Q: If I can buy a violin online for $50 or less, why should I spend any more?
A: Do you also want the violin to be playable? If a student is to have any chance of success in learning to play, the instrument needs to be in good playing adjustment. It will need a decent quality set of strings. The soundpost must fit the instrument in the right position without causing undue stress to top and back. The bridge must be carefully fitted and provide correct string height, arch, and spacing. The fingerboard’s playing surface must have the proper arch, sweep, and string height and spacing at the nut. The pegs need to work smoothly, yet hold willingly without slipping. It takes time and attention to detail to properly adjust a violin. In a cheap violin, in order to be cheap, no one can afford to take the time to adequately adjust the instrument and playability issues are inevitable.
Violins are made entirely of wood. Wood is not a stable material…it expands and contracts with changes of temperature and humidity in it’s environment. Even a well seasoned, well-made violin will change with variations of temperature and humidity, and may require seasonal adjustments to the bridge and soundpost to maintain it’s playability. Hastily made instruments, hastily adjusted in a foreign climate thousands of miles away from where you live are rarely very playable. What’s worse, is that if you go to the trouble to correct the adjustment problems, such an instrument is likely to continue to be problematic as it continues to season.
Wood used for violin making needs to be well seasoned. Good violin wood is cut and stacked and allowed to dry out over a period of several years. A large part of the cost of the wood is in the seasoning process, and it’s one of the things you’re paying for in a more expensive instrument. Cheap violins are not made of well-seasoned wood, and they are doomed to have problems with playability.
A properly made, well-adjusted violin is one of the only things in the world that you can use every day for a lifetime and never use it up. With reasonable care, and a little maintenance it can retain it’s excellence for hundreds of years. It will hold it’s value very well. By contrast, a cheap violin is an exercise in frustration, and by the time it hits the dumpster, a complete waste of money.
FEW THINGS IN LIFE ARE MORE FRUSTRATING THAN TRYING TO PLAY MUSIC ON AN UNPLAYABLE INSTRUMENT.
Q: Why should I choose to deal with Telford & Sons?
A: Telford & Sons Violins is a full service professional violin shop, dedicated to serving the needs of people of all ages who have an interest in playing a violin-family instrument (violin, viola, or cello).
We offer a wide range of instruments, in all sizes, from modestly priced student violins to the works of individual makers worth many thousands of dollars.
All of our instruments are properly made from traditional materials, and crafted according to the accepted standards of the violin world. Even our least expensive instrument is carefully adjusted in our shop to ensure your maximum satisfaction.
In addition, our instruments have lasting value. This is especially valuable in the case of growing children who play violin. Because of our generous trade-in policy, it can be fairly painless financially when your child needs a larger instrument.In fact, when you deal with us you will enjoy the use of better instruments, have a greater chance of musical success, and you will spend far less money over the long term.
Unlike the guy on Ebay selling violins out of his garage, we will be here today, tomorrow, and in the future to take care of your needs as they evolve.
Q: Should I rent or buy an instrument?
A: For beginning students, we highly recommend renting first. Although WE think that EVERYONE should play either violin, viola, or cello, not all students stay with their chosen instrument. In fact, MOST do not. Given this somewhat harsh reality, the best way to ensure that you’re getting a good quality instrument to learn on, without spending too much money, is to rent from Telford & Sons Violins.
We honestly feel that we offer the best possible program to maximize instrument quality and playability, and to minimize cost. With our new “rent-to-own” contract, all of your monthly payments go toward the purchase of the rented outfit. If you stay with it, you will one day make the last rental payment and it will then be yours to own. If, on the other hand, you find that you really don’t want to continue with your studies, you simply return the instrument in good condition, pay the rent to date, and walk away with no further obligation.
If you have decided that you would rather buy an instrument, let us help you find the instrument that’s right for you. We offer a good selection of instruments to choose from at competitive prices, a variety of payment plans, excellent service after the sale, and a generous trade-in allowance should you ever find yourself looking to upgrade in the future. We have helped thousands of people find the perfect instrument. It would be an honor to help you find yours.
Q: What is the difference between a violin and a viola?
A: Generally speaking, although proportionately similar in shape, the viola is a larger instrument than the violin. It is also tuned lower than the violin. (The viola is strung C,G, D,A. The violin is strung G,D,A,E. The two instruments share three strings in common, G, D, and A.) The low string on the viola is the C string, which is seven half-tones lower than the low string on the violin, the G string. The highest string on the viola is the A string, which is the 2nd from the highest violin string. The highest string on the violin is the E string which is seven half-tones above the A string. A fairly common hybrid instrument is the 5 string violin (or viola) whose strings include the full range of both instruments….C, G, D, A, E.
Because the viola is tuned lower than the violin, its sound is somewhat more mellow, less squeaky, than a violin. This appeals to a lot of people who find the violin too shrill for their taste. For children interested in playing viola, we now offer a 13” viola (same body size as ¾ violin) and a 14” viola (same body size as 4/4 violin). These instruments defy tradition slightly in that they have disproportionately taller ribs (sides), which gives them greater interior volume, which makes them much more resonant in the lower register than their violin counterparts.
Other differences: Viola music is written in the alto clef. Violin music is written in the treble clef. Viola players almost always live in the musical shadow of the violin, and must be content to play backup as the violin players reap the glory of their leading role in any given orchestra.
Q: What is the difference between a violin and a fiddle?
A: The answer to this question can be quite lengthy, so I’ll try to be brief.
Generally speaking, any instrument that resembles a violin can be considered a fiddle. In order for such an instrument to be a violin a number of conditions must be met. For example, it needs to be made from traditional materials, and constructed according to traditionally accepted methods and proportions. The instrument that Grandpa whittled (with his pocketknife) out of a fencepost and an old barn door may be a fiddle, but will probably never be thought of as a violin.
In the modern world, however, the two terms are commonly used interchangeably. I have heard many owners of valuable violins refer to their instruments as their fiddles. The distinction between the terms is further blurred by the growing popularity of so-called “fiddle music”, which is a departure from violin music in the classical world. Musicians who play such music may use traditionally made violins (or not), but they are adjusted differently than a violin used in classical music. For example, (although there is no single standard) fiddle players generally prefer a lower string height, and a flatter bridge arch than their classical counterparts. They also prefer the higher tension, somewhat louder strings, and tend to look more favorably upon hybrid instruments, like the 5-string, or an amplified fiddle, than would a classical violinist.
Any violin can be set up to play as a fiddle. Not all fiddles, however, can be adjusted to meet the needs of a classical violinist. For these reasons it can be said that all violins are fiddles, but not all fiddles are violins.
Q: What determines the price of a violin family instrument?
A: For the work of individual makers, like Mr. Stradivari, the largest single determining factor when considering the monetary value of any given violin is the reputation of the maker. Of course, this factor does not pertain to instruments commercially made in large numbers in large factories, which are bound for the entry-level end of the violin market as student-grade instruments. Student-grade instruments are priced according to the cost of their materials, and the amount of time and effort spent in the process of their production. In addition, there is the labor and material cost of adjusting the violin to a playable condition.
Interestingly enough, the quality of sound an instrument produces has no direct correlation to it’s value. In other words, just because you think one violin sounds better than another, it does not necessarily mean that it will be more valuable. Perception of sound quality can be a very subjective thing….one that sounds great to me may not sound good to you at all, and vice-versa. About the only thing that you can safely say about the sound of violins is that each instrument has it’s own voice, and that some sound better than others. Generally speaking, the more carefully made instruments have an advantage in sound production over their less carefully made counterparts. However, sometimes a lowly student instrument will sound surprisingly good, and sometimes a well-made instrument will not live up to the expectations of it’s maker.
Q: The label inside my instrument says that it was made by a famous maker. How can I know if it is authentic and where can I get it appraised?
A: Unfortunately, the practice of falsely labeling instruments as the work of some famous maker (usually Stradivari), is long-standing and widespread. Today, if you pick up any given instrument that says it’s the work of someone famous, it’s almost a sure bet that it’s a copy. Antonio Stradivari is, by far, the most widely copied maker of all time. People have been copying his work practically since the day he died in 1737. Some copies are better than others. Some are laughable. Others may be so cleverly done that it truly takes an expert to tell that it’s not an original. As long as there are unscrupulous people in the world that will cheat you out of your hard-earned money, this will remain an issue. The violin world has seen its share of unscrupulous people, and regrettably, we see more of this problem every day, especially on the internet. To be on the safe side of this issue, you should seek out a reputable violin shop (not a music store) to evaluate your instrument.
Keep in mind that it is not possible to evaluate an instrument for authenticity without the opportunity to see the instrument firsthand. Beware of those individuals who are willing to appraise your instrument from a photo, or from what the label says, or, God forbid, from listening to it being played over the phone.
If, after preliminary inspection, there is reason to suspect that you have an original______________ instrument, and it is potentially valuable, you will need to have it certified by a recognized expert. Without certification, even an original work of a famous maker is only potentially valuable. With certification from such an expert, an original work may be worth millions of dollars.
Telford & Sons is a good place to begin the quest for authentication of your instrument. Although we have seen a lot of violins, we do not claim to be the last word and authority on the subject. For the most part, we can safely say that the great majority of violins coming through our door fall easily within the bounds of our expertise. If we see a violin that we feel may be valuable, and beyond our ability to say for sure, we rely on the expertise of Jim Warren of the Kenneth Warren & Son shop in Chicago. The Warren shop was established in 1927, and has since enjoyed the reputation of being one of the leading violin shops in the country. Mr. Warren’s certificates are recognized worldwide.
Q: Why are some bows so valuable? What should I look for when shopping for a bow?
A: This is another lengthy subject. Bows for stringed instruments have been around much longer than violin family instruments. The bows used with early violins were essentially the same as those used with the Viol family of instruments. Viols (of which the Bass Viol, or Upright Bass is the sole surviving member in modern use) preceded violins by a couple of hundred years. The bows were made from snakewood, a very strong and dense material. During the 18th century, thanks to the efforts of the Tourte family, it was decided that a better choice of wood for violin bows would be what they called in those days “Brazilwood”. The Tourtes’ also made other subtle improvements in the design of the bow to allow the violinist greater control over the production of sound from the instrument. They were very successful in this endeavor. The French went on to dominate the art of bow making, and many bows from early French makers are very valuable today.
The Brazilwood of 18th century Europe is what we call today “pernambuco”. It was imported into Europe as a lucrative trade commodity because it was the source of a very rich purple dye which can be extracted from the wood. The wood is from a very slow growing tree, and varies in color from yellow-orange to dark brown. In modern times, due to the ever increasing cost and scarcity of pernambuco, a similar, but more abundant wood is widely used for bows. It is even referred to as brazilwood, but it does not have the dye property of pernambuco. It is similar enough in strength and resiliency, however, that it is a pretty good substitute for the more expensive wood. Today’s “Brazilwood” bows make up the majority of good quality wooden student bows. In the modern world, many other kinds of wood have found their way into commercial bow making, and they are universally bad. When shopping for a bow, you should avoid the so-called “wooden bows”. If it is not made from pernambuco or brazilwood, you should not waste your time and money. Also, all bows should be haired with good horsehair. If a bow has synthetic hair, we recommend that you avoid it.
Other materials that are being used for modern bows come from the space-age. Carbon fiber, graphite, and fiberglass have all been used with varying degrees of success and acceptance in the violin world. The fiberglass bows developed by the Glasser family in New York City have all but dominated the world of the student instrument for the last several decades. Although fairly basic, and not likely to find favor with an accomplished musician, the Glasser bows are inexpensive, predictable, and decidedly superior to the so-called “wooden bows” mentioned above.
The bow that is right for you is the one that offers you the weight, balance, resiliency, and price that is most comfortable for you at your current level of playing proficiency. Your quest for a better bow requires you to TRY them out. It has to be right for YOU, no one else. At Telford & Sons, we consider it our priviledge to help you in such a quest. We have a large stock of bows to choose from , and you’re welcome to come in and try them all. We also offer a home trial period. A very important fact to bear in mind when shopping for a bow: We consider better bows to be instruments. As such, they qualify for our generous trade-in allowance if you ever need to upgrade to an even better bow in the future.
Q: My instrument has developed a crack. Can it be repaired, or must I find a replacement instrument?
A: Since violin family instruments (violin, viola, cello) are made of wood, it is not uncommon to see cracks develop. Most cracks, although annoying and somewhat disfiguring to the instrument, can be repaired without great expense, and do not substantially affect the structural and tonal properties of the instrument. There are some notable exceptions, however, and some cracks require extensive repair procedures to make the instrument sound again. In particular, cracks near the soundpost in either the top or back are very damaging to a violin family instrument. A crack in the top along the bass bar is also very serious. Soundpost cracks and bass bar cracks are the most serious type of cracks, and usually cost more to repair than the replacement cost of the average student instrument. Cracks in the pegbox, neck, and ribs (sides) can also be rather expensive to deal with, but are not as serious as soundpost and bass bar cracks.
A word of caution if you notice a crack in your instrument: DO NOT continue to play the instrument. Cracks only get worse. A minor crack can become a major problem if it is not properly repaired. DO NOT allow an amateur repair person to glue the crack. Take the instrument to a properly-trained violin repair person and have the problem corrected by someone who knows what they’re doing. DO NOT take the instrument to a music store. Most music stores do not employ properly-trained violin repair people.
If you do not have ready access to a violin shop that you feel good about, PLEASE CALL US AT: 1-800-683-5367, or email us at email@example.com. Violin repair and restoration is our specialty. Nothing can go wrong with your instrument that we can’t repair. We are dedicated to helping you make the best decisions regarding repair work for your particular circumstances, and we’ll save you money in the long run.
Q: I’m interested in the cello. What should I look for, and what should I avoid when looking for an instrument?
A: The cello is the largest member of the violin family (proper name violoncello). Few instruments can evoke more emotion in the human soul than a well-played cello. Because of its size, and the amount of work required to make, the cello is usually considerably more expensive than a comparable violin or viola. For this reason, manufacturers have been knocking themselves out for decades in a never-ending competition to see who can produce the cheapest cello. A cheap cello is, in our opinion, nothing more than an exercise in frustration and a complete waste of money. BUYERS BEWARE!!!
Look for a cello that is made from traditional, well-seasoned materials, namely, maple for the back, neck, and ribs, and spruce for the top. Insist on an ebony fingerboard. Make sure that the cello has a properly-fitted spruce (vertical grain) bass bar glued to the inside of the top. Make sure that the cello has corner blocks in each corner, a properly fitted neck block, endpin block, and full linings around the perimeter of the ribs for both top and back. Make sure that the cello has inlaid purfling, NOT painted purfling. Insist on an oil or spirit varnish….NOT LACQUER. If any of these elements are missing from a cello you are considering, DON’T BUY IT!!!!!!
Avoid plywood (laminated) cellos. Plywood cellos are cheaper to make, but they do not resonate as well as a carved cello. Edge damage problems are difficult, if not impossible to repair on a plywood cello. As far as we’re concerned, plywood cellos are on a one-way path to the dumpster. Avoid non-ebony fingerboards. Other woods are too soft for this application, and require much more frequent resurfacing (dressing). Avoid buying a cello from someone who can’t answer your questions about materials and workmanship. Never buy from a dealer who cannot or will not guarantee the cellos adjustment to be correct,
or who lacks the expertise to make adjustment corrections.
A properly made cello will hold its value, and, with proper maintenance, will retain its quality for hundreds of years of daily use. If you’re looking to buy a cello, please check out our line of cellos. We offer reasonable prices, lasting quality and value, professional adjustment, and a guarantee of satisfaction that never expires.
Q: I’m interested in the upright bass. What should I look for in a bass?
A: The upright bass (or bass viol, or double bass) evolved from an older family of string instruments, the viols, and preceded the introduction of violin family instruments. The modern upright bass is somewhat of a hybrid instrument, borrowing characteristics from both the viol family and the violin family. Early basses were very large instruments. With the evolution of better strings, and better construction methods, significant reductions in size became possible without sacrificing the musical properties of the instrument. This trend has continued even into modern times, and today most bass players prefer to play what is actually a ¾ size bass. Full size basses are still available, but for practical reasons are not as popular as their smaller counterpart.
For a discussion of what to look for in an upright bass, you should read the preceding FAQ about cellos. Many of the same considerations apply to both cello and bass. Fully carved basses made from traditional materials (same as cello) can be very expensive. To counter this, most student basses are plywood (laminated) instruments. From the standpoint of the production of sound, the use of plywood is less of a detriment in a bass than it is in a cello because of the sheer size of the instrument. They still have the same problems concerning the lifespan of the instrument, but some plywood basses sound pretty good in certain applications.
As far as we’re concerned, however, we still recommend that you consider spending the extra money to buy the bass made from traditional materials. Long after the plywood bass hits the dumpster, the traditional bass will be alive and well.
We stock a few basses that we feel represent an excellent value for your money. Please check them out on our Basses page.
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