A quick look at student violins, violas, or cellos from various string instrument labels I have personally come across. These are not quite violin reviews, but they include a few considerations and my quick thoughts. I have also noted how many different instruments from that maker I have seen, because we all know that sample size can affect the validity of the evaluation. I have limited the list to primarily what are marketed as “student instruments” or “beginner instruments”. Most people who play at a higher level have already started using their ears to make their own judgments and would not be reading this list for information on what violin to purchase.
Almost of the labels listed will sound better and be playable with adjustments, if needed, but the ones under “Mediocre” almost always need adjustments of some sort. For example, I throw my old performing strings, which are used but of higher quality, onto loaner or student instruments occasionally, and then the sound suddenly improves! Other adjustments are not so easy and may involve fixing the nut/bridge, getting properly fitted pegs, etc. Some of these adjustments may make the violin more costly than buying a better violin and you still end up with a mediocre instrument.
Note that two different instruments from the same label with the same model number may sound different from each other. Also, any violin sold with a model number is probably not going to be the most fabulous violin ever. Last… the older the violin, the more likely it is “okay”— not because it is old but because the worst ones were usually scrapped, given to destructive musicians, or otherwise destroyed during the 70 or 80 years before you had a chance at them.
Better Student Instruments
Number Seen: 10+ violins
Thoughts: Eastman instruments, whether the 80 or the 305 or other, seem to be set up properly for playing and are solid beginner instruments. They may not have the best sound in the lower series, but it is sufficient for learning on and I have NEVER had to put a slanted fingering tape on while telling the student repeatedly week after week that they need to get their violin checked. They have a good reputation, and the instruments I have seen meet it.
It might be useful to note that the 100 is definitely better than the 80, but the 80 is at least playable without a lot of extra work, unlike some other brands.
Number Seen: 1+ violin.
Thoughts: It did not sound terrible. This label seems to be popular, but I cannot actually understand the appeal. I feel like I would go for a nice Scott Cao or something instead, though, if I were looking for another loaner.
Number Seen: 2+ violins
Thoughts: I have seen very few, but they have a good reputation and all the ones I have seen were decent.
Lyon and Healy
Number Seen: 1 violin
Thoughts: Although better known for harps, I have read that they used to make decent student violins. The single Lyon and Healy violin I have come across, played by a student, supported what I read. I sometimes marvel at the label because I am so used to thinking “harp” when I read “Lyon and Healy”.
Number Seen: 5+ violins.
Thoughts: Reliable student instrument, like the Eastmans.
Number Seen: 10+ violins
Thoughts: Generally good, especially the older ones. Half of them look beat-up from being played by careless children. I am not blaming them in particular; I could have been more careful with my violins when I was in grade school, too. I think there are more modern Suzuki label instruments, and I am not as personally familiar with those. I have actually also never seen a 4/4 size Suzuki that I know of, but their 1/4 and 1/2 are wonderful for children to learn on.
Note: I like having these as my “violins to lend to beginners”. They get banged around a lot, but none of them have fallen apart yet! The sound is not completely closed, either.
William and Lewis
Number Seen: 2 violins
Thoughts: Generally okay, if only because they are older and so the worst ones were probably already scrapped. When set up properly, the older models are quite decent student instruments.
Mediocre Student Instruments
Number Seen: 2-3 violins
Thoughts: Improperly fitted parts. Does not hold tuning. Closed sound. Poor reputation.
Number Seen: 15+ violins, 1 cello
Thoughts: Similar issues to the Cremona label. Poor reputation. Often an absolute nightmare to tune.
Number Seen: 100+ violins.
Thoughts: Slipping pegs, nuts/bridges with improper string spacing, nuts/bridges with improper string depths, fine tuners that do not work— there is at least one of these problems about 50% the time. In addition, it has closed sound because of the thick varnish and the thick plates, the latter of which is sensible as it makes the beginner violin more resistant to damage. Of course, with a bigger sample size, I got to see more of the problems. These have a poor reputation for a reason.
I saw many of these because they were the preferred brand at a studio I taught at. Also, for some reason, people who like guitars try to recommend these to me and are very complimentary about these. Maybe there is something about this label that appeals to guitarists?
Number Seen: 1+
Thoughts: Never seen one from a student, but they are supposedly better than some of the more notorious brands.
Note: Just acquired a 3/4 size for lending to students in January, 2019. It actually does not sound terrible. I would hold off on saying much else until I have a student playing it and I have to deal with tuning it regularly and whatnot.
Mendini by Cecelio
Number Seen: 3-5 violins
Thoughts: Improperly fitted parts. Does not hold tuning. Closed sound. Same as other Cecilios.
Number Seen: 3+ violins.
Thoughts: Typical student instrument. Pegs are hard to deal with on the one I still see most regularly. Something feels clunky about the ones I have seen, too.
Number Seen: 1 violin.
Thoughts: In my sample size of… one… I found improperly fitted parts. Does hold tuning and the pegs are easy to deal with! See my violin review on a 1/2 size from Rozanna’s Violins.
Number Seen: 1 Violin, 1 Cello.
Thoughts: Ah, an eBay discount brand. Yitamusic cello necks tend to be angled a little high. This is a general reputation the necks have, and it was so on mine. The violin was a little muddy. I have read that pretty much all their instruments need to be taken to a luthier for some adjustments before playing.
Lacking Personal Experience
Number Seen: 0
Thoughts: Never seen one from a student, but they have a reputation like Mendini and Cecilio.
Number Seen: 1? 2?
Thoughts: I have not seen one in so long that I need to think back to what went on with it. I think I was not particularly impressed. On the other hand, it was not so terrible that it made a lasting impression.