haggling a commissioned violin

January 18, 2009 at 04:06 PM ·

I am an adult amature violinist seeking to upgrade my intermediate violin to a more advanced instrument.  I am thinking about something in the $5000 range, which gives me the option of a few commissions.  I know haggling in violin shops occurs, but I am not aware if this is acceptable when you are requesting someone to custom-make you an instrument. 

Replies (31)

January 18, 2009 at 05:01 PM ·

5000 USD is a very low budget for a custom violin, at least in the US and Western Europe. If you can find a luthier who is willing to build a violin for that amount, then you are getting a very good deal already in which case they are probably not all too pleased if you try to negotiate the price even further down. And if they are still willing to go lower, then there is a chance that you are being conned and the instrument may just be an imported white factory instrument that the "maker" varnishes to sell you as a "custom made violin".

January 18, 2009 at 05:23 PM ·

Julia, it all depends on who you're dealing with, I suppose. One maker might say, "The price is the price".  Another might get all strange and act insulted. Another might give you a big break.

Not sure how anyone can custom make a decent violin for $5000 though. Are they actually making it, or are they putting some pre-made factory or machined parts together?

January 18, 2009 at 05:27 PM ·

There's a fresh thread discussed about this. Looks great.

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=13258

January 18, 2009 at 05:58 PM ·

"Not sure how anyone can custom make a decent violin for $5000 though."

Indeed.

I have been shopping around for the last 3 months or so as I am in the market for a new violin, possibly a custom made one. In the course of my market research I have only come across two reputable violin makers who would build a violin for 5000 USD, but they work and live in Eastern Europe, not in the US. I do remember one US maker who seems to have a respectable reputation who would go as low as 6000 USD but only by referral (or otherwise limiting orders), so this was an exceptional thing, not the norm. From my market research, it would seem that a more realistic budget would be closer towards 10.000 USD.

January 18, 2009 at 05:54 PM ·

For your conveniences, view this link directly.

http://www.music-foodforthebrain.com/vio.html

It's related to the topic link I posted above.

January 18, 2009 at 06:01 PM ·

I suppose nothing ventured, nothing gained...all in the way you inquire.

January 18, 2009 at 06:58 PM ·

Thanks for the advice - it seems as though it really depends on whom you are working with.

January 18, 2009 at 06:36 PM ·

that would be even more insulting...get a loan, cash advance on credit card, ask Obama for a bailout, but gee wiz, the luthier is putting in many hours of time and skill...PAY THE TAB

January 18, 2009 at 07:39 PM ·

I admire your enthusiasm, Mr. Jefferson.

January 18, 2009 at 08:00 PM ·

"I admire your enthsiasm, Mr. Jefferson."

Haha, I was wondering about that myself.

I venture a guess that either Mr.Jefferson has no interest to order an instrument from this luthier himself or that he's already secured an order and delivery date. Either way he won't have to worry about a longer waiting list as a result of his beating the drum. ;-)

January 18, 2009 at 09:46 PM ·

Mr. Mihailoff summed the isssue: "PAY THE TAB."  I agree.

To add my thoughts -

Negotiation with regard to price for an instrument from a dealer, or through a private sale, would be different.  However, "haggling" for a commissioned instrument evokes an undercurrent of blundering insolence.  Such a term when commissioning an instrument is unsettling and contemptuous to me.  This would be one's art, life's work, no?  It's foreign to me, haggling over the price concerning such a métier.

To haggle, to dicker, to squabble...brings to mind a crusty curmudgeon shuffling around in the bowels of an old antique mall, trying to get the owner of a chipped glass candy dish to take a few bucks off the price so it can be filled with fossilized butterscotch disks and set in one's living room.

Yech.

 

   

 

January 18, 2009 at 08:48 PM ·

I have seen some very nice violins made by makers who frequent the VMAAI shows and workshops. Some, who are profitably retired from other professions can well afford to make and sell violins for $5,000 and less.  It might be worthwhile to track the history of the exhibitions there and sede who is making and selling in the southwest (and elsewhere). Even people who start out as amateur makers often gradually build a following of some size. The "amateur" maker (and friend) from whom I've purchased 2 violins and a viola has done well in the Tucson venue is now pretty close to making (and selling) his 100th instrument.

 

Andy

 

Andy

January 18, 2009 at 09:27 PM ·

Interesting thread - I have to say I never realised that people "haggled" with dealers either. Is that REALLY something that is done a lot in the business and are we talking about expensive instruments in this situation?   

I know I'd feel very uncomfortable about haggling to bring down the price on an instrument - at least in a violin shop - does that mean I'm a fool easily parted from my money?   Maybe at a street market or antique dealer where one might assume the seller doesn't know the value of the violin, but otherwise - hmm.

 

January 19, 2009 at 01:03 AM ·

Quote:
"I have seen some very nice violins made by makers who frequent the VMAAI shows and workshops. Some, who are profitably retired from other professions can well afford to make and sell violins for $5,000 and less.  It might be worthwhile to track the history of the exhibitions there and sede who is making and selling in the southwest (and elsewhere). Even people who start out as amateur makers often gradually build a following of some size. The "amateur" maker (and friend) from whom I've purchased 2 violins and a viola has done well in the Tucson venue is now pretty close to making (and selling) his 100th instrument."

_____________________________________________________

Tucson ain't the VSA, or Cremona, or Paris competition.

The last VSA competition had 487 entries from 25 countries. What did Tucson have?

Has Tuscon ever had Charles Beare, or someone of equal stature as a judge?

January 19, 2009 at 12:27 AM ·

As a pro violin maker myself I give 100% to every instrument I make with no compromise. In return I expect a customer to pay 100%  of the price I ask. The price I ask is what the market will bear and although quite high probably works out at quite a low hourly rate...It is not enough for a luxury lifestyle. I just try to keep my little family with our simple but happy existence. If someone wanted to actually haggle with me in ordering a violin I would not make one for them ...period.

However,as already suggested it is the word haggle that may be the problem here. Personally speaking if a player contacted me very politely saying that they were interested to buy but could not afford my prices I could not drop my price BUT I would do my best to give advice or recommend a different path, a shop I trust or maybe luthier who might be cheaper, maybe someone younger and up and coming. I'm more than happy to do that. I think we all have a duty even if we cannot help in financial terms to make playing the violin as enjoyable and accessable as possible for all members of the community.

 

January 19, 2009 at 01:12 AM ·

I'LL MAKE YOU A VIOLIN FOR $4,000! USD.! And you can haggle, I'll paint it whatever colour you want!

Cheers,

Royce

January 19, 2009 at 02:05 AM ·

Thanks everyone for their insights - based on the majority of comments I've read I've sort of answered my own question:

If you are commissioning a violin you are actually paying for a service on top of a final product and I think in most professions the price of a service is not negotiable - you don't haggle with your CPA to do your taxes either.  I would certainly appreciate all the detail and personal attention that goes into making a violin just the way I want it and I really appreciate the comments from all the luthiers who gave me their perspective on the issue.

I guess when you just buy a violin from the store, or off e-bay, or craigslist, you aren't paying for someone to make something the way you want it - its as is.  Therefore, I think it would be more acceptable to negotiate the price (or at least ask if it is negotiable) in such as situation - like buying a house, a car, or a painting. 

Honestly, its certainly not for everyone, but I don't think it makes you a disrespectful person if you politely ask if the price is firm in the appropriate situation and if the price is negotiable then I think a reasonable offer and a civil conversation are always in order.

January 19, 2009 at 02:17 AM ·

I couldn't get the meanings behind the words refering to my posts. (-:

OP was just asking if there's anyone would accept commissioning for $5,000 budget, and there I posted an example. It's not like I'm asking OP to expect a $10,000 quality from a $5,000 budget?

January 19, 2009 at 03:48 AM ·

"OP was just asking if there's anyone would accept commissioning for $5,000 budget, and there I posted an example."

Actually, no, you did not. You gave an example of a price tag of 5.900, 18% higher than 5000. Even so, this example is quite exceptional and thus it follows that 5000 is rather low if not too low for commissioning a violin from a reputable maker in the US.

I am assuming you did not mean to suggest that if Nelle O'Neill offers a violin for this price, she might as well offer it for less because I would rather think the exact opposite is the case.

January 19, 2009 at 04:22 AM ·

Julia, I like your respectful attitude about all of this.

I was taught that the essence of bargaining was compromise--that to get something, you should be willing to give something up. I don't know exactly what this would be in this case--less micromanaging , more cash up front . . . that kind of thing.

It never hurts to open the conversation, but you have to imagine that someone who already has things to work on at full price will probably not be moved to work for less for you.

January 19, 2009 at 10:25 AM ·

Julia, I don't think you get it...  "I would certainly appreciate all the detail and personal attention that goes into making a violin just the way I want it"

A violin is hardly an automobile with an options list or a house with a choice of appliances.; and I doubt any painter would be amenable to color and subject selection

In 1973 my Dad requested a luthier to make him a viola...the price was $3,000, not sure if the total was up-front or not. The only choice my dad had was the size...set up, varnish, etc. that is the luthier's choice or should I say the ARTIST'S choice. When it was completed in a year or two, he was like a kid at  Christmas. Its value has since appreciated 900%

Key words =

  •  requested
  • luthier's choice aka artist's license
  • one - two year wait

 

 

 

 

There was one occasion where haggling of sorts came into play. In the 1991 Shar catalog, there was a photo of a Finkel gold and ivory mounted bow. I called and they were quite happy to send it on approval, along with several other fine bows (their suggestion)... Therein the problem. I liked most of them, and told them that the decision was very difficult with the accompanying Hill  and Neudorfer bows.I liked all three... I was amazed when a considerable price reduction was volunteered, and yes I just had to have all three. Thus began my addiction.

January 19, 2009 at 04:51 AM ·

I consider haggling with a maker to be tacky. Either buy it or don't. 

January 19, 2009 at 05:36 AM ·

I think you may be asking the wrong question.

Rather than considering how to haggle, the better question may be how to approach a Luthier regarding a commissioned instrument when you have a constrained budget.

I would suggest contacting the luthier, identifying that you appreciate the value of the instruments made by said luthier, and indicating you are interested in commissioning an instrument, however you have a limited amount you can spend on the instrument. Ask if there are any realistic ways to reconcile your limitation with his value.
Note this may result in an offer of an instrument that is already made, rather than providing you an opportunity to follow the process from the beginning.

If you ask in a manner that indicates you value the work of the maker, however honestly identifying your constraints, I do not see this as an insult to the maker.

January 19, 2009 at 09:28 PM ·

Roland has a good answer. Some makers may charge less if they don't have to antique the violin. One violin I've looked at was priced less because, according the maker, he used American wood (it's a great violin for $12,000, BTW). 

April 8, 2009 at 02:43 PM ·

"Interesting thread - I have to say I never realised that people "haggled" with dealers either. Is that REALLY something that is done a lot in the business and are we talking about expensive instruments in this situation?"

Yikes!  

Hi there, Rosalind.  I'm not sure what your definition of "expensive" is, but there is a reason they're called "dealers."  Remember too, that we are in a buyer's market.  There are dealers here in Manhattan that are climbing the walls to just get things circulating in and out of their shops.   

I had a violin out the other week which I really loved, yet it was just over what I want to spend.  Having scratched it off my list I handed it back to the dealer and said (tongue-in-cheek) that he'd have to come down at least 15K for me to really consider.  I was floored when he agreed, and asked me to come back to his office to discuss it further...

So I've put it back on my list. 

But a maker does not a dealer make.  I agree with what has been said here.  A haggle over commission fees could be quite an afront to a maker.  But hey, with dealers, have a good time. 

Eric 

April 9, 2009 at 01:36 PM ·

A couple of things pop out at me in this thread. First, the use of the word "haggle," which was probably meant to be humorous but which calls up images of violin makers with battered instruments piled high in wooden pushcarts off in a dingy corner of the town flea market next to the local fish monger. "Negotiation" is a much higher-toned word, and the location might be in a nice showroom, but the idea is the same. Anyone who does not discuss price with a maker might be missing out on a good opportunity.

For example, I once had a violin I made that I took back on trade when a wonderful client fell in love with a more recent instrument. The returned instrument could be sold at a very attractive price because I made it early in my career when my prices were lower. I preferred that it go to a good home rather than sit here gathering dust, so someone got a great deal.

Second, a shop-built instrument can be a good way to get the best of both worlds-- a lower cost for a tight budget and the attention of a skilled maker in the areas where it counts the most. We should remember that most of the famous makers had apprentices who did things like join the boards, make rib garlands, stain purfling, and so on. The time of the master of the shop was better spent on other things like graduating the plates or fitting up. I tell my clients that Antonio Stradivari had Francesco and Omobono (his sons); my apprentices are named Black and Decker. :-)

We all have to pay our bills, and often I have been able to work out an agreeable arrangement for more cash up front in exchange for a better discount at the end. Not all makers are comfortable with this, but I think we all recognize when someone is sincere and making a reach for something that is important to them.

Most of us do not engage in tag sale advertising. We might have a web site, but the best advertsing we can get is a satisfied customer. The relationship of a client to his/her violin maker is often lifelong, so if you are up front about your financial constraints and the maker blows you off,  look elsewhere.

April 9, 2009 at 04:23 PM ·

Eric - that's an interesting story that you tell of your experience with the dealer.  Things really are tough right now... 

I find myself wondering that since I'm a stiff-upper lipped British type - the whole notion of haggling/negotiation - however you want to describe it, is something which is rather alien to our culture.  Whereas if I'd grown up in perhaps an Arabic/Mediterranean background where haggling in the market environment for fruit/carpets or cars is much more "normal" then maybe I'd not feel so embarrassed about the notion.   Honestly, I WOULD  feel embarrassed, really embarrassed, saying "£25K is above my limit, I love the violin though... any chance of a discount?" 

It is kind of weird (and silly) I guess to feel that way and I suppose dealers will be rubbing their hands in glee seeing the pound and dollar signs flashing above my head if I'm ever in the market for another fine violin (which I probably won't be unless I win the Lottery and start looking for a del Gesu, as Johannes is just perfect for me!) 

 

April 10, 2009 at 04:15 PM ·

In many cultures bargaining or negotiating prices is expected, and is in fact a major form of social interaction. In others it's considered a sign of cheese-paring cheapness.

Personally, I don't have so much money that I can afford to pay what the market will bear, nor do I have the proper level of up-tight self-aggrandisement that would prevent me from attempting a negotiation.

For many items in commerce there is no fixed price; what you pay is determined to a great degree on what the cost was to the seller, either in terms of materials and time, or in actual cash. The velocity of money is also important. Some folks will prefer to sit on an item for a few years rather than face a decrease in expected profti; others find it more useful to have whatever cash is available in hand, to invest in more inventory.  Then too, the state of the economy, both worldwide and personal, can be a factor.

It might go against the local grain for me to suggest "playing it by ear", but it certainly can't hurt to test the waters, unless you're terribly concerned that the party of the second part will forever label you as a cheapskate, and lose all respect for you and your wallet.

April 10, 2009 at 06:11 PM ·

Depends whos the luthier and the quality of their work.. Ive come across a few  where they can mitigate the production depending on the price range given  cost vs age of tone of woods....  while another maker  will only use the best quality primary woods  and prices are non negotiable ..

April 10, 2009 at 08:45 PM ·

Robert (first poster) has a really nice advise! I agree totally with him!

Anne-Marie

April 11, 2009 at 01:09 AM ·

I  still say that negotiating is worth a try, but Michael Darnton was right in that a  person who has a full plate of "full priced" work won't have much incentive to discount.

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