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Cheap fiddle, so what

22 May 03 - 05:10 PM (#957883)
Subject: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: GUEST,mary

After listening to all this great Scottish and Celtic fiddling, I decided to get one of my own to play with. I used to play the cello and I can read music so I am not a complete beginner. I ordered a pretty inexpensive one over the internet and it looks great except that one of the fine tuners isn't working. Instead of sending it back, I took it to my local music shop. Big mistake! They crapped all over it (not literally of course)...the tailpiece and fine tuners are all one piece, cannot be repaired...the strings are too high off the fingerboard...the feet of the bridge are too thick...this is really a cheap instrument...just send it back, etc, etc. They said an entry level violin should cost around $600, not $150. Well, so what! I am not trying out for the concertmaster's chair, I just want to play some tunes around the house. What should I do with people like this? Are they really right, am I wasting my time? This place really specializes in school band rental instruments, so they are not exactly highbrow themselves. There is one other violin repair shop in town but I am really scared bringing this fiddle to them. Should I be insulted by this attitude? What would you do?

22 May 03 - 05:19 PM (#957887)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Letty

Well, you know why you bought it cheaply, so I'd say: don't be ashamed!
It sounds like they just want to sell their own instruments. Remember, you can buy a bridge and fine tuners separately.
The violin repairer you're going to might be snobbish too, but, hey, you're paying for those repairs too!

I'm a poor student myself, so if I want to buy an instrument, it'll have to be either a cheap one or I'd be in for a very, very long wait (which is why I bought a Chinese viola for about 150 Euros on e-bay recently!).
That said, a quality instrument usually plays a lot easier...


22 May 03 - 06:07 PM (#957912)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Maryrrf

Plenty of people have learned to play on a not so great instrument, and let's face it, not everybody can afford top of the line. One of the best fiddlers I know plays a fiddle he found at the dump. Also there are stories of old time fiddlers who made their own out of odds and ends (I have no idea how). We've had a couple of threads about luthiers, etc. being snobbish and making condescending remarks about people's instruments - I've had it happen to me. This is rude and uncalled for. They're being paid to perform a service and should just go ahead and do it. I wouldn't pay any attention. Enjoy the fiddle you bought and if the time comes when you want a better one then get one.

22 May 03 - 06:29 PM (#957920)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: GUEST,Egal

Right on Maryrrf!
Another thing;- i did some studio work recently using my old and (very) battered Yamaha guitar, during a pause in proceedings the sound engineer commented "that is a great pickup you have, it has a tremendous spectrum"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He was visibly shaken when i informed him that it had cost me fourteen quid!

Eat ya heart out Dean Markley.


22 May 03 - 07:12 PM (#957940)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Geoff the Duck

I recently bought a violin. It cost me £10 Sterling (about 15 dollars -US). It was second hand - or more - The string height was too high at the nut, but a small (modellers) triangular file soon took them down to just above the fingerboard.
As said by someone else - a bridge can be bought for pennies(well maybe a little bit more, but not that much). A violin tailpiece is only tied on by a bit of gut or nylon, and is easily replaced by the owner. Fine tuners cost a few pounds, whatever design theymight be, and orchestral violinists managed without them for centuries.
It sounds like your music shop are trying to fleece you! Try the other shop and see if they treat you properly, but if they don't, ignore the sods, and come back here for advice. There are mudcatters who can tell you from experience EXACTLY how to do ANY instrument repair or re-jig. There are websites (quoted and linked to in previous threads - can't recall which) where you can see diagrams of how to do adjustments and more complex operations to get a fiddle in good fettle.
The main thing is - Do you like the sound?
Answer YES - KEEP IT
Answer NO - If you can get a refund, do so. THEN Look in second hand/junk shops for a cheap old one. If you see one, take a fiddle player to test it out before buying.
DON'T waste your cash at the "We'll sell you something expensive" shop.

22 May 03 - 07:12 PM (#957941)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: JohnInKansas

Scroll down about 2/3 of the way at Lark and you'll find a new fiddle tailpiece for $15. If the one you have is really "unrepairable" that shouldn't be too hard a fix for the average 9-year old with a pocket knife (you can quote me to your "repairperson.") I'll concede that this one may not be the quality I'd look for if I were patching up a "good" fiddle, but you don't want to spend more on parts than you paid for your instrument. The last time I looked, the fine tuners were about $1.35 each at the highest priced place in my town – although that's been a year or two ago.

Any competent repair person could put a new bridge on, or trim the one you've got – which also cures the "too high strings" and the too wide contact. You should be able to buy your own blank bridge and probably do an acceptable job, with a little "book-larnin'" for about $5.00. (Expect to pay $35 to $50 if you need the confidence of having a professionally installed bridge. There is a significant amount of "fine tuning" to mounting a bridge in the standard way.)

Look for a music store that has "banjo" in the name. You'll get a lot better treatment. The school instrument shops have to impress $$parents$$ with "your kids will meet a better class of people than you if they study music," so they naturally learn to regard all customers as "slobs trying to buy into high society." (Who, me? …. Exaggerate?...)

I know a number of people who play, or have played, $150 fiddles. (I have one, but we won't talk about the playing part.) Some of them are quite good, and I don't know of any who've blamed the fiddle for any troubles they've had. Several of them have moved on to better instruments, but once you know the market even a decent "move up" instrument seldom needs to cost you more than $400-$600, unless you're really into serious, professional use, or you just really learn to love the little monsters.


22 May 03 - 11:22 PM (#958015)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Giac

So what, indeed. I have a so-called student fiddle that I got new for $65US. It has a horrid finish. It's relatively hard for me to tune -- have to spit on the pegs. When I try to play it, the sound that comes out sends my dogs running and neighbor dogs to howlin'. The sound is not unlike a screech owl being eaten by a panther with it's tail in a vise.

HOWEVER, when a fiddling friend picked it up once, it made the sweetest sounds. He said, it "played good," and in his hands it surely did.

You know, I LOVE that fiddle. I've put in a lot of hours trying to play it, and the attempts bring me untold pleasure. It humors me and doesn't explode when I push and pull the frizzy hair across the strings. I think the poor thing knows I'm trying my best and it tries its best to accomodate me. When I can't fool with it anymore, I'll give it to some kid who wants to learn.

If you like that fiddle, fix its immediate problems and play on!


23 May 03 - 05:39 AM (#958114)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: greg stephens

The fiddler I play with regularly on a professional basis plays two fiddle(kept permanently in D and C tuning to fit in with different button accordions). They cost respectively(as far as I can recall) £35 and £15. The audience doesnt generally walk out of our gigs.
    Joe Venuti always played cheap pawn shop fiddles( he was always losing and breaking instruments). For sure, more money gets you a better fiddle. But it's the playing that counts in the end.

23 May 03 - 05:41 AM (#958115)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: greg stephens

I should have added really that I dont imply you could do that on ANY fiddle costing £15! Some fiddles are just crap, and that's a fact. You have to exercise judgement when buying, obviously.

23 May 03 - 07:21 AM (#958131)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: wysiwyg

A friend of mine went through three cheap fiddles (2 via internet) before finding her prize-- a Chinese-made model. (Her internet purchases all came with return/refund provisions.) The tone is gorgeous, the finish is cleanly done, the wood is lovely. But the tone-- no one who has heard it can believe her luck. And I think that's what it is-- luck. Somewhere in China, in the midst of a fiddle-making mill where they crank them out in bulk, there is a luthier hiding among the makers... maybe there is more than one, maybe the odds are not so bad on finding one.

Although it has a few minor problems, these were successfully corrected by a local fiddle-selling music shop. Some of the problems were a result of hasty and clumsy setup by the seller, and some were intrinsic to the construction such as slightly misplaced f-holes making bridge placement a bit tricky. They specialize in the bluegrass trade, so they have seen and repaired quite a few fiddles that had been lying unused in attics, and they know that in instruments, a treasure has to be heard to be found. They were very happy to work on her fiddle, and to tell her what she needs to know about it if she ever takes it to a luthier for other work. They were respectful enough to realize that she will come back to them when she's ready to upgrade, and purchase a good used fiddle. In the meantime, they make a good living at selling strings and books and recordings and bows and..... so they are just happy to see a new player start up.

My husband started teaching himself on a fiddle that had had a big hole punched in the back. His brother is the insurance man who settled the claim, and he had hung it up as wall art. Hardi put a patch over the hole to stabilize it from further damage, and used it, despite the low tone and deadened volume, to decide whether the fiddle was indeed his instrument. White formica looks really funny on the back of a fiddle, but the excellent luthier he took it to, to see if it should be repaired, was also very respectful. This man is a fine, fine luthier and has excellent taste in violins! He explained that the cost to disassemble and remake the two back halves would be too high, although it had been a very good (valuable) violin... so Hardi eventually added another very good used fiddle to his stash (and later another one). But the patched fiddle hangs in his office for those odd moments when he can spend a little time working out fingering, and so forth.... he sometimes lends it to people who wonder if they should take up fiddle... and the diminished volume and value make it a great travel fiddle too.

So I would just consider this a starter instrument, and find a good person to work on it and get it set up just like you want it. If you can't find one, PM me and I'll get you in touch with our bluegrass folks. You can trust them to be truthful, respectful, and reliable, if you want to ship it to them.


23 May 03 - 09:24 AM (#958173)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: GUEST,leeneia

You do need to ask if the flaws might be bad for your hands - for instance, the strings that are too high off the finger board. If it takes a lot of pressure to get them down, that will be bad for you.

You should talk to an expert, such as a teacher with training, before spending a lot of time playing this fiddle.

23 May 03 - 10:22 AM (#958204)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Naemanson

I've met a lot on instrument snobs. There are people out there who go snobby on everything. Just ignore them.

The one good piece of advice I got on buying instruments is that GENERALLY the more expensive instrument is easier to play, thus it doesn't scare newbies off from practicing.

23 May 03 - 10:31 AM (#958206)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: GUEST,Rachel

I'm learning to play the violin on a violin one 'level' above the entry level for Stentor... and there's no problem. I've been playing 18 months and I'm at grade three level, so it can't be so terrible. And $600 sounds far too much for a basic instrument. What is it? About £400? That's how much we've been advised to pay for a pretty decent one.

23 May 03 - 12:01 PM (#958247)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Mark Clark

I think £400 is around US$653 today. From a commercial dealer, that would buy a pretty basic instrument. From a small trader-collector, however, you can do much better. I bought my Magini copy over 20 years ago at a small midwest festival. A guy I'd never met just had a bunch of fiddles for sale by his truck. I wasn't in the market but tried them out and fell immediately in love with one of them. I paid him $187 which probably equates to around $400 today. A dealer in rare violins estimated its value at quite a lot more than that. Professional fiddler Randall Collins offered me $800 for it that same year. I thanked him but refused.

The point is there are ways to get a good instrument without spending a lot of money. At least in the U.S. that's still true. I know an old farmer that buys nearly every fiddle he finds for sale. He has an awful lot of junk but also some very nice instruments and he never seems to know what they are worth. He just likes them.

Aside from the occasional lucky stroke—a friend once acquired an actual LL F5 with “tone reducer” for $125—most new cheap instruments will often be of poorer quality than a used instrument at the same price. But if it sounds good to you and it's mechanically sound… well, what the hey.

      - Mark

23 May 03 - 01:47 PM (#958301)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: bill\sables

I was playing in a session at Whitby two years ago along with a very fine violinist. He plays clasical music with a local orchestra and string quartets, He teaches violin to a high standard, as a fiddler he tends to be a little stiff,
He decided to play a well known clasical piece during the session and all other players stopped playing and there was a total hush over the whole crowd. At the end of the tune there was great applause which is unusual in a music session and someone commented that his must be a very expensive violin to sound like it did. He replied that it was a £60 Lark. "I wouldn't bring an expensive fiddle to Whitby in case someone sat on it" He said.
There's many a fine tune played on an old and cheep fiddle.
Cheers Bill

23 May 03 - 01:57 PM (#958310)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Kim C

I have three fiddles that I play. Flora (yes, they all have names) is my main working instrument. She was built in Romania, who knows when, has a few dings in the finish, and cost Mister a Gibson Grabber bass that had been in the attic for 10 years. The price tag on her was $250 and the music store traded us even. She is a great instrument, with a great sound.

Then there's Hop Sing. I took off the chin rest and the fine tuners and outfitted him with gut strings, to play at living history gigs. I bought him off eBay for a whopping $65 including the shipping. One of the pegs is tight, and that's easily remedied. For a cheap Chinese fiddle, y'all, Hop Sing sounds pretty darn good. There are some things that sound better on him, actually, than they do on Flora. I don't play this one all the time, though, because the gut strings are weather-temperamental.

And then I have Dutchy. We bought him from a friend who tinkers with fiddles, for $125. Now, some of the modifications my friend made to this are not to my liking BUT it is a good third fiddle, for when Mister decides he wants to learn to play, and again, it has a good sound.

I have two others that need parts and TLC - one was given to me by a friend, and the other I bought from eBay.

Because a good violin CAN cost you, I recommend starting with something inexpensive, or even renting. But really, even a cheap violin can be set up to sound good with the right parts and right strings. Violin parts are not at all hard to come by, and are easily replaced by someone who knows what to do.

So don't be discouraged! :-)

23 May 03 - 02:20 PM (#958327)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Zhenya

Mary (guest),
I'm curious where you got the fiddle. I know you said it was an internet fiddle, but what kind of site/business? There are differences.

I've played fiddle for several years, and actually started out by renting one for a year, which was fairly inexpensive. (c. $5/mo.) I got a fairly decent fiddle to work with too. I did this because I had never played a bowed instrument and wasn't sure if I would take to it or not. You may not need to do this is you played the cello. However, by the time I was ready to buy a fiddle, I had a better sense of what to look for, and how much I was willing to pay.

Before renting, I did think about buying an inexpensive student fiddle in one of the local music stores. But even to my non-luthier eye, they looked really poorly made. They were $200-$300, but the wood just looked cheap and everything about them just seemed unappealing. Sort of like a $39 guitar that you would find in Wal-Mart or some such. I knew a few people in my beginning fiddle class who bought these, and they had all kinds of trouble with them. Fine tuners not working, pegs not turning, high action. One person was tuning hers and the whole bridge fell off! (the teacher was able to do an emergency repair.)

After playing a while, I found an instrument I liked for about $700. Some time later, however, I decided to buy a second cheap instrument to use in "questionable" situations. (for example, on a boat, or another place it might be easily damaged.) I ended up getting one from a string instrument catalogue. I bought their cheapest student set up, and got the fiddle, bow, and a case for about $135. (at the time.) The only bad thing I can say about this instrument is it doesn't have much of a tone of any kind. (no richness to it.) However, the set-up is fine, it's easy to play and tune, the sound is even (if not striking) and it would have been find for a complete beginner to learn on. I could see that it was much better than the student instruments I had seen in the local stores.

So I'm not sure exactly what you have there. If it is a "real" fiddle, and you like the sound, then it's probably worth doing your own repairs or continuing to search for someone who can do them. However, if it's one of these really cheap student instruments, and you can return it, I would do that, and then check string instrument catalogues for a better quality inexpensive instrument. Here's a link to Shar music where I bought my inexpensive fiddle:

Shar Music

There are several other companies as well; if you need some others, I can check for the websites for you. Good luck with whatever you decide to do with this particular fiddle, and welcome to the ranks of fiddle players!


23 May 03 - 03:02 PM (#958340)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Kim C

The bridge falling off is only due to not having the right tension on the strings. Brand new instruments often ship with the bridges down to avoid breakage, and sometimes getting them in place correctly can be a challenge. But that doesn't really have as much to do with craftsmanship as it does setup.

23 May 03 - 03:20 PM (#958354)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: GUEST,Mary

Wow! You guys have been very encouraging. I contacted the outfit where I bought the fiddle ( and they were really nice about saying, "just UPS it back collect." But even after a few days I'm getting rather attached to the little fella. I printed out "Will Ye Not Come Back Again" from the Digital Mirror and it didn't sound that bad after playing it through 10 or so times. I played it for my sister over the telephone and she said, "Mary, you're a prodigy" At 45 I can hardly be called that! I think I might try another repair shop if I can find one...or even go to that la-di-da violin ship, hold my head high, and say, "I know this is a very inexpensive model but I would like for you to put on a new tailpiece with fine tuners and replace or adjust the bridge." I have such a tin ear, I couldn't tell if the tone is good or not. In fact, one could argue that I have no business playing a stringed instrument when I can't tell if a note is in tune or not! But it really is just for fun. I doubt I would ever make anyone sit and listen to me...if they overhear my practice, too bad for them. What a nice group of people there is here at the Mudcat Cafe. Thank you all so much for the advice!

23 May 03 - 03:53 PM (#958370)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Kim C

Well, when you are a beginner, your tone pretty much stinks anyway! ;-) You just keep working at it.

24 May 03 - 08:38 AM (#958621)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: wysiwyg

Perhaps if you tell us where you are located, someone might know of a good shop?

24 May 03 - 09:46 AM (#958631)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: GUEST,Mary

I am in the Atlanta area -- it's pretty big so I would say specifically "North Fulton." Actually, I've decided to send it back for another of the same model. I do like it, it sounds fine to me, at least the lower three strings -- I'm still a little nervous of that E string. The country strings folks seemed shocked that I had any trouble and want me to send it back collect. How can I argue with that? But I will miss it since I'm having so much fun playing "Will Ye Not Come Back Again?" over and over and over...

24 May 03 - 11:13 AM (#958667)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: wysiwyg

There have been some good threads about fiddle strings.

Supersensitives are often recommended for beginners, but I think this is because they sound so awful most of the time that when you make a mistake that it sounds even worse and it hurts your ears! A lot of new, cheap fiddles come set up with these-- but aversion therapy and music are bad companions, and they're cheap enough to replace right away-- don't wait till you wear them out. But if your fiddle sounds halfway decent when it's got cheap strings, it will sound wonderful with good strings.

And remember it always sounds different to the listener than it does to the player-- let a good player show you how your fiddle sounds, and trust that you can get that tone out of it too, tho you won't be able to hear it with your ear so close to the top. (I think this is more extreme with fiddles than it would be for cello.)

My husband has found that a full set of D'Addario strings give a nice tone, somewhere between scratchty bluegrass and fulltoned. They are widely available and a good start if you want to restring right away while thinking about other options to try later.

But-- a lot of players use one brand for three strings and a better, more warm-toned brand for the E. My husband's training was classical (piano), and he reads notes and plays for tone, vibrato, and phrasing, not speed. On the advice of the luthier, he tried and has stuck with Thomastik for the three, with a Pirastro E. You can get this setup affordably, through our luthier, by mail-- do a Net search for Jeffrey Judd in Williamsport, PA.

It's a good idea to ask for an extra E string since it's often the first to unwind on you....

Others use other brands in mixed sets.

Did you know you also can set it up as a chin-cello? Supersensitive makes an octave-lower set; add a heavy bow, and presto! You will get a great tone but less volume-- enough to fill a room, but not enough to compete with other instruments unless amplified.   The sound is unbelievable! If you upgrade to a better fiddle later, you might want to consider making the cheaper one into a chin-cello.

There are also affordable Chinese 5-string fiddles... you get a low C, which makes the lower 4 strings into viola tuning and viola range.

Opinions about bridges vary-- a flatter "bluegrass" bridge will make double-stops easier, and a rounded "orchestral" bridge will make it easier to play a clear, solo melody line. Some people shave their own bridges to get something in between. What you will want depends on what kind of music you plan to play.

Have fun, and don't forget to report back!


24 May 03 - 12:15 PM (#958709)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Catherine Jayne

I would like a 5 string fiddle but the cheapest I have seen them at is £1500 (about $2000 ish.)

I agree that cheap fiddles can sound great. Put some decent strings on it and you're away!! Im looking at getting another cheaper fiddle to take to festivals and sessions in pubs so if anyone knocks it or sits on it its not my expensive one that get broken!!

Keep up the good work and enjoy yourself. If you are comfortable with the fiddle thats all that counts!!



24 May 03 - 08:52 PM (#958866)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Ely

Mom's uncle paid 35 cents for an "empty" fiddle case at a tag sale. When he popped it open, he found there was a fiddle inside after all. I recently had a friend of mine set it up properly and, after hearing him play it, I wouldn't part with it for anything. Someone guessed that it was an early 20th century mass-produced instrument (at the higher end of what might have been sold through, say, Sears & Roebuck). It can't be worth much monetarily, but even after several decades without use it's incredibly loud and incredibly resonant.

I only wish I could play it. I took lessons for a year when I was four and my mother keeps telling me, "It will come back to you." I'd like to know WHAT will come back to me. One year of Suzuki isn't going to make much of a dent in the learning process.

So, basically, find somebody who can work on it that isn't such a snob and enjoy yourself. I bought a cheap guitar when I went to college so I wouldn't have to risk my mother's lovely Guild. For $150 at a pawn shop I got a base-level Alvarez that sounds and plays as well as the next, but I won't be emotionally scarred if it's stolen or sat-on.

24 May 03 - 10:48 PM (#958893)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Sandy Mc Lean

The Touch of the Masters Hand
Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioner thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin,
but held it up with a smile; "What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
"Who'll start the bidding for me?" "A dollar, a dollar"; then two!" "Only two? Two dollars, and who'll make it three? Three dollars, once; three dollars twice; going for three.." But no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; Then, wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low,
said; "What am I bid for the old violin?" And he held it up with the bow.
A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two? Two thousand! And who'll make it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and gone," said he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, "We do not quite understnad what changed its worth." Swift came the reply: "The touch of a master's hand."

And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin, A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine; a game - and he travels on. "He is going" once, and "going twice, He's going and almost gone." But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul
and the change that's wrought by the touch of the Master's hand.

                               Myra 'Brooks' Welch

24 May 03 - 11:36 PM (#958902)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Malcolm Douglas

Also several other past threads, and a versification in the DT: TOUCH OF THE MASTER'S HAND.

Doubtless also innumerable past copies of the Reader's Digest. It's a fair point though, if extremely hackneyed; what you do with the thing is what counts, and an expert will always get a better result out of what some might consider a piece of firewood than a beginner could hope for.

Get it set up properly, as has been said. A very decent alloy or carbon fibre tailpiece with integral fine tuners can be had for a few dollars (Wittner and Thomastik both make perfectly good ones, far better than a standard tailpiece with cheap individual tuners attached) and some attention to the bridge can make all the difference to playability. Don't expect a cheap, new fiddle to come perfectly set up any more than you'd expect it to come perfectly in tune. Get the bridge seen to professionally first time round (obviously not by the people you originally spoke to!) but, if the replacement requires it, consider changing the tailpiece yourself. Just follow the instructions that come with a new one. It's remarkably easy, if you take it slowly, and no harder than tuning the thing (which, of course, you would not want to get done at a shop).

Don't be afraid of experimenting, within reasonable limitations (you're not dealing with a precious thing, after all); but do get good advice first so that you don't waste time, effort and money.

25 May 03 - 03:22 PM (#958981)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: NicoleC


If the shop you purchased from is being cooperative, then as then if you can ship it back to have it properly set up this time, instead of replacing it all. If you like the fiddle itself, hang on to it. Stuff like bridges and tailpieces come and go.

There are a very few bargain cheap fiddles out there. The vast majority are junk, but who wants to spend $600-$1000 for a higher level violin (which still isn't going to be that great) to find out if you want to play? The cheap Chinese violins, unfortunately, tend to need a lot of work before they sound decent. New strings instead of chep factory strings and a soundpost adjustment can make a huge difference between a screecher and a decent cheap instrument. A better bow can make a big difference and will be easier to play, too -- just keep your eyes open for something to land in your lap, and you may luck out.

If you can find a good luthier, they will be able to help you decide which adjustments are worth doing and which are not. Alternately, if you get a good teacher, s/he should be able to help in that department and do minor adjustments for you.

Ironically, my "upgrade" from my student outfit cost less than the student model and is 50x the instrument. When you are a bit more knowledgeable and are ready to upgrade, you won't necessarily need to spend a fortune then, either.

25 May 03 - 05:18 PM (#959053)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Peter Kasin

Mary, you also might want to consider an electronic tuner, since you mentioned that tuning is a problem. There are some small models which will fit easily into the fiddle case. They are godsends for tuning up quickly, and you can learn what the correct pitch level is for each string.

....and stay away from that band instrument shop.


23 Jan 06 - 07:48 AM (#1654080)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: GUEST,Mary

Hey Mudcatters,

I posted this thread almost three years ago, I cannot believe it is still on here! But since I just came across it, I thought I'd give an update.

I stuck with the cheap fiddle and didn't go back to the snooty band instrument rental shop. Finally, I got up my nerve to go to the nice violin shop to get some better strings, and they treated me very respectfully. He asked to see the fiddle to see what kind of strings were already on it. When he saw it, he said he had some small repairs he could do to make it sound better. I know one thing he did was lower the nut and it made it a LOT easier to play.

After another 6 months or so, I got a little money together and went back to THEM (insert plug here: Atlanta St. Violins) and bought a 100-year old fiddle which I play all the time and I love! I can't bring myself to get rid of the old one, but I haven't opened the case since the new fiddle came home.

I have been taking lessons for two years now, I practice all the time, I sign up for every workshop I can find, and I have even been to music camp (the Swannanoa Gathering). I can play at our local session without getting kicked out! I have also met some wonderful people. Fiddling has definitely become part of my life, and I can't imagine living without it. And you know, it all comes back to the encouragement I got HERE to stick with the cheap fiddle!! Thank you all!!!!

24 Jan 06 - 12:40 AM (#1654677)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Troll

Please don't forget the OTHER half of the fiddle equation. Get the best bow you can afford. You'll never regret it


24 Jan 06 - 01:00 PM (#1654921)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Kaleea

Sometimes they can be too cheap. As a Music Educator, I've been appalled at the horrendous abominations which are sold in recent years as "Musical Instruments" to include many chinese violins which the poor children of today are being forced to attempt to play. My friend called a violin shop feller in the USA midwestern town where I used to live, & he absoulutely refused to look at the chinese violin of my friend, saying that even $30 for a replacement bridge was a waste of money. It was my opinion, too, but I did not tell that to my friend. So I called a good ol' boy feller with a fiddle/oldtimeinstruments shop, & he put a new bridge on for $20, showing her his old fiddle & encouraging her to think about finding a better used one, which she did. She took it to him to look over before she bought it, and she then went back to him for a BOW of decent quality, as well as anytime she needed strings or anything else.

24 Jan 06 - 10:41 PM (#1655173)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: The Fooles Troupe

"the nice violin shop to get some better strings, and they treated me very respectfully. ...(snip)... After another 6 months or so, I got a little money together and went back to THEM (insert plug here: Atlanta St. Violins) and bought a 100-year old fiddle which I play all the time and I love!"

And thus the snooty shop lost money! :-)

27 Oct 08 - 02:40 PM (#2477391)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what

arthur smith played a 50 dollar sears fiddle his whole life

27 Oct 08 - 11:23 PM (#2477797)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: The Fooles Troupe

Bought one for a few dollars at the tip - it just needed a new gut end holder - nowadays they come as precut lengths with screw fitting.

28 Oct 08 - 12:39 AM (#2477825)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Melissa

I'd never heard of octave strings until I read this thread..and now I want some.

My regular online string places don't seem to have them.
Does anybody have an affordable source?

28 Oct 08 - 08:49 AM (#2478025)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: maeve

"Supersensitive makes an octave-lower set" WYSIWYG

Me too, Melissa. I'm going to have to ask at my favorite luthier's shop.

28 Oct 08 - 09:39 AM (#2478062)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Gedi

After reading this it makes me want to take up the fiddle as well. Unfortunately my time is filled with playing (and improving my playing)the melodeon. Still, Im glad that you stuck at it Mary and can now play with other folk.

And by the way, I dont think there's anything wrong at all in having a cheap instrument as long as it sounds ok.


28 Oct 08 - 05:55 PM (#2478550)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Melissa

I looked for SuperSensitive sets and Thomastik (which I saw listed in an online article) and couldn't come up with a supplier for a set. I did find that octave-lower appears to also be called baritone.

If you find a different brand, Maeve, I'd really appreciate it if you'd come back and let me know the name. The idea of setting up one of my fiddles so it can scrawk lower tones enchants me!

29 Oct 08 - 08:10 AM (#2478890)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Mr Happy

We got a fiddle from Netto supermarket a coupla years back for £29.99 complete with a decent padded case.

Worked ok, esp with some better strings on.

The only crap element was the bow, fibreglass hair.

Nevertheless, I think the fiddle itself was a bargain & has been played by a number of virtuosi in local sessions & sounds just fine

29 Oct 08 - 08:20 AM (#2478902)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: maeve

Will do, Melissa.


29 Oct 08 - 09:40 AM (#2478968)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: maeve

Here is a start, Melissa, with the first 3 links from the same folks; Fiddle and Bow Music Store.

commentary re: baritone strings

Some limitations

Specific strings

I'm trying to remember what Cindy Kallet used for strings on her fiddle. She was aiming for the pitch of a viola with the easy reach of a violin, as I recall. It sounds great as an accompaniment to her gorgeous voice. Here's a sample from her newest cd; well worth buying!

"October Song" Cindy Kallet vocal, & her fiddle strung octave style

29 Oct 08 - 10:09 AM (#2478983)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: leftydee


Take your fiddle to someone who tinkers with instruments (any amatuer luthier will do) and let him work with it. About 10 years ago I bought a chinese made upright bass. It was pretty lousy, but I whittled and sanded the bridge to make easier to play. I also put better strings on it and voila! it's not a half bad player. When people find out that I paid $200 for it they're shocked. It didn't take much to make it passable. Pay no attention and give no money to the snobs.

I own Martin Guitars worth thousands of dollars but I just recorded my new CD on a guitar that I paid $100 for. Why? 'Cuz it has the right sound! Don't let the snobs intimidate you.

29 Oct 08 - 12:39 PM (#2479097)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Melissa

this article has a little bit of information about bowing and tone.

Thanks,'ve sent me searching!

29 Oct 08 - 01:44 PM (#2479146)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: maeve

Melissa's link
Thanks for your link as well, Melissa. It looks interesting...

29 Oct 08 - 02:51 PM (#2479196)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Melissa

Those SuperSensitive strings seem to run about $70 through ebay stores..

29 Oct 08 - 03:46 PM (#2479236)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: maeve

Ouch! Too dear for me right now.

I hope GUEST Mary doesn't mind our slight wandering from her topic of a few years ago.

29 Oct 08 - 04:28 PM (#2479275)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Melissa

that's kind of what I was thinking..sure would like a set, but it seems silly to pay more for a batch of strings than I paid for two fiddles.
But I sure would like a set and I intend to keep watching for a cheaper supplier. That teeny clip in your link only whetted my appetite more!

(thanks for making a clicky of that article, Maeve!)

29 Oct 08 - 05:22 PM (#2479312)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: maeve

You're welcome, Melissa. I wonder what would result from the use of a combination of violin and viola strings? Maybe worth experimenting...

29 Oct 08 - 05:26 PM (#2479317)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Melissa

One of the articles I read said something about emergency replacements and using a combination that included cello strings.

Have you run across a gauge chart for the octave strings?

29 Oct 08 - 07:17 PM (#2479418)
Subject: RE: Cheap fiddle, so what
From: Donuel

I have converted violins to have a fifth string tuned to C on the bottom. Works nicely since the lowest string has very little tension. A violin G string or a viola G string works well.

As for cheap violins, I have Chinese fiddles that out perform French or German. The most important carving is inside on both plates all around the edges. If they are thin enough to freely vibrate along with ribs that are also extremely thin the fiddle will sing with double the intensity of other fiddles. The thickness in the center of the plates must be maintained along with some variable rules regarding tap tones at certain zones.

A hundred years ago the Virzi resonator was an add on to enhance vilin tone. I created the soul post which exceeds the Virzi by enhancing the middle and upper ranges, particularly on instrument that already produce good deep tones. A cubic inch of the material weighs the same as 12 long human hairs. The placement is roughly the same as the human heart in the upper left hand area of the violin or cello.

What not to buy -
Any fiddle with squarish upper shoulders or a violin without big round hips... with the exception of a nice small Guaneri.

Currently I am satisfied with a baroque N Amati cello that was around when JS Bach was still alive. It has been reinforced to take steel strings but sounds as golden as its current gold birdseye maple color. It also lost the original wood on the right shoulder and lower front but has been so that only the shoulder is noticeably smaller when scrutinized.
We all get a dented fender in old age.