This is my cheap Chinese fiddle –

There’s nothing special about it. I paid $100.00 for the outfit which included a case, bow, rosin, electronic tuner and the fiddle itself, of course. Nothing in the kit is of the finest quality, nothing fancy. The wood is rather plain, the finish is sprayed on (badly in some spots) and the purfling is painted on (not inlaid.) Close inspection shows that the craftsmanship is not the highest quality, but overall it’s a fine instrument for a beginner, IMHO, and the price was right.

It was supposedly set up by a professional, and the shape of the bridge shows that this is very likely. Everywhere I look on the ‘net fiddlers recommend taking your fiddle to a professional for setup before playing much as it seems to make a huge difference in the sound of these cheap instruments. Or you can do it yourself if you’re scotch handy. So far I’ve not taken it to a professional but probably will some time in the near future – I think the soundpost is too long and in the wrong place…

I bought a Don’t Fret decal for the fingerboard to show the positions without using sticky tape that I wasn’t sure how to position correctly anyway. I’m not sure if it’s a help or a hindrance at this point.

A better bow, darker rosin and an ebony mute round out the extra purchases.

I made a few changes to the setup based on advice from several sources and will make more changes as time goes on. The first thing to be upgraded were the strings. I have no idea what strings were on it in the first place, but they were very tinny and hollow sounding – like a bad recording if that makes sense. Kelly recommended Red Label strings as being not too expensive but with a bright “fiddle” sound. The local music shop was out of Red Labels, so I opted for “the next step up” (according to the music man) Calvert Symphony synthetic cores (which are located nowhere on the ‘net that I can find…) which gave a much richer sound and at first were really strange to note – so much thicker than the original strings! It was easier to get a good tone, so I was happy. For awhile.

The Fiddle Hangout is a message board peopled by fiddlers all over the world, some of them builders of some renown, some famous players as well. It was there that I heard about Black Diamond strings and thought I should give them a try. The sound is very good, not muddy. They are easier to play than the Calverts and are thinner in size. They have a very nice (to my beginner ears) “fiddle” sound and I will keep them on for awhile to see how I like them as my playing improves.

There are so many strings to choose from, in every price range, that it’s hard to make a choice as a beginner.

What’s your favorite string and why?