V.com weekend vote: How did you come to possess your current primary violin or viola?

April 22, 2017, 10:24 AM · Procuring a violin can be tricky business.

violin case

This week on Violinist.com we've explored several different ways that people do it, from securing the loan of a 300-year-old fine instrument, to buying or commissioning a brand-new instrument, fresh off the bench of a luthier engaged in today's thriving art of violin-making.

For most of us it is rather more simple: we buy it at a violin shop, or on the Internet, or borrow one from a friend or relative.

Over four decades of playing, I've found violins a variety of ways, both simple and logistically complex. At first, I borrowed one from my elementary school, then eventually my parents bought me a little student fiddle. When my family realized I was getting serious about it, my grandparents drove across the country to bestow my grandmother's violin on me - it was a lot better than the one we had bought. Eventually I outgrew that, and I began to explore modern instruments, even traveling to a luthier's house, where I learned so many new things about that art. I did buy a modern, then years later fell in love with an antique fiddle that I bought from a shop (and spent years paying off!).

What is the story of your current primary instrument? And what other options have you explored along the way?

Thank you to Morgan Watkins for sending me a bunch of vote ideas, including this one! I invite you to e-mail me with your ideas!

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April 22, 2017 at 05:57 PM · The current one I play I bought at a local music store (new). It's a Chinese-made student violin. I also have one that I played as a kid - it's 60+ years old, probably older. It needs some work & I plan to get it going again soon. I also recently bought a German violin at a garage sale. It also needs work. I probably overpaid for it, but liked the sound and the shell inlay on the back. I'm determined not to become a violin collector! I plan on having one pretty good one, and one spare. I'll keep the childhood one for sentimental reasons.

April 22, 2017 at 05:57 PM · I bought it cheap from someone who didn't know that a top-the-line student instrument might increase in value.

April 22, 2017 at 07:46 PM · I've played on violins purchased online by my parents, as well as a rental, one I purchased from an owner on Craigslist, a loaner from a friend and currently play on loaners from the music school I attend. I have been pretty successful with all methods for the times and my needs, but I wouldn't buy online anymore because I need to first try before I decide to buy anything.

April 22, 2017 at 07:53 PM · Where's the "I bought it from the maker" option?

April 22, 2017 at 07:56 PM · I have two violins, both purchased online from brick and mortar stores.

Here's a few more possibilities:

1) I made it myself.

2) I bought it at a yard/garage/estate sale.

3) I stole it from a talented but small child while they were walking home from school with it.

4) I surreptitiously went into the dressing room of a concert artist and stole it from their double case while they were playing their other violin. (Got a nice bow too!)

5) It was loaned to me by the Stradivari Society.

I could come up with some more possibilities, but I need to practice for my lesson this evening.

April 22, 2017 at 08:58 PM · Given the potential life of any violin we might consider any of them to be "on loan" and that we are both musicians as well as caretakers.

I've told the story of my "Mittenwald Strad" too often on the forum to tell it again. The interesting part is that it will probably have a useful life long after I'm no longer around passing along from generation to generation of musicians.

While mine isn't close to having the backstory of "Joe's Violin" I'm going to include the story of the instrument to the next musician in hopes that all of the subsequent caretakers add their story and maybe someday, in the far distant future, a young musician will tuck the instrument under their chin and realize that they are part of a long line of musical history.

April 22, 2017 at 09:28 PM · Was a new one

April 22, 2017 at 10:05 PM · Inherited it from my grandmother.

April 22, 2017 at 10:24 PM · I "bought" my first one on impulse, browsing in a guitar store. It was the only violin in the store, and the owner let me walk out with it without paying a cent, on the promise I'd come back with $250 when my tax refund came in. About a month later I got the refund and paid him. Recently a luthier told me it is a very good student violin, and always I've loved playing it. The label says "Genial Violins" made in Toplita, Romania. In the middle of the last sentence I diverted to google such a violin and found one just auctioned for $35 at liveauctioneers.com. I don't care if it was $35 or $3,500, I'm not selling mine, I love it!

April 22, 2017 at 10:38 PM · My dad's coworker lent me his son's violin when I began playing at 10 years old. After that, we purchased one at a music store.

The first instrument I purchased on my own was online after extensive research. The process was illuminated, but I'm not sure if I would do it again without a home trial.

April 22, 2017 at 10:38 PM · My dad's coworker lent me his son's violin when I began playing at 10 years old. After that, we purchased one at a music store.

The first instrument I purchased on my own was online after extensive research. The process was illuminated, but I'm not sure if I would do it again without a home trial.

April 22, 2017 at 11:33 PM · Commissioning, which means that I didn't shop for the instrument, but for the instrument maker. I was actively involved in choosing the form, the wood, the varnish, the pegs, the tailpiece, the fingerboard, and so on. Over the years, I've commissioned a half dozen instruments, all of which took at least a year for delivery ~ but in every case I was delighted.

You really do have to be thinking differently, however, when commissioning. It's best to have tried out several of that makers previous commissions, which luthiers will generally help you find ~ if they keep track of their creations. Award winning luthiers are wonderful, but that is just a starting point. Consider some of the newer (not necessarily "younger") makers, who are actually interested in engaging you and not simply putting you on a waiting list. Seek assurances that they will continue to be interested in working on your instrument after you play it in.

If you have the patience, I encourage people to commission. It's a wonderful experience.

April 22, 2017 at 11:45 PM · I bought mine from the maker.

The only option that came close was this one:

"I bought it online or through a store or auction house"

so I voted on that one although it wasn't really a store.

April 22, 2017 at 11:45 PM · I had my viola made for me by the very gifted luthier, Martin Karall in Vancouver, BC. He showed me the wood, informed me of the aging process of the wood, invited me to see the different stages of his carving of the instrument, and discussed the final varnish. I was part of the 'making process' throughout. I am a professional violinist and when I have the chance to play 'my' viola' it is part of of me. Many. many thanks to Martin!

April 23, 2017 at 01:13 AM · Made mine out of all cherry and western ceder top. Her name is guppy (like the little black fish) She has deeper depth than normal and a graduated bottom plate like you would tune a steel drum. Guppy Has a beautiful slightly dark jazz sound. JAMES STANFIELD

April 23, 2017 at 02:28 AM · I recused a "family" violin just before it was put in the trash. I had always been enamoured of it, even though it had existed in pieces under a bed. The history of the violin and bow are lost. However Mr. Riedstra, who brought the violin back to life estimated it was made in Germany between 1920-30, the bow, in Austria at approximately the same age. I hope I can give both the violin and bow the life of music they deserve.

April 23, 2017 at 03:49 AM · I fell in love with a violin 2000km from home, and dipped into a substantial inheritance to pay for it. Could only justify the cost by telling myself it's a sound investment, which I believe it will be. Meanwhile I get to play an amazing instrument which is easier to play because it's so responsive, as well as being a true delight under the ear and to all listeners.

April 23, 2017 at 04:18 AM · The violin has a sad story behind. I purchased it through my teacher. The instrument is his friend violinist's who suffers from severe neuro degenerative disease. She could not play violin anymore due to her illness and also she needed money for medical fee.......

The violin is so good but somewhat I feel little bit of sadness. I can only hope what I payed had helped her to live better..... I love the instrument.

April 23, 2017 at 05:59 AM · My daughter got her free violin from her distance cousin who stopped playing after graduating from high school. It is of surprisingly decent quality and neither my daughter nor I feel the need to upgrade, except when I heard Hadelich in his superb performance of Tzigane.

April 23, 2017 at 08:01 AM · My beloved violin forced her way into my life,against my free will!

let me explain, a client of mine who knew I learned violin had a wrecked violin in his heritage.

He presented it to me with the comment that is has been taxed in the actual state for 1500 €,

As he was a good customer and a became a friend I could hardly refuse,

so I offered 200 €, with the comment that I did not need the instrument

So it became in my posession for 200 and a severe discussion with my wife

after repair from a very good luthier it is my favourite now

in total it costed 1000 €

April 23, 2017 at 09:12 AM · My music teacher saw the wood in its raw state and bought it. He asked John Walker of Solihull Birmingham UK to make the violin, which my dad eventually bought for me. I have had it since I was 18 and I am now 89 and still playing it. Before John Walker passed away I took it to him for a provenance. When I eventually have to stop playing I intend to give it to my best pupil as above everything I want it to be played on and not left hanging in a violin shop.

Norman Moor

April 23, 2017 at 10:57 AM · I was very fortunate that my Mum had a violin bought for her when she was at school, my Mum is now in her 80's.The violin was second hand then and is dated 1861.

It lay in its case for many years untouched but I always insisted that my Mum should hang on to it..

I am delighted to say that I took up learning to play the fiddle fairly recently, playing mainly traditional Scottish tunes. I feel so proud and privileged to be able to play and bring life back to my Mum's violin.

April 23, 2017 at 02:43 PM · I inherited my 1911 Stefano scarampella from my uncle. Heaven only knows here he got it, because no one that I know of on that side of the family plays the violin.

Someday I will pass this violin on to someone else in my family, but not for at least a good 40 years

April 23, 2017 at 02:51 PM · I found mine in need of some repair/restoration at a major auction house. Basically bought it on faith that it would be good after putting some money into it to make it healthy again. Fortunately, everything turned out great and I couldn't be happier! - - Gabriel Pegis

April 23, 2017 at 07:06 PM · I needed a smaller violin. Two bouts of tendovaginitis had told me so, clearly. But what I wanted was not quite easy to find. I rented an instrument, a fairly expensive one, and after ten days realized that we could never become friends. Went to another luthier. Yes, he said, I have something smallish; but what he fetched from one of the deeper recesses of the shop looked like something the cat had dragged in. Dark brown, dusty, messed up by careless hands, obviously uncared for and unplayed for decades; he'd kept it, he explained, because it was a vaguely interesting instrument with an uncommon mix of styles.

Desperate as I was, I decided to take the violin home and give it a try. With praying, fasting, Hill's stick and endless patience the pegs could be persuaded to hold, precariously, a new set of strings. Then - the first bow stroke.

Everybody here will know what a violin unplayed for so long usually sounds like. Not this one. Warm, pleasant, homogenous from the very start. It was as if a straggly street kid had jumped to my neck and held on to me for dear life. That little violin really knew what to make of a chance.

What remains to be said? Next day I was back to the luthier, entreating him to set her up, and quick, please. She lives in state now. Coddled, talked to. Resting in a comfy case and a self-made bag of designer silk. My only worry is: Who will love her, take care of her when I am no more?

April 23, 2017 at 08:48 PM · Like many others, my first violin was either a school loan or a rental. I do not remember. I was eight. In short order, while my parents and us five kids lived in a small two bedroom house, my parents bought me my own violin. That had to be a significant investment for them. Of course, it had a label in it that claimed it to be a Stradivari, miraculously built by him many years after he had died. That violin was my primary instrument until I stopped playing several years later.

I restarted my violin adventure after a 47 year hiatus in late 2015 and had both the instrument from my parents and another one that I inherited from my wife's mother. The one from my childhood is quite nice with a bright and engaging voice. I had it appraised and now know that it was a German instrument built before 1912, probably around 1907. That has become my backup instrument. The violin I inherited is a 1928 Roth in superior condition. The Roth is very responsive with full, rich tones and can really sing. The Roth plays better than I do. My goal is to someday discover its full potential and make it proud of me.

April 24, 2017 at 01:09 AM · Oops. No choice for commissioning it from a Luthier! (Which my primary violin is.) However, I recently purchased a secondary violin online from one of your sponsors, Fiddlershop.com, and I am very satisfied. I watched video demos of his instruments for an entire week-end and found a model in a video demo which was not on his website price list. I loved the overall tone quality and projection and the beautiful finish (based on Elizabeth Pitcairn's Red Mendelssohn). Michael was extremely helpful and sent me 2 violins to try at home. I selected the Holstein bench made Red Mendelssohn and am very happy with it.

April 24, 2017 at 07:46 AM · I found my late 1800's copy of a 1774 Joseph Kloz viola at a car parts swap meet in Decatur, Texas for 100 dollars! After a re-glue of a minor top separation, (maybe one inch long) and a new set of strings, it sounds like a million bucks. The lesson here...No amount of planning can replace dumb luck!

April 24, 2017 at 09:13 PM · First violin an 'ole bills kit fiddle form

Sears. 1967 bought use for $90.Just before enlisting in US Navy . Didn't play much after that. Intentions was to play with area bluegrass band The banjo player and were trying make work but it didn't. .Sold in 1978 for $45.

April 25, 2017 at 02:42 AM · My parents bought me my first violin in the 70s in China. It was not much of a violin but I played it until I left China in '86. Since then I've bought four violins, first three from violin shops in various places. One from a shop in Vancouver BC, a Korean made student violin. The other one was a bench-made by a Chinese luthier in Shanghai. While it is very playable and has a sweet tone, it has small sound. The next one was an early 1900 German Strad copy that I got in a second-hand music shop in Victoria BC. I bought it for less than $1000 but it has wonderful mature sound and good projection. It has cracks and took me twice as much to get repair work done. That was my primary violin for the past 10 years until I've got my current Topa, which is the best I've ever own, a professional level violin that I bought online.

I find shopping violin in person is quite stressful due to the sales pitch and pressure I've experienced. Online shopping from a reputable shop with good trial period (four weeks in my case)and good return policy enabled me not only to take time thinking things over, but also allow me to have extensive testing: trying out not only by myself but also by my teacher and her colleagues in different venues. In addition, it allows me to get my luthier checked to make sure everything is on top condition. Online shopping also has a more flexible price-range, which can be considerable saving.

April 25, 2017 at 11:41 AM · This thread leads to another question related to commissioned instruments. Several top level violinists have commissioned copies of their own rare instruments, sometimes owned by the artists and other times on loan to them, including Strads and del Gesu. Paganini, for example, commissioned Vuillaume to copy the Cannon Strad.

Here's a great article about commissioning copies of instruments, which Heifetz learned to do: http://josephcurtinstudios.com/article/the-art-of-a-commission/ As Heifetz noted, "Yet he [Heifetz] believed that by commissioning a new violin, he could give Curtin the creative latitude to produce an instrument with even greater responsiveness."

With all the extant documentation on many of the finest instruments ever built and the many modern day extremely talented luthiers who have actually worked on, opened up, examined, and documented these famous instruments, there just may be a genius who can outbuild the Stad "Messiah" for $25,000, rather than $25,000,000.

April 25, 2017 at 02:59 PM · My viola was made for me. It accommodates some chronic medical issues--and sounds marvelous. I will never be able to thank Fairfax & Duane enough.

My violin...well, love at first sight when I wasn't even looking. Happens like that sometimes.

April 26, 2017 at 03:06 AM · My current primary violin is an early American instrument made in Boston by Asa Warren White; my parents acquired it for me when I was a senior at university and has been my constant companion for nearly 30 years now. It's quite versatile although really at its best in Romantic and contemporary repertoire.

As a secondary instrument I have what I think may be an American violin made by a German immigrant in the Midwest in the early 20th century (it looks very German, squarish almost like a Hopf Family violin, but it has a mostly illegible handwritten label in English)...it was rescued and revarnished by a luthier after hanging above someone's fireplace for 50 years. It has a very sweet, focused sound; I find it ideal for baroque and classical repertoire.

I also gig occasionally on viola and for that I have a contemporary Chinese viola made around 1999 in one of the Shanghai workshops. It's a good size (15.25 in) for a part-time violist like me; very easy to play, quite resonant and with a surprisingly powerful sound on the C string (I find myself having to tame it sometimes.

April 26, 2017 at 02:31 PM · Two of the three I play regularly, I purchased online after a lengthy comparison tryout. There were others I tried, and I finally selected these two. My parents had helped out with the other -- my third 4/4-size fiddle -- some years before, when I was still in school. Not sure which to call primary, since I divide practice and playing time about equally among the three.

April 26, 2017 at 05:17 PM · When I was 16 my teacher told me she hated my violin sound. The reality was that I didn't practice enough; however, this led to my dad offering me a car or a violin for my 16th birthday. I chose the violin, and didn't have a car until I was a senior in college. After trying around 60 violins from around the country I settled on a nice G. Craske instrument. I now have 5 violins, but the Craske is still my primary and favorite.

April 27, 2017 at 07:57 AM · Antonius Stradivarius Cremonesis Faciebat Anno 1716.The label read on the violin in a pawn shop in 2004. My friend form Mexico showed where was on a top shelf in the back saying it is a very nice violin. So I purchased a week later. The finish was a white violin with no varnish. Being a violin collector I do many a ended up giving it to

someone who never owned a violin .


April 28, 2017 at 04:17 AM · My first is a "Trade Mark Made in Nippon" that I rescued from our local dump/take it or leave it and repaired.... new to violin/fiddle [pardon me please] long time on fretted instruments... A bit strident! but got me started.

Convinced me to go looking and found an old French violin... that is all I'll ever need for my wants/abilities.

April 28, 2017 at 10:20 PM · So many different stories! It's interesting to me that borrowing or renting a violin is a pretty small percentage!

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