Professional seeks violin

June 6, 2010 at 12:40 AM ·

I am interested in a violin around 100K (more or less).

The most interesting violin that I have tried until now is a JB Vuillaume, with serious cracks, one of them on the soundpost; it would need serious work, but the sound is good and rich, although uneven. Also like a sweet and even Fagnola, very easy to play on, but not that interesting sound. I need a lot of power, for my quartet and solo work, but I would also like some colors. I would appreciate any advice you might have!

Many thanks.



Replies (100)

June 6, 2010 at 02:01 AM ·

That's an awful lot of money for a fiddle with a sound post crack.  What other fiddles have you tried?  With 100K budget, you can afford a fiddle from any living maker, Alf, Burgess, Borman, Needham, Zyg, take your pick and have enough money left to travel the world a few times over. 

I recently attended a concert where Soovin Kim was the soloist, and he has a Strad on loan to him, but he was playing a Zyg for the concert because he wanted something with more power.  When I asked him how the Zyg compared to the Strad, he said the first time he picked it up (after playing his Strad for so long), it felt like he was put behind the wheel of a high performance race car.  He almost had to dial everything back.  It was pretty obvious he prefers the Zyg over the Strad. 

June 6, 2010 at 02:16 PM ·

Smiley' point is a good one.  I have spoken with members of the Shanghai Quartet, and they all have modern instruments costing a lot less than $100K.  The first violinist has a recent Feng Jiang that cost him a fraction of that much, and he says it sounds as good as a number of instruments he tried in the price range you are prepared to pay.

June 7, 2010 at 12:06 AM ·

I have tried some new instruments, quite good, by Curtin and a few others. But I still feel more attached to the sounds of older violins. I cannot afford really powerful 1700s violins, so middle-late 1800s - 1950s.

Thank you!

June 8, 2010 at 07:17 AM ·

" I have tried some new instruments, quite good, by Curtin and a few others. But I still feel more attached to the sounds of older violins. I cannot afford really powerful 1700s violins, so middle-late 1800s - 1950s."

My professional playing days are over, but for years I played a Vuillaume with a sound-post repair and had no trouble at all. If the damage has been expertly patched the instrument can be good for many, many years. 
Were I to be starting again, and with 100K avaiable, I'd look to the Italians of the early 20th. century. Whilst Fagnola seems to be the star maker, there are quite a few others whose fiddles are being sought after by those "in the know". A lot seems to depend on how well an individual instrument has been played & looked after. I'm a bit suspicious about the Deganis which can be rather thin in the wood, but I'd think (off the top of my head !) Antoniazzi, Bisiach, Scarampella,Pedrazzini, Oddone, Poggi, Bignami, etc. etc. Because various models were used, try to concentrate on the instrument itself rather than the name. I met a young player who bought a terrific Guarneri copy by Postiglione. Some makers, such as Lucci, are appreciating in value, if that's what attracts you.
However, if you like the Vuillaume concept, one name that springs to my mind is Joseph Hel of Lille.
Whilst the best new fiddles can and do play very well, some players are more aware than others of the "freshness" of the sound in newer work, and it seems you fall into this category. The new fiddles I own seemed to start to open out and give of their best after 10 years or so. Subjective ???
In your position I'd get a Garimberti, for example, then a new instrument, built on a similar model, as a "second". I'm not sure as to retail prices in the USA  but you might just manage this on your budget.Take Carl Flesch's advice - warm up on the newer instrument and use the older one for best. Have a look at Smiley's thread about buying a violin, which is very clear-headed and instructive.
Don't forget to find a really good bow, and good luck !

June 8, 2010 at 11:05 AM ·

I agree that you could give a chance to contemporary makers also. A friend, who is a concertmaster and soloist, got a fine Oddone sometime ago in mint condition, the instrument is fantastic, he is quite happy with it.

June 8, 2010 at 08:41 PM ·

If  you  wish  to  test  superior  violins,  I  would  suggest  you  to  digit  in  Google:  Rare Ansaldo Poggi violin  and  to  consider  a  short  trip  to  Italy  to  look around,  make many sound and price comparisons  and  buy  at  a  comparable  low  price.

June 9, 2010 at 03:01 PM ·

Many thanks to your sound advice.

I tried this summer two Scarampella's, one of them really nice, but with some extra-bright notes on A string that I could not live with. Also two Fagnola's, one that I especially like, very even, sweet and easy to play with, but lacking richness of color, a bit monochromatic. At 145K,  I would expect more. The Oddone that I tried was loud enough, but sounded cold, almost unpleasant. The Vuillaume that I mentioned at the beginning of the thread also had a few extra-nasal sounds on A and E when one of my students tried it in the concert hall. Are there any other names in this price range that I did not do a fair trial? Do you recommend other US shops besides Chicago that I could visit?


June 9, 2010 at 03:33 PM ·

 My first "post" was in haste. In case you don't know Marlin Brinser's "Dictionary of Twentieth Century Violin Makers, here's HIS list of the top 20 early 20th. century Italians.

Antoniazzi, Romeo: Bisiach, Carlo: Bisiach, Giacomo: Bisiach, Leandro senior: Bisiach, Leandro, junior: Capicchioni, Marino: Degani, Eugenio: Fagnola, Annibale: Lucchi, Giuseppe: Oddone, Carlo: Ornati, Giuseppe: Pedrazzini, Giuseppe: Poggi, Ansaldo: Pollastri, Augusto: Pollastri, Gaetano: Postiglione, Vincenzo: Rocca, Enrico: Rocchi, Sesto: Sacconi, Fernando: Sannino, Vincenzo: Scarampella, Stefano: Sderci, Igino: Sderci, Luciano: Sgarabotto, Gaetano.

You could probably hit on a splendid violin made by someone who didn't QUITE make it onto this list, e.g. Riccardo Antoniazzi, and here's a name, Francesco Guadagnini !!!!

Happy hunting ! Maybe someone can offer a similar list to Brinser's of early 20th. century French.

There are Americans too, from Gemunder, Becker and onwards. From England, Hill, Hudson, Vincent, etc.but now I've seen Bruce Berg's post, I might mention Craske & John Lott. Big, big subject. But judging from what you have written so far, a "Hel" might be just the job, but it's probably better to look for Pierre Joseph rather than his son Pierre Jean Henri.

PS I own a Lucci.

June 9, 2010 at 03:34 PM ·

It's good to work with a dealer who will actually look around for a quality instrument. Some of the big shops will show you all the inventory they have not been able to sell first and this can take a lot of time. A couple of my students have had very good luck finding an instrument through the Robertson shop in New Mexico. It is pretty common to ship instruments for trial. As far as makers you might want to consider an English 19th c. For sound quality they can rival Italian or French instruments valued at triple the "value." For instance I have a Thomas Kennedy which sounds as good as a lot of Vuillaumes and is appraised for about 1/4 the cost. One of the best English was John Lott who copied old Italians. In fact a number of his instruments were certified as old Italian, but later turned out to be his.

June 9, 2010 at 06:21 PM ·

"I have tried some new instruments, quite good, by Curtin and a few others. But I still feel more attached to the sounds of older violins. I cannot afford really powerful 1700s violins, so middle-late 1800s - 1950s."


You should be able to find new instruments which sound very much like the old ones, if you look around a bit. They may be few and far between, but they're out there.

June 9, 2010 at 06:22 PM ·

Even though you have 100k to spend, don't let that put you off looking at fiddles of lower price - you might just find something that excites and satisfies at a fraction of that.

Have you been to instrument auctions? It is possible to try many instruments at an auction viewing and get a good idea of what is available at all prices. I have learnt a great deal by going to the sales as well as to established dealers, particularly that price is not always an indicator of an instrument's playing properties.

Also, if you buy CAREFULLY at auction, you are buying at trade price, so you could build in an automatic profit.  I reiterate,  IF you buy carefully.

Then I must ask, what is your time scale? Do you have a deadline? Or do you just feel the need for a "better" instrument? Or do you just need a haven for spare cash?


June 9, 2010 at 07:28 PM ·

Thanks for this discussion topic - I'm having an awsome time vicariously shopping for a cremona violin with my $100K budget .... less, of course, the essential trip to Italy ... :)

June 9, 2010 at 10:36 PM ·

Graham said, "Also, if you buy CAREFULLY at auction, you are buying at trade price, so you could build in an automatic profit.  I reiterate,  IF you buy carefully."

He is absolutely correct about Carefully. Auctions are often used as a way to unload fairly big name fiddles that just don't sound that good or are in poor condition.  If you buy at an auction, have the violin checked out by an experienced luthier concerning condition.

My rule of thumb when purchasing instruments in the past was to first look at condition. Then listen to the sound. Many instruments with condition problems may sound great one day, but dismal on another.

June 9, 2010 at 11:21 PM ·

Great care must be observed and strongest desires such as tonal quality and structual quality must be strictly adhered to. It is important to search at and below your price range. There are many times where I see friends with violins significantly more expensive than mine and cannot get a sound anywhere near as powerful and rich as my violin. When you test violins be sure to look at the strings. If you do not feel attracted to the sound, look at the strings to see if they are a brand you would usually avoid, such as cheap synthetics or worse (strings I cannot allow myself to talk about because of their pitiful lack of genuinuity), or if you dislike the playability see if they are heavy guage gut strings. If you notice a violin with a bright sound with gut or some of the warmer range of synthetic core, AVOID that violin, especially if you wand a dark-ish sound, since it will not be acheivable easily.

June 10, 2010 at 04:04 AM ·

Thanks to all your comments, very helpful!

Has anyone played on Feng Jiang violins? The first violinist of the Shanghai quartet plays on one, I think. I am waiting for a few other modern Italians and French next week, from different US shops. I turned down a S. Sacconi violin at 140K... it seemed too much, although I love the maker. I did not even get to try it. My deadline: I hope to find a fiddle this summer. I opened the search three years ago, but I took a break and now the prices are about 20K higher :).

After Chicago, where in US should I go to try violins? Half of the violins that I receive by mail are not even close to what I seek...

June 10, 2010 at 10:27 AM ·

If you are the DC area you might consider Brobst Violins in Alexandria and  The Violin House of Weaver in Bethesda.  They both have websites you should check out.  Reuning and Sons would be the place to go if you are in Boston.

June 10, 2010 at 10:39 AM ·

I would try NYC too, there are many dealers there: Christophe Landon, Greg Singer, David Segal, Renè Morel, Florian Leonhardt and others. They have old, modern and contemporary violins also.

June 10, 2010 at 02:55 PM ·

After Chicago, where in US should I go to try violins? Half of the violins that I receive by mail are not even close to what I seek...

I think this is true regardless of the price range you are in.  I was looking in a much lower price range (10K-30K) and I would say that >90% were not even close to what I was looking for.  I tried over 100 instruments, and there were less than 10 that I would consider buying, perhaps only 3 or 4 that were really under consideration.

I really don't believe that price or country of origin is a big factor once you get above the student grade fiddles.  Each instrument is unique in it's own way.  Perhaps a bigger factor is luck.  Even from a great maker, some of their instruments are better than others.  If you are lucky, you will get a shot at one of the better ones. 

The best instruments are not in circulation.  If you are very lucky, you may stumble across one at a shop.  But I went to every shop in the area and did not find what I was looking for.  Even the instruments above $100K were not to my liking.  In the end, I got lucky and found a fiddle from a private seller.  Special circumstances forced her to sell and I am the fortunate recipient of her fiddle.

In that vane, you might want ask around the local symphony players.  Let them know that you are looking.  Perhaps you will get lucky.  Be patient, you'll find your dream fiddle.  Take your time.  Forget the deadlines.  For that much money, don't buy unless you immediately fall in love.


June 10, 2010 at 07:01 PM ·

BTW, the person I bought my fiddle from is a well know Suzuki teacher.  She was very interested in Laura Vigato violins and was trying every one as soon as it arrived from Italy.  Mostly, she was looking for instruments for her advanced students, but when mine came in, she picked it up for herself.  Good violins don't last long, so you have to be poised and ready to jump on it the moment it hits the market.

June 11, 2010 at 12:58 AM ·

There are a couple of interesting venues for trying large numbers of contemporary instruments.

The American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers has an event every two years called "Makers Meet Players". The last one was in Montreal in May. This is a professional organization, and the makers who exhibit are professionally  peer approved to some extent.

Another is the Violin Society of America instrument making competitions, which also take place every two years. The next one is in Cleveland in November. There will be one or two days to try maybe 250 violins after the judging is completed. The results of the competition will be available at that time, so that information can be useful in refining the search.

Preliminary information on that convention and competition is at


June 11, 2010 at 04:22 AM ·

I am working with Brobst, Weaver and Reuning violins, among others, but I should go and visit their shops, and other shops that you recommended. I turned down the Vuillaume Maggini model that I still considered inspite of its size because of the slightly nasal sound on the upper strings.

Many thanks!


June 11, 2010 at 05:52 AM ·

Graham Clark mentioned auctions. These are a great learning tool for the player. I keep loads of old catalogues. Auction houses are usually helpful in allowing instruments to be tried in relative privacy before the sale.

However, buying at one can be risky for all but the most seasoned expert, IMHO. Why, one asks, is a particular instrument or bow in an auction in the first place ? Any good, and other players will be queuing up to buy privately. Maybe the vendor wants a quicker outcome than leaving a violin at a dealer for a commission sale, which avenue would cost the vendor less in charges and bring a higher return. I imagine some auction lots are of house-clearance junk. But the BIG danger, I have noticed, is that in the saleroom lurk many "middle aged" instruments that have been the victim of disastrous "retoning", fiddles that look well enough on the outside but have been tonally filleted ! As GC wrote, buy carefully.

There have been great instruments sold via auction houses, but this doesn't guarantee that all fiddles in the saleroom are marvellous. Far from it ! Caveat Emptor. You pay more at a dealership, but you are able to try for an extended period.

June 11, 2010 at 06:41 PM ·

If you buy at an auction you'd better have one of these and learn how to use it.

Hacklinger Thickness Gauge

Even if you don't buy at an auction, you should have the plates checked to make sure they are healthy. 


June 11, 2010 at 06:50 PM ·

>I turned down the Vuillaume Maggini model that I still considered inspite of its size because of the slightly nasal sound on the upper strings.

Julieta, over sized instruments can be particularly hard to sell.  If you have large hands, then it might be a desirable feature, but if your hands are average, then you might want to find an instrument that is within the "norm" sizewise.

June 12, 2010 at 03:16 PM ·


I believe you've been searching for violins for quite a while now (2 years plus?? Maybe 3?).  I recall talking to you about instruments quite a while ago, once when you were considering a Gadda violin.

David and the others are correct...  especially when speaking of 20h century instruments (like Gaddas, etc.), with a little searching, you should be able to find a contemporary instrument that responds at least as well as those in your price range.

Have to admit (go ahead and throw darts guys and gals), that I think if you look at better older instruments, its a bit harder to match the feedback given to the player.  Understand, I'm talking player feedback...  not what most here refer to as "the sound" (what others hear).  Personally, I think the player feedback is just as important as the sound.

Of course, some players buy older violins for other reasons than response and sound.

Now...  I'm going to say other things that I'm sure I'll catch it for...  but it's honestly what I've observed to be true over the years.

If a player has been looking for a violin as long as you have, and they really need one, something is wrong.  It could be that they are not articulating what they want well enough for someone to help them, it could be that they have unrealistic expectations, it could be that they are not being open to learning how to operate the violins (working around the "flaws").... etc.  Could be that there is some external pressure causing static (ultra-critical family member or colleague(s), etc.). Sometimes, the problem lies with the people one chooses to work with, but I don't think that's the case in this instance.

I personally know some of the violins you've tried (I get around), and many are not (as another poster intimated) "those that were sitting around and unsold". Some were new to the market, and nice fiddles.

It is important to understand that a larger dealer (I was one) does need to keep things around in pretty much every price range...  and because of that, it's pretty certain that some instruments are going to be generally more or less desirable than others.  If they are worth their salt, a large dealership certainly does strive to have what they consider some excellent violins to offer... In the end, it's left to you to figure out what you want.

The same poster mentioned that there are smaller dealers and consultants that can be pretty effective for some musicians.  In the case of these individuals (I know, 'cause I am one), they may not necessarily have violins in every price range "all the time", but what they have they really like and believe in.  If well connected, they probably know where pretty much anything decent is being offered and may be able to point you in the right direction, or obtain the instrument for you. If you're sure that the problem you're having isn't the articulation of what you want, you may want to consider that route. Understand, I'm not offering my services...  I've got a full plate.  Just suggesting this might be an alternative for you.

A logical approach using established "connections", should you continue "on your own", might help as well.  For example: You seem to like Mantuan fiddles (Gadda, Scarampella, etc.)...  so looking further within that school of making can't hurt.  You also mentioned Vuillaume.  There are a good number of makers from that school that fall well within your price range.  Hel was mentioned.  Looking at other "Vuillaume school" instruments or violins made by those employed by Vuillaume, like Pierre Silvestre or Claude Miremont may be fruitful.  If you like Fagnola, look at Marchettis or Gattis.  If you don't know the other related makers in a specific school of making, ask a pro.  You'll probably get more information than you'll need.  :-)

I would also encourage you to look at more contemporary instruments along the way.  There are certainly great makers out there to choose from...  and you may find one that "fits" you better than you imagined.




June 12, 2010 at 05:05 PM ·

Luckily for the survival of the human race, an irrational response comes into play called "falling in love", a "willing suspension of disbelief". It makes folk "take the plunge". Alas, buying a violin is hardly vital for the survival of the species, so nature is less likely to prod us into a decision.  If humans spent as much time on the rigorous analysis of potential partners as they do on consulting test reports and technical specifications of consumer goods they'd never start dating, let alone get hitched. You can pick holes in just about anything if you try hard enough.

There are pros and cons for any instrument. Some players are just incapable of "falling in love" with any instrument at all, and that can make life VERY difficult for them, and the dealers that try so hard to oblige. Promiscuity is a poor substitute for "the real thing".

The trouble with building a "wish-list" is that nothing can ever measure up. 

Julieta, judging from the references to Scarampella, Gadda and the Vuillaume "Maggini" you might end up with a Guarneri copy and plenty of makers made both small and large models. Actually, Smiley's Vigato could well be such. Certainly the only Vigato I saw on the web was one. And she makes them in the same place as Maggini worked - Brescia ! Worth a try, maybe. Perhaps not your ideal "pair bond" material, but you might gain a few insights.

Finally, "working around the "flaws" is what every player has to do. Look up some frequency response charts of even expensive violins and you will see what I mean. The violin is inanimate, despite seeming to have a mind of its own. Don't relationships need to be worked at ?

June 12, 2010 at 11:09 PM ·

Thank you so much for your answers! I am grateful for your time!


David and Smiley, you helped me realize, one more time, that my place in an auction would be only as an interested observer of potentially fine violins. Inspite of reading many books on the matter, my knowledge of violin structure and overall wholesome-ness is poor. All I know is the sound that I seek, and even then I see a difference of what I liked two years ago (Gadda's is no longer on my wish list, as well as Scarampella, although I understand their worth), and what I might like now. I had the fortune of playing for a while on fine instruments on loan, and also on my own, that I outgrew long time ago. I did not have gradually better instruments, like most of us growing up. I had to spend some time trying to learn about my choices (sigh :)


Jeffrey, many thanks for your suggestions. If you have the time (and following an appointment :), I will follow up in person and talk more about a viable violin choice.



June 13, 2010 at 12:11 AM ·

I am just back from a concert, Boris Brovtsyn played the Dworack violin concerto here with our Orchestra. I talked with him sometime ago (he is a nice violin test driver). He produces a wonderfull and powerfull tone on a Paul Knor violin made in Germany in the 1920's.

June 13, 2010 at 02:19 AM ·


If you make a trip to the DC area, you are more than welcome to try out my fiddle.  There are quite a few shops here, so you can spend a few days trying out instruments.  The shops worth visiting are: Weavers, Potters, Brobst, Gailes, and Perrin.  They all have a pretty good selection of instruments.

Your comments about ruling out certain makers, I think is unfair.  Every instrument is unique.  I'm sure there are quite a few Strads that you would reject, but that does not mean all Strads are inadequate.  When trying instruments, keep an open mind.  Don't limit your choices.  The worst that can happen is you will reject another instrument, but that reject gives you one more vantage point to clearly define your personal taste in sound.


June 13, 2010 at 05:12 AM ·

The violin of mine that my wife, a conservatory trained musician, prefers to listen to happens to be the cheapest.

June 13, 2010 at 03:28 PM ·


Have you thought of commissioning a violin from one of many of the excellent makers in the U.S.? Sometimes that is an excellent way to go, you can get a great healthy fiddle to your liking (as you can discuss things like model, etc. with the maker), often for a lot less that what you would have to pay for some of the instruments mentioned.

Just a thought...


June 13, 2010 at 05:03 PM ·

Or, for 100k, you can get 2 or 3 new instruments and complementary bows to cover different situations, types of music, weather, repair cycles...

June 14, 2010 at 05:14 PM ·

Thank you very much!


I do not have the time to wait for most of the contemporary makers that I would be interested in (such as Zyg. and Greiner). I will play tomorrow in a performance Achron Hebrew Melody (among others) on a Vuillaume that is hard to play (the neck needs serious adjustment) but has a number of sounds of the rich and versatile quality that I would be looking for in an instrument. One of my students heard it today and she said: (It sounds... sad! :)

June 14, 2010 at 06:11 PM ·

Julieta, the following was posted here in 2008, and maybe could provide some help in finding a Greiner:

"Hello everyone. I really picked a good discussion to send my very first message to This is quite a discussion you are all having about modern makers. I happen to represent Peter Greiner in the United States and have been to New York three times in the past two years with a few of his instruments. So should anyone want a quick accurate response about Peter's instruments, prices and ways of seeing them, then please feel free to get in touch with me at As a matter of fact Pieter, there is a fiddle in New York at the moment and it is a beautiful fiddle. As far as his waiting list is concerned, yes he does have one here in Europe. I have been and will be bringing over 3-5 instruments per year to the USA or Japan..."

A maker/dealer in New York also posted recently on another forum, saying that a number had been for sale in New York City over the last year, so that might be a good place to look.

June 15, 2010 at 03:51 PM ·

Thank you very much, David!


I just emailed the address that you gave me for a Greiner violin.

June 15, 2010 at 04:39 PM ·

I think there are more interesting, but less hyped instruments out there than Greiner. You could look at : Grubaugh & Seifert, David Burgess, Eero Haahti to name a few.

I am not saying the emperor is wearing no clothes but sometimes there are very well dressed individuals who are quite discrete amongst the crowd:-)

June 19, 2010 at 10:52 AM ·

This is an interesting thread, with good comments from violin makers.

However,  I think one of the problems is that for what one can call snobbish reasons and the wish to impress,  people want to play on expensive, famous Italian instruments. It sounds impressive if you can say you play on a Strad, or whatever expensive instrument from an "old master."

But of course, as has been pointed out, those instruments would have probably been poor when they were first made, and have only become good because a lot of experts have worked on them, and they have been played in for a long time. Strad was only famous in the late 16th and early 17th Cenuries because he made beautiful looking instruments. Many in fact probably sounded dreadful, and only the good sounding instruments (mostly) have survived. So Strad was hit and miss. And I have known of people with very poor Strads, and they play them either becuase it impresses, or they have overcome the problems with the instrument.

Collectors of course push up the price of instruments way above their real value, so players have to pay a huge premium to play on something old and sought after.

But it has been pointed out that ther are probably many fine sounding instruments out there which are modern and cheap. Some may even be better than the old masters!

Even some rather silly orchestras are wanting string players to use famous old instruments!

It has been said that the sound is 80% the player, and I agree. It could even be 90% the player.


June 19, 2010 at 12:38 PM ·

Sorry to be so pedantic as to correct Peter Charles, but Strad worked at the late 17th. century through to the early 18th centuries!  But, yes "Hill's" book on this maker does quote an early source stating that an instrument of his sounded "Bad"  because the wood was too thin and that the cure would need to be a new table and back !

It's because of all the emotional baggage surrounding old fiddles that makers nowadays feel obliged to offer those "antiqued" instruments. J.B.Vuillaume might be considered the inventor of the modern violin, in that he concentrated his activity on making admittedly brilliant reproductions.

Personally, I'd rather bash up my own violin rather than pay extra for a maker to do so. Though I feel uncomfortable thus swimming against the tide, I take heart from the fact that the Cremona "Triennale" exhibitions (and maybe some others) allow entry only to "new finish" instruments. David Burgess is one amongst a few top makers who makes violins looking much as the "Strads" looked when new - probably better.

There's a "new versus old" controversy of long-standing that seems to want to ignore "middle aged" instruments. As I implied previously, this area of the market should be a happy hunting ground for those who are over-sensitive to the freshness of new work. The trouble seems to be that anyone with, for example, a "Bisiach" that sounds really well will probably hang on to it, and any "Bisiach" on the market could be one the previous owner was unhappy with. So you cannot just go for the name.  And, as I wrote before, many quite new violins have already been ruined by well-meaning folk who are sometimes over-eager to slice off the table and "take out wood".

June 19, 2010 at 02:52 PM ·

David Beck

Yes sorry, I was of course meaning late 17th and early 18th C. I was thinking of my fiddle, a Gaspar de Salo of 1586, making it late 16th Century. (That's what it says on the label, so it must be ...)

Yes, what you say makes sense, one cannot go by name alone.

June 19, 2010 at 08:35 PM ·

I find it best not to defend one camp over the other too much, old vs. new. People get enjoyment out of things differently. You can't really separate the objective and psychological aspect of things when it comes down to what tickles people's fancy. If someone is heavily influenced by suggestive/psychological factors and they really enjoy a violin, does he enjoy it any less than someone who thoroughly enjoys the best sounding (by objective testing) modern violin?

There are two types of people in this world, those who are after the best bang for the bucks and those who would pay a premium for the latest/greatest/exclusivity. Does the former qualify as cheap or the latter qualify as snobbish? ;) Maybe both...


June 19, 2010 at 08:43 PM · Yes, you are possibly right on both counts.

June 19, 2010 at 10:09 PM ·

"But of course, as has been pointed out, those instruments would have probably been poor when they were first made, and have only become good because a lot of experts have worked on them, and they have been played in for a long time."


I believe this to be false.  Great instruments sound great from the get-go and improve with time.  I just got my new amazing violin from luthier Guy Harrison and it sounded mind-blowingly great from the first note and opened up a lot in the first week to sound even better and I think will keep growing.  But everything essential was there from the start.

Yes, instruments can be worked on to improve, they can be well-cared for (important in the long run), but my experience with new instruments is that the great sounding ones do so from the start and only get better.  Those that don't, never really develop into anything good.

That there are so many great sounding modern instruments around these days is a testament in my opinion to the unbelievably high rate of artistry from many of the contemporary makers.


June 19, 2010 at 11:18 PM ·

Off-topic, but was that Guy Harrison fiddle the Wilton copy he had brought to Montreal?  A nice piece of making, that, and if he strikes gold more than once all the better.

June 19, 2010 at 11:25 PM ·

What Christian says is true, that great instruments sound great from the get-go. I think though that what the other poster was referring to was the fact that a lot of those old instruments have been regraduated and otherwise greatly modified from their original state. I wouldn't say they sounded "bad" when they were new, maybe their sound was targeted towards the tastes of the musicians of those times. These days, we like different things than they liked, and so to us a brand new Strad, for example if we could hear the Messiah played, might sound unsatisfactory. Of course, Strad was not trying to please us when he made those violins!! He was trying to please whoever his buyers were back then.

I really should shut my mouth now, this is all speculation and we've really derailed this thread anyway. To the original poster, I very much envy your position and I really wish you the best in your search for a great instrument!

June 19, 2010 at 11:43 PM ·

Quite correct Manuel.  Many of the so-called masterpiece instruments (Strads, Del Gesus), have been re-graduated to improve their sound.  If they were so great from the get go, people wouldn't bother re-graduating them.  This simple fact tells me that luthiers today know at least as much, perhaps more than the great Italian makers 300 years ago. 

I really believe the prices that people are willing to pay for some things is completely out of whack.  For example, why would someone pay more than $1 million for a baseball?  Just because it was the home run ball that won the world series, it's still just a baseball.  Take violins.  Sam Zyg, perhaps the most reknowned living maker today charges around $50 K for his instruments.  But the Zyg that was previously owned by Isaac Stern fetched over $140K when it was auctioned after his death.  It was still a Zyg, but because Isaac Stern owned it, that makes it worth almost 3 times as much?  Call it emotional or whatever you want.  I call it completely irrational. 


June 20, 2010 at 12:08 AM ·

Some of this is branding.  After all, there are some generic toothpastes that are pretty good, but if you buy Crest you know for sure what you're getting and don't have to hassle with trying different chains' house brands.  Some of the traffic to old instruments (and instruments with good provenance) is a way of being sure that you're no more wrong than a lot of other people before you, without spending the time to prove you're right.

But I suspect that there is some weird stuff that might happen in the market.  40 years ago, a symphony musician-- or a successful teacher-- could easily get an old Italian violin.  Not a Strad, necessarily, and not for trivial money, but it was possible.  A whole bracket of good-but-not-mind-blowing antiques held their value because professionals needed them.  And one reason they kept buying them was that there weren't a lot of modern instruments being made that were as good.  Maybe a few, but you took a real risk.

Now those same old instruments don't cost like a used Mercedes, but more like a house.  For them to stay that high, there has to be some collectors' interest.  Obviously you have Russian and Chinese money pouring in to support prices a bit, but what if the party stops?  If people who really need good violins suddenly decide that there are 20 living makers who can easily surpass, say, Vuillaume and Gagliano for 10-15% of the price, what will happen next?



June 20, 2010 at 05:42 AM ·

Interesting ideas about contemporary makers! I should try more recent violins.

But my position is not to be envied, far from it! I am starting summer concerts in 4 days and looking at five violins that need some playing time.

Meantime, I really like an 80K Augustus Pollastri. It has a dark, even and clean sound, small and easy to play. But I have the feeling that one of the healthy Vuillaume's will be louder in the hall. What do you think of Pollastri's projection and sound in general?

Many thanks!



June 20, 2010 at 07:08 AM ·

45 years ago Vuillaumes sold in the UK for £1,000. Dealers shook their heads and predicted a crash that never happened !

It's often written that the Vuillaumes, whilst being loud close up & under the ear, don't come over too well in a large hall. That was certainly true of MY Vuillaume. Many Itallans had the knack of producing a sound that, whilst less blatant under the ear, travels for miles. This might be true of the Pollastri. I hope so, Julieta !

June 20, 2010 at 09:42 AM ·

David Beck
Posted on June 20, 2010 at 07:08 AM

45 years ago Vuillaumes sold in the UK for £1,000. Dealers shook their heads and predicted a crash that never happened !


Yes, I had a friend in the late 1950's who bought 2 Roccas and a Precenda for about £500-600 each. His mother complained that he was spending too much on fiddles (he was still very young) so he sold them! What would they be worth now? Possibly £130,000 or more?

June 20, 2010 at 12:14 PM ·


Smiley wrote (in part)

"I really believe the prices that people are willing to pay for some things is completely out of whack.  For example, why would someone pay more than $1 million for a baseball?  Just because it was the home run ball that won the world series, it's still just a baseball.  Take violins.  Sam Zyg, perhaps the most reknowned living maker today charges around $50 K for his instruments.  But the Zyg that was previously owned by Isaac Stern fetched over $140K when it was auctioned after his death.  It was still a Zyg, but because Isaac Stern owned it, that makes it worth almost 3 times as much?  Call it emotional or whatever you want.  I call it completely irrational." 

and in many ways I agree, but I do believe that you have left something out of the equation, and it is a significant psychological contributor to the wild inflation in prices of fiddles, and other things as well:

Such rabid increases in prices are driven, in part, by the buyer's assumption that the trend toward increasing prices will continue.

Do you believe that anyone would pay one million dollars for a baseball were he or she fully assured that five years from the purchase it would be worth ten dollars?

(I will add here that when I was about ten years old, I was introduced to a childhood friend of my mother's, and he greeted me by handing me a baseball signed by his son. He and my mom chatted, and I took the ball out and batted it around the streets of Brooklyn. I don't know much about baseball... What ever happened to "Sandy Kaufax?")

All the best,


June 20, 2010 at 12:14 PM ·


June 20, 2010 at 12:30 PM ·

Hi Stephen,

No, it is not a copy of the Lord Wilton, although that is a nice fiddle.  It was a personal project that I commissioned from Guy Harrison, a violin for me based on a 1693 Long Pattern Stradivari that looks sensational and sounds amazing!  From the first note, it had amazing colour, response and even that Italian Cremonese sound that Long Pattern Strads have.  The antiquing is so great it looks exactly like an extremely well-preserved Cremonese violin.  I still can't get over it.  It is artistry on the very highest level!  But the sound, wow...  And it has that projection that David is talking about - seems like the sound would carry for miles.


June 20, 2010 at 12:51 PM ·

Vuillaumes are another case in point -- way overpriced in my opinion.  If Hilary Hahn didn't play on a Vuillaume, they would be worth a fraction of what they cost now.  Just because Hilary found an exceptional specimen, does that suddenly make all other Vuillaumes that much better?  I'm not saying that Vuillaumes are bad, just overpriced.  Indeed, I played one last year, priced at $150K.  The sound was fabulous on the open strings, but the response in higher positions was terrible.  From a utilitarian standpoint,  I would not even pay $2 K for it.  But, I'm quite certain that some poor sucker will shell out the asking price (or near) and buy it.  If I owned that Vuillaume now, I'm certain I'd be hunting for another fiddle.  This is the same irrational thinking that causes stock market rallies and crashes, and also put the world into its current economic bind. 

June 20, 2010 at 02:07 PM ·

 MY Vuillaume was a good player, at least for orchestral use, but I tried many that were pretty useless by comparison, as I have posted before on other threads.

June 20, 2010 at 02:17 PM ·

Hi David

I see you studied with David Martin. I knew him when I was at the RAM. I studied with Fred Grinke and Watson Forbes on viola.


June 20, 2010 at 03:55 PM ·

 Hi, Peter,

Yes, I did go to David Martin, but for a few lessons only whilst preparing for the 4th.year Cambridge Mus. B. practical. He said I'd have to practise very hard to pass. I did and scraped it. I'm ashamed to say I held down professional jobs despite having missed out on the customary 3-year conservatory training. So now you all know ! Exposed at last.

I knew Watson Forbes' son Sebastian who was at Kings, Cambridge.

Circa 1967 a London dealer offered me a Giulio Degani for £189. Colleagues put me off it, despite my "gut instinct". Later I was to find that many professionals don't have any appreciation of that kind of sound. Had I stuck to my guns I might still have the fiddle, worth about £30,000.

I eventually defied them all, followed the same instinct and bought a Guastalla for £250. One fellow orchestral member HATED me for getting this, because he said it made me sound just like the concertmaster, whose violin was H. Amati II.  This fiddle was traded in after 4 years. I saw it sold at auction recently for £8,500. Those Italians do seem to have a good track-record for monetary appreciation.

Returning to Julieta's original post - a Pollastri might be a vary good buy. The Fiorini School is well regarded, I think.

As to human psychology and prices, I spoke today to a local maker. He had lent a violin of his own make to a player whose instrument needed repair. The player liked the violin and wanted to buy it, but backed off when learning that the price was ONLY £6,000. The maker offered to increase the price, but too late.

June 20, 2010 at 05:50 PM ·

As to human psychology and prices, I spoke today to a local maker. He had lent a violin of his own make to a player whose instrument needed repair. The player liked the violin and wanted to buy it, but backed off when learning that the price was ONLY £6,000. The maker offered to increase the price, but too late.

That happened to a maker friend of mine very recently.

I wonder whether I should double my teaching fees...   ...


June 21, 2010 at 01:01 AM ·

 Smiley wrote: "Many of the so-called masterpiece instruments (Strads, Del Gesus), have been re-graduated to improve their sound.  If they were so great from the get go, people wouldn't bother re-graduating them.  This simple fact tells me that luthiers today know at least as much, perhaps more than the great Italian makers 300 years ago."

With all due respect, I think you're getting taking a unconnected "fact" and producing an "opinion that I'm not sure I'd completely agree with...  actually, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't.  Alterations on old classic instruments went hand in hand with changes in venue, playing styles, changes in bows, repertoire, and even the A pitch.  Regraduation may have been connected with restorations, sometimes an effort to change sound, and sometimes a bad idea (one that may not have made any "improvement".  Certainly, it's a bit of a shame more old instrument don't retain their original measurements, but how can anyone say this or that instrument started out one way or another without considering the era and use?

There are numerous opinions contained within this thread.  I find it a bit disappointing that some "fall" into one camp or another, but they seem to be honest opinions, contain some good information (though a one sided opinion really isn't a very complete one... in my opinion of course). and I can't really fault them.  

Here are some observations based on 1/4 century in the trade: The old violin market does not behave much like the stock market, but it is a market, and therefore subject to it's own market cycles.  People who cannot figure out why someone could possibly "spend that much" on a violin often don't have that much to spend on one.  It does not cost "that much" to buy a good sounding violin, but it may take "that much" to buy one that keeps in step with the old instrument market.  I've heard doomsday messages about the market for nearly 3 decades.  It's still here and values for coveted instruments continue to increase (sometimes faster, sometimes slower).  Money buys you choices, you still need to make a choice for yourself.  If you buy a fake, it may not perform well in terms of value (you'll lose)...  but it may still be a really good sounding fiddle.  There are probably as many egotistic or emotional reasons to purchase a new instrument as an old one.  Often, new instruments are a better choice for a player, and often they are not. I do feel it's a mistake not to at least consider a contemporary instrument unless a person has reason not to..  Greed is a factor that often exists in some lesser or greater degree, but is often not acknowledged (yes, some players are motivated by greed as too).  Once a player owns a violin they like, they tend to prefer it even to many other fiddles that most other players may like better.

That's my next, and last 2 cents.  Won't make it to a nickel on this thread.  :-)




June 21, 2010 at 05:20 AM ·


Money buys you choices, you still need to make a choice for yourself

How very true. As I tried to convey, it's so hard to follow your "gut instinct". A dealer once refused to let me take a violin out on trial. "You'll take it into an orchestra and the others will put you off it".

All those other players, your competitors, are equipped with an arsenal of cruel one-liners calculated to talk down any violin you show them.  Julieta already has a "sound in her head" and if she takes what all of us write with a huge pinch of salt she will get there - eventually.

June 21, 2010 at 07:17 AM ·

High David Beck

You probably did the right thing as I personally think music academys like the RAM can be over rated, and the important thing is getting good and getting into a band.

People have done this in your way quite a bit. I'm hearing these days though that people only go to music college to be able to claim this on their CV's!!

Regarding instruments I think it can be a good idea to try lots without knowing what the asking price is. I did this within a certain range and the best fiddle by far turned out to be one that was being sold for someone and it was almost the cheapest, despite being far the best.




June 21, 2010 at 07:27 AM ·

Hi Jeffrey

We all have our hangups and weaknesses, especially about instruments.

I do think we can get too obsessed about the instrument because as someone has said recently, and I have always believed, 80-90% of the sound is the player. Having also been a viola player though, I am of the personal opinion that it is hard to find a viola with a big sound and one with good carrying power. This is because it's an instrument that one has to work very hard on to produce a big sound. Contrary to popular belief I think the smaller instruments can sometimes have a big sound, although most people go for 16.5 inches plus (whatever that is in centimeteres or other exotic ways of measuring ...).

But yes, people have strange and devious reasons for putting one off a fiddle. Recently trying out bows I relied on my wife's opinion quite a bit, as she is not a musician but a pianist ... (Joke!!) (Therefore she had no pre-conceptions and judged it on the sound and power alone).


Whatever you do, don't ask the opinion of a conductor!!!!! .... (Joke ...?)


June 21, 2010 at 08:29 AM ·

From JulietaM's post:

>>The most interesting violin that I have tried until now is a JB Vuillaume, with serious cracks, one of them on the soundpost<<

Well, from what I've heard and seen, most older instruments do have sound-post patches and repaired cracks. Maybe some vcommers can share the details (sound-post patch, cracks, scroll/peg box replacements, top and back re-graduations, replaced neck, shortening of the original body, bass-bar cracks/replacement, composite top or back) of their instruments. It is going to be virtually impossible to obtain a JBV in the condition in which it left his workshop in the 1800s.

You can also request a condition report from any of the auctions being held. This will give you an idea about the details and condition of other (comparable) instruments. I believe that the extent of the damage/replacement does adversely affect the value of the instrument, for example, a replaced scroll or a composite with the top replaced. Collectors, usually, don't care about the sound of the instrument.

June 21, 2010 at 11:23 AM ·

Even Higher Peter Charles,

Might I recommend Smiley's informative thread about buying his violin, which was not the most expensive he tried, if you haven't read it ?

I'm gambling on Pollastri being the victor here. I presume it has those little roosters next to the button. Can't wait for the result.

June 21, 2010 at 12:16 PM ·

VJ wrote: "Collectors, usually, don't care about the sound of the instrument." 

I've seen this a lot - but then we have comments like Smiley's about Hillary Hahn favouring a particular instrument for its sound and the value of the maker's output going up dramatically.  After reading a lot of these posts it seems that there is a link between sound and value but that its loose.  In the extreme case, Strads would certainly not be so such collectors pieces if they were not also desperately sought after for their performance qualitites.

I think the issue that brings this into focus is the comparison between old violins and new ones.  The new ones may have a wonderful sound but are valued far less.  The missing factor is time - these new instruments will (and do) appreciate if time proves their quality as instruments - and I'm pretty sure that collectors are tuned into this (scuse pun).

June 22, 2010 at 02:25 AM ·

Certainly, it's a bit of a shame more old instrument don't retain their original measurements, but how can anyone say this or that instrument started out one way or another without considering the era and use?


I'm not exactly sure what your point is regarding era and use.  The era that concerns me is TODAY.  So if you have a violin that sounded FANTASTIC with the strings, venue, whatever, 300 years ago, but doesn't quite make the cut by today's standards, is it still a fantastic instrument?  I won't argue that supply and demand will drive up the price of that instrument, but it does not necessarily mean it is a better instrument just because it is older or more expensive.

I have formulated my opinions based on my own limited observations.  Last year, I spent quite a bit of time playing various fiddles and came to the conclusion that contemporary makers are doing some really outstanding work.  I didn't try instruments over $1 million, but I tried quite a few that were in the tens of thousands and several that were over $100K.  In all my trials, the contemporary fiddles stood out.  I don't have an ax to grind, just pointing out my opinion based on my personal experience. 

Of course, sound is subjective, so my personal preference in sound may favor contemporary makers.  And it is certainly possible that Julieta has an ear that is good enough to discern subtle differences in sound between old and new instruments.  I personally am not able to make that distinction.  The characteristics that are important to me are: volume, tone, ease of play, and even response.  Based on these characteristics, and my own personal trials, I found contemporary fiddles to be quite competitive (perhaps superior) to the older fiddles I tried.


June 22, 2010 at 02:50 AM ·


I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Pollastri passes the projection test.  BTW, I know a professional symphony player that had a budget considerably higher than yours and it took her years to find her fiddle.  So don't feel bad, you're not alone.

June 22, 2010 at 04:19 AM ·

Hi Smiley;

I'm really honestly not trying to be a pain...  but you mentioned you weren't sure of my point, so:

Your quote was: "If they were so great from the get go, people wouldn't bother re-graduating them."

Which is what I responded to.  "From the get go" implies the era is considered, no?

Then the next portion of your post: "This simple fact tells me that luthiers today know at least as much, perhaps more than the great Italian makers 300 years ago." 

That's where I felt the unconnected "fact" and "opinion" came into play.  I mentioned that re-graduations were/are not always a good idea.  In some cases they were/are shockingly formulaic.

My personal feeling is that we have some fantastic contemporary makers, but some of the best makers in the last century have been those who emulate the classic models most successfully.

Your last response included: "So if you have a violin that sounded FANTASTIC with the strings, venue, whatever, 300 years ago, but doesn't quite make the cut by today's standards, is it still a fantastic instrument?"

This statement negates era.  I didn't respond to this statement.  I guess if I were going to (which I guess I am) one appropriate response is: Your statement seems to indicate it probably was a great instrument "from the get go".  If there was really any way to be sure of that, I'd need to see for myself why it's not functioning well now. You could conceivably compress this scenario into a decade.  If you acquired an instrument that sounded great from "the get go", but didn't make the cut 10 years down the road, wouldn't you want to investigate the reason for the decline?  If the instrument was well made, and wasn't abused, chances are there's a remedy.  

I am certainly not finding fault with your advice or your personal observations in finding an appropriate instrument.  Sounds like you did the work and MADE a choice... and I assume a very good one for you.

For the record, I simply like great instruments.  I'm crazy about them.  New, old... no qualifier required. That doesn't mean I don't see the advantages and disadvantages of either/both.

OK.  I tried, but I'm afraid I'm now up to the nickel.  :-)



June 22, 2010 at 06:02 AM ·

I think Julieta shoulld try to avoid getting too hung up on how the Pollastri sounded from the "get go" because she will never know. That's guesswork. As to regraduation, in earlier times, makers didn't get their money if an instrument arrived damaged, so I am told they would send fiddles abroad with very thick tables, assuming that the destination violin shop would then reduce the thickness of them. A rumour has it that Beares shop in London would automatically regraduate any Pedrazzini they had, without any prior test of the playing qualities. It used to be asserted (see Marlin Brinser's "Dictionary of Twnetieth Century Violin Makers") that a large percentage of new Italians had to be regraduated on arrival in the USA, probably for that very reason.

All depends on whether the "regraduator" knew their business. I have seen instances where they have been over-enthusiastic, resulting in an enfeebled and tonally unstable violin.

Any commercial or private maker of reeds for wind instruments knows and accepts that some of their products will need to be "scraped" by the players later.

So, take the Pollastri as you find it, and get another luthier to look it over for structural integrity.

June 22, 2010 at 02:18 PM ·

That's very interesting, about makers leaving the plates thick for more sturdyness in their overseas travel. I never knew that before. That's why I love, you learn something new every day :-)

June 22, 2010 at 06:22 PM ·

Hi Jeffrey,

I pretty much agree with all your points.  In my opinion, the disconnect is the fact that some people equate sound and playability with price and/or pedigree.  That is, the higher the price, the better the sound.  My observations have not supported this.  It is well known that price can significantly impact people's perceptions of things.  For example, if you let people try two different violins, one priced at $10K and another priced at $100K, their preference will be greatly affected if you tell them the price of the two instruments in advance.  Many people will be swayed into liking the $100K instrument just because it is expensive, or it is a Guadagnini, or Landolfi, or whatever.  But if they do not know the price (or maker) beforehand, you will get a very different outcome with the same two instruments. 

I personally am NOT influenced by price or pedigree.  I have played a pretty wide range of instruments, even Strads, and frankly, it makes no difference to me whether the instrument is 1 thousand dollars or 1 million dollars.  It is either a good instrument or not.  I personally am not affected by the price, or the maker, or the age.  I just know if I like the instrument or not.  That said, my personal observations have led me to prefer contemporary makers.  When I went violin hunting, most times I did not know the age, origin, or price of the instruments I was trying.  But I tended to gravitate towards living makers.  But as I mentioned before, this could be personal preference. 



June 23, 2010 at 05:14 AM ·

I don't know if this is true, but I have heard the same things - regarding thicker top and back plates - for Roth violins.

I was told that when the Ernst Heinrich Roth firm shipped violins/violas/cellos to the US to Scherl & Roth, they ensured that the top and back plates were thicker so they could be prevented from getting damaged when shipped (via sea) from Germany to the US. Apparently, some of the Roth violins were re-graduated upon arrival.

June 23, 2010 at 05:31 AM ·

I just returned from the blind test in the hall. The results are:

Volume and overall quality: Vuillaume, then Pacherel, and last Pollastri and Vuillaume with the soundpost crack. At times, I favored the darker and purer sound of Pacherel, but Vuillaume had its own bold personality, with a rather bright, "blonde" sound of a certain richness. Vuillaume will be a strong contender in the finals. Pollastri had the darkest sound and quite noble; it seemed though that it came from another room in the basement. Unfortunately, that is also the order of the price :) I will play in a recital Thursday on the winner violin.

Does anyone have any suggestions about how to test the volume of a violin (besides listening for hours in the last row of a big concert hall:)? Is there an instrument that would measure the volume?

Many thanks!

June 23, 2010 at 07:55 AM ·

Pollastri had the darkest sound and quite noble; it seemed though that it came from another room in the basement. 

That sounds like a description of old Brescian, such as Gasparo da Salo !

One of my violins has such a sound. It has almost unlimited power, though, and goes better with a heavy bow. I use a 65gm Bultitude on it. Someone I know had the use of a Guarneri del Gesù and found he needed a heavy stick on that instrument. The left-hand finger grip needs to be stronger on such a violin for the best result. The thing is, is the extra effort worth it ?

I recall trying a violin with a sound such as you describe (which I quite like). My wife said it sounded like someone calling to be let out of a cupboard.

You didn't mention Pacherel before. These are good fiddles, modelled after Pressenda, I think.

Your results tend to confirm what many suspect, that the efficiency of a violin goes up with age and, presumably, use. That's one reason for the price going up over time. I don't know of any scientific way of measuring "volume" independently of the player; decibels per kilocalorie or whatever. 

If you buy from a reputable dealership, there's always the possibility of trading upwards or sideways later, as I expect you know.

June 23, 2010 at 06:44 PM ·

Hi Smiley,


Very nice blog about your quest for a professional violin. I did start my search at 20K, and then, little by little, getting where I am now, around 100K. Thank you, I found myself identifying with many of your issues. 

June 23, 2010 at 08:26 PM ·

Hi Julietta,

I spent considerable time searching for my current fiddle.  As you read in my blog, it was a rather frustrating experience, and I too was wondering if I needed to increase my price ceiling.  At first, my ceiling was $20 K, then I started considering instruments up to $30 K and may have gone higher if necessary.  But thankfully, when the right fiddle came along, it was well within my original budget, and I even bought a great bow to go with it, all for less than $20K.

You are fortunate to have so much money to invest in an instrument (I hope you are planning to pay cash, and not borrow).  If current trends continue, whatever you buy is likely to keep going up in value.  If you must have an expensive instrument to feel good about it, then there is nothing wrong with it.  But if you just want a great sounding fiddle that is easy to play, keep an open mind about cheaper instruments and living makers.  You might stumble across something that is cheaper than you expected.


June 24, 2010 at 01:01 AM ·

Having posted earlier, I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable with all the emphasis on contemporary instruments. It's valuable input, it happens to be my gig, but I don't have an agenda as much as I'd like to provide balance.

Decent instruments exist in all price ranges. In the lower ranges, they might be few and far between. If you take 4000 factory instruments, a few of them will happen to come together in a way that they satisfy some really good players, maybe with some special work based on perceived potential.

Don't necessarily expect these to show up in your local showroom though. Some of the promising ones get pulled early on, and offered to high-profile players. It's marketing. I'm not speaking for or against it, it's just a reality worth knowing.

Different, but similar stuff can show up on the high end, and everywhere in between.

I wish I could say only affirmative things about the violin business in general, but I can't. There are "good guys" and "bad guys", and everything in between, just like in any other business.

June 24, 2010 at 05:31 AM ·

 "Don't necessarily expect these to show up in your local showroom though. Some of the promising ones get pulled early on, and offered to high-profile players."

OK, don't get too paranoid ! There have been times in the UK when dealers didn't have much to show, because the good stuff was either being spirited abroad, to the USA and the Oriental markets, or sold on almost immediately by jungle telegraph. During my early years it seemed that unless they knew you very well, dealers would look to orchestral players to off-load the junk !

However, looking at American websites, I think there's an embarrassment of riches on offer. Wow ! Not only old or brand new, but in that sector largely ignored by the "new versus old" extremists - the 50 to 100 year-old fiddles. A happy hunting ground, IMHO. It does make the selection of just one violin more difficult, though, having such a wide choice.

There are "good guys" and "bad guys" among customers, too. If you are known for quick decisions, prompt payment and for taking good care of intruments loaned on approval, you are more likely to be tipped off about items that perform above the price-tag.


June 30, 2010 at 06:08 AM ·


Thank you again, for your ideas and suggestions!

The J. B Vuillaume that I played on last week's concert (I start feeling more like a pianist, playing on instruments that I barely have time to adjust :) was characterized by my highly esteemed colleagues at the festival as rather cold, difficult to play on and very different from what they grew accustomed to calling my voice. 

I purchased a decibel machine that calculates the carrying power of the instruments, and it proved a helpful tool. It measured about 65-76 decibels max. on my Bach solosonata with a 440A. I tended to qualify as powerful violins that were rather harsh, dissonant sounding; now I see that a warm, dark and sweet-souding instrument can project even better, according to this machine. I do have doubts though on the subjectivity of the perception of volume.

I also followed your advice and will try some contemporary violins, among the my usual late 1800s-1930s. With so many exquisite colleagues around, I hope to have another blind test soon and get myself a violin!



With so many exquisite sting players around, I hope to find something soon!

June 30, 2010 at 11:05 AM ·


I have a Vincenzo Panormo violin and from what you want a violin by VP might suit you. You will most probably have to search long and hard to find a V P because they are very hard to find but just give it a try.

Regards T J

July 1, 2010 at 01:16 PM ·

Well, I believe no less than Heifetz himself is quoted (ca 1955) as stating he thought many contemporary violins were better than many of the famous old ones  in all respects.  I have yet to find the exact article, sorry, and I use a failing memory. But a case in point was a concert I attended not so long ago in Shanghai, where 2 excellent violinists gave separate performances during the same concert.  One played an Amati, the other a modern from east coast USA.  The modern literally outperformed the Amati in all respects: tone, power, sustain, dynamics. 

So reading this post, I begin to wonder if this is about a violin or a violinist.  fwiw.


July 1, 2010 at 01:52 PM ·

If you can't hear the difference, well, you just saved yourself a million bucks. :-)

My piano teacher and her husband recently went to a Christian Tetzlaff concert. We'd never discussed violins, and she wasn't aware of the new/old debate. My lesson was a couple of days later, and she simply asked me "why would he play an important concert with a violin like that?" Tetzlaff is fine with it, though. They nearly walked out of the concert. I bought a Tetzlaff CD to see what the fuss about his violins is, and couldn't finish the CD. If everyone liked just one thing, we'd only need just one thing, right?

Sure, you can bring up a few names of famous players who don't seem to know the difference. One can selectively find famous people saying anything you want to hear about anything, and politicians do that all the time. (

But I've had the same discussion over and over with many, many top level players who definitely understand and appreciate the difference, and more importantly, could in many cases explain it in a way that you'd understand it from then on out, every time you heard a violin. This is why certain types of violin are in demand: because there are people who do hear the very real difference. Many, even very good players, don't, and for them the violin search is much simpler.

Though I think that Julieta's process has some inherent flaws (a db meter doesn't really say anything about the way a violin comes through against other instruments) she does have a cohesive explanation of what she wants to find that makes a lot of sense. Most of the recommendations I've seen here so far (modern Italians? I don't think so)  are exactly in the direction she clearly doesn't want to go in. She just needs a couple of hundred thousand more dollars, or some very good luck.

July 1, 2010 at 02:15 PM ·

Yes, Michael, plenty of makers and players detest modern Italian fiddles, and I have found that the same folk hate OLD Italians, too, expressing HUGE disappointment when getting to try even a decent one.

July 1, 2010 at 02:31 PM ·

Michael Darnton

I recently heard Christian Tetzlaff perform the second Bartok concerto on his modern fiddle. It was a wonderful sound, and so I don't think YOU can hear the difference. What a great musician and he makes a great sound. It doesn't have that "tired old sound" you get with a lot of old Italians including Strads.

Do you not consider though that your instruments are a bit overpriced at the amount you have advertised on your website? Now there are some contemporary modern makers that might be worth that price, but not many.

July 1, 2010 at 02:33 PM ·

David, I like modern Italians and old ones, and many other types of violins, too, but they are different from each other. I even like many new violins, but for different reasons than I like older ones. You can't just substitute one for the other if someone has a particular thing in mind they want, unless they're willing to change their selection parameters. A really nice example from our shop was a modern Italian that was fast and vibrant. Everyone liked it, but no one would buy it because it was an ugly stop-sign red. Color trumped tone, even when people said tone came first, not appearance.

Peter, then you should spend your money on Tetzlaff CDs and concerts, not on my violins, which I gather you have not even played.

July 1, 2010 at 02:53 PM ·

"Peter, then you should spend your money on Tetzlaff CDs and concerts, not on my violins, which I gather you have not even played."

Well, I just wondered about your prices as I think I could buy a modern Italian from about 1890 - 1920 for about 40% less than you are asking. An instrument that has stood the test of time and may sound very good.

On the other hand you could send me one of your fiddles and I could give you an idea of how I find it ... (Or if you know someone who has one in London which I could try ...???)

July 1, 2010 at 02:58 PM ·


I shall look on your website. Peter Charles is probably unfair, because I'm aware that in the USA a top maker can charge a quite high price for a violin. Recently I was at an exhibition at the RNCM in Manchester - English makers are asking £6,000 - £8,000 for their usually antiqued violins. This surprised me - I think I was hearing of higher prices a few years back. The one UK maker I can think of who does "new" finish, Christopher Rowe, charges what I think is a ridiculously low figure, especially for someone with a prestigious Cremona "Triennale" award.

I've gotten used to that orange-peel look to the extent that I'm now prejudiced against fiddles varnished with what looks like sump-oil and mud !!

Going back in these posts, I still think that if Julieta wants a loud fiddle of some age, a Hel might fit the bill. The last one on sale around here was £26,000 - well within her budget.

July 1, 2010 at 03:17 PM ·


A London maker I know has made some good fiddles (one of which was passed off by a colleague of mine on his CD as a Rugerio which he also owned) and his price was around the £6,000 mark. He made one duff one which was on sale in a famous shop in London for only about £3K - it looked wonderful but had a poor sound.

So the prices are at least realistic in London (mostly) - I played on some oldish English fiddles 1830's to 1920's and they were about £8k - but looks and soundwise nothing much at all.

I can understand that there are some good makers in the US but why can they ask about 50% - 65% more? There can't be that many good makers even in the US, can there?

Don't forget that brand new instruments carry a certain risk for the buyer, especially those that have been artificially aged, as have the appearance of ones on the website we have been looking at.

July 1, 2010 at 03:49 PM ·

Peter, I hope you're not still talking about my instruments that you haven't played, haven't seen, and don't know anything about how I antique.

July 1, 2010 at 04:00 PM ·

No, I'm looking at other instruments now, as I've seen some beauties closer to home. Can't say how they sound though. One can only do that in the flesh. I'm sure yours sound good , but I can't get over to the other side of the pond to try them.

July 1, 2010 at 04:31 PM ·


I can understand that there are some good makers in the US but why can they ask about 50% - 65% more?

The "market" is higher outside the UK. Many lots from Sotheby's instrument sales go to the Orient. Throughout my playing carreer much of our quality old instruments went to the USA. When Bill Watson, the bowmaker, left Hills to work on his own, he soon found that demand from he USA, Japan and elsewhere was such that he went "export only". Have a look on any Japanese violinshop website and you will see new instruments, especially those from Italy, being offered at truly eye-watering prices, many at a LOT more than the makers in the USA , with long waiting lists, ask, and get.

July 1, 2010 at 04:38 PM ·


Yes, I know that this has been the case for a long while in the US, but I hadn't realised it was thus in Japan. Maybe I should sell an old  viola I have over there in Japan then!!

But there was a big hiccup in 2008/09 as the recession got going, but I understand that things are hotting up again now.

Do you know the maker Pluhar here in London? His fiddles look very good, and he appears not to do antiqueing.

July 1, 2010 at 04:44 PM ·

I hardly think Pluhar is going to get onto Julieta M's radar .....

July 1, 2010 at 05:16 PM ·


Thanks for the email with the links to the Japanese prices. I must find out what a Yen is in £'s.

"I hardly think Pluhar is going to get onto Julieta M's radar ....."

Yes, you are right, and I got an email saying he was in Turkey now and not in London, and he charges over £12,000 for a new instrument. So forget that. His website is out of date.

July 1, 2010 at 07:47 PM ·

Some qualified makers seem to disappear altogether. Whatever happened to Sbernini, who won some medals ? I'm quite sure that some luthiers find there are more lucrative ways to earn a living  One way is to employ other makers and sit back, raking in the cash. A maker who doesn't grab the publics attention can have a pretty lean time.

July 2, 2010 at 02:49 AM ·

OK, this is post #95 in this thread.  5 more posts and this thread will overflow.  I hope Julietta finds her fiddle before that happens.  I'm going to refrain from posting here so Julietta can give us all the good news when she finds her soul mate.  Come on Julietta, we're crossing our collective fingers for you.  Next post will be Julietta telling us she found her fiddle. 

July 2, 2010 at 09:23 AM ·

Maybe Julietta needs to get two fiddles with differing qualities, if no single instrument covers all her needs.


July 5, 2010 at 11:54 PM ·

Thank you for all your ideas!

In the yesterday's blind test in the hall of two Westerlunds, another JB Vuillaume and a Francesco Maurizzi (about 1850), the clear overall winner was Maurizzi. A player-frlendly smaller violin, with very interesting, shiny sound and lots of character. The judges, two esteemed violinists and a cellist, were very much in favor of it, and I also felt inclined to know it more, and intrigued by it. The price was right, at 80K! But when I studied my notes from the shop, I read the dreadful words: "bass bar crack". Should I still consider it?

I will follow up on more details on these violins.


July 6, 2010 at 01:44 AM ·


July 6, 2010 at 02:47 AM ·

Ten years ago at a Bonhams auction a Maurizzi sold for $25000.  I know the dealer markup is at least  50%.  I believe the record auction price for a Maurizzi is about $74000.  I read somewhere that the depreciation for a bass bar crack is at about 30%.  Perhaps you can negotiate a better price.

July 7, 2010 at 04:43 AM ·

After another blind test that included a Brothers Guadagnini, Postiglione, Bisiach, Sgarabotto, Carcassi and the already mentioned Maurizzi, my colleagues' opinions differed for the first time. Some of them voted for Bisiach and one gave the benefit of the doubt to Guadagnini but favored Maurizzi. Many thanks to all of you that gave me feedback on Maurizzi and convinced me to still consider it, inspite of the bass bar crack. When I heard them played by my colleagues, I still liked the most Maurizzi, but had a soft spot for the darker, richer Guadagnini. I am waiting for a few more violins for trial... meantime I will use Maurizzi for the Friday concert, that includes the Schumann Piano Quintet. My colleagues made a strong point by observing that these violins sound very different when played by me in comparison with other violinists. They preferred different violins when played by others. I will record myself and see if it makes a difference.

About the new Westerlunds: medium loud perhaps, but not as easy to play as I would expect from a new instrument. But I heard in a recent concert a fairly new Clemens violin (first violinist of the Arianna quartet) that impressed me by its projection and brilliance. A startling evidence that new can be quite powerful.

Thank you very much to all that offered me kind suggestions during this violin-saga. It will still go on for a little while, with a deadline in August (or earlier, I hope), when I will make my choice. Many thanks, again!


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