Should I buy a 15k violin with extensive repairs?

March 4, 2013 at 07:07 PM · Should I buy a 15k violin with extensive cracks and repairs? I came across a violin today that was the best violin I've ever played. I played it against Guadagnini's, Vuillaumes, Stainers, one by Carlo Antonio Testore, Amati, and the greats minus Strads. It surpassed the sound of the listed violins above, well maybe the Guad had a slightly better low register, but it really held its own and sounded better than anything in the shop. I felt like I was playing a high end Strad with the brilliance, and depth, and color, ease of playing. Only thing is this violin had the neck that had to be removed, regrafted, wood put in to raise it, major cracks along the belly, a major sound post crack on the belly that had a patch put in, and other places that were smashed. All repairs seemed to be well done and it simply out played violins costing 20 times the amount. Should I consider this instrument or should I believe there might be a better instrument to come along? I also found out that a violin in perfect shape sold for 12k and this one is at 15k with all the repairs. There was another violin by this maker but it didn't sound nearly as good for the same price. Perhaps you can provide some advice? Looking for professional answers please. :)

Replies (28)

March 4, 2013 at 07:53 PM · "Should I consider this instrument or should I believe there might be a better instrument to come along?"

How much looking have you done?

Hard to say what the repairs will mean down the road. A lot depends on who did them. They might start giving you problems next month, or be fine for 50 years.

Repaired damage will not inherently improve the sound, so in theory, there would be a violin somewhere with fewer repairs which will sound as good.

March 4, 2013 at 08:30 PM · Remember that any individual specimen of a given maker isn't necessarily going to sound phenomenal, so don't make a hasty decision based on the other things you've tried not impressing you. Go play as many instruments as possible in your price range. Take the ones you like best home on trial for a week or two. Play them in all the situations that you'd expect to use the instrument for, in as many environments as possible, and get your friends to listen to them.

If you can, try to get the opinion of one or more other luthiers (other than this shop) on the quality of the repair work, too.

March 4, 2013 at 08:33 PM · It also depends on what the violin is. Is it a $30,000 violin for $15,000, or a $10,000 for $15,000? It may or may not outplay all of the listed violins. But you still have to judge the violin against something comparable in condition, maker, and price and not against violins orders of magnitude above it in price.

I'm also wondering how long you played it. Did it outplay all those violins in just the shop, or did you have it for a couple of weeks, and then test against the others in a larger hall? Was it sitting in the shop at full tension, or did it have to be tuned up? Was the repair work just completed, or has it had time and playing to settle in? Are the strings brand new, or worked in? All of these can affect the initial impression.

March 4, 2013 at 09:22 PM · Lydia made a good point. You tried it against some famous names, but did they happen to be good sounding examples of those maker's work?

March 4, 2013 at 09:52 PM · If the repairs included Elmer's glue, hose clamps, and Phillips-head screws then probably not.

March 4, 2013 at 10:41 PM · Think about your style of playing: bold and robust playing will eventually put stress on the best of repairs. A breakdown may come in your pactice room, during a rehearsal, or during a performance. Changes of weather also cause stresses during travel.

One particular breakown will make the violin unstable and also affect other parts of the instrument which will be forced to carry the excess stress.

High tension strings will also undermine the structural integrity as will a heavy bow. Forte playing will cause tension on the front plate as well as the sound post.

These are some of the factors which will determine the playing life of your violin.

March 4, 2013 at 10:54 PM · I've seen people buy instruments that were good players but with extensive repairs, but only after getting them looked at and appraised by independent experts to make sure they could be resold without a significant loss. You don't want to lose a game of musical chairs that costs 15 large to play...

March 4, 2013 at 11:32 PM · If you're filthy rich, go for it. If not, I'd keep looking.

March 4, 2013 at 11:33 PM · A friend of mine purchased a severely damaged Gaspar da Salo for a very low price; within a couple years of buying it, he had to spend about $70,000 to have the violin stabilized because the damage was worsening to the point of it becoming unplayable - this procedure took about a year to complete.

March 5, 2013 at 12:20 AM · Much depends on your alternatives (and resources). If you're using this as a stopgap until you find a really good Guad, $15K is not a bad rental fee. As long as the fiddle lasts long enough without requiring tens of thousands of repair work, it's a win.

On the other hand, if you need for this to last a long time in all kinds of conditions, and don't have lots of money available to fix a problem, then be absolutely sure that the repairs are sufficient and well-done. Either that, or be confident that the pieces of the violin by themselves will have worth to a collector or restorer even if it falls apart in your hands.

March 5, 2013 at 04:45 AM · Read out loud 3 times:

"Market value of the instrument has nothing to do with the sound it produces."

Market value is, among other factors, primarily influenced by:

Maker

Age

Country of origin

Condition

Investment potential

As you wrote, the condition of the instrument is not great. The sound you heard today may or may not be there once the new neck is in place. With this single repair (and higher bridge perhaps?) you are taking chances with the sound and essentially gambling with 15k.

As others already pointed out, with so many repairs already done, this violin may be very sensitive to changes in humidity and temperature, quite moody on some days, eager to sound on others. For that reason some great players commissioned a copy of their precious antique violin, or bought another one - they needed a reliable tool of trade.

In any case, if you are in love, rent it for at least 7 days (preferably 2 weeks, consecutive or not), take it to at least 2 independent luthiers for expert opinion. Play it in different venues and ask your friend to play it for you in a big hall to hear how does it project. Crank up the humidifier to 70-80% to hear if it likes humid days. After 3-4 days a real sound picture will emerge.

March 5, 2013 at 12:12 PM · As Scott said, there's only one single thing that's important here: what it is. If it's a Strad for 15k, you buy it where you like it our not, then sell it and buy what you really want, living for the rest of your life on what's left over. If it's a Roth, you don't touch it with a ten foot pole.

No one can tell you what to do without knowing what the violin is.

Usually the most important thing about repairs is whether they are age appropriate. Tons of complex repairs on a relatively new instrument are not good, but on an ancient one they can be relatively unimportant, if they were done well.

March 5, 2013 at 05:08 PM · ""Read out loud 3 times:

"Market value of the instrument has nothing to do with the sound it produces." "

Sorry, I don't agree. In a statistical sense, sound does influence the price. It is what precedes the other factors you listed, such as maker, country, etc. The market has agreed that, in general, Italian violins sound better than French violins, which sound better than Czech instruments. Violins of any given maker or country that don't sound well will tend to sit on the shelf longer, or until the price drops. Makers only become well-known in the long run for sound (especially today, when exquisite craftsmanship is the expected norm).

March 6, 2013 at 03:25 AM ·

March 6, 2013 at 04:58 PM · I have always based my purchases on 1.impeccable condition 2. great sound

If you don't have #1, don't even consider buying.

Doing this meant that when I sold my Vuillaume to upgrade, it sold in 2 weeks. Also the Vuillaume had increased in value 5 fold.

Also, as mentioned before instruments in poor condition tend to be unstable tonally.

March 6, 2013 at 10:48 PM · Bruce,

The problem is that very few people have the resources to buy an instrument in impeccable condition that sounds great. That combination is expensive. The vast majority have to look for the value instruments, and a good portion of the value market is well-restored old violins. I've had old instruments with lots of repairs and haven't had issues (new instruments can be just as sensitive to weather). As long as they're done correctly, they're not just going to fall apart as some have suggested above.

March 6, 2013 at 10:52 PM · To buy a violin for 15k with soundpost and other cracks I would recommend to go to at least two very good luthiers/experts, who can tell you about the repairs and the possible origin of the instrument. Without evidence of a big name I wouldn't buy anything like that for more than 8k... and then only if I would have a good feeling about the condition of the repairs and a very strong conviction about the sound abilities.

And of course test it as long asyou want. Those instruments don't sell so fast anyways and if the seller wants you to believe that it can be sold quickly if you don't buy, be thankful to him for taking the decision away from you wether or not to buy the instrument and look somewhere else.

In my experience repaired/cracked instruments can sound very (!) good. But I had this kind of violin for at least 10 years of my violin studies and I do know that I don't want that again. They can start to fuzz from one day to the other and stop at the next day and be fine for a year. Then two days before an important concert/audition they can start fuzzing again. Then there is no time to fix the problem (wich is mostly also difficult to identify) and its also too late to change instrument.

I would not say i would always go only with violins in perfect condition, but I learned to know that an reliable instrument is much more worth than an charmant and exiting but very unstable violin. And regarding sond post cracks:

Changing weather can make a lot of change in the wood, I can imagine that this stress would be easily too much for this kind of repairs. You would have to be always very careful about the temperature and the humidity, wich is actually not easy to achieve.

March 6, 2013 at 11:39 PM · Though from what was offered I'm not terribly optimistic about the viability of the fiddle, I believe (agree) there is just not enough information here to offer reasonable answers to the OP's original questions.

As has been mentioned or implied, repairs or restorations are naturally performed at different levels, by different restorers... and the quality can be (but is not always) dependent on the value of the violin... just due to economic realities. Though I'm not sure the picture I'm creating in my head is correct, if done at a decently high level, I've mentally added up about 10 to 15K in restorations on a 12 to 15K violin... doesn't make much sense... so I would assume the restorations are either not as extensive as I'm imagining, or not done at a high level. The problem is, what is considered major or "sound" to one person may not be to another... a few cracks done badly enough to show clearly makes one instrument look far worse than another with 12 done correctly (cosmetically & physically).

I tend not to trust the longevity and durability of repair that isn't up to a certain standard... though I've seen some rather ugly stuff stay put for quite a while on occasion.

I'd follow the advice of others here and have a third party look at the instrument... preferably a trusted someone you'd want to maintain it. If they make an unflattering face, that's not a good sign. :-)

March 7, 2013 at 08:49 AM · As Jeffrey Homes suggested, all depends on the calibre of the restoration.

For nearly 20 years I performed on a J.B.Vuillaume with sound-post patches to both table and back and other repairs. It was the best "playing fiddle" I ever played and it was a sad when it was lost in divorce ! The conductor of the Hallé Orchestra met me after I had left and wanted me to rturn with my "wonderful violin" !

So, you can be lucky - the work on my instrument was done at Hills, London.

But you can be unlucky, too. A colleague had a Vuillaume that came unstuck so regularly he lost interest and sold it.

Difficult, you see, to provide a definite answer, but as J.H. observed, the quality of reconstruction on a $15k fiddle might not be up to much.

March 8, 2013 at 10:14 PM · If it has the sound you want, I don't think 15 K is bad for that.

March 9, 2013 at 09:00 AM · "If it has the sound you want, I don't think 15 K is bad for that. "

If you are a professional player you are allowed write down a proportion of the purchase price against tax each year - at least, that applies in the UK and maybe the USA too.

If the violin is nominally worth zero if and when it falls apart you will feel you haven't lost anything !

The down-side to writing-down the value against tax is that one becomes liable to capital-gains tax on re-sale if the value has appreciated. So there's something to be said for purchasing a violin such as the one you are considering.

March 9, 2013 at 10:21 AM · I own an extensively repaired violin - luckily I didn't have to make any purchase decisions though as I inherited it from my grandfather. It was repaired (if you believe the label and I have no reason not to) by Matthew Hardie in 1812. Repairs include many, many cracks, a new neck and the ribs were heightened(!) My grandfather bought it in 1932 and for the last 30 years it has lived untouched in an unheated attic. Despite this poor treatment, it has only needed a new bridge, strings and a bit of glue around the top of the ribs in one tiny place. I have owned and played it for 2 years. It produces a beautiful sound and is a pleasure to play however, It's value is severely compromised by these repairs. I guess I'm trying to say that repairs by a reputable luthier can be incredibly robust and present no more problems than any other violin of the same age. I do have to be somewhat careful with it - I have been advised that dropping it will probably cause it to fall to pieces and I have to tune it carefully, but on the whole it's a beautiful instrument that I am proud to own.

March 9, 2013 at 07:04 PM · Laurie wrote: "If it has the sound you want, I don't think 15 K is bad for that."

Hi Laurie; Enjoy my occasional visits to your board. Thanks for having me.

I guess I should clarify a point of my previous post. 15K for that could be OK, could be a deal, or could be a fantastic fiasco. We just don't have enough information to know.

I see a number of instruments with a significant number of repairs that do quite well, but most of the time, the repairs are high level work. Some may do OK with work that's "primitive but adequate" (as a friend of mine says). Still others don't retain their sound for long once moved to a new environment and are very unstable, and if the instrument is not of the quality that allows work to be done/redone properly to remedy the difficulties, the player is faced with an unfortunate problem.

March 9, 2013 at 09:56 PM · Jeffrey Holmes and I are a couple of the people behind the Oberlin Restoration workshop.

Oberlin Restoration Workshop

We beat the bushes to bring in a rotating staff of the best restorers and conservators in the world, to teach people in the trade who are interested in learning the most advanced methods in conservation and restoration.

March 10, 2013 at 02:39 AM · In the 15K price range, you should be able to find a fiddle with great sound, but without all the cracks. It is just a matter of time and patience.

March 10, 2013 at 08:11 AM · A number of years ago I was offered a genuine Allesandro Gagliano from 1720 that had a large number of repairs but no sound post or bass bar cracks. The price then was ¬£50K. I let my colleagues and friends talk me out of it even though it was the best sounding violin I have ever played. I have regretted it ever since.

Take advice but go with your gut.

Cheers Carlo

March 12, 2013 at 11:02 AM · The fish that got away is always the biggest. Structurally a properly glued repair is as strong as the original wood, the wood will break before the glue bond. So I wouldn't worry about the repairs if they were done correctly, I would however play one hundred more instruments and find a one I like better before I shelled out anything over $10,000 for a violin. If your that good an instrument will find you, all the great players are given or long term loaned their Strads, Guarneri', da-Salo, Amatis or the like but the rest of us mortals CAN find great sounding violins for under 10K.

March 12, 2013 at 03:40 PM · Russ. "The fish that got away is always the biggest"

I love that thought. I can now forget about "that" fiddle and enjoy the violin I have now.

Cheers Carlo

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