Intermediate violin buying guide: 5 questions for consideration
People who have been playing violin for three to four years may be ready to upgrade to an intermediate instrument. We hope you can narrow down your search by reading and contemplating the following questions.
1) What is an intermediate violin?
An intermediate violin should be a step up in terms of quality from a student violin. A student violin should be less than $1000 and many will be under the $500 mark. At this price point they will come as a complete package with case and bow. Generally, violins over the $1000 price point will not come with a case and bow, so this will have to be a consideration when looking at the total price you want to pay. A student violin will come with a student grade bow and should have decent strings. However, they will not be comparable to the quality of strings that intermediate violins are set up with.
Intermediate violins may be produced in China in the workshops of renowned luthiers like Scott Cao or Jay Haide. On the other hand they may be European made workshop violins like Helmut Illner violins or they may be vintage violins. In comparison, an advanced violin would include those such as Italian modern maker violins that are made by one maker, or under the direct guidance of a particular luthier, those with high grade European wood, or vintage violins attributed to a well- known maker. Their cost will range from $8000 to several hundred thousand.
2) Who is the player and what is the intended purpose?
Some violins are natural soloist violins with a bright and bold sound that naturally suit players looking for a gutsy tone or who are playing solo. Others are subtler and more subdued and may be more suited to an orchestra. An adult who has discovered a new passion or is fulfilling a life-long dream may want to invest more money in a violin than a parent of a fourteen-year-old child. That of course, however depends on the fourteen-year-old child. Are they continuing violin as it is compulsory subject at school or is this a child who lives and breathes the violin and never has to be reminded to practise? The answer to this question should guide you on your next question…
3) What is your budget?
This is the first question that often stumps people. A very rough guideline would be to expect to pay between $1000 and $5000. Whilst resale is always an option, violins priced in this range are not thought to be an investment in general and therefore we would encourage the player to choose what they like and what suits them rather than choosing something for the perceived value reflected in the asking price as, again, choosing a violin is personal.
4) Vintage or new?
There is a perception with some people that a vintage violin must be better than a new one. The answer is not that straight forward. An intermediate violin will generally be one commonly referred to as a ‘trade violin’. This term applies to violins that were produced in workshops with a specialist to work on each part of the violin. For example, someone who carved the scrolls, another person who carved out the back etc as opposed to one luthier producing all parts of the violin. This method of production came into prominence in the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and was a much more cost-effective way of producing violins. This is to some extent reflected in their price as it is possible to buy a violin dating from, for example, 1880 for around $1200 to $1500. However fine examples of trade violins can also fetch in the vicinity of $10 000.
The advantage that vintage violins do have over modern violins is that the wood has had time to age and season. As a result, this can produce a beautifully warm and rounded tone. Conversely, we often find that some of our trade violins lack the evenness of their modern counterparts. For example they may possess a mellow and honeyed tone on the G string and a duller, less remarkable tone on the D string. Modern violins also have a potential sound value that has to be taken into consideration as violins do develop and take on richer characteristics after they have been played in for several months. The other advantage of modern violins is that the reputation of the maker, place of origin etc is known, whilst there is always a degree of speculation involved in attributing the maker, country, year, etc of vintage violins. In short, we strongly advise potential buyers to try both and to go with the violin that speaks to them.
5) What else do I need?
As discussed previously, intermediate violins generally come without a case and bow. Student violin bows start from $59 and, whilst adequate, would not usually do justice to an intermediate violin. We would recommend anything from a Brazilwood bow at $99 or greater in terms of value/ quality. Whilst it is possible to spend thousands on the bow itself, we advise the spending priorities to go on the instrument first, the bow second (as it does affect the ease of playing) and the case last. Cases start at $99. More expensive models of case would include European made cases, carbon fibre or leather cases. Keeping aside an extra $200 to $300 should allow for provision of a decent intermediate bow and case.
Buying an intermediate violin requires some time. It is a larger and more important purchase than that of a student violin and reflects the input and hard work of the player in achieving advancement in their playing. An intermediate violin is a completely personal choice. However, reflecting upon the purpose, the player, your budget, the types of violins available and what else you may need, will help when it comes time to upgrade – as we, of course, will too!