HOW BIG ARE THEY AND HOW MUCH SHOULD I PAY? I’ll answer the first part and then talk about the second part later so please read on:
1. JUST HOW BIG ARE THEY? Just like shoe sizes, we can buy different sized violins for all ages. Below is the actual length in Inches and Millimetres.
Violins come in the following sizes and total length:
1/16 – 37cm (14.5″); 1/10 – 41cm (16″); 1/8 – 44cm (17.5″); 1/4 – 48cm (19″);
1/2 – 52cm (20.5″); 3/4 – 55cm (21.5″); 7/8 – 57cm (22.5″); 4/4 – 59cm (23.5″).
The smallest is the 1/16th size violin which is used for a 3-4yr old. The biggest is a 4/4 size which is also called a full-sized violin. As you can see, violins are in “fractional” sizes because of the use of fractions.
This can be misleading though, as a 1/2 size violin (52cm) is not a 1/2 of the size of a 4/4 (59cm) or full-size violin.
2. HOW MUCH SHOULD I PAY?
This is a great question. I have searched on the internet for different opinions to give a balanced answer. Here is what I found:
PARENT No.1: “So, onto violins. Small violins seem to me to be “sound impaired” no matter what brand you buy. So, as long as the instrument is set up well, does it really matter about the “quality” of said instrument? Right now I can buy any number of 1/4 violins off e-bay for under $100, including a Strunal 220 that seems to get reasonable reviews from reputable sources. So, again, how much does “quality” matter when we are talking about a small instrument that a child will outgrow?”
MY RESPONSE: Quality does matter a lot even though a child does possibly outgrow the violin in a year. The difference in sound can be described as the difference of sounding like heaven to sounding like hell. Poor sounding violins can sound horrid, horrible, abysmal etc. As a teacher, I just can’t listen to a poor instrument as it effects the child more than you think. Most often, the child will just stop practicing as they don’t enjoy the sound. Recently, I even gave one of my young students a free instrument loan because their instrument was very poor sounding.
PARENT No.2: “I spent the last 6 months looking for a 1/2 size violin for my son. I looked through the internet, went to a couple of violin shops. My son wanted a brand new one. We tried three that he liked. One was Wilhelm Klier which he liked best of the three until his violin teacher contacted a local luthier and brought an old violin which is probably 75 – 100 years old. It looks really beat up, but the sound was no comparison. Even with a fractional size, it sounded so mature and the high register sounded very clean. He just fell in love with it despite its appearance. The Wilhelm Klier outfit was $1500 (which is still a very good violin) and this old one was $750. You might want to check local violin shops and try to find an old one. A lot of times, not always, the older the violin, the better the sound it will produce. I think it is so important that a violin has the capability to produce beautiful sound from the beginning of your son’s violin study. You might be able to find a reasonably priced one if you take your time.”
MY RESPONSE: This parent is absolutely right in everything he/she said. It has been my experience also that: “A lot of times, not always, the older the violin, the better the sound it will produce.” For this reason I have made a great effort to find and sell 100 year old fractional violins. Why do they sound better? The main reason is due to the 50-100 year age of the wood in antique violins. By comparison, the majority of new violins are only aged a few years, so the sound is not as resonant. Old fractional violins are quite rare but surprisingly they are as affordable as comparable quality new violins. However, not all old violins sound the same, so I price them accordingly. New violins also vary quite a lot in their sound, which is why I personally select all the new violins that I sell.
A VIOLINMAKER’S OPINION: “Because (as stated above) fractional instruments are transitional, over spending does not make sense in my opinion. We have carried many different 1/2 sized instruments at different price ranges in our shop and have decided that our higher end 1/2 sized instruments should fall in the $750 to $1,250 range with 3/4 going a bit higher. This range allows a significant improvement over your current violin without breaking the bank.”
MY CONCLUSION: There is a big difference in sound between the beginners’ violin and the mid-range violin even on fractional violins. The beginners’ violin that I sell costs $150 and it sounds better than other similarly priced violins-believe me I have tried them all. The mid-ranged violin costs $320 and has a superior sound. Because it is a better sounding and better looking violin it has a resale value so it can be used as a trade in on the next mid-ranged violin. This more than justifies getting the mid-ranged violin. Of course, if you are not sure whether the child will continue to learn then start with a beginners’ violin first.
Another reason why the sound of the violin is important is that it will encourage the student to practice and progress faster. Considering the major investment of money in regular lessons (approx. S$1,400), then the cost of the violin is considerably less.
Hope this has been helpful.