Why NOT to buy Chinese violins continued...

September 26, 2016 at 05:44 AM · This is a continuation of a post that filled up in less than 15 hours. People may have more to say, so here is your chance. My views I have made clear in the previous thread. I will sit back and let others express their opinions without my $0.02.

This was my original post...

"Why are there so many posts comparing one cheap Chinese brand against another? As a rule, loud, brash, and soulless, with the occasional exception. Are posters not at all concerned about supporting another country's economy, rather than their own? Are they giving a nod to slave wages and 3rd world working conditions, by ignoring realities? Are they happy buying these instruments with the 1000% mark-up that dealers put on them? Or do they ignore all this, and just buy a cheap violin without any twinge of conscience?"

Replies (94)

September 26, 2016 at 07:11 AM · Is it true that to get the best sound out of a Chinese fiddle, you have to eat lots of Chinese food? I'll just noodle along and let others bring in more interesting comments ... Keep it clean and no mention of toilet (loo) paper or insults to the Chinese, PLEASE!

September 26, 2016 at 08:41 AM · Well, that's a good start!

September 26, 2016 at 08:48 AM · I want to bring up the element of recycling vs. using more natural products to produce new items, all older violins, including antiques are essentially being recycled when they are given new life to a new customer, this should be as good for the environment as recycling your paper and plastic, etc.

September 26, 2016 at 08:57 AM · That's essentially what a repairman can do. Recycle an old unplayable but with potential antique, totally refurbish it, professionally repair cracks, new bridge, soundpost, level fingerboard, adjust pegs, new quality strings and market it for a reasonable profit, I'm in the recycling business!!

September 26, 2016 at 09:15 AM · I'll respond as the parent of a kid playing violin, and offer four reasons why we've gotten into a variety of Chinese violins. First, let me tell you about our background. At my son's school, all kids play violin in first and second grade. It's something they do to promote the school, and the kids don't learn much violin but it's probably good training for their ear and is an introduction to music. I first bought a violin from the school, which was unbranded and cost $200. I later found out that the school buys them from a local business that charges half of that (we later gave this violin to son's friend; son's friend wrecked it but we didn't care because I'd begun buying cheap, Chinese fractional violins on the internet). This was a 1/4 size. Then, I started hunting for other violins, since we have three kids. I bought a 1/8 stentor for my daughter on ebay, then on amazon warehouse deals two knillings and a not-their-worst cecilio (mix of 1/4s and 1/2s) for my sons. Then I bought a sheng liu for myself to learn along with my son, and a better fractional Yamaha for my son (both on ebay). Then I bought a Samuel Shen on craigslist that stays at my parents'. So, over the last ~2 years I've bought about 8 Chinese violins, which I recognize sounds insane. But many were $50-80 dollars, and then several of them really are nice violins (my son's Yamaha, which sells for $1500 new but I got used for $200, and the Samuel Shen, which I love, which was $300). Probably most of them I'll be able to resell at some point at cost.

Here are the reasons this was appealing to me:

1. COST. It goes without saying, but Chinese violins are cheap. They're a low-cost investment. The Stentor 1/8 size is a "not bad" fractional violin that my daughter could tinker with and enjoy and it was not a costly investment for me. At $60, 100% worth it to me.

2. AVAILABILITY. Where would I have bought US-made fractional violins? I have no idea, but I would imagine that it would have been many thousands of dollars to get US-made violins for me and three kids. On the other hand, there are about a million places to get Chinese violins.

3. CONVENIENCE. Could I have possibly rented violins for my (sticky-fingered, destructive) children and swapped them out at a violin store somewhere around town or traded them in as they progressed? Possibly, but I have no idea how I would do this and it would add a lot of time and hassle to my life. Since we travel between two continents, it's also sometimes easier to just leave one instrument here and another there. Buying and passing down also becomes more convenient with more children.

4. LOW RISK. One great thing about cheap instruments is that you don't fear changing strings yourself, resetting the bridge, and so on. You don't cringe when your son drops his violin. You can loan a violin to another kid and if they break it it's not a big deal. You can tinker and get a better sense of how to care for a violin and what makes for good or bad construction.

My guess is that if there's a pyramid of violin-playing, its base is solidly Chinese-built. My oldest moved from a bad Chinese violin, to an OK one, and then to the Yamaha, which I quite like (and is also Chinese made). If he gets really good we'll start trying violins in earnest, which I understand involves trying dozens of violins and then reviewing a select pile with your teacher. That's not a level of playing we are currently at. Right now we're spending the money on lessons, which seems like the best use of funds.

For a point of comparison, on our last trip to the US we also tried great-grandma's (probably German-made) pre-war fiddle. I put new strings and a new bridge on it and it still sounds horrible. It is thick, muted and tinny and just not a good violin. It's a cheaply made factory violin from an earlier age. This is because back in great-grandma's day, if you wanted your kid to play violin you bought them a cheap violin through the Sears catalogue or from Wurlitzer or from some other retailer. Buying cheap violins is not a new trend. It's not as if most parents of small children and most newbie violin players (which must be the great majority of the market) historically sought out expensive hand-crafted instruments and then the Chinese ruined that. Most of us buy the best, mass-produced violin we can get at a reasonable cost, and that's what people have been doing for at least the last couple of hundred years. It's just a different country making them now than before.

I know that this has disrupted the market and I feel especially bad for violin shop owners and teachers who get students playing subpar instruments. I can imagine that luthier work is increasingly specialized and directed towards more advanced and professional players. I know that some companies prey on parents' and players' ignorance. At the same time, there's probably no going back and there are some pretty compelling reasons why things have developed in the direction they have.

September 26, 2016 at 09:22 AM · Even if you are buying Chinese only, your kids deserve better violins than that($50-80) IMHO, IF you can afford it, if you're really strapped for cash I can understand having to buy the most affordable instruments.

It also has something to do with how important music is to your child and your family. I excelled on piano as a child, so at the age of 15 my parents, who were not at all wealthy at the time, shelled out $700 (1975) for a good quality (used) Yamaha upright, we didn't have a lot of luxuries in our family, but the piano was one of them.

September 26, 2016 at 09:47 AM · Lyndon, I really like your posts and I have learned a lot from you.

I got my cell phone on ebay (HTC--a fine Taiwanese brand), and we don't have a car. I've never had a cell phone plan that costs more than $50/month.

I agree that priorities matter. My son's current violin is the (recycled) Yamaha v7. It's a great violin. It's not a new/pretty violin, but it's about as high a quality of a Chinese violin as you can find. I personally believe the 5 year old is okay with a $60 stentor.

And as with violins, my first car was worth less than $1000. It's not the car I drove forever, but it was fine as a first car (who needs air con?). And I also don't know where I'd buy a fully-US made car if I did want to buy such car...

September 26, 2016 at 10:31 AM · My bad, I see you weren't paying retail for your instruments but getting them used at a cheaper price, it looks like.

I understand being on a budget, my car was 20 years old and cost $2000 which was all I could possibly afford, what I don't understand is parents driving a BMW who think $300 is too much to spend on their kids violin, It seems to me, if better sounding violins cost more, your kid is more likely to enjoy playing and want to play more if their instrument sounds better. Of course not everyone is in a position to purchase a great sounding instrument, and I understand that too.

September 26, 2016 at 11:15 AM · Yeah, I hear you. Ironically, most of my better 2nd hand finds probably came from parents who bought expensive instruments and then their kids didn't play them...

Really, the consumer question is one you face everywhere. As a parent do you:

-Get your kid the $50 rollerblades or the $150 ones? $70 bike or $300? $25 shoes or $125 shoes?

-Buy books or go to library?

-How many activities (scouts, sports, etc.)?

-Join the Y or use the community pool?

-$100 parent-led soccer or $2000 private soccer league?

Inevitably you shortchange some activities and probably "overpay" on others. Ironically, living where we do there is parent pressure to do instruments from an early age. We are paying $1200/year for lessons, which is a fair amount for us. We probably can't swing all three kids in private lessons at the same time.

Violins are on that continuum of low<-->high possible consumption. Probably for both the teacher market and the violin store market, the highest sales are going to come from the top section of the market--doctors' and lawyers' kids, etc.

If I were a teacher or luthier, I'd also be grateful for the Chinese market, because it is producing probably a disproportionate percent of the next generation's great players and violin buyers.

September 26, 2016 at 11:24 AM · "what I don't understand is parents driving a BMW who think $300 is too much to spend on their kids violin"

I have seen that before too, and that's a whole other complex matter.

I absolutely love that there are people like Lyndon who restore old instruments, but unfortunately you need to already be in the know of such things to find them. :P

September 26, 2016 at 11:28 AM · J.Seitz wrote:

"It's a cheaply made factory violin from an earlier age. This is because back in great-grandma's day, if you wanted your kid to play violin you bought them a cheap violin through the Sears catalogue or from Wurlitzer or from some other retailer. Buying cheap violins is not a new trend."

_________________________

It's interesting to realize how long "mail order" has been a part of American life, with most of the violins being foreign-sourced. Tiffany's published their first mail-order catalog in 1845, and once the railroad network became well established, Sears sold mail-order items as large as houses (in kit form, everything pre-cut), shipped by box car. I reckon those weren't very popular with the local lumber yards and carpenters at the destination, or what we could call "the local economy".

It wasn't that long ago that some violin dealers tried to be very territorial, believing that other dealers or makers (including internet dealers) had no right to sell in "their territory". I once had a dealer/maker call me requesting money, because a musician in "his" territory was trying one of my cellos, and it was made clear that the sale would be contingent on his approval. Maybe some of them still feel that way, but I think most of them have accepted the reality of internet sales, and makers who may sell almost anywhere.

September 26, 2016 at 12:15 PM · Priorities apply even if you are better-off. If you constantly commute in horrible traffic -- or if you work in a profession where people judge you by the car you drive (real-estate agents are a good example of those who need to conspicuously display success, not to mention the fact that they often give other people rides in their cars) -- you might very well prioritize having the nicer car.

Also, you have to remember that violin just isn't that important to many people. Even if they can afford more, it doesn't make sense to them to spend more money. And their teachers might not say anything about the terrible violin, so they don't necessarily know any better. (And if the kid wants to play the purple violin, they reason, what's the harm in it?)

Lots of kids begin on terrible fractional instruments -- and let's face it, there are almost no non-terrible instruments in anything less than a 1/2-size. As they move up, especially as they go to a full-size instrument, what their parents spend can go up by a lot.

I mean, seriously, where is this source of high-quality, reasonably-priced instruments for kids?

September 26, 2016 at 12:22 PM · Again it comes down to: (at whatever price level) - do you want a readily available good sounding violin of Chinese origin or do you want to spend years looking for that illusive so called "antique" factory violin made in a different era and probably very overpriced - or do you want an exceptionally good but maybe expensive modern violin made by the superb craftsmen and women, not only from the US, and Europe, but the rest of the world, including China?

I know some people want to push the antiques - and that is OK if there are good instruments available (which there are not) - but as I've said before, all the good antique violins, violas, and cellos are in use and people do not want to part with them. What is available is mostly poor quality.

September 26, 2016 at 12:32 PM · I realize that this thread might have been recently aimed at adult amateurs, and more specifically, at the adult beginners playing cheap instruments, although we've gotten talking about fractionals.

From my experience, the type of adult amateurs who are musically active -- play in a community orchestra, play chamber music, etc. -- typically have a decent instrument. It might be still student-grade, but it's what they can afford. Many of them seem to add an additional instrument (or instruments) in the same price-category rather than upgrading, when they get another violin. Most of them are playing older German workshop instruments and other anonymous antiques, not Chinese instruments, but that's primarily because they bought these violins back before there were good Chinese instruments. Younger amateurs might have gotten a Gliga or a Jay Haide or Rudolf Doetsch or the like, though. (I don't know that Eastern European instruments are really any different than Chinese instruments when it comes to inexpensive workshop production.)

Remember that the best you can do in terms of financing an instrument in this category is plunking down a credit card -- so you either need to have cash on hand or be able to summon it in a reasonable amount of time if you don't want to pay a fortune in interest.

For almost all amateurs, an upgrade has to be a trade-off against, say, braces for the kid, or perhaps in a less financially-tight family, a bathroom remodel. Your personal indulgence in an instrument has to be pit against all the other ways that the money can be used.

Adult beginners tend to either rent or start with a cheap instrument because that's what they can afford and it's all that makes sense until they have a sense of whether or not they want to play long term. In addition, they might be able to come up with $300 in windfall -- say, a tax refund -- but not feel like they can afford, say, $20/month to rent something better.

You also have to keep in mind that a lot of players don't feel like they need more than a student-grade instrument. Or the delta between prices just doesn't seem like it's worthwhile. In the student-grade price category, Chinese-made instruments are easily obtainable. (A decade ago, Romanian-made Gliga was all the rage, I recall, in that category, the popular brand can shift easily; people just want to get the best thing they can for their money.)

Pretty much everyone using the local shop will try older European-made instruments along with new Chinese instruments, though -- but not everyone has a decent local shop and therefore has to rely online. Are there even any trustworthy, well-known online retailers who sell an abundance of older instruments the way that new Chinese instruments are sold online?

There really is power in brands. If there were online sales of older instruments in good condition (never cracked, worm-damaged, etc.), with enough consistency to be able to give them a brand and model "numbers" (i.e., tiered), they might do pretty well.

September 26, 2016 at 12:47 PM · Some people just prefer to buy antiques, they might buy antique chairs and furniture as well, or be into driving a vintage car, the idea of selling antiques is all about making the pricing reasonable and competitive, believe it or not a lot of people DON'T want to buy Chinese, maybe not quite as many as people who do want to buy Chinese, but the market is there, the key for me is to not try to take advantage of these customers but to offer them the best value for the money.

September 26, 2016 at 01:07 PM · You cant generalise. I have bought antique furniture and still have some. (Apparently Victorian furniture has hit rock bottom prices in the UK - what was worth £3,000 ten years ago is now worth barely £100 at auctions, which in themselves are also closing down).

I had an antique viola - some put it at about 1750, others 1800, and people also argued between Italian or French. It had a nice sound (some said a great sound) but it was not such a big sound, even though it was almost 16.5 inches.

The best instruments I've heard and/or played on in the last few years have all been modern violins made in the last 30 years or so with one or two a little older. These have been relatively expensive instruments, from about £10,000 to £20 to £30K

Older antique instruments have not impressed me quite so much, even a Carlo Bergonzi, although the sound was pretty nice.

With cars it's the newer the better although lots of people prefer older classic cars. But it's the opposite with instruments of the string family, people generally think the older the better. It can be a snobbish thing. A recitalist may be congratulated after a concert on the instrument, which people think is a Strad/Guanarius or whatever, not knowing that the instrument actually used on this occasion was a modern copy!

So personally I like antiques but only good ones, and I like modern, equally it has to be good. This can be furniture, or violins.

September 26, 2016 at 01:08 PM · Wow, Lyndon, your point of view is so, so closed and small. I hardly believe you truly think what you say.

You talk about violins as if they were the most important and unique priority to all families or individuals that own a violin. There are thousands of decisions and things to think about.

Should I buy that cheap chinese $50 case or should I but a good quality german made $350 case?

I mean, we're talking about protecting the violin.

Should I buy good quality organic $100 shoes or should I go with the plastic and synthetic $30 shoes?

We're talking about serious health issues here, you only have 2 feet and you must treat them as good as you can.

Should I buy these chinese $60 speakers or should I respect music and listen to it the way it's supposed to be listened, and buy this BOSE audio system, $1400?

There's nothing worse as listening to music with poor quality speakers.

Should I let my kids learn all alone the subjects of the school so they pass with C-D's, or should I hire private teachers ($3000 year) so they get A's and get smarter?

We're talking about the future of my kids.

I could go on and on and on. Indeed, now I challenge you to say here all the electronic devices you buy, clothes, food, etc... so we can analyze it. I guarantee you I can attack you with the same philosophy of yours. In example...

-OMG, why do you buy those $2 tomato's pack?

Don't you know the $7 organic ones are way, way better for your health? Don't you take care about your health?

You buy these $9000 violins but you eat processed food that is bad for your health what's wrong with you? OMG

I'm positive I could "attack" you with the clothes you wear, your shoes, your food and millions of other ways.

Yeah, welcome to the mother Earth, there's people that own a $700 iPhone but buy crappy food, there's people that have a $3000 PC but wear $30 shoes that are damaging their feet. There's people that buys $10000 violins but...

September 26, 2016 at 01:10 PM · Peter, Who's generalizing, except for you with your blanket approval of almost all modern violins???

Tim, I buy my clothes at the thrift store, other than basic necessities like food, gas, rent etc I only spend money on violins, and I don't even play, fortunately my customers do, and they seem to appreciate the effort I put into setting up and selling violins.

.

September 26, 2016 at 01:20 PM · You need specs Lyndon, because my previous post did not give blanket approval, old boy!

You should read other people's posts properly and try and understand what they are saying, rather than grinding on about the Chinese and their violins. Perhaps you should take evening classes on how to write good English and understand what other people have written in their posts.

You probably do more harm to your business prospects than you could ever know or understand, by your continuos trolling and argumentative style. Nobody here can possibly take you seriously, as they often point out, so for our sakes and your own future prospects as an antique violin seller, you should be more circumspect.

September 26, 2016 at 01:20 PM · Peter, what do you mean there "aren't good antiques available"?

There are very few if any (I'm talking about Lyndon's 50-100 years old mainly factory instruments), because the good ones are being held onto, so only the junk remains. Occasionally of course the odd good one might appear, but generally its a long wait.

September 26, 2016 at 01:23 PM · Peter you have no fricking idea what kind of instruments I sell at my store, you've never visited my store and I trust you never will, so keep your comments on my business to yourself. Just to clarify, I hardly sell any violins that aren't 100 yrs old or older, except in fractionals, and I almost exclusively don't sell factory built violins, I think I have 3 factory built full size, an EH Roth, and two $300 entry level violins.

I also can't say that your opinions contribute positively to people's perceptions of you as a musician or even a human being any better, Peter.

September 26, 2016 at 01:25 PM · Ammmm, Lyndon, I never talked about antique violins, so I don't know how you know my opinion about them. Re-read my message, cause you clearly missed the point.

September 26, 2016 at 01:25 PM · Peter, what do you mean there "aren't good antiques available"?

September 26, 2016 at 01:27 PM · Peter lives in in alternative universe, Sarah!! How else could he quote and answer your question before you asked it, LOL!!

https://www.google.com/#q=peter+charles+violin

Makes me wonder if he is using his real name, as all the google matches are from this website.

September 26, 2016 at 01:30 PM ·

September 26, 2016 at 01:46 PM ·

September 26, 2016 at 01:47 PM · I don't need to say anything Lyndon, you are saying enough, and people will realise.

September 26, 2016 at 01:49 PM · Realize what, that I sell and prefer antique violins, big deal, a lot of people prefer antique violins, who are you, spokesman for the world????

September 26, 2016 at 01:58 PM · I thought the thread was about chinese cheap made violins vs luthier expensive violins. Not about modern vs old violins.

September 26, 2016 at 02:07 PM · I do recognize that these types of instruments are so far apart that they almost warrant different buying guides or selling mechanisms (new/ish, Chinese instruments vs. antique, often unlabeled instruments). With Chinese instruments, I've basically found the following three bands:

1. Instruments that sell new for $100-$200 that I look to buy at $50.

2. Instruments that sell new for $500 that I look to buy at <$200.

3. Instruments that sell new for $1000-$1500 that I look to buy in the $300-$600 range.

For us the next instrument will likely be a 3/4 violin when our eldest is 9-10 (assuming he's still playing--he's more and more resistant). I will probably look for something in category #3, likely a higher level yamaha or eastman or haide. I don't know what luck I"ll have. On other hand, I would love to buy a nicer antique instrument. There the problem is that because they're older the initial set-up is less likely to have held if I buy from another individual and instrument shops have put a lot of work into restoring/improving.

September 26, 2016 at 02:16 PM · Tim, I thought the thread was about buying Chinese vs comparably priced older instruments not made in China. I guess Romanian is a third option.

J Seitz, my highest priced antique (around 100 year old) best sounding 3/4s are in the $600 range with bow and case, my cheaper ones are $300-400, I try to keep the prices down on my fractionals, my cheapest decent sounding 4/4 start at $600, one is one of the "infamous" JB Schweitzer label, type. I see them on ebay going for $1500 or more, but that's just ripping people off. And no, you won't have to worry about the set up not being top notch on mine, like you probably will have to worry on ebay.

September 26, 2016 at 02:30 PM · Sarah asked;

"Peter, what do you mean there "aren't good antiques available"?"

Sarah, this probably isn't the price range you're talking about, but Jaime Laredo is quoted in a 1991 New York Times article as saying, "I've been shocked when students have asked my opinion of old Italian or French fiddles that cost $50,000 to $60,000. Often, they're just pieces of junk."

Isaac Stern, in the same article states, "If musicians can't spend at least $250,000 on a stringed instrument, they'd do better with a fine new one, provided they take the time to test it under battle conditions in a good concert hall."

These prices, of course, are from 25 years ago, and I also highly doubt that they're referring to "factory-style" violins.

And I don't have any idea how the older instruments Lyndon sells stack up against Chinese instruments in the same price range, having never played any of his. If I wanted to sort this out, I suppose I'd start by going to a shop that carries both. While most of my involvement in the trade has been with higher end stuff, I have no difficulty understanding people who want to play the violin, while minimizing the impact on their budget.

September 26, 2016 at 02:35 PM ·

September 26, 2016 at 02:36 PM · Stuart, I you'd read carefully, you'd notice there are quite a few members who prefer antique violins on this site, and an even larger percent of players that own antiques. I just happen to be one of the more outspoken supporters of antiques as I specialize in antiques and know their good qualities personally. Carlo actually started this thread to give voice to those opposing buying Chinese, so much for that idea Carlo!!

September 26, 2016 at 02:43 PM · And yes I'm fully aware that most cheap antiques are not that good, but then you could say much the same thing for cheap modern violins.

September 26, 2016 at 02:58 PM · The huge majority of people in the world that starts playing violin does it happily with a Chinesse instrument and many accomplished and profesional players have them as back up instruments . I don't understand those who want to convince them they are wrong. Looks to me like an useless task.

September 26, 2016 at 03:21 PM · I think Peter should stop provoking Lyndon and even mentioning him every time even in other threads.

September 26, 2016 at 03:27 PM · Thank you, Jean, its not easy for me not to respond when being attacked, its almost like he's trying to put me out of business, not that I'm worried, my business is local, not global.

September 26, 2016 at 03:43 PM · Ok, so let's see if I can summarize;

There are lots of antique violins out there. Alot of which are bad, or just plain ordinary. A few are good, some are even great.

There are lots of Chinese violins out there. Alot of which are bad, or just plain ordinary. A few are good, some are even great.

So, from what I can distill from the discussion so far is that it's about a tie ballgame.

Further illumination from the thread(s): That it is somehow more ethically correct to purchase an old violin by a maker who is long dead, and will see no remuneration for the transaction than it is to purchase a Chinese violin from a maker who is trying to earn a living in China this very day.

And the sidebar: Lyndon knows precisely that ALL Chinese violins are junk, even without listening to them, but if you call into question the violins he carries, he will attack because

"...you have no fricking idea what kind of instruments I sell at my store, you've never visited my store and I trust you never will, so keep your comments on my business to yourself. "

September 26, 2016 at 03:49 PM · Seraphim, More outrageous claims, I invite you to find a quote where I said that all Chinese violins are junk?? Never said it.

As to my Reply to Peter, Peter attacked the quality of my inventory of antiques without having any clue whatsoever what type or range of instruments I sell, so I think my response was quite appropriate.

The thing you left out is are you going to support a luthier, that perhaps recycles and restores violins to give them new life, as well as having full ability to maintain and repair your violin when it needs work, or are you going to support an ebay seller, who makes 5 times the profit on an instrument than the poor overworked factory workers in China, but who won't maintain or fix your violin if your life depended on it, and will probably provide you with an instrument that is not set up well, let alone professionally.

I suggest, rather I insist, if you don't see fit to support your local luthiers, buy everything on ebay, etc, before long you'll be getting your violin repaired at the local Walmart or guitar shop as all your local luthiers have been pushed out of business.

September 26, 2016 at 03:53 PM · Not everyone has a decent local luthier.

Besides, even if you buy online, you might very well support your local luthier for set-up and so forth.

September 26, 2016 at 03:56 PM · Please stop with the farce of actually caring about "... the poor overworked factory workers in China".

Your main care, it would seem, is the poor California antique violin huckster.

EDIT:

It is totally understandable to want to protect one's own business. Nothing wrong with that. But to couch it in terms about caring about the plight of the poor Chinese worker (while encouraging people to not to do business with them) is disingenuous.

September 26, 2016 at 03:57 PM · It is helpful for me to know that I could buy a good 3/4 violin from Lyndon or possibly another luthier in the $400-600 range. On this board (or maestronet) I often see posts about how basic hand-made violins typically run $4000+ and how major repairs on an old violin can easily be several thousand dollars. I also had a brother-in-law buy a violin from the local violin shop that to me sure seems like a VSO. It's got a shiny, flakey enamel and doesn't sound good.

My guess would that with violin shops there's also a range where (1) some are just marking up cheap violins and selling them in a physical store, (2) some are restoring instruments and setting up good antique or foreign-bought instruments that are modestly priced and (3) some producing unique modern instruments or performing major surgery on expensive instruments played by professionals.

This is also a market most of us don't know well. The appeal of mass-produced and name brand is that you'll get something reasonably close to a standard, but it may be that violins really just don't work this way.

September 26, 2016 at 04:00 PM · Seraphim, I figure Lyndon must be right, based on the post frequency calculation method for viability (one third of the posts in this thread so far). Isn't that how it works? ;-)

I too question how much we help Chinese factory workers by reducing demand, and hence the number of jobs. If enough people complain about their working conditions, and the pay level goes up too much, I suppose another option would be for the factory owners to use a higher level of mechanization, like auto manufacturers have done. I don't think all the unemployed Detroit factory workers thought this was such a great idea, though.

September 26, 2016 at 04:04 PM ·

September 26, 2016 at 04:16 PM · Lydia, no luthier can stay in business setting up ebay Chinese violin purchases for customers, without having any sales. Ebay happens to be an incredibly overpriced market for the uninitiated, you pretty much have to be a professional to know a bargain from a rip off on ebay, and guess what, most amateurs are suckered into the ripoffs on ebay because ebay crooks and sharks vastly outnumber the honest dealers.

September 26, 2016 at 04:27 PM · "Lyndon Taylor September 25, 2016 at 09:11 AM · The best reason to not buy Chinese violins is because they are not very good"

-from the original Chinese bash thread.

There's a quote by you. A broad, wide ranging blanket statement.

September 26, 2016 at 04:38 PM · "or are you going to support an ebay seller, who makes 5 times the profit on an instrument than the poor overworked factory workers in China"

That's a good one, Lyndon, hahahaha. You talk as if you are not doing it. Please...

September 26, 2016 at 04:41 PM · Seraphim, So now saying Chinese violins are not very good, means the same thing as "all Chinese violins are junk" (your words), In all honesty when I referred to Chinese violins being not very good, I was referring to the commercial grade factory violins, I have heard there are some hand made by individual Chinese maker violins that win awards, at least, I've never heard one, but I trust there are some good violins coming out of China, my argument is that I don't see they are somehow much better than good antiques, I don't believe that, can a Chinese violin be better than a similarly priced antique, obviously, but an antique can also be better than a similarly priced modern Chinese.

Best thing is to compare for yourself, and stop listening to yahoos that say there is no reason to even consider antiques, all you have to do is purchase this Chinese brand or this and your satisfaction is guaranteed.

September 26, 2016 at 04:45 PM · Sorry Tim, you don't seem to comprehend the work that goes into restoring and setting up an antique for sale, and how low my wages are compared to the industry. Perhaps you should try to set up your own violin shop if you don't like the way I do it??

Most of the ebay retailers selling Chinese violins at substantial markups don't do any work to set them up properly, that responsibility lies with the poor customers that buy them.

September 26, 2016 at 05:25 PM · "stop listening to yahoos that say there is no reason to even consider antiques, all you have to do is purchase this Chinese brand or this and your satisfaction is guaranteed."

______________________________

Lyndon, who here has said that? Might you be "tilting at windmills" (an English idiom which means attacking imaginary enemies)?

I acknowledge that you've claimed you are manic-depressive, so I try to cut you some slack. However, I still think it best that some things you claim (or have claimed in the past) are challenged.

September 26, 2016 at 05:29 PM · How much of a violin shop's business really comes from sales at this low level -- especially the sub-$1000 level? I'd think that what really keeps the typical local shop in business is rentals.

September 26, 2016 at 05:33 PM · At my shop about 70 or 80% comes from sales, the rest from restorations, often of grandfathers violin etc. I don't do rentals.

September 26, 2016 at 05:48 PM · Lyndon, the only yahoo I listen to is myself. I have purchased 12-14 Chinese made violins (1 from Yita-the worst of the bunch by far, the others from Old Violin House, which were all good for my needs, two of which were quite good that I still have. The others I sold off locally), I have also purchased 5 violas from Yita. Two 15.75" models, one of which I bartered with my instructor in exchange for lesson time (my teacher is quite happy with the viola, she is also quite an accomplished musician), one 16.25" viola, that I was happy with until I tried one of their 17" models with a lovely, deep voice that outshone it. I then tried one of their 17.5" violas, which is now my primary instrument. Interestingly, the VSL of the 17.5" is exactly the same as the 17", so it is quite playable.

My first viola was an eastman VL100 15.5". Plain Jane vanilla, but fine. I also had a Du-Shi 16.25 "Tertis" styled viola after that. Kind of a boxy sounding instrument. Nothing to write home about, but certainly not bad at all.

I also owned a 15.5 Seidel German made viola. the two 15.75" Yitas far outshone this European made instrument. That one got sold off quickly.

I did purchase one viola from Yita (a 16.25" model) that had an open back seam. I returned it without incident. Actually, I think it's what I returned in exchange for my 17.5".

September 26, 2016 at 05:48 PM · I did say I would sit back and watch, but it is hard for someone as verbose as myself to do. I would like to share a story...

It is only early spring here. I decided to purchase a basic axe to split wood for kindling. I went to my local DIY store. Here I was faced with a choice. The seven lowest priced models were made in China. Following my own conscience, I forked out $79.00 for one made in Sweden, far, far more than I wanted to spend.

My post was intended to question the ethics of moving money, and therefore power, from the West to the East. How have we become so dependant on the cheap labour of others, be it for toasters, hand axes, or violins? Have we lost our sense of compassion? Does it matter that were are exploiting the lowly Chinese worker, while at the same time increasing the weath and dominance of China? Is it OK that China will be the main world power in thirty years, ahead of America? Are we voting with our wallets, with our eyes wide shut to the future we are leaving for our children?

Cheers Carlo

September 26, 2016 at 05:54 PM · Carlo,

Are Swedish humans somehow of more worth than Chinese humans that made that choice a more ethical one?

If you presented it as: "The Swedish axe was clearly a more well crafted hunk of heat treated steel that would more easily split wood than the Chinese made hunk of heat treated steel that shatters upon first impact". Then I can see your argument.

But simply presenting it as "anything but China", since you are Italian and living in New Zealand, apparently, with no ties to Sweden, comes across as jingoism at best, and other unsavory adjectives at worst.

September 26, 2016 at 06:12 PM · Unfortunately its the factory workers, be they Swedish or Chinese, that make the least amount of money on this, the rest goes go to wholesalers, middlemen, importers and retailers that couldn't make an ax if their life depended on it. But Seraphim is right, people are people, whether they live in China, Sweden, New Zealand or America. Personally I prefer to see more money going to the workers, and less to the middleman.

September 26, 2016 at 06:15 PM · @Seraphim. I do not believe my position is racist. Nor is it anti-Chinese. Read my post again, especially the last paragraph.

I buy where possible; firstly local, then European, then from any other Western Country. I believe that by buying a Swedish axe I am not exploiting the labour of the lowly paid, nor am I supporting the decline of the West, and the changing of world order. In Sweden, factory workers are paid living wages, free medical, and a pension. In China?

Cheers Carlo

September 26, 2016 at 06:15 PM · @Lyndon, So how is more money going to go to these workers that you obviously care so much about, if you call for boycotting buying from them?

Carlo, how can you say your posts are not anti-Chinese when in the very same post you prioritize every other option before Chinese?

Trump doesn't think his policies are racist either. He just believes in America first! Maybe he isn't racist at all. Just interested in keeping away from a shifting of world power...

September 26, 2016 at 06:23 PM · Its not my job to try to stimulate the Chinese economy, though several posters here seem to think it's their job, I've got my own economy to worry about.

And no, I'm not on violinist.com to plug my own business, considering at the most only one or maybe two violinist.com members live within 40 miles of my shop!!

September 26, 2016 at 06:24 PM · Carlo, it's kind of interesting that you purchased a Swedish axe, because Sweden has become rather dominant in the inexpensive furniture market. Ikea. I won't describe it as "cheap", because that implies poor quality. The last time one of my daughters moved, her house was largely furnished with one trip to the local Ikea store. I helped her assemble it, and in the process, discovered that the engineering involved was nothing short of amazing!

That stuff is still looking close-to-perfect (including a leather couch), after two years, with two large dogs in the house climbing on the couch regularly, so I can't say that the durability isn't above-average either. Is that furniture a threat to the local economy, particularly when comparing prices with local "fine" woodworkers? Sure.

What do you consider unusually threatening about China? As far as I know, neither China or Sweden has shown an inclination to take over the world, militarily. Can't you think of other nations which have been much more aggressive that way?

September 26, 2016 at 06:27 PM · When South Africa had its apartheid system in place, I boycotted all goods from their country, and protested when their racially selected white team toured NZ playing rugby. My wife is NZ Maori. I hold the passports of three countries. I am not racist, nor do I support Donald Trump.

Many may not be aware that "trump" is an English word meaning to break wind. Apropriate given the amount of hot air emanating from that person.

Cheers Carlo

September 26, 2016 at 06:31 PM · @David. I disagree. China holds 1.24 Trillion of US debt, or if you prefer 10% of the US public debt. Their sabre rattling in the Pacific cannot be ignored. The largest employer in the world is the Chinese military.

BTW IKEA furniture is not all made in Sweden. They outsource the work to guess where?

Cheers Carlo

September 26, 2016 at 06:40 PM · I have a question:

Carlo, as an Italian, living in New Zealand, how does US debt to China matter to you?

Just wondering?

As another thing to ponder: China may be "sabre rattling", but the United States (presumably the "good guys"?) has been openly militarily involved in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. Perhaps it is US goods that need boycotting?

September 26, 2016 at 06:41 PM · And no, I'm not on violinist.com to plug my own business, considering at the most only one or maybe two violinist.com members live within 40 miles of my shop!!

It's really strange, but I think I've heard that or a similar quote before - but maybe I'm imagining it? Does it ring a bell with anyone else?

September 26, 2016 at 06:50 PM · @Craig. Living in a former English colony, I have a natural affinity to support another.;-) Also the problems faced by America are faced by all countries and economies in the West, for similar reasons.

I am going to bow out now. I did say I wouldn't contribute to this thread. I will try and stick to that now.

Cheers Carlo

September 26, 2016 at 06:57 PM · Looking back in history, power has always shifted from one place to another; it may stay somewhere for a while, but eventually it moves, and it's not exactly predictable how or where that happens.

The foremost source of violins themselves have changed over time: First it was Italy, then France, then Germany, now China. For all we know tomorrow Australia might be the source of affordable violins everyone is going to complain about.

September 26, 2016 at 07:10 PM ·

September 26, 2016 at 07:22 PM · Carlo wrote:

"BTW IKEA furniture is not all made in Sweden. They outsource the work to guess where?"

____________________________

Yes, some it is outsourced. So what do you really know about the national origin content of your "Swedish axe"?

September 26, 2016 at 07:26 PM · Maybe Carlo has an axe to grind ... (wink)

September 26, 2016 at 07:55 PM · Considering that as little as 10% of the retail cost of one of these violins actually goes to the Chinese factory, the rest going to marketers and profiteers inside and mostly outside of China, this isn't really about boycotting or supporting the Chinese economy, its more about what quality do you expect from a violin that for these cheaper models took maybe 20 hours to build, start to finish.

Perhaps Mr. Burgess could comment on how many hours it takes to complete a really good quality modern violin by hand.

September 26, 2016 at 08:01 PM · Wow ... this thread reminds me of Probert vs. McSorley.

September 26, 2016 at 08:12 PM · I have gotten way more than I expected out of 90% of the instruments I have purchased direct from China (one of them was just what I expected: it was brash and screeching). The most expensive of which cost me $500, delivered. Most were $200-300 delivered. Remarkable quality for 20 hours of labor!

The other thing I discovered is that, like Lyndon, I also have a kitchen table upon which I can do some work on my very own instruments. Since they are inexpensive, there's no fear of ruining some European masterpiece.

Soundpost needs re-positioning? Sure, I'll give that a try. Turns out that it's tricky, but not brain surgery.

Nut a bit too high? Heck, it's made out of wood! You can file or sand that down yourself.

Next thing you know, instead of needing to call Taylor's Fine Violins for maintenance, I discovered I could do alot of things for myself.

Sure, for brittle and fragile old instruments, it's best to call a pro like that. But I'm not particularly interested in curating some piece of ancient history that needs intensive care on an ongoing basis. I want an instrument that I can play, that doesn't break the bank, so that I can afford lessons to improve my pathetic beginner skills.

September 26, 2016 at 08:16 PM · XD, PAUL nailed it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR389em23T8

This is not ending any time soon. It will hit those 110 messages in 2-3 hours. Carlo, I'd be ready to open a third threaded part so the party can go on.

September 26, 2016 at 08:22 PM · Thanks for the hockey fight. I hadn't seen that one before. Epic!

BTW, I thought the limit here was 100 posts per thread? Sometimes there would be a glitch and it'd go to 101-102. I was surprised the last one went to 110.

September 26, 2016 at 08:27 PM · Lydon wrote:

"Considering that as little as 10% of the retail cost of one of these violins actually goes to the Chinese factory, the rest going to marketers and profiteers inside and mostly outside of China, this isn't really about boycotting or supporting the Chinese economy, its more about what quality do you expect from a violin that took maybe 20 hours to build, start to finish.

Perhaps Mr. Burgess could comment on how many hours it takes to complete a really good quality modern violin by hand."

_____________________

Since you asked, I'm probably way over 250 hours average to make a violin that I'm personally satisfied with, without even considering all the time and study and money it took to get me to that sort of "hourly wage".

As a largely self-employed person, I've worked some hellatiously long hours under conditions which wouldn't come close to meeting OSHA standards, to get where I am. I can't help but relate to Chinese workers who are trying to do something similar.

September 26, 2016 at 08:34 PM · Thanks for replying David, that's what I would think, my clavichords took about 600-700 hrs to build, but sold for 1/3 the price of one of your violins, that's one of the reasons I'm no longer building clavichords.

That and I'm really scared of cutting my fingers off with the power tolls, as I've had three close call accidents with power tools.

September 26, 2016 at 08:49 PM · I wonder what's your opinion on chinese clavichords...

September 26, 2016 at 08:51 PM · David--I certainly understand the idea that just because something is old and expensive doesn't mean it's the best-sounding fiddle for the money. I did marry a maker, after all. :) What I don't understand is how anyone would get the idea that there are *no* good antiques available. That's just silly. Very few of us are operating at Isaac Stern level--and I'm going to take a leap and assume that Peter was also not talking about instruments that cost over $250,000 in 1990s dollars--but even so, I can't agree with him that there is nothing worthwhile out there. Sure, most of the really high-end instruments will be in the hands of soloists or concertmasters rather than hanging in random shops next to the student outfits, but then again most of us don't need a quarter million dollars worth of violin.

In general, I think framing the question of old makers versus new makers as a battle that can only have one victor is silly. Are Picasso's paintings diminished by artists working today? Of course not. Does that conversely mean that everything painted today is garbage that can't possibly stand up to Picasso? Also of course not.

Even if we're excluding the blind sound tests from the picture (although I do find them quite interesting), people might have different but equally valid reasons for wanting an antique versus a new instrument. There's a special joy in owning something very old that could tell many tales, and there's also a special joy in owning a work of art that was made by a living person. Again, it is a false dichotomy to suggest that only one way is "correct."

September 26, 2016 at 08:59 PM · Well said, Sarah.

Tim, there is no such thing as Chinese clavichords or harpsichords, the market is too small for them to invest the time and effort at least for now, however if they did I would imagine the quality would be on par with Chinese pianos. Which is probably not saying much????

September 26, 2016 at 09:13 PM · Sarah, I hear ya, and I too think that framing the question of old makers versus new makers as a battle that can only have one victor, is silly.

In the double-blind tests so far, the modern instruments look to have prevailed, but we don't have any way of knowing whether the best modern instruments were used, or the best of the Stradivaris and Guarneris.

September 26, 2016 at 09:17 PM · The Chinese make pianos??

September 26, 2016 at 09:36 PM · Most people simply can't afford to buy artisanal whatever. Sometimes I want something that will last forever and has been crafted with love. Most of the time I just want something cheap and disposable. Yes, I recognize it has an impact on the planet, but we all have to pick and choose what we're going to care about.

By the way, as someone who would have been perfectly happy buying a modern violin if I could have found one satisfactory (and indeed, might have preferred to do so in order to get a 7/8ths built for me), I can tell you that it's not trivial to actually obtain great modern instruments. The best makers have extremely lengthy wait times, and you don't really know what you'll be getting in the end. And they are decidedly not cheap.

September 26, 2016 at 09:40 PM · Dangit Carlo.

September 26, 2016 at 09:42 PM · I was going to get Chinese take out food for dinner tonight.

I now realize how very "wrong" that would be geo-politically.

I'll stop by McD's instead and eat my Big Mac while watching Trump at the debate.

September 26, 2016 at 09:48 PM · Stuart, axes starting at $385.00?

Sure, I'd spend that, if I found some clear advantage during testing alongside cheaper axes, or if I was an "axe collector".

If this axe failed to demonstrate superior utilitarian value, for a task as crude as making fiddles, it probably wouldn't be high on my wish list LOL

I did recently purchase an "off the shelf" hand plane though, for about five hundred bucks, which is demonstrably superior to the older plane I'd been using for about 40 years, despite all the money and work that had been put into getting the older plane to work well.

September 26, 2016 at 10:03 PM · Some Chinese VSO's could do with a few strokes of a good axe. A poor customer just bought in a Chinese Blue painted violin she bought on ebay for $35. The pegs wouldn't hold, the bridge had way too flat a curve and no notches for the strings, the feet weren't even fit AT ALL, I ended up after correcting the curve on the bridge and filing notches for the strings, realizing that by the time I fit the feet on the bridge, the strings would be way too low, the pegs were worthless, unsaveable, I ended up having to tell her it was an unplayable violin without about $150 in work, I called up the local music store and they rent Eastmans for 14.95$/month, a better deal, so I recommended that and refunded her the $15 I was going to charge her for "fitting" her bridge. SO there is a place for cheap Chinese violins. The Eastmans, that is.

September 26, 2016 at 10:25 PM · Lydia wrote: you don't really know what you'll be getting in the end [from a modern maker]. Well I did it, and I assumed it would not be worse than his previous work. And I was correct. Mine is better...and, it is so much better than the old German antique I was playing, I was totally humbled. If you are considering commissioning a violin, I can only encourage you; it is an act of faith that will be amply rewarded if you find the right maker. The worst part is waiting for it! P.S. I have to confess, I started with a Lark from a string shop in Santa Monica; ended up giving it away.

September 26, 2016 at 10:29 PM · Lyndon, are you seriously comparing a blue painted Chinese violin to instruments such as what Yitamusic and Old Violin House sell?

September 26, 2016 at 10:37 PM · A pretty silly question!! If they sell for $35 on ebay, yes, if not, no!!

September 26, 2016 at 11:00 PM · @Sarah. Leaving aside China for a moment...

"In general, I think framing the question of old makers versus new makers as a battle that can only have one victor is silly. Are Picasso's paintings diminished by artists working today? Of course not. Does that conversely mean that everything painted today is garbage that can't possibly stand up to Picasso? Also of course not."

If the modern artists were doing nothing but reproduce Picassos, would that change anything?

Cheers Carlo

September 26, 2016 at 11:14 PM · Who do you think put more of their heart and soul into making violins, Chinese overworked factory workers, or 100 year ago Markneukirchen artisan builders. Does potentially playing the violin and appreciating violin music influence one to be a better maker.

Do you think the Chinese factory worker puts as much love and care into building a western violin as they do into making a Chinese erhu violin. (on ebay Chinese erhus are quite expensive compared to entry level violins)

Do you think there was some secret knowledge of plate tuning and tap tone that was known to the antique era German violin makers, that is not known to modern Chinese workers.

Which violins have more soul, decent good grade antiques, or similarly priced modern Chinese violins.

Inquiring minds want to know?????

September 26, 2016 at 11:27 PM · You my friend are not a connoisseur of fine antiques, and must be easily fooled by cheap CNC routed imitations. If there's one thing you can say about the better grade German antiques it is that their makers were talented artists or craftsmen. The cheaper grade stuff can look like makers that were bored with their job, but not the higher grade stuff.

Artists don't create simply to pay the bills, they create because they love to put their best abilities into their work. You often hear of luthiers who put up with the low pay because they love their job, even though they could have a better paying job, Chinese factory workers put up with their low pay because they have no other options.

David Burgess, in answer to your question posted below, by the way how do you get to post 102 when the moderator archived the discussion at 101 posts, nice trick.

The obvious answer to you question is that the Markneukirchen makers 100 years ago were artisans not factory workers, they didn't work in factories until well into the 20th century, they worked quite possibly in their own houses or that of their family, presumably on their own timetable, and they worked exclusively by hand. They were payed by the job, not by the hour.

How you can equate that with Chinese factory workers on an assembly line using multitude of power tools and duplication machines, being payed usually minimum hourly wage, is frankly beyond me!!

PS your article wouldn't pass muster with Mr Saunders in Austria on several points, One major point he missed is that most of these violins were made in pieces, one person made the rib garland, one person may have carved the top and back, yet another might have added the purfling, and of course an expert scroll carver, then the pieces were assembled by another, and finally the varnishing and label of the wealthy shop owner who marketed his brand.

All this occurred at multiple premises, their were no big factories and the workers were independent contractors, not company employees. If someone only wanted to work half time, I can't see that anyone would stop them, those that wanted higher wages worked longer hours, or honed their skill to provide a higher quality product. If one violin shop stopped buying your product, you could simply market it to a different shop owner.

Given the massive amount of money flowing into Markneukirchen from the violin trade I highly doubt a skilled worker would be living below their 1900 poverty line. That's the burden of many of the Chinese factory workers though.

September 26, 2016 at 11:45 PM · Lyndon wrote:

"Who do you think put more of their heart and soul into making violins, Chinese overworked factory workers, or 100 year ago Markneukirchen artisan builders."

______________________

I'd like to hear evidence for the Markneukirchen "factory" workers, (or cottage industry workers or whatever you wish to call them) being either more artisan, or less overworked, than current Chinese violin factory workers.

Here's what I think is a really cool, and easily readable article on the history of violin making in the Markneukirchen region, originally published in Strings Magazine.

http://www.ifshinviolins.com/Articles/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/1061/The-Mystery-of-Origin

Regarding your speculation or claims about the nature of factory work in China:

I'd suggest that you go there and see for yourself. I have, when I was in China judging their violin making competition in Bejing. So has my wife, who is employed by the American business unit of a large Chinese manufacturing company, and visited their production complex in Shanghai (she formerly worked for a Japanese-owned company). So has one of my daughters, who has visited several Chinese production facilities for some of the products her store sells. So we actually have some first-hand knowledge of what what goes on there.

How about you???

I think it would be nice if we could keep the misinformation to a minimum. (Passing along information which one "knows to be wrong, or even suspects to be wrong" also happens to be against the forum rules.)


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