This blog is dedicated to violins, violin makers, violin players, and all violin enthusiasts.

Help with Buying a Violin – What is a Good Violin?

As we all know, the traditional and the best combination of woods for violin making, and that has been used for centuries, is maple (preferably flamed) and resonance spruce. Various violin makers have made quite a few experiments with different other species of wood. They used oak, walnut, willow, and poplar to replace the maple. Unfortunately, none of these species came even close to the sound quality that the maple produces. The spruce cannot be replaced by any other species because there is no other species of wood that has the resonance properties that the spruce does.

Another problem that seems to preoccupy a lot those who are in the market for a violin is whether they should buy a violin that has a one piece back or one that has a two piece back. Well, there is no right answer for this concern. In my opinion, it is exclusively a matter of personal preference. The one piece back violins are very much appreciated for their visual impact. Also, they are rarer, which is another factor that matters in some people’s eyes. From a playability and performance point of view, there is no difference between the one piece back and the two piece back violins. The one piece back violins are usually priced higher, but not because they deliver a better performance; just because they are more difficult to find.

Speaking of sound, many people want to know what makes a violin sound good. Well, there are a few elements that contribute to the sound of a violin: the wood, the workmanship, the finishing style, and the set up.
The price is not always a reflection of quality in the violins’ world, and I am sure all violin owners have come to this conclusion. The price of a violin should be a reflection of all factors listed above. A higher priced violin should mean a better wood, better workmanship, better finishing style, and better set up, and in the end, a better sound.

By better wood I mean, first of all, a wood with superior resonance properties. The resonance properties of the wood are detected from a very early stage, immediately after the tree is cut down in the forest. Another factor that influences the quality of the wood is the drying up period and technique. The wood used for the higher quality models is dried up naturally, in open air, for a very long time (up to 10 years). This means that the water evaporates very slowly, which prevents the wood from experiencing internal cracks at the molecular level. The wood used for the less expensive instruments is dried up using accelerated methods, which are more aggressive. Again, all this happens at the molecular level, which is not visible with an open eye, but has a great impact on the long term performance of the violins.

The workmanship is also very important. The skill level, the attention to detail, the talent and the dedication of the maker will be reflected in the end product. Almost all violins are hand made, and, consequently, like anything that is human made, they are subject to imperfection. This is why the workmanship is critical.

The finishing style is important, too. This includes the type of varnish, the number of layers, and the technique used. I will discuss this, in more detail, in a future blog posting.

The set up refers to the quality of the accessories that are used (tailpiece, fingerboard, bridge, pegs, sound post, and chinrest) and the work itself (calculating the right string projection on the bridge). You will hear more from me about this in another posting.

Other people want to know whether all instruments that belong to a certain size have the same dimensions, regardless of what violin store they are bought from. It is possible that you will see small variations from a violin to another; these instruments are hand made and they are subject to “imperfections.” I put the word “imperfections” in quotes, because the small size variations are actually not considered imperfections. All dimensions are within an acceptable tolerance range, and they are a matter of millimeters, which do not impact the performance of the instruments in any way. My recommendation is not to pay attention to the dimensions of a violin. If your violin belongs to a standard size (let’s say 4/4) and you feel comfortable playing it, that is all you need to know.

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