Recently, I received an email from a customer saying that his old erhu sounded grainy even after applying rosin on the bow. I asked for some pictures of his erhu.
After taking a look, I concluded the problem was with the quality of the erhu itself. Changing the accessories might help to a certain extent but the issue is severely limited by the erhu.
Sometimes from pictures itself, you might be able to find out if the second hand erhu on eBay is worth buying or not.
Below are some pictures my customers had sent me which I commented on:
1.This is a complete shot of the erhu. The yellow coloured pegs are a dead giveaway that this is a low end erhu. Usually the pegs are the same material as the rest of the erhu. However, for low end erhus, they like to use boxwood (黄杨木).
6. The erhu bow does not cut it. It has little hair and it is black, producing a scratchy tone.
7. I couldn’t really make out the material of the qianjin, but it seemed fine. The erhu would be better if the qianjin was retied.
8. The erhu is made with bronze tuners. Better erhus do not come with bronze tuners (albeit there are exceptions). Bronze tuners, paired with boxwood pegs with over lacquered body all indicate low end erhus.
9. The snakeskin seemed to be of poor quality, due to the flaky scales of the snakeskin. This erhu will definitely not sound fantastic. The erhu bridge seemed like those low quality erhu bridges that we junk whenever we see them.
11. The snakeskin looked sagged and sunken. There is nothing much you can do about it. The sound will be weak and muffled. The damper below the bridge seemed too thick. It might also had been a sponge. Sponges are not the best dampers in my opinion.
In conclusion, the pictures we have seen indicate that the erhu is low end. Even though you can improve the tone of the erhu by changing the accessories (strings, bridge, qianjin, damper and bow), there is a limit to how much it can be improved which is mainly due to the tension and quality of the snakeskin.
(P.S. Special thanks to Heloise George for the pictures)