Buying a violin overseas
I'm currently playing on an antique French violin. It's okay. But it's borrowed, so I'll have to return it someday, and I'm a bit shy about making any adjustments or repairs. So I'm kind of looking for a replacement, although there is no urgency. Every once in a while I'll try an instrument out.
I'll be on vacation in a month or two, and we'll eventually wind up in Paris. My wife wants to have an afternoon free for clothes shopping, so while she's doing that I thought I'd visit some of the luthiers on Rue de Rome. Odds are I'll just be window shopping, but on the off chance that I absolutely fall in love with one of their instruments, I was wondering about the practicality of bringing one home. Has anyone had any experience with this and can answer a few questions:
1) Is there anything I need to watch out for going through Customs when returning to the US? I presume I'll have to declare the violin.
2) Are luthiers in Paris good about the paperwork for the VAT refund?
3) Are violins in cases suitable for carry-on luggage?
4) Would it be easier to buy the violin and have the dealer complete the paperwork and ship the instrument?
5) Anything else I need to consider? Would I be better off hanging out in a cafe with a bottle of vin rouge while my wife is shopping?
I vote for the afternoon in the cafe with a nice glass of red wine.
There are great bow makers you could visit in Paris as well - Emmanuel Carlier has his shop there, I think Georges Tepho now as well, Yannick Le Canu has an office there. Stephane Thomachot's workshop is in Provence but may also have a Paris address, worth checking into.
I agree with Mary Ellen on this.
I imagine it's more difficult to bring an old bow home from overseas (possible rare materials) than an old violin. So the problem with trying bows is I might actually want one of them.
The makers have a fairly high chance of not having anything available to sell -- they work on commission. But you might enjoy a glimpse of the bow-commissioning and bow-making process.
A couple of those guys maybe not but Carlier invited us to visit and seems like a good guy, makes fantastic bows. (But I don't disagree Lydia, we ended up commissioning.)
Falling with love is easy, living with someone presents certain challenges.
I have sipped vin rouge in Paris cafes and espresso too at various times between 25 and 50 years ago and I once also visited a violin shop just off the quay on the Left Bank but none on the Rue de Rome. I was treated rudely at the shop, probably because I was obviously not buying and I did not speak French. Regretfully I never got a chance to spend time on the Rue de Rome. Given the chance I would visit all the shops there.
So long as what you purchase is over 100 years old, you will be fine. If the instrument is less than 100 years old, you will have to pay a tariff. It might be 3-4%, but the duty officer will be the one who:1-determines the value of the item, regardless of what you have on a document and, 2-They will determine what the tariff amount is. French instruments made particular use of Brazillian Rosewood for fittings, so be aware that they might have a problem with that.
In Florence for a conference, I announced to a local friend that I was looking for a new violin and he replied "My neighbour makes violins - I'll introduce you". I figured the conference wouldn't miss me for a few hours and had a great time trying out violins within and outwith my budget, mostly made by the luthier's apprentices. The one that impressed me hugely was in fact newly made by a local amateur (this was the first time it had been set up) and I took it back to the hotel to audition more extensively. Next day the maker came himself to the shop and we conversed in Italo-English and gestures. It transpired he'd promised his next violin (this one) to a Japanese visitor, but my very loose personal connection got me preferential treatment. Fortuitously the wad of cash I'd been presented for my conference expenses covered half the price of the instrument.
Interesting sales tactic on the part of the maker (although one can't rule out that it could have been true):
I only had to show him the wad!
It's even a bit more 'interesting' than "Only for you, I'll give a special price".
For a "special price" of 4 million lire (about £1800 in 1997) I don't think I was duped, and it became my virtual prosthesis for the next 20 years. Hope the Japanese visitor eventually got one too...
I wonder which of the respondents are most likely to be audited next year? ;-)
Being sued is not the same thing as being audited.
Typically, custom's check over what you bring into their country and what you are leaving with. However, if you came in with an inexpensive violin and left with a more expensive one, I doubt they would notice.
Buying a violin the last day of vacation isn't so bad. Carrying a cheap one around with us on the entire vacation until then would be quite a PITA, particularly since it's doubtful I'd even buy one while I'm there. And while the customs officials "probably wouldn't notice", if they do you lose Global Entry privileges for life, in addition to whatever fines they might decide to throw in.
I'm sure Tom is right although there must be a lot of variation between countries. In my case (not the violin case; I mean "circumstance") I was particularly concerned to protect the identity of the violin maker whose name might conceivably have reached the Italian taxman had I filled in the proper importation forms. I think he (the violin maker) was a bit paranoid! I shall take his secret to the grave with me.
It turns out that I won't have to shop for a violin in Paris after all. While I was at a local luthier's shop last week, I found a 1930's German factory violin that he had restored. Much better condition and much bigger sound than the 19th c French violin I'm borrowing (that admittedly is rather beat up), and the price was too tempting to pass up. I brought it to my lesson this week and my teacher gave it a big thumbs up.
Look at bows???
Predicting customs charges is like predicting the weather.
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