Curiosity about how on earth so many £24 - £25 new violin outfits are being sold on ebay (it seems to be hundreds) finally got the better of me so I bought one. £24.09 including postage. For this, you get the violin, a bow, a case and a block of rosin. So what do you think it's like?
Well, I will be fair and put the positives first. The case seems quite reasonable (though I rather doubt if it will last very long), the rosin is not significantly worse than that found in named brand outfits (just smaller) but then I didn't actually try the rosin, it just isn't worth the effort. The bow is actually straight, and the hair took rosin easily, both of those things surprised me (though again I very much doubt if the bow will last long, it looks flimsier than most). And the soundpost was up, that was an unexpected luxury!
So, given that the cost of the bow (probably not much - I've bought one not much worse for about £3 including delivery before), the rosin (pence) and the case, and delivery, all have to come out of the £24.09, and so do ebay and paypal fees, how much is left to spend on the violin? Not a lot, and to be fair to the seller he did say that the violin is not intended for professional use (LOL!)
Well, when I saw the bridge, I laughed so loudly that my neighbour's daughter wondered out loud what I was laughing at. Her mother who knows what was delivered (having brought it up to the office for me), said "it will be the violin!" and she was quite right. Surprisingly, the bridge did stay standing up - it honestly looked as if it wouldn't, the fit of the feet was so bad. The seller had warned that the strings are likely to come loose so to be prepared to put rosin on the pegs, but in fact that didn't happen. I guess that is due to high humidity which always makes pegs fit really tightly as the wood expands, except that in the case the seller said the pegs are not wood. But I think perhaps they are. Anyway, it got in tune without too much difficulty (one of the fine tuning screws had come out of the tailpiece but it was in the case so that was OK)
The bridge cut was so bad that I honestly didn't think it would be possible to keep the bow on the A or D string alone, but in fact it was, at least on open strings. It was much more difficult when the strings were stopped (ie. when you put your fingers on the strings, which is after all how you actually play a violin) because the higher up the string is stopped, the more the string is pressed down and therefore the less the level of the strings varies from string to string, if you see what I mean (it is about a thousand times easier to show this than to put it into words!). I did eventually, with care, manage to play G on the D string without hitting the G or A strings. But it wasn't easy and I can't see a beginner managing it in a hurry. O yes, and the string spacings on the nut were not even, realistically one would need to carve a new groove for the G string, it's closer to the D string than the D is to the A and the A is to the E.
The overall quality was what really surprised me. I had expected that the issues would be mainly down to set up (meaning the bridge and nut) and that the "composite wood" construction and painted purfling would be the only things that were otherwise notably bad. However the plastic fingerboard surface is rough and feels very odd, and the parts of the violin where the front and back overhang the ribs (which is all the way round the body) are almost sharp, making it somewhat uncomfortable to handle. That, I was not expecting.
I often tell stories of just how bad big name violins that came from a general music shop used to be a quarter of a century ago, and have said many times that you just can't get them that bad these days. Well, it appears that you can, and in fact you can get them worse, but the good news I suppose is that they probably cost less now than the big names did then and I mean less in terms of the price on the label, not just in real terms.
I would love to hear from any teachers out there who have had pupils turn up for lessons with one of these violins, because presumably with sales in the hundreds some must have done. They cannot all have been sold to adults intending to teach themselves, or to curious retailers like me, surely?
Someone perhaps may read this and think that such a violin can simply be taken to a specialist shop and set up. I wouldn't bank on that. A new bridge is likely to cost at least £30 and a new nut at least £10 and frankly you are not likely to find a specialist shop even wanting to do the job on such a low quality instrument. But even if you do, you could buy a respectable solid wood and inlaid purfling named outfit for about £80. If your budget really is only £25, do yourself a favour, keep an eye on ebay and buy a used named brand outfit there. It is likely to be a much better buy.