By: Patrick Clark
After playing for over 25 years, and teaching for almost 15 of those years, I’ve had the opportunity to try nearly every “brand name” student fiddle on the market. I’ve found some amazing, inexpensive fiddles in my day. But finding the best, most consistent brand, can be very hard. When talking about “student” instruments, there are several factors that you have to consider.
1. Size (Is the student a child or an adult)
2. Price (There is a breaking point between student and advanced)
So, let’s talk about the size first. There are a lot of choices out there for fractional size student instruments. Most, these days, are made in China. But, let’s be honest, how much sound can you really get out of an 1/8 size violin? Or, even a 1/4 size? The answer is, not really that much. Quality and consistency is very important but peeling paint off the wall like a 17 million dollar Guarneri? Well just look at the price tag, it’s probably an unrealistic expectation for a fractional size.
The bottom line is, the instrument has to have a good, rich (enough) sound, and be set up properly. It must be forgiving when you play it. Set up is EVERYTHING folks! The initial muscle memory put into the hands is FOREVER. Therefore, when choosing an instrument to learn on for the first time, you may become very overwhelmed with the options. And, chances are, you have no idea what you are doing or looking for. A great recipe for OVERLOAD!!!!
I spent about a year and a half working for Eastman Music Company, in California. While there, my job was to travel all over the country selling Eastman’s violins to violin shops. I played HUNDREDS of student, step up, and professional instruments. The constant that seems to be an issue with many student instruments is nut heights, bridge heights, and neck placements. All of which, if you’re not hip to these issues, may be overlooked. I’ll come back to Eastman in a minute.
Price. Price! PRICE!!! If you’re looking to buy, you’re going to have to spend AT LEAST $500 or more for a DECENT STUDENT FIDDLE. REGARDLESS of size. There was an article that was shunned for calling some sub par instruments Violin Shaped Objects. VSOs for short. The author was RIGHT. You might get lucky and get something for cheaper, but the old adage, “you get what you pay for,” applies here.
Now back to Eastman. There are many instrument manufacturers all over the world. I could tell you a few that I don’t believe in, but let’s not waste your time with negatives. Eastman Music Company is the distributor AND manufacturer of their instruments. This means that they have complete quality control over their product. I’ve been a clinician for Eastman for almost 6 years. A year and a half of those 6 years, I was an employee. I left the company to pursue my passion for teaching and I currently continue to be a national clinician for the company today.
My passion for education and demand of quality from my students, and business associates leads me to recommend Eastman violins/fiddles for the FIRST student instrument. Every beginner I take, I put on an Eastman. It has nothing to do with business loyalty or internal politics. It has everything to do with quality. So, in a culture where we feel the need to trust big names, Eastman, is one that you can trust. The company has a customer satisfaction promise that is very fair. I stand by them both as a clinician, and as a consumer.
Best Beginner Instrument = Eastman Fiddle
For more information about purchasing an instrument, or to consider renting, check out my book, “Fiddling, The Basics and Beyond.”