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Thread: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Hi all,
    Does it make sense to start playing the fiddle at 65? I guess so, since I have and am having a lot of fun. Brought it to the weekly jam a couple of times now. So I'm playing a beginner instrument i bought used--a Stentor Student II. And of course I'm already thinking of when to get a better instrument. Spring or summer maybe. (Hey, I'm only going to live so long.) I don't want to spend a fortune and I don't trust my ears to find a good old fiddle. (A friend leant me a 19th c German factory fiddle which I find very harsh.) So I'm thinking about an Eastman VL305, which is the least expensive of their varnished models. I tried one in a local store and thought it beautiful, rather delicate compared to the other fiddles I've tried. And I really liked the sound. Not cheap (about $1200 US) but a lot less than I've paid for my good mandos. This is for old time and bluegrass. Anybody have an opinion on Eastman violins for this music? Or other advice to offer?
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Having a good player who can help you evaluate actual instruments and compare them to your current one is the best advice I can give. (I tackled fiddle/violin in my early 40s, and while I eventually could play a good number of tunes and even labored through a few years of playing in community orchestras, eventually I decided my time, and perhaps my wife's ears, were better off with a return to the guitar ). It is a lovely instrument when played well.

    Eastman actually started as a violin making shop and had a good reputation back when I first heard of them in the 90s, I think. Never played one, but I've always felt their mandolins borrowed a good bit from their violin [making] sensibilities, for better or worse. Like mandolins, your best value is in the used market, as that price range is usually a "stepping stone" to [much] higher price ranges. Good luck!
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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Keith, thanks. Yes, I know it's a good idea to get one of my fiddler friends to help. One played my current fiddle yesterday and said, "It's aaalright..."
    Better Eastman violins seem very scarce used. But I'm watching...
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    An interesting question about starting at 65.
    I'm surrounded by fiddlers and fiddle teachers, it seems, in NE Scotland but have always shied away from trying it.

    My dear late wife had made it clear she didn't like the sound. I also thought that I should spend what practice time that I have on playing the mandolin.

    There's also the inescapable truth that I'm 68 years old and unlikely to live long enough to be able to make an acceptable (to me, let alone anyone else) sound on fiddle.

    Or is that true? I've never asked any fiddlers. As far as I can see, all the ones round here are formally trained and been playing since they were very young.
    Bren

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Bren, my intention was to play just for myself, probably waltzes and slow tunes, and not jam with it. My friends encouraged me to play in the jam so I have and I think it was a good learning experience. But my goals are modest and as long as I enjoy it I'll continue. And I do find it very enjoyable if, yes, sometimes frustrating. Lately it has taken time from my mandolin practice but that will correct itself in a while. I'm thinking it's good to try something new every few years. If nothing else, I'm learning to appreciate good fiddle players and classical violinists even more.
    Cary Fagan

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Many people start at 65. Some even become good. When you take up an instrument late, you don't have the pressure of trying to be a brilliant player. Have fun.

    Fiddlers don't talk about brands in the way that guitar players and mandolin players do. In all my years playing fiddle, I have never once been asked who made my fiddle. I've been asked the age and background of the instrument many times. Personally, I wouldn't even think in brands when shopping for a fiddle, unless there is a particular fiddle maker who appeals to you. If I wanted a different fiddle, I'd go to a reputable violin store and find an instrument that sounds good to me. If you have the option, guidance from an experienced fiddler would help. A new instrument has little if any status in the fiddle world. I don't pretend to understand the science, but the sound of a violin mellows with frequent playing. Avoid thrift store fiddles unless you're with someone who knows a great deal about violins.
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Don't be afraid to buy used if you can have that fiddler friend evaluate. Nothing against the Eastman you mentioned, but you can get a lot more fiddle for the same money (or less) if you branch out. And like Ranald said, don't get too hung up on brand names. I've owned or possessed at least 10 violins over the years and my favorite of the 3 I currently own is an unlabeled ca. 1920 workshop instrument (though we're all pretty sure it was made by JTL) from Mirecourt France. The lack of a label makes it cheaper price-wise but it's a superb instrument.

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Hi Cary,
    I have an Eastman VL100 that I purchased used for $200 and I am very pleased with the sound. I don't think you could go wrong with the VL305. I am 64 and have been fiddling with the fiddle for a long time, but not that seriously. I too am thinking about upping my game now that I have retired. If you want an interesting read about learning to play in the latter years, try " A Thousand Mornings of Music: The Journal of an Obsession with the Violin" by Arnold Gingrich (late editor of Esquire magazine). It is truly a fascinating read. The book was given to me by a neighbor about 40 years ago. She saw me playing on the front porch and her husband had been the violin instructor at the nearby college and gave this book to all of his students. I still read it every several years. It is available on Amazon.
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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Thanks, Barry. I really enjoy reading books on music so I will look that one up.
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    You might check out Royce Burt on Youtube; he revoices old fiddles & demonstrates what he has available. I got one from him & am happy with my purchase. Although I would like to think I have a somewhat refined ear I am an absolute beginner, so YMMV. NFI. Good hunting.
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Also Benjamin Probus. He has a large inventory at all price points. He's also a former touring fiddler and mando player for a some A listers, so he's got a good player's perspective.

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Royce Burt for sure. He does great work, his fiddles are fantastic, and his prices are very reasonable. There’s one in the classifieds now for 795. I’d jump on it myself if I didn’t already have 5 of his, including a killer 5 string.

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Cary, loved your mandolin novel, "Valentine's Fall".

    My wife plays mandolin and took up fiddle in her mid 60s too. Lesson 1 - ditch the cheap Chinese violin right away quick. Lesson 2 - get a good teacher. She got a Gliga violin, made in Romania; not that I know anything, but it seemed a quality instrument and came in at less than $1,000 Cdn. Definitely something to check out.

    She also had a great teacher - played in the Vancouver Symphony - and was making good progress. But the teacher got a gig in New York, and we never quite replaced her, so the whole thing kind of petered out, but she still has a nice fiddle. Good luck.

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Hello neighbor (I live in Lewiston, NY, right down the QEW). Regarding purchasing a violin I would recommend dealing with a shop that specializes in violins, as most music stores don't have a clue about how to set up a violin. I am very fortunate to have one of the best in the world right here 5 minutes from my home. Keep in mind that a violin and a fiddle, while technically the same instrument, are set up and played differently. So if you are wanting to play fiddle tunes the set up is quite different. For instance most fiddle players want the arch of the bridge to be flatter and thinner than normal to accommodate bowing two strings at a time. This requires some delicate reshaping and sanding, something your average guitar tech might not be able to do. Bridge placement is also critical. Maybe even more so is sound post placement, a task that really should be left to a pro. And having a trusted shop is important because fiddles do require occasional maintenance or repair, again best left to the pros.
    I'm guessing most beginner class instruments are based on the Strad copy dimensions and as such are meant for the sound of classical music. I was lucky to find my main violin at an estate sale and it is of Eastern European origin and has a deeper, longer body arch than the Strad copies. More like Stainer copy, it has a deeper tone that suits fiddle tunes. And yes I had my local shop do the required set up. A shop that specializes in violins might well have good used instruments better suited to that fiddle sound.
    At any rate welcome to the mysterious world of fiddles. It is deep rabbit hole indeed.
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Gnann View Post
    Hello neighbor (I live in Lewiston, NY, right down the QEW). Regarding purchasing a violin I would recommend dealing with a shop that specializes in violins, as most music stores don't have a clue about how to set up a violin. I am very fortunate to have one of the best in the world right here 5 minutes from my home. Keep in mind that a violin and a fiddle, while technically the same instrument, are set up and played differently. So if you are wanting to play fiddle tunes the set up is quite different. For instance most fiddle players want the arch of the bridge to be flatter and thinner than normal to accommodate bowing two strings at a time. This requires some delicate reshaping and sanding, something your average guitar tech might not be able to do. Bridge placement is also critical. Maybe even more so is sound post placement, a task that really should be left to a pro. And having a trusted shop is important because fiddles do require occasional maintenance or repair, again best left to the pros.
    I'm guessing most beginner class instruments are based on the Strad copy dimensions and as such are meant for the sound of classical music. I was lucky to find my main violin at an estate sale and it is of Eastern European origin and has a deeper, longer body arch than the Strad copies. More like Stainer copy, it has a deeper tone that suits fiddle tunes. And yes I had my local shop do the required set up. A shop that specializes in violins might well have good used instruments better suited to that fiddle sound.
    At any rate welcome to the mysterious world of fiddles. It is deep rabbit hole indeed.
    Not to be overly contrarian, but I have to disagree with the notion that there's automatically a different setup. You don't *need* a different setup to play the same stuff, it's player preference. I wouldn't advise anyone to go with a dramatically differing setup from the standard until they can play well enough to know if they want something different. I've been playing fiddle for 25 years with a standard bridge, and have no problems with any fiddle styles. You can double stop all day long with a standard bridge radius. Classical musicians play on more than one string quite frequently. The idea that you *need* a flatter bridge, or other alterations is just not true. It's kind of one of those things that snowballed because a few old-timers had butchered fiddles or lousy bows. Some may enjoy the flatter bridge, but it shouldn't be a default without enough skill and experience to determine that it's appropriate.

    Also, Strad vs other body styles is a bit of a similar issue. I'm pretty sure if you did a poll, you'd find more Strad patterned fiddles out there than anything else. Part of that is simple production. Most workshop instruments (which constitute the bulk of fiddles out there over the years) for years, were German or French commercial Strad patterned violins. Mainly due to sheer volume/availability. The market was saturated and that's what was mostly available until the onset of commercial Eastern European and Chinese instruments. Higher arched instruments like Stainers work well for some but many also are not typically great fiddle material. The characteristics of highly arched violins are not what most fiddlers desire these days. Ultimately, Strad vs others is irrelevant as every pattern will have something to offer, and setup quality determines the most. But it's simply incorrect to state that Strad copies are not desired by fiddlers when they're the most common for that very demographic. While it may be anecdotal, in my decades of playing music, and growing up in it, the overwhelming majority of fiddlers I've seen/known were toting Strad copies, followed by Guarneri Del Gesu copies (a much smaller share) and then a very light sprinkling of Stainer/Amati etc. clones. Most people don't like the latter though as they don't have a lot of reserve or projection.

    Sorry for the pedantic ramble, but I feel it's important to correct some of these very common misconceptions that get thrown around sometimes.

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    With Mariner 73 (Post #15 above), I agree that fiddles generally don't need low bridges, though I'd perhaps in some styles of playing they help. I first came across the idea of using a low bridge in Myles Krassen's The Appalachian Fiddler (1973), perhaps the source of the spread of this idea. I'll give Myles the benefit of the doubt, as he knows far more about Appalachian fiddle than I do. (The Appalachians do extend well into Canada, but that's getting into semantics) Still, the low bridge is definitely not used by fiddlers generally. I tried it without noticing any benefit. In fact, it was a hindrance to my Cape Breton and down east playing. In my experience, Canadian fiddlers and those folks not far across the U.S. border, who play related styles of fiddle music, neither play with or recommend low bridges. This is true in my experience of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, other Atlantic-Canadian, Quebec, and Ontario, northernNew England, and Michigan fiddlers, though I'm sure there's an exception somewhere. However, Erie Canal fiddlers should always pay attention to low bridges.
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    You can't make generalizations about fiddle setups any more than you can make generalizations about the fiddling style, as it varies by type and region. Around here, flatter bridges certainly were more of the norm, as that's what the [Texas style] old fiddler I took lessons from for a while liked and recommended, and how the Cajun fiddler that built my fiddle (he's in the book, and built over 100 IIRC) uses and puts on fiddles he builds or works on, unless he knows it's for a classical player (and he's sold a "fiddle" or two to some symphony folks). Many of them use steel strings, too, which probably impacts setup.
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Steel strings really only *have* to effect the setup when it comes to action, although some can do ok with the standard action, like Helicore mediums, or a strong player. But yes, generalization should be avoided. Even within the parameters of "normal" bridge radiusing, there are different curves used. Most of the violin luthiers I know offer at least 2 different radius options for a traditional bridge arch. And amongst players with flatter bridges there's a lot of diversity. Fiddlers and violinists are somewhat notorious for lots of tweaking! Especially OCD soundpost movers 😆

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cary Fagan View Post
    Hi all,
    Does it make sense to start playing the fiddle at 65? I guess so, since I have and am having a lot of fun. Brought it to the weekly jam a couple of times now. So I'm playing a beginner instrument i bought used--a Stentor Student II. And of course I'm already thinking of when to get a better instrument. Spring or summer maybe. (Hey, I'm only going to live so long.) I don't want to spend a fortune and I don't trust my ears to find a good old fiddle. (A friend leant me a 19th c German factory fiddle which I find very harsh.) So I'm thinking about an Eastman VL305, which is the least expensive of their varnished models. I tried one in a local store and thought it beautiful, rather delicate compared to the other fiddles I've tried. And I really liked the sound. Not cheap (about $1200 US) but a lot less than I've paid for my good mandos. This is for old time and bluegrass. Anybody have an opinion on Eastman violins for this music? Or other advice to offer?
    My personal method of acquiring old fiddles was craigslist - I scored my antique Breton for $100.

    Bridge radius is a function of style: the more drone you want to pull, the flatter the radius you may prefer. For example, hardanger fiddles have very little radius.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    I have been playing fiddle about as long as mandolin, about 48 years. Over the last couple of years have been beefing up my fiddle skills. I have owned many fiddles over the years and all of them old. I also have ended up with a classical setup paying with quality synthetic gut strings and a standard(not flattened) bridge. It is a personal choice but I don’t see how a classical bridge prevents you from playing two strings at once.

    What you asking should consider is what bow you are using. That makes a lot of difference. And tonally what strings you use.

    Many dealers will let you arrange for a bow or violin trial where you pay a small fee and get a few instruments or bows to try for a few days. You ship back the once’s you don’t want.
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    ... I don’t see how a classical bridge prevents you from playing two strings at once...
    It doesn't, of course. Simply set-up preference. Same with thinning, cutting, etc. There are approximately infinite ways to set-up a musical instrument. In some styles, minimizing bow angle to access all strings is prioritized above single string playing.

    It's prbly been said above somewhere for the OP - learning on a std violin is fine. Especially as a late-comer: spend more time practicing than shopping; old-time fiddling doesn't require conservatory-type quality..

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    How fun! I started playing classical violin when I was 9, enjoyed it for many years, and then took a very long break. I returned to the violin when I was 61 and, after lots of lessons, wasgetting almost decent. However, for me, the twisting of my left wrist and the strain on my bow arm shoulder , along with always playing while I was standing, was tiring. My violin teacher suggested the mandolin and that is now my instrument of choice.

    Even so, the violin is great at any age and I encourage you to have a wonderful time. I'd also recommend you go to a quality violin shop and bring along your current instrument. I'd also suggest you bring along someone who really does know the violin/fiddle.

    I have a couple of good instruments and the thing that really makes them superb are excellent strings and a great bow. I buy higher-end strings, because they are worth it, and I very carefully picked out an ideal bow.

    For what it is worth, I have never modified my violin configuration for the music I may be playing. I am happy with a standard bridge and wherever my luthier places the sound post is good enough for me.

    Have a wonderful time with your violin!
    ---
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    GM - ever try playing in positions other than 'proper' classical? I also grew weary of that position - which is certainly unnecessary for a bunch of fiddling. When I got into hdgfl I started playing off my shoulder, down to my chest, etc which greatly alleviates the pronation of the hand/wrist - also lessening the stress on the bow arm. After a few years, it felt novel to put it back up on my shoulder.

    I still prefer the shoulder, but I don't use a shoulder rest on my hdgfl and so I can shift it around to various positions and angles of comfort. Of course, this wouldn't work for classical violin and playing up the neck..

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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    I’ve never had an Eastman violin but would like to have one someday. I’ve read lots of good responses about the good value of their various violins, especially in their midrange and above.

    I was a very late starter with violin and stopped playing till recently - I just didn’t have time to practice it enough. I jumped back in about 18 months ago and I’m still not practicing as much as I should (partially due to recent love affair with clawhammer banjo, lol), but am doing better this past week.

    I bought a range of different used violins over the past 18 months and have found that a good set up and the right strings make all the difference on any particular violin. Now finding the “right” strings is no easy task, either, lol. I wanted to like Helicore since they were relatively popular for fiddling, relatively inexpensive, handled retuning for alternate tuning well, and lasted a long time, but they were just too harsh to my ear. I need to try them again and see if I can get used to them. I’ve mainly been playing synthetics (and not cheap ones) and do like them.

    Having a luthier set up your violins can make a big difference for sound and playability, though the physical differences may be very subtle to the untrained eye. Well worth the expense.

    So, a “good” violin is nice to have, but a decent violin with a good set up and the right strings can take you a long way. (Oh, I echo the sentiment that a good bow is important, too!)

    Fiddle on!
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    Default Re: violin buying question to you trusted cafe goers (NMC)

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    GM - ever try playing in positions other than 'proper' classical? I also grew weary of that position - which is certainly unnecessary for a bunch of fiddling. When I got into hdgfl I started playing off my shoulder, down to my chest, etc which greatly alleviates the pronation of the hand/wrist - also lessening the stress on the bow arm. After a few years, it felt novel to put it back up on my shoulder.

    I still prefer the shoulder, but I don't use a shoulder rest on my hdgfl and so I can shift it around to various positions and angles of comfort. Of course, this wouldn't work for classical violin and playing up the neck..

    What a cool idea. I am more of a classical violinist when I play, but I may have to be a bit more creative in how I hold my instrument the next time I take it out of the case. Thanks for sharing your method.
    ---
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