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Thread: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

  1. #1

    Default Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Howdy my fellow mandolin lovers!

    I'm considering diving a little bit into Fiddle or possibly banjo soon to expand my "utility" as a musician. Plus, it's been a lifelong goal of mine to learn some fiddle. I'm not set on the changeover yet, but I have a few questions for you good folks. What would be a good starter fiddle to purchase? Have any of you all made the change over before and if so what was your experience like? Any and all recommendations taken! Thanks for your time! Keep up the good pickin'!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Hiya!

    I don't really personally play fiddle, but I purchased one a few years ago as my wife wanted to learn and I knew enough to help her get started until she had a decent teacher. I recommend taking a friend who plays with you to a local shop. There are reasonably priced violins built in East Asia that many shops set up and hot rod here in the States. If you have someone who knows how a fiddle should sound and feel, you will be much happier than taking a gamble on one. Having an easy playing and decent sounding instrument will make the journey so much easier! Good luck!!

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Quote Originally Posted by HarrisonMandolin View Post
    Hiya!

    I don't really personally play fiddle, but I purchased one a few years ago as my wife wanted to learn and I knew enough to help her get started until she had a decent teacher. I recommend taking a friend who plays with you to a local shop. There are reasonably priced violins built in East Asia that many shops set up and hot rod here in the States. If you have someone who knows how a fiddle should sound and feel, you will be much happier than taking a gamble on one. Having an easy playing and decent sounding instrument will make the journey so much easier! Good luck!!
    Thanks for the response! That's a great idea!

  5. #4

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    I just took this step myself, and decided on buying a used, old fiddle.

    I have a violin shop down the street, and a well known one a city over, and have inquired about starting violins. While the pac rim violins are nice, the student grade ones these shops steered my towards were like 800, the better ones over 1k, near 1.2k. The student grade ones sounded ok, but you could tell it was lower end. I would say the difference was like a low end Eastman to a mid-grade Eastman. When inquiring about used violins, I was told they were much more expensive, I assumed these shops were dealing with fine instruments they could sell for a premium.

    I thought there had to be a place where old, played, well maintained fiddles went when people upgraded, retired from playing, or got passed down in the family. Fiddles that had character, blemishes, repairs and history behind them. So while looking online, I stumbled onto https://www.thebluegrassshack.com (NFI).

    I ended up buying a fiddle somewhere a bit over 100yrs old with lots of character and one repaired crack, with a decent carbon starter bow for under 500$. The owner was helpful, knowledgeable, and had a wide variety of used fiddles that she played, inspected and tuned up. They have sound files for most of the violins also.

    If you can take a friend who plays and find one that fits your needs and budget, that would be ideal. Just don't feel like you have to buy what is close or in stock, there are lots of them out there.
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  7. #5

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Ya I'd recommend as Gary suggests (re-deploying a good old fiddle rather than buying yet more new imported goods). Just as with band instruments, there's no dearth of student fiddles laying around. Head down to the local store that handles school rentals to see if they have one for under $250 or so..

  8. #6
    Still Picking and Sawing Jack Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    I started fiddle about 10 years ago with a free fiddle I got from a retired violin teacher. He had a closet full of old violins. It is an old European made fiddle almost 100 years ago. I took it to a luthier, who for a couple of hundred dollars corrected a separation of a glue joint, carved a new bridge, put on new strings, and did some other work to make it playable.

    It was the best money I ever spent (free for the fiddle and a modest amount for a professional setup.) It sounds great, and I am still playing it every day.

    I did spend a pile of dough on the bow and case, however.

    Playing the fiddle has greatly broadened what kinds of music I can play mandolin as well as how well I can play them.
    Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
    When time is broke and no proportion kept!
    --William Shakespeare

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    Registered User JAK's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    My recommendation is to rent one from a good violin/fiddle shop. You can start with a low rental price, and then find out if you really want to stay in fiddle world. Fiddle, I think, is one of the hardest instruments to play with a good tone and good intonation (which is harder to get without frets). If you eventually want to buy a fiddle, I recommend getting a Ron Stewart re-voiced fiddle. They hover in price around 2K, some lower, some higher. I've played some of his fiddles, and ALL of them have a good tone, and are set-up for easy playability. And remember, the fiddle is just one half of the deal. That is to say, fiddle bows must come into the picture, and they are a world unto themselves regarding what tone they pull out of a fiddle (each one pulls a different tone from the fiddle, and it takes lots of practice to get comfortable with them). Also be aware that when learning to play a fiddle that others around you will be affected by what you do. Learning to play a fiddle has ruined many a marriage and relationship! Anyway, good luck and skill on your fiddle journey....
    John A. Karsemeyer

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    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Ronnie Stewart fiddle? Oh yeah!

    Ruined relationships? Disagree.

    Start fiddling now! It’ll make your mandolining better.

  11. #9

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Roberts View Post
    I started fiddle about 10 years ago with a free fiddle I got from a retired violin teacher. He had a closet full of old violins...
    I occasionally pick up $100 fiddles from older folks no longer playing... old student brands Breton, Roth, Lewis, Knilling, et al are fine for starting out. I keep a bevy of such fiddles to use as loaners for teaching. Check craigslist - take along someone who can assess for proper condition.

  12. #10
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    I'm with Gary and Catmandu (above). There are thousands of fine old violins available at reasonable price. If you have either a fiddling friend to help you or a reputable store, that's helpful. If you're looking at a thrift-shop violin with two strings and no bow, you need an expert to help, unless you're the type who does thorough research. JAK"S recommendation of renting is a good idea too. Our main music chain in Canada (Long & McQuade) rents violins with an option to buy. I'd be surprised if other stores don't do the same. Enjoy the journey, from another fiddler.
    Last edited by Ranald; Dec-20-2019 at 4:07pm. Reason: spelling error
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Registered User archerscreek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    I'm with Gary and Katmandu (above). There are thousands of fine old violins available at reasonable price. If you have either a fiddling friend to help you or a reputable store, that's helpful. If you're looking at a thrift-shop violin with two strings and no bow, you need an expert to help, unless you're the type who does thorough research. JAK"S recommendation of renting is a good idea too. Our main music chain in Canada (Long & McQuade) rents violins with an option to buy. I'd be surprised if other stores don't do the same. Enjoy the journey, from another fiddler.
    Yeah, I was curious about picking up the fiddle and chatted up the fiddle player at a local jam. He made it seem like there were tons of old European instruments lying around unplayed in people's houses that pop up in garage sales and estate sales. Whenever he saw them (ridiculously cheap), he scooped them up and tinkered with them as a hobby.

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    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Quote Originally Posted by btone View Post
    Howdy my fellow mandolin lovers!

    I'm considering diving a little bit into Fiddle or possibly banjo soon to expand my "utility" as a musician. Plus, it's been a lifelong goal of mine to learn some fiddle. I'm not set on the changeover yet, but I have a few questions for you good folks. What would be a good starter fiddle to purchase? Have any of you all made the change over before and if so what was your experience like? Any and all recommendations taken! Thanks for your time! Keep up the good pickin'!
    To me, the fiddle/violin is THE superior stringed instrument, and I admire anyone who can play it. Even though the fingerings are the same as mandolin, etc, I can't get used to odd way of holding the fiddle, and therefore can do nothing with it.

    I got my wife a nice violin outfit years ago from Steve Perry with Gianna Violins. I'm not sure if he's still in business, but he fixed us up with a great instrument at a fair price. I don't see him around here much anymore, though.
    ...

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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    I found a nice fiddle in an antique store For $170.00 They are out there. Pawn shops have them sometimes. DO NOT got to a violin store. They will most likely not have what you want. I've played fiddle for many years and don't do it much anymore. Mandolin is easier and so is everything else IMHO.

  16. #14

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    When my fiddle curiosity got the best of me, I picked up my wife's 30 year old fiddle she played in high school orchestra.
    It's decent sounding, and more than good enough for me.
    I had a luthier do a good setup on it, and that made a world of difference.

    Fingering is easy enough, my intonation is a different story. The hardest part for me was bowing, but once you get that down it's not too bad.
    I also found that practice, practice, and more practice helps.
    I still can't play it worth a crap though!

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    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    I started on fiddle then came to mandolin (well, there were other instruments before fiddle too) I'd suggest checking the classifieds here, and at fiddlehangout.com, I see good starter fiddles come up frequently in both places, a good one can be had for under 500 bucks. Also, find another fiddler to help you tune it etc. cuz it's not self explanatory
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  18. #16

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    I do not play fiddle/violin. But I have been on a interesting and sometime frustrating journey finding her a couple of good violins. The first 30 or 40 years of the 20th century there were boat loads of violins shipped to the US from Europe. There were some great ones but the vast majority were student grade to violin shaped objects. I am usually pretty quick to be able to figure out the market for an something. But when you are a novice it is REALLY hard to know the difference between a good one and one you should stay away from. I have had more failures than success on this journey, neck angle wrong, top to thick and other issues. We ended up with a fiddle that was regraduated (has a couple of funky issues but plays well sounds really good) that I feel I over payed a little? I also saw a nice looking Maggini copy on ebay, it sold once but something happened and the deal fell through. I put up a bid of about $400 when it was re-listed and actually got it. I had a new bridge, sound post and strings put on it. Turns out it was made in France in the last 1800's, , is beautiful, is in great shape and appraised for about $2500. Most importantly my daughter loves it and has really bonded with it. So there are some bargains if you get lucky.
    I would not overlook newer violins made in China. Just like mandolins and guitars they have been making instruments long enough and have some very skilled luthiers and are turning out some terrific instruments at affordable prices and with out some of the condition issues of older violins.
    Good luck in the search, hopefully you can get an instructor or someone to guide you.

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  20. #17
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Well ….. a fiddle / violin same instrument different repertoire. An old one can be nice or it can be junk , check the purfling corner blocks and the bass bar and general condition. Speak into it …. does it sympathetically vibrate? The modern carbon fiber bows can be a good buy for the money, old bows can be made from quality Pernambuco or brazilwood a bow re-hair generally costs around 75.00$. Cambering, straightening or re curving the bow can be slightly more. Note ... as with mandolins a good setup is necessary or you find yourself fighting the instrument. Taking a fiddling friend to play so you can hear an instrument is recommended. And as noted above …. a few lessons to start out is a good investment in the future of your playing. Buy a mute. Be patient a bow is not a pick and this baby has no frets. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    As others have pointed out, it’s practically impossible for a beginner to know what to look for in a decent fiddle. There’s no such thing as a “good” of “bad brand” of violin, since each individual instrument is different. So, the best advice is to take someone with experience shopping with you. One general gauge that you can do is to talk or sing into the f-holes and listen for good resonance, but even that doesn’t tell you anything about proper setup. One thing I don’t think anyone else has mentioned is that most old-time fiddlers prefer a bridge that is much less curved (“flatter”) than classical violinists and bluegrass fiddlers like. That’s because most classical violinists do everything they can to avoid hitting two strings at the same time (usually), while old-time fiddlers LOVE to play on two strings at the same time and to constantly switch between alternate pairs of strings. The flatter the bridge, the less bow angle shift it takes to do this. It’s not that flatter or more curved is necessarily better than the other, but if you learn with one shape, it’s very difficult to get used to a different shaped bridge. As you try out different instruments, it’s good to be aware that most will have very curved bridges, but instruments that were set up for old-time fiddling are likely to have much flatter bridges. Also, a lot of instruments out there, especially cheaper student instruments, are poorly set up, with way too high action. This is easily fixed by a good luthier, and makes a huge difference in playability. One more bit of advice—true of shopping for any stringed instrument, but maybe even more important for violins: when comparing tone, listen to someone else playing the instrument instead of judging from what you hear when you are playing it.

  22. #19
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    I have gone through probably a dozen fiddles in my 45+ ears of playing. If I were starting now I might just get a starter instrument and bow from a reliable shop or online from a good site like Shar or Southwest Strings.

    One other possibility would be to go to fiddlehangout.com, read some of the posts there on the same topic and check out their classifieds. That site is similar to this one and you might have some recourse buying used. Also, there may be fiddles set up for fiddling though I don't think it is crucial to have a flattened bridge for playing old time. I play primarily old time and my bridge is classically set up. I can still play double stops as easily as with a flattened bridge.
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  23. #20

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    The bluegrass shack is a pretty good place to look on-line. The best thing to do is to find someone locally who works on fiddles. They can point you towards the resources you are looking for, and you will have a valuable resource when your soundpost needs to be adjusted, you need a bridge, etc. Some of these guys also sell a limited number of instruments.

    And as I have said in other threads of this nature. Find a teacher, and take some lessons, and buy a good bow. Playing the fiddle is not intuitive, and if you are fighting the bow while you are trying to learn it will take you twice as long to make progress with your playing.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

  24. #21
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    Quote Originally Posted by wormpicker View Post
    One general gauge that you can do is to talk or sing into the f-holes and listen for good resonance, but even that doesn’t tell you anything about proper setup. One thing I don’t think anyone else has mentioned is that most old-time fiddlers prefer a bridge that is much less curved (“flatter”) than classical violinists and bluegrass fiddlers like. That’s because most classical violinists do everything they can to avoid hitting two strings at the same time (usually), while old-time fiddlers LOVE to play on two strings at the same time and to constantly switch between alternate pairs of strings. The flatter the bridge, the less bow angle shift it takes to do this. It’s not that flatter or more curved is necessarily better than the other, but if you learn with one shape, it’s very difficult to get used to a different shaped bridge.
    That's a regional thing. I've often read about low bridges, but Canadian fiddlers who play Canadian old-time, Cape Breton, and, I believe, French-Canadian and Metis styles (as opposed to Appalachian and southern styles) tend to use standard bridges. I tried a low bridge for a time, and found it a hinderance rather than a help for playing both Canadian old-time and Cape Breton music, which uses plenty of double stops. Still, many American fiddlers recommend low bridges.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  26. #22
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    The curve of the bridge should echo the curve of the fingerboard, just like on a mandolin. Flattening the curve of the bridge may make some things easier but it will complicate others.

    I strongly disagree with the advice in #13 to avoid violin shops. If there is one near you, I would suggest beginning there. If you don't know what to look for, buying without the guidance of an experienced person can be tricky. One large auction site sells a complete package—violin, bow, case, and often a method book and cake of useless rosin too—for $99 or less. (A decent set of violin strings costs between $50–$100.) Most of these instruments are unplayable. You could easily spend several hundred to make one of these useable, and still have a violin that sounds terrible.

    Eastman has been making violins far longer than they have been in the mandolin business, and their beginner models are quite decent. Snow is another Chinese company that manufactures good quality instruments for beginners on up. A shop may well have some older insruments at a decent price for you to look at also. Someone above mentioned Shar and Southwest Strings, both of which are good options if you need to do mail order. Check into rental programs too, locally if possible, by mail if not. Often you can apply at least some of the rental fees to a purchase. If you decide in a few months that learning fiddle was the worst idea ever, with a rental you can just give it back.

  27. #23

    Default Re: Thoughts on starter fiddles/transitioning to fiddle

    I’ve been playing for about 10 years now. I tried to learn without lessons, which was a mistake, so I’ve gotten a bit straightened out, and play publicly on occasion. I believe it is the hardest instrument, but really the king of instruments. But it an absolute must for you to get a good instrument. If you buy a junker, you just can’t learn to play, in my opinion. Best advice I can give is that you don’t have a clue what to buy, so find someone you trust and get them to guide you. You don’t have to buy a really expensive instrument, there are a lot of good old German fiddles around. I both mine from Steve Perry for $300 and it is about 120 years old, and a relatively good instrument and seems to be good enough for me, even now. I would say plan to spend 350 to 500 minimum for an instrument. Be prepared to be patient.

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