The old violin that I have been playing for the past several months has been improved with a new bridge and better strings but whether it can be improved further is far from certain, even given expensive professional attention. After a great deal of online research and much deliberation I have taken the plunge and bought a new violin.
There is a lot of detailed technical information about violins on the internet and it is worth researching, not just out of interest, but for the sound practical reason that it will assist informed choices between the various alternatives that will be available when buying and it will also help a buyer to distinguish between facts and sales patter.
There are also a lot of retailers’ web sites and these seem to divide into three groups. The first group seems to comprise the upmarket dealers who rarely if ever have an instrument to offer at less than £1,200-£1,500 and whose average price is a few thousand pounds higher – all well above my budget! At the other extreme are the general purpose high street music shops or their online equivalents, whose violin stock may amount to no more than a handful of very cheap, factory-made, beginners models. Then there is my third group, the genuine specialists who make and repair instruments and, one can safely assume, know what they are talking about. I have known for some time that we have such a specialist in the city but, for reasons that I cannot recall, I was under the impression that they belonged in my first group and would not be any help to me. The fact is that my “groups” are an oversimplification. Our local specialists, Cardiff Violins, clearly cater for beginners who are not looking for the very cheapest instruments but I am sure that they cater for the high end of the professional market as well.
In a prompt and friendly reply to an email from me Cardiff Violins confirmed that they could indeed supply a variety of violins and bows within my limited budget so I phoned for an appointment to visit them. The appointment was necessary only because I needed some time in one of their practice rooms to try a few violins. On arrival, with empty violin case in hand, I found the small reception area crowded but it was immediately apparent that I would find none of the pompous stuffiness that I so detest but instead a friendly, family business atmosphere.
I was shown into a medium sized room whose walls were lined with hundreds of violins. Here I explained what I wanted and was given ample time to try a selection of violins. These included a couple of factory-made Chinese instruments about which I can honestly say that I was surprised at how good they sounded. However, I didn’t like the colour and finish which looked too red and too synthetic for my taste. Even so, one of these violins was at the top of my list for some time, bearing in mind that I also wanted a bow within the same budget.
Then I was shown a much more expensive violin. To me it looked like an older violin which was free of any damage or repaired damage but which had been nicely revarnished. I was assured that it was both new and hand-made. It sounded, even with me playing, far superior to the others. A serious decision was needed. So I decided to do without a new bow – for now anyway – and to put my whole budget into the violin. It was a good decision.
The new violin is shown in the picture above. I don’t know how true this is but it seems that more expensive violins are supplied with a single fine-tuning adjuster fitted on the E string, whereas the cheaper ones have a full set of adjusters. Well, I was amused to note that my violin came with a single adjuster – not only that but it was gold-plated to match the metal parts of the chinrest. It was a nice touch but I do like a full set of adjusters and I am going to fit a central chin rest soon on which the metal parts will not be gold-plated. I think a central chin rest will suit me better and will enable me to dispense with the shoulder rest that I have been using and which has not been a great success.
I spent some time yesterday evening playing my new toy, with which I am highly delighted. I have never owned a violin that sounded anywhere near as good as this one and have therefore nicknamed it (note the impressive originality) “The Strad” – with due apologies to the magazine of the same name.