Need some advice, looking at a 300 year old italian violin :/

October 28, 2007 at 07:24 PM · Hey guys. Long story short, I am looking at possibly buying a 300 year old Italian violin that may be made by Camillo Barbiero. There are man things I absolutely love about it. Namely tone and projection. But some things bother me. I loved the tone and quality much more the first day. Then I straightened the bridge and it got more power but seemed to lose some sweetness and nuances.

I'm also not sure what to consider again when looking at a violin like this. I wasn't really in the market for a new violin though I was considering one all summer. (more thinking of a new violin)

I'll tell the whole story later but what are somethings I may want to watch out for in this instrument. I want it, but it's going to cost quite a bit even if I do sell my Gustave Bernardel.

Could someone give me a ballpark figure of what I can expect to get for a good condition (no damage) 1894 Gustave Bernardel with a Beare certification.

And how much do c 1690-1700 Italian violins usually cost? I'm trying to think how great the price is on this thing without divulging the price just yet.

Replies (33)

October 28, 2007 at 07:44 PM · Hi Emmanuel. I just traded a 300 year old Italian for a modern American. The thing with the old Italian was that it needed CONSTANT repairs. They're like Fiats...when they work, they're great, but good luck getting it to work every day.

I've seen them as low as $15k for an unknown maker. You do get a dark, powerful sound that is hard to come by, but IMHO the nuances are sometimes lost. Where did you find it?

October 29, 2007 at 03:10 AM · Where are you located? One consultant I would trust is Givens Violins in Minneapolis. Claire Givens and Andrew Dipper are violin historians and expert appraisers. They do appraisals for Antiques Road Show on PBS. Andrew Dipper is also a world-class restorer of historic instruments, with a special expertise in the period of 1570-1815.

They see old violins frequently. The concertmasters for both first-rate orchestras in town take their violins to Givens Violins for maintenance, including a 1742 Guarnerius del Gesu and a 1700 Matteo Goffriller.

I have no affiliation with Givens Violins, and there are other consultants of this calibre. I'm just saying that I would seek the advice of someone like them who can provide a historical appraisal along with the luthier expertise.

I am very curious to see who responds to this question. I envy those who actually have some experience to share on a subject like this.

October 28, 2007 at 09:20 PM · Emmanuelle, I would check out a wider variety of things. I have definately heard lesser makers such as you describe having a good sound, but even though they're very cheap relative to their other 300 year old companions, they often aren't the best instruments structurally (having all sorts of problems). I'd look for base bar cracks, sound post cracks, what repairs have been done (really, you'd need to engage an expert if you're serious. There are a few consultants who will put the violin through an x ray machine and god knows what else).

I don't know what price you'd get for a Bernardel, but it should be in the mid 5 figures (maybe in the lower mid 5 figures). Honestly though, there are so many great living makers now, so you have a lot of choices.

October 28, 2007 at 09:17 PM · Hand it to at least one violinist friend that you trust, say nothing about the instrument's background, price etc etc, just ask them to play it and get their opinions.

I know I fell totally in love with my old Dutchman and after one week on trial you'd have had to prise him out of my hands with a red hot poker if you wanted to part him from me, but I'm really glad that I got my violin teacher to try him out and give a thumbs-up before I went ahead with the deal. There were small things I was wondering about and getting someone who is a much better player than I am to double check them himself and provide approval, was the final reassurance I needed before making that large financial commitment.

October 28, 2007 at 10:23 PM · As violin makers say "age is a phenomenon,not a miracle".If the violin was mediocre when it was new it will be mediocre 300 years later just "older"sounding.I got rid of my "Old Dutchman" made in 1798 and bought a modern Italian (1925).No regrets...

October 28, 2007 at 10:47 PM · You really need to find a professional (dealer as consultant, not player) whom you trust to guide you through this one. I'm finding it hard to believe that a _purported_ Italian violin _possibly_ [in real life terms, that sounds good, but means absolutely nothing in dollars] made by a maker no one's ever heard of (I've got a pretty good library, and I can't find him) is as expensive as you're implying, so I eagerly await the rest of the story.

October 28, 2007 at 11:44 PM · I've never heard of a maker called Camillo Barbiero too...

October 29, 2007 at 12:42 AM · When you buy any instrument think first about condition and authenticity. Then and only then consider the sound of the instrument. A great sounding violin in poor condition may sound great one day, but not the next. Also, unless you have ironclad papers by someone like Beare, you will have great difficulty unloading the instrument in the future.

October 29, 2007 at 01:06 AM · Lots of Barbieris, no Barbieros, no Camillos in any of my sources.

October 29, 2007 at 01:40 AM · Greetings,

I don`t think this sounds too great..As as been noted above, it is -very easy- to finbd an old instrument that sounds just great and then become blinded to the relaity that an equa;lly greta instrument of a younger and more relaible vintage can be found. I don`t mean just modern. An Italian from around 1920 (why have thta Italian prejudice anywa?) can be mind blowing. Or see the comments from top soloists on this site about brand new insturments such as Needham. Or consider Tetzlaff who uses modern Greiners, passes them on to others and has been very outspoken on the subject of how good modern isntruments can be.

Personally I am a little cautious about brand new , especially from lesser makers but I would my ten year old Italian against anything but the best and its solid as a rock.

I also just played on a much cheaper and lesse rknown maker for a year (Galetti) and although it was not a -great- violin it was a clean slate to work on and it evolved into a very fine sinsturment within its limitations.

I suggets you hunt around a greta dela more. Take your time. You have to live with what you buy for an awful long time.



Dont know why I use the wrod `great` so much in this post

I also note somwehat tongue in cheek thta the best violin I ever played on by a -very ling way- was by Andreas Guarneri... the perosn who let me play it for seven hours still has bite marks on his shins from when he tried to get it back from me.

October 29, 2007 at 02:38 AM · I read through the responses quickly and will go ahead and give you an update on things.

The violin is being sold through Rene Morel.

The price is $55,000. The previous owner supposedly went to the Queen Elizabeth semifinals with this violin and paid $80,000 for this violin.

I took the violin to Alex Kerr today and he tried it. He absolutely loved it and said that it easily compared to much more expensive instruments he has played. (Rocca Pressenda, etc) but the tone was much nicer.

It has a powerful, rich, deep but yet bright tone. And is a tiny instrument. As soon as he started playing it he was amazed by it's ease of playability and tiny size.

I guess I got the players good opinion considering Kerr plays a del Gesu. I will take the violin to studio class tomorrow and show it to my teacher Mark Kaplan to see what he thinks.

I'm also going to take it to the violin making teacher here Tom Sparks, and if it passes all the above then probably to another luthier or two. Alex Kerr recommended Mark Russell in Indianapolis.

I am pretty much set on wanting this violin, but there are still plenty of barriers in the way and possible reasons not to buy it (cracks etc)

I will keep you updated and will post pics soon too. I appreciate all the comments and suggestions I can get.

October 29, 2007 at 03:57 AM · cracks are a huge reason not to buy.

top cracks,or bottom ?

plainly visible,or not ?

don't fall in love too quickly,give yourself some time to ponder.

forget it all !!!

you do not want to play w/a cracked violin---look elsewhere !!!!!!!!!!!!!

you need a perfect instrument that meets your expectations--do not buy 1 that is already cracked;it will not 'work' for you..

buy one from michael darnton,then you'll be assured---and you'll have an axe to be proud of !!!

To me,the beauty of the workmanship rules,as well as the playability !

you need the artistic,inherent beauty of the wood involved.

when you play a instrument,buy one impeccably made,by hand tools and a strinkingly great one !

gee,i was just in chicago last month and i wanted to make an appointment to see

michael darnton,but my kids would not allow me to do so------they were afraid i'd buy another fiddle...


October 29, 2007 at 03:48 AM · "you do not want to play w/a cracked violin---look elsewhere !!!!!!!!!!!!!"

If that's the way you feel about it, you can pretty much rule out most violins before 1850, and all the great Cremonese ones, including virtually 100% of Strads. That's more for the rest of us. Thanks!

October 29, 2007 at 05:35 AM · As long as they aren't really serious cracks, a well repaired one can make that area stronger than it was before. If Mr. Morel did the work, I wouldn't have a problem buying it.

October 29, 2007 at 05:08 PM · "I'm also going to take it to the violin making teacher here Tom Sparks, and if it passes all the above then probably to another luthier or two. Alex Kerr recommended Mark Russell in Indianapolis.

I am pretty much set on wanting this violin, but there are still plenty of barriers in the way and possible reasons not to buy it (cracks etc)"

Your local luthiers may be able to advise you concerning overall condition, but I'd put a sizeable bet down that the two gentlemen you mentioned are not familiar with the maker. If you wish to make an informed decision, I'd consider a visit to one of the better shops in nearby Chicago for a second opinion on origin and value.

October 29, 2007 at 05:58 PM · Emmanuel, I'd definately take it somewhere before you buy. Also, Mr. Morel does some of the best set ups in the business, if you weren't totally happy with the soundpost etc..., definately take advantage.

October 30, 2007 at 12:01 AM · well here is what Tom Sparks said essentially.

The violin is definitely Italian, though he thinks more 1750~ rather than 1700.

The maker Camillo Barbiero does not exist in any violin maker books.

There are rather extensive repairs including: -likely unoriginal peg box but original scroll.

-ribs are unoriginal

-the edges/glue joints (where the top and back meet the ribs) were thickened/grafted due to the violin being taken apart so many times.

-the back has wood grafted between the two halves.

-there are cracks or course. lower treble side has some and below the bridge between the feet. not under the feet or at the soundpost. The lower treble side also has a crack or two.

Under the black light all repairs were done so well that nothing showed under the black light. AKA all varnish matches perfectly due to it being oil and pigments. So whoever did the repairs didn't do a shop job of it.

Lastly I really do feel the violin needs an adjustment. The violin sounded completely different the first two days I had it (much better) and the day after I got it I straightened the bridge as the G side was tilted toward the fingerboard and the E not (or the other way) My friend Stass says this is impossible it would affect the sound as much as I say it does and the weather hasn't changed much either. But after straighting the bridge the violin feels chocked. And the bad thing is I can't get it to sound the same as it did before.

That's it for now. Time for studio class and for Mark Kaplan to try it out. I just fear that due to it not sounding like it did he will dismiss it as bad.

October 30, 2007 at 01:15 AM · Precise bridge position is pretty important, tonally--I would rate it about equal with the post in that regard. You will find very, very few adjusters who realize that or can manipulate it effectively, though.

I once got to look like a genius once when I was visiting, on an unrelated errand, someone whose Strad was sounding horrible, and when he asked me if I could help, I just scooted the bridge less than 1/2mm, back to where the marks for the feet were. He was blown away by the difference, and frankly, so was I, at that time, which was quite a while ago now.

October 30, 2007 at 01:54 AM · I am going through the exact same thing right now Michael.The G string on my fiddle was stiff and compressed sounding.I loosened the strings and "clicked" the bridge towards the bass side about half a millimetre.So far so good.I also loosened the chin rest on the bass side a half turn.Hope this works.

October 30, 2007 at 02:34 AM · Emmanuel. Don't do it. Trust me, hearing how much work has been done on that violin, only buy it if you can afford to dump a good, solid $5k a year into maintenance and upkeep. I know this from experience! Before you make the investment, I really urge you to try some modern instruments. It may save you money and heartache in the long run ;)

October 30, 2007 at 02:39 AM · Wow! Twenty-seven years in this business and I have yet to see even one person with an old violin who racks up 5K a year in maintenance!

October 30, 2007 at 02:51 AM · Ah, the romantic notion of potentially owning a 300 year old Italian violin.

Terribly difficult to separate the good from the bad points in an objective fashion.

Reality always sets in when the cheque clears. Sometimes its good, sometimes not.


October 30, 2007 at 03:36 AM · Michael--it was living hell. For the first few years I had it, it was pretty much ok, but quite fussy. But then when I got into conservatory and started putting in 8-10 hours a day on it, it went nuts. First the neck sank down, and then I find that the fingerboard is far too low..then the bass bar cracked, soundpost went, bridge had to get redone when a wedge went under the fingerboard...then the rib decided to split away from the top...then the wood NEAR the soundpost cracked...not to mention the fact that the pegs had to be was really just sad. It was a great instrument but not at ALL worth the upkeep.

Not only that, but it only sounded good with either Obligatos or Titanium solo strings. And then, only during certain weather.

I play now on an instrument that is just barely one year old. It's the most beautiful-sounding violin I've ever had the fortune to play on.

Also--you might want to consider the comfort level of the instrument and how it relates to YOUR playing style and technique!!

November 3, 2007 at 04:19 AM · Well everyone; I came to the conclusion that I want this violin, that I'm in love with it, and that it works great for me.

Unfortunately I can't get it. My parents are in the "we already got you a good violin" phase. They didn't say I can't get it. I just would have to take it into my own hands. Loans, selling violin, raising money. etc I either don't want her enough or it's simply impossible.

Bernardel= $30,000-$35,000 (maybe $40k?)

L. Bazin bow= maybe sell for $4000-5000

Italian= ~$50,000

Close, but not close enough.

Well it's kind of a sad day but I figure I'll see other violins in the future. The Joseph Curtin I'm trying at the moment is loud but that's about it. :( No comparison to the italian. My Bernardel is actually nicer too.

On a side note. I have just now started to sick. Stress induced by violins and mid terms for sure. (mostly violin though :(

Well that's all I have to say.

November 14, 2007 at 07:57 PM · Dear Emmanuel,

My son just purchased a beautiful violin made by Philip Perret in New York. He had been the foreman of the famed Jaques Francoise shop for many years. Anyway, this violin far exceeded the Joseph Curtin my son also tried as well as all of the older instruments. We spent about two years looking for the perfect soloist instrument, powerful, yet warm, resonant and sweet. You might contact him.

November 14, 2007 at 07:57 PM · Dear Emmanuel,

My son just purchased a beautiful violin made by Philip Perret in New York. He had been the foreman of the famed Jaques Francoise shop for many years. Anyway, this violin far exceeded the Joseph Curtin my son also tried as well as all of the older instruments. We spent about two years looking for the perfect soloist instrument, powerful, yet warm, resonant and sweet. You might contact him.

November 15, 2007 at 08:57 PM · Remember that it is not wise to generalize about instruments, they are all different, even by the same maker, and a big part of their sound and feel is determined by maker-independent things like the set-up, restorations and so on. Therefore, do not believe that if you have tried one "Bernardel" or a "Curtin" and didn't like it, that means those "names" aren't good for you. Like Michael mentioned, even a Stradivari might not work for you, if the bridge is in the wrong place, don't be too hung up on names....

November 19, 2007 at 02:10 AM · Hello Emmanuel, Falling in love blindly has always consequences. I wish that you will wake up in see the reality. My advise: wait and see. You will find a violin of your dreams, BUT wate, save $$$$$ and

nerves. Now practice and be successful on your Bernadelle!

Amir Eisenstadt

November 22, 2007 at 05:07 PM · If you still want to get a different violin, I would recommend taking a look at some modern makers. I have a violin that was made in 2003. It doesn't sound as good as my teacher's old italian, but it is MY own voice, and I know that I will have the privilege to make it's sound open up to it's fullest and give it it's own (or MY own) personality, which I think is really cool. But then again, I am a broke college kid so even if I really liked an old italian instrument I would not be able to pay for it... :S

November 24, 2007 at 01:58 AM · Greetings,

An old violin does not have the endurance of a thicker more solid violin. If you play/practice a lot. You should have a practice fiddle and bring out the old one only for concerts. Temperature and humidity play an important factor. You may notice that it plays and responds a certain way in the summer and differently in the winter. Where you live makes a difference. I love old violins, but sometimes they are not practical. If you play outdoor concerts, make sure that you use something else! I guess what I'm really trying to say, is to have many violins for a specific purpose. Also in some cases, Italian violins are over rated. You can get better of both worlds with French, English, even German.

November 24, 2007 at 04:26 AM · Gregory, I have an Amati made in 1626 which I play on a daily basis. I find no degradation in its tone quality from this, and in fact if I don't play on it for a time, it takes a while to get it back to responding properly. And of course I do not play it outside.

November 24, 2007 at 09:07 PM · Bruce, I agree, and there are exceptions of course. I would like to restate that the enviroment makes a difference. The type of arching plays a role. Also vigorous solo playing takes a different toll than orchestral blending playing. But, you can't compare a Camillo Barbiero with an Amati. So it really depends on the maker and condition. I have played Strads that I didn't like, as well as some awsome ones. There are healthy ones and repaired ones, regraduated, new bass bars etc. many variables. Not to mention even the strings used changes tension, response, stability, and tone. Even the bow, hair, and rosin are a factor. The bottom line is that it is hard to generalize in either direction. As far as cost you have to be very careful. There are many fakes as to being "Italian". Obviously the value is considerably different compared to a German violin. People want to make money.Beware!

January 18, 2008 at 05:35 PM · Hi Emmanuel,

I understand how hard is to want a violin and then not be able to get it... it happened to me recently. I am sorry... I had to give it up because I did not have enough time to take it for an expert opinion to a luthier. The dealer wanted it back immediately. I started my search last summer for a violin in the 50-60K and I am still looking. If it happens again, where could I look for a pertinent opinion about the condition and the price of the violin, apart from the dealer who sells it? Is there anyone trustworthy in Illinois?

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