Buying an instrument

August 22, 2011 at 05:50 PM ·

I'm on the look out for a decent violin AND bow but shopping for that 'better' instrument and bow is proving a nightmare :(   My budget is £5000 and I do have a Colin Mezin workshop violin to trade against too.  The trouble is, some shops I've been in so far seem very 'crafty' in the way the are dealing with me. 

I went into a dealer (usually shop) who claim to have many decent violins ranging in prices from £800 to £30,000 and similar story with their bows etc.  The first question asked of me was 'what is your budget range?'  fair enough I thought, so I told them.  They then went to point to a range of violins in that budget range but when I started to try them, not one of them had the price tag marked with a price - it's as if they were all £5000.  Same with their bows, although the bows were marked with its weight and maker etc but now price!!

Is this normal or should I approach with a different attitude or avoid this dealer like the plague?  Do I approach the dealer stating what kind of sound I'm after?

Another concern was when they looked at my violin.  I've been told by 3 reputable local dealers/auctioneers that my violin is a Colin Mezin workshop violin (unlabelled) but this shop said it was just a run of the mill German violin - they asked me what I paid for it but it was handed down to me by a family member.  Two reputable dealers have said it's probably valued around £2000 but the dealer I approached recently said about £800.

I'm beginning to not trust dealers now because of the inconsistencies and vagueness of their approach to me.

Any advice would be appreciated.



Replies (47)

August 22, 2011 at 07:52 PM ·

Alan - two responses.  First, the US dealers that I know do not put price tags on instruments or bows.  They will provide you with examples in your price range, but you have to ask to find out exactly what the price is.  I do not know if things are done differently in the UK, but what you are experiencing in that regard is common in the US.

Second, there are two aspects to the problem of what dealers think the value is.  First, they may not agree on what kind of violin you have, which seems to be your problem.  Also, remember that there is a difference between the value of your violin and what a dealer will pay you for it.  That is because dealers mark up their violins from their purchase price.  They will never purchase it for its value because they cannot make a profit if they do.  Thus, the dealer might be willing to buy the violin for $800, but plans to sell it for $2000 to make a profit.  

So, what you are experiencing is normal in my experience.  Luthiers and others on this site can comment further.



August 22, 2011 at 09:14 PM ·

Tom,  thank you for your response.  Yes I agree with what you're saying and yes it seems that dealers here in the UK operate like dealers where you live.

I think I didn't get my point across properly - sorry.  What worries me is that as soon as I say to the dealer that I like a particular violin/bow, the price goes right up to the limit of my budget.  I'd rather them say that 'these instruments are 5000, 4500, 4000, 3500 etc etc but they didn't.  instead, they pointed to a large section and just said, 'ranging from 2500 up to 5000'. it would've been been better for me if they pointed to individual instruments and told me the price.

I know the shop won't give full price for my violin so maybe a private sale would be better.

Thanks anyhow for your reply.


August 22, 2011 at 10:06 PM ·

Buying private isn't also bad. Ask other player if they know something. Its hard to test all those 2000-7000 stuff. Some of them are nott worth half of the price. But if you crawl through all this, you can find a really good violin for that money.

Sometimes its better not to talk about the money too much but asking for good instruments.

Good Luck!

August 22, 2011 at 11:31 PM ·

 Hello Alan,

First;y, I think you should take time to buy a new instrument. Go and try out what does it mean to have a 5k violin and bows. I found out that trying violins is like searching for an important person, one must sent time looking for it.

I know of a friend he spent almost a few hours in a shop to try out all the violins around the price range, in the end he didn't like any of them and walked you also need to be brave and courageous. 

As for the price issue, when you finally found one that you really like speaked to the dealer and do some research regarding about it. Then ask around forums and your peers to listen to the violin. The most crucial things is that you need to love playing it.

Hope it helps :) ~ Sherman

August 23, 2011 at 04:37 AM ·

August 23, 2011 at 10:11 AM ·

The wider you are prepared to cast your net the more likely you are to achieve peace of mind. Unfortunately there's no "Which" report for violin dealers ! Dealing with fiddle-shops can be baffling and unnerving until you get the hang of it, as I recall only too well from my early days as a professional. "Do the rounds" until you are confident enough to take the plunge.

I suspect that many violins you will be offered in your price-range will be hardly any better (if at all) than the one you own already. Old violins of any pedigree tend to be wildly expensive nowadays.

Have you thought to look up any makers ? In the UK are many who will provide you with a good new violin within, or just slightly above, your £5k budget. For example, in Sheffied, which I think is not too far from you is Stefano Gibertoni, known to me because one or two professional colleagues have bought from him. I don't know his prices, but just visiting someone like that and picking his/her brains can be a useful learning experience, even if you don't buy.

August 23, 2011 at 10:33 AM ·

If you were in London I would try and help you but I see that you are much further north.

Buying an instrument is a minefield, and one where bad mistakes can happen

One way is to try all instruments at a dealers from say £400 up to £5,000 and pick the one with the best sound. You might find (as I did) that the best one is a third of the price of the most expensive.

Ask the dealer if you can have at least one weeks (preferably two weeks) home trial, where you can try it in bad accoustics and large rooms/halls, and get friends to play it for you.

Also ask the dealer what he would give you for it if you wanted to return it in a years time, and in writing if possible, or with a witness!

I do notice that some dealers do not put the prices on the instruments, whereas others do. But I recently tried 3 violins all priced at £8,000 and had to say that I found them rather poor, and my price would have been about £2,500 based entirely on their sound, but as they were established English makers from the 19C and early 20C, they "may" have been woth a lot more. An instrument is only worth what someone might pay, and then the next person might think its only worth half the amount!

As you can see, it's very hard, and personally I do NOT trust most dealers.

August 23, 2011 at 12:18 PM ·

One of the problems is "what a good violin is".

It seems simple, but it is not. You like your aunt's chocolate cake because during your life you have sampled many many and that enabled you to create a value table that you use to evaluate chocolate cakes. It happens the same while judging  violins, if you don't have this reference table it will be hard to judge by yourself.  So, playing many instruments - including the top ones - helps developing your "violin knowledge".

A violin must fit the players technical level, it may be good now but when you start studying pieces with notes in the 7th position of the G string you will notice that the instrument sounds bad in this region and you will have to look for a better violin.


August 23, 2011 at 01:02 PM ·


I agree with that. I think the problem is that the instrumentalist can't really judge, unless he/she is an advanced player with a lot of experience.

And that means having played a lot professionally and on quite a few instruments over the years.


August 23, 2011 at 08:27 PM ·

Many thanks for all the good advice from you kind people :)

I think initially I'm going to purchase a much better bow - I did notice a significant difference to the sound of my violin with one particular bow and I may add that my technique with that bow was very pleasing indeed which brought a smile to my face.

I can try the bow for a week so will hopefully learn more about it from you good folk. in the mean time, I will save and save for that better violin, I'm not in any rush as someone above said, my violin is just as good as the others I tried which were more pricy.

Many thanks


August 24, 2011 at 08:39 PM ·

Alan, Following on what you have said about your violin's sound being markedly improved by a better bow, buying a better bow may be the best way forward for the foreseeable future.  Your Collin-Mezin workshop violin will most likely be (and remain) undervalued through having no label.  However: since a Collin-Mezin is not to be sneezed at, and since yours will probably not bring in as much money as you would like, you might care to consider the idea of not parting with it but, instead, of saving up at a leisurely rate for another violin while keeping your present one afterwards as a second instrument.   Also, new bow(s) may suit your present violin sufficiently without buying a new violin.  See how your Collin-Mezin responds to other bows.

August 24, 2011 at 08:53 PM ·

On the "mystery price" issue:

If you aren't concerned about it affecting your ability to be objective, ask the dealer to give you a list of the prices before you try the instruments. Or ask the price of each instrument before you try it, and take notes.

August 24, 2011 at 08:55 PM ·

Also, why not spend a few bucks and have your violin formally valued?  They do not need a label to authenticate the maker (for example, I had a Dieudonne with a different makers tag in it).

August 24, 2011 at 09:58 PM ·

Whatever you end up doing, Alan, you'll feel better about the process if you find a dealer and appraiser you trust. Like any other business, some dealers are completely trustworthy. With others, if you shake hands with one of them you had better count your fingers afterward!

August 27, 2011 at 10:23 AM ·

Trouble is that a lot of dealers will give you a low vauation and/or say its not what you hope it is, so that they can make a killing. They like to buy very low and sell very high.

August 30, 2011 at 03:55 PM ·

I think it is unethical for dealers not to tag prices on instruments.  When I was looking for a violin, I respectively requested the sales prices before I tried anything.   Also, with the internet, unscrupulous dealers can be exposed.  For example, when trying modern instruments, I found several dealers listing the price 25% higher than what the maker sells for.  For older instruments of provenance,  prices can vary wildly.  It's worth what you think it's worth.  

August 30, 2011 at 04:22 PM ·

 As far as my experience has taken me, responsible, reputable appraisers put their appraisals in writing--thus, they stake their reputations on them.  Now, insurance appraisals seem to be done to different standards, but if your dealer has a good rep. but won't put his/her signature to a regular appraisal that's a bit of a red flag.


Bottom line, I agree with the pp who said the instrument's value is, in large measure, what each person makes of it.  None of my instruments is 'valuable' but each is precious to me for its sound and playability. 

August 30, 2011 at 07:03 PM ·

You can do a lot of price checking on the internet for many modern makers and commercially produced violins.  As far as being swindled, it happens all the time, and this is why I shop mostly according to what I like and what I'm willing to pay, not according to labels or dealer's recommendations.  If you are looking for an investment, then that's a different story.

August 31, 2011 at 09:10 PM ·

"I found several dealers listing the price 25% higher than what the maker sells for."

What's wrong with that? Do you think they should sell them at cost? If I sell to a shop I expect to get what I would from a direct customer. If I sell on consignment I have to raise the price to cover the shop's commission. Why should I get less for the fiddle because I'm not selling it directly?

I happen to be acquainted with a guitar maker (who is also a distant relative) whose guitars, I've heard, sell for $30,000. I asked a third party, who knows him much better than I do, about that. He said that if the maker sells direct he gets $3,000. If the guitar goes through a shop it brings $20,000. Used ones go for $30,000. The explanation was that he simply sells them directly much too cheaply. I guess you believe that none of them should be priced above $3,000.

September 1, 2011 at 12:49 AM ·

 Finding a dealer is about like finding a marriage: don't get into it casually, and find someone you trust. Don't deal with one-shot fly-by-nighters with no reputation to worry about, people who only have their own self-advertising to brag about, and salesmen who seem too friendly (every con man I happen to know in the business falls squarely into that category--perhaps it's a general con-man trait?) I also don't get a good feeling from people who bad-mouth everyone else in the business. I fully understand the difficulties I make by saying this, especially since my list of trustworthy dealers wouldn't coincide with a lot of players', but it's still good advice. AFTER that you find the violin.

I have never seen violins priced in a shop, but I also have rarely heard of shops moving prices to fit the customer's budget, except in cultural cases (some cultures negotiate differently, and room needs to be built in to do it their way or nothing happens). The reason is that if a price is too far out of line, that is too easily exposed. That said,don't expect similar violins to be the same price at every dealer. A Strad just sold for $16 million, and another for $1.9 million, and there are reasons for both prices. "Little" violins can have the same types of reasons, many of which will not be apparent to you.

You probably think a certain way because you have spent your life buying things with precise values and price tags, but any one of a kind or art object is a whole different world, where values are elastic and not too closely defined. That's why in the violin world people are willing to negotiate over price, whereas you can't do that at the grocery store. It's simply because with each item being unique, the value of each needs a bit of sorting out at sale time--what is it worth to you, versus what is is worth to me, on that day. If it's the best violin you have seen from 500, and it's the day my rent is due. . . . well that's different than if you don't need me and I don't need you.

The one thing I think is most important is something buyers don't often put at the top of the list: is authenticity. If it's real, you can always sell it somewhere; if it's a fake, your money is gone forever. There are a lot of fakes in the business--not so much because of hostile intentions, but because very few shops have a high level of expertise. You are verging on the range where this can be important. About the only guarantee you have is if you buy from a shop that will take your purchase back in trade for what you paid, against something else. Many shops will do this. In the rare instance where I know someone who's been taken, on purpose or inadvertently, this has been the thing that's bailed them out.

One final thing, and this is personal: I don't like people who don't feel like they can trust me. If you don't, why are you in my shop? I trust you to pay; I don't know you and  I let you take a multi-thousand dollar violin out, just on your signature. Please give me just a bit of reciprocal respect or go somewhere else. Does that make sense?

September 1, 2011 at 12:56 AM ·

Lyle, I sell my instruments for the same price my dealers sell them, and I think it happens with most contemporary makers, and the reason is very simple: a good dealer will not accept that you compete with him offering the same product for a lower price, that would be considered unfair. 

Selling is not an easy thing, you spend time selling, answering the telephone, e mails, etc., (commercialization costs) so it is reasonable paying a comission for the dealer, after all he will work to sell the instrument.

September 1, 2011 at 01:36 AM ·

Luis, If dealers were actually selling my instruments, I might agree with you. So far I have sold 5 or 6 for each one a dealer has sold and the ones on display by dealers are not available for me to show. But the dealer has options that I don't such as more instruments to choose from. Of course, I could simply raise my prices to make up for what dealers cost me, but I choose not to do that. And, by the way, I have never had a dealer tell me that I shouldn't sell for less than him. Maybe I'm not working with "reputable" dealers.

September 1, 2011 at 02:09 AM ·

My attitude toward un-trusting customers is a little different from what was described above. I find that most of them are that way because they've had a bad experience or two. Can't blame 'em. Until that has been balanced with a good experience or two, why would they trust again? If they don't know me, why should I take it personally?

I will go out of my way to try to provide  them with that good experience, and also try to hook them up with other people in the business who I believe to be trustworthy. Seems to work out best for everyone that way.

September 1, 2011 at 03:31 AM ·

Actually, I have always found luthiers straight forward, defining prices for their existing instruments or their commissioning fee without ambiguity.  

Though the value of violins are affected by many variables, it is a comfort to the customer to see prices on an instrument.  Johnson Strings, for example, has a clear price list.  I imagine it would be unpleasant and unfair to have an suspicious customer, but clarity, transparency  and consistency of price cultivates trust.  

Trading an instrument back to a shop sometimes has limited value since the majority of instruments are sold on consignment.  The shop can only offer instruments in trade for instruments that they own.

With most products,  retail outlets won't allow underpricing from the originating company. If I buy a DPA mic directly from DPA, it's not for less than the Dale's Audio price.  Otherwise, why would a store bother to stock, present and advertise if the buyer has access to the same item at a significantly lower price..   I'm surprised that this isn't the case for violins.

September 1, 2011 at 05:07 AM ·

With most products,  retail outlets won't allow underpricing from the originating company. 

This might apply to violins in some instances. Recently I found that some makers in Italy quote workshop prices similar those prevailing at retail outlets in Japan. Maybe Kurosawagakki and others have some contractual hold, presumably in exchange for agreeing to take a certain number of instruments per annum. However, I found I would save some 30% if I was a dealer, a pose I am unable to sustain ! The aim seems to be to ensure that the humble player pays the same sort of price, wherever he/she buys, so as not to undercut the all-powerful dealer. I have heard tell of English bowmakers working on a similar principle.

I saved a lot of money recently when I bought from a maker who seems to be free of such constraints, paying less than half the recent Japanese retail prices for his fiddles. Nice violin !

I, too, have always found luthiers straight forward, and bowmakers, too, whereas I have been less than blissfully happy just once or twice with my purchases from dealers. Remember the dealer's get-out phrase "I didn't sell it to you - you bought it". Caveat emptor.

September 1, 2011 at 09:38 AM ·

When I was as a student, many centuries ago, I bought a violin bow from a well known, indeed famous shop. I had been dealing with them for stings, repairs, you name it, for about 8 years or more.

When I went back with the bow about two or three years later they only offered half what I had paid, when I was expecting, due to price rises, that the bow would be worth as much as I had previously paid.

I went to another dealer/maker who pointed out that the bow had been straightened (obviously by them) and that it had now reverted to its original bend. (I had gone off the bow playing wise for a while).

So I NEVER went back to the original shop again, and told everyone, then and later in the profession, what crooks I considered them. So it probably did them no good in the end to cheat me.

September 1, 2011 at 01:36 PM ·

 A few years ago I bought a not-too-expensive CF bow at my local violin dealer specifically for practice and playing folk music in pub gigs – it's always a good policy, in my view, to use a CF bow in those circumstances (although, to be fair, in 10 years of playing I've never known an instrument to be damaged when playing in a pub). Last year I noticed the stick was developing a little hump at the tip end when I tightened it, so I went back to the shop with it. Bear in mind that the bow was at least 4 years old at the time, and I could no longer find the original receipt. 

The proprietor took one look at the bow and agreed with my assessment that it was on the verge of breaking. He said that he had had four or five of that particular brand returned in recent months with the same problem and one had actually broken. He then gave me a replacement (a different brand), and significantly better than the one I had returned. 

The shop is walking distance from Bristol's Colston Hall and is a useful port-of-call for visiting orchestral string players. I've been a customer for many years and have always had reliable and excellent service.

September 1, 2011 at 09:13 PM ·

So I NEVER went back to the original shop again, and told everyone, then and later in the profession, what crooks I considered them. So it probably did them no good in the end to cheat me.

Peter, research has shown that a dissatisfied customer tells many, many more people about their experience than a satisfied customer does.  I guess the bad guys in this or any other business count on a new crop of suckers coming along every time they need new customers.

September 1, 2011 at 11:49 PM ·

Trust is nice, but it is also good to be cautious. If you do some searches on the recent Dietmar Machold dealer scandal, it looks like clients, including banks, may be out many millions for their trust.

September 2, 2011 at 05:13 AM ·

For the last violin I bought (July 2011) I had emailed pictures of (a) the raw wood, (b) the violin in the white (c) the violin being varnished and (c) pictures of the finished instrument as for the maker's certificate. Oh, and there was emailed discussion too, of technical information such as the dimensions, thicknesses, the priming and the varnish. Unfortunately I wasn't able to stand over the maker whilst he did the work. So careless of me ! I could still have been swindled !

September 4, 2011 at 03:13 PM ·

Why not take the violin to another luthier or dealer and ask advise? I always advise people to ask for a valuation by someone else for a violin that they buy from me. If there is a difference we can always discuss the causes for that.

September 4, 2011 at 04:04 PM ·


I'm sure that is true. The interesting thing is that this shop still exists but since those days it has downsized twice, and I hear of no one who has a good word for it, or its owner. So probably in the end they ran out of suckers!!


September 4, 2011 at 04:57 PM ·

 a good appraisal isnt going to help the sound of your present violin, but it may do wonders to the trade in value you get

Yes--you'll wonder why you aren't getting what the appraisal says. I think most dealers will give you what they think you'll settle for (as little as possible). They could care less what some appraisal says.

September 4, 2011 at 08:52 PM ·

 It can be sometimes a little painful for other dealers or luthiers to offer opinions because they wish for you to buy an instrument from them.  Especially with higher end instruments, the market is small and therefore, the competition is tough.  However, good people are generous and do rise above this competitive dynamic to offer honest appraisals.  I have had positive experiences obtaining honest feedback from others.

September 4, 2011 at 11:41 PM ·

Buying a violin is like buying a painting or a bottle of old wine.  Unless you are an expert or have the funds to hire one as a consultant, you're always going to have the nagging feeling that you could get ripped off.  This fear of getting ripped off can be paralyzing.  How many of us have shopped for maybe two days to buy a car for $20,000 that will only last ten years, whereas we agonize for months to spend half that on a fiddle that we intend to play for at least as long (and spend more time with each day than we do in our cars). 

Have you thought of asking the shop to give you the names of some of their customers who have bought violins in your price range within the last few years?  They will have to ask permission to divulge that information, but it can be done.  If you want a very good-sounding, beautiful violin, and you've got a discerning ear, but you're only willing to spend $10000, then you're going to have to endure a fair amount of failure, and you'll need to drive around, not only to big dealers but smaller makers' shops.  If you've got $20,000 to spend and you just want something that sounds a fair bit better than the shop-made student model that your parents bought you ten years ago, then you are going to have a much easier shopping experience. 

One thing I've noticed is that I need to hear and especially *watch* someone else play the violin in addition to playing it myself.  You can tell when the violin seems to be causing the other person more work to produce a sound, for example. 

A good shop should tell you what the violins cost before you play them.  It would be preferable if the violins were marked with a price already, but if you make an appointment even one hour in advance, they could always hustle up new labels, so labeling doesn't really help the customer.  I recently visited Rock Eggin's shop in Denver and his assistant showed me (and played for me) several violins in the $10-20k range, and each one was priced at the outset, but not with physical label.  Same at Shar.  My sense is that most dealers do it this way, and that they are ethical about it.

And if you are going to spend a lot of money, I guess it would make sense to bring a few home and ask a local expert (maybe your teacher) to help you choose, even if you have to pay a relatively stiff hourly rate for the service, and for shipping the violins back.

One thing we could do, perhaps on this website, is start a database of asking prices for violins at dealers.  For example, if I visit a dealer, I could write down the violins that I played and the prices asked, and then forward those prices to the database.  That way those prices (with the date on which the price was obtained) would be available publicly for others to compare.  Anyone with some database-driven website skills up to the challenge?

September 4, 2011 at 11:57 PM ·

 "A good shop should tell you what the violins cost before you play them."

In our shop we try not to talk about price before playing, and there's a very good reason for that. We often show a wide range of violins around the customer's price range and prefer that they play them blind--not knowing the price, AND not knowing what they are. That way the customer gets a fair trial based completely on the functional and tonal aspects of the violins, not perceptions of value based on preconceptions of name and price. Of course we'll tell you before, if you really want to know. . . but doing so only works to our advantage, not yours, since people can be greatly swayed by what they think the value is of what they're playing. It's really your call, but wanting to know in advance does not work in your favor.

September 5, 2011 at 03:18 AM ·

 Michael, not necessarily.  Have you ever haggled about prices of souvenirs etc in for example Eastern Europe or the Middle East ?  The more enthusiasm you show for the item the more you end up paying. The reverse  also works there : showing little interest and starting to get out the door will bring the price down.                                                                                                                             The former situation  has happened to me once in a violin shop; I was very impressed with a fiddle and showed it.  I didn't buy it then  but the price was down on my next visit a while later. May have been coincidence but who knows.  

September 5, 2011 at 08:11 AM ·


When you buy a violin of $ 10,000 or more it should be out of the range of industrial violins. Any abnormal sound must be caused by something that can be fixed by some adaptation.

The price is based on the maker and the quality of the instrument. It is primary for your investment. So if you buy an expensive instrument, use you common sense and be sure that you can sell it again. When you buy a new instrument, be sure that prices stay on a reasonable level an when you buy an old violin in this range look for prices on the databases on the internet and ask for an opinion of a teacher or a luthier.

The sound is secondary for the price: it is what you like and what you want to do with the instrument and that is different for everybody. That makes the value of the violin for you and that is the second reason to take the violin home for at least 2 weeks and play on it the way you intend to use it.

Since price and value are 2 different things I see no reason not to publish the prices beforehand.


September 5, 2011 at 08:49 AM ·

Your friendly local dealer has done thousands of deals whereas you have done very few. The salesman in the shop (who flatters you by telling you how well you make the violin sound) is probably on commission, and the teacher you ask for advice might be in line for a back-hander, too. Many and varied are the tactics employed to entice you to part with your cash. "Come inti my parlour" said the spider to the fly. Abandon hope, all ye that enter here ! No way can you get "one over" the dealer. In exchange for the opportunity only he/she can offer, which is your chance of selecting from a range of merchandise, one has to accept the harsh realities of the market-place. 

Ever looked on a dealer's website, then checked back a few years later ? Many, many, instruments remain unsold even after decades. How can the dealer maintain an interesting range of stock, as well as expensive business premises, unless buying at the lowest prices possible and selling on at the very highest prices the market can stand ?? Folk cannot expect the tiny margins operating in buying and selling foreign currency to operate in the antiques (or violin) markets, where turnover is slow. It's readily understood that driving a new vehicle off the forecourt costs thousands in immediate depreciation, yet many fail to see that the same can and does apply to items bought from violin dealers. You wouldn't expect to take used strings back for a full refund ! The exception is for stock items where the dealership guarantees a future trade-in price against subsequent purchases from them. That's what a potential buyer needs to ask about !

"Appraisals" are like straws in the wind. They don't transfer easily from one shop to another. However, sometimes a lucky expert might discover "fresh evidence", a signature inside, for example, that makes an instrument a better proposition regarding negotiation; putting a name to the face, as it were.

September 5, 2011 at 09:55 AM ·

On the whole you are right David.  But a violin shop, like any other, HAS to have turnover or go under.  Thus, if you get there when people are not buying (downturn in the economy for example) they may well settle for 20% profit rather than 40. 

I accepted the reality you describe - that generally you are going to overpay - but I did so at a shop that has two things: a large inventory of fine violins and a 100% tradein agreement.  Thus, my first purchase (for which I would guess I overpaid maybe 1K, combining my trade-in with the price of the new violin) was in essence the ante towards my current violin - in two steps I've gone from a german workshop violin to a hand crafted one by one of Canada's top makers.  If for some reason this does not retain its value I could trade it in (actually there is very little chance of that) for one with a more conventional pedigree.

September 5, 2011 at 10:40 AM ·

My experience 2 years ago was good. I went to a dealer and said I wanted an instrument up to xxxxxxxx price and he gave me about 10+ instruments to try. There were no prices on any of them. I picked out what I considered to be the best sounding fiddle and to my amazement it was about the cheapest, at around a third of the price of the most expensive in the range. So I snapped it up.

Months later when buying a bow (where I did the same thing - not knowing the prices but picked the best bow, which was at the top end of the range) he said to me that I had definitely picked the best sounding fiddle.

Everyone that tries the bow now thinks it is very fine and often better than more expensive bows that they use. So I have so far at least found a good and honest dealer.

September 5, 2011 at 11:57 AM ·

 I accepted the reality you describe - that generally you are going to overpay

The dividing lines between expensive, overpaying and rip-off are jolly hard to discern !  The dealer provides a service, and services cost money. The customer has to pay, who else ?

Whilst there might be some cowboys out there, an established dealer has had to build a reputation over many years, so when you pay a stiff price you should have the peace-of-mind that comes from knowing your purchase was of genuine worth. Dealers have to "research" a very great deal so as to know exactly what they are offering. Most are genuine enthusiasts. It's surely wrong to classify them all as cynical profiteers, even if it does sometimes seem as if their motto is "we are never knowingly oversold".

September 5, 2011 at 01:13 PM ·

My rough definition of overpayment as more than a third over the trade-in value.  Sale of one-of-a-kind items are not subject to market value prices as other items are and hence, it is easy and tempting to put the price above that which you know is really a fair one, even including the reasonable markup.  Think used car dealer.  I could have haggled and reduced the price but I was investing in the long term - establishing a 'favoured customer' relationship with the dealer.  To the dealers credit, I am now treated most well in the store.  Perhaps they think I am an easy mark but I don't think so - my attempts to learn about the instruments has I think created a genuine dealer-customer relationship to the point that if at some time in the future I should attempt to buy a violin that is not a good prospect they would serve as both dealer and advisor. 

Thats one thing that has not come up on this topic - thinking long term with the goal of establishing a dealer-client relationship.  That requires trust - from both sides.

September 5, 2011 at 02:04 PM ·

I think I should add to my buying experience post that I seem to remember that they may have been selling the fiddle for someone else, and he/she may have kept the price down for a sale. The violin also had a repair which may have some bearing, but it had no effect on the sound. Maybe it could have been better disguised, I don't know who did it, but it does not bother me. Taking these two things into account may have halved the price asked, but it did have the best sound by far.

September 5, 2011 at 04:22 PM ·

Thats one thing that has not come up on this topic - thinking long term with the goal of establishing a dealer-client relationship. That requires trust - from both sides.

And to me, Elise, that's the most important of all.  Over the last 10 or 12 years, I've bought more instruments and bows than I care to admit, keeping two growing children in properly sized instruments and upgrading my own stuff.  All purchases have been from the same local shop. 

They have been more than fair on trade-ins.  They give us excellent service on repairs and rehairs.  We have developed the sort of relationship where they have no qualms about sending me home for a week with $15,000 of bows to try out.  They know I'll return them in the same shape they left in, I know they'll be fair with me on the price if I do buy.  I always buy strings and rosin from them, even if they are a few dollars more than online, as I know that is their bread and butter some days.

This is the best way possible to keep from being ripped off.  It also builds community, helps keep money in the local community, and helps ensure that my trusty violin doctor will be there on the black day I need him most!

September 5, 2011 at 06:32 PM ·

 That requires trust - from both sides.

My local dealer reports that folk will take instruments or bows on approval for a month, then bring it back, trashed, saying "it's not the one for me".

That trust thing really does have to work both ways, and it takes time to build up. Then, it's not a matter of whether, but how far each side can trust the other, IMHO.

September 6, 2011 at 05:32 PM ·

 Hi Alan;

I know you've had a ton of responses, and there's already some very good (and maybe a little not so good) information you've been offered.

I'm a restorer/dealer/appraiser, but don't happen to offer instruments in the range you are shopping, so I think I can offer a bit of information that may be helpful without seeming to aid my own cause.

1) Working with a dealer who you trust, and has earned the trust of others, is paramount.

2) If you're feeling uneasy (have had varying opinions) concerning your trade in, you may want to try and learn what the "fair market value" is before approaching dealerships with it. Approach a qualified appraiser who deals with the sort of instrument you have, and ask them to appraise it for market value (not replacement value for insurance) and ask them to include some comparable sales.  The dealership you visit for your new purchase may not be willing to offer you the full amount in trade, as they need to resell the instrument...  but at least you'll know how they value their costs of doing so.

3) There was a brief discussion earlier in this thread concerning adding a commission to the retail price of a contemporary instrument.  Unusual, though it happens.  Probably good to ask the dealer if they are selling the instrument at the same price the maker does.  In the vast majority of cases, that will be the case. Usually, makers approach a dealer with either a reduced purchase price or make an arrangement for consignment sale (and the dealer deducts their commission from the retail price).  For many makers, this is an advantage because they are able to widen their market (reach players they may not have been able to on their own) and save some extra time to put back into their making rather than dealing with clients on a retail basis.  Personally, I don't accept a contemporary instrument that I cannot sell at the same price as the maker charges... but that's me.  Some makers have a following that is strong enough that they do not require dealer assistance.  That's great.  Work with the maker directly.

4) If you have concern about the violin you think you wish to purchase: Get a second opinion from a reliable source that won't be trying to sell you a different instrument (and be willing to pay for it).  I personally think it's appropriate to tell the seller you plan to do this, but have in mind who you plan to go to before informing them.

5) If you wish to know how much an instrument is that you'll be trying, ask beforehand.  If you don't want to be swayed by the price, don't.  I'm happy to work either way and I'll bet most other dealers are as well.

6) Remember, the only stupid question is the one you don't ask.  Ask away.  The dealership should be able and willing to answer your questions.

7) Be sure to determine what the shop's policies are for alterations/adjustments, return (some, not all, may allow a short return period) and later trades.

Hope a bit of this makes your search more pleasant.  Have fun.


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