Why is This Violin Better Than That One?

One of the questions we are asked a lot here at Fiddlershop is “why is this violin better than that one?” And while there are usually some succinct answers, I’d like to encourage you to think about this question from a different perspective.

There’s No Spec Sheet

Last week I was helping my wife shop for a new laptop, and the process was pretty simple. When shopping online we could filter out all the computers that had more than 4 GB of RAM, a solid state hard drive, an HDMI port, etc, then sort by price, and read a few reviews to confirm we were making a good choice, and that was it.

When I started thinking about this process compared to shopping for a violin, I realized just how much more nuanced musical instruments are. There isn't a spec sheet for instruments that indisputably says one is better than the other. So then, how do we know?

Ingredients matter

The first reason that makes one instrument better than the other is that the ingredients matter. Just like when cooking a fine, five course meal-the quality of the meats, the freshness of the vegetables and spices you start with dramatically impact the end result.

Likewise, the quality of wood - where it’s from, its age, how long it's been dried, its flawlessness, the wood grain width, the level of flaming (or appearance) are some of the variables the instrument makers consider.

It’d be so much easier to say “This violin has 4GB of power, and that violin has 8GB of power, so since 8 is better than 4, this one is better” but that's not how it works.

Craftsmanship

Even If you gave Rachel Ray and me the exact same ingredients and said “Go make a lasagna!” the result would worlds apart. Rachel has world class expertise, and I prefer to drive-thru Taco Bell. She has studied the great lasagna makers, has the recipes for the worlds best lasagnas, she can sense when a lasagna is going to be done, she has a “feel” for how much sauce is too much. 

Likewise, instrument and bowmakers all vary in expertise and in their abilities to source the best materials and improve upon their previous work.

Speed of production

(the following is purely hypothetical)

If you wanted to eat a lasagna made by Rachel Ray, it would be expensive. She only makes a few lasagnas every year-you’d have to be invited to her house, or if you could hire her for your private party it would surely cost thousands of dollars.

Let’s suppose though that Rachel Ray decided to make her world famous lasagna more available.

The next best place where you could get her lasagna would be the restaurant connected to her TV studio. Here, professional chefs have been mentored by Rachel herself to replicate her award winning recipe. At the restaurant, two or three talented chefs carefully and faithfully prepare the delicious dish every night for a reasonably priced $72 per serving. 

But even then, reservations are hard to get, there's a 6 month waiting list, and it’s not something you could afford to eat that often.

But you’re in luck, because the  Rachel Ray signature lasagna is now available in the frozen aisle of your local grocery store for only $4.50 a box! This frozen meal, after being heated up looks like lasagna, smells like lasagna, and fills that lasagna shaped hole in your life.  But after microwaving it for 10 minutes, it’s a little crusty on the edges, and the center is still cold.

This lasagna was made in a commercial kitchen by a larger team of food engineers. One person just makes sauce all day, one person just cooks the pasta all day, etc. If the noodle guy gets a little distracted and overcooks the noodles, the cheese lady can’t fix the noodles on the plate-her job is to put the cheese on the noodles, and then pass it off to the sauce guy.

This would be similar to how violins that cost under $300 are made. There’s still actual humans at every step along the way, even though they may use more modern, power tools that can “do the job” faster than the hand planes and knives that traditional makers use.

But before you think I’m a total snob, and that all instruments under $300 are garbage, where this analogy falls apart in regards to violin making is that as it turns out, when you do one or a few tasks all day, every day, you actually end up getting to be very good at it. You can start to see details and patterns that are only learned by seeing hundreds and hundreds of examples.

This is what has happened in many of the violin making factories in China for example. Along with incredibly low cost of labor, many of these “assembly line” style factories that make instruments have improved astronomically to the point where today, the quality of instrument for the price is unbeatable.

A Certain....”I don’t know what”

Lastly, as with most things musical, is that it’s not always so logical.  I’m all for understanding how things work, so we can replicate it and form a system, but there also needs to be room for a little bit of magic, a little bit of spontaneity that doesn’t make sense, a little je ne sais pas.

Part of that magic is how an instrument responds in the hands of the player. Every human is different, approaches their instrument differently, and has differing expectations of what they want to hear.

While that doesn’t necessarily factor into the price of an instrument (because instruments are not fundamentally priced because of what they sound like), it does have a huge impact on the final decision to purchase an instrument or not.

Here at Fiddlershop, we are big believers in the importance of comparing instruments in your price range, which is why we make so many YouTube comparison videos to help our customers hear the differences.

 

And if you still need more time to decide for yourself, we’d love to set you up with an in-home trial so you can really feel confident about your decision.

 

If my lasagna metaphor didn't make any sense, or there's any questions we can help you with, don't hesitate to give us a call today.

Be well, and practice well!

Educational

13 comments

Michael OGieblyn

@V T
That’s so true as well! Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder, eh, beholder…um….lasagna holder? Thanks for reading :-)

V T

Good post! One take-away: You probably do love lasagna a lot…. :)
My simple 3-cents (2-cents inflated): How a dish of lasagna tastes would vary from taster to taster, and so would the violins’ sounds to various players’ ears. Tastes vary, and the same is true for music tastes.

Fiddlershop

Hi Farid! Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your experience! Yes, your are definitely correct when it comes to violins sounding different, even the same models. This is one of the reasons we offer comparison videos to many of our customers. The preference varies — some people like a brighter sound whereas other prefer a darker tone. We have also noticed that our Chinese workshops are more careful nowadays and have better and more skilled luthiers, thanks to our demands. Great for the wallet!

Farid Hussain

Thanks for the article and your videos are loads of fun too! Certainly each violin is unique because an unforeseen element is always around the corner.I have heard quite a few 925s but only 1 or 2 are similar to mine.I have the Guarneri pattern which is another factor for its particular sound. Chinese violins seem to be way better now because my friend’s older one sounds bland compared to mine.

Fiddlershop

Hi Cynthia! Please share your lasagna recipe – lol! Yes, there are for sure great Chinese instruments on the market today. Thanks for your great feedback regarding the packaging, that is always great to know. Have a wonderful day! :)

Fiddlershop

Annette! That is so sweet of you – a big thank you! You are an amazing customer and we feel like you have been a part of the Fiddlershop family for a long time already. We do put our soul in our work (which doesn’t feel like work most of the time lol) and have so much fun at the shop! Hope to see you in Florida one day! Hugs from all of us <3

Fiddlershop

Hi Joctan! Thanks for your kind words – they are greatly appreciated! And thanks for being our customer! We truly enjoy what we do and have the best staff in the world, we believe. We will for sure keep the blogs coming :) Thanks again!

Mark

Great article and very true. I don’t care what the lasagna looks like as much as the sound it produces. Not flatulence, that would be a beginner sound.
Taking awhile to decide and I’m not in the position for an in home trial. The grand Amatti is still in the lead.

Michael OGieblyn

@Bill Gunn Thanks for the encouragement! We cannoli do it with your support :-)

Bill Gunn

I like the analogy and comments – definitely a pizza sound advice, with serious intent and definitely not pasta joke.. :) – LOL – sorry Mike, couldn’t resist – I can see this comment being moderated out !!! Yay, FiddlerShop Rules, all the best folks !

Joctan Acuna

Very well explained. I have been a Fiddlershop customer for a couple of years now and knowing that they are there for you every step of the way in finding the right violin for you is simply above and beyond amazing! Please keep these blog posts coming! So educational

Annette Nelson

I have purchased 5 violins from the Fiddlershop along with bows, strings, rosin, etc. The employees have been most pleasant and helpful at answering my questions and making recommendations for me. Then…there is the Fiddlerman..com for sheet music and videos and a blog so you can converse with other violin players. Pierre and gang provide a wonderful shop and lots of fun for all who play…or want to play the violin!!!!!

Cynthia

I loved this article. But, I have the best lasagna recipe! 😁
Seriously, your explanation and comparison to Rachel Ray making lasagna was very good.
The explanation of how the Chinese instruments have increased in quality due to so much experience in making them will, hopefully, open people’s minds about them. This will allow them to purchase the lesser expensive violin, viola or cello, instead of saying they can’t afford the more expensive non-Chinese instruments and give up the idea of playing violin, viola or cello. Maybe, this article will help them take the leap with an instrument they can afford. I agree they are good instruments.
Also, trying instruments at home, like you offer, is terrific. Nothing beats trying them out personally. The packaging performed by Fiddlershop is excellent and that will make returning those you don’t want to keep that much easier. Just keep that packaging material and repack the same way. I kept the packaging of the violin I kept in case I need it for any reason.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Featured products

Best-SellerHoliday SpecialSave $44.80
Fiddlerman Concert Violin OutfitFiddlerman Concert Violin Outfit
Holiday SpecialSave $14.85
Holstein Yellow Sandalwood Violin BowHolstein Yellow Sandalwood Violin Bow
Holiday SpecialSave $9
Yumba Abeja Violin & Viola RosinYumba Abeja Violin & Viola Rosin