Looking For the Right Violin for Under 5k

March 3, 2004 at 05:46 PM · i am in the process of buying an "upgrade" violin. but really, i'm looking to buy the last violin i'll need. and my goal is to do that without breaking the bank. this may seem a bit odd, but i play for my own enjoyment (and perhaps also for others now and then). i'm not a student hoping to become a professional. i WAS a student studying to be a professional 15 years ago. i got burned out and left the violin behind me. completely. in a redemptive sort of way, i've picked up my old violin just 6 months ago, and i have found what i had been missing all my years of playing as a student. the joy. something i've never had in the relentless competitive world that was my violin playing experience.

so now, i am playing simply for the joy of it. yet my ears tell me i need a new fiddle. i can hear things now that i never heard before. i need an instrument that can express the stuff inside. the grief. the rage. the wonder. the joy. the beauty and ability to express the longing of one's heart through a simple yet profound instrument. that's my story (the short version anyway).

well, onto my question. here's what my experience has been so far. i have tried about 50 instruments in the last 6 months from $1k to 10k price range. i have gone on a personal quest of finding out as much as i can about violins, violin-making, dealers, etc. there seems to be a consensus that the cost of a violin often has nothing to do with how it sounds. i have been to several very reputable dealers and they have confirmed this. anyone else find this to be true? if that is the case, why should i spend thousands of my hard earned dollars to get into a sort of club of expensive violin owners? just to say i own a 10k violin? granted, there is value in craftsmanship (and pedigree i suppose), and aesthetics could be made as an argument. but as a player, i really have only one criteria. that my violin sings! (it doesn't hurt if she looks good doing it of course).

i will say that my experience has been that hand-crafted violins as opposed to "factory" made violins play much better. the sound may not be all that different, but my hands and fingers tell me it's having a better time on a "master" made violin. but having said that, does anyone know of any (and this may sound like a paradox) EXCELLENT workshop/factory made violins? i’m looking for a sweet expressive violin that projects. full and slightly dark on the bottom and warm yet brilliant on top. it has to be less than $5k. i recently played a wonderful Kochanski strad copy (master-made)… but my only complaint was i would have liked a bigger bottom and better projection. has anyone tried the Snow line of violins? or similar lines like that? any thoughts would be appreciated.

Replies (22)

March 3, 2004 at 11:02 PM · which model do you have? how did you go about buying it? did you go to a store? buy online? i'm wondering how consistent their violins are in the different models. their strad and guarneri copies look very nice. i'm also wondering how well they'll sound over time.

March 4, 2004 at 01:09 AM · Hi Ji,

Glad you have got back on the fiddle, as it were. We are somewhat similar in this respect so I understand how much you can lose when you stop playing for some time.

The question of what you pay for in an instrument is very complex and although you do not present the absolute position that the cost of an instrument has nothing to do with sound I don`t really find myself completely in agreement with the position you are moving towards right now.

For me, one of the major complexities involved is thta there are two or arguably three groups of people involved in the buying of instruments: those concerned with playing, those concered with collecting an objet d`art and those concerned with dealing to make a profit.

Of course all these groups overlap, but the latter two have I think been primarily responsible for making the cost of a fine instrument almost or completely beyond the pocket of a fine player.

However, another factor is the supply and demand of players themselves which inevitably helps to push prices up.

There is a huge difference in the quality and beauty of a flawless Strad or Guarneri and some good lesser instruments which from an aesthetic point of view justifies hte difference in price although I think the differenc e has become irrational and er, obscene.

So the question to me is, if there is so little difference from the players` perspective why do they keep hankering for an upgrade which costs more and why do ethical and interested dealers do their best to meet this demand?

The only answer I can come up with is that there is a progressive difference in the quality of instruments as playing tools. I think one area of confusion is that within a given fairly narrow price range a cheaper instrument may be superior to a more expensive one because of the prejudices created in large part by the influence of the other two groups and of disparities between older Italian versus old French for example.

I can offer no suuportive evidence of this except the following anecdote which runs the grave risk of sounding arrogant so I apologize in advance for this is not the intention.

I have , since the age of twelve or so, gone into inummerable violin shops all over the world and tried a selection of instruments. I cannot recall a single ocassion when I made more than one error in ten in placing instruments in their correct price order.

So, I strongly believe there is a major difference between a five k instrument and a 1 k for players. To argue the opposite (which you did not particlarly) is to challenge both the integrity and sanity of player and dealer alike. One irony which I think Mr Perry mentioned in another thread is that a lesser player may have a great deal of trouble getting a good sound from a Strad. I have had this experience, and very embarrasing it was, too!

I also recently borrowed an Andrea Guarneri of soloist calibre and although I was bowled over by the potential it took me seven hours playig to just begin unlocking what semeed to me unlimite d hidden reserves. So, perhaps it can be the case that a player senses they are ready for an upgrade but they are on a kind of threshold of a new level where the old playing appears better on a lesser instrument. Does that make sense?

Another complicating factor is that old instruments can be damn hard to set up. I had to go to three of the top repairers in Japan before I came across someone who could begin to get my violin close

to where it should be. Several thousand dollars later w e are about 90% there. I thinkit wa s Menuhin who said that there are about three people in the world capable of setting up a Strad.

Then there is a question of bow. I think if I was going to spend 5 k I would follow the rule of thumb I preffer: bow is one third the value of the instrument. So, that would be er...whatever.

Cheers,

Buri

March 4, 2004 at 02:23 AM · well said Stephen. i do agree with what you said. my point was not to discredit the validity of fine violins but perhaps rather, the absurdity of the violin market (but not necessarily across the board of course). i suppose it is somewhat like the fox thinking the grapes are sour because he cannot have one for himself. i realize that my ceiling of 5k is a low ceiling to have. whatever i can afford will probably never be considered as a "fine" violin. but my quest continues nevertheless to find one that is the fine violin for me. i would agree with other more qualified players that one of the disctinct differneces between an intermediate violin and a master violin is not so much of what the audience hears, but rather what the player feels as he plays. when i was studying years ago, i had the good fortune of having on loan a fine violin (30-50k) from a foundation, and my fond memory of it was not only how wonderfully it sounded, but even more so, how it played. i still think of it as butter. so i do believe there is merit, but to justify the excessive cost? i'm not sure ...

so far, i have played two violins that have come close to what i'm looking for. a Guenther Reuter Strad copy and a Chen copy of the Kochanski Guarneri. both of which were still above my preferred range (7k and 6k respectively). i did notice that with the Kochanski, at first i thought it both easy and difficult to play. it was easy to get it to sing, but hard to get it to project. but as i played it more, i realized i almost had to change the way i played - to coax the sound out vs. to pull it out by force. i'm sure that is not a very helpful description. all that to say, i do acknowledge that there is a difference ... but i'm afraid that in my price range, it seems i'm almost be better off trying to find a good workshop violin. i've been told by dealers that i really can't get what i'm looking for under 10k. all i can do is sigh and hope they are wrong. in the meantime, i welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

oddly enough, i have a wonderful bow. it cost me 3k 15 years ago. i couldn't agree with you more about the importance of the bow.

March 4, 2004 at 03:21 AM · Greetings,

Ji, it sounds to me like you played so well you are not going to be satisifed with anything less than somehting like one of those pricey hundred year old Italians that are still almost within firing range as long as you don`t tell the wife...

I still mourn a Pique I bought from Beares twenty five years ago.

Have you considered buying one of these reasonable 1k instruments and surviving on it for a few years while saving up the boodle for another 5 k or so?

Glad you have have a great bow.

Cheers,

Buri

March 4, 2004 at 01:31 PM · that's why i'm looking at some of the Chinese made violins. at first, i've had some reservations about Chinese made instruments (nothing agains the Chinese of course - just the normal un-informed prejudices on any non-European made instrument). i've heard good things about the Snow line as well as the Scott Cao violins. was wondering if anyone has played either of these or other similar violins? the good thing about Chinese violins is the cost to value ratio. or so they say. any thoughts?

March 4, 2004 at 11:51 PM · Just to insert my two pennies here....

Ji, you are right, if all you care about is sound, then you should be able to find something nice in any price range. However, the reason someone would want to spend more than $10K on a violin is that these violins will maintain their value better. Why? Simple supply and demand. Any factory can churn out instruments that sound like a $1K-$5K instrument. Because supply is essentially unlimited, you won't be able to sell your violin for what you paid.

Actually, as an investment, I think you have to look above $30K. Why? The finest modern makers command $25-$30K per violin. If you're not looking above that, then you again have something which can be supplied (though in lesser quantities).

When supply is "inelastic" (i.e., can't be increased or decreased in response to changes in demand), then you have real appreciation potential. And as anyone who lived through the California energy crisis knows, when there's not enough supply and growing demand, prices go up exponentially, not linearly. You can't make more Strads or Vuillaumes or Roccas. If anything, supply is dwindling as more of these instruments go to the hands of institutions and other long-term collectors.

Also, I just want to clarify: price doesn't *necessarily* have anything to do with sound. There are plenty of crappy-sounding Fagnolas which still sell for $80K+. However, in general, violins by a maker who is known to make nice-sounding instruments appreciate better than ones that are less consistent. As an example, J.B. Vuillaumes have not appreciated as well as most modern Italians such as Roccas (which were made later) because the Italian sound is still preferred among violinists. So it's not completely irrational to want to own one of these violins.

March 5, 2004 at 12:31 AM · It is possible to find bench made violins for under $5K. Mine are under $5K. There are others, of course. A disadvantage of being relatively unknown.

I like benchmade violins much better in general. Character and response.

March 5, 2004 at 03:28 AM · while i appreciate the discussion on the merit of fine violins, i'm not hearing much in the way of my original question. which was ... has anyone played any violins in the sub 5k range that really blew them away? whether it's a Chinese line or workshop made or even bench made? tell me what's available out there. if you had up to 5k to spend on only one violin, which one would you get? ha! that's the question i've been trying to ask. maybe i should start another thread.

March 5, 2004 at 03:54 AM · Hello,

Have a look at the violins on this website. They are in your price range and all handmade and in my opinion are all very fine violins. The website is: www.members.shaw.ca/dietrichviolins

March 5, 2004 at 07:42 PM · Hi Ji!

After a six-month hunt around the best violin shops in two countries, playing violins of all shapes, sizes and prices, I finally went for a new Chinese instrument from Shanghai (2003), shelving plans to buy a 1900 German violin and saving A LOT of money (well, at least knowing I have more to spend on a bow!). I was absolutely amazed by the craftsmanship and the fact that although it is less than a year old it had the depth, projection and sensitivity of a number of violins that were twice as old and around four to five times the price! At present it's fitted with a Dominant G,D, and A and a Pirastro Olive E, and I'm looking at swapping the Dominants for Eva Pirazzis (I haven't found Dominants very sensitive in general, so I expect great things after my string change!), but the instrument still sounds fine and it's utterly responsive- even in the highest positions at breakneck speed, it produces distinct and crisp notes, without sounding tinny and scratchy. I've had my 'new 'instrument for around three weeks and it's really developing a good character and temperament, like a well trained dog with a bubbly personality! Try some Chinese handmade violins around the $800+ mark and see what you think.

In terms of violins of up to 5K I would just ignore a lot of the price tags, because a lot of the time they are not really a good predictor of what a violinst wants, but a reflection on the commercial market governed by aesthetics and 'designer' kudos (sorry if this sounds harsh). Where I have noticed the jump in playability is around the $12,000-15,000 mark, where you pick up an instrument, play it and just think...'If only!' Chinese luthiers are a vastly unknown quantity... watch this space!

Hope this helps :)

March 5, 2004 at 10:13 PM · I've played intermediate and top of the line Snow, and they are a great buy. I don't know if I would put Scott Cao in their league.

Are you talking about Yuang-yue Chen?

March 6, 2004 at 02:25 AM · interesting. i heard that the Scott Cao violins come highly recommended. the Mr. Chen i was referring to is ... Guang-Yue Chen (i suppose it very well may be the same person). which model Snow violins have you played? i'm looking into the PV1000 and the VJHS. any thoughts on those?

March 6, 2004 at 07:41 PM · Ji Lim, I think I can provide an nice old violin to you which is under 5k. I collected more than 90 old violins, and right now, I am trying to sell some of them. Most of them are in excellent conditions, and I guarantee that you will like as long as you see them. Some of them have more than 200 years history. If you are really interested in those violins, please give me an email: gx204@cs.nyu.edu, and I will send you some photos, and you can choose from them. If you are in New York City, you are very welcome to take a look. Thanks. Have a good weekend.

March 6, 2004 at 08:36 PM · Ji Lim, we are talking about the same Chen, I misspelled his name. I own one of his 16.5" violas, and I think it's pretty good. Of course, it doesn't have that charming "old" sound. He has made a lot of the instruments for Nagyvary, the controversial biochemist at Texas A&M.

I believe the two Snow violins I played were the two modles you mentioned. The first was one I found for one of my students, in the 12-to-15 hundred dollar range. For the money it was outstanding. The other was one my teacher sells (he has sold 3 to top players locally, I guess as back--up or second instruments), and it had incredible sound and sensitivity for a 2,500 dollar fiddle. I had to talk myself out of buying it.

Good luck, it sounds as if you are doing your homework and holding out for an exceptional violin within your budget. I'm sure you'll find something that pleases you.

March 7, 2004 at 12:52 PM · Modern Chinese are very good. I've just gotten in a couple of really excellent Bulgarian instruments in the $2500 range. One sold instantly, the violin. I'm tempted to order the ones that retail at $4500. Supposed to be very very good.

Another very reasonable option is the violins that are imported in the white and graduated/finished here. Sophia is well known, we put out a line, the Doetsch is well known. Some of those are thinner and darker in sound. Some aren't.

There's some excellent vintage buys as well. I've run across (for example) some excellent French violins under $5000, violins with decades of orchestral play. They'll do the job for sure. I'm playing one at the moment.

mail@giannaviolins.com if you'd like to chat. I like talking about violins.

March 7, 2004 at 05:40 PM · http://homepages.nyu.edu/~gx204/DSC00157.JPG

http://homepages.nyu.edu/~gx204/DSC00158.JPG

http://homepages.nyu.edu/~gx204/DSC00159.JPG

http://homepages.nyu.edu/~gx204/DSC00160.JPG

http://homepages.nyu.edu/~gx204/DSC00161.JPG

http://homepages.nyu.edu/~gx204/DSC00162.JPG

You can check one of my violin out. It is pretty nice. Have a good weekend.

July 30, 2009 at 01:29 PM ·

oh i just noticed the date on this...! oops

Ji,

i was in your very same exact position not too long ago - i ended up going to every violin shop in manhattan - one shop everyday after work for about a month checking out every $3-$10K violin out there. even tho there are a lot of shops here, i finally found the sound i was looking for - in a really well-made pressenda copy that outperformed this high-end leon mougenot i was also considering. it's a bit old, and has had some repairs to it - but it's amazing! i get a lot of compliments on it from violinists, violists, teachers, professionals, and when i take it to luthiers to get it maintained. because the maker isn't known, the value of the violin was low...but people have said the sound is incredible, the craftsmanship is excellent and and have guessed it worth $8 to $60K...when i tell people what i pay for it they are always dumbfounded.

i think there are some very good no-name copies of respected makers out there roaming around that you can get in your price range - that are in pretty good condition. be sure to post on what you end up getting!

August 6, 2009 at 09:42 AM ·

 you could try a jay haide violin, they are all right instuments that will get the job done. however spending more for a violin that is made from a reputable maker may be worth it. there are very nice sounding violins that we could get for under 2000 that probably may sound better then say a 8000 roth violin. how ever the value is not there. a roth violin will retain its value and remain an excellent investment for years to come

August 6, 2009 at 02:42 PM ·

Charles Woods, a personal friend of mine took up violin making in his late 40s when it became obvious to him that his middle-years violin-playing lessons were not going to yield the results he had hoped for. I purchased his violin #11 back in 1990. The instant I first heard it, I knew I had to play it, and a few seconds of that and I knew I had to own it. It was the violin my granddaughter comandeered when she was 10 and I offered her any one of my violins as an incentive (she was my student for 10 years); she still owns it. I also purchased his viola #6 in 1996 and his violin #54 in 2000. While #11 was born with an ancient soul (and voice), it has taken #54 a few years to mature, but it is there now and it is the violin I now use every day, because it seems to be my best in terms of response and sound under the ear. I don't know how good my fiddles really are, but I did once play a coulple of them at the same time (and in the same room) that I also played on an Andrea Guarneri and a 1698 Strad, and then packed up my fiddles and went home without notable jealousy.

Yes, Charles Woods went from being an amateur violin maker to a maker with approximately 100 violins, violas, and cellos to his credit. Generally he has none left around the shop because they have all been sold or made on commission. A decade or so ago, I did introduce a few of my Maestronet friends to his violins.

His prices have been in the range of the Jay-Haide instruments; he can afford to do this because he has a sufficient retirement income from his career as a mechanical engineer.

If you are interested, send me a message and I'll put you in touch with him. Even if you do not buy from him, you will enjoy knowing him. He is a completely honest person so you will not have to worry about that.

Andy

August 9, 2009 at 02:56 PM ·

August 10, 2009 at 12:57 PM ·

I recently played a Peter Guarneri and now I'm screwed.

Nothing sounds good, and I'm still trying out violins.

I'll never forget the response and the sound,

 

August 10, 2009 at 10:45 PM ·

Hi Ji,

What you said before about the not so much tonal quality difference between factory-made and hand made violins is interesting for me, because I own a violin which was modified to be a 5string, body chinese, but the neck was replaced. It was replaced by a very good luthier, and I think it has a very good sound, better than some antique stuff.

What you said about more problematic to be the difficulties with playability and the neck is eliminated in this case..

Anyway, it cost really nothing compared to expensive custom made violins, but I wouldn't change it for anything.

k

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