Townfoot Estate, Brampton, Cumbria

Omega Music

Omega Music's guide to buying inexpensive student violins


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Of all the instruments, the violin has the most firmly established shape and size. These have changed little since the design of the famous 16th century Italian violin makers. The changes that have been made are small and none has occurred for a hundred years.

In short, even very inexpensive instruments adhere to the same design. All manufacturers must use the time-honoured shape and basic dimensions.

What should really matter to the buyer is how accurate the copy is.

The key areas are the profile of the inner carving of the top and back of the violin: that is, the thicknesses of the wood. The most important factor is for these profiles to release the best sound possible from the woods used. The test of the success of the manufacture is always how well does it play? How convincing is the sound? How rich is it, in all registers?
Of course, within limits, every instrument will be a little different, because no two pieces of wood are exactly alike.
A measurable factor is the weight. A full size violin (without a chin rest) would ideally not weigh more than 450 grams: preferably about 430 grams.

Another very important factor with any violin is the angle of the neck to the body. Regardless of price, a correctly made violin must have this exactly right or the instrument will be difficult to play.
A correctly set neck will give a gap of between 3 to 4 mm between the end of the fingerboard and the underside of the ā€˜Eā€™ string.


The materials

Just as the design of the violin should not to be compromised, neither should the materials used.
The top needs to be straight-grained spruce.
The back and sides should be maple, preferably with some figuring.
The fittings should be a dense hardwood. Ebony is best for the finger-board. The pegs and chin-rest can be ebony or rosewood. The tail-piece can be an alloy or ebony or rosewood.


The strings

These will nearly always be a factory string of only medium quality. Better results from your violin will always be achieved by having a quality set of strings fitted. These can be fitted before purchase or later.


The set up

Before purchasing a violin, make sure that the seller guarantees that the instrument is correctly made and that materials used are traditional. The instrument should be set up, tuned and ready to play before it is handed over. Ideally the violin should have a check-list, outlining the procedure.