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String Instruments

Best Violin

There comes a point when budding violinists know they want to stick with this instrument for a long time, and are ready to find a violin they can call their own. Purchasing a violin can be a good investment, for although violins are some of the more expensive musical instruments, they don’t lose their value over time when treated with care. If the violin sounds good and is easy to play, owning a violin rather than renting one can be an inspiration for a young musician, encouraging them to spend more time playing the instrument. Finding such a violin can be a challenge, however, as every instrument is unique.

There is no substitute for playing several violins to find the one that is right for you. If you don’t have a good violin shop in your area, some shops are willing to ship several violins to you, allowing you to try them out and keep the one you like best. A good student violin will have a pleasant sound, consistent tone quality through the entire range of notes, responsive dynamic range, and will feel easy to play. Good craftsmanship is essential - look for a solid spruce top, aged maple back and sides, ebony pegs which don’t stick or come loose, and fine tuners on an ebony tailpiece.

The list below includes instruments from trusted shops which consistently receive good reviews from teachers, parents and students. They are all available as sets complete with a case and a bow for between $400 and $600. NOTE: If you order any violin from a manufacturer’s website or other online source rather than from a violin shop, take it to a professional local violin shop for setup and adjustment to ensure good tone and playability.

Marco Polo Violin Outfit

Marco Polo Violin Outfit

In order to provide quality that is a step above mass-produced instruments, many violin shops offer their own "house brand," made overseas to their specifications, then imported and finished or setup in-house. The Marco Polo violins by Metzler Violin Shop are an excellent example of this. These instruments have a rich, warm tone, excellent dynamic response, and good projection, making them a great choice for orchestral playing and solo performance. They are made from aged maple and spruce, with ebony pegs, fingerboard and details. These instruments will suit developing musicians through many stages of their musical growth. Each violin outfit includes a shaped case, wood or composite bow, rosin, and a polishing cloth.

Gliga 'Gems 2' Violin Outfit

Gliga violins have developed an excellent reputation for quality and value. Hand carved in Romania from Carpathian from solid maple and spruce, they produce a resonant, clear tone which has delighted many violinists through the years. Their website allows you to see photos of the specific instruments they have available, so you can choose the exact violin you want. Each violin outfit includes a case, bow and strings, which can also be selected when you order.

 Franz Hoffman Maestro Violin Outfit

Franz Hoffman Maestro Violin Outfit

These violins present an excellent value as a first instrument. Their consistent quality has earned them the recommendation of numerous teachers and students. They have clear, even tones and good projection, making them a good choice for beginner through intermediate-level violinists. Each outfit includes a case, a bow, strings and rosin.

Carlos Rizzo Violin Outfit

A relative newcomer on the scene, Carlos Rizzo violins offer an impressive sound for this price point. Their clear tone and great projection make them a good choice for solo performance. They have very good dynamic response through the entire range of the instrument. Their distributor website has several models on it, with helpful videos allowing you to hear the different instruments and pick out a good choice for your budget. The Carlos Rizzo model is the oft-recommended choice for those seeking a combination of expressive tone and good value. Each outfit includes a shaped plywood case, Brazilwood bow, rosin, a basic shoulder rest, and a cleaning cloth.

Eastman VL100 Violin Outfit

Eastman Violins has been a strong presence in the student violin market for many years, building a reputation for consistent quality. Their VL100 model has been praised by reviewers for its excellent value, with a quality of craftsmanship exceeding many pricier options. It's tone is clear and resonant, so it's no surprise that it's a popular choice among students around the world. Each outfit includes a shaped case and a wooden bow.

Scott Cao 850 Violin

The Scott Cao 850 Violin earns top spot on this list because it’s very high quality instrument at an affordable price. With a rich, opulent tone on the lower strings, and a surprising brilliance on the higher strings, it is a very consistent model suitable for everyone from an advancing beginner with a larger budget to an intermediate/advanced student. Though you may want to replace the Thomastik Dominant strings with higher-quality dominants, the fittings are all of high quality. The Guarneri chinrest and Aubert bridge are a good match for this instrument, as they're affordably replaced, quality fittings.

Rudoulf Doetsch 701

Rudoulf Doetsch 701

My personal violin, the Doetsch is based on a Guarneri del Gesù who some argue to be one of the greatest violin makers in the world and his violins truly have a flair of their own. This model is constructed from European tonewoods, select woods which contain specific tonal qualities other woods don't possess. This instrument is remarkably even across all four strings, producing a reliable, similar tone on all strings.

Though the E string doesn't quite match the rich tone and brilliance of the lower strings, this can be minimized by having dominant lower strings and a brighter, gold E string. This minor upgrade is a small price to pay for a high quality, and affordable instrument. Though it comes with basic black fittings, these can be easily upgraded for aesthetic value, if desired.

Ming Jiang Zhu Violin 907

Ming Jiang Zhu Violin 907

Ming Zhu's workshop violins feature a high quality build and produce such a beautiful sound, many musicians are duped into paying a much higher price. This particular model defined by its powerful, full tone and constructed from flamed Asian maple and European Spruce. It's an excellent option for both professionals and students who plan on growing with their instrument.

The 907 was selected over the more popular – and pricier - 909 violin because the tone produced by each model is remarkably similar. Additionally,  both come with a Dominant and Lenzer E string, as well as an Aubert Deluxe Bridge. These violins have become are so popular, the manufacturer has begun issuing certification with their violins to prevent fakes from being sold to unsuspecting buyers.

Karl Willhelm Model 58 Violin

Karl Willhelm Model 58 Violin

Produced under violin and cello maker Bernd Dimbath, Karl Willhelm violins have been touted as extremely playable, featuring a rich tone and expert set up. Dimbath personally oversees production of these violins and has the spruce and maple wood placed in storage for a minimum of ten years before production even begins.

The manufacturer filters through each piece of wood, selecting only choice materials before matching individual pieces of wood based of off desired acoustic properties. This model in particular has a resonant tone, beautiful flamed back, and is quick to respond to the player's bow. This instrument comes equipped with Thomastik Dominant strings, and black fittings.

Custom Antique Guarneri Del Gesu 1743 Cannone Violin

Manufactured by US Customs Strings, this Cannone Violin copy is known for its explosive sound and beautifully applied Italian varnish. Though it's difficult to assert whether this model was truly made in Cremona tradition - a highly specialized and classic Cremona culture of violin making - this instruments forceful tone certainly supports the claim.

Paganini's “cannon” nickname for this particular has stuck, and defined this instrument's bold reputation. What the instrument lacks in rich and brilliant tone, it makes up for in sheer force of will and depth. Uniquely outfitted with brown fittings which complement the varnish, this violin is aesthetically striking, a trait which expertly matches its fantastic sound production.

NS Design CR4 Electric Violin

Ned Steinberger has become the most well-renowned maker of electric violins on the market today. These instruments are the go-to choice of many professional violinists. The CR Series is his top of the line offering, and the NXT Series and WAV Series instruments also provide excellent value at lower price points.

Many people feel that NS Design violins have the best tone of any fully-electric violins. They have an excellent range of expression as well, capturing clear bright notes, pizzicato, and deep resonant sounds equally well. Dual pickups with a toggle switch, separate tone knobs let you dial in the amount of brightness you want, and the fine tuners are easy to use.

The violins are available in four or five string models and can be made with frets or with a traditional smooth fingerboard. The included shoulder rest is easy to attach, and the instrument comes with a removable body reference bout, which provides a spatial reference where the end of the body would be on a traditional violin.

Wood Violins Viper Electric Violin

Wood Violins Viper Electric Violin

The one thing really making the Viper stand out is its innovative chest support system. You essentially strap the violin to your body, which gives you the freedom to really let loose on stage without worrying about securing the violin with your chin. I know several violinists who swear by this, saying it's surprisingly comfortable, and has opened up many new possibilities in their playing.

The Viper also has very good tone and the sound is bright and expressive. You can choose from fretless/fretted options and four, five, 6 six or even seven strings. The tuners are guitar-style and fairly easy to use. If you're looking for a unique violin that really lets you break out of the traditional mold, this would be an excellent choice.

MSI Violins Solid Body Electric Violin

MSI Violins Solid Body Electric Violin

MSI Violins are the creation of Dan Maloney who formerly worked at Zeta Music Systems, the undisputed pioneers and leaders of the electric violin wave for many years. These beautiful handcrafted pieces have a height-adjustable bridge/pickup system giving them possibly the warmest tone of any electric violin on the market right now. The instrument I tested had a few notes that seemed a bit "hotter" than others, but a professional adjustment of the bridge might even out the sound.

The MSI also had a narrower neck than most other electric violins which helped it feel more like a traditional instrument. These violins have been described as having a very "acoustic-like" tone, while still providing the feedback-killing advantages of a solid-body electric instrument. Options include 4 or 5 strings, and traditional or mandolin-style tuning pegs.

The Realist Violin RV4Pe

A Realist Violin might be your choice if you're simply looking for a decent acoustic violin with a good pickup. There are four string and five string models available, at two different price points depending on the quality of wood used in the body. The Realist Violins give you the familiar feeling of traditional acoustic instruments, which make the transition to the electric world very easy.

A few pros and cons: the quality of these violins is basically on par with other new student-level instruments, not particularly inspiring. But, the very good pickup does make up for that to some extent, as the tone could be shaped with a preamp or equalizer (not included). Since it uses a passive pickup, the signal is a bit weaker than some other electric violins and you'll hear some finger noise and possible feedback if you're on a loud stage. The upside is this violin allows for the greatest range of expression, capturing all the nuances of your bowing.

Yamaha SV-250 Professional Silent 5-String Violin

The Yamaha Silent Violin made this list because of the range of options it provides for a player. While it may not excel at any one thing, it's a solid entry into amplified music and is very versatile. This is the only instrument to offer a 1/8 inch headphone jack as well as a 1/4 inch output. The onboard dual-pickup system allows you to adjust the sound levels, and play using headphones, without the need for an amp. This is great if you need to practice somewhere but having an amp blasting out your sound wouldn't be appropriate or feasible. It's also an extremely handy way to be able to hear yourself when you're on a loud stage - send the 1/4 inch feed to the sound board, and plug a pair of earbuds into the 1/8" jack to create your own in-ear monitors. The pickups are good enough to give you a very nice tone if you're using a high-quality amp or effects pedals. Because this instrument has the outline of a traditional violin, you can use your own shoulder rest, and the mechanics of the violin feel very familiar.

Dan Ring
I'm a commercial and film composer working in LA. My music has been heard on MTV, VH1, Current TV, and internationally in countries such as Singapore, Israel, Belgium, England, and Canada. I've written music for commercials and documentaries nationally and internationally, and have worked for clients such as Motorola, Scion, State Farm Insurance, Hyundai, Maserati, Herman Miller, and NASCAR.

I create music both in-the-box, using virtual instruments, as well as with live instruments in studio sessions.  Being surrounded by all sorts of instruments throughout my life, I've collected a wealth of knowledge about just what makes some instruments better than others.  Let my experience go to work for you as you explore the best of what's out there today in musical instruments, software, and digital recording. I also have a wealth of expertise when it comes to consumer electronics and web-based software applications, such as language translators and language-learning websites.
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