Trying to get an Italian violin in Italy

May 7, 2012 at 09:33 PM · Hi everybody,

Just registered to be a member and I'm excited. My company is sending me to work in London for 3 months starting next week, and I'll visit Italy at the end of this assignment. I'll stop by Cremona to shop for a good violin for myself. Any suggestions on a fine violin maker in that area? I also wonder if I'll end up paying less for a Italian violin in Italy than here in the US. How much import tax I need to pay when I return to the US?

Thanks for your suggestions and advice in advance!


Replies (100)

May 7, 2012 at 09:56 PM · Hi Kevin,

How exciting. I have a Laura Vigato that I am quite fond of. She is located in Brescia, not far from Cremona. I have never met her, but I don't think she speaks much English. If you do not speak Italian, make sure to download Google Translate on your mobile device. You can speak into it in English and it will recognize the words and convert to any language. It works surprisingly well.

May 7, 2012 at 10:08 PM · Import duty for new instruments isn't huge-- something like 3%. Less than sales tax, in other words. You'll probably need an escort to the airport to help you clear out the VAT.

May 8, 2012 at 03:12 AM · Of course it's a personal thing, but I highly recommend Vittorio Villa. I own 3 custom-made violins by him. If you like, I'll send you his contact info, but tell him I sent you. It will work better than a cold call.

If you - or anybody who is seriously condidering a VV - are in the New York area, you can take a look at mine at mutual convenience.

May 8, 2012 at 04:48 AM · Thank you all for your reply!

Smiley, I've read your post on your violin hunting, and I enjoyed it.

Raphael, yes, please email me VV's contact info. What's his price range?

I also tried a couple of David Gusset's violins, and they are all wonderful from both playability and tonal quality stand point, and his workmanship is even better. But I do want to compare some others before I make my final decision. David Gusset lives in Eugene, Oregon and it's only 2 hours' drive from where I live.

I don't know what's the best way to try David Burgess' violins. I actually went to New York two weeks ago to try the cellos for my daughter and violins for myself. Unfortunately I was outbid in the last hour. For violins, I bid for Lot 213 and 266. I actually liked Lot 181 the most, but that lot went crazy (sold at $19,000 while the estimate is 4K to 6K).



May 8, 2012 at 05:50 AM · With there being are so many professional makers working in Cremona it's hard for anyone to make a truly rational decision in a short time. Daunting.

I expect you have already looked on the website of the Consorzio Liutai "A. Stradivari" . A "short cut" would be to go to their shop where there are new instruments and bows on display. You will be free to try these. I myself bought an off-the-peg Daniele Tonarelli violin there, 2003, no regrets.

Many fine makers aren't members of that "consorzio", e.g. Davide Sora, Vanna Zambelli, Laura Vigato, Guido Trotta, Luca Salvadori, the Morassi and Bissolotti families etc.

I've been a customer of Guido Trotta for 20 years; I met him at an exhibition at the RNCM in Manchester, U.K. Communication between us is facilitated by his command of English. I can supply contact details if you email me directly. He sells mainly to Japan, and doesn't "antique".

I have tried one Marcello Villa which was delightful. Try not to miss Riccardo Bergonzi; many professionals have used his instruments, including Peter Charles who posts on

Take each violin "as it comes" on a case-by-case basis (sorry, feeble pun !).

I've met Laura Vigato and tried one new instrument. No, her English is not up to the standard of her violins. My Italian is hopeless, which is an impediment.

One problem is that experienced and established makers have waiting-lists. If you find a violin that's available for immediate sale (or "disponibile" as they say) one is inclined to wonder what's the matter with it ! Has a customer declined the instrument ? Caveat emptor. Make sure you get a good trial period.

May 8, 2012 at 07:47 AM · Kevin

Since you'll be in London for 3 months, why don't you try some English violins too! Nothing against Italian violins, but when it comes to modern makers there is really nothing that sets the Italians apart from other nationalities. We all learn our craft from the same schools, according to the same methods and have access to the same information, so there is no longer an Italian school of violin making, just good and bad makers in every country!

Best wishes


May 8, 2012 at 10:17 AM · Marc is right. There are many really good makers in the UK. And Germany. And France, etc.

A British maker might go to the Cremona violin making school; a German might go to the British one. Then they might run into each other at a post-graduate workshop in the US, and work alongside others representing most of the world's major schools. Regional distinctions have become very blurry.

Kevin, since you went all the way to New York to try instruments, you might also be interested in visiting an exhibit of contemporary instruments in New Orleans this coming Sunday (May 13), from 1 to 5 at the Hotel Monteleone. This is put on by the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, our North American professional trade group, and typically has at least 50 instruments and bows to try. David Gusset (whose instruments you liked) is a member, although I don't happen to know whether he will be attending or exhibiting at this particular convention. He was the second American to win the Cremona Competition many years ago, against mostly Italian competitors.

May 8, 2012 at 11:14 AM · The top 4 prizes at the last "Triennale" exhibition in Cremona went to makers from Finland, Canada, Great Britain and, er, Great Britain !!

UK Makers are excellent technically and their prices reasonable. Yes, I'd say it's a good idea to check out some local fiddles during your stay here.

However, I have to report my experience at a recent exhibition at the RNCM, Manchester. The locally made fiddles sounded very pleasant, but there was just one new violin that rocked my boat and it happened to be the only Italian on display - Luca Primon.

To some, a new Italian fiddle is a holiday souvenir, a trophy, maybe an investment. However, there are some folk like myself on the lookout for fiddles to actually PLAY, and who have been lucky in finding colours in the sound in young fiddles from over there that elude my compatriots; that's something, a prejudice maybe, that I'm reluctant to confess too often because the capacity for self-delusion in this field is legendary !!

I note that you wrote "Trying to get a good Italian violin " - there were plenty I didn't like at all when I visited Cremona !! I hope you strike lucky. If Cremona disappoints, try elsewhere, e.g. Milan, Florence, Mantua, Brescia or Rome.

May 8, 2012 at 01:37 PM · I have been going to Cremona Mondomusica for many years and always come with the same impression. The best Italian instruments for the price were Claudio Testoni´s violins, much better sounding instruments than many other names often mentioned in this site, that if you want it to be Italian, if not I would definetively go for an American maker. But that´s just my opinion...

have fun and good luck!

May 8, 2012 at 06:12 PM · Appreciated all your input!

I don't necessarily have to go with an Italian. I'll go with whatever the best is in terms of quality and price. For the short term, I'll just get one; for the long term, I may need 3 in total, as my older son has started violin lessons and he surely enjoys it, and my youngest son will in a couple of years. Investment value or not, I don't see any value spending lots of money on luxry cars or anything else luxury except violins, cellos... My daughter switched to the full-size cello a couple of months ago when I started hungting for a good cello for her, and also looking for a good violin for myself by the way. That's when I started to learn the great work of modern violin/cello makers in the US, Italy, Germany, etc., and they all deserve my greatest respect. I tried the Baron von Leyen Strad in New York two weeks ago at Tarisio Auctions just for fun. It was very good, but maybe not good enough for its value. I guess the best modern makers sell their violins from 20K to 50K, which is about 1% to 3% of a Strad, but these top modern violins are just as good if not better than a Strad in lots of cases.

With my family including 3 young kids traveling with me, I won't have the flexibility to try more than 3 or 4 shops in Cremona (including Bresicia probably). I figured if I get an Italian this time, I'll get an American or English next time; If I get an American this time, then an Italian or Engish or German next time.

David Burgess, I'll be flying out to London on May 13th, so I guess I won't be able to attend that event. But I still want to find out what's the best way to try your violins after I return to the US the end of August if you have any available now. I'm not very sure about commissioning, as a famous maker put it, commissioning is an act of faith. I don't really mind waiting, but I do have the fear on what if the commissioned one doesn't turn out good. I think the next VSA competition will be held in Clevaland in November, right? Since you won so many golds in the VSA, you are probably the best person to ask this question. Can people just purchase the award-winning violins at the VSA competition?

Thanks all!


May 8, 2012 at 08:12 PM · I don't know too much about Cremonese violin makers, but I've tried violins I liked from there by Vittorio Villa and Boris Sverdlik, both of whom are great makers. I also once tried a Laura Vigato that was excellent, a very outstanding instrument.

May 8, 2012 at 08:44 PM · "I'm not very sure about commissioning, as a famous maker put it, commissioning is an act of faith. I don't really mind waiting, but I do have the fear on what if the commissioned one doesn't turn out good."

Kevin, check out each maker's policies. They are not all the same. With some, you may basically be stuck with the instrument. Others may refund all or part of your money, once the instrument sells to someone else. On the other end of the spectrum, some makers will refund a deposit at any time for any reason, including if you just change your mind, or find something else you like in the interim, or if the completed instrument doesn't meet your expectations. That's what I do, and there are probably others.

"I think the next VSA competition will be held in Cleveland in November, right? Can people just purchase the award-winning violins at the VSA competition?"

There's nothing prohibiting it, and I bought a bow that way once. Occasionally, a winning instrument is already owned, or the maker doesn't want to sell. It's not an ideal environment for trying out instruments though. Imagine 400 instruments in one large room, with 100 people talking, and 25 people playing at the same time. Perhaps one could arrange "first right of refusal" on an instrument they were interested in, and follow up with more thorough testing in a more familiar environment.

May 8, 2012 at 11:36 PM · Thanks David for sharing your thoughts on commissioning an instrument! It makes sense.

May 9, 2012 at 07:17 AM · Guiviers, Mortimer Street, London, usually has some Christopher Rowe (and Elspeth Rowe) fiddles. These are cleanly made and usually non-antiqued. You will be amazed at how reasonable are the prices compared with Italy, around £4,500. C.R. had a good result at a Cremona Triennale some years ago.

Things have changed. The first Guido Trotta violin I bought was ridiculously cheaper than the local produce; that was part of the attraction. At that price, worth a punt. I was not disappointed, and still have the violin.

With some Italians now fixing their prices at around €15,000 one is inclined to be somewhat more wary.

Still, that's a lot less than a Zyg !

May 9, 2012 at 03:46 PM · Thanks David! While there, I surely will visit some violin shops in London.

May 10, 2012 at 07:17 AM · Kevin

When you are in London you could see my recently aquired Riccardo Bergonzi violin made in 1995. So far players that have tried it have liked it a lot. You could send an email message if interested.

May 10, 2012 at 06:24 PM · Thanks Peter and John!

Sounds like there is a lot I can do in both London and Cremona :-)

May 10, 2012 at 08:30 PM · I wrote:- "I have tried one Marcello Villa which was delightful."

That was at an exhibition of new Cremonese instruments hosted by Sean Bishop. I now find that Sean bought this violin and is now offering it for sale, newly set up.

I understand that the Villas, Vittorio and Marcello, are both conservatory trained players, which puts them at something of an advantage as makers.

NB I have no connection with the Bishop firm - not even as a purchaser - I just went along to the exhibition !

May 11, 2012 at 12:18 AM · That's true. Both Vittorio and Marcello play.

May 11, 2012 at 11:34 AM · Dealerships are one thing, the workshop where from which the products are made another.

Nothing daft about the fact that makers tend not to have a great many instruments lying around the workshop. Violins are collected by commissioning individuals or sent off to dealers (who either purchase them or sell on commission) soon after they are finished.

For example, look on the website of Cremona maker Sandro Asinari, Under the section of instruments available, or "disponibile" there's usually zilch.

Admittedly, it's often possible to walk into a workshop off the street and buy off-the-peg if makers are just starting out, but they soon build up a network whereby fiddles are quickly distributed - or they go out of business.

May 11, 2012 at 12:06 PM · "Nothing daft about the fact that makers tend not to have a great many instruments lying around the workshop. Violins are collected by commissioning individuals or sent off to dealers (who either purchase them or sell on commission) soon after they are finished."

David is right. That's how it usually is with a busy and successful maker. Some such makers appreciate satisfied customers who are willing to show a prospective new customer their violins by the dealer in question. I've been glad to do so a couple of times, and if anyone is or is planning to be in the New York City area, subject to mutual convenience, I can show them 1 violin by Peter Lam, which I'm reluctantly selling, and 3 violins each (not for sale) respectively by Vittorio Villa and Ed Maday.

May 11, 2012 at 12:27 PM · Absolutely correct, violins from a given maker can vary quite a bit. If you want the cream of the crop, you have to be first in line to try it out, i.e., if someone else has the right of first refusal, chances are, you will not get the pick of the litter.

May 11, 2012 at 06:52 PM · I don't think contamporary Italian violins are the best instruments today. You may want to consider contemporary American instruments. There is Grubaugh & Seifert, Joseph Curtun, Gregg Alf, Terry Borman, Sam Zyg...

May 11, 2012 at 08:55 PM · It depends on the maker, then the individual instrument of the maker, and the chemistry between and among violin, bow and player. As I posted elsewhere, at a recent auction showing, one of my Villas bested the ex Ricci Sam Z., a Poggi and the Baron von der Leyon Strad - and my opinion was shared by 2 other knowledgeable pros who were there and who had no axe to grind one way or another.

May 12, 2012 at 05:33 AM · Mike Chuang wrote "I don't think contamporary Italian violins are the best instruments today." He then lists all those "names" in the American world - forgetting Raymond Schryer in Canada.

I can't argue against that, being a UK resident who has had no hands-on experience of the work of any of these makers. As already posted, the Italians don't usually come out on top in international violin-making competitions.

Kevin lives in this violinistic "land of milk and honey" yet, for some reason aspires to own a new Italian violin. I wonder why.

Raphael wrote of "the chemistry between and among violin, bow and player". Maybe Kevin has heard tell that those Italian orange-boxes can be deadly in the right hands.

May 12, 2012 at 05:59 AM · I'm seriously thinking about getting one Italian and one American, most likely not two Italians or two Americans. But if the English turns out good as well, I'll be lost :-)

May 12, 2012 at 07:18 AM · "Spoilt for choice" is a phrase that comes to mind !

Why not look out for a Matsuda violin ? I think he is an Italian-trained maker of Oriental extraction working in America. Best of both, or many, worlds !!

I've never seen nor tried any but Sean Bishop lists some on his website.

Instructive is Smiley Hsu's blog about his search for a violin. He didn't feel the need to buy the most expensive instrument.

A trip to Cremona might STILL be an attractive proposition, expecially if you managed to delay until the Autumn when the "Triennale" exhibition takes place. However, a dealership that offers a choice of violins from all over the world might give you an overview and it might be possible to get your Italian fiddle without going to Italy at all !! A dealer's mark-up might be less than your saving on air-fares.

May 12, 2012 at 12:08 PM · There is a notion, right or wrong, that Italian violins are the best, even contemporary ones. This notion obviously stems from the origins of great violins, Amati, Strad, Guarneri and the like. When I was searching for a great instrument, I did not have that bias. It just happened that my dream fiddle was made in Italy, by an Italian.

If one were on a budget and wanted a great value, an Italian fiddle might be a good choice. US made fiddles are just as good, arguably better, but they tend to be more expensive, mostly $20K and up. But if you are undecided, I really like Dave Beck's idea of getting a Matsuda, a Japanese, Italian, US fiddle. :-)

Bottom line, don't worry about the country of origin, or the nationality of the maker. Find something that speaks to you.

May 17, 2012 at 05:25 AM · @ Kevin,

I hope you have read Smiley Hsu's interesting blog about his search for a new violin.

Maybe you will record your own experiences in a blog in the course of time !

May 17, 2012 at 08:46 PM · Yes, I have read Smiley's blog about his search for violins, and it's very informative. If my serach turns out to be as informative, which I kind of doubt, I'll write it down.

Actually I visited two famous violins shops in London today, and it's a mixed feeling. I guess I can't spend too much time on the search, but I can't make an easy decision, either. I tried one Greg Alf, one Marcello Villa, and five Christopher Rowe.

May 17, 2012 at 10:06 PM · I haven't read everything so I don’t know if anyone mentioned the various different ways a violin will sound due to different locations, set ups, played by different players or the same player at different skill levels.

I think most experienced players will agree that, one can try 100 violins in shops, at shows or on tour, but without substantial input from some experienced violinists beside yourself, you will unlikely get an objective assessment if this is the right instrument for you, as the sound under our ear is very different from what others can hear. Also you wouldn’t know the projection of the instrument without trying out in a large hall full of audience. You also don’t know if the less satisfying sound of an instrument is caused by the setup, the bow, or the instrument itself. Unless you are very advanced already, you don’t know how well this instrument will play down the road when you need it to do all sorts of things that you don’t know about at this point.

All these unknown variables mean one thing to me: unless you can keep a violin for a trial period to give a chance for all the above-mentioned experiments, you are risking way too much to purchase a fine performance violin based on your own effort. I hope this story may help to illustrate my point. Recently I witnessed how a fine concert violinist was going about to decide whether to buy an old Italian violin: she signed a contract to loan the instrument for 6 months to try it out. She then played for her colleagues and her audience on a daily basis for 6 months. During this period, she tried different setups, different strings, bows, travelled with it internationally, etc. Only after this lengthy experiment, she was able to make up her mind that it was indeed not the right violin for her.

By the way, I was in Cremona in fall 2008 during the Cremona Mondomusica - International Exhibition of Musical Instruments and even stayed in a luthier’s house. I saw a lot of very beautiful instruments there. It was a wonderful experience and I certainly enjoyed the opening concert where a number of prize-winners were being played on stage, but I’m also glad I wasn’t even tempted enough to spend anything that I’d sure regret later on.

May 17, 2012 at 10:31 PM · I've had two recent experiences where amateurs rejected instruments, and then high-level pros thought they were to die for.

Just something to think about.

May 17, 2012 at 10:58 PM · David- Sounds like those two fiddles had a happy ending! I'll bet they breathed a huge sigh of relief.

May 18, 2012 at 12:41 AM · I tend to agree with Yixi. 6 months might be a bit excessive, but before purchasing an instrument, you definitely want to take it on trial for at least a week or so. Even more important than trying it out in a large concert hall (at least for us lowly amateurs), is to play it in familiar acoustic settings, i.e., does it sound good in the room where you normally practice, and where you play chamber music? I personally think the sound under ear is very important. Sure you want it to project in a large hall and sound pleasing to the audience, but it sure is a lot more fun to play if the instrument sounds good to you.

May 18, 2012 at 01:55 AM · But it sounds good under my ear today may not in a few months, after a flight, or with a different bow. Like what David said, a pro will be in a much better position to tell. And even the professionals I know would't buy an instrument without checking with others. This is why I believe having a professional violinist that you can trust to assist should be mandatory for purchasing an expensive violin.

May 18, 2012 at 01:55 AM ·

May 18, 2012 at 03:04 AM · Yixi - I think I'd be afraid to date your friend, let alone try to sell her a violin! Just kidding! ;-)

David - I agree. Often amateurs or less than soloistic pros who are not in big symphonies, not only play, but listen differently. We'd all like a violin with everything, but often an amateur - and this is no put down - will favor a violin with an easy response, and a really sweet and mellow sound. A pro would certainly like fine quality, richness, warmth, etc. - but power, brilliance, projection and edge are quite important. All of my violins are different from one another. But one of my 2 faves sounds like a beautiful lazer cannon! Such a violin can be a bit much at close quarters to an amateur. I actually like that kind of sound under my ear. But very importantly, I'm thinking about cutting through an orchestra or grand piano to the last row in a concert hall. (I'm also aware that there are violins that sound mellow under the ear but project very well. I want both. It needs to really project, but I like that surging, edgy sports-car-like power under the ear as well.)

May 18, 2012 at 04:28 AM · Raphael, sorry, she is taken, rather without hesitation as I recall:). I know you have a number of fine fiddles. Do you ever wish to have less to house and take care of all the time? If so, I will accept a long term free loan;-D

May 18, 2012 at 06:11 AM · "David - I agree. Often amateurs or less than soloistic pros who are not in big symphonies, not only play, but listen differently".

I have known pros in my local "big symphony orchestras" who rubbished good Italian fiddles, up to and including a splendid Grand Amati.

Folk will often dream of playing a fine Italian violin, a "Strad", even, (if only, then all my problems will be solved !) but will often experience a severe shock when faced with a real opportunity to try one. A thoroughbred can behave like a bucking bronco unless the rider knows how to control it.

Unless experience has demonstrated for you the connection between a certain sound under the ear and a capacity to turn heads and attract the attention of listeners at a distance a quick trial can mislead.

The whole point of playing the thing is to get the music over to the listeners.

As I wrote already, I did buy a Tonarelli violin in Cremona "off the peg" after a very brief trial in the Consorzio Antonio Stradivari shop, and had no regrets; but by then I had nearly 40 years experience almost literally "under my belt" !

May 18, 2012 at 12:19 PM · "...experience has demonstrated for you the connection between a certain sound under the ear and a capacity to turn heads and attract the attention of listeners at a distance..."

That's what I'm talking about.

Yixi - lol! None for loan, but one is for sale!

May 18, 2012 at 12:53 PM · Thanks guys for all your input!

I wish I could travel with a professional violinist and hire a concert hall packed with audience to try the violins :-) But I wonder how much I should pay for the audience to listen to my playing :-)

Yeah, I completely agree that having somebody listen in a distance is important, and a professional (in most cases) will make a much better judgement than an ameuter. Even as an ameuter, after trying for about 2 months, I think I can make better judgement than 2 months ago. It surely takes time and effort.

I do hope I can come home with one violin in August and then look for the second one more carefully with some professionals trying for me perhaps in a concert hall (not packed with audience though :-) or at least a huge room.

May 18, 2012 at 02:33 PM · Hi Yixi,

Not to be argumentative, but on the issue of a pro picking out your violin, I agree it is a good idea to get a second opinion, but in the end, the person buying the instrument, amateur or pro, is the person who is going to play it. The violin has to sound and feel good to you.

If you read my blog, you know that I went through a pretty extensive search for my current fiddle. Let me share a couple of stories regarding pro opinions.

I took two instruments to my lesson once. Not that it matters, but one was American, the other Italian. My teacher at the time and his wife were both pro violinists, playing for a major symphony. My teacher liked the Italian fiddle for both sound and playability. His wife preferred the American. She said it felt more natural to her. She was not able to verbalize the reason for her preference, just that it felt better to her. I thought the Italian fiddle was easier to play and my teacher agreed -- a split decision.

On my personal violin, the one I chose after my extensive violin search, 3 pros and one luthier loved the instrument, and one pro and one luthier didn't care for it. Another split decision.

My point is that sound as well as playability are subjective. What might be easier to play or sound better to one person might not work for another. Even pros do not agree on instruments they like. Kevin should absolutely get a pro to sign off on his fiddle if possible, but the deciding factor should be up to him.

Regarding the venue, odds are Kevin will never perform to a live audience in a large concert hall (no offense Kevin, but I'm in the same boat). So in that regard, the sound of the instrument in that venue doesn't really matter. Of course, projection is important, but if you mostly play chamber music, then you should test in that setting.

May 18, 2012 at 06:44 PM · What Smiley's just said is dead on. It's great that there are people around who can afford a nice violin and enjoy it, but it's still a matching process. People should have a fiddle they love playing that sounds great to them, especially if they're paying a lot for it. This type of patronage is great for luthiers, and everyone else, too, as it aids the development of modern instruments. No reason to buy a Ferrari if you want a nice, cushy Benz.

May 18, 2012 at 07:35 PM · Smiley, don't you think I can pay an orchestra and the audience to listen to me playing in a big hall? :-) But I guess what I have to pay may be enough to get a David Burgess' violin :-)

If I can't get everything with my planned budget, I think I'll be more focused on the ease of play and a good sound under the ear. I guess the biggest hall I'll ever get the chance to play is our church, and most of the time I'll be just playing with my family in my living room. And that's assuming that resale or investment is my second concern. But I do hope my second violin (for my older son's future use)will have everything - maybe he'll have the chance to play in a big hall someday :-)

Smiley, after trying out an English violin and a Marcello violin, I now understand more your comment of "the luscious sound" from your Vigato violin.

May 18, 2012 at 07:57 PM · Smiley, I didn’t read your blog but will take a look when I get a sec.

I think in most part we agree with each other. Buyers will definitely make the final call and most factors lead to a purchase is pretty subjective. But isn’t buying a violin can be highly emotions, a bit like buying a puppy/kitten or a house? Yet I haven’t seen too much being discussed about how not to let our subjectivity and emotion lead to bad judgment. This is the underpinning of my argument that one must give oneself a lot of time to cool down, to get other people (preferably from a pro who has an arm length relationship with the vendor)’s opinions, and to try it out in various settings. And yes, the deliberation process I’m talking about will likely include listening and sorting through various opinions of others. Disagreement among the pros isn’t a bad thing at all.

Asking someone else to listen to the candidate is not just about testing projection, but rather simply to hear how a violin sounds to a listener. It is very important how the instrument sounds to us, but don’t forget part of learning to be a better violinist/musician is to train our ears to discern quality of sound we produce under our ear, and this could be developing over a lengthy period of time. I don't know about you, but after more than 10 years of playing, I still notice some things under my ears sounded nice 6 months ago make me cringe today.

Still I think projection does matter even to amateur violinists. I see a lot of opportunities for amateur violinists at various levels in North America to perform solo or chamber works in a concert hall, such as summer music camps and chamber retreats.

Of course, all this talking is based on the assumption that one has limited funding for the most suitable violin that one wishes to enjoy for many years to come. But if one is thinking about buying and selling or switching instruments in foreseeable future, than that’s a different story.

May 19, 2012 at 02:00 AM · Kevin wrote:

Smiley, don't you think I can pay an orchestra and the audience to listen to me playing in a big hall? :-) But I guess what I have to pay may be enough to get a David Burgess' violin :-)

You must be really good. A "Burgess" is a drop in the bucket compared to what I would have to pay. I think I would have to shell out enough for a Gagliano or Landolfi, or maybe a low-end Strad :-)

Regarding the venue, if you plan to play in your church, then that would be a good place to test the instrument. I love playing in churches because people are thinking about doing good things, peace on earth, and being kind to others. That's the only place where I can perform and not worry about people throwing things at me :-)

May 19, 2012 at 08:22 AM · If you are talking about a Marcello Villa violin recently at an exhibition of Cremona instruments in central London at a well know luthiers, then I would be taking it very seriously. Admittedly I only played on this paticular fiddle for a short while, but I was extremely taken with it, as was Sean Bishop. Had I not just purchased a fine fiddle I would have (no regrets there) asked for an extended trial and it would have been likely for me to have bought it. After trying lots of instruments over an extended two year period this fiddle and the one I purchased stood out.

I have no connection with either maker or S.B. apart from a professional one in trying out Seans instruments.

May 19, 2012 at 12:07 PM · Yes Peter, I tried out the Marcello Villa violin that you have tried and liked. I like it a lot, but just check out the new price for it, and you might be surprsed :-)

Smiley, I'm not that good a player and I normally just practice two weeks a year, one around July 4th and the other around Dec 24th when we have our family concert. When I do regular practice, I'm OK. Buying a good violin should give me motivation to practice more :-)

May 19, 2012 at 01:01 PM · Hi Kevin

Just a thought, but you could try Tom Blackburn. (Email: He is in West London near Earls Court and Gloucester road Tube stations on the Picadilly line.

He had some nice fiddles about 6 months ago and you could look some of them up on his website

Apart from buying my fiddle from him and a common situation that is, we are both violinsts and studied at the RAM - I have no connection. He is quite sympathetic and has a rustic charm that is devoid of any arrogance or superiority. In simple terms, a nice guy. And very knowledgable.

But the bad news for you is that you need two hours practise a day, not two hours a year to play the fiddle well!

May 19, 2012 at 05:41 PM · If you are going to be in London, maybe check out what Florian Leonhard has? I hear they have good stuff.

May 19, 2012 at 05:43 PM · Peter, I promise I'll practice more, maybe one hour a day after I get a good violin.

I just briefly browsed Tom Blackburn's web page. He has such a huge inventory! I definitely want to visit his shop, probably next Saturday.

May 20, 2012 at 06:34 AM · Tom Blackburn is "by appointment only" I think - you can't expect to just walk in.

May 20, 2012 at 08:42 AM · Yes, David is correct. Tom operates from his own home and is pretty busy repairing and setting up, as far as I would guess. But a phone call to him will soon sort out a mutually convenient time.

There are some good makers in London including people like William John, who is also in west London I think. I tried one of his fiddles briefly recently at an exhibition of violin making. Friends of mine have his instruments from the 1990's and they are very good. Not sure about his recent fiddles, but really worth checking out. (A friend of mine used a WJ fiddle in preference to his Italian Rugerio a few years ago. Mind you, I loved the old Italian too).

May 29, 2012 at 12:34 PM · @Peter, Why do I keep agreeing with you? Tom is a breath of fresh air when it comes to violin dealers. Many of them just blow hot air...

@Kevin. Be aware that Italy shuts down for the first two weeks of August and I doubt you'll find dealers/ makers open. Check ahead if you are going at that time so you are not disappointed.

Cheers Carlo

May 29, 2012 at 12:42 PM · Hi Carlo

Well, he's also a trained fiddler (RAM) and although I've known of him for years, it was only rcently that I met him and bought my fiddle from him.

In nice to find knowledgeable experts who are not bull****** and who can help. So yes, he one of the best in the country. And I certainly would never go to a certain famous dealership (no names) but they are one that cheated me on a bow when I was a student. (See my name for a hint ... second name reversed to first name).

May 29, 2012 at 03:06 PM · Peter. I can't for the life of me work out who you mean...

Cheers Carlo

June 1, 2012 at 06:43 PM · Carlo,

So the whole Italy will be on holiday the first two weeks of August? That's my only available time to visit Italy :-(


June 1, 2012 at 08:10 PM · If you want to buy an Italian violin, maybe you should visit the US :-)

June 2, 2012 at 06:41 AM · You have seen and tried quite a few in the UK already !!!

Retail fiddle-shops in Cremona might well shut down (folk like to head for the hills in this season) but there might still be makers lurking in workshops - if you have made prior appointments by phone, snail-mail or email.

June 2, 2012 at 10:04 AM · It is normal for everything not connected to tourism to close those two weeks. Even then, if restaurants and bars have done well over the year they close too. Do check though, you may be lucky.

Cheers Carlo

June 2, 2012 at 01:39 PM · Most dealers in the USA and London will have Italian contemporary violins, and they have alredy done the (difficult) job to select some nice instruments to you.

June 2, 2012 at 02:18 PM · That means you have to trust their judgment and in London there are some pretty poor examples being offered at rather inflated prices. On the other hand great instruments can be found, but you have to search for them.

June 3, 2012 at 02:27 AM · Ha, that was good Charles!

June 3, 2012 at 04:17 AM · I have a Marcello Villa that I got from Reuning. Even without getting it direct from Italy, it was a steal.

June 3, 2012 at 11:16 AM · If in the past a player wanted to buy a new Italian violin, the advice was to take a trip to Italy and buy directly from the maker. The cost of travel and hotel-bills was less than the local dealer's mark up.

Nowadays many makers come to an agreement with dealers so that their output retails at the same level, whether bought from the dealer or at the workshop. That way dealers don't feel they are being undercut by the makers.

That Japanese website Kurosawagakki shows the prices prevailing there and many makers will quote a similar level if you make a direct approach, e.g. around €15k for an experienced maker.

Not all makers follow this method, however, and there are still savings to be made if one contacts the right one !

June 4, 2012 at 12:04 PM · I sell for the same price as my dealers, otherwise I would be make an unfair competition with them. The best dealers are adamant about that. In their place I would do the same.

June 4, 2012 at 03:04 PM ·

June 6, 2012 at 02:30 PM · I was in Edinburgh and Glasgow Saturday through Tuesday.

It's reasonable that dealers put reasonable markup. But what about the dealer's price is double the maker's price? That's exactly what I experienced recently. I did have quite some negative experience with dealers over the last two months, which kind of makes me want to stay away from them. It may not be fair to the honest dealers though.

June 6, 2012 at 04:31 PM · One Cremona maker told me his "dealer price" was about 2/3 the asking price to a player.

So,one way to get the best price in Italy would be to pretend you are dealer. I have very little idea how a person has to behave to carry off such a subterfuge. Myself, I'd need a flashier suit for starters, together with an ability to talk the hind leg off a donkey.

As you might have gathered from previous posts I have obtained good value for money by (a) sticking with one maker for 4 purchases, thus qualifying for discounts and (b) buying one instrument from a maker who had just started out as an independent.

If you are new to any game it's never easy.

June 6, 2012 at 09:40 PM · Well, there are about 300 makers in Cremona, perhaps more, prices and quality may vary a lot.

August 23, 2012 at 05:43 AM · @Kevin, I'm sure followers of this thread would be very interested to know if you bought anything in Italy.

August 23, 2012 at 06:42 AM · David, Kevin has emailed me this morning with details of his trip, but I won't pre-empt any post he may make in the next few days.

August 23, 2012 at 11:34 AM · "I've had two recent experiences where amateurs rejected instruments, and then high-level pros thought they were to die for."

I've been collecting on a very amateur level for about 9 years. Gone through stereotyped early 20th century great American/German/French instruments, experienced several 18th Century Italians from my teacher and orchestra friends, tried famous moderns (including Mr. Burgess).

The gulf to span in 'learning sound' is so vast. One thing I find valuable is playing a newly acquired violin in the symphony orchestra I play with. There have been violins I was so sure were good under the ear which got swallowed under the sound of the orchestra. The good ones are perfectly and easily audible against the full blast of the orchestra. And this experience doesn't really cover setup and response, which for me have become very personal.

If investment is the issue, the greatest makers all over the world are probably the equals of any Cremonese modern maker. If playability and sound are the goal, one really should not make a purchase before trying the greatest American makers as well and probably many, many other violins, too...

August 24, 2012 at 07:17 AM · I agree that trial under real-life conditions is pretty much a "must" except for the very experienced.

As to "If investment is the issue", that's so often a great red herring. An apparent increase in value is often the result of inflation, and there will be costs involved in selling if that's done via an auction house or on commission by a dealer.

It usually takes a great many years for an instrument's value to increase appreciably in real terms. It's sometimes possible to turn a quick buck, but the owner needs to be very lucky.

Best to concentrate on getting an instrument "fit for purpose'", IMHO.

August 24, 2012 at 11:47 PM · Apology for those that are expecting my update!

Just got back home last Friday. I bought one violin from Laura Vigato in Brescia and another from Marcello Villa in Cremona, and I loved both! Because of the VAT issue and the payment process, I had to ask them to ship them to my home in the US instead of bringing them back with me. They should both arrive next week. It's too hot in Italy this week to safely ship the violins. I'll give you guys more update on my experience and how I feel about the violins when I receive them and play more next week.

More good news is that Kelvin Scott (an excellent American violin maker) has promised to let me be the first to try his new violin in October that he is finishing up for a special occasion. I'm very much looking forward to his violin, and if it turns out good, which I believe it will, I'll buy the Scott as well. Guess I really need to tighten my belt and cut other spednings as much as I can :-)

August 25, 2012 at 01:30 AM · Congrats Kevin. I'm glad you found great fiddles in Italy. I'm also glad you are seriously considering American makers. There are so many great makers today; it is a really exciting time for us violinists.

BTW, have you given any thought to getting a great bow, or two or three?

August 25, 2012 at 02:51 AM · Damn...Congrats! I am both happy and jealous!

Enjoy them!

August 26, 2012 at 04:37 PM · I enjoyed reading this adventure! One of my dreams is just to be able to play a few violins in a shop in Cremona. I recall one of my first essays as a youngster was about the history of the violin and Cremona remained in my mind as a future destination!

August 26, 2012 at 10:58 PM · The Cremona makers' exhibit is touring the USA again this year and a friend and I will be going to check it out at Ifshin Violins in El Cerrito, CA this coming Tuesday (Aug 28). The show runs a little past mid-September and then will move on somewhere else. You can check if it is coming to a city near you - they are hosted my individual shops.

I last visited the similar show at Ifshin's 2 years ago - lots of fun, played some violins, violas and cellos.


August 27, 2012 at 11:22 PM · definetly the Villa brothers. Marcelo is the only living luthier that has his work at the Stradivari museum in Cremona. I own a 2004 Marcello Villa and is a great violin.

August 28, 2012 at 06:23 PM · Guess I have to wait until next week to provide more update. It's very hot this whole month in Italy, which makes it dangerous to ship the violins.

I did buy a violin bow from Ken Altman, a bow maker in Oregon, before I left for the UK. His violin bow price is $3200. A friend of mine who is a violinist with Oregon Symphony recommended it to me and I like the bow very much. Knowing the bows are just important as the violins, I won't have much budget for them now. Guess I need to work harder :-)

August 28, 2012 at 09:56 PM · Many of the modern varnish recipes are relatively soft, so they tend to melt when exposed to high temperatures. Laura Vigato does use a soft varnish, so you definitely want to keep the violin away from excessive heat. Leaving it in a hot car in the summer is a big no-no. Of course, you wouldn't want to do that with any violin, regardless of the varnish.

Congrats on the bow. Hopefully, it is a good match for your violins. Sometimes, certain bows will suit some violins better than others. Aside from the excellent playing characteristics, I chose my current bow because it produces a bit of edge, so it complements the rich and warm sound of my violin.

August 29, 2012 at 01:54 PM · "Many of the modern varnish recipes are relatively soft"

Yes, indeed, and they can take a while to settle down. I have it from a reliable source that 40 years ago many fiddles sent from Cremona would stick to the inside of cases in transit to the UK; many Morassi and related instruments were revarnished in Birmingham (UK). If Cremona-trained Jan Kudanowski did this then (and I have no way of knowing if he did) maybe the customers need have no fear !

2 instruments sent to me by air in the 1990s were cleverly suspended in special crates so nothing touched the sides on the way over. Those Italians clearly became wiser over time.

So, Kevin, I wrote this to dispel anxieties you might be feeling. Your fiddles stand an excellent chance of arriving in good condition - barring unusually clumsy handling en route.

In 20 years of sending bows in the post only one got broken !

September 18, 2012 at 10:20 PM · My apology for the long-past-due update on my two violins!

During the 3 months I stayed in the UK, I only got to visit 3 big violin shops in London, and tried some 20 violins. I could have visited more if my 3 young children hadn't been with me :-) Of the 20ish violins, 3 caught my ears, Marcello Villa, Glen Collins and Stefano Conia, and the Marcello Villa impressed me most. I also got the chance to try Peter Charles' Bergonzi in his London apartment, and I also like it very much. My gratitude to Peter for his hospitability! On August 9th, my wife, my 3 children and I took the morning train from Venice to Brescia. Laura Vigato graciously picked us up at the train station around 10:40am and I spent about an hour in her house/workshop trying 3 of her violins that were available, while my wife and 3 kids were playing in Vigato's back yard. All 3 showed great consistency (full and open sound) but differed in characters. I had some difficulty choosing between the 2nd and the 3rd but finally settled on the 3rd that she said people say it's suitable for Mozart. Ms. Vigato then gave us a ride back to the train station so we could take the 12:40pm train to Cremona and arrived in Cremona at 1:40pm. Marcello Villa has also graciously gave us a ride to his workshop near the huge cathedral where we also met his brother Vittorio. Both are very nice gentlemen and their workshop is also amazing and comfortable. Marcello only had one violin available for me to try, but fortunately I decided to buy it one minute after I laid the bow on it. I was also planning to visit Riccardo Bergonzi, but unfortunately it was very hot that day (88F), and my wife was worried about my children walking under the sunshine. So we then just had a quick tour aroudn the cathedral, took some pictures and then took the 3:40pm train to Milan where we stayed for 2 nights before heading for Switzerland. I then phoned Bergonzi and apologize to him that we couldn't visit him this time.

We returned to the US on August 17th, and I wired the money to both makers on the 20th. Unfortunately for the following two weeks, it was too hot both in Cremona and the US to ship the violins to me. I finally received the Vigato on Sept. 6th and the Villa on the 7th. The Vigato was packed in a wooden box and a nail that she used inside the box damaged the varnish near the chinrest, though it wasn't a very bad damage and should be fixed easily. The Villa was shipped to me in a very nice case that Marcello Villa gave to me as a gift, and the violin arrived very safely. I have played the violin for about 10 dayds now and also had an local expert make some minor adjustment on the sound post. I should say I almost love both violins equally though they are totally two different violins. The Vigato has a open and full sound, but it sounds a little bright at the moment; The Villa has a very warm and sweet sound and the sound is very even across 4 strings, but it may lack a little bit power at this point. Paul Schback did some minor adjustment for me for both violins, and he said after I play both violins for a few months, he can help replace the sound posts with longer ones and re-locate them that would help significantly gain more power.

I guess I may have set a record of trying two violins within two hours and ended up buying both of them :-) But I do hope somebody will break my record some day :-)

I'm still looking forward to Kelvin Scott's violin towards the end of October. And again if it turns out to be an excellent one, I'll buy it. I guess when it's time to get a new car, I would spend 10K on it insted of 40K or 50K. It doesn't matter if it's a 50K or 10K car, in 10 years, its value will be zero. Investment is not my primary purpose to buy the violins though it is something I do consider. I hope I can save enough to buy a David Burgess some day.

September 19, 2012 at 01:41 AM · Geez, me too, lol! Congrats on your violins!

September 19, 2012 at 02:19 AM · Congratulations, Kevin! It sounds like another Portland v.commer get-together is in order so you can show us your new acquisitions. :)

September 19, 2012 at 07:10 AM · Last year we took a holiday in Desenzano, on Lake Garda. Both Laura Vigato and Guido Trotta brought instruments there for trial. The hotel had a conference room with nice acoustics - better than any hotel room for testing a fiddle.

I bought Trottas violin but since I needed to change the old car car that year I couldn't afford the nice Vigato as well.

2 birds, one stone !!

September 19, 2012 at 11:27 AM · David,

How many violins do you have? What do I need to do to get into your will? :-)

September 19, 2012 at 12:35 PM · @Smiley,

6, but none are "antiqued" enough for the USA market, so you probably wouldn't want any of them, even as a legacy !!

September 19, 2012 at 10:39 PM · Joyce, that sounds like a good idea!

October 15, 2012 at 03:59 PM · Brian, did you mention Boris Sverdlik? Yes, his shop in Cremonia was there for years. I actually visited him there in 2006, and I knew him way before that.

His instrument is a gem. He stays in NYC in his UWS apartment, couple times a year. So, for those who live here, whether you are buying or just looking, pay him a visit, and it may change your idea what a strad actually sound like :-). You'll be glad you if you do, and that's the least I can say to thank him.

October 16, 2012 at 09:05 PM · Kevin:

What a wonderful adventure you had. Kind of like dream violin shopping!

You were mentioning the difference in tone between the Villa and the Vigato. I was wondering what strings you are using on the instruments, and if they were the same on both violins.



October 17, 2012 at 12:35 AM · Hi Joseph,

At first both had Thomastik Dominant strings on them, then somebody recommended Evah Pirazzi for the Vigato as it has a more open sound. So I put the Evah Pirazzi on the Vigato, and it did help gain more power, but I did put the Dominant E back as the Evah Pirazzi E sounds really weird on the Vigato. I still have the Dominant on the Villa and it sounds great. The Villa is getting better and better now, and I hope the Vigato would, too.

April 22, 2013 at 05:19 AM · Kevin, Did you receive the Kelvin Scott? And how would you compare it to the two Italian fiddles you bought?

April 22, 2013 at 06:23 AM · You never know, it has crossed my mind that I might sell my Ricardo Bergonzi (1995) violin even though it would sadden me, but maybe I won't be playing anymore in the near future.

April 22, 2013 at 07:07 AM · "but I did put the Dominant E back as the Evah Pirazzi E sounds really weird on the Vigato."

I was surprised to read this - many posters profess a dislike for Dominant "E"s and have suggested that almost anything is better. However, the other Dominant strings are well-liked.

Personally, I favour the Obligato gold-plated "E"s despite their tendency to either whistle or fail to speak, largely because they last longer under perspiration conditions. Also, the sound when they DO respond pleases me ever so slightly more than that from the steel ones.

April 22, 2013 at 12:28 PM · Many years ago when I briefly got into Dominants, which I came to dislike on account of their limited color, I also used the Dom. E. Like the other strings it had a nylon or perlon core, whatever they called it - but it wasn't a metal core. I started preparing Zigeunerweisen for a performance. When it got to the left-hand pizzicatos, the E broke. I tried another and another. Same thing. After that, no more Dom. E's!

October 9, 2014 at 06:42 PM · Hi! I actually have a 2006 Laura Vigato violin that I am looking to sell. Let me know if you are interested.

May 12, 2016 at 08:01 AM · Hello, I have an old italian( neapolitan) violin of Giuseppe Tarantino

an old neapolitan violin-macker, with labell inside Giuseppe Tarantino fece in Napoli Via Sapienza.. 1922.

Violin is in good conditions and have a great good sound and beautifull harmonices. Brown color. If you prefere for looking, I'm here.

May 12, 2016 at 08:24 AM · Wow. personally, I don't like northern Italy too much (except for the Garda lake), because the Bilderberg family (the illuminati) was founded there by the Morris, the Wartburg, the Rothschild and the Rockefeller family in the 19th century. :(

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