Hints and Tips
Buying a Violin
Unless you are an experienced violin player or teacher it is very difficult to know what makes a good violin and if you are getting good value for money. This section tries to lay a few myths and to give you some sensible advice about making a choice.
What size violin?
The violin is one of the best instruments for young children to learn because it is available in so many small sizes from full size, known as 4/4 down to 1/16. A 1/16 violin is very small indeed and is only suitable for a very young child, probably at play school age. By the time a child reaches primary school they will normally be big enough to play a 1/4 or 1/2 size instrument and after a year or two a 3/4 size. Most children will be big enough to play a full size violin by the time they have moved on to secondary school.
New or Secondhand?
There's no doubt that it's really nice to have a brand new instrument but there is no reason to turn down a second hand offering, if it has been well looked after, after all a Stradivarius is second hand now. The important thing is that the instrument has been set up correctly. A well set up instrument will have as a minimum, pegs that turn easily but don't slip, a bridge that is the correct shape and strings the correct distance apart and the right height above the fingerboard. Many imported instruments are well made but suffer from inadequate setting up.
Why the Difference's in Price
Student violins come in two basic types, mass produced and hand made. A mass produced violin will be made to a strict budget. The wood that is used will not be so well seasoned or such good quality and most of the carving will be done by machine.
A hand made instrument will take much longer to make. The wood that is used will be carefully selected from much older and better seasoned stock and the carving will all be done by hand. As it is being carved various areas of the top and bottom plates will be adjusted and tuned by the Luthier to meet a set of acoustic standards as well as a set of physical dimensions. Violin making is still very much an art and so much of the final sound is dependant on the skill of the Luthier and his choice and use of wood.
It's obvious from this that a hand made instrument will be more expensive as it takes so much longer to make, however it will be a more responsive and satisfying instrument to play. Read more here ...
How do I choose a violin?
The easiest way to answer this would be to say, "Just buy the most expensive". However that is not necessarily the best way. More .....
Are All Strings The Same?
A resounding NO to this. Changing the type of strings on a violin can have a profound affect on the sound of the instrument. When the violin was first invented, strings were made of animal sinew (catgut). This type of string produces a mellow sound but is notoriously difficult to keep in tune as they are greatly affected by temperature and humidity.
Steel strings, sometimes over wound with Aluminium and even Silver are very good at staying in tune. They produce quite a bright sound and on some violins are a little harsh and screechy. They are often used on smaller violins where the brightness of the steel string compensates for the quieter sound produced by these instruments.
Nylon, often known as Perlon, is a favourite choice of many violinists. Strings made with a Perlon core over wound with Aluminium or Silver produce a more mellow sound than steel. A very similar sound to that of the old gut strings but without the tuning problems. Many an average violin has become a much better instrument by being restrung with good quality Perlon strings.
What's all this about "Setup"
The violin is a curious mixture of parts. The body and neck form a fairly rigid structure with the strings, bridge and tailpiece mounted on top and mostly held in place by the tension of the strings. Most people are amazed to find that the bridge is not fixed to the violin at all but is just held in place by the downward pressure of the strings.
If a violin is to play well then this collection of parts has to be in the right place and also the right size and shape. The bridge must have it's feet adjusted so that they match the curve of the belly of the violin. The curved top of the bridge must match the curve of the fingerboard and hold the strings the right height above it and at the correct distance from each other. The soundpost must be correctly fitted and the pegs must rotate smoothly but not slip once the strings are tuned.
In some respects the choice of strings is part of the setup as it can affect the final sound and playability of the instrument. Here at The Violin Company we often change strings to get a better more even sound from a violin. You can read more about our violin setup here.
Looking after your violin.
It's not obvious to many people, especially beginners, how to look after their violin. We've compiled a simple PDF guide to help you keep your violin in good condition and playing well. You can print it out and keep it in your case as a reminder.
How to tune your violin.
We get lots of questions about tuning the violin so here is a PDF document explaining the basics.