Best Violins Under $5000??

July 28, 2016 at 07:32 PM · I've seen other posts like this from ages ago, but I couldn't find a direct answer.

Background Scenario of me:

So I think I'm going to play the violin the rest of my life, for violin is a passion. Currently I have a $2000 violin from Potters Violin Shop, MD. For my next upgrade violin, I want to buy a violin that will last me at least until the end of college. After then, I guess I'll buy expensive violins when I start earning. I am thirteen now, and I've started when I was 4 (Not that this changes anything). I am in the top youth orchestra of central Virginia area, and I try to practice about 1-3 hours of violin everyday. I am probably not going to professionally, but I will take the violin as a serious hobby, maybe local orchestras or recitals.

Since I am a student, I must ask my parents to buy me a violin. So obviously, they wont invest more than $5000 for a violin. So I want the most I can get out of a violin thats under $5000. Does anyone know any good violin makers that have a sound that is way higher than its price point? Or should I go to a violin shop and ask for violins? If so, how should I ask them, professionally enough so that they don't take advantage of me. How many violins should I ask for at a time?

I've posted a post yesterday about the makers, and thanks to those who've answered that. I've realized that that wasn't a strong question so I decided to ask a new one.

I've heard that Jay Haide violins are good, if anyone knows better, than please share. I've done further research and found that I may be able to find a E.H. Roth violin in the (Under $5000) price range, but thats like impossible now. Sooo, does anyone have any good violin recommendations?

NOW time for BOW TALK. I've gotten a $125 "low quality carbon fiber" bow from a local violin shop. (You can laugh) I've heard sayings that your bow should be 1/3 of your violin price! I think I cant get the sound I need from my $2000 violin, so I'm getting an upgrade. Everytime I ask my parents, they get pissed that I'm asking for $600-$800 bows.

Does anyone have a STRONG NO FOOL-PROOF argument of WHY I should get a better bow?

There are many violin shops in the MD, VA, DC area, but what are the BEST? Potters? Perrin? Brobst? Vancanti?



Questions to consider answering:

- Best violin under $5000 for sounds better than price?

- How to ask dealers for good violins and how many at a time?

- Good argument for why I need a better bow?

- Good violin recommendations?

- Best violin shops in the MD, DC, VA area?

I live in VA btw


Replies (33)

July 28, 2016 at 08:14 PM · David, really great and thoughtful questions.

Despite nearly 50 years in the violin trade, with something around 40 being surrounded and coached by people in the upper echelons, I can't offer any simple or foolproof advice.

Some good advice may follow in subsequent posts, like trying violins relentlessly until you find something you like, as long as it comes with the caveat that tastes and preferences can change, as skill and experience levels change. Even Strads and Guaneris are returned to the market place, upon tastes changing, or running across something considered to be a little better "bang for the buck".

July 28, 2016 at 08:29 PM · David, I agree with Mr. Burgess--your questions are very good, but "foolproof" and 'buying an instrument and bow" don't really go well together, so...what does your teacher suggest?

What pleases you now may not as you improve over the next 2-3 years, or your technique may outstrip your equipment.

That's why your teacher should be your first resource because s/he should know which dealers are fair, what you are likely to need--and enjoy. Each shop will have a policy on how many/how long their instruments go out. After that, well, trial and error, exploration--and enjoy the adventure.

July 28, 2016 at 09:03 PM · As someone who's been through the same search in the same price range, there are a couple things I wish I would have done sooner.

The biggest one is talking directly to the luthiers in these shops, especially the more junior ones as they are generally more willing to talk. They're busy, but I told them I was writing a paper on violin making--which I was--and they let me hang out in the workshop and ask questions while they did repairs. I did this at a pretty well known shop and at the end the person I chatted with mentioned that he had a couple violins he had made that he might part with in the price range, but unfortunately I had already purchased one while studying abroad a couple months prior. That person I interviewed ended up winning an award at the VSA competition about half a year later, and his prices are definitely not this low anymore. There are a lot of undiscovered or up-and-coming makers out there, so ask around. And even if you don't find something, you will learn so much about the craft--what constitutes good workmanship, what to look for in a violin, lesser known information about the trade. It's all about educating yourself so you know what's good value and what isn't worth purchasing.

I also tried over 100 violins in the price range so I had a good sense of what the money will get and when something popped up that outplayed everything I had tried and had good workmanship that's when I knew I had found something good.

July 28, 2016 at 09:06 PM · You've asked related questions before (listed in no particular order, and I'm not sure I got all the threads, but they are useful for context on the previous discussions): 1 2 3

Honestly, between a $2k violin and a $5k violin, you are probably not going to see a massive difference in quality. Since your $2k violin is apparently a rental, if there's a $5k budget available and you were going to own both violin and bow, it would probably be best spent as up to $4k on the violin and then $1k for the bow. Or you could just stick with your existing $2k-ish rental, and buy a decent bow. Spending $750 or so on a bow will probably make a vastly larger difference in your playing than upgrading your violin. I'm not sure why you think you can persuade your parents to spend $5k on a violin if they won't spend $1k on getting you a decent bow.

As I've noted in previous threads, your teacher is best equipped to convince your parents that you need an upgrade. Given your current level of repertoire (I know your teacher is letting you attempt Zigeunerweisen, but it really seemed like Bach A minor was more your level), I don't know that there's anything that you couldn't do with a reasonable student instrument (i.e., your $2k violin is likely adequate) but for advanced bowing technique you definitely want a decent bow, which you can obtain (especially if you go carbon-fiber) for under $1k.

In the immediate vicinity of DC, Potters and Brobst sell student instruments and bows, as do Lashof (Gaithersburg) and Gailes (College Park). They are also a good place to shop for bows in the price range we're talking about. (Lashof gave me a superb deal on a Jon-Paul Avanti carbon-fiber bow.) Your parents might prefer Potters since their policy is that a portion of the payments you've made on a rental from them can be used to purchase an instrument, so you effectively have some store credit already.

To shop for instruments, you call and ask for an appointment and give a price range. They will set out instruments for you to try during your appointment. You go and play the violins/bows and figure out which you like. Then, they will typically let you do a trial -- usually you take 1 to 3 instruments home for a week, show them to your teacher, etc. Depending on the shop, you might be asked to guarantee the trial with a credit card (i.e., if you don't return the instruments, you will be charged for them). Trials can sometimes be extended as well.

Bring your teacher with you when you shop, if she's willing to help you. For kids like yourself, you will normally be asked who your teacher is, if you show up alone. (As far as I know, none of the local shops do teacher kickbacks, though.)

Brand at this price point doesn't matter in the least. Play everything that they have in inventory that's within your price range. Most shops will also let you try some things outside of your price range, and you definitely should, so you shape your own sense of what constitutes a great instrument. (I was bow-shopping at Potters earlier this week, and they let me try a Tourte they had on consignment, which was a magically revelatory experience.)

There are plenty of people in community orchestras who are still playing their childhood student-grade instruments and using inexpensive bows (many of them have upgraded from their childhood bows into good-quality carbon-fiber, from what I've seen). So you may not really be in need of a violin upgrade for your needs, but you could almost certainly use a better bow.

July 28, 2016 at 10:22 PM · Quote:

"As someone who's been through the same search in the same price range, there are a couple things I wish I would have done sooner.

The biggest one is talking directly to the luthiers in these shops, especially the more junior ones as they are generally more willing to talk."


Absolutely! One can learn a hell of a lot by establishing a relationship with the people who actually do the work, versus the sales geeks.

July 28, 2016 at 10:36 PM · The reason you never got a "definitive answer" before about this question or any of your related questions is because there isn't one to give.

Asking a luthier in the shop to advise you on violin selection is a great idea. The luthier can tell you which instrument is well made in addition to having good insight into the sound, especially if they have done adjustments on it. But getting that kind of access to the luthiers in a shop like Potter Violins may not be all that easy. The scenario that Austin described is not going to be realistic for everyone who goes into their shop.

I played a nice new violin recently in the workshop of Patrick Toole (Roanoke VA). I think he sells them through shops in NC but I'm not completely sure about that. Also check out Don Leister in Richmond. I played one of his violins about five years ago and I was impressed with it. Not sure if any living American luthier can give his or her violins away for under $5000 but maybe once you've played some of their instruments you might be willing to dig a little deeper. There are a couple of other shops in Richmond -- Jan Hampton and the Kapeller shop. Personally, though, I think you will get the best value from Leister, among the Richmond folks.

July 29, 2016 at 12:25 AM · Don't forget Oded Kishony in Barbourville, VA. Lydia has raised an important point which is that if you have a certain budget, you should allocate significant funds to the bow. The common wisdom is that when you are upgrading, spending a certain amount of money on a better bow is likely to give you more bang for your buck than spending an equivalent amount on the violin. In other words, spending $1000 on a new bow is likely to be a better investment than spending $1000 more than your current violin costs on a new violin. Good luck! You have received lots of good advice.

July 29, 2016 at 01:14 AM · Thanks Paul, I live in Henrico VA, so Richmond is a great place.

July 29, 2016 at 03:05 PM · "Not sure if any living American luthier can give his or her violins away for under $5000"

Probably true for luthiers that actually need to live off the income. There are some serious amateurs that may be a bargain, but finding and testing them is a logistical problem.

July 29, 2016 at 03:11 PM · I would disagree about not seeing much difference between a $2K violin and a $5k one, since I went from one to the other and it made a world of difference for me. I bought what I'd consider my "forever violin " last year and tried many violins from multiple shops with a budget of up to $8k, and ended up loving a $5k violin that did everything I had felt my old violin had been lacking (closed sound, thin tone, not very responsive). A bow upgrade was also a big improvement, although going from a $2k to $5k violin yielded a greater difference than going from a $400 to $1500 bow. So they are out there, and you could feasibly find one to meet your needs with some time and effort.

July 29, 2016 at 03:30 PM · David, I went through a similar journey a little over a year ago for a $5000 viola. While I generally agree that the difference between $2000 and $5000 is marginal when buying from a reputable shop as most under $7000 are workshop instruments, I encourage you to look into up-and-coming luthiers. The new-instrument market is highly saturated and dominated by a list of key makers whose reputation (as well as their objectively good instrument making) allows them to charge pretty hefty premiums. However, there are many, many luthiers who are willing to make a violin for around your price that will have a sound comparable to those with double the price tag.

If you want, I would be happy to refer you to the person who made my viola. Could not be happier, both musically and financially. I'm not sponsored in any way, I just think it was a great experience. Message me if you want more info!

July 29, 2016 at 03:52 PM · KJ I don't know why you don't write your viola-maker's name here. I'm sure they would appreciate the free advertising.

July 29, 2016 at 04:06 PM · I didn't know if it was against the terms and services of this website for whatever reason, but you're right. His name is Catalin Quercinola from Kansas. Great guy to work with! Incredible attention to detail and beautiful sound. He'll work with you on size, model (strad, guarneri, hybrid, etc.), varnish, and even strings. I believe some of his violins are on A. Cavallo's website.

David, if you do want to get in touch with him, please message me. I can give you contact information.

July 29, 2016 at 05:35 PM · I should have been more clear: In the sub-$5k price range, there's a huge variance in sound quality and playability, just like there is in any other violin price range. You can have a $2k violin that's not very good, but you can also have a $2k violin that's extremely good for that price range. The best $2k-ish instrument and the best $5k-ish instrument might have very little delta between them, though.

July 29, 2016 at 06:15 PM · I play an old no name German violin that I have owned for over 70 years. I have tried many other violins in price ranges to $8,000 and haven't found one I like as well. I have tried various strings to find the combination that works best for me (and the violin). After experimenting with various bows I find that one of my viola bows works the best on this particular instrument.

The bow and the string set can make a major difference in the tone quality. Your parents should hear your violin played with different bows. The brand of violin means little. You must play a number of different instruments to find one that suits you. It may not be the most expensive!

I was recently playing with a friend in a small orchestra and she sounded better than she every had before. I complemented her on her tone (I knew it was the same violin she had been using for a long time.) She answered that she had purchased a good bow for the first time ever. and that it not only sounded made her playing easier too.

July 29, 2016 at 08:09 PM · Do not overly complicate your search by swapping around bows while you're looking. Use a single bow to test all violins. Once you've settled on a violin, you can then search for the right bow to match it. You will probably deal with a hodgepodge of different strings on different violins, but don't change the strings on anything (the shop won't normally allow you to do so anyway); strings don't change the basic tonal characteristics of the instrument.

If you are seriously interested in an instrument and its strings are old, you can usually get the shop to put on a new string set and they'll generally put on whatever you ask for, assuming that it's reasonable (most shops set up student-grade instruments with Dominants or Tonicas, and higher-end instruments with Evah Pirazzis, EP Golds, or PIs).

July 29, 2016 at 08:16 PM · Paul, do you have a email address? I want to ask you a question privately. Thanks, David. Mines

I just want to ask you about Leister

July 30, 2016 at 07:25 AM · A lot of people on here will disagree with me but I do not think the bow makes such a great difference. OK, a Perm wood bow may sound a touch smoother than a CF bow, but there is little in it. (Apart from the price) I generally use a cheap CF bow even though I have a couple of expensive wood bows.

I'm told by a friend who is a Pag expert and has written a book (not yet published) that Paganini was not bothered about the bow, and would use anything.

So do use your current bow to try lots of violins which WILL sound very different from each other.

By the way the "third value" of the bow against instrument would mean someone playing on a Strad would need a bow valued at over $3 million (which does not exist, so treat that with the contempt it deserves). There are many good CF bows for less than $1,000 and you just need to find one at any price (under $1,000) that works for you in terms of weight and balance etc.

July 30, 2016 at 07:52 AM · You seem to get a kick out of saying really outrageous stuff, Peter!!!

July 30, 2016 at 11:00 AM · I did not read anything outrageous in Peter's post and thought it contained beneficial advice for a lot of newer, lesser experience players to consider. His post mirrors my experience with bows in that you do not have to spend a huge amount of money to find one that works for you and your instrument. I have nice wood bows and carbon fiber bows each with their own attributes and a hundred dollar Spark bow purchased last year from Shar is surprisingly just as good as the more expensive ones. This $99 bow also came perfecly haired, I am not always satisfied with some of my other bows after being rehaired, too much hair, hair not that straight, too loose, etc.

July 30, 2016 at 11:32 AM · Paganini would even use cheap Chinese carbon bows?


July 30, 2016 at 12:02 PM · Watch out! American humour alert!!!!

July 30, 2016 at 12:55 PM · If your bow is that cheap, I honestly think that upgrading your bow will work a miracle with your violin. There's no way you're getting the best sound possible from your current violin with this bow.

I recommend upgrading your bow first, not to the bow of your life but maybe to a JonPaul Avanti (~$750) or similar.

As for a bow not making a difference, I have done blind tests for non-musicians and they could hear the difference between a cheap bow and a good bow on my violin. The bow makes a huge difference.

If you were my student, I would take your violin, have you close your eyes, and play on your violin with your cheap bow followed by my JonPaul Avanti (not telling you the order ). I think you would be amazed at how much more you like your violin with a better bow.

July 30, 2016 at 03:05 PM · KJ could you email me?

July 30, 2016 at 06:00 PM · Since this is local to David: Lashof in Gaithersburg has great prices on Jon-Paul bows and a broad selection of carbon-fiber bows in general. I bought my Avanti from them for about a third less than the list price Mary-Ellen is quoting. Something of a haul from Richmond but worth thinking about if you're going violin-shopping in the DC area anyway.

July 30, 2016 at 07:08 PM · I agree, getting a great handling bow like a Jon-Paul will help mitigate the sometimes more nuanced task of finding a forever bow...which could take a very long time, if you're not lucky. One other thing to consider when shopping for the violin is to take into account it's physicality, how it feels in your hands. Not just the sound. It's important as you're learning the instrument to have a violin that is easy to play. Many things can be done to tweak or change sound, and also you may find, sadly, that the sound of any violin will change and need it will not usually "sound the same" as when you bought it. It's a fluid experience...

July 31, 2016 at 05:47 AM · One idea is to try some more expensive bows, even they are out of your price range (up to $6000 plus for good modern bow) on your current violin. It is hard to know how good or bad your violin is compared to ones in the 5K range without doing everything you can to get the most out of it. I know Shar music in Ann Arbor is selling violins made by some students at the Violin making school in Salt Lake City for under 5K.

July 31, 2016 at 06:05 AM · I have the Musaica imports master art 4/4 model violin, $2200, great violin, great sound, I plan to use it in my professional career. Go to A Cavallo violins llc, and look for the Musaica imports master art violin.

July 31, 2016 at 12:02 PM · Personally speaking (and I'm sure many will disagree) I think the failure to make a *relatively* cheap bow sound good is more to do with a lack of bowing technique than the bow itself. A really good player will get a good sound out of a *relatively* cheap violin using a *relatively* cheap bow.

July 31, 2016 at 12:55 PM · I agree with Peter, though I would substitute "reasonably set-up non-VSO using a bow with reasonable playing qualities" for "relatively cheap". Those things can be had relatively cheaply, but not all relatively cheap violins and bows fall into the reasonably-non-sucking range.

However, it is far easier to learn what the proper techniques are, if you have a violin and bow that offer good feedback -- that do the correct and expected thing if you provide the right input. Once you are in the habit of the proper technique, you'll still do those things if you're playing something that's inferior.

July 31, 2016 at 01:05 PM · Another outrageous post from Peter?

I think that most folks do not have unlimited funding to be able to afford togo out and buy a twenty thousand dollar violin and a ten thousand dollar bow and a fifteen hundred dollar case. Of course this is a lot of violinists dream to have this high caliber equipment someday when the money is there but it is not necessary to learn to make beautiful music as Peter just stated. It is more the elbow grease and effort put into learning to sound good.

There are lots of junky instruments and bows out there but with proper guidance and a little luck students can stay away from an inferior instrument. What I consider paramount is the actual setup of an instrument meaning nut, bridge,soundpost, tailpiece/gut adjustment and some luthiers are much better at it than others in my experience. This is where you can get the most bang for your buck in my opinion.

A cheap bow and a cheap violin can make beautiful music for people without mega bucks at their disposal if, if set up optimally, just expressing my frugal thoughts here.

July 31, 2016 at 02:37 PM · I agree with Lydia and Jeff. When I was a beginner all those years ago I had to make do with what I had, which was pretty poor. My schoolmate friend who was a very advanced player even then, had a known maker violin worth at least 50 times more than mine. But I still managed to make a passably decent sound on my fiddle and could sound *nearly* as good as him, although of course he was already playing advanced pieces, whereas I was not.

I think there are reasonable violins around here in the UK for well under £1,000 and with a £300 bow can be made to sound quite good, if set up properly. (And we used to do our own setups in those days - although the full professional setup is obviously better).

July 31, 2016 at 03:02 PM · We feel that carbon fibre bows can be quite useful indeed and I would suggest to rather spend a bit more on a violin rather than purchasing a violin and a bow together at this time if you have a fixed budget.

Getting a significantly better tonal result with a new bow may happen in the violin price range around 8,000 - 10,000 and a bow price range of 1,000 - 2,000.

Also, you should take into consideration that you will be able to judge the influence of different bows on the tone of your violin much better if you have played your new violin for a while and when you know it perfectly well.

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