Violins on ebay

October 30, 2004 at 05:03 AM · Dear All,

I would like to know about some of your experiences regarding buying a violin on ebay. Is it a big no-no when it comes to violin purchases or can it be just as successful as going to a shop?My upperbound is in the interval $3000 - $4000 smackaroos.

Best,

R

Replies (23)

October 30, 2004 at 05:53 AM · There's a simple answer: don't do it unless you're willing to take a big risk. Aside from the fraud that can take place on eBay, the chances that you'll find an instrument that is in good condition and will match your taste in sound quality is very low.

It's a much better idea to buy an instrument from a reputable dealer or shop. There's a much better selection, you have the option of trying the instrument before you buy it, and most shops will take the violin back in trade should you decide to buy another one at a later time.

October 30, 2004 at 06:33 AM · Agreed. A dealer will cost a lot more but is well worth however much extra money they are asking. One problem with eBay is that even when the seller is extremely honest and has a great feedback rating, you still have to rely on their descriptions of the instrument and their answers to your questions. Unless the seller is an true expert themselves (an exception when it comes to eBay), then you are likely to acquire an instrument with issues and problems that were not apparent at the time the auction was held. Or otherwise simply pay more than the instrument is worth. I don't mean that as a diesrespect to people who trade violins on eBay, it's just that the true experts are far more likely to use other avenues for doing business.

If you feel you can't keep away from the thrill of an auction, there are much safer bets with established online auction companies such as Tarisio (www.tarisio.com) who employ staff who at least know what they are talking about.

It's a hobby of mine to look at the violins listed on eBay several times per week. If I roughly broke down the percentages, about 90% in my opinion are junk and the remaining 10% are OK instruments. Of that 10%,the vast majority are still incorrectly labeled or incorrectly attributed (some horifically so), but they seem to be worth the money they end up going for. I probably see 1 or 2 really decent instruments go up on eBay every couple of weeks (meaning I believe they are properly attributed and worth the money paid), but that is only a couple amongst many hundreds.

I think in 3 years of eyeing off eBay I have seen maybe half a dozen instruments in which the successful bidder would have been a very happy camper.

October 30, 2004 at 11:50 AM · Oh, definitely agreed. Among the Ebay violins in my experience have been: a 3/4 size described as full-size, a violin with a broken/badly reset neck, and one whose tailpiece had been incorrectly fitted, leading to breakage when tuning. In your price range, it's a mug's game; personally I'd only consider Ebay for the purchase of a brand new student outfit from a bona fide dealer (look for the Buy It Now tag) - and even then you're likely to pay a similar price to what you would in a shop.

October 30, 2004 at 01:35 PM · EBay is no different from any other kind of contract buying. Buyers who have problems usually have simply failed to exercise appropriate diligence in finding out what they are contracting to buy.

The next most common problem is innocent misrepresentation.

I suspect the actual intentional misrepresentation is actually quite rare.

A serious problem is that most dealers on eBay don't consider themselves dealers, don't understand basic business law, and to some extent consider themselves beyond reach. This is not actually the case. I know of an eBay sale that resulted in a $40,000 judgment to a disappointed buyer.

Know who you're dealing with. Make sure you can find them. Clearly and securely evaluate what you're bidding on. Arrange for escrow or other secure buying. Basic common sense.

For some reason people bidding and selling on eBay often abandon common sense.

On the bright side, I have gotten several nice 18th C violins, one Italian 17th C violin, and a variety of high-end more modern instruments on eBay. None for more than $1000. None selling for less than double that in the long run. One selling for way over 10x what I paid. It was good for about 1.5 semesters of law school, but only cost $225 and a bit of restoration.

I suggest finding an impartial evaluator to make sure you're not nuts in bidding on something.

Steve Perry

October 30, 2004 at 02:52 PM · I appreciate your point, Steve. But in that sense, buying on eBay is like buying an instrument at auction, except that you don't get to try the instrument first. It's the same reason I try to keep players from buying at auction in general. You might find something that you really like, but the real possibility exists that you'll get burned, either on authenticity or sound.

You have success buying at auction (and on eBay) because you know what you're looking for. But the average performer or student doesn't necessarily have the skills or experience to discern the good deals from the bad ones.

The rule of thumb I use with people is this -- if you wouldn't be comfortable buying a car at an auto auction, then I wouldn't try buying an instrument at any auction, eBay or otherwise. You're not prepared for the risk.

October 31, 2004 at 12:28 AM · Sue,

That is a very important point you make about using eBay for lower priced instruments. You made an extremely important point about buying from a dealer on eBay if buying a new instument, and this is critical.

ebay does proliferate with huge numbers of new student instruments at, prima facie, extremely attractive prices. The sellers have very good feedback profiles as well. To some extent the low prices are understandable, as many of these sellers have very low overheads, almost zero after sales support and probably acquire the instruments in mass quantities.

I can't help thinking, however that when I look at many of these instruments, they could benefit with a lot of work on them just to have them properly set up. I would be quite surprised if I bought a brand new student mass produced instrument on eBay and found that the bridge, fingerboard, neck and soundpost were properly set up and the strings did not need ditching. So a purchaser needs to be aware that it may be necessary to spend additional funds on the instrument even after it has been acquired. I also have to wonder about how enthusiastic a good luthier would be in being charged with the task of "optimising" or setting up one of these cheap instruments when, up on the racks in his or her store, there are more expensive, new, quality student instruments properly set up and waiting to be sold. And, most importantly, ready to be supported, serviced and maintained by the store that sells them. That is something you are extremely unlikely to experience with eBay, except in those instances where established walk-in business are trading there (as Sue points out).

That said, I still think if I were a teacher I would feel happier with myself if I steered parents away from eBay and into the front door of a good violin dealer.

In any event, the overall investment needs to be considered. In buying a student instrument there is the vague plan that somewhere down the line the instrument will be traded in on a higher quality one. I think the purchaser of a more expensive instrument from a violin dealer is more likely to have a more pleasant experience during this trade up process than someone trying to trade in an ex-eBay mass produced instrument.

I don't really think that just because an established "walk-in" trader is selling on eBay, that this in itself is an implied guarantee of quality. Afterall, I'm sure we have all come across walk-in violin shops who we would rather not give our business to in the future!

Although a feedback rating is some sort of a basic indication of the quality of a seller on eBay, positive feedback often only means something in the violin business if the buyer was highly experienced to start with.

And Michael. I wholeheartedy agree with your second statement as well. I think eBay really only suits a very small percentage of people wishing to acquire a good instrument. Otherwise the risks are severe.

October 31, 2004 at 08:08 AM · My advise: don't do it. My former boyfriend and I have bought several instruments of ebay in the hope to fix them and then sell them again. Every single instrument we got was far beyond fixing! So they now make very expensive wall decoration. If you are looking for an instruments rather look on the posts at conservatories or just build up a good relation with you violin maker. I always have gotten fair student instruments from my violinmaker in Amsterdam. But who knows, maybe you will be the lucky one who buys a violin from that an old lady found in the attic and it turns out to be a strad. Please let me know if that happens, will you? Then I can start feeling really sorry for myself!! :)

November 1, 2004 at 12:47 PM · As I indicated, eBay is no different from any other venue. The same rules apply. EBay is simply a venue. I see no worse stuff coming through from eBay sales than I do from sales from private buyers and some shops.

I do see people somehow thinking eBay is different. It isn't. One has an opportunity to check out the goods or rely on description, forms a contract, has the same remedies as usual. The problems I see mostly spring from failures in common sense, failures in understanding violins, and lack of understanding of contract law.

These failings are easily remedied by the usual caution, training, and study. That most buyers and sellers don't bother to prepare adequately doesn't mean that the venue is bad, just that buyers and sellers aren't preparing themselves well!

Just as I wouldn't advise someone learning to drive to go somewhere alone and buy a car, I wouldn't advise a beginning or intermediate violinist to go buy a violin on eBay without an advisor. I wouldn't advise them to buy in person without some help, either.

EBay is just a venue. That's it. No different. No magic. No extra good or extra bad. I've gotten amazing deals on there and in person, and have seen appalling ripoffs there and in person. Same market with a different face, that's all.

November 1, 2004 at 01:03 PM · Hmm well Ok, I made that mistake. As a complete novice I thought it would be a good idea to start with an inexpensive instrument. It just arrived, hmmm, I have a luthier 5 minutes walk from my office so I just took him the ebay instrument for him to set up for me. The instrument apparently had been badly damaged and repaired terribly (he tells me) The bridge was down (for shipping) and he told me if he attempted to tighten the strings the instrument would collapse ! I left it with him for spares !

Why, I hear you ask, didn't I buy one from him in the first place? His cheapest instrument is over £1000 ! As I have no idea if I will take to the violin I was loathed to pay that much :(

Back to the drawing board.

Don

November 1, 2004 at 03:35 PM · A friend with a violin shop bought 6 or 8 instruments on ebay. One of them sold for a good price, the others were not what they claimed to be and not worth repairing for resale.

I have bought 6 or 8 instruments on ebay and have had some losers, some winners. Once I got fraud insurance from ebay over a guitar that was misrepresented. I find the process kind of fun, but it's a real crapshoot. If you want to buy an instrument to play, you need to play and hear it first (no problem buying online from a reputable dealer with a return policy). Otherwise, you'll win some and lose some. The first time you lose, it can sting.

November 2, 2004 at 01:20 AM · If something other than what is described arrives, then reject it and notify the escrow service that you have done so. Rather easy. One normally uses some kind of security blanket in contracting.

I'm always amazed that folks will buy relatively expensive things from strangers far away where recourse is difficult without engaging some intermediary mechanism to allow rejecting the merchandise. A reasonable commercial seller on eBay is very likely to allow some kind of return or try out period. Just ask.

The examples above seem to demonstrate to me that people treat eBay differently. "I have 8 fiddles in the trunk of my car - here's some photographs. Want to bid?" Sure, but only if one has the right to reject and a mechanism for recovering the money. "Let's see those fiddles in person first." But on eBay this common sense approach seems ignored. Odd.

Sellers aren't immune from normal remedies just because of the EBay auction format!

I strongly advise that violin traders study contract law a little bit. One should know how contracts work, remedies in general, conditions, etc. Get an outline of the Uniform Commercial Code. Devise a mechanism for protection.

If someone doesn't have a phone number, an address that is verifiable, a work address and number, accept credit cards, belong to the better business bureau and so on, then confidence is reduced.

For example, I have a storefront, am a member of the online better business bureau, can be easily traced, am obviously not mobile. And I'm an attorney who can be reported to the board for misbehavior. Seems I would be a safe bet. Contrast that to someone with no phone, a PO box, and only a first name. Yet people will mail off that money order to the PO Box!!!

Amazing.

If something isn't what it was described as, then either negligent or intentional misrepresentation has occurred and remedy exists. Or pursue a warranty theory. But don't just sit there or expect eBay or PayPal or someone other than the buyer to do the job.

Have fun. Bid early and often, but use escrow or a credit card and know your trading partner. Just like negotiable instruments - "know your indorser" is the watchword.

November 2, 2004 at 01:57 AM · I live in the Philippines but have done several transactions on eBay; I've never had any problems with sellers.

In fact, I've found it a very interesting place to meet and chat with people much like violinist.com itself!

The problem, as I see it, isn't so much with the reputation or honesty of the seller but with the nature of the goods in question: a violin (or any musical instrument for that matter) is difficult to appraise especially if the seller is not knowledgeable or does not use the instrument himself/herself.

In addition, there are many subjective qualities that come into play, especially with regards to the quality of the instrument's sound. One man's trash is another man's treasure and vice versa.

The bottom line is that IMHO it isn't such a good idea to buy musical instruments off eBay not out of the possibility of fraud but because such items are best appraised in person.

eBay's rating system, though not foolproof, will give you a good idea on whether or not to trust a particular seller/dealer.

Also, don't be afraid to ask questions; you have every right to do so. A seller should NEVER blame you for asking too many questions.

We Filipinos have a saying (pardon me for using my native Tagalog just this once in violation of posting rules):

"Walang maloloko kung hindi magpapaloko."

Translated, it means "You can't be fooled if you don't allow yourself to be fooled."

No matter where you go in the world, there will ALWAYS be wolves in sheep's clothing. The best thing to do is to be prudent, always keep your eyes open, and always think twice about any move you make.

Having said that, enjoy yourself on eBay! Caution and enjoyment aren't mutually exclusive ideas, after all :-)

November 2, 2004 at 03:27 PM · Stephen, in my case it was not that simple. I had specifically asked the seller about the condition of the frets (this was a guitar), and he said they were fine. There had been some fret filing and there was some buzzing. The ebay fraud guy said it was an open and shut case (no pun intended), so they gave me some money and gave him the boot.

November 2, 2004 at 06:55 PM · I've bought and sold items on eBay, but I almost never buy any item whose condition cannot be reasonably impartially described.

You'll never know if the violin is really in good condition until it gets to you. And you've got to play the instrument to hear if it's any good.

When I bought my last violin, I played about a dozen in the shop and chose the best sounding one. It was also the one in the worst condition from a cosmetic standpoint. (I later had a luthier examine it and verify that it was sound physically and that the previous repairs on it had been handled adequately.)

November 12, 2004 at 04:42 PM · Sorry this is late BUT

One rule : read the description VERY carefully. Read it from every angle, it may not mean what you expect it to mean at first reading. This is the great skill of selling tat on ebay. E.g.'no cracks in the body' probably means the neck is cracked, but some people will only see 'no cracks' ;)

I have seen so many people using the fact that there is a fake label as an excuse to lie about the age, it is now a joke. Spot these guys- 'I don't know sfa about violins' is a dead give away that a scam is in process and another statement you can't easily disprove unless they are a prominent dealer.

The only dead cert on Ebay is an electric, there are seldom any fake elctrics- :)

November 12, 2004 at 09:23 PM · Chi, I'm curious--how many violins have you bought on ebay?

November 13, 2004 at 04:35 PM · ...I've been thinking (probably a mistake, since I'm not quite awake yet)...

...but if I were a luthier...and parents insisted on buying the cheapest eBay violins they could, and then brought them to me to make playable...and I made some money off it - what's wrong with that?...

...obviously not an ideal situation all told...but these same parents likely wouldn't have bought from me regardless...so if I can make money doing the set-up...good for me! No?

...and (still thinking away) if I do a good job, give good advice (no berating, no sales pressure)...won't these parents be much more likely to come back to me for the upgrade? Which will hopefully be a more expensive violin and/or bow...

November 17, 2004 at 02:58 PM · My experience on purchasing violins from ebay tells me it’s highly risky.

I bought an old German trade violin that needed setup and minor repairs. After it’s done properly by professional luthier, the total cost was over $400. And the violin still sounds bad (nasal and lack of projection). Later, I was lucky to find an amateur luthier who did a “regraduation” (it means open the box and thin down the wood thickness; a major, expensive repair) on it with minimal costs to me. After all the “exciting” ventures, the violin finally sounds pretty decent but it is only worthy half of what I already spent. Recently I physically looked at an ebay violin that is without label (labels of most famous makers are fakes anyway). The seller picked up the violin from estate sale and paid for $20. The violin was sold over $300 on ebay later. A very profitable business!

If you are not expert on violins and don’t know how to fix them, my advise is “don’t do it”. Chances are you will be stuck with it and need to spend more money than it’s worth.

However, there are some knowledgeable, trustworthy ebay sellers that offer refund/return policy. Usually the sold prices are much higher and the risk is lower.

November 18, 2004 at 02:26 AM · Thus my advise to have an advisor.

So much of the performance of a violin is in the condition and setup. Unless one can handle such things as a matter of course, one has little business buying from anything but a sterling seller period. On eBay or elsewhere. That's the ticker. All the bad stories above seem to spring from not taking elementary precautions and considering the ultimate costs.

Things depend on one's skills and viewpoints. Take being surrounded in wartime. For regular Army this is bad. For paratroopers with greater degree of training this is normal. Thus I like to find the violins in pieces. No bad repairs to undo, just simple stuff like reassembling the thing and setting it up. If that doesn't seem simple, don't buy a vintage violin. People who wouldn't think of getting a dusty old violin with 2 strings missing for $500 in a shop will spend that on eBay. Silly.

Whining after the fact doesn't make up for lack of diligence beforehand. Blaming the venue is really quite inappropriate. I prefer seeing people take responsibility for their mistakes. On eBay, this includes mistakes as seller and as buyer.

In general an eBay violin that is new needs pegs fitting, new bridge, recut or new soundpost to work even close to optimally. One is likely to pay full freight bringing in an eBay cheapie to a shop instead of buying from that shop in the first place. Think $100.

Add popping the top, repairing a few cracks, adjusting the neck angle, complete setup, and one is into real money. I'm fast and this type of work still takes me time. But I'd rather see some fine old violin get a new start that have it junked somewhere. I've actually rescued violins from the trash.

I suggest avoiding the whining . Simply exercise reasonable diligence in checking out what you're buying, who you're buying it from, and how to remedy any faults and you're set.

Steve

November 18, 2004 at 02:58 AM · Personally, I haven't had any good experiences on Ebay..

Although, acouple good friends of mine got some good deals..

One got an old old old 18th century copy of a strad that was extremely beat up. They took it into the shop and had it fixed up, and it turned out to be a really nice fiddle..

I've known others who have found companies who sell on Ebay and just skip the whole Ebay process...

November 18, 2004 at 02:03 PM · In my previous response, the $20 violin actually sold for over $900 last night on ebay. I am not knowlegeable to know if the buyer finds a treasure or is a big sucker. All I know is the violin comes with two old bows (one of them is a cheap student-grade Glasser fiberglass) and the seller never mentioned this on description.

November 18, 2004 at 03:52 PM · I have done extremely well on ebay. The important word though is caution. Over the last five years or so I have bought jewelry, clothing, and yes, instruments. I have purchased a piccolo for my daughter from a college student looking to upgrade, an older pro model Yamaha sax for another daughter, and the tricky buy, an older violin for the other one.

Always read feedback, for a large purchase you might not want to use a new seller. Stick with a seller with 99plus percentage positive feedback, ask your seller for some background information, do they know instruments? Will they give you a try and return period? Return if not satisfied or item is not as advertised? With violins you will be taking a risk as you cannot listen to most of them. Ask all the questions you need to. Know you will probably need adjustments on that violin and have someone on hand to do them and value your instrument. Don't buy if you can't satisfy all of the above. The violin I purchased had a short approval period. It did need some work, new bridge, small crack, sound post alighnment, and the neck had a very slight angle and had to be removed and set on straight. The violin went at auction for 450 and I had 300 put into it to get it in top condition. I then got two appraisals after the work was done and it was worth over 1800. It is a beautiful french violin from about 1880, handmade for trade. The sound is great and easily beats anything new in the same price range. There are some honest sellers and good instruments, just be careful and weigh the risks before you buy. By the way, I also bought my daughter her first student instrument on ebay. We changed strings and adjusted string height, that's all it needed as a new instrument. It sounded much better than all the rentals in her class and cost less than a year of rental for the whole outfit. Do your homework first and it might be an option for you, but know what you're buying.

November 19, 2004 at 02:12 AM · Rather than weighing risks, I would suggest countering any apparent risks.

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