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FYI, FAQs and Salient Points


By Craig Birchfield

I often hear the same questions or comments repeated by many of our customers so I thought that I would dedicate a blog entry to address them. This may help you in your violin journey, cello quest or it may just be of interest to you.

Comment: We don’t know anything about violins (violas, cellos, basses) and don’t even know where to begin.

Reply: For many beginners or parents of beginners this can be a dilemma because you may not even know what questions to ask. This is quite common. We believe that shop owners I have an obligation to shoot straight with you and show you your options. We view this as an educational process. There are no stupid questions – just sometimes dumb or incomplete answers.

Question: Our violin (viola, cello) won’t stay in tune. We bought it somewhere else and I think that we have a bad instrument.

Reply: Not necessarily. As much as I would like to sell you a better instrument I need to tell you that a slipping peg is the most common ailment for bowed strings. Even Stradivarius violins worth millions of dollars can have a peg slip. It’s basically a 5000 year old tune system (long predating the violin) and it is subject to the whims of the weather. Adjusting the pegs of a violin or cello takes about ten minutes and it’s free for all the instruments that were purchased or rented from us.

Question: What do I do when my child grows out of this?

Answer: Most reputable shops have trade-up policies. Not all trade-up policies are equal, however, and you need to ask up front how their program works.

Question: Can’t we just buy the next larger size for Suzy and let her grow into it?

Answer: Not from us. A child can actually hurt themselves trying to play a too-large instrument, especially a violin or viola. This is why we have free size trade-ups on rent and rent-to-own instruments and full value less $35 trade-ups ($50 cello) when you purchase. We want your children to have the best opportunity to learn music without discomfort or frustration.

Question: Are Chinese violins junk?

Answer: Some of them. Some of them are quite good and some of them are extraordinary. The country of origin makes a lot less difference than you might think. For example: From the late 19th century up to the 2nd World War and even up to the 1950s the largest manufacture of inexpensive violins was Germany. We all believe that Germany is the home of craftsmanship and precision but many thousands of very cheap violins were made there as well. I have a used German student violin in my inventory that has been here for years. It is a viable instrument by a well know German manufacturer and has a list price new of about $1500. I am trying to get about a third of that for this used one. When I compare it to one of our nice new Chinese violins in the same $500 range people will invariably choose the latter as the better sounding violin.

Question: Are these all handmade?

Answer: A qualified yes. I prefer the term handcrafted and reserve the term handmade for more expensive instruments that are typically made in a small shop by a few luthiers using mostly (but not necessarily completely) traditional methods. Wooden violins are not built by robots (at least not yet) but by human hands. Other than the cost of the materials, most of the difference in the price of one violin (or cello) from another is the amount and quality of the hand work. An instrument that is methodically dialed in by a journeyman craftsman is by necessity going to be more expensive than an instrument made quickly by factory workers using patterns and power tools. This is not to knock the factory worker but it is more like a ratio. Everything else being the same, higher quality and quantity of workmanship equals a higher price.

Comment: Little Billy is just a beginner and doesn’t need an expensive instrument.

Reply: Little Billy doesn’t need a Very expensive instrument to get started but that statement needs to be qualified also. I’ve seen too many parents and beginners go out and buy a really cheap instrument (often under $100) and then find out from the teacher that it has serious issues and that they have just wasted their money. The better the instrument sounds the more a beginner will be drawn to it and usually, it will also be easier to play (The exception is a professional instrument that may be a little temperamental to play but which yields extraordinary sound in the right hands). There needs to be a balance between cost considerations and the typical student frustrations that are typical of a too-cheap instrument.

Comment: We want to see if Veronica likes it before we invest money.

Reply: I understand your position. This is why we offer both straight rent and rent-to-own programs. Still, a major (yes, major) factor in the success of a child’s musical education is the attitude of the parents. Study after study has shown that success in learning a musical instrument yields benefits of amazing proportions in many other areas of a young person’s development. We are not advocating forcing a child that has no desire or aptitude whatsoever to learn music into a draconian regimen though the opposite is probably just as bad, Leaving something as important as a musical education up to the whim-of-the-moment for a child. The word Parent is a noun but Parenting is a verb and denotes action on our part to encourage and guide a child. Math, English and History are not subjects that are options in American education. I would defend the idea that Music Education should not be either.

Question: Who makes all of the pretty quilts in your shop?

Answer: My wife but that’s another story.

Keep practicing

Craig