Among these items is a $200 banjo that comes with a DVD, so you can learn how to play. Then there's the violin:
This hand-carved solid wood violin and instructional DVD help aspiring virtuosos learn to play the fiddle. A Hammacher Schlemmer exclusive, the violin meets or exceeds all string instrument standards set by the Music Educators National Conference, allowing you to master the fundamentals on an authentic, full-size instrument. A spruce top and a maple neck, back, and ribs produce rich, full sound. The maple bridge, solid ebony fingerboard and fittings, built-in fine tuners, and a precisely balanced Brazilwood bow with real, unbleached horsehair provide the feel of a professional violin while remaining manageable for novices. The DVD teaches the fundamentals of tuning, bow preparation, correct hand and arm positioning, and how to play several songs. Includes a pitch pipe, adjustable shoulder rest, rosin cake, and a hard-sided carrying case. Ages 13 and up. 23 1/2" L x 8 1/4" W x 2 1/2" D. (5 lbs.)I suspect that the violins they sell are very much like the $80 factory violins that too many of the students who call me for lessons told me they got on e-bay or as a gift from some well-meaning relative. Invariably these instruments are extremely difficult to play, almost impossible to keep in tune, and are not capable of making the kind of sound that would motivate a beginner to practice. (The solid wood DVD would be something to see.)
The copy above is filled with statements that give the impression that the fiddle is more than what we know it is. The "string instrument standards set by the Music Educators National Conference" are standards in size, and not quality. I don't know how a violin could exceed these standards and still meet them. Hmmm. Then there's the "precisely balanced" Brazilwood bow." I imagine that it lives up to factory specifications, and that there might have been some precision involved in measuring the mold for the plastic frog, and I imagine that the length and shape of the stick would be precisely measured. Other than that, the statement says nothing. The phrase "authentic full-size instrument" is also meaningless. I don't know about "mastering" any kind of fundamentals on this kind of instrument. Many people who play rare Italian instruments are still on the road towards "mastering fundamentals."
Caution! If you want to give a violin as a gift to anyone, don't buy one from a general-merchandise catalog. Contact a teacher, and arrange for a number of introductory lessons. Call up (or e-mail) a respectable violin shop and rent an instrument (your teacher should have some good recommendations).