What counts as professional violins?

March 6, 2017 at 12:58 AM · In the country, Hungary, where I'm from, most average professional teachers have a violin with a price range between something equivalent to USD 4-7k. But when I visited the US, all the strings store listed violins from 10k up as being "professional." While in Hungary anything beyond 3k counts as "Master violin." Why is that? Is is because Central European Violins are cheaper? Do Hungarian violinists have lower standards? Or is American violins are overpriced? The few violins that I have tried in Chicago at 5k are quite overpriced for its playability and tone, this might be a single case since Chicago is a very expensive city.

Replies (45)

March 6, 2017 at 01:31 AM · Look at cars : the same car bought in Japan, Indonesia or Australia may have vastly different prices. The manufacturers adjust their prices according to average income of each country. A product will sell for whatever the market will bear. The average yearly income would be higher in the US ($55,000) than Hungary ($15,000) so the seller can get a higher price for a violin in the US.

March 6, 2017 at 03:13 AM · A violin that helps you earn money counts as one. All other criteria is arbitrary.

March 6, 2017 at 03:19 AM · Non-performers tend to spend less on their violins than performers do, I believe. If you're only teaching, especially if you're working primarily with kids, you might not want a highly valuable instrument, anyway -- too much risk.

March 6, 2017 at 05:37 AM · I agree with Rocky. A professional violin is one which allows you to earn money with it.

I've never owned a violin worth more than $20K, and my current primary violin is not worth more than $10K, at least on paper, though if I could get someone to certify it as the 19th century Italian that its label suggests it could be, that value could go up. It sounds fabulous. (Yes, I know labels are meaningless.)

Technically my "picnic violin" (a Chinese student model worth perhaps $1500) is a professional violin since I play on it for outdoor weddings, but you certainly couldn't win an audition with it.

March 6, 2017 at 06:56 AM · But I thought violins are valued on a global market. So the same violin, wherever it may be, should have the same value around the world isn't that the case?

And almost all the teachers I know participate in a professional orchestra, so they are performers.

And does the tone of a violin have a linear relationship to their price? Just how amazing does a violin above 10k sound?

As an Econ student I understand that lower income countries will have lower prices, which explains why everything in Chicago coated double the price of its counterpart in Hungary. But I thought the market for professional violins, which are dealt in a global market would be different.

March 6, 2017 at 07:39 AM · Op, most people that play the violin in the usa, have more money. I have noticed the same thing even on this site too. The prices even amateurs and students are able to pay are really big when compared to many european countries. I dont know if the violins are better but there is a much larger market for violins which many consider extremely pricy.

Ive thought that it is just because usa is a wealthier country and also the wealth is distributed more unequally. There are large amounts of people there that have no chance of buying a violin at all and it may be that violin playing is more a class thing too.

As for professionals, they do get paid a lot more than in many european countries, where violin playing is a low pay job even for the very good players who often tend to migrate to countries where their excellent playing gets a salary too.

In my country even the best players dont have a chance of getting a really good violin as there is no money to pay for it, it is sad as then it is hard to forge an international career as a soloist. The level of playing here is quite high I think partly due to state funding partly the music schools but most excellent violinists go to university to study other things if they do not want to settle for a low paying job and dont want to teach, which is not highly paid but at least its a steady pay job. The music schools are very professional oriented here, probably because of the state funding.

One of the best solo players, Mikko Kuusisto, is looking for a violin now and has been looking for some time too, as his violin loan expired, he would probably need a million dollar violin, but he only has a chance to a about 100-300 000 violin, if he takes a loan and sells everything he owns, which is really risky, when soloists in the states that are comparable to him have a stradi :( Hoping he gets someone to donate it to him, but there are not many that have that kind of money.

And in case someone wonders, this is not personal information, he is quite open about is.

March 6, 2017 at 09:13 AM · "But I thought violins are valued on a global market. So the same violin, wherever it may be, should have the same value around the world isn't that the case?"

Nope, sorry. No such thing.

Here there seems to be a similar pattern as far as price goes, for up to about the $10k price (being somewhat like: under $1000 = student; $2000+ = intermediary/advanced; $5000-$10000 = professional), but after that my experience is that it becomes a matter of pedigree, and personal preference, not necessarily 'quality' itself.

But in reality a higher price doesn't necessarily equal a better violin.

March 6, 2017 at 10:56 AM · Peter, designations such as "student violin", "master violin", "soloist violin", and "professional violin" are arbitrary, based on the whim of the seller, and don't really mean much.

March 6, 2017 at 01:41 PM · In Silicon Valley, our friends were just urged by their daughter's teacher to spend $4000 on her first 4/4 violin. They tried a bunch of instruments and the teacher rejected many in the lower $1-2k range. I found myself annoyed on their behalf by this: their daughter was playing at a Seitz concerto level, dutifully but not particularly enthusiastically. I don't think the quality of her instrument was holding her back. It seemed gratuitous. I'm curious about how much this violin would sell for in other countries--whether the delta in value could be attributed entirely to the cost of living delta, or whether it would be considered a better instrument, worthy of a more serious musician.

March 6, 2017 at 02:40 PM · I really don't know all that much about international violin trade, but it seems that this is all just arm-waving unless you can compare identically-sourced instruments. Would a Hungarian-made violin sold in Chicago be priced far above the exact same instrument sold in Hungary... or just a little more to account for importation and (probably) slightly higher dealer markup? From my point of view, the price depends more on who/where it's made, rather than the nebulous quality of "professional".

March 6, 2017 at 03:11 PM · In the sub-$4k range in the US, you're normally looking at workshop violins, whether of contemporary origin or older trade fiddles. Broadly these tend to be considered "student" instruments.

Above that price you get single-maker-made instruments, in a wide range of time periods and quality. Here pricing starts to get more random, with less correlation between tone and price, but the more expensive the (deceased) maker, the more likely that the maker's specimens, as a whole, are considered superior, although individual specimens will certainly vary. Contemporary makers charge what they think the market will bear.

The market is global, but what a local market will bear is dependent on local conditions. If people can't normally afford expensive instruments, local luthiers who hope to make local sales are likely to be very good values. Violin shops are less likely to stock expensive instruments. And the overall quality of expected violins for professionals will be different.

March 6, 2017 at 03:12 PM · In the U.S., student (workshop) violins are sold for what the market will bear. The markup is significant.

I suspect soloist-quality instruments have a lot less variance in their prices world-wide; otherwise, everyone would be flocking to Hungary to buy old Italians. But I don't think that's what the OP is talking about.

March 6, 2017 at 04:13 PM · One of Chao's questions has a very simple answer: violin tone is definitely not a linear function of price. But that is true for lots of other things, owning a Ferrari would be a lot of fun but is it ten times better than a VW Golf? Yes it would go faster if you had access to a private race track, but it would be no better (probably less good) for taking a family of 4 on holiday or most of the everyday things we all use cars for.

Similarly a Stradivarius probably won't be 100 times plus better than Mary Ellen's violin, but you would still expect it to be pretty special. There is a violin dealer in the UK who puts his results of violin tone evaluations on his website, and as part of his job he gets to sample a lot of instruments. He awards three stars to some pretty famous names including Stradivari, Guaneri and Amati - but also to some I guess would attract around a £10K price tag. See http://www.martinswanviolins.com/content/tone.htm

March 6, 2017 at 04:51 PM · David is correct. If I may add, those labels (categories) are used by dealers as one of marketing / selling strategies. Their purpose sub-conscously rub one's ego: even an aspiring student will feel better if aware that violin she/he owns is labeled as "professional". Not to mention that a serious professional can not play on an "amateur" fiddle!

On the subject of Hungarian made violins, not too many people are aware of great Hungarian makers of the past, such as Samuel Nemessányi or Bela Szepessy. I would never dismiss a violin made in Hungary before giving it a fair trial! They may be priced to accommodate local labour cost and buying power, but that does not mean that they are second to their north American cousins.

March 6, 2017 at 04:57 PM · That's a terrific link! Never seen it before. (This is the original Maestronet thread, which is very interesting: LINK.) However, the only contemporary maker with three stars in that list is Frederic Chaudiere (who died last year) -- so no living makers at all, interestingly, despite the author's professed liking of new violins.

I disagree on the better instrument (where "better" is not a function of price) not being better day to day. You might prioritize qualities differently as an orchestral player than as a soloist (for instance, an orchestral player might prioritize effortless production of a sound that blends well with a section, whereas a soloist would prioritize a very different kind of sound production). But a great instrument is going to be better for everyday playing.

Upgrading your instrument often forces you to become a better player, too. Ultra-responsive instruments require the player to have more control.

March 6, 2017 at 05:07 PM · The price-quality-country correlation is so true. In Turkey, because the average pay is low and classical music is a borrowed concept (there is no Philharmonic, just a stand-in version that sometimes plays for a small audience of the few wealthy that can learn an instrument and send their kid to music school), the price for the best violins, all bought by professionals from one foreign luthier known as the best, for a maximum price of $3000 US.

March 6, 2017 at 05:27 PM · It is impossible to assign price vs. musical "value" to violins without regard to the value some are assigned for the antique market. But if you do try to cross the barrier between those two markets it seems to me that that "value" tends to follow the logarithm of price rather than having a linear relationship. Thus a 1 million dollar instrument (log = 6) might be expected to have 50% more "value" than a $10,000 instrument (log = 4).

The real problem for the musician is how to assign musical value. Next problem is how money much that value is worth to the musician. Both of these have highly personal aspects as well as practical ones. I won't even begin to go into those, but it would be interesting to learn what those who seriously ponder such things.

On a very small scale I engaged in one of those choices a couple of weeks ago. I was considering the purchase of a new viola bow and thought of visiting a nearby local luthier to look at bows by a medal winning maker that would have cost close to $4,000. But I was alerted to a bow on ebay for 1/10 that price and decided to buy it on the chance that it would meet my needs, which it fortunately does. If it had not I would have considered driving across the bay to try a bunch of more expensive viola bows.

March 6, 2017 at 05:42 PM · Fiddlerman sets the standard IMO.

He lists his professional violins in at around the $4500 mark. Think this is a gook benchmark for what a professional violin costs as his prices are both reasonable and extremely competitive in the market.

March 6, 2017 at 06:06 PM · John,

Is that the benchmark for a professional violin, or a professional fiddle?


March 6, 2017 at 06:08 PM · Both, just change the bridge and strings, and speak with a Texan drawl... :D

March 6, 2017 at 06:18 PM · Good point Douglas. Didn't think of that. I will inquire if their fiddles are similar/can be used for violin purposes.

They really pay attention to set up detail, so I imagine they can adjust think to suit your needs.

March 6, 2017 at 06:58 PM · John, look again. Fiddlerman's "professional" line starts at $1,125.

March 6, 2017 at 08:04 PM · Right now, I can't think of anyone who has won a major orchestra audition (top ten or so) with a twelve-hundred-dollar fiddle. Not that it couldn't happen.

March 6, 2017 at 08:21 PM · Curious if that would still hold true if you expanded it to the general ISCOM ranks (top 50 or so).

March 6, 2017 at 08:28 PM · John -- that was more of a joke than a serious question. Though I would be curious of their response to your inquiry.

March 6, 2017 at 08:42 PM · Hi Douglas: will let you know what I find.

Mary Ellen: I recall you saying that when someone auditions for your orchestra, they write down what kind of violin they have. How much does this come into play when deciding? Particularly given the cost of your violin ( wouldn't say 10k is super high for your level of play). Also, do they audition behind a curtain so you don't see them during the actual playing at first?

March 6, 2017 at 08:50 PM · "Mary Ellen: I recall you saying that when someone auditions for your orchestra, they write down what kind of violin they have. How much does this come into play when deciding? Particularly given the cost of your violin ( wouldn't say 10k is super high for your level of play). Also, do they audition behind a curtain so you don't see them during the actual playing at first?"

You must be thinking of someone else; I have never written such a thing nor do we have such a policy. We can tell from behind the screen whether or not someone has an adequate instrument; if they win the audition, we might suggest that they get a better instrument, that's all. But I'm not aware of anyone even taking an audition on a student-level instrument--at that point, the limitations of the instrument would affect the musician's artistic choices.

March 6, 2017 at 09:09 PM · My bad Mary Ellen. It was from the applying for orchestra thread. What you wrote was this:

"An effective resume should consist of: Your name, instrument, contact information at the top. Then any professional experience, most recent to older; then solos played or prizes won, again reverse order; then your education at the bottom including school(s), degree(s), major teachers (NOT NOT NOT your childhood teacher unless you studied with Gingold). No photo. No second page. No paragraphs. No summary statement."

It was a while back, so I had it in my head that the above was a form. I took "instrument" as what type of violin, but I can now see this as being flute, harp, violin etc.

March 6, 2017 at 09:11 PM · No, this is a guideline for writing a resume, and "instrument" means violin, viola, flute, etc.

March 6, 2017 at 10:31 PM · You all probably know this one...

What's the difference between a violin and a fiddle?

About 50k.


March 6, 2017 at 10:49 PM · "But I thought violins are valued on a global market. So the same violin, wherever it may be, should have the same value around the world isn't that the case?"

Have you not heard of currency and standard of living differences?

Othwise, why would a Big Mac cost $5 in the US, but $13 in Switzerland?

March 7, 2017 at 01:17 AM · And why does the Big Mac only cost $3 in Budapest? Are cows less popular there?

March 7, 2017 at 11:00 AM · A professional violin is one that can respond to your capabilities; and allow to to develop more.

Markups? 40 years ago, I saw Lark violins "reduced" from 120 French francsto 80: The retailers bought them wholesale for 20 Francs. In todays terms, substitute Euros or Dollars.

March 7, 2017 at 12:38 PM ·

March 7, 2017 at 01:07 PM · Big Macs in Switzerland are assembled with the precision of a fine watch. In Budapest, you might get your meat hanging halfway out of your bun, or get the incorrect number of Mcpickle slices.

March 7, 2017 at 01:12 PM · Does the violin market function differently than the global hamburger market?

*deep thoughts from violinist.com*

March 7, 2017 at 01:23 PM · I don't know anything about Big Mac's, I'll leave that to the experts!!

March 7, 2017 at 01:25 PM · Douglas, somewhat. Violinmakers everywhere can be rather careless with their pickles.

By the way, the Burger King in Nice serves beer. Kentucky Fried Chicken looks to be the most popular of the Western fast-food chains in Beijing.

March 7, 2017 at 03:12 PM · And in France, a quarter-pounder* is a Royal Cheese.

*no pounds in France.

Violin makers careless with their pickles? I thought they were a detail-orientied, obsessive, persnickety bunch :-D

March 8, 2017 at 01:26 AM · I supply iT services for a few local luthiers, one with a gallery that serves a high end clientele in bows and violins. I haven't been playing violin long enough where the subtleties of tone have become that obvious to me. I was lucky enough to hear Joshua Bell on his Gibson Strad in Montreal this year ... The tone he extracted from his violin was simply divine.

I remember thinking that in the last few years I've heard Patricia kopatchinskaja and Hillary Hahn as well as Idea Haendel.

But that violin, the Huberman Strad made me a believer that there are some instruments that are on another level ...

March 9, 2017 at 11:55 PM · "A violin that helps you earn money counts as one. All other criteria is arbitrary." Good answer!

Some one said once that the worth of a violin is determined by what some one is willing to pay for it.

March 10, 2017 at 02:05 AM · Yes and that makes about as much sense as claiming the worth of a Rolls Royce is what someone is willing to pay for it!!

March 10, 2017 at 03:34 AM · I play a very nice violin that I would consider professional but what many luthiers wouldn't.

March 10, 2017 at 03:41 AM · It is mostly the skill of the violinist that matters not the violin itself.

March 10, 2017 at 04:47 AM · The skill of the violinist matters, but skill is more easily developed on a better instrument, and the tool really does matter even to the accomplished player.

In the end, though, players who can't feel or hear what constitutes a better instrument are likely to more easily find contentment. And better instruments require more precise technique, which means they are not the right choice for everyone.

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