Upgrading my son to a full size violin and bow

November 6, 2012 at 04:26 AM · I'm in the market for a full size violin and new bow for my 12 year old. Our budget $10k - $15K.

Some questions:

1 - What % would you spend on violin versus bow?

2 - Is it worthwhile buying at an auction? At first blush it looks as though auction prices are 50-70% below retail? Is that true? I do realize that there's much more risk by purchasing via auction versus a reputable retailer.

3 - To mitigate this risk I'm leaning toward participating in the upcoming November Tarisio auction. We can spend two days playing instruments and I have a luthier who can preview the instruments to understand if any repairs are needed. I really like the selection of available violins and it seems that we should be able to find something of interest.

4 - Does anyone have any comments on the violins we're considering - 1893 Charles Jean Baptiste Collin-Mezin; 1923 Concetto Puglisi; 1917 Michelangelo Puglisi; 1916 Paolo De Barbieri; 1924 Oreste Candi? Other suggestions?

Thanks so much for your thoughts!

Replies (28)

November 6, 2012 at 04:38 AM · About Puglisi: it is a little strange that there are quite a number of Concetto Puglisis that have that same date of production on the label: 1923 . Also not sure if Puglisi did get instruments from Germany and put their own label in or if someone else did that, but a cello I once borrowed labeled Concetto Puglisi 1942 turned out to be a well built German student instrument from a later date.

Have tried a violin from the 50's labeled Puglisi with an Eric Blot certificate, very nice fiddle with lots of craquelure of the dark red varnish.

Auctions can be minefields. Your luthier would be a great help checking the condition of the violins, but attribution and market price is another thing altogether. Some luthiers have way more experience in this area than others.

Keep in mind also that there are considerable markup costs to the bids you make.

November 6, 2012 at 04:53 AM · Robert:

There are a lot of variables to think about.

You mention that your son is twelve, but how long has he been playing? And, at what level is he performing.

Is he ready for a 15K instrument now, that he may not like in three or four years, as he grows musically, and develops further?

I would think your child's teacher would be a valuable resource, knowing your child's ability, in helping you to make a decision.

Don't rule out contemporary instruments. 15K can buy an excellent contemporary violin (Italian, or American).

Bows generally are 25-30% the price of the violin.

November 6, 2012 at 12:42 PM · Is your son both gifted and highly-motivated? That is a pretty good dollar to spend,imo,if he's good but not amazing, etc. Only you can know what the family budget can swing, however. I would not try to buy at auction w/o someone with me who has gone that route, and even then I'd be leery. My usual advice is to look at good shops in smaller cities. They can offer you great service and time, and prices are not what they are for the same thing in or close to big metro areas. SOme folks on this site and from across the country ended up going to my local luthier, String House, in Rochester, NY, after reading my suggestion. Sue

November 6, 2012 at 02:30 PM · I know professionals who didn't pay that much for their violins - and even more who didn't pay that much for their last car!

Was this his teacher's recommendation that he need such an expensive instrument as his first 4/4 violin? Most twelve-year-olds around here play on student violins even when they are ready for a full-size instrument. Just as your son went from smaller to bigger instruments as his body grew, he will again progress through better and better full-sized violins as his skill continues to increase.

You sound like a very generous dad. Very few teenagers in my town play on violins worth more than about $5000 (plus bow), but I think that would be considered the high end. (My violin was indeed outside this range, and it was sometimes embarrassing. These dynamics vary, no doubt, by region.) Really, it would be nice not to have to risk taking something irreplaceable to school every day.

As you may know, the primary consideration in a violin for violinists, rather than for collectors, is its sound. In an auction setting, your luthier friend is probably going to be more help in judging a violin's condition than its suitability as a practice/performance instrument. It is much easier to master many tricky techniques with a good violin and a good bow; however, the price of an instrument often has little bearing on those attributes. I would not, myself, trust a child with an investment violin, whose value can depend on its condition, rather than on its playability.

While most people on this forum will suggest spending about 30% of your budget on the bow, this is not a hard and fast rule. In some cases, I might prefer playing on a $2500 violin with a $2500 bow than a $3500 violin with a $1500 bow. (If you do spring for an expensive bow, you might also consider getting a cheaper bow to use outside of the house.) It really depends on the combination of violin and bow, and only an expert player can help you make these decisions.

I urge you to enlist your son's teacher as your best resource in your search for a new instrument.

I also suggest you forge a relationship with a local luthier. This should be someone who understands not only the condition issues of an instrument but also how to set it up properly so you can maximize your bang for the buck. Thus, the best way to mitigate the risk of being stuck with a beautiful violin that sounds like a cigar box is to pay more up front from a local dealer who will then be your ally for years. Look for someone who will offer you 100% trade-in value as your son eventually moves up from a $2-3000 violin now to something in the $10k range when he goes off to college (or starts winning competitions, whichever comes first).

Good luck!

November 6, 2012 at 02:54 PM · Having raised 3 children...and having seen what instruments go through in the hands of children...

Another question to ask yourself: Is he willing to look after an expensive instrument at this point in time?

Even if you go ahead (investment purposes) you might still want a 'cheap' back-up to take to certain venues (or outdoor events).

I'd be inclined to wait until he goes on to university, etc., before spending a great deal of money...

November 6, 2012 at 07:35 PM · Thank you so much for your help - it is truly, truly appreciated. Being a tech geek and not a musician I'm probably approaching this much more analytically than most. However, at the end of the day sound will drive our decision but your advice matters!

My son has been playing for seven years and is first seat at his small middle school and seventh seat in the Central Texas Youth Orchestra - he has acknowledged that he could be competing for first seat if he practiced more. His words not mine - definitely not a Tiger Dad although based on how much we're willing to spend that may not be clear. He had practiced 20-30 minutes a day and is now moving to 45+ minutes a day - his decision.

His teacher is a wonderful person and has been involved in this decision. I wish he could be with us to hear the instuments - unfortunately it's not logistically possible.

A few friends in New York who are very involved in the violin market will be with us on Friday to benchmark the instruments. I do have a luthier who will also meet us to inspect our final selection(s).

Great comments on him potentially outgrowing this instrument - my back of the napkin calculation is that if we buy an instrument with a reasonable provenance - in 3-4 years when he's a junior I'll be out of pocket the 20% to the auction house minus appreciation. Probably means I'm out of pocket $0 based on pricing trends.

What else am I missing?

BTW - the comment about the seemingly large number of 1923 Concetto Puglisi's in the market is spot on. Maybe he was Henry Ford's cousin?? Either there "happens" to be a number on teh market right now or something else is in play. Again I'm just looking at numbers and nothing else.

Last thought I hadn't thought about contemporary makers as it seemed that the older instruments would be a more natural choice - probably need to open my eyes - thanks.

Please continue any feedback - again it is really appreciated.

November 6, 2012 at 07:55 PM · It's a delicate balance between shelling out for a violin that will make your son want to practice, and holding out on buying a better violin as a reward for his efforts.

I practiced like crazy to prove to my parents I needed a better violin, and then again for a world-class bow. I learned how to work hard for payoffs later. This was one of the most valuable life lessons I could have asked for, even though I was unhappy about it at the time.

My sister, on the other hand, sweet-talked her way into an award-winning violin by a maker who has since won a number of major competitions. Even though my parents could easily afford it, in retrospect she admits that it was a mistake to spend so much on an instrument for someone who hasn't played since graduating from high school.

I admire your desire to buy the best for your son, but I still think $15k is far too much to spend on a child who lacks the drive to practice every waking moment.

(I was always resentful of the kids whose parents bought them a brand new BMW when they turned 16. Does it show?)

November 6, 2012 at 09:51 PM · My daughter got her first full-size violin when she was 12 (we spent slightly less than your budget for bow and violin in total -- the bow, by Ole Kanestrom, cost about half of the violin's cost). She's 17 now and just moved on to another instrument (much more expensive than the first). But her first violin was/is a wonderful violin and it served her exceptionally well. (Interestingly, it's actually in the current Tarisio auction! For some reason, I'm hesitating to name which one...seems like it would be too promotional or something. Maybe you'll check it out on Friday!) Everyone's budget is different. At my daughter's school, kids have spent upwards of 50k for instruments, but most I would say fall in the 8-10k range, and some have fine instruments that cost much less. My budget was driven solely by what I could (almost) afford, and we made that work. I'm sure you'll do the same.

For what it's worth, my daughter loved her first instrument, and even at 12 years old, she treated it and her bow with loving care. Best of luck.

P.S. Both of my daughter's violins (the one at Tarisio now, and her current one) are contemporary instruments. I would definitely recommend including contemporary instrumnets in your search. Can't hurt. More to choose from the better.

November 6, 2012 at 10:30 PM · Sean - thanks - great story.

Please do tell me which violin is yours - it will be fun to play it.

It looks like we'll run through the 40+ violins in our range with a really nice french bow that we're borrowing. My son is familiar with the bow and has a few minute test score that he's honing to see what each violin can do.

If we can get the selection down to 5-ish we'll start trying bows and see how the combinations work.

There is a possibility that no combo resonates (no pun intended) or the instrument/bows that we like need work beyond what I'm comfortable with but I'm willing to take some mitigated risk.

November 7, 2012 at 02:43 AM · "Running through" 40 violins in a limited time will make it very hard to make a decision in my limited experience, unless you really know what you are looking for.

And unless you have a good violin player with you, then distinguishing between a violin that is easy for a player of your son's level to play, and one that he can grow into as his technique improves is pretty much impossible. When my daughter went to a full sized violin seven or eight months ago (with a budget about a third of yours!) we found it very easy to distinguish the really ordinary junk from the decent instruments, but once we got to a certain level, then it was very hard. After trying three or four they all started to sound the same, and when you add bow combinations on top... We found it helped to both play the violin herself, and listen to a more experienced player playing them. In the end she preferred a cheaper new Chinese violin over a (much) more expensive German one that in the hands of her teacher could make a better, more subtle sound, but my daughter found harder to play.

We made the decision to go with the cheaper violin that she loved the sound of, and if necessary upgrade again in four or five years time. We spent around 25 per cent of the total cost on the bow - we could have spent more and there is still scope for further bow upgrades to get more from this violin, but experience with kids of that age is that bows are pretty vulnerable! The violin goes on public transport to and from school, (so I invested in a hard shell case which cost a bit extra), will be played in classroom ensembles and school orchestra, where it and the bow will undoubtedly be left sitting on chairs or the floor where kids climb around it, and while I trust her not to have fencing matches with bows, accidents do happen. Her elder sister left her $3000 flute on the bus in her first year of secondary school (yes we got it back!) and all risks insurance on expensive instruments is not cheap.

November 7, 2012 at 02:05 PM · Thanks Susan.

Agree with your comments. Trying 40 violins may be a challenge but I'm hoping it will be fun. We're going to prioritize and may only get through 20 or so.

We do have a music student joining us at the end of the day to really test the limits of the instruments and help to determine the nuances.

November 7, 2012 at 03:02 PM · When I was shopping for a violin I tried a lot of violins ranging from 3k-18k. The 18k violin was wonderful but I decided I could not afford it. I kind of thought one of the violins, a German violin from the 1890s (maybe shop made, maybe not, I really don't care) sounded very good. But then a local pro showed me some violins that he has for sale, and I really loved one of them and I bought it for under $10k even though I have seen others by the same maker for $12k. But I still could not turn away that German violin which I thought sounded really good. So I bought it for $3500, and I use it as my back-up. But my ulterior idea is to save it for my daughter's first full-sized violin. If it doesn't turn out to be right for her, then I keep it as my backup or sell it. As long as one is not overly concerned about taking a gigantic loss on the resale of an instrument (there is a tendency to develop a certain paranoia about this), then you can be a little more relaxed about things.

I would add that you should place a high priority on involving the child's teacher in the selection of the instrument, even if you have to pay for his/her time at the same rate as lesson time.

November 7, 2012 at 04:39 PM · I would agree that getting the teacher to the instruments, even if it costs some $$ would be a good investment.

One thing no one has mentioned, but it has come up on other threads--damage at school to instruments by bullies. DEFINITELY insure your investment, probably not with a house rider--too dicey for taking it out of house to school, etc.

If it were me, I'd probably bank about 1/2 the money and save it for a better upgrade in 5-6 years, or for tuition.

And I don't think an auction gives your son time to really try instruments; one real advantage in establishing a sound relationship with a good luthier is they are generally willing to lend out a pair of instruments for a couple of weeks. That allows for a more thoughtful decision.

Buying an instrument isn't like buying a car. The 'test drive' takes a lot longer.

November 7, 2012 at 05:17 PM · 1:% does not make any sense. This is the myth propagated by dealers to make money. The real question is: where to find a good bow that will match your violin? Not to mention that one should buy a violin first. The way to avoid "catch 22" situation is to borrow a few good bows while one is testing his prospective instrument.

2: I have never done that, but this is not unlikely an arranged marriage: one can be 100% right or equally wrong. I would rather have a violin for at least 7 days trial. Most of the illusions (our projections on the instrument) will disappear around day 3-4. Unless one is a collector or investor and we are talking about top notch instruments (way over your budget), buying a violin is a very personal experience. You simply have to like the sound and feel, the responsiveness and playability. All of those and more you can't grasp visually and on the first sight.

3: Again, 2 days are not enough to make a wise decision. On the other hand, one can fall in love (with a sound box or a person) within a split second, and fall our of love and start loving (or else) when the fog of illusions and projections disappears. Another thing to consider here is a pressure to buy and time constraint, "experts" opinions, players on site hired to sell.... dealers will do just anything to put you in the place when you feel (and think) that those are the last instruments in the world and that you will never, ever get a chance to make such a good deal.

4: Names, country of origin, pedigrees.... Nice if you are buying a violin as an investment. And there is a belief or consensus that Italian violins made at the beginning of 20th century give the best for you $. If they are in goos shape, sound good to you and project well, go for it.

Oh, did I mention that one should never tell the dealer how much one is willing to spend on the instrument?

... and that most of us will give priority to visual (violins's beauty) rather then auditory input (violin's sound)?

.... and that dealers will just keep talking, talking, talking, make you tired with 6-7 instruments, and then pull out that magic, just a bit better and always more expensive violin (beyond your budget) when you are all exhausted and numb? That one, that they would not sell to anybody else, but because you are such a great guy, etc. etc.

Within your budget, you will get the most if you buy directly from a living reputable violin and bow makers. It does have challenges and is not 100% risk free, but you will avoid paying the middle man (what ranges anywhere from %20 to %200). The whole process of playing in a new instrument can be an extremely rewarding experience.

Good luck!

November 7, 2012 at 10:27 PM · I agree with Sean and Rocky. With your budget, you should definitely consider contemporary makers. Many of the contemporary violins are 15K and up, but there are still good options for $12K and under. I went through a similar search a few years ago. You might find some useful information in my blog:

My quest for a professional violin

November 8, 2012 at 12:06 AM · Lyndon,

yes, I stand corrected. It will be hard, if not impossible, to buy one of those for 15K only.

November 8, 2012 at 01:51 AM · Wow - great advice - thank you!

Understand the risk of playing an instrument for two days versus a week or more. Should mention that I create tech start-ups for a living so my risk profile is probably not that of the sane and normal.

Message received - keep an open mind on contemporary makers. Smiley - great post on your search.

My question (disclaimer I haven't heard any of these instruments yet) - there are a number of old Italian's from well known makers that are in our range. Why do you believe a good Italian can be bought for under $10-13K?

Examples from the auction listed here.

- 1923 Concetto Puglisi (estimate $7K-$10K)

- 1917 Michelangelo Puglisi (estimate $7K-$10K)

- 1916 Paolo DeBarbieri (estimate $7K-$15K)

- 1924 Oreste Candi (estimate $10K-$15K)

Again, your comments are welcome.


November 8, 2012 at 02:26 AM · Does the auction state the condition of the instruments? Often there is little detail on things like repaired cracks and how well the repair was done etc. Can have a huge effect on the price.

Do the instruments have a certificate, and from whom? I think Tarisio does try to attribute violins carefully but many auctions just sell as is.

November 8, 2012 at 02:30 AM · Not sure I agree with your generalization. Is it a gut feel or is it based on fact?

I'm an engineer and pretty driven by data. It has been pretty easy to research auction prices for the past ten years and correlate the estimates with the actual prices. I've done that and believe that most of these instruments will sell in the estimated range.

I'm not saying that the instruments are always worth the estimated price although I do believe we will find a number of reasonable deals. If we didn't have a supporting cast of professional violinist and luthier I might resonate with your concern more.

Appreciate the comment even if we differ on opinion.

November 8, 2012 at 02:35 AM · Hendrik - I do have condition reports on all of the violins and some of the instruments come with varying degrees of provenance. The comments earlier in this thread about there being a number of 1923 Concetto Puglisi's currently on the retail market do make me suspicious about provenance.

Some of the violins in our range seem to be in tough shape (I should say there are a number of cracks noted). However, there are a few that seem to be in very good condition. And then there's the contemporary violins listed that I hadn't been considering until this thread.

November 8, 2012 at 03:41 AM · If you do happen to visit New York to look at the instruments yourself, I do recommend visiting some of the fine violin shops and violin makers there; my good friend Lukas Wronski has many great violins in (and below) your price range and he is definitely worth paying a visit to.

November 8, 2012 at 04:46 AM · Hi Brian,

We are coming to NY this weekend to try the violins at Tarisio. The link to see Lukas' available violins wasn't working so I sent him an email. Great idea to look at local shops.



November 8, 2012 at 04:59 AM · Robert,

Here are the web pages that will shed some light on the important attributes you should pay attention to:

How to Judge if a Violin has a Good Tone

Judging Violins

Claudia Fritz's web site

Claudia Fritz has done some interesting scientific research on the topics that may strike your engineering chords. Check out her article titled "Investigating English Violin Timbre descriptors"

Probably the best strategy is to narrow down the choice based on attributes described in "How to Judge if a Violin has a Good Tone" to no more than 3 instruments.

Then, hire a good violin player, even an advanced student, but someone with no conflict of interest in your transaction.

Let you son turn his back to the source of sound, so he does not look at the instruments.

1. Your role is to announce each violin: "violin one" or "violin two" or " violin three"

2. The player plays THE SAME simple music sequence, for example, a G major scale over all 4 strings, one violin at a time, after your announcement.

3. Your son's role is to listen and choose the one he likes the most and the least. He must choose every time.

4. Mark down his choice and shuffle the instruments.

Repeat the process 7-10 times.

Declare the winner! Forget about other two, no matter how beautiful they are.

Similar process can be done with your son blindfolded (sun glasses in a dark room will do) and you shuffling the violins and giving him to play one at a time. Again, he needs to choose one he likes most and one he dislikes most.

The whole point is to eliminate visual input and pay attention to auditory / sound attributes.

Violin's sound too often does not have anything to do with market (financial) value of the instrument. Other variables, such as, the maker, country of origin, age, condition and investment potential, along with offer and demand (perceived or real) will drive the price.

You are in the murky waters of violin trade, swimming with sharks.

November 8, 2012 at 12:41 PM · My previous post: "You simply have to like the sound and feel, the responsiveness and playability. "

November 8, 2012 at 02:26 PM · Thanks Rocky - this is very helpful.

I have a Julliard student coming with us to really put our favorites through the test - really like the blind testing idea. You are correct it did resonate with my engineering mind.

We are also bring a full size (old Czech) that we really like and if we don't find anything that feels and sounds better we would purchase.

Really appreciate your advice!

November 8, 2012 at 10:16 PM · I've never purchased a violin at an auction, but if you are not allowed to have a trial period (at least several days), then I do not think I would be comfortable going that route. During my violin search, I tried several instruments that seemed really nice in the shop, but after I got them home and played them for a few days in different venues and different ensembles, I rejected them. Of course, you could get lucky and find a truly great instrument, but odds are, you will end up with something adequate, but not exceptional.

I think auctions are great for violin dealers who know what they are looking for and have the benefit of a large buyer pool. If the first person doesn't like the sound, the next person will. It is not a big deal, because eventually, they will find a buyer for any instrument. But I would have a tough time shelling out $10K for a violin if I was not pretty sure it was right for most my needs -- just my 2 c.

November 10, 2012 at 03:30 PM · 1. 1/3 budget on bow, 2/3 budget on violin. For 5k, you may be able to get a bow good enough for the rest of your child's life.

2. Auction is high risk/high reward. If you are comfortable buying at an auction (you have enough time to try the instrument, you are comfortable with the condition the instrument is in, etc), then go for it. Going to an auction is cutting out a middle man, so of course you save some money.

3. Definitely go, but do not feel like you HAVE to get an instrument. It is a good opportunity for your child to play on instruments and see what s/he likes and what doesn't like about them.

4. Better to play on them before you look at the label. The label is mostly used for resale value in the future. Look at how other violins by the same maker change in value. I assume if you spend 7-10k on a violin, then the violin may be good enough to get your child into or through college/university/conservatory (or you may wish to sell it and upgrade again before then).

Best of luck to you,


November 10, 2012 at 08:52 PM · "I'm an engineer and pretty driven by data."

The problem is that it's very hard to describe a violin with "data." I'm a scientist too, and you can certainly take a methodical approach, but ultimately I predict your choice of instrument will be highly subjective.

Regarding bows, a pro that I trust very much told me that you have to spend at least $2000 on a pernambuco bow to match the tone and playability of the good carbon fiber bows that are in the $400 to $500 range. CF has good practical qualities too -- virtually unbreakable, good for a young boy who's going to be joining orchestras, going to outdoor rehearsals, and the like as part of the ordinary growing-up process.

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