Violin for College

July 19, 2015 at 04:38 PM · I was wondering what quality violin would you most likely need if you were majoring in music at a major conservatory (Juilliard). I am wondering what quality violin I should buy. Please give examples!


Replies (30)

July 19, 2015 at 05:25 PM · Examples are probably pointless as the range is so broad. From what I've read you very likely will have to spend around $10-20k on your violin, although these days it is possible to find good Chinese instruments starting at around $5k. And remember that the bow is important too. I hope you have someone like your teacher who can help you with this on a regular, in-person basis.

July 19, 2015 at 07:50 PM · Pricing of violins and quality do not necessarily go hand in hand. Pick an appropriate violin which gives you the sound you're looking for. Some play exclusively on violins in the $100k+ range, while others can find a quality violin for $2k for themselves. Shop around, as Paul said involve your teacher and anybody else you trust. There are a lot of little things to watch out for, but assume your teacher will help with those. Good Hunting.

July 19, 2015 at 07:57 PM · Paul, so basically the average kid at Juilliard or another major conservatory owns a violin in the $10k-20k?

John, what obstacles should I watch out for?

July 19, 2015 at 10:25 PM · I really don't know if they do or don't. Maybe there is a conservatory professor lurking around who can answer that. Obviously, if you want higher quality at a lower price, you're doing to need to do more shopping (trying a lot of violins) -- and better shopping (more knowledge about sound, responsiveness, projection, etc.). Whatever you pay for a violin, there is always the chance that you're getting ripped off. So maybe it's better to get ripped off at $2k and work your way up to getting ripped off at $20k later. :)

July 19, 2015 at 10:52 PM · It is not about price. It is about what the violin can do for you. Obviously, you will need a violin that can handle Romantic concerti and solo Bach and Paganini at the minimum.

July 19, 2015 at 11:04 PM · I think the honest answer is, "The best-quality instrument that they can afford." That means that there will be students who are actually playing instruments that are sub-par to what they need -- instruments that may actually be holding back their learning process.

Where I live, it's apparently fairly common for people to spend about $25k (total, for violin and bow together) for a high-school-aged kid. But there are certainly people spending a lot more; for instance, one of the young-teen students in my teacher's studio has a violin worth $150k+. A lot of those kids will probably keep their high school instrument through college, unless their families are wealthy enough to afford another upgrade.

The lower your price range, the more instruments you have to try to luck into a great-sounding instrument at a price point you can afford. $20K violin + $5k bow gets you a decent set of choices, including plenty of good contemporary makers.

Your teacher should be actively involved in helping you choose an instrument if you're planning to be conservatory-bound. You don't necessarily want to pick an instrument that fits the way that you play now. You want to pick an instrument that will help you develop into the player that you want to become. Your teacher is likely to be a better judge of what will help you get there.

July 19, 2015 at 11:19 PM · What quality of violin? Simple: The best quality you can get your hands on!

Don't get too hung up on price because there are gems out there for $500 as well as $5000 and more, but expect to pay a lot for a high quality instrument. Most violin shops I've dealt with offer to rent, or 'rent-to-own' options so it shouldn't be a goal that's completely out of reach.

Like it's been said already, get your teacher, or someone whose opinion you trust to be unbiased, and try out a bunch of violins until you find one that can deliver what's expected of it at your conservatory.

More expensive doesn't necessarily always equal 'better'. I'm a firm believer that after a certain point what you're paying for is the pedigree of the violin (how rare it is, who made it, etc). You may try a $5k violin and a $10k one and find you like the $5k one better.

July 20, 2015 at 04:32 AM · Really, really bad advice, avoid ebay like the plaque, 99% of it is overpriced, and unless you're an expert, you won't know which violins are underpriced.

July 20, 2015 at 05:30 AM · There are excellent violins out there in the $10K - $20K range but you may have to look for awhile to find one. And do keep some money aside for a bow. You can get an excellent modern American bow in the $5K range. If you are really, truly strapped, a high-end carbon fiber bow will run between $700 and $1K, but your professor will likely complain about it.

Don't buy an ebay violin. And don't think that you can find a $500 violin that will be adequate. Even a "gem" in the $500 range will not be good enough.

I strongly recommend that you ask for your teacher's help in your search for a new instrument...and also seek your teacher's opinion about what is realistic in your future. You don't want to go into debt buying a Juilliard quality instrument if you aren't a realistic Juilliard prospect.

July 20, 2015 at 05:31 AM · OP, there's a broad range of violins students at Juilliard use. Some students have fairly cheap violins their families could afford, one student showed up with a $700 violin that was quickly replaced by the instructor with a loaner violin they used for the rest of their education there. And some student show up with violins that are worth the price of homes.

If you're just about to graduate high school, then I'd advise waiting until you enter college and have your instructor help you find a suitable violin that can last a few years at least. If lucky, the instructor may have one to loan you until you find a new violin.

And by little things your teacher can help you out with, I meant set up, strings and such. You also want to watch out for price gouging and poor quality.

July 20, 2015 at 07:21 AM · If you qualified for Juilliard, I assume you know about sound and what you are looking for in a violin.

One thought is to establish your budget, go to the auctions and play the violins that are estimated within your budget.

Narrow down the your choices to 3-5 violins and go to a well established, knowledgeable repair person you are comfortable with who doesn't deal in violins and ask them to assess the condition of each violin for a fee.

This way you might get a good violin at auction prices. It might not be in a perfect physical condition, but your advisor will be in the position to assess the cost of repairs for you right there.

Buying from a dealer, is always the safer way as you have the option to take the violin at home and audition it at your convenience, not something that can easily be done at the auctions, although sometimes it can be arranged to have the instrument for sometime in a private audition room.

This way you might get something worth more than you paid for as you will not be paying the dealer mark-up.

As a last resort, you might want to try new violins from established makers if they don't have a mile long waiting list, or buy one of them second hand if you can find any.

July 20, 2015 at 02:24 PM · Over the years, I've seen a lot of bulletin board postings at the Eastman School of violins that students are selling. Presumably, they have bought a better violin and are selling the one that they arrived with. Most are posted with an asking price between $15,000 and $25,000. A few are posted at $10,000. Recently, one was posted asking $20,000 - it may still be available.

July 20, 2015 at 02:39 PM · John's post reminded me, I showed up at Oberlin with a violin that was worth not more than $500. My teacher quickly arranged for me to play on a school violin, which I used until I bought my Klotz midway through senior year.

July 20, 2015 at 03:15 PM · Buying instruments at auction: eBay - absolutely not. String-instrument-specific auctions, like Tarisio, where you can go and try the instruments, and there are experts performing the authentications - maybe.

I believe you need to try out a *lot* of instruments, including those well above your price range, to really get a sense of what you like and why. Play truly outstanding instruments if you can, including instruments in the hands of performers and which aren't for sale; if you've got the caliber of teacher for Juilliard-bound students, he can probably help arrange that.

You may well find that you struggle to play much better instruments because you have not yet developed the necessary refinement of control. Your teacher's intervention here may prevent you from making the classic mistake of buying a violin that's just like the one you have now, but louder. A teacher with experience playing a lot of instruments may also help you sense the potential of an instrument that needs repair work or significant adjustments.

July 20, 2015 at 03:49 PM · I have to agree with everyone who suggested avoiding eBay.

eBay is fine if you are willing to take risks and have an idea of what you might be getting into...but certainly not the place to start looking for a college level instrument.

July 20, 2015 at 08:06 PM · I have seen this process -- buying the instrument that the student can take to music college -- going on in other families and it is very stressful.

You know what well-heeled programs like Eastman, Curtis, and Juilliard should do, is hire a couple of staff members just to go around shop for violins, violas, and cellos, that they can then resell to their students at cost, building up to an inventory of perhaps 50 violins. Then, they can tell high schoolers who have been admitted not to stress out about buying a violin, because they have an inventory of instruments, carefully pre-selected by professional agents, from which they can select with help from their new teacher. Presumably the staff purchasing agents would be sufficiently expert to ensure the students realize a good value. Division of labor is, after all, the basis of civilization.

July 20, 2015 at 08:10 PM · If I were in the business of ripping folks off by selling violins on eBay, what I would do is troll all of the violin blogs looking for threads on how to buy a violin and say that you can find some real gems on eBay.

The point of my earlier post is that it is unreasonable for anyone to expect that each and every high school student preparing to embark on a conservatory music education will have the knowledge and experience to select his or her own violin, even with a few hours' help from his or her teacher. Especially how to know if a violin is good quality just by looking at pictures of it on the internet -- I don't know how anyone can do this. Eventually as students progress they will see and play enough violins to learn how to make good choices, but how many high schoolers already have it already? Probably very few.

When I was looking for a violin I found several at dealers that were in the $10-15k range. By doing a little research I found that violins from those makers (e.g., JB Collin-Mezin) were selling for those prices everywhere. The violins sounded very good to me. Maybe they're still a ripoff, but I think you have to draw a distinction between a ripoff (misrepresentation of a violin's history or value) and profit (without which shops cannot stay in business at all).

July 20, 2015 at 09:58 PM · Violin identification is decidedly nontrivial, and a field of study unto itself -- and even then, most experts need to see an instrument in person to make a more positive identification. But whatever an instrument *is* has little to nothing to do with how it *sounds*.

Violin dealers vary in their honesty. Trust but verify when you're buying a named antique. It's worth showing an instrument (or a bow) to several different dealers and/or paying for an independent appraisal if you're in doubt.

In the kind of student price range we're talking about, though, you're unlikely to get ripped off.

July 21, 2015 at 03:56 AM · Joe, next time you SEE a truly fine $$ Italian $$ violin on >> ebay << for LESS THAN $500 will you please let ME know.

July 21, 2015 at 04:30 AM · Having played some nontrivial number of fine Italian violins, restored and set up by a shop and worth $$$$$, I can tell you that not all artistically-constructed specimens sound good.

I'm a little surprised none of the luthiers have called BS on Joe yet, but it's possible that no one wants to step in the crazy. So I'll just leave this here to prevent impressionable young'uns from being misled.

July 21, 2015 at 08:18 AM · Many of my most satisfactory purchases were directly from MAKERS, not dealers. I had fewer regrets and felt I always got bang for my buck.

However it looks to be the case that the top USA makers command high prices for new fiddles. By contrast, I have bought directly from 2 Cremona makers and paid less than I would have done had I approached my local makers in the UK.

Buying pre-owned can be risky. Many second-hand instruments have been spoilt in their early years by injudicious "retoning", or thinning of the wood. The J.B. Vuillaume violin I used professionally for many years was bought from a dealership - it had been so extensively repaired that I was lucky it served me for nearly 20 years without collapsing.

I did once buy a violin on ebay. It's a good-sounding violin, even though not made by the Italian maker whose label is inside. A less experienced player might not have had such a lucky escape.

I did not own a decent violin when a candidate for my Cambridge MusB practical. The University had an Alfred Vincent violin which I borrowed and used. Saved my bacon. Passed !

There are many owners willing to lend their good violins to deserving students; it might pay to look around.

But as remarked, there's not a very close relationship between price and performance.

July 21, 2015 at 01:04 PM · Top US makers command high prices for their instruments for one reason alone: They can. In a capitalist system it's the plain responsibility of a vendor to charge what the market can bear for his or her product, so long as he or she is not taking advantage of hungry souls at a time of disaster. As with many things, you can get good quality instruments elsewhere in the world. My violin was made in Poland and I love it. A professional that I know told me that he likes it better than his own violin.

July 21, 2015 at 01:04 PM · Yes, Mr. Green, for instance, there's a fine old Andrea Amati in an out-of-the-way museum in Carlisle (UK) :-

But that information is not a lot of help to someone wanting a fiddle for College; although a student might like to hear a recording made upon it :-

July 21, 2015 at 08:29 PM · "Top US makers command high prices for their instruments for one reason alone: They can."


Why do you suppose they can? Many musicians today do rather thorough international searches before making a choice, including multiple blind "shootouts", and often conclude that the more pricy instruments are worth the extra money.

Sure, it's not like a maker's marketing strategies and advertizing alone can't sway some people, but there are also lots of people who are fairly immune to junk like that.


"In a capitalist system it's the plain responsibility of a vendor to charge what the market can bear for his or her product, so long as he or she is not taking advantage of hungry souls at a time of disaster."


There is no such responsibility. People charge what they charge for a variety of reasons. For example, a well-established and highly regarded maker with an excellent 30-year track record under their belt, may decide that they are finally worthy of a middle-class income. And by doing so, they may help to pave the way for younger talented makers to actually make a living at it, rather than supporting their making by doing things like repairs and maintenance. There are actually very few people making a full-time living making violins, aside from violin-factory workers.

July 21, 2015 at 09:49 PM · Since many people keep their violins for many years (some up to 400 years), there is a lot more work in repair than making.

July 22, 2015 at 02:16 AM · Um, wow. I should probably stop there...

July 22, 2015 at 02:46 AM · There is something called passing something down the generation.

July 22, 2015 at 06:13 AM · I'll try to answer the original question by saying that most incoming students at conservatories will have a handmade violin by a known maker. Obviously that's a broad range, but nowadays it generally means an instrument from 15K and up.

There are exceptions, of course. But the students winning spots at these schools have generally had family commitment for many years, which includes securing a quality instrument as soon as possible. Quality doesn't have to mean very expensive, but there is a minimum cost for the labor of producing a violin from scratch (poor choice of words?) and we can debate what that is.

My own violin on entering Curtis was by Iginio Sderci, although for most of my time there I played instruments owned by the school. I regret selling that violin actually! It would likely sell for 30K or less today and it was fantastic. Hopefully still is, wherever it may be!

July 22, 2015 at 09:46 AM · Joe Green wrote:

"Any operation producing goods to be exchanged for money is a "factory"."

I don't think you'll find that term applied much to the work of an individual painter, sculptor, composer, potter, or violin maker. The term is typically applied to much larger-scale operations, and that's how I was using it.

What I meant to put across was that the vast majority of people involved full-time in making violins work in large-scale production facilities, sometimes employing hundreds of workers. For example, one small instrument-production-focused town, near Beijing, cranks out about 250,000 string instruments per year.

The number of individual makers, managing to make a full-time living from making, is actually very small.

July 22, 2015 at 12:25 PM · See what the other kids have. I'm serious.

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