Modern Violins

March 10, 2008 at 04:27 AM · It's time for me to upgrade my violin, and I want an instrument that will be permanent, so I am looking for something of great quality. I don't want to commission an instrument because of both the wait time.

So who are the best modern makers out there? I live in the middle of nowhere, so going out and finding instruments to try is difficult. Which makers/businesses have instruments they can ship out, and I can play on the violin for a week or two to see if I fall in love with the instrument?

I know of Shar, but their website form doesn't work for me. How good are the instruments available at Curtin & Alf, and what other makers have available instruments?

Thanks for any help!

Replies (23)

March 10, 2008 at 01:07 PM · Hi! The idea of a "permanent" instrument is not realistic, I think; most players are allways looking for a better instrument, even those who possess a great Strad or Del Gesù. And our taste also changes with time, so an instrument that we find fantastic today may be considered just "good" in ten years.

Top makers will not dispatch an instrument to you, I think, because they have a long waiting list. Some (belive me) will not even accept an order from you if you are "just" an orchestra player...

Perhaps you could visit some good dealers to give a look in their instruments.

Visiting some good luthiers that are not included in the "crem de la crem" list is a good idea too, after all Del Gesù, Katarina Guarneri, Scarampella, Rocca etc. were never included in this list when they were alive.

March 10, 2008 at 01:43 PM · Also, the "crem de la crem" are much more likely to charge more-simply because of their name and rep. You don't need to spend $40-50k to get a contemporary good violin you'll love.

Call up dealers to see what they have and they recommend. As Manfio said, the upper echelon are unlikely to have instruments laying around their shop to purchase. If you want to get ahold of their work without the wait, a dealer is your best bet--also they'll have a nice cross-section of instruments to compare with.

Remember that with the riggors of shipping, the instruments can fall out of adjustment-so if you know a friend who knows how to appropriately use a soundpost setter, you'll be in a much better position to compare instruments (when they are at their best).

All else being equal (it seldom is of course)--the only advatage a young good violin made by a renowned maker has over a young good violin by someone unknown-is that you can safely predict where his/her work will mature to with playing.

Of course, a good dealer will give you references for makers they've sold before so you can ask them about their experiences...and sleep safe and sound in your choice anyway.

March 10, 2008 at 02:39 PM · Another suggestion would be to go to the directory on this website and click on the Luthier Dictory.

You can find a maker in your area.

March 10, 2008 at 05:43 PM · From Marc Bettis;

"....Remember that with the riggors of shipping, the instruments can fall out of adjustment-so if you know a friend who knows how to appropriately use a soundpost setter, you'll be in a much better position to compare instruments (when they are at their best)."


Please get permission from the maker/dealer before doing this on a borrowed instrument. :-)

March 10, 2008 at 04:11 PM · Like one guy said on here before: this site has done this well. Get in contact with the "studio guys," or Jan Dimmick...they have played a lot of moderns, a ton of them!

I got more out of one conversation with one of them then I could have for weeks with others.

Here are the makers we will be looking at for our gifted young ones: Needham, Burgess, Bellini, Croen, Seifert and Grubaugh, Widenhouse, both Scotts, and Curtin.

You could try the Europen guys but set up will be needed from time to time and you would have to ship it across the ocean, and the dollar is down, when it comes back up (it will) then you will have lost some money...makes very little sense.

As for not commissioning something: may be tough because few of them have fiddles not already sold.

Good luck, we are in the same boat and doing all the research we can.

March 10, 2008 at 09:42 PM · I Googled some of those makers and others, and what are the differences in quality compared to the differences in price? Some of those makers are in the 30,000$ price category, while others like Kelvin Scott and the Jiang brothers appear to be much less expensive. Is there a noticeable difference in quality, or is it just reputation/name that marks up the sales?

I honestly don't care at all where a violin is made, or whether or not the last name of the maker is Chinese, American, or Italian (like adding French words to beauty products, the Italian name alone seems to be most of the price!) I also don't care about market value, resale, or any of that.

All I am interested in is the best tone and playability. So are Kelvin Scott, Jiang brothers, etc, on par with Curtin, Alf, and those others with more awards/reputations? I'd prefer to get the most bang for the buck so I can get a new bow too!

March 11, 2008 at 03:19 AM · needham 18.5 k, widenhouse, croen 19k, k. scott 15k, burgess 25 k

call the session guys...they have tried many samples of each.

March 11, 2008 at 07:16 AM · May I ask what you mean by 'session guys' and how I can contact them??

One more question on violin trials: how does liability work? If the instrument comes, and I open up the case and I find the sound post fallen over or cracks, etc, because either FedEx mishandled it, or something went wrong in shipping, am I liable, or is that something FedEx takes responsibility for and reimburses the maker for any damages?

Or, if I am playing in a recital hall and Zeus strikes with lightning, or Robin Hood pillages it from my home in the dead of night to give to a small orphan child, where does the liability lay? (Silly examples, I know)

I ask because I am Googling makers and some list that you're fully responsible as soon as it comes into your hands, while others simply say that the instrument is insured by them through shipping and the trial ... and others simply have no information at all on the conditions.

So, can anyone clarify for me? I am not too worried about lightning strikes, but I feel more comfortable when there's an understood policy.

March 11, 2008 at 12:08 PM · It depends on the dealer and their individual insurance policy. Thus, the individual answers you are finding.

When I've done the shipping dance with violins-they were insured 'til they got into my hands by the dealer....then it was my responsibility....when shipping back-I have asked dealers to cover returns back on occassion. They obliged....Otherwise it would be on my tab if anything happened.

FedEx and the rest will ONLY insure to $1000 or a few $1000 of value-EVEN if you're paying for insured shipping. Do the math if you're shipping a dealer-double case with $50k+ of violins in it....or heaven forbid a dealer quad-case with 100X+ what shipping agents will cover.

....although most dealers are careful about packing against bumps a---when shipping in (very) warm (and humid) weather, varnish can soften-possibly leaving marks in the finish from the packing materials (I had this happen once)....or at worst the packing materials sticking to the violin (never had it happen personally, but to give you an idea). The finish damage was quite minor, and I wasn't held liable for any damages fortunately-and I ended up buying that violin anyway ;>)

....Of course, as Mr. Burgess has warned-dry weather can be fatal to instruments also.

Many dealers will ship 2-day, and ask that you ship-either overnight or 2-day service---with Tuesday being the latest day to ship in the week. Thus minimizing the risk of fine instruments being stuck sitting in a warehouse over the weekend. The maker/dealer will also want the tracking #s as soon as you have them.

Dealers and makers ought to know how to pack their instruments against damage from getting bumped around for the most part (save from King Kong perhaps)...and when you ship it back you simply have to put all the packing elements back where they were, as snug as they were. They main wildcard worries though are climate related, heat-and of course lack of humidity.

March 11, 2008 at 01:46 PM · If you are really serious about buying a violin in this price range, I think that a visit to the makers shop to play some of their instruments is a wise way to spend a few hundred on a plane ticket.

Some of the names of primo American builders that contribute to the major violin publications and are sought out are David Burgess, Gregg Alf, Joseph Curtin. If I were trying to make the decision that you have in front of you I would seriously take a look at these makers.

March 11, 2008 at 05:57 PM · there are 4 players who make a good living doing high end session work, and one of them was looking for 4 great moderns in a hurry because he had was then thought to have a treminal condition with little time left. (He's actually well and alive now). He wanted to leave 4 violins fir his 2 young prodigy sons. BTW he's the player Andreas went to see and absolutely raves about.

3 of the guys went to Europe to play the best fiddles there, and they have just played a ton of great modern. Each has bought a fiddle and each is looking to buy another, except the original man who started this who plans to still get 4 to leave for his boys. Bottom line: these guys have been at this for almost 3 years, traveled all over to play stuff, and have paid who knows in shipping costs! They have done their homework!

i'll email u their contact info, u can also contact jan D. who has learned so much from them and knows them well.

Hope it helps!

March 11, 2008 at 06:23 PM · Barry,

In an earlier post, I think Jake mentioned that he cannot travel because he does not have his driver's license yet. Also, delivery of a violin could be difficult because both of his parents work and he lives in an apartment which is not totally secure. Jake mentioned that his parents did not have renters' insurance. It would be wise to get some kind of insurance for such a valuable instrument as proposed.

The best thing IMO would be to have the parents drive Jake to some shops with good inventory. Perhaps Jake's teacher could be of help.

Jake, I have no objection at all to getting a professional instrument if you have the money to do it without worries - I did just that as a relative beginner. Unfortunately, even with lessons and very fine instruments, I still sound like an (improving) amateur.

You might want to post a bit more about your exact age, experience, abilities, plans etc. It could be that something less than a top tier instrument would be best. You mentioned working out of Suzuki, Book 2 (not sure if that was violin), and your profile mentions that you love violin, but do not perform. Do you have a teacher or orchestra that you play with?

Will your parents drive or fly you to some violin shops? One thing you might consider is what I did - shopped at a store with a large inventory and a policy where you can trade up with full credit. That way you have some protection and can afford to wait until you are sure what you really want in a top instrument and can decide for yourself whether the $$$ is worth it to you.

If you buy from a maker, you may get a fine instrument, but could have a wait trying to sell it yourself if, later, your tastes or needs change.

Makers carry insurance for evaluations, but I question whether one would ship to a minor unless the parents (and their credit card) was involved.

March 11, 2008 at 06:37 PM · That's correct, I do not have a driver's license, and my whole living situation is proposing to be a problem. I have talked to my parents about taking me out of state for a short vacation to check out violin ships etc, but got the usual response of them being too busy.

Suzuki book 2 is what I am in for cello :P (I'm not a traitor, honest! I am just a Mormon string player. I am allowed to be married to multiple instruments) I am in Suzuki book 7 for violin, and have been playing a little over a year now (I guilt my parents everyday for not beginning me as soon as I popped out of the womb. Oh, the woes of being a late starter)

I am definitely willing to shell out my entire savings (with some help from my parents) for an instrument I'll adore. I love violin so much that there's no doubt in my mind that it's worth it. My worry was that most shops don't seem to have many modern violins in them though?? (That's what I am surmising from checking shop inventories on their websites)

I mean, I can't afford the old pricey Italians, so is a modern likely my best option? Are 10,000$ modern violins made by the great makers of these days far superior to 10,000$ violins that are old French/Italian instruments?

March 11, 2008 at 07:09 PM · Jake,

LOL re the marriages to multiple instruments.

I am not meaning to push Ifshin Violins in California, but it is the only large shop I am familiar with - others may be similar. They have a lot of modern violins, and some really fine old ones, all in your price range.

If you have only been playing a year, first you are making great progress. But in that time, you won't be able to judge an instrument as well as you will as you spend more time with the violin.

What I did, I thought was reasonable. I started with their top Jay Haide Chinese instrument. Later, with my instructor (a principal in our Philharmonic), I purchased an old Euoropean no name instrument. Later, my instructor auditioned several more expensive instruments for me, and many of them were excellent. I also upgraded my bow in the same way. I now have a Darnton violin and a Morgan Andersen bow and am very happy.

My opinion is that it would not be wise to go all the way at this time after just a year. The Jay Haide instruments are fine quality. One of the employees there plays one professionally (she subs in our orchestra now and then). My teacher and I found some outstanding instruments in the $5,000 to $10,000 range that he would have no trouble playing as a top pro.

I think there are other places like Ifshin, where you could get something good now, and be protected later if you want to go big. I doubt you would appreciate the difference in an ultimate instrument at this time.

My teacher has what is probably an Amati. Frankly, I prefer my Darnton whether he is playing or I am playing, but admit that they are both great and he knows what he is listening to better than I do. My point is that the instrument you would choose now is unlikely the instrument you will choose in a few years. Find a way to protect yourself from that.

Also budget for a bow and insurance of some kind. The bow makes a huge difference, and needs to be a good match to the instrument. Ifshin has the same trade up policy for bows.

BTW, paying a lot, or getting a big name, is not a guarantee that you will love the instrument. My teacher and I both definitely preferred the Darnton to a number of more expensive violins.

March 11, 2008 at 07:28 PM · Thank you for your advice, Robert. How did the Jay Haide instrument compare to your Darnton? (I see on their website that they offer rentals and can ship out of state)

Also, can you tell me how your Morgan Anderson compares to other bows you tried?

March 11, 2008 at 08:51 PM · The Haide instrument was very good, but you would know instantly that the Darnton was a lot better. I personally haven't seen a violin that sounds better than the Darnton or appears better made, but that is just my opinion. I'm probably just thinking that everybody should have done what I did. (LOL)

My teacher and I were also very taken with a violin made by Michela Veluti Tadioli for I think around $9,000 - it sounded about as good as the Darnton, at least under the ear. The top of the line Haide would definitely not hold you back in any way, and you can always upgrade.

The bow is great, but I played perhaps ten Andersen's, and some of them did not compliment my instrument at all. They were all beautifully made, but all felt and played different.

One thing you will find, perhaps to your disappointment, is that the major factor in how you sound is yourself rather than the instrument, at least at my level. Of course, I can tell the difference, but the player is the major factor.

It is a mistake to think that after a year or so of playing that a top instrument is going to transform you - but it helps, and a good instrument is just a joy to own.

If I were your dad, I would really caution you to keep your savings for things you will need. Life has a tendency to get very expensive in a few years, and if a working pro can play on a Haide, so could you or I. I would not feel deprived at all playing such an instrument.

The main reason I bought the Darnton was that it was beautiful and I could afford it without sacrifice to myself and my family. You are going to need money for education and so many things in the future.

March 11, 2008 at 08:43 PM · Once again thank you for your advice.

I could manage on a less expensive instrument, of course, but I've always thought of violin playing much like that of singing. One can make pleasant singing through skilled technique of the voice, but if your voice is not natural 'beautiful' no amount of skill will give you the tone of Pavarotti. And if you have a naturally hideous voice (tone wise) it's very difficult to make a pleasant sound regardless of how much you master control over your voice.

Is having the voice of Pavarotti or Josh Groban, or Frank Sinatra required to make pleasant singing? Of course not. But it sure helps! And then there are always lost causes. I am not sure if Peewee Herman could make a recording of Nessun Dorma that wouldn't motivate people to go bungee jumping without a cord.

Not that my current violin is a Peewee Herman! It just limits my playing, especially in the upper positions, and the wolf notes are a real trial for me.

March 11, 2008 at 09:15 PM · Hi Jake! Top players are very concerned with sound in high positions in the G and D strings.

That's why many top soloists start test driving an instrument in the upper positions of the G string.

Try playing C on the seventh position on the G string, this region will be full of rasped notes, wolfes and bad sound, in general, only top violins will sound good there, and these notes are important for solo players.

March 11, 2008 at 09:26 PM · Thanks for the tip! I've noticed that too, especially on cellos, where the high positions on the C string often cause epileptic seizures when played on cheaper instruments.

Are there any other things to look for while searching for a higher quality instrument?

March 11, 2008 at 09:58 PM · Generally-in quality instruments, the differences should be more about personality than playability. Of course, some instruments may take a different technical approach to get a given sound than another-or may want a different kind of bow stick than what you have. You need to weigh what you want, with where you are-and what you want to do with the instrument.

You also need to get to know them and play them. Like people you need to chat with them to know what the will do at an askance-and what they'll grudgingly do. It took me about 2 weeks to get to know the fiddles that would come into my hands and have a rough idea of what I had (and this is practicing 6+ hours a day as well as rehearsals), sometimes I'm still surprised after 6+months of regular playing and concertizing what my instrument I purchased can do.

That's the joy of playing a (good) new instrument, it grows and will likely get better.

Some instruments are natural sopranos, some are natural altos-there is some monkying (strings, perhaps post) you can do to adjust to get more of what you want if everything else is otherwise what you want. Some blend well in chamber settings-some project over orchestras-others think otherwise....some will do it all well.

You also need to be aware of what size fiddle you're dealing with, with respect to your hand geometry. I may be long limbed (and tall), and have long fingers....but my instrument I prefer is a small feeling instrument. Mine may actually be a full normal 14" or 355ish mm, but it doesn't feel that way in my hands, I loved it because it not only had good warm singing tone, but is also easy to get around from 1st position all the way to the end of the fingerboard.

A "full size" is not necessarily a "full size".

For what it is worth-my violin is young and started off as a very tonally even (i.e. a given pitch sounded the same across strings, and up the finger board) soprano instrument (not too much projection, but a good sweet and still dark sound)....a different set of strings-a different bow and it will do anything I first it would only freely do Mozart and classical style music naturally (anything else I had to force)-with a great deal of playing and some changes in set-up, as well as learning how to play the new instrument anything from Corelli to any crazy things written now are at my fingertips....and project over an orchestra (easily).

Don't expect to find what you want and need right away-that's the joy and stress of shopping. It may take a while-and you need to be patient.

March 11, 2008 at 10:00 PM · A wide, generous dynamic range is quite important - and difficult to find also - the instrument may sound good in fff and ppp and all between.

March 11, 2008 at 10:01 PM · Marc---very well done post !

March 12, 2008 at 12:31 PM · Thanks for the mentions folks. I'll do my best to be worthy of your confidence.

I've sent the insurance questions to Heritage Insurance and will post their response, probably in a new thread.

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