Calling all knowledgeable violin enthusiasts for opinions on a possible purchase.

March 16, 2013 at 04:40 PM · After years of complaining about the violins I already play on, my teacher has sourced a ‘better’ violin for me. I have in my hot little hands an instrument I have been told has been made in France, in 1741. The label (which is probably not worth reading) inside reads thus:

Modele d’apres

Joannes Baptista Guadagnini

fecit Parmae ferviens

C.S.R. 1741

To the right there is a circle with G.B.G or similar and some unusual symbols. Obviously it's a copy of something, but what I don't know.

I have done an internet search on the label and have come across some with the same label for sale or sold by somewhat reputable auction houses, however they are largely marketed as instruments made in the 1900’s in the workshop of G. Apparut, in France, for between 2500 to 6000 dollars.

This makes more sense because the instrument shows hardly any wear and tear, certainly not enough to be 272 years old. It has a decent tone, much nicer than the instruments I already play, and is very responsive. The top is fine grain wood, a single panel back with nice flame both on back and sides. The only repair I can see is where someone obviously overtightened a centre mount chinrest and has cracked the varnish (golden brown) a little. (it bears a side mount at the moment). It has been rather thickly varnished, (or maybe extra varnish added) to the back and sides, but I think the top has been largely untouched. There is no sound post crack on either side, yet, but if I hold it up to the light I can see the merest beginnings of a stress mark in the top where the sound post is.

The reason I am confused is because while it seems to be a decent instrument, it’s obviously not made in 1741, even to my layman’s eyes. But my teacher seems happy to suggest that it was made then and that it’s a real bargain. It’s being offered to me at $8,500.00 hard earned Aussie bucks. I like it, but don’t want to pay that much if it isn’t worth it. Does anybody know of these instruments and if so, are they all rubbish, or are there some that are relatively good?

If anyone can give advice to help me decide how to deal with this it would be much appreciated.

Replies (27)

March 16, 2013 at 05:09 PM · All I will say is that I would NEVER believe what the label says on the inside of a violin.

March 16, 2013 at 05:25 PM · I believe you will find that "Modele d’apres" means something like "model after" or read it as "in the pattern of".

I think "fecit Parmae ferviens" refers to it "being made to parameters of" but this is a somewhat educated guess. I know neither French nor Italian. Still working on English somewhat.

So a model based (loosely or otherwise) on a violin by the indicated maker from a particular year. A copy.

March 16, 2013 at 05:37 PM ·

Take some decent photos of the top, back, and scroll and post them with your story to if you can't get to a good reputable violin shop near you with the fiddle. Most likely some of the posters over there will be off the mark but it will give you an idea if it is French or German. If it were really from the mid eighteenth century it probably wouldn't need a fake label. Of course if it were real Guad you could buy it, sell it, and then buy a small airplane and go anywhere you wanted to.,

March 16, 2013 at 07:08 PM · 1. About the process:

One of the most common mistakes all of us are prone to (at one point in time, anyway) is a "tunnel vision" - that breath-taking feeling that the violin in front of you is THE last violin on Earth, or THE last opportunity to get a really great one for only x$.

Some dealers are quite good in producing that illusion. Some teachers help, too. I wonder if you can look your teacher straight into his/her eyes and ask him/her if and how much commission he/she would get?

Personally, I think that you ought to look for your own instrument on your own and avoid conflict of interest your teacher can find him/herself in.

2. About the violin:

It all depends. That is a lot of money for a copy, but decent French copies can fetch even more on the marker. Ask for a 2nd opinion and written appraisal from a reputable shop. As someone has already mentioned, maestronet is a good place to start with an informal appraisal / expert opinion.

March 16, 2013 at 08:09 PM · The language of the label indicates that you have a violin which attempts to be a copy of a 1741 Guadagnini violin, when he was in Parma. It isn't attempting to tell you what the violin really is, who made it, or when, which lacking a label from the real makers, could be any where, at any time. About the only thing you can be sure of is that it's not a 1741 Guad.

This is neither bad nor good, but it will frustrate you if you're trying to determine a fair market value--something that practically speaking you couldn't do even if you knew what it was (though heaven knows, enough unqualified people [read "customers"] try). Even for professionals violin appraisal is an arcane art, not something you get in one shot via the internet.

I would certainly not assume that it was anything specific--that's above your job description and has the possibility of getting you into trouble.

So the real problems are, (and this is the most important question there is in violin buying) do you trust the person you're buying from (and I say most emphatically that if you don't, then you should be going somewhere else), and if so, does that shop offer a trade-in/up plan you're happy with AND customarily stock the type of instrument you'd anticipate moving upwards into at some point in the future?

Most reputable shops will not give an opinion on a violin that you do not own, and there is no forum on the web where you are going to get anything better than a mix of mostly bad opinions, with possibly, or not, one or two good ones at most sprinkled in. No legitimate person will appraise an instrument from photos, so again, you're left getting basically unqualified opinions from non-experts. This is perhaps worse than useless.

So, do you trust the shop selling it, or not?

March 16, 2013 at 08:51 PM · Today $8500 is a miniscule amount of money. What else can you get for that much? That is an important question. You could get a Colin-Mezzin. You could get a Roth. You could get something modern by an unknown.

So the question for this instrument is, how does it sound and play? Even if it's only 80 or 100 years old and sounds really good, it's hard to make the case that somehow this is a big risk. From what I've seen on the market, it's not. Now if it were $20,000, that would be a little different.

Here's what I would do: 1. get a couple of opinions from other luthiers (you need to have someone assess the condition anyway, including looking inside for repairs or unseen cracks). 2. if you really love the instrument, make an offer, say $7000. But proving the maker for $8500? Who cares? Any old but good instrument is worth that much if the condition is solid.

March 16, 2013 at 09:13 PM · I can second all that. You may have trouble getting second opinions, though.

March 17, 2013 at 07:13 AM · Thanks everyone very much for your input. I guess it is hard to get a proper idea of the provenance and value of quite a lot of instruments out there. I just wondered if there was any general knowledge on this particular label. I live regionally and finding a person to assess the instrument would take several hundred kilometres and two days. I won't bother posting photos, as I see I have already had some good and timely advice. You are quite right, Scott, I'm sure I can find something else with more certainty as to its authenticity for a similar value. Whilst I wouldn't begrudge my teacher a bit of a commission, I'm not confident about the instrument itself, nice as it is. If I kept it forever, it wouldn't be a problem, but if I decide to sell, I guess there could be some difficulties getting back what I paid.

Thanks again all, some great advice from everyone!

March 17, 2013 at 08:44 AM · Am I the only one to be a little worried that the instrument comes to you via your teacher who tells you that its from the 1700s when its obviously not? I would have to ask my teacher if he/she is benefitting from the sale.

Sorry to be suspicious but it is a little fishy - I had something similar happen to me once. Under the circumstances I would definitely not buy this instrument without an impartial opinion on its physical condition and its value. And you are right to be concerned that by buying it this way - without a trade in guarantee - it may be difficult to move up without a substantial loss of money.

March 17, 2013 at 11:25 AM · From my limited knowledge of the violin-trade industry, labels generally have little value without the backing of a dependable appraisal--it's very simple to just take one out and replace it with anything you want to put it in there. If you're concerned about value, I would try and see if it's possible to test out violins in that price range. If the sound is better than anything else you find, and the violin is in good condition, chances are you're getting a good bang for your buck. But 8500 is a lot to shell out without getting it appraised.

March 17, 2013 at 03:58 PM · "Whilst I wouldn't begrudge my teacher a bit of a commission..."

Ha! Now we learn some new information. This changes things. In fact, I would be happy to begrudge a teacher a commission. Teacher should not be in the business of selling instruments to their students.

The fact that you now feel obligated, even if only a little, means the whole deal is tainted. What happens if you reject the instrument, but end up with something similar, and at a similar price from someone else? Then your teacher may feel resentful and not trusted.

That's why I don't take commissions.

March 17, 2013 at 08:45 PM · Something else to consider is how the instrument came to be in the dealer's hands in the first place. In australia, we got a lot of rubbish trade instruments that couldn't be sold in europe during trade fairs and what not in 1800's and early 1900's,a nd it wasn't so easy for a dealer to go to Europe specifically to buy stock and bring back so was a t the mercy of what was in the country.

If the violin was the one that mum learned on when her grandad bought it from the shop, likely it was not much then, and still won't be much now. Take your budget and enjoy the shopping experience, (and be prepared to be more frustrated than ever - I've been out a couple of times with my teacher and when I purchased my current violin, and was seriously surprised at how poor some violins in the $10,000 AND UP range were).

March 17, 2013 at 09:21 PM · And another thing:

If your teacher thinks a Frenchman somehow was copying Parma Guadagninis in 1741, then he/she doesn't know anything about vintage violins.

March 17, 2013 at 10:06 PM · Ha,ha, yes Scott, it's kind of funny when I look at it from that angle. I don't know what my teacher really believes and that is actually my sticking point. The more I look at it the more I suspect it is an instrument remodelled out of two that might have been damaged or something. The heavy varnish on the sides and back tell me all is not quite right. It has a new bridge, tailpiece, strings, and the pretty rosewood pegs don't look like they belong either.

As for any commission, well, that was never mentioned. But as I said I wouldn't begrudge even a teacher a little for their efforts. I do know that this is a shop 300km away that my teacher deals with almost exclusively for cases, bows etc, and does periodic visits to. My concern grew when I asked if I could deal directly with the shop, and all kinds of road blocks were thrown up. I'm a cash kinda person and so would like to sniff around for the best deal and do some bartering. There's no opportunity here for that whatsoever.

I think I'll stick with my teacher for lessons only, and be diplomatic with my return.

Thanks again everyone.

March 18, 2013 at 12:24 AM · Millie,

The fittings--tailpiece, pegs, chinrest--are of no consequence in determining what a violin is. They can be swapped anytime.

It's not uncommon to find a composite violin. I had one myself. It was an old violin (probably 18th c.) but the top and back were clearly from a different hand. I've heard that there were (perhaps still are) firms or luthiers that specialized in putting together fiddles out of old parts.

March 18, 2013 at 03:32 AM · That's quite true, Scott, and maybe the instrument in question really needed some new parts anyway. Even if it is a composite, it's been a success in that it's quite a decent sounding and very playable instrument, and it even feels good in my amateur hands. It's just when I look at the whole picture and confusion reigns, that I feel I have to take a step back. Honesty is an issue in that if someone clearly explained to me what I was actually getting, instead of trying to pass it off as something it obviously isn't, then I could have considered this in a whole new light.

I took it back to my teacher today, and said gently, no thanks, not for me, leaving it at that. It was quietly put away. It makes me a little sad wondering if I ever do find a nice instrument, can I still rely on my teacher for a second opinion? It's doubtful at best.

March 18, 2013 at 03:53 AM · Edit: I see it is not relevant any longer! Sorry I jumped the gun

For that kind of money a shop should offer to provide an appraisal for insurance purposes. Hopefully (!) a respectable shop will not lie on paper about the value of an instrument. If you have tried the instrument and you know the shop will stand behind the price you might feel better about making a decision one way or the other.

March 18, 2013 at 05:40 AM · Very True, Joseph, although I was never able to deal direct with the shop, which was unfortunate. I don't even know which shop it actually is, although I have my suspicions. I was told by my teacher that they had brokered the deal themselves, so I could not go to the shop to discuss anything. I was also told that many of these shops don't do 'deals' with the general public and that they no longer loan out instruments to try unless dealing through a trusted representative with insurance. Which I think is probably nonsense, and I can't wait to prove it wrong, but it made me feel cornered on the deal, and it was made a whole lot worse by presenting an instrument of questionable integrity. So, yes, next time I will insist on being allowed to at least take it to my luthier to assess, otherwise, no deal.

March 18, 2013 at 08:00 AM · I think you've handled this very well indeed Millie - while its a shame you had to go through a process that probably undermined your relationship with your teacher - its just as well that you have learned this now.

I had something similar - one teacher I had (for a short period I hasten to add) kept wanting to trade my old and moderately fine named german bow for non-name chinese copies. Each week he would ask me to take one home to see if I preferred it. It became something of a joke as it was obvious what his intent was to me but for fear of undermining the teaching relationship I could not simply state it. Eventually my trust was shot and I moved on (a good idea anyway - I've ended up with a fabulous teacher).

Perhaps this experience will cause you to scrutinize your teaching relationship and seek a change. Trust is such an important part of one-on-one learning....

March 18, 2013 at 10:44 AM · Thank you so much Elise for your kind words. It's definitely a learning experience, one I wish wasn't so, but there you are, it's life, isn't it?

At this stage I'm going to have to stick with my teacher, who is by far and away the best in our district. I would have to drive a long long way to find anyone else of this calibre. We are really rather lucky to have someone with orchestral and concert experience in our small regional town. As far as teaching is concerned, they know their onions. Which is partly why I decided to play nice in this instance. But I would not buy any onions from them, now or ever.

March 18, 2013 at 12:28 PM · Hmmmm. People often complain about getting ripped off by dealers. But the majority of real disastrous transactions i know of were done with musicians or with teachers.

March 18, 2013 at 04:58 PM · Clearly, in this case there is a conflict of interest and a breakdown of trust between Millie and her teacher. However, there are honest musicians, dealers, and even teachers! To say the worst deals come from musicians and teachers is not accurate or fair. There have been, in the media, several cases of multi-million dollar fraud with top dealers. These are only the ones we have heard of...

Cheers Carlo

March 18, 2013 at 11:01 PM · Carlo, you have a point. It is caveat emptor wherever you go. Certainly I ( and a few people I know even more so ) could have saved myself some grief if only I had asked for a second opinion when purchasing an instrument. And did actually get great help from a very knowledgeable dealer once when I bought a very nice sounding and "great investment" fiddle, a very well crafted copy - probably Chinese.

March 19, 2013 at 01:18 AM · [interesting: these info topic seem to reach point where its too much bother to read 'all-of-the-above' and we get enless repeats of the same ideas... maybe the 100 post limit is way too high ]

March 19, 2013 at 01:35 AM · But then we wouldn't have room to go off on totally unrelated topics....

By the way, my understanding is that Guadagnini didn't make any fiddles in Parma until 1759.

March 19, 2013 at 02:37 AM · A Guadagnini for $8500 sounds absurd to me.

On the other hand, if YOU like the violin and it plays nicely and sounds good and YOU think it's worth $8500, then buy the damned thing and move on.

March 19, 2013 at 07:24 AM · I did like the instrument Paul, but I took it back to whence it came, the other day. So my teacher is sans their 'quick buck' bonus that I was likely being targeted for.

The reason I am happy to discuss this on an open forum is because I feel some responsiblity toward mainly young people, whose parents might not know better, also perhaps being targeted in this way. People should know what can happen. There are no nice instruments being sold in this region, which is why our teacher goes looking for upgrades. They are necessary, most of the time, and most parents wouldn't be able to spend the drive and the time looking around and not really knowing what they are looking at.

My trust in all teachers isn't completely blown. I have had other honest teachers in the past, but it's a pity that in this instance we were perhaps seen as an opportunity to make fast money. I strongly suspect it anyhow, and I have big shoulders and plenty to say should I be discovered. But for now I'll leave this as it is, with my budget intact. And a great big cheers to all for your 'sound' advice.

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