I am shopping for a violin. Help me plz.
August 30, 2011 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I am shopping for a violin. Help me plz.

I have musical training, but taking on a new instrument; I have no idea what I'm looking at. I'd like to understand the sizing system and how that affects my purchase. I'm about 5 ft 7 or so, what size should I buy?

Are there things to look out for that are signs of neglect? Anything like loose pegs, discoloration, shape, etc?

Good cleaning and care habits/solutions/ideas?

Thank you.
posted by bam to Shopping (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You need a full size instrument.

Here's a really good list of things to watch out for when selecting a used fiddle.

Get a soft cotton cloth and rub off the rosin dust after each playing session. It probably won't damage your instrument, but it gets sticky and dirty after awhile. Make sure to get an actual hard sided case for it. Also, keep it away from extremes of temperature, and look at getting a humidifier if you don't have one for your home. Too much dryness causes cracks.

Violins are hard to play (but awesome!). You will sound like crap for awhile. Don't be discouraged.
posted by Knicke at 12:40 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Badabing badaboom, thank you askme. You guys need a theme song or something.
posted by bam at 12:46 PM on August 30, 2011

I think that all adults use a full-size violin (I know that there is a slightly smaller violin size that is sometimes? used by professional violinists with smaller hands, but I wouldn't spend time looking for it unless you get to that level). For comparison, I used a 3/4 size violin until I was 12 or so, at which point I switched to a full-size.

For care habits, always wipe the rosin off your violin with a soft cotton cloth (cloth baby diapers were very common when I was learning), and de-tension your bow before storing it. Always store the violin and bow in their case. If you are just starting out, I don't think you should stress about temperature and humidity - if you still live in San Francisco, the temperature and humidity are relatively constant.
posted by muddgirl at 12:49 PM on August 30, 2011

A couple more things:

Peg compound can help with sticky tuning pegs. Peg drops can help with slipping tuning pegs. Both can occur depending on humidity, and don't necessarily mean your pegs are poorly fitted (but if neither work, maybe look at getting new pegs).

Shoulder and chin rests can be annoying, and everyone is shaped differently. The chin rest should NOT poke you in the chin - it should fit comfortably under your chin. In my experience, you don't want a sharp lip or anything on the chin rest. You'll also probably want a shoulder rest. If you can try out multiple chin and shoulder rests in the music store, so much the better.

Some people who are just starting out try to forgo both by rigging up some combo of homemade pads and/or rubber bands. Don't do this. You need to be able to hold the instrument securely using just your chin and shoulder; other options will affect your posture and other aspects of playing adversely.
posted by Knicke at 12:51 PM on August 30, 2011

If you're in San Francisco, you shouldn't have much trouble at all finding luthiers who either make their own violins or refurbish old violins. A reliable, respected luthier can help you choose a good beginner violin, show you how to take care of it, and help maintain/repair it. My husband bought his current violin (his first "serious" violin) from a violin maker in Chicago--it was originally made in 1921 and she overhauled it herself. When he had any trouble with it, he would take it back to her for adjustment/repair.

You might check with a university music department and see if one of the violin faculty has someone they would recommend.
posted by tully_monster at 3:23 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

One other thing: you might also want to consider renting a violin to see if it's something you really want to pursue before you make a serious investment (a good used beginner violin will cost upwards of $1000; anything less is usually considered a "violin-shaped" object manufactured in China with poor workmanship and not worth the money). If you do that, you'll probably want to have it checked out by an experienced musical instrument repairperson.
posted by tully_monster at 3:35 PM on August 30, 2011

Don't forget to check the bow, especially if you buy used.

Make sure that the stick isn't warped. With the bow held out in front of you at arm's length with the hair parallel to the floor, it should bend down slightly in the middle. Hold the bow up with the frog (where you hold it while playing) to your eye, look straight down the length of the wood and make sure it doesn't bend left or right.

Check the screw - it should turn relatively easily, and the hair of the bow should easily loosen and tighten along with these changes in tension. Make sure the hair is clean too.

As you move along, you'll start to identify what weight you prefer in your bow. If you have a choice (sometimes you don't if the violin is sold as a kit or you buy used), I would suggest starting with a medium weight and see how that feels. You may also want to consider buying a cheap-ish second bow to have around when you send your regular one in for regular maintenance like cleaning.

Have fun! The violin is such a rewarding instrument!
posted by Fiorentina97 at 6:13 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and Shar Music is a great place to get all string related things! They sell violins and I think they also let you try them out before buying.
posted by Fiorentina97 at 6:17 PM on August 30, 2011

I would recommend fiddlehangout.com. There's a lot of great advice within their threads about buying fiddles and they also have a reputable classifieds section. You can even just post something like "I'm looking for an entry level violin in the neighborhood of $XXX or $XXXX." Most sellers will let you have a trial period with an instrument so you have time to play it a bit and have it checked out by a luthier, if you are so inclined. Oh, and definitely get a full-sized violin. I'm five feet tall and that's what I play (or, more accurately, that's what I TRY to play).
posted by fiery.hogue at 6:34 PM on August 30, 2011

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