Improving A Violin ?

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Hi cho-cho plane, I liked your story very much.

I see many violinists dreamming for the day they will find "that" violin (top Italian, good state, incredible sound for 2K...) and, in the meantime, they spend their whole lives playing a very bad instrument...

And we spend too much money and time to learn playing the violin, so it's a pity that all that investment ends in a bad violin...

In the meantime, also, we have spent thounsand of dollars in computers and eletronic paraphernalia since the 80's (I imagine I have spent at least 15 K in such things) that are useless and have no value today. But when it comes to violins, we stick to the idea of "resale" value. In general trade tools have no resale value, but violins must be sold with profit.

And money alone is not sufficent to get a good violin. You have to have "violin culture" too.

The soloist I met last week played on a relatevely cheap instrument that sounded great in his hands.

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I like what Rutherford said!

A few months ago, a similar subject came up on regraduation of a violin. The instrument owner had gone to a well known luthier and had the complete (and expensive) setup done, but it had not cured the problem. I suggested a regraduation and gave him the characteristics that he should look for in the luthier that would be capable of this work. In a private email, he said he had found such a person and it had worked. I suggest that you do a search on regraduation and find my comments.

There are a lot of decent instruments coming into the United States from China which need knowledgeable adjustment which goes beyond the careful setup. This does not need to cost a large amount of money but you will need to seek out the type of person described by Rutherford.

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Here's an interesting example of what I was saying. Many Chinese instruments have what I would call irreversible flaws. Not all, by any means, but many. I've taken some of these apart, and there's no reason they shouldn't work--the archings are good, the grads are spot on, the necksets are good. I believe, though I can't tell for sure, that the problem is either wood or varnish, but whichever it is, there's nothing that can be done for them. On the other hand, I've also worked with Chinese instruments that are a breath away from being perfect, and do respond, beautifully, to work to set them right. So it's not just a matter of setup--it's having the right basic material to work with.

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I agree with Manfio. All those computers and electronic junk are obsolete in 5 years. Since we don't expect it to retain it's value, we are willing to "write it off" in our minds. Same with cars that don't last more than 15 years max. How much consumer goods do we buy and fritter our money away on that just goes out to the Goodwill. Yet, I've met parents who spend $60 per week on violin lessons and then brag about the $100 violin they bought for their kid to play on. At my son's recital I saw the cheapest and I mean absolute cheapest violins being played by students whose parents are all living in an upscale Bay Area neighborhood with million dollar homes. They had the soft edged scrolls with spray varnish, all glossy and shiny, you know those types. This teacher must not care about sound either, because most students bowed chicken armed and slouching with their violin pointing down to their stomach and left hand in awkward palm up position. So I suppose they can't tell the difference between violins anyway. And the mother next to me said her daughter's violin only cost $100. Meanwhile I bought my son a Stringworks 1/8 size for much more, and the teacher was very surprised to hear such good sound (in comparison) out of a fractional instrument.

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What Manfio said about a relatively plain instrument producing a

great sound by a great player is a very interesting point. There

are some players who intuitively know how to bring out all the

sound in an instrument as well as 'avoid' bringing out it's less

desirable qualities. There are other players who play on exquisite

instruments and produce a boring and meaningless sound (but have

'perfect' technique......). I feel really sorry for those

instruments!..... The worst thing of course, is when an unskilled

player blames their good instrument for their bad sound and takes

it to a repairman to be 'fixed' whatever that means. I knew of a

cellist who decided his cello would produce a better sound if he

enlarged the f-holes. Yep! Apparently he did it at home with a

pocket knife, and was very proud of his handy work. This guy was in

a State Symphony Orchestra. I don't know what his cello was but it

was obviously a good one. Not any more though...

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the archings are good, the grads are spot on, the necksets are good. I believe, though I can't tell for sure, that the problem is either wood or varnish, but whichever it is, there's nothing that can be done for them.

I've given this some thought from time to time while applying an amateur version of Jeffrey's 'good bones' theory. Plenty of older factory violins from the European shops have decent archings and standard graduations--okay, a little thicker than Stradivari's 2.5mm on the top, but not bad--yet there's nothing to change on them. I've had them apart looking for thick tops and fatigued bass bars and found nothing. The only thing I can think of is that the top and bottom plates were not compatible in some way. This might explain why some of the great makers left parts behind--they'd assemble a fiddle, find out out it wouldn't sound, and just make another top.

Any thoughts?

BTW, I should mention I tested some of these plates up to mode 5 and found nothing unusual there either.

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yes, you

put $2000 in a car that was worth $1000 on the market, and the

resulting car was not worth $3000, but could you have bought

another car that was as good as your Protege, and would pass the

specs, for the $3000 you would have had if you sold the car and

didn't spend the $2000 on it? (does this make any since?)

I know what you mean. For $3000 I could get nothing as nice as my old Protege, but what its worth to me and what its worth on the used car market are vastly different. Most 91 Proteges are junk. Mine is not only nice but very competitive in its class at autocross and only a second or so behind the times that I can cut in my Porsche Boxster. Akerlof won a Nobel prize for his analysis of exactly this problem, which he refers to as the "lemons" problem.

Very similarly, my teacher just put $500 into a nice 100 year-old German commercial violin. It is worth $1000-$2000 and all the work did nothing for the resale value. It sounds very good but that has nothing to do with its value. As a commercial German violin it can't sell for more than $2000.

If you take a violin to a dealer for an appraisal the dealer will rarely play it. The re-graduation and bassbar are neither seen nor heard and don't affect the value. But if you like how it looks and how it soucnds then that is all that matters.

The downside of "improving" is the Juzek Master Art Cello owned by the cellist in my quartet. It had the top thinned to give it a bigger more powerful sound. It did sound good for about 2 months when the top started cracking, then deflected and caved in. It will take about $5000 to fix it and there aren't any guarantees that it will stay fixed. She wrote off the Juzek and bought a new Alex Bacelar cello that sounds terrific.

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have you made mods to your Protege, or just kept it well-maintained

in stock condition? either way, it's pretty amazing that a '$1000"

car can keep up with a Porche Boxster, even in autocross! (to me,

anyway, don't know a huge amount about what makes an advantage in

autocross, just what it is and how it works!)  

definitely sound like a keeper!  


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