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The Infamous Violin Shaped Object


By Craig Birchfield

I had a call from a young lady the other day. She was having trouble keeping her brand new violin in tune. I asked if we had sold it to her. She said no but asked if I would look at it anyway. Of course, I said yes. It was a glossy black violin – one of those inexpensive violin outfits that you can get on eBamazon. Since tuning was the issue that was the first thing that I examined. As soon as I brought one of the strings up to pitch it would then drop like a rock. The interesting thing was that the peg was not slipping and the other strings would stay at their same pitch. Obviously, it was not a tailgut or peg issue so the only other alternative was that the strings were so cheap that the steel would not hold pitch and would stretch as I tried to tune it. I mentioned that she would need to replace the strings. Next, I set about to examine the rest of the violin and here is what I found: Strings were improperly spaced on the bridge, the arch of the bridge was way too shallow, the neck angle was wrong, the fingerboard was warped (on closer examination it was cheap flexible plastic and not even wood much less real ebony). I stopped at that point and showed her the issues. I told her to save her money and just return the violin-shaped-object. No charge. My biggest concern in these situations is convincing the customer that I am not just being snooty and bashing the violin to get a sale. I hate when people do that kind of thing but this object was not even worthy to be called an instrument. She politely left but came back a few hours later and rented a real violin from me.

I’ve mentioned the following story before in my blog but it bears repeating. When I was thirteen years old I decided that I wanted to learn to play the guitar. My mother had a guitar and so I started with that but found that it was so difficult to play that I gave up. I reasoned that guitar was just not for me. Five years later I was in college and tried my roommate’s guitar. I was then that I realized I had been trying to learn on a guitar-shaped-object (Harmony Stella) and not a real instrument. Stevie Ray Vaughn would have had difficulty with it and he had hands of steel! I’ll acknowledge that beginners do not need the same level of instrument that professionals but they do need good sounding instruments that are playable and tunable. The beginner actually needs more things going their way than the pro since the pro can usually make a mediocre instrument sound good. Don’t set yourself or your child up for failure. I adjust every instrument in our shop personally for playability. If you don’t buy or rent an instrument from us please do get one from one of the other good dedicated violin shops in our area. they care about getting you a good playable instrument. It might cost you a bit more than eBamazon but it will spare you the heartache of having a violin-shaped-object.

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