Bad fingerboard and new violin

January 8, 2008 at 02:03 AM · Hi, This is my first ever post. I used to play the violin when I was a kid (over 15 years ago), but I don't take lessons anymore. Once in a while, I'll take my violin out to play and I thought it's about time to get it looked at by someone because it sounds horrible. It's a Sofia (Grande) violin I received from my parents in 1991. I'm not sure how good/bad this violin is as I can't quite tell or compare to any others (except it was miles better than some chinese violins I had when I was even younger).

I was told that it needs a new sound post, bridge and string, which makes sense to me. However, I was also told that the fingerboard is too high at the end and it will require a "neck reset" and it will cost almost $1000 to fix it? The suggestion I got was to get a new violin at around $1000 which will sound much better than my current.

Does fixing the fingerboard (like getting a new one + fixing it on the violin) require that much $$$? I did not look at new violin as I dont' have a teacher right now and I won't be able to judge if it's a good violin. But I would like to get some suggestion on whether it really cost that much to fix it, and suggestions on whether my violin is good enough?

Replies (46)

January 8, 2008 at 03:19 AM · I'm no Luthier but that doesn't sound right to me. It shouldn't cost anywhere near $1,000 to do a soundpost, bridge, strings, and fingerboard. I would take it to a luthier and see what he says. I bet it costs around $200 to get it back in playing shape.

January 8, 2008 at 04:13 AM · That violin model is a good one. It probably retails brand new today for $2,500 to $3,000. Yours could possibly have a better tone than new ones because it has aged, making it more valuable, depending on the condition.

Look down the fingerboard from the scroll. Does it look odd? I question the high price to fix it. I would get a second opinion. Maybe you need a bridge, which will cost you about $150, and a soundpost, which costs very little.

Have you tried first slapping on a new set of Dominant strings to see how much that helps? If the violin seems to be in good condition otherwise, I would be reluctant to replace it with a $1,000 violins. How does it look? Does it have flames?

... just brainstorming.

January 8, 2008 at 04:19 AM · ummmmm...my first thought was the violin shop sees an opportunity to get a nice instrument as a cheap trade-in.

I would get a second opinion from a different shop.

January 8, 2008 at 05:08 AM · If the instrument actually needs to have the "neck reset" (as you mentioned in your post), the estimate is probably not out of line... BUT... there may be options for solving the problem (FB at too high an angle). A second opinion can't hurt, as long as you have access to a second reputable shop.

January 8, 2008 at 05:09 AM · I work in a pretty good sized shop, and we do bridges on that type of violin for $50, sound post for $35. Full neck reset is about $250. Of course, we don't have New York overhead.

If your neck projection is less than 2mm off (25 to 29 mm) I would think twice about doing any kind of repair, and if you have to have it fixed, find out whether a neck pullback would be feasible.

January 8, 2008 at 05:37 AM · I recently had a neck reset - and a lot of other work - done after having had two different shops look at the instrument. Interestingly enough, not only did both repairmen suggest the same things (the most important being the neck reset), but the estimated cost of the work was FAR less than the $1000 that you are being asked.

By all means, get a second opinion.

January 8, 2008 at 07:13 AM · Oh Yes,

Take their advice, always get a second opinion.

January 8, 2008 at 10:11 AM · Hi Nikki,

this is also my first post here.

I am a violin maker. To answer your question: it could cost the amount for the repair you mentioned if it was done on a high level.

However, I don´t know if it would be worth spending that money on an inexpensive violin.

If you say your violin sounds horrible, you can go around a little and try other violins in your price range. You will get a feeling soon for what you consider better sounding, even if you don´t have a teacher.

Then you might be in a better position to judge how to proceed with your violin. You might want to go ahead with the repair or find someone who will do it for less....

Hope this helps a little,

Best regards, Hans

January 8, 2008 at 12:19 PM · Good morning Nikki,

The cost of 1 000 $ seems too high for the repair you mention.

New sound post, strings, bridge and fixing the fingerboard costs around 250-300 $.

Of course the reason of the bad sounding can be various.

The thicknesses of the top and the bottom are very important for the sounding.

I suggest you to bring the violin to two or three different violin makers and to ask a quotation and a “diagnose” from them.

According to me is always better to repair an old instrument than to buy a new one.

Todd Carlsen is right that the price of a new one is 2 500 $.

January 8, 2008 at 02:52 PM · Thank you all for all the advice. I'm doing the new bridge/soundpost/string first. Soundpost is old (don't think I've ever gotten a new one before, thus full of "holes" from previous resetting).

Todd: What does "Does it have flames?" mean?

How big of a difference in sound if the fingerboard is too high or "warped"?

January 8, 2008 at 06:08 PM · Michael Richwine wrote: "I work in a pretty good sized shop, and we do bridges on that type of violin for $50, sound post for $35. Full neck reset is about $250. Of course, we don't have New York overhead.

If your neck projection is less than 2mm off (25 to 29 mm) I would think twice about doing any kind of repair, and if you have to have it fixed, find out whether a neck pullback would be feasible."

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

Yes... there are some shops that work on a variety (different levels) of instruments, and it's possible to get the work done for less (the company I used to work for had two shops that worked on different levels of instruments, for example)... but as Hans Pluhar wrote earlier, the cost for the work described, at a high level, could easily be what has been quoted... in NY or elsewhere. Like instruments, not all work quality is created equal. :-)

I also agree with Hans, in the sense that I would wonder if it's wise to put $1K into a $2K instrument... Still think there might be reasonable alternatives available.

Michael; I believe the poster stated that the fingerboard was a too high and angle... In that case, a pull-back probably won't do too much good, but there are ways (as I'm sure you're aware) of lowering the projection slightly (shy of actually performing a reset).

January 8, 2008 at 06:49 PM · Flames, also called tiger striping, figuring and curling, is when the wood grain on the sides and back has a noticable pattern, somewhat like striping, and not just one dull consistent wood color. With the back, if you look at the back in the light and rock it back and forth, up and down, the pattern will change as you move it. In general the lines in the back sort-of line-up at the middle if the back is two piece, with the lines usually narrow, and then the lines seem to move when you move the violin. It's an optical effect. You ideally also like to see those stripes on the sides, although wider. Highly figured or flames wood is more expensive and often associated with a better violin, although not always. Some great violins do not have that.

The desired standard for the spruce top is for the grain to be narrow pinstriping, although many very good violins do not have that pinstriping.

It could be that your violin is not special. But because it has 16 years of age on it, and because the "Grande" model is considered a better model to begin with (although not their best one), it may have gained in value by a couple thousand. You never know until you hear it. It could be that the luthier you saw gave a solid opinion that the violin is not really worth hassling with, or it could be that you have a nice $2,000 violin that would fetch $5,000 because of the sound, having matured for 16 years.

Again, there is no way to know for sure. One thing is certain, if there is something structurally wrong with the sound box (the main part of the body), then the equation changes.

January 8, 2008 at 10:45 PM · Thats a hard one .. Usually the neck is only reset if its from a diffrent period or if its really off... an inexpensive alternative for a modern instrument could be to adjust the fingerboard to match the deficency and bridge depending on your level and attatchement to the instrument.

January 9, 2008 at 03:28 AM · >>>>Yes... there are some shops that work on a variety (different levels) of instruments, and it's possible to get the work done for less (the company I used to work for had two shops that worked on different levels of instruments, for example)... but as Hans Pluhar wrote earlier, the cost for the work described, at a high level, could easily be what has been quoted... in NY or elsewhere. Like instruments, not all work quality is created equal. :-)

I also agree with Hans, in the sense that I would wonder if it's wise to put $1K into a $2K instrument... Still think there might be reasonable alternatives available.

Michael; I believe the poster stated that the fingerboard was a too high and angle... In that case, a pull-back probably won't do too much good, but there are ways (as I'm sure you're aware) of lowering the projection slightly (shy of actually performing a reset).<<<

Jeffrey, I agree that those charges for high level work are pretty reasonable. We certainly charge more when working on professional instruments. But the prices I mentioned are the prices we charge when working on that level of instrument, and they are pretty consistent with other shops in our area (Kansas and Missouri)

You're quite right about the pullback. I misread her post. Obviously, I was thinking the projection was low, as so often happens. I should read more carefully, since the projection on my own 90 year old Markneukirchen violin is quite high. It plays well and sounds wonderful though, so I just haven't seen the need to mess with it, as long as I can get a bridge to fit.

January 9, 2008 at 04:22 AM · Michael wrote: "I was thinking the projection was low, as so often happens"

Why DOES this happen? I took my viola in to get a new tailpiece installed and was told my fingerboard was 2mm too low. (He quoted about $200 to fix it BTW).

January 9, 2008 at 04:43 AM · Greetings,

I`m not a luthier but I belive I am right in saying that over time finger boards tend to sink from the constant `throwing of fingers` at them. The cheaper theboard the faster the effetc.

Cheers,

Buri

January 9, 2008 at 03:12 PM · "Greetings,

I`m not a luthier but I belive I am right in saying that over time finger boards tend to sink from the constant `throwing of fingers` at them. The cheaper theboard the faster the effetc.

Cheers,

Buri"

Hi Buri;

Actually, although if new there is sometimes a slight change at the heal, the neck "falling" usually has more to do with arching changes (caused by the stresses of the string tension) than from what the neck, or board, are doing.

Jeffrey

January 9, 2008 at 10:38 PM · somewhat like Alexander Technique in fact....

January 10, 2008 at 03:27 AM · :-) Yes.

January 10, 2008 at 03:35 AM · That sounds way too high. I'm a profesional violinist. I own 10 violins and I have them all worked on constantly. The one I play is needing repaired soon. I play 8 to 10 hours a day. And even though I cut my fingernails and keep them very short, I have warn down the fingerboard in the short time of 1 year. I asked the violin loft where I purchased the violin, "how much to fix it" and they said ...."about 50 bucks" This would include shaving down the fingerboard and also the nutt and resetting the bridge and the sound post and also putting the strings back on. I realize that in your case, you will need to have the neck taken off. This is a larger job. However, for a job like that, you should be looking at aprox. 200 bucks. I'd be looking for another luthier if I was you.

Erick

January 10, 2008 at 12:13 PM · I'll side with Mr. Holmes and Mr. Pluhar on the price of the repairs. Without knowing in great detail what repairs are being recommended, the skill with which they will be performed, or what complications there might be with the repair, we just don't have enough information to fault the estimate.

Buri might be able to recommend an alternate method of bringing the fingerboard height down, such as wedging prunes between the strings and the fingerboard when you're not playing. (grin)

January 10, 2008 at 12:59 PM · When did +- 2mm start? I can't believe they were originally made with that kind of precision, or that one might not actually be better if it happened to be + 3mm.

January 10, 2008 at 02:24 PM · "When did +- 2mm start? I can't believe they were originally made with that kind of precision, or that one might not actually be better if it happened to be + 3mm."

What works "better" depends on the fiddle, but neck projection on a fiddle (if made by a good maker or reset by a good restorer) is usually spot on whatever the target is... and acceptable tolerance is more like 1 mm.

Erick; Often, repair costs depend on what the shop works on and the skill/quality of their work, which can (should) translate into the rate a restorer charges. It takes a good number of hours (more than "several") to do that particular job correctly... and there's a big difference between doing a proper reset and slapping the neck back in... and it might end up being less expensive to pay a higher rate and only have to do the job once.

As David mentioned, there isn't enough information presented here to trash the estimate, although I might question if it's appropriate to spend that % of the value of the instrument on this particular problem. Really, contrary to another poster's opinion, I don't consider Sofia instruments as appreciable assets... so the age will probably have little effect on the value.

Another problem (and possibly the most pertinent one) might be that the luthier selected works on more expensive instruments, and they may not be the "correct" person to work on a less expensive one. While some in the industry may offer different "tiers" (levels) of work, many of us don't.

Besides that, it's amazing to me that there is such a strong opinion concerning repair costs... While a good restorer can make a decent living, I don't know any who own luxury yachts. Gosh, let's turn the tables. What if I were to say something like "musicians just get paid too much per service". :-)

That said, I'm certainly willing to admit that the work described in the original post (bridge, post, neck reset, planing the board, strings, etc.) would cost at least as much in my shop as the estimate that was given... but I'd pass on working on an instrument of that type.

David & Buri: I want to hear more about the prune idea technique.

Jeffrey

January 10, 2008 at 02:57 PM · You mean D.G. sobered up long enough to cut something 1 mm? (In light of the legends I've read about him, anyway). No doubt a good modern maker can shoot 1 mm, but when did the necessity for that begin?

January 10, 2008 at 03:53 PM · A millimeter is pretty big. I'm looking at one right now, and it's huge.

January 10, 2008 at 04:03 PM · You know the Song Without Words. That's the Punchline Without a Joke.

January 10, 2008 at 04:16 PM · I wasn't trying to make a joke or a punchline, if that's what you're implying. I was just sitting next to a tape measure thinking, a millimeter makes a big difference in intonation, so perhaps it also makes a big difference in violin construction.

January 10, 2008 at 04:50 PM · Yes, but to me, when I look at the other measurements it doesn't add up. The irregular outlines and thicknesses and so on. That's more in line with what I think thoughts on mechanical precision were in those days. I think precision measurements is an industrial revolution asthetic and necessity, so I'm assuming the 1 mm spec comes along later.

I think the string length could vary somewhat originally too. If that's true, I don't know why they'd try to hold 1 mm at this point, and so on and so forth...

January 10, 2008 at 04:48 PM · It's helpful to separate the consruction of an instrument from the set-up of an instrument.

in the construction of an instrument, I think you are right Jim, one m.m difference here or there doesn't amount to much.

in the set up of an instrument, one millimeter is a huge difference indeed.

how the old set ups were performed, and to what degree they were carefully or not carefully done, doesn't matter much now adays, since these old setups were redone many times over the life of the old timers.The old set ups are long gone.

So I guess it matters which m.m. you are measuring. a m.m difference in tailpiece after length is huge, for example. but a m.m difference in plate thickness, or f-hole nick placement, in one or another area won't mean much.

January 10, 2008 at 05:01 PM · As a personal example, the violin I'm making right now has an overhang variation of over half a m.m difference between some areas. which doesn't bother me in the least.

But I've had two sleepless nights already, trying to decide between a neck overstand of seven m.m., or seven and one half m.m.s.

January 10, 2008 at 04:59 PM · I've seen in the Philadelphia Museum of Art ancient work whose accuracy measured to the millimeter. But this is beside the point. We are addressing the issue of a violinist currently not taking lessons who would like to play his violin for fun. The violin I used for years had a horrible fingerboard and was barely noticable to me only until I got to a considerably higher level of technique. For basic playing in lower positions, a millimeter is unlikely to be an issue.

In my humble, non-violin-making opinion. I could just be full of crap.

January 10, 2008 at 05:20 PM · Emily, yes she should get it done right, whatever that means today. I was just curious how right came to be. You know how I am :)

January 10, 2008 at 05:14 PM · if my violin, with all its "problems", sounds miles better than the chinese violins, i will be a happy fiddler:)

January 10, 2008 at 10:00 PM · Jeffrey Holmes wrote: "...I don't consider Sofia instruments as appreciable assets, so the age will probably have little effect on the value."

So a tentative blind retail value of the violin would be $3,000 if it was in good condition and sounded fine. However, the sound variable is unknown.

January 11, 2008 at 02:46 AM · Here's a story - pertinent on many levels to current discussion - from an amateur/student.

I was very eager to take up the violin again after a long hiatus; didn't know where to start. I went to the place at which I rented my violin back in high school and bought one which the shop owner said would last me for a loooooong while.

Not only is my apartment really, really dry and I was worried the lack of humidity would hurt my new investment but I also broke a couple of strings. So, I brought it to a nearby violin shop (http://www.a440violinshop.com/); a different one from where I purchased it. No sooner did I take my violin out of its case did they start passing it around and listing things which need to be fixed, explaining that these things simply hadn't been taken care of during the life of the violin. They suggested: new nut, new pegs, new strings (obviously), new bridge, new tail piece, new finger board, and a neck reset; all to the tune of $943 ($400 of which was labor for the neck reset; $225 labor for the fingerboard).

I don't know if this mitigates such a seemingly high price but, if I remember correctly, the nut and fingerboard were hand-carved/fashioned. Furthermore, one of the shop owners was thumbing through a listing of auction prices and said that a J.A. Baader went for $1200 in 2006 and another for $2000 in 2007 and said that auction prices are usually half of what the violin is actually worth.

If all of the above is true, then I didn't pay more for the violin and seemingly exorbitant repairs than the violin is potentially worth. Even as a lay person, I would consider this a good deal only if this instrument NOW lasts me for a looong while.

It's a moot point now since everything's been done but what are your thoughts, since we're talking about cost of repairs, &c.?

January 11, 2008 at 12:20 PM · It's pretty hard to second-guess the necessity or the price of repairs unless we've seen the violin both before and after.

January 11, 2008 at 01:23 PM · In economics we use the term, "next best alternative." So other than what you did, what was the next best alternative? That's a good way to decide if you made a good decision. Assuming you needed the repairs, and violins do require ongoing costs that apparantly had built up for you, then you probably paid less than it would have cost to buy another one.

Do you like the sound? Does it play well? Then be happy. Costs are part of ownership. On the otherhand, if you hate your violin, maybe you should have not invested money into it.

January 11, 2008 at 02:00 PM · in economics, there is another phenom, that is, if you walk into a barber shop, the opinion will be that you need a haircut. the best alternative is to run away when you don't need it. doing the right thing may be costly, it becomes confusing. or, doing the right thing may be confusing, it becomes costly.

January 11, 2008 at 02:19 PM · Mine needs fixed too, fingerboard is cracked. It has to wait though, after $450.00 to register my new car, the hike in car insurance, 2.5 weeks in California, and Christmas I are poor =(

On the funny side, I was sitting in the bed and breakfast dining room, minding my own business drinking coffee, waiting for the other half to wake up. Who should walk in but my violin teacher. What are the odds of choosing the same B&B for vacation to S. California?

January 11, 2008 at 06:17 PM · Sorry to be so chatty but I have two questions:

One: Was the woman who helped me at that violin shop correct: is the auction price for a violin in the neighborhood of 1/2 it's actual cost?

Two: What parts are usually returned when you have them replaced? I received the old pegs, tail piece, and bridge but should I have also been given the old nut and fingerboard as well? Not that I necessarily need this but I was just wondering what violin shop etiquette is on returning the old parts.

January 11, 2008 at 09:37 PM · James:

"One: Was the woman who helped me at that violin shop correct: is the auction price for a violin in the neighborhood of 1/2 it's actual cost?"

It really depends on the instrument... as a general rule, for instruments under a certain threshold, it's a workable guess-timate.

"Two: What parts are usually returned when you have them replaced? I received the old pegs, tail piece, and bridge but should I have also been given the old nut and fingerboard as well? Not that I necessarily need this but I was just wondering what violin shop etiquette is on returning the old parts."

I usually ask the client if they'd like the parts back. If they don't, old fingerboards can be recycled (made into other parts) and it's handy to have odd pegs around, etc.

January 12, 2008 at 04:17 AM · I looked at the website of the violin shop you mentioned, and I don't see anything fishy about it. I think you probably have a violin that's 80 years old that needed some restoration. That website happens to have a restored German violin for $2,500 and two other semi-generic German violins for $1,500 and $2,000, which seems reasonable. So you have a market range for your instrument. I wouldn't worry about it unless you do not like your violin, in which case you should have bought a better one for over $2,600.

Just quickly looking on the Internet, I see that J.A. Baader violins are made in the Amati and Strad pattern, and they usually sell from $900 to $2,800. I would guess that most sell for around $1,600.

There is nothing you can do now, so why worry? A likely scenario is that you paid $943 to fix a violin in that condition worth $900 that is now worth $1700, meaning that your total maintenance cost over all these years is a measly $143.

Also keep in mind that this discussion started with a repair recommendation of $1,000 for just the neck, while you received all that work for less.

It probably boils down to whether or not you like the violin.

January 12, 2008 at 01:00 AM · "Besides that, it's amazing to me that there is such a strong opinion concerning repair costs... While a good restorer can make a decent living, I don't know any who own luxury yachts. Gosh, let's turn the tables. What if I were to say something like "musicians just get paid too much per service". :-)"

VERY interesting and valid point in this discussion. Never thought of that, honestly - but all of the comments here are very interesting and thank you all for yet another lively discussion.

January 12, 2008 at 01:15 AM · "What if I were to say something like "musicians just get paid too much per service". :-)"

Sometimes it doesn't matter what you say. Lots of musicians just don't have any money to pay you with...

January 12, 2008 at 03:53 AM · "Sometimes it doesn't matter what you say. Lots of musicians just don't have any money to pay you with..."

You're kind of making my point, in a 'round about way, Jim.

The fact is, the musicians that work with me do seem to have funds for required repairs to their instruments... and most make a point to do what's best for their instruments (and so themselves). I am very understanding that this sometimes requires some sacrifice.. and no, I don't believe musicians get paid too much per service. :-)

My clients are mostly (but not all) pros though... so many are gainfully employed or have developed their careers well enough to get along.

January 12, 2008 at 04:14 AM · In college I worked for a couple of months as an amp and P.A. repairman in a music store. Nobody could afford anything. It was nice when the item belonged to a church, because then I'd make more than a dollar an hour on it. I had an informal sliding scale based on how religious the item's owner was.

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