Through my research I have found that there are only two very basic essential elements that determine the quality of a violin – what it is made from and how it is made. Now this may seem very elementary at first, but in truth it will help you immensely when evaluating a violin’s value.
A violin is made of wood. Another mind blower, huh? Well, I don’t mean to insult your intelligence, but for the very newest person shopping around and wondering why some violins online are extremely cheap, this will be your first clue. There will be mass-produced violins out there that will be made out of cheap materials and some may not even be 100% wood, rather some composite material that is easily moldable into shells in the shape of a violin. You will definitely want to stay away from these, as these are not true musical instruments. To be fair, however, I am only referring to acoustic violins (not electric) and there certainly are some companies experimenting with newer materials to make violins with. But that is not the focus of this blog.
So you’ve determined that the violin you are looking at is made of wood, but what kind of wood is it made from? Ahhhh, now we are getting into the good stuff! The overwhelming majority of all quality violins you will find for sale will have a top made from Spruce wood, the back, sides (ribs), neck, and scroll made from Maple, and the fingerboard made from Ebony wood. I will go into each of these in more detail in future posts to help understand why these woods have dominated the world of violin making for centuries. The greatest help to you right now, however, is to be able to identify if the violin you are looking at is made of these three woods or not.
Again, mass-produced violins may be made of wood, however they may be cheaper kinds of wood, or wood composite materials. I think many of the least expensive violins you will find online will fall under this category. So when out searching, ask what type of wood the violin is made from. If not spruce, maple, and ebony (or if the seller simply does not know) you may want to keep looking. If physically holding the violin, one trick to determine right away if it’s of lesser quality is to bring the violin to eye level and look underneath the fingerboard. If not completely black (as ebony wood would be) it could indicate that the fingerboard is made from a different wood and was either painted or dyed black. And if the fingerboard is not genuine ebony, chances are high that the rest of the violin is not genuine either.
One other major aspect to know is if the violin was made by a person or by a machine. Making violins is a form of art, and as such, it takes on the style and personality of the maker. While some luthiers today may employ some more modern equipment for aiding them in their violin making, they are still wielded by human hands. Sure, precision machines can be used to engineer a violin to exact measurements and fit the pieces together to near perfection like vehicles in a construction line. But many new cars have problems that need to go back to the dealer to get fixed shortly after they are purchased. Making a violin takes more than mathematics and engineering, as does making music. A luthier will use his/her eyes, ears, touch, and possibly even smell while crafting a violin. No two violins of quality will ever be the same because the wood used to create them will never be exactly the same, even if from the same tree. It is the individual properties of the wood that helps make each instrument unique, and it takes a trained person to not only identify these properties but also know how to work with them.
This, in my opinion, is the reason why the name on the label inside the violin carries so much weight. While it certainly does not have to be a famous violin maker’s name on the label to be a good quality instrument, it does give recognition and credibility to the techniques used to make it. A violin made by “Big Company X” simply can not compare to a violin made by a trained luthier or private workshop.
While simple, these are the most important basic aspects that the newest person to violin buying may look for or may have already questioned. This information is also generally geared towards many of the violins you may find on ebay, amazon, classified ads, or possibly some music chain stores, which tend to be some of the first places folks will look for a violin on their own. If at a violin shop, however, you hardly have to scrutinize violins like the ones mentioned above because they will not be sold there. If they were, you would never hear of it because that shop would have been out of business a long time ago! And if by chance you find a violin at a shop that is made from a wood other than the three types listed previously, the shop owner or the violin maker themselves will be able to tell you with the utmost of confidence why a different wood was used.
Visit lukonisviolins.com for the official website of Lukonis Violins.