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(or any string instrument)

The world of the violinist is a very obscure and confusing place, which can be fully understood ONLY by a fellow violinist or by their mother who is usually the one to blame for their misery. That whole dramatic world almost entirely depends on the instrument they play on. Therefore it is not an exaggeration to say that the violinists take the decision to buy or not to buy as an act which will determine their life, their future and their death. Just like Hamlet, our violinist stares at the violin in his hands, weighing pros and cons, making calculations from tax returns to future profits and drives the people around him mad with constant trials of the potential purchase in every single available music space.

I am no different. I have been there many times and know what it is like. Hence in this article I will try to offer a little guide which would hopefully help with that important choice and will make life better, brighter and happier place.

Let’s start with one very important statement to all violinists:

All the world is NOT a stage, and all the men and women are NOT merely players.

Therefore buying an instrument is not an equivalent of committing a suicide. It is not even as problematic as getting married. So relax and jump in!

When we contemplate spending a large sums on an item, we should first ask ourselves some important questions such as:

Who am I?

This is very important! Figuring out your needs is the first step to a happy ending.

Are you an emerging young star violinist?

Once passed the initial stages of violin training (in Britain this is Grade 8), you are possibly thinking that you might become a professional violinist. You might even be thinking that you could become a star performer. If you are at that level, keep reading and start approaching some people with money and important music foundations.

Do you suffer from Violin Syndrome?

There is a large range of mild disorders which the many years of devotion and dedication to the violin cause and this one is one of the most common in the spectrum. You can self-diagnose easily by looking around you and noticing the obvious symptoms:

1. Do you have a shoulder rest which looks like a prosthesis from the Victorian era?

2. Do you have additional shoulder and chin rests?

3. Do you have at least three different types of strings in your case?

4. Do you have more than two violin cases?

5. Do you own the newest, most spectacular electronic music and violin gadgets?

If you have answered with Yes to all the above questions, that means you are suffering from Violin Syndrome and you are a middle aged male. Here is how we know that: No woman would ever spend 500 pounds on a shoulder rest when she could buy a phenomenal hand bag instead. Or something useful and long term. With the money for the shoulder rest, the strings and the headphones, a woman could buy new windows. Or smart washing machine. Or ... So, you are a man.

The fancy violin accessories usually serve only one purpose - they demonstrate such sophistication of violin performance and knowledge, that the final stroke, the only thing left to improve the mastery is a scaffolding-shoulder rest which would put the cherry on the top of the cake. If you are one of the selected few who use this masonic secret to sound improvement, you are a member of the Gentlemen’s club of super violinists. No doubt.

As all these things are expensive, you cannot be young. If you were young, either your parents would never allow you to buy such nonsense or you would have a rent to think about rather than accessories. To buy that high speck stuff, you are in your middle age, earning well.

Dear middle aged male friends, I advise you BUY A CONVERTIBLE INSTEAD! A red Corvette or a fancy Mercedes and some new shoes will make you feel much better about who you are than a new violin.

Are you a collector or securing a pension?

If you are to buy an instrument as a security for your old age or you fancy yourself becoming a collector, make sure you buy not many, but one very good fiddle. Many people end up buying instruments which will go higher in value with time. Unless these

instruments are from the Premier league, which is usually not affordable by mere mortal musicians, you should make sure you buy a great quality instrument. A semi-famous name will not bring you the security you are after if it does not have the sound and the playing quality. Simply because there will be a great deal of other choices for the same money.

Are you an investor or a hedge fund manager?

Get in touch. I will help! However my initial advice is: invest in cellos. Much more wood in it and more difficult and time consuming to make good ones.

So for those who will read further, here are the things to consider when buying an instrument:

1. There is a difference between buying old and new. The factor that makes the difference is ... TIME. If you can afford to buy a 200 year old violin and it is good, buy it! If you cannot, make sure your modern instrument has enough wood on it so that in a few years time it does not serve you with the sad news that the sound has gone away.

2. Italian instruments are always more expensive. This is a bit like pizza and gelato. They taste amazing in Italy. However, it is worth considering that there are many amazing tasting pizzas and gelatos all around the world now. Nowadays the contemporary makers from every country can buy excellent quality wood and if they are skilful, clever, talented and well taught, they can create a fantastic instrument which could be just as good or maybe even better than any Italian. So look around you.

3. It is better to buy an already made instrument than to commission one.

4. If you are a good player, you will need your instrument to assist you. How the instrument feels is just as important as how it sounds. The neck should not be very thick. The best Italian instruments from the 17th century did not have thick, big necks and no matter what the dealer or the violin maker tells you, the small neck helps!! The setting is also very important. The heght of the bridge, the distance between the strings... check carefully how it feels to play the instrument all around and across the fingerboard. It does not have to be super easy, but it most certainly needs to be so that your difficulty can be overcome with a bit of work. How does the instrument react to your vibrato and its variety? Check it out!

5. The wolf notes are usually around the B, C and D. Most instruments will have a wolf note. Some are manageable and others are not. Make sure the wolf notes do not appear on the open strings and in the lower positions. If they do, it is a big No. Find another instrument.

6. The sound is clearly what will distinguish the instrument. Many of us try to judge instruments by their sound volume. The volume is very important, but so is the sound quality. Do not forget that we play the violin not the trombone. There must be colours. Sound production depends on many of our technical assets. In a big concert hall the acoustics helps the sound tremendously and the pressure needed is in much lesser amounts. Hence don’t just bash and smash when you try it, but try your pianos and harmonics too.

7. Do not skip the beauty and the details on the instrument either. The modern makers are trying to make the new instruments look old. That is great. Some prefer them more shiny and that is great too as the lighting in the concert venues will make them sparkle like a real jewel which they are. Make sure the varnish is even all over and masterfully applied, the sound holes are perfect and the details are all immaculate. You are buying your precious, so pay attention.

8. Find your personal taste for sound. Do you prefer a brighter soprano sound or a more viola-like deeper one? Whichever it is, make sure you are not buying just a G or an E string. The good instrument will need to sound well on all four.

9. Every instrument will have its partner bow! So when choosing a violin, leave some budget for a good bow. That is just, if not more important.

10. Ask your friends, teachers and better violinists than you to play on the instrument. And then just listen. Do you like the sound?

11. Lastly, do not be afraid to make a decision. However as it is an important decision, it needs to be an informed one too so when you finally say yes, you will be sure that you are committing to this union with both your heart and your brain, but not necessarily until death do you part.

And ... best of luck!

PS: Please do not forget that there is life beyond the world of violins. Life is full of stuff: sport, drama, film, love, children, animals, strawberries, cherries...

Leave some room for that too!


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