of a "classical" fiddle training - there is much there that can be put to good use in the non-classical world, and it’s worth noting that quite a few of the younger generation in itm seem to have had a solid classical training somewhere along the line. Their instruments, too, are indistinguishable from those used by the exclusively classical players.
Trevor

Re: Buying a violin

Buying a violin is tricky for a couple of reasons. If you were looking for a mandolin or guitar, you could find a reliable brand and know what you’re getting for your money. But a good violin is NOT factory made.

My fiddle was made by a senior student at the Chicago School of Violinmaking (or something). It’s pretty good. I paid $1000 for it used and it works just as well on Bach partitas (which I can barely play) and reels and jigs. I have a couple of late 1800s early 1900s factory-built violins and they’re not worth the wood their made of in terms of tone.

But unless you really know what you’re doing (not me) you’re at the mercy of a dealer, and the buyer should definitely beware. For example, I’ve seen some nice (and expensive) Chinese violins that have fingerboards that are dyed to look like ebony. And I’ve looked at some nice older French and German violins at a local shop — that buys them from a dealer and marks them WAY up.

I’d track down a symphony player in your area and ask them to suggest some reputable dealers who go to the big auctions in Boston and elsewhere. Strings Magazine also publishes an annual directory edition that lists dealers. (Email me if you want and I can tell you the names of a couple of dealers I trust.)

This may sound a little high-falutin’, but at good instrument (and bow) is worth every penny and will be a joy to play.

Another consideration, even on "beater" fiddles, is strings. Some trad players might disagree, but I’m a strong proponent of synthetic core strings, like a lot of classical players use (which is why they only need those fine tunner things on the E string). Hey, Liz Carroll uses Oblagatos, so I can’t be completely wrong!

Good luck.

Re: Buying a violin

Good advice, Romkey.
A little while ago I came across a lady, evidently in the earlier learning stages, playing a new fiddle with all steel strings and NO micrometer adjusters. Not only were there obvious tuning problems, but the bridge was bending - not just leaning - at a drunken angle towards the fingerboard, as a consequence of tuning the steel strings from the pegs. I advised her of the possible and potentially expensive consequences and that she should get it seen to as a matter of urgency.
I didn’t ask where she got the instrument, but I wonder what sort of dealer would have foisted an instrument in that condition on an unsuspecting beginner - certainly not the specialist fiddle dealers I go to.
Trevor

Buying a violin

I’ve been using Obligatos on my old German fiddle for a while now, and will shortly be getting another set to replace the old Helicors on my Jay Haide, which are now getting a little tired after migrating from the German fiddle, - I like to have the feel and response of the same type of string on both my instruments. The only suggestion I would make regarding synthetic core strings is to use a micrometer adjuster for the A. The tension in the A is high enough to make it awkward sometimes to get it exactly on pitch by using the peg alone. This is where the micrometer adjuster comes into its own for that final, fine adjustment to the tuning.
Trevor

Re: Buying a violin

In my view there is little reason nowadays to use ebony - probably yet another endangered species - for fingerboards. In fact, many modern makers of fine instruments use a non-ebony hardwood, leaving it in its natural state. Applying black dye to a hardwood to make it look like ebony is little more than a marketing ploy to attract the unknowing customer.
I wonder if carbon fibre would be suitable for fingerboards, if indeed it hasn’t been tried already. You can design and engineer the stuff to give the requisite hardness, smoothness, stiffness and strength for fingerboard purposes. After all, one of the main functions of the fingerboard is to support the neck against the tension of the strings.
Trevor

Re: Buying a violin

An important point about buying an old fiddle is to ignore the label inside. It’s only a piece of paper, after all, and anyone can stick a piece of paper inside a fiddle. In fact, the label is the last thing an expert will look at. He will spend quite some time examining every aspect of the instrument in considerable detail, external and internal, after which he’ll probably be able to reach some fairly definite conclusion regarding its age, where it was made, who made it, and in what style. A really fine instrument will almost certainly have a verifiable history behind it - its provenance - and this will confirm the expert’s conclusions. Dendrochronology can also be used (at a cost!) to determine the exact age and even origin of the wood used in the front and back of the best instruments.
Don’t forget that after a certain point in the life of a fiddle other factors kick in to up its value by a few multipliers - its age, who made it (and who for), where it was made, even who has owned it or played it. A bit like the art world I suppose. So why pay a 5-figure amount for an old instrument with a pedigree when low to middle 4-figures will buy you a decent modern instrument that is emminently playable and will last and give you pleasure for the rest of your days.
Trevor

Re: Buying a violin

Thankyou guys, its all v helpful stuff: keep adding!
Fran

Re: Buying a violin

I forgot to add, a few posts back, another sure way of stripping or loosening the winding on a string is to have long fingernails.
Trevor

Re: Buying a violin

Dear Frannyd,
There is little need to pay

Re: Buying a violin

I purchased a lovely modern violin from Lou Currah of Leith, Ontario, Canada, three years ago and I am completely delighted with it. I am a fiddler, but this violin would satisfy many classical players as well. Lou’s fiddles are very beautifully made from only the finest Canadian wood which he has hand selected over the years. I would highly recommend anyone looking for a good instrument, to pay Lou a visit. His violins are good value for the money. See his website www.geocities.com/violinomaker/
Elizabeth
wjeg@3web.net

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