When it comes to buying a new (and sometimes quite old) violin to play you need to be sure that you’re making the right choice. Ultimately of course the sound and tone plus the general feel of a violin have to appeal to you and your personal needs and preferences, as does the price tag. To help you to select an instrument that will serve you well in all other respects (durability, re-sale value etc) there are quite a few factors you may also need to take into account. Here are just a few examples of some of the characteristics that could help you to choose well.
Since most of a violin is made of wood after all, and the wood affects the tone and strength of the instrument it’s obviously important that the right wood has been used in the right way. Different wood types are used for different parts of different violins but as a very general guide to wood quality:
•The top of the violin – this is often made out of soft, resonant spruce and a clear, even grain is generally a good sign.
•The neck, the back and the ribs – these parts are often maple and a good ‘flaming’ pattern is often one of the signs of a good quality instrument.
•The fingerboard – old violins tend to have ebony fingerboards but the woods used in violins after 1900 varies.
•Arching and graduation – The nature of the arching and the graduation of the instrument are also important factors in helping to produce a good sounding instrument.
•Varnish – multiple coats of oil varnish and good spirit varnish (shellac) help not just the longevity and the appearance of an instrument but can also play a part in helping the tone.
•The carving and craftsmanship – you can get an overall sense of the quality of an instrument by the quality of the carved aspects of the instrument.
•Repairs / restoration work – many violins, particularly the older ones are likely to have had some repair / restoration work on them. If this work has clearly been carried out by a craftsman using the right materials and methods in the right way this should mean that the violin’s tone and looks have been well preserved and enhanced.
•The integrity of the instrument – are all of the main parts from the same period or have parts been added later, and if so how does this affect the tone, the price, and your ability in the future to sell the instrument? This is one area where you may need to seek expert advice.
•Inside and out – the violin you choose should be in good condition on the inside as well as the outside.
•The length and size – these can of course vary and you need to be comfortable when you play.
Other obvious clues and indicators of the quality of a violin are of course the maker and the year, the provenance / authenticity (and any supporting documents) and the price. Although age in itself is no guarantee of a great sound many old well maintained instruments from renowned makers often produce a special richness and quality of tone that’s in keeping their history and origins.
It’s often a good idea, particularly where higher purchase prices are involved or where you don’t have all the facts to seek an expert opinion. This could save you a lot of problems in the future with an instrument.
How did you choose your current violin or have you ever purchased an instrument that wasn’t quite what you’d hoped it would be? Are you thinking of purchasing a new instrument but have a few nagging questions about it in your mind? Call us on 020 7249 9398.