"Cheap Violins for Sale are Not a Good Deal" by Laurie Niles | violinist.com | has some good things to look for when distinguishing a violin from a VSO. Also has some good comments at the bottom related to student budget
Bow Bird: Here's a fun way to learn pinky control on string instrument bows! The origami (folded paper) crane hovers and soars IF the player's little finger is resting on the bow. If not--Crane will be on the floor! Purchase one bird for $5 or two for $8. They are individually made and come in a variety of colors and prints.