Buying a Used Violin

There are so many types of violins you can buy today; you get the originals from as early as the 1600s to machine-made outfits for beginners. You get official hand-made replicas of the great Stradivarius violin to even knock-offs of these replicas! A skilled luthier will always be able to figure out the real from the fake, sometimes with even just photographs. But as a new, inexperienced buyer, you may be suckered by someone into buying a violin for thousands of dollars when it actually is worth about a few hundred. To avoid such instances, there are certain things that you can look for, to figure out if you’re being conned or not.

A Novice Buyer’s Guide to Used Violins

To keep things simple, I’ve divided the guide into sections depending on who is buying and where he/she is buying from.

Age and Seriousness of the Buyer
I am assuming that my readers belong within the ‘new-to-this’ to ‘moderately-experienced’ violin enthusiasts. Advanced players and collectors almost always have their own system of choosing a violin.

If you’re someone completely new to the violin, then buying one firstly depends on your age. It’s obvious that a 7-year-old will have a hard time playing an adult-sized violin. So here’s a list of the available sizes and the age they correspond to.

For a child of 3 years (or younger), the size is 1/32 (13 inches in length).
For a child of 3-4 years old, the size is 1/16 (14 inches in length).
For a child of 4-5 years old, the size is 1/10 (15 inches in length).
For a child of 5-6 years old, the size is 1/8 (16 1/2 inches in length).
For a child of 6-8 years old, the size is 1/4 (18 1/2 inches in length).
For a child of 8-10 years old, the size is 1/2 (20 inches in length).
For a child of 10-12 years old, the size is 3/4 (22 inches in length).
From 12 onwards, you can play the full-size violin, which is 4/4 (23 inches in length).

With this in mind, here’s a simple trick you can use to save a little money on the beginner level after 12 years of age. When you (or your child) start out, buy a low-priced outfit. As your skills develop, you will realize whether you want to pursue playing or not. If you do, spend a little to upgrade the bow and the strings. After that, see if you can find someone to help upgrade the setup. If you’ve bought the violin from a specialty store, they can do this for a price. This will help in developing a better sound on a cheap violin for low costs. All of this should be done only if you have problems buying a better violin (a moderate quality violin will cost no less than $250, used ones for no less than $100-$150).

The musician on an intermediate level of difficulty can sense if a violin is uncomfortable to play. In such cases, find a better make or see what you can do to change the feel to your liking.

Buying Online
Now that we’re clear on who’s buying, let’s have a look at all the places you can buy a used violin from. The first place that comes to mind to most buyers will be the Internet. Sites like eBay always have sellers that put their own used outfits for sale. The prices can be as low as $25-$50. There are even shops that sell online at discounted prices and sometimes offer free shipping. Now, since we’re talking about used violins, I suggest that you not buy yours online. More often than not, people end up regretting taking this choice. This is because even though the Internet may offer the widest range of instruments, the seller’s credibility is always low. You never know who the seller can be. As far as shops are concerned, only a small number will ever offer a trial period for online purchase. Trust a shop only if they do provide this service. When the violin arrives, it is advisable to let an experienced player handle it before playing it yourself. He can help ascertain the instrument’s quality and you can try it for comfort. Also check if the seller is willing to accept returns or trade the rejected violin for another of the same price (or higher).

Another problem with online purchase is if the violin has been made overseas. There’s no telling what might happen to the wood when the instrument is stored in a climate different from the place it was created. In this case, you have to spend extra to take care of your violin.

Buying From a Local Source
If you’re buying from a shop, the best thing you can do is to take some who knows about violins, with you (like your teacher or a professional violinist friend). If the store owner realizes that you have little or no idea of what to look for, he may try to sell you a really expensive outfit that you don’t really need, or overcharge for a cheaper one. This is always the case with used violins, it’s rather difficult for a novice (or even an intermediate player) to find any faults. Never buy one just because it’s the shiniest or because the seller is throwing some free stuff in.

You will come across traders that offer a trade-back policy with the violins they sell. You can buy a violin from them (both used and new) and return it at a later day. Find out the average return cost percentage that other traders offer. If the one you’re buying from is offering too low a return price, chances are the violin is faulty or of an inferior make.

Checking a Used Violin for Kinks

Here’s a list of things that you can look for when you’re looking a used violin.

  • The first thing you look for are cracks in the wood. A single, small crack can not only change the sound of a violin, but the crack will also get bigger with time, potentially ruining the instrument. Even repaired cracks or ones that have been polished over can be detrimental to the violin’s quality. This goes double for cracks on the back than any other place, because they are the worst.
  • Low quality wood means it’s not cured well. As time passes, a violin made out of this wood will start swelling in the side, or the ribs. This is because the wood eventually shrinks, but only the parts where there are long continuances. Which means the sides (the ribs) stay relatively firm, while the top and back plates (front and back side) of the violin begin to shrink. This gives the violin a bloated look. As a rule of thumb, make sure the sides have not swollen more than the outer edges.
  • Never buy a piece if it wasn’t already arranged with tuned strings. Violins, like any instrument, need some warming up. A good craftsman will know how to keep a violin in playable condition, rather than keep it boxed up.
  • Make sure the neck is perfectly straight.
  • Check the setup. The strings should be at the right height, so when you play, the strings won’t touch the fingerboard too much and make a buzzing sound. The bridge should be perfectly straight and at right angles to the front plate.
  • Look at how the fine tuners have been set. Too loose is bad, too tight is even worse, as they might dig into the wood beneath them.
  • The pegs should be made of either rosewood or ebony. Any other wood is just not dense enough to get a proper grip without letting the strings slip.

It also pays to take some time to learn about all the parts of a violin. Once you learn what things like ‘sound post’, ‘bass-bar’ and ‘tailpiece’ are and what they do inside a violin, it automatically becomes easier for you to see if they are set right or not. If they are not, check if it requires only a minor adjustment; in any other case look for another outfit.

Average Prices for Used Violins

The thing about violins is, judging them based purely on sound is not possible. That’s because sound is always subjective. So the appraisal is often based on other things like when and where they were made, who made them and whether the violin has undergone any repairs to date.

Simply put, expensive means better. The kind of wood used, even in machine-made violins, can be quite costly. Add to that a luthier’s work in case of a hand-made violin, and the price goes up by a lot. It usually takes at least 200-250 hours of hard work to produce a quality instrument and so the price is justified. If the work put in is real and credible, that is. That said, a used violin for a beginner should cost around (and more than) $200. Look at it this way, the cheaper an instrument you try to buy, the more you’re going to spend on repairs, upgrades and maintenance later on. So it is definitely advisable to go for a better quality and expensive violin; you save more in the long run. A good, quality used violin should cost at least $500.

As for authentic and old violins, it’s better to refer to good catalogs or an expert luthier that you can trust. These won’t cost any less than $4000, even the replicas.

All in all, a serious beginner should be willing to shell out about $400-$500 for a good, used violin. The price almost doubles for an intermediate player and double of that for an advanced player.

In the end, for any player, what matters is the sound of a violin and its ability to hold that sound for a long time. Buying an expensive instrument with quality wood almost always ensures good sound, but you can find a violin that suits your musical needs and still be priced within budget. The amazing thing about a used violin is that if the wood is in good condition, the varnish hardens over time, giving a better, resonant tone. Not only that, old violins always generate a good status and respect within musical circles. It all stems from the violin’s amazing history and buying one makes you a part of it.

Tips Buying a Used Electric Guitar

A wise step while looking for used electric guitars would be to collect as much information about the instrument as possible. This should include knowledge about the serial number of the instrument, in case you want some additional information about it from the manufacturer, the modifications done to it, like replacement of pick-ups, strings, change in paint and so on. Secondly, it is important for you to ask (if buying from a private seller) why he wants to sell his guitar and if he purchased it new or used.

Check the Condition of the Guitar

Body

There are three designs in the body of an electric guitar – solid body, semi-hollow body, and hollow body. Your selection of the body depends on your playing style. As a beginner, you do not have to bother too much about the body, and hence can begin by selecting a solid body. Once you are thorough with basic lessons and ready for advanced learning you can choose some other body for your guitar.

Neck Construction

The neck is the most important as well as the moat delicate part of an electric guitar. Firstly, you will have to check for any damage – like a crack along the neck or the area between the neck and the head. The point where the neck joins the body of the guitar is also important to check for cracks as it might result in the complete breaking of the guitar. Some scratches here and there on the surface or the finish of the instrument are not a major concern as they don’t affect the sound quality. But cracks that have gone deep into the structure will definitely amount to a bigger problem in the sound and you may have to replace the neck. Also, if the neck is a little warped or bowed do not include the instrument in your selection list.

Apart from the above concerns, you also need to check out the types of guitar necks and choose the appropriate one. Basically there are three ways in which the neck is connected to the body – set neck, bolt-on neck, and neck through the body. The first type of neck is glued to the body permanently. Gibson guitars are a perfect example of set neck guitars. These models are quite expensive as compared to others and are also difficult to repair. The second type, i.e., the bolt-on neck, is attached to the body with the help of bolts or screws starting from the back of the body and penetrating into the back of the neck. This neck attachment reduced the production cost of electric guitars and brought them in demand, since the bolts could be easily adjusted or even replaced. Fender guitars are seen with this method of neck attachment. The third type is neck through the body, wherein the neck is an integral part of the body constructed out of one single piece of wood or several pieces laminated together. The selection of an electric guitar also depends on the convenience of placing your fingers on it and moving from one fret to another. There are a few standard neck profiles from which you can select a suitable profile for yourself for ease in playing. These profiles are termed as C-shaped, U-shaped and V-shaped neck profiles. The shape of the letters roughly correspond to the shape of the profile.

Strings

There should not be any buzzing in the strings while playing the guitar – whether plugged or unplugged. The strings should also not go mute in between. The correct way to check the strings is to play the guitar before purchasing. It will help you identify any rattling or buzzing in the strings. If the guitar is used for a very long time you might notice rust on the strings and even slight breaking.

Bridges

A bridge is a part on the electric guitar that supports the strings, connects them to the body, and transfers the vibrations of the strings to the body to produce resonance and sustain. There are two basic types of bridges; stoptail or fixed bridges, and tremolo bridges. While fixed bridges are permanently attached to the body, tremolo ones are movable. With tremolo bridges you can bend all the strings at a time to attempt variations in notes, however, it can cause the guitar to go off-tune at times. Hence, many players prefer stoptail bridge which offers more controlled, in-tune and sustained notes. Consider all these factors and decide on which type of bridge your guitar should have.
Check the Sound Quality

Action

The word action here refers to the distance between the strings and the fret board. Ideally, the strings should be closer to the board, so that they can be pressed down easily to fret the notes, but not so close that they touch the board. If the strings are close enough to the board right from the head to the bridges, you can say that the guitar has a good or the correct action.

Scale Length

Scale length is the distance between the bridge and the nut. The point between these two parts is where the string vibrates. Scale length is a vital component of an electric guitar or any fretted instrument for that matter, because it affects the tonal quality as well as playability of the instrument. The two very common types of scale lengths are Fender scale 25-1/2″ (longer scale that provides higher string tension and a trebly sound) and Gibson scale 24-3/4″ (shorter scale and easy to play, which provides lower string tension and produces a little thick and less trebly sound). There are other scale lengths as well, but these two are the most preferred ones.

Intonation

Intonation is the accuracy of the fretted notes produced from the strings. For setting the intonation of the guitar, bridge saddles (the points on the bridge supporting individual strings) are moved either closer or away from the fret board till the octave on the 12th fret and its harmonics are equal. If an electric guitar is off-tune or is set in an incorrect intonation, the chords played at the bottom of the neck sound correct but the same chords played higher on the fret board sound a little off-tune. Another important thing is to check if the guitar is able to hold the tune for a few hours once set, or if you have to keep setting it frequently. When checking this though, keep in mind that every musical instrument needs intonation setting done from time to time. Make use of digital tuners to check the intonation for an accurate result.

Pick-ups

Pick-ups are magnetic devices that sense the musical vibrations of the strings in an electric form and pass electronic signals to the amplifier as well as speakers. There are two types of pick-ups – magnetic and piezoelectric – and both produce different sounds. It is very important to check these pick-ups while buying the instrument because they are pretty expensive to replace. If you are buying an electric guitar for yourself, then it is quite easy to examine the pick-ups. However, if you are purchasing it for someone else you will either have to take the person along with you or should know exactly what style of playing he/she prefers. The number of pick-ups also vary according to the model of the instrument. For some models there are two pick-ups – one close to the neck that produces a thicker sound and the other close to the bridge to get a treble sound effect. Some electric guitars also have a third pick-up in the middle, which adds to the sound blending combination.

Where to Buy?

Retail music stores are the most approachable destinations for buying used things. The people working there are well acquainted with the ins and outs of musical instruments and are able to give right suggestions. If you have access to such a local store nearby, do make a visit. If not, get in touch with a private seller, provided you ask all the questions mentioned in the introductory paragraph. Do not hesitate to voice your queries regarding the instrument and satisfy yourself before making the purchase. After all, it’s a one-time purchase and, of course, an important one in your music career. Another important point to note is the amplifier used for the electric guitar. When you are testing the sound quality of the guitar, use a quality amplifier available in the shop or borrow one from your friend. If the amplifier is not good it definitely affects the sound quality of the guitar. Nowadays even the Internet has become a great source for buying used stuff. Craigslist, eBay and other such sources are good options to check out.

A used electric guitar is a good option against buying a new one, not only because it costs less, but also because as a beginner you don’t have to invest too much just for trying your hand at it. Furthermore, if you are amongst the few lucky buyers, you might get a piece that is rare or out of production. Lastly, take your friend or someone knowledgeable in this field along to make the best buy.

Effects of Music Lessons on the Intelligence

One of the first abilities that is enhanced by music is creativity. Studies on children have shown that they paint more creatively, if they simultaneously listen to music. The visual and space orientation capacities have been shown to improve for a short while (10-15 minutes) after listening to music; this is a part of the Mozart effect. It is believed that intelligence levels increase by listening to Mozart’s compositions, hence the name particular name of this effect.

However, from merely listening to further studying music, the latter step is considerably important, and consequently the results can be observed. Simple listening differs significantly from the actual learning process of playing an instrument or singing.
In the process of learning music, the brain modifies and actually enlarges within certain areas that are connected with this particular task. Several studies (Pascual-Leone, 2001) and brain scans have revealed that a musician’s brains is different; for example a piano player has got more gray matter in the region that controls the finger movements.

In the study named “The Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development”, several scientists namely Krista L. Hyde, Alan C. Evans (from Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University), Jason Lerch (Mouse Imaging Centre, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Gottfried Schlaug, Andrea Norton, Marie Forgeard (from the Department of Neurology, Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory, Beth Israel Deaconess (Medical Center and Harvard Medical School), and Ellen Winner (from the Department of Psychology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA), have brought relevant insight regarding how music really helps to develop our brain, and successively our IQ. They investigated the structural changes that occur in the brain as a result of 15 months of instrumental music teaching program that was conducted for young children; they were compared with another group of children that did not have any musical training.

As expected, the former group showed improved finger movement and rhythm related tasks. However, the tasks that did not involve musical knowledge remained the same. The gray matter development has also been observed in areas other than those directly connected with music, namely, hearing and finger movement. The complex process of learning produces growth in other parts of the brain, and these facts lead to the idea that long-term programs of brain training may help neuron growth in children. This is particularly relevant for those with developmental problems, as well as for grownups with neurological conditions.

Musicians generally have more gray matter (Schlaug et. al., 2005) as compared to non-musicians, and he also showed that children who play instruments have a significant increase in the gray matter quantity. When professional and amateur musicians are compared, it is clearly revealed that the former type who actually practice twice as much have a greater brain development, than the amateurs (Gaser and Schlaug, 2003).
Studies conducted on musicians and non-musicians explain a diversity of differences, some notable and some statistically proven. A testing on cognitive tasks (Schellenberg, 2006) shows that the musicians usually do better than their non-musical peers, when it comes to cognitive tasks. Also, increased memory levels have been noticed in musically trained children within ages between 4 – 6, when compared to the non-musical children of the same age.

The list of tasks where it has been observed that musically trained people perform better (Schellenberg, 2006, and Patel and Iverson, 2007) is:

  • vocabulary
  • math
  • reading
  • verbal memory
  • space orientation skills
  • phonemic awareness.

A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg (2006) shows that musically trained school children got better results on IQ tests. Several intellectual abilities are connected to music learning, and seem to have a beneficial influence in developing musicians’ memory in areas that are connected to fluid intelligence like the speed of processing, verbal comprehension, working memory, and perceptual organization.

Information About Spinets

A spinet is very popular version of a keyboard, such as a smaller piano or an organ. These are primarily known for their unusual angle of the strings used in the construction of the instrument. In this article, we shall study about the history, making, parts, and working of this harpsichord.

Pianos are available in many varieties. You can find Concert-Grand, Semi-Concert, Baby Grand, Horizontal, Classic-Upright, Studio, and Spinet pianos.

What are Spinets?
Spinets are musical instruments that belong to the harpsichord, piano, or organ family. Although the term spinet has been used to describe any sort of harpsichord, it is more accurate to use this term only for those instruments which are small, have one keyboard, one string for each note which are perpendicular to their respective keys. The unique feature of a spinet is that, unlike a harpsichord, it has a small soundboard with strings that are angled at 30 degrees to the keyboard towards the right. Due to its small size, a spinet can easily fit in a small home. It usually has few tones in the upper notes, and a weak overall sound.

History of Spinet Pianos

Upright Spinet Piano
In the 1920s, the sales of large pianos suddenly dropped with the invention and mass production of phonographs and radios. Also, with the Great Depression of the 1930s, most piano making companies had to shut down. In such a setting, a new and small version of the piano was created in 1936, called the spinet. With its small size and price, it was instantly popular with most of the populace. Larger pianos were considered to be old-fashioned, and were replaced with the spinets. The Acrosonic Spinet became one of the most popular models in production.

Spinets were available in a few variations, such as octave spinets, which pitched at a higher octave than normal; bentside spinets, which looked like a twisted harpsichord; English spinets; and 5-octave spinets. After the Second World War, imports and the increasing popularity of guitars affected the production of all kinds of pianos, and although the spinet was still popular with the public, technicians and piano tuners disliked this instrument, because even the smallest repairs turned into a long task, which required removing all the connecting rods and keys and refitting them afterwards. For this reason, spinets gradually declined in number. Nowadays, people prefer to use electric pianos instead.

Action Parts of Spinet Pianos

Keys of a Spinet Harpsichord
The major action parts of a spinet piano are the bridle tapes, hammer shanks, flange screws, hammer butts, damper levers, upright jacks, and jack springs. However, it is difficult to find these parts in stores nowadays, although one might have better luck searching for them online.

While most harpsichords have 2 – 3 sets of strings, spinets have one set. The casing of a spinet is always smaller than that of a regular piano, with a shorter top. Due to this size, the strings are quite short, leading to a lower quality in music, especially for the deeper notes. Also, the small size of spinets led to the addition of drop action keys, which would strike the strings directly, leading to sharper sounds. The mechanism of drop action keys makes the equipment very cramped, making it a little difficult to play. These disadvantages make a spinet a strict no-no for professional piano teachers and serious students.

The average dimensions of a vertical spinet piano is approximately 24 inches in width, 60 inches in length, and 40 inches in height. The weight of a spinet piano with these measurements would be around 300 pounds. As such, this instrument is a good choice as a family instrument if the budget and space is limited.