Review of Fiddles Under $500
August 15, 2015 at 2:02 AM #26128
New review added for Eastman violins on August 15, 2015.August 15, 2015 at 2:22 AM #26129
Very nice addition, GS! This post is quickly becoming epic in its content. I believe you must be laying the groundwork for your third doctorate. 🙂
The first time I ran across the Eastman company, I thought it was a gimick. Even the name (Eastman) seems a tongue-in-cheek reference to its Chinese origins, and at the time, China had a reputation for cheap, low-quality instruments. How things have changed! Eastman has proved itself to be a great provider of good, inexpensive (high-value) instruments, while helping China shake off the “junk” label.August 15, 2015 at 2:51 AM #26133
Thank you, John. The Eastman violins are a force to be reckoned with. Just a few years ago, Strings Magazine did a review on the best upper end violins, and an Eastman violin came in at First Place, and a Scott Cao model came in at Second Place. As I stated earlier in the Scott Cao review: It is his higher end violins that are very good. Sadly lot of his lower end student stuff is not all that great.
Still, if I were to have to choose between a Scott Cao and an Eastman student model violin, I would choose the Eastman VL-100, simply for it’s quality of craftsmanship, but especially for its remarkable tonal quality.
One has to always remember: All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold; and just because a violin looks like a work of art, it doesn’t mean it is going to have work of art tonal qualities. I have seen and heard some beautiful-looking violins that sounded atrocious. And I have seen and heard some quite plain, if not ugly, violins produce the most beautiful sound, as if they were actually singing.
I sometimes find people to be the same. Violin or person, it is the heart of the instrument that reflects its true beauty, and not its exterior.
PS ~ I too love the tongue-in-cheek company name. East meets West!
When one thinks back before World War 2, anything made in Japan was considered to be total junk. Then, after the war, and as the world began to organize itself again, Japan re-invented herself, and over the years, Japan became known for its excellence of quality Japanese-made products. Even today, the two major players for quality of manufacture are Japan and Germany. I think China will get there slowly, but I feel they need to limit their scope and focus on LESS consumerables and MORE quality. That said, there are some remarkable violins being produced by dedicated private Chinese luthiers. However, as much as the Chinese tone-woods are good, it is my opinion and that of many, that the European spruces and maples are of a higher quality.August 15, 2015 at 8:50 PM #26137
I’m with you, Scott — I think European woods and craftsmanship is superior to most of what is coming out of China. Still, I think China will successfully rebrand itself as it continues to put forth quality products. Great work — you have certainly done your homework!August 16, 2015 at 6:22 PM #26145fiddle campParticipant
Hi Great Scott,
Enjoyed you’re research into the under $500 fiddle world. I appreciate all the “leg work” you did for us. As for me, I’m still renting the fiddle from Kennedy Violins for $33.00 a month. I hope to one day own a fiddle that I can call mine.
I guess I’m just skeptical in my old age, I have a hard time sorting through what is true and what is hype and overly enthusiastic sales representations. But I guess somewhere along the line there has to be some trust. I suppose if a person actually buys a fiddle online, be prepared to have budgeted enough money for returns until you find the right instrument that speaks to you. Of course, if it’s possible, play the fiddle under your ear, at a retail store. Having been learning fiddle for only 4 months now, I don’t have a trained ear that understands the difference in a decent sounding or great sounding violin under my ear. I’m at the mercy of the seller at this point. I totally get you are talking under $500 fiddles. And the day could come when we may want to upgrade or not. I know this info you have provided here will be extremely valuable to those that searching for a good instrument to learn on!
caintuckAugust 17, 2015 at 2:55 PM #26204
Caintuck, renting is a nice way to go when you are looking for your perfect match. For a lot of us, $500 is still a good chunk. However, I remember when I did my first upgrade to a student model, I know I would have really, really appreciated this post then. Not only would it have educated me about the different options out there, it also contains aural comparisons and commentary. That would have been huge for me!August 30, 2015 at 12:07 PM #26495The future streetfiddler!Participant
🙂 Great Scott, no hard feelings, cause if I was satisfied with Stentor 2, I would not changed tailpiece, bridge, adjust Soundpost, adjust strings hight and so on….
My next fiddle will not be Stentor. It will be an european handmade. So fare competition is between Gliga master or a Hofner.
But the stentor will keep fidling one more year:) Then will be a pro. Streetfidler with a hat and dressed up;)August 30, 2015 at 9:48 PM #26500
Hei Boerge! When I visit Norway, and I see a professional street fiddler dressed in nice clothes and wearing a Fedora and playing a great sounding fiddle, I will instinctively know it is you! I will then start playing my fiddle as an accompaniment and we will attract a huge crowd that will gather around us like bees to a honey pot. I really hope they like my beginner rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. 🙂
I am glad you will be considering a new fiddle in a year or so. The Stentors are a good “starter” fiddle but if I had my time over, I would have traveled the world searching for that ONE fiddle whose sound made me buckle at the knees, like a perfect kiss. About one year ago, I had the opportunity of buying the most beautiful sounding violin with a slightly darker tone that sounded like it was SINGING. I was fairly new to violins then, and I was a little hesitant to buy it because there was the small repair to the sound hole (f hole). I decided to buy another violin instead– my current 1920s German-made violin that never left Germany until I bought it. I have kicked myself ever since for choosing an almost perfect-looking violin with an average sound instead of that darker bodied German violin with the sound hole repair and the slightly dark beautiful singing voice. I have not heard many violins that “sing”. I do NOT like bright-sounding violins! And I have come to learn that no matter how beautiful a violin may look, it is the SOUND of a violin that matters most.
When the time comes for me to buy my next violin, I will travel the world in search of a darker sounding violin with a beautiful sonorous voice that sings. I have always loved the darker sound of the gypsy violin. They seem to have that singing quality I love so much. Violins from pre-1900 — 1940s seem to have a different sound to the violins that were made after that time. And definitely NO MORE Chinese fiddles for me! I don’t care who makes them or who sells them, I am over Chinese -made fiddles! It will be either an antique European violin for me or nothing!!!! (My own personal choice which has nothing to do with the above review)
I think you would be very pleased if you bought a Gliga (Gamma). They have some very good user comments and they have a slightly darker tone.August 31, 2015 at 2:29 AM #26509
I once bought a Stainer copy for around $500. Talk about a dark tone! It was one of the sweetest fiddles I ever owned, but I destroyed it in a tragic accident. 🙁
Evangeline is a good fiddle but she is a little too bright for me. At some point I want to find another deep-singing gypsy violin that will charm me off my feet, as Great Scott was saying. Keep an eye out for me!September 1, 2015 at 2:35 PM #26522HeyMikeyParticipant
[quote=26128]New review added for Eastman violins on August 15, 2015.[/quote]
Thanks for all the hard work on this thread. I know I haven’t been playing long but I have acquired two fiddles so far, both of which may be reviewed here. The Mendini MV400 ($90 New Online) and an Eastman Signature Series ($100 Used from Reverb.com) from 2003 that was used in Marshall Music’s rental program.. I haven’t been able to figure out which if any of the VL series 80, 100 etc… mine might be similar to. The Eastman Signature came with a nice, light composite bow and plays much better than the Mendini but I actually think the Mendini has a slightly more pleasing tone that the Eastman. At least while playing it. I wished I had a good “fiddle” setup guy near me. I just know it would make a huge difference!!!
MikeSeptember 2, 2015 at 7:35 AM #26529nagumaqParticipant
Hey Mikey, I wish I lived closer , there’s nothing I like more then setting up a fiddle so it sounds better. There are a few things you could do yourself that could make a noticeable difference . I purchased the Mendini myself for my daughter and was not all that happy with the tone, I moved the sound post and thinned out the bridge and had to re make a nut cause the one factory built was off by 2,3mm too much so.. Yup, sounds better now, sometimes a little do it yourself can give surprising results under certain subtle guidance. On a fiddle that’s under 500$ , I would not hesitate. Sometimes just really good quality strings make a huge difference??
GuSeptember 2, 2015 at 2:59 PM #26536HeyMikeyParticipant
Thanks Gu, after I saw how much better the Eastman played than the Mendini (really didn’t know any better) I did do a little carving and thinning on the extra bridge that came with it. Afraid to go too far I just took a smidge off and it did get a little better (lower action).September 3, 2015 at 1:33 AM #26553The future streetfiddler!Participant
🙂 GS in China you can get good high quality fiddles too, but then its not cheap. You get what you pay….
The fiddle tour to find the right one who wisper lovely into ears will be great. I will not hurry, and will play all before desside. So if it be an Gliga I travel to Romania and visit their store. My next will not be shopped untested 🙂
Slata in Holland give me an idea, so the stentor 2 will be an 14″ Viola as a life after ….
And welcome to Norway, will be great listen and play twinkle twinkle together. One friend will play guitar and one collegue will dance the Svan:)September 4, 2015 at 10:55 PM #26663
Hi Mike! Congrats on your fiddle purchases. I have a feeling your Eastman Signature could be a VL-100. I am still searching for details on this. I know Amazon is selling the Signature but they don’t have a price on it (derr!!!) and there are no reviews on it yet. I think with a bit of tweaking, your E.Signature could sound mighty sweet! You got a good price on the Signature fiddle, by the way! 🙂September 4, 2015 at 11:02 PM #26664
[quote=26553]And welcome to Norway, will be great listen and play twinkle twinkle together. One friend will play guitar and one collegue will dance the Svan:)[/quote]
Hi Boerge, I forgot to tell you that I do mime and a great Marcel Marceau impersonation! I am looking forward to catching those “make believe” twinkling stars! ** Twinkle, Twinkle ** 🙂September 15, 2015 at 11:23 AM #26883
New reviews added for Fiddlerman Violins and Kennedy’s “Ricard Bunnel” line of violins September 15, 2015.
GSSeptember 17, 2015 at 12:00 AM #26906
Heavens to Betsy! A good thing just got better. It’s about time Pierre made this list! And Kennedy Violins is another great standby. Thank you Great Scott!September 17, 2015 at 12:56 AM #26909
Thank you Saint John! I has been a very rewarding experience to investigate all the violins that are mentioned in this review. It has also been a little challenging at times due to my own time constraints. Nonetheless, it has been quite an experience and I have learned a LOT in the process.
Initially, I was not going to include the Fiddlerman violins in the review simply because I was trying to focus the review more on familiar brand names and because I have no idea of which workshop actually produces the Fiddlerman brand of violins. However, I decided to include the FM violins in the review because they have become very popular and because they represent what I and many others feel is good value for money.
I have copied a part of the “Fiddlerman Apprentice Violin” review here in case anyone who has already read the review and doesn’t return to it to read my addendum. See below:
&&&&&& PLEASE NOTE: In all fairness to Kennedy’s “Ricard Bunnel” line of violins, and especially the Ricard Bunnel G2 that is in the comparison video above, it is worth remembering that not all two violins of the same brand and model will be exactly the same in sound, playability and finish. This is particularly the case with the lower end violins. Every violin will sound different and will not perform exactly the same. In regard to the reviewer in the above video pointing out the cosmetic flaw of the Ricard Bunnel G2 when compared to the Fiddlerman Apprentice violin, I will be upfront here when I say I have read a couple of reviews from people who had bought a Fiddlerman Apprentice violin who noted that the finish on their particular violin was less than what they expected; their dissatisfaction being mostly the roughly applied finish. A few were also not satisfied with the sound. However, the latter raises the clear fact that what you hear on a video recording will most likely not be exactly what you hear in real life; plus the fact that people’s have different “likes” when it comes to sound and tone. In defense of Fiddlerman’s violins, I will say they are a quality product for their price. In the main, it will be noted from the reviews that many more people are extremely pleased with their Fiddlerman Apprentice violin; giving their particular purchase full marks for sound, playability and finish. So, once again, it proves the point that no two violins are the same — even two of the same model from the same manufacturer. Please keep this in mind. Just because you hear a violin played on a video doesn’t always mean you are going to get that exact sound in the violin of the same brand and model that you decide to order online. The only way you will get exactly the same sound, for example, is if you order that very same violin whose sound you hear on the video or even better yet, get to hear it played in real life in a violin / stringed musical instrument store. &&&&&September 17, 2015 at 1:01 AM #26912
PS~~ I was holding back on putting Pierre on this list simply because of the jealousy factor! (Time to start blushing) 🙂 I want to be friends with everyone and love them all equally! 🙂
Seriously, the real reason is explained in my above post.September 19, 2015 at 9:39 AM #26958
You know, I am a big admirer of he-who-must-not-be-named. By making is talents available online, he expanded his business from a Florida shop to a worldwide phenom. I can only dream that one day I will be booking a BGD cruise where we all get together for four days of fiddling aboard Carnival’s finest while enjoying the views of the West Indies. So, I am glad you included the Fiddlerman-branded fiddles in your honest and informative review above. Carry on!
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