Monday, March 30, 2009

Buying your first fiddle.

As a rule, don't spend less than US$250 on a first fiddle, because anything less than that is probably going to be a frustrating experience. Beyond that, it would be difficult for me to tell you what to look and listen for in a fiddle. If you are not yet a fiddler (or violinist), you probably shouldn't go out and do a lot of shopping for an instrument yourself. Reading lists of things to watch out for (cracks, cheap Chinese fiddles, well-cut scrolls, etc.) would help with that a little, but the sound of the instrument is most important (for most fiddlers, anyway--certainly for me). No matter how well you memorize a list of things to watch out for, looking at and listening to a large variety of instruments is necessary to get a good idea of what is and is not a good instrument; without knowing how to play, in all likelihood, you still won't be able to tell what a good fiddle sounds like. If you're just starting, then definitely get the advice of someone who plays. If you have a friend who plays, that's ideal; impose on him or her to go shopping with you. If just an acquaintance (who is a good fiddler), you might consider paying him or her to go shopping with you for an afternoon. If you know no one who plays, or if you just want to avoid that effort, you really won't go far wrong simply going to a reputable violin shop and getting a decent (say, 500 U.S. dollar) "student model." Sounds demeaning perhaps but they can make nice music. Or for that matter some good deals can be had by mail order from large companies that deal online, such as Elderly Instruments in Michigan--that's just one example. (My second fiddle was obtained that way and I got a good instrument for the price.) Of course, the problem with ordering instruments by mail order is that you must go to the considerable trouble and expense of mailing them back instruments that you don't like. Even for your first instrument, you'll surely want to hear it before you buy it. I strongly advise against trying to find a "deal" in a pawn shop or antique store by yourself. It is possible to find good deals in such places, but unless you know what to look for, you just can't know if what you're getting really is a "deal." The fact of the matter is that you usually get what you pay for, and a fiddle the dealer says is a "bargain" at $100 really probably is worth $100, i.e., you shouldn't bother with it if you're serious about learning.

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