Upgrading an Inexpensive Violin
First, we need to get this out of the way, as in any upgrade / DIY article:
WARNING/DISCLAIMER: Any modification or upgrades that you do to your instrument, you do so freely at your own risk. Neither Musicians Unite nor the author of this article is responsible for any damages to your instrument that can incur no matter how simple they may appear.
In this three-part series of articles, we are going to look at some inexpensive acoustic instruments and how to improve them. The first instrument that we are going to do an upgrade on is this violin that I purchased. You can usually find these instruments around the upper $40.00 range on websites like eBay, etc. This one is made by Ohuhu from Amazon:
Mainly made in China, the majority of these inexpensive violins are made using a composite wood, with almost like plastic resin. Sometimes you take a chance buying an instrument like this because quality control may be "spotty" for lack of a better term. However, sometimes with an inexpensive instrument (like this one), you can get one that actually plays well.
This one here that I bought does have that composite wood body and also a plastic tailpiece. It also has a wood bridge (which I needed to cut the string slots) and plastic tuning pegs. The fretboard is also a heavy plastic. Believe it or not the violin does hold its tuning even though I am sure the strings are a bit on the rough side. Same goes for the wood bow, even though the hair is supposedly Mongolian horsehair, the "mystery wood" bow is warped slightly and curves to the right.
Although I can replace the plastic string tuning pegs with wood ones:
Also I can replace the tailpiece and chin rest with metal ones instead of plastic:
And I can replace the bridge with a German compensated style:
My first thought was to replace the slightly warped wood bow. Those with an upward convex curve is normal. This wood bow that came with the violin actually curves to the right, and also bounces sometimes on the strings.
Getting a new bow would be an easy upgrade choice for anyone to do. So I took a look around, and some bows I found out can go from the forty dollar range all the way to several hundreds of dollars!
I decided to go with a carbon fiber bow that I saw on www.FiddlerShop.com
, it was around $60.00 USD range.
I thought this bow would be quite a great upgrade seeing how it would not warp like a wood bow. It also has Mongolian horsehair as well and yes there is also other horsehair that you can put on a bow if you so choose.
Now I tried the bow on the strings that came with this violin just to see if there was a noticeable difference...and there is a BIG difference, mainly in the control that I have especially on slower songs.
This carbon fiber bow has an even sound all the way when I am drawing the bow from bottom to tip. When I used the wood bow that came with the violin I would sometimes get that “choke” sound and almost a bouncing effect. Even with the cheap strings on the violin the carbon fiber bow actually makes the string have more overall tonality in how they sound. It's like night and day.
Now the other upgrade that I did is replaced the strings that came on the violin with a set that again I got from the same company noted above. The new strings were around the $29.00 price point.
From what I understand these string are like Dominant violin strings, without the higher price range which is usually around the $80.00 USD. Dominant strings have a very flexible, multi-strand synthetic core. They have a bit richer sound and feel like gut strings. They are also impervious to changes of climate, allowing the violin to stay in tune longer. This brand is hand made in Germany from the same company noted above, and I found to be the winning “one - two” upgrade punch that I was looking for. NOW, the inexpensive violin sounds 100% better than what it originally sounded like.
The conclusion is that even though some people may not like the idea of paying more money on upgrades, more than what the instrument is worth, you don’t have to make all of these upgrades, nor do them all at once. What I am recommending is a musician CAN greatly improve an inexpensive instrument’s sound with upgrading the instrument’s parts, one small upgrade at a time!!
So good luck and have fun!!
-Thomas Rawding - MU Columnist
*Thomas Rawding (AKA: Mr.Tom) is an multi-instrumentalist, singer and a registered songwriter currently under BMI, Inc. He has been playing and recording music for more than 20 years and continues to write and record songs in South Carolina, for both retail sale and commercial licensing.
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