Instrument devaluation

February 6, 2013 at 08:25 PM · Hello all!

This is my second self-initiated thread, this time to ask about the process of instrument devaluation. Recently I came across a few violins and have been offered a certified violin by Castagnino(?) for $15k ; inquiries reveal well-repaired cracks and et cetera. I was wondering, why a modern italian violin with a somewhat big name(?)would be in this price range of below $20k and thus would like to ask about how much cracks and mechanical damage to the instrument would relate to the price in the end.

On a side note, how do Castagnino-owners generally feel about the violins? This is the first time I've ever been introduced to a maker like Castagnino.



Update*-- I'll be going to check the violins out quite soon to assess it's sound and condition. Apologies for not stating that it was only an offer on paper. Thanks for giving me the gist of the co-relation between mechanical damage and price though!

Replies (25)

February 6, 2013 at 09:12 PM · There could be many reasons why the price is lower (I don't know the going retail for this maker, though). Where are the cracks? Is there a back crack or soundpost crack? Is the scroll original? Does it sound on par with other examples by the maker in sound, condition, or craftsmanship?

February 6, 2013 at 11:00 PM · Right (to Scott Cole). Not nearly enough information to make an intelligent comment. Some cracks and repairs hurt the value more than others, and a lot can depend on the skill of the person who did the repairs. Grandpa fixing something with superglue ain't the same as having something attended to by a highly skilled and vetted restorer.

February 7, 2013 at 01:56 AM · James, here it is:

Depreciation Schedules from Fritz Reuter & Sons, Inc

Please read carefully, especially under "Unethical alteration:".

If the violin is being sold under the market value, it could be due to many reasons: it is stolen, altered, fake, or the seller might be in serious financial trouble (loan shark knocking on his/her door).

It could also be that the instrument was made at the early stage of maker's opus, when some of their instrument fluctuate greatly in quality.

Make sure to double check the paperwork, lineage, certificate of authenticity, bill of sale and the appraisals from reputable appraisers. Ask for the 2nd opinion from expert who does not have conflict of interest in the transaction.

Lastly, there are many reasons to buy (or not to buy) a violin.

Unless you are an investor or a collector (buying a name and pedigree), the attributes of sound should be the first on your list:

Although the market value often does not have anything to do with violin's sound, sometimes even great names can not be sold if the strings are not balanced, or there is a pack of wolves, or a weak e-string.

Buyers beware!

February 8, 2013 at 06:31 AM · Hello guys!

I'm back only with a little information about another instrument I found (details about the Castagnino will be posted later!!) Authenticated inhouse as a piece by Lucien Schmidt. The price of this instrument stands at $19k with little to no damage except for a replaced bass bar. The sound is sweet and mellow-ish though with a shimmering upper register.

Rocky-- Thanks for the useful advice and website link. I checked through it and printed a copy for reference on the go! I'll be sure to ask for a home-trial and a second opinion on the authenticity of the instruments.

Stay tuned! (maybe)

RE: Castagnino violin.

If my memory serves me right-- (measurements are in approximation only)

1 inch bass-bar crack

1 inch crack on lower f wing extending towards the belly of the violin(on right and left)

Over 2 inches crack on upper right bout of the instrument extending from the edge into the bout.

(not sure if it's a crack) Black line looking like a crack on right bridge foot but no patches/cleats found on area where top plate meets the soundpost.

Crack above lower circular part of the right f hole stopping at the purfling.

Rebushed pegs.

Pristine back & ribs.

The sound criterion matches exactly my liking. Rich, mellow and loud. Strong upper registers and positions, etc. Though the sound is something worth paying for, is the condition really worth $15k?

February 8, 2013 at 05:33 PM · If you take the depreciation schedule and start from the instrument price of the same maker, from the same year or close enough, in mint condition, you will see if the violin's price is fair or it is overpriced.

With quite a few cracks (the bass-bar crack and the line underneath the bridge are the most worrisome ) , one has to be willing to invest in future maintenance, as well as in potential sound change that go with changes in humidity and temperature.

Also, the number of cracks in odd places are telling me that, unless the instrument has been badly neglected, the top plate graduation may be leaning toward thin rather than thick. This does not necessarily tell that the instrument is not structurally sound (some great violins are amazingly thin), but perhaps prone to further damage.

The quality of repairs is also of utmost importance. You need someone to take a look and confirm that all is done well.

February 8, 2013 at 05:50 PM · It's going to be a much better world when that Reuter site disappears from the web so that people will have to stop quoting it. I eagerly await them offering a heavily regraduated, both top and back, del Gesu violin for their suggested 100% discount--I really don't care if there's less than a mm left of both top and back, as long as it's the outside mm, but in the meantime I certainly will look forward to them offering a similar Guad example to the one with the 67% discount.

February 11, 2013 at 03:41 AM · Michael, if you do not like the Reuter's, simply provide a better source.

February 11, 2013 at 06:31 AM · Michael; I think you misunderstood their depreciation method. A 50% and another 50% depreciation is not 100% (although it might look like it), Thus, 10,000 X 50% = 5,000; then 5,000 X 50% is 2,500 - it comes down to 25%.

But I do see your point: according to that particular part of their assessment all those strads would be cheap violins since (as we read here often) they have almost all been heavily regraduated.

That said, the Reuter's site seems to be trying to do something rather important, provide buyers and perhaps even more insurance companies a way to assess the impact of changes in a violin on its value. One could probably make a strong case that this is not possible since repairs/alterations all depends on the skill (and I guess a bit of luck) of the repairer. Thus, you come down to assessing each violin individually for its outcome qualities, not for what actually happened to it.

I would love to hear an opinion on the Reuter's site from a skilled violin restorer.


February 11, 2013 at 10:48 AM · Yes, I wish David B would comment.

What I can't understand is that if these instruments (Strad's and the like) had all been regraduated then why would so many of todays top players want to use them?

I've seen James Ehnes Strad close up and it looks very nice. In his hands it sounds great too. I played briefly on a Guadanini used by a top quartet leader and it looked and sounded great.

I'm not plugging old instruments but merely asking why people still use them when they can get a great modern or contemporary fiddle for less than a tenth of the price?

February 11, 2013 at 01:50 PM · "Yes, I wish David B would comment."

Anyone who has read much of Reuter's site will realize that he's quite passionate about what he describes as "unethical alterations". While the business at large may not have as extreme a view as he does, it has been moving in that direction, though not necessarily in lockstep with his valuations. For instance, many might place much less than his 50% devaluation on an instrument which has been regraduated, and more than his 10% devaluation on an instrument which has been reduced in size.

But these things are complicated. Were it not for performers wanting to play on these things, those which are unaltered would have the highest value, particularly if they are valuable antiques. With a large part of the market being players though, what are you going to do with a violin which is three times too thick to sound good, or a 20" viola? In the past, luthiers would just alter it to be usable or better (whatever their concept of "usable" or "better" was).

Now, if a seller has an instrument which won't cut it for a player, I think there's a much greater effort undertaken to find a collector or museum to preserve and appreciate it as it is, rather than alter or "fix" it.

Certain major practical alterations are quite accepted. For instance, almost no Strads or Guarneris have their original necks. The necks have been altered or replaced to suit the needs of players. Would one of these instruments with the original neck be worth a premium? You betcha (at least theoretically), but you'd be taking most musicians out of the pool of potential buyers, so the market would be very limited.

Changing the thicknesses of the plates is coming to be considered quite unethical (except on cheap factory-type fiddles)and more so as the value and historical significance of an instrument increases. Doing so on a Strad or Guarneri, today, would be considered a form of vandalism by most of us in the business.

So in some ways, with some of the things he has said, Reuter may have been ahead of his time. We won't know for sure until we see how it all shakes out over time.

Personally, I think his crusade would be more effective if he used a more conservative and less accusatory writing style. It's not so evident on the page which was linked to above, but there are some others which are doozies!

(Heh heh, spellcheck tried to correct that to "dogies") LOL

February 11, 2013 at 02:04 PM · Peter - there is a LONG article on that on the same Reuter's site:

(sorry about the paste- link, I can't get the automated ones working)

Its worth plowing through and while pointed it is not unreasonable. And this was written in the mid 70s so falls into the 'its all been said before'.

I imagine that at Stradivari's time there were argumens about which was better, a Stainer or these cheap newbies...

February 11, 2013 at 03:34 PM · Thanks for your response David, which I value highly and I'm sure others do as well. You have moderated the extremes of what we have read.

The said article does make some pretty extreme claims - such as the one saying ALL Strads have been ruined - or words to that effect, and that their sound will be miserable after only a short time (months?) after regraduation. If this is so how come many Strads still sound pretty good? Would top soloists still be playing on them if this were true?

The old instruments I've tried have varied considerably - some having a mellow and large sound, and some mellow but small in sound. Rather like contemporary instruments - huge differencies in sound and projection. I have found this to be true of modern instruments too, say those of between 50 - 120 years old. (About 1850 - 1970's).

February 11, 2013 at 04:38 PM · Yes thanks David. I think we should be aware that, as I understand it, the original piece was written in German and its possible that some of the more strident language was introduced during translation (as I recall, german is a more, shall we say, declartive language and it takes a sensitive translator to get the real intent).

Seems he was not only ahead of his time with valuation but also with the whole issue of vintage vs modern violins. Hornets nest as that is....

February 12, 2013 at 01:54 AM ·

February 12, 2013 at 12:29 PM · It wasn't really forward-thinking when he wrote it--it was self-righteous scolding against a practice that was long-gone that he implied everyone except his holy self was still doing. The Guad example is particularly interesting, since one wonders if the writer was aware that late Guads, copying late Strads, habitually have very thin backs that don't really leave any room for regraduation--something you don't realize if you're a small shop on the fringes of the business and rarely see good violins (ahem!).

It's ancient history now, so people will not remember that Reuter was sued by Bein and Fushi for saying libelous things about them, lost, and then was slapped down several more times for repeadedly violating court orders to shut up. Self-righteousness is a corrosive disease.

And still at it:

It will be a gift to violindom when that site is gone.

February 12, 2013 at 01:41 PM · Yes, Reuter publicly condemned some practices at Bein and Fushi, including paying teachers when their students purchased instruments from them, as I recall.

He was the first person (I'm aware of) to strongly and publicly speak out against the practice. Paying teachers in this manner still goes on at various establishments, remains a controversial issue, and is "probably illegal, without disclosure to the buyer", according to one attorney I have spoken with, who specializes in the violin trade.

At least there is greater awareness of it now, including the potential for conflict of interest, so I suppose that might be seen as a good thing, depending on which side of the fence you're on.

No question that Reuter has pissed some people off, and suffered some consequences.

February 12, 2013 at 02:29 PM · David, people have a right to be "pissed off" when they've been unfairly slandered and falsely accused. Speaking, for instance of the story I linked to at Northwestern, I have personally worked directly with seven teachers there over the last 25 years (both at B&F and through my own current shop) and none of them have taken commissions. The Vami are fiercely protective advocates of their students and do not take commissions. In the 32 years I have been in the business, I have been approached by just three teachers who were asking for commissions, and I have worked with literally dozens of teachers. Most are virulently opposed to commissions, as they should be, and make that clear immediately when you meet them.

So, yes, people are pissed off, as they should be.

When that strident, unhappy, paranoid web site is gone, it will be a happy day.

February 12, 2013 at 03:46 PM · One thing to keep in mind is that Reuter effectively closed up shop last March. They were only a mile or so away from our shop, and we actually benefitted from having them close by. I wish I had a nickel (or a strad) for every client who walked into my shop after being alienated in some way by the staff there. I think it can be said that Reuters policies, both towards shops and people certainly didn't help the business. Most players in town knew exactly what to expect from Reuter.

It'll be interesting to see how long the Website stays up. I know it's relatively easy to maintain a site, but I have to imagine the motivation would wain once the business the site was built to promote had closed.

February 12, 2013 at 04:38 PM · Mr. Darnton wrote:

"In the 32 years I have been in the business, I have been approached by just three teachers who were asking for commissions, and I have worked with literally dozens of teachers."

Interesting wording. Don't some places pay pretty much automatically, without the teacher needing to request it?

I was once offered a commission after I referred someone to a shop (never asked for it, had no clue it was going to happen), and it would have been a done deal had I not specifically turned it down.

I also had a discussion with a shop once about my instruments being sold through them. During that discussion, I was reminded that their cut would need to be rather large, partly due to payment of their "standard teacher commissions".

Anyway, you and I are probably both aware that I know a lot more than I'm willing to say regarding what goes on (and has gone on) in various (and specific) shops, so your characterization of Reuter, and our trade, may need to prevail.


Gunther and Fritz Reuter were always very friendly and cordial towards me. I don't know if it was because I wasn't in the same town, or because they knew I operated largely within a framework of conservative business ethics, not too different from what they espoused.

February 12, 2013 at 05:00 PM · I don't play the innuendo game very well, sorry.

February 12, 2013 at 05:11 PM · "I don't play the innuendo game very well, sorry."

Sorry, I'm not taking the bait. :-)

So as I said before, your characterizations may need to prevail. You already brought up how how your former employers and associates sued Reuter.

I think most of us here would rather pursue our normal violin-related activities, than spend a bunch of time and money defending a lawsuit.


February 14, 2013 at 08:36 PM · I didn't comment on the ethics of the Reuter shop, but rather the way that they deal with other shops and clients with regards to their ethical code. It is an admirable thing to have ethics and to use them, but when you use those ethics as an excuse to be mean to clients... There's simply a better way. Once someone is treated rudely by a violin shop, they often grow suspicious of all violin shops. Reversing that prejudice can take time that would be better spent in other ways.

I do think the way they did business did not help the field, their clients, or themselves.

February 16, 2013 at 12:44 PM · UPDATE!!

I am currently having instruments on home-trial and would like to know how to inspect the interiors of the violin to check for repairs and et cetera. Should I use a borecamera? A dentist mirror? With regards to the issue of the value of the instruments, I had a luthier take a look at the violins to have a second opinion on it.



February 16, 2013 at 01:32 PM · James, if you don't mind spending 40 bucks, this insertable light is excellent for lighting up the interior, for viewing with a dental mirror. Lights (.com).htm

There are hazards in sticking things through the ff holes though, and you might not know everything to look for which could suggest damage or repair, so it would be best by far to have an independent pro give you a condition report as part of the "second opinion".

Ideally, sellers in the trade will disclose damage and repairs on things they are selling, but you can imagine the incentives not to do so.

February 16, 2013 at 02:18 PM · Good advice. I'll get the opinion of an independent third party pro with regards to the condition of the violin. Thank you all so much for answering my queries. I've always wanted to look inside a violin so I might be getting a video borescope, for the sake of exploration! ( I might get the luthier lights later though, it'll come in really handy. )

-- James.

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