Please help me decide on this violin!

December 8, 2006 at 06:11 AM · This is a tough one, and I really could use some opinions.

I must make a decision very quickly on a violin. I cannot play it, but I have been sent a short recording of it. (No, it's not on Ebay) The recording pretty much knocked me out, but I am worried about re-sale value. I know that may sound silly, but my ear is still developing and I may think differently of this sound in a year.

This violin is one of many that John Silakowski purchased and re-graded. John is very famous for his 5-string fiddles (for country & bluegrass) and has a 5 year waiting list for his own works. This violin is being sold by his close friend, who has sold many of these in the past. I have done a Google search, and people seem to rave about even the re-graded ones. This violin was NOT for sale, but I turned down two other offerings from this same seller. He finally offered this one, which he did not intend to sell, but at $3,000.

The seller (who I also checked on & who has an excellent reputation himself) says that John told him about this particular beast when he first found it, and that it is the finest of the 60 or so John ever worked on. John will give me a signed certificate that says so.


This violin is a non-labelled German fiddle made in 1894 (I am told this date is etched underneath the fingerboard. Since john typically looked for heavy violins in the Guarneri style, this is likely "just' a German trade fiddle. (but a fluke, I guess.)

If I love it, I may never sell it, but still .... I have seen "ordinary" Silakowski re-graded violins go for $1200 - $1500 on Ebay.


1: Sound aside, do you think it's a wise investment? (I'm not rich enough to just buy it on a lark)

2: It currently has no label. I will have the Silakowski certificate. I can have a "regraded by John Silakowski" label installed before it is shipped. Would you have this done or not?

Replies (20)

December 8, 2006 at 06:25 AM · Tough questions--If I were rich, it would boil down to sound, but why the big jump in price?

Basically, when I find myself wrestling with a decision like that, I have to make myself wait even if my impulse was not followed. Cruel, but effective.

And, what kind of time or trial period could be negotiated?

Finally, if you have 3 grand to put on it, my gut tells me to be patient and if you can't 'trial' it, skip it at this time.

I know that is not what you wanted to hear. al

December 8, 2006 at 06:34 AM · I would never spend any money on a violin that I don't have the chance to play. If you aren't going to get a trial period for at least a week or two, don't do it. Also, don't put money down for a trial period. That's generally not necessary in the violin world (occasionally, the shop will ask you for a credit card account in case something happens, but mostly having instruments on a trial basis requires signing a slip that says you'll take care of it. I once borrowed over $40,000 worth of violins to try out with no collateral or anything at the ripe old age of 21.) In that price range, you'll find a ton of instruments, so find some that you are able to try simultaneously and see what you like best. You also may live to regret purchasing an instrument before you realized all of its little eccentricities and you find that you're stuck with a fiddle that you don't love. Also, recordings are generally a very bad way of deciding whether you like an instrument, because there are so many variables (bow, strings, adjustment, player).

December 8, 2006 at 08:39 AM · All good points, of course, but realize two things:

1: I've already played tons of violins, and I find that the only way I CAN judge them is by a recording. - Granted, though, it should be a recording made by ME, of course. My violins are used for recording, so it's actually a good test.

2: I WILLl have the option to return it, but I will have to pay up front. Also, those little eccentricities that Thommy mentions may not be obvious after even week.

If I had the cash, I wouldn't be thinking about it, but a recent business problem has put me deep into the hole, so this would be paid via a c-card with 30% interest. I have to be really sure this isn't stupid.

-But I'm telling you, it sounds amazing in this recording, verses many others i played here, vs two others from the same seller (and same re-grader) and even vs my $4300 Klier.

Ugggh .....

December 8, 2006 at 07:22 AM · The recording tells you more about the player than the instrument. I would ignore the recording.

I'm not familiar with this guy's work, but if his regraduated fiddles typically get $1500 on the open market, it's probably not a good idea to count on getting more than that on resale. Sound doesn't really factor into the value of a violin -- it's too subjective.

How are you limited right now by what you have that would make you want to buy another instrument?

December 8, 2006 at 08:38 AM · Thanks, Peter.

Well, the fact that a typical one goes for around $1500 is the problem. the one in question is exceptional, but like you say that might not matter much when I go to sell it. Private sellers never get anywhere near what the shops get (for good reasons)

What don't I have now? warmth & fullness. My Klier has an amazing mid-range, and a well-controlled top, but it lacks body. I don't want to sell it, because it's only about a year old and maybe it will blossom into something really fine, but I need a recording instrument right now. I find the bright, cutting instruments to not sit well in pop tracks. -But most old, warm violins don't have enough mid-range cut. This one seems almost magical.

I know that Albert is right and I should force myself to wait a bit, even if it means losing this fiddle, but passion has taken over me. I am smitten, even though I know I probably should check out a few more stores first.

December 10, 2006 at 01:06 AM · I will probably buy the beast. If it sounds as good here as it does on the recording, I guess I will feel lucky to have it for $3,000. I would probably pay $15,000 for that sound in a shop. Well, maybe only $7,00 since it has no label, but the point holds.

I still don't know if I should have the label installed. So I STILL NEED OPINIONS:


If this violin is never attributed to any maker, then having the "re-graduated By Silakowski" label inside increases its worth. However, based on the sound, maybe it isn't just some German trade fiddle. After all, John was knocked out by it BEFORE he did the work.

Is it possible for an expert to figure out who made it, with no label as a starting point (but a firm date of 1894) assuming that it WAS by a well-know luthier?

If so, then the "regraduated" label kills it's value, no?

What would you do?

(And come to think of it, why are there so many violins out there with no labels? They don't just fall off, do they???)

December 10, 2006 at 01:31 AM · We're always hoping to steal something from somebody. If it was worth more, John would know it and it would be priced accordingly. Opt for the label unless you're hoping to rob your buyer.

December 10, 2006 at 01:31 AM · I agree with Jim. Additionally, I would have thought $3,000 from a dealer was fair if similar sells for about $1,500 on Ebay.

End result really is, "what is it worth to you?"

That's just my opinion and not worth any more than the pixels its written with.


December 10, 2006 at 07:44 PM · > but passion has taken over me. I am smitten

I understand the feeling, but is this simply momentary lust, or is it something that could develop into a meaningful, long-lasting relationship? There's no way to know without spending some time together, at least going on a few dates. You've only heard a recording of someone else playing -- in my book, that's like seeing a photograph someone took, and you know how easily the camera can deceive.

Even exchanging flirtatious glances with beer goggles across a smoke-filled bar would be more than you have to go on.

Don't get me wrong; it could be a nice fiddle, and if you can try it in person and like it, it's a different story. I'm just saying that your enthusiasm is way premature, especially if buying it will put you in debt. And although it's a cliche, I have to say it -- there are plenty of fish in the sea.

December 10, 2006 at 09:12 PM · Ahh, yes.

-And the strongest passion is usually the one that fades the soonest. Love is a b#tch.

December 13, 2006 at 06:22 PM · I have a couple of friends that have silakowski 5-strings. They sound pretty good, but based on hearing them, I am not certain that his iwork will increase in value that dramatically.

In general, it's best to be able to try an instrument before you buy it, so you know if it is an instrument you can grow with (as a player).

December 14, 2006 at 10:52 AM · Thanks to all. I realize this was a somewhat "silly question" to have asked, in that there is no clear answer, but your responses have helped me solidify my thinking a bit.

I have decided to pay for it, with a 1 week return policy, and take it to a few shops to see if they have anything better.

If I'm still lovin' it after that, I'm not going to worry about resale value.

-And I guess if I keep it, I'll install the label.

thanks again.

December 22, 2006 at 07:04 AM · Allan,

How did this violin go? Is this the one you posted on MN for sound help?

December 22, 2006 at 07:59 AM · No, not at all! This is the one I'm considering to get me by while the Klier is either improved, aged, sold, or pummled with a sledge hammer. I haven't yet decided which.

No news on the Silakowski yet, I don't want it shipped until after the Christmas rush.

December 22, 2006 at 06:35 PM · Thanks for the reply, Allan.

Good idea not to get in the shipping rush. I hope it works out well for you. By the way, 30% interest rate for any C-card is way too high. If you need to use it at all, you may want to find another card and do a transfer (I have been offered from 3.99%-7.99% life of the loan for opening a new C-card accounts).

December 23, 2006 at 12:00 AM · Credit cards are a horrible trap. At 30%, you could wind up paying double the cost of the item, unless you pay it down rapidly. If your finances are iffy, then you are not likely to be able to pay down rapidly enough to avoid a cost that would turn you sharply away from your interest in the fiddle.

Do the math. Hop onto and use the calculators to find out how much the thing will cost under the ACTUAL payback schedules you anticipate.

The transfers to other cards at lower rates are useful, but only if you intend to pay down the entire amount of the transfer before using the card for anything else. Otherwise, your monthly payment goes to the higher rate amounts first, leaving the transfer as a 'stagnant' debt. Even at a good rate, if it sits there long enough, it will cost you a bunch of money.

In other words, don't get me started.

There's a pretty good book called "Debt Free Living" by Mary Hunt, that does a really good job of describing the problem of credit card debt, and gives some excellent strategies on getting out of the game.

There are other issues with the violin, as others have pointed out. My ever so humble opinion is that it would be a good idea to pass on this one, work out the financial problems, buy a good violin when you can really afford it, and even rent for those occasions when you really really need a different sound.

Okay, I'll go away now.

December 23, 2006 at 01:33 AM · Thank you, Paul, for pointing out that don't use your C-card if for transfer if you need the card for purchase. What I would do is:

(1) Make sure no balance on the card before making transfer intending to keep the balance and pay the min each month.

(2) Make sure you don't use the card after the transfer. Otherwise, you will have to pay the purchase at very high % until you pay it off.

I disagree with Paul's opinion regarding use credit card. There are good debts and bad debts to carry. If you have steady income and have the ability to repay at min with no glitches, it is not a bad idea to use it. For example, I currently have a 2.9% interest rate on my credit card, which is much lower than my mortgage. So using it to pay part of my mortgage is a wise thing to do I must say.

Just make sure you know what you are doing, and never miss a payment.

December 24, 2006 at 03:11 AM · I said it backwards. The monthly payment goes to the low interest balance, which allows the higher interest balances to stagnate.

Vivian, I'm not sure you disagree with what I said, namely that one must calculate the costs, and only use a credit card when you are comfortable with the entire cost of the transaction. Obviously, if you have a 2.9% rate available to you, it makes perfect sense to use it as you describe.

My overall point is that the cards, their rates, and the terms, are all designed to discourage the consumer from understanding the consequences of using them, and to encourage behavior that gets you in trouble. A 30% rate for someone in financial stress to purchase an item he is not sure of . . . sounds to me like an example of risky use of credit card debt.

This is all somewhat off-topic with respect to music and violins, except that to play one's best, one must maintain good health. That means good physical health, mental health, and fiscal health. The anxiety of financial brinksmanship takes away from the concentration and self-confidence that are essential to good music-making, as I know from personal experience.

And, it's something I see as an important message to harangue people about whenever possible.

December 24, 2006 at 02:05 PM · $3000 for what sounds like a German trade violin is seriously over the odds. You should be able to get a top quality Lowendall or Neuner and Hornsteiner for less than $2000

Listening to recordings is of very little value. I know some professional players who will make any half decent violin sound fantastic.

December 25, 2006 at 02:18 AM · Hi Paul,

Nope. I wasn't disagreeing with you. On the contrarty, I totally agree with you, but there are instances that one might take advantage of the what's being offered, which I think is an exception. Since you didn't mention such circumstances, I was trying to complement what you said.

The best thing in life is not to owe anything. But then again, it can only be achieved if you don't need to own anything at all or you were born with silver spoon (I prefer titanium spoon these days)... :-)

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