Dominant strings cost twice what they did 10 years ago. Why? Has the popularity of the string has created a demand to justify this increase, or is this price gouging?
Tonicas, the closest competitor to Dominants, have historically, been the same price or more expensive than Dominants. But now, a set a Tonicas (new formula) sell for about $25 or half of what a set of Dominants cost.
So, is Pirastro underselling their Tonicas strings to gain a market against Dominants? Or is Pirastro selling Tonicas at a fair price while Dominants are being sold at an inflated price to take advantage of demand?
The strings are essentially the same material and construction. I would not think the manufacturing costs between the two would be more than 30% different, and would certainly not be enough to explain the current difference in costs.
Does anyone else think these price changes suspicious?
You can look at historic string prices here:
I know this is going to sound really dumb, but INFLATION!!!
All kinds of things have doubled in price in ten years because of inflation, isn't that about the true rate of infaltion, x2 every 10 years. How about the price of Bananas 10 years ago?
Also of course you have to take into account how strong the German economy is vs America, and the strength of the Euro vs the dollar. over the last 10 years
I am pretty sure the prices of the strings I get (vision, or pi) have dropped from a couple of years ago. This due to the strengthening of the dollar against the euro, I would guess. Also, strings cost more in Europe than the US, probably because of VAT. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.
well 8 years ago they were about 30+, now they're almost 45, thats just inflation, not 2x
Price indices have not increased 50% over 8 years ago. This is definitely not just inflation.
depends entirely on what you're pricing, a lot of things have doubled, what about gasoline, hasnt that doubled????
In Canada, at least by the official numbers, "a basket of goods and services that costed" $30 in 2005 now costs $34.52.
So, inflation is only one component, the rest is pure greed and price gauging.
By the way, there are many products that are cheaper in the States than in Canada, even for the identical goods produced here and sold in 2 countries. There is no explanation for this phenomenon.
Corrected, reposted below
OK I called my wholesale only supplier, International violin in Baltimore MA, over ten years tonicas have dropped from $27-$25. dominants have almost doubled from $24-$46, Eudoxas have almost doubled from $37-$67, and the Euro has increased 25% from $1.10-$1.33
So you can see the inflation is hardly a Thomastik vs Pirastro issue as both the Dominants and the Eudoxas have close to doubled in 10 years, My guess is they've either lowered the quality, outsourced the country of origin, or found a way to produce Tonicas cheaper.
Also I would think there is lowered demand for some of these strings as there are so many new string types for the supplier to stock, their prices are proportional to how many they can buy(bulk) if they can only justify buying 1/2 or 1/4 as many of a given string set because of reduced demand, they usually have to raise the price, probably not all the price increases are coming from the manufacturer.
Also I might add; the statement "Tonicas are the closest competitor to Dominants??? according to who?? I've never heard anyone in the buis say Tonicas were both similar and as good as Dominants...
In my opinion, yes, Tonicas are the closest competitor in terms of sound and feel. To me they are like an Accord compared to a Camry. Not identical, but the closest strings on the market.
I don't buy the argument that greed and pricing fixing are the primary reasons for the dramatic rise of Dominant string prices. For one thing, there
are many more choices of strings on the market and Dominants are no longer the default strings. Evas and Visions seem to have taken their place with many makers and shops. There is also competition from newer brands such as Warchal.
In fact, it could even be argued that there are too many strings on the market as it is, only leading to confusion and neurotic string-switching behavior and anxiety. There was one thread asking about what people would want in a new E string: we don't NEED any more E strings!
If indeed the distributor is restricting the supply of strings to keep the price up, then one could imagine the plan backfiring eventually: once people are reasonably satisfied with a string brand, I think they generally are more likely to stay with it (I really can't stand Pirastro windings, for example, and stay with Dominant). So if parents and students are driven by price to other brands, they may be permanently steered away from Dominants as they get used to something else, both physically and brandwise.
I'm not sure that inflation is to blame, either. For one thing, the price rise didn't take place over a long time period--I remember that the prices really jumped over just a few years. For inflation to be the cause, you'd have to show that other German goods rose accordingly. So for example, you'd have to show a German-made car that has doubled in price in 10 years.
So I don't know why the prices are so high. Perhaps the marketing for some of the up-market strings such as Eva Pirazzi has convinced so many people to get used to paying twice as much that Dominants have taken advantage of a coat-tail effect. As an analogy, take a look at how expensive so many mediocre violins are now that the Italians have risen so high.
Hey, I'm open for suggestions if anyone thinks they've found a comparable string to Dominants, especially if they last longer. I think it would be worth spending a bit more for a string that doesn't wear out as quickly as Dominants. I'm literally shredding them in about three weeks. My budget is feeling the pinch of averaging $20 per week just on strings. I mean, that's cutting into the food budget at that point.
...but not the coffee budget. Nothing cuts into the coffee budget.
What I meant Scott is that years ago when Dominant might be 50% of their sales they ordered 500 sets, now Dominants might be 20% of sales so they order only 200 sets, unless total string sales have gone down and it may be less than 200.
The 500 lot price is going to be cheaper than the 200 lot price, so they have to charge more now.And if they're selling only half as many string sets, then its going to be the 100 lot price.
That was my point, not that Connolly was trying to restrict quantity of sales.
In other words for any string supplier, the less string sales, and the more types of strings they sell, the less quantity discount they can get buying from their supplier. Twice as many suppliers means means 1/2 as many string sales per supplier, which means of course higher prices, because they can't buy in large enough bulk.
This factor couldn't possibly account for all the price increase, just some of the price increase, add to that inflation, and the increased value of the Euro, and add to that a SMALL increase or "gouging" from the manufacturer or Connolly, and you have the whole 100% increase covered.
Just guessing but a company like International may be looking at a 300% decrease in strings sales, because of much greater online competition, time was they supplied half the shops in the country, and people bought their strings from violin shop, not online megastores.
So there are just too many factors to place the blame on Thomastik, and as I showed Tonicas maker Pirastro has gone up just as much on its former top seller Eudoxa.
Another thing that puzzles me is that the core is synthetic - probably mass produced, with no manual labour and therefore supposed to be less expensive than gut.
Yes, a string has to be created semi-automatic, but still the machines do most of the work.
This all may be about the "designer" strings - we in fact buy the name, the brand, just like consumers of fashion items. Add that a famous so-and-so uses Pirastro or Thomasitk strings and there is an army of followers to buy the string equivalent of an "iPod".
The forums like this one will eventually bring a consensus of what the quality string is and I have a feeling that the big producers will ultimately experience the loss of revenue. China, anyone?
The price justification gets even stranger when a student violin purchased through ebay or amazon costs less than a good set of 4 strings. Bohdan Warchal had some good input on a similar discussion here at V.com a few months ago-- really explained about the labor and materials involved.
Musicians need good inexpensive strings, dealers need profit margins, and strings may be the last holdout for the European market.
Well Germany has a reputation for the best quality in the world, for cars, machines, tools and strings, generally lower quality is probably going to sound worse, and good quality is expensive, As long as musicians are driven to purchase the best sounding strings, there will be expensive good sounding strings. have you ever heard a set of $5 Chinese "dominants" Some of this technology took 100 years to develop, and I'm sure there are some closely guarded secrets to the top manufacturers.
I am not going to write about competitors, since I am not authorized to reveal any details about them I know.
As for the string prices in general: I just came from Beijing. We were approached by the biggest Chinese stringmaking company. It is the company making all kinds of copies. I don,t know about real fake products of course, but they produce their own line, which is 90% similar to the famous brand bestsellers as for the package design. Even Golden E is called GODEN E.
Firstly they offered us a dealership, after being rejected politely they admitted they have a problem to raise the quality to a decent level. They asked us for materials suitable for quality stringmaking. I tried to explain them the same what I am going to write here: I believe that Chinese will be able to make a high quality strings one day there is no reason to doubt it. However, if so, the strings will be not cheaper than existing strings string made by any renowned European brand. Here are a few reasons:
1. The amount of manual work used nowadays is negligible. Forget a marketing slogans like “handmade strings”. The modern strings are manufactured by astonishingly precise and expensive tailor made machines. This is why the production costs difference would be negligible even if they would be operated in China. Moreover, the labor cost raises much faster in China than in western countries.
2. The materials. Synthetic fibres are being produced in millions of tons and they cost almost nothing. But such quality of fibres is suitable for the production runing in China today. If you want to gain something special, you need to pay sometimes several thousands times more, just for samples, which may be suitable or turn into a trash at the end. The fibres lines are being operated in the halls about the same size as football stadium. Could you imagine how much you need to pay if you want to stop the line just for two hours or so?
Almost the same is with wires. Wire makers are hardly willing to sell you such small volumes as 50 kg or so of their common production. What if you have special requirements?
This is why there is no problem to achieve say 70% of top quality. Raising the 70% quality level for 10% is much more expensive than achieving the first 70%. For every 1% over 90% you need to pay several times more than the whole 90% costs. It is the same in any industry, This is why reaching space is not comparable with commercial flights as for the costs.
As for the gut – synthetic comparison, I agree that certain manual work is necessary during core preparation process. However, the formula is known for centuries, so no much research is needed and the raw material is a waste in fact. It can be processed in bulk but also in small quantities without much extra costs. Moreover gut strings use to have just one layer of metal winding. This is why at the end the price of gut and synthetics may be the same or at least similar.
For example, just now we are finishing the completely new core material for Amber set, which aims fully substitute gut core without any tuning instability. I am not able to compare the production costs with gut precisely, but as for the research, it has been our most expensive project so far.
Great, informative post, Bohdan!
Just be thankful that you do not have to buy Dominants in Australia. We pay twice as much as those living in the US. Why ?....who knows !
I long ago gave up on Dominants as they are just too expensive and don't last. I use D'Addario Pro Arte strings now. The Tonicas are nice but the Pro Artes are much more stable with a lovely dark sound. There is none of that harsh metallic sound of the new Dominants either.
Except while the AUD was higher and Go(ne)Strings was viable.
Normally you have to be suspicious of talk like "greed" and "gouging," as economists always point out that market forces will cause prices to be reasonable in some sense. The idea is that people will switch strings, and competitors will make equivalent strings, etc., to keep companies in line. Even short-term gouging, like charging $10 for a bottle of milk in a disaster area, has been defended as a way of sharing stuff around, and encouraging outsiders to fly supplies in (though Mike here couldn't condone that...). Despite what someone said, it is trivial for well-funded manufacturers to reverse-engineer and replicate each other's strings, and any Dominant patent from over 20 years ago has expired. So that should make everything reasonable, right?
However, there are some special forces at work here. The violin world is full of fantasies and myths. You can't define things and measure them objectively, and even if you did, most people would not believe you. Look at the recent threads here on "breaking in" and factoring tone into the price...
To use someone else's example, if Camry doubled in price, people would just buy Accord, because everyone knows they are basically interchangeable. But now that Dominants are established, if they doubled the price from a decade ago, and a competitor copied them perfectly, lots of people would still stick with Dominants, believing that they get more "projection" or whatever. Thomastik has the luxury of pushing the price up to exploit the myth factor, whereas Toyota doesn't.
All of us must thank Bohdan for his knowledge and candor. What he says is true, to a point: the cost to R&D a new, fine string is becoming high, and this cost must be recovered by future sales. The faster new strings are developed and the faster they gain market share, the shorter the time to recover the R&D costs for older strings. Such is competition. But, some strings remain on the market that have had no substantive improvements over the years and yet have increased in price: such as Dominants. I submit their price increases have little to do with costs and R&D directly, but perhaps serve to offset the costs to R&D other strings. Distibution channels add a big cost layer, too. For China, I reside in China, and know the strings first hand. They are rebranded and sold in the west as excellent value. No serious player would use them, though, for they lack all of the essential qualities. I doubt these will improve any time soon, because privately funded R&D in China is virtually non-existant. On top of all this is brand loyalty. Despite all the weaknesses I perceive about Doms, they remain the number on string in China for serious players. I have yet to find any pro player willing to try a different brand, no matter what the cost of Doms. So, there is more to the business of strings than a simple string.
OOOHHH MY GOOODDD!!! I'm having a nightmare of epic proportions right now, is it real? I just burned through yet another set of Dominants in 3 weeks, went to sharmusic.com to order, and saw that my set of strings now costs over $100! I simply cannot swing that. I have no idea what I'm going to do. It looks like I will have to stop buying all strings from Thomastik and Pirastro, since they seem to have doubled in price overnight. I'm praying that it's just SHAR, but I'm afraid this is going to be the new price everywhere.
I was falling asleep before I discovered the horrible news, and now I doubt I'll sleep a wink.
Here's SHAR's latest price list for the following sets:
Vision (regular): $78.99
This has to be a mistake. They must be having website problems.
Those are the manufacturers suggested retail prices, the prices just went up, my other supplier want $45 for Tonica $52 for Dominant, again wholesale only.
Good morning Emily!
A set of Dominants are sold at The Sound Post here in Toronto from $45.91 to $48.98 CAD or $44.18 to $47.13 USD.
(Mail orders: http://www.thesoundpost.com/en/services/delivery)
Edit: Other than having been their customer since 2006, I have no other relationship with the above store.
A good percent of those too good to be true overseas prices are counterfeit strings made in China, was just on the phone with a colleague that was warning me about it.
After reading Emily's message, I checked the SHAR site and saw five popular custom sets combining Dominant A-D-G with a popular E such as Jargar or Gold Label. At this writing, these sets list at 52.90 USD -- roughly half the 102.99 for the first set on the page.
Quinn lists a full set of Dominants at 58.99 or 61.99, depending on whether you order the steel or aluminum E. Custom sets, which substitute an E other than Dominant, are 49.90. I, too, suspect Web site problems at SHAR.
I used Dominant A-D-G once, summer 2005, on one of my fiddles and got good results from them, although I don't recall what I paid then. On advice of other v.com members, I avoided the Dominant E. No personal experience so far with Tonicas.
I talked with customer service at SHAR this morning and confirmed that they had marked out the wrong price on their website. They'd meant to display the suggested retail price with a line through it and below it place their price. A set of Dominants is $61.99. Maybe they made the mistake so that $62 wouldn't seem like such a bad number after all. I'm still going to switch from Dominants on my next set. They simply don't last long enough for how much they cost.
"I'm still going to switch from Dominants on my next set. They simply don't last long enough for how much they cost."
I don't remember how long they lasted for my only tryout with them 8 years ago. On the same fiddle, I've since tried two other Tomastik combos that worked very well. The second of these is the current setup:
- Infeld Red A-D-G; Goldbrokat Medium E.
- Vision Solo A; PI D - Alumimum; PI G; Westminster Heavy E.
With both setups, I got better response and more clarity in the high positions for A-D-G. No idea how these would work out for you, but I was very pleased with both combos. At 3 hours of practicing and playing per day, I can pull 2 good months out of A-D-G for sure and can generally get 1 month beyond that to be nearly as good -- if not just as good. I change the E twice as often as A-D-G.
Normally you have to be suspicious of talk like "greed" and "gouging," as economists always point out that market forces will cause prices to be reasonable in some sense.
The violin world is full of fantasies and myths. You can't define things and measure them objectively, and even if you did, most people would not believe you. Look at the recent threads here on "breaking in" and factoring tone into the price...
I think there is plenty of myth peddling in economics too and with similar caveats, as recent (and likely future) history shows.
Since we're getting nostalgic, has everyone stopped using the John Pearse Artiste set? They're half the price of Dominants and are still a good-sounding string, in the Dominant style.
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