Advice on

February 2, 2005 at 06:44 AM · My 15 year old daughter's teacher says she needs a "better" violin. Right now she has a Jan Dvorak Model 33F that cost about $950. She loves performing and wants to pursue a career in music so I'd like to buy her an instrument that she'll have the rest of her life. Under $5,000 would be good, $10,000 has to be the max (and painful). (I struggle with this a bit - I paid $5K for a piano 8 years ago and it's hard to see how a violin can be so much more.)

Any advice on

1) Buying a better instrument for her.

2) Reputable shops or luthiers in the greater Chicago area (say up to 50 miles out) - we're in Naperville.

3) Thoughts on carbon fiber violins w.r.t. sound, playability, lifespan, accepted in classical orchestras, etc. She's using Coda bows, but that's a bit more low profile.

Answer one or all - I need all the advice I can get.

Replies (18)

February 2, 2005 at 07:09 AM · Im in Canada so cant help you with the luthiers...however ill do my best with the ohter questions...with $10000...you'll be able to get a lovely instrument....my advice on buying her a violin is to bring her to several shops and have her play around with different violins and bows. maybe get her teacher to come along to offer his/her advice as well. then take a couple of the ones that your daughter thinks sounds and feels the best for her home on trial. most reputable shops will let you. you could also give her the blindfold test....which is blind-folding her when she tries out the violins...that way she wont be influenced by the appearances..and focuses solely on each instrment's sound. now with the bows...if you are spending that much money on a violin...you could also buy a really good pernambuco bow...do the same things as trying out a violin with a bow.....some people say to spend a third of the cost of the violin with the bow...but that depends on you....good luck...cheers!

February 2, 2005 at 10:06 AM · I am going to stick my neck out and make some possibly controversial points. I am an adult learner, also had lessons when I was child, and I have been looking to upgrade my own violin. By why? What is better?

I like a fine antique violin, who does not, and if you want to buy one as a reward for hard work, that would be lovely. But I am skeptical about needing one. Of course if you are doing solos in a large hall you need an instrument that can be heard. My thoughts:

1. A player is always in danger in having it in the back of the mind that a better instrument will make them sound or play better. This is highly subjective. If your daughter, and you and others, listen blind to a good player playing her instrument against a dearer one, will the dearer one really sound better? Perhaps marginally better? It is worth trying that way, surely, before buying. It is well known that a violinist is too close to hear what the audience hears. Look at the well-publicised comparison Navygary set up between his violin and a Strad.

2. The Chicago maker and dealer Fritz Reuter maybe goes over the top. I don't know, maybe he feels that his Chicago competitors, Bein & Fushi, are on the expensive side. However, the point he makes on his website is worth bearing in mind, I mean the point that a lot of perfectly good teachers will either get commissions from dealers, or at any rate will get a bit of free work. I don't feel as outraged at this is Reuter seems to, but it is right that buyers should be aware that the teacher, whilst often acting primiarily in the student's interest, may find it hard to be unbiased if he or she is keen to keep on good terms with a dealer, and may be getting a commission.

3. A lot of people will tell you that the sound and playability of a violin has little connection with the price. Sound does have a lot to do with the set-up, and setting up a poor instrument well can make it quite acceptable.

4. There is another point I have noticed. As a kid I played in an orchestra, and I still do. There can be a bit of feeling that the better players will be the ones with the better instrument - perhaps on the theory that better players 'need' better instruments. So it would be perfectly understandable if a young player were to feel that a valuable instrument is a kind of badge reflecting the quality of their playing. If I had a valuable violin I would be proud of it and would expect to get prestige from it, and I would enjoy that. It probably would not make a better player but would do a lot for my confidence, just like driving a fine automobile!

5. I have tried quite a few violins recently. My own feeling was that the brand new instruments were better value than antique ones. Some of the Chinese workshop instruments are nice (as are some of the German workshop instruments from 100 years ago), but for 10000 dollars you can get also get a very nice individually made new instrument.

February 2, 2005 at 11:14 AM · As someone who just purchased a violin to begin leanring at age 28 the sound difference here between a 950 violin and a 1250 violin was staggering... let alone uping to a 5K or more. When spending that kind of money I agree you need to "test drive" them for a while. Don't just buy the first instrument that sound nice. Find the best one you can afford from one luthier's shop and then another one from another luthier's shop and compare the two for a week. Have her teacher play them both to her because what she hears next to her ear is differnt than what the audience hears. Also, don't forget to take out insurance on the new one as it is most likely NOT covered under your homeowners. This process takes a while. I ended up with a Frank Denti model. If you do a web search for luthiers, chicago your should be able to get a list of places to visit.

February 2, 2005 at 11:50 AM · http://www.darntonviolins.com/ although his work is more than your $10K top. Might be able to refer you to the best step-up instrument shop.

February 2, 2005 at 03:08 PM · I agree that your daughter at 15 and probably quite advanced should have a better violin than her current one which is probably a mass-produced factory instrument.

For $5K you could get a seriously good French or German violin from around 1900. You should search websites to get an idea of the price ranges. http://www.westcountryviolins.com is a good place to start Google on "Mirecourt violin", "Markneukirchen violin", look at pictures at http://www.brobstviolins.com/gallery/gallery.asp?T=Violin

Then go to the violin shops and see what they have. You'll at least have some comps in the back of your mind so when they start pulling out instruments left and right you will not be too overwhelmed. Also, read Fritz Reuter's website or as much of it as you can stand (be aware of his biases in favor of brand new violins and against other dealers).

For $10K you could get a contemporary modern bench-made violin. I believe people here have talked about the Villa brothers (Marchello and Vittorio) that are in this price range. You could also get good American violins at this price. take a look at http://www.stamellstring.com/inventory_violin.html

So let google do the walking for you, be armed with price comparisons and then visit as many shops as you can stand to, and have your daughter do the blind tests. Take home two to three interesting ones and have her play in different venues, until one of the violins grab her and she knows it's the one for her. Hopefully it is not beyond your price range. :-)

Good luck and have fun! Oh, and do visit Mr. Darnton, he's a frequent contributor to this forum and gives his valuable time giving advice to people he may never meet. He's helped me out on violin setup questions and learning about measurements, angles, and violin evaluation. Besides that, he's a top contemporary American violin maker in his own right.

February 2, 2005 at 03:46 PM · My suggestion would be to widen your search area. Violins seem to be so much more expensive on the east coast. If you are looking to get a violin in the $5000-$10000 price range you definatly want to go to a dealer that will be sure they are selling you a well set up instrument in good condition. Often if you call up a dealership that is farther from you, they will let you know when their next business trip will take them close to your area and sometimes they will ship violins.

Expand your search. Try:

1. Robertson and Sons in New Mexico (very good collection in your price range),

2. Ifshin Violins in Berkley California,

3. Clair Givens Violins in Minnesota,

4. Peter Prier in Salt Lake City.

These are just a few. Browse through the Luthier section ( http://www.violinist.com/luthiers/ ) and many if not all of these mentioned should be listed with websites links.

Good luck,

Preston

P.S. I should include Christopher Reuning in Boston. Mr. Reuning is a pleasant man willing to help out, which is sometimes a hard thing to find when you go to a world renown violin dealer not looking to spend $100,000+.

February 2, 2005 at 03:42 PM ·

I agree that Christopher is a good egg... but he's in Boston, not Chicago. Instruments would need to be shipped.

Bein & Fushi carries more of the top end... don't think I'd recommend them for a $5K violin, but the W.H. Lee workshop is in the same building on Michigan Avenue. They build a variety of instruments in various price ranges.

There are a number of reputable shops in and around Chicago. I agree, contacting Michael Darnton via e-mail may be a good way to get a few local recommendations... or he may see this and post something.

February 2, 2005 at 03:47 PM · Oops! He is indeed in Boston, which I knew but for some reason was thinking Chicago. (forgive me...I'm a Canuck) *Grin* (went back and fixed my mistake)

I should have included Jeffery Holmes in my list of pleasant people to deal with in the violin business.

Preston

February 2, 2005 at 04:06 PM ·

Thanks for the compliment Preston!

February 2, 2005 at 04:22 PM · Dear Mr. Schmitt: February 2, 2005

My name is Ted Kruzich and I’ve been playing the violin around the Chicago area for over 65 years. My many friends are working and/or retired string players in the city and suburbs. They often call to tell me if they are buying or selling their personal instruments.

If you wish to contact me, I’ll be most happy to tell you my experiences with most of the commercial violin shops in the Chicagoland area and some violinists who currently have instruments for sale. I’m semi retired and work at Oakton college.

Happy shopping, Ted Kruzich

tkruzich@oakton.edu

February 3, 2005 at 03:08 AM · Hi,

I live in chicago area so I can give you some pointers.

1. WHLee (Chicago) is a pretty decent shop to deal with and they have pretty good customer service. My friend just bought a cello there and she told me she has a good shopping experience. Since she bought a cello there, the sales offered a very good deal in the bow. She bought the bow with 40% discount.

2. Michael Becker (Park Ridge) is a good shop. Becker is a honest luthier. He has a pretty big selections of instruments, however, I found it difficult to talk to him sometimes. Btw, he also has a large selection of bows.

3. Guadagnini Violin Shop (Chicago). I would recommend the luthier there too. He fixed my fingerboard and bridge. I really like his work. very nice and customer-oriented.

4. Kenneth Stein Violin Shop (Evanston and Lombard). I haven't visited them before but I have heard good things about them.

If you don't mind to tell, who is your daughter's teacher? I would expect her teacher to give you some recommendations in this as well.

Good luck in shopping! All the best.

February 3, 2005 at 06:07 AM · Hello Jeffrey,

My name is Martin Brunkalla and I'm a Chicago area violin maker. I make performance quality instruments for working musicians at reasonable prices. I generally refer violin "collectors" to some of the other shops mentioned in prior posts. TO be sure, there are some fine shops with fine instruments in the bunch.

You wondered about the price of a violin vs. a piano. I hope I can clarify somewhat, albeit from a luthiers perspective. Pianos are generally "factory" made instruments. The construction process has been optimized to get alot of product out the door. A good analogy would be an automobile. Go to your local car dealer and buy one for say, $20k. Take that car to a one-man machine shop and ask them how much it would cost to duplicate it. As a former applications engineer, I would venture a ballpark guess of a couple million bucks and a LOOOONG wait. It takes me 125 to 140 hours to make a violin that I sell for $4,200.00 . The math speaks for itself.

I'm aware of only 2 carbon fiber violins, both of which are over $25,000.00 . In my experience thusfar, you would be hard pressed to find a conductor that would be very receptive.

I would be happy to talk off-line if I can be of any assistance. Feel free to visit my web site, http://www.brunkalla.com where you will find contact information.

By the way, I'll be displaying some of my instruments in your neighborhood the first weekend in April at the Holiday Inn Select.

Best regards,

Martin Brunkalla

February 3, 2005 at 11:37 PM · I can highly recommend Carl Becker and Sons. Ken Warren, on Dearborn, is worth going to.

February 4, 2005 at 12:24 AM · Fritz Reuter. In Chicago, just barely higher than your top limit. One of the most honest dealers around.

February 4, 2005 at 12:38 AM · Max, are you saying that because *he* says it, or because you have experience????

February 4, 2005 at 12:34 AM · Hey Jeffrey,

I'm a violin student in Naperville too. Talk about a coincidence! I would heartily recommend a violin from Michael Darnton (he made my fiddle, and I love it), but if he's out of your price range, it wouldn't hurt contacting him anyway; he's a very helpful and kind person that knows what's going on around here, and he ought to be able to refer you to some places that might be of use to you. That said, here are some places that might be helpful:

1) William Harris Lee: Some of their workshop violins are very, very high quality.

2) Carl Becker: He carries Douglas Cox violins that play well and ought to be well in your price range. A few people in my youth orchestra have his violins.

3) Gregory Sapp: He lives out in the Aurora area; he does great rehairs, and makes violins in your price range.

4) Michael Becker: He's out in Park Ridge, and carries many instruments. He's a good, honest dealer and I rented my violins from him for a good 8 years!

Good luck in your search!

Oh, and who's your daughter's teacher?

February 4, 2005 at 05:28 AM ·

Forgot about Greg Sapp's fiddles. We carried some of those while I was at Shar. Nice performers for the money. He is also a very nice fellow.

Jeffrey

February 24, 2005 at 05:59 PM · I am a string player in Madison, Wisconsin.

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