Sorry$50000, not 500 for the violin!

March 10, 2004 at 01:01 AM · Dear readers,

does anyone know if it is possible to buy a good! and I mean good sounding, nice looking violin for this price?? I have checked so many places and still didn't find something I really liked. I am really frustrated, it seems good violins are gone or they are so overprices that it is simply impossible to get one! Does anyone know honest violin dealers in New York area?

thanks a lot.

Replies (22)

March 8, 2004 at 05:48 PM · Sabina, at that price range, you're pretty much limited to factory instruments. Some are a bit better than others but none can truly be said to be good instruments. The best that can be said is that some are good instruments FOR THE PRICE.

The problem is that most of the potentially good starter student instruments in that range are so amateurishly set up at the big music store chains. And if a proper violin dealer agrees to sell a factory instrument it is only because he has also undertaken to improve the set up of the instrument to the point where he can, in good conscience, recommend it. So the violin dealer is forced to mark up the instrument more significantly than a chain would be, if only to reimburse himself for the time he has spent giving the mass produced fiddle the individual attention it needed.

March 8, 2004 at 11:20 PM · Are you looking for a new or older? I would say maybe watch your newspaper classifieds or music shop bulletins boards for older, used instruments people are selling. Or maybe antique shops. I know as far as band instruments, one would be suprised by what they could find in some of our local antique shops. However, beware to look the instrument over well because it will probably need some work. If you are looking for factory made, my violin I bought used and have played on for years (I'm not a professional, just a hobbyist) is a Glaesel violin made in 1983 that my parents bought for me when I first started playing in grade school. They found it in the classified ads from the paper and I remember going to the family's house and trying it. I've had some of my teachers remark that it definately sounds way better than a lot of the more expensive student instruments that other students were renting through the music store. I guess my point here is that if you are limited for only 500 dollars, it's going to be easier browsing for a used violin then a newer one.

March 8, 2004 at 11:41 PM · Sabina it is possible to find a violin in that price range. I would stay away from music stores though, try to find a private seller. I agree with Jennifer stick with an older instrument.

I bought a factory made german viola made in 1966 along with a bow for $500.00, the sound is great I think for the price.

The bottom line is to try to find someone honest who is willing to make a reasonable profit and not someone who thinks he has a Strad!. Good Luck!!

March 9, 2004 at 11:46 AM · At about that price point we have found 2 models from Decor and the Johannes Kohr K-500 to be acceptable, sometimes quite acceptable. We end up moving a goodly number of them.

Small shops may be better at this price point, performing better setup than big internet providers trying to move lots of instruments.

We've also been surprised at the Cremona models if and only if they are gone through very thoroughly. Still not as good as the ones mentioned above.

Steve of Gianna Violins

March 10, 2004 at 03:47 AM · Oh, 50k should be doable. Tell me, what sort of instrument are you looking for? Italian? Player's instrument (good sound the main criterion) or a collector's instrument (possibly lesser tonal qualities but pristine condition)? Any requirements as to age?

There's a modern maker I really must recommend: Howard Needham. When last I checked, his prices were well below your 50k benchmark and the tonal quality of his instruments is simply superb. He's down in Maryland, but is a friend and might give me a fiddle to bring up to NY the next time I'm there, which I could then show to you. Presuming, of course, that he has a fiddle available at the moment. They usually sell pretty much as soon as they're done.

March 10, 2004 at 02:58 PM · Honest violin-dealer is an oxymoron. Read up on the case of Peter Biddulph.

I have just outed myself as a believer in modern instruments. These are never over-priced. You should never pay as much as 50k even for the best exact copy of an old violin. And I believe you can find any sound in existance in a modern violin. This is worthy of a heated seperate thread! I would look forward to that!

If you are a player, then all that matters is sound. "Investment value" and so forth is a distraction. I often get friends together to test violins for sound. The trick is to have lots of instruments and NOT KNOW WHICH ONE IS BEING PLAYED. This forces you to be objective about sound, not influenced by name and price. Use only your ears. If an expensive old violin is really better, you should be able to hear it. If not, save your money! Buy a house or a high-rise instead.

Who's gonna start the modern vs. old violin thread?


March 10, 2004 at 04:02 PM · 50K. That is a lot of money. I would say that there are probably only between 1 and 2 thousand violins in the world that are really worth that much money. I just have a hard time believing that a lot of violins that are selling for that much, are really worth it. I think they are way over priced. I know there are some violins in this price range that do sound a lot better, but the trouble is, finding them. I would find an expert violin maker that you could trust, and get anything appraised by a couple different experts before you buy it. Otherwise, you take the chance of really getting ripped off.


March 11, 2004 at 03:39 AM · While $50k is a lot of money to most people, I don't think most of the big dealers would agree. They make their money selling to collectors and musicians who want to spend well into the 6 figures. I know someone who tried to sell a $130k instrument through a very well known dealer. When she got it back after a year plus of no nibbles, it was missing two strings. The dealer didn't even have it in playable condition!

There are a lot more than 2000 instruments in this price range, most of them are not much better than new violins, though some definitely are. If $50k is a lot of money to you, then you should really look at a new instrument. You can get a good one for one third of that. Violins are oversold as investments. Aside from attribution and condition issues (the typical person has no clue about these)they are highly illiquid. It can take years to sell even a good instrument that is properly authenticated. I should add that I sometimes think that instruments in the $30k to even $200k range are harder to sell than those in the $200+ range. These instruments do not have sex appeal for collectors but are out of bounds financially for most musicians.

Lastly, I disagree with one comment made above. You should buy for sound above all, but you will be very sorry one day if you don't consider the financial side of a $50000 transaction. You may want to sell the instrument later and will be very sorry if you have seriously overpaid for it. I'd point out that the typical person is horrified to pay even 10% above market for a house. Dealers think nothing of enticing people into paying 50% or even 100% more for an instrument than they should. And I would guess they salivate uncontrollably when they think they have a buyer who is looking almost completely at sound.

March 11, 2004 at 07:32 PM · I guess the point I was trying to make, is that, "Are there really many violins that are actually worth 50K.?" And if so, what sets them apart from the violins that are lower in price. Its the same thing in the Electric Guitar business. They have Electric Guitars that go for 50K, just become some famous artist played it. But, are they really worth that much? I personally don't think so, and I don't care who played an instrument, I just want one that sounds good, and is not some cheaply made instrument. I guess you just have to find that right balance between quality, and overpriced instruments.

Thats my opinion, but it doesn't mean that I am right.


March 14, 2004 at 03:33 AM · This is real risky, but you can search on ebay. I bought my 4th violin off of there. I also had an agreement that if I didn't like it I could send it back and get 75% of my money back. The other 25% went towards shipping it from Germany. I got a 1804 violin with a very dark finish with a lion head carved into the scroll from Germany off of ebay. I wasn't sure how it would sound and if it had any major damages, the pictures didn't show any problems. I got it and it was in good condition, needed new strings and a bridge. I had it priced or whatever by a violin maker and an university teacher and was told by both it was worth at least 5 times what I payed for it, and it has a great tone to it. So you might try ebay.

March 14, 2004 at 02:43 PM · I have bought 8 or 10 instruments on ebay, most of them violins or violas. I advise you to not spend more than 200 to 500 dollars US, do your homework and hope for the best. You have a very slim chance of finding the kind of instrument you are looking for on ebay. My advice is to find an instrument that a player or a player's family is selling at below dealers' price, or simply find a fair deal with a dealer.

March 14, 2004 at 03:28 PM · Yes, and I think you should play a bunch of violins, (including your old one), so that you can compare them. I think going through a private shop or small local shop is the way to go. Stay away from the big companies, they have a tremendous mark up. I bought my new violin from a local dealer for about 2500.00, the same violin from one of the major companies (you know the ones I'm talking about), it probably would have cost over 5000.00, (of that I'm certain).


March 15, 2004 at 11:37 PM · The 50k price range (35-65) is not a great one for a player to shop in. You're missing the great Vuillaumes, Postigliones, Scarampellas, etc by a few 10k's. You're left with modern Italian guys who studied with a master or lived in the same city as one, for the most part; their fiddles are usually puke orange or puke red, and often sound as bad as they look.

Most people here can recommend a top modern maker for just under 20k, or you can easily find your own. Call Johnson's or Reuning's both in Boston, or Zaret in Cleveland, or contact one of the VSA medal winners yourself and see what they have.

March 16, 2004 at 11:44 PM · For $50K, you should be able to find a very nice violin. If you're looking for Italian, Pollastri, Sgarabotto, Bisiach are some names that come to mind. The ones that sound bad usually have not been regraduated.

Others I have heard good things about: Capicchioni, Joseph Hel (French). If you don't care much about investment value, you may want to look at some modern makers like Tetsuo Matsuda, which you can get for under $20K. Good luck.

March 18, 2004 at 05:03 AM · The investment value you speak of is a curious thing. Because actually, I was thinking that makers like Pollastri, Bisiach, and a horde of other modern Italians have been pushed up too high in price. I think those prices will plateau in the future as people realize that Matsuda can make something that sounds better than almost any modern Italian and also that dealers are full of $hit in pricing them so high.

I've also noticed that the modern Italians are the most difficult violins to liquidate at market price, they literally sit in shops for years while Matsudas are being bought as quickly as they're being made.

I believe that a Matsuda violin that sells for 18 now will sell for double that in 10 years. I don't think a Bisiach that goes for 65 will sell for 130 in ten years though, it's gonna take a big sucker to help it break the 100 barrier.

Of course I'm not better at predicting the future than anyone else, this is all speculation.

March 18, 2004 at 10:53 AM · Ooops. I appologize everyone. It was just explained to me (by John Krakenberger), that there are two ways of buying a violin. One is for sound, and the other is for investement value. I only care about the sound, whether it costs 500 dollars or 50K. I realize now that you are looking at it from an investment standpoint. The violin I have now, may sound as good (or better) than some of the high priced instruments, but it will never appreciate in cost, like the investment types will.

I see the picture now, thanks for not flaming me.


March 18, 2004 at 06:10 PM · "Honest violin-dealer is an oxymoron. Read up on the case of Peter Biddulph."

hmm, thats a little general dont you think?

March 18, 2004 at 09:10 PM · Many of the most honest dealers are operating small shops and making a modest living.

Here's an interesting link my friend sent me. I am not involved with this story in any way, but I believe I am allowed to post a link, especially if the publisher of the article is a newspaper as lofty as the Chicago Tribune.

March 18, 2004 at 11:34 PM · (from the article just mentioned in the Chicago Times)

'the legal concept of "unjust enrichment"'

Essentially, Biddulph would sell an instrument at a wholesale price to Bein & Fushi or to Chicago investor Howard Gottlieb, a Chicago Symphony Orchestra board member. Gottlieb then would pay a fee to Biddulph in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Biddulph's statements in the estate's case against him. After paying Biddulph his cut, Bein & Fushi or Gottlieb were clear to resell the instrument, at steep markups. Biddulph allowed Bein & Fushi and others to become wholesale middlemen, cutting large profits for themselves that otherwise would have gone to Segelman while he was still alive, and to his charitable trust after his death. These profits were wholly justified, said Bein. "We buy at one price and sell at another," he said, noting his overhead that includes a payroll, rent and restoration costs. "We're not doing the Lord's work, but that's basic business."



March 19, 2004 at 08:44 PM · Hey, Chris, I know some dealers. To my knowledge, none of them engage in unsavory or dishonest practices. In fact, they may have more personal integrity than a lot of musicians I have known. One (or even ten) bad apple(s) don't spoil the whole bunch, baby!

March 20, 2004 at 12:32 AM · That's true, but I would safely guess that most of the biggest dealers have done some questionable things to get to where they are. That includes kickbacks to teachers which many dealers do, double commissions where one dealer brings something to the customer from another dealer's shop and adds another 15%, stuff like the Tribune article talked about, and doing unnecessary work on finer instruments to 'make them sound better'.

March 24, 2004 at 06:07 PM · I once had a fairly long conversation about violin dealers and the nature of the business with Fritz Reuter. For those of you who don't know, Fritz has been railing against the "violin mafia" for years.

In the conversation, he ended up saying something that has stuck with me:

"It's naive to go through life believing that everyone in the business is honest and honorable. It's equally naive to believe that everyone is a crook."

After working in the business for ten years, I can tell you he's absolutely right. I know shops that are simply trying to make an honest living, and do their best to find the right instrument for their customers. I also know shops that are predatory and will take a customer for as much as they can. They are not always the ones you think. There are many smaller dealers that are among the least reputable people I've ever worked with, and some of the largest shops are among the most honest.

As for the original question, the violins in that range that have always stood out to me are by Pierre Silvestre. His style is so much more personal than the Vuillaume-Paris school, and the dozen or so that I've seen all sound fantastic.

Just my $.02...

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