Professional grade?

September 6, 2007 at 04:13 AM · I was just wondering what you would consider a "professional grade" instrument, price-wise. I know prices vary for reasons other than sound and playability, but where does the student group start to overlap with the pro bunch?

Replies (101)

September 6, 2007 at 02:10 PM · After about $2,500,000.00.

*grin*

Kidding. Honestly, I'm not sure. Most people with whom I've spoken told me that "step-up" instruments--which are still considered student models, but with a bit better build and playability--run well into the thousands, and that the professional models come in after about $5,000.00. Personally, I think that's a bit steep. I've heard violins for which people paid about $1,000.00 that sounded every bit as good as instruments for which others paid nearly $10,000.00. And, no, my hearing isn't off, and I don't not know what I'm listening for (double negative used intentionally). :)

I think, perhaps, you're just more guaranteed to get a very well built and great-sounding instrument once you cross the $5,000.00 mark, because such instruments tend to be made by master luthiers, themselves. Below that, and you're probably looking at workshop instruments, which are generally made by apprentices under the supervision of a master luthier. Those are more hit-or-miss, but, heck, some apprentices can outdo their masters! However, since they're still just apprentices, no one places much value on their work. You might just get lucky like I did and get a great-sounding instrument for less than $1,000.00. Never hurts to shop around. ;)

P.S. Granted, there're instruments that were built using rarely figured tonewoods, etc., but I think if an instrument is built solidly, sounds great, and is easy to play, I can save all that extra money for...oh...I dunno...a house? I just take issue with paying more for a piece of quilted maple than I did for my car. But then, I don't play violin for a living, so my priorities may be a bit different from those of professional players. ;)

September 6, 2007 at 08:53 AM · hey,

$10,000 isn't that much at all for a violin, it fact it's really on the cheap side.

When i got out of music college i was looking at a range from £8000-£12000,so i think that makes it from $16,000-$24,000

and yes you can hear difference, and no it's not stupid.

September 6, 2007 at 02:02 PM · What's stupid is paying in the tens of thousands of dollars for a vehicle that you'll only keep for on average 4 years. Depreciation starts on immediately after purchase, and is a foul beast anyway.

Why not pay top dollar for an instrument that most everyone on this forum agrees is what brings us the most happiness. That increases in value, depending on what you purchase. And is considered an investment. If I can justify my Volvo costing 45K, why not a violin?

Just a thought.

September 6, 2007 at 07:06 PM · John,

I certainly don't disagree with you. :) You make a perfectly valid point. I just don't think it's necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars in order to get a violin that will perform remarkably for professionals (professionals are simply people who get paid to do what they do, mind you).

I look at playing violin professionally the way I do practicing photography professionally. I've seen so many people go out and spend tens of thousands of dollars on the best equipment, thinking it would all somehow just work for them. They didn't bother to train their eye, learn the technicalities, etc. So, their investments got them nothing more than the ability to brag about how much they spent.

Yet, those of us who actually do it for a living know perfectly well we can do what we do with equipment that costs a fraction of what these dreamers spent, because, first and foremost, we know what we're doing. We cut our teeth on the cheaper equipment. Sometimes, our equipment seemed to work against us every chance it got, but we learned to compensate for such shortcomings. We learned to innovate. We learned to get what we were looking for from our equipment, no matter how difficult it could be at times. Then, when we stepped up to better equipment as we progressed and made enough money to buy it, we not only found it easier to employ the advanced techniques we learned on the old equipment, but we were able to develop even newer, better techniques that tested the limits of the better equipment.

A truly advanced artist (whether a professional or a hobbyist) can make even mediocre equipment work like nobody's business. The most expensive equipment (including violins) in the world won't make you a great artist. It can only allow you to express yourself in certain ways that a "lower grade" tool might not. But, until you've gotten so good at your art that you can use such tools to their full potential (at which point, you'll know, without a doubt, that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life), you'd do well not to spend so much on it.

I hope this better illustrates where I'm coming from. ;)

September 6, 2007 at 05:47 PM · There are things, power, and subtleties in color and texture, a $20,000 instrument can do for you that no $1000 instrument is capable of, if you know how to ask for them. On the other hand, I was fortunate enough to purchase a $75 violin that was later appraised at $10,000...and sounds lots better than a couple of "pedigreed" $75,000 and $90,000 instruments I tried out....that's one thing to watch out for...some instruments are priced based on their history.

September 6, 2007 at 11:56 PM · Gee, I'd like to shop where you do. My best yard sale violin buy was $60 inc.case. Recent Appraisal about $1200. Used to do better with bows since German student instruments from the 1950's, 60's had decent ones, but those don't end up in yard sales any more. I lot of high school wiz kids and college music majors in NY are playing on $3-5000 violins and $400+ bows, so pro must start north of there.

September 7, 2007 at 02:53 PM · Larry,

Your description of learning to use the tools at hand before moving on to more advanced ones is well-presented, and very applicable to the violin. The question asked, though, is what constitutes a professional-quality instrument. This assumes that the person playing it is ready for an instrument of that quality.

And personally, given the time, materials, and training necessary, any living maker who's asking less than $5,000 for one of their instruments is either seriously underpricing themselves or is not truly qualified to call themselves a professional maker. Especially at a time when top-quality wood can easily run into the hundreds (and sometimes even thousands) of dollars.

A professional instrument should be able to respond to the demands placed on it by the player. There are always exceptions to the rule of pricing, so leaving out the proverbial yard-sale Strad, there is a price floor for a violin of that level. It doesn't necessarily have to be insanely expensive -- there are several instruments over the years that I thought were outstanding that were quite affordable. But I would generally say that $8-10,000 is about as low a price as you'll ever see for a violin that could be used, maybe, by a professional orchestral player. And most professional orchestra musicians have instruments that are much, much more, not because of vanity or investment value, but because it's the best-sounding violin they could afford. At that point, though, you're looking for the instrument that responds to you and best complements your playing. The search for a professional instrument can be very interesting... but that is another story.

September 8, 2007 at 01:09 AM · Professional grade instruments should be determined by quality, not price alone.

September 8, 2007 at 01:33 AM · Perhaps you might want to try the Klier violins from Pottersviolins.com - they are around the 2k price point and sound good- the best for the money. I have had many students buy them who are beyond the "student violin" level and they have suited them well.

April 2, 2008 at 11:09 AM · I myself think that you should not even think about whether you can make an expensive sound its best or not.Just spend as much money as you can,so that violin makers can make better violin at a lesser price(let's imagine that people only buy the cheapest television they can,then how can the price drop?).

April 2, 2008 at 01:16 PM · I agree with Michael,

You get odd-excellent instruments at low prices. Prices are fickle things, they can be what they are for any number of reasons.

BUT.

In general-between $10-15k is middle of the (low end) road price of what I would currently call "professional" grade. It entirely depends on what one is looking for.....OVER 10k though, the differences are MUCH more about personality than playability.....also around 15k+ I seem to find many more instruments with a naturally even tone across the strings-that can easily play a wide range of characters.

Of course, we all have our own standards of what we want out of an instrument anyway....and some have greater demands than others.

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In response to Larry's comment-it is true to an extent-but a better metapor to illustrate this is trying to race a semi-truck at a Formula 1 race. Sure, if you're skilled you might be able to do it; but it takes a ridiculous amount of effort to pull off well.....but why work harder than you have to? Anyone should of course get the most they can afford-but for students (any level) it is more important-as they don't have the finesse or subtlty to bend a poor or for that matter unresponsive instrument to their will (also students are less apt to spend (seemingly) large sums of money they don't have).

On a poor instrument, there is only so much innovating one can do to make up for the instruments abilities-if you need to spend all your effort just to get a good tone----let ALONE do anything musical with said tone.

A better photography metaphor is with the older generation 1 megapixel (or less) digital cameras-you know the ones with ALL the pixel noise and artifacts and poor color balance etc etc straight from the sensor?.....sure you might be able to Photoshop that garbage away, and make up for the lack of color depth, as well as enlarging the image, poor contrast, etc etc..use Camera Raw, and filters in Photoshop etc etc..-but even a pro would say that it is too much work on a regular image-by-image basis just to get a usable image, let alone a good HD one (in comparison to a good quality modern rig)....In a situation like that-it is more than reasonable that a young person could easily get discouraged and throw the towel in, simply because their equipment is hard to use, and would be frustrating even for a pro. Whereas the pro would get another camera-the young person could look at the whole photography endeavour as being "too hard" or "not fun" to do.

April 2, 2008 at 02:03 PM · I agree, Marc. No professional would tolerate some of the instruments I see students using (including one that looked like the neck might snap off any minute!). Kids get the crappiest ones. After playing for a few years on a violin that was too big for me and then switching to something vastly better, I came to the conclusion that kids don't often know or won't say anything when the instrument isn't right for them. Instead, they try to force their technique around it. The result is lasting bad habits.

Anyway, though...there are a lot of factors involved in pricing. I tried several violins in the $8-11,000 range last time around. The most expensive one had no power, and a little $6500 Villa from Italy won the day.

April 2, 2008 at 02:30 PM · A somewhat related question involves bows. I always heard the common wisdom that you got more bang for your buck by upgrading your bow than your violin. So, I guess my take on the question might be: how much would you need to spend on each to get a professional sound, taking into account that a more expensive bow might allow you to spend less on the violin? Another interesting question for the luthiers out there: assuming you actually sell violins you make to professionals, how much do those violins sell for? One professional violinist I know in a famous quartet got a violin made by Feng Jiang for $18K. Is that typical?

April 2, 2008 at 02:57 PM · You can get a fantastic sounding instrument for between $4,000 and $5,000. My teacher is a professional violinist and plays a $4,200 violin. Many times after that you're paying for a name i.e. the maker is dead and not making anymore violins. Him being dead isn't going to improve the sound any, but it will add a ton to the price.

It really depends on your level of play and budget for me, my $1,200 Gliga will probably last me a lifetime. But if I won the lottery I would throw down $30,000 on a real high end violin.

April 2, 2008 at 04:20 PM · The average monthly salary of a professional craftsman in Western Europe or the US is probably somewhere in the vicinity of 8-10.000 USD. By contrast, the average monthly salary of a professional craftsman in Romania is in the vicinity of 300-500 USD. In Reghin, the Romanian equivalent of Cremona, where all the luthier workshops are, the average monthly salary is probably below 200 USD, because it is right in the middle of nowhere in the Carpathian mountains.

Now, there are some very skilled masters there who are by no means less capable than their Western European or American colleagues. They don't make worse quality simply because they live in a poor country. Commission an instrument with one of them (not their apprentices) and you get a top quality instrument at a fraction of the price that instrument would cost in a Western economy. I reckon you could get an instrument commissioned in Romania or Bulgaria for 3000-5000 USD which would be equivalent to a 15-25.000 USD instrument made in a Western economy, simply due to the difference in the cost of doing business. If you look at the savings, you could travel there, even commission two or three instruments (then keep the one you like best and sell the other/s) and still save a lot of money. The only thing you don't get is bragging rights.

Yehudi Menuhin (undisputedly a professional violinist) actually got one of those Romanian instruments and praised it:

from a TIME article, online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,476423-2,00.html ...

[In a 1995 letter to Gliga, Yehudi Menuhin wrote, "Dear and very fine craftsman ... I shall treasure the instrument you made ..."]

If they are good enough to impress Menuhin, they're good enough for any other professional violinist, unless the violinist in question is a snob.

And I don't believe that Gliga is the only workshop with fine craftsmen capable of making instruments rivaling the best luthiers in Western economies, there ought to be others, in Romania as well as other low-cost countries. In any event, price is a function of a) cost of production and b) supply and demand.

April 2, 2008 at 04:26 PM · Speaking of bows, how much does it usually cost to get the best sound out of a high end instrument? Let's say you put down 40,000$ for a violin, how much would a bow of equivalent quality usually be?

I've always heard bows make a huge difference, but have never been able to try out great bows to see for myself. If you had a 40,000$ violin, or a Strad, what would the difference in sound be between using a cheap (300$ or so) student bow, and a higher end bow (3,000$+) such as the bows by modern makers who win awards at the VSA competitions?

April 2, 2008 at 04:29 PM · Benj- by the way, I did ended up with a Gliga (sorry, kinda off topic here), not the professional level one, but the GAMA, and the sound is absolutely amazing. MY teacher and my luthier both agreed! Thanks for the recommendation.

April 2, 2008 at 05:21 PM · A good professional friend is selling his bow

valued at $25,000 and is using a Pecatte on a long term loan. The difference in sound on the old Italian violin is amazing.

April 2, 2008 at 06:04 PM · I have a Vasile Gliga Maestro and it's a very nice instrument however I wouldn't call it a professional instrument. I love the instrument for where I'm at and admittedly I'm a novice but I've played much nicer instruments (admittedly not in the price range). Gliga gives you your best bang for you buck IMO. For $1,200 my violin sounded better or comparable to violins I was trying out in the $2,000+ price range. Definitely worth every penny.

April 2, 2008 at 07:17 PM · You want to aim to spend just enough money that gets what you want out of an instrument. Some people like the pleasing sound of "bright" vioins, or "rich and dark" toned violins. I have a Cremonese violin and it has a beautiful rich tone. It is a touch smaller than normal full sizes. Then again everyone makes violins differently.

Spend above 10,000 on an instrument. (good one)

April 2, 2008 at 09:19 PM · Anyway, though...there are a lot of factors involved in pricing. I tried several violins in the $8-11,000 range last time around. The most expensive one had no power, and a little $6500 Villa from Italy won the day.

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Congrats Nicole-I've seen some of Vittorio (Villa)s instruments-and they are quite nicely crafted-one of my colleagues bought one--to my taste it wasn't even enough tonally, and needed a post knocking-but it does have lungs (I think the dealer asked for ~12k for it.

I purchased my own from one of the same guild of makers.

Bows are a FAR more tricky thing to judge as a rule. It's not only sound, but also balance of the stick, weight, suppleness, strength etc etc.

In his Notice of Antonio Stradivari, Fetis included a diagram-where Vuillaume himself claims that ALL good/great bows (he had seen and measured) have 10 measurments of stick diameter in common-and can be reproduced by the following equation:

y=-3.11+2.57 log x

*Where x is the length down the stick, in metric units.

Which, when made of good proper wood-should yield a stick supple yet strong enough, as well as agile off the string.

To find a match-you not only need a good bow, but it needs to match your violin. Some violins LOVE heavy sticks....others want a lighter touch. Currently I use, what is basically a viola bow--it weighs in around 68 grams-of course I also use large gauge wound gut (which needs a more weighty touch)....my primary is also VERY easy to sautillé and is of course a strong weighty stick, but still flexible enough.

Some violin gurus are found of a 10-20% rule, regarding price ratio of bow to violin. I say buy the best you can to match what you have and what you want/need to do.

April 2, 2008 at 09:50 PM · Bows can make a really big difference (and right now I need a better bow!). To answer the question posted, a professional violin may be found at just about any dollar amount one would wish to spend, but I have been given the distinct impression from a variety of sources that you would be hard-pressed to get into a proper, professional violin for under $15-20K. I’ve played some instruments in this range and the difference is real, even though not always in proportion to the asking price. One can get lucky, of course, and find the proverbial yard sale gem (or, super-lucky by finding an ebay ‘Steal of the Century’, but be warned - without having the opportunity to play the instrument the risk is super-huge!). Another person brought up a very good point regarding the price involved in dealing with a maker who lives in a location wherein the cost of living is very much less than it is here in the United States (or in some of the Western European nations). For those of us with a longing for adventure, this brings up some interesting options.

Basically, violins are about as individual as people, and so many abound, both old and new. Some sound (and look) highly attractive, others less so and some are downright horrid. And, we each have our own taste, but this only affects our selection within a range…we still go as high up the scale as we’re allowed! It really is not much different than choosing a mate, and just the same you might find the perfect one about anywhere you care to look (and, as with violins, some are more affordable than others!). You might find a beautiful blue-eyed blonde (a Strad, for sure), or a sultry brown-eyed brunette (a del Gesu, no doubt). I happen to prefer the ‘del Gesu’ variety…but, I digress. To bring it back to violins, I tend to prefer a darker sound in the lower register, with a mellowing of the voice as I move higher up the neck. Actually, one needs to take it a bit further and look beyond to the less tangible aspects because when we develop a relationship with the object of our affection, be it a life-long mate or our violin, there must exist qualities that will allow the relationship to last beyond the initial rush.

But, I digress further still. Regarding student-level violins, there seems to be two schools of thought, one being that a really good violin does not belong in the hands of a student (even implying that a student might wind up a better player in the long run if they’re forced to learn on a lesser violin), and another that a student will benefit from as good an instrument as they are able to acquire. I tend to lean rather strongly toward the latter. Even the likes of Andres Segovia, who was not a violinist but rather a classical guitarist of the highest order, said that a student should seek out the very best instrument they can afford. He then went on to say that the best instruments belong in the hands of beginners. Segovia was always poetic in his use of words, and this last statement might have been a case of overemphasis, made in order to drive home a point. Regardless, the best classical guitars and the best violins are worlds apart with respect to value. A really, really (REALLY!) good classical guitar might cost $15-20K, and we all know what the really, really (REALLY!) good violins cost! The working life of a classical guitar is rather short-lived, whereas the best of violins endure and are irreplaceable. Nobody would argue that a Guarneri is out of place in the hands of a student, but what of a $5-10K instrument? Does the student have to suffer at the hands of some piece of factory-made junk? There are enough challenges facing the student of the violin. I understand that one needs to be careful when investing in an instrument for a child (or adult) that may not go the distance, and I am well-aware of what it is like to live under a tight budget (believe me when I say that I am no stranger to that situation), but at the point when it becomes apparent that a student is more than a little interested in learning the violin (Do you detect a hint of sarcasm? If not, you should.), they need to have the opportunity to learn on an instrument that will not stifle their growth. Any less and you’re only a half step removed from wasting your time.

April 2, 2008 at 11:10 PM · From Benjamin K;

"Now, there are some very skilled masters there who are by no means less capable than their Western European or American colleagues. They don't make worse quality simply because they live in a poor country. Commission an instrument with one of them (not their apprentices) and you get a top quality instrument at a fraction of the price that instrument would cost in a Western economy."

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If this is true, why don't these instruments distinguish themselves in instrument making competitions?

Maybe these makers have decided to keep a low profile? ;)

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From Benjamin K;

In a 1995 letter to Gliga, Yehudi Menuhin wrote, "Dear and very fine craftsman ... I shall treasure the instrument you made ..."

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Do you know if this was or was not a "thank you letter" for a gift? Does Menuhin perform on it?

April 2, 2008 at 11:38 PM · Yes, Marc, one of the many reasons I liked the Villa is that it did not antagonize the bow I already had, which I was not willing to replace. One instrument I tried made me feel as if I was flailing my arms and everything was a struggle.

Chris,

I know -- my parents felt that way too. Kids' interests can be fickle. But I think somehow the parents need to know that you can't afford to mess around for too long, with either instruments or a finding a good teacher. The first steps are very important for the child if they do eventually want to continue.

Of course, I'm not even necessarily talking about a good quality $4-5,000 violin. During my student teaching we had one boy playing on what I think was a half size when he really needed a 3/4. My coop teacher told him several times, but nothing changed. Then there was someone I went to high school with; her violin was a deathtrap (this was the one I mentioned before). The fingerboard was almost touching the belly, making the strings look like the tall part of a suspension bridge. All this pressure, in turn, was pulling the neck apart from the body. I told her this was not good and perhaps even unsafe, and she complained her family didn't have the money. This stuff makes me so frustrated I could cry.

April 3, 2008 at 01:10 AM · Nicole,

Hmmm, I see an opportunity here... Well, to start I came to the violin later in life (actually, it would be more accurate to state that I "discovered" the violin later in life, as an adult). The bottom line is that given the time I am willing to invest (and the sacrifices I am willing to make), I am not sure how far I will go as a player of the violin. In essence, I have a famiy and they come first. But, I have long had another idea in mind. My interests are almost evenly divided between playing the violin and luthiery. The analytical/engineering side of my brain, as well as my love of history (yes, that's right, I said my love of history), has been smitten by all that goes (and has gone) into these little wooden boxes we so affectionately refer to as violins. And, of course there's a whole other side of me that wants nothing more than to play the violin for the remainder of my days. Anyway, I already have a career that manages to satisfy our financial needs (if not my personal needs, but you can't win them all), so I have been thinking of ways in which I can put these very real and intense interests of mine to good use. And, you've just given me a really good idea, a way in which I can impact my own little corner of the globe, for the better. Thank you!

Take care,

Chris

April 3, 2008 at 01:57 AM · @ Michael and David

I have a Gliga Vasile Maestro (top of the line of their off-the-shelf instruments) myself and whilst it is a very nice instrument which is probably unmatched by anything in its price range, I do realise that it is not comparable to commissioned instruments. But this is not necessarily surprising because even the Maestro line is not entirely made by Vasile Gliga, some of the work is done by apprentices.

This is why I suggested one might want to commission an instrument, these workshops don't openly offer such a service on their websites as they focus on off-the-shelf instruments, but if you offer to pay for a commission, you should find some who are willing to take it and make the entire instrument just for you but still for a lot less money than you'd spent in a Western economy.

As for going to and winning competitions, that's an interesting question and I might email Gliga and pass on the question. However, I am reminded of a similar situation in the world of fine wines some 10-15 years ago. Some wine lovers discovered great wines from NZ, AU, SA and California and stated they were anywhere as good as the great wines of France and Italy. More conservative wine lovers then asked "if that was true, how come they don't win the competitions?" Well, the competitions were all held in France and Italy with biased judges and in the early stages of going international those new-world wine makers had more important things to do. Yet, more recently, those new-world wines have become regular competitors at those competitions and they do win prices there.

It is very likely that this pattern is part of the cycle of new market players coming into an international market place and that it is only a matter of time when those emerging violin making countries will show up at and win competitions.

April 3, 2008 at 02:53 AM · Those competition things are tough to evaluate. Giuseppe Guarneri certainly wouldn't have won any construction contests. Would have done better on the tone part but they may not have let him in the door with one of those shabby looking fiddles.

Maybe some makers make enough money and are confident enough in their product that they just don't give a rats a$$ how they measure up against someone else.

So what good is a competition unless everyone participates?

AP

April 3, 2008 at 02:40 AM · The problem with the bias judges belief, is that as far as I know the VSA competition completely randomizes the violins, so that they can purely be based off of their workmanship and tone.

There are some great Chinese instruments out there, though.

April 3, 2008 at 03:15 AM · Before you knock Gliga or other Romanian makers you have to see if they've ever been inclined to even enter one of their instruments in a VSA competetition. I would bet there are many highly regarded modern makers who don't have gold medals from VSA competitions.

But again I like my Gliga violin alright but I doubt it's winning any compettions, it's a nice violin and I'll leave it at that.

Benjamin as far as commisioning a violin, if you're going to commision a violin worth upwards of 10K you want it to have resale value. A Gliga commisioned violin just wouldn't have a good resale. It wouldn't be a very good investment IMO.

April 3, 2008 at 03:39 AM · I didn't mean to say the violin maker competitions have a problem with bias, I wouldn't know about that, but the wine competitions I mentioned are said to have had bias at the time and this would have let to some potential participants probably not bothering to show up.

As far as resale value goes, I think it is far too early to make a judgement. In one recent thread on this forum somebody mentioned that some German maker in the early 20th century was operating in a similar fashion as Gliga (and others in low-cost countries) operate today, that they were already considered very good value for money at that time but that 50 years later many of those instruments started fetching quite high prices.

Anyway, I didn't even suggest to spend 10K. The suggestion was to consider spending perhaps half that and get an instrument that would probably cost 15-25K if it had been commissioned in a Western economy. Considering that you already saved 5-20K, you don't really need the ROI payback. If you put the money saved into some other investment vehicle (stocks, gold, bonds etc) you are far more likely to get a much higher return. Moreover, you could then cash in without having to surrender your instrument.

April 3, 2008 at 03:54 AM · Chris,

You give me too much credit. :) But I am a little surprised more people don't do it. I have a friend who's been doing summer internships, and he plays on the violin he made. It's a nice instrument; I couldn't believe he did it on the first try.

April 3, 2008 at 10:51 AM · @ David

According to www.bluedanubeviolins.com Gliga did go to various European competitions and won awards ...

"Mr. Gliga has won many awards for the superb workmanship and tone of his instruments, including competitions at Cremona, Mittenwald, Frankfurt and Paris."

I will inquire about details.

April 3, 2008 at 11:50 AM · Once I met a quite good young Russian soloist who played in a 15K German violin.

April 3, 2008 at 12:32 PM · From Michael Dowling;

"Before you knock Gliga or other Romanian makers you have to see if they've ever been inclined to even enter one of their instruments in a VSA competetition."

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I didn't mean to suggest that competitions are the be-all and end-all. The mention was an attempt to convey something in a discreet way, without associating opinions with any specific people.

I think you'll be hard-pressed to find top "experts" who put these instruments at the level of the best American and European makers.

This is in no way saying that there's anything wrong with them, and they may be a great value for the money.

Since there has been skepticism about whether Guarneri could win a contest, I'll mention that Guarneri copies win with some regularity. The "workmanship" category is not necessarily about how precise a maker can be. It encompasses things like continuity of theme; flow; overall impression. Del Gesu had these things in spades.

Bias in competitions?

This would be extremely difficult given that makers names and countries of origin are kept from the judges, and instruments are prohibited from having any visible identifying features, such as a stamp, brand, label, or any feature which might be interpreted as being for the purpose of helping a judge identify the source. At least this is true of the VSA and Cremona Competitions.

For instance, the VSA assigns a number to each instrument as they are submitted. Before the judging, these numbers are all reassigned so even the competitors and people who check in the instruments don't know which number goes with which maker, and can't attempt to influence the judges.

There may be lower level competitions where anything goes, but I don't really pay attention to them.

April 3, 2008 at 02:32 PM · The thing I found interesting about the Gliga violins is there factory is huge, only 20% of the violins that leave their shop leave with a Gliga label. Most are sent out as whites and most end up in American or European shops under different labels after they varnish and set the instrument up.

I think Vasile Gliga can hand make an instrument that could be considered professional without a doubt, but he doesn't that I know off hand make instruments himself anymore. The top line violins you get from Gliga are still mass produced in an "assembly line" fashion. So I would agree with David that they aren't "professional" instruments. But they are a great value, with Romania joining the EU I would wager their prices will go up considerably in the future. The craftsmanship is flawless too. My instrument has opened up a bit and I put on a Harmonie tailpiece and had a tonal adjustment and new strings recently put on the violin and it sounds as good as a Sofia Guarneri I trialed a while ago which retails for over $4,000.

Benjamin, I wouldn't have a violin commissioned unless it would retain most of its value and had promise for going way up. Gliga Maestros sell for up to $4,000 off the website so I don't know if you could commission a violin with Vasile Gliga alone for anything under $10,000. If you could commission a violin with him for $5,000 I agree that would be an exceptional value.

April 3, 2008 at 03:17 PM · I paid $3,200 for my violin that concert artists have said I could make a solo living with this instrument. My stand partner has a Lupo, Gand, and a gorgeous Vuillaume. He picked them all up at what I would consider chump change. He knows what he's doing and got some of them from ebay, then had them varified by reputable Luthiers as being legitimate. What that means is they are out there, you just have to find them.

April 3, 2008 at 03:44 PM · Hi Michael;

I didn't mean to imply that these are not "professional" instruments. I was trying to stay out of that part of the discussion altogether, because I don't know how to define a professional instrument, other than it would be something that a professional finds adequate to use. I've known high-level professionals who used rather inexpensive instruments, and budget constraints didn't seem to be the reason.

The only thing I really wanted to call into question was the statement or implication that there is no difference between those, and the work of some other European, American, and even Eastern European makers (such as Spidlen) other than price. Some of these makers have set some pretty high standards!

Beyond that, I have no opinion on whether a professional might find them suitable, and would encourage any instrument buyer to explore enough to find, what for them, is the point of diminishing returns....where spending additional money doesn't seem to provide a worthy increase in performance. If you find that point to be $2000, that's great!

As for purchasing genuine Lupots, Gands, and Vuillaumes on Ebay for chump change, I'll let someone else respond to that. ;-)

April 3, 2008 at 03:44 PM · Hi David,

I don't mind saying my violin wouldn't be a professional violin, it's still very good, and for what I paid I wouldn't expect it to be professional anyway.

Out of curiosity how much do you commision a violin for? Or does it vary? Thanks, I just noticed you've won several medals at the VSA awards, congratulations :)

April 3, 2008 at 03:24 PM · @ Michael

Gliga is actually a group of companies called Gliga Companies, for each model they make they have a separate company, presumably the OEM business that sells whites is a separate company again. Anyway, one of these companies is called "Luthier Vasile Gliga" and the description of its business is "handmade master luthier instruments". I haven't asked if they take commissions, but I wouldn't be surprised if this company does take commissions.

Also, your assertion that even the Maestro line is made in a factory process is not entirely correct. When I purchased mine, I had specifically asked and was told that the bodies of the Maestro instruments are handcrafted by either Vasile or his son Christian who is also a master luthier, the accessories and set up is however done by others.

In any event, as I said, I don't believe that Gliga is the only such luthier business in Reghin, also there are other low-cost countries with violin making traditions and skilled craftsmen. So, if indeed you can't commission an instrument with Vasile Gliga, you may well be able to commission one with another luthier in Reghin or in Bulgaria, etc.

Let's assume you have 20.000 at your disposal for an instrument. Let's look at the two scenarios at opposite ends on a scale of possibilities: 1) an instrument commissioned for -say- 5000 USD in a low cost economy, tonally roughly equivalent to a 15-20K instrument commissioned in a Western economy but it will not appreciate in value; 2) an instrument commissioned for 20K in a Western economy, which may be expected to appreciate in value to 30K over 10 years.

In case #1 you could commission 3 instruments, keep the one you like best, sell the other two with a small profit to cover travel expenses to go to -say- Eastern Europe, then take the remaining money of about 15K to the bank and put it into a fixed term savings account which should pay about 6% interest p.a. thus over the course of 10 years you have a violin worth 5000 USD which has not appreciated in monetary value plus 26862 USD in the bank, total value 31862 USD.

In scenario #2 you have a violin which is worth 30.000 USD on paper, total value 30.000 USD. However, if you want to realise the gain, you have to sell the violin, your investment is stuck in the violin. Also, paper value and liquidation value is seldomly the same thing, the 30.000 value is typically what you can realise when you want to trade up, not necessarily what you get if you need to sell it for cash.

By contrast, in scenario #1 you have cash in the bank, which is not paper value, but liquid, also you can use any portion of that money without having to sell your violin.

Now, maybe the #1 scenario violin costs 6000 USD or 7000 USD instead of 5000 USD, I don't know, but in any event, the example above should illustrate that it is worth running the numbers first and see if the investment aspect of a violin is really such a good idea. You may find that there are cases where you are much better off with traditional forms of investments and buy a violin purely for its musical purpose and thus select by tonal value for money ratio only.

I am not saying there is only one way to go about this, all I am saying is that it makes sense to run the numbers and see what the bottom line says.

Also, I think that for a musician there should be something scary about the prospect of having to sell one's instrument because all the savings are locked up in it when you face a situation where you need to liquidate your investment for economical reasons and not because you want to trade up your instrument. I very much prefer to have my savings separated from items I love or perhaps worse still, tools I need to earn a living which would be the situation for a professional musician.

April 3, 2008 at 04:22 PM · Hi Benjamin,

I like my Gliga, but we shouldn't try to sell them on this site as professional instruments, I don't believe they are. For an adult beginner with two kids and a new mortgage like myself it's perfect. Even my teacher was very impressed the quality for what I paid. Like I said an visually pleasing instrument, and a great value. But alas my teacher's violin blows my Gliga out of the water. I'll get the maker of his violin next week and he didn't pay an arm and a leg for it.

I have a hard time believing that the Vasile Gliga violins are not made in an assembly line fashion. Vasile would have to be producing like 20 handmade violins a month possibly more to keep up with the amount they sell. (the little black dots you can find on the Gliga Maestro telling the luthier which pieces line up with which clue me in that's it's pretty much factory made).

Look closely a the top left of the body of the instrument right before the seem, you'll see a small black dot.

http://www.violinslover.com/picture_detail_site.php?adresa=http://www.gligaviolins.com/photos/A3785violin4_4gligagua.jpg

I don't think instruments made by one maker would require that, mine has the same dot as well as a corresponding one on the right side at the bottom. I'm not a luthier at all and I could be completely ignorant and all violins are made this way. If this is the case mea culpa. But I don't remember seeing black dots on other violins I trialed. But it struck me as odd to have that on a violin made by one master maker. It looks like a template to me.

April 3, 2008 at 04:27 PM · In the opinion of most professionals and experts, who are the top three modern makers of today quality-wise? How do these fairly affordable instruments compete with high-end Italians?

April 3, 2008 at 04:49 PM · @ Michael

At no point have I been trying to say that the Gliga instruments are equivalent to commissioned instruments from master luthiers, you will actually find a post where I explicitly said that I realise it aint so.

Furthemore, Gliga is just one convenient example because they have become quite well known and visible on the net, but my point is in no way about one particular luthier/workshop.

My point is "run the numbers, don't buy into the investment myth lock, stock and barrel without seeing it confirmed on the bottom line".

In the business I am, we face competition from outsourcing shops in India, Romania, Ukraine, Philippines etc. I would be lying if I said that the quality from there is worse than the same type of work carried out in Western economies. There is some stuff where it matters, but a lot of times it doesnt and those low cost countries simply beat us. Let's not be bad losers, let's admit it, they have a cost advantage and we don't always have the quality advantage on our side, we are no longer the ones who dominate all aspects of the global economy and in the future this trend is going to continue so we better get used to it.

Now, if I am being squeezed in my own field of work by low-cost economy competitors, I don't see any reason why I should not also benefit from buying high quality products and services from low-cost economies. I am afraid I cannot see any point in being "patriotic" and overpay for things that I can get much cheaper elsewhere with very little or no difference in quality.

Maybe in 50 years there will be no professional makers of violins in the traditional violin making countries, or maybe there will only be a very very few. Well, tough luck. If that upsets the luthiers around here, well, tough luck. Are you guys going to buy a 50.000 USD telephone system from me because I am Western in return for me buying a 50.000 USD violin from you? Or are you going to buy a 2000 USD one from India? No brainer isn't it?! Yes, so it is for us, too. Let's face it, supply geographies are going to massively change on this planet over the next decade or two, better get used to it.

April 3, 2008 at 05:13 PM · Benjamin I don't think the Costco effect wwill really impact the high end violin market. Maybe these countries will duke it out for the majority of the market making school and student quality instruments. But master luthiers from Europe and the US will always get top dollar for their instruments IMO.

Not to mention since joining the EU Romania's economy will rapidly change, they won't be able to produce the volume they do at the prices they do. Maybe they'll have to do what Sofia violins did when they couldn't compete with China and go high end only?

I pay more for certain items, I bought an American made Bunn coffee maker for $100, and it's like a brand new coffee maker ten years later. I've been through toasters and three microwaves in that same time frame, all oversees made in sweat shops or whatever. Most of everything I own from China is plastic and garbage, I basically plan on replacing it in a year. Now there are great Chinese makers, but there's also many more garbage violins coming out of China that aren't worth the $300 they cost no matter how flamed the wood is.

April 3, 2008 at 05:23 PM · I am not so sure about the high end market staying the way it is, in my opinion it is a bubble and it will eventually burst. Bubbles always do.

One indication is the reports you hear about budgets for orchestras being cut and orchestras being shut down for lack of funding. Also, that conservatories and music schools tend to hire more and more faculty on a freelance basis, rather than a full-time employee on payroll basis. Add to that the fact that the recording industry is in a major business model dead end. The money for the instruments has to come from somewhere. With financial pressure on professional musicians from so many directions all hitting at once, eventually fewer and fewer will be able to afford to pay the outrageous bubble economy prices for instruments that we have today. This is how bubbles burst, when the numbers just become too bad, it all comes crashing down.

Sure, there will be rich collectors and museums etc who will be able and happy to pay for collector item instruments, but new instruments are seldomly collector items.

At the end of the day, a bubble bursting is a good thing. If the cost base comes down, classical music may become more interesting for the average Joe.

Yes, there are other professions where the tools of the trade are prohibitively expensive, for example a dentists outfit, ok, but should that be a yardstick for musical instruments? I don't think so. Well, how about photographers? They too, may use cameras and lenses which exceed the cost of a car. But guess what, even in that industry the quality makers are being squeezed to the point where many of the top brands have disappeared in recent years. Leica is only still alive because of their medical optics business and Carl Zeiss had to go down market selling sub standard lenses to cheap consumer and video cameras which in the long term may hurt their reputation and erode their ability to command premium prices, perhaps eventually the ability to make superior optics altogether.

Maybe you don't even have to go as far as photography, stay with musical instruments ... with the exception of grand pianos, are there any other types of instruments which command such outrageous prices as violins, violas and cellos? Do professional level guitars, clarinets, trumpets, saxophones, timpani etc cost 25-50K? I'd be really surprised if they did. If they don't, then there is something wrong with the cost of bowed string instruments, in particular the violin and my conclusion that we're dealing with a bubble is probably right.

April 3, 2008 at 06:11 PM · @ Benjamin

very few people buy $15,000 - $30,000 instruments right now to begin with. There will always be a market for them and they will always be considered better intruments as they are made beginning to end by one master maker.

KIA selling $5,000 cars with 100,000 mile warranties aren't going to dig into Mercede Benzes market at all, maybe Ford's a bit. That's what I meant when I said maybe they'll duke it out for the school and student instrument market.

There will always be people with money to burn, and therr will always be a market for Mercedes Benzes, Rolex watches, and $10,000 - $30,000 violins.

Maybe it's stereotypical and it certainly doesn't apply to me. But classical music and strings in general seem to lend itself to a more affluent crowd.

April 3, 2008 at 06:27 PM · So how much is the average cost of the average instrument in a classical symphony orchestra, and how much above that average is the string section? I reckon it is unproportionately high. If so, what makes the rest of the orchestra lesser "elitist" or "affluent" than the string section?

April 3, 2008 at 07:05 PM · "The average monthly salary of a professional craftsman in Western Europe or the US is probably somewhere in the vicinity of 8-10.000 USD."

Say what?

April 3, 2008 at 07:14 PM · @ Eric

that was meant from an employer's or business owner's point of view, including all expenses such as taxes and social security contributions etc

April 3, 2008 at 10:58 PM · A Bassoon's cost makes your eyes pop. Some woodwinds have a short lifespan. So, over your career, I don't know that you spend any more on a fiddle--and it is still worth something at the end!

April 3, 2008 at 11:10 PM · Bilbo, I remember mentioning my violin was 75 years old or something to a flute student. She was like whoa it must be junk :)

April 3, 2008 at 11:22 PM · Benjamin, a great maker in one of these cities could easily distinguish himself by entering the elite competitions and doing well. Look at Spidlen, just to name one.

The other part of this is great makers are not made in isolation, they become great through the exchange of ideas and apprentice periods, etc.

I don't think it is an accident that Widenhouse use to work for Needham, or that Burgess studied in the elite shop of L.A., or Scott and Jiang learned from Alf and Curtin, etc...

One of the top makers in CA is from China, and he spent some time at Gussets workshop. And he knew he was better than most Chinese makers and found a way to get to the USA.

What would you do if you were a great maker in a small city in Eastern Europe? Answer: find a way to get your violins recognized for the gems that they are so you could start asking top dollar.

Sorry Benjamin, but while I think there is a possiblity of finding an upcoming maker there that does not have a name yet, I think that overall is is a HUGE reach. Your a dreamer my friend.

April 3, 2008 at 11:28 PM · As to what it takes to get a professional instrument, generally speaking: 12K-30k. You can find a great modern, and I mean great, in that price range.

April 4, 2008 at 12:08 AM · JanMichelle:

Where in Southern California would you look for an instrument you describe?

I am in San Diego.

April 4, 2008 at 12:31 AM · There are a few makers in California that have won quite a lot of gold medals at the VSA as far as I know. One in particular has won 5 gold medals I think.

April 4, 2008 at 12:48 AM · Well, unfortunately most great moderns are commissions. If you email me I can get you in touch with the "studio guys" and they can tell you their findings.

As for me, in CA I have tried Seifert and Grubaugh, and Croen, and I think the world of both of those makers. But they are completely different.

April 4, 2008 at 01:11 AM · Which of those makers did you consider superior, or at the high end is the quality mostly one of personal preference? How do instruments of those levels compete with famed old instruments?

April 4, 2008 at 01:56 AM · @ JanMichelle

"Benjamin, a great maker in one of these cities could easily distinguish himself by entering the elite competitions and doing well."

if you scroll up in this thread, you will find my post in which I had provided a source that states that one of the Romanian luthiers had entered and won awards in Cremona, Frankfurt, Mittenwald and Paris.

It would seem to me that those folks who are considered outsiders due to their "unwelcome" geographies, if they then do win international competitions, it's just being ignored. It reminds me of feminist political activists who often say that a woman has to do at least twice as well to compete in a male domain.

Again, the wine world may be an indication how this works (Not saying it is, but it may be). New world wines did win some of the precious prices at competitions in France and Italy long before it was accepted that they are great wines which can stand up to the great French and Italians. Many in the establishment conveniently ignored their earlier awards as if it had been accidental and not indicative of their competitiveness.

April 4, 2008 at 01:15 PM · Benjamin,

Vasile Gliga is a member of the VSA and he has no medals from any VSA competitions. His company grossed 5 million last year so there isn't a financial reason why he isn't entering into competitions. I don't think it's a vast conspiracy against Romanians, I think he either never bothered to enter, or never won. I've tried looking up what awards he's won, but it seems everyone just quoted his site that says "Master luthier Vasile Gliga has won many awards", but that's all I can find, I can't find what awards he's actually won. Let me know if you find anything out, since I own one it will be good to know.

April 4, 2008 at 12:33 PM · Geez... I think I'll stay away from the what is a "professional" instrument thing... except to say "it depends".

All this talk about Gliga... I understand Benjamin owns one and likes it. I'm happy for him. Many people think they're good values, considering what they cost... which is due in part to the manner in which they are made and the cost of labor there... and part because of there quality in comparison to other instruments.

I'm not with you on the cost of labor "average" for the US and Europe you mentioned Benjamin... at least not for the violin industry. The "average" is certainly lower, taxes benefits and all.

If a product excels, even from a "less desirable geographic location", it finds it's mark... and it's price level on the market. David's example of the Spidlen family instruments is an excellent one. Czech instruments as a group certainly are not at the top of the heap, price wise... but those by the Spidlen family have sold on the higher end in the market for many, many years.

Now if you're smart and skilled enough to be able to repeatedly spot makers who excel in their craft (both design and workmanship) in comparison to other world class makers, lives in a low cost of labor area, and isn't well enough known to market his product outside his area... I can think of several people who'd be tempted to hire you.

I've seen a good number of Gligas... of various quality levels. and the company I once worked with visited the shop/factory about 7 or 8 years ago...

My impression? The better ones look like decent instruments, but with a style developed without as much influence of better (classic) instruments as I might like to see. I really don't have any difficulty with them, and I think they are probably priced appropriately. Some sound well.

April 4, 2008 at 04:52 AM · Jeffrey, you are totally missing my point.

This is not about Gliga, and as I have now stated several times, the Gliga Maestro I own is not comparable to a commissioned instrument. Do you want me to write that out 100 times for you?

My point is that there is something very wrong with

a) equating the price paid for an item to the quality of an item, lock, stock and barrel <-- this is foolish to do

b) rejecting the idea that lesser known makers who charge lower prices because of lower cost can rival the quality of the most highly paid and famous ones.

c) the idea that a violin above a certain level should be a financial investment without evaluating more traditional investment methods.

to spell it out more clearly for you, the point is that for a musician a musical instrument should first and foremost be evaluated for its ability as a musical instrument and not as a financial instrument and if you do want to invest money, then the violin as an investment vehicle should beat any other non-violin investment vehicle available to you. How many of those snobs who claim their violins are good investments have actually evaluated the performance of their investment against other ways of investing to conclude the violin pays a higher interest?

April 4, 2008 at 06:49 AM · "to spell it out more clearly for you..."

Jeffery is pretty renowned in his field.

April 4, 2008 at 09:04 AM · Jim, have you ever wondered whether that "need to go into debt to be able to buy that 50K violin cause I'm a professional" seemed like a variation of the old saying that a lousy tradesman blames his tools. It seems to me that the "... and besides it is an investment" had to be added just to make this less obvious.

What I don't understand is where this idea comes from that amongst all the fine craftsmen in the world, there can only be a dozen or so who are good enough to make top quality products and if you or your buddies haven't heard of their names then they're probably not amongst those magnificent dozen.

Just because some craftsman in some country hasn't been heard of in one's country, doesn't mean he is less capable than the craftsman next door. There are very fine craftsmen all over the world. The only way to find out how good their products are is to look at those products themselves. Prices and brand names are rather superficial.

The best shoes are (arguably) made in the UK and Italy, right? So, you should probably only have your shoes made there. Some guy in a small backstreet shop in a poor country who's been making fine shoes for half a century couldn't possibly reach the level of Italian or English shoes, right? And if his shoes haven't won any award, you will seriously injure your feet if you wear them, right?

It would be outright dumb to argue this way, but in the world of violins, it's all different. There are only a dozen craftsmen on the entire planet who can really make violins of the finest level and they must come from a list of approved countries. Also, if they don't cost at least X and haven't won any medals, they're outright trashy, don't waste your money. Oh how convenient.

If somebody needs to spend lots of money to get that feel good factor, fair enough, nothing wrong with that. But they should be open about it and say so instead of insulting other people's intelligence by claiming that they did this as a wise investment even without having consulted an investment broker or banker to see if there were any better investments available.

Likewise, if someone wants to support local businesses and buy local even if it means they might pay more, fair enough, too. But again, they should be open about their motives. This would be an investment, yes indeed, but a social investment, not a financial one.

April 4, 2008 at 09:39 AM · "need to go into debt to be able to buy that 50K violin cause I'm a professional"

A professional knows what tools he needs and where to get them. You need to realize Jeffrey and Burgess do a favor by talking to common folk like you and me. I say that because I know nothing about violin making and so can't debate with them ;)

April 4, 2008 at 09:38 AM · Jim, I'd consider that to be a naive generalisation

Do us a favour? Gimme a break!

Nothing against David, he seems like a decent person, but I believe that it is far more common for violin makers to let their success go to their heads and live in ivory towers.

Have you ever noticed that there is some kind of "if you have to ask the price you are unworthy" notion going on? Even in this thread, when David was asked "for curiousity" about his fees, he turned silent. He could have chosen to say "I'm afraid I don't discuss my fees in a public forum because there are many factors involved that can only be determined in a consultation" or something like this, but no, he chose to ignore the question altogether. This is a pattern I had experienced when I was contacting various violin makers to ask for advice and pricing. I wonder why. Can I not expect the courtesy of an answer, even if the answer turns out to be negative?

April 4, 2008 at 02:25 PM · "Do us a favour? Gimme a break!"

I've heard of Burgess since I was a little kid.

P.S. About the ivory tower business, just learn your violin scales for now and don't worry too much about the people making five figure violins.

April 4, 2008 at 01:13 PM · From Benjamin K;

"Have you ever noticed that there is some kind of "if you have to ask the price you are unworthy" notion going on? Even in this thread, when David was asked "for curiousity" about his fees, he turned silent."

----------------------------------

I apologize for not checking this thread more frequently. Just noticed the question.

My response is that I'd like my presence here to be non-commercial. People are welcome to contact me outside of violinist.com with inquiries relating to my business.

-----------------------------------

From Benjamin K;

"to spell it out more clearly for you, the point is that for a musician a musical instrument should first and foremost be evaluated for its ability as a musical instrument and not as a financial instrument and if you do want to invest money, then the violin as an investment vehicle should beat any other non-violin investment vehicle available to you. How many of those snobs who claim their violins are good investments have actually evaluated the performance of their investment against other ways of investing to conclude the violin pays a higher interest?"

----------------------------------------

What's somewhat unique about violin family instruments is that investment-wise, they perform very well compared to other tools that one uses to make a living. In how many other professions can one use their equipment to generate income (and enjoyment?) for 50 years, and then break even or make a profit upon selling it?

Edit:

Like Michael, I have been unable to find Gliga's name on any lists of competition winners, only the claim on their website which is repeated elsewhere. I'll keep looking though.

April 4, 2008 at 12:09 PM · ben, i agree with some of your points, but if we look at quality violins of all grades, all the way up to the strads, it is tough to generalize. one thing that stands out is it is tough to quantifiy the quality of sound/presence/what have you, and therefore, for the creme de la creme, quality and price tag (or even worth) do not necessarily equate. not long ago there was a thread where a review paper was generated and it attempted to look at some previous trends: very top tier italians (strads, etc), lower tiers, etc. it seems that strads were in a league of its own, with even a trend that is inversely prop to the capital market (that is, when the stock market does poorly, strads do better:) not sure how reliable that trend is,,,recently the stock market was quite turbulent, did strads pop higher? not sure. it is tough to sell bear stearn stock to buy strad these days.

david's point of looking violins as tools in terms of investement value is an unique perspective and with very fine violins, it has been shown to appreciate with time. if some of us have properties as a tool of capital appreciation, it also does ok with time. we need a roof to play violin under:)

i can see 10-20k violins being looked at as tools. somehow, i think those chasing strads with 5 mil are not buying tools:) they are buying strads!

April 4, 2008 at 12:57 PM · I think I'll bow out now, what I came away with is there are plenty of fine instruments that suit the needs of the player well below professional level. For professionals the five figure violins are probably worth it because they can play them for life or actually sell the violin, typically at a nice profit if the maker is renowned.

So while you guys argue, I'm heading over to E-Bay to get myself an authentic Vuillaume for chump change...

April 4, 2008 at 02:47 PM · "Jeffrey, you are totally missing my point."

----------------

No, I don't think I am.

----------------

"This is not about Gliga, and as I have now stated several times, the Gliga Maestro I own is not comparable to a commissioned instrument. Do you want me to write that out 100 times for you?"

------------

If that's really how you want to spend your time, go for it. :-)

To address your a, b, and c:

-----------------

"a) equating the price paid for an item to the quality of an item, lock, stock and barrel <-- this is foolish to do"

--------------------------

Not understanding what parameters define "quality" of a specific item, and the requirements of those who use them professionally... but assuming you do, that others should have the same criteria, that you have duped the world and everyone else is just and idiot is just as foolish.

----------------------

"b) rejecting the idea that lesser known makers who charge lower prices because of lower cost can rival the quality of the most highly paid and famous ones."

----------------------------

I addressed this issue in my last post.

---------------------------

"c) the idea that a violin above a certain level should be a financial investment without evaluating more traditional investment methods."

----------------------------

I'm afraid that depends on what your definition of "investment" is, and the specific situation, just as the definition of "professional grade" depends on the situation. For example; a professional musician may have some tax advantages and access to the market that you do not. They also may view "investment" in broader terms than you do.

-------------------------

"to spell it out more clearly for you, the point is that for a musician a musical instrument should first and foremost be evaluated for its ability as a musical instrument and not as a financial instrument and if you do want to invest money, then the violin as an investment vehicle should beat any other non-violin investment vehicle available to you. How many of those snobs who claim their violins are good investments have actually evaluated the performance of their investment against other ways of investing to conclude the violin pays a higher interest?"

------------------

I can spell just fine, thank you.

Let's take one example. If you were in the position of competing for a job with a major orchestra (what's the ratio of qualified players to available jobs now? 200 to 1? 300 to 1?), and wanted to ensure that your available capital gave you every advantage, I'd advise you to find the best instrument you could for the money. What is "best"? Well, where you planned to audition might have something to do with what instruments of makers I might recommend (in terms of sound quality), and your tastes and playing style would be rather significant factors, but I'd also caution you to make sure that you purchased something "stable" and reliable... to ensure that it sounded well when you showed up on audition day. Stability and reliability are relatively easily anticipated if 1) The instrument is well built in a classical manner with good materials... Classically built violins last a good long time. 2) The maker has a reputation/track record for building consistent, stable, reliable and fine sounding instruments. 3) If considering an older instrument, condition and quality of any repair is determined. In addition, taste and need is not always a static thing. Should the player's needs or tastes change, purchasing an instrument that is desirable in the market ensures it is much more easily "switched out".

Repair, restoration and maintenance is another issue. High quality work is expensive... and those who do it are often a bit picky about what they work on (for a good many reasons). In order gain access to services, and to balance the costs/value to maintain an instrument is it's best working condition, or to repair it should something nasty happen, the instrument must have a certain level of value in the market (I'd not be inclined accept a $3,000 job on a $5,000 instrument, no matter how much the player "loves" it... In fact, I'd probably not be inclined to work on a $5,000 instrument at all. Go ahead Benjamin. Call me a snob.)

For someone who is qualified to go for those few 6 figure core orchestra jobs, I'd say spending what it took to ensure the above would be a good investment... no matter where the appreciation rate ended up.

April 4, 2008 at 02:30 PM · Al, come on, you know very well that we were not talking about rare antiques. You can't commission a rare antique. Well, in a way you can, but you'd have to wait much longer than your life expectancy for it to have a chance to become one.

For those commissioned instruments the prices are generally given in the ballpark of 10K-50K USD and the kind of appreciation you can expect can easily be matched if not outperformed by low risk monetary investment vehicles such as for example an old fashioned fixed term fixed interest savings plan.

If you are a violin dealer/importer etc, then yes, it should be a good financial investment to buy and sell violins and the return will be higher than ordinary savings plan offerings. However, if you don't purchase at wholesale prices and sell at retail and especially if you buy in late in the trend of any particular maker already having shown gains in the market, then it is extremely unlikely that you can match the returns of conventional high street investments. Likewise, if you buy in early in the hope that a still unknown maker will yet have to experience the steep part of the curve, then you face a much higher risk and you will need to compare the performance with the more risky investment vehicles available on high street, you'll most likely find that again, the conventional products are most likely better performing. Let's face it the folks who make good money on violins are the dealer investors (including collectors) not the musician "investors".

Again, I challenge everyone to run the numbers against conventional financial products and their performance and show how that violin is doing better as an investment.

Most financial products are cash based, getting their worth back in cash is a matter of minutes and the difference between paper value and liquidation value is negligible. This is not the case with an object that you first need to find a buyer for to convert it into cash. This alone requires such an investment to pay much higher interest because the liquidation penalty has to be taken into account as a cost of the investment.

In the current mortgage crisis it should be conceivable that a professional musician who has locked up all his savings in that violin which was also to be an investment will have to sell it to keep the house/apartment. Is that desirable? Having to sell your tool of trade which you need to make a living in order to stay afloat? When you need to touch a conventional investment for economic reasons, you can usually cash it in in chunks as you need without too heavy a penalty. When you need to sell an item in a hurry to pay off unforeseen liabilities, the penalty is usually quite stiff because you don't have the time to get the best price. This all adds to the nature of a violin as a less performing investment when compared to financial products.

April 4, 2008 at 02:34 PM · Benjamin; You seem to be continuing to compare an instrument to "financial products"... I don't know many professional players who, when pressed, see things quite that way.

April 4, 2008 at 02:45 PM · ^

Touché

The only times they do is when they are thinking into the future of selling the current instrument to help pay off a possible future instrument.

April 4, 2008 at 02:36 PM · @ David

Thanks for your reply on this (even though I wasn't the one who actually asked the question)

Like I said, not wanting to discuss fees in public for whatever reason is entirely acceptable, but the courtesy of a reply is - in my book - required. You may or may not be surprised to learn that many of your fellow violin maker colleagues (if I may call them so) do not seem to give that courtesy to somebody who openly admits that he is a total newbie, like I did when I was shopping for my first instrument.

As for the award claims made on behalf of Gliga on that website I mentioned (it didn't seem to me that this was a Gliga website but a reseller) I have asked about this and will report back when I get an answer.

@ Jeffrey

no matter how to adjust the figures, you will never be able to show that the cost base in Romania or Bulgaria is anywhere near comparable to that of any Western economy. Maybe in 10 or 20 years, but not in the present. Even if you can find a craftsmen to work for you for 2000 USD/mo. inclusive of all added cost such as employer contributions to social security etc, that is still 10 times as much as the cost of an employee in Reghin.

But of course I forgot ... they're Romanians, impossible they could ever work as hard and well as a Westerner. :-P

While I don't wish anybody any harm, I wouldn't condone the way you do business nor recommend your business if it is based on the gospel of the right to supremacy by the Western world.

April 4, 2008 at 03:07 PM · I was only responding to a comment which said "if I spend more than X, then the instrument has to be an investment"

it was not the first time that I have heard some form of "the instrument is also an investment", it has come up before, not that infrequently either

April 4, 2008 at 03:21 PM · Ben,

Great instruments can be had out of Eastern Europe....but finding them is only a few steps easier than the "yard-sale Strad".

The only way to find them, is to get your hands on them and try them-and that usually entails airfare, speaking the local language, and walking into shops personally. Most of the makers in this genre are not renowned-and you'll struggle trying to learn anything about them-if they are not contemporary.

A master of mine found a violin with GREAT potential out of a dealer in Prague this last summer. Good craftsmanship, good state of preservation, but it needs some work (post, perhaps bass-bar)-and playing-with to get its tone flushed out- plucking the open strings is as loud as a guitar (the post is not loose, and the instrument is of proper dimension); it is 100 or so year old and was lying in a shop. He speaks Czech, so he was able to find it and pick it up cheap.

Such can be found-but they are just that *found*, in just the same manner as the Yard-Sale-Strad.

April 4, 2008 at 04:53 PM · "no matter how to adjust the figures, you will never be able to show that the cost base in Romania or Bulgaria is anywhere near comparable to that of any Western economy. Maybe in 10 or 20 years, but not in the present. Even if you can find a craftsmen to work for you for 2000 USD/mo. inclusive of all added cost such as employer contributions to social security etc, that is still 10 times as much as the cost of an employee in Reghin.

But of course I forgot ... they're Romanians, impossible they could ever work as hard and well as a Westerner. :-P

While I don't wish anybody any harm, I wouldn't condone the way you do business nor recommend your business if it is based on the gospel of the right to supremacy by the Western world."

---------------------------------

I didn't suggest that there was parity. I just questioned your (incorrect) figure concerning average Western wage.

Seems to me (my judgement) that it looks a bit like a one way street concerning your expectations of accuracy of information, and manners, compared to your behavior and what you've offered within this thread...

BTW: You're the one with the chip about Romanians. I could give a hang where a good fiddle comes from... as long as it's a good fiddle, it will eventually find it's level in the market.

Exposure to fine, classic, instruments does, unfortunately, play a significant role in end quality, but a fine maker builds reputation and the exposure can come with time and effort. Again, the Spidlen family is an excellent example. Without effort, a maker may be doomed to emulate what he/she is exposed to. If what they are exposed to is odd instruments, chances are that's what they'll make.

Must have been nice to live on the same street as all those old guys in early 18th century Cremona.

I don't need you to condone the way I do business... so I really am not concerned if you place me in your gospel group or not.

Cheers and good luck.

April 4, 2008 at 03:43 PM · Benjamin, I don't think anyone is claiming any blanket supremacy of the Western world.

In the case of violins, certain parts of the world have had easier access to great instruments and sound education. This may have started with Italy and France, expanded to England and Germany, and eventually reached the United States. These continue to be the centers of violin and bow making education.

Jeffrey, there are a number of foreign students at the Chicago Violin Making school, aren't there? Are any of them Romanian?

Benjamin, sorry if you had a bad experience with some makers. Some of them feel a lot of pressure to focus mostly on the high-visibility players, because that has marketing and reputation advantages. May be some ego involved too. Or sometimes people just get busy. Making is rather labor intensive.

April 4, 2008 at 03:24 PM · which is why I suggested to compare those two example scenarios ...

1) travel to Eastern Europe perhaps combining a holiday with visiting local makers, commission 2 or 3 instruments, keep the best one, sell the remainder with a small profit to recover the airfare, put the saved money into a long term savings account

versus

2) commission with a big name and lock up all your savings in a single instrument (following the frequently given general advice of "buy as expensive as you can possibly afford"), then hope it will indeed appreciate as much as you hoped it would.

If you are about to spend 20 or 30K USD, I don't think that a bit of international travel would be such a big deal. Hiring a local translator shouldn't be a problem, salaries over there are more or less like taxi fares in NYC, London or Tokyo. Even if you find that you don't want to commission an instrument there after all, you could pick up two off-the-shelf instruments for resale back home to recover the airfare. Also, there are summer workshops for chamber musicians and soloists in various places in these countries which an aspiring violinist could easily combine such a trip with. People do crazier things for lesser items. Besides, a stopover in Milano with a trip to Cremona shouldn't inflate the total travel bill that much, so you can check out some Italian makers on the way.

April 4, 2008 at 03:49 PM · Benjamin, if you commisions a violin form an unkown Eastern European maker even for $5,000 I don't see how you sell it at a profit. People don't just put down 6-7 G on a violin from some guy no one ever heard of, with no accolades and no professional players playing on his instruments.

I think in your scenario you would be stuck with three instruments you couldn't unload for half of what you paid for them. Resale on new violins is terrible from unknown makers, even known makers. I paid ~1,200 for my Gliga, if I were to try and sell it I would probably get $500 for it.

I agree violins for financial investments isn't the sole purpose, but it sure is a nice bonus that you 10 G + instrument is earning value and not losing value by one half the day you take it home.

April 4, 2008 at 04:02 PM · Again though Ben,

Odds are just as good that you won't find anything as they are that you do--unless you know where to look for, and how to go about asking whatever it is you're looking for-you're in a bad spot.

Our gentleman/luthiers that have contributed here are known--shopping in the unknown has much greater risk-also shopping can be difficult-in part due to the language barrier-.....large cities are good places to start, but they tend to be tourist traps and charge accordingly (in general). Lest you have a lead from someone for a commission to seek out-it is a huge shot in the dark. And takes far more time and effort to shop for, than most of the regular luthiers that post here.

My friend who found that instrument last summer-he traveled to all the violin shops in Prague/nearby area, he speaks the language fluently-he knows many of the local musicians personally-as well as the Conservatory teachers, and having come from Eastern Europe he blends in and doesn't seem at all to be a tourist to take advantage of.....and after 3 weeks of snooping or so, he finally found something up to his standards, that *has the potential* to be good -intended for one of his students (which, his standards are admittedly quite high).

April 4, 2008 at 04:09 PM · Michael, maybe you're in the wrong place then. Even so, you should still be able to recover your airfare through buying a couple of off-the-shelf instruments at the source for resale back home.

And if you do need to resell your 1200 USD Gliga and really can't fetch more than 500 USD, get in touch, I'm confident I could help you get your full purchase price back ;-)

As for the violin as an investment myth, I am confident that I will always be able to find a significantly better performing financial product than any gain you may get on whatever violin you buy, given the same amount of investment money, duration and risk level.

April 4, 2008 at 05:38 PM · ..

April 4, 2008 at 04:22 PM · Forget it that won't be taken well...

April 4, 2008 at 04:26 PM · Again, my scenarios where aimed at debunking the idea of a violin as an investment. Run whatever numbers you want, buy wherever you want (for example from a lesser knows lower price luthier in your own country, there have been recommendations on this site of Luthiers in the US who apparently take commissions for well under 10K) but use the same two basic scenarios, You will find that scenario #2 doesn't look so good most of the time, financially. Point: a violin is not generally a competitive investment instrument from a financial pov. Conclusion: buy a violin for its value as a musical instrument, not as an investment.

April 4, 2008 at 04:22 PM · Well if I have to pick between a slight headache and an education, or, a full on labotomy, then I think I'd rather go for the former.

April 4, 2008 at 04:24 PM · "a violin is not generally a competitive investment instrument from a financial pov. "

That depends on what the violin is you are using as an investment vehicle. I read an article where a guy quit his day job and made millions investing in fine watches which has blown up.

Anyway I think we can all agree that a violin isn't solely a financial investment. However it isn't a bad side effect either. You'll get a much better return with a known maker who has accolades and professionals playing his instruments over some random luthier in the middle of Eastern Europe with none of those. (and probably a better instrument too)

April 4, 2008 at 04:37 PM · Michael, like I said, same level of risk in both cases. That is, if you buy a violin where it is still unknown if and how much it will appreciate (higher risk but higher potential reward) then you have to compare it against financial products which also get you higher potential return at a higher risk. If you buy an instrument which is known to appreciate -say- 1000 USD per year simply because the maker raises his commissions by that much and he's established himself well enough to be able to fetch those fees, then you have to compare that with something like a fixed interest savings plan.

And no you don't get much better return the way you outline, the savings plan with the saved money not spend on the instrument will get you the better return ;-) Not comfortable looking overseas for a low cost luthier, then don't, spend half your budget on a commission with a domestic luthier and put the other half into a savings plan, you will most certainly beat the guy who blew the full budget on a "brandier" instrument.

April 4, 2008 at 04:40 PM · "Jeffrey, there are a number of foreign students at the Chicago Violin Making school, aren't there? Are any of them Romanian?"

Yes, David. I believe there have been.

April 4, 2008 at 04:56 PM · Nice to see you back, Pieter!

April 4, 2008 at 04:53 PM · Note, an adult beginner on the violin may be a business person dealing with investments professionally and having done so for a long time. On the other hand, a professional violinist is more likely to be an adult beginner in investments. It is therefore rather nonsensical trying to discredit somebody's stance on the competitiveness of a violin as an investment vehicle against hight street financial products by pointing out they're an adult beginner on the violin. How many businesses have you been involved in building/running, what was the largest budget you have managed? What was the largest sum of funding you have been able to secure? I bet you know nothing about financial matters. Which is precisely why you should be buying your violins for their properties to make music, not money.

April 4, 2008 at 05:16 PM · Benjamin; You seem to be continuing to compare an instrument to "financial products"... I don't know many professional players who, when pressed, see things quite that way. (reposted)

This discussion is getting quite circular, don't you think? Gotta' go....

April 4, 2008 at 05:39 PM · ..

April 4, 2008 at 05:34 PM · To bring the topic back since makers who make violins on commision do not want to talk about prices. Can anyone give recommendations for violins and their pricing they believe fit the bill of the OP's inquiry? Thanks

April 4, 2008 at 05:32 PM · I didn't say I was a fund manager. I am an entrepreneur and a consultant in a capacity that involves making budgetary and investment decisions on an ongoing basis. Competitiveness of ROI is always an issue because shareholders expect it.

For periods of times I have to stay up into odd hours of the day to be able to talk to suppliers and/or customers in other time zones. Given a small window of time during which I can make contact, I prefer to kill time on the web until I can reach them. I'd practise on my violin but in the middle of the night that is not an option, so I'm afraid during those nights you will have to put up with me, like it or not.

April 4, 2008 at 05:45 PM · Michael, as far as prices go ... the lowest I have seen mentioned for a commission (a luthier in the US) was 5000 USD, the highest I have seen mentioned (with a luthier in Europe IIRC) was 50.000 USD. Both were said to have won awards, in case you are looking for that. The 5000 USD commission would however seem somewhat out of the ordinary for a Western economy.

April 4, 2008 at 07:09 PM ·

April 4, 2008 at 06:10 PM · I thought Pieter's comment said it all.

April 4, 2008 at 09:58 PM · Here's an idea I don't think anybody has suggested yet.

Marry a violin maker, and get free violins for life! :-)

April 4, 2008 at 10:56 PM · Yes that's a good idea! But all makers I know are married...

April 4, 2008 at 11:00 PM · That's a good idea. Except I know of no modern makers who are female.

And as much as I love violins, I am not sure if it's worth a sexual orientation topsy turvy.

April 5, 2008 at 12:16 AM · I know a few who are female and single.

For a small fee......a mere pittance mind you compared to the cost of buying a violin...... ;)

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