Written by Michael Sanchez
Published: March 23, 2015 at 5:01 PM [UTC]
The biggest thing with this price range is that you have to understand you shouldn't be looking anti-Chinese. I get many calls from people that are interested in a violin in this price range and the first thing they ask me "is the violin made in China?" I wish that wasn't the first thing I had to explain, as certainly I would rather talk about which violins I have chosen that sound the best through my experience.
If you are looking for a violin $5,000+, this article doesn't really apply to the argument that Chinese is better than European. To be honest, I have found some of the best violins in the 5K+ range to be European made instruments, and that is what I recommend to students. The reality though is that in the $2,000-$3,000 price range, you are going to find the best violins made in China, and anything European (similar price range), isn't going to match up to the best Chinese quality. You can let that turn you off (some will stop reading here), or you can read further.
I have played hundreds of consignment instruments over the years including many German copies etc. that are in the 2-3K range, and I have never found one to sound better than the best Chinese instruments that would be the same price. When an appraiser evaluates something other than Chinese (and you have good craftsmanship), the price is going to be higher. Here is what you have to understand about the pricing of an instrument.
When a shop prices a violin, they are not relying on the sound quality of a specific violin. They are actually pricing each violin based on the country of origin, wood quality (hand crafted vs. manufactured), and the condition. So when a violin shop sees that a violin is German with a label, they auto default to a higher price just based on the country of origin. Every shop I have worked at, the appraiser (shop owner) never actually plays the violin to see what it sounds like before putting it up for sale. This concept proves that violin sound is indirectly related to sound quality. I have done a lot of videos on this concept and my entire Chapter 2 in my book covers this concept.
If you didn't follow me there, what I'm trying to say is that if the goal is to find a great sounding violin (I'm assuming you aren't looking for an antique for your wall), you need to make sure it is Chinese. I have done hundreds of tests over the years and played on pretty much everything out there (I have seen them all through teaching privately), and every violin that sounded good in this price range was Chinese (the bad ones were non-Chinese). Being that I am now a dealer, I understand the reason why that is and am telling you that many brand names are made to disguise that fact. I hope nobody gets upset with me there, but it is true.
So why do Chinese violins get such a bad reputation? It is not because of the lack of potential, but actually more the lack of consistency. I was told that a large instrument manufacturer (I won't mention names) actually returns 30% of their violins back to China from their original shipment from Chinese manufacturers. That means that 70% of those violins had some sort of defect (cosmetic, bad fingerboards, etc). This makes total sense to me, as I have purchased about 10 crates of violins from China (dealt with problems every time). So what is the key then for you guys to get the 30% that I'm talking about?
When I first started promoting violins, I had two middle-men that I would work with (I won't mention names). I relied on them to ship out the Chinese instruments that I loved (at first I thought 100% were as good as the ones they sold me on). Over time, I started to notice customer complaints out of some of the violins they would drop-ship, and it seemed almost like a crap shoot (some customers were thrilled about the quality of each violin while others were angry). Finally I came up with a solution to this that I'll share with you. It involves obsoleting drop-shipping and focusing heavily on quality control.
I recently found a Chinese guy that plays in a professional orchestra that is obsessed with the sound of each violin he sells to me wholesale. He was actually the first one to explain to me that the distance between the bridge to the start of the tail piece should be 5.5 cm on a violin. I was skeptical but after he adjusted a violin for me, I was shocked at the difference (projection increased x2). He is that kind of guy, and he was very real with me about the process in China.
What he does, is he gets the structure of each violin created in the base shop, and then pays workers 8 times more at another shop to do the detailed work (fingerboard setup etc). This raises the consistency to about 85%, and he goes to China 4 times a year and picks only the best ones out of the bunch. We played all these violins at the NAAM show, and were blown away by the sound quality and consistency. He believes in doing all the hard work up front with instruments (quality control), so that customers don't complain and want to return the violin back to him. Certainly this is someone that I hope to work with for a long time, as he carries the same vision of consistency and sound quality that I want to provide to the violin world.
I'm now working with three lines of violins that go through this process. The results speak for themselves. So far every student that has tried out one of these violins, they have bought one, and each time they went through an intense approval process. I personally bought one that I find plays like it should be in the $8,000-$10,000 range, but it is only $2,500 retail.
Here is the scoop. I don't want you to think I'm trying to sell you on these violins. Honestly they are great, but I know other shops have already figured this process out and are doing the same thing. I actually know which shops they are, but I don't know if it would be good to mention them. The ones I don't mention might not be happy with me.
So in conclusion, be open to trying out violins in this price range and keep in mind the ones that sounds the best are going to be Chinese 99% of the time. Keep in mind the consistency though, and if you get something that doesn't seem good, send it back. If you find a shop that has already done quality control for you though, that is when you are going to be thrilled with your purchase the first time.
If you have any questions, feel free to visit my Violin Tutor Pro website.
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I have purchased at least a dozen violins from Old Violin House. The most expensive of these was $450, most of them cost $250 or thereabouts. All have been good, the $450 one was excellent. Most have required some adjustment: soundpost position, certainly a new set of strings, perhaps a bridge needed some thinning out, or an afterlength adjustment as mentioned (1/6 ratio of vibrating string length to afterlength). Not rocket science type stuff.
Remarkable quality you can get for the price.
I just don't see what's new or different here.
Result? 30% of the instruments out there are not worth the price paid, and are damaging the brand name just by existing.
Until the factories themselves show a little pride of craftsmanship and take responsibility for ensuring that their 'duds' never see the hands of a student, I think that assurances by you (and everyone else trying to sell these instruments) that "WE don't sell the bad ones" will ring hollow, and the potential of these factories to elevate the art of violin manufacture will go un-realized.
Thank you very much for this article! I have been thinking of buying a violin lately, and the same thoughts have gone through my mind. Being on a tight budget, I have been unwilling myself to pay more just for the sake that a violin is, let's say, French or German, for example. To me, functionality plays a major role, and it makes sense that at least some of the Chinese will get that right quite well (China is a big country) but for a lower price. What also partially convinced me, was that my old violin teacher has a medium range French violin for which he paid a lot, that doesn't sound so good, and I have a "low range" Chinese violin which I dare say sound a little better.
Anyway, thanks once again.
Also, when Chinese instruments are rejected by dealers here in the U.S. (the 70% that I eluded to), I believe the dealer doesn't actually send them back like I said in the article. I believe a large percentage of them gets donated (or even thrown away), and a small percentage are handled in a clearance type setting (this is great practice). Shipping to China is very expensive, so it doesn't make sense for us dealers to spend thousands to send back violins that are going to take months to get, and possibly not even get proper credit.
Here are two things I suggest needs be improved:
1. Dealers are pickier with their selection of violins from China. They are willing to consider a large percentage of violins "duds," and factor this into their overall cost. Because the margins are so great with Chinese violins, this shouldn't be that difficult to do. I'm starting to do it and it is much better to have a happy customer, than have both go through the headache of the return process. Drop-shipping will lead to many headaches unless you know for certain the shop you are working with does the quality control for you.
2. Dealers go to China themselves to hold manufacturers accountable (they monitor progress and/or hand pick violins). If they can't personally go, they hire a representative. Sites like Alibaba are making this process a lot easier as well with inspection 3rd parties.
3. Dealers consider splitting work between "basic" tasks and "skillful" tasks, to improve quality control. This would change the market, as manufacturers would want to keep the business of the dealers, but could gain more business if they do the same process in house. There are easy setup tasks on a violin, while others that need more expert care (to be consistent).
I think it really is on the dealers to change the market place. The worst thing that can happen is that a dealer assumes every violin from their manufacturer to be good, and then they allow the 10%-70% of "duds" to enter the U.S. market. These instruments (in my opinion) should be donated to charity, or sold clearly to the customer as a defected instrument. If this is clearly presented up front, I think some people would appreciate the discount and wouldn't be upset like if they had paid full price. If a $2,500 instrument has a major defect, I think it would make sense to cut the price in half, as maybe the sound quality is still really good. Let me add one more thing that I think needs to be improved.
4. Dealers need to have actual musicians inspecting and doing quality control. I know of wholesale shops where the entire staff doesn't play any musical instruments. How do really know you are dealing with great sounding instruments when your quality control is not handled by an expert player? This is the scenario where the Chinese manufacturer gets lazy, and will send just about anything. Isn't the whole point to be in the business of sending out outstanding instruments that you are able to sell at low prices? If you can't identify that which ones are good/bad based on sound, I believe that shop is contributing to the cause of the problem.
Think about everything I just said and how this would relate to how violins are so cheap on some online websites. Those are the ones that have no quality control what-so-ever, and scenarios where people buy those violins are where I think ultimately people build reputation that I was trying to mend in my original article.
There. I hope I didn't offend anyone, and you can all understand I'm really just trying to help. Maybe this will spark some more great debate and conversation! Love the site!
Guess Chinese violin are suitable for learners but not for players who want to use the same violin for a long time. Most important is that Chinese violin don't cost much lol
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