November 24, 2010 at 04:56 PM ·

Hypothetical:  You have a violin in the $10K range an seek to buy a violin in the $20K range.  You cannot simply do without an instrument while you attempt to sell your current instrument.  How do you purchase your next violin when the money is currently tied up?  Save the full amount and pay cash for the upgrade, and gain a profit when you finally sell your instrument?  Save for the difference and put the rest on a credit card, paying interest until you sell the first violin?  Take out a loan?  Ideally, wouldn't it be nice to trade your violin in when you find the new love of your life?  What do most violinists do?

Replies (35)

November 24, 2010 at 05:00 PM ·

 Hi Emily,

I bought my current violin with the help of a loan through the Musicians Interguild Credit Union. This is a credit union comprised mostly of members of American Federation of Musicians Local 47 (Los Angeles branch). Are you a member of the AFM? At any rate, you could see if there is any possible way for you to join this credit union and do an instrument loan. I know of no other bank or agency that grants loans for the purchase of fine instruments. If anyone else does know of another way to get an instrument loan, please do share! Good luck!


November 24, 2010 at 09:41 PM ·

I would think that some makers as well as some shops might offer financing options with very low interest.  Particularly makers, since their actual cost on an instrument is relatively low (perhaps $1000 or less for the wood), I would think they might be willing to take a down payment to cover their cost and some pocket change, but then allow payment over a period of time.  Maybe David Burgess or some other makers might be able to comment on this. 

Being financially conservative, and averse to debt, I would strongly discourage using a credit card to make the purchase.  Americans as a whole are carrying too much debt as it is with too little savings.  My advice is, don't use the credit card unless you can pay it off right away.

November 24, 2010 at 10:14 PM ·

Smiley, the material cost may be low, but that's a fraction of what it costs to make a violin. Not much making will get done if we don't eat, or have a place to work. Some insurance is advisable too. Believe it or not, my business policy includes product liability insurance. As far as I know, no one has ever been injured by one of my violins LOL, but it's part of the package, not elective. I also pay twelve thousand dollars per year just for medical insurance. That's just for me, and doesn't include any family or employees. If I worked for a large company, I'm sure it would be much less. And I have no paid vacation, sick leave, or "personal days".

I saw a sign in a violin shop one time. It said, "We have a deal with the bank. We don't lend money, and the bank doesn't make violins. :-)

Seriously though, some shops may be willing to do some financing. If they have unsold inventory laying around, and it will make the difference between making a sale and not making one, why not? Money dribbling in, a little at a time, is probably better than no money. It's worth asking.

Oh, if you haven't seen your health insurance premium increase, or had coverage reduced since national health care was introduced, watch for it. The way it was explained to me, since insurers can no longer refuse to insure those with expensive pre-existing conditions, they cover their increased costs by charging the rest of us more.

November 24, 2010 at 10:16 PM ·


I am not certain the cost of materials is a fair picture of the cost to the maker. The cost of tools, insurance, materials in inventory, workspace, covering any education expenses deferred in the past, any business loans to get started, and other costs are also a factor to the ongoing cost of business; it is like a meter is clicking dollars out the door even if they are not selling anything. This will probably vary widely for different makers; some may be in better shape than others, however even without calculating the value of their expertise, the true cost of the instrument may be significant.
(I know, spoken like an accountant. Sorry for stepping out of character as just a fiddler!).

November 24, 2010 at 10:26 PM ·

Where I purchased my violin they offered that I could pay half now and half next month.  Granted, I was only making a $900 purchase but all the same, they did offer.  Just ask.  Never hurts.

November 24, 2010 at 10:35 PM ·

I'm not currently shopping, just thinking into the future.  The question and figures are basically hypothetical.  I like to keep out of debt, and I really didn't want to take out a loan for the next instrument in order to pay for it.  It would be nice to use the money from my current instrument to put toward the next.  It just doesn't work out that simple, though, does it?

Certainly, a cash paying customer would be a happy sight for a violin dealer/maker, wouldn't it? 

November 24, 2010 at 11:21 PM ·


I didn't mean to diminish the cost or effort involved in making a violin or running a business.  I own a business myself and am well aware of overhead and the rising cost of health insurance.  But if someone offered say 25% or 50% down payment with monthly installments on an instrument; where they do not own it until it is paid off, I would think some makers would be willing to consider it.  Of course, it depends on the maker, and their personal financial situation.  But my point is, it wouldn't hurt to ask. 

This type of financing is similar to the auto industry where they offer very low interest rates to make the deal.  They are able to do so because they are making the sale, and also because their capital investment is less than the retail price of the car.  Same goes for a violin.  If you borrow money from a bank, the bank has to front the ENTIRE retail price, so has to charge more on interest; whereas if the maker can finance it, their capital investment is lower so might be able to offer a more affordable interest rate. 

I am in the software business.  If someone wanted to buy $1M worth of software and proposed such a financing option, I would be more than happy to entertain it.  In fact, I would even offer 0% financing.  It all depends on the circumstances.


November 24, 2010 at 11:45 PM ·

Susan, I'd do half now, half in a month no problem if it would help someone out. I've already got six months in the thing, what's another month?

Thirty year financing? I'd like the money while I'm still alive, please. ;-)

Oh, I just thought of something. If I were to do the "half now, half in a month" thing properly, I'd need to have an attorney draw up a contract. I'll estimate this at $1000, plus several hours lost work time. Larger shops can amortize this cost over a large number of sales, but I can't, because almost all of my clients just write a check for the full amount. If a contract (either mine or an attorney's) is disputed, then maybe I spend another $10,000 on legal fees. That's the justice in our American legal system.

Gosh, I'm sounding like a bitter old phart, aren't I? LOL

Truth is, I do almost all of my business on a promise and a hand shake. It's risky, but I believe that trust is a virtue, so I'll point a plea in that direction if I may.

Another truth is that I'll probably never have employees again. The government makes it so difficult, that it's just not worth it to me. I'd rather make violins, than fill out a bunch of paperwork.

Smiley, I know you know what's goin' on. My post wasn't meant to refute anything you have said, I only used it as a jumping off point to put information in the hands of those who haven't run a business. You've fleshed it out in your last post, so thanks for that.

November 24, 2010 at 11:59 PM ·

David, an attorney shouldn't cost $1,000 to draw up paperwork.  Maybe $300 or $400 if even that and once they have a contract drawn up you can use it for everyone, not just the one person.   True about enforcement though.  Show me an airtight contract and I'll show you a contract that can be broken. 

I would also think that if the luthier you are buying your violin from also re-sells, they might sell you the violin that you want and sell your old violin on consignment.  They'd get a small finer fee for that sale plus the reassurance the balance will be paid as soon as they find you a buyer.

November 25, 2010 at 12:47 AM ·

Susan, I agree that it shouldn't cost $1000. Sadly, by the time all is said and done, it easily can. I'll give an example going back about ten years: An attorney drew up a contract, and I think the average person could have seen that it was full of holes. There were several revisions, and the cost kept going up.

When an attorney writes a contract, it doesn't normally include an obligation to defend it for free. So they can do a weak job, just short of what can be proven (in court) as negligence. As you've already pointed out, there can be lots of surprises if a contract is challenged. I've been through a lot of legal crap (mostly connected with the termination of a relationship with a business I felt I could no longer align myself with) and Smiley's been through some too. If you're a large business, lawsuits come and go, and it might be no big deal. If you're a little guy running a business, the cost of defending one lawsuit can pretty much wipe out a lifetime of work.

Sorry for going off on a tangent, and I hope people will continue with some good suggestions for Emily.

November 25, 2010 at 01:30 AM ·

Continuing on David's tangent, I recently had a 1 hour phone conversation with my attorney.  He bills $525/hr.  His associate who bills $480/hr was also part of the conversation.  Add in some prep time, and the bill for the phone call was $2000.

Susan, you must know some really cheap lawyers.  Here in the big city, you can't find an attorney for less than $300/hr.  Most require $5000 retainer before they will start working on your case.  Just thinking about it is making my blood boil.  The US legal system is a complete scam.  Nobody wins except the lawyers. 

So... what were we talking about?  Oh yes, financing Emily's new violin.  Sorry Emily.  Blame it on David for getting me going.


November 25, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

Smiley, now you've got my blood boiling too!

I could write pages about injustices in the US legal system, the frustrations of running a business in this environment, and I'm sure you could as well. Shoot, if I hire one employee, I'll need to pepper my shop with safety warning and employee rights posters, and research to make sure that I have the correct ones posted. If I really wanted to do it right, I'd need to hire an outside "human resources" department to manage the employee relationship.

Oh, I'll add that tracking and filing all the required federal and state business info for a year costs me about the time it takes to make one violin, plus $2000 to $3000 in accountant charges. So put my cost at around 30 grand.

Silly me, I kinda just wanted to make fiddles.

I'll try to refrain from further comment, for Emily's sake.

November 25, 2010 at 02:13 AM ·

I think I got it.  Step one to buying a new violin:

Shoot all the lawyers.



November 25, 2010 at 03:08 AM ·

I mostly know real estate attorneys and in my neck of the woods they are truly underpaid.

OK, so maybe a payment plan couldn't work for Emily but if the shop then sold her old violin I would think it would still give assurances that they would get the remainder of their money.


November 25, 2010 at 04:22 AM ·

David!  ...Now you sound just like my husband, heh.

November 25, 2010 at 04:33 AM ·

Oh, and I don't mind tangents.  Besides, this is not a tangent at all.  It has everything to do with everything, actually.

November 25, 2010 at 05:55 AM ·

I've seen some luthiers offer the financial option. I think it's an excellent idea and extremely helpful to people who need it! They will have a chance to own the instrument they dream of, the maker still make a living. It's a win-win situation. Esp. to amateur people who are not making a living from violin.

November 25, 2010 at 06:02 AM ·

double post --

November 25, 2010 at 02:25 PM ·

Elise wrote:

I think I got it.  Step one to buying a new violin:

Shoot all the lawyers.

Excellent idea, but first consult with your attorney.

November 25, 2010 at 05:55 PM ·

I would be surprised if a luthier or shop has the luxury to do much these days--and if they do, it probably means a finance company that will have outlandish rates. Maybe if you consign your current instrument to a shop, and buy from that same shop--perhaps they MIGHT have some more flexibility. But perhaps a better plan would be to start making sizeable monthly payments to your own "violin account"--then you can start building a cash account. In the meantime, scope out some venues of instruments that interest you. Put your current instrument up for sale immediately. When it does sell (which could be anytime from 6 months to more likely 1-2+ years or more), buy a stopgap instrument for $2,000 and deposit the remainder to your account (you can find some good fiddles at this price if you visit shops), and just bite the bullet with that stopgap instrument until you have the cash built up to get what you need. And your $2G instrument will ultimately move much faster (and you could probably sell it yourself--lots of students are interested in instruments at that cost) than your current $10G fiddle. That certainly puts you in a better position to deal with the ultimate luthier or shop that you get your next instrument--cash, rather than the hope of cash, certainly makes people more flexible. Remember the golden rule--those who have the gold make the rules. ;-)

November 25, 2010 at 10:14 PM ·

Now we reach the logistical problem with this whole thing.  I live in Alaska.  All this stuff has to be managed when I travel in the lower 48, usually over the holidays.  It would be next to impossible to sell my instrument where I live.  I would need to visit shops down there to both sell and purchase.  This makes planning rather difficult.  

I'm thinking of moving. 

November 25, 2010 at 11:49 PM ·

Sounds like you need to buy a cheap intermediate to get you through until you can sell your violin in a better market.  Then you'll be set to buy.  The question is, can you stomach a cheap intermediate at this point?

November 26, 2010 at 12:18 AM ·

Right now, the only thing I'm stomaching is way too much egg nog. 

November 26, 2010 at 12:26 AM ·


November 26, 2010 at 12:40 AM ·


November 26, 2010 at 02:32 AM ·

Elise - Shakespeare already used that line in Henry the VIth, Part II ("first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.").  My law school alma mater had it on the school t-shirts you could buy.

Emily - if you have particular shops in mind, you might want to check and see what they can do to help.  Much of the discussion of your problem so far has been a bit abstract.  Good luck! 


November 26, 2010 at 03:09 AM ·

It's abstract because it's hypothetical.  I have lots of time to daydream up here in this snowglobe.

November 26, 2010 at 04:10 AM ·


Let me answer your question with another question.  Why do you think a $20K instrument will be any better than your current $10K instrument?  Have you played on $20K instruments and found them to be noticeably superior to $10K instruments?  If your current instrument has insurmountable deficiencies, perhaps you can find another $10K instrument that does not suffer from those deficiencies.

Raphael Klayman is big on Vittorio Villa.  I know of a professional symphony player who also plays on a Villa.  Last I checked, Bill Weaver in Bethesda sells them for about $12K.  I have played a Villa and they are very nice instruments if you like the Strad sound.  I personally prefer the warmer sound of a Del Gesu, and found a very nice Laura Vigato which also goes for the low teens.  My point is, if money is an issue, I don't think you need to spend $20 K to get what you are looking for.  It just takes time and a lot of trial and error. 

November 26, 2010 at 06:25 AM ·

Like I said, it was hypothetical.  My instrument is not worth $10K, and $20K was just a number I threw out there. I like my instrument a great deal, but I know there are better instruments in the next price bracket up, and I dream of one day owning one.  I know I should probably try several while I'm outside in a couple of weeks, but I don't really want to shop unless I can buy.  It would be difficult for me to walk away from the violin I really want because I wasn't able to pay for it.  For instance, I played on a nice 300 year old Flemish violin when I was out in September.  Its tone was refined and golden.  Maybe I could buy it next year, but it will probably be gone.  Oh well, it just wasn't the right time.

November 26, 2010 at 07:00 AM ·

You'll think this is funny, Smiley; indeed, we do have similar taste!  I googled Vittorio Villa, found his web page, and the first instrument in their gallery is the exact spitting image of my current violin, a 2005 Italian made by Gianluca Zanetti.  Turns out, they studied at the same school.  You're right, those modern Italians are hard to beat in that price range.  I paid $12K for mine, and yes, this one has that bright Strad sound.  I've always said I doubt I'd find anything better under $20K.

Here is the link to the spitting image of my violin.  'Xcept it's a viola:


November 26, 2010 at 03:59 PM ·

Emily - one of the old maxims is that you get more bang for your buck by upgrading your bow rather than your violin.  Have you considered this possibility?

Good luck!  I hope you find what you are looking for.


November 26, 2010 at 08:20 PM ·

I just bought a better bow...  :)

November 26, 2010 at 09:21 PM ·

Well, I've run out of suggestions.  You might want to poll the luthiers on this site and ask, given your current instrument and bow, what instrument price range is likely to give you a significant upgrade.  If you find out that with the bow you have, you probably need to go to $35K instead of just $20K, that might change your plans.  In any case, it is probably worth trying more valuable violins when you can, not only for the fun but for the possiblity that the significant upgrade will not be as expensive as you think (diamond in the rough).  Hope you find it.

November 27, 2010 at 06:49 PM ·

Here is the link to the spitting image of my violin.  'Xcept it's a viola:

@Emily, the viola was made by Vittorio's brother, Marcello.  There are some beautiful instruments though.  I'd be curious to try one of the Del Gesu models. 

November 27, 2010 at 08:26 PM ·

I know, but it was still the first instrument I saw when I went to their gallery.  Indeed, beautiul violins!

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