We all want the best value we can get for our hard-earned money especially in our current economy.
While shopping forvalue is usually a good thing, cheap is often just cheap. Because of our demand for lower and lower prices, we are awash in low grade products of all kinds made to sell for a rock-bottom price. But what good is the bargain, if it is only going to fall apart within a few days or weeks? This is especially true with string instruments. Almost every day, customers bring in instruments they have purchased, usually over the internet for $50.00 or $100.00 for their child (or themselves). When the teacher is presented with the bargain, they are told that in order to make it minimally playable, they will have to take it to a violin specialist (where they should have gone in the first place) and invest more money just to make it playable. We then have the unpleasant task of telling the parents that they will have to spend $150.00 to $250.00 more for it to be useable. We normally suggest that they return it for a refund, not welcome news. A return is often not possible. There isn’t an easy way to tell people that they wasted their money on something that has no value. Then we have to tell them that their "violin shaped object" will probably need the following:
- New bridge The supplied bridge is always an unfinished, poorly fitted, soft wood thing that is either too high or too low.
- New soundpost If it was even supplied, the post rarely ever fits correctly and can even damage the violin. A well-fitting soundpost can make a big difference in sound quality.
- Strings I’ve never seen one of these cheap violins with anything other than the most sub-standard strings that always have a nasty, shrill, thin sound that is hard on the ears.
- Fingerboard To be playable, any kind of decent violin needs to have an ebony fingerboard that is properly finished and has the proper scoop or dip. Often the fingerboard isn’t ebony at all, but softer whitewood that is covered with paint or plastic to make it look like the real thing. It’s more difficult to work on these fingerboards and of course, more expensive. Without the work, the strings will buzz and rattle when played. In addition, the angle of the neck and fingerboard (what we call the projection) is usually too low or more likely too high. This is a very expensive repair.
- Tailgut This is what attaches the tailpiece to the violin, and is often a thin piece of gut rather than stronger nylon cord. A small thing, but if it breaks, serious damage can occur.
- Tuners These are also a small thing, but rarely supplied and are necessary for steel strings.
- Pegs This is a big item. The pegs on these kinds of violins rarely fit properly and usually slip badly. They may look like ebony, but are usually stained whitewood and won’t last long. There is no easy fix for these ill-fitting pegs. All you can do is replace them.
Repairs like the above usually cost around $250.00 to $350.00 and many shops won’t even take in this kind of work. These instruments are just too difficult to work on and good violin shops usually have better things to do with their limited time. Good, experienced luthiers are not easy to find and are often not willing to work on these kinds of instruments. If you can find someone willing to do the work, do you really want to invest this kind of money in something that will still be worth only $50.00 after the work is done? Better to just return the violin if you can or look at the expense as a learning experience. If you can invest at least $400.00 to $500.00 for a properly made and set up violin at a violin shop, you should have something playable and satisfying to play. If $500.00 is beyond your budget, think about renting for a while. You should be able to find a well made, properly set up violin at an affordable rate. It will also give you time to see if the student will want to continue playing before you make the investment. Keep in mind that a poorly made and set up violin will be very hard, unsatisfying and discouraging to play.