How to choose a violin, a bow and accessories ?

 

You want to start learning the violin, and you want to choose good equipment.

 

As you know, I mainly devote myself to the teaching jazz violin, which has become a real vocation for me in recent years… thanks to you, my loyal subscribers!

But it often happens that some of you are not yet very experienced on the instrument, or even beginners on the violin.

You regularly ask me questions about the equipment I use: violin, bow, strings, rosin… but also an amplification microphone.

So I made an article about it!

 

Choosing a violin

 

The first step for those who intend to learn to play the violin is to know how to choose the instrument.

If you are a beginner, there is no need to spend a lot of money on violins made by renowned luthiers.

At the time of purchase, certain precautions must be observed. First, choose a so-called whole violin, in its adult size. Some smaller violins are for kids…be sure to check it’s not a 3/4 size!

At the beginning of the learning phase, it is difficult to obtain a pleasant sound… and you don’t have to worry about that, it’s normal.

Consequently, trying out the sound of a violin would be necessary, but it can be complicated to do if you don’t know how to play it yet…

The best thing is to buy the violin from a trusted luthier, to avoid buying one with flaws that will probably only be recognized as the lessons progress.

Also beware of online shopping; you must ensure that the instrument is of high quality, otherwise the repair may be expensive.

If this seems too complicated for you, I recommend that you take a look at these Marie Leloup beginner’s packs, whom I interviewed recently. I’ll post that blog soon.

My violin? I love it…

This is a violin by the luthier Bernard Bossert who is in Geneva. It dates from 2004, the year I was studying in professional class at the Geneva Conservatory. The workshop was next to the conservatory… And I was looking for a high quality violin. Ordinarily, this luthier only makes violins to order, but he had made this one between orders, and I happened to drop by a week after it was finished…

I tried it, and I fell in love immediately! And besides, Patrick Genêt, my teacher at the time, really liked it…

I really bought this violin for classical, but it suits me just as well for jazz. I’ve tried many since, old ones, Italian ones…

But none I liked so much as my own! Lucky to have found it…

 

 

The strings of the violin

 

The violin has four strings: G – D – A – E. Basically, there are three varieties of strings, namely:

  • sheep gut, which has a greater variety of sounds, but is more expensive and more difficult to maintain, used especially for baroque music
  • chrome steel, which sounds strong and shiny but can feel rough at times
  • made of synthetic material, a compromise between the first two varieties, generally covered with a ribbon of aluminium, nickel or silver.

 

The recommendation is that beginners opt for violins with synthetic strings, such as nylon, for example.

Personally, I have often been asked what brand of strings I use…

And my answer always surprises!

I use 3 types of strings: CORELLI CRISTAL for A and D, DOMINANTE for G, and PIRASTRO GOLD for E!

Why this choice, you will tell me?

Quite simply because it suits my violin, which naturally lacks bass (hence the dominant to accentuate it), and which shines in the treble (no need to press it…)

If you have already played the violin for a few years and are looking for strings that improve your sound, I recommend that you spend an afternoon at a luthier to try out the strings that are suitable for your violin. They often have used ones that they can lend you for a fitting!

 

 

The bow

 

The quality of the bow is very important for the creation of sound.

The horsehair must have a uniform color over its entire length, and must be new or have been changed recently. As the bow wears out, you will need to change your bow hair regularly, otherwise the sound will be altered, and the bow will slip too much on the strings.

Indeed, on each strand of horsehair there are tiny scales which allow the adherence of the bow on the string and its resistance: with wear, these scales are removed, and one must put more and more rosin on the bow to get sound…

It’s time to get your bow hair changed!

You regularly ask me the question of which type of bow is best suited for the jazz violin…

Again, this is very personal. Here are my preferences for jazz and classical styles:

 

  • for jazz I prefer a slightly heavier and more responsive bow on the attack, to be able to articulate the rhythm more clearly, because the rhythm is the big priority, which you have certainly understood if you have my jazz violin method…

 

  • for the classical, I prefer a bow that is lighter and less reactive on the attack, but which jumps more for spiccato…

 

I recently managed to find a superb bow by François Grimaud, which is perfect for jazz but whose sound is also suitable for classical! With this bow, I recorded my album Souffle, on which I combine jazz and classical music…

 

Rosin for the bow

 

Rosin is essential to create the resistance of the bow on the string, its adhesion which allows the production of sound…

There are several kinds of rosin, ranging from more to less sticky…

If you have the chance, try out some different types and feel what you prefer!

To start, you can for example choose a rosin such as Gustav Bernardel, reputed to be of very good quality.

Personally, I often lose the rosins… So I don’t always use the same one! But I don’t really care about that either…

For me, before the equipment, it’s the playing technique that has always counted the most, even if the accessories are still important.

 

The violin case

 

For years I have always used very different violin cases.

When I was a student at the conservatory, I had rectangular cases with a built-in sheet music pocket… But now that I improvise, I prefer cases that have the shape of a violin!

My latest acquisition is a BAM! More expensive yes, but resistant… light… I’m delighted!

But I also had GEWA boxes, or unknown Asian brands…

My latest discovery: the TRINITY CASE, with the suitcase that allows you to take the plane! It’s really great, and I’ve been using it a lot since traveling has become easier again and gigs have resumed. Ideal for low cost companies like Ryanair or Vueling, with which you normally have to buy an extra seat for your violin…

 

 

Violin mutes

 

Do you know these famous hotel mutes?

I have used them so much…

So as not to annoy the neighbors, but also to transcribe the solos of jazz musicians, in order to immerse myself as much as possible in their sound (to the detriment of mine…) If the subject interests you and you wish to deepen it, here is my article about solo transcription with 5 questions/answers!

But otherwise, to have a nice softer sound, I use the pie mute. And since I only do jazz, I hardly use it anymore…

Unlike me, some jazz violinists use the pie mute a lot… Again, a matter of taste…

 

The Chin Rest

 

Currently, I play on a very high chin rest : the Tibor Varga chin rest.

I have opted for this chin strap since 2004. It does not suit everyone and is quite special but it suits my morphology…

I really recommend that you try out the chin rests at a luthier!

I have a friend who makes custom chin rests: Jacques Gay. You can learn more about the website or http://www.mentonniere.com or https://violonis.com

He welcomes violinists to his home at the Center Stéphane Grappelli, and spends several days experimenting in order to find the ideal model for each morphology. The Center is located in Najac, in Aveyron: surrounded by nature, a little paradise on earth!

 

jacques gay eva slongo chin guards

The Shoulder rest

 

My current shoulder rest is a Jinhui but my friend Jacques Gay modified it to match my chin pad. It has lots of models of shoulder pads and chin pads to try to find good combinations!

Before that, I played for many years with the shoulder rests Kun, Wolf and Viva Musica…

Once again, the best thing is to try different shoulder rests at a luthier, because each shoulder and each neck is different… You have to do the best with your own feelings, and you can go very far in this search…

 

The microphone to amplify the violin

 

This is perhaps the question I received most often…

What microphone do I use to amplify myself to play jazz on the violin?

For me, there is no doubt: my preference goes to Shertler’s STAT V cell, which is the same one Didier Lockwood used…

Why this preference?

Yes, it’s a cell and the sound is not totally acoustic…

But in my opinion, an amplified sound cannot be totally acoustic

I tried a DPA mic, I also have an Audiotechnica… My friend Jacques Gay at the Stéphane Grappelli center, I had to try everything which is possible, because it has all the violin pickups that exist…

But for me, the Shertler is a safe bet. Even if the sound is a bit electric for some tastes, I prefer it for 4 reasons:

  1. It always offers the same faithful sound, I have no bad surprises
  2. On stage, I don’t have any feedback problems (which totally annoys me, and I’ve always had them with microphones such as DPA or Audiotechnica…)
  3. In concert, I am not dependent on the quality of the sound engineer (if he is very good, a sound with a DPA can be great, but if he is not competent, it may sound like a barrel, and I say this from repeated experience more than once…)
  4. I can adjust the volume myself thanks to the preamp, which you can conveniently clip to your pants or belt

 

There, you know pretty much everything about the equipment I use to play the violin!

 

I hope this article helps you in your choices. Don’t hesitate to ask me questions in the comments!