Expensive Violin really worth the $$?

January 7, 2009 at 02:30 AM ·

Here's my situation:

I'm a college student majoring in music and a biological science as a pre-med pursuing medicine. Music is just an add-on as I have an uncanny love and passion for the violin and wish to pursue it over my four years as an undergrad. Besides, I like theory and it's a pretty easy major =P

Since this is the case, I've been pondering over my need for a new (and better) violin. I have a major scholarship covering most of my tuition - the rest my parents pay, so I don't have much finanical burden. However, after this summer, I will have ~6000$ in the bank. Of that, I'd like to spend at MOST 2000 bucks. I know my parents will not back me up since they say, although I have the talent and potential to become a pro, that is not my path. I guess I'm a pretty OK/good violinist. Uhh I've been playing for about 6 years with a 2 year break.. so 4 years w/ private lessons. I'm learning Saint Saen's Intro and Cap, and I'm pretty sure Pag caprices and Sibelius/Beethoven is coming up. I've done all the Mozarts, a bunch of Bach's solos, and the standard concerti (Mendelssohn, Tchaik, Lalo).

I have a ~600$ violin that my parents bought after my 3/4th failed (was too small) in the 7th? grade. It's a decent violin with a bright and great yet obnoxiously loud sound. My overly cheap parents lectured me for at least an hour after buying a 200$ coda bow (sweet deal) after my 40$ one broke Hahaha.

My question(s):

I have no experience choosing violins, and the price tag is the first thing that catches my eyes. I know what to look for in violins, but with the other music majors having 3000$+ violins that sound amazing, I'm just wondering how the pricing works when it comes to violins. It just seems unresonable pricing a violin $3000 vs. a $1500 that sound the same.

"Student" violins vs. "Professional" violins - Is it just a marketing scam? Basically I see it as just a range of $$. One of my friends (who *cough* shouldn't be playing in the symphony) has a $5000 violin; spoiled rotten I have to say.

Also, what's the deal with the age? Is it particular significant? I see prices that are $1500 aged both late 1800s to the 2000s.

I know, I know... Sound matters the most, and testing it counts with the feeling and such, but really.. are expensive violins really worth the money? 3000 bucks for an amateur/student violinist is basically ridiculous to me.

Replies (34)

January 7, 2009 at 03:17 AM ·

Someone with better knowledge of pricing will chime in on that. Suffice to say that with the advanced you are playing, you could certainly use a much better instrument. Also, that $2000 probably won't get you the level of instrument your playing deserves, if you're really attacking Paganini and Sibelius at a high level.

I could argue that investing in a performance worthy instrument and bow could be seen as a good investment, as you could perform gigs and eventually get back what you spent. Any time you can make your hobby self-sustaining, it's a very good thing.

btw: 5k really isn't much for a violin. In the $1500-$3000 range, you can definitely find instruments at the lower end that you'll like more than some of the ones at the upper end. You can find a decent student instrument in this range. Don't count on finding "the" violin, though. Instruments in this range will have their shortcomings, as well as their own particular strengths.

January 7, 2009 at 05:30 AM ·

Thing is.. when I chose the 600$ one, I was surprised at how well it projected - and I still am. My teacher priced it at around 1200$ solely on sound I produce with it. However, now that I've gotten more familiar with violins in general, how should I look at violins? How should I test them out?

Also, I'm interested in older violins than newer for some reason.. In general, as violins grow older with much playing, do they sound warmer, deeper, and vibrant (the sound I'm looking for as my violin is incredibly sharp and not smooth on the G string)?

The money issue is too overwhelming for me. Coming from a family that contemplates purchasing the most simple items, I've grown to be stingy with my money as well. I'm not looking to become a professional here, yet teaching and playing gigs are definitely in the near future. Besides, I've already taught a few beginners and played gigs throughout high school. I guess I just want a nice sounding violin that isn't overpriced - is that resonable?

January 7, 2009 at 06:48 AM ·

That is impressive if you can play mendelssohn, tchaikovsky, and lalo after 4 years.  You must be incredibly gifted, or practice a hell of a lot (or both).  At any rate, I think you can get a very decent instrument for $2000; it's just a matter of finding the sound you like.  That will entail trying a lot of different instruments. 

Regarding the value of instruments, it is no reflection on the sound; just the condition and reputation of the maker.  Stradivarius made some fine instruments, but he also made some duds.  In fact, I've heard that in a blind test, many violinists would pass over a strad in favor of "cheaper" instruments.  But even a "dead sounding" strad is going to be worth a heck of a lot more than a fine chinese instrument.  This is an extreme example, but you get the idea. So to answer your question of whether an expensive instrument is really worth the money, the answer is YES because you'll get more when you sell it.  But if the question is whether an expensive instrument sounds better, the answer is "not necessarily."

Bottom line, with your talent, you should definitely invest in a better instrument.  If you are skeptical about the true value of an instrument you like, take it to an independent luthier for an appraisal. 

 

 

January 7, 2009 at 07:18 AM ·

Music may well help keep your sanity through med-school.  If your $600 instrument is notably lacking, and you have a desire to keep up music to maintain your mental sanity, a small investment may be worth the cost.  A $2,000 instrument should get you a higher grade instrument that  should serve you just fine for many years. 

I wouldn't take instrument age into consideration.  There are many very fine modern makers with some amazing instruments.  Your music instructor should be able to help you in picking out the best instrument you can find within your budget. Most shops offer take-home trials.  Take advantage of this and bring the instruments to lessons for evaluation from your teacher.   Your teacher would be more than happy to be part of the process of finding a new violin.

January 7, 2009 at 08:12 AM ·

with your level of accomplishment - playing tchaik and mendelssohn after 4 years is pretty impressive - you definitely deserve a better instrument. But I've found that the relationship between the sound quality, age, and pricing of the instruments within a specific price range can be quite random. I've had a 50-year-old, $3500 instrument that sounded great in the shop but at home had significanly less projection and extremely dead tone than my old $1000 violin aged 5 years. You really have no idea what you're dealing with until you spend some quality time with the violin, so (as suggested in some other posts) take the violins home, have other people listen to them, play them in different settings (room, on stage, etc), and try different songs on them. And I'd say just take the instrument for what it is, and ignore price as long as they're in your range - if you try to find a pattern between sound, age, and price you'll probably be confused.

Cheers from another college premed violinist with a very bright, loud instrument! although I'm not double majoring in music... :P

January 7, 2009 at 02:22 PM ·

will, since you are or will be a man of science,  this may be a good chance to acquire some practical experiences.

no matter what people say in terms of, respectively, pricing, sound quality, relationship between pricing and sound quality, you still have to investigate personally, violin after violin, preferrably over time, and come to your own conclusions.   the best people can do here is to point some very general directions...on a safe assumption that we are all different and what others say can be as helpful as not helpful at all.

logistically speaking,  it seems to me you may not be able to do it  well in a hurry.  as a busy student, can you find yourself all over the places trying out instruments of different grades on the market, sorting out what is what,  establishing a fairly reliable mental spectrum of your own, coming to terms why one 2000 violin in one shop sounds about the same as a 5000 one in another...etc etc etc? 

since you are a "good" violinist, it is perhaps easier for you to trust your own instinct to assess sound quality of violins.   based on your level of ear training which may be excellent, (assuming) without the benefit of  having been exposed to playing many many good to great instruments under your own ears, you may need a lot more experiences/learning during your search, to add to your current database. 

i think the current link between sound and pricing for you is weak. experience and explore, instead of relying on logic and rhetoric.  

 

January 7, 2009 at 03:45 PM ·

A few months ago I posted a discussion asking the question, "Does Price tell you the quality of the violin?" Or something like that. Our v.com Luthiers pitched in their two cents which is more like a million bucks! As well as our upper echelon players! Try to look it up.

January 7, 2009 at 03:57 PM ·

If you are playing at the level your recent rep indicates you should be-you owe it to yourself to get a better instrument.  Playing on cheap violin only reinforces bad habits. 

$2000 may seem like a good deal of money-and it is, but it is a drop in the bucket in the violin market.

January 7, 2009 at 04:01 PM ·

Let's put it this way. You'll never know what nice a violin can be until you play one. The point is, if you never compare, you'll never know how good a violin can be.

Generally there're a few things you need to look into:
1. Ease of playing.
2. Quality of sound.
3. Projection.
4. Tone colour changing ability

The rest are purely conditions and maker's fame.

And lastly, everyone has different taste. What seems a gem to you may be a junk for others. Remember, whether the price tag is worth it, most important is your own satisfaction.

January 7, 2009 at 04:05 PM ·

 

"OVERLY CHEAP PARENTS"??????????????????

you did state that other than the tuition scholarship, they are footing the bill, correct?

My, don't you have an inflated sense of entitlement...

January 7, 2009 at 06:02 PM ·

My violin is a ten-year-old Italian, cost $6500.  I tried ones for twice as much money that just didn't do anything for me.

When you're trying violins, I would consider the most important factor other than tone quality to be your comfort and ease of playing.  If you pick up one, start playing, and think "I've been working way too hard," you're on the right track.   

January 7, 2009 at 11:22 PM ·

Wow, first of all you guys gave GREAT advice and have convinced me to get a better violin! I am flattered by the comments, but I didn't know my level was "that" advanced. I think I've stepped backwards since I took that 2 year break 11th/12th grades after finishing Tchaik in the 10th grade. And yes, after I've gotten Saint Saens down, I'll be tackling some easier Pag caprices along with either Beethoven or Sibelius.

Basically what I got out of all the comments is: Paying for a good violin is worth the money, but $2000 cannot get me a great violin. Ouch. Also, test as many as possible until I get the one that sounds good that is in my price range.

Smiley - Wow, where'd you here that from? Man, I'd take on a Strad any day. Just touching it or taking a picture with one would be enough :P

Mendy - I know what you mean. During stressful times here in undergrad, I often go to the music hall and mess around on the piano or violin - it helps a bunch.

Phillip - Where do you attend school? And good luck with being pre-med.

Al ku - "the current link between sound and pricing for you is weak." You hit the spot, buddy. Thanks!

Marc - I'm not quite sure $2000 is a drop in the bucket. Heck, I can probably buy an old car with that money.

Casey and Nicole - Thanks about the tips! I'll definitely use them for my buying process.

Sam - Yup. They pay about $4000 for my tuition (out of a whole lot more), but they're unwilling to pay for a violin since I am not going pro.

Note: I'm not buying until this summer, but I guess I can visit a local violin shop and have some fun without buying just testing out all their violins. Also, how long usually is a take-home trial? And how many violins do they usually allow you to take out?

Also, I don't know how generally student violins ($1000-$5000?) vs professional violins (>$6000?) are priced. There seems to be a great disparity in pricing, but is there in sound and quality?

January 7, 2009 at 06:42 PM ·

Well Will,

My violin I purchased at the start of my master's work is valued higher than my borthers'-brand-new-off-the-lot-sportscar....if and or when I sell it-I'll also get more money back on it than said car.  And if I may say so-it is a great violin, I would not have paid what I did if I thought it wasn't worth the coin.  A violin for a player is an investment.  Most of the undergrad violin majors in my studio play on instruments of $5-$10k, and most are always on the look out for something better.

 

One of my colleague who just got their DMA degree-played on a cheap Violin Shaped Object-she got a great sound out of it--but what she had to do to get said sound was insane and unnecessary and only built bad habits.

 

On pieces that are as unviolinistic as Tchaik Concerto, the last thing one should be wasting energy and effort on is fighting to get a decent sound.

January 7, 2009 at 06:44 PM ·

Got some news. Apparently my grandmonther's friend's son apparently founded and owns Eastman Strings, and they are willing to give some sort of discount (or even a free instrument).

What are your opinions on these Eastman "Master" violins?

Dealers in Atlanta have the Frederich Wyss and Wihelm Klier that I'll definitely try out, but unfortunately the closest store Eastman has is in Baltimore, so they'd have to ship the instrument. This isn't the best way of purchasing, but having them choose a (potentially) free instrument may be cool with me :)

Also, maybe I can get myself a nice pernumboco bow to go along with it :P

January 7, 2009 at 06:48 PM ·

A fine violin can do so much for your playing - techniques become easier, intonation is easier to hear, you don't have to work so hard for a big sound, the quality of sound is much better in general.

I'm currently playing on a violin that is worth about 1/10 of what my good violin is worth because I left my good violin in the states while I'm teaching in Bermuda this year: humidity + riding around on a motorbike with my violin on back = disaster for a nice instrument. I just went home for a few weeks and played my good violin - there is no comparison. My nice violin just makes things so much easier and fun to play. I also love the sound of my good instrument and I find myself thinking about it while I'm playing on my cheap violin here.

So, if you're at the point where you are playing well and are realizing that you would like a nicer instrument, it's very likely that it will make a huge difference in your playing.

January 8, 2009 at 05:33 AM ·

Wow, I didn't think it would make such a big difference. I guess it's time to visit some shops and do blind tone testing. :)

Also, anyone have an opinion on the new Eastman master violins (Frederich Wyss and Wihelm Klier)?

January 8, 2009 at 05:52 PM ·

Also keep 1 thing in mind. When testing/shopping for a violin, it takes certain level of skill to truely appreciate the quality differences. What regarded as junk, might turn out to be something you can't handle well.

Very often when I try a violin, the first thing that struck me is that "hmm they sound ordinary" but guess what's in my hand? A Nicolo Gagliano, Carcassi, and few others which also regarded as very fine violin by a friend of mine who's a highly skilled professional player. They sound matured to me, but nothing more.

It's best if you could bring a professional or your tutor along when you go shopping.

Generally speaking, you can find a very nice mid level student violin for $1000, $2000 would make a very good instrument for advanced level student. you can also find gems that can compete with 5 figure price tag instrument with $5000~$8000.

I have a $6000 european violin that satisfy every bit of my need, and definitely comparable to those cost twice as much.

January 8, 2009 at 08:43 PM ·

It's amazing how your $600 dollar instrument served you well for your skill lvl.

"Also, anyone have an opinion on the new Eastman master violins (Frederich Wyss and Wihelm Klier)?"

I have had experience with Eastman master series but not the Frederich or Wihelm. I tried the models 605, 905, 906. All were really nice instruments and well made. I was looking for a back up instrument so I went with Andreas Eastman Series 305 which is much less and plays just as well as my $2400 instrument. $2000 is a good price range since there's many instruments you could try without hurting your wallet.

January 8, 2009 at 10:31 PM ·

Eastman strings hosted a string demo day at the local music store a couple of months ago.  My understanding is that they sell exclusively through retailers, like the local music store I visited in Rockville, MD.  They had some nice instruments.  One in particular was chinese made and had a wonderful tone.  It was about $4500.  The Eastman rep said they get the blanks from china, regraduate them, and apply the varnish here in the states.

The problem with buying from one of these retail stores is they really have no clue about violins.  They also sell trumpets, sheet music, pianos, whatever pays the bills, so if you have a problem, or need to have it adjusted, you need to find an independent luthier.  My preference would be to buy from an exclusive violin shop.  Almost all of them have very generous upgrade policies.  So if you buy a $2000 instrument today, you can trade up and get a credit for the purchase price.  Usually, these trade in deals are lifetime.

That said, you are in a unique position, being able to get a super deal on an instrument, perhaps even for free.  So if I were you, I'd try a few instruments from Eastman, and if one strikes your fancy, go for it.  But make sure to try quite a few so you get a feel for what you like.  And don't just try instruments from Eastman.  Go to the local violin shop, and try out a bunch.

 

January 9, 2009 at 12:15 AM ·

I played a brand new violin today that had a gorgeous new tone and was easier to play than some very old name violins. The owner of this brand new instrument is thinking of selling his 1700's old master violin and keeping this inexpensive one. Again, it was easy to play. Incredible.

January 9, 2009 at 01:45 AM ·

Thanks again for all the comments!

Smiley, I have no way of getting to Eastman headquarters, which is located right outside of D.C on the Maryland side - pretty close to Rockville I might imagine (I lived in Timonium for a while). The only way of playing these models is through an independent dealer in Atlanta. I highly doubt they will just hand me a violin for a large discount.

Thus, my only option - if I were to get a Eastman model (whether the Chinese or German models), I'd have them ship it to me. Although this may sound like a deal (a German model for a few hundred instead of the listed $3000 from the dealer), I wouldn't exactly trust the whole process and would be both a pain and embarrasing to send it back.

January 9, 2009 at 02:06 AM ·

Will,

The only way to go about getting a violin is to try lots of them.  Emphasis on trial.  You call a dealer or someone you know, and workout an arrangement to take a few violins on loan.  This is how most do their buying-when going to a shop is unpractical.  Buying sight unseen is not wise "model" violin or no.

 

If you want to try Eastman instruments, as I recall Johnson String Instrument carries them.

January 9, 2009 at 03:26 AM ·

Hi Will,

Yes, Eastman headquarters is just up the road from me.  I would not feel embarrassed about sending an instrument back; it is expected.  Some suppliers will send you several instruments at a time to try out.  As long as you take care of them, they are happy the instruments are being played rather than collecting dust.

As I said, under normal circumstances, I think the best choice, is to buy from a reputable violin shop.  That's what I did.  But since you may be able to get an incredible deal on an instrument from Eastman, it might be worth the extra hassle.  Without the special deal though, I would not consider an Eastman instrument.

January 9, 2009 at 06:31 AM ·

Don't forget the bow in the equation!  I had a bow worth about $200 .... got a new one around $650 - I couldn't believe how much more I could do with it!

On the violin shopping - go around, try lots, see if you can fall in love :-)

January 9, 2009 at 06:43 AM ·

In my opinion the main thing to remember when selecting an instrument is to try lots of them. Find a shop with a good selection in your price range and just spend a couple of weeks hanging out there (or less- whatever... a good amount of time) trying as many instruments as it takes. There is nothing better than finding the one that's just right for you.

Consider exactly what you want to get from the instrument, try as many techniques on it as possible, use every part of your bow/bows on it, play your repertoire, play with a high pressure sound, bow speed sound, etc.

Also, bring someone along. How an instrument sounds under the ear is not necessarily how it will sound 5 10 20 or 100 feet away. The person you bring along needs to be someone who can dicern the subtleties and analyze the differences between instruments. This would be either a teacher or professional. If possible, take some instruments home and go to a concert hall or performance venue and have that person sit in  the first row, 5th row, 15th row, etc.

My final advice is related to a purchase I just made. This may be a little out of your price if you are sticking to 2000 or less, but it still may be worth taking a look at. Go to this link http://www.luisandclark.com/index.php and read through the whole website before you make any judgements. I can understand that it's not for everyone, but although I am pursuing professional studies for the violin, my instrument situation was very similar to yours until recently and what you will find on this website has effectively solved all of my problems in a variety of ways. Check it out and have an open mind.

fiddlinmatt

January 9, 2009 at 06:46 AM ·

In my opinion the main thing to remember when selecting an instrument is to try lots of them. Find a shop with a good selection in your price range and just spend a couple of weeks hanging out there (or less- whatever... a good amount of time) trying as many instruments as it takes. There is nothing better than finding the one that's just right for you.

Consider exactly what you want to get from the instrument, try as many techniques on it as possible, use every part of your bow/bows on it, play your repertoire, play with a high pressure sound, bow speed sound, etc.

Also, bring someone along. How an instrument sounds under the ear is not necessarily how it will sound 5 10 20 or 100 feet away. The person you bring along needs to be someone who can dicern the subtleties and analyze the differences between instruments. This would be either a teacher or professional. If possible, take some instruments home and go to a concert hall or performance venue and have that person sit in  the first row, 5th row, 15th row, etc.

My final advice is related to a purchase I just made. This may be a little out of your price if you are sticking to 2000 or less, but it still may be worth taking a look at. Go to this link http://www.luisandclark.com/index.php and read through the whole website before you make any judgements. I can understand that it's not for everyone, but although I am pursuing professional studies for the violin, my instrument situation was very similar to yours until recently and what you will find on this website has effectively solved all of my problems in a variety of ways. Check it out and have an open mind.

fiddlinmatt

January 9, 2009 at 06:47 AM ·

sorry about that double post

January 9, 2009 at 07:50 AM ·

It is especially important to, if you like one in the shop, take it home and try it. You may like it more or less after a couple of days of getting used to it, and it getting used to the atmospheric conditions outside the shop.


 

January 10, 2009 at 02:55 AM ·

Wow Matt,

I've never heard of carbon fiber stringed instruments.  I have a composite bow so I guess a carbon fiber instrument is not that far fetched.  Is that what you are playing?  I'd love to get my hands on one to see how it sounds.

 

 

 

January 10, 2009 at 04:22 AM ·

My old violin teacher may hunt me down and shoot me for posting this, but you may look at ShopGoodwill.com. She got a beautiful sounding old Italian violin from there for around $50. I know it was a good instrument, cause she wouldn't let me touch it. HaHa  

The instruments are generally not in great shape and the information is a bit vague, but it is posible to find a gem in the rough.

January 10, 2009 at 06:42 AM ·

Perhaps a word of caution for the less informed (aka newbies) on Luis & Clark carbon fiber violins ... The praise they post on their website is mostly about their cellos and not necessarily applicable to their violins. In fact, there have been quite a few posts on this and other sites from violinists who had played or even purchased a L&C violin and said that the violins were not as good as the cellos, that they felt you could get better value for money buying a conventional violin.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying these violins are no good, I am just saying that evidently opinions are divided. Unfortunately, it is not possible to trial one of their instruments without first buying one (unless you happen to know somebody who owns one) and thus most people will have to rely on second hand experiences.

January 10, 2009 at 09:20 AM ·

Matt wrote:

"Also, bring someone along. How an instrument sounds under the ear is not necessarily how it will sound 5 10 20 or 100 feet away. The person you bring along needs to be someone who can dicern the subtleties and analyze the differences between instruments. This would be either a teacher or professional. If possible, take some instruments home and go to a concert hall or performance venue and have that person sit in  the first row, 5th row, 15th row, etc."

So, have you tried that on your beloved L&C violin? I'm curious how it perform in this regard. ;-)

January 10, 2009 at 11:06 PM ·

I don't know about buying a carbon fiber violin.. I have a carbon bow, but that's just a bow..

I went to the violin shop today and tried out various violins. He asked me the price range, so I said <$3000. He brought out a couple violins (6 or 7) that "stood out." I didn't really like any of them, but two had the sound I was looking for... sorta. I forgot the maker, but both were new violins (2008) made in Dallas. Then I asked to see violins >$3000. Of the four he brought out, the only that shocked me for its wonderful clarity, sound, and power was a German violin circa 1920s which cost $5000. Lastly, he brought out three violins that cost 12k, 15k, and 20k. The 12k and 20k were superior, but the 20k had a very similar sound to the 5k one.

Thanks to everyone, I actually knew what to do and what to look for. It's surprising how one of the violins (I think $2000 new German) sounded just like my $600 violin... even my girl did.

I hope I have better luck with pricing at other shops when I get back to school.

January 11, 2009 at 12:22 AM ·

Best advice has been given already - hunt around and see what you can find for your budget. 

When you are a wealthy doctor in 10 years or so from now, you'll probably end up buying a better violin than most professional violinists from your school year can possibly dream of affording!   I've met quite a few docs/scientists and the like who have instruments any pro would long to own...

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