Low-Quality Instrument Woes
instruments purchased from the web and other sources do not satisfy the
needs of beginning string players. They might look nice and have an
attractive price, but often they are of insufficient quality to function
properly, and simply guarantee that the player will quit. We offer the
following information to help you remedy this problem:
more than any other players, need three things from their instruments, or
else they will quit:
tuning. The instrument must be
easy to tune, and should stay in tune. Tuning pegs and fine tuners must turn
easily and not slip. Slipping or
too-tight pegs are frustrating!
playing. String heights and
other adjustments should meet all specifications used on
professional instruments. No player
should have to fight their instrument.
This is most important for beginners.
sound. This encourages students
to continue developing their skills.
Materials—Poor instruments are made from inferior
materials. Instrument wood and parts
are available in a huge range of prices, from a few dollars to more than $800
for materials to make one violin. Expensive wood is obviously a luxury, but
it is worth looking for a real black ebony fingerboard and pegs, a
straight-grained spruce top, and nicely flamed maple for the back, sides,
and neck. Similarly, it is worth getting name-brand strings by Thomastik, D’Addario, or Pirastro. Bridges should be stamped with the name of a
respected French company, preferably “Aubert” or “Despiau.” High quality composite tailpieces with
precision screws are preferred.
Craftsmanship--Low-quality instruments are made rapidly by
unskilled workers using power tools on an assembly line. Varnishing is done
by spray-painting. In contrast, better instruments are made by better
makers, and high-quality work requires extensive training, fine hand tools,
diligent effort, and considerable time. Look for real inlayed purfling edge
inlay, not drawn-on black lines. Applying varnish by hand is especially
slow and difficult, but is worthwhile visually and acoustically.
Consequently, properly made instruments are slow to produce and justify a
Setup—Poor instruments come with bad setups,
or no setup at all. Adjustment of strings, bridge, and soundpost is
critical for good sound and easy playing. The bridge and soundpost must be
good quality, properly carved, and well positioned. The fingerboard must be
planed and dressed. Good setups are
done only by trained luthiers, not by sales staff. If you buy a cheap instrument with a bad
setup, expect to pay an additional $200-500 at a violin shop to make your
wonderful bargain playable.
1. Demand properly made and setup
instruments. Good signs are genuine ebony parts, inlaid purfling, flamed
maple, and name-brand strings and accessories. Setup should be to strict
2. Only consider instruments that can be
played and evaluated by trusted people prior to purchase.
3. If you are sold a bad product on the
web, give them a negative review and try to return it!
4. Look for local shops offering a service
guarantee that covers flaws in materials and craftsmanship. If adjustments are needed, or problems
develop, the shop will do free repair or replacement.
5. Look for local shops offering a
“trade-in” guarantee. This means that the shop will accept your initial
purchase from them as a future trade-in towards items of higher quality so
you can easily “upgrade” your equipment as you become a better player (this
is a sign of good quality products, because shops selling poor products
certainly don’t want them back).
All instruments sold at Kenmore Violins are
properly made and set up, are available for free trial, and have service
guarantee and trade-in guarantee.