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Buying a violin Old VS New

Instruments: Would you buy an old or a new violin?

From Sheila Graves
Posted May 14, 2006 at 03:04 AM

If you were in the market for another instrument would you prefer to buy an old or a new instrument?

From Clare Chu
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 05:04 AM
Depends on what you're looking for. But seriously, I have both. New violin is special because you get to play it in and it grows with you. You shape that violin, and it responds to you. Old is great because there is mystery around it, and you wonder who played it before, and what they were like, what kinds of pieces were played on it. Also, the sound is already shaped and you can tell its character more easily. I don't have that much experience but my old violin does not fight me as much as my new one does. It is unlabeled Tyrolean design, about 150-200 years old, and has some strange wood of uneven grain, with character and mystery. However my new violin is like a stallion and I use it at my recitals because it projects and has a brilliant edge.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 06:08 AM
I'm wondering if many older violins are overpriced, if each owner marks it up when selling. It seemed as though all the old violins I played recently were overpriced compared to the sound I was getting from them. I ended up buying a brand new fiddle, and I didn't think I'd go for a new one before I shopped around.
From Ryan Beauchamp
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 05:04 PM
I see a lot of problems faced with older instruments. The only decent older instruments in my opinion are the Strads... and the list goes on with the other big names.
I know people who have recently purchased older instruments with very little knowledge of the history of the instruments (not Strads, Amatis, etc), and older instruments seem to have so many issues of cracks, leaks, much more damage, etc.
I was torn between buying an old vs. new. I ended up with a new violin because I wanted something I could break in to be uniquely "me."
When I was buying a violin a few years ago, I remember seeing a lady come to the dealer with an old viola she found in her attic and wanted to sell it. I came to realize a lot of the older instruments that are being sold for $2,500.00 - $5,000.00 are just attic instruments restored....
From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 06:26 PM
I recently bought an instrument for $3,500 that is about 75 years old. I played on quite a few violins at different luthiers, and I just liked that specific one the best. Don't make generalizations and assumptions that new is better than old or that old is better than new.

However, one of the advantages of having a new instrument is that you get to "break" it in. You do get to influence the sound. However, a disadvantage to new instruments is that the violinmaker is still alive and needs to make a living, so the price is... well, sometimes more than the violin is actually worth, but only sometimes.

However, if you are dealing with an honest luthier and you come across an old violin that you like, they will not charge you more than the violin is worth.

Oh course, you could always go to some overpriced luthier (I know of such one in Altanta) and buy a $5,000 piece of crap.

From Sheila Graves
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 06:41 PM
Thank you Clare, Emily, Charlie and Ryan for your replies. I would also like to know your thoughts on buying a new "hi-tech" composite bow versus a wood bow especially given the rapid decline of pernambuco.

I'd also love to hear thoughts from any older teachers/performers especially those who recommend old instruments for their students.

I will be lecturing on this very subject at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Convention in two weeks.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 08:47 PM
If you have the cash and time to wait to get a modern instrument, they're a great way to go. If you have about $30,000 (or a bit lower) to spend, that's what I'd do. In fact, there are many who would buy a modern violin no matter what. I found an older instrument that I like, but with the quality of making as it is right now, I could have easily have gotten a Curtin or whatever if I had the patience to wait.

To be honest, you aren't always going to get a great older instrument in that price range. Although you can sometimes get a good French violin like a Derazey, they might cost more these days I'm not sure. For a good violin by a good maker who is antique, you'll be paying a lot.

From Clare Chu
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 09:38 PM
Hi Sheila, my old violin is not a well known maker violin, and is indeed unlabeled and speculative. I paid 1/5 of the price of my new one. I bought it because I liked it, but it is no where in the same league as the expensive old violins that people are usually talking about. My new violin is from a VSA winner and hence worth a lot more. It is my primary violin and if I were to get an old violin that is up to this level it would cost a lot lot more (think 100 year old Italian versus modern Italian).

As for carbon fiber bows, I never liked the sound they draw, but others have other opinions. They are useful as outdoors bows and for traveling, as well as for kids. Good luck with your research and presentation.

From Sander Marcus
Posted on May 14, 2006 at 10:08 PM
I'm no professional musician, but I bought a brand new violin in 1964 (a William Walls), and I've been the only owner ever since. I can't tell how or if the sound has changed, but for my purposes it has been a wonderful fiddle.
From Peter Schafer
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 12:50 AM
My daughter and I spent a number of months trying out both old and new violins, looking for a significant upgrade to her $3,700 90 year old French violin. As many people have told us, her current violin is very good for the money so when we went looking we had a decent reference.

And the violins were consistently disappointing. Modern Italians and older French violins in the $10-$15K range. So we started looking in the $15-$25K range of French and early 20th century Italians. The only one that stood out was a Paul Bailly, but not enough to pull the trigger.

So, she tried a few modern Americans in the $25K area, including a Terry Borman. And that was it. Commissioned one and it should be ready in November. Had to spend much more than I planned to achieve a significant upgrade over the violin she has now, but am very pleased with waht we found. Looking forward to November.

From Mike Harris
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 03:09 AM
Shella, I don't think I'm alone in saying the carbon fiber bows handle well beyond their price range but sound different than wood. If you don't mind the sound then you should consider going that route. As a primary bow they seem to be popular with the fiddle and electric violin crowd more than with classical players.
From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 04:52 AM
Mr. Schafer, a lot of people rave about Borman. That should be a great violin.
From Brian R
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 06:19 AM
Two years ago when I was looking for an instrument I tried about 20-30 new instruments (many from VSA winners) and only about half as many old instruments. I ended up buying an old french violin (1827) because it had some depth or "soul" that I couldn't find in any of the new ones. This summer I was in Cremona and tried about 15 more new ones and was still pleased with my decision. The only thing is that my violin needs adjustments more often (once every 1-2 months) than any new violin I know of and I need to use 2-3 different bridges all year because it is very responsive to weather changes. This could also be because I might be too concerned with my tone and how easy it is to play (string height, resistance...)

I have tried the whole line of Coda bows and some other carbon fiber bows and they are easy to play with and get a big clear tone on my violin. I personally wouldn't buy one though because I don't feel like it can get the different colors and distinctive tone that a wood bow can.

From Kevin Huang
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 08:20 AM
It all depends on one's playing style.

That said, I use exclusively old instruments (excluding my Zeta Strados that I play when I'm with an electric band) when playing without amplification. And when I say "old", I'm talking 1850 and older.

The warmth and ease of play I get from old instruments is what I look for. Almost all the time, I prefer a no name old instrument over the finest modern Italian or present day violin of any price. There are certain songs that I can't quite pull off with the right feel unless I have a classic old instrument (Vieuxtemps' Rondino comes to mind). Two of my instruments are no-name no-value violins that are just out of this world in concert projection, sweetness, and responsiveness.

I've got soft hands, lax joints, and low bow tension. Hence I tend to play extremely lightly on the violin without being "airy". When I muscle the violin (e.g. Paganini Caprice #24 in certain variations), I don't want it to crunch out and I need a soft old instrument to do that.

That said, an old violin wouldn't work as well for other people and there's nothing wrong with that. Modern violins are great, particularly the ones made today. They work wonders for many great players.

From Peter Schafer
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 11:20 AM
Kevin Huang wrote: "I've got soft hands, lax joints, and low bow tension. Hence I tend to play extremely lightly on the violin without being "airy". When I muscle the violin (e.g. Paganini Caprice #24 in certain variations), I don't want it to crunch out and I need a soft old instrument to do that.

That said, an old violin wouldn't work as well for other people and there's nothing wrong with that. Modern violins are great, particularly the ones made today. They work wonders for many great players."

I think that's an excellent point. In discussing a commission with Terry Borman, he was first very curious about my daughter's playing style. He spoke with her on the phone at length and asked for recorded performances. We sent him a couple videos. He says his violins do best for players who dig in to the strings, with a somewhat aggressive style (which describes my daugter's playing).


And, thanks Mr. Viljoen. It'll hopefully be ready for school auditions. Another thing you get with a Borman that you can't with an older violin is personal set-up by the maker. He hand delivers his violins and spends a few days in whatever town you live to work through the set-up and make whatever adjustments are necessary.

From Pieter Viljoen
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 02:35 PM
Mr. Schafer, as long as she has a few weeks to get familiar... new violins, even good ones sometimes need some playing in.
From Peter Schafer
Posted on May 15, 2006 at 02:54 PM
Violin should arrive in November; auditions are in February-March... I'm hoping that will give enough time. Thanks.
From Amanda Southern
Posted on May 30, 2006 at 08:24 PM
Someone mentioned an overpriced luthier in Atlanta... I would bet money that I know exactly who they're talking about.. ;)
From Christian Vachon
Posted on May 31, 2006 at 05:25 PM
"He says his violins do best for players who dig in to the strings, with a somewhat aggressive style (which describes my daugter's playing)."

Mr. Shafer, that is because Terry uses a Guarneri model, and most Del G├ęsu models can stand, and even require a stronger bow stroke to respond.

Cheers!

From Michael Darnton
Posted on May 31, 2006 at 05:48 PM
I think what you need to do is look at violins and buy the one you like, not one like it, not one from the same maker, but the exact one you like. I don't know any maker, modern or old, who can make the same violin every time.
From Stephen Perry
Posted on June 1, 2006 at 02:11 AM
Michael has a very good point indeed. I see people on a regular basis looking the violin they "should" have or that a teacher says they need or that meets some list of criteria. While they pass on a violin or two they really like that seems to do the job well to my ears! I've actually had people tell me they like a specific violin except that it doesn't cost enough.

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