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I work on (and make) violins so have seen lots of different types and makes. Stentors on the whole make my teeth itch....
Stentor are a company that generally make starter violins. Like "Skylark" were in the 1970's, their main customers are usually fraught parents of children who want to learn an instrument for 3 weeks before getting bored... You can easily identify the parents of these children who are learning on a Stentor violin. They are the ones with a generally jumpy demeanor and damaged eardrums.
The Stentor violin does absolutely nothing for the cliche of "sounding like a strangled cat"....these are VSO's" or "Violin shaped objects" as known on established violin forums. Yes it may well LOOK like a violin but they are badly made, sound awful and are set up wrongly. A total waste of money.
This violin is one of Stentor's posher fiddles. Posher due to it having a shellac spirit finish as opposed to a nasty pine resin varnish thick like a toffee apple. These thick varnishes kill the vibration of the wood which is counterproductive in an acoustic instrument as the sound waves cannot travel as well. Posher because it features " tonewood", an ambiguous term that could range from poor grade cheap chinese maple to air dried 20 year old flamed maple. Of course Stentor do not use the latter, they use a cheap maple with a small amount of flame and call it quality tonewood. It isn't.
The violin comes in a nice case, well padded and lined. The sales waffle talks of a "high grade wood bow" but again this is meaningless. A decent bow can cost way more than the instrument itself, therefore this bow is cheap brazil wood. Every stentor bow I have seen is cheap and nasty and loses the horse hair. The hair is sparse, they often twist along the wood, the frog is poor quality and usually the mother of pearl dot is plastic. I would recommend that you upgrade the bow asap to a half decent pernambuco or carbon fibre if you have the misfortune to have one of these violin outfits.
The Stentor Conservatoire violin outfit is marketed towards "the advanced student" but really, no violinist having played for a few years would want this if they really loved their instrument. Stentor make a big deal out of the fact that this is a "hand made" violin. It isn't. A hand made violin would cost anything upwards of £4000 plus. What Stentor mean is that parts of this violin are hand finished ( ie the gluing and setting up etc), the rest of it is machine cut and carved. Mass produced then.
The violin outfit features a solid spruce top which is standard in nearly all violins. A quality violin would have a nice even tight grain and no knots or imperfections to affect sound. The "flamed maple" back is not very marked or flamed and is cheap grade maple that will not have been air dried but kiln dried. This will affect the sound. This violin has an ebony fingerboard and pegs which the cheaper Stentors do not, they are usually dyed rosewoods or cheap grade hardwoods stained and "ebonised".
The pegs are poorly fitted and the bridge angle is wrong. The strings are junk, I would recommend replacing them immediately with some decent Dominant strings to get this violin to sound better. Also when you get it check the bridge placement and sound post. Many Stentors have poorly positioned sound posts and bridge angles are often out. There is plenty of info on the net on correct angles and soundpost placements. Also regarding the soundpost, I would replace it with a good quality post and ensure upon fitting it that the post grain runs in the correct direction to the top grain of the violin. Again there is info out there on this.
Most people want something to play out of the box. If you want a violin that is not "as bad" as a cheaper VSO and are a beginner then by all means get one. But really for £200 you could do so much better. £200 would buy you a lovely 1920's german violin or a brand new luthier crafted one from China. Yes, you heard that right, CHINA. As much as there is a lot of dross coming out of china (and other countries) in terms of violins, there are some incredibly talented luthier trainees making top quality instruments that would cost four times the price or more here. Even master folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick has a few.
Shop around, talk to other players. You will get recommendations.
I really do not recommend this violin. It is a masterpiece of mass production and soulless machine cut monotony. The sale pitch is clever and aimed towards those who are beginners or who know little about violins. The words used are misleading and untrue. Save your money for something decent.
£195 on Amazon. Way too much money.
I used to teach violin as a peripatetic teacher in one of the London boroughs. As I didn't want to take my own violin, which is expensive and of sentimental value into schools I purchased a violin just for teaching. I am aware of an enormous amount of new and modern violin makes having seen hundreds of my student's violins and from experience picked the Stentor Conservatoire violin outfit as this fair's better than most others in the price range.
The Violin Outfit
The violin comes in a rectangular light-weight modern style case with a bow. The case is made on the outside of a strong black waterproof material, which usually covers a hard polystyrene case mould and is strong enough for me to sit on, without exerting to much force. The case zips open to a fake-velvety grey coloured fabric inside which is soft for the violin. The inside of the case is modelled into a shape which holds the violin and has a strap which goes over the neck of the violin to help keep it in place. There is room on the upper inside of the case for two bows which are kept in place by the stand device which turns to keep the bow in place or get it out.
The bow is made from wood, which is better than other violin bow's in this price range which sometimes come in fibreglass. There is an ebony frog and the screw to tighten and loosen the hair is easy to wind up and down. The hair is as usual horsehair which is white - sometimes cheaper bow hair is black or even cheaper bow hair is synthetic. I think the outfit also came with some rosin.
The violin is looks nice (not that this means anything sound-wise) and the neck, back and ribs are made from solid, carved maple which is nicely varnished in a smooth shiny mid-tone colour. The pegs and fingerboard are made from ebony and the fingerboard is smooth and a good curved shape. I have never had any problems with the pegs slipping or being too tight and fine tuning can be done with the adjusters which come on the tailpiece. I bought my violin from a local music shop and had it set-up there for me, so the bridge was slightly filed down and the strings were changed to Dominant, a better quality. Often if you buy a string instrument online it won't have been properly set up and therefore you won't get the best out of the instrument.
Obviously the sound quality of this new violin is nowhere near as good as my 110 year old French handmade violin, however for £220 including the set-up and strings one can't grumble for what I needed it for. The violin does make quite a big mellow sound, this will vary from violin to violin even of the same make as two violins can never be the same, which is another reason for trying the violins before you buy, you may prefer one to another. The violin feels quite easy to play the spacing of the notes high up on the fingerboard is fairly even to what I would expect. It does get a little screechy towards the very high notes, but one would expect that of an inexpensive violin. The harmonics all fall in the right places on the strings.
Well, as long as you don't drop it or knock it the violin will stay in perfect condition. I have a few small scratches on mine, to be expected when teaching but I would say the varnish is pretty hardy and doesn't easily chip or scratch. The case is also in good condition despite being taken on many buses and being knocked around quite a bit. The case sometimes needs dusting and if it does look a bit grubby I wipe it with a damp cloth. So far I haven't had to have the bow rehaired, although it is getting a little thin and will need doing at some stage in the future, but most amateurs won't loose hair off their bow unless they catch it.
I have only ever seen the Stentor Conservatoire in full and ¾ size, both are of the same quality although I believe they make ¼ and ½ sizes too. I have seen smaller versions of the cheaper Stentor 1 and 2 down to a size 1/8, the smaller you get the scratchier it sounds but this is inevitable. The Stentor 2 is a huge improvement on the Stentor 1 which is cheap and nasty in my opinion.
I have seen the Stentor Conservatoire violins on sale for between £190 and £250, which I think is a good deal. This could be used as a beginner violin, however if you have a young child I would start them off on a cheaper violin and then buy a ¾ or full size when they are big enough and around grade 4. You could do grade 8 on this violin, at a push, but up to grade 7 would be my advice and then a better violin needs to be sort. You can also pick these violins up second hand either online or in music shops, or sometimes from other kids in school.
If you have a promising child who needs a ¾ or full size violin this is a very good option, likewise it is a good option for adult beginners. It represents excellent value for money for what you get.
Once upon a long ago, when I was a very small child, my parents took me to our town's Christmas concert, where local talent entertained the rest of the community. Among the performances was a violinist; a lady who I thought was a Romany gypsy because she was wearing large hoop earrings.
Ahhh, the perfect logic of a child.
I was awe struck, not so much by the lady, but by the violin and how wonderful it sounded. Cutting a lengthy story short, I remember thinking "One day I am going to learn to play a violin." Such was my determination that, several years later on leaving junior school to start secondary education, I was delighted to learn that the school had an orchestra and taught music to anyone interested enough to apply.
I remember that thrilling moment when given my first school violin to hold, the lingering smell of a specially formulated linseed polish and rosin, the smoothness of its mahogany coloured wood, the beauty of its contours, and a dull twang as I plucked an untuned string. It is a moment that even now, I cannot describe adequately, but will, I'm certain, be understood by any violinist or stringed instrument player. It was not long before I had picked up the basics of tuning and learning to read music, thanks to my childhood sweetheart, a brilliant musician even then.
For any kid showing reasonable musical abilities, private tuition with a professional music teacher was recommended. The person who became my teacher was Mrs Maxwell, the very lady I had seen about five years previously at the concert playing the violin.
It was a very enjoyable period of my life, I was given a mellow toned, old violin, by a friend of my father after he, the friend, had heard me performing in the local annual concert, and as I progressed joined several amateur orchestras. I preferred just playing in local groups and was content to be an average player rather than a professional musician.
However, years later and after a long break from playing, for various reasons when working in Oxford, I was feeling a tad short of cash and sold my violin, a deed which I later came to regret when I found more time to indulge in hobbies and interests.
Recently, I bought a Mandolin, which although fretted, has the same strings as a violin, but in duplicate. This awakened my desire to play the violin again, so I searched the internet for a reasonably priced violin.
It is well known that the older a violin and one that has been played a great deal, has a more mellow tone than a brand new violin. However, tonal quality does not only depend on the age and use of the instrument, it also depends on the maker, wood, sound post position, quality of strings and various other factors.. but seeing as I was the only one, apart from my poor dogs, who was going to hear it, I decided to see what new violins were now on the market and the costs. A Stentor Conservatoire Violin, reputedly of good tonal quality and reliability caught my attention.
On searching the internet and comparing prices, as you do, I eventually decided to purchase a Stentor Conservatoire violin kit from Djm Music who were selling them about £30 less than those on Amazon, at that time. It was not the least expensive of the Stentor violins in the catalogue, nor was it the most expensive. I paid £179.99 post free. However, I believe they may now be cheaper on Amazon, so it is worth researching other sources.
There are about twelve Stentor violin models, each made in various sizes; the smallest being one sixteenth normal size, and the largest is full size, known as 4/4 size. At the lower end of the price range is the standard model made in seven sizes from one sixteenth to full size. Next are the Student I, and Student II, made in six sizes starting at one tenth.
In the mid price range section is the Graduate and Conservatoire, produced in three sizes, half, three quarter and full size, designed for the advanced student and graduate musicians respectively. At the top end price-wise are the Messina and Elysia made, in five sizes, from quarter to full size, with professional violinists in mind. I believe there is a seventh model called the Arcadia, probably top of the range and most expensive, but cannot find any information on its cost The quality and price increase with the higher grade materials used in the instruments.
The prices start from £60-£80 for the standard model, rising to £70-£90 for Student I, £115-145 for Student II, The Graduate £140-£180, the Conservatoire £180 - £230 the Eylsia £365-£509 and Messina £420-549
All the Stentor violins, violas and cellos, are hand carved from selected tone woods, which are woods that carry sound waves. They are produced in China by skilled craftsmen and sold worldwide. The headquarters is in Reigate England.
I was like a kid waiting for Christmas, but at last my violin arrived safe and sound, well protected in mounds of bubble wrap.
Included in the package was an impressive, deluxe case; a hard outer shell, covered in black canvas, with zipped closures. The inside is very plush, velvet lined fitting the contours of the violin, fixed into one of the stays is a hygrometer, which shows the relative humidity surrounding the instrument.
Draped across the violin was a double sided, soft cover, one side of which is a silky material, the other, a velvety material.
A Velcro strap is positioned to fix across the top end of the finger board, to secure the violin when being carried. At the end is a covered tray to keep spare strings, mutes and rosin. Fixed at various points around the case are loops where a long, adjustable strap can be attached. There are two fixed handles, so that the case can be carried over the shoulder or as a hand case.
The Conservatoire Violin
The Conservatoire violin is handcrafted from a selection of these tone woods. The Ribs and back are carved from flared Maple, the table carved from Spruce, the neck is carved from solid Maple (different from flared Maple) The fingerboard, pegs, tailboard and the bow frog are made with ebony, a black, hard wearing wood. In less expensive violins, these pieces are what they call ebonised; made from either rosewood or softer woods and dyed black to look like ebony.
The body finish is a glossy shellax varnish. The purfling ( a double stringing pattern) around the edges of the body, back and front is inset into the Maple. In the less expensive violins the pattern is painted on rather than inset rosewood or ebony. I asked a violin maker the purpose of purfling, and was told that it actually strengthened the violin.
The strings supplied were ropecore, which are multi-stranded steel cores; they do not have rope in them.
The chin rest is made in the Teka style, for me, this was not comfortable, so I changed it to the Strad style.
The bow, was well balanced and strung with natural horsehair. A slab of black rosin was included.
When I removed my new acquisition from its protective covering, I was very impressed with the quality of the case and instrument. The violin was all but ready to play; bridge in place and strings, slackened but tight enough to keep the bridge from slipping. The chin rest was good, but not the style I was used too, so I ordered another style, which was easy enough to fit. The strings were all metal, and the tailpiece fitted with adjusters, which allow fine-tuning of the strings.
I have a clip tuner, so found tuning the violin reasonably easy, the pegs were a tad stiff to begin with, but adjustment soon rectified the problem. The strings were new and required stretching, so at first they went out of tune very quickly. Once stretched, the instrument kept in tune very well indeed for long periods of time and didn't appear to be affected by small increases in temperature, unlike gut strings which, I remember required tuning very frequently.
The bow, needed rosin applying before it could be used. Then I was ready to check out the tonal quality of the instrument, at which point my collie cross, Moses left the room and my Yorkie, Mollie, came to investigate the strange noise.
I was pleasantly surprised by the tone, I do not know what I was expecting, but it was certainly more mellow than anticipated. Not as good as my 100-year-old violin, but that could be down to technique, for this was the first time I had held a violin for over 30 years.
It took a while to get up to a reasonable standard again, plenty of practise, to get the fingers flexible. However, I am happy to be reunited with the joys of playing music once again.
My collie, leaves the room when I unzip the case, but returns when I start playing, so he can tell the difference between a duff note (of the zip) and good note of my violin.
I would certainly recommend a Stentor violin to anyone wanting to learn the violin, but a cheaper model to start with.