Whatever level you expect to take your violin playing to, whether playing for the sheer enjoyment (playing should always be enjoyable, right?) or whether you hope to pursue it at a more serious, professional standard, the most important decision you will ever make is in buying your first violin.
Buying the right violin should set you on the path to a lifelong love affair with the instrument which will give you endless hours of pleasure. But get it wrong, and your initial enthusiasm could soon wane as your first tentative steps are hindered by poor tunings and intonation which mean you spend more of your time fiddling with the tuning pegs than you do actually fiddling. And nothing is more likely to discourage newcomers than an instrument that sounds bad and produces that awful ‘strangled cat’ sound.
But, of course, not everyone can afford to shell out for a Stradivarius straight away, and neither should they because a high-end instrument would be somewhat wasted on a beginner still trying to master the rudiments.
How to avoid buying a bad violin
For parents in particular, keen to help their children explore the possibilities of a wide range of hobbies and interests but aware that not all of them are going to last beyond the initial enthusiasm, cost is an issue. But going too far into the low-end of the market can kill their child’s musical aspirations off quickly. Badly-made instruments produce bad sounds and a bad experience for the musician.
So how do you make that crucial first purchase? The best thing to do is find a local music shop, all good stores are happy to give free advice, and talk to the staff about what your requirements are. Don’t be afraid to say that you are a beginner and know little about violins. Everyone has to start somewhere. Honesty is the best policy here.
Tempted to buy online? Consider this first. Every instrument is different and you need to know if it feels comfortable in your hands and right for you. So, you need to try before you buy. Pick it up, put it under your chin, is it comfortable? Have you chosen the right sized violin? What does it feel like when you press down on the strings? Is it hard to do? If it is, can the shop adjust the height of the bridge for you to make that easier?
Hidersine instruments will have already been inspected and setup ‘ready to play’ in our UK service workshops. This means that you can buy with confidence, whether in-store or even online. Most importantly what does it sound like when you play it? Does it sound nice? To you. There’s no right or wrong answer to that question. Even if you don’t yet have a huge repertoire of tunes, play all the notes up the neck and make sure they sound right. You could even get someone else to play it for you so you can concentrate on listening.
Ask what the violin is made from. The type of wood is important because your instrument’s primary voice is determined by the quality of the wood and as the wood ages and the solid tonewood top gradually relaxes at a cellular level into its natural rest state, it will resonate naturally, and the sound will improve further. Hidersine Vivente Academy instruments feature a solid spruce top – or sound-table - that will improve with age.
They also have solid Maple ribs and backs too. These solid tonewood sections further enhance the instrument’s natural tone. The top produces the instrument’s primary voice, and the back and sides add the character.
Choosing the right bow
Of course a violin is not much good without a bow, so take a close look at that too. How does it feel in your hand? Does the note last along the whole length of the bow when you draw it across the strings? Is there plenty of hair on the bow and can you easily adjust the tightness of it?
Making sure you select the right bow can be harder than selecting the right violin. But as it is in contact with your instrument and is an extension of your hand it is vital to get it right. There is no point in selecting the right violin and then having the wrong bow because you won’t get the most out of the instrument.
The three basic materials used in bow sticks are brazilwood, pernambuco, and carbon fibre, with pernambuco bows traditionally the most expensive. Hidersine offers all three materials in a range of more than 20 violin bows that start at less than £20 all the way up to more than £400 for a pernambuco model. All are professionally adjusted and ready to play with.
When selecting a bow, consider weight, feel and texture. When you play with the bow it has to feel balanced when resting on the strings. If it’s too heavy it can make your arm feel tired, too light and it will lack the power you need to player louder or more aggressively.
Check out how it feels in your hand. Can you grip it comfortably? Does everything feel like it is in the right place? You can choose between a round or octagonal bow, but we all have different-sized hands so it is about what feels right for you.
And what about texture? How does it actually feel on the strings when you play? If you’re buying from a shop take some music with you and play it with different bows to see how it feels and sounds. Play different types of piece so you can see how the bow performs when playing smoothly, softly, or pizzicato.
Above all, remember that it is good to get as much advice as possible, but you must make the final choice, based on what feels right for you.