Mendini is a child company of the well-known Cecilio instrument manufacturers. They sell various band and orchestra instruments but have become well known for their violins. The Mendini brand sells slightly less expensive instruments, usually by roughly 20 dollars. The differences in the two lines are minimal.
They both pull from the same wood and fitting sources; the strings are the main difference, with the varnish being secondary. They use in-house strings on Mendini instruments and D’Addario Prelude strings on Cecilio instruments. The cost difference reflects roughly the cost of a set of Prelude strings; it’s safe to say the varnish while a different color is not of varying quality.
With this in mind, Mendini is on equal footing with Cecilio in terms of quality; with both brands needing complete setups, a string change isn’t that bothersome. This is why the MV500 is one of my favorites between the two brands; it’s a gorgeous instrument with a decent tone that will get a new student started.
Pros, Cons, and Bottomline
The MV500 has a lot of things to like about it, especially for a budget violin. This is a starter violin; you will learn posture, bow hold, your first open notes, and a few songs on it. Then it will hang on the wall as a decoration; there are a few reasons for this which I will discuss below. It won’t compete against a higher-end student violin in terms of longevity. Still, it will let a new player know if they like the violin and get them started while they save or search for a different option.
If you want a violin with more longevity or a different tone, I have some alternative violins below! If you are set on this violin, remember that it will need a proper setup. I don’t trust Cecilio to properly set up a violin, and in my experience, they have always come bridge down. New students should not try to set it themselves; have a professional do it to get the best tone and string height.
This is especially true if they didn’t notch the bridge properly. A luthier will check overall quality and make any needed adjustments; they can also put a set of Preludes or student strings on. This does add to the overall cost, which could be put towards a better overall violin outfit.
- Beautiful starter violin
- More care is taken into selecting the tonewoods
- Extremely affordable, allowing nearly anyone access to the violin
- Detachable fine tuners that can be replaced if broken
- 1 piece maple back with flaming looks nice
- Varnish gives a dark, rich antique look
- Needs a complete setup and new strings adding to cost
- Needs a new bow adding to cost
- Mendini and Cecilio suffer quality control issues
- Will need to upgrade in a few years
- Fingerboards and bows are one of the biggest quality control issues.
Budget violins are one of my specialties. I fell in love with the violin as a poor college student, and I just wanted a violin I could mess around with after class. Going back and forth between cities for breaks and constant moving meant I didn’t feel comfortable purchasing something expensive or renting a violin. Still, I wanted something, and that’s where I went head over heels into finding a violin I could afford on my part-time student wages.
There weren’t a lot of options at the time. Still, I was able to get started on a Cecilio CVN 300 and learn the basics before upgrading a couple of years later when I was in a position to finance. The best part was that it was my violin, and because she was inexpensive, I could keep her as a souvenir and art piece.
While I may recommend some budget violins, it’s important to remember that there is a difference between something you can learn with and a toy. It’s also important to remember that Cecilio and Mendini manufacture both. Anything below a 300 model isn’t going to be worth purchasing unless you are focusing on fractional-sized instruments below 1/2, where the tone isn’t going to be great regardless. It’s always worth throwing the extra money towards the next model up, except for the CVN 600, which is a considerable amount more.
Budget violins are made from cheaper tonewoods and other materials. Additionally, they are factory-made, but many violins sell for thousands. It’s all in the matter of construction and materials used. The most notable difference between budget violins and higher quality violins that can age with time is the thickness and quality of the wood. Cheaper violins use cheaper wood sourced from China. It’s usually carved by machines which forgoes the attention to detail and thickness that you would find from a violin that is hand-carved by one person.
The second difference is harder to figure out, especially if you don’t have the violin’s specs in front of you. Extreme budget instruments like violins that are 100 dollars or less will have hardwood or maple fingerboards and fittings dyed black to look like ebony. Most budget retailers will call this out in the listing.
More expensive violins will have an ebony fingerboard. The fingerboard is standard on good violins, but the fittings can vary; boxwood and rosewood are the most popular alternatives. Ebony is pretty common on student instruments for its durability. Maple fingerboards aren’t horrible, and they are durable enough for a few years’ worths of use, but they are preferred for an instrument you want to play in five years.
The bridge on budget violins is typically not notched or adequately set up. If it is notched, it may not be appropriately measured. This is why I recommend a complete setup from a luthier. Even if the construction and body of the violin are of good quality, a poor setup will ruin the instrument’s tone and playability.
The string height needs to be measured correctly for a student, and the bridge needs to be angled and perfectly set. Along with the setup is the soundpost, a tiny wooden dowle made out of unique wood placed near the treble foot of the bridge inside the violin. This can only be adjusted carefully with a unique tool that I recommend only a luthier, even for experienced players.
The strings are less of a problem on budget instruments as Preludes are inexpensive steel strings. Still, the rest of the accessories are of poor quality. The value is in the body of the instrument. Unfortunately for a violin, those accessories are essential or highly recommended. The bows are the worst culprit, even on higher-quality budget violins. Usually unbalanced with poor quality hair. Always upgrade to better brazilwood or a carbon fiber bow.
MV500 Budget Violin Info and Review
The MV500 is meant to be a step-up budget violin. However, due to its quality, it’s firmly in the brand new student category. People should not be looking to upgrade to this violin. They should be looking to upgrade from it. Its made from hand-carved solid spruce with a one-piece maple back and sides.
The one-piece back doesn’t add anything tonally at this price level, but it does look nice and shows that more care was taken into selecting the woods for this violin. To make a one-piece back, you need wood from a tree that is big enough; wood that has had time to grow past its infancy will be of higher quality. Ultimately the wood isn’t treated with enough care or given time to dry appropriately to allow for the full potential to develop.
I suspect that this violin is made with inexpensive Chinese sourced wood. However, it does specify hand-carved for the back, which gives me hope that more attention was taken to the wood’s thickness and overall detail. The dark antique varnish has some deep red undertones that pique my interest. I love darker-looking and sounding violins. Something about them screams mysterious drama, and this violin is perfect in the looks departments.
The fittings and fingerboard are ebonies with fake pearl inlays on the pegs and the tailpiece. The fingerboard is the most significant cause for concern. For some reason, this seems to be a big point of initial failure with these instruments. Fingerboards need to be shaped and planed correctly to ensure proper string height.
The bridge is another major point of concern. Depending on the retailer, you may or may not receive a violin that has been set up. This means that bridge has been carved, notched, and placed correctly, the strings are holding it in place but not fully tightened, and the sound post has been appropriately adjusted.
This violin has a wood tailpiece with removable fine tuners; I prefer Cecilio and Mendini instruments. The composite tailpieces with built-in fine tuners on their cheaper violins break very easily. I don’t expect the removable fine tuners to be much better. Still, at least you can replace them yourself pretty easily.
The rest of the outfit includes two brazilwood bows, an extra set of cheap strings, a shoulder rest, a metronome, and a small triangle case. The bows need to be replaced; generally speaking, they show up in rough shape and don’t last very long. Inexpensive carbon fiber or better quality brazilwood bow can be found for less than 75 dollars. It’s wise to upgrade, the bow is an essential part of the violin, and it needs to be well balanced and use quality horsehair.
MV500 Tone and Longevity
The tone of this violin is charming, but the playability and ease of drawing a good tone will depend on how well the violin is set up. Generally, I find the tone to be a little empty as if it doesn’t have a personality. This is pretty typical of budget violins and student violins as a whole. It’s almost unremarkable in tone, a little bright and scratchy on the E strings, with a nice G string that doesn’t really have any power. Overall, as long as the instrument is well set up, you will learn the basics pretty well, but don’t be surprised if you want to upgrade within a few years.
Students need a balanced tone with an instrument that is well set up. Something that doesn’t require them to press really hard on the strings or struggle to draw a decent sound from. Students are expected to be shaky or even unpleasant to listen to at times. Still, the instrument shouldn’t be the reason for this. This is why I highly recommend a setup from a skilled luthier with these instruments. They can make sure your violin is in the best possible playing order and change out the strings, so you have a better experience.
Rent Instead of Buy
Suppose you are brand new to playing the violin and feel comfortable paying a monthly fee towards your violin every month. In that case, renting is the most effective way to get a good student violin that you know is well-planned and teacher-approved. The primary bonus for renting is how affordable the monthly payment is; you will pay around $20-25 every month for most beginner or student models. An excellent rental contract will set aside a portion of that payment toward purchasing the violin you are playing or another violin in their shop. These terms will vary but generally speaking, you have to buy so much above your credit amount.
The downside is the potentially lost money if you aren’t able to use your credits to purchase a new violin or if the shop requires you to buy a really expensive violin to use them. If you move a lot, renting from an online source will be easier than renting from a local shop. A few online instrument rental companies like Shar Music, Johnson Strings, and Music & Arts.
Other Student Violin Recommendations
Sometimes renting isn’t an attractive option, or you just don’t want to think about monthly payments. These are some of my favorite violins picks on the market for their price, sound, and quality. Cecilio and Mendini have pretty much every retailer beat in terms of price.
I have yet to find a playable violin from a different brand that is cheap or cheaper. With that said, if you consider the cost of new strings, a new bow, and a complete setup. You can purchase a slightly more expensive and higher quality violin that you won’t need to upgrade as quickly.
Top Pick: Fiddlerman OB1 Violin Outfit
The Fiddlerman OB1 was the first Fiddlershop student violin. This is a huge step up from a budget violin in quality and customer satisfaction. Fiddlershop is owned and run by professional musicians. They have years of experience finding the best violin makers and ensuring you get the highest quality violin.
They also test the instruments you sell, so you know it’s something they would also play. This violin is made from aged tonewoods, ebony fingerboard, fittings, a carbon composite tailpiece with built-in fine tuners, a French Despiau bridge, and Fiddlerman strings. Their carbon fiber tailpiece is of decent quality, and so far, mine has held up for about 4 years.
The violin is fully set up at their workshop in Miami, Florida; it’s completely ready to play out of the case. The outfit comes with a Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Bow, one of my favorite student bows. I currently use it as my daily bow. The case is nice and big, with multiple storage pockets and two bow holders. They include a shoulder rest, rosin, a practice mute, polishing cloth, and a tuner.
Budget Violin: Bunnel Pupil Violin Outfit
Kennedy Violins is another retailer of basic factory-made student instruments. Their violins come in at a higher price range but also higher quality. Unlike Cecilio, these violins receive a handset up at their store in Vancouver, Washington. So you get a violin that is actually ready to play out of the case; they also include useable accessories.
The Bunnel Pupil is their introductory violin. This violin is made out of hand-crafted solid spruce and maple tonewoods and all ebony fittings and fingerboards. No dyed hardwood here! The tailpiece has four built-in fine tuners, which I can’t vouch for, but I would be willing to take my chances on. It comes strung with Prelude strings! The outfit includes an upgrade with extra storage similar to the Fiddlershop case, a shoulder rest, rosin, and a Guiliani Brazilwood bow.
Step-up Violin: Tower Strings Rockstar Violin Outfit
The Tower Strings Rockstar is the second entry in the Tower Strings line by Fiddlershop. It costs roughly the same as the CVN 600 but has higher quality materials and construction, along with an actual setup. This violin is made from aged spruce and maple tonewood with a 100% ebony fingerboard and fittings.
The Tower Strings violins have the same or incredibly similar carbon composite tailpieces with built-in fine tuners as the OB1. Prelude strings and a full outfit featuring a case, brazilwood bow, rosin, shoulder rest, practice mute, and tuner round out the outfit. It’s a great introductory violin that will take you a step or two further than a Mendini or a Cecilio.
Expensive Violin: Louis Carpini G2 Violin
Louis Carpini G2 is Kennedy Violins’ step-up model. It’s a gorgeous violin made from solid spruce and highly flamed maple with ebony fittings and a carbon composite tailpiece with 4 built-in fine tuners. The bridge is a hand-carved French Aubert and is strung with student Prelude strings with a recommendation for Zyex strings. I love the tone of this violin; it’s not super bright on the E strings and mellow on the lower register. It has a bit of personality and sounds more mature than a basic budget or student violin. The outfit includes a large case with four bow holders and plenty of storage, a Brazilwood bow, rosin, and extra strings.
Advanced Violin: Ming Jiang Zhu 903
Suppose you purchased a Cecilio or other student instrument. In that case, there will be a time soon when you will want to upgrade your violin. Any of these options on this list could be a possible upgrade. Still, if you want a top-quality intermediate-level violin, then the Ming Jiang Zhu 903 is a gorgeous-looking and sounding pick.
These violins are made at the Noble Heart workshop in China. This workshop is home to many modern-made violins, and it has won many awards. This violin is made from tonewoods that have been aged a decade and have all ebony fittings and fingerboard. Ming Jiang Zhu’s violins tend to be on the darker side, which is why I like them, and this pick is no exception. It’s beautiful and will serve an advancing student for a long time.
Answer: Mendini violins are made in China like many budgets and student violins. The tonewoods used are also sourced from China, but I’m unsure where. Their fittings and strings are manufactured in-house as well.
Answer: This will depend on the budget and goals of a student. Generally, I recommend stopping by a local music shop or preferably a string shop. They can help you find the right outfit for your budget. You can also ask your teacher, but I’ll be honest I don’t always trust their judgment, and some shady practices are going on in the instrument dealing world. I recommend Fiddlershop, Shar, and Kennedy Violins the most if you are looking online. Shar will rent instruments within the continental United States.
Answer: The violin or any fretless string instrument is generally considered the hardest to learn. Because it doesn’t have fingerings and relies heavily on your ear and the ability to hear pitch changes. In many ways, the violin is incredibly difficult. Still, I think anyone interested could learn a few fun songs on it. However, what makes the violin so difficult the first few years will eventually become second nature, like telling if the notes are in tune or not. Always remember the first step to being good at something is to be terrible at it!
Mendini makes some serious budget violins, and the MV500 isn’t top quality. Still, it can get you through your first few years of lessons with some tweaks and a proper setup. If you want a higher quality but still affordable violin, then the Bunnel Pupil may interest you. At the same time, the Tower Strings Rockstars offers a well-made package for just a little bit more. My favorite for students is the OB1; it’s affordable and has all the perks and tests of Fiddlershop instruments. But if I could take any of these home, it would be the Ming Jiang Zhu; it sounds and looks gorgeous!
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