Jim Clinton Violins Greenville, SC

Posts Tagged "what to buy"



All too often when you buy a new instrument it is setup to some common standard to fit most players most of the time.  Our passion for instruments does not let us just get by.  Every instrument that leaves Jim Clinton Violins is setup with the musician in mind.  Here is what we mean:

The Setup as (unfortunately) it usually is:
Instrument manufacturers offer their factory setup to music stores and reputable violin shops. This makes it easy for a store or a violin shop to have a large volume rental program without the intensive labor necessary in setting up hundreds, if not thousands of instruments. This significantly saves money and time, a necessity in a highly competitive rental market. Even though setups are offered as a selling point to the end user, they are often irregular, incomplete, mass produced setups done quickly with the bottom line price point as the primary function of this work, or they are cookie cutter setups meeting MENC or some other specifications designed rather to keep the instrument from coming back to the store for buzzing (resulting in being difficult to play). Hardly ever does a setup performed outside the local workshop and without consultation effectively meet an individual’s needs. It is important for the workshop technician to discuss with you your needs in order to complete your instrument setup. We welcome suggestions and preferences from you and your teacher.

Jim Clinton Violins has chosen to set in motion a new direction. We have chosen to stay small, avoid corner-cutting methodology, and put in the time necessary to provide an excellent musical experience for new as well as advanced musicians. The advantage of professional grade craftsmanship is now available to the new musician.

Many years of instrument setup research, an ongoing pursuit at Jim Clinton Violins, has made it possible for the musician to benefit.

The Setup as it should be:
A 14 task Setup couples the JCV Passion for Instruments with the musician’s Performance of a lifetime. The following description is a procedure simplification requiring up to 12 hours of detailed workmanship on a violin.

This is a basic setup applied to all instruments either before or at the time of purchase. Additional tap tuning, tonal and parts adjustments may be applied based on the requirements of the musician and his instrument.

Every adjustment performed on an instrument influences its tone and playability.

Performed on all Jim Clinton Violins instruments are the following Setup inspections and adjustments:

-Analysis & performance testing with a musician consultation
A conversation with the musician may be as simple as a few questions about his musical intentions, ensemble or solo use, tonal preferences, musical style, acoustic environment, and the innate realities of the musician’s instrument.

-Neck angle
Neck angle is foundational to correct feel and ease of play. Correct neck angle provides the ability for the technician to make appropriate adjustments, and provides the basis for the instrument’s ultimate tone, and power. Neck position must be correct before beginning a setup. Correcting the neck angle after doing the following procedures will require redoing all setup procedures.

The soundpost is initially set with the instrument’s removable parts disassembled in order to find the maximum tonal center of the instrument. Thickness, position, and proper fit of this hand made soundpost influences the instrument’s power, tone, and lifetime of the top and back.

Fittings are not merely accessories. Properly selected tuning pegs are made of a strong, dense wood, are easy to use, and accent the instrument’s appearance. Properly prepared and fitted pegs hold the string to pitch, are resistant to humidity changes, and are ergonomic during tuning. These pegs will give maximum life.

The fingerboard is a critical and complicated adjustment to the instrument. Carefully planed compound arcs on the fingerboard’s dense ebony is smoothed to a glassy finish and will stabilize pitch location, regulate string “feel” under the fingers, and clarify tone throughout the range of the fingerboard positions.

The nut is usually replaced with a new instrument setup. It is made of hard ebony and is painstakingly carved and fitted relative to the new fingerboard shape. The nut’s grooves are smooth and evenly spaced. It is fitted precisely to the instrument and fingerboard. This new nut influences string height feel and tonal focus. Strings will now last longer and deliver clearer tone.

-Neck thumb area
The neck’s lengthwise thumb area must be smooth and straight. It will be artistically graduated toward the neck heel and scroll ends of the thumb area. Any varnish is removed to provide a non-sticking surface for ease of shifting technique. Proper thickness and “cam lobe” sectional shape assists the left hand in locating pitches and minimizes fatigue. Changing the thickness of a neck has tonal implications and must be taken into account before performing this task.       

The saddle provides for sensitive tonal adjustments that will be tailored to the characteristics of the instrument and the musician’s acoustic preferences.

All work must be neat, carefully fitted to the instrument’s lines and contours in order to remain intact and allow clean vibration of the tailpiece.

The bridge has the greatest impact on the tone and response a musician experiences while playing his instrument. JCV purchases only select grain and top quality maple tonewood bridges. These are individually selected based on the instrument’s needs. The hand carved bridge can be tuned to warm the tone, brighten it, even out the tone between strings, and increase or temper the projection of an instrument. String clearance is also set for correct feel and pitch stability. Much time is spent on a professional bridge while carving, installing, play testing, removing, and repeating this process. For a professional bridge this sequence is repeated until the instrument response is optimum. Simply buying a “premade” or factory setup bridge and installing it will result in poor tonal characteristics, damaged strings, and if improperly fitted will damage the instrument’s top.

-String Selection
String selection, a close second bridge carving has the greatest impact on the tone and power of an instrument. Selecting appropriate strings is not a matter of liking a particular brand and putting that brand on every instrument. Each instrument and its setup brings with it individual requirements. These necessitate an understanding of the tonal characteristics that a particular string, its weight, its winding, materials, and design bring to an instrument’s projection and tonal potential.

As previously stated: “fittings are not merely accessories”. The tailpiece vibrates with the string and delivers tone. The materials, weight, shape, length, and position between the bridge and saddle provides subtle and sometimes not so subtle influence on tone, response, and harmonics.

The tailchord is lightweight, strong, and flexible allowing the tailpiece to vibrate. Shifting the length and position of the tailchord makes significant fine tuning adjustments for tone, clarity, balance, and power.

-Performance test & final adjustments with musician feedback
Performance testing and final adjustments are the last step in a process similar to cheese tasting. The technician must maintain focus and lock in on a tonal reference point. The fine-tuning of these adjustments will bring the instrument to its full potential.  Additional subtle adjustments are available once the musician experiences his/her new setup. The musician and technician may now perform final tweaks together.

-Document the setup
Once the instrument setup is complete, many hours invested are protected when the instrument setup is documented. This service is recorded for professional instruments.  We record the dimensions, positions, pitches, and mass of the many parts adjusted on this instrument. This will serve as a reference should a mishap occur influencing this most sensitive aspect of the completed musical instrument’s tone.

This is all part of the passion that drives Jim Clinton Violins for the instruments we sell.  Please feel free to contact us by calling 864-322-2622

A reoccurring nightmare for teachers and repair persons is the bright-eyed student who comes in the door with their new acquisition, fresh from  (you pick), EBay, Craig’s List, the local flea market, antique store or the local pawnshop.  “It was a great buy”, they exude,  “and it only needs to have new strings or a new bridge or a setup or something.”  All too often the instrument is of inferior quality with budget level fittings, not of a high-grade wood, and will only aggravate their efforts to learn.  The chin rest is plastic and the sound post is not properly fitted so there is an almost imperceptible bulge to the top, or it falls and starts to roll around as soon as the strings are slackened even a little.  The old adage, “If it’ s too good to be true, it probably isn’t”, persists for a reason.  Or, “You get what you pay for.” Is another quote that comes to mind.  When shopping in these places the other adage one must keep forefront in their mind is, “Buyer beware.”  Often the people doing the selling are not informed as to the true value of these treasures.  They tell you it is old or pretty or some other quality as their selling point.  These qualities are not top priorities when buying an instrument, though they are considerations. It is exceedingly difficult to buy an instrument on the Internet and know exactly what you are getting.  The photographs and descriptions tell you nothing of the tone or sound of an instrument.  Sound and tone are perhaps the most important characteristics of an instrument along with playability.  You cannot get a good measure of these qualities when viewing an instrument on line.  It does not matter how pretty an instrument is if it does not sound good. In the initial rush of acquiring and instrument it is easy to get swept away in the moment.  Rushing into a contract at a school event while your child is wide-eyed with excitement is very tempting.   Taking a deep breath, shopping around to find the best deal to find a friendly atmosphere with folks who are there to help is a much better idea. As we all know, money does not grow on trees.  So take your time.  Evaluate the place as well as the instruments and what financing options they may have. Your best bet for buying an instrument that will suit your needs is a local shop that provides service after the sale.  A shop like this will have a friendly, helpful, knowledgeable staff that recognizes quality, not only in instruments but also in instrument care.  They set up each instrument to fit your needs, to meet your requirements.  They have researched the available product lines and will have what they feel is the best buy for the dollar available.  They can back up what they sell and will make sure that it is ready for you to play when you get it.  It is tough enough to learn a new instrument, you don’t need to add to the complications by using an inferior instrument that won’t stay in tune or the pegs don’t operate properly, or the bridge is ill fitted.  This can lead to frustrations that come from fighting the instrument just when you are facing the daunting task of learning how to play it. As a rule of thumb, your first instrument should be good enough to take you through and beyond your first three years of learning.  This way you can concentrate on learning the instrument and how to play it without the nagging problems incurred when parts fail, tuning pegs get stuck and will not turn, and the instrument becomes more of a hindrance than a help.  With an eye for the future, ask the local merchant if he has a rental plan for his instruments.  If they have a “rent to buy” program, you can work your way up to a better quality instrument as your playing skills advance.  This is especially helpful when buying for a child.  With the right program you can roll over your rental towards a larger instrument as the child grows.  Check into trade-in and buy back programs the store may also have.  Some stores keep detailed records of what they sell and whom they sell it to.  These stores often have buy back or trade in programs where you can recoup some of your investment when upgrading to a larger instrument or one of better quality.  Before buying ask about plans for rolling over rental money toward a better instrument, buy back and trade-up policies.  Find the one that is best for you. When passing through the threshold from being a music consumer to becoming a music producer, many things change.  This instrument is not just something pretty, but it is a tool for the expression of your artistic self.  This makes the qualities of playability and sound more important than ever.  If the instrument is not easy to play and cannot produce a pleasing sound, you aren’t going to want to play it.  It is that simple. As you progress on your musical journey, you will become more demanding of a responsive instrument that can reflect and express your music for others to enjoy.  Having the support of a local shop and all the services they supply is invaluable to your journey toward fulfilling your musical destiny.  The shop that deserves your business will offer good trade-ins when you want to upgrade or they provide a good rent-to-own program where you can take your equity in your instrument and apply it to an advancing instrument.  The deserving shop will have a knowledgeable, friendly, sales staff that helps you find the instrument that suits you, and a repair staff that can keep your investment in top form.  This will make your trip into the shop more of a delight and less of a chore as well as an opportunity to learn a bit more about the world of bowed instruments.  Additionally, with this support system you are free to keep your mind on your music and not on getting along with your instrument.  



My experience with ipe started when I needed a bow rehaired in the middle of a recording project.  I was playing fiddle for a singer-songwriter, and the hair on the good pernambuco stick that I reserved recording sessions and high profile gigs just was not getting it done.  I dropped by Clinton’s Violin shop and was trying out bows.  Jim said, ”Try this, it is new.”  He handed me a bow with a light color wood and a very nice looking frog.  It was heavy but very well balanced.  It produced a warmer if not quite as bold sound as the pernambuco bow, but it was more alive than my very good carbon fiber bow.  It tracked well and followed the strings very nicely.  It was not quite as stiff as either of the other bows but was not nervous either.  There was some give but I didn’t fight it during difficult bow passages either.  I took it to the recording session a few days later.  I was warming up in the studio and trying to figure out what bow to use since my main one was still being rehaired.  The singer-songwriter heard the ipe bow and said, “That sounds good. Use that one.”  So I used it on the session that day.  The combination of warmth and the smooth ease of performance make it a good choice for a bow.


As musicians, we tend to be more introspective. We tend to be aware of the spiritual aspects of life and the world around us.  To care for our environment, as commanded, is obedience to God.  As believers we will show good stewardship by accepting the responsibility that was given in the beginning.  As musicians, we are constantly striving for a better sound.  We want the best tools we can afford.  We search for that right instrument, and want to marry it up to a complimentary bow.  As the world strains under the load of supporting ever more people and a small fraction of those people take up bowed instruments, the amount of resources available for each person is diminished.  As more activities take place in the rainforests of Brazil, fewer trees remain uncut.  As a result, pernambuco, the wood of choice for violin bows, is an endangered species.



Many efforts have been made to find a substitute wood for pernambuco. Ipe (pronounced ?’-pay) is regarded as one of the best candidates.  It shares some of the properties that make for an excellent bow. Ipe is a dense tree from Brazil and has been utilized in making furniture, decking, and other outdoor uses. It is increasingly popular as a decking material due to its insect resistance and durability.  Indigenous peoples of the Amazon made hunting bows from the wood, which is the source of its common name pau d’arco, “bow stick”.  It is proving to be a very good source for violin bows. In recent years, some bows made of ipe even won gold metals in international string instrument making competitions. Good ipe bows certainly outperform the moderate level pernambuco bows. One bow maker claims, “Ipe bows are ideal for advancing players, with a medium firm to strong stick that is quick responding and offers full tone projection. Ipe makes for a bow with a medium to heavy weight, an excellent balance and a warm tone.”


Ipe is a fast growing wood that shares 90% of the physical properties of a high quality pernambuco. This makes it an extremely good choice for making bows. While this wood is more commonly adopted in Europe and among European makers, it is less commonly used in the US and Asia. In double blind tests, this bow has outperformed pernambuco bows. Many European bow makers have used ipe and continue to use it in their bow lineups. Prestigious bow making competitions have been won with ipe bows. The best advantage ipe has over pernambuco is cost. It is a fast growing tree, so it is easily replenished, therefore making it a candidate for sustainable usage.


Pernambuco is not the only wood that is getting scarce, so is ebony, a material of choice for making the frog of the bow.  In late 2011, Taylor Guitars and Madinter Trade, S.L, an international distributor of guitars and tonewoods used to make musical instruments, partnered to purchase Crelicam, an ebony mill located outside of Yaoundé, Cameroon. The new ownership shares a forward-thinking vision for the procurement and milling of ebony, one that offers both investment and enrichment to the local community and ensures that ebony is legally, sustainably and ethically harvested.  Ebony, a material used in lots of musical instruments and for frogs on bows, has become quite scarce.  This prompted Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars to buy an ebony plantation so he could manage his supply.  When he found out that the wood cutters may cut ten trees in order to find one that was all black and let nine lay in the forest to rot because they brought less money due to color variations, Taylor announced that from now on ebony will display these color variations.  There is not enough ebony to meet the demand.  Taylor said, “We need to use the ebony that the forest gives us.”


Much of the same thing is happening with pernambuco.  While it is increasingly being grown in sustainable plots, it is becoming more expensive and harder to get.  Ipe has many characteristics that make it valuable as a bow material.  We are living in a world where flexibility is required.  We cannot remain dogmatic that only one wood is good for an application.  We all need to be to be ready to embrace change.




In researching this article I found quite a number of bows out there made from ipe and they range from inexpensive to quite pricey.  Jon Paul Ipe bows start around $200 with nickel-silver and range up to $450 with fully mounted silver.  Comparable pernambuco bows made in Brazil, start at $400 for nickel-silver and $700 for fully mounted silver. Asian imports range from less than $100 to a couple of hundred dollars, and European makers charge more for their work.  There is a bowmaker in Montana who makes bows out of bamboo, but they start at $1,000.  A bit more than some players want to spend.  Good carbon fiber bows start in the $300 to $400 range, and while they are no match for the very best bows out there, they are a definite step up from fiberglass and Brazilwood bows often offered as part of beginner outfits.  Ipe makes for a warm sounding bow with good handling characteristics.  Ipe makes for a reasonably priced bow that produces a more dense and live sound than a carbon fiber bow.  So in this time of an ever so fast changing world, it is good to know that while not everyone is a bow maker, there are bow makers out there finding what will work best for you in a bow in the future.


Bob Buckingham performs in the southeast region on a variety of folk instruments, but primarily plays fiddle. While teaching and playing Old Time and Bluegrass fiddling styles, Bob uses a bow of pernambuco, carbon fiber, and now Ipe.

To try an Ipe bow or discuss its attributes Contact Jim Clinton Violins.


Buying your next bow and upgrading your sound

What makes a good bow? What are the factors to consider before upgrading that all-important part of your sound? As we grow as musicians we realize the role the bow plays. It is considered by some to be half of the instrument. We all know, or will come to know, that not all instruments and bows like each other. That is to say, there is a symbiosis between some bows and instruments that results in sound and feel that is far better and greater than one might expect.

How often have you seen a bow that was just beautiful? It may have a fancy frog made from some bone or exotic wood, but it felt like a log in your hand. Or even worse, made your instrument sound like it had a head cold! As much as beauty can turn your head, it is far more important to go for sound and functionality. Weight and balance are two primary characteristics to consider. A bow may be slightly heavier than the one you are currently using but if the balance makes it manageable this will work in your favor. Even if the balance is good but you still feel as though you are lifting weights when you use it, it may just be a bit too heavy. Knowing the weight and balance point of your current bow will help you zero in on other bows that are similar, or help you figure out what you don’t like about your current bow. Take time to compare your bow to the bows you are thinking of purchasing. A good shop will have the bows marked with weights and balance points so you can make an informed decision on what direction you want to go. Here are some ranges of bow weights and balance points:

Instrument Weight Balance Point Optimum Weight
Violin 57-64g 9.25-10″ 60
Viola 66-72g 9.25-10″ 70
Cello 78-87g 9-10″ 82
Bass 115-150g 8.5-9.5″ 136


Some folks will not need this information if they go by “feel.” The intuitive approach can be less methodical and more exploratory depending on feel and trusting your ability to know by these factors. If this works for you, then use it. Some folks have picked up a bow and known it was exactly what they were looking for. Others have found their bow through serendipity. For still others, it has been the fruit of a long and thoroughly researched effort. Be aware, if you play long enough, you manage to accumulate several bows. There is no one perfect bow. But there will be one that works very well for you.

As you think about going bow shopping, ask yourself a couple of questions. What are you looking for in a bow? How do you want your playing to change? What are you hoping to find in a new bow that will open you up to new performing experiences? What is it about your current bow that is holding you back? Does it bounce? Do you have to tighten it up too much? Does it fight you on fast passages? These are the telltale signs that you are outgrowing your bow.

If you have questions, ask other players, your mentor or teacher, even someone at the store. You can’t ask too many questions.

Here is a list of questions to ask as you go bow shopping;

  • Sound – How does it sound? Does it have a strong core, high overtones, a strong midrange? Does it like your instrument?
  • Volume – Is it loud, low, focused, not so focused? How is the carrying power?
  • Weight – Do you prefer heavy or light? Try several bows to find out what feels good.
  • Balance – Does it feel good? Do you prefer it to be heavy at the tip, heavy at the frog?
  • String contact – Is it even overall? Is it good at the tip? Where does it really shine? How about in the middle or at the frog?
  • Bounce – Where is the bounce? Is it good over the whole bow, irregular, or good only in one point?
  • Stability – Is it stable along the whole stick, or does it break out to the side, in the middle, or at the frog?
  • Stiffness – Is it stiff or soft at the frog, the middle, or the tip?
  • Feel – Is it comfortable in your hands?
  • Aesthetics – How does it look? Does it have a nice tip, frog, and beautiful wood? Is it gold, silver or nickel mounted? These are all nice to have but do not make a great playing bow.

All of these characteristics are important in finding the best bow for you.

There is one last thing to think about. What material makes the best stick? In the past, all bows were made of pernambuco, brazilwood, snakewood or fiberglass. The best bows are often pernambuco. These other woods and fiberglass were used to make bows of lesser quality. In the last fifteen years or so the technology for using carbon fiber, either molded or braided, has become an option often touted as the “environmental” option since it does not threaten the rainforests to make a bow from a man-made material. There are a couple of makers in Brazil that grow their own trees just for bow making so there are still sustainable ways to get a wood bow besides buying a high quality older bow, which can be a very good option. Some folks think that these carbon fiber bows do not sound as good as a wood bow while others find them just fine and love the sound they get from them. Not all carbon fiber bows are made the same. Some makers cut corners, while others pride themselves in their bows of superior quality, usually with a price that reflects that pride. There is even a bow maker who is making bows out of bamboo. Regardless of what material you decide is best, make sure the next bow you buy moves your playing forward. Ask your teacher or mentor to help guide you. They will be glad to do that for you.

This article and other informative articles like it can be found at www.jcviolins.com.