Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Have you sold a violin or bow at a profit? (not for dealers)

The Weekend Vote

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Published: November 14, 2014 at 7:53 PM [UTC]

Violins and bows are supposed to appreciate in value, and certainly that's the idea when investors plunk millions down for a Strad.

The tax man certainly won't depreciate your instrument, either.

scroll-dollarBut what is the reality, when it comes to a violinist (not a dealer) trying to sell the typical violin and bow, at the student level and even at the moderately high end? Earlier this week, member Rhoda Barfoot wrote about buying a second-hand violin and asserted that "Generally speaking, violins (or violas or cellos) are like almost any other purchase you make: except for certain professional instruments, they are most valuable when they are new and will not increase in value over time. This is especially true for beginner instruments."

People took great exception to this idea of violins depreciating, and yet, I suspect it's true. Unless you are buying a violin that has documented antique or historical value, your fiddle or bow just may not fetch the same price that you bought it for, as much as you hoped it would.

For example, when a young student buys a fractional-size violin, usually they can turn it in for a fraction of its price, when they upgrade to a larger size. No profit there. Even if you buy a relatively high-priced fine instrument or bow and try to sell it after 10 years, you may not be able to sell it for as high as you bought it. In my own experience, I bought a high-end bow from a fine shop (complete with papers) and sold it years later at a loss, after speaking with many dealers in many cities and finding the one who could do his best for me on commission. I also bought a violin that I sold for the exact same amount I bought it for; I had to wait about a year to get the price. I've known parents who have struggled to sell their child's discarded instrument; usually they wind up donating it because the hassle of selling just isn't worth the money they would get.

I'm curious about people's real-world experience buying and selling, and not based on appraisals or what you theoretically should get if you were to sell something today. Some people have never tried to sell a violin. But among those who have bought and sold, did you sell your violin or bow at a loss or a profit?

Posted on November 14, 2014 at 8:24 PM
A fellow member of a barn dance band I play in suffers from a poor bow ("poor" as in "good for the tomato plants") and a VSO. He is about to get a decent violin from a local dealer but hadn't thought about a new bow, so at the start of a gig I gave him a fairly decent CF bow surplus to my requirements. He used it for the gig and was very impressed with an immediate improvement in his playing.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on November 14, 2014 at 10:10 PM
I chose to donate, although I'm not sure if this counts in my case. I handed down my first 4/4-size fiddle to my second nephew what he was between 11 and 12. I've kept the others.
From marjory lange
Posted on November 14, 2014 at 10:53 PM
I've always traded one instrument for another, sometimes even, sometimes $$ one way or the other. Never outright sold anything.
Posted on November 14, 2014 at 11:12 PM
Bought a 1/2 size for $200 direct from an owner (no dealer). Sold it for $275 direct to another owner.

Bought a new viola from Gliga for $850. A year later sold it to a professional violist for a smidge above that via ebay. I'd call it a wash.

Bought a cheap viola off ebay for $40. Cut a new bridge and soundpost and sold it for $75.

Bought a 3/4 for $1300. Tried to sell it through the original dealer. For 2 years. No sale. Still have it. Best offer I've had for it is $500 from dealers.

That last case is more typical. Remember that dealers will not stay in business unless they discount and mark-up. So expect to get 1/2 what you paid at best.

Posted on November 15, 2014 at 12:45 AM
I still have my first viola that I played circa 1978. I'm still too attached to it for sentimental reasons to even think of selling it.

When the time comes, my instruments will most likely make it to a music school to continue the secret viola society's ultimate goal in conquering the world. :)

Posted on November 15, 2014 at 1:27 AM
Wanted to sell but couldn't get enough for it, so kept it as a backup! Occasionally I rent it out.
From Paul Deck
Posted on November 15, 2014 at 4:19 AM
As a Suzuki parent, my take on profit-vs-loss for my kids' instruments as they grow out of them and move up to bigger and better instruments is simple. From the amount that I lose on purchase vs. resale price, I have to subtract the amount that I would have spent renting an instrument, because that's the alternative.
Posted on November 15, 2014 at 6:55 AM
I have three violins and two cellos that my kids used over the years. I have traded one violin bow in on my daughters current violin and got the money out of it I had in it, $1,000. I had an offer on the 3/4 cello for the amount paid for it and it's two bows...buyer never followed through.

Bought a basic, full size digital piano and sold that for a profit. I have a library of flute, oboe, violin and cello instruction books. Probably will gift those to each child when they buy their own homes...along with their student instruments.

I agree that once an instrument walks out the door of a music shop, it loses value. However, each instrument has been a stepping stone for my kids development and I feel those retired instruments don't owe me anything and maybe a grandchild will play them one day.

Posted on November 15, 2014 at 7:16 AM
Profit as in making money- never. I've bought student instruments, used private party and sold them the same way. I usually got more than I paid for them, but I probably have more in them- time and money- cleaning them up, and always better strings. My 'loss' is no more than a month or two renting such an instrument. Savings due to my kids losing interest due to a VSO- priceless.
Posted on November 15, 2014 at 7:28 AM
Break even or small profit on instruments, big profit on bows.
Posted on November 15, 2014 at 3:11 PM
Although it seems that it is often not the case, the shop I deal with offers full purchase price credit toward an upgrade if the instrument was purchased from them. I have never traded so there may be caveats.
Posted on November 15, 2014 at 4:48 PM
It all depends completely on the instrument, and whether you purchased at a fair market price. Low end student instruments do not typically appreciate from your purchase price. However, you can find them (used) on Craig's List and ebay at prices substantially below what a dealer would charge, and you may eventually recoup your money when you trade up. If, as a performer, you buy the instrument you need, you may not have resale profit as your primary goal. A good violin handmade by a professional luthier may sooner or later appreciate in market value. High-end antiques have appreciated over time, but that may be slowing down. If you buy high, you may not find a buyer at an even higher price. Dealers survive by extracting whatever equity there may be in the instrument, plus a premium for providing convenient access to a range of choices. If you've spotted a value in an older instrument that needs sprucing up, you could possibly turn a profit if you get it looking, playing and sounding good. You generally have to buy low and sell high to come out ahead, even when the instrument appreciates.
Posted on November 15, 2014 at 10:54 PM
Whether one realizes a profit or not upon resale, it's not unusual at all to have a scenario where one has long-term use of a very fine violin, basically for free. What is your ten-year-old car or computer worth?
Posted on November 16, 2014 at 5:02 AM
Student instruments always have sold at a loss in my experience. My Guad sold at a profit, and the Napiri was a wash. I have had many students come in with"a real Stradivarius" that they buy on swap meetss, etc. They swear they are real and only pay $200, and it is a new instrument. Usually to make such a bargin playable, they spend more than the purchase price on it. And when they go to sell it never get the investment out. This after I tell them to let me see it before they buy, yet they are afraid that they are losing a great deal.
From Joel Jacklich
Posted on November 16, 2014 at 6:47 AM
When you buy from a dealer, remember that he is selling violins to make a profit. The retail price you pay is not the wholesale price he paid for it when he bought it from the maker. He will never want to pay more than the wholesale price, and even then, for that price he can get a NEW one, so your used instrument is less valuable to him (unless it has an impressive pedigree).
Posted on November 17, 2014 at 7:02 PM
We are dealers and we guarantee our customers 100% trade in/up value. If they want to trade their instrument in for another one, they get the full price paid for their instrument. Same for student instruments. If a student instrument has been played for many years, it certainly sounds better than a new innstrument and we can sell it for the same price or higher.
Posted on November 18, 2014 at 6:12 PM
I said I sold a violin at a profit which is technically correct. It was my first violin, purchased by my parents in 1967 for $75. I traded it for a $125 credit toward a $1,500 violin in 1999. The appreciation was certainly due to inflation rather than any increase in intrinsic value.

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