To the untrained eye, violins may look the same, with the
obvious exception of color. The differences between a student instrument
and a high quality professional model are not always glaringly apparent,
subtleties matter. Obviously, a violin that costs $200 (including a case and
bow), and one with a price tag of $30,000 (no case or bow) is easy to come to
terms with. The instruments that fall in between these figures need to be examined carefully prior to making
any purchasing decision.
THE STRADIVARI STANDARD
Maestro Antonio Stradivari was the unrivaled craftsman of his day. Hehand-crafted each instrument, piece by piece, with only a few primitive handtools at his disposal. Every phase from wood selection, carving, varnishing,and setup were the result of tried and true methodologies, and superiorcraftsmanship. Stradivari set the standard, centuries ago, thatcontemporary makers strive for.
For centuries, people have been trying to identify Stradivari's secrets. His secret was his uncommon level of skill, and knowing how to manipulate the wood to serve his purposes. He avoided the production mentality of today.
MAN VERSUS MACHINE
The differences between professional and student violins can be determined
by how closely they adhere to what I call "The Stradivari
Standard", as outlined above. The crafting of a professional
instrument is labor intensive. They are made from superior, properly aged wood
(the older the better), hand-carved, hand-varnished, and set up to achieve
optimum tone quality. From start to finish, this takes 180 - 200 man hours.
Student violins are generally carved quickly by pantograph duplicators, or CNC
machines in high volume Chinese factories. Henry Ford's assembly line
model is used to piece them together. The wood is of of the “plain vanilla
variety,” and dried only 1 to 2 years which makes them susceptible to cracking.
The graduation of the top and bottom plates are uniformly too thick, or too
thin. The fingerboards are made from poor quality ebony, identified by traces
of white marbling in the grain, and have a tendency to warp. A warped
fingerboard causes all kinds of problems. The finish is sprayed on quick
drying lacquer, not hand brushed varnish. The set up components; pegs, bridge,
tailpiece, and strings are quality challenged. The nut and saddle are often
softer varieties of wood dyed black. Bass bars are incorrectly sized and
fitted, some models do not have corner blocks...the list goes on and on. The
glossy orange and poorly "antiqued" models are the easiest to spot.
Computers and computer-driven machines have made our lives easier and lessintellectually, and physically challenging. There is no doubt about this, butat what cost? Machines are capable of cranking out thousands of uniformparts that fit into other uniform parts, and result in a finished product.Creative endeavors bolstered by pride in a job well done, the ability toquickly implement design changed, and "thinking outside the box"work to man's advantage. Computers only do what they are programmed to do.
If you are a professional musician, you need a reliable, focused tool toadvance your career. A factory-made instrument does not have a soul you canpartner with. Student instruments do serve a purpose. They are aninexpensive place to start. If you are not 100% committed to the instrument,the rigors of routine practice sessions, and have limited funds to start with.If any one of these applies to your situation... you should be looking atstudent instruments. Do not spend a lot of money in a srudenr instrument,reselling it is going to be tough when it's time to upgrade. Do not "rentto buy" a student instrument.
SOMETHING ELSE TO CONSIDER
Not all hand-made instruments are created equal. No matter how much time and effort luthiers put forth, some instruments just refuse to perform as expected. There are a variety of reasons why this happens. They include; wood that takes more time to break-in, and surrender to optimum vibration patterns. Some instruments are darker, warmer, or brighter sounding than others. Some are more suited to soloist work, and there are others that better meet the needs of chamber, or orchestral players. Then there are those that just refuse to cooperate at all, no matter what you do to them. I call them "student violins" and sell them at a reduced price. Some shops do not acknowledge this, and offer no discount. In this case, you are paying for the label. A student grade instrument may sound very nice, but will never know the pleasure of performing in one of the great concert halls of the world. That's the long and the short of it. I hope this clarifies things for you.
To ask a child who is not yet sufficiently
developed physiologically to take on the rigors of serious practice may
lead to problems later on in life. Stretching, assuming somewhat awkward
arm, hand, and finger positions is not advisable. Anything smaller
than a 1/4 size should be considered a toy. They don't sound good, and
may even discourage the child, and cause them to lose interest quickly.
In my opinion, a child should at least be able to master the
use of table utensils, and be able to tie their own shoes before
attempting far more demanding tasks. That is my best advise to you
Save yourself some money and strife, rent 1/2 and 1/4
sized instruments. Do not tink about buying instruments until your child
is ready for a 3/4 and above.
As an additional note, no
professional workshop will work on fractional sized these instruments.
The repairs are always more than the instrument is worth. We have
worked on them in the past as a courtesy, but can no longer afford to do