Securing a loan for an instrument

August 10, 2009 at 08:31 PM ·

I'm considering taking out a loan, possibly up to 6 figures, to purchase a fine violin.  Does anyone have any tips or success/horror stories about going through this sort of ordeal to finance a high quality instrument?

Replies (27)

August 11, 2009 at 01:51 AM ·

Sorry, I can't offer any advice regarding the financing, but I would have to ask why someone would want to make such a purchase if they did not have the cash on hand.  You can get a very fine instrument for a lot less money and for all intents and purposes does the same thing.  It might take some searching (note, I searched for 5 months and tried over 100 instruments from $5K to $30 K and found something that I love for $10K).

The only reason IMO to spend so much money on a violin is for the investment value.  But then, there are much better investments out there.  The concept of a really expensive instrument to make you sound better is a myth in my opinion. 

If you give me the greatest Strad or Del Gesu money could buy, I would still sound like an amateur.  On the other hand, if you gave my violin to Hillary Hahn or Joshua Bell, they would make it sing.

I don't mean to lecture you as I am certain you are a much more capable musician than I am, just my 2 cents FWIW.

August 11, 2009 at 03:43 AM ·

That violin would also be above my area of expertise, but I concur with Smiley on the primary premise.

That said, however, I would look at it this way.
If you are going to get a loan, then the person loaning the money is doing so for one purpose; to make a profit. If you can make a solid business case where the instrument will increase your income potential to the point the cost of the violin will only be a fraction of the difference, then they have an opportunity to see it as a valid investment. If the instrument will only pay for itself marginally, it will be a risky investment.

If you cannot make the business case, then you may need to use some other security for the loan; mortgage the family cow, or sell a kidney or two (be careful about selling the liver, complications could result).

Sorry, I had to interject a bit of humor in there.... it's just me.

August 11, 2009 at 05:23 AM ·

In that case, I'm sorry I asked.

August 11, 2009 at 03:12 PM ·

I don't think that anyone is suggesting not to invest.  Smiley has made some good points, however!!!!  Say you can invest in an instrument for say, $7200.  Then save up another $7200, trade and get one for $14,400.  It's your money.  A good violin can will increase in monitary value.  But if making a profit is the objective and that's what you want to do then you'll need to take the initiative and consult with dealers and tell them that you want to get into investing in instruments and seek their expertice.

So far, my violin keeps sounding better and better.  It's worth $750. It sounds like a $3200 violin so is it getting better as it is played and ages?  Maybe a little, in reality it's that I am getting better.....  I have been using, since 1984, a genuine L. Bausch; Liepzig bow that's 140+ years old. Like the violin it too keeps getting better and better.  But again, it's that my bowing is getting better and better the more I learn and advance in my skills.



August 11, 2009 at 03:08 PM ·

There was a viola that I had my eye on for quite a while.  After drooling over it for about a year and a half, I finally went to my bank and inquired about a loan.  The loan officer was very nice, and explained to me the variables of taking out a personal loan.

"What is the loan for?" the Loan Officer asked.

"A viola," I said.  There was a polite pause.

"What kind of car is that?" the Officer queried.

Anyway, I now have the instrument AND the loan, and I couldn't be happier.  This is a happy ending - I have an instrument that I lusted after for quite a while and it was well worth it....the instrument makes me sound like a far better violist than I really am.

---Ann Marie

August 11, 2009 at 05:50 PM ·


In response to the original query, you may be able to get financing from the AFM (at least, they were helping out with loans for instruments).  You would have to check with your AFM local and see what their options are in terms of size of loan, down-payment and interest rates as well as payments and for how long.

Some banks may help you finance with some collateral for the loan (like a house or something), but few go out for instruments and these days, banks tend to be careful.  Whatever you do, do not go out on a line of credit for an instrument.  Some banks have this weird immediate call-in on paying lines of credit, and I know someone who ended up in rather difficult situations with this.

Hope this helps.  In contrast to anyone, getting an instrument that you want is priceless, so I wish you the best of luck.


August 11, 2009 at 05:57 PM ·

"The only reason IMO to spend so much money on a violin is for the investment value."

While the issue of investment value is always there, what this reason doesn't address is the professional need for an instrument of a certain caliber. Some positions are not available if you don't have the instrument expected, and some come with the understanding that if you get or have the job, equipment "upgrades" are expected by the player. Since you are considering an instrument valued at 6 figures, I am guessing that with your current position and orchestra (or other possibilities), that this might be the case. Perhaps someone can enlighten as to financing options and opportunities. Does your orchestra make any financial assistance (outright purchase, or supplying a low-cost loan) with something like this? Some orchestras do. Or if they never have, perhaps they have not been approached--so perhaps this is an opportunity for them. Banks generally don't like financing instruments like this. It seems like some publication (Strad, International Musician?) within the past few months had an ad on the inside back cover that featured an investment company that specialized in financing instruments at this level and higher. Perhaps someone else remembers this, or has it handy (all of mine are at home).

August 11, 2009 at 08:01 PM ·

Hi Jason, You ask an interesting question here. I'll admit that I am not too familiar with too many options for financing professional instruments. I do agree with the statement above from Jim about how professionals are often expected to upgrade instruments at points during their careers. I also have to agree with him and Christian with the notion that getting the instrument that you want is something that is very personal and important to you as a player.

My main point in posting here is that as a professional at the workbench (not the orchestra), I have seen many fine instruments and bows over the years purchased for a player by a sponsor or investor. I'm sure that each story varies as to the exact support details, but if you know anybody that could be your "patron" and help support your career and support the arts, then put a proposal together and approach them. Your patron could be anybody from a wealthy relative, an arts or business organization, a bank, a museum, a collector--think outside the box about anybody that might be interested. While I generally discourage the purchase of instruments strictly as financial investments, many people these days are looking at other places to invest their money than the stock market. The disadvantage here is that you don't own the instrument, so you might have restrictions and obligations to fulfill to the owner, and the instrument might be recalled by the owner at any time. If you find an interested patron, be sure to discuss all possible things like travel, teaching, repairs, insurance, length of loan, etc. It is also advisable for both parties to enter into a contractual agreement with the details of the loan of the instrument to you--this would help to protect you and the patron if differences were to arise.

Also, another thought for you--don't forget to inquire about the annual cost to insure your new $6-figure instrument.

Good luck with your search, and have fun in the process.

Josh Henry, Bow Maker & Restorer

August 11, 2009 at 09:25 PM ·

Jason, I haven't financed an instrument myself, but have had a few customers who have. The ways they did it were all over the map. One managed to put some money down, and the bank accepted the violin as collateral for the loan.  Another took out a home equity loan. Another put it on several low-interest credit cards, and kept swapping to new cards with low introductory rates.

I don't know of any horror stories, but I guess it's always good to read and understand the contract. The oddest thing I ran across was that one bank required a serial number, so one had to be attached with a small label.

You haven't said how much investigating you have done already, so it's difficult to know what information you're looking for.

The people who are saying you don't need to spend that much are just trying to be helpful, and maybe share their excitement about their own purchases. Tastes vary, and different types of playing and playing styles can require different things. I can send a violin to a major symphony player, who will like it, and an amateur may not like the same violin at all.

With your background (Dorothy DeLay etc.), I'm sure you know what you need.

August 12, 2009 at 01:17 AM ·

     I must confess, after reading David Burgess mentioning that you had Dorothy DeLay as a teacher, that's when I took a look at your profile page!!!!  Sir, disregard my previous post!  And my appologies!  I should have taken a look, I usualy do.  In no way would I have posted it if I had known of your caliber!  I figured that you were more like myself.  You are definitely of a much higher calibre.  Yes, I guess a 6 figure violin would be in your league!!!!!  Sorry for the mistake.


August 12, 2009 at 02:23 AM ·


I don't know that that changes anything.  I did read Jason's profile before posting, and I agree, he must be a very accomplished musician indeed, certainly a lot better than I am.  However, my teacher plays with the National Opera and his wife plays with the National Symphony and they both play on $12K instruments.

I must confess that I am totally ignorant when it comes to the culture behind a symphony orchestra, but it seems unlikely that one would be judged solely by the cost of their instrument.  If Hillary Hahn wanted to settle down and join a major symphony, and she traded in her Vuillaume for a $10 K instrument, would they turn her away? 

Perhaps Jason can elaborate on his motivations for wanting (needing) such an instrument.  There may well be factors that are tied to the "symphony" culture that I am unaware of.  My viewpoint is from the standpoint of making a sound financial decision.

Jason, please do not take offense.  I am offering my opinion as a financially conservative individual.  I personally do not like debt, so my conservative financial approach isn't for everyone.  I currently have zero debt.  Some might even call that foolish so consider my comments with that in mind. 

August 12, 2009 at 04:20 AM ·


I intended no offense, I think you may have misread what I was saying.
When you really want something, when your soul yearns for it, you SHOULD pursue that as a goal (morals, ethics, and laws taken into account, of course).

I was saying that when someone is dealing with money, they are looking for the financial return (in most cases; there may be some foundations I am unaware of). So, If it were me, I would think of what else I have I could use to substantiate my dreams. Is there a 401K with any loan value? Anything else that could be used as some kind of security?

Right now, my instrument and I are a pretty close match, and I would absolutely love to have an instrument that I felt obligated to stretch to match. Unfortunately, I also have some conflicting goals, so I can't look for the violin of my dreams. As a community, I would get a bit of a charge out of you being able to make the stretch I am not in a position to make; don't use anything I add as a reason to NOT grab for it.

August 12, 2009 at 05:47 AM ·

I can't imagine that anyone would take offense to those comments, regardless of his talent or whom he studied with.

August 12, 2009 at 01:47 PM ·

I believe a finance group (Fine Arts Financing?) began a few years ago that specializes in this type of loan.  I am unsure of the interest rate presently...  or how the economy has affected funding.

As far as traditional banks, I've found very few that allow the instrument to be used as collateral. but they do exist.  It is far more common for players to leverage real estate or arrange for private loans through patrons or family... and many orchestras have limited loan programs that can pick up some of load.

Good luck!!


August 12, 2009 at 09:36 PM ·

This is good info.  Thanks guys.

I have called my AFM rep and she is looking into loan programs.  They help us with credit cards and home loans, so I figure why not instruments, right?

I play on a nice instrument, but I'm ready to 'invest' in myself and my career.  I continue to take auditions for upper level orchestras but I'm also willing to accept the fact that I may play in Spokane for the rest of my life.  It's no secret playing on a finer instrument can make you a better player and I do feel I've maxxed out my violin's potential.  It's not that it's BAD by any means, but I really feel I could get myself to a new level of playing with a better axe.

I spend about 5 hours a day on average with my fiddle and it would make sense to me to find a violin at this point in my life that I will love for the rest of my life.  I'm willing to take out a loan in order to finance it.  I'm thinking like a mortgage -- a 30 year loan perhaps.  And then I have a business expense and a write-off for the interest.

Excuse me if none of this made any sense, there are 8 people talking around me while I try to type this. 



August 12, 2009 at 10:04 PM ·

Robert Gupta, for one, auditioned and won a seat on the L A Philharmonic playing a modern, not-too-expensive violin a couple of years ago. You don't have to spend all that money to get a top-level instrument, or a top level job.

If you just feel you want to spend the bucks for the "ooh" value, that's up to you, but I think you'll be fortunate to find an old instrument that outperforms all the good modern makers for less than $200K. There's quite a large variety among which to choose.

August 12, 2009 at 10:06 PM ·

I'm sitting here thinking that the AFM creditcard folks will probably make some $ available, but I bet it's going to be at 16%+. We bought a grand piano in the 80's at 20% (what were we thinking??)--I don't think you want to go down that road. I think if I were you, I would think about making my own pitch to some of the orchestra funders, or at least putting out some feelers to those groups to see if any of them they might be interested in giving some support outside of their usual channels via a low cost loan. Bring it up at the next post-concert reception where you are mingling with all those folks. That might even be an avenue that the Development folks at the orchestra might jump on board with--something that the funder and the orchestra could get some warm fuzzies. I might also contact some of the instrument insurers (Mertz Huber, Clarion, etc) and see if they would share any sources for possible instrument funding--they would probably be listing those folks on their policies as the organizations that get the pay-out if there are claims. And they might just say "we don't share that information... My guess is that the big shops want to keep their hands off that area--they just want to sell the instruments.

If that is what is needed, get creative yourself, and I bet you can make it happen.

August 12, 2009 at 10:50 PM ·

And ditto to Michael's comment--especially the 2nd paragraph. There are some GOOD modern fiddles available, and they are well below 6 figures.

August 12, 2009 at 11:24 PM ·

 I am skeptical about borrowing that kind of money for several reasons. Although I respect the original poster's background and the opinion of his teacher, one often hears teachers saying the student must go buy an expensive instrument. I remember one student at Eastman a few years back telling her parents that her teacher said she MUST now spend at least $60,000 on a new violin.

Easy for the teacher to say, unless of course they are co-signing for the loan!

Many people assume that it's a chicken-or-egg kind of thing:" Unless I get an expensive instrument, I won't get a good job...but I can't get a good job without an expensive instrument." I don't believe it. If you rush and play out of tune you won't get a job. 

I've posted this before, but a well-known quartet played here, and I assumed that the first violinist had a great old Italian, and second violinist had a so-so modern. I had it backwards. The 2nd had a big-name Italian, and the 1st had a new $12,000 violin made in St. Louis. So the question becomes not how much to spend, but taking the time to look for that exceptional new or lesser-known instrument, and they ARE out there.

It may seem like it's worth it, but wait till those big payments start making other decisions for you later in life. Can you afford the house you want? Can you send your kids to college?

Finally, be wary of what you think will make you happy. And the more you spend, the more critical you'll be of your instrument. You might decide in a couple of years that you really don't like your $100,000 uber-violin. I've seen it happen to many colleagues. Then what? Maybe your shop will take it back, assuming they have something else better you can afford. Or maybe you'll have to try to peddle in the open market. Lots of luck with that.

August 13, 2009 at 12:33 AM ·

Good comment  Scott.


August 13, 2009 at 01:46 PM ·

Smiley- Thank You!

August 14, 2009 at 09:15 AM · Jason, I would like to make make a point which has already been raised. I have several very fine instruments one of which runs into the six figure category. Two years ago I heard Christian Tetzlaf play the Beethoven concerto on what I thought was his Stradivarius--when I spoke to him he had, in fact, played the concert on an instrument made two years previously by Peter Grun. I was prompted to go out and investigate this phenomenon. I went to Cremona and there purchased an instrument by Marco Maria Gastaldi which has been mistaken in concerts for a fine old Italian instrument! Do consider this option --it seems that it is not necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or pounds on the classic 'old' instrument. That is not to say when you can afford it that you should not eschew the ownership of one of the very great instruments!

August 15, 2009 at 02:49 AM ·

 Ahhh...  Found the link:

Look, concerning all the advice Jason's received about what he "needs", I have no difficulty.  Valid points and  good discussion...  but folks... there is no decisive winner of that debate.  If a player has the desire to "climb" into ownership of a fine old instrument, that's what they want to do.  There is a possibility that it might have as much to do with "want" as it does to do with "need"...  but there you have it.

Now the question of what is possible is something else...  trying to spend $100K of a normal bank's money for a 30 year term without the security o something other than an instrument is probably not going to happen... but that doesn't mean that Jason shouldn't explore his options if his desire is to own a more expensive fiddle.

Best to all,



August 15, 2009 at 01:17 PM ·

I see there are no replies as yet from any who have purchased a six figure violin.

I'm sure they would have a different take.

You cannot compare a modern violin with a 300 year old violin. It's apples and oranges.

Also re the old chesnut about Hilary Hahn's Vuillaume. She has an exceptional Vuillaume (he made over 3000 instruments and only a few are comparable to fine Italians) and it totally suits her, why change? 

Recently I have borrowed and performed on a Guarnerius, JB Guadagnini and an Amati (brothers) and I would have happily sold my house to purchase any of them (my wife however wasn't so keen:)) because these instruments inspire and produce whatever your imagination desires.

I have just purchased a violin (2009) by Ben Conover for £5000 ($8000) and it sounds exceptional for what it is but comparing it to a three hundred year old piece of wood crafted by one of a few masters who has stood the test of time and been played and loved by many previously would be pointless.

Six figures and the rest is what you will need to find a great instrument with the right papers and in good condition. If you can find one. In the current market very few affordable instruments of decent quality are available, apart from the top end being disposed of by banks and investors.

My advice re purchasing is to find a koshe modern Italian ie Fagnola, Pressenda, Rocca,or Capicchioni, Antoniazzi, Candi etc. preferably from a player, not auction or dealer.

Or buy a Ben Conover and also get yourself a nice house!

Good luck.



August 15, 2009 at 04:24 PM ·

Roland wrote: " I see there are no replies as yet from any who have purchased a six figure violin.

 I'm sure they would have a different take.

My advice re purchasing is to find a koshe modern Italian ie Fagnola, Pressenda, Rocca,or Capicchioni, Antoniazzi, Candi etc. preferably from a player, not auction or dealer."

Roland: I buy & sell them... so I do own several... does that count?  :-)

As far as the "go private" advice goes, my experience is that it's like many things..  If you have the experience to understand what you're looking at, and how it equates to other things on the market, you may very well come away with a good deal in the private sector...  Judging from your profile, you have had some good exposure to some players (especially Manny) who do know the market...  but they know the market in part because good dealers and experts are part of their network.

I'd say, for a great many others, going into the private sector can be a "crap shoot".  I've seen at least as many (actually, more) horror stories (replaced or over-restored portions, wrong attributions, over-priced) in the private sector as I have in the retail sector...  and support (remedy) of a poor purchase is not "there".

In other words, I think one who ventures unprepared into a private purchase of a fine instrument should tread carefully...  there are as many character flaws present within the group of private sellers as there are dealers.  If you want old, best to at least enlist (hire) some expertise.

Like your Modern Italian list, though I believe a Pressenda would be well out of the poster's range...  I'd add a few older non Italian fiddles (Cuypers, Jack Lott, etc.).







August 15, 2009 at 03:30 PM ·

Hi Jeffrey. Is Jack Lott any relation to John Lott? A lesser known brother perhaps? :)

I'm sure all your fiddles are excellent and fairly priced. 

I know Manny used to go over to Ann Arbor to teach. He had a great nose for fiddles, even more so for bows perhaps. 

Buying a fiddle from any source is potentially a 'crap shoot.' 

I personally can think of several players who have bought high class instruments from big name dealers only to find 20 years later the dealer re-appraising the instrument by about 50% of its true value.

It's all about trust and reputation in the end, and you know and I know in some areas of the market these two values have been seriously compromised over the last few years. 

I had several opportunities in the past to acquire excellent instruments from retiring members of the profession, people I had known as well as their instruments. These are the kind of vendors I would prefer to buy from.

It breaks my heart when I see a young player who has got two mortgages, one for an instrument

that will see no return as an investment.

By curious coincidence I see you have a Cuypers for sale, these are good value if you can find one that sounds well. I know of one good sounding one and two very woolly ones.

The other issue is one of expertise.

I actually believe there are very few still alive now who have the knowledge.

So to sum up this thread I'll leave you all with Roger Hargreaves. He is a must read for all those interested in learning about fiddles IMO.

Today, whether inflated by association or by merit,

the prices realised for instruments once considered

basic to every orchestral sting player, have risen almost

beyond their reach. As a result, when purchasing

an instrument, professional musicians are not

only investing larger amounts, they are investing a

larger proportion of their salary


There can be no doubt that many musicians have

benefited from these inflationary conditions. On

leaving the profession after years of service, they

were able to fund a comfortable retirement from the

sale of their prized musical companion. For these fortunate

players, investing in the tools of their trade

proved significantly more profitable than any inflation-

linked pension fund. Indeed this arrangement

would be ideal were it not for the fact that, year after

year, many of their colleges, have all dreams of a

comfortable old age brutally shattered. On trying to

sell their precious Cremonese instrument many will

discover that it is not what they confidently believed

it to be.

Some instruments, though genuine and outwardly

fine, will be in poor condition internally. Some may

be composites made from several instruments. Some

will no doubt turn out to be clever fakes. But most

will be cases of mistaken identity, fraudulent labelling

or deceitful attribution. In truth, the possibilities

for deliberate deception or simple but costly

mistakes are as endless as Wagner’s Ring.

.......unlike violinmaking itself, no formal

apprenticeship scheme has ever existed for the craft

of expertise. It is a skill that has traditionally been

handed down, usually within family businesses, from

one generation to the next. Although undoubtedly

elitist this system has generally proved reliable, and

for the most part, expertise has remained an oral tradition

Because access to a sufficient number and diversity

of instruments is largely restricted to dealers, it

is they who control and regulate expertise. They

alone can acquire enough knowlege to become recognized

connoisseurs. And, only those dealers who

become recognized connoisseurs have the authority

to assess, evaluate and certify instruments. So those

who buy and sell violins are the consumers’ only

form of protection, their only safeguard against dishonest

or misguided dealers. Unlike other branches

of the arts, the violin world has never had the controlling

influence of an independent body of scholarship,

such as might be found in galleries, museums

and universities.

Put simply, there are no independent experts in

the violin trade. And no potential customer should

fail to remember this fact. In the end, customers are

heavily dependent upon the honesty and integrity of

the connoisseur-dealer concerned.

However, in spite of these worries, the violin business

still has some formidable expertise and, if one

knows where to look, some considerable honesty and

integrity at its disposal.


article free download here


This one is also excellent - 'Seeking Mrs. Guarneri'




August 15, 2009 at 04:41 PM ·

 Hi Roland;

Very good article by Roger... I've, unfortunately, seen the misattribution problem first hand far too many times...  several cases over the last few years with "significant" instruments. Fortunately, many of these were purchased long enough ago that resale (after correcting the attributions) still yields a return, but far less of one than the poor owner planed for.

I used "Jack" partially for your benefit (your location), as that seems to be how Charles and the Hills like to refer to him...  :-)

Yes, I have two Cuypers; the violin is listed on my site, the 'cello isn't.  I like the maker and feel that a good one is a nice value (cost/quality/sound), so I would have mentioned the name no matter if I had one or not..   I'm sure you know that your summation of Cuypers tonal qualities can go for pretty much any maker's work, the negatives especially prevalent if the piece has been poorly teated over the years.  I don't have a Lott in the shop...  though I've handled a number of them in the past...  so I hope that fact will make up for listing a maker in my stock presently!

I agree that relationship, competence and reputation/ethics is really key...  there is little to no regulation in the business...  and many musicians really don't understand the market well.

I'll have to leave the judgement about all the instruments I have being "excellent" and well priced to my clients and colleagues, but I do my best... Being a very small shop (me, myself and I, by choice) I can afford to be a bit picky.  If I don't like it, I don't take it on.  My personal "acid test" is how I feel about the piece after selling it...  in other words, would I prefer to have it back than have it gone.  The answer is most usually "yes", I'm happy to say.

The one future exception perhaps: I did mention to David Burgess a while ago (in a discussion on this site) that I wanted to list a truly awful fiddle on my website, with an accurate and unflattering description, just to see what might happen.  I will probably get around to that one of these days when I find the right candidate.  :-)



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