I'm just a newcomer to the blood sport of fiddling - though I've played banjo since the 1960s, a fact that upon reflection must have accounted for the nature of my social life beginning in junior high school . . .
I've only been at it since September, and I've probably only travelled beyond "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in my mind, not in my actual fiddling.
I started with a cheap eBay fiddle that just didn't work, so I traded a banjo for 1911 William Durer Strad copy. Playability was significantly better than what the extruded plastic composition of the Chinese fiddle offered, and it made me want to play more.
Then, a month later, I traded another banjo for a fiddle that was made by James Reed, Henry Reed's son. I had just finished writing a book on Tommy Thompson of Red Clay Rambler fame, and I liked the connectedness between that, Tommy and Alan Jabbour, the Hollow Rock String Band and the Reeds. Apart from all that was of symbolic importance to me, it really is a great little instrument.
But since December I've been thinking I really ought to add a "modern" fiddle to the mix, one of those "intermediate" level Fiddlershop models that could be fitted with modern fiddlehed pegs, etc.
However, what I'm learning as I read what you have to say here on FHO, and talk to, well, real fiddlers, is that a "modern" fiddle, a new fiddle built in a quality way, could be too much for me to handle - too much of a thoroughbred race horse when I'm used to a draft horse.
It might have a potential for admirable tone that I wouldn't be able to get at given the novice way I'm still sawing at the fiddle. New fiddle would have too much of a voice, one that I wouldn't be able to harness. New fiddle might amplify all my errors, give voice to all the squeaks and squawks I'm very capable of producing, and thus become a source of frustration to me who expects to remain a novice for a long time.
So, I wondered what Fiddle Hangout Citizens might think . . .
Swing, Snakefinger. Good idea. I purchased two Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Violin Bows on sale around Christmas, and they did make a difference. Might have to consider moving up a notch or two in the bow department - thanks for the recommendation.
OK ..... Indeed ... A fiddle can hold you back if it is of inferior manufacture and materials. A fiddle that is of excellent manufacture and quality materals will only give you more as you learn to play it. The bow advice is good and a better bow may be grown into just like a fiddle. I have a mid level carbon fiber bow from Coda. It is a good bow but it does not have the liveliness of my pernambuco bows. But then it is mid level. ( Diamond SX) . I may have to drop a bit more money on another carbon fiber bow in the future. R/
Fiddles or bows, I say, play lots of different ones, be open to old or new, cheap or expensive, beat up or pristine, ect. Each time you do that you come a little closer to being able to decide what is really going to work for you.
Whenever I went to various Los Angeles upscale string instrument shoppes to give another fiddle a go, I always walked away with a newly made one, not a vintage one. Say what you will about the romance and accepted wisdom that tells us "older is better," today's fiddle makers are an eminently talented lot. My newly made fiddles (a Dimbath and a Klier) beat the competitively-priced vintage fiddles (including a Boston-made fiddle from the 1870's and a Parisian fiddle from the early 20th Century) every time. They simply had better tone. I'm playing happy.
Use Wittner geared tuners. I use them on one of my fiddles and days go by and I have to do little if any tuning. Dreaded weather fronts have little effect on my fiddle. In fact, I am going to have Perfection geared pegs on my Czech made fiddle replaced with Wittners.
I had to smile when I reading a person wanted a "modern" fiddle. Most people are looking around for an old fiddle. I dream of getting and old Roth at a garage sale. But I am not losing sleep over it.
Nowadays I just use a braided carbon fibre bow. Good quality pernambuco bows are expensive and more susceptible to damage than carbon fibre bows. Frankly speaking I am not a good enough fiddler to take advantage of a high quality pernambuco bow.
Modern can have a few different meanings when dealing with violins. Collectors consider instruments made as far back as the late 1800s as modern (the adoption of machinery in the making process marks a divide between the cottage industry of the older generations and the machine-milled instruments ). New instruments can be at all levels, from cheap factory instruments to the finest handmade ones on the market. If you’re just looking for a different sound from what you have already, I’d suggest going to a shop with the violins you have and trying some instruments in your price range, regardless of age. You never know what will speak to you. My only caveat is that some new factory instruments are near impossible to trade in if you eventually decide you want something else. Old fiddles tend to hold value a little better. If you’re just buying to keep or trade with another player, that might not matter as much.
Another thing to keep in mind: a good setup can do wonders for any violin.
Mr. Maxham, You make good points. I'm far more familiar with vintage banjos, and, yes, I did prefer an aged and well made elderly 5-string to a modern one, though at one point, I did drift to contemporary construction for the same reason that drove me to ask this question about "modern" violins: the desire for ease of tuning, mostly. Thanks for your response, especially the point about setup, a point that many FHO members have echoed in PMs to me.
Edited by - brooklynbanjoboy on 03/04/2020 02:45:57
I went through 5 instruments until I landed on my current one which was made, by hand, in 2008 by a professional (not in the US). That said, you have to be able to try out several instruments to tell the difference in what works well for you. A friend bought a fiddle from the same person but a upgrade and it was very loud and not necessarily in a good way. Some online sellers such as Johnson or Shar Strings will loan violins for trial, or you can rent them. Some people don't like the idea of Chinese-made instruments but some of those produced today sound just as good and are much less costly than an antique one (that might have wood that has dried over the years, affecting sound). Buying a good bow is key also. Someone mentioned the Coda Bows which are recommended by many. I went through a few including one of pernambucco by a Brazilian maker (high quality and stamped) which immediately brought out better sound. Then I was in a fiddle shop in PIttsboro, NC and tried out a Jon Paul which beat the other bow by a mile. Also cost less, at $550. Again, as others may have stated, work on your skills then you'll have a better idea of what is working well based on what you hear. Otherwise you'll be spending and spending and end up with things you are not using and maybe will not get a return for your money spent.