I was nearly at the point of giving up violin playing when someone suggested that I consider a better instrument to do justice to the hours of practice as a young player. Not being a professional musician, I was at a loss to know where to start. How do you find an adequately priced but good quality violin from the many dealers out there?
I had a very good initial impression from Martin Swan Violins when I looked at their website. It did not take much persuasion following discussions with Martin for him to show me some of his fine instruments as part exchange for my existing one. The Caussin was in excellent condition and as Martin correctly predicted, matched my personal tastes perfectly.
I have been playing a lot more of late and judging by the responses from recent performances will definitely continue. Thank you Martin for finding me such an excellent companion and restoring my love of the instrument. Now to look for a suitable bow!
Tuck-Kay Loke, Kent, UK
I would like to thank you for the experience I had when we visited you last month.
I am still getting acquainted with the violin and my teacher loves it. It will be with me for as long as I am around.
MSV 119 ¼ size violin
Having bought a violin for myself (MSV 131), I decided to see whether it was possible to get a quality violin made for my daughter, who’d played for about a year at the time. I also liked Martin’s trade-in offer, which means I can effectively buy her a full-size instrument in instalments with access to great part-size violins along the way!
I contacted Martin, and he had two 1/4 sized instruments in stock, and he sent over details and photos, from which my daughter chose the one she preferred the look of. I bought a Stentor Student II as well to get a decent bow and case, and the difference in quality between the instruments is ridiculous – the mass produced one sounds like it’s made out of cardboard by comparison.
A few months on, Skye (age 6 1/2!) has this to say: “It’s a really good violin. I enjoy playing. It makes an amazing sound. It’s the best violin ever (but I don’t think people will believe me)!” Her teacher is very impressed too.
John & Skye
I played the violin a lot as a child, getting to grade 8 and playing in various amateur orchestras / folk groups, but only really started playing regularly again a few years ago.
I wanted a much better violin than the one I grew up with, but was not sure where to start. In particular, I’d had go on a friend’s violin (a professional, with a c.£250,000 Italian violin), and struggled to make a good sound on it, so knew it was not just about price!
I initially tried buying a violin on eBay. It seemed better than my existing instrument and I was initially happy with it, until I joined an orchestra when I realised I couldn’t hear myself play without bowing practically on the bridge. I went back to my original violin, and started looking again.
After spending a few months trying instruments from local violin dealers, I was struggling to find anything sufficiently better than what I had for my budget, and some googling/”research” took me to Martin Swan’s website. I liked the description of his own label “artist violin” in particular, as I was looking for a violin that was responsive (read: relatively easy to play!), as well as having a great sound, and volume. I spoke with Martin and he had a choice of three, and I went for the brightest sounding one as the instrument I grew up with was very bright.
I’ve now had my instrument for a year, and love it! I feel it has really helped me develop as a player, with the violin being a lot more resonant than I’ve had before, particularly in the higher registers, and it’s capable of making a much wider range of sounds. I wish I’d had an instrument of this quality from about age 14/15, however it’s better late than never!
I could easily fill pages writing about the unbelievable mixture of exceptional tonal qualities, very good condition and exceptional prices of the violins I purchased from Martin, but for this review I want to focus on why I repetitively put trust in Martin’s business and why I consider it the future of fine violin dealing.
When I started to look into procuring higher class violins, I saw four possibilities and pursued them all: More details
2 Nov 2017
Martin was very helpful, friendly and his knowledge of his bows helped me choose the perfect bow that suited my playing style and my violin.
Gheorghe Dorin Tuca
The Endymion String Quartet
I am delighted and entranced with my violin, and am very grateful to Martin for bringing us together. It has a beautiful, yet characterful tone, with notes remaining pure right up in the high register; and so responsive – a joy to play. I can hardly believe how lucky I am to own it.
I had a dream to buy a fine violin for several years but, thinking that the process would be intimidating and overwhelming for a musical ingénue such as myself, kept putting it off. I was wrong. I can, in all honesty, say that it was actually enjoyable. Martin let me try out a room full of instruments over several hours, popping in from time to time to give welcome advice, but never the hard sell. Eventually I had a shortlist of 3, which I was allowed to take home on trial. I felt under no obligation to buy, but it did rapidly become apparent that there was one violin, above the others, that I kept wanting to pick up and play, so the choice was easy. I am impressed that this was the instrument that Martin had mentally marked down as “having my name on it” right from the start.
I have had my violin for nearly 5 years now. It has helped me through all my exams, concerts and auditions with its resonant tone. I feel it is on a par with more expensive instruments that I have heard – I really love the sound it makes. I am now looking forward to making more music with my violin and I am very excited to be on a path to a career as a performing musician. Thank you!
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
MSV 132 Guadagnini Simpson 1777 Cello
I wanted the best cello I could get for my limited budget. I had been looking for about a year with no success & travelled many miles to try cellos that weren’t good enough. The “good enough” ones were too expensive though. Martin sent one of his new MSV cellos down to me on trial without me having to go up to Scotland to try different instruments. It has a really big sound and I’m playing more confidently as I was always scared of breaking my ancient cracked cello, as it broke in 2014 from over-work! My quartet colleagues keep commenting on “my stronger bottom” i.e. more resonant C string which really makes a difference in the quartet.
Helen Mason, UK
I love the violin! your description was very accurate, especially about its volume! the conductor of my orchestra told me to play quieter because he could hear me above the entire orchestra! The tone is amazing, I can’t pick up either of our other two rental violins in the house now without being disgusted. I simply love to practice with it, as it is so great to play! Thank you for all your free advice about buying a violin online and your great professionalism, you will definitely be on the list of places for me to look for an upgrade violin!
The Abbotsford Youth Orchestra is based in Vancouver, Canada, and the conductor is Calvin Dyck
I bought a Tarasconi violin from you earlier this year and absolutely love it. It has inspired me to venture into the world of chamber music – a cellist friend of mine and I performed a series of concerts during June and July and will do another series with a different programme in January. A lot of my professional friends are very complimentary. Buying the violin was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
I’d like to thank you for coming to visit me at such short notice and for making the whole process of choosing a violin so easy and enjoyable.
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Hi there, just a note to say how much am enjoying playing the violin. Am still opening up new things, strangely enough, and learning how to adapt and make great sounds out of it. Been one hell of a journey!
I’m beginning to focus on the classical field, as it was always one of the ambitions here to be able to lead a quartet. It took some time for me to get the strength and balance in both arms/hands to make it respond in trad music, but blimey, it really really does respond now, and that is amazing. Loving it.
Thanks again for sourcing me such a wonderful instrument. It has brought a huge amount of joy and forced me to change my playing technique so much for the better.
I have purchased two great playing violin bows from Martin. Not only were they as good as they were described, they surpassed my expectations. It is reassuring to find a Violin Dealer who has the knowledge, integrity and most of all a personal touch, and great customer service!
A German Violin, 19th Century
I have had my violin from Martin Swan for about a year now and it has really enriched my playing and allowed me to grow as a fiddle player. It has a gorgeous rich tone especially on the lower strings and offers more dynamic and tonal range than my previous fiddle provided. I am currently in my final year of the BMus Folk and Traditional music course at Newcastle University and I am working towards my final recital at The Sage Gateshead. I am so happy to have this fiddle to play as I complete my degree and will take it forward with me in my future career.
Rosie’s recent album is available here: Confluence
What can I say – it’s a fantastic violin. I spent a long time playing scales in 4ths, 3rds, 8ves etc to get my ears and fingers attuned to the violin, a long time just settling it down – this violin requires perfect intonation. Then, just work, stuff I’ve got coming up that needs learning and trying to contain my excitement basically. It responds so quickly, it’s so articulate I can hear everything, it’s tonal variety is just great – it feels like a two way conversation. With no musical demands its voice is captivating but it can do all the colours…. clearly I’m smitten. I love the violin, will be buying it and will be forever indebted to you for finding it. It would be great to know more about it’s personal history if you know anything.
I finally plucked up the courage to phone Martin after looking at his website over a month or so. I was feeling a bit of a fraud as I had only been playing the Violin for a couple of months when I decided I would like to learn on an instrument that I could make friends with and that I could grow into. I had already tried out a couple of violins that I had ordered over the internet but they were not very inspiring. I explained to Martin what I was looking for and that I wanted something ‘interesting’ that would certainly hold its value and maybe even be a bit of an investment. I was instantly reassured by Martin’s tone, he was friendly and very approachable and clearly knew A LOT about violins, he patiently answered all my questions in a very honest and straightforward way, openly sharing his fascination and experience. More details
Thankyou for all your help and patience in finding me my new fiddle. I just wanted to let you know how much i love it. I absolutely love the tone of it and i find myself practising lots more as it makes me sound loads better than i really am!!!!. I have to say i looked at your website a number of times and wasn’t entirely sure i would be able to explain to you exactly what i was looking for, but somehow you got it just right. I had been looking for a violin for a couple of years and just didn’t really fall in love with any others i had tried. Totally in love with my Pruller though.
Laberte Montagnana 7/8 violin and Charles Nicholas Bazin bow
“Thanks for all your help with this. Who needs violin shops (we have one in the town) when an expert like yourself can communicate successfully with like-minded customers who know what they want. Long live the internet.
PS. I’m keeping an eye on a viola bow you have on the site at present – I may well be back, once I’ve taught a few more people how to play the right notes and built up the savings again……”
” Just to let you know that I will most definitely not be bringing the fiddle back for a 14 day refund. After playing my entire life with a converted right handed fiddle, to finally not have to play against the grain is astounding.
I was trying to describe it to a friend today and wrote: It’s been a strange journey. Playing a converted right hand fiddle has been akin to playing all my life with gloves on. I didn’t realise it at the time and just put it down to not being as good as others. Suddenly everything seems possible and I can achieve subtlety – which was before unachievable. More details
“You really surprised us, with these two violins. The violin from Mittenwald is just great. It has such a powerful, singing and sweet A and E, while D and G gives deep, mellow strong tone with big resonance. It just a joy to play it. I have received excellent feedback from people who have heard it, especially my teacher Ilya Gringolts. He currently switched from Strad to Guarneri, but still asked me who sold it to me :) ? More details
I felt I should email you again to say how delighted we are with your very generous gift. I look after all our instruments and must say that we are short of good full size violins and had been thinking that we would have to buy some. The fact that you contacted us at just the right moment is an added bonus for us all at Sistema Scotland.The four violins are an amazing addition to our stock and it will be a huge pleasure for some of our senior children to use these.
“Many thanks, Martin, for helping us get a violin that’s just right for my daughter Isla. First of all, your explanations by email about how violins are valued helped us to work out that we were looking for a violin whose value is entirely in its sound, rather than in its antique collectability. More details
“Firstly can I extend my utmost sincere gratitude … for providing an instrument of such utter beauty. I have had chance to play the violin in various settings, from large concert hall to small chamber ensemble and always, without fail people comment as to the sound that this wonderful instrument makes. I cannot understand how an instrument that was made so recently can possess such a mature and complex tone, especially in the high registers. It simply soars and sings with such ease and such purity, it can almost be overwhelming at times. More details
“I would like to thank you again for recommending this violin (Kriz) to us. It was so nice of you to pick out a few violins according to our preferences and budget, explained in details, and recorded the sound of each violin as we could not try them out ourselves. Even though they all sounded great, we had our preference over one particular – Kriz, and that really helped us making the decision. More details
“I had been considering buying a small viola for quite a while and discovered Martin Swan’s website during idle internet googling. The big appeal for me was being able to try out and compare several smaller instruments – and indeed I had a few to choose from in the end. More details
“From the very first moment I contacted Martin as I was interested in the violas I saw on his website to replace mine, I could see his high involvement, knowledge and professionalism. Every conversation with him about their instruments, identifying some of mine, description of sound, its facilities and commitment to its advice has led to an atmosphere of mutual trust and a source of knowledge for me. More details
“First of all thank you for organizing such a swift delivery: it arrived just after lunch time today. Which of course kept my nerves going, so my husband has sent me immediately pictures.
Waw! 3-fold waw! It looks stunning with all the rosewood fittings on, absolutely what I had hoped for. I do enjoy very much that there is no artificial effort in making it look “old”; it is not, so why fake it? More details
“Advancing years have lately made playing a larger viola uncomfortable, and as I also play the violin it eventually became clear that the size of the instrument was the problem. I looked in a number of places for a smaller instrument of reasonable quality without much success. The only one that sounded suitable within my price range was on Martin Swan’s site. I was initially dubious about buying an instrument unseen, but Martin went to great lengths over the phone to find out what I needed, he played the instrument and reported back to me, and I decided to give it a try. More details
A Fine Italian Violin by Giuseppe Baldantoni, Ancona circa 1940
Thank you for all your guidance and encouragement in helping me to acquire the Giuseppe Baldantoni.
I started my search for a violin at Mondomusica in Cremona this September, looking for an instrument to enjoy playing in my retirement which would also be an excellent “alternative” investment.
Whilst there seem to be several dealers in the market selling top end instruments with great tone and playing qualities, I soon realised how difficult it was to match the player’s perspective with good investment potential for the long term benefit of my family. As a lawyer I am inherently cautious, but I quickly came to appreciate that a buyer of a fine Italian violin needs to be very cautious.
Our first meeting in your fascinating “`Violin Lodge” in Peebles was very enlightening. You advised me to restrict my search to Italian instruments in excellent condition and with reliable certificates, since these were always in demand and commanded the best prices. More details
“Just thought I’d send a quick email to let you know Molly’s getting on fine with her new fiddle, and we’ll definitely be keeping it. Thanks for your help in choosing it, I think it’ll do Molly for at least the next few years. If she does ever think she’d like to upgrade we’ll definitely come back to you. I have to compliment you on the standard of your website, it’s excellent, very professional, but with an obvious personal touch in your accurate descriptions of the fiddles.”
“Thank you so much for letting me take so long to choose my violin and for all your patience and advice along the way Martin. We are now home and I’ve been able to relax and play with the violin and bow and I love it”
View Zia’s facebook update three years later.
“I am delighted with my recent purchase. I looked at several sites and chose yours because you gave a concise appraisal of the instruments playing characteristics which in my case were spot on, as an amateur buying without hearing or playing gave me a good idea of what I was getting within my budget. All I have to do now is practise to do the violin justice.”
“I just thought you might like to know that I have had many compliments about the tone of the Cone violin from musicians, non-musicians, students and parents alike when playing the violin in a variety of settings. I am still extremely happy with it and grateful to you for suggesting it for me and the trouble you took over making it exactly right.”
“Knowing that I would soon need a better violin for my young daughter, I had put Martin Swan on my shortlist of violin dealers because the ethos conveyed by his web site is so refreshingly unstuffy and straightforward. He tells you his credentials; he’s willing to publish his prices; and he’ll stick his neck out and say how he thinks each instrument plays. To my surprise, I don’t think I came across another dealer that did all three of these things upfront.
I had a specific requirement for an unusually small full-sized violin, so I was delighted when Martin listed one at a price which didn’t make the instrument too scary to place in the hands of a primary school child! He said in an email to me, ‘I’m always keen to help parents’ and, although this was only quite a modest purchase, he clearly meant it. More details
“I could not be more proud of this instrument – those close to me will testify that I am eager to extol its virtues to any and all who will listen! I even asked my violin instructor to play it so I could gain a greater understanding of its range and potential in more experienced hands than my own. (So beautifully crisp and clear!) I am pleased to say that my initial admiration of my violin has only deepened with knowing it better. It is a pleasure to play, inspires and challenges me, and I’m eager to grow with it and into it as I progress. My confidence has improved already. :) It’s a dynamic instrument that is not only absolutely beautiful to look at but possesses great presence and personality. More details
“Just wanted to to tell you how delighted I am with the bow. Your description on the website I couldn’t agree more with. I’ve had other bows where they have either been bouncy or produced a lovely full tone, but the only one that ever did both was the violin bow I had on loan for three years some time ago… until now. I’m really quite staggered that this man is turning out bows of this standard for pennies (as you say). The other bow I was using was a Gerhard Penzel “Exquisite” which was more than double the cost of the Carlesso bow … even though its good, it just isn’t in the same league. The Carlesso is so easy to control and the workmanship so precise. I think that these Brazilian bow makers are really lucky Martin because they must have access to the best sources of wood that perhaps European makers don’t.”
“Hi Martin, Just a quick note to let you know the Carlesso bow arrived safely, in perfect condition, and in record time…thanks! I can also tell you that I won’t need 14 days to decide whether or not to keep it, it took me all of 30 seconds to ascertain that I would not be sending it back to you! Your description of it was extremely accurate, spot on, and it is exactly what I was looking and hoping for. I was a little worried about buying a bow sight unseen and without trying it out in person beforehand, but you have gained my trust and I will definitely be a repeat customer! Thank you!”
“Dear Martin, A quick note, just to say that the Alessandro Carlesso violin bow has lived up to all your superlatives and beyond. It is an absolute delight to use.”
Brian R Hill
” We bought this lovely cello for our son Adam when he was grade 5; he has recently achieved 140 in his grade 8. Many people have commented on its beautiful rich tone on all strings. We are very pleased. Thank you!”
MSV 54 Viola
“The viola I bought some months ago from Martin – instrument no. 54 – is a beautiful instrument to look at and a great pleasure to play. I have owned five or six violas and would say unhesitatingly that, of all of these, this is the best value for money and looks of all of them and performs better than many much more expensive violas I have seen and tried in shops up and down the country. More details
“Rosie, Vicky her violin teacher, Hayley and I reached a unanimous decision, and it’s in favour of the Apollo. Your selection has ticked all the boxes. Rosie loves the sound she’s making and so do we. It was her teacher’s first choice. When she listened to, and played the violins, she actually described the decision as a “no brainer” and it is ideally suited to Rosie and her progression over the next few years. So thank you very much, you’ve made everyone here very happy!”
“I got some time today to get a second opinion from my orchestra friend, who put the Boulangeot through the paces of a lot of violin repertoire… We both agreed it was a very dark, complex, interesting sound, and he thought it felt very even across the strings. He was playing Sibelius, there were some notes on the lower G string which were absolutely awesome – just went straight to your heart and gave you shivers. More details
“The entire experience of working with Martin has been a delight. He is invested in not only making superior instruments, but also making real connections with musicians – matching them with the right instrument and sharing the passion we all feel for music. He was generous with his communication and time at every stage. As the cello was being made, he asked perceptive questions about what I would most like in the instrument. Once it arrived he worked meticulously with me to give the cello the best set-up possible at my end and helped me understand what kind of settling-in process new instruments go through. More details
“Having lost my viola in a burglary, I had spent an unsuccessful summer looking for a new instrument before I came across Martin’s violas. The quality of sound was in a different league to the other instruments (of the same price and more) that I had tried, and I instantly fell for the viola. It has a wonderfully edgy sound in the lower register, and beautiful lyrical higher notes. I’m so happy to be able to play such a fantastic instrument.”
Chris Law, UK
MSV 10 Guarnerius Pattern Violin
“Martin came to my rescue when I needed a new violin. He wasn’t just very helpful but gave me an unbelievable price on an amazing Hungarian violin. Being a Hungarian, it was a very funny coincidence and I have no doubt that without Martin’s help I would have never been able to own such an outstanding instrument. I can’t explain how much difference it makes to play on a violin that sounds and plays like any old Italian/French etc. top violin. Not to mention all the compliments that I receive from my audience and fellow musicians on my violin. Now I own an instrument that will stay with me for all my life …”
“Thank you Martin for providing such a wonderful instrument, I really love it with a passion. It is everything and more than I could have expected. I was looking for something that had qualities that were in reality far outside my price range but somehow you managed to find an instrument that far exceeded anything I had any right to expect. This instrument and I will go on a long journey together of that I am sure. Your descriptions were spot on, as impressive as the service you gave, at all times. More details
“I came to Martin looking for a violin that would be best for me as a classical & traditional violinist at the stage I was at. Knowing this information already, Martin laid out six or seven violins which he thought might suit me best, and sure enough. I worked my way through and found a violin with a beautiful and special tone to it. After only a few seconds playing it I knew it was the one for me. I wouldn’t go anywhere else for a violin. But the best part about Martin Swan Violins is Martin himself.”
Benedict Morris, Scotland
“I got the viola from u a year ago… my daughter like it a lot… had attached a photo of her with my wife n son after a concert… she had passed her ABRSM viola grade 7 recently with distinction…”
Lieu Wee Ling
“I couldn’t be happier with this beautiful instrument – exceptionally resonant and responsive with depth and clarity on all strings. Intonation is very true. Shines in both performance and recording situations.”
“My violin arrived safely no problems or damage.
I’m afraid I don’t agree with your assessment of its tonal qualities. When you said, “I can’t pretend that these are the best-sounding instruments we’ve made,” I think what you actually meant was this is the best sounding instrument we have ever made…!
It is certainly the best sounding one I have played. Although I am certainly no expert I was on a £4,500 Nicolo Croce and a More details
“I was halfway around the world from home when my family asked me about finding a violin for my sister – having less than two weeks left in Europe, I scoured the countryside for violinmakers and instrumental workshops to no avail. I almost at the point of giving up after having to deal with people who were hesitant to do business with an international student, or shops that did not have a wide variety of selection of violins for our asking price. More details
“…I bought my violin from you. It is still wonderful, far far better than I will ever be, everytime my violin tutor touches it her face lights up and says that’s a lovely instrument. If any one out there wants to buy a violin this is your man.”
In 2012 Oban fiddler Rona Wilkie won BBC Young Traditional Musician playing on the first ‘MSV’ violin we made. Having grown up in a musical family, Rona was introduced to traditional music as a baby, and grew up being simultaneously trained in both Highland fiddle style and classical music. She became interested in singing when she attended Gaelic Medium Primary School. Rona led fiddle group Gizzen Briggs for several years performing at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in front of the Queen and First Minister in 2004. More details