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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.

Knilling Bucharest: P4KF

Submitted by echord on 8/31/2018

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: $100 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

How many times have you heard the saying "you get what you pay for?" It's a common comment but often not true. Many times you get far less than what you pay for, as most people can attest. Less often, you get much more.

Such is the case with this Knilling Bucharest fiddle with Perfection Pages I purchased from a Kentucky music store on line. The $100 listing (plus $20 shipping) seemed unreasonably low, judging from the condition shown in the photos. An Internet search confirmed these models usually go (new) for anywhere from $400 to $600 retail, depending on where you get it and what is included (case, bow, Perfection pegs, etc.). True, I've seen used models for $200 to $300 on Ebay, but usually without the geared pegs and almost always scratched and worn. This fiddle appeared to be brand new in the photos (albeit, not strung up). So I bought it just to see why I shouldn't.

When I took it out of the box (it came with a nice Knilling hard shell case and worn out bow), I couldn't believe it wasn't brand new. It had literally not a mark, scratch or dust particle on it. It was perfect in every respect, as if just off the factory line. Were it not for the label, which read "Knilling. Bucharest, copie of Antonio Stradvari, Made in Romania, (five digit SN), Faciebat Anno 2008 and P4KF" in ink in the corner, I would have certainly believed it brand new and never played.

In any case all the pieces were there except strings. So I reset the included soundpost (perfect fit), carved the bridge down to my preferences, installed new Lenzser German made steel strings and exchanged the included Wittner style tailpiece with a nice ebony one I had sitting around, and tuned it up. It played like a dream, the Perfection Pegs worked perfectly and the sound was even better than I expected. For a violin of less than a thousand bucks the sound is rich (though not terribly loud), smooth and balanced across all four strings. For a $100 fiddle, is sounds outrageously good, frankly

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

As noted, this instrument wasn't set-up which surely accounts somewhat for the low price, but I'm used to doing my own so that wasn't an issue for me. The construction quality, purfling and finish are very, very good indeed. Such good sound from a student grade instrument couldn't be accomplished without excellent graduation of the plates and quality construction throughout. I simply can't find a flaw. Even the scroll and F holes are perfectly done and the finish, while clearly a sprayed nitrocellulose lacquer, is evenly done, not too thick, and nicely rubbed out.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

This is a very pretty instrument in every respect. The top is a rather broad grained spruce and the back a nicely figured, though fairly modest, maple, as are the sides and the scroll - which, incidentally, is much larger than any scroll on any of the other fiddles I've owned over the years. Again, I simply can't find a flaw, and believe me, I've tried.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Frankly, I could live without the Perfection Pegs, though they do work ok and are perfectly installed, and the lack of fine tuners on the tailpiece is very attractive to me. Nevertheless, the Perfections are kind of a pain when stringing, and I find the standard built in tuners at the tailpiece easier and more precise for "nudge" tuning. I'll keep the Perfections as long as they are working right because I love the look of the instrument without fine tuners, but I wouldn't cry much if I had to change them out in the future.

Since I don't play professionally I don't know whether this instrument would be reliable without a backup, or what the long term durablility will be. I can't see anything that would cause me any alarm. The finish is tough, the construction solid, from what I can see. I have no idea what to expect concerning the durability of these planetary pegs. Time will tell.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

No warranty, as is. Shipping was fast, everything was as it should be. I had no real interaction with the dealer except to pay him so I can't give a customer service rating but since I'm required to, for reasons best know by whomever designed this form, I'll give them the best.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Very nice ebony fingerboard and end pin. I supplied my own ebony tailpiece, but the instrument came with a nice Wittner Composite (or so it appears) tailpiece and good maple bridge. I lowered the bridge arch, but the feet were perfectly matched to the top and the soundpost was an easy, perfect fit..

Look, this is a student grade instrument, no doubt about that, and I know I've kind of been gushing about it. But in fairness to Knilling, this is a very good student violin, much better than most of the others I've had -- though, under normal circumstances, it would have cost me 4 or 5 times what I paid for it. That being the case, I can't really rate it against other violins in that price range, but cost aside, this has quickly become my favorite trade fiddle of the 4 I own and is now my daily player. I am impressed with its quality and perfectly satisfied with its sound and play ability. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a friend IF the price was right.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 10

VIF model 200: VIF 200

Submitted by echord on 4/29/2017

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased:
Price Paid: 90,00 ($US)

Sound

I purchased a VIF model 250 several months back and was quite pleased with it, so I decided to try a less expensive VIF model, the 200. (That a fiddle could be even cheaper than the 250 seems ludricous, but the 200 model is 10 to 30 dollars cheaper, depending on who is selling them). So here is my report ---

First of all, this fiddle is less rich and resonant than the higher priced and more elaborately finished 250, though it compensates in a way by being louder. The tone is what I would describe as "hollow" sounding, which is not necessarily bad for playing old-time, but with the cheap steel strings that came with it, it was brassy and a shrill on the A and E strings particularly. I changed to an inexpensive set of Perlon strings, which made a big improvement in sound, though it still doesn't match the richness and mellowness of the 250 (which also has perlon strings).

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Action was set-up fine. As usual, I lowered and flattened the bridge somewhat to suit my playing needs.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Where the Model 250 has a heavily applied high gloss lacquer finish as seems to be customary for many Chinese fiddles, the 200 has a matte and thinner finish which I was expecting would have superior sound -- I was wrong. I suppose that just proves that the graduation of the plates, better wood, and better workmanship have more to do with sound than the finish. Not to say the sound is bad on this fiddle. With decent strings and a little breaking in, it is probably quite a lot better than other cheap fiddles that I've heard and certainly better than the price would suggest.

Appearance Rating: not rated

Reliability

All the accessories are good -- witner style composite tail piece, nice ebony fingerboard and chinrest. Decent workmanship and nice wood (modest flaming on the back), though the purfling is a bit sloppy and the color quite dark -- a deep cholocate with slightly rubbed out areas in both the upper and lower bouts. The bow that came with it is very nice - straight, well balanced and octagonal. Nice case, just the same as the Model 250 comes in.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Had no contact with the company.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

All components seem of good quality except the original strings. They are pretty bad. I think perlon or nylon strings are more approrpriate for this fiddle over steel, to my ear anyway.

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

Overall, I think this is a pretty good starter fiddle and my intention is to use it for cross tuning to save having to re-tune so much. As a beginner's fiddle, l think it is pretty good and probably beats its competitors in that bargain price range. It has reasonable workmanship, decent sound (with upgraded strings), and looks very attractive. For what it costs, it is way better than it has any reason to be.

However, for the extra few dollars that the Model 250 costs, I would recommend it unless you are just on such a budget that every dollar counts. The 200 cost me 90 dollars shipped; the 250 was 101 dollars shipped and is, to my ear much richer and more resonant. It also has more attractive flaming, seems lighter and easier to hold (the way I hold a fiddle weight is important to me). Both of these instruments are quality student instruments, but the more expensive model is an even better bargain, IMO.

Overall Rating: 8

VIF: Series 250

Submitted by echord on 1/12/2017

Where Purchased: Ebay

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: 101.00 ($US)

Sound

In my never ending quest to find the perfect "cheap" fiddle, I bought this VIF 250 series model from an Ebay ventor for $101 in Dec of 2016 (it was listed at $112, but for reasons unknown to me I was given a discount of 11 bucks). Follows is my accessment of this model as best I can relate it.

The fiddle came with cheap perlon strings, but nevertheless has a full, rich sound and good volume. The G and D strings are particularly good - mellow, not harsh, and very rich. For a fiddle in this price range, I think it is outstanding. It is better than about any other of my inexpensive fiddles (which include an antique German made Bergonzi model, a pre WWII German made Stainer model, and two relatively new Song Chinese made instruments) -- better than the two German models and equal to the Song models (which were also relatively cheap - less than $150 with shipping from China 6 years or so ago). Altogether, I think the VIF is a superior instrument with remarkably good tone considering the price and is competitive in both sound and appearance to models costing much more..

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Perfect setup at the nut and bridges, though as an old-time player I am obliged to flattern and lower the bridge substantially from the classic violin set-up. That is my choice, but this violin was perfectly set-up to student classical standards, as far as I can tell.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The appearance is very attractive with a dark chocolate stain, covered by the usual Asian application of mutiple coats of lacquer or whatever (fairly evenly applied), giving it a very beautiful high glossy shine, and tough to damage for those students who like to bang their fiddles off the wall. What effect on tone a more traditional varnish finish would have, I don't know. In any case, it is very attractive with a highly flamed back and sides and good purfling.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

You'd need to run a Mack truck over this thing to mar the thick finish (see above), but all the fittings are good. Seems very durable.

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

No contact with the makers (Chairman Instrument Trading Company, Ltd), but quick and well packaged shipping from the Ebay vendor. Label says "Antonius Stradivarius model, established 1995, Design in Italy, VIF, series 250"

Customer Service: 10

Components

All the components were first class, except perhaps the strings and the bow (which was functionable but with a slight curve in the middle) and the cheap rosin cake. Though inexpensive Chinese perlon strings, they are ok but I am expecting to upgrade to a better string later .Lovely carved ebony chin-rest, very nice genuine ebony fingerboard and tuning pegs with "French" eye inlays. The case was also good, the bow ok .

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a very nice sounding, easy playing carved student grade fiddle with excellent components and a beautiful appearance, and strikes me as near highway robbery considering the price I paid. I cannot imagine how a company could make such a superior instrument for this price, but then I have read that many Asian workers make less that $3 an hour (compared to the average American worker wage of $38 per hour, or $42 in Germany - 2014 figures, I think). I guess those low factory wages and low profit margins (plus mass production) can account for it, but certainly the materials used are first rate. Inexpensive it is, but there is nothing "cheap" or shoddy in this instrument. I am very impressed and pleased with my purchase. I doubt Perlman will want to trade his genuine Strad for it any time soon, but if you are looking for an excellent fiddle at dirt low prices, these folks have got 'em.

Overall Rating: 10

Scott Joplin ragtime festival

Submitted by echord on 5/15/2009

Overall Comments

The city of Sedalia, Mo., holds it's annual Scott Joplin Ragtime festival every year during the first weekend in June.

The event features ragtime piano players from around the world, as well as various string bands, jug bands and old-time dance events, both on the downtown streets and in paid concerts.

For folks interested in this type of original American music, I highly recommend this festival. Sedalia is charming town (and site of the original Maple Leaf Club -- now demolished -- where S. Joplin worked) and the streets come alive with toe-tapping syncopated music for several days, most of it free.

For more info on this annual festival, contact http://www.scottjoplin.org/

Overall Rating: 10

Carbon fiber bow: Song Ti Jie

Submitted by echord on 5/11/2009

Where Purchased: Charming Song Violin store, Ebay

Overall Comments

Recently purchased a carbon fiber bow from Song Chung Violin Co. Ltd. on Ebay. I don't know for certain if the bow was actually made by this firm ( I also have one of their fiddles, which I know they make), but I assume it was.

In any case, I paid $39 for the bow (plus $18 shipping) and must say, quite simply, I'm delighted. I'm certainly not an expert on bows, by any means. I always have used cheap brazilwood or fiberglass models purchased at various music stores or with the fiddles I've bought, so this was an attempt to upgrade without spending a fortune. Mission accomplished.

It is a beautiful stick, black with full chrome mounting, parisian eye on the ebony frog, excellent balance and weighing only 60 grams.

It has definitely improved the tone and ease of my fiddling. Anyone looking for a decent bow at a great price should give these folks a look.

Overall Rating: 10

Mr. Ma (China): Student model

Submitted by echord on 4/6/2009

Where Purchased: Musicstorema (Ebay store)

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 117 ($US)

Sound

In my never ending quest to find the perfect cheap fiddle (see my review of Song Tie Ji student fiddle elsewhere) I purchased this $69.00 job (plus $48 shipping) directly from the maker (or so the listing claimed) in China. I play old time fiddle (and probably not all that well, my neighbors might say), so I don't require professional tone, though I do appreciate it. This instrument does pretty darn well, I think, especially if the original strings are upgraded. Reasonally loud and mellow, evenly balanced and altogether pleasant. Sounds nearly as good as my older German Bergonzi model, though a somewhat thinner bass tone. Overall, I like it very much...way better than many student instruments I've played that cost a lot more. As with the Song Tie Ji student model, this fiddle has a tone that I think would encourage a beginner to continue playing, something you probably couldn't say about most inexpensive student grade violins now on the market.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Set up was perfect, although I did lower the strings at the bridge as I like them rather low and with wider spacing. As a student instrument, however, this fiddle could be easily played as it came.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The antique finish was partly what attracted me to this instrument. It's quite beautiful, though with some minor surface flaws (seems to me some dust settled on it before the varnish was fully dried, but a very minor point). Edges are rubbed out to give an antique look, very well done. Flaming (which curiously did not show up in the listing photos) is very broad on the back and sides and most attractive. Purfling appears to be inlayed, though it is often obscured by the dark bourbon colored varnish. Altogether, it is a very attractive instrument. I particularly like that it is not buried under multiple layers of shiney "resin" varnish like so many inexpensive student violins.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Since this violin is fully lined and blocked and has decent tone, I don't think I'd be ashamed to play it in public, though being a student level instrument, I doubt many professionals would make it their first choice. Might make a decent backup, though, and suitable for cross tuning (which is what I'll probably use it for). I'm only guessing at its long term reliability, of course, but I can't see anything that would cause me concern.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Excellent communication with the maker, Mr. Ma, and fast shipping. He actually responds to inquiries and seems eager to be helpful.

Customer Service: 10

Components

One of the more interesting features of this fiddle is the mother of pearl position marker inlays on the fingerboard (there are 8 of them). I don't know how useful this would be to a beginner, but it is attractive.

The fingerboard is quite nice and appears to be ebony, though I can't be sure. The maker did not indicate the wood used in the fittings. Chin rest and tail piece are a bit rough, though functional. I can't determine the type of wood. Suffice it to say they are black and reasonally well fitted.

One area of criticism, however is the bow. The one provided is oddly a 3/4 size, which doesn't bother me --.in fact, I rather prefer that size -- however, it is badly warped, made from indeterminate wood substance, and completely worthless. This is certainly an area this maker needs to upgrade, particularly as he listed it as a violin "set." I suspect he would replace it, if asked, but the shipping cost of returning it makes that a waste of time. I have other bows. For the price I paid for this fiddle, it is hard to complain about any of it.

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

Overall, I was very satisified with this instrument and wouldn't hesitate to purchase another from these folks. Quality is good, shipping fast and price darn near highway robbery on my part. Other more expensive models look to be very nice also, though of course, I haven't tried them.

Overall Rating: 9

Song Tie Ji: violin

Submitted by echord on 4/5/2009

Where Purchased: ebay store

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: $117.00 ($US)

Sound

I play only old time and own several fiddles, ranging from a 100 year old German Bergoni model to a couple of new Asian junkers, but I'm always looking to amuse myself with a new one at rock bottom prices (this is what happens when you live alone). Saw these folks listing on Ebay and was impressed at the price and look of their instruments, so I decided to send 'em 69 bucks for their cheapest model (plus 48 shipping) and see what I got, figuring at worst I can salvage the neck and fittings to make another cigar box fiddle, or just resale it on Ebay. When it arrived (in a remarkable 6 days, including a week end, btw) I was greatly impressed. This 69 buck fiddle sounds better than my antique German (especially after fitting it with a decent set of Prelude steel strings). I know tone is subjective, but I am definitely impressed with the balance and ease of playing of this thing. Perlman probably won't want to trade me his Strad for it any time soon, but for a student grade fiddle, it's remarkable...a bit edgy at first, as I think most new fiddles are, but it seems to be developing well the more I play it. The tone suits old time perfectly, I think. Suffice to say I like it a lot.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Action was perfectly set to standard violin specs, which means a beginner could probably start out right away, but to me it meant I had to lower the bridge and spread the strings a bit, as I prefer. But I have to do that with any fiddle I've played. Maybe I've just got big fingers, but the narrow spacing and high action of pre-setup fiddles gives me trouble and makes playing hard for me in standard tuning, impossible in cross tuning. Lowering the bridge also seem to mellow the tone slightly. I like the strings quite low, about 1/8 inch off the fingerboard. Unlike most fiddles I've tried, the nut was perfectly regulated and required no alteration.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Tone aside, what really amazed me was the workmanship and appearance of this instrument. Excellent tight flaming on back and sides, matte varnish, inlayed purfling, hand cut ebony chin rest (obviously fitted to this instrument, not just taken off the shelf), nice ebony fingerboard and tail piece. Nice extra touches also, like mother-of-pearl inlays on tail piece, tuning pegs and button. Pegs work great and the appearance altogether rivals instruments costing hundreds more. It's also fully lined and blocked, btw, which I've never seen on a cheap Chinese violin.Obviously, Mr. Song is a craftsman. If he does this for a 69 dollar fiddle, what must his $5000 model be like. I can only dream.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I don't play professionally, so that probably makes my rating in this catagory useless. But if I did, I don't think I'd have any concern about using this instrument, as well made as it appears to be. All the fittings are very good ebony.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

As impressive as the fiddle is, the service, communication and speed of delivery was even more so. First rate folks at Song Chung Violin Co.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Another bonus was the bow supplied with the violin -- not the usual worthless stick supplied with most student grade instruments, but rather an excellent octagonal wood bow, finished just as nicely as the violin. Weight about 68 grams, a little on the heavy side for my taste, but very useful for my cross tuned fiddles. I liked the whole deal so well, I purchased a carbon fiber bow from these folks for 40 bucks (plus shipping) and love it. Beautifull black finish, perfect balance and 60 grams weight.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I certainly would recommend this company for an excellent, well made inexpensive instrument. I can't personally vouch for their other stuff, but I'm betting it's all first rate. These folk obviously take pride in their products and I suspect that applies to all price ranges.

Overall Rating: 10

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