my violin gets a tune-up

I asked my kids’ violin instructor if I could have a lesson because “something is wrong.” She played my violin for a bit and agreed that something was wrong but couldn’t identify what.  The violin needed love.  She told me to bring it to the shop.

(It’s a “tune-up”!  Get it now? Please someone laugh at my pun. Please?)

The Shop only refers to one store in these parts.  They have a violin for sale for $125,000, for example. If your Guarneri is having issues, you bring it there. And therefore my might-be-a-Longiaru went as well. I’ve been failing to get there since February to buy something for myself, but once my violin needed it, we were there in two hours.

The luthier said the neck is too low, and due to the violin’s age he wants to do a complete neck reset.  For $700.  I said, “And what would you recommend for a crappy violinist?” He laughed. Instead they’re going to do a full work-up on the violin and make a laundry list of everything they could possibly fix, and I’ll decide then what to have done.

They gave me a loaner violin and a loaner bow.  I did not like it. It’s not mine. It sounds wrong.

BUT — it does all the same bad things my own violin does, so that means (thank heaven) I cannot blame the instrument.  Thus I will not be paying $700 for a neck reset. If I could pay $700 to fix myself, I’d do that, but thankfully there’s no option for that either.

(I am of the opinion that my own neck is wrong, but that’s not something a luthier fixes.)

Over the past few days, though, something happened. I got used to the loaner’s sound. Plus, the instructor had corrected my bow-hold. I changed the chin rest to an over-the-tailpiece variety. And somehow in all this, I suddenly “got” vibrato.  As in, I recorded myself playing in Garageband, and when it plays back, I can see the difference between the vibrato version and the non-vibrato. The places where I tried to do vibrato are bumpy.

So…is it the violin? Or the player? I changed too many things all at the same time. This is very bad science, but I wasn’t trying to conduct science: I just wanted to play my violin.

I guess we wait a couple of weeks until my regular violin and my regular bow come home, and then we try again, and we hear what happens then.

It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools. But I never claimed to be anything other than a poor violin-player, and maybe sometimes the tools are non-ideal.


  1. Ivy

    “It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools” and you can’t make silk purses from sow’s ears. I hope you find a solution that works out well for you.

  2. littlehouseofpenguins

    Hmm, but you did say that your violin instructor said that she could tell something was wrong, too, but just couldn’t pinpoint it. Is it possible that you somehow started trying to “deal with” the problem in a way that you then did the same thing when you switched instruments? Just a thought. But I’m glad that things are improving for you, scientific or not! I started taking violin lessons as an adult, but when my teacher moved away I didn’t get around to getting a new teacher, and then I had kids and I just couldn’t see spending the money… but it would be nice to do it again sometime, maybe a family discount deal. 🙂

    And yes, the tune-up pun is very cute. 😛

    1. philangelus

      Thank you. 🙂 I used that in the string quartet novel and then it occurred to me it’s probably rather lame and every musician already uses it most likely.

      It’s possible I started adjusting my playing to avoid what was going wrong. The string would develop a harsh buzzing, as if it were going crazy, but only on open strings. She said that meant it was the bow, and corrected my bow-hold. But when she played it, it did the same thing. Plus, it sounds shrill. The loaner sounds muffled by comparison.

      When the real one comes back, it’ll have new strings, a rehaired bow, sealed seams, and a new chin rest. Plus I’ll be playing differently because of the bow hold. The world may never know what was the problem. 🙂

  3. Ken Rolph

    Apparrently it takes about 10,000 hours to become good at a craft. An interesting book in this regard is The Craftsman by Richard Sennett. So much of our education and skills are intellectual these days. One of the benefits of learning German at school was being able to contemplate the difference between kunst and wissenschaft. Two kinds of knowledge, one in the hands.

    My mum and dad owned a hardware shop, so I grew up knowing a lot about making and fixing things. But selling stuff on Saturday morning is not the same as creating in the garage. I think about this whenever I’m tempted to buy new woodworking equipment. I remind myself that I still haven’t got the best out of what I have.

    1. Ivy

      That kind of depends. If you, say knit a garter stitch scarf, and then another and another, for 10K hours, you won’t be good enough for Shetland lace. Playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for 10K hours won’t mean you can play Mozart (but you’d be really good at “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”). You have to push yourself–keep it challenging.

      Or, as my coworker put it, there’s a difference between having ten years experience, and having one year experience ten times.

      Interestingly, given an average work week, this takes 6 years in any chosen profession.

      1. Ken Rolph

        I think you are being unnecessarily restrictive in your interpretation of a craft. It wouldn’t be 10K hours on learning to use a hammer, but on woodcraft generally.

        I can’t imagine why you would imagine that anyone would imagine that 10,000 hours on twinkling would be something worth imagining.

        1. Ivy

          But if all you did was build a simple bookcase and then another for ten years, would you be an expert at woodcraft?

          We get a lot of programmers here who do the same kind of thing over and over again. They don’t really try to get any better at it, or branch into anything else, so with 10+ years experience, they still can’t code well.

          This was also the point of the whole “fearless knitting” thing. You won’t get better at anything if you don’t push yourself. I scored a lot more than 10K hours in dance in college, but I took intro to modern, then intro to ballet, then intro to…. I never got good.