What is the perfect violin shop like?

September 7, 2012 at 04:12 AM · I am setting up my new violin shop. I am hoping to get opinion on what the perfect violin shop is? I am looking for positive descriptive opinions about all aspects of a violin shop.

Thank You

Replies (22)

September 7, 2012 at 05:42 AM · The most amazing shop I've been in so far is Fredrick Oster's, in Philadelphia. What makes it so great? Fred. Someone with an incredible wealth of knowledge, combined with an incredible selection of instruments and bows, combined with genuine, embracing enthusiasm in the subject of stringed instruments makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The other favorite shop of mine is Wyatt Violins in Kansas city, and I love that shop because Matt Wyatt and his dad will bend over backward with their mid-western hospitality to meet your needs, and have been 100% reliable and helpful in outfitting the students in my studio--and we live in Alaska! When you're doing business from so far away, trustworthiness and reliability is a must.

September 7, 2012 at 11:58 AM · Expertise, good atmosphere, friendliness. Not necessarily always in that order, but mostly.

Welcoming, but not gushy attitude.

Knowledgeable and not arrogant with it.

An atmosphere that lets one try instruments without feeling pressured into selection.

September 7, 2012 at 12:44 PM · Big factor: fair prices and 100% trade in for (undamaged) instruments.

Permission to try out instruments/bows at home (secured by a cc card of course).

Stock of strings to test - that way you don't have to endure the wine bottle syndrome - purchase without knowing whats inside!

Assistants who genuinely want you to find what you want not just make a quick buck selling you anything you might take a shine to.

Community involvement.

And most of all... integrity. I've dealt with both kinds - one shop I am going to actively campaign against - grossly overinflated the value of a bow and I had to get it fixed after purchase.

September 8, 2012 at 08:27 AM · Hi Vince,

Congratulations on opening a shop! I've been surprised by how many shops can be kind of snobby. So as long as you are friendly (and don't talk down to the newbies) that will go a long way. Being able to take instruments and bows home is important. Being able to play at home is key to being comfortable with a purchase. (I'm too self-conscious in the store to make a decision). Good luck!

September 9, 2012 at 06:30 PM · I second Emily's post. Many years ago, as a young man thinking I would never again play the violin, I sold my Vuillaume to Fred Oster's shop in Philadelphia--after looking a quite a few shops here in California. While they were really great to work with I now wish that I hadn't sold it as I am now playing again and would love to have that violin back. Maybe they should have cautioned me not to sell and to really think about it. Oh well.

September 9, 2012 at 08:01 PM · I'll put in a suggestion that training and high-level making or repair skills matter more than a shop layout, and also more than customer skills. Any hack can fluff someone into being satisfied with garbage in the short run. Take car salesmen as an example. That's a different skill set than actually delivering high-quality.

Vince, in your Violinist.com bio (unless or until it gets edited), you have described yourself as a "master luthier". How did this title come about? There are some formal regimens for acquiring the title, but the term also gets thrown around quite loosely, so it's nice to be able to differentiate between the two.

September 9, 2012 at 08:16 PM · Competence? I almost forgot that one... :)

But that was another thing. When I dropped and broke my bow, Fred's shop offered good repair advice and sent me to Elizabeth Shaak because their own bow repair person was out of town. Competence does not even describe Elizabeth's repair job. She is a true artist with wood.

Also, any shop that will refer you somewhere else when you need something out of their area of specialty is a good shop.

September 10, 2012 at 03:47 AM · In my area, San Antonio, I drive an extra 45 minutes each way to go to Duckworth Violin Shop.

- Highly competent

- Honest

- Completely focused on you as the customer

- Fairly priced

Since Bryan Duckworth used to play professionally - a top fiddle player before he took up violin making and repair - he has all kinds of people dropping by his shop. Great stories, great people to meet, and my daughter and I both enjoy the atmosphere. At other shops I feel like there are dollar signs painted on me, at his shop its relaxed and you talk about music and instruments.

September 10, 2012 at 04:05 AM · All of the most important aspects have already been covered - and I agree.

But on the subject of "good atmosphere" briefly noted, here are a couple of thoughts to help take the shop from an excellent one to one that is really charming as well:

Depending on how much space you have, a main entrance/waiting room that would have some comfortable seating with relevant reading material such as copies of "The Strad" and "Strings", and nice decorative touches such as nicely framed, fine photos of violins, and violinists, rare concert programs, an unusual instrument and antique case and carved musc stand here and there. (Actually, I'm kind of describing my own apartment, as well as some nice shops I've been in!) There ought to be a see-through shelved counter where acessories are attractively arranged, perhaps a wall where customers could put up their cards and flyers for upcoming programs. There ought to be one or two small rooms where people can try out instruments in relative privacy.

Good luck on your new venture!

September 10, 2012 at 11:58 AM · Raphael,

That sounds pretty swanky, but I'll put in a vote for Bill Weaver. When you walk into his shop in Bethesda MD, it looks like complete chaos, but somehow, he manages to keep things organized with a single sheet of paper he keeps in his shirt pocket. There are instruments everywhere, in the doorway, lining the halls, and every horizontal surface possible, including tables, chairs, and even the floor.

But being a fine instrument dealer, you never know what you might find when you visit his shop. That instrument leaning against the chair might be a fine old Italian with a 5 or 6 digit price tag. Or that bow laying in the heap, might be a Sartory or Lamy. His shop probably doesn't look a whole lot different than it did when his grandfather started the business many years ago. I love the atmosphere and the smell of instruments and fresh varnish and Bill is always a delight to deal with.

You can keep all the powder puff superficial facade. I'll take a shop with really great instruments and bows, and as David pointed out, a luthier that knows his stuff.

September 10, 2012 at 12:28 PM · Of course knowledge, integrity, experience, and skill in repair (if that is one of the services the shop offers) are imperative. Also they are hard to measure.

I'll second what Raphael said about having a couple of small rooms where you can try a few violins. These should be very businesslike places. There should be a good-sized table, empty, with a padded covering, where violins and bows can be laid out for easy comparison. Too often I've seen such rooms that were more like museums, full of antiques and other decorative objects (musty-smelling old violin cases, for example, or books), but nowhere to set down half a dozen violins. The walls can be decorated with textile to deaden the space, and perhaps a mirror. A few items that will be of general use to your customers in these rooms will be a small but strong flashlight, a magnifying glass, a music stand, a set of Suzuki books, an electronic tuner, a cake of whatever rosin you prefer to apply to the bows in your shop, and a couple of simple chairs in case the customer brings along a friend.

I agree with Raphael also about the waiting room, but if you have customers with children then it will be less important to have back issues of Strad and more important to have a few indestructible toys or other distractions such as a little table where they can color with crayons.

September 10, 2012 at 12:53 PM · Smiley - the most important aspects, as I began by saying, had already been covered and I agreed with them. So at that point I was offering the cherry atop the sundae. The "hard" essentials like expertise, good stock, etc. are not incompatible with the decorative and atmospheric ones.

September 10, 2012 at 01:02 PM · The term "Violin Shop" covers a wide range of commercial fiddle activity and no one new shop could possibly cater for all types of customer straight away, IMHO. A dealership specializing in high-end stuff, Strads and such, isn't the place to go for someone wanting a starter VSO for a child. !

I would imagine that for a new enterprise to be successful the owner will need to think carefully as to what area of the market to serve. Do you want to open a shop for perfect violins or a perfect shop for customers looking to buy ANY violin ? Or will restoration and rehairing be your most talked-about services ?

A business usually needs to build a reputation over time via word of mouth, and honest dealing together with quality of workmanship should get things going. The enormous capital investment required to start from day one catering for all from the VSO up to the prestige makes would seem to be enormous, and stocking up with "sale on consignment" items is impossible until there's a good reputation. So I imagine that making and a quality repair service has to be the backbone of your trade for some considerable time.

Quaint premises will sometimes impress- but sometimes they can intimidate !!

Best of luck.

September 10, 2012 at 02:16 PM · I agree. Know who your target customer is. I'd guess...from seeing the stores I've been in...both here and in Europe, that most either cater to beginners/children, or have a mixed repair/sales shops. I prefer the later - there's something exciting about a cluttered shop with all kinds of potential treasures waiting to be discoverd - and maybe purchased.

I have yet to enter a swanky shop...lol...and doubt I will. I'm also not sure what you'd have to do to get into the high-end part of the business...with established shops already handling that limited market.

September 10, 2012 at 09:12 PM · It's interesting how we're all different, and what may charm one may intimidate another. But just as no one can be "all things to all men", no shop can be all things to all customers. I agree that it's important to decide on who most of your customers are likely to be. Professionals? Students? Older, younger? This may help determine stock, rentals or lack thereof - and even decor.

September 10, 2012 at 10:29 PM · I like violin shops that have a nice bathroom.

September 10, 2012 at 11:03 PM · You'd better also check out the competition and try to make your own schtick...

September 11, 2012 at 12:50 PM · To my mind, visiting a good violin shop is much like visiting a fine jeweler or a good mechanic, only friendlier and with less pressure. You must excel at both sales and repairs, making the customer feel important and informed even if you have to teach him a little.

On the sales side, you need a knowledgeable staff, but you also need a wide selection of instruments and bows to choose from. Even if most of your customers are students who can't spend more than a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on a violin, you should have some fine violins and bows on hand for comparison.

On the repairs side, you must be able to work quickly, but even more importantly you have to do a superior job at a fair price.

Both for sales and repair tickets, one thing that can set you apart from your competition is making sure every instrument is properly adjusted before any customer touches it. I'm not just talking about polishing up every violin that crosses your bench, and making sure the pegs work smoothly. I realize it is extremely time consuming to tune the bridge to the violin, to keep cutting soundposts until they're exactly the right length, moving the soundpost around till it's just right, and so forth. But this is one area where most shops get it good enough for most players, when it could be much better.

I suspect you will quickly earn a good reputation, provided the violins from your shop always come out looking - and sounding - as good as they possibly can.

Of course honesty is important, and it is something to encourage in your staff. If you or your staff don't have the expertise for a customer's request, whether for an unusual repair or for a tricky appraisal, don't be afraid to refer them to someone who can be more certain about their judgment. Likewise, if you start to accumulate a backlog of work, it's better to build in enough extra time that you can call your client to tell him his order is ready a little sooner than you expected, rather than disappointing him by making him wait even longer to pick it up.

It's a nice touch to provide a loaner violin or bow to repeat customers who don't have backups of their own, especially if they end up buying it.

Also, your shop must be open on Saturdays, even if it means closing Sundays and Mondays. If it were me, I'd want a location where folks could just drop by, hang out with local musicians, try out the latest violins and bows you want to show off, and, hopefully, buy some music and accessories now and then.

It takes a lot of guts - and hard work - to run your own business. Good luck!

September 11, 2012 at 09:32 PM · Amen to that Lyndon!

September 11, 2012 at 09:37 PM · Honestly, I've gotten the most compliments when customers waded into ankle-deep wood shavings.

Glitz environments are a dime a dozen. Ankle-deep hand-made wood shavings are not.

September 11, 2012 at 09:50 PM · Nothing like wood shavings to prove you are a sought after maker. David, maybe you can sell some of your shavings to "less busy" makers so they appear busy too :-)

September 12, 2012 at 03:19 AM · More important than shavings are what the shavings leave behind - a hopefully fine instrument. Just as Michelangelo chipped away everything that wasn't "David" or "Moses". Are the two incompatible? Of course not! A lot of shavings don't necessarily mean that the instrument 'left behind' is good or bad. Similarly I can't see why anyone would feel that a nicely appointed area is incompaitible with quality in the much more important and essential aspects. It needn't be either/or. It wasn't in the case of say, Wurlitzers. For those too young to remember, Wurlitzers was one of the finest shops in America. In its heyday it housed some of the best talent of its time. And it looked very nice, too! And that didn't intimidate me even as a kid.

There's one point with which I would actually tend to agree with Lyndon - (drum roll.....) There often will be a relationship between the size of the establishment and the rent to the owner and the overhead that is passed on to the customer. And yet even in this case that's not always so. For example, a larger establishment may buy accessories in larger quantities than an individual proprietor, get a discout for volume, and actually pass that on to the customers. Also, there tend to be different expectations and perks whether the shop is basically run by an individual maker or a very full-service shop. In any case, a few nice decorative touches should not result in higher prices, or over 'swankiness'. My own apartment has a number of such touches. That doesn't make me any better or any worse as a violinist or teacher, nor does it affect my lesson fees. But it plays a role in the overall atmosphere and I've received many compliments from visitors.

Of course the essentials are far and away what must prevail. For example from my personal experience, there's a very large shop whose name I won't mention that even has its own recital hall. I enjoy how it's appointed but also recognize its flaws and I wouldn't trade it for say, Ed Maday's simple home shop, which indeed is often ankle-deep in wood shavings and its air full of varnish smells etc. to say nothing of integrety. But again, it needn't necessarily be either/or. Take or leave the cherry. It certainly doesn't make the sundae bad.

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