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Orry

buying a violin upgrade for a teenager

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Dear All, I am looking to buy a violin upgrade for my 12 yr old son, in particular, i am tempted to bid a violin from auctions, even though i know nothing about violin.  Sorry for making this a very long post, as I really look forward to having your advice and help. I am going to introduce my son and his current violin first, and would like to have your opinion on what kind of violin upgrade suitable for him. At the end of the post, if bidding a violin from auctions is not a wildly crazy idea to my situation, I would like have your help on which one I should bid. 

My son has been learning violin for a few years and is currently of about grade 5/6 level. Besides of his private violin lessons, he also plays in a weekend half day music school in small ensembles and in an orchestra. He is currently using an old full size violin we bought from one of his violin teachers for near £1000. When we initially bought his current violin, i sent the violin to a local violin shop for evaluation and was told the following, "It is French from the Vosges region, made around 1890. It has an insurance value of £2,000.  For a private sale the condition is not 100%.  The fingerboard is probably original, it is not made of ebony which is the convention but of pear wood or similar and stained black (most of which has worn or faded).  The fingerboard is showing considerable signs of wear and tear and should be shot (planed to remove these and correct both the cross section and  longitudinal curve and in curve relief).  However the fingerboard is at the end of its useful life and should be changed along with the top nut (where the strings pass over into the pegbox and onto the pegs). The bridge is warped and needs changing, if the fingerboard would be changed then the bridge would also need changing as it would no longer align with the fingerboard." 

 Anyway i did not do any fix suggested above by the local shop as the violin was the only one for my son to use. Only until recently, i sent the violin to a violin maker/restorer to have it checked and hoped to have a quick fix for minor issues, but what the violin restorer told me about the violin really worried me, "I missed some sleep last night worrying about this violin of yours. I have to be very straight with you about the violin. The violin is a factory made student instrument made about a hundred years ago. It is a fake copy of a violin made about 200 years ago. There were millions of these 'trade' instruments exported around the world from Europe. In the late 19th century when the violin became very popular these instruments were mostly copies of earlier instruments made as cheaply as possible to satisfy the popular demand. I normally buy them for around two to four hundred pounds and completely rebuild them to make them into good playing instruments , It takes about five weeks to do this and I would normally charge £1500 for transforming your violin"

I was really upset by this new information. I am a bit suspicious if it is a good idea to continue throwing in another £1500 on this violin. Also I found sometimes we need to have a 2nd violin at home as a back up just in case the 1st violin got problem or sent away. So i decided to to buy a 2nd violin which hopefully is better than my son's current violin so that he can use for the next few years.  But my budget is still very tight, i probably can only spend £2000 for a 2nd violin in play-ready condition. I looked around and eventually found this forum and am really tempted to try my luck at auction. For the past few days i have been watching the auction at Brompton's to be closed on December 11th, and am tempted to bid this violin Lot 90 (estimate £800+) or this one Lot 93 or even maybe this one Lot 108 (estimate £1500+). I know nothing about these violins, but I chose them only because their starting bid is within my budget and they are labelled as "good condition" by the website. So here are my questions,

1) with my son's current violin, is my thought of buying a violin upgrade for him at the moment sensible at all?

2) say if i can successfully bid a violin in the £1000-£1500 price range from the auction, is the violin meaningfully better than my son's current violin and hence a real upgrade?

3) if i spent £1000-£1500 on a good condition violin above in the auction, how much further cost i need to expect to spend on having it checked/repaired and set up so that it becomes ready to play?  Is it going to exceed my total budget £2000 ?

4) finally, within my budget, is there any other violin you would recommend me to bid instead of the three violin I mentioned above.

I know the decision of buying a violin is a very personal matter and unique to my own situations, but I will really appreciate your advice and opinion. Thank you for your time reading this.
 

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Given your lack of experience in the fiddle business, my heartfelt advice is to sit down, take a deep breath, stop being in such a hurry, and forget about auctions entirely.  You are much too likely to have a very bad experience out of it.  You need to go see a selection of what's available at different shops where you live.  :)

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What she said ...!

I feel that you are a long way out of you depth.

It sounds like you have a decent enough Mirecourt violin which you bought for an appropriate price - maybe it was a bit expensive but it's a known quantity. I bet there's enough wood to shoot the fingerboard one last time, and bridges can be un-warped ...

It sounds like your second restorer is angry because you didn't buy a violin from him. His description of French trade instruments is disingenuous in the extreme. Even Medio Finos, the cheapest of all Mirecourt violins, can sound very good and regularly sell for over £1000 a retail, pearwood fingerboards and all! I would take everything he says with a heavy pinch of salt.

As for buying a violin at auction, I don't think this is wise unless you have significant specialist knowledge. There is no guarantee that your chosen violin won't sound like a strangled cat, or indeed that it will be worth what you pay for it. Two of the violins you have linked to don't have a set-up, so add on a few hundred quid before you even find out if they sound bearable - the other is 361mm and not appropriate for a youngster.

I would also warn against anything described as "possibly Italian" or "attributed to" ... and doesn't that 3rd violin have a stained pearwood fingerboard? In all events, it's poor quality wood and it needs remedial work.

You seem to be in your current fix simply because the fingerboard and bridge need a bit of work - what are these horny old restorers going to say when you take them your auction treasure? Could be much worse!

 

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Now that Martin has spoken up, I'll add my tuppence.  Changing out a fingerboard and a bridge on a Mirecourt trade violin should be no challenge to any experienced luthier.  I'm certain that even Martin could get it done for you.  :ph34r:;)   IMHO, you should look at his website, https://www.martinswanviolins.com/

If your son's violin is doing a good job for him at the moment,  getting the maintenance it needs done would be your best choice.  Why fix what isn't broke?  :)

 

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20 hours ago, Orry said:

Dear All, I am looking to buy a violin upgrade for my 12 yr old son, in particular, i am tempted to bid a violin from auctions, even though i know nothing about violin.  Sorry for making this a very long post, as I really look forward to having your advice and help. I am going to introduce my son and his current violin first, and would like to have your opinion on what kind of violin upgrade suitable for him. At the end of the post, if bidding a violin from auctions is not a wildly crazy idea to my situation, I would like have your help on which one I should bid. 

My son has been learning violin for a few years and is currently of about grade 5/6 level. Besides of his private violin lessons, he also plays in a weekend half day music school in small ensembles and in an orchestra. He is currently using an old full size violin we bought from one of his violin teachers for near £1000. When we initially bought his current violin, i sent the violin to a local violin shop for evaluation and was told the following, "It is French from the Vosges region, made around 1890. It has an insurance value of £2,000.  For a private sale the condition is not 100%.  The fingerboard is probably original, it is not made of ebony which is the convention but of pear wood or similar and stained black (most of which has worn or faded).  The fingerboard is showing considerable signs of wear and tear and should be shot (planed to remove these and correct both the cross section and  longitudinal curve and in curve relief).  However the fingerboard is at the end of its useful life and should be changed along with the top nut (where the strings pass over into the pegbox and onto the pegs). The bridge is warped and needs changing, if the fingerboard would be changed then the bridge would also need changing as it would no longer align with the fingerboard." 

 Anyway i did not do any fix suggested above by the local shop as the violin was the only one for my son to use. Only until recently, i sent the violin to a violin maker/restorer to have it checked and hoped to have a quick fix for minor issues, but what the violin restorer told me about the violin really worried me, "I missed some sleep last night worrying about this violin of yours. I have to be very straight with you about the violin. The violin is a factory made student instrument made about a hundred years ago. It is a fake copy of a violin made about 200 years ago. There were millions of these 'trade' instruments exported around the world from Europe. In the late 19th century when the violin became very popular these instruments were mostly copies of earlier instruments made as cheaply as possible to satisfy the popular demand. I normally buy them for around two to four hundred pounds and completely rebuild them to make them into good playing instruments , It takes about five weeks to do this and I would normally charge £1500 for transforming your violin"

I was really upset by this new information. I am a bit suspicious if it is a good idea to continue throwing in another £1500 on this violin. Also I found sometimes we need to have a 2nd violin at home as a back up just in case the 1st violin got problem or sent away. So i decided to to buy a 2nd violin which hopefully is better than my son's current violin so that he can use for the next few years.  But my budget is still very tight, i probably can only spend £2000 for a 2nd violin in play-ready condition. I looked around and eventually found this forum and am really tempted to try my luck at auction. For the past few days i have been watching the auction at Brompton's to be closed on December 11th, and am tempted to bid this violin Lot 90 (estimate £800+) or this one Lot 93 or even maybe this one Lot 108 (estimate £1500+). I know nothing about these violins, but I chose them only because their starting bid is within my budget and they are labelled as "good condition" by the website. So here are my questions,

1) with my son's current violin, is my thought of buying a violin upgrade for him at the moment sensible at all?

2) say if i can successfully bid a violin in the £1000-£1500 price range from the auction, is the violin meaningfully better than my son's current violin and hence a real upgrade?

3) if i spent £1000-£1500 on a good condition violin above in the auction, how much further cost i need to expect to spend on having it checked/repaired and set up so that it becomes ready to play?  Is it going to exceed my total budget £2000 ?

4) finally, within my budget, is there any other violin you would recommend me to bid instead of the three violin I mentioned above.

I know the decision of buying a violin is a very personal matter and unique to my own situations, but I will really appreciate your advice and opinion. Thank you for your time reading this.
 

Both the dealer and the restorer are exaggerating to suit their own agenda. Your son's instrument is most likely between the two versions they give. Replacing the fingerboard is not a difficult task but there may be other issues. But £1500 worth of work? No way.

Besides that... getting another instrument, well what Violadamore and Martin said. If you haven't already and you're wondering if maybe you should?... then yes, get in touch with Martin, unlike most, he will give you real knowledge and he won't take your eyes out.

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Dear Violadamore and Martin, I am very grateful for your candid advice. Yes, I guess I am highly strung lately. It took my son and myself lots struggle to keep him learning violin and finally he becomes very motivated and really enjoys playing it. I felt I cannot help him much in music as I myself not musical at all, so I just try my best to provide him the lessons and instruments he needs. I am really worried if he could not make the progress he deserves simply because I did not provide him a good instrument. He actually liked his current violin very much, although I suspect the emotion factor weighed in, as the violin was from his violin teacher. Looking for a 2nd violin, I rented a shining violin for him to try out, but he complained the new violin was hard to play and had a tone from metal (they sounded the same to me!) and he refused to use it even as a back up. That was why I eventually started to think about online auctions where I hoped to get him a vintage violin with the mellow tone he likes.

Even though i only found this forum not long before, I indeed had noticed Martin is a well respected member of this forum and I had visited his website before. My rushed impression was Martin's shop (like almost all the respected violin shops) is out of my reach with my very limited budget, but I will have a closer look and also look around again. For now I probably drop the idea of bidding in auctions. Thank you very much for helping me make the correct decision.

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56 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Both the dealer and the restorer are exaggerating to suit their own agenda. Your son's instrument is most likely between the two versions they give. Replacing the fingerboard is not a difficult task but there may be other issues. But £1500 worth of work? No way.

Besides that... getting another instrument, well what Violadamore and Martin said. If you haven't already and you're wondering if maybe you should?... then yes, get in touch with Martin, unlike most, he will give you real knowledge and he won't take your eyes out.

Said as a statement in fact, not an opinion?  Sorry Sospiri.  I ran the sales and restoration department of a rather large firm for many, many, years.  Maybe it's high for a fingerboard and bridge, but that does not appear to pertain to the subject of the third paragraph. It's pretty standard practice for shops to rework these commercial instruments in order to bring them up to standard.  This might include a fingerboard, neck set, new bar, etc.  Please note that the luthier was quoted as saying "I normally buy them for around two to four hundred pounds and completely rebuild them to make them into good playing instruments". 

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Orry, 

Congratulations on nurturing your son through violin practices! My mom did the same thing, and told me that one day I'd thank her. And I did and I have many times.

If your son likes the violin he is playing and his teacher finds it acceptable, then why change? Particularly for a 12 year-old. If you want to improve his current instrument, then I think that you might better spend your money on a new fingerboard and bridge (and maybe sound post). If the violin sounds nice, it could last him many more years.

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Many years ago I was in the same boat with my son.  We visited a few shops but in the end I went the auction route.  It's not for everyone.  My son ended up with a couple good instruments (repairs by a local luthier added to the their overall cost, but nothing in the vicinity of $1500 as they weren't basket cases or seriously "out of date") and I ended up with a pile of clunkers to tinker with (and quite a number of bows).  I even learned a thing or two about minor repairs.  I don't recall exactly what my total outlay was but it was less than the one we were considering from the shop ($5000).  Eventually the clunkers laying around piqued my interest in becoming a late learner on the instrument.  After a while, many of the extras were sold off (mostly at a "loss"), but I did quite well on one bow.

I'm not recommending the auction approach, just relating my experience.

Good luck.

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How I see things, you should first consider purchasing another violin, as a backup.This other violin can serve also as a workhorse for outdoor gigs, experiments with pickups can be performed on it, and, most importantly, it can serve as an instrument that can be played while the main instrument is being repaired. What is important for this other instrument is to be built as a tank and have a good setup. IV from Maryland has a New Year action and for $290 you can buy a complete outfit. I have nothing to do with IV, but I have all the praise for their customer care and Ken's knowledge and communications skills.
Secondly, the first opinion from the local violin shop sounds soundly grounded and reasonable. Replace fingerboard and bridge and get a usable violin.
As usual, these are my two small coins and nothing more.

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2 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

Said as a statement in fact, not an opinion?  Sorry Sospiri.  I ran the sales and restoration department of a rather large firm for many, many, years.  Maybe it's high for a fingerboard and bridge, but that does not appear to pertain to the subject of the third paragraph. It's pretty standard practice for shops to rework these commercial instruments in order to bring them up to standard.  This might include a fingerboard, neck set, new bar, etc.  Please note that the luthier was quoted as saying "I normally buy them for around two to four hundred pounds and completely rebuild them to make them into good playing instruments". 

Yes, Jeffrey is right. To be fair for the violin maker/restorer I mentioned, I understood the repairing plan he proposed to my son's violin was transformational, not only limited to fixing the finger board and bridge problems pointed out by the first violin shop. His vision to the violin was most likely too ambitious for me to reach, and also because of my ignorance i was not able to make an educated judgement and hence was only suspicious if I should proceed as he proposed or not, but i do not doubt his honesty. I appreciated his help and still respect him. I have no intention at all to put him into any blame by quoting him here.  

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Take your son to a local music store, ask the sales people to group together instruments in your price range, have your son play the instruments and choose the one he likes best. End of story, I shall refrain from further comments in the form of opinions. 

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...maybe upgrade to a better bow for now?

Then take time to save for a different violin down the road - when the need becomes more real.

No rush. And the money put towards a better bow is also money well spent.

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Firstly, this has nothing to do with me but just reading here leaves me puzzled, scared and somewhat confused on what to do.   The good I see is the charm of an old French violin and the student likes to work with it.

  So my question is can the entire timber of sound coming from the violin change for the worse with the addition of an ebony fingerboard, nut and new bridge?  What about other fittings?  It is such a gamble that I'd be afraid to play.

Maybe find a pro violinist or two in the area that may have an extra instrument they may want to part with.  Don't forget the trip to the violin shop so that a pile of instruments can be brought out to see what jr. really likes.   good luck

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Greg F's experience is similar to mine. I've ordered several ebay violins and put new strings on them and some are probably better than the instrument your son has now and a couple were clunkers. (My approach is pretty straightforward: I order instruments from the last 20 years that were $1500 new, but can be found for several hundred, usually Yamaha or shop-adjusted Chinese brands.) It's a gamble, but is sort of the "poor man's approach" to getting an upgraded instrument.

You're in that awkward phase where he probably won't be happy with a student instrument but you also aren't ready for the major outlay for a professional violin. It sounds like reworking the violin is a gamble and you'd already like a second instrument for him, but it's hard to know what's an improvement. Your auction choices also look like gambles that will require more setup than what you have now (only one has the bridge and four strings, and you again don't know about soundpost, fingerboard, pegs, unseen cracks, tone, etc.).

A new bow is solid advice. I'd also encourage you to visit string shops and have him try some. Many shops may let you try violins for a few weeks. A teacher or music director may also have a line on a good instrument. Other options are to do what I did (try several 300 pound used instruments and stay with the best) or to kick the can and stay with the current instrument longer, or to bargain for basic repairs but not a major rework. He could also try classmates' violins and see what they're playing on or where they bought. Don't be depressed about it. It sounds like he's at a really good level for his age and this is a chance to learn more about violin.

 

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20 hours ago, jezzupe said:

Take your son to a local music store, ask the sales people to group together instruments in your price range, have your son play the instruments and choose the one he likes best. End of story, I shall refrain from further comments in the form of opinions. 

100% agree. No auctions/no ebay - you should buy only sound in that price category and ready to play violin. If there is a sound(better video)demo of good sounding instrument of ebay or auction, than you can consider. But without video/sound demo - no no no

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20 hours ago, jezzupe said:

Take your son to a local music store, ask the sales people...

I would not recommend this.

Unfortunately, in my experience, most music general music stores are staffed by sales people who have no understanding of orchestral string instruments or how to properly set one up. Furthermore, their commercial instruments tend to be of mediocre quality and way overpriced. 

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Just now, GeorgeH said:

I would not recommend this.

Unfortunately, in my experience, most music general music stores are staffed by sales people who have no understanding of orchestral string instruments or how to properly set one up. Furthermore, their commercial instruments tend to be of mediocre quality and way overpriced. 

Well, I overlooked that - I meant to the local luthier shop! 

 

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2 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

I would not recommend this.

Unfortunately, in my experience, most music general music stores are staffed by sales people who have no understanding of orchestral string instruments or how to properly set one up. Furthermore, their commercial instruments tend to be of mediocre quality and way overpriced. 

My advice may be colored by my locality. It will be different everywhere depending on where you live, but in my area there are several "music shops" that have excellent reputations and qualified people. From student level stuff available at "The magic flute" to about 40min away at Ifshin where professional level instruments may be had. There are a few more as well in the SF bay area, so I guess we're just spoiled out here with selection. So I would say my experience is very different from yours based on my location. I do not think I would recommend going to the guitar center however.

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Here's another idea.  Perhaps your son's teacher has a more student more advanced than your son and who is also upgrading and you could make a deal to buy that student's instrument.  Many people buy instruments from shops that  offer a trade-in equal to the price when a violin bought there is traded in.  You might be able to buy a better violin for the trade-in value plus a hundred or so and thus get a well known and well treated better instrument for less than you would pay in a shop.

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6 minutes ago, gowan said:

Here's another idea.  Perhaps your son's teacher has a more student more advanced than your son and who is also upgrading and you could make a deal to buy that student's instrument.  Many people buy instruments from shops that  offer a trade-in equal to the price when a violin bought there is traded in.  You might be able to buy a better violin for the trade-in value plus a hundred or so and thus get a well known and well treated better instrument for less than you would pay in a shop.

There is even a shop made and run by students not willing to trade in their instruments for a low price, but later seeing friends and colleagues paying for  that instrument 3times more. :D

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On ‎09‎/‎12‎/‎2017 at 2:00 PM, Jeffrey Holmes said:

Said as a statement in fact, not an opinion?  Sorry Sospiri.  I ran the sales and restoration department of a rather large firm for many, many, years.  Maybe it's high for a fingerboard and bridge, but that does not appear to pertain to the subject of the third paragraph. It's pretty standard practice for shops to rework these commercial instruments in order to bring them up to standard.  This might include a fingerboard, neck set, new bar, etc.  Please note that the luthier was quoted as saying "I normally buy them for around two to four hundred pounds and completely rebuild them to make them into good playing instruments". 

Just trying to get things into perspective Jeffrey. With regards to the whole content of that third paragraph, the restorer said it was a cheap copy, so £1500 worth of restoration is unrealistic. I am aware that there is a massive difference in overheads and expectations from one restorer to another, and wide regional variations. But then I'm a country bumpkin not a city slicker. My overheads for a week wouldn't pay your restaurant bill for one meal.

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On December 8, 2017 at 10:54 AM, Orry said:

I normally buy them for around two to four hundred pounds and completely rebuild them to make them into good playing instruments , It takes about five weeks to do this and I would normally charge £1500 for transforming your violin"

@sospiri

The luthier said that he "normally buy them," but he does not say what he sells them for after his transformation. My guess is that he sells them for over £2000.

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26 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

@sospiri

The luthier said that he "normally buy them," but he does not say what he sells them for after his transformation. My guess is that he sells them for over £2000.

£2000 for a tarted up piece of junk?

 

Just kidding. We don't know anything about Orry's son's violin really do we, or how much a talented amateur restorer, who was working more for love than money would fix it up for?

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Dear Orry,

This is my opinion based on my own experiences.  I do not have specialist knowelege.

I have four children on violin. (current age 10 to 16).

I have found that the two most important factors for choosing an instrument are:

1. That the child likes their instrument.

2. That the instrument is set up well for ease of playing.

Although I have gone down the auction route, it has taken many purchases and many mistakes to eventually find them all an instrument that they like.  And it seems to be an individual thing as they all like their own violin and don't so much like their siblings violins. Unfortunately the nearest specialist violin shop is approximately 1500km from my location, hence the online route for me, and the need to learn to set up and do simple repairs.  Overall it probably would have been more cost effective for me to pay more each but get them from a specialist luthier.

If you are planing on purchasing only one instrument then my advice would be to try different violins from specialist shops and find one that your child likes before committing to the purchase.  Unfortunately this takes time but in the long run I think you will find that it will be worth the extra wait and extra money to find an instrument that suits your child.

My children don't care if the instrument is old or modern.  One thing I have found is that the new violins, once set up, are less likely to develop problems than the old instruments.

Also it takes time for a child to decide if they like the violin or not so if possible take some home on a trial basis.

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