Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

I have been using the same beginner’s/student fiddle for over 2 years now and want to get something a bit lighter with a nicer sound. I think I know the difference now but would like some good tips on what to look out for? What kind of price range to expect? I had a look in McNeill’s in Capel St. and they seemed to start from 300 Euro. Basically I’m looking for a decent intermediate level fiddle. Apologies if there is an older discussion on this, point me in its direction and I’ll be happy.
Thanks!

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Hi Ronan—yes we have talked about this before—maybe try searching for the discussion under "buying a fiddle". But no harm in talking about it again since it’s been a while.

I think it’s good that you’ve already been using a student fiddle and you have something to compare a new fiddle with. What I did was take the rented fiddle I was using into the shops with me and I would play a bit of a new fiddle and then compare it with the one I was already used to. I realized that the old student fiddle I was using was quite good for how much my teacher paid for it and I had to go to about $750 to find one just as pleasing to my ear. I finally went for the next one up—$1000—because it was so much better considering the difference it cost, since it is a lifetime investment.

I’m sure you’ll get lots more advice on this one from the rest of the fiddle playing gang!

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

this is a good question and the best advice I can think of giving is pay as much as you can afford.

But remember that you won’t be able to play your new fiddle to any where near its optimum for quite a while. You may even have moments of despair when you think you sound better on your old fiddle. This will pass and with time, you’ll be looking back and saying it’s the best thing you ever did

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

I found that it’s better to play potential fiddles before you look at the price tag. The downside is that you might fall in love with something extortionate, but you could also find just what you were looking for at a fraction of the price. When I was buying my fiddle, I would scan the tags, and then, deeming them inadequate, I would (foolishly) ignore anything below a certain price. It was only after being chastised about this practice by a friend that I began to think more objectively. I ended up narrowing the search down to four, and having chosen one, found it was only 1,4 - quarter of the price of the others. Damn lucky =).

Also, what Michael says is very true, don’t be disheartened if instead of spurring on, you have to work a few skills back in.

Final piece of advice, play everything you can and work out exactly what you want from your fiddle. You’re the one that’s going to listen to it the most, so don’t let anyone tell you what it *should* sound like.

~Cait.

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

A friend asked me to try out his guitar, a rather cheap one at that. I was surprised at the clarity and tone of the instrument. He mentioned that his wife had left him alone during a shopping trip and he spent the afternoon tuning then comparing about 100 different guitars of the same make. He knew better than I did that on occasion even the cheapest manufacturer makes a mistake occasionally and creates a masterpiece. It might be true for fiddles. He also mentioned that it was more dangerous leaving his wife alone shopping than it did him.

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

the trouble with thinking you’ve found a better fiddle for a quarter of the price tag is that it’s probably not a better fiddle, it’s just that you can’t play the dearer one yet.

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Good point, Michael. I’ve heard it said by a number of experienced players that you need a lot of playing ability and maturity to get the best out of top-of-the range fiddles. Some genuine Strads, apparently, can be notoriously difficult for any but world-class players to control. This is not to say, of course, that a beginner or "improver" should put up with a rubbishy instrument - far from it, there should always be a happy compromise between quality, playability at one’s present and expected future technical levels, and price.
Having said that, brand-new instruments (and older ones, too) in music stores may not - indeed probably are not - be set up to their optimum. In that case, it’s a good idea to take an experienced player, possibly even someone who is a fiddle maker, along with you to advise on what you can safely ignore and what may have potential with a little attention. New instruments are often set up with less than high quality strings, and with bridge, soundpost etc not *quite* in the right place (we’re talking millimetres here), and these factors all affect the tone and response. It’s a bit like taking an auto engineer along with you when you’re looking to buy a used car.
Trevor

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

If it’s possible at all where you are, you might try to find an instrument that has a fiddle history and not a violin history.

I’m not any kind of an expert at making or purchasing fiddles, but one of the reasons I trust my last purchase is that it was bought from a fiddle player who used it as a performance fiddle. An orchestra player would *hate* it; I can tell that, too.

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Problem with fiddles is that too often price is as subjective as sound. I’ve played clunkers that had a $17,000 tag on them, and I bought a Heberlein that sounds terrific and plays like a dream for $650.

Some of the "finer" shops in the US sell "collectible" violins for extremely high prices, but you wouldn’t want to try actually playing some of the these. You’d get better tone out of a cigar box.

Ronan, welcome to a life of "fiddle acquisition disorder." 🙂 Make opportunities to play every fiddle you can—go into shops and just play through their inventory. Even if you can’t afford the high end instruments, you’ll find out what a fiddle can do, and come to expect more out of the fiddles in your price range. The best fiddle I’ve ever played was a $20,000 100 yearold French instrument at a serious shop in Portland OR. Better than other fiddles I’ve tried at twice the price. But not having $20,000 to put into a fiddle, I told myself to be patient and keep looking. The Heberlein showed up at my local (Montana) shop, and it’s not as powerful as the French one, but comes darn close in most other respects. Bear in mind that it took 10 years or more of active looking (and owning a string of good but lesser fiddles during that same time).

Also, don’t be misled into ignoring newer instruments—a fiddle doesn’t have to be a century old to be good.

Lastly, think in terms of the resale value of any instrument you buy. In general, factory-made fiddles won’t appreciate in value as quickly or steadily as fiddles made by a single maker. Some shops offer full trade-in value if you bring your fiddle back to upgrade in a few years. But with better fiddles, they should appreciate more than that on the open market. At least that’s how it works here in the US.

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Dear Ronan,
Re buying a another violin, I would suggest that you forget about the idea that you pay for what you get.
I Know a shop in Gortin ( Omagh ) where hand made violins of both German ( violin only, to E1334 ) & Chinese ( outfits at only Eu95 ).
Customers are let see the range & play them. ( without knowing the price )
It is surprising how often the " punter " eliminates one by one & finish up with the cheap outfit. They are all surprised when they hear the price. VERY few change back to the dearest one
see www.boorinwoodmusic.com
J. B.

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

I would caution against spending too much at this point. I bought a fiddle about 3 years after starting- it made a big difference in my playing and I’m not sorry I changed fiddles at that point. But for the long run, it may not be the best fiddle for me, but its hard to get past that first investment- Anyway, just my two cents. Jennifer

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Boorinwood just posted the thing I told to people watch out for earlier. What’s thast about??

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

In addition to the fiddle, investing in a good bow would also be very beneficial. A well sprung bow can make a huge difference to the way you play. Good luck in the hunt.

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Hi all,

Thanks for all the excellent advice. I didn’t expect such a response! I will definitely be making a trip to Omagh (always wanted to check it out anyway) some time soon. I had heard that about Chinese fiddles as well. Also, I will take all the other caveats on board. Certainly, a fiddle bought now might not be what I need down the road but as I’m wearing away the fingerboard on my current beast, the situation is getting desperate! I hadn’t thought about how important a bow would be. The one I have seems fine but that might be because that’s all I know. Definitely more exploration is required before making the plunge.

Thanks again to everyone.

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

I’m sure that must have been it. Goodness,

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

I say the first thing to look for is an even tone. Many fiddles have great high ends with rotten low ends and vice versa. Bring your own bow and try every fiddle in your price range. Tune one up, then play a two octave G or A scale. If the notes on the e are screechy or the notes on the g are wolfy put it away and move on. You can narrow you choices very quickly this way. And remember, if the instrument is new (never played before) it might sound relatively dead, but it will still have and even tone on both ends. Don’t judge a new instrument on volume. It’s voice will open up with some playing. Also, you might want to bring a fiddle playing friend with you when picking it out. Another set of ears can help a lot.

When I bought my fiddle I spent an hour and a half in the "under a thousand dollars" room and left with one priced at $800, case and bow included (Chinese, incidently), and I have not heard a fiddle that I like better anywhere. Sometimes price is based on the maker or the appearance of the instrument, rather than the actual sound of an instrument.

Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Geoff’s got a good point on the value of a better bow—in many cases, much more essential than a better fiddle. But the advice is the same—play as many different bows as you can get your hands on. Bear in mind that the weight of typcial fiddle bows doesn’t vary much—from 56 or 55 grams up to 63 grams tops (and lots of players seem to prefer that 59 to 61 gram range), but the balance can be dramatically different from one to the next. Some are tip heavy, others have all their mass down by the frog. Two bows can weigh exactly the same and have completely different feels just based on their weight distribution. And then you have to learn to feel the difference between lively and stable bows, and lively versus uncontrollable, and stable versus dead unresponsive, etc.

Through it all, be patient with yourself—it takes time to figure out the half of it. And then post everything you learn here at the sesh.org so we can all learn from you, too.

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Warning - long post follows!

There

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

Correction: that figure for the new set of pegs should read "$250 Oz *including* 2 hrs of the luthier’s time". And they weren’t the cheapest set of pegs in the catalogue, either.

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Re: Looking for tips on buying a fiddle.

I recently "upgraded" from my beginner fiddle worth €100 to a Hofner. Having played piano for 12 years I knew a bum note when I played it but couldn’t get any further sound out of the starter. Went to Charles Byrnes in Dublin and played a no. of instruments. One above the price range I was willing to pay (fell in love with it but beyond my playing ability and affordability) and one below my price bracket(but better than my own instrument at the time). Eventually settled on a Hofner worth €635. I’ve heard it played well and it has a lovely tone and I’ll upgrade again when I play well enough to get the best sound possible out of it myself (which could be a long way off…!). Give yourself a good number of hours or days to try plenty of instruments.

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