Experiences with violin dealers and shops

September 12, 2011 at 06:38 AM ·

It is my experience that when you take an instrument in to a dealers (and I've witnessed other people doing this too) that the dealer looks over the instrument and decides whether he/she likes it. Comments about being interested in the instrument or not interested are then stated, and they might give an opinion as to the provenance and the value.

This is all done by visual inspection and their opinion/valuation/appraisal is in my experience only a visual one. They never actually hear what the instrument is capable of, how it plays or how it sounds. They might think it a wonderful example of a certain school or maker, without realising it may sound pretty dire. They may think it a really awful example and be worthless but at the same time not knowing that it had a wonderful sound.

Is this the same everywhere, or just in the UK? It seems here that the so called experts only go on looks, and never have a clue about sound. That's why some instruments that they have for sale are priced low, but can sound excellent, and why a lot of beautiful looking instruments are expensive and sound awful. A dealer was surprised yesterday when I said that his two new violins he was promoting had poor sound and were dissapointing (and overpriced in my opinion).

Has the world, or at least the UK, gone mad, and only judges instrumental value on particular makers who may be in favour, or whose instruments look the best?

Replies (63)

September 12, 2011 at 07:38 AM ·

A former colleague of mine, a fiddler in the Hallé Orchestra, had been employed for a while at Hill's Bond Street shop. He felt that his experience had gotten him to the stage of being able to predict the sound of a violin by "looking".

I have auction catalogues going back 40 years, together with the lists of prices realised. The estimates are seldom wide of the mark. It pains me to write this, but the market does appear to judge predominately by sight; however, if at first glance a violin is clearly a genuine product of a certain make or school, any guess as to the sound capabilities is not quite the shot in the dark that it may seem to be to the casual observer.

It used to be said dealers would boast "if the sound's not there, we will put it there". True of false ??  Answers, please, from dealers.

A man in Italy made me a violin recently. He emailed photos of the raw wood, the violin in various stages of production and the finished article; and there was also discussion of thicknesses, model, etc. Knowing, as I did, the maker's previous work, I was confident enough to get the violin on my insurance before I even saw or tried the final product. The instrument plays much as expected, only even better !! Had I not spent many years in the violin world, I doubt whether that venture could have been successful.  "Experience" is the plus-side of advancing years, I guess.

September 12, 2011 at 07:39 AM ·

I don't deal with too many dealers.  But, I know of one who would sell you on the artistic craftmanship, while at the same time mocking the tonal qualities.  We have great fun at this, and don't give a damn about pedigrees and pricing.  This is the person whose instruments I purchase.

September 12, 2011 at 08:32 AM ·

When I ventured forth to hear these two violins on saturday last I had no idea what the prices were. I took my fiddle and bow, and after trying the two instruments in a quite resonant room, I wondered if they had a bigger sound than my fiddle, as I could hear the echo continuing around the room when I played fff. To my surprise I found my fiidle was about the same, only the sound quality was better. I could also play very quiety on mine, whereas the two new ones were impossible to play at ppp and if you really belted them the sound cracked.

These two new fiddles were priced at approximately 11 times greater than mine. So what is going on? (OK, they both looked great).

Not a very pleasant experience at all.

I do find there are older (and sometimes very old) fiddles out there which are much cheaper, like half the price of these new ones. Why is this?

September 12, 2011 at 08:54 AM ·

 These two new fiddles were priced at approximately 11 times greater than mine. So what is going on? (OK, they both looked great).

The new fiddle trade is a bit of a lottery. It takes many hours to knock together an entirely hand-crafted new instrument. Some are worth the money because it can confidently predicted that they will settle down and be darned good. But there can be disappointing ones, too. The "quality of sound at all dynamics" seems to improve with time. I understand that Strads set up to be bright will "crack" if you belt them hard. Your dealer might have odd ideas as to set-up.

I'm sure readers will be interested to know what fiddles you were trying on Saturday. I don't know what you are playing on right now, but I reckon that some of the prices prevailing in Europe, the USA, and Italy would make your eyes water. English work can be very reasonably priced by comparison. Yes, It's possible to buy an old Craske for around the same price as a good many contemporaries.

September 12, 2011 at 10:01 AM ·

Hi David

Thanks for your knowledgeable posts about instruments.

I was going to try and avoid naming the instruments as I did not want my predujices to deter anyone else from trying these instrument makers, as it might be that I hit two duff ones, or even that my judgement is way off. However, since you ask, I think one of them (which was antiqued) was by Paul Harrilds (£8,500) and this had the most even sound although was weak above harmonic E on the E string. Like many fiddles it rapidly ran out of steam up in the frostbite area. It was hard if not impossible to play ppp and high up on each string the sound croaked at fff. It was a lovely looking fiddle even if I don't like antiquing personally.

The other fiddle was uneven and had similar problems, and was by an Edinburgh maker called Paul Bowers. It was not antiqued and was a deeper red colour (the other was more yellow/brown). This one suffered from possible wolf notes on the A string. (£7,500). Nice looking instrument though.

I realise that some adjustments and playing in might help with such problems, but I have the feeling that even then I would have been dissapointed.

As it happens I play on a very cheap fiddle of about 1800 vintage approximately and I think the price was way down because it has a repair on the back below the kneck join which has not been disguised, and it was being sold on commission from a private seller who kept the price very low. It's probably German and may be one of those dreaded factory or partially hand built models, but the workmanship is excellent so I don't care. Maybe if it was priced at say £3,000 then the new ones would be more like 2.5 times more expensive.The only problem I have with it is a wolf on the E, and sometimes I pick up fiddles and play on them which sound louder under the ear. The second fiddle in my quartet has a very loud instrument at least under the ear. Maybe I should persuade him to sell it. No idea what it is, and its slightly uncomfortable to play on!

Of course I may be totally wrong about these instruments and they may end up being pretty good. I don't know, but I was not even slightly tempted to take one home for a propper trial.

By the way, I have played on two William John instruments that were superb, new about 10 years ago, although one had been given a thorough thrashing by a friend of mine for some months, in the US and Mexico as well as in London. Both were wonderful, although at the very top of the E they were slightly down in sound. Or am I expecting too much? This player has played on just about everything and owned a Rugerie at the time. Another friend has a W John as well, and a viola, and he swears by them. I found Williams violas a little dissapointing, but there again it might have been a one off batch. Must try my friends WJ's again and especially his viola.

 

P S . I might be wrong but I imagine the makers might have set the instruments up? Or maybe the dealer tweaked them. But he did say he would pass on my comments to the makers.

September 12, 2011 at 10:47 AM ·

 As it happens I play on a very cheap fiddle of about 1800 vintage approximately .....

You are probably beginning to realise that cheap CAN be cheerful ! Even expensive fiddles may have wolf-notes, indeed it's hard to find an instrument on which you can't detect one, though sometimes they aren't too obvious. More worrying is an instrument running out of steam way up the "E" string. I have never played a William John violin, though I did meet him once. If his violins work for you, why not try contacting him ?? A firm such as Ealing Strings, who employed him for some years, might help. However, I noticed that someone is advertising a John violin for £12,000 which might be out of your range. The price of the fiddle I bought from Italy this year was about two-thirds of that.

One further observation:- for years I played an ancient J.B. Vuillaume until it was lost in divorce. I then began playing on "new" and found I needed a different "knack" to get the best out of the violins I owned. 

September 12, 2011 at 11:12 AM ·

The William John violins I tried were about 7.5K but that was a while back. I have seen one in an auction with a £1,000 estimate but that was 4 years ago. There was one for sale in a London dealers about 5 or more years ago for 3K but although it looked stunning it had a terrible sound! Looks like violin making can be hit and miss!

About a year and a half ago a friend tipped me off about an Italian maker who lived in S France (Blanchi?) at a well known fiddle shop which he had tried and rejected, although he said it was the most stunning looking instrument, of about 1910 vintage. This was because a few notes around b,c c# on the A were dodgy and no one could improve them. It was priced at £8K. Unfortunately someone had it out on trial and I think subsequentially bought it. Not to be put off I tried three fiddles at £8K - all English. A John Wilkinson of about 1930 was the best. I notice this has now been sold. A George Pyne of 1917 was nothing special, as was a John Betts circa 1810. They (if I remember correctly) were better than the three new fiddes I recently tried but still not tempting enough to take home for a trial.

Do you know of Guiseppe Pellacani - made in Cremona 1967? I see one for sale around £6K.

 

September 12, 2011 at 11:45 AM ·

 When I was working in the shop at Bein and Fushi, Bob Bein and I had this discussion a few times. He would bring some particularly doggy thing in to get it fixed up, and I would mock it, and he would say, in specifics, what it would act like when it was set up.

He was almost always right--I think he only missed a couple of really bad ones, One of them, I later found out that everyone, in a couple of shops, had felt it really had promise and tried to make it work, because it really looked like it should. The shop at B&F had it open three times, but no dice. But mostly he was right. Things he didn't think would work never made it into inventory, and I got to hear about that, too, when he was looking at the day's catch.

The first time I went to an auction, I found myself passing right by things that small dealers would be talking about, because I realized from five feet away that they didn't have a chance, though the guys looking at them obviously didn't know that, from the way they were talking, so at least a bit of Bob's skill rubbed off..

The other thing Bob taught me, and from the first sentence of the original post, I thought that would be the topic, was to NEVER comment on a customer's violin, positive or negative. He said they'd bought it for a reason that worked for them, and it wasn't any of your business to gratuitously imply they'd made a mistake of some kind or put your value on what they'd done.

The flip side of that is that I've never met an owner who didn't believe HIS example was the best violin in the world in its price range (or of any price range up to ten times or a thousand times what it cost), or the best example of that maker's work, because he had looked at them all when he bought it (and since, too) and now he's probably a general Authority on violins of that type, and their values (if not all violins :-). Obviously this cannot be true, objectively, because every single violin owner has that feeling of having made the best choice somewhere within, but what can anyone gain by getting into this discussion with an owner about his baby?

Relative to later comments in the thread here, in general, the B&F opinion was that makers, who only did a few setups on their own stuff, didn't get very good at it, and so everything that came in that was new would be treated the same as the old stuff, analyzed and redone, mostly for the better, some times considerably so. In a sense, that "we'll make it good if it isn't" idea was the motto, but the shop only chose things to do that with that had promise.

September 12, 2011 at 11:56 AM ·

Very informative, Michael.

I would say that as an owner I'm quite happy to have my instrument commented on, and I know its not the last word by any means. Of course the player makes the difference, and a crap instrument can still sound good in the right hands. Even Strads can be bad and difficult to play, but I've known at least one Strad owner who had a bad one and made it sound wonderful. On the other hand a well know cellist sold his Strad because he felt it was unreliable, and replaced it with a Grancino.

I watched the guy in the shop looking at a kid's fiddle which had no bridge and only a couple of strings and saying he thought it would very much be a worthwhile fiddle to do up, with a new tailpiece, bridge and strings. I wondered how he could know. Would he have a red face if it turned out to be a dreadful thing once the kid's dad had spent about £200 having it done up? I've no idea, but as you say, the experts may know. I've played on a few Italian jobs that were quite nice, but still not that great sound wise to make me even think of the £30-40K that they might fetch.

September 12, 2011 at 01:24 PM ·

"Relative to later comments in the thread here, in general, the B&F opinion was that makers, who only did a few setups on their own stuff, didn't get very good at it, and so everything that came in that was new would be treated the same as the old stuff, analyzed and redone, mostly for the better, some times considerably so. In a sense, that "we'll make it good if it isn't" idea was the motto, but the shop only chose things to do that with that had promise."

Michael, that is a very good point you make - I hadn't though of the few setups a maker might do. What would that be, about 15 fiddles a year?

Maybe someone who is a maker could comment? I think there could be makers who specialize in their own setups, and I've heard I think of at least one who uses complicated electronic equipment to do this amd make the fiddle by. He's a German maker and a well known solo fiddler uses one of his violins. (Christian Tetzlaff). (I'm not overwhelmed by his sound though!!)

 

September 12, 2011 at 01:43 PM ·

In a general sense, I have found through the years that my clients were more likely to agree on whether or not an instrument looked good than they were on whether it sounded good. A cautionary tale; I once had a customer, a violist, who was very skilled and very poor. He was forever looking for a small viola he could afford, and his instructions were to ignore the visual aspects and only show him things that sounded very good. It took us a while, but we found a composite viola (neck and scroll and top plate not original) just under 16" that had an absolutely stupendous sound. It was weird inside. Kerfed linings on the bottom, mystery wood linings on the top, some corners with blocks and some without, and each of its surface parts was finished with kind of a mongrel varnish that no amount of skill could unify. We loved playing this beast for people and watching the expressions on their faces when they got it in their hands. To conclude the story, the customer rejected the instrument despite a very attractive purchase price (we'll pay you to take it off our hands), because, he said, he would never bet able to get anything for it should he want to sell it.

So, like it or not, the visual aspect is important because it's what people see first. I think that if they like the way a violin looks, they are immediately predisposed to like the way it sounds. When I was just starting out, the owner of a well-known shop told us that no matter what we thought of a fiddle's sound, there was someone out there who would love it.

September 12, 2011 at 01:49 PM ·

 Do you know of Guiseppe Pellacani - made in Cremona 1967? I see one for sale around £6K.

There's a picture of Giuseppe Pellacani (b. 1900) in Marlin Brinser's "Dictionary of Twentieth Century Violin Makers", in which he gets 2 stars out of a 3-star maximum. Mostly Guarneri models, I think. Reasonably priced at the sum you mentioned - a good buy if it plays. You mentioned Bianchi of Nice - by coincidence Pellacani was a pupil. I didn't think Pellacani worked at Cremona but who knows ? I found that colleagues who were accustomed to French, German or English fiddles were none too enthusiastic about the recent Italians, finding the sound comparatively nasal and twangy until you get used to handling it, but I have had good experiences with the ones I have.

I think the maker Tetzlaff uses is Greiner, but I could be wrong. The electronic wizardry to tune the plates as taught by Carleen Hutchins is fairly widespread now, I fancy. My latest fiddle was treated that way - the tiny wolf note is bang on C natural.

When I was just starting out, the owner of a well-known shop told us that no matter what we thought of a fiddle's sound, there was someone out there who would love it.

Yes, every old violin was bought by someone in the past !!

September 12, 2011 at 01:54 PM ·

Robert, yes we live in visual world. Aurally most people are pretty deaf. I'm probably not talking about musicians of course ...

With the viola player, well, I could say, typical viola player. But I have known some who go for a small viola with a great sound and don't care too much about looks.

If he was going to get it so cheap, why was he worried about getting a big price when he sold it? He could hang onto his other bigger viola and then have sold that years later once it had appreciated in value?

September 12, 2011 at 02:00 PM ·

"I think the maker Tetzlaff uses is Greiner, but I could be wrong. The electronic wizardry to tune the plates as taught by Carleen Hutchins is fairly widespread now, I fancy. My latest fiddle was treated that way - the tiny wolf note is bang on C natural."

David, yes you are correct! It is a Greiner, and I think they go for more than £30,000 and he has a two/three year waiting list.

Thanks for the info about the Italian Pellacani. I might go and look at it tomorrow.

September 12, 2011 at 02:01 PM ·

Fearing I might have posted rubbish, I checked.

It's Stefan-Peter Greiner. Probably charges mega-bucks !

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan-Peter_Greiner

September 12, 2011 at 02:13 PM ·

"Michael, that is a very good point you make - I hadn't though of the few setups a maker might do. What would that be, about 15 fiddles a year?"

Setup experience will vary by the maker. Some have put in major time doing setups, due to prior or current employment in a shop. Others have not.

September 12, 2011 at 02:15 PM ·

From Stefan-Peter Greiner's web site.

32.000 €
plus sales tax for a violin

My favorite page on his website is one titled "Purchasing an Instrument" http://www.greinergeigen.de/htm/erwerb_e.htm. So I would not be able to get one even if I could afford it based on "artistic qualifications". Oh well. Just joking they sound wonderful.

Pat T.

 

September 12, 2011 at 02:15 PM ·

I think there could be makers who specialize in their own setups, and I've heard I think of at least one who uses complicated electronic equipment to do this amd make the fiddle by. He's a German maker and a well known solo fiddler uses one of his violins. (Christian Tetzlaff). (I'm not overwhelmed by his sound though!!

Just like a Strad doesn't make a bad player good, electronic equipment or wishing won't help if your conception of sound is insufficient. If you look through maker's directories, you'll see that the most common brag point makers use in their advertising is some variation of "tonal expert". My experience has been that there are many fewer out there than advertise they are.

I know that many people must not notice this, but I can't stand Tetzlaff's sound because I find it monochromatic. The violin seems to have its own mind about a single sound it wants to make--not a bad sound--but if that's all a violin will do, it soon gets boring. I personally don't believe a violin shouldn't run in a tonal track that the player can't get out of, no matter how nice that one tone is, though I believe many makers approach tonal issues that way (though few will admit it, their results and the type of research they follow says more than their protestations to the contrary), and such violins can be very easy to sell to customers who can't muster up the control a more interesting instrument requires. As such, they fill a very real and active spot in the violin business.

The most common comment I've heard from people who've dumped the violins of several extremely well-known modern makers who are involved in the "electronic" stuff is that their violin had a great initial impression, but ultimately turned out to be more tonally shallow than they had initially realized. On the other hand, I am not a fan of Sergio Peresson's workmanship or artistic sensibility, so it took me quite a while to realize that what appealed to players was their immense tonal range and potential. Quite a few rank amateur violins I've seen have fit the same mold. The conclusion I've come to in my own mind is that "tuning" develops tonal pathways and behaviors in an instrument that limit, rather than expand, a violin's tonal potential.

To the extent that those behaviors sound nice, players get fooled into thinking they have a good instrument, not realizing the limitations they impose on the range of possible tone qualities an instrument will produce. At the most basic, I would say that if a violin sounds the same bowed over the end of the board as it does at the bridge (and many modern violins from popular makers do--I've even had several brag about that to me!), run in the other direction. The day you realize you need that dusty sound that should be there over the board, and all of the others in between, too, they are not going to be there for you.

September 12, 2011 at 02:29 PM ·

As David says, experience can vary wildly, and gross numbers may not mean much. When I worked at restoration, I probably did eight or ten setups a year--not enough to really know what I was doing. Then I worked in a production shop where I did 500 a year, which was great for my tool skills, but did nothing for knowing how to shape tone, since I didn't hear most of the violins later (unless I had some particular project I was checking on with dozens of trials, like the effects of different bass bars or necksets). Most of what I've learned about tone came later, working with greater numbers of players in a shop situation around a lot of setups that I wasn't even doing myself--where the rubber hit the road, as they say, not where the rubber was being made.

September 12, 2011 at 02:32 PM ·

"Just like a Strad doesn't make a bad player good, electronic equipment or wishing won't help if your conception of sound is insufficient. If you look through maker's directories, you'll see that the most common brag point makers use in their advertising is some variation of "tonal expert". My experience has been that there are many fewer out there than advertise they are.

I know that many people must not notice this, but I can't stand Tetzlaff's sound because I find it monochromatic. The violin seems to have its own mind about a single sound it wants to make--not a bad sound--but if that's all a violin will do, it soon gets boring. I personally don't believe a violin shouldn't run in a tonal track that the player can't get out of, no matter how nice that one tone is, though I believe many makers approach tonal issues that way (though few will admit it, their results and the type of research they follow says more than their protestations to the contrary), and such violins can be very easy to sell to customers who can't muster up the control a more interesting instrument requires. As such, they fill a very real and active spot in the violin business."

I agree with all of that.

I had a problem in that I didn't know if it was CT's playing or the instrument or both that I didn't like. But I'm no great fan either.

"The most common comment I've heard from people who've dumped the violins of several extremely well-known modern makers who are involved in the "electronic" stuff is that their violin had a great initial impression, but ultimately turned out to be more tonally shallow than they had initially realized. On the other hand, I am not a fan of Sergio Peresson's workmanship or artistic sensibility, so it took me quite a while to realize that what appealed to players was their immense tonal range and potential. Quite a few rank amateur violins I've seen have fit the same mold. The conclusion I've come to in my own mind is that "tuning" develops tonal pathways and behaviors in an instrument that limit, rather than expand, a violin's tonal potential.

To the extent that those behaviors sound nice, players get fooled into thinking they have a good instrument, not realizing the limitations they impose on the range of possible tone qualities an instrument will produce. At the most basic, I would say that if a violin sounds the same bowed over the end of the board as it does at the bridge (and many modern violins from popular makers do--I've even had several brag about that to me!), run in the other direction. The day you realize you need that dusty sound that should be there over the board, and all of the others in between, too, they are not going to be there for you."

This is something which is useful to know and I certainly like lots of colours. That is, different sounds at the fingerboard. middle, and near the bridge.

September 12, 2011 at 02:37 PM ·

David, unfortunately the Pelaccani has gone, along with another fiddle I was interested in. Obviously they don't keep their website up to date. They are still trying to interest me in those modern fiddles, but no way!!

September 12, 2011 at 03:40 PM ·

Modern fiddle sound is all over the place, so it wouldn't hurt to look around some more, if you haven't done that quite a bit already.

At some of the instrument making competitions, I've gone down the line of maybe 200 or 300 violins. Some of them sound or play awful. Some are pretty decent. There will be some jewels.

September 12, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

David B

Thanks for that info. I will of course try and keep an open mind and I will still look out for a modern jewel.

Tonight I might get the chance to try an old Italian as I'm going to a concert where I know someone will be performing on her old Italian, although I can't remember what it is (I know its about 1745). Just to remind myself what an old Italian sounds like ... a lot of groaning and creaking maybe!

Trouble is that all of this looking is time consuming!

September 12, 2011 at 03:56 PM ·

There's no shortage of good new violins, but not always where you'd expect to find them.

September 12, 2011 at 04:28 PM ·

 At some of the instrument making competitions, I've gone down the line of maybe 200 or 300 violins. Some of them sound or play awful.

I'm reminded of the story about the dandy, Beau Brummel. Asked why his cravate always looked so immaculate, he pointed to a huge pie of crumpled material and explained "these are my failures".

September 12, 2011 at 04:31 PM ·

"Trouble is that all this looking is time consuming."

Yes, it can certainly be a pain. For those who want to check out a lot of new instruments in one place, there will be this exhibition in New York.  www.reedyeboahviolins.com/

There are some pretty good makers on the list. Hah, I just noticed that they have my name on the list, but I'm not planning to participate. I inquired, but they want a commission on instruments which sell (which I don't normally do), and I don't have anything to send or sell right now.

September 12, 2011 at 04:57 PM ·

David, you could always sell your soul, that must be worth a bob or two!!

New York? Now where's that? Can I get there in an hour on the London Underground? (Subway to you lot!!)

September 12, 2011 at 05:39 PM ·

"New York? Now where's that?"

It's a relatively obscure and quaint place, populated with primitives and ruffians, over in The Colonies. ;-)

For the cost of shipping ten fiddles back and forth in your own country, you could probably visit, and make the rounds of the dealers in old instruments as well.

September 12, 2011 at 08:29 PM ·

 Edited:-

The conclusion I've come to in my own mind is that "tuning" develops tonal pathways and behaviors in an instrument that limit, rather than expand, a violin's tonal potential.

Interesting. I don't know to what extent the real geeks of electronic plate-evaluation and tuning go, but aiming to get one plate a whole tone away from the other was noted way back in the 19th century. But just as a wine can be "made" to be drunk when young, I am prepared to believe that a new violin can be made a little too bland to be of enduring interest. I don't think I have any like that, yet I cannot possibly live long enough to find out !! De ol' dirt nap comin', bruv, but not TOO soon, I hope.

To go back to Peter's original post, I do recall that going into a dealership as a young player was a bewildering experience. And if you tried reading up, Strads are useless, they are too thin - Guarneris are useless too, becuse they are too thick.What IS a good violin ? The dealer makes you think you have not yet earned a right to an opinion, probably rightly. Then, every fiddle in the world can be demolished by a sarcastic one-liner from a colleague ! Yet despite their apparent obsession with "work" over "tone" some dealers do have a knack of spotting and presenting decent stuff. If that applied to all, then Peter wouldn't have had his problems last Saturday.

I did go to New Amsterdam once, but didn't visit any fiddle shops.

September 12, 2011 at 09:40 PM ·

"To go back to Peter's original post, I do recall that going into a dealership as a young player was a bewildering experience."

It was the same for me. It became even more bewildering when I took a violin I liked to my teacher. He liked it, so I asked what to me was the next logical question, which was, "What is it worth?" Well, as you can imagine, I never got a straight answer.

Even when dealers try to focus on good sounding instruments (and I think some don't care), customer taste varies. I played one very expensive old instrument that Jeffrey Holmes had in to show to a customer. It was uncommonly bright, but darn, it was a very very good bright. It wouldn't have been right for everyone.

September 13, 2011 at 04:02 AM ·

 Even when dealers try to focus on good sounding instruments (and I think some don't care), customer taste varies.

Yes, I have known professional orchestral players who have detested Italian fiddles, even the finest of old classics. I think that went way beyond a healthy reaction to the alleged commercial value of them. Colleagues have put me off buying Bellarosa, Degani, and Soffritti; they made rude remarks about a fellow member's Pedrazzini, and when our orchestra was presented with a long-pattern Strad for the use of the concertmasters, they didn't like using it. If I had ignored these folk I'd have been a rich man by now !!

Horses for courses, I guess.

September 13, 2011 at 05:10 AM ·

I think thats the real problem here - the clash between the violin as an object of music and one of rarity/collectability/status etc.  Indeed, one could make a case that since sound quality is such an individual taste, quality of manufacture, pedigree and rarity are more reliable value indicators.

   

September 13, 2011 at 05:58 AM ·

 Has the world, or at least the UK, gone mad..........?

Erm, when was it ever sane ?

September 13, 2011 at 08:51 AM ·

"It's a relatively obscure and quaint place, populated with primitives and ruffians, over in The Colonies. ;-)

For the cost of shipping ten fiddles back and forth in your own country, you could probably visit, and make the rounds of the dealers in old instruments as well."

David Burgess - I probably wouldn't be allowed in!!  (I'm not joking either, as a long time critic of the Bush administration and the Blair/Bush incursions into oil rich countries). But not to get into politics, yes, you have a point about shipping costs and I'm sure there are possibly more instruments for sale and I'm sure some brilliant makers, yourself included of course.

September 13, 2011 at 08:55 AM ·

"To go back to Peter's original post, I do recall that going into a dealership as a young player was a bewildering experience."

David Beck - I'm no longer a young player (sadly I'm already saving up for the coffin) BUT I'm still bewildered.

September 13, 2011 at 09:03 AM ·

David Burgess -  (there are a lot of David's on here!) Your comment about the very bright fiddles is interesting, because I heard a load of string players at a concert last night and every one except one cellist suffered from the most misreably weak and dull sounds. I think a lot of players do opt for the "nice mellow sound" under the ear, not realising that it sounds as dull as ditchwater (as we say) to the listeners. That and of course rather weak techniques.

Personally I always go for a brighter sounding instrument, but maybe that's me. I tried (in the past) one of the players very old Italian violin - and it was very mellow under the ear - but I don't think it had much penetration.

I'm always surprised when I hear a top player in his or her front room on a good instrument and how loud and penetrating the sound is. It can't be described as mellow up that close. But boy, is it good in a hall!

September 13, 2011 at 09:12 AM ·

David Beck - your story about colleagues being negative about instruments reminds me that I once handed an instrument I had on trial from Beare's about 30 years ago to an elderly colleague. It was a French instrument made by one of the Bernardel brothers if I remember correctly, and it looked very new still - even though it was about 100 years old. She handed it back with the comment that she hated new instruments!!

In the end I did not quite gell with the sound, but other people thought it a fine example visually, that is. It was also rather expensive and if I had bought it I would have had to stay in that "safe" job for another 5 years so I decided not to commit musical suicide ...

September 13, 2011 at 02:12 PM ·

 Bob Bein introduced me to the idea that when you're spending a lot of money for something, not only violins, you can rarely get positive responses from friends and stand partners.

Mostly they think you're crazy for spending that much, they're jealous that you can do it, they fear that you'll sound better than them, and they know that if they say "don't buy it", that's a winning response, no matter the outcome. If you buy it and you're happy, you don't blame them; it you buy it and aren't happy, you remember their good advice; if you don't buy it, they never get proven wrong. From a strategic position (for them--they don't have a thought about what's good for you), the best thing for them to do is be negative. Being positive means taking personal responsibility for what they have said, and people hate doing that!

September 13, 2011 at 02:59 PM ·

 Lets not lose sight of the OP:- Instruments: What are your experiences when taking a violin into a dealer?

Taking the last violin I wanted to sell into my friendly local dealer, hoping he's sell it on commission, I was eventually informed that he had consulted with a reliable expert and the fiddle was a load of junk. He'd be very lucky to get £2,000 for it.

I took it to Sothebys who sold it for £6,000.

As to getting POSITIVE feedback from colleagues, that happened to me just once. I had a Vuillaume on trial, but had the flu. I had 7 days in bed, then staggered into work, ears so bunged up I couldn't hear the darned thing. Just as well that a man who is the most down to earth of players was so enthusiastic he promised to get it if I did not. That spurred me on to make the decision to buy - I used the instrument for some 18 years until it was claimed in divorce proceedings.

September 14, 2011 at 02:46 AM ·

 Whether it works for you or not, dealers tend to appraise things in the context of their own business. If they don't deal in that range, don't have those customers, and don't respect that type of violin, it's not worth five bucks to them. I have a friend who's a picker. He goes to one shop in Chicago, takes the stuff they think is crap, and carries it three blocks to another shop that thinks it's wonderful. He pockets the difference between what the two shops think the value is. It can be, literally, the difference between buying for $500 and selling for $5000 a half hour later. And it's not like the first shop was wrong: had it genuinely been worth $5000 to them, they wouldn't have sold it for $500--they'd have wanted more like $4500 and settled for $4000, if they could have seen their way through it.

Of course, that doesn't answer the question of whether your dealer's "expert" was indeed an expert, or merely someone the next rung up from him and still near the bottom of the expertise ladder. I'm surprised by the number of "experts" there are who quite literally can't tell one violin from another, much less what country something's from.

September 14, 2011 at 06:35 AM ·

Even top experts seem to have their limitations. I expect you know about the George Wulme Hudson viola, jokingly labelled "Galiendo J Mark, sotto disciplina J. Rocca, Turin" by the maker, for which Hill's of Bond Street, London, wrote a certificate as being the work of, yes, J. Mark Galliendo, (with 2 LLs, see the Musafia thread) despite there being a Hudson brand inside. It appeared twice in Sotheby's London sale catalogues, the first being March 2003, if anyone wants to see a picture.

Even said Vuillaume, described by the dealer who sold it to me (sorry, from whom I bought it) as "the most beautiful Vuillaume I have ever seen", was downrated virtually to cr*p by a dealer who was shown it by the person who wanted to (and did) buy it from my ex. The Hills' certificate was suddenly worth zilch and the number I'd been told was inside had mysteriously disappeared.

Funny business. Nearly all my present stuff has come direct from makers - every egg a bird, every ball a coconut.

September 14, 2011 at 11:14 AM ·

 If we didn't make mistakes, we wouldn't be human, and every mistake is not intentional. We have a tendency to ascribe our own mistakes to simple error and others' to devious intent, but it' is far from being that clearly divided. In the violin business, beyond making mistakes, there should always be the question of what the person who sold you the violin does if it turns out he made a mistake.  Some people make amends, some just shrug. That's the real difference.

It's hard knowing what really happened, too. I know a dealer who made a $600,000 mistake. The papers gleefully pointed out what he'd done to the customer, as part of a splashy front-page story using info fed to them by one of his competitors, it turns out,, but they didn't point out that the dealer swallowed hard, took the instrument back at the value it would have had, had it been real, and took the loss. I have often seen the paper's side mentioned in forums like this, but never the dealer's response to the situation.

September 14, 2011 at 11:52 AM ·

 the dealer swallowed hard, took the instrument back at the value it would have had, had it been real, and took the loss. 

That dodgy-dealers mantra "I didn't sell it to you; you bought it" must be a way of shifting the blame for errors onto the consumer, I guess. 

I think reputable dealers will respond kindly when a genuine mistake has been made. The dealer who found out that a "Hill" bow was a fake just before I wrote the cheque certainly did ! (I questioned it just in time !). What we players have to learn, the hard way, is that when coming to sell, the qualities we were told that made the instrument or bow an absolute "must have" often seem to have miraculously evaporated ! We seem then to be given the run-around treatment. That causes us some head-scratching. It's understandable that as a result of research apparently water-tight certifications are questioned 20 years down the line. We need to realise just how careful every dealer has to be when asked to assess an item brought in for appraisal, for, as you indicated, the financial repercussions can be disastrous. But there are times when, without any malicous intent on the part of the dealer whose appraisal we are seeking, we are made to feel we have been "done over" in the past. It's all too easy to over-react to the dealer's healthy circumspection.

What's really sad is that folk fail to appreciate that, as with antiques, there are huge disparities between auction, insurance, retail and trade-in values. That "investment" idea gets in the way. The fiddle is not a gold bar.

Best to stand over the maker when the instrument you buy is being made !

September 14, 2011 at 10:15 PM ·

The other truth here is that the buyer must be aware of the extent to which they are buying a violin (or bow) and the extent to which they are buying a collectible.  A few years ago a friend of mine was looking at a violin she absolutely fell in love with.  It was supposedly a Silvestre, and not cheap.  It turned out to be a French workshop instrument, and she was able to buy it for about a third of what she originally thought.  Same looks, same sound.  Years later, she is still thrilled to have it.  When the piece of paper jacks the price up, be aware of what you are paying for the paper.

September 14, 2011 at 10:31 PM ·

True, but the paper matters when selling too, so it might be a wash.

September 15, 2011 at 05:22 AM ·

Sorry for being off topic again.

Regarding Tetzlaff's violin/playing, watch the following video. CT did tried HARD to make changes to the sound but the instrument doesn't seems to "give"...

September 15, 2011 at 06:04 AM ·

 CT did tried HARD to make changes to the sound ......

Not sure what CT means, outside hospitals! Great, superb, fantastic, A1, playing. However, Albert Sammons would perform on Alfred Vincent violins and folk mistook them for Strads. The value of those Vincent violins eventually subsided as the memory of his performances faded, I understand. A Richardson instrument can sell for more nowadays, and neither will fetch as much as a Pedrazzini.....

This clip is a salutory reminder that the sound is 99% the player ..... it's all too easy to spend money on a fresh, possibly old, fiddle instead of practising on the one we have ! Difficult to be sure from such a clip, but it seemed to me that the violin still has that slightly muffled quality that in new violins can be mistaken for the maturity of old - the "beguiling softness of new work". Time will tell whether it will eventually really "ring". The construction of it looks to be splendid.

Heck, I wrote too much again.

September 15, 2011 at 07:45 AM ·

I scanned CT's playing of the Shostas (wink) ... and although its hard to tell on a recording, the instrument seemed excellent when playing quietly - ppp as at the start, but I thought there may possibly be a limit at fff? Not sure, but live it may be possible to tell, and also in more context as say against the orchestra, as most of it was solo cadenza.

As someone has said, bits of paper signed by experts can be worth more than the fiddle!! I know of someone who owns a Strad but I'm told (surprisingly) that no expert will verify it with a certificate even though apparently everyone knows its a Strad. This is to make a quick killing I'm told when it eventually comes onto the market, when it will be bought dirt cheap, certified, and sold on for ten times more. Is this possible?

September 15, 2011 at 09:43 AM ·

To get an expert to write a certificate for a violin is expensive, I understand, a large percentage of the supposed market value. I presume that, yes, all the dealers are biding their time, waiting to buy cheaply. 

September 15, 2011 at 03:35 PM ·

David - No doubt, fantastic player! I agreed the sound is from the player, but in Tetzlaff's case/clip, it's either the player or the instrument being sounding too monotonous (at least to my ears, which I agreed with M. Darnton).

Peter - Judging from his movements, and you can ever hear the sound of the bow touching the strings by pressing it real hard, the sound should've break at that point but it remained sturdy. The mic is quite close to him yet and I expected to hear more differences in sound than that. I have a violin that behaves that way, no matter what I do to the sound, it'll always sound the same or have minimal difference, be it aggressively/gently played.

September 15, 2011 at 09:25 PM ·

 As someone has said, bits of paper signed by experts can be worth more than the fiddle!! I know of someone who owns a Strad but I'm told (surprisingly) that no expert will verify it with a certificate even though apparently everyone knows its a Strad. This is to make a quick killing I'm told when it eventually comes onto the market, when it will be bought dirt cheap, certified, and sold on for ten times more. Is this possible?

If "everyone knows" it is one, then there would really be no reason for expertise to be withheld. Quite the opposite, actually.  I'd suspect that there's a bit more to that story.

Sure, dealers love to find "sleepers", but if they accept a job when approached for expertise, they have a responsibility to be forthcoming.  Frankly, the best, most gratifying, transactions I've made were when dealing with well known, well documented instruments... with disclosed commission rates.

The certificate costs for an instrument, when the document is being produced by a reliable source, is usually around 5% (more or less) of the market value, BTW.  A few firms have begun charging a "flat rate".

Jeffrey

September 15, 2011 at 11:23 PM ·

 Jeffrey,

I hope all the shops go to a flat certificate rate. I don't know how they've gotten away with a percentage for this long. If it's not a blatant conflict of interest, it sure looks like one.

Scott

September 16, 2011 at 03:33 AM ·

Scott, you haven't considered the conflicts adequately.

If you want dealers holding back, waiting until the owner dies and his widow sells cheap, flat fees are the way to accomplish that, since dealers have, collectively, nothing to gain by not waiting except the relatively inconsequential flat fee.

If a dealer can make almost as much by selling a cert as a violin, there's much more incentive for honesty towards the customer for a couple of reasons.

I doubt that the conflict of interest you imagine really exists, because there's a happy army of competitors out there ready to point out the dealer who writes dishonest certs as a habit. The more likely problem, history definitely tells us, is that players and owners will plug their ears to that advice.

September 16, 2011 at 06:08 AM ·

The only time I wanted an appraisal with a view to a final outcome of ending up with a certificate should the violin have been declared genuine, I was put off proceeding because the authority couldn't give me any idea of the charges in advance. I'd have liked him to have stated a maximum. Also, I'd have had to travel a heck of a long way. The final bill might have been a nasty shock, indeed.

September 17, 2011 at 06:56 AM ·

Just a quick update. I have a French fiddle out on trial by George Apparut made in 1944. Quite a nice looking instrument but not sure about the sound yet. It needs waking up. It is in mint condition.

I notice that it is smaller than my Gaspar copy 14" as against 14.25 inches.

Also, the string length distance between the bridge and end of tailpiece is 2 inches and Thomastic say this should be 2.25 inches. It looks a little strange.

I'm told it won't come with a certificate but it is labelled and its being sold as an Apparut. I have no reason to think it is not.

September 17, 2011 at 08:27 AM ·

The distance from bridge to tailpiece ranges from 1.875 to 2.125 inches on 3 of the violins I have. The lengths of the tailpieces vary slightly, too. Sometimes, the tail-gut isn't always adjusted to be sufficiently short to stop weird resonances !

2 inches is nothing to worry about, not in the violin world anyway.

September 17, 2011 at 08:56 AM ·

Hi David, thanks for getting back.

I think the tail gut could be an eigth or even a quarter of an inch shorter than it is. And I do notice some weird resonances. A (fourth finger on D string first pos) sounds decidedly nasal - but my wife thinks its OK from a distance.

However, I tried a cheap carbon fibre bow (my col Legno de luxe, at about £300) instead of my good Withers bow, and it really makes the fiddle sound bad! Much, much more so than the same bow on my cheap fiddle. In fact my cheap fiddle is so much more classier than this French one at an eigth of the price.

So, I'm not sure. It's either very badly set up, or no good. Unless of course it suddenly improves with a few more hours playing, which I doubt!

EDIT: I also find it harder to play and have slightly more intonation problems. All in all not too good!

September 17, 2011 at 10:33 AM ·

 Peter - Just wondering if you're shopping for a new violin? Is there any reason why you need another violin?

My violin is setup in a way that the afterlength is only about 51mm, and I've always happy with it.

September 17, 2011 at 11:45 AM ·

I'm wondering why I need another fiddle too!

I suppose I'm thinking of an instrument that has a big sound and can cut through more. I'm a bit of a sucker for beautiful fiddles (and women) but I can control the fascination as far as females are concerned. (But only just!!)

I'm getting lots of advice form a friend who has burnt his fingers over fiddles, and has owned lots of Italian and French fiddles including Guadaninis, Lupots, Precendas, Roccas and more.

I've recorded this fiddle against my cheap German one and I can find no improvement, indeed it hardly stands up, either near the mic or further away. I've already admitted to my friend that I must be mad at my age to be looking at new fiddles, and I should be locked up.

September 18, 2011 at 06:59 AM ·

My wife wondered why I, a septuagenerian, "needed" another violin. But any opposition faded away when she heard the instrument, fresh from the workshop, in an Italian hotel earlier this year.

I like to think (a) it will benefit my estate, and ultimately a deserving player, when it's time for the ol' dirt nap (and if it does not, I shall never know !) and (b) tootling my unaccompanied Bach and stuff on it daily will stave off the onset of Alzheimers every bit as well as playing scrabble or watching repeats on daytime TV. And I find it interesting to feel the violin coming to life as I use it.

Note that it was bought from the maker, not a dealer ! I got excellent service (see previous post) AND I got a fabulous looking makers certificate !

September 21, 2011 at 06:45 PM ·

I walked into one "reputable" shop and was told "Your violin sounds good but it really is only worth about $2000. I can give you a verbal appraisal for $20 or a written one for $50. After I said that I'd take the verbal one, he said "Drop by sometime with a $20 bill, no big deal."

I walked into another smaller shop and the man wrote me a written appraisal for $8500.

 

August 14, 2013 at 06:36 PM · "A man in Italy made me a violin recently. He emailed photos of the raw wood, the violin in various stages of production and the finished article; and there was also discussion of thicknesses, model, etc. Knowing, as I did, the maker's previous work, I was confident enough to get the violin on my insurance before I even saw or tried the final product."

Apologies for coming to this discussion late, but I'm sure readers would appreciate knowing who made your violin David Beck, and your views of it's tone and playability compared with your (lost....) Vuillaume?

Many thanks

August 15, 2013 at 06:24 AM · "Apologies for coming to this discussion late, but I'm sure readers would appreciate knowing who made your violin David Beck, and your views of it's tone and playability compared with your (lost....) Vuillaume?

"

Guido Trotta, Largo Boccaccino 46, 26100, Cremona, Italy.

He's NOT a graduate of the Cremona School, but was trained by, and was for some time the assistant of, Pier Giuseppe Esposti, who is (or was).

He doesn't have a website, but there are usually one or two Trottas on the the Japanese "Kurosawa violin" site. He has sold to members of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, which I think is in Tokyo.

I met him whan he was exhibiting at the RNCM, Manchester, UK. His fiddles seemed every bit as good as an expensive Mor**si I had briefly owned way back, and his prices were reasonable. I took the risk of ordering a new violin - I presented him with a "Strad" poster of the Heifetz Guarneri to establish a true Guarneri model. I still have that violin which I used regularly in the BBC Philharmonic.

Two absolutely new violins tried in the past had greatly impressed me. One was a Stefano Conia, the other a Francesco Bissolotti. Trotta's 2011 violin is "up there" with these, IMHO.

My ancient Vuillaume responded to the bow like an OLD violin, was loud and clear under the ear and was superb for orchestral playing, yet quite different in quality of sound from almost any Italian fiddle, old or new. One concertmaster I knew said Vuillaumes sounded as if made with cardboard if compared with a genuine Strad. Having myself tried a Strad next to a very good Vuillaume at an auction house I can now understand what he was getting at !!

How interesting to read this old thread.

I'd email photos of this latest violin (or the old "Heifetz") to anyone who cares to make direct contact.

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