Purchasing a 'professional' violin

February 17, 2015 at 03:24 AM · Hi everyone! I am a college student right now and I am majoring in violin performance. I have enough scholarships that all my tuition is covered and I am currently not having to take out any money in loans.

I have a pretty basic student violin and student bow right now. They are getting the job done but I have been curious if more advanced equipment might help make things easier so I am planning on trying out some instruments in Chicago soon. I am also planning on going to grad school so I would like to have the violin before then for auditions.

I have come up with a couple options and I would like recommendations and other suggestions if you have any.

A - I can take out a musical instrument loan from a bank for $10,000 and make payments every month to pay it back.

B - I can take out a student loan I was offered for 10,000 and not have to pay it back until after I graduate.

(((With both A and B I can take my scholarship return checks which is about 4,000+ a year to pay it back, along with my part time job)))

C - I can save the money I get from my scholarship returns and from work to get a violin and bow.

Replies (27)

February 17, 2015 at 03:30 AM · Can you really get a regular bank loan for a violin? The question might come down to interest on bank vs student loan.

February 17, 2015 at 04:29 AM · My credit union does "musical instrument loans" just like a car loan.

February 17, 2015 at 07:36 AM · Years ago, like you I was in "Grad School" and played second violin in a quartet, leader Simon Standage.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Standage)

Though it had gotten me through ABRSM Grade 8 with distinction my own violin was falling apart, too "cheap" to even BOTHER with repairing it, and I was getting by on a borrowed violin that, too, was pretty poor.

Then our University had a quartet of instruments donated, all by the English maker Alfred Vincent. My Vincent "saved the day" for me and I passed my MusB practical.

Though there are some professionals who can sound pretty good on almost anything, most if us need some assistance from our fiddles.

Now, $10,000 will not get you much to write home about these days.

Try your best to find someone, or an organisation, who will LEND you a violin. For example, I heard of the Amati Foundation, who might well do that for a person they consider deserving.

Some owners of "investment" level violins will be only too happy for a dedicated person to borrow & play their violin for them, because the sound will be maintained or improved and the commercial value enhanced.

So, my advice is to try to borrow a violin, not money !

BTW for my (successful) audition for my first professional job I played a new violin that a maker had allowed me to take away and make payments on when I promised to buy it. Interest free !! I know that "pay me when you can" might be an unatisfactory contract for Judge Judy but in my case such a loose agreement did work out.

Still, $10k might not be enough to satisfy even the most generous of fiddle-makers in the USA. Your local dealerships will advise you in this respect.

February 17, 2015 at 09:20 AM · Makers in the US typically charge $15,000 for a new instrument at the minimum. There are makers who charge less mostly because they are not as well known or their work isn't up there with the big names just yet.

February 17, 2015 at 12:47 PM · Just to say that a fine player can indeed get the best out of any violin, or his/her playing can make yone forget about the instrument, but no-one can "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear"!

However, very many orchestral professionals play on violins well under the 10,000 mark, precisely because the maker is little known, or even unknown.

February 17, 2015 at 01:03 PM · Cash is good. Debt is bad.

February 17, 2015 at 02:02 PM · I agree with Adrian.

Dealers might have some excellent sounding instruments that have no name, hence the asking price is much lower than it would have been had these instruments had a name.

Some people might give them a label and sell them on, but honest dealers will give them for what they are.

February 17, 2015 at 03:55 PM · Definitely take the student loan if you don't have to pay interest on it until after graduation (Stafford loan.) As others have said, look for a good modern instrument. In Chicago, I wouldn't particularly recommend Bein and Fuschi. You will truly pay top dollar or more. You can try Kenneth Warren & Sons, a reputable firm which has been around for many years. Keep in mind that you can have instruments shipped to you for approval by less high end dealers. You might also try Sharmusic which I believe has less high end instruments.

February 17, 2015 at 04:22 PM · In Chicago, also try Carl Becker, and Michael Becker. (Unrelated.) I own a violin purchased from the former, and my sister owns a violin made by and purchased from the latter. Service over the years was good back when I was living in Chicago, and Michael Becker in particular carries less expensive instruments.

On the financial side, I would definitely meet with a financial counselor at your bank, to talk through your options. Bring your parents, too, because that might open up some other options, like a home equity loan, borrowing against a 401K, etc., if they're willing to borrow on your behalf and they trust you to be responsible enough to pay them back in a timely fashion.

You have a further complication because you need that $10K to cover *both* a violin and bow, leaving you with a decision about how you're going to split the money between them. For $5K, you could buy a very fine contemporary-made bow. You could pair that with a high-end workshop violin for $5K (Shar sells these, for instance, and if you live in Indiana you can probably make the drive to Michigan to try them out) or a no-name older instrument.

If you do that, the violin would probably just tide you over for a few years until you can borrow or buy a better instrument. But don't underestimate the role of the bow in making you a better player; in your price range you'll get more bang for the buck putting more money into the bow.

February 17, 2015 at 05:02 PM · A professional player I know used for some years a violin he had bought in collaboration with his teacher. Each had paid half the price, the arrangement being to split the proceeds when the fiddle was eventually sold.

This might suggest a way forward.

February 17, 2015 at 08:00 PM · David Beck, that suggests an investment-grade instrument, though, which it doesn't sound like the OP can consider even if they're only in it for 50%.

February 17, 2015 at 10:11 PM · Spend a couple of days and take one or two of violin-graduate-student friends for a tour of three or four dealers. Ask at each place to see 4-6 violins in the $5k-$8k range. Do not allow yourself to be prejudiced about where they were made or how old they are. Play the same thing on each -- a couple of scales and some solo Bach. Bring home one or two violins from each shop and keep them for a while, playing them, having your friends play them, at home and in the recital hall at your school, and at the end, whatever violin emerges as the best of that group, just buy it, and treat your friends to a really nice dinner.

Here are the questions to ask about each violin:

(1) Is it well made and functional, and correctly set up, or will it need costly repairs and adjustments right away?

(2) Does it sound and play significantly better than your current violin?

(3) Do you and you colleagues think the violin has a good, strong, clear, and balanced violin sound throughout its range, without any clear negatives?

Do NOT ask the following questions, because the answer to each is already "no".

(1) Is this violin "The One" for me?

(2) Is this violin a good investment?

(3) Will this violin impress my professor when I get to graduate school?

Remember that you're not looking for a "great" violin in this price range. You're just looking for something that is significantly better than what you already have, that will inspire you to work toward the next level of your professional career as a violinist.

February 18, 2015 at 04:26 AM · I second the suggestion to just go visit shops and play instruments, so that you can get a concept of what is out there.

I have colleagues in full time orchestras and recording gigs who happily play on a modern instrument in the 10k-20k range. It's not that they can't afford a more expensive one, but that they were fortunate to work with current makers that had not hit the "big time" yet with VSA medals and international competition prizes, but yet made excellent instruments. The violist in my quartet plays a Bronek Cison (a luthier at the William Harris Lee shop in Chicago). It would be fantastic instrument at twice the price he paid for it, and in the final stages of his search it competed well against violas 4-5 times the price, and substantially older. Speaking of which, go visit the WH Lee workshop...you might be pleasantly surprised at how good the new instruments coming out there are!

February 18, 2015 at 05:48 AM · Greetings,

Lydia already mentioned the complication of buying a good bow. Having a good fiddle and an average bow is a bad idea. Personally I think the split tends to be something like the bow as a third of the value of the instrument in this price range but its hard to generalize.



February 18, 2015 at 03:19 PM · At first, I was planning on just getting a violin up to 10k and really get used to playing on the violin with the bow I already have for a semester or two before I start looking for a bow. If I find a violin for less than 10k that I like I could save the money remaining to contribute to a bow. I have the option every year to take out more money for students loans but I don't want to if I don't have to, obviously.

I am hesitant to get a better bow now, because even though it might make the violin I have now sound better, I might not like the way it sounds with a new violin.

February 18, 2015 at 03:34 PM · Alexis, I am living your strategy. I bought a nice violin a couple of years ago, in the same price range that you're considering, and now I think it's time maybe to look for a bow. Why wait that long? Well, remember, I don't play as much every day as you do because I'm an amateur with a demanding day job and a family.

If you follow the conventional wisdom of spending about one-third of the value of your violin on a bow, then you're spending $2-3k on a bow and $7-8k on the violin. (Which leaves, by the way, nothing for a case, strings, or a few minor adjustments that may improve the sound or playability of your instrument significantly. Your insurance premiums are going to increase too.)

A professional violinist that I admire and trust told me that the quality of today's carbon fiber bows is such that spending less than $2000 on a wood bow is largely pointless. Perhaps there will not be general agreement on this, but my point is that your budget suggests you should still be considering CF bows. I use a Cadenza "three star" bow for which I paid around $450, and I love it. My teacher and I agree that my bow is not holding me back. For what I'd spend on a superior wood bow, I think I'd rather have a Chinese viola.

PS the link to your personal web site provided in your v.com member profile is not working.

February 18, 2015 at 03:38 PM · Most of these posts (although they are very helpful) only talk about how I should split the money or whether or not I will be able to find a professional violin for my price range.... but very few posts address my actual question about how I should obtain the funds to purchase one.

I know some places do accept payments but I would like to plan as if they didn't in the event that the place I end up getting a violin from does not have that option.

I know a lot of professionals that hold professional symphony jobs on violins they got for 10k and under. I expect that this violin will help me finish my undergrad and get through a masters and doctoral program, but this doesn't necessarily have to be the violin that I keep and use for my entire life. Maybe when I am in a better position financially (and not working at Petsmart) I would be able to get a more expensive violin, but I don't have to decide that until later. Right now, for a violin, 10k is my limit.

I have a group of friends that would be willing to go (we all need rehairs anyway)- I would like to have them go with me for the initial listening process to narrow it down but (if possible) I would like to take them home to have my professor try them and listen to me play them. I have a couple other people I could ask to try them too.

As far as a bow goes, can anyone tell me anything about Eric Swanson's violin bows? I have met him and but not tried his bows.

February 18, 2015 at 03:41 PM · Don't overthink it. You'll drive yourself crazy.

You need a good violin...a good bow...and a good case...but there are a multitude of options to meet those basic needs available.

Take your time too...no need to rush. There is no shortage of either violins or bows out there that you will be happy with.

February 18, 2015 at 03:51 PM · Alexis, respectfully, the only question mark in your original post was at the end of "how to go about doing it" which is a vague question that could apply to the process of selecting the instrument as well as the process of securing funds. Your post suggested to me that you have already considered many of the funding options.

There is nothing wrong with taking out a loan as an investment in your future. However, please remember that there is more to a loan than the interest rate. There are details such as what happens if you miss a payment, etc. Among the options, federally guaranteed students loans, such as Stafford loans, are a good option because they offer more protections. If you buy your instrument with funds from a Stafford loan, there is no collateral to be repossessed if you miss a payment. If you go to a bank for a loan, the loan officer can answer your questions first-hand. If you get your loan through a dealer, the loan is normally being underwritten by a bank, and the dealer may not know as much about the fine details of the loan agreement. Remember what they say about jewelry stores -- they don't make money on jewelry, they make money by lending you the money to buy jewelry. The way they do that can get shady real fast.

February 18, 2015 at 03:53 PM · Paul - I just got a new case less than six months ago.... It's traveled with me to Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Slovakia, Wyoming, Minnesota and Colorado for music festivals, violin lessons and other trips in the last few months and not a single scratch or rip. It's going with me to London to the Royal Academy of Music next month. It's like a tank for my violin. I'm very impressed. It's a bobelock. I went through cases like water before this one.... I should share a picture of one of my GEWA cases. It was shredded, sewn back together and shredded again.

February 18, 2015 at 03:54 PM · Paul - I just noticed the how to go about doing it thing. I actually didn't write that, whoever moderates that must have changed it. I had just written "see post"

February 18, 2015 at 03:55 PM · I have a Bobelock case too. It's a model that was specially designed for sale by Johnson String Instruments. It seems well made.

February 18, 2015 at 08:58 PM · Did someone actually invoke the phrase "Chinese viola" in this thread?!

Some members with weak constitutions may not be able to bear such utterances!

February 19, 2015 at 01:40 AM · Frieda's post sounds true to me.

I happened to me often enough that I can't help by believe that there is a pattern.

Beware the last violin pulled after one hour of your playing, when you are already tired enough and nothing offered sounds quite good.

Never, ever disclose how much do you want to spend, unless each and every violin in shop already has a visible price tag.

There are great sounding violins under 5k and poor sounding violins above 20k. Do not bind yourself with the number and do not label violin as "professional",

February 19, 2015 at 02:24 AM · As for whether dealers are crooks, thats a whole new (or old) thread.

February 19, 2015 at 09:45 AM · If the violin is doing the job, perhaps upgrading the bow is a better bet. A high-end carbon fibre bow or hybrid bow can be had for under $2000.

February 19, 2015 at 12:32 PM ·

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