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You or one of your children is considering taking up the violin, one of the most challenging tasks ahead of you is selecting the instrument.
That said, with so many different options out there it’s important to be able to recognize signs of a cheap violin, those that aren’t designed as well so that you can make an informed decision.
To help you with that we’ve put together some information that highlights the different materials used in the different methods of construction so that you know in which situations you are investing in higher quality materials or middle-of-the-road options.
What makes a violin cheap or a good investment?
Violin students and parents alike struggle figuring out exactly what features are most important before investing in an instrument purchase.
When you’re new to the situation and you’re unfamiliar with stringed instruments, they all start to look the same and it can be next to impossible to distinguish the different models out there.
And yet, you might notice that the price tag is significantly different when your eyes seem to only notice the similarities.
By understanding which features determine the quality of a violin you will be better able to recognize the subtleties between each instrument, which components are aesthetic only and not necessarily influencers of sound, and which are.
Understanding the basics about violin construction in which materials are used goes a long way toward figuring out which instrument will afford you years of musical enjoyment.
What materials are used to make violins?
As mentioned, the materials go a long way. Violins are typically crafted from different woods which offer various resonant qualities.
That just means that different wood can create a different sound.
Whenever you use the violin bow across the violin strings it forces those strings to vibrate and those vibrations get transferred to the body of the violin which is made from different materials.
The more you play a given instrument, the better it sounds because it’s able to reach its full potential, kind of like breaking in a new set of shoes.
Spruce is a dense wood so it can be manufactured to very thin layers that are strong enough to keep the Integrity of the wood but also avoid weighing down your shoulder with a heavy instrument.
For this reason Spruce is one of the top materials used for the table of the violin, sometimes referred to as the top of the violin.
It’s very common and other stringed instruments as well so you might see it here and there with things like cellos or upright basses.
The sides and the neck of good quality violins, the sides being referred to as the ribs, are crafted from Maple.
Maple is another strong wood that maintains its structural Integrity quite well but also offers a lot of resonance which is important given that it will collect and subsequently project the sounds made from the vibrating strings.
One thing to look out for is the term solid when referring to the wooden construction.
Just because it says solid wood construction doesn’t mean that the entire violin was made from a single piece of wood.
Solid just means that each of the pieces for the top, the sides, and the back were individually crafted from a plank meaning of section of wood and not particle board.
The other parts like the chin rest, the fingerboard, and the pegs are usually made from Ebony or a very dense Hardwood.
The type of material used will determine whether the sound produced is something pleasing to your ear.
The importance of craftsmanship
The craftsmanship can influence the quality of your instrument as well. The first stage of construction for violins entails the creation of the different components.
The second stage is actually sitting everything together and setting every delicate piece where it needs to be to produce the best sound.
Technology helps to manufacture the components en masse so that they only have to be put together during the second stage by an actual person and this sitting out process is still what creates a high-quality component.
Those that are done entirely by machines are usually the violins you get as a beginner and are not as high quality because they don’t go through a hand-crafted process at the end.
This video shows how a European violin is crafted from hand.
Signs of a cheap violin
So, the different materials used for each part of the violin construction play a big role in determining whether something is considered high-end or low-end as investments go.
Spruce for the top of the violin is the most popular and the highest quality, which means that something you want to look for.
Maple is good as far as the neck and the sides are concerned.
Signs of a well-crafted violin:
- Your violin shouldn’t creak when you apply pressure to the size of it or the top of it.
- Your violin should be symmetrical with each side mirroring the other perfectly.
- The neck should be straight and not skewed at all.
- The joints and the seams should not have any visible gaps.
Now that you understand how to recognize the signs of a cheap violin, it’s important to compare different instruments and their features knowing what you know.
To help you with that we’ve highlighted some of the key features of a handful of violins that are varying levels of craftsmanship and quality, each suitable for different levels of experience. This will help make your decision a bit easier.
You should always consult an industry professional before using any new product or instrument.
Mendini Solid Wood Violin with Hard Case, Bow, Rosin and Extra Strings (4/4, Antique)
This violin is made with solid wood, so each of the components for the top, size, and back were crafted from a single piece of wood and not from a particle board.
The top is made of spruce, the most popular material, while the back, neck, and sides are crafted from Maple.
The tailpiece is an alloy construction that has four built-in tuners.
Not only does it come with the high quality construction but you get things like the brazilwood bow which contains unbleached horsehair.
Horsehair is the higher quality material used for bow strings. In addition to this you get a hard case, not a soft case.
Not all violin manufacturers provide a case but if you are a beginner, this can give you a place to store everything related to your instrument which you will find quickly multiplies.
For example, this kit also comes with extra strings in case you have to replace yours, and rosin would you use for your violin strings.
All of this can fit inside the hard case.
The Mendini MV300 Violin is well known for its impressive quality specifically for students. It produces a very clear and warm sound.
The violin itself is very easy to work with and it comes with just about everything you would need as a student just starting out with this instrument.
This particular design is a 4/4 which is otherwise known as the full-size violin.
This is the most common and can be played by adults and teenagers.
There are smaller sizes, seven additional sizes that are fractional which are meant for children.
View at Amazon to learn more about how this product could work for you.
- Solid wood violin spruce top
- Maple back, neck and sides
- Comes with extra parts like strings and rosin and a bow
- You get a hard carrying case for extra protection
- Perfect for beginners
- This one is a full size which might not fit young students just learning the violin
D Z Strad Violin Model 101 with Solid Wood Full Size 4/4 with Case, Bow, and Rosin (4/4 – Size)
This violin is perfect for beginners. It comes from a high-quality manufacturer with extra components that beginners might need such as rosin, a bow, and a case in which to carry everything.
It has a beautiful varnish that brings out the wood sounds. It is already set up so nothing has to be done once it arrives.
The sound produced is very warm and round, ideal for a beginner.
There are fractional sizes available. The sizes refer to the length between the middle of whichever hand gets extended and holds the violin, and your neck.
A lot of teachers will teach their students to use the length from their wrist to their neck as a measurement instead because it’s a bit more comfortable for many students.
Still, finding a violin that’s the appropriate length will go a long way toward making lessons much more comfortable whether you are learning on your own or with a teacher.
All adults use full size violins or 4/4. This is 23 inches in length.
There are however fractional sizes, the 3/4 size for example being 22in, the 1/2 size being 20 in, the 1/4 size coming in at an average of 18.5 in, all the way down to the 1/32 which is 13 in + is for children.
If you are playing with a tutor or a music teacher you can ask them for their recommendation.
If you don’t have a teacher, use the measurement from your neck to your wrist if you aren’t already using a full size as an adult.
If you are close to the 3/4 size measurements it is always best to simply invest in a full-size because you will sooner than later need to invest in a larger violin and this will make that more economical.
View at Amazon for more information on how this product might work for you.
- Hand carved
- Can be purchased in fractional sizes from full size, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, 1/16, and 1/32.
- Has a Brazilwood bow, a case, rosin, and shoulder rest included
- Warm tone, perfect for beginners
- This is a full-sized which might not work for small children
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