The Higher the Price The Better The Violin?

December 21, 2008 at 01:27 AM ·

Has This Ever Happened Too You?

You are shopping for a violin. At a shop you play a few and you have narrowed it down to two (or three, etc.,) yet it's the least expensive one with the best sound and playability!

 

Replies (28)

December 21, 2008 at 01:51 AM ·

yup

December 21, 2008 at 01:57 AM ·

I think that a big contributing factor as to why one violin sounds better than another is the way it is set up.  I don't think you ever really know if the violin you are auditioning at a shop is fully optimized to bring out its best sound.  That expensive violin that seems over shadowed by a cheapo violin could be badly set up. e.g. poor bridge material, poor tailpiece material, poorly adjusted afterlengh, uncomplimentary strings, poor soundpost placement.  Once optimized, the expensive violin might actualy deliver a tone comensurate with its price tag. 

Then again...you would think that a shop would tinker with its most expensive violins to give htem the best tone. 

December 21, 2008 at 01:57 AM ·

Had that happen recently with a viola bow...

December 21, 2008 at 02:21 AM ·

Price versus quality is one matter, ability to appreciate the difference is another matter.

But generally, higher price often due to the maker's fame. So that's why often there're better violin and yet cheaper to buy.

December 21, 2008 at 04:11 AM ·

I have a related anecdote. A year ago I tried out 3 violins, and the least expensive one had by far the most superior tone quality, quite unbelievable for the price actually (it was priced at $8,000, and without knowing the price my teacher suggested the quality of the sound would be something one would find in the $20,000-$30,000 range) However, while the clarity was fine, it had only a decent projection (which he said would cut the value in half - and then to my suprise he stated "It's probably around $8,000). Recently, a local luthier that is really wonderful recommended creating and installing a shorter soundpost for my violin to help calibrate its projection better. I have been milling over the advice because I would have thought the person who made the violin himself would have put the ebst set up possible? I just don't udnerstand how the violin would be in such a situation - could someone highlight the possibilities for me?

December 21, 2008 at 05:25 AM ·

i'm usually wrong but sometimes makers have NO ideas regarding sound  {don't scourge me yet}....makers are oft concerned more so with wood type,flame,scroll,varnish,appearance etc.......... at the suggestion of one player they could immediately change the position of every soundpost in their offerings [i've seen it done]......if a violin is ugly but has impeccable toneages---then buy it--no matter the cost [within reason]......all of us are human--we all make big time mistakes in our life journey and no one is exempt.......if you are starting out to buy,then take someone with you who knows more than you do----it helps greatly.........if you do become enthralled with the sound,then buy the fiddle.......everyone makes mistakes and everyone learns from mistakes---try to make the very best decision and be willing to accept the consequences thereof......if it sounds good,then it is good---you should know....trust your maker as a member of the violin family---we are all connected,somehow......

Few men would pass up a beautiful woman on a walk, without noticing the lines & texture....and,once again---i've gone too far........ mea culpa.....

 

December 21, 2008 at 06:27 AM ·

Although probably all makers at least intend to be very concerned with sound, not all makers are highly skilled at setting up instruments to sound their best.

Unfortunately, not all violin shops are skilled at evaluating what a given instrument needs, either.

So choose your expert carefully, and then don't be surprised if others don't seem to know as much as you would expect them to know.

December 21, 2008 at 08:39 AM ·

Yes, of course. That's why the old Italians get better and better all the time!

December 21, 2008 at 10:53 AM ·

To go back to the original question:

No, sound isn't necessarily related to price. With a large enough sampling of instruments though, you may notice an overall trend toward the more expensive ones being better.

There's something else to consider..... how sound is perceived based on what someone is used to. In my experience, musicians will seldom make large jumps from whatever  they've been playing. If they've been playing on junk, you can hand them some great fiddle, and they often won't like it. Instead, they'll make an incremental change, choosing something similar to what they had, but a little better.

A while ago, I had an amateur come to me wanting a violin. He had just started looking. Sorry, but the violin he owned was really a dud. It was about the deadest sounding violin I've ever heard!  After experimenting a bit with different violins which were in the shop for one reason or another, with a wide range of sounds, including one cheap commercial violin that my daughter used to play, I realized that the only thing he would find acceptable would be a slightly better sounding dud! I had to let that guy go, because I wasn't willing to build one, at least not on purpose. (insert smiley)

That's one reason why I always recommend that someone spend a good deal of time playing a large number of violins in all price ranges before choosing. It can help one become "unstuck" from whatever they have been playing in the past, and maybe save some money and grief in the long run.

December 21, 2008 at 12:07 PM ·

Bare in mind folks, the least expensive does not have to be a CHEAPO. The two violins could be $11,000.00 USD and one for $8700.00 USD respectively and the $8700.00 is the better of the two.

December 21, 2008 at 03:26 PM ·

More than a few concert artists have said my violin that I paid $1900 Swiss Franks for, $3,200,is a solo quality instrument that any concert violinist could make a career with. It does everything you could ask of it and has a gorgeous tone. Violins like that are out there, you just have to play as many as you can until you find the gem.

Interesting information, David.

December 21, 2008 at 03:30 PM ·

After a certain price range, it depends more on the individual (the specific instrument) that on the price, It is possible to make a very good deal by trying many violins and take the extraordinairy one for its category (that often play like a much better one)

Anne-Marie

December 21, 2008 at 04:25 PM ·

I think there are so many factors involved in violin pricing that this gets confusing. Some players are concerned with only how the violin sounds to them.They may even tend to think what sounds the best to their ears that day is somehow underpriced. But many violins have a mystique- age, maker, possible history, provenance, that interests and intrigues other players. So far, the market for that mystique is holding true. In troubled times in can be more commanding than in easy ones. Not every violin with a provenance sounds stupendous. Some certainly do. So, if you have the $$ to buy a violin that sounds great to you and has that mystique factor, it makes some sense personally, musically & financially to do so. Sue


December 21, 2008 at 04:40 PM ·

Value is based upon perception, which is affected by marketing not quality of sound. During my violin search, I always bumped into this strange but true law of the scene.

I've played a Joseph Hel ($50k) and it sounded like his last name. A Bernadel at $35k was very limited.  And a Sderci at around $25k was just not so good.  I guess these instruments sell at high prices because people enjoy the idea of owning an older fiddle... The violins looked beautiful.

But for sound, none of these comparably priced antiques could compare to the contemporary instruments of David Burgess, Gregg Alf, Joseph Curtin and the Philip Perret that I eventually purchased.  

 

 

 

 

December 21, 2008 at 05:15 PM ·

I'll go for sound over looks any day when buying a violin. You can always change the look of your violin later but sound usually stays the same unless you do something big. But I wouldn't mind a really nice 10k violin just to brag about it.

December 21, 2008 at 06:18 PM ·

 

As somebody already mentioned above many factors contribute for the price range of a violin.
Not at the last stage is the maker’s name. It is like the extra price we are paying for a fashioned trade mark garment. Sometimes the name is a guarantee for a better quality, sometimes not…
We have to consider that each musician is looking for different types of sounding qualities.

December 21, 2008 at 09:30 PM ·

Maestro Roth- Thank You! So much for sharring that account!

Kindest Regards,

Royce

December 22, 2008 at 01:53 AM ·

All a dollar figure does is cloud the players' judgement, and worry insurance companies.  

A dealer will price an instrument for what he can get, and get a profit out of the deal.  Whether he/she rationalizes the price they are selling at due to fame and fortune, or playing capability-all depends on the dealer and the violin.  Of course things get immensely complicated by the fact that some violins will sing in one persons hand-and others will croak; depending on the approach of the player and the instrument set-up.

I've heard of and seen some great deals made, and I've also seen and heard some great ripoffs done-based on what a violin sounds like and what the player payed for it.  In the end that's what matters.

I've seldom been drastically surprised by something far cheaper sounding much better in my hands-with where and what I've shopped for.

December 22, 2008 at 04:20 AM ·

 

  • pricing...Jacques Francais once stated that when buying an instrument, the dealer customarily pays 50% of the appraised value. If we look at a violin in the harsh reality of say an automobile; ie: trade in  price, this makes sense.
  • Violin players are a very opinionated breed; few seldom agree on what is a good fiddle...this too makes sense. We are all individuals
  • vintage as opposed to contemporary...aged wood, and  the fact that the maker is dead, raises the price; just like art work once the artist dies...name recognition
  • the more expensive the instrument, the differences become more difficult to discern; like wine

December 22, 2008 at 10:16 PM ·

So here's a question: suppose, hypothetically, that one is shopping for a fairly high-end violin. One brings home the instrument to audition it, try it out in different halls, see if it "opens up" after being in storage for a bit, etc. But how does one know whether the price is appropriate? Take it to another dealer for an appraisal? I've been told that other deals will probably try to kill the deal by badmouthing the instrument (also, I've been told that appraisals are expensive, but no one tells me how expensive.) One feel a bit blind in this process because there isn't a public record for the recent prices of comparable instruments; also the valuation changes according to condition, etc. 

December 22, 2008 at 11:17 PM ·

Buy a harmonica...................

December 22, 2008 at 11:50 PM ·

Mr. Smith, all good questions to which I don't have solid answers. I suppose that a buyer faces the same uncertainty in any antique or collectibles market.

Some dealers will also act as "buyers agents". I don't know precisely what this means, but could it be worth checking out?

December 22, 2008 at 11:54 PM ·

You've outlined the basic dynamics of the decision-making process.I agree, you should gather the opinions of others, but be aware of the commercial forces affecting or motivating those opinions. Not many high-end instruments are sold, so naturally, competition is fierce amongst the shops. There is gamesmanship to contend with for sure, but don't take it personally. 

I suggest you play many violins and have your friends play them for you.  It was only after playing many many instruments did I gain a sense of quality versus reputation, unknown luthiers versus competition winners, etc.  You can learn about top makers from a number of great threads on v.com.  This web site was so helpful to me!  

One thing I found difficult was discerning the difference between what I heard under the ear and the sound being projected. I played several violins that sounded wonderful to me when I played, but when my friends played, either lacked projection or complexity. The difference can be dramatic, sort of shocking really.

I also recorded myself playing different instruments, which was an important comparative reference.

One worry I had concerned the controversial practice of ammonia fuming with some contemporary makers.  Apparently this helps the violin sound more resonant and makes the wood more receptive to antiquing.  It also makes the wood extremely fragile. Some folks told me about violins that cracked or even shattered later in life, but I have no first-hand knowledge about this. I hope the VSA would discuss this sensitive subject more publicly and definitively.

Another worry I had was the unknown trajectory of a newly-made instrument.  Generally, violins improve markedly over the first year and continue to get better. But sometimes, there are problems. To reduce this risk, I looked for and was lucky enough to find a wonderful instrument by a highly regarded luthier that was reasonably priced, and over ten years old. 

Hope this was helpful.

Good luck to you!

Jason

December 23, 2008 at 12:56 AM ·

  Jason, Thanks. It's actually  my daughter who is looking; I'm sort of the facilitator and someone else is buying it as an investment. We noticed a big difference between the way some instruments sound under her ear as opposed to when heard from a distance, and have tried several in different kinds of halls-- a really dry hall seems to be a critical test. She currently owns a modern instrument that she likes a lot and will be keeping. I have never heard of this practice of ammonia fuming-- although I doubt the dealers we are working with are doing that, since we are taking the instruments home for weeks at a time on trial. [Edit: I reread whatyou wrote and see that it applies to contemporary instruments. We're looking at older fiddles, mostly Italian.] Anyway, this is a really arduous process!

Jason wrote:

One thing I found difficult was discerning the difference between what I heard under the ear and the sound being projected. I played several violins that sounded wonderful to me when I played, but when my friends played, either lacked projection or complexity. The difference can be dramatic, sort of shocking really.

December 23, 2008 at 01:21 AM ·

@E Smith:

The best thing to do in my experience-is find someone who possess an artistic skill, and technique you absolutely trust; who has been helping their students or others shop for a long time.  Even better-is a violinist who has worked with you, to know your own style and approach and advise you on what you currently need-and what you'll want in the future.

Ideally-you want someone who's ONLY interest is in matching you to the best instrument you can find.  You also want someone informed enough in violin making to know what may or may not be right or wrong with an instrument.  A great instrument can be ill-adjusted due to shipping-and give 2nd thoughts, whereas a well-done tiny adjustment in things can make a great difference.

No matter what you do in seeking a 3rd party opinion-odds are they will want some compensation for their time.  Rightly so to some extent, you are seeking and using their professional knowledge.  Dealers aren't the best-as they too have an interest in selling violins, and as a seller, they'd rather have you buy one of their violins than someone elses.  I don't mean to say that there aren't honest good folks out there who won't help you who are dealers.  I'm saying be careful where someone could well have an ulterior motive.

December 23, 2008 at 03:12 AM ·

I think that David Burgess is quite correct in saying that we don't move far from what we are familiar with. I play an early 20th century Italian instrument. A few weeks ago I was in Peter Prier's shop and he let me play the Glennie Strad and a del Gesu. Both are obviously very fine instruments and I know that I could grow to love either but  they are very different from what I play. I am sure they are hundreds of times the price of what I own but I didn't find them to be instantly and dramatically better  -- just different in a very good way.

December 23, 2008 at 01:19 PM ·

I think I saw it put very well in a magazine (STRAD or STRINGS) article I read years ago (I want to ascribe it to Jay Ifshin, but I can't be sure any longer). He said that the higher price range you search in, the greater the chance you will find a violin you want.

When I was doing some violin trials at dealers, this proved to be true. One price point - below about $1,500, he had written that about 10% are excellent, 10% very bad and the rest about what you would expect for that price. My experience exactly - I found that only 3 of 33 I tested over a 2 day period were acceptable to me (for the person I was selecting for).

In a previous trial (the range about $20,000 to $35,000), that day - with the fiddles in the shop - the choices became more difficult above $32,000, and it was good we had a "committee" of violinists helping the buyer, because some characteristics could definitely only be heard by a listener, not the player.

Andy

December 26, 2008 at 05:32 AM ·

The higher the price - the better the violin?

I don't think so!  A lot of violinists are too fixated on (often fake) labels.

As a luthier I'm always looking for good instruments (of course). One of my best violins I bought at a marketplace for 50 Euro (about $ 70).

I've been playing that (unlabeled) old French violin very often ever since.

Did you know that Hindemith's favourite viola was an old one (unlabeled) ??

Keep on searching and playing!

Best regards

Cees

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