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Chinese white fiddles: worth a go?


bean_fidhleir

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http://cgi.ebay.com/white-violin-4-4-unfin...tem320316627108

$69 seems almost criminally cheap, but the Chinese are devils for building share by undercutting. So what do you think - worth having a go as a way to get another working fiddle and a wee bittie practice in varnishing?

Or would it more likely be just another way to waste scarce money?

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http://cgi.ebay.com/white-violin-4-4-unfin...tem320316627108

$69 seems almost criminally cheap, but the Chinese are devils for building share by undercutting. So what do you think - worth having a go as a way to get another working fiddle and a wee bittie practice in varnishing?

Or would it more likely be just another way to waste scarce money?

I doubt you would get much quality at that price point !! There are some decnt chinese violins that can be bought in the white, but for $69.00 I would have my doubts !!

David B

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If you just want to practice varnishing skills, they're fine. If you want to sell, there are many competitors for after market white violins, whether they come from china, germany, romania, slovakia, bulgaria and so on. There are a few sellers that make a mint from these types of violins, most notably Deutsch violins from DC and all the large sellers on line featuring Otto Benjamins, Gama,etc. Most are over priced but some can be quite decent and even exceptional. After all, a monkey can sometimes write a Shakespeare masterpiece by pure chance. Same with violins.

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I have a Chinese white that's been sitting in the shop here for a few years. A customer/friend left it. I believe she'd paid about $40 US for it thru an e-bay seller.

After some recent exposure to one, I got thinking I'd like to try making a Hardanger. Their necks are different -- longer pegbox, shorter stop, sympathetic strings under the fingerboard. So I thought the Chinese white might be a place to start to learn about the mechanical set-up. My plan was to take the neck off, take the top off. Make a new neck, regrad the top.

Dissembled it today. Here's their graduation scheme -- carve out the inside. I had measurements running from 2.9 mm to 4.2 mm, in no discernible pattern. The base bar is thick, and eccentrically shaped, though of course it would go with a regrad. So I think the top is salvageable. Hardanger tops, as I understand it, run on the thin side.

The back is the same random pattern, with a very thin spot, about 2.4 mm, in the center between the two upper corners. Not too happy about that.

The linings are continuous, running from endblock to neckblock. In some places, the linings do not make contact with the ribs, but have a gap of up to nearly 2 mm. The corner blocks were put in after the ribs were made, some with large gaps between the block and ribs.

The ribs are cut or filed to a corner with very little attention as to where the joint lands. The neck block was glued tighter to the neck than to the back.

The endblock had grain running about 45 degrees to the ribs, with a shim fit into the gap between the endblock and the ribs. Maximum thickness on these endblocks is about 8 mm.

The wood is not great. So, I'm going to think a bit more about my strategy here. Right now I'm inclined to stop, and start a Hardanger from scratch.

In my shop, people bring these Chinese whites that were marketed as electric violins. They're spray-painted some bright color, set-up with a jack in the lower rib, and a bridge that doesn't fit, going for about $100 or so. No regrad, no new pegs, very cheap strings. Nothing really works on them, including the sound, but parents are suckered into them, thinking they'll be good 2nd fiddles for their kids. It's really sad.

On the other hand, a few years back, I helped a high-school student put together a kit from International Violin. It was better quality, but I think it cost a fair amount more -- in the few hundred US-dollar range.

If you want a varnish project that is basically a box shaped like a violin, sort of, then the very low-end Chinese white might be interesting. But otherwise, I'd say try something a bit nicer. You know, someone might actually try to play it someday :)

Cheers,

Ken

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Hi bean_fidhler,

Ok -- so that's a cool Hardanger. I've been to the HFAA site, but haven't seen that one. When I tried to get to it via the /graphics/ angle (dropping the gamelfele.jpg) , I was 'forbidden'.

Do you have access to a larger image? Those are some wildly overlapping f-holes.

I have a few photos at my flickr page (ref'd in my signature here, Photos of a few fiddles) of a modern Lynn Berg hardanger.

Which, by the way, has no connection to a Chinese white!

Ken

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http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Jaastadfela2.JPG

Here's a straight-on view at least, from Wiki. There *IS* a (slightly) larger photo available because I took a copy of it (which is archived on one of my hundreds of cds, somewhere). Unfortunately I can't remember where I got it.

http://bergenmuseum.uib.no/resize_image.ph...=images/587.jpg

That one gives a bit better look at how the f-holes wrap the edge, anyway.

Plus, since it's a public treasure, the Bergen Museum might be helpful with plans, measurements, etc, if you wanted to have a go. The fiddle is definitely archaic - aside from the distinctive shape and fholes, it only has 2 drone strings, not 4 as today.

(nice looking fiddles in your "few" collection)

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There are all sorts of grades of the Chinese white violins. I have to agree that the lower grades hardly seem worth the bother. I bought a few several years ago that look to be a grade or two higher than the one linked at the top of this thread for not much more (when you add the shipping). They were surprisingly nice. The biggest weaknesses were similar to what Ken mentioned-sloppy linings (though mine weren't continuous) and graduations that got thinner than I would prefer in spots.

If you are a dealer check with Howard Core, they list a whole range of qualities. The biggest concern I have is that as you pay more you tend to get violins closer to being shipped ready to varnish (fully graduated). I'd rather have extra thickness in the wood to work with and have seen at least one tonewood supplier list white violins spec'd like that.

It was fun to play around with the ones I had, but I quickly lost interest. I sold one graduated and setup, but unvarnished. Another has been hanging in that same state in my workshop for a couple years. It is getting a nice base color over time! Both sounded surprisingly good in the white, better than comparable finished violins I've bought, but I never got around to varnishing them.

The last, and best of the three is still untouched in a box in my shop. Somebody could trade me out of it without much effort. I have a Hacklinger gauge, so may go take a look at the thicknesses on that one.

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Thanks for the links, bean_fidhler.

As Mark mentioned, there are some decent whites out there to mess with. But if the white costs less than the raw wood, your chances are not too good. "Caveat emptor" is the pertinent saying here.

Referring to your first post: I don't think they're trying to undercut the market. They are trying to make money. It doesn't seem like a good way to build market, though, because I can't believe more than a small fraction of the buyers are actually satisfied with their purchase. There are always folk who will buy cheap junk, hoping for something that really costs more.

A good bottle of Scotch whisky costs about the same. Just something to think about. :)

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I have a Chinese white that's been sitting in the shop here for a few years. A customer/friend left it. I believe she'd paid about $40 US for it thru an e-bay seller.

After some recent exposure to one, I got thinking I'd like to try making a Hardanger. Their necks are different -- longer pegbox, shorter stop, sympathetic strings under the fingerboard. So I thought the Chinese white might be a place to start to learn about the mechanical set-up. My plan was to take the neck off, take the top off. Make a new neck, regrad the top.

Dissembled it today. Here's their graduation scheme -- carve out the inside. I had measurements running from 2.9 mm to 4.2 mm, in no discernible pattern. The base bar is thick, and eccentrically shaped, though of course it would go with a regrad. So I think the top is salvageable. Hardanger tops, as I understand it, run on the thin side.

The back is the same random pattern, with a very thin spot, about 2.4 mm, in the center between the two upper corners. Not too happy about that.

The linings are continuous, running from endblock to neckblock. In some places, the linings do not make contact with the ribs, but have a gap of up to nearly 2 mm. The corner blocks were put in after the ribs were made, some with large gaps between the block and ribs.

The ribs are cut or filed to a corner with very little attention as to where the joint lands. The neck block was glued tighter to the neck than to the back.

The endblock had grain running about 45 degrees to the ribs, with a shim fit into the gap between the endblock and the ribs. Maximum thickness on these endblocks is about 8 mm.

The wood is not great. So, I'm going to think a bit more about my strategy here. Right now I'm inclined to stop, and start a Hardanger from scratch.

In my shop, people bring these Chinese whites that were marketed as electric violins. They're spray-painted some bright color, set-up with a jack in the lower rib, and a bridge that doesn't fit, going for about $100 or so. No regrad, no new pegs, very cheap strings. Nothing really works on them, including the sound, but parents are suckered into them, thinking they'll be good 2nd fiddles for their kids. It's really sad.

On the other hand, a few years back, I helped a high-school student put together a kit from International Violin. It was better quality, but I think it cost a fair amount more -- in the few hundred US-dollar range.

If you want a varnish project that is basically a box shaped like a violin, sort of, then the very low-end Chinese white might be interesting. But otherwise, I'd say try something a bit nicer. You know, someone might actually try to play it someday :)

Cheers,

Ken

These might be of help. The error bars are one standard deviation, so the thicknesses e.g. in Olav G Hellands instruments can be below 1,5mm at some places..

post-25136-1226714126_thumb.jpg

post-25136-1226714136_thumb.jpg

post-25136-1226714146_thumb.jpg

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Thanks, Anders. That does give some thin spots. Is this from something you presented at Oberlin?

I really don't want to hijack the thread, and it seems that the OP, bean_fidhleir has some interest in hardangers as well -- do we need to start a new one?

Ken

I haven't presented this yet anywhere, just a paper sheet shown to Brian Newnam. "Here you have another thing to write an article on", was his comment..

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Just for completeness -- I had a little time this morning, and will post a few snapshots of the Chinese white I described earlier

post-24063-1226777548_thumb.jpg

post-24063-1226777567_thumb.jpg

post-24063-1226777585_thumb.jpg

post-24063-1226777605_thumb.jpg

The roll of leather behind the bassbar is just to add contrast. Without it, the profile blended in with the top.

Note also the cleats on the center seam. They are small, rather thick, and not well fit to the back or top. I'm not sure what good they actually do, so if you have one of these, you don't have to feel bad about scrapping them off.

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I got one of these:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewI...em=200275079353

about 2 years ago. After some regraduation (not much), a new bass bar, and a few other workmanship tweaks, and varnishing, it is a very impressive sounding instrument... more power than anything I have ever had.

I can't say if my experience is typical or not, as I have only tried this once, and there were definite workmanship and wood seasoning issues to contend with (I had the top off for a while, and everything warped very badly). But certainly these instruments are fine for varnishing practice, graduating experiments, and the like. It is always a good idea to test varnish on a scrap of wood first... so why not use a violin-shaped scrap from China?

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Morality is my main objection. And I'll explain it.

If you or I want to use this to experiment on, then ok. We can even play on the darn thing and enjoy it, then pitch it in the fire when we've learned what we can.

But being a repair person with a retail shop, customers bring in these things that have been 'finished' by someone who does not hold our same lofty morals. I have to stand there and explain to a mother and child that what they have is not even a violin. That I can do set-up work and make it sound better, but that the set-up work is going to cost more than the instrument did, that even when it's done, it's still not going to work very well. It's disappointing to them and to me.

You mentioned warping issues. Look at my photo of the linings. These are lining-shaped things that don't function as linings. Same for the blocks. What can you do to fix these things to make it right as opposed to just building something decent?

It's bad business for all of us who actually care about violins.

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http://cgi.ebay.com/white-violin-4-4-unfin...tem320316627108

$69 seems almost criminally cheap, but the Chinese are devils for building share by undercutting. So what do you think - worth having a go as a way to get another working fiddle and a wee bittie practice in varnishing?

Or would it more likely be just another way to waste scarce money?

These seem to look nice. Why not buy 10 and evaluate their quality from there. My experience is that their wood (the ones I have tested) is not different from normal european wood. The woodwork quality can be good too. About 600000 violins are produced in china every year and the quality may vary much. But my experience is that the quality is very stable.

I have two regraduated chinese violins in the Norwegian National Opera Orchestra. The label reads that it is made in China. The regrad (and varnish work) done by me.

I think the production costs are that low. This seems a bit on the low side. How can you be sure that that you get is what you see?

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You mentioned warping issues. Look at my photo of the linings. These are lining-shaped things that don't function as linings. Same for the blocks. What can you do to fix these things to make it right as opposed to just building something decent?

It's bad business for all of us who actually care about violins.

These same things can be said about the flood of imported VSO's imported by Sears many decades ago, and I'm sure you have seen your share of those junkers. So this is not a new phenomenon.

To someone in your profession, I can understand the dismay at seeing these cheapos that are not worth the effort to repair. I am not trying to eke out a living retailing or repairing, but even as a hobby there are instruments I have come across that I would not want to mess with. Even more depressing is when those old junkers used beautiful flamed wood. Aaarrgghh.

In the hypothetical world where nobody made cheap junk violins, I wonder whether we'd be better off... there would be far fewer people getting started playing music. It would be nice if everyone who wanted an instrument could have a good one, but how would that happen? I would like a nice one, too... but wouldn't be able to justify the expense to the wife and kids. Yeah, I'm cheap like the rest of the Wal-mart shoppers.

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These same things can be said about the flood of imported VSO's imported by Sears many decades ago, and I'm sure you have seen your share of those junkers. So this is not a new phenomenon.

You bet -- plenty of junkers, likewise plenty of decent ones. Same thing today. A Chinese instrument such as Eastman's VL-100 would be maybe double what one of these low-end 'finished' whites costs, yet is a decent beginner instrument.

And the same thing in Chinese whites. I'm betting the ones Anders is referring to are of a higher quality than the one I showed.

It really boils down to choices. I've heard plenty of stories from folks in their 70s and 80s, talking fondly of the sacrifice their parents made to get one of those Sears instruments. Last summer, I repaired one that the owner had been playing on for over 60 years. He really liked it, and it was not a piece of junk. But it was a relatively standard factory instrument of the early 20th century.

Today, folks can choose to buy Wii's, or big screen TVs, cellphones that do way more than make calls. And that cost more than these 'violins'. I have been in the business long enough to see that a sizeable fraction of the US population does not want to spend much more than a month's cable-tv bill on their child's instrument. A musical instrument will actually help them learn how to learn.

Priorities -- I'm still waiting to hear from a shoe-repair person about how the local high-school brought over a box of used Army boots to fix-up because some kids on the track team can't afford running shoes.

And as a small-business owner, don't even get me started on WalMart....

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Thanks, Anders. That does give some thin spots. Is this from something you presented at Oberlin?

I really don't want to hijack the thread, and it seems that the OP, bean_fidhleir has some interest in hardangers as well -- do we need to start a new one?

Ken

I think you may regard the thicknesses as thin areas rather than some thin spots.

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