Jean Baptiste Vuillaume Violin

December 5, 2017, 11:11 PM · Hello everybody,

My parents acquired a violin a while back at a garage sale as it looked fairly old and they love antiquing. I was bored of couple of days ago and decided to check out what they had gotten. When I looked inside the violin, I saw the stamp on the inside so I began to research the information on it. From what I see online, these violins are fairly expensive and was wondering if anyone could tell me how to identify if it is a real vuillaume. I also have a Tubbs bow with it. Any information on either of these items would be greatly appreciated.


Replies (72)

December 5, 2017, 11:24 PM · Take it to a luthier. If you have a genuine Tubbs bow, a genuine Vuillaume might actually be within the realm of possibility.

Unfortunately, both Tubbs and Vuillaume are oft-faked makers, so the likelihood is that neither is genuine.

But you won't know until a reputable luthier looks at them.

Do fill us in on what happens. :-)

Edited: December 6, 2017, 12:08 AM · Lydia's right, very often faked, fakes way outnumber the genuine ones say 10,000/1
December 6, 2017, 12:25 AM · If you got it at a garage sale it might be fake, but on the flip side, that's the maker of the violin Hilary Hahn plays on now isn't it? Definitely worth taking it to a luthier to find out...
December 6, 2017, 12:34 AM · Ok, yes I think I'm going to take the violin and bow into a luthier. I had the feeling that they were both probably fake but the small chance that they are authentic is at least a fun thing to look into.

I'll let you all know what happens.

Edited: December 6, 2017, 1:16 AM · If its stamped Vuillaume at the top of the back its definitely a fake. Genuine Vuillaumes usually have several signatures in pencil on the inside as well.
December 6, 2017, 5:31 AM · FYI, I own one. Luthiers who haven't seen it before generally know what it is immediately on a moment's casual examination. Then they check themselves by looking at the label. The young ones ask, "This one is real, isn't it?" The others just know. :-)
December 6, 2017, 5:46 AM · Expert luthiers, yes, but not all luthiers can identify a Vuillaume, or a Strad for that matter. I would be one of the latter!!
December 6, 2017, 6:06 AM · Around here, even the staff at the student shops appear to be able to identify it as real, although I wonder if some of them simply know it's a fine violin and the label tells them the direction they should be thinking. I imagine they probably apprenticed at shops where there's enough flow-through of this kind of violin.
December 6, 2017, 6:39 AM · If one were to upgrade to a (real) Vuillaume or something in that price range, where should one start?
December 6, 2017, 8:42 AM · To get a rough idea of the range take a look at the Cozio Archive in where you'll find a fairly comprehensive list of auction prices. For the year 2017 in which 5 J.B.Vuillaume violins have so far been sold the lowest price was $87K and the highest $212K. Of course dealer prices would be much higher.

To get a free evaluation of your violin you could take a look at the site. They'll ask for photographs and should certainly be able to tell you whether it's real or a fake.

Ironically, Vuillaume himself was a notorious (-ly good) faker of Strads and other classic Italian instruments!

December 6, 2017, 8:47 AM · Start by shopping in person in cities that have violin shops that have a significant number of such instruments. Chicago, NYC, Boston, LA, etc. Most major metro areas with top-notch symphonies have shops that sell in that price range as well (DC/Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco, etc.).

Also, decide whether you are looking for a player's instrument, or you really want collectibility. If the latter, condition matters a lot -- but antiques in better condition are also more expensive. And in this kind of six-figure price range, good provenance is a must.

December 6, 2017, 8:49 AM · A Guarneri-model Vuillaume associated with Ysaye sold for L260k at auction last week -- roughly $350k. Record-breaking.
Edited: December 6, 2017, 11:08 AM · Would a relatively provincial place of Twin Cities, Minnesota have a shop for instruments of that type? There are two respectable orchestras here. Thanks in advance.

Edit to add: my teacher recommends ( for violins in general) Givens Violin in Minneapolis. The shop serves many violinists from the Minnesota Orchestra and St Paul Chamber Orchestra. Frank and constructive comments on this shop are appreciated.

December 6, 2017, 9:57 AM · David, are you thinking of buying me a Christmas present?!
December 6, 2017, 10:49 AM · Katie, LoL
December 6, 2017, 11:08 AM ·
December 6, 2017, 12:14 PM · David, you're not that far from Chicago. Take a weekend and head out there as part of your search (ie, play all the good stuff in the Twin Cities, and then after you pick out a few to take home do the same thing in Chicago). You could probably do the whole trip for less than $300, and it would be totally worth it.
December 6, 2017, 1:31 PM · Jason, thanks. Will do
December 6, 2017, 1:40 PM · If you have that much to spend I could sell you all the violins in my shop!!!
December 6, 2017, 1:51 PM · Jason's advice is sound. Play everything in your local shops, and then try Chicago as the next step. Make appointments.

Also, talk to your teacher about what to look for in an upgrade. In general, in this price range, I've found that most of the violins are pretty good, but if you're going to spend this much money, you want something that's outstanding. If you can, during your search, also try stuff in the $500k+ range -- instruments considered superior in tone and response at that price point -- so you know what you're looking for in a violin that isn't as expensive.

And set aside some budget for a bow. There's a significant chance that even if you like your current bow, it won't turn out to be an ideal tonal match for the violin, and dollar for dollar, a better bow will give you better bang for your buck.

December 6, 2017, 1:55 PM · Oh, and one more thing. Gently break the news to your spouse that you're planning to drop six figures on a piece of antique wood. ;-)
December 6, 2017, 2:08 PM · Thanks!

I am hoping, when and if the time comes, something along the line of "a legacy for OUR daughter" will soften the blow somewhat : )

December 6, 2017, 2:31 PM · That reminds me... Be cautious when making big upgrades. I seem to recall you're still playing your student violin. Your technique is probably attuned to that violin, but you might actually be better off adapting your technique to a better instrument -- but when you're trying violins you have to be careful not to pick the violin that's best with your current technique, rather than the violin that would be best once you learn to play it properly.

The joke goes that violinists tend to pick a violin that's like their current instrument, but louder. Be careful to avoid that trap.

Playing a great high-end instrument is like driving a Formula 1 racer. You need to have more control because they are much more responsive, and therefore much less forgiving.

Edited: December 6, 2017, 2:45 PM · I upgraded from my instrument of teenage days earlier this year to something in the low 5 figures. I was a poker player with, let's say, a mixed record before I returned to the violin. My wife was really happy with my new hobby so she was very supportive. The instrument is perfectly fine for an intermediate player like me.

I am just gathering information and looking at this from the angle of investment as well. We'll see.

December 6, 2017, 2:41 PM · I hope all the young hopeful violinists reading this will take note that it is the serious amateurs, not the professionals, casually discussing shopping for a six-figure violin. Not that there aren't professionals playing six-figure instruments, but I suspect that once you get out of the top 52-week orchestra range, there are many more of us for whom such an instrument is completely out of reach.

Pick a career that will support your violin habit and play for fun, that's the lesson I suggest you all take from this.

December 6, 2017, 4:03 PM · As violin price goes up, you are not necessarily paying for a better sound. In many cases, in the antiques arena especially, you are paying for name / provenance. Still thoroughly test everything with the same skepticism you might use on a lower priced violin. I've played some very expensive famous-name antiques that were not good violins by any measure. There are great ones, but you still need to use caution.

Lydia said "Playing a great high-end instrument is like driving a Formula 1 racer. You need to have more control because they are much more responsive, and therefore much less forgiving."

I agree 100%. The same could be said about great bows if you are used to playing a "dead" stick.

December 6, 2017, 5:59 PM · I am amazed how many letters are used to spell maker's short last name.
Edited: December 6, 2017, 6:37 PM · I wonder what it's like to play on a great high-end instrument?

I am not experienced in purchasing or playing instruments David is considering, but I can read so agree with Douglas. I recalled I read somewhere that after the mid five figures, one is paying for name and provenance only. Tone no longer plays a role in its effect on cost as it is so subjective. Maybe a luthier can elaborate some more on this as I am out of my comfort zone. Caveat, this might lead to the mega 1,000 debate on Strads vs. Modern instruments!

It's good that you are considering this also from the perspective of an investment David, as at those prices for most of us, it cannot be an indulgence. I know professionals who play on low five figures down to even low four figures, and they sure sound pretty good.

December 6, 2017, 6:32 PM · LOL Mary Ellen, that is very true! Music can still be a serious and high-minded endeavor even when not a full-time one.

Also, as Douglas said, I think we can agree that you don't need a six figure violin to have a tonally superior one, you just have to sacrifice lineage and collectible to that end.

David, let us know how it goes; do you think you'll try some modern stuff too as a comparison point? I'm thinking of upgrading soon so am interested in what you learn; but, I was planning on focusing on modern instruments as I'm not looking for an investment too;)

Edited: December 6, 2017, 7:00 PM · Kan and Jason, I have a decent modern instrument in low 5 figures. The recent mega 1000-post thread got me interested in considering a high end instrument as both my main instrument and an vehicle of investment (diversification is a sound investment idea). The price is definitely out of my comfort zone! We'll see : )
Edited: December 6, 2017, 7:11 PM · I laughed out loud at Mary Ellen's comment. (Such students should also read this article: LINK. Juilliard-graduate brothers leave music, start a company, sell it for $35 million. But there's an interesting tale embedded in there about what else they did to make money while they were students.)

Kan Pai: The more you can spend on a violin (or bow), the better the average instrument in that price bracket becomes -- and the greater the probability that you can find something really outstanding. There is no direct linear correlation -- as Douglas says, price is not a direct indicator of quality. But higher-priced makers are higher-priced for a reason -- their instruments are, on the whole, higher in quality. Vuillaume had many, many contemporaries, for instance -- but his violins are more expensive because on the whole, those instruments have better craftsmanship and playing qualities.

There are great contemporary violins (from living makers), but they are not easy to find (the players who own them tend to hold onto them for a lifetime). You can find 20th-century now-deceased makers whose prices have escalated into the 6 figures, so prices aren't necessarily driven by antiquity per se.

December 6, 2017, 7:03 PM · you mean violin addiction?
December 6, 2017, 7:43 PM · I'll take your word for it Lydia. This is beyond my experience so I'll trust you and others with more experience in the matter.
Edited: December 6, 2017, 8:43 PM · I have been thinking about Mary Ellen's comment. It is common for young soloists to play on very fine instruments the use of which was granted by foundations and/or individuals. Are there ways in which young orchestral violinists get help (with perhaps somewhat lesser instruments) along similar lines at the start of their career?
Edited: December 6, 2017, 9:00 PM · Not that I'm aware of.

Those fine instruments that are loaned out by individuals and/or foundations serve a dual (or triple) purpose: the young soloist gets the use of a superb instrument; the true owners get to look good--generous, arts-minded, philanthropic--in program books and the press; and the true owners are also the beneficiaries of asset appreciation.

Program books don't list the instruments played on by members of the orchestra; they don't get a mention in reviews; they don't bring glory to their owners. Why bother?

Having said that, I myself have the use of an excellent Kuttner through a personal connection. :-)

December 6, 2017, 9:12 PM · I have the use of an instrument in the mid 5 figures, but its not a violin, the reason I could afford it is because I built it myself!!

Edited: December 6, 2017, 11:35 PM · I believe some symphonies own instruments that are loaned to players (usually title chair holders). And sometimes there's more specific generosity. The Baltimore Symphony's music director, Marin Alsop, comes from a family of professional string players, and instruments and bows from the family's personal collection have been loaned to a number of the players. (These loans are noted on the musician roster in all BSO programs.)

December 6, 2017, 11:22 PM · David, there's a beautiful Vuillaume (one of the last ones he made) available at Ifshins near me. By far the best violin I've played (but of course that's my tastes and not necessarily yours.... it's a guarneri model). Just unending depth to the sound. If there was any possible way to finance that violin, I would do it. But it's a lot easier to get a mortgage on a house than on a violin, sadly.

Anyways, if you have 240k laying around, definitely go check it out! (Make sure to contact them first so they can put it on hold for you, though).

I really wish I could find a modern violin that sounded like that one.

Edited: December 7, 2017, 8:38 AM · David I definitely recommend to make an appointment with Bein&Fushi in Chicago. I visited them last summer and they were really great to me. It's mind-boggling trip you can make there, starting with 5-figure instruments which sound really great, moving on to 6-figure instruments which are amazing (I still cannot forget the Michele Deconet I played there), and finally playing a Strad and an Amati, then going back to the original five-figure instruments and they suddenly sound like crap :-) They seem to have quite a wide range of quality violins in all price ranges and in all different characters of instruments. They are also very easy on taking back an instrument you bought from them and swapping it for a better one, so you can go up in stages.
December 7, 2017, 8:55 AM · And that touches on Kan Pai's earlier question of what it's like to play a great violin.

Great violins have depth and complexity, an array of colors, very fast and precise response, and superb projection that fills the space. And beauty of sound, of course, particularly at either end of the spectrum -- a rich G string, a brilliant E string.

Because the response is precise, the player's skill needs to be higher. If you don't have good control, you may find that you sound worse on a great violin. That gives you the feedback you need to improve, but it also demands that you play better.

I recently borrowed a nice contemporary for a week while my Vuillaume was undergoing some work. The first thing I noticed was that the stuff that I was just learning sounded better -- the violin was much more forgiving. So, for instance, slightly varying bow speeds still maintained what was a constant volume (at least to casual listening). But on my Vuillaume, a change in bow speed will produce an immediate audible alteration in color and volume; it requires more thoughtful planning of bow distribution.

December 7, 2017, 10:19 AM · I'm feeling a bit of buyer's remorse reading this thread, as I definitely think I bought the louder version of the instrument that I was comfortable playing. I sounded better on it than I did on other, more expensive instruments (including a couple of Topas) and my more skilled brother-in-law liked it a lot too.

Still, I one would describe its tonal palette as "complex." It would have been interesting to test things way out of my price range so I had a better sense of what a good instrument might sound like under the ear, how to coax different colors out of it, etc. I might have made a different decision. I think at the time I was too intimidated by the whole process to ask.

Ah well...I do love my Heberlein, and no one is paying me to play it. I guess I'll keep it until David brings me my Vuillaume.

December 7, 2017, 10:21 AM · PS: Erik, I did a lot of shopping at Ifshin. No one suggested I play the Vuillaume. Might have something to do with the fact that I walked in asking to test Jay Haide violins and then gradually worked my way up. ;-)
December 7, 2017, 1:59 PM · This is one of the reasons that I buy stuff from my local violin shops -- I walked into Ifshin's to get strings, and got to try a Strad. :-)
Edited: December 7, 2017, 2:23 PM · Did you buy the Vuillaume from them too? I imagine that gets you VIP treatment. Actually, on second thought, just owning a Vuillaume will surely get one the VIP treatment;)
Edited: December 7, 2017, 2:45 PM · This seems like an interesting option for musicians and patrons alike:

I don't know if you're eligible outside GB, but there are orchestral musicians among recipients of the trust. Seems like a good model.

December 7, 2017, 2:48 PM · Not really Jason.Nobody in my orchestra rolls out the red carpet for me with my six figure violin. I have to blend in and play by the musical rules as much as anyone else.If anything having a powerful Italian fiddle can p off people around me if I don't be considerate towards their lesser tonally endowed instruments.
December 7, 2017, 3:20 PM · Katie, it might have to do with the fact that I visit Ifshins every few months or so and basically play every single violin above 20k that they have.

It's gotten to the point where I've already played almost everything they have, though (above 20k), so I feel like I no longer have a reason to visit (I mean, I have a personal reason, but I feel like they're starting to catch on to the fact that I might never buy anything there). One day I did buy an E string and a folding stand, though, just so I could keep going back without feeling guilty.

Ifshins is actually really close to what I imagine my ideal music school to be. The whole shop just feels like the real deal, and there's always good musicians as well as amateurs walking in and out. It's a place that feels inspiring when you enter.

Edited: December 7, 2017, 6:25 PM · I bought my previous violin from Ifshin's (spending five figures), and did some serious bow shopping there as well. I figured that as a dot-com start-up engineer, though, they figured that one day I might hit the IPO stock-market jackpot and decide to buy a Strad. ;-)

When I attended BSO Academy two summers ago, there were quite a few amateurs playing nice violins, ranging from top-notch contemporaries, to antiques in the high six figures.

December 7, 2017, 4:46 PM · I loved shopping there--they've invested a lot in the space and the atmosphere and I had, at any given time, 3-5 instruments out on approval. Raphael is such a nice, helpful guy and I felt super guilty when I ended up purchasing a violin elsewhere--but it was the obvious choice for me at the time. I'd definitely go back. There's a Rolland bow that got away...
Edited: December 8, 2017, 1:36 AM · Thanks for the encouragement, folks.

I hope I didn't give any false impression. I grew up poor! When my family first arrived in the US, we had nothing but each other. As a teenager, I did house chores for my teacher to earn violin lessons. The price of a piece of antique wood boggles the mind.

December 7, 2017, 7:54 PM · Raphael is great and very helpful. He's always saying I have "chops" but I know he's lying so I buy something eventually. It's alright; I'll take the fake compliment :)
December 7, 2017, 8:25 PM · So Gunnar to get back to you: could you post some pictures of your violin and bow?
December 8, 2017, 8:35 AM · "I grew up poor! When my family first arrived in the US, we had nothing but each other."

This actually supports my point above. I grew up middle-to-upper-middle class in the same part of the country where Lydia lives now. There is hardly a more effective method for the highly educated to achieve downward mobility than to go into professional music.

December 8, 2017, 9:21 AM · Our lives are no doubt richer because of professional musicians.
December 8, 2017, 9:39 AM · My parents went from poor to a steady upwards trajectory in my childhood, but not sufficiently so to buy me as good of a violin as my childhood teachers thought I needed. :-)
December 8, 2017, 1:36 PM · On the topic of quality vs. price, I've been told by luthiers that once in the 5-figure range, the quality can vary as factors like rarity & the maker's name come into play. There are people in my city's full-time orchestra playing on violins "worth" 10-20k but by new, less known makers.
December 8, 2017, 1:49 PM · This is where the question of "good enough" versus "great" comes into play. Plenty of people earn a living on less-expensive contemporary violins, but don't confuse that with those instruments being competitive with great violins.

(There are great contemporaries as well, note, but they tend to carry nontrivial price tags.)

December 8, 2017, 1:52 PM · Oh yeah I wasn't implying they are in the league of 'great' violins - just that there can be huge leaps in quality between violins of the same price.
December 8, 2017, 1:56 PM · I wonder would someone be kind enough to suggest a book or a website so one can read up on "good" and "great" violins and bows?
December 8, 2017, 2:03 PM · Isn't it usually 30-50k for a contemporary violin of the highest level, nowadays? You might get lucky with a new maker, but you have to be prepared for a long hunt.

Bows seem to be where it's really crazy...

December 8, 2017, 2:30 PM · David, "great" violins as defined by price are just going to be a matter of the name of the maker. "Great" violins as defined by how well you play on them are going to be a matter of how well you play on them.

In other words, unless you're buying a violin as an investment, a book isn't going to be able to tell you much. You just have to try them.

Expect to take dozens or hundreds of hours of searching and be prepared to play violins in any price range if you want to find something truly great for you.

December 8, 2017, 2:46 PM · I don't think you can read about good vs. great equipment per se -- I mean, there are books for luthiers and whatnot, which can tell you what is considered good or bad construction, but that won't help you discern playing qualities. To discern playing qualities, you want to play as much inventory as possible, in a wide spectrum of price ranges. And preferably you want to do so in the company of at least one other person, preferably one that is knowledgeable about the sought-after playing qualities.

Tastes differ. A great violin can do anything, but you also have to match it to your needs. Some violins reward players with an airier, lighter draw, while others have lots of depth for players who like to put a lot of arm-weight into the string; depending on your tone-production preferences and needs, you may prefer one over the other. If your instrument projects very well, and you're sitting in an orchestra with a lot of people who don't have good violins, you will have to work harder to blend -- ditto in chamber music. Violins with strong projection tend to have a certain kind of brilliance under the ear; you may not like the way that sounds, and if you're mostly playing on your own, then you might want to opt for something more mellow. A highly-responsive instrument takes a lot of skill to control; it's not ideal for every player.

Also recognize that your needs will change over a lifetime. For instance, I'm pretty certain that I'm not keeping my violin for a lifetime. In 20 years I'll probably want something that's more forgiving (and probably 7/8ths and generally petite), as skill and flexibility declines with age; if I end up with any essential tremors, for instance, this instrument will be effectively unplayable.

Jason: For some makers, but not all of the best. A Zygmuntowicz commission is now $85k baseline, for instance.

December 8, 2017, 3:30 PM · Yeah, as lydia has effectively stated, your preferences/needs may change over time as you develop as a player (or just get older). That's the problem with investing a house's worth of money in an instrument when you're not (nearly) completely developed as a musician.
Edited: December 8, 2017, 3:54 PM · “ there are books for luthiers and whatnot, which can tell you what is considered good or bad construction, but that won't help you discern playing qualities”

From a player's perspective, one needs to actually play the instrument. Yes. Many luthiers/dealers do not play the instrument but are experts in evaluating and pricing instruments. Is there a source they go to if they need to look up something?

December 8, 2017, 4:11 PM · Some but not all luthiers are. The ones that are really expert in identification have generally worked in shops where a high volume of violins by particular makers have been seen. There are reference books (most of them grotesquely expensive) but as far as I know, the eye is mostly developed through hands-on experience.
December 8, 2017, 4:53 PM · Lydia, yeah, Zygmuntowicz costs more, but he's basically the top of the field now.
December 8, 2017, 5:12 PM · Jason, from my recent experience violin hunting it seems like that price range is pretty accurate, although I'm trying one at the moment around 20k and it seems to be an outlier - miles ahead of instruments priced a lot higher.

I have no idea about the bow market and really should do some research into it.

Edited: December 8, 2017, 9:14 PM · Note that a lot of good contemporary makers are still below the $30k mark. Many of the makers that I liked at the recent NYC exhibition were in the $15-20k range,
December 8, 2017, 10:05 PM · Speaking of Zygmuntowicz, I really enjoyed reading The Violin Maker.
It was both entertaining and educational.
Edited: December 9, 2017, 4:34 AM · The book is as you said. It provided a lot of insight to me into the contemporary world of violin making and playing esp. wrt Eugene Drucker and the Emerson quartet (who all play Zygs except for Drucker). It focuses on Zyg's journey into making a great violin.

Curious to know what educational lessons you gleaned?

December 9, 2017, 8:01 AM · Lydia said:
"There are great contemporary violins (from living makers), but they are not easy to find (the players who own them tend to hold onto them for a lifetime)."

I agree. After months of playing and rejecting 100+ instruments in the contemporary price range, I found a wonderfully special 20 year old instrument. It had one owner previously and I imagine that it will never be for sale again.

My opinion is that it takes an incredible amount of expertise to notice what is truly great vs what is expensive. I've played countless instruments that had the name and the price-tag, but nothing else. Just my subjective opinion.

December 9, 2017, 4:02 PM · The most educational aspect for me was gaining a more informed perspective on the process of commissioning a violin. It’s not as magical as I had imagined it to be. $85,000 is out of our reach anyway but when it was around $40,000, it was within the realm of possibilities.

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