Essential Violin Information

The Importance of Proper Violin Setup

Often, you will hear violin dealers talk about violin setup. Violin setup refers to the final adjustments made to the violin before it is ready to play. These adjustments are extremely important as poorly setup violins are very difficult to play and tune, while properly setup violins will bring out the instrument's beautiful tone and be much easier to maintain. Additionally, it can be very time-consuming and frustrating for orchestra instructors to attempt to tune a poorly setup instrument before a class or lesson. 

Recently, a customer brought in a violin for setup. This particular instrument (name purposely removed) sells for $93 online and the problems it has are very common among cheap violins.

Below is the is product's online description:

"This best selling violin is hand-carved and meticulously graduated to maintain consistency in tone. This violin outfit is a student favorite because of its fine tuner tailpiece and lightweight case. •Solid Hand Carved Spruce Top •Solid Hand Carved Maple Back, Sides & Neck".

As you will see in our comparison, the only meticulous time spent on this instrument was writing the product description.

To show our customers the difference between properly setup and poorly setup instruments, we took pictures of this violin and compared it to one of our popular student violins, the Johaness Kohr KR10. In the photos you can see the visual differences between the two violins, and determine for yourself which you'd rather play. 

 

Tuning Pegs:

Poor Violin Setup vs. Proper Violins Setup

 

The holes for the violin pegs are tapered and friction holds the pegs in place and keeps them from slipping. In the photo, you can see that there is space around the pegs on the violin on the left while the pegs are flush on the violin on the right. The additional space will cause the pegs to slip while the flush pegs will stay in place. Additionally, you can see that the wood on the poorly setup violin has been stained to look like ebony, but is actually a soft white wood that compresses and shrinks. The repair cost to taper and fit a new set of ebony pegs starts at $75. 

 

Violin Neck:

 

Comparing the two violins, you can see that the neck of the poorly setup violin has moved significantly. Instead of building the neck with industry-standard solid ebony, the violin makers used white wood and stained it black. The  wood was not aged before it was installed and the soft, non-aged white wood dipped and twisted as it dried out. This causes the height of the violin strings to be different along the neck. The violin strings touch the neck in some places while being too high in others. A violin setup like this is nearly impossible to play and can  ruin a students learning experience as trying to play a violin like this will be very frustrating. The repair cost to plane (flatten) a violin neck and re-string the instrument starts at $150 plus the cost of new strings. 

 

Violin Bridge:

 

 

The bridge is a crucial part of the violin setup as it holds the strings at the correct height above the fingerboard and the correct distance from the other strings. Additionally, the bridge transfers vibrations from the strings to the violin, which then produces the sound. In the picture above, the violin on the left uses a bridge that is low quality maple while the violin on the right uses a high quality Despiau bridge. While difficulty to see in the picture, the feet on the bridge of the poorly setup violin don't fit snug to the violin surface, which hinders vibration transfer and causes the bridge to slip out of place. The cost to replace a bridge is normally around $75 but can be more depending on the quality of the bridge purchased. 

 

Violin Finish:

A violin's finish makes a big difference in both tone and overall appearance. Cheaper violins are traditionally sprayed with polyurethane which is very glossy, slick and hard. Common problems associated with a poly finish are bridge movement, fall down and cracked tops. These problems significantly hinder the violin's ability to be setup properly, and thus the playability of the instrument. Additionally, hard polyurethane finishes hinder the vibration of the violin's wood, negatively affecting the tone. 

Higher quality violins use an oil varnish that is hand-rubbed onto the wood. This process allows the violin to "soak up" the varnish and bring out the flamed texture in the maple. Varnish does not create a hard surface, so bridge movement is not an issue and string vibration can be fully transferred throughout the instrument. 

 

Selecting a properly setup Violin

I hope this comparison will help you make a more informed decision when choosing a violin for yourself, your student, or your child. At Violin Pros, all of our violins are professionally setup by award winning luthiers before shipping the instrument. If you are looking for an affordable instrument for your student or beginning player, we recommend the Scott Cao 017 outfit and the Johannes Kohr KR10. We have sold a bunch of these instruments to happy customers and use these violins in our orchestra rental programs.

 

Note: Repair cost estimates were created using an average cost from several string shops including our own.  

September 17, 2013 by Dan Haggerty

How to Choose a Violin for a Beginning Player or Student

The famous Comedian/Violinist Jack Benny’s famous line as he held up his violin was “If it isn’t a $30,000 Strad, I’m out $120 bucks!” Today Benny’s Stradivarius, donated upon his death to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, is worth several million. ;) With violins ranging in price from $75 to $2,000,000 and bows from $19 to $100,000, what should the average beginning violin shopper expect to spend for a good quality, entry level, beginner student violin?

If you read reviews from legitimate sources such as Strings Magazine, you’ll see that the same violin brand names pop up regularly. Some of the brand names that you will see are GligaHofnerJohannes KohrEastman, and Scott Cao. When purchasing a violin for your student, buying a brand name instrument will ensure that you will get a quality violin that is properly setup and ready to play. Also, many of the well known violin makers offer a beginning violin package (referred to as an outfit) that includes a bow and case. These violin outfits provide the best value for the money, and traditionally run around $400 for everything. These violin packages are normally available in fractional sizes as well, so you can find the right size violin for you or your student. When making the final decision, insist that the violin is strung with quality perlon core strings such as Dominants.

Each of the “name brand” manufacturers offers entry to professional violins costing several hundred to several thousand dollars. Avoid the least expensive beginner instruments, even from reputable companies. Why? They are trying to compete with the junk offered on the internet. There are too many corners cut trying to compete. Spending just a little bit more promises a much easier playing and better sounding student violin.

If you are searching for a quality beginner student violin, compare the Gliga Gem IIEastman 100Johannes Kohr K500Hofner AS-060, and the Scott Cao 017. Ask the dealer for a professional setup, which is crucial to the playability and tone of the violin. For more information about setup, see our article "Importance of a Violin Setup". If you are looking at a Scott Cao, ask that it is set up by the Cao company, which is standard practice at Violin Pros. Scott Cao's 017 violins are constructed in Cao’s China factory, they are adjusted or setup in their California workshop where their finest violins are constructed. No matter the company, it is well worth an extra $75 to get a master builder to setup the violin's sound post, carve the bridge, and true the pegs so your instrument can sound as best as possible. 

Good hunting and please remember to contact us if you have any questions about choosing any level of violin.

February 28, 2013 by Pat Haggerty