Any awesome sounding Violins around $100,000?

October 15, 2016 at 10:34 PM · I've had moderate success with the violin I currently have, however I have been frustrated with it for a long time.

Any older Italian or French violin?

Replies (104)

October 15, 2016 at 10:50 PM · If a potential buyer at the outset mentions a specific price at the level quoted, I am sure there are dealers (and others) out there who will miraculously have an instrument immediately available at that price.

Caveat emptor.

October 15, 2016 at 10:55 PM · Yes... and so are for 1/2, 1/4 and even 1/5 of that sum.

Never, ever tell the dealer the depth of your pockets!

October 15, 2016 at 11:04 PM · Yes. Is $100k the cap, or the general vicinity you'd be looking at? (i.e., you could do $150k, for instance)

At that price point, it's worthwhile to conduct an extensive search -- see instruments in Chicago, NYC, Boston, etc. if you're in the US. (I'm not sure which European cities you'd want to visit if you're European, but I imagine someone else can make that recommendation. London, certainly.)

It's okay to tell a dealer the general price point that you're looking at -- but I would recommend playing instruments both well below that price point (anything that qualifies as a fine violin) as well as some instruments above that price point.

I assume the French/Italian desire is for investment value. But don't overlook the investment value of fine contemporary makers who aren't French or Italian either, though. Carl G Becker's instruments are in your price range. So are Sergio Peresson's. They're dead (thus not making any longer), made great violins, and they've appreciated nicely in value over the past few decades.

Get good advice on your search. Call a mentor or a previous teacher for help.

October 15, 2016 at 11:19 PM · Be aware also that the cavernous acoustic of a dealer's display room is no guarantee that the instrument will sound the same when in another location.

October 15, 2016 at 11:42 PM · I think it's worthwhile to note that the OP shouldn't get the same kind of advice the forum would give to a starry-eyed suddenly-wealthy amateur. She's playing at a high level, and has the contacts to get good advice on a proper professional violin if she wants to reach out to them.

(A nice Bartok No. 1 from her: LINK)

OP, what you want for day to day professional orchestra playing might not be the same as what you want for primarily solo playing -- AFAIK, ease of response is often a priority for pro orchestra players. From your bio it looks like you haven't found a permanent position yet so I figure you're going to be running the audition gauntlet. I imagine now is a good time to buy.

Unless you intend to trade up again in your lifetime, though, investment value might not be as important as really getting something you'll be happy playing for decades. That's not necessarily going to necessitate spending $100k. Also consider the possibility that you'll need to have budget left over afterwards for a bow to match this violin.

October 15, 2016 at 11:50 PM · I am sorry to hear about your parents. If you are all set to spend this kind of money on an instrument, I recommend that when you take your chosen prize on trial to have another top luthier look at it for damage and repairs and his feeling as toward authenticity as claimed.T his will cost you a hundred or two hundred dollars but it is well worth an unbiased opinion. He will also point out problem spots that you might not be aware of and it can be a tremendous learning experience for you. It is so easy for buyers to get duped into buying something they think is as claimed but it really is a fake. If you read the Maestronet message boards there is much more talk about fake labeled instruments than what I have read here on this site. Even some certificates from so called experts from fifty years ago have been challenged and proven invalid by today's experts and dendro testing leaving the current owner devastated. My violin is an early 1920 American made instrument and posit that it would sound as good as any expensive Italian or French instrument in a blind sound test. Please be very careful with how you spend your beloved parents inheritance.

October 16, 2016 at 12:20 AM · Lydia,

I did not know that quality of advice depends on player's category. Does your comment imply that amateurs, wealthy or not, are less worthy of a good advice?

October 16, 2016 at 01:24 AM · You may want to consider spending a large sum such as that on a downpayment on a house or condo.

My condolences on the passing of your parents.

October 16, 2016 at 03:15 AM · Rocky, no, but I think the advice should assume a different level of knowledge. I think things like "assume the dealer's try-out room sounds different than the real world" is suitable advice for a beginner choosing a violin, but an adult professional undoubtedly already knows that.

The forum has both pro violinists as well as players whose violins are in this price class, so there will be people with direct experience making a similar sort of decision.

On the matter of Jeff's advice: It's normally extremely difficult to get one luthier to comment on a violin or bow being sold to you by someone else. There's a professional courtesy of circumspection, and they will not normally provide a written appraisal or condition report even if you pay them. They may hint at an opinion, but that's about it. (Your only option might be to lie about the ownership of the instrument -- i.e., claim it belongs to you -- but that would probably get you into significant hot water, since $100k instruments tend not to be mysterious unknowns, and this particular violin might have been shown around locally and already be known to the luthier you show it to).

A dealer selling instruments in this price range should (1) have a track record of selling many other violins in this price range, and a generally good industry reputation, (2) one or more certificates from reputable experts for the violin, (3) provide a formal condition report.

October 16, 2016 at 03:45 AM · If you are looking for a soloist type instrument:

Ansaldo Poggi made outstanding instruments of soloist quality.

Stefano Scarampellas are probably getting outside your range.

Bernardel Père.

Pierre and Hipollyte Silvestre. Worked for JB Vuillaume.

October 16, 2016 at 04:27 AM · Caveat emptor. I recently lost about $11K on a violin that was sold to me as an old Italian and was later determined to be Scottish (!). It sounded great anyway but nobody cares how a violin sounds when determining its value.

I recommend you shop for a violin you love, with a financial ceiling in mind but not a floor. Don't refuse to try out violins in the $30K - $50K range, even plus or minus a bit. The violin's primary investment value for you will be how much it helps you get and keep a job. Most of the people actually making money on old violins are dealers.

I am very sorry about your parents.

October 16, 2016 at 07:11 AM · Marino and Mario Cappichioni, Giuesppe Fiorini, Ansaldo Poggi. Top 20th C makers. Soloist level instruments and top investments too.

Best certificates for modern Italians. Eric Blot, of Cremona.

Cheers Carlo

October 16, 2016 at 10:47 AM · "I recently lost about $11K on a violin that was sold to me as an old Italian and was later determined to be Scottish (!)."

Early in my career I was fooled by such a violin, but it wasn't really old - the label read Marco Tassini fecit Italia. A violin with a bit of a "ring" to the sound. I didn't lose money because I was astute enough to sell it back to a dealership that had handled it in the past. Could Ms. Goree have been duped by such a "name" ? If so, judging from this information from a Martin Swan website :-

"these instruments were distributed in the UK by Jim Tait, a dealer based in the Scottish Borders (initially Jedburgh then Melrose). Tait was sole agent for Dante Guastalla, ..... Andreas Renisto, Luigi Salsedo and Marco Tassini were without doubt trade names invented by Tait, – he bought these violins in the white from Italy and then varnished and labeled them."

So, even a DODGY Italian can have real Italian ancestry. Dante Guastalla was a real Italian maker purporting to be a Scarampella pupil.

All this shows is how much of a minefield one has to deal with. I am reminded that there are programmes on UK TV in which presenters take prospective buyers round available properties. Little notice is taken of the desires of those would-be buyers - one couple wanted a place by the sea and were shown a house 40 miles inland. Going to a dealership isn't any easier than that as the vendors have agendas they want to thrust at you. So always be careful.

HOWEVER, I did try a Garimberti violin recently that was awesome, price £60k.

October 16, 2016 at 11:00 AM · I agree with Craig : buy a house before you buy a violin.

If you already have a house then....

Do most professional violinists spend this much on a violin or would this be at the upper end of the range ? The few professionals I have met paid around the $20,000 to $40,000 for their violins. I know this only because they told me ; I did not ask

October 16, 2016 at 12:58 PM · Hi Hannah,

Just curious, why are you not interested in any modern instruments?

To throw in my 2c, if you are going for sound and playability, there is no need to spend so much on an instrument. However, if you are going for investment potential, then a higher end violin might offer a better return.

On the flip side, there are much better investments than high end instruments IMO. This is just me, but I would not want the responsibility of a very expensive instrument. I would be worried about it and be afraid to take it places. Even my relatively cheap modern Italian fiddle worries me when I take it places. When going on vacation, I take my student instrument.

October 16, 2016 at 01:46 PM · I have nothing against dealers, but a prospective buyer has to keep in mind that dealer has financial interest in the trade and that market is NOT regulated.

Remember Dietmar Machold? Was he just one bad apple, or a symptom of a broader problem in the industry?

Once you disclose the money you want to spend, it puts you in a poor negotiating position. They may not show you less expensive (and possibly better sounding) violins. They may show you violins with market value 10-20% below your "target price" and fabricate the price on the spot. They may show you, say, 6 violins of variable quality "tagged" a bit under or at 100k, let you play for an hour and then pull the most beautiful and the best sounding violin in the world (shop), "...he really did not intend to sell, but changed his mind because you play so well!", just 20k over your budget.

It is all about your mindset and the moment you enter the interaction, dealer is working toward changing it, creating a tunnel vision and the urge to buy. Although not ethical, it is part of their job. Your job is to get the best deal for your money. In order to do so, you enter the shop with your own mindset and hold steady to your own buying strategy. It does not matter if you are rich or a poor, a pro or an amateur. The game is the same. You do not want to be a looser.

October 16, 2016 at 02:00 PM · Carlo yes Eric Blot for modern Italians.

Bruce Carlson's certificates also on Italian instruments- modern

and I believe also somewhat older Italian.

Rampal for French violins.

Raffin for French bows.

Yes buying old violins can be a minefield. But there are many reputable dealers who stand behind their name. I have had my share of misfortune but have also had great help from some dealers.

Interesting how the older certificates that were once considered the best are now trusted less. Some like d'Atilli really knew their stuff but when he got old started to write useless drivel.

Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought a certificate by someone like Warren should still be excellent.

If I bought a 6 figure violin I would probably get a dendrochronology assessment by Peter Ratcliffe first.

Other great French makers: Joseph and Pierre Hel.

And btw: why no older German/Austrian or Hungarian violins? Also older Dutch or English. They are still undervalued compared to the Italians but are getting more recognition. If you were lucky enough to find a good Nemessanyi certified by more than one expert you would have a real winner.

Geissenhof made beautiful and excellent violins.

October 16, 2016 at 02:37 PM · I'm with Smiley Hsu, wondering what is behind the decision that a modern instrument is unacceptable.

October 16, 2016 at 03:06 PM · I don't think it's a good idea to advertise how much disposable income one has to the world at large...however, I also think that you should do/get what you want and what feels right.

I would prefer a modern instrument for day-day playing, but if you are looking for an older violin and one that will remain a more or less guaranteed investment (be it a good investment or a poor investment, I would still hope the bulk of your money is secure) I think an older instrument is a great idea. While it is a lot of money to invest in one place, you are still young enough to not need it to live off of, and hopefully if you ever do, you will recoup. If so, think of it as a long-term investment that you won't be cashing in on until retirement.

Now, for that amount of investment, you need to talk to people who deal with investment-type instruments, such as Bein and Fushi. You won't be able to buy a Strad, but they will steer you to your best bets in your price range.

I would also investigate insurance policies...

October 16, 2016 at 03:09 PM · The answer to the original question is yes, there are of course great sounding violins for that much and less. But the thread is really about whether she SHOULD spend that much. However, there are no details given as to her overall financial situation, her age, where and what she's doing, and what her professional goals are.

Although the poster didn't explicitly say it, it seems from other responses that there is an inheritance involved here. So my question is, is this $100,000 the sum total of her assets? Or a fraction? Does she already have savings, like an IRA? Is she employed? In school? Entering competitions? Maybe she's 14 and just learned the Accolay concerto. Who knows.

So it's a waste of time for anyone to say buy a house, buy this, buy that unless they know this person. A house could be financially totally inappropriate for her.

Aside from that, my first thoughts were right with Lydia: for a professional, the first two makers that came to mind were Becker and Peresson. Both are solist-quality, relatively affordable instruments. Aside from Villaume, I've never played a French instrument I've been impressed with, especially for that kind of $$.

October 16, 2016 at 03:55 PM · Scott, there was more personal information in her original version of the post. But you can look her up on the Internet. She's a 25-year-old graduate from Indiana (Jorja Fleezanis student), currently in the Dallas Symphony's Scholars program, so a young professional. If you want to see her play (and presumably the quality of her current violin), see the Bartok I linked above.

October 16, 2016 at 05:15 PM · Scott I would largely agree. A lot of French violins have a good sound, volume and carry well but it is hard to sculpt the sound. Even quite a few of the Vuillaumes. But there are exceptions. A Boullangier I played last year was just excellent. Lupot can be fantastic but way outside the price range.

BTW there have been some Peressons that declined over time. Not sure why. Most would be just fine. There apparently are a quite a few of them in the Philadelphia Orchestra.

October 16, 2016 at 05:46 PM · Hannah when you say you are not interested in modern instruments do you mean contemporary? Or modern in the way it is often used in the business?

The pre-war 20th century Italians for example are considered modern including Fiorini, Antoniazzi, etc. Carl Becker Sr. would be modern. Poggi and Peresson would not be considered contemporary any more and therefore would be modern as well if I'm not mistaken.

I believe some good makers don't get sold much through dealers as the demand is high within orchestras. Peresson may be one of those.

October 16, 2016 at 06:30 PM · "Could Ms. Goree have been duped by such a "name" ?"

The violin in question was actually as old as I was told it was. It just wasn't Italian in origin. I had expert assurance that it was what it was purported to be. Its mislabeling/misattribution likely occurred two or three sales before mine; I was just the unfortunate person left holding the bag.

In my opinion, a professional musician is far better off buying a violin on the basis of its sound and playability, and leaving the bulk of one's investments in a house and mutual funds. Buying an instrument as an investment is risky at best unless one is a real expert, which does not describe most professional musicians in my opinion. I don't mean "expert" in the sense of expert musician; I mean "expert" in the sense of an Eric Blot.

Violin dealers are car salesmen. Some are more honest than others but at the end of the day they are all salesmen, not investment advisors. This is not intended as disparagement--the world actually does need honest salesmen--but their job is to maximize a profit, not to maximize the customer's investment portfolio. I think the OP is making a real mistake if she tells dealers up front what price range she has in mind.

On a much, much smaller scale, a few years ago one of my students was moving up into a fullsize. Her mother, who is a professional in a traditionally highly paid field, brought in a violin for me to see that the shop was offering for $14,000. It was absolute garbage, not even as good as a typical $1400 student violin. When I asked the mother if the shop knew what she did for a living, the answer was an unsurprising yes.

October 16, 2016 at 08:16 PM · Whatever you do, buy something in excellent condition. There are a lot of $100k Italian violins out there which are really in poor condition.

October 16, 2016 at 09:16 PM · Judging by the Bartok link that I listened to a little of, the OP probably needs a good contemporary modern violin that has a brighter sound and more carrying power and response than the one she was playing on. Of course the orchestra balance and mic positions might have been doing her no favours, but to get a reasonably "big" sound from the violin she had to belt it somewhat.

Playing the more lyrical passages it seemed rather muted and easily covered by the orchestra.

The sound reminded me of many older violins which can have a nice sound but they have no carrying power. Of course much of this varies from player to player, and the players sound production will be an important factor as well.

Many instruments that are much less expensive can give her the ability to get better results. Care and patience are required to try a lot of violins at many different price ranges and get help with evaluation of the sound in a big acoustic.

I agree that to give a price ceiling or any price range to prospective dealers will put her in a bad situation. Just tell them you want a really great sounding fiddle (If they know what that is!)

Also take Bruce's advice seriously too - there are some dodgy expensive old violins in seriously bad conditions.

October 16, 2016 at 09:50 PM · Just wondering though, why excluding new instruments? For that kind of money surely some of the world class luthiers out there can make instruments that sounds as good, and arguably possibly even better than Stradivarius's as demonstrated in some blind tests comparing new and old instruments. The new instruments such as those used in these tests would surely be good enough for the most discriminate player I'd presume, and if I am not mistaken well below $100K.

October 16, 2016 at 09:52 PM · Well under $100,000 puts you in the range of most of the top German makers, including those of the 1700s, you pay a premium for French, and then even a higher premium for Italian, almost all other things being equal.

October 16, 2016 at 10:41 PM · Except we have no idea which modern makers violins did better, on average, than which Stradivari, and whether the OP is someone who would prefer the sound of a modern violin over a top antique or not. The idea that any top modern maker violin is better than a similarly priced antique of the highest caliber has not been proven, and only some people are of that opinion.

October 16, 2016 at 11:19 PM · Just a note, I believe Carl G Becker's work is outside of the OP's price range of $80-100k (the last one I saw was over $120k, I think). However, Carl F Becker (the son, also deceased, very fine maker as well) is in that price range.

Vuillaume would also be out of the price range -- for a good-condition Vuillaume, I believe you'd be in the $250k-ish range.

If the OP excludes moderns (not just contemporaries), that eliminates a lot of possible Italian instruments in that price range and below -- Antoniazzi, Bisiach, Marchetti, Pedrazzini, etc. (Actually, hmm, some of those might be outside the range -- too expensive for OP's budget.)

October 17, 2016 at 12:04 AM · You can see violins as art objects or tools for making music.

If you are looking for a tool for making music the restrictions related to price, origin, age, etc. are not reasonable, I think.

October 17, 2016 at 04:48 AM · Wow, hard to believe Beckers can't be had for under six figures... those are often really great instruments but still!

This is a tough price range. You'll always be tempted to spend more, or less. But by coincidence, my wife and I both own Postiglione violins (nearly 30 years apart) that we're very happy with. If I had it to do over again, I might restrict myself to modern instruments, but I feel like I got the right violin in the end. Now let's hope it's authentic!

October 17, 2016 at 06:50 PM · This is one of those discussions when OP asks a question, leaves us spinning our wheels and arguing and disappears in cyber-space...

I listened to you tube recordings and have a hunch where is the source of frustration, but also an impression that it would be difficult to find a significantly "better" fiddle. Perhaps different, more personal ... but not necessarily better .

This naturally begs a question: if not already tried, would a quest for a more suitable bow prove to be a better sound_return_per_$ investment?

October 18, 2016 at 04:25 AM · Many people are saying that you should not tell the dealer your price range, and I understand and agree with the reasoning.

So then what do you do? If you walk up and say "I want a nice violin," how would the dealer have any idea what to put in front of you? They would probably ask a price range, what would you say then? And does this only matter for the OP who is thinking about spending $100k, or does it also apply to looking for a violin in the $10-20k range?

October 18, 2016 at 04:53 AM · I normally say, "My goal is to stay under $X budget."

A good shop will normally show you everything that's a within range, plus things in the next price range above it, plus a few outliers.

There are dishonest dealers out there, but most are pretty decent.

It is not to the dealer's advantage to fail to show you the best inventory they have in stock. If you don't love anything they show you, you will not default (normally) to buying whatever happens to be on hand. You'll just move onto another shop.

October 18, 2016 at 07:30 AM · "..... I have been frustrated with it for a long time."

"A poor workman blames his tools."

I'm not for one moment suggesting the OP is a bad player, but Rocky makes a good point. Could it be that the OP's frustration is not ENTIRELY down to the violin ?? The outlay of mega-bucks might guarantee her getting a violin that's different, not necessarily better. Price and performance don't tally very well, IMHO.

October 18, 2016 at 07:34 AM · Yes I agree David. I think she would maybe do better to work on her sound and tone production, it was rather lifeless in my opinion. A better or different violin may have a brighter range with the right instrument but the sound comes 90%+ from the player.

It would also be nice if the OP came back with any comments and new ideas and maybe defend her sound. She is obviously an accomplished player.

October 18, 2016 at 12:09 PM · It's easier to learn to produce the right sound when you're playing a more responsive instrument -- or not trying to force a violin that doesn't project well enough to produce enough volume against an orchestra that might be too loud.

October 18, 2016 at 12:19 PM · "A poor workman blames his tools."

But, "A good workman changes a poor tool." (As my grandfather, an engineer, told me).

October 18, 2016 at 01:23 PM · Miles,

You enter the shop, introduce yourself and describe what are you looking for in as much details as possible.

This assumes that you have done your homework, know what are the fundamentals of a good violin and have developed your inner concept of sound. Yes, here you will enter "lost in translation" world of inability to describe violin sound properties in English or other language... but a great dealer (yes, there are such) will understand you. You may narrow down the search by telling the country of origin, say Italian, and the era, for example 1900 to 1930.

If the dealer does not insist on your budget limits, but is instead willing to start building a business relation with you, a partnership of a kind, you stay and try out violins. They heard you speak, they heard you play - quite enough material to know what to offer.

You, on the other hand, will know more about the integrity and intentions of the dealer by the order of violins presented and their quality. Names, lineage, a lots of talk.... but uneven strings, weak G or E not quite ringing, woolly sounds, strident sounds, wolfs here and there, poor condition of instruments, non responsive, not resonant .... priced very high? It is time to move on.

My point is that dealer's alleged reputation, location, presentation room, appearance has nothing to do with the trust. Default trust in this line of business is zero and is built one step at a time, on the experience in the actual business interaction. Do not succumb to pressures such as "...if (are) you are a serious buyer". Serious (or rather interested) buyer will appear when there is a serious seller. Seriousness is shown not by the amount of money you have, but by knowing what do you want. It is a misconception that telling the price range equals knowing what you want. It will only show how much you can spend. Professionalism of a dealer means to understand you and match you expectations.

You will, after a while, inevitably convey the indirect but vague message of your budget limitation (not verbally, but by the instruments you choose). Let them guess!

You will not, until you find the match, start talking about the price. Then, and only then, you will negotiate the price of a particular, chosen violin . You may get a discount, you may buy or walk away.

[By the way, it could entirely be a cultural phenomenon; here in NA, people are terrified to buy a real estate without an agent and do not ever directly engage in price negotiation with the seller. Back in Europe, it was quite natural to be in control of the transaction. Go to the Arab lands, and visit a local market. Price negotiation is expected part of the trade and it is an art in itself! ]

October 18, 2016 at 01:36 PM · I happened to find this ancient thread recently. It might interest Hannah L. Elise Stanley, the OP from back in 2013, went on to buy a violin by Alceste Bulfari.

In my early days of membership of a professional orchestra, I too became "frustrated" by my new English-made violin. "Way to go" seemed to be a middle-age Italian, after hearing a colleague's Pedrazzini. I bought a 40-year-old Guastalla violin - but though the quality of sound was good some "expert" seemed to have thinned the wood of the table to the point where it would soon feel "tired" when I played it.

If I had my time over again, I'd go along the same path but be VERY much more careful as so many "used", middle-aged, violins have been over-enthusiastically "retoned" by repairmen.

October 18, 2016 at 03:19 PM · My experience is that dealers always want to know a price cap, so they don't waste your time, showing you things that you can't afford. They might also throw some "for fun" stuff into the mix. I always tell dealers to give me everything blind -- no names, no prices.

When I went bow-shopping recently, I said, "I am replacing my Claude Thomassin, and want to buy something at the same level of quality, and would prefer to spend under $20k, but would like to look at bows up to $35k". Price range for that Thomassin is around $15k. At various shops, I was shown bows from around $3,000 to $40k, plus a couple of just-for-fun outliers, like a $100k Tourte-school and a $150k Tourte. In general, each batch of what I was shown (each shop had quite a lot of bows, necessitating multiple batches per shop) had a fairly broad price range. Based upon the fact that I like my Thomassin, the shops generally put out, in their first batch, bows with a similar sort of feel to his work.

When I went shopping for a violin with a $50k budget about 15 years back, at my first shop, Ifshin's, I asked if they could put a few of their best Jay Haide violins into the mix, just to keep us honest. Jay Ifshin agreed but warned that they would be immediately and obviously not in the same class. It was true -- my friends and I immediately flagged those as a "no". (On the other hand, they were better than some of the much more expensive instruments we tried; within a given price range there will still be huge variants in playing qualities. The Jay Haides are perfectly good for their price point.)

Actually, shortly before I made my purchase (after looking at a lot of shops, I settled on a violin from Ifshin's), they let me try a Bisiach they'd just gotten in, that was more than double the price of the violin I picked, and well outside of my stated budget. This was a just-for-fun, but I was rapidly enamored. I could actually afford the more expensive violin, but Jay Ifshin actually reminded me that I'd set a budget and this was a lot more than I'd intended to spend, and if I went up another price class, I'd want to start a hunt from scratch. He was right, and I bought the less expensive violin.

Broadly, I've had pretty good experiences with dealers. In my most recent bow-shopping expeditions, more than one dealer noted that one of their bows came with a good cert, but there was less confidence about the attribution despite that; that's valuable honesty.

October 18, 2016 at 03:51 PM · Which one is it:

1. "they don't want to waste your time" (but are just fine if you waste your money=time?!) or

2. "they do not want to waste their time" (are not willing to spend time with you and get eventually compensated for it)?

You want to be a violin dealer and do it quickly? Change the line of business.

October 18, 2016 at 03:53 PM · The dealer HAS to know your budget - surely he/she cannot be expected to show you the entire stock. "Tire-kickers" are a nuisance. As Rocky has suggested, it helps to have done some homework. If you are totally naive then you will be a headache for the shop-owner. And it does help if you have " ..developed your inner concept of sound. Yes, here you will enter "lost in translation" world ...". You can't just enter the shop and utter some such verbiage as this, taken form Hills book on Stradivari and describing the sound made by Joseph Joachim :-

"...massive fullness, the mellow entrancing woodiness, the intense and thrilling passionateness, and the brilliant vivacity ...." The dealer would think you were nuts.

My own "frustration" as a young professional arose because try as I might I couldn't get my good new English violin to produce the sounds our concertmaster made on his Girolomo Amati II instrument. A colleague said my Guastalla violin made me sound "just like him" - pity this fiddle wasn't built to last !!

PS what make of violin does Hannah play right now ??

October 18, 2016 at 05:15 PM · I would also be interested in what bow Hannah uses.

October 18, 2016 at 05:52 PM · Well, if I were a dealer (God forbid), met Hannah and had the privilege to hear her play a few feet (or meters) from me, what on Earth would make me categorize her as a tire-kicker?

Not only once did I hear the story (Joshua Bell has one too) that a dealer in fact called violin player and told them: "I have got a violin you must see!"

That is a relationship I would be looking for; "...yes, you spent 2 hours last Thursday, you came again today and spent another hour, still looking, playing.... and we made no deal. Take your time and do come back again.

I had a pleasure to get to know you. I know what are you looking for and have got your number. Rest assured, you will be the 1st to know when your dream violin comes to my shores.... Have a nice day!"

ok I better stop now before I offend someone.

Best of luck and keep us posted on your progress!

October 18, 2016 at 09:02 PM · Hannah certainly deserves to be categorized as an exceptional player. Kudos to her for making an effort to cut through all the crap, even if not everyone agrees with what appear to be some of her underlying presumptions.

October 18, 2016 at 09:10 PM · I have never had an issue with a dealer pressuring me. I come into the shop, I say I'd like to look at a violin or bow in a particular price range, they put stuff out, and they check back to see what I liked or didn't like. Based on that, they put out more stuff or they tell me that they don't have anything else in stock that they think would be appropriate. If they have a lot of stock (I've run into situations where I couldn't see the whole inventory in the price range within a few hours), they suggest I take a few on trial and then come back another day to see more.

If I don't find anything, they usually ask if I have some specific characteristics I'm looking for, and promise to call if they get something new in that's right. In my experience, they do in fact call (and when they do, the thing they are asking me to look at is actually in the right ballpark even if it ended up not being right, and there has never been any pressure).

So in fact, my relationship with dealers has been exactly the relationship that Rocky has described as desirable.

When I was a kid in the Chicago Youth Symphony, our rehearsals were in the same building as Bein & Fushi. They'd let us try instruments on our break. No one ever mentioned a future purchase. They didn't need to. ;-)

October 18, 2016 at 09:16 PM · (Whoops, walked away from keyboard, replied prematurely. Here's more.)

The reason that you state a price range is because the dealer probably has inventory that is higher end than your budget. It doesn't serve you well to spend a few hours trying things that you think are awesome, but that you can't afford. It just makes you sad.

It can be worthwhile to try a few things that are well out of your price range -- specifically a violin or bow that is considered a fantastic example of something with great playing qualities. That's for your own learning experience -- it helps to shape your concept of what you're looking for and broaden your notion of what might be possible.

But you really don't want to spend hours looking at things that you can't afford, in all likelihood. Moreover, how well you play and what sort of instrument the dealer feels you "deserve" should be irrelevant to what they show you, frankly.

In general, dealers have asked me about myself *after* I'm done trying things, or even after I've brought back something I've trialed. They normally assume that I'm a pro, and I always correct them if they make that assumption.

October 18, 2016 at 09:20 PM · Lydia, many people's experiences with dealers (and makers too) have been vastly different.

I wouldn't try to categorize either as saints or demons. They're all over the map.

October 18, 2016 at 09:33 PM · Or as in one case at my shop, you can waste a lot of time showing much cheaper instruments than the customer was looking for as they didn't tell me their budget was at least $5000 and they already owned a $7,000 EH Roth.

October 18, 2016 at 09:34 PM · I should note that I suspect that my childhood experience with dealers (specifically the experience that my parents had) was not good. That was 30 years ago, though, and we were completely naive.

October 18, 2016 at 10:13 PM · Putting aside the way things were 30 years ago, where are we today? Aren't there two dealers currently serving prison time? (makers may be too "small potatoes" for law enforcement to go after)

It still comes down to doing some thorough homework, to be reasonably safe.

And many golden era Cremonese instruments have been heavily modified from their original state, by various people with various theories and tastes in sound, as well as more recent instruments, so it gets really hard to make any blanket recommendations, Hannah.

October 18, 2016 at 10:20 PM ·

October 18, 2016 at 11:03 PM · Those dealers are in prison for defrauding sellers rather than buyers, at the very top end, aren't they?

By the way, I'm not advocating blindly trusting dealers, in the least. But I do think that distrust can't run so deep that you can't even tell a dealer in what ballpark you're looking.

October 19, 2016 at 12:24 AM · My mother worried for some time that (a very famous shop in NYC) cheated her because she'd made the mistake of buying my very first instrument while she was dressed to go to the opera or some similar place.

It was an old, more or less hand-made French 1/8-sized instrument, but $75 was worth a lot more in those days.

October 19, 2016 at 12:36 AM · Back to Hannah's original question, I don't have a lot of current info on the market for antiques these days, but for her price range, I'd guess that old Italians are going to be (1) much-repaired, (2) dodgy in provenance, and/or (3) made by the sort of "modern" makers who were sniffed at 30 years ago. Which is not to say that some in that last category aren't good. The re-pricing of professional-quality old fiddles has forced people to look again at makers they'd scorned earlier, sometimes with good results.

From France, that price range used to hold Vuillaumes, although I'm guessing that the better ones are now comfortably above that.

Perhaps a better place to go (in analogy to German bows, which can be way better than their price suggests) would be something like Cuypers, or maybe some of the English makers who learned Italian quite well. (Or the Panormos, who moved the other way.) While his reputation is uneven, the best Perssons can support a solo career pretty well.

As Rocky suggests, a $25,000 bow might also make a good bit of difference.

While Hannah's video is impressive for her own contribution, it's hard to know how much the mikes are helping or hurting her. Some notion of the equipment she's using now would be helpful. There's no point in recommending a Becker if she already owns a good one and it just wasn't recorded well.

October 19, 2016 at 02:23 AM · I know someone who bought a Cuypers recently. It was well over $100k, so out of the OP's price range.

A Vuillaume in good condition is now in the $250k+ range, I believe. So even cut in half for poor condition, it would be out of the OP's price bracket.

October 19, 2016 at 08:34 AM · "And many golden era Cremonese instruments have been heavily modified from their original state, by various people with various theories and tastes in sound, as well as more recent instruments, so it gets really hard to make any blanket recommendations, Hannah. "

I think this is very true, and good advice.

October 19, 2016 at 09:17 AM · These are Szeryng's words:

"What are the problems concerning antique violins?

I have talked at length with experts. The result is extremely simple. The material seasons and ages. With time the wood becomes more venerable... but ultimately ... too old.

It does not exactly decay, but cerainly does not improve, and loses elasticity.

I mostly play one of my two modern violins.

With all due respect, we must not forget that the finest classical violins are at least 250 years old. I am an incurable optimist, but I'm convinced that the Stradivaris, the Guarneris, the Amatis, the Grancinos, the Ruggeris, the Gaglianos and the Stainers will not be "playable" much longer unless they are completely restored.

This then gives rise to the problem of whether such an instrument can still be considered antique and original or whether instead it is the restorer who has bestowed upon that violin its balanced timbre and sonorousness, rather than the violinmaker who made it.

Consequently, the question arises of whether it is not more practical to resort from the beggining to a new instrument" (FRNAKFURTER ALLGEMEINE, Magazine, 30.01.87)

And in the Strad, september, 1988, we will find:

"In his final period, in addition to the "Le Duc, he (Szeryng) played on two French violins, one by Pierre Hel made in 1922 and the other by Jean Bauer, a comtemporary maker."

October 19, 2016 at 09:26 AM · If this were true, why do the vast majority of top soloists swear by their antiques, even 400 year old Amati's still sound incredible, how much less "damage" must of occurred to 200-100 year old violins.

October 19, 2016 at 09:28 AM · As I've said before whether you prefer antiques or moderns is more a matter of personal taste, than provable, verifiable advantage to one or the other.

Szeryng obviously preferred a newer sound, not everyone does.

October 19, 2016 at 09:36 AM · Forgive me if this has been suggested before : perhaps the OP could take her violin and bow to the violin shop where she could play it for the dealer and then describe the problems with her current instrument. It might give the dealer some idea of what she is looking for rather than just talking about prices.

October 19, 2016 at 09:50 AM · I'm of the personal opinion that Szeryng made a wonderful sound on whatever instrument he played on, as did Kreisler and many others.

October 19, 2016 at 09:57 AM · Yes Peter, most of the sound is from THE PLAYER, Zukerman can make a VSO sound marvelous, but he will have to work MUCH MORE to do that. A good violin makes the player's live much better!

October 19, 2016 at 10:06 AM · My experience has been that on average, good antiques can have a richer, more complex tone. Modern violins can be exceptional, but often tend to be a little plainer in harmonic balance, of course I'm sure Mr. Burgess would probably disagree.

October 19, 2016 at 10:45 AM · IIRC, the Emerson quartet often plays on modern instruments. There is no lack of complexity in their tone to my ears.

October 19, 2016 at 10:50 AM · Lyndon, do you play the violin, or make violins? I am a player and maker and I can assure you that judging instruments (in terms of sound) is not an easy thing.

what is good and bad will depend on the player's ears and technique and experience playing many many good and bad violins.

We know this cake is good and that one is bad because we had many different cakes in our life, so we developed a "reference table" to judge cakes. The same happens with musical instruments, we have to play many many in order to make a reference table to judge sound, style and craftmanship.

Even good players are fooled buying fake instruments they imagined were "marvelous", we see that almost every month.

October 19, 2016 at 10:51 AM · I remember hearing a German quartet live where three of the players had Cremonese masterpieces (on loan) and the lead violin played a modern Greiner. The Greiner stuck out as much plainer in tone, it was the loudest, I believe, but the tone lacked the complexity, and richness in harmonics, and yes, warmth of the antiques, it was very obvious to me, I can't speak for all moderns, as I haven't heard that many great ones, but I think harmonic output can increase with age.

October 19, 2016 at 11:05 AM · "of course I'm sure Mr. Burgess would probably disagree."


Lyndon, I don't have any solid personal opinions on that, so instead, I will defer to the most recent in the series of published double-blind studies, in which a group of soloists were unable to distinguish between old and new violins at better than chance levels, or about the same as flipping a coin.

October 19, 2016 at 11:17 AM · Luis, I am just trying to point out that there are reasons why some people prefer antiques and reasons why some people prefer modern, it not all personal prejudices, there are some differences in tone, and yes I am a player and an instrument builder, but you already knew that.

October 19, 2016 at 11:22 AM · David, for that study to be a rebuttal of my statements you would have had to ask the testers which instruments sounded richer versus plainer, not old vs new, as presumably the majority of the testers may not have had any preconceived idea of the differences between old and new instruments, and just attached their idea of better sound to being old or new depending on their preconceived ideas.

I wouldn't expect a majority of people to be able to distinguish old from new on a regular basis, however among the test subjects there were some that scored pretty well guessing the difference.

October 19, 2016 at 11:23 AM · That's changing the subject. The issue here isn't whether the Brothers Amati made fabulous instruments, but what is the best option for someone with a $100K budget.

October 19, 2016 at 11:26 AM · I was trying to give the OP some support for her preference for antiques, when so many people had ignored that and suggested modern violins.

My original suggestion was to try some top German makers, all things being equal (sound quality, construction quality) you're going to pay at least 50% more for similar quality French, than German, and way over 100% more for Italian, over similar quality German.

October 19, 2016 at 11:26 AM · Lyndon, Luis' question was whether you make or play the VIOLIN.

October 19, 2016 at 11:30 AM · He knows the answer, why doesn't he answer it himself.

One thing I do have in common with some of the greatest players and makers is ears, and I think that is what determines what you hear, although not all ears function at equal levels.

October 19, 2016 at 11:44 AM · "David, for that study to be a rebuttal of my statements you would have had to ask the testers which instruments sounded richer versus plainer, not old vs new, as presumably the majority of the testers may not have had any preconceived idea of the differences between old and new instruments, and just attached their idea of better sound to being old or new depending on their preconceived ideas."


Actually, the main reason the question was asked in the study, was their prior finding that these preconceived notions are so pervasive.

October 19, 2016 at 11:51 AM · Well then it comes down to how realistic their preconceived ideas about the differences where, doesn't it??

October 19, 2016 at 12:13 PM · Yes Lyndon, my question was whether you play and make VIOLINS.

October 19, 2016 at 12:16 PM · This is pure speculation, but I'm guessing that OP might be looking to fill a void with the money from her inheritance. Perhaps the person(s) that left the money wanted her to have a fine instrument. And even though many would argue that the sound and playability of an antique might not be superior to a contemporary instrument, there is sentimental value to owning an instrument with hundreds of years of history behind it.

October 19, 2016 at 12:19 PM · As for the back and forth with Lyndon, it is getting old. Lyndon is going to rub people the wrong way; that's just what he does. I request that you not engage him so that we can keep this board more productive.

October 19, 2016 at 12:28 PM · By the way, I'm not trying to make you the bad guy Lyndon, but you might want to recognize that the way you deliver your message evokes strong reactions from people. A softer approach will go a long way to influencing people towards your point of view.

October 19, 2016 at 12:30 PM · Well I did drag up a youtube video of a David Burgess violin, the recording quality was just OK, nothing exceptional, so I won't post the link, in all fairness it sounds like a very good modern violin, not like a 300 year old Strad, it has what I mean by a plainer tone, in that certain harmonics aren't as prevalent as with a Strad, maybe?? just my impression.

October 19, 2016 at 12:50 PM · I found a Sam Zygmuntowicz video on Youtube also, a little bit richer, but still not really rich in harmonics, again sounded like a really good modern violin, albeit the playing, not so hot.

October 19, 2016 at 12:58 PM · As Smiley says, it's probably best (although very hard) not to engage with Lyndon at all. As for being a player and a maker, Lyndon is not either. He does build keyboard instruments, and I would suggest people listen to his recordings of these on his website, and come to their own conclusions. Personally I find his idea of a good string (violin) sound rather different from mine, and a little strange, but that is only my opinion.

October 19, 2016 at 01:20 PM · You said you have different taste in tone so you must find the sound of Stradivari violins distasteful, Del Gesu; boring. I guess we just have to disagree on taste in violin tone then!!

October 19, 2016 at 01:24 PM · I'd be very reluctant to make generalizations about what a "Strad" sounds like (or a Guarneri). Strads can be all over the map. For instance, the Betts Strad, owned by the Library of Congress (which I played recently) sounds very different from one of the Strads owned by a local musician. And the Strads owned by the Henry Ford museum (which I used to service) are different yet.

(Sorry Smiley, I thought this would be pertinent to the main discussion.)

I would find it very risky to try to select sound qualities and playing qualities of pricier older instruments, by brand. It's a a specific instrument by specific instrument situation.

October 19, 2016 at 01:31 PM · Lyndon, you really are dishonest and devious, as I've never said that I find Strad's and del Gesu's distasteful or boring! When you lose and argument then you just make it up.

As I've said many times, I love old instruments and I have found that many Strad's and del G's have a wonderful sound in the right hands. You should really stop being so devious and dishonest!

In any case, we are supposed to be discussing the merits or not of violins in a certain price bracket, as the OP wanted good advice. You are just muddying the whole debate. Please go away.

October 19, 2016 at 01:50 PM · In all fairness to Mr. Burgess and Sam Zyg, I've been listening to real Strads on youtube and the richness of harmonics is not so much greater, a bit more complex, maybe, evidently a result of the MP3 format??. My main impression of Strad sound comes from my extensive LP collection where they sound quite rich and bright in harmonics, not so on youtube through the computer even though I'm using the same amp and audiophile speakers.

One thing on youtube you still notice a sort of inbuilt echo to the Strads.

October 19, 2016 at 02:02 PM · Lyndon, sound impressions can not be shaped by LPs, youtube or other sources of recorded sound, but only by playing and listening to the instrument live.

You can't imagine how players are particular and demanding about sound and playability - and their uncountable subtleties - and they are right about that, their lives is not an easy one and they depend a lot on their instruments. Just attend an audition in a good orchestra and you will realize that.

If a player chooses a Strad, a del Gesù, a Zygmuntowicz or a Burgess violin to play, and pay hard earned money for it, be sure he has many reasons - objective and subjective - for doing that.

October 19, 2016 at 02:02 PM · YouTube is definitely not the way to go here, since the audio compression dumps a lot of the overtones. Use one of the reference recordings, like the Miracle Makers, with either extremely good headphones or with a first-rate speaker system.

Someone ought to do a similar recording project with a selection of top-notch modern makers. That would be a fun listen, too!

October 19, 2016 at 02:16 PM · RICCI, Ruggiero: Legacy of Cremona (The) - Ruggiero Ricci plays 18 Contemporary Violins

West coast prices seem very high. Pretty sure there's a Becker Sr. for 55K around here. I thought I saw some Cuypers for around 50K at auction (so retail for max. 100?) not more than a year ago.

I've tried a few fiddles by each of those makers, though not in comparison, and from what I remember the Beckers were easier to play and more refined.

October 19, 2016 at 02:30 PM · "My experience has been that on average, good antiques can have a richer, more complex tone. Modern violins can be exceptional, but often tend to be a little plainer in harmonic balance"

I mostly agree.

But I once heard a quartet perform and mistook the first violin for an old Italian and the second for a new modern. Turns out, I had it backwards. Which was why I commissioned a violin from the maker of the first violinist.

I will say this, though: I've seen many modern violins with lots of harmonic richness, but it's difficult to do without the violin sounding woolly. It's like trying to force-age a wine. It's a little different than a violin that has acquired the richness through time.

Also, I've played many antique violins (especially French ones) that had no harmonic richness, even after a century of use. They simply had no capacity to age that way.

Some of the subtlety of overtones is lost on the audience.

October 19, 2016 at 02:33 PM · I'm on the east coast, actually, but I've been told that about the west coast before.

Looking at the list of luthiers on the Legacy of Cremona CD (thanks!), I think the only maker on the list that I've been able to try is Roger Hargrave. It was a beautifully easy-responding violin sold on consignment by a retiring orchestra pro -- a perfect instrument for anyone who needs to play for hours every day with a minimum of physical effort.

October 19, 2016 at 02:34 PM · I've tried many Italians (old, including a Strad violin and viola, modern, and contemporary) which were plain.

To me it seems newer fiddles tend to sound a tad harsher under the ear, old fiddles less so, but that difference disappears when listening a few feet away (and under loud conditions.)

Eugene Drucker chose to keep his Strad (?) over a Zygmuntowicz for a similar reason, even though his quartet mates (all playing Zygs) and everyone listening from the outside preferred the Zyg.

But when it comes to complexity I can only conclude from my experience it has little to do with age or nationality, and everything to do with the skill of the maker and probably some luck (and possibly the bow used to test it.)

October 19, 2016 at 03:32 PM · My impressions about older violins sounding ON AVERAGE richer in harmonics is mostly based on the more humble offerings at my store that I have heard up close played by a very good performer. My exposure to Strads up close is a one time affair, and in that case a great modern sounded slightly better, but the Strad still sounded richer in harmonics, if not muffled by too many coats of French polish..

Remember I'm not saying all moderns are plain in tone and I'm not saying all antiques are rich in tone, just on average there seems to be a trend of differences.

My hypothesis is that any almost any good violin gets slightly richer over 100 or 200 years, but that is just a theory. Maybe it has more to do with different kinds of varnish they used 200 years ago than today, who knows.

October 19, 2016 at 03:40 PM · And Luis, you don't have to be a maker or a player OF VIOLIN, to appreciate how good or not so good a violin sounds. IMHO

October 19, 2016 at 03:53 PM · As my luthier friend says in regards to old vs. new violins "age is a phenomenon not a miracle".

October 19, 2016 at 03:59 PM · But if you are a player or a maker with years of violin sound and comparisons under your belt then you are in a different ballpark. If you are an occasional dealer who does NOT play, or create instruments, you are hardly better in experience than an average concert audience member, who may be enthusiastic, but has not been subjected to the tens of thousands of hours playing, listening to, and creating those sounds.

The sounds that players are subjected to over tens of thousand of hours practising, playing, taking part in music, with everything from opera singers to whatever, make them uniquely qualified to have seriously acute judgements. I do not see how a small dealer in old German violins can claim to be better qualified than those performers and makers that I have just alluded to?

October 19, 2016 at 04:06 PM · Yes Peter Charles, that's it! I listened to the Tonhalle Orchestra yesterday with pianist Nelson Freire. I am not a piano player or piano technician, so I just can't evaluate the player and the piano as I can do with a violin/violinist.

Back to recordings as a source for evaluating instruments, one of my favourite quartets is the Quartetto Italiano, they played with Spirocore strings, I love their sound but I just can't play an instrument strung with Spirocores.

October 19, 2016 at 04:20 PM · Luis, that's so interesting. I love the Quartetto Italiano - and I think their Beethoven quartet recordings (especially the late quartets) are beyond comparison. When I first listened, many years ago, i was a little put off. Then gradually I realised that their sound and overall interpretation and musicianship were something special, and it cannot be described. I had no idea they used Spirocore strings. In some way their whole sound and the placement and timing of the ensemble are just so wonderful. You can't really say anything other than "this is about as perfect as it gets" or "this is unique and I do not need to know why." Some fine quartets play technically "better?" but don't quite get the result the Italliano's do. You cannot really intellectually explain that or find an answer. It becomes something in the realm of a natural phenomena.

I knew and worked with a conductor once over a year or two, and he had no idea how he did it, and nor did we, but music just took on another dimension - it was born out of something extra musical. I say this as someone who generally has a certain negativity towards conductors (although I have respect for a few of the great ones).

October 19, 2016 at 04:33 PM · Yes Peter Charles, the Quartetto Italiano is just fantastic! I have the Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Schubbert and Brahms cycles with them!!!

October 19, 2016 at 04:40 PM · Peter, I've been a musician and around musicians my entire life, and worked in the violin business for 20 years, I hardly think my abilities to discern violin sound are "hardly better than the average concert violin goer". As usual you're quick to dish out the personal insults, and not to quick to offer meaningful advice to the OP.

Good post below David, I remember when I got into the business in the 80s, Eudoxa gut core strings were still quite standard for high end violins, they hadn't even dreamed of strings like Evahs.

October 19, 2016 at 05:22 PM · Taste in sound has changed quite a bit over the period of my involvement with violin family instruments. For those who aren't quite as "long in the tooth" as I am (long enough to have personally witnessed many of the changes), some of this can be inferred by the almost total switch from gut core, to synthetic or metal core strings. Another example is the popularity of the inherently brighter belgian-style cello bridge, which were pretty uncommon at one time. Upon switching to the Belgian style bridge, many players found initially that they didn't like the sound under their ear, but also found that to listeners in a hall, the cello came across as having better articulation and clarity, and sounded more powerful and robust. Better overall.

Partly made possible by the developments in strings, a newer playing style also started to become more popular, which works very well in a hall, cutting through an accompaniment, if the fiddle is robust enough to handle the style without the sound "breaking". I've had players here who were capable of driving the volume to levels that I found painful, when they were checking on this!

So a lot depends on what one wants a fiddle to do, how the player will go about doing it (which partly depends on the fiddle, as well as the style in which the player has been trained), and what the fiddle will be used for.

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