So, after having had my viola for a few months and being totally enamored of its wonderful, deep, passionate sound, I had come to realize that while my violin is pretty (with a fancy inlay
on the back), its sound leaves a lot to be desired. It's actually a sort of chimera -- the back is from one instrument, and it was grafted onto a different front, with yet another instrument providing the neck/scroll. Every part of it has something non-standard about it, from the placement of the F-holes on the front, to the position of the neck relative to the front (the neck is short and too high, so my bridge is extra high and the strings are too far from the fingerboard, which makes it harder to play), to the scroll box with its odd geometry (the pegs aren't positioned correctly, so the pegs rub the strings that go over them and they break sooner than they should), and while my parents paid $450 for it (at a flea market, from a fiddle-selling guy, about 15 years ago, I think), it was appraised for closer to $350. Anyway, it has a lot of personality, but I have simply outgrown it. I mentioned to Bob (the orchestra conductor) that I was looking to buy a new violin, and he nearly laughed at my under-$1000 price range -- apparently it's difficult to find a decent instrument in that range, though the string methods course had just gotten some good instruments from China
for under $1000, and he thought the professor who teaches that might be able to set me up with one eventually. I went down to Acoustic Outfitters last night anyway, to see what they have. It's where my viola is from, after all.
I spent about 2 hours looking at and playing pretty much everything they have -- about 30 violins in all, ranging from $59 to $3800. Most of them had the same kind of sound my violin has -- sort of fuzzy and unfocused, a little muted even when there's no mute on it. I tried pretty much everything over $500, thinking that an instrument under that probably wasn't worth the bother, and had it narrowed down to two -- an older violin (late 18th c) that was $1800 but had the qualities I was looking for, and a slightly newer one (19th c) that was fairly similar, a bit less impessive but half the price at $900. Then the shop owner came over and started handing me some of the ones I hadn't tried, including one that was marked $475. It's a new instrument, built in 2000 (in fact, just a month after Stephen was born), by Charles Smith, apparently of Merrimac, MA. And even though it was $475, it compared very favorably with the $1800 one -- there was some difference between the two, but was it a $1300 difference? The more I played the new one, the more I liked it, and about 30 minutes after closing time (oops), I left the store with it -- not paid, but on loan so I could show it to Bob and see what he thought of it. I played it some more when I got home, then some more this morning, and something clicked -- for $475, how could I *not* buy this one? So I took Stephen with me back to the store and paid for it, along with some fine tuners for the G, D, and A strings (I don't know why all violins don't have them -- they're so much easier than fussing with the pegs) and a cheap case for my old instrument.
(I asked about why the new violin was $475 instead of much, much more (which it should have been, judging by its sound), and apparently it had just been sitting around the workshop for too long. There's some glue flakes on the sides where the top and bottom are joined to the sides, but that is a minor cosmetic thing, and not something I'm worried about. I'm still curious to see what Bob has to say about it, but I don't intend to tell him what it cost until he tells me what he thinks :)
Et voila, now I have a new violin. The difference in sound and playability is really striking. Everything I play sounds a million times better. The fingerboard is a standard length (instead of being too short) so I can now play higher notes with more confidence. It rings a lot more than the old one, sustaining my sound much more pleasingly, and the fingerboard is made of actual hardwoods, so I shouldn't have the problem the old one had developed (the place under the A string where the D is played has developed a pit underneath it, which makes the D come out really sour). I've spent rather a lot of time today playing it, and I am really in love with it! So although I am still sort of wondering how those Chinese violins sound, I'm pretty sure that unless they are 2-3x better than this one, I've made the right choice.
On the way home, Stephen and I stopped at the grocery store to get some potatoes to go with tonight's pork roast, and I got a bottle of orange seltzer for the ride home. Stephen asked for some, and made a face.
"I think this is holy water," says he.
"Oh?" says I, curious.
"It burns, it burns!" he says, with a big grin on his face.
My little atheist-in-training -- ha ha ha!