Everything important about the violin – from playing the violin, to making a violin – lies in the smallest details. When shopping online for student violins for your child, the rule of “small details continues to apply.” How you ask? When purchasing a violin within the $250 to $900 range, how the violin is setup by the shop selling you the violin can make more of a difference in the final sound and playability of the instrument, than the cost and quality of the instrument itself.
A violin “set up” refers to the final, fine adjustments made to the violin bridge, tailpiece, soundpost, pegs, fingerboard, strings and more. In other words, in the hands of a master violinmaker, a $450 violin can sound better than a superior violin priced at $900 due to the small details that go into an expert new violin setup.
Online violin shops offer student and intermediate violins for sale that are actually handcrafted by makers, usually in other countries like China. These violins are built – and sound – much better than violins manufactured in a factory. The craftsmen who build them are good, but usually not great makers. So even handcrafted violins are shipped to the United States with a minimum, generic setup. If the online store where the violin is purchased does not have a reputable shop behind it, with master-trained luthiers present to improve the initial setup of the instrument, odds are that the violin that will be delivered to you will simply not live up to its potential.
There are obvious reasons why you, as a parent purchasing a violin for a student, would want the violin to sound as good as it possibly could. But an expert violin setup does more than improve the violin’s quality of sound and tone; it improves and ease of playing and the playability of the violin, too. This fact illustrates the importance of an expert setup more than anything else. Who doesn’t want to make an already-difficult instrument easier for a child to play?
A caring and more-than-competent violin shop is not satisfied with the minimum generic setup of instruments arriving from factories. A shop with conscientious makers will make a few important tweaks to the instrument, typically in the following areas:
Bridge – though the bridge is a small and unassuming accessory on the violin, its importance is large. A poorly carved and fitted violin bridge makes or breaks the violin’s sound and playability. Small adjustments from an expert will make all the difference.
Fingerboard – the long ebony fingerboard lies between the tailpiece and bridge to the nut. Violins from the factory often need to have the fingerboard removed and re-secured and repositioned for ease of playability.
Soundpost – the small wooden dowel in the violin between the front and back plates of the violin and held in place by friction transfers sound between each. Adjusting the soundpost in miniscule amounts can dramatically alter the tone and overall volume of the instrument.
Tuning Pegs – are used to secure a string to the pegbox of the violin. Pegs usually need to be adjusted to fit property in the pegbox hole so that the pegs turn easily and do not slip.
Strings – violins from the factory are not fitted with top-of-the-line strings. A shop will almost always replace the low-level strings with higher quality strings to improve the sound of the violin.
It is up to the parent to perform their due diligence when researching where online to buy an instrument. Obviously, it’s better to go to a local and reputable violin shop and make your purchase in-person. But if there are no local violin shops – and even if there are – there are advantages to buying online from a reputable and even renowned shop that will offer the violin at a good price with an expert setup.