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The fiddle reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

208 reviews in the archive.

Chinese: Bluegrass Shack Handmade Chinese

Submitted by EricBluegrassFiddle on 8/25/2015

Where Purchased: The Bluegrass Shack

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: 400 ($US)

Sound

Even though I planned not to purchase a fiddle just yet, I saw and heard this fiddle on The Bluegrass Shacks website and decided to pull the trigger since they had a 7 day trial and I came into a bit of cash through a settlement. I wanted to see if I could get something that was better than my Gliga, but within about the same budget as my Gliga. This fiddle was handmade by a special, small shop in Beijing China that works with the Bluegrass Shack. Chris Armstrong ( owner ) said she basically tells them what she wants and they make it and ship it to them. Chris told me that their clients have been very happy with the quality of these fiddles from this little Chinese shop. The fiddle has a very thin "distressed" kinda reddish/yellowish varnish, and it's been purposely antiqued to make it look old, really old. It's VERY well built, solid and has some really nice flame in the back, sides and neck, it's actually very flamey. I am VERY pleased with this fiddle and even though it's in the same price range as my Gliga, it has a much fuller sound and definately has more volume. This fiddle definately has what I'd call "that Bluegrass tone and sound" without a doubt. I'd say it has a bright, full sound that's not harsh and pretty even across the strings although the G and D string is a bit stronger, beefier. My Gliga has a smoother, wispier tone but not nearly as loud and doesn't project nearly as well as this one. I had asked Chris if she had anything that fits the bill of what I wanted and she recommended this one. I should mention that the fiddle also has a bit thinner neck profile and I now think I prefer this thinner neck over the Gliga neck which is a bit wider. It seems to also be more responsive than my Gliga as well. So, I'd say same price, but an improvement in sound overall, a win win for me right now.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The BlueGrassShack does a good fiddle set up in my opinion. It's a bit higher action than my Gliga, but not much as it's still very low. The nut is nice and low and the fiddle has a nicely cut and fitted "Aubert" Maple bridge. The bow and case that came with it left ALOT to be desired but maybe that helps in keeping the overall cost down, so you get a good fiddle at a low price. The action was great but the strings were horrible so I changed those and put some Helicores on it. I didn't have to touch it really, just tune it up and play it for the most part. Well, I should mention, the pegs were a bit tight so I took them out, added some Hill compound and now they are very smoothe. The fiddle tunes very well.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Ok, this fiddle has a reddish/yellowish distressed look and it was built and varnished this way purposefully. The varnish looks as if it was applied, and then buffed out and "off" very heavily in spots over the bouts and then they added some discolored stains or "worn" spots to make it look used, beat up and old, which they did a VERY good job of doing! Some folks, perhaps most, would hate the varnish color, not me though. My Gliga, while antiqued is maybe a bit prettier in the standard fiddle sense antique varnish wise. However, I like this fiddles distressed and antiqued varnish and look even more. It helps it to really stand out also if it ever gets stolen, there's no mistaking it. The wood I assume is maybe Asian Spruce and Maple? I say that cause it's Chinese built but it could be European or even North American tonewood, hard to say. It is VERY heavily flamed, the back and sides and even the neck and scroll....I really like it! The Spruce top is fairly tight grained and the fiddle, overall is very very nicely built, clean craftsmenship with a nice scroll. It feels very solid and is "light" as a feather, lighter than the Gliga, it really resonates. I think it's a Strad body but with "Guarneri" style cut F holes...I think but not sure. I give the varnish and everything a 7 cause I know folks would think it's ugly, but I'd personally give the varnish a 9 honestly, I like it, I think it's different and it;s not gloppy or thick, it's very thin. The fingerboard is smooth, nicely polished Ebony as are the parisian pegs. The scroll is nicely carved. I'd say overall the workmanship, build and wood wise is a step up from my Gliga. I should say the thin new varnish does have a kinda sweet, woody aromatic smell to it, almost cedarish or maybe something in the varnish used? It's not particularly offensive smelling but maybe some folks wouldn't like it. However, little by little the smell is calming down a bit. I prefer a Guarneri style chin rest and didn't like the one that came with it ( Birdseye Maple ) but I've since gotten used to it LOL. This fiddle also seems to have a bit higher arching on the top and back than my Gliga. I was looking at that yesterday and noticed this feature. The arching on my Gliga is flatter while this fiddle is a bit higher, more arched.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

The tailpiece is Ebony, with 4 fine tuners. I thnk the hardware is good on it and will last, yes, no worries there and if not, I'll replace it.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

I had been looking at a few other fiddles from reputable dealers here on the FHO, but they ended up being out of my budget for right now. I saw Chris's fiddles and asked if she had one with the tone and sound I wanted within my limited budget. She recommended this one, sent it and I fell in love with it. I think this fiddle could be my primary one, if not a REALLY good back-up. It's better than my Gliga so I think I'll unload my Gliga soon. I'll sell my Gliga, use some of the funds from that one to eventually purchase another step up, a KC Fiddles or Royce Burt fiddle, but this new fiddle has really grown on me. I'll keep this Chinese one but unload my Gliga most likely at some point.

Customer Service: 9

Components

The overall sound of this fiddle stands out. It's bright, yet full. The highs really sing, especially when I play in B or B flat and slide and play alot of blues. Yet when I shuffle or play some fiddle tunes, it sounds powerful, is crisp with a bit of bite and it really projects. Having said that, it's still new so it will actually get EVEN better!! Chris told me this fiddle was one of her better ones in my price range and would be heard in any jam setting or group yet not sound harsh. She was right on in her description and this fiddle really is a right fit for me. I actually think it's even easier to play than my Gliga and I even like the slightly higher action. The thinner neck seems to make certain double stops easier and string crossing as well. The only thing I upgraded was the strings ( obviously ) and I chucked the cruddy, cheap case and bow that came with it.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Great little purchase for $400. I was looking at some KC and Royce Burt fiddles originally, which I think I'll purchase one of those soon also as soon as I unload my Gliga. But overall for $400 or so, I think you couldn't beat it. It's Chinese built but very nice and very good quality. I'd purchase another one if it got stolen and I couldn't get this one back. It was nice to have a 7 day trial as well. This fiddle would be a great sounding fiddle for jams and festivals and playing outside getting hot and sweaty in parking lots and campgrounds and even on the stage. It looks funky, distressed look, but I like it, has a good strong sound and good tone.

UPDATE - Sept 23rd 2015:

Had this fiddle a few months now, has a very strong sound, plenty of volume and is getting even better with play. Last night I took it to a jam for the first time and had no problems cutting through the mix whatsoever. Their were quite a few other instruments and I didn't have to play it hard at all for it to be heard and alot of folks complimented me on the sound of my fiddle.

Overall Rating: 8

Carbon fiber bow: Premier Carbon Fiber bow

Submitted by EricBluegrassFiddle on 10/23/2014

Where Purchased: Guitar Center

Overall Comments

I'm a rank beginner but this little CF bow is a great buy at only about $70 bucks or so. It's light and easy to use and I like how it grabs the strings. I'd recommend it as a great little cheapie CF bow.

Overall Rating: 7

Gliga: Gliga Genial 1

Submitted by EricBluegrassFiddle on 10/20/2014

Where Purchased: Gliga USA

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: US 350 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This Fiddle is a huge upgrade from the VSO I have been playing. It has a very pleasing tone, not overly bright or overly mellow, the G string is a bit weak though, but not to bad. I flattened the bridge for ease of Playing double stops for Bluegrass and Old Time music.

UPDATE - After about 3 weeks it's already beginning to open up some as I play it daily. The "A" and "E" strings have opened up considerably and the "G" and "D" strings are on their way and breaking in as well. I will update this periodically.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The pegs were really tight so I added some Hill Peg Compound and not suprisingly. It's traveled from Romania to California to Florida and now to Argentina LOL. Also, I flattened the bridge radius to make it easier to play. It was easy to set up, much easier than my old fiddle, actually, this fiddle required virtually "no" set up to be honest. The nut was filed nice and low and the string spacing was perfect, I really like the neck and Ebony fingerboard, sliding seems easier, especially when playing double-stops or closed positions.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

It is VERY easy on the eyes. Has a thin, but very nice chocolate to dark brown oil finish on it, not thick or gloopy at all, actually rather thin and nicely antiqued. It has beautiful flame on the ribs and back and the top has interesting grain also. I'm quite suprised at the quality of wood selection that goes into such a cheap instrument. Its European Maple and Spruce from the Carpathian mountains of Romania/Czech Rep....seems to be very nice quality. The fingerboard is Ebony, as are the pegs, tailpiece and chinrest also. The bridge is standard soft Maple and was fitted nicely to the top. Soundpost seems well placed also. The scroll has a few "rough spots" on it where it needed to be sanded just a tad more, but no biggie...all in all, it's beautiful!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The finish does seem thin but I see that as a good thing, the Fiddle is soo light it would seem as if it's made of Balsa wood! It resonates very well when you play it and it's just soooo much more comfortable to play than my old Fiddle. For Fiddle music I think its an ideal Violin and great value. Some folks may want to change the tailpiece or chin rest eventually....maybe I'll do the same but for now it's adequate. I am very pleased.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Gliga Violins USA was very easy to work with and allowed me to pay for my fiddle in installments. Chris Gliga has always emailed me pretty promptly and been very professional and courteous.

Customer Service: 8

Components

The overall workmanship and quality of materials, wood in this Fiddle is an excellent value for the money, as it's a fairly inexpensive fiddle. However, this is truly a "Violin" it is NOT a VSO like some other cheap violins. Some cosmetic stuff could be changed, bridge, tailpiece, chin-rest what have you, but if you are looking for a quality Fiddle and get the best value of workmanship, wood, sound and ease of playing.....you cant go wrong with one of these Gliga Genial-1 models and I think they'd work well for a begginner and even possibly as a back-up or travel, jam instrument for a professional fiddler in my opinion..

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I've had it now for 3 weeks and the more I play it the more I like it. Everyone that sees this fiddle can't believe I've only paid $350 bucks for it. And, I'd say I have to agree. Some of these Gliga's may need more set-up than others. The bridge that comes with it was fitted well but it's not a good quality bridge. So if one can set-up these fiddles themselves or even take it to someone that knows how to do a fiddle set-up, I believe even more could be achieved with it.

My Fiddle is still very new, so time will tell as it get's played in and opens up. However, my gut tells me that this would be an adequate fiddle for a small Bluegrass ensemble ( say Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar, Bass and Dobro ) or a small Old-Time jam. I think in these situations the Fiddle would hold it's own and cut very well. For a larger jam, I don't know? Some of these Bluegrass and Old-Time jamz get to the point where there's just too many playing at once (IMHO) and I don't think we should judge a fiddle on those merits necessarily. However it has a nice even tone, not too bright, not too mellow in my opinion. The "A" and "E" strings so far are particularly strong, with the "G" string falling off a bit, but maybe that's just because it could use a slight tweak with the soundpost, or just needs to be played in more. I will update this in time.  

UPDATE: After 4 months I can tell you my Gliga ceases to amaze me. I really cant imagine a better purchase of a fiddle for the money I paid. Its braking in nicely and is much fuller and louder sounding now. The G and D strings now are much stronger and are developing a nice growl to them. The E string is clear, not harsh or shrill and is especially sweet sounding in the 3rd position up the neck where it really sings. I am continuing to be very pleased with this Fiddle and cant imagine parting with it.

Overall Rating: 8

Stradella: Stradella MV1411 4/4

Submitted by EricBluegrassFiddle on 2/19/2014

Where Purchased: used

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: $800 (Argentine pesos) (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Well I'm a beginner so maybe I'm not qualified but here goes: I did some research on cheap fiddles imported into Argentina and these Stradella fiddles seemed to be the only ones in my current price range that have solid carved tops and backs. The back I'm not sure if it is carved but the top certainly is. It's very light and doesn't have even a scratch. It's pretty ordinary looking but it does seem to have a very strong sound, stronger than I expected it to have for being such a cheap fiddle. It will be a fine instrument to play and learn on and if I purchase a better one down the road, it will be great to take out camping, outdoor events etc.. The case kinda sucks, it's really crummy, but looks nice in the pictures. The bow is nuthin fancy but at least it's straight LOL

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The fiddle I have found out is obviously not set-up. The bridge needs to be shaped and lowered as does the nut. The nut is way too high and the string spacing grooves in the nut were badly notched. But, I'm hearing this is typical and fairly easy to remedy if one has patience. If not, take it to a good luthier for a set-up, IF you live in Buenos Aires proper..... there are no fiddle luthiers here where I live!

Setup Rating: 4

Appearance

The fiddle is beautiful! It has a darker finish on it and it's not thick and gloopy like one might expect with most cheap chinese fiddles. It does have a bit of finish run out on the ribs but other than that I think it looks pretty nice. There is, however, a bit of black paint splashed on very sloppily into the pegbox. I imagine this is the same paint used when they painted the obviously "not real ebony" fingerboard...but who cares, looks pretty dern good for $100 bucks

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I think it will last as good or better than any other fiddle in it's class. It's light and fiddles can be dropped easily. The tailpiece and pegs are all cheapy cheapy, but functional. All this stuff can of course be replaced!

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

Never dealt with the company, couldn't find out a dern thing about them. However, lot's of professors here in Argentina recommend these fiddles as good starters.

Customer Service: 5

Components

I think for the price it has a solid carved top and back. This means that the fiddle has some room for improvemkent which is a nice feature that you don't have with laminated fiddles. I can change bridges, pegs, tailpieces as necessary when I want to and "if" I want to. I'd say if anyone here in Argentina is interested in a good fiddle to learn on, these Stradella fiddles are it!

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

If I get a better fiddle, I think I'll still keep this one to use for going to outdoor events like camping, fishing to some festivals or other events where it's possible I could get mugged and my fiddle stolen ( like happens here quite a bit in Argentina ) so I'm happy with it...I think I'll get way more than my moneys worth out of it

Overall Rating: 8

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