Best Information On Violin Purchase

May 26, 2017, 5:55 AM · I have been looking around on the web to find a concise reference on violins. Not only antique violins, also more recent violins.

There are plenty of generic " How to Buy a violin" articles.

What I think I'm looking for would be like a Kelly Blue Book on violins.An unbiased objective view. Information only. I think it would be helpful to have enough information that when shopping a make can be identified if known to be genuine and valuated based on that info.

Ideally some information on the track record of any given make.

Does such a book exist?

Replies (23)

May 26, 2017, 6:34 AM · Forget Kelly Blue Book and unbiased views. I'd really like to see a Top Gear program for violins.

But seriously, I'd like something similar but I doubt such a thing could be done. Even if you could theoretically create an entirely automated precision manufacturing facility that produced identical instruments, the fact that the raw materials are organic and therefore variable would affect sound quality.

And as to the usefulness of such a thing...After just over a month of scratching away on my rental VSO, I've stumbled across a 1954 Vatelot selling for not too much money. From what I've researched online, these appear to be decent instruments. But considering I never touched a violin until 5 weeks ago, I wonder if it's worth my while to purchase it. Sure, a review could tell me if it's a good instrument or not, but not whether it's a good instrument for me.

May 26, 2017, 6:48 AM · I think a Ouija board would provide about as objective a view on violin valuations as you will be able to attain anywhere else.
May 26, 2017, 7:31 AM · "What I think I'm looking for would be like a Kelly Blue Book on violins.An unbiased objective view..."

There are two different things here: price and and "unbiased objective view."

No sane dealers would cooperate to put "blue book" prices out there. And It's unlikely and dealers would, as a matter of course, report their final sales prices. So where would you get the data?
Auction prices are unreliable.

Your best resource now is that so many dealers list their violins on websites. Many have prices listed, but those that don't are happy to give you their asking price on the phone. But not the final sale price.

As far as an "objective unbiased view": there is no such thing. Violins,
except for a decibel measurement of sound output, are individualistic and subjective. They are not cars.

Edited: May 26, 2017, 11:11 AM · Good luck Madeye. Looks like you might be onto something.

I figured as much. The violins promoted as the "top ten best" online are laughable.Also the "How to Buy A Violin"articles. Some of those are misleading.

Many times recommendations are based on a sellers inventory.

Online visibility has more to do with angling for position and nothing to do with the product.The best info might be 20 pages in or it might be buried completely.

It would need to be an independent study. A list of all manufacturers listed in 2017. Country(s) of manufacture. Listing as beginner/intermediate/pro. Price ranges. If hand made completely or partial machine made.If no longer made and antique or currently produced.
Maybe even brief sound characteristics. Scale of 1-10 on projection, tone character,response,type of strings shipped.

I can pull much of this data from separate sources. I wondered if someone else had already compiled it.

This would at least be a starting point. I think it would help to find the best place or places to focus a search based on what you want.In the end the ears and how it plays wins the argument, however it might stop a lot of needless looking.

Examples- Beginner- price range 500-1000, Chinese.
Intermediate- 1500-3000, upper end Chinese, lower end German
Upper Intermediate- 3000-5000 various
Advanced- 5000-10,000, Handmade, noted Maker
Advanced or Collector- 10,000- 100,000> antique, world renowned
maker, out of production.

No matter how secretive a dealer is we can deduce close representations of the actual prices or "ball park" figures.Buyers don't kind telling what they paid usually, and they usually comment on what they like about their instrument.

In the end this is probably something I'll be doing myself.

Craig lol! Scott. No they aren't cars, but if it was built we should be able to measure what went into it and determine what it's worth. Yes, the prices online, even for shops serving pro clients are readily visible on many sites. Great place to start. Cars are subjective too, that's why we drive so many different kinds.

May 26, 2017, 9:27 AM · "Many have prices listed, but those that don't are happy to give you their asking price on the phone. But not the final sale price."

Did I misunderstand this or was it implied that violins can sell for aomething other than the asking price? Assuming it's not an auction or a private seller from kjiji or something. I thought what ever price is indicated in a website then that's it.

May 26, 2017, 10:06 AM · Well, perhaps people are unwilling to talk about how much they paid because some people on may scold them for bragging.
May 26, 2017, 11:14 AM · I want people to brag about how little they paid ;) Then tell me where they bought it.
May 26, 2017, 11:17 AM · Tarisio's archive is pretty good. They show auction prices, as well as biographical information about the maker, which generally includes some information about the maker as well.

There's also the Henley dictionary, which I believe is print only. The pricing information in that is long out of date, of course.

Violin prices can almost always be negotiated, though many shops don't haggle over student outfits.

May 26, 2017, 1:40 PM · There is a book printed called, not the "Blue Book", but the "Red Book". This gives dealers a guide for prices. Tarisio, Cozio, and Bromptons are useful online sites.

Cheers Carlo

Edited: May 26, 2017, 4:25 PM · Without a set of quantifiable, observable and measurable criteria to discern various category of instrument, this is an impossible task. For instance there is such a thing as a good VSO, within the criteria that define what a VSO ought to be.
May 27, 2017, 3:31 AM · I don't see what the financial incentive would be for someone in the trade, who would have the best access to the information, to compile it, make it public, and keep it updated. It would be a huge and expensive task, which also might carry some legal liability risks.

In some cases, it can be a pretty big job to put together the information needed for a high-quality professional appraisal of just one instrument.

May 30, 2017, 9:53 AM · Lydia and Carlo- Thank you! I believe this is the kind of thing I was looking for!

Well David, maybe I'm just chasing my tail. If so, none of this is doing any good.In the worst case I'll have more info than I had before.

The only incentive for the buyer is to be well informed to make intelligent decisions. The only other incentive I can think of would be selling information. A person could buy access to a web site with all that info or buy yearly editions of a book.

I probably don't have the time to do an in depth job of it. It's great to know a few others have worked on it.

May 30, 2017, 11:38 AM · There are a lot of reference books out there; many of them cost hundreds of dollars, owing to the production costs (high-quality photographs, small print runs, etc.). Luthiers who specialize in identification generally have copious libraries. However, there does not seem to be much substitute for handling instruments personally and being able to inspect them directly rather than relying on photographs.

That's why experts in identification tend to have specializations, and why certificates are only considered worthwhile from particular experts. Indeed, for some instruments, experts will disagree.

Edited: June 1, 2017, 4:32 AM · Lydia I'm not sure if you help with site maintenance. The site is timing out and I'm occasionally loosing the server...just a heads up.

Back to the post-

I would never intend to use the violin information as a substitute for going and trying an instrument. I believe the information can help to form a direction. To me this is invaluable.

I live close to some decent libraries Lydia. I think you gave me another great suggestion.

I checked out some of those leads. They were very helpful. Not exactly what I went to look for, but close enough to be helpful. I'll probably stalk a bunch of sites and quietly gather information. I think I enjoy some kinds of research. If it interests me I like to find out all I can about it.

Thanks for the help!

May 31, 2017, 10:07 PM · You probably won't find the luthier books in a normal library. They are specialized collector's items. You can sometimes find them for sale in Tarisio auctions and the like.
Edited: June 1, 2017, 2:16 AM · Hi,
people found this article to be useful as a general reference:
The violin: How to select a violin, provenance, value and appraisal

June 1, 2017, 4:36 AM · I edited some of my rambling out above. My apologies.

Corilon I haven't checked the link yet and I'm already excited!

June 1, 2017, 11:53 AM · Lydia there's a special collections area at my college library.I'm not sure if they have anything relevant to the violin.

I'm impressed with the Corilon site. Very useful info there. The audio tracks of each violin make it even better.Well recorded representations. I fell in love a few times.The prices aren't unreasonable either.

I tended to like a few of those German models for overall sound. One of the Italians was nice too but a little pricey for me.

I have a few questions though, do you test demo all violins with the same strings, and if so, what kind of strings are on these violins? Secondly, what bow are you using for the tests?

Edited: June 1, 2017, 1:15 PM · Corilon violins
Edited: June 1, 2017, 2:16 AM ยท Hi,
people found this article to be useful as a general reference:
The violin: How to select a violin, provenance, value and appraisal.

I disagree with enough of the article, that I won't even try to take time out of my workday to take it on. Perhaps when I'm retired (as if violinmakers ever retire). ;-)

June 1, 2017, 2:02 PM · That Corilon article should be read as coming from a biased source -- a violin shop with a particular market position, albeit an apparently reputable shop (I have never dealt with them personally).

I try violins with my own bow and whatever strings happen to be on them at the time. That also means that you're subject to the whims of the existing set-up. Depending on the shop, the violin might or might not have an optimal set-up. A shop will usually be willing to at least glance at the soundpost and bridge to make sure they are in a reasonable position even if not optimal, and possibly to change the strings if the strings are too old.

If you don't like the basic playing characteristics and sound under these random circumstances, you probably don't like the instrument enough to buy it. However, one of the skills that a player gains is to sense potential -- i.e., whether or not with tweaking and some playing-in and getting used to the instrument, whether or not it might turn out to be much better than it seems now.

June 2, 2017, 3:50 AM · When I was helping my daughter buy her violin I found lots of pieces of advice on the web, many (like the Corilon one) helpfully provided by violin dealers but of course aimed towards their own particular market. But it is only helpful up to a point, you need to choose a violin that feels right for you personally, in other words you choose on subjective rather than objective factors.

I guess there are a few objective things that are helpful: as the Corilon article suggests it is likely to be broadly the case that a good violin maker will choose good quality materials and have an attention to detail which you might find easiest to assess from features such as the purfling and scroll which in the end don't contribute to the sound of the violin. But unfortunately the correlation isn't good enough to be the basis for a purchase decision, there are violins with less attractive wood or poorly executed purfling which play well, and objectively well constructed violins that are a disappointment.

In our search we came down to three subjective features we looked for. First projection, which seems to be a quality intrinsic to the violin and difficult to change (assuming it has been set up properly). It isn't simply the volume produced which could be objectively measured, it is best described as the sense that the sound a violin produces is bigger than the wooden box it comes from, an impression of it rising from the violin to fill the room and persuade a listener to respond to the music from a distance. Second responsiveness, by which I mean both the ease with which the violin sounds when you start playing and also the ability to easily change the dynamics and quality of the note. And thirdly tone, which is highly personal and can encompass all sorts of things. Some people are going to prefer a rich dark sound, others a bright penetrating sound, and so on. However in all cases it is important for the tone to be balanced and even across the strings, and to have a certain amount of resonance, to ring on a little when you lift the bow from the string.

Ultimately the choice must be yours, and you can only make it by trying a large number of violins and finding for yourself how widely they vary even in a narrow price band. By experiencing those qualities you will realise just what it is you personally are looking for. As Lydia says, use your own bow as a constant (and use the same "test pieces") but be aware that more might be available from your chosen violin by matching it with a new bow. And discuss with the luthier whether there are aspects that could be tweaked in the direction you prefer by changing strings.

Going back to the original question, assessing violins is so subjective that it would be almost impossible for the features that could be objectively listed in a book to be particularly helpful to a buyer. And that is before you consider the enormous range of violin "makes" that would need to be included, particularly in older violins which are often labelled for the old master violin they were supposedly modelled on (e.g. Stradivarius) rather than with anything that tells you where they were made and by who.

Edited: June 4, 2017, 6:41 PM ·
Lydia how do you see them being biased here? I mean, I understand they want to sell those violins.Thanks for those suggestions.

Jonathan I can tell you really thought through the process when buying your daughter a violin.

I learned the first point the hard way after first buying a violin with an overly soft personality. On the positive side of it, that violin comes in handy for practice if I want a more muffled sound.I could probably pull a bit more out of it with a more aggressive string set up.Lessons learned.

My other violin has a one piece back thinly carved. It has that nice singing resonance to it and is plenty loud. The jury is still out on the tone.I might change my opinion if I could hear someone else play it from a distance. It isn't bad but I've heard better. I'm too new to really gauge the sound across the strings. I haven't played any violin so far that I didn't need to give more effort to get aggressive sound from lower strings. This is probably some of my technique on lower strings and maybe partially the bow. From the D string back I need to apply more pressure. Too much pressure and things get worse. This is likely the trait of an instrument designed mostly for the higher notes.

I believe I'm still misunderstood here on wanting some kind of reference. I'm only asking for a decent starting point and some information on makers and origins. I'm sure Carilon has a return policy. I can't imagine any seller doing more than they have done with respect to making as much information available about the violin as possible online.If the sound files aren't true it only hurts them because the buyer will return the instrument.

While it's true that fast technical playing displays one side of the instrument, I don't believe it tells us how it sounds playing half notes at a slower meter. This is more indicative to me of the actual tone of the instrument.I think we need to hear both. I think well recorded sound files are an excellent way to hear a violin for those who aren't close to a major music store and want to hear the violin.

I hate to compare buying a violin to anything else.I have compared it to buying a car. I believe it a combination of having good solid information on a violin and a direction as to the tone you prefer. IOW narrow what it is you want and find as much information as you can, then go to shops and play these violins or order one with a return policy.Alternately look for used violins by private sellers. If you have some idea what you want and what to look for, it puts you ahead.

June 6, 2017, 8:50 AM · You are right, I am the sort of person who likes to do the groundwork so when I shop for something I know what I am looking for. In the case of violins, while reading up had been helpful it was mostly a matter of learning through experience. The variation violin to violin within the same price bracket was much bigger than I expected and we had to develop our concept of what to look for in terms of playing feel(my daughter) and how it sounded (me) as we explored lots of instruments.

Most of the websites which list objective properties of their violins don't include the subjective qualities which matter (e.g. they list back length, varnish colour, how fine grained the front is and whether the back is one or two piece). Sound files ought to help since you can at least limit your interest to what you have in mind, though as you say different tone qualities are evident in fast passages, slow lyrical passages, and so on. We found double stopped passages very revealing of the clarity of tone. I haven't listened to the Corilon sound files, do they use standard excerpts for every violin and a player who is consistent in approach?

I suppose you could say there was some similarity with buying a car. While you can check the performance, economy, luggage capacity etc of a car before deciding to try it, in the end only by trying it do you find that the particular car has seats you personally find uncomfortable or aspects of drivability that would irritate you. Cars do have the advantage of large volume manufacture with good quality control, the one the reviewer drove is substantially the same as the one in your local salesroom. That is rarely the case with violins, except perhaps for mass produced beginner outfits. Every violin in our local violin shop is different, and even the little bit that is known about its maker(often at best country or region of origin and approximate year) isn't enough to relate it usefully to any other instrument that you might have admired.

Price is another issue, since below the level where there are established values for known makers it tends to be a matter of trusting the local luthier's judgement. At least that gives you the possibility of getting a "bargain", a violin that is for you better than others at the same price point, but that doesn't translate into monetary worth if you come to sell it.

Enjoy the adventure!

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