Chicago violin shops. What's going on???

May 26, 2016 at 02:00 AM · Here's my story.

A few years back, I decided to trade in my violin. Someone suggested Chicago Strings in Evanston. A one hour drive if traffic is good. (rarely.) I made an appointment, and when I arrived was told the owner is out of town, but feel free to drive back some other time.

Sometime later I made an appointment with Ken Stein violins in Elmhurst. When I arrived the salesperson said she will call him since he lives only ten minutes away. After calling, I was informed that he is working around the house and doesn't feel like coming in, but, if I leave the violin, I can make another two and a half hour round trip(toll road) at his convenience.

A few weeks ago, I asked about violin shops in Chicago on and was reffered to Dixon-Stein violins. I made an appointment and guess what? Closed. When I got home I called and the person who answered seemed to think it amusing that they were late. Apparently they don't think it important to keep appointments. However if I feel like making another two hour round trip and pay $22 for parking, they will be happy to sell me a violin.

Has anyone else had experiences like this? Some of these dealers are like used car salesman.

This, along with 100% negative experiences with the much thought of Chinese instruments,(another long story that I might relate some other time)has me thinking about giving up the violin. It just doesn't seem like it's worth the hassle.

I played guitar professionally for over thirty years and never had any experiences like this.

Sorry for the rant, but I'm really frustrated.

Any opinions or other horror stories? I hope I'm not the only one.

Replies (35)

May 26, 2016 at 05:39 AM · My guess is that with a lot of people - in every city - courtesy and manners are going the way of the dinosaur.

One dealer in Chicago (I won't say which, although they don't really deserve my consideration) ordered a custom case from us, and when it was ready and we asked for payment so we could ship, they no longer replied to our emails. :-(

May 26, 2016 at 11:27 AM · I didn't deal with any dealers in Chicago, bit the shops I talked to and visited in the Detroit metro and Ann Arbor area were all extremely kind and went out of their way to make sure everything was taken care of as I was driving over an hour to get to them. You may have come across an overly off coincidence, but don't give up on violin because of it, there are plenty of dealers out there who would truly appreciate your business.

May 26, 2016 at 12:00 PM · Go west young man!

Ifshin Violins in El Cerrito (just north of Berkeley) has its 13,500 sq. ft. building on enough land that it has its own gated parking lot - and I've never found them late to either answer the phone or to be open in the 20 years I've dealt with them.


May 26, 2016 at 01:26 PM · I'm sorry you had a bad experience. I'd be very irked if I had to drive that distance...several times, and come back with nothing. However, these things also seem to come in maybe it will be all good from here on in.

But don't let bad 'customer service' deter you from the violin. They are two separate things entirely!

May 26, 2016 at 03:42 PM · That's a pity.... Dixon & Stein are my dealers in Chicago, I have a violin and two violas there....

May 26, 2016 at 06:02 PM · Thank you for your replies everybody.

Dimitri-I agree with you about courtesy and manners. The salespeople in the few shops I visited were very nice and friendly. When the instruments I tried were not to my liking, it was like throwing a switch. No more friendly conversation, they just wanted me out of there.

May 26, 2016 at 08:13 PM · Leon, sorry for your bad experiences. There are quite a few decent dealers, so write off the ones you've had bad experiences with (their loss), and move on. Not unlike car dealers. A few have had me resolving to never ever do business with them, and others have had my repeat business.

Holy cow, if some salesman can't even notice that I'm kinda cheap during the first minute of interaction, and tries to hit me with a ten-thousand-over-invoice price, how stupid is that? They made their bed.....LOL

May 27, 2016 at 04:30 AM · I'm sorry to hear about this. Honest and punctual customer service amongst any business is so vital and important for the business. It seems like those shops have other priorities on their mind and don't bother to call to make a reschedule.

On the commercial business side, I also feel like too much customer service can lead to abuse. In the non-violin world, I see customers or people on the street wearing clothing with tags attached, and returning them later, or other return policies honored without receipt. I suppose in the violin world, musicians may continually check out instruments, perform concerts on them, and return them. Yes, it could be that never ending instrument soul searcher, but it can be a real headache for the dealer.

Anyways,in my own life, always being punctual with replies and rescheduling on the performer and teaching side of my career has been one of the keys to success, and I've transferred that philosophy to my shop relations. Good communication is key for any relationship, I've learned so much about good & bad communication on both sides from my marriage!

On a side note, I'm happy to help you with a instrument search if you feel the need to look outside your area. I am insured to ship on approval, so that's not an issue.



Thomas Yee, Violinist

Founder of Bay Fine Strings

May 27, 2016 at 02:03 PM · My only visit to a violin shop was in Bloomington, In. I stood in the shop for 5 minutes,,alone. Never again.

May 28, 2016 at 01:57 AM · Hi, Leon, I drove two and a half hours a couple times to shops in the Chicago area, and they were actually open for the appointments I had made with them, thank goodness because I probably would have been crushed if I had been greeted by a dark, locked shop.

But I also found that I did not attract much interest from them when I didn't buy one of the first instruments they set out for me. One of them mentioned parents who had recently bought a $30,000 instrument for their junior high or high school child, so I inferred that my business would be a pretty low priority in comparison. Just after that three of my kids ended up needing braces, so my violin money is going to the orthodontist for now.

If you do find a shop/luthier that you like in the Chicago area, please update ... When I finish paying for my kids' teeth I'll be looking for a place to buy a new violin.

May 28, 2016 at 04:18 PM · At least two violin shops in Bristol operate the policy of locking their doors when the shop is open for business, so that customers must ring a bell to get admittance. It works well in practice. This policy is due to exceedingly quick in-and-out unwanted visits by the light-fingered in the past.

May 28, 2016 at 11:45 PM · Hi Cynthia- I highly recommend Michael Becker violins in Park Ridge Il. Very nice and unassuming and more than fair prices for repairs. I've been looking at other shops because, with all the road repair going on, it would be a five hour round trip for me. Most of it at 5 mph!

It's best to let Michael Becker know when your coming so he'll have some instruments ready.

Bad timing about your kids teeth, but think of the beautiful smiles when they hear you play your new violin!

May 29, 2016 at 02:16 AM · One can always tell when the proprietor really doesn't want your business.

But also, violin dealers that I've met never struck me as the type that entered appointments into a Blackberry

When you make the appointment, explain that you will confirm right before you leave the house, you won't come if they don't answer. This goes for ANY appointment that involves any significant travel.

May 29, 2016 at 09:39 AM · Paul, Amen to that. For the younger generation, it's google calendar! Is blackberry still around?

May 29, 2016 at 02:59 PM · Hey at least I didn't say "Palm Pilot."

I'm a Google Calendar man myself. Great for the family and for work.

May 29, 2016 at 05:06 PM · I write appointments on a post-it note and stick them on the window that I look out of all day long.

Can't miss that!

Of note: I did send an e-mail to the owner of one of the orig. shops mentioned at the beginning of the thread. As a maker and shop owner, internet discussions like this can impact business, so I think that the accused should have the option of chiming in. I didn't get a reply, and no one has posted here. As Paul said, you can tell when someone really doesn't want your business.

May 31, 2016 at 10:58 AM · Hi, Leon, thanks. I haven't come across that shop yet, so I'll look up Park Ridge on a map. Hopefully the shop will still be around when I'm shopping again. Yes, too bad about the teeth, but, oh well, that's life. (And their smiles are super, regardless of teeth. That's why I take requests from them to play all kinds of things, movie music, video game tracks, animé songs ... Sure helps expand my repertoire. :-)

May 31, 2016 at 05:36 PM · Thumbs up for Michael Becker. My sister bought a violin from him.

May 31, 2016 at 08:52 PM · From my experience with local dealers, their lukewarm reaction is sometimes result of perception of less incentives from doing business with certain customers.

No matter how short-sighted and unprofessional, some of them work for "bigger fish" in the pond.

My 2 cents (rounded up or down).

May 31, 2016 at 10:52 PM · Working toward bigger fish is always a temptation. My wife, a former low-level pro musician, pretty much puts the kibosh on my discriminating based on player status. While she can see promotional advantages to doing so (and maybe that would allow her to add to her four guitars, a good keyboard, a mandolin, three sewing machines, and who knows what else she tries to keep hidden under the bed), she also sees nothing inherently "right" or fair about that, and bridles at the notion that she could be offered reduced opportunities for instrument selection, just because she isn't a "famous" guitar player. It's really hard to come up with good reasons to discard that perspective, if you care as much about people as you care about greed.

Kinda kidding in some ways. She makes more money than I do, so I'm not on very solid ground when I complain about her instrument, pet, motorcycle, and sewing and embroidery machine collections. But that's the environment I'm in, and perhaps that sort of counterpoint and balance is a good thing.

May 31, 2016 at 11:59 PM · If they only want big fish, they could have told me that when I made appointment and told them my price range. There were a few shops that I called who told me that they only sell high end instruments and were very nice about it, even recommending who to call.

I also had one well known shop (now out of business) blatantly try to rip me off. They thought that because I don't play very well, I don't know anything about sound, construction, prices, etc. I still remember the surprised look on their faces when I turned and walked out the door.

June 1, 2016 at 12:13 AM · I've always had good luck with people being very kind to me in Chicago. 25 years ago when I was just finishing graduate school, I showed up at Bein and Fushi just to look around. The salesman told me that while he knew I did not have the means to buy a really nice violin, many of his clients were scientists and doctors. He then showed me an Amati and a Stradivari.... Who knows, it might have been a slow day, but I really appreciated the time spent with me.

In recent years, I have stopped by Swanson Bows and A440 Violin shop... both have gone out of their way to be nice.

June 1, 2016 at 12:52 AM · Someone tell Joshua Bell that just because he's just got the Dushkin Award from the Chicago Music Institute, it doesn't mean he has to try to buy a violin there!

June 1, 2016 at 05:28 AM · I have so far been lucky in that the people I've spoken with were polite and friendly, but I did get the impression that I wasn't a big enough fish. They had a few instruments for me to try during the appointment, but I did get the impression that they just didn't have a whole lot in my price range, which was only a couple thousand at the time. They seemed busy enough, so I guess it's understandable that they have to prioritize.

It's too bad because in this part of the state you either find something at the local guitar store/school band outfitter, take a trip to the big city, or shop online. Some of my daughter's violin teacher's other students have gotten instruments at Shar and Potter, but I don't know if I would consider a violin before I check it out in person.

Happily in this part of the world there are some options/alternatives. Sounds like there are more shops in the Chicago area for me to call when I restore my violin fund. I feel bad for people in some parts of the globe with no instrument shops within hundreds of miles.

June 1, 2016 at 05:59 AM · Leon, perhaps the shop that tried to rip you off got what was deserved, if that's any satisfaction.

It does seem some sellers think that non-pros will be just as happy with a lower quality instrument. Ignorance is supposed to be bliss, isn't it? At one of the shops I went to, an instrument offered to me had some big repaired cracks. I don't care much about appearance, but it didn't sound good either. Even so, they were pressuring me to take this "Mirecourt" instrument on trial. Afterward, I told them more specifically what I was and wasn't looking for, and the next violin they showed me was in better shape, even if it seemed overpriced.

June 1, 2016 at 02:56 PM · The next violin is always overpriced! Always.

It is amazing how dealers keep using the same trick everywhere.

It is even more amazing how many buyers fall into the trap.

June 8, 2016 at 07:38 PM · UPDATE!

I received an e-mail from Dixon-stein with a very nice apology. Mistakes happen, so I made an appointment and have a violin out on trial now.

Sean, the sales rep. turned out to be a very nice, friendly, and interesting person to talk to.

If anyone is going downtown Chicago looking for a violin I can recommend Dixon-Stein.

June 10, 2016 at 01:03 AM · Oh glad to hear that :) I think I was the one who recommended them and have always had great experience there, so glad to hear they followed through. Still too bad about your first run.

May 4, 2017 at 11:39 PM · I have to put in a big plug for Dixon Stein in Chicago: After several trials, I got a wonderful cello from them. I have also been very well treated at Darnton & Hersh, Paul Becker & Son, Kenneth Warren, Bein & Fushi and William Harris Lee (all in Chicago), in spite of the fact that I was never a high-end shopper. I have heard all good things about Michael Becker. The OP's problem, I find extremely puzzling...

May 5, 2017 at 07:47 PM · I noticed that there are no less than four violin shops in the same building, 410 S Michigan Ave, in downtown Chicago:

- Bein & Fushi

- Carl Becker & Son

- William Harris Lee & Co.

- Guadagnini Violin Shop

I will be in Chicago in the near future for work, my hotel is very close to that address, and I may have a few hours to spare to try some nice violins. Can people who are familiar with these shops recommend one of them? I will only have time for one shop.

May 5, 2017 at 08:26 PM · High end, Bein & Fushi

More reasonable but still good, William Harris Lee.

Dixon Stein is also there.

May 5, 2017 at 09:22 PM · If you only have time for one, definitely Bein & Fushi. Call ahead if you can.

May 5, 2017 at 10:10 PM · I know Bein&Fushi only from reputation, if I make an appointment and tell them I would like to try some nice instruments, will they let me? I mean, it would be fun if they let me try their Stradivarius but I suppose it doesn't work like that? How does it actually work? I suppose they will demand a price bracket from me and will then prepare a selection within that bracket in advance? Can I cheat a bit? Sorry, I really don't know how it works in such a high-end violin shop.

May 7, 2017 at 02:27 PM · Lots of good violin shops in the area, you just went to a couple of smaller ones that have more unstructured hours. in additon to the ones mentioned, there is also Seman violins in skokie.

May 7, 2017 at 05:23 PM · My experience with Kenneth Stein in Elmhurst was absolutely the opposite. They were extremely professional and put in a great deal of thoughtful assistance in getting me what I needed.

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