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The “Cricket” Violin, by the Magic Fluke company, A Personal Review…

Posted by Ivan Olarte on March 2, 2014


A personal review of the Cricket Violin by Ivan M. Olarte

Disclaimer: One point I want to make clear before I go on is the fact that I am in no way affiliated or compensated by the Magic Fluke company. This review is simply my sincere effort to share my experiences I have had with the Magic Fluke company product and in particular, their innovative new instrument The Cricket Violin.

Also: If you like my review and video please spread the word and leave a comment, especially on youtube so others can benefit from the work I put into it.

Then and now

Then and now…

Ah where to start…

My background:

If you have read any of my posts, or seen my youtube videos, you know a little bit about my background. I come from a family of musicians. It is our legacy. My Dad learned music as a child and taught us all. It has been passed down generations and we could form a chamber orchestra as we have several professional level cellists, violinists, graduates from Curtis, NEC, and Julliard etc. My brother is an excellent Latin Jazz musician, and so on.

I was lucky enough to be immersed in classical music as a child, I took two years of piano, four of violin, learned clarinet and even a year of classical guitar which turned out to be my favorite instrument.
Sadly as teenagers will do, I walked away from all that. I did not think I had the talent and it all just seemed like a lot of work. I felt that I was the musical runt of the family and that music was not easy for me as it was for my siblings… so I gave up and did not play any instruments for about 30 years.

As life would have it, music is in my destiny after all, and so I returned to music about 6 years ago after a 30 year absence.

Since then I have progressed beyond my wildest expectation especially on classical guitar. I am now able to play my wish list of pieces that I had only dreamed of playing some day, including  the complete Bach Cello Suite, Barrio’s “La Catedral” and the infamous “Recuerdos de La Alhambra”  and “Asturias\Leyenda” which I’m just now polishing up.

I also started playing Ukulele about 3 years ago. And there too I have been well rewarded for my efforts. I’m now able to sing, strum, improvise and am learning to make my own arrangements which I have recorded on youtube.

In my quest and thirst for musical knowledge, I have managed to meet and even study with many of the top players that I admire and respect the most, both in the world of Classical Guitar and Ukulele. There are simply too many to mention them all here… but I have had incredible opportunities to learn in workshops, master classes and even some private classes. All I can tell you is that if you want to meet the “maestros” that you so admire, all you need to do is seek, ask, and travel as needed.

You will find your efforts well rewarded as I did. I have traveled 700+ miles to meet and study in private with the great Ms. Ana Vidovic,  and a similar drive to meet with the great maestro and composer Jose Luis Merlin. He was kind enough to give me a private lesson before his own recital! In fact my next adventure is the Reno Ukulele festival where there will be an priceless  array of  amazing musicians and masters who are willing to share what they know with us.

In any case, the early childhood roots that my late father and several of my siblings gave me, and the hard work of the last 6 years have really paid off. I now know and feel that I am a musician. And finally I feel like I’m able to “speak” music without a script.

Life has come full circle, and I see\feel my father in me as I get older (now at 52), I have returned to music with a passion that had been held back for so long. I take weekly lessons on classical guitar, with an excellent teacher, Eric Christensen, who has taught and guided me for the last 5 years! And now I’m taking voice lessons with a wonderful Voice teacher Ms. Natalie Lawton, who has taught voice for several decades. On my own I study Ukulele, piano and now…. Violin… the Cricket Violin that is.

As you can see Music is not only personal for me, it’s my destiny and my life…

The Magic Fluke Company…

Sorry about the long introduction, but I wanted you to see why I’m so excited about The Cricket.

As much as I love music, as a kid violin was supposed to be my instrument, but I never took to it the way I did to classical guitar. And after I my long absence from music and my return to it, I never thought of trying the violin again. That is until about a week ago…

As an active member of the Ukulele Underground forum community (http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com), I have past experience with the Magic Fluke company and their products. I own 3 of their instruments and am quite pleased with all their products, their business model, their innovative approach, and their  reputation for personal customer service. Jim Beloff who is a Pillar in the Ukulele world and the Ukulele publishing business his sister Phyllis and his brother in law Dale Webb started the Magic Fluke company (http://www.magicfluke.com) back in 1999.

Well they collaborated to make a top notch, innovative and all around excellent ukulele known as the Flea. Their original product, the Flea ukulele is now legendary. This is because they use a combination of high quality injection molded thermoplastic and local quality woods from New England. along with top notch local materials. The design of their instruments is innovative, and so consistent and precise that their instruments are known fore being dead on accurate on intonation, great action etc… Aside from the quality and innovation, they pride themselves on being a local company from New England, using local materials and local business to manufacture the parts and then assemble and produce these amazing instruments. As a New Englander myself I can only too am proud of their business model, and thoughtful practices.

After the success of the Flea, always innovative, they designed a larger sized ukulele called the Fluke, with similar success and quality as the Flea. This was followed with a Uke-Banjo or Banjolele called the Firefly. I own all 3 instruments and they are among my favorite instruments to play. The quality of craftsmanship, intonation, sustain, durability etc are top notch.

Well it looks like Dale and the Magic Fluke are at it again. This time with yet another amazing innovation. Using their past experience, proven technology, local materials innovative design concepts of the past products, Dale spent the last 2 years designing and bringing to market the latest instrument…. a Violin called the Cricket.

Magic Fluke Family of instruments... Firefly, Flea, Cricket & Fluke!

Magic Fluke Family of instruments… Firefly, Flea, Cricket & Fluke!

How I came upon the “Cricket”

About a week ago, I came across a post at the UU Forums, about an interesting looking instrument called “the Cricket”… I did not pay it much thought. But a day or two later someone else posted about it and it piqued my interest. It turns out that this is brand new product was a violin from the Magic Fluke Company. The Cricket is so new to market that the only information I could find was the spec sheet on their website and one video by a talented violinist Alex Sovronsk. You can see what I found here http://www.magicfluke.com/The-Cricket-Violin-p/cricket.htm

Similar to the spark that resulted in my return to classical guitar, ukulele and piano, something sparked in my soul as I watched Alex’s video over and over…. I searched for more information about this iterating looking to no avail. The closest information I found was the history of the 17th century violin known as the Pochette, which is what Dale’s concept of a violin is based on.

I re-read the specs at the Magic Fluke website, and kept going back to Alex’s video This was on a Thursday about a week ago. The next day, by Friday afternoon I called the Magic Fluke company to find out more about this intriguing new product. I ended up speaking with Dale Webb about it. I got a bit more info and decided to mull it over… two hours later I had to take the plunge and placed an online order… and posted about it atUU. As it turns out I’m one of the first recipients this new type of violin.
  

Flash Forward, 7 days…

Flash forward 7 days… exactly. The Wonderful little Cricket is in my loving hands! And I’m back to Violin… full circle. Beth, Phyllis, and the rest of the crew at the Magic Fluke Company knew about my excitement as we emailed back and forth with details about my order. Because f this, they did a superb job in last minute changes and worked on it so I would receive it before the weekend… God bless them!

And so here I am, It arrived yesterday and it has been such a fun and such rewarding experience already, that I decided to share it with you through this review, a photo slideshow and a 15 minute online review and demo on my youtube channel. The links to these resources are at the end of this review.

I have put a lot of effort into this multi-media comprehensive review of the Cricket. The reasons why I’m putting in the effort and time to share all this with you are quite simple:

  •  This new product from the Magic Fluke is so innovative, it really needs the exposure and publicity it so rightly deserves.
  • As of now I could only find on video and no reviews about it, so I felt my efforts and contribution are warranted.
  • Fellow UU members are quite intrigued and asked me for my opinion as soon as I get it, so I’m delivering what I offered to do.
  • This is my way of playing it forward for the countless times that I have been able to compare products via youtube and online reviews. Since I could not find much information I decided to share my findings with you.
  • The Magic Fluke company is a company that I admire and stand behind, and putting this review together is my way of saying Thanks to them for their contributions to Music and to the Ukulele community.

On to the Cricket details…

As  the Cricket  itself, well it fully met, no, in fact it exceeded my expectations (which were already very high). Because of this, I decided to post this review, and to do a video review. I was even excited enough to have the chutzpah to post a video of me attempting to make music with it. I’m practically blushing as I write this. You see I had not touched a violin in about 37 years until yesterday afternoon when I received the Cricket…

So please forgive my poor playing. But if you think about it, the fact that I could pull anything out other than a cricket sound (yes pun intended) out of this instrument after not playing  violin for so long (37 years!) it really shows you just how good this instrument is. You see,  to me, it FEELS , SOUNDS, and PLAYS like a traditional violin.

17th Century Pochette or Dancer’s Violin

17th Century Pochette or Dancer’s Violin

Despite the modern state of the art look and industrial strength components… As mentioned earlier, the Cricket is actually based on a traditional type of violin from the 17th century known as Dance Master’s Violin or Pochette, so it does have firm roots within the history of the Violin.

2014 “Cricket” violin from the Magic Fluke Company

2014 “Cricket” violin from the Magic Fluke Company

So firmly based on it’s traditional roots, yet designed and manufactured with today’s state of the art technology and materials, The Cricket feels and plays like a traditional violin despite it’s non traditional materials and shape.

It looks like it was transformed through some magic machine from a Flea\Fluke into a Violin. It has the same look and feel as the Flea although it is clearly and distinctly a true violin. So if you like a Flea or Fluke Ukulele you will feel right at home with the cricket.
Workmanship is excellent. All details are in place. I could not find a single mark or flaw in the build or materials. It came very well packaged in two types of big bubble wrap, as a case is not yet available, but expected to be available by April 2014.

Case not yet available but it came very well packed and protected.

Case not yet available but it came very well packed and protected.

Options on the base model…

As with all their products at the Magic Fluke, their stock instruments are very very good in their base models configuration which come with Grover tuners, no pickup etc.

However, I learned a long time ago that a $69 investment for Peghed tuners or adding a pickup on an instrument that I most likely will have for life is… well worth it and a wise investment.  And in this case in particular, a violin being much more sensitive to fine tuning, and more likely to sound out of tune because it’s fretless and notes are sustained longer than plucked instruments, I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND that anyone getting the Cricket automatically upgrade to Pegheds.

Pegheds and comparison of the Flea and Cricket headstocks.

Pegheds and comparison of the Flea and Cricket headstocks.

Pegheds are optional tuners that look like traditional wooden pegs but they actually have an internal 4:1 gear mechanism that make tuning easy and reliable. They cost $69 and are worth every penny over the lifetime of the instrument.

B-Band optional Pickup.

B-Band optional Pickup.

I also opted for the B-Band pickup being installed. Do keep in mind that the optional pickup will not make it sound like an “electric” violin, as it’s an acoustic instrument to begin with. But you can have some fun with an amp, or  IOS apps, and an interface like the Jam for your iPhone and or iPad etc.  However it will not sounds like an electric violin the way a true silent\electric violin will. In fact this may be a plus for many of you, who want the traditional acoustic violin sound, and simply need it amplified but not altered.

As for the Chin pad\Shoulder rest, it is cleverly designed and works as expected.  The shoulder rest needs to be played with a bit until you find what works for you. Holding a violin in the correct position needs some getting used to, and despite my not being used to it anymore I was able to adjust the shoulder rest so that I can hold the violin firmly and free up my left hand as needed as you will see in the video samples.

Innovative and adjustable chin pad\Shoulder rest.

Innovative and adjustable chin pad\Shoulder rest.

Overall impressions….

The Peghed tuners work great as expected, the Cricket itself,  has an excellent sound that in the hands of  someone that knows how to play well, can make it sing like you would expect in a traditional and expensive classical violin. As you can see in Alex Sovronsk’s video. For my own hands on experience, I can honestly say that  the feel is awesome indeed. The fret board and neck feel like a real violin which was questionable without trying one for myself. And the fact that I could play it at all after 37 years of not playing violin at all,  is a true testament of the quality and build of this particular violin.

What else can I say? Yes you can get a “cheaper” or rather cheap entry level traditional violin for under $200 to try out violin . But you will indeed get what you pay for.  I believe that you should always get the best within your budget. However I also believe that there is a certain threshold of quality that you need to be above of,  even at a low price range.

The Cricket Violin far exceeds that required threshold of quality, especially for the base price. Regardless, or in spite of the already reasonable starting price of $339, the Cricket is an excellent, quality and innovative instrument. This is an instrument that I would welcome in any jam session or performance setting. It simply is That Good. Do note that in my opinion, to get the best experience I would also add the $69 Peghed option, as it will make it very easy to tune and to stay in tune during any playing session.

One additional note:

One thing to keep in mind when you order this violin, the bow is extra what is offered is your standard entry level low priced bow which is an additional $26. But despite the low price and entry level of the bow, it works fine. While I’m sure that a better bow would make for better music.  I don’t know enough about bows to say anything else other than the fact that this bow works and that you need to make sure that you include it in your order if you don’t already have a better bow, as the violin is simply not usable without a bow.

Customer Service with a personal touch… a note from Beth & Phyllis with the order.

Customer Service with a personal touch… a note from Beth & Phyllis with the order.

My old violin that I used from 11 to 14 yrs of age.

My old violin that I used from 11 to 14 yrs of age.

Ironically since I placed the order, I found my old violin and plan to get it fixed up as well. But It’s thanks to the Cricket and the innovation of the Magic Fluke Company, that I’m back! Baby I’m back.

Now and Then. Headstock to headstock...

Now and Then. Headstock to headstock…

 Wonderful instruments to make beautiful music…

Wonderful instruments to make beautiful music…

Well that’s about all the information I can think of to share about this wonderful and fun new instrument from the Magic Fluke Company.

One more thing I want to mention. The Cricket holds it’s own against a classical standard full size violin. Do not let the name or slim body fool you. The design of the Cricket is firmly rooted in an old 17th century type of violin, The Planchette.  By combining these traditional roots along with modern US made and local New England materials, as well as superb and creative engineering, Dale Webb has designed a state of the art instrument that feels, plays and sounds like a robust full size violin.

You can check out the photos I took of the unboxing and various closeups, as well as my humble attempt at making music  on a violin (for the first time since the last century *grin* 37 years ago), for your benefit, via the links listed below.

Media Links:

The 15 min Video review and demos are at:  http://youtu.be/vtDSYnDynsw 

The Unboxing\closeup photos are at:  http://500px.com/IvanOlarte/sets/cricket_violin

 I welcome your comments and opinions either here, or at UU.

Sincerely,

Ivan M. Olarte
Saturday March 1, 2014
Seekonk, MA

Update: Just found this video from Namm 2014 with Phyllis one of the owners of the Magic Fluke she talks about this years new models as well as the wonderful Cricket Violin. You can check it out here: Namm 2014 Video with Phyllis from The Magic Fluke Company

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4 Responses to “The “Cricket” Violin, by the Magic Fluke company, A Personal Review…”

  1. Booli Deano said

    Hi Ivan.

    When I first saw information in the videos from Summer NAMM 2013 about this coming out, my interest was first sparked, and I have thought about it from time to time since then.

    I had also seen a few blips on the radar here on UU about it, since of course the Magic Fluke Company makes excellent instruments and has such a well-deserved and loyal following.

    However, it was not until seeing it in your hands in your video that I realized that I do not have to go on a massive quest to find ‘the instrument’ for me to return to the violin, THIS is it: The Cricket.

    When I buy this, I will probably never buy another violin afterwards, and like you said, this is something you might buy ‘for life’ and I am confident that The Magic Fluke’s instruments will survive beyond me and get handed down to future generations, much the same way folks talk of vintage Gibson and Martin instruments that were passed down in their family nowadays.

    My concert Flea and tenor Fluke are my most prized ukuleles, and while some may prefer to spend $1,000 or $5,000 on another custom instrument from all the favorites here, unless it has BETTER intonation than a Flea or Fluke, I’m simply not interested.

    Unless it’s both manufactured and assembled in the USA, I’m also not interested. The same kind of criteria applies to a possible violin purchase.

    If by some magic stroke of fortune I could afford to buy a true and real Stradivari, and I actually did so, I’d be afraid to play it, and it would end up in a humidified vault until I died and it got passed on to someone else. The Cricket Violin is made with such high precision, yet it is a commodity-level instrument and easily replaced from Magic Fluke Company if god-forbid it got damaged beyond repair.

    Conversely, If you had a Stradivari that needed repair, you have to take another mortgage on your house to pay for the repairs.

    In a different thread somebody said that life is to short not to indulge in the luxury if it is available to you, but I find luxury in living simply, and not worrying about collecting extravagant things that will not be functional or useful to me.

    I find no pleasure in silk/satin sheets or a $500 pair of shoes (yes I’ve owned both), but others enjoy these things and I do not judge them.

    The Cricket Violin is both functional and useful, while also representing forward-thinking in design and construction with an eye towards something more modern, without disrespecting the history of the instrument.

    It is also affordable to the average joe, and by the reputation of The Magic Fluke company with their ukuleles, my hands-on experience (which is confirmed by at least a couple hundred other UU members) with the high quality, playability and tone, I would expect that you are getting a very good value for the money.

    I just checked their web site again, and with pegheds, the bow, and the pickup it comes to $553. I think this is a GREAT price for what it is, and should you go off and price traditional wooden violins that are comparative, you are going to spend at LEAST a month doing research, and maybe not find something that will satisfy this quest.

    The Cricket Violin is an easy choice to make given my experience.

    Ivan, thank you for confirming my initial impressions.

    I also wanted to commend you for your excellent review on your blog.

    It is one of the most well written, balanced and comprehensive reviews I have ever read (and I read LOTS and LOTS of reviews), and from someone who not only has such a deep and abiding love for music, and a love for the instruments he plays, but you can really see that music is such a part of your soul and how important it is to you.

    You should be proud to have documented this, and I applaud your efforts. Damn, even *I* feel proud seeing it – ha ha!

    I hope that you show all of this work to The Magic Fluke company.

    They should know how much their efforts are appreciated by folks like us, even if only to keep them motivated to keep doing the good work that they have always done.

    -Booli

  2. Booli, thank you for your support of my efforts and for your thoughtful and in-depth additions to this discussion. Yes UU is a great community, and I’m posting the link to the thread about this review doe the benefit of non UU members…

    http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?93533-The-%93Cricket%94-Violin-by-the-Magic-Fluke-company-A-Personal-Review%85

  3. Thank you Ivan! I come from UU and as I said, your written and video reviews are both very detailed. I especially appreciate the many audio samples you’ve used to showcase the sound of this instrument.

  4. Crystal Howe, thank you for your kind comments. I’m especially glad that I did do an audio/video review and that in this way I was able to share my findings with you.

    It’s comments like yours and supporters like you who will keep me motivated to jot down my ramblings into some cohesive orders to share what I find with others.

    I’m working on my next essay about nail care which I plan to publish sometime next week.

    I look forward to hearing that you and others have given a violin a second chance…

    Warm regards,
    Ivan

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