Buying a violin from Cremona, Italy

August 20, 2018, 12:41 PM · My 9 years old is currently using a 3/4. We intend to go to a music summer camp in Cremona, Italy in 2019 summer and to buy a full size.

My budget is $30,000 Euro.

I have been researching on violinist.com and I see a lot of good reviews about Vittorio Villa. I am thinking to have him to make one to suit my son’s skill level. But I wonder what if the violin is not suitable for him when we try it there.

I don’t know anything about violin. We don’t have enough time and sufficient knowledge to go to shops in Cremona and I am afraid the vintage I buy is a replica and that’s why I am thinking to go to a reputable luither.

I appreciate all recommendations.

Replies (43)

August 20, 2018, 12:44 PM · I would visit Davide Sora's shop.
Edited: August 20, 2018, 1:33 PM · Personally, I would not recommend buying a 9-year old a 30,000 Euro violin.

You could get an excellent violin for far less money at a reputable dealer that would be fine for him for a few more years. In the meantime, you could have time to research and learn about more expensive violins.

August 20, 2018, 3:15 PM · Sou Wei Mui, I agree with George, that you should spend more time to learn, before spending that much money, unless you are in a position that money doesn't matter to you.

Try many many violins, and things will start to fall into place. Some very good, and not-so-good recommendations might be posted here. Best of luck on your journey.

August 20, 2018, 4:17 PM · If you walk into any luthier's shop or any dealer for that matter and announce that you have 30K Euro to spend on a violin for your nine-year-old, you are ripe for the picking.

I agree with George and David. There are plenty of excellent violins available at a much lower price that are more than good enough for even the most advanced nine-year-old except possibly if your son is a candidate for the junior Menuhin competition. Get something that is good enough to last him a few more years and in the meantime take your time and learn about what is out there. And for goodness' sake involve your son's teacher in the process.

August 20, 2018, 4:59 PM · I'm not sure what you will find in Cremona. I'm pretty sure all the makers there trade on the current reputations of a few makers, long gone, that were in the town 300 years ago.

My own experience with modern Cremona-made violins is limited to three separate years of the traveling Cremona show that initially visited several USA shops annually until more recently when they only visit one per year. I always visited the show at Ifshin Violins in El Cerrito, CA. Of all the makers in those traveling exhibits/sales whose violins, violas, and cellos I tried the one that impressed me was Riccardo Bergonzi. Of course there are many other Cremona makers who did not participate in those traveling exhibits. And it is worth visiting and trying what you can when you are there. Some of the best makers may well have world-wide outlets through dealers in many countries and may not sell from their shops at all , nor carry much (if any) stock.

However, I think it is also worthwhile trying violins in your own country in your price range made by many other makers so you will have some idea of what the market offers. There is really nothing special about an instrument made in Cremona besides the cache of one word hidden on the label. All the materials available to those makers are available world-wide. The violin making techniques are now universal, as are the the designs their work is based on.

One of the acknowledged best current violin makers works in a walk-up loft in Brooklyn, New York.

However, it is probably worthwhile to do an internet search of
1. world-wide violin-making schools
2. names of graduates of those schools and where they are working
3. prices they get for their instruments (also check auctions ( tarisio.com )
4. professional assessments of their instruments regarding all quality aspects.

August 20, 2018, 5:36 PM · Where in the world are you based? And at what level is your son playing? (i.e., as noted, is he at the level where he's likely to enter the junior Menuhin?)
August 20, 2018, 5:45 PM · Follow the good advice given here, and check the winners of violin makers competitions including the Cremona triennale. You'll find out that most of them aren't neither from Cremona nor Italian.
August 20, 2018, 8:18 PM · Vittorio's instruments are significantly less than $30,000 euros. We have two in the family that we are very happy with. Both commissioned in early 2000's.
August 21, 2018, 3:25 AM · Two points you might consider:
1) apart from the exceptionally talented, most 9-year-olds will give up playing the violin at some time in their teens
2) most newly-commissioned violins depreciate drastically over the first few years. The exception are violins made by luthiers with long waiting lists!
August 21, 2018, 2:40 PM · Since your son is going to Cremona for summer camp, rent one from a luthier of your choice in Cremona. I believe Italian luthiers are quite happy to loan you their instruments for a fee. This way you dont have to lug a new violin to Italy and it will give you some ideas about what kind of vilions you may want to buy.
August 21, 2018, 8:21 PM · Is anyone else sleepless over the expression "$30,000 Euro"? Is that USD 30,000 converted to Euro or 30,000 Euro?

€30.000 ~= $34,700
$30,000 ~= €25.900

(Today, according to some online sources; typical conversion would be worse due to fees, and of course will be different next year.)

http://eurosymbol.eu/ascii-code

On the other hand, it's probably just another 'magic' number, so 30,000 units of the local currency might have about the same meaning locally regardless of currency, for reasonably close currencies and economies. In other words, it might be more cost-effective to find a Canadian luthier.

OK, I can sleep now.

August 21, 2018, 8:59 PM · how many 9 year olds are ready for a 4/4 size, I just sized a 9 year old, needed a 1/2 size, I know kids come in different sizes but a 9 year old would have to be pretty tall to fit a 4/4 wouldn't they??
August 21, 2018, 9:31 PM · Whether it's $30,000 or €30.000, it's far above what any 9-year-old needs for anything short of the junior Menuhin competition.

And yeah, the sizing seems suspect too. The average 9-year-old is just reaching the point where you can consider moving from 1/2 size to 3/4 size. Typically you'd have to be about 1.5 meters tall (give or take a little depending on arm length) to play a full-size violin; that's well above 99th percentile height for 9-year-old boys in even the tallest populations.

Edited: August 25, 2018, 6:27 PM · Height has nothing to do with it - it is arm length!!!!
I switched my older granddaughter to a full-size violin when she was 9 or 10. She was still about 5'2" when she graduated from high achool 8 or 9 years later. But her arms were almost as long as mine - and I was still 6-feet tall then. We used to check arm length by poking each other's arm pits with fully extended arms.

My younger granddaughter only lasted one month as my violin student, but at age 7 her arms were long enough (according to the way they have you grab the scroll) to play a 4/4 violin/

But when I was teaching I would also take account sizes of the young students' parents. On that basis I would guess each student's ultimate size and scale their violin size so that whatever size violin they were playing would scale the same to their arms and hands as would a full-size at their ultimate growth.

August 21, 2018, 11:05 PM · I recently tried a big-name living Cremona maker. It could have been a Vittorio. Can't remember.
Not impressed.

If I had a career in front of me rather than fading fast in my rearview mirror, and I had $30k, I'd find $10k more and try a Terry Borman. Or I'd sell some plasma or a kidney to find a Becker or Peresson.

But I probably wouldn't buy that calibre of violin for a 9-year old.

Maybe this is actually an episode from "Crazy Rich Asians"?

August 22, 2018, 1:00 AM · Admittedly guys, OP said their budget was 30,000, meaning that is the MAX they'd be willing to spend, not that they're looking to spend in that range.
Edited: August 22, 2018, 4:23 AM · In any case, if you're buying a 4/4 for a nine-year old it's an investment that will only come out of its case three or four years down the line. If the kid is still playing the violin at the time (the 3/4 > 4/4 age is usually the "I'm quitting" age). Big if.

Also if you give a ten-year old a first-class violin straight away, the kid hasn't got anything to strive for. What's wrong with the pedagogic reward of saying: "If you study really hard, we will go and get a great instrument when you're sixteen years old."

I can imagine making a trip to Italy looks like a once in a decade opportunity to get a great violin, but that's naive, too. Within the budget mentioned you can find an excellent violin anywhere.

However, for all we know you're a millionaire (sorry, make that billionaire, millionaires are paupers these days), and you'll be getting him a Strad by that time.

August 22, 2018, 12:16 PM · Hi Sau Wai Mui,
some good suggestions have come out in this discussion.
One of the advantages of being in Cremona is precisely that of being able to try different violins of different violin makers in various price ranges,all just a few steps away from each other.
I do not think there is another place like this in the world, but not to make a hasty choice is necessary to have time available, and certainly someone (a violin teacher?)that can advise you on the actual quality of the violins, since I understand that you are not very expert on the subject.
Regarding the question that you ask yourself in case of an order ("But I wonder what if the violin is not suitable for him when we try it there")I would hope that every serious violin maker will grant the ability to choose whether or not to buy the violin once it is ready for delivery and after a few days test from the player.
At least this is what I do, I do not want to have dissatisfied customers around because I understand perfectly that this may not depend on the absolute quality of the violin,but simply from the particular feeling that a player must have with his violin, considering that this could happen even with a Stradivari.
Edited: August 22, 2018, 12:39 PM · Andrew Victor said :

" I'm not sure what you will find in Cremona. I'm pretty sure all the makers there trade on the current reputations of a few makers, long gone, that were in the town 300 years ago"

Hi Andrew,
Who does not? Who is without sin cast the first stone,there are legions of copyists who live on the reputation of the ancient Cremonese makers all over the world, including the New York luthier you cite.

@ Manfio
thanks for suggesting my name, very obliged :-)

August 25, 2018, 1:28 PM · Ah, Davide Sora, I didn't know you were on this site. I've spent countless hours analyzing the tone of your violins (the Yokoyama vids). How do we get a hold of one of your instruments? I havn't found a way, short of flying to Cremona.
August 25, 2018, 1:35 PM · I kinda see Sau Wai Mui's plight. You want the best for your kids, even if she can't hold a full sized violin just yet. Personally, my son is 10 months old, but there's a couple fancy, full sized violins waiting for him when he's ready. Lots of fancy bows too. i'm using them all myself until he's big enough, so I'm having lots of fun in the process.

I didn't quite know what I was doing a year ago, so I bought instruments and bows from medal winners. Hard to go wrong when a panel of judges decide it's the best violin out of all of them.

The VSA violin making competition is this Nov in Virginia. Maybe just drop by and buy instruments that wins a medal.

Edited: August 25, 2018, 4:29 PM · Some amateur thoughts on the new Italian instruments since this was stroked up:

What I've observed is there are three attitudes towards Italian instruments that seem like suspect generalisations (I am not an expert to decide whether they're valid, but suspect they do seem to me) : that old Italian violins are necessarily unsurpassable, that new Italian violins are-by association- superior to new instruments produced elsewhere and, by opposition, that new Italian instruments all sound the same and are inferior to instruments produced elsewhere.

Usually proponents of the third attitude cite the fact that violin making knowledge is nowadays international and that Italian makers don't have the circumstantial singular importance of sorts their predecessors did. OK. ..but there is an implicit contradiction in this third attitude. Italian makers are as part of the world wide community as any other and as likely to be good or bad as anyone else. Or so it seems to me.

Also sometimes there is a bit of opportunism and marketing when it comes to the idea of "Italian sound", whether in affirming that there is one (in order to sell an Italian one or one that wants to liken to an Italian instrument) or in rejecting ( in order to sell a non Italian instrument that has to compete with the old Italian lore).

Again, I am no expert so grain of salt and all :)

August 25, 2018, 4:43 PM · I couldnt edit my previous post but just to clarify, amateur thoughts not on Italian violins per se...but on attitudes towards them.
Edited: August 25, 2018, 5:36 PM · The finest violins can be made anywhere, but the best tone wood tend to come from certain regions of the planet. Spruce from Northern Italy and maple from the Balkans. That's the old world formula. I got that from a lecture by Sam Z.

I wouldn't discredit the Cremona makers. They make amazing instruments and sell at a relatively low price, esp compared to their American competitors. You can get an incredible Cremonese violin for under 10k if you can bargain, under 15k if you can't. Bergonzi, Tonarelli, and Sora are on my interest list.

If you want violins from historic dead Italian makers, you can save up a bit more money. 40K Euro for a Garamberti, and 50K Euro for a Pedrazzini. That's if you son can make it to the Menuhin competitions.

August 25, 2018, 7:57 PM · Instruments for children, especially those headed towards pre-professional studies and competitions (which presumably is likely the case for anyone contemplating spending $35k for a 9-year-old) should be carefully chosen under the guidance of a teacher. The teacher will want an instrument that can optimally guide the student in their learning of professional tone production. That's more likely to be an older instrument that has a stable and predictable tone, than a brand-new commission whose development requires an already-skilled player and whose tone will change over time.
August 25, 2018, 10:55 PM · I don't think a teacher will go to Cremona to help choose an instrument. Or maybe they will for a free trip.

When my friend went to Cremona to buy a violin straight from Bergonzi, he said Bergonzi had plenty of violins he made years prior. And some of his best work he kept in the back for special clients. I def think a buyer should know how to tell the difference between a 10k violin and a 25k violin. Some violins are good. Some are expensive. Which is which? You should be able to tell before you spend major bucks on an instrument. Vittorio Villa is good, but not 30k good. More like 13-15k good.

Developing the tone of a violin is somewhat fun. You start off by buying a violin that's significantly cheaper, then it just transform thereafter.

August 28, 2018, 5:28 AM · Tom Supakorndej wrote :

"Ah, Davide Sora, I didn't know you were on this site. I've spent countless hours analyzing the tone of your violins (the Yokoyama vids). How do we get a hold of one of your instruments? I havn't found a way, short of flying to Cremona."

"You can get an incredible Cremonese violin for under 10k if you can bargain, under 15k if you can't. Bergonzi, Tonarelli, and Sora are on my interest list."

Hi Tom,
I'm impressed that you've spent so many hours analyzing my violin in the video,at least I hope you enjoyed it and that you took into account that it is a low quality recording :-)
Unfortunately I understand that it is difficult to find my instruments around, this is one of my main problems because I only do what I can do to maintain a high level of quality, which excludes increasing production by using systems such as hiring employees or using non-traditional methods to speed up production, these are things that I do not do as a specific personal choice.
Even if you fly to Cremona it is not at all certain that you find my instruments in my shop, I have a rather long waiting list and customers waiting for delivery, so only very rarely do I get to have violins available for direct sales.
I'm sorry for this, and I do not want to go into how other luthiers do to always have available violins ;-)
However, with regard to price my approach to work implies that it is well above 10/15K that you indicate, rather close to the double is more realistic considering the time I have to devote to construction and all you need to do to try to stay at good quality levels constantly for all instrument you make.

August 28, 2018, 7:11 AM · Tom wrote:
"The VSA violin making competition is this Nov in Virginia. Maybe just drop by and buy instruments that wins a medal."
__________________________________________

Actually, it's in Cleveland.

https://www.vsaweb.org/2018-convention

The 400 or so instruments entered in the competition can be seen and played on the last two days (after the judging is completed), but not prior to that.

August 28, 2018, 6:22 PM · The poster did not make it clear if the intent was to buy the best violin for playing on the market or the best violin as an investment - the two sometimes convergent but too often divergent means to assess value. I would love to have a clarification if the objective of buying an Italian Cremona is to ensure value as well as to ensure quality.
Edited: August 30, 2018, 6:08 AM · I agree with what others have said above: buy him an instrument that will get him to high school level, then if he decides on music as a career you will have enough saved up for a good professional instrument.
Edited: August 31, 2018, 7:40 AM · Hi. Just on a brief and now-a-days very occasional visit here I came across this thread. I don't want to get bogged down here, so after the following I will not come back to this thread. Anyone is welcome to pursue this further with me directly at my personal email: violinist@rkviolin.com

I am the proud and delighted owner of 2 Vittorio Villa violins. On my website (and maybe still here) you can find my 2 blogs about his violins of mine under "My Pilgrimage to Cremona" and "A Tale of Two Fiddles". His violins are also to be found in The Philadelphia Orchestra, the NY Philharmonic, the Shanghai Quartet, etc, etc. I am NOT his representative but I have become his friend. I can't speak for him but if I recall correctly, last I heard I think he was charging about 12,000 Euros for a basic model - more of course for bells and whistles such as inlaid ornamentation.

I am also not saying that this is the best or necessary choice for a 9-year-old of less than stellar talent and very serious interest. But Vittorio has been getting better and better known and I'm sure that his violins will not only hold their value but increase. There are now some fake Villas floating around - a problem but also a back-handed compliment.

No, he won't force a client to pay for a violin if they don't like it. I am definitely NOT saying that he is the only good maker in Cremona or anywhere else. There are loads of excellent makers today. In fact, I could also recommend 2 other fine Cremona makers, one of whom charges less and one who charges more.

Vittorio has been approached by some "clients" who aren't serious. If I recommend someone to him he might pay better attention. That goes for the other 2 makers as well. Again, contact me if you are seriously interested in pursuing this.

Edited: August 30, 2018, 6:20 PM · Mr. Klayman wrote:
"I am NOT his representative...
... If I recommend someone to him he might pay better attention. That goes for the other 2 makers as well. Again, contact me if you are seriously interested in pursuing this."
____________________________________________

Is anything about all that sounding a little sketchy?
Phone numbers for the Villas can be easily found on the web.

August 31, 2018, 7:38 AM · *sigh* Just when I thought I could step my big toe back for a moment into v.com and not get mired, the quicksand does its work. I wanted to come back just to double-check my earlier post for any small errors that I might have wanted to edit - and here we are.

No, David, I am indeed NOT an official representative for Vittorio or any other maker. Yes, I have become his friend. And I resent your implications. I know that Vittorio appreciates my looking out for him even though he in fact can be contacted directly. The reason why I haven't mentioned the other 2 Cremona makers whose work I have tried and liked and whom I have become friendly with is that I wanted to double-check with them first.

As a busy violinist I wouldn't mind someone similarly looking out for me if they heard about engagement possibilities - and some have, and I've appreciated it, whether it came to fruition or not.

Mr. Klayman has left the building.

Edited: August 31, 2018, 9:26 AM · Because Sou Wei Mui has not responded to any comments here, I suspect that the original post may have simply been a troll.

It would seem highly-unfair to both the nine-year old boy and a €30K violin to make him responsible for the care of such an expensive instrument. It is hard to believe that anybody would consider it.

Sort of like "My 15-year old son is getting his drivers license next month, and we'd like to go to Italy to get him a new car. But we're having a hard time deciding between a Ferrai, Lamborghini, or Maserati. He is doing really well in Drivers' Ed. What do you all think?"

Personally, I think some people have more money than sense.

August 31, 2018, 9:41 AM · "As a busy violinist I wouldn't mind someone similarly looking out for me if they heard about engagement possibilities - and some have, and I've appreciated it, whether it came to fruition or not.

Mr. Klayman has left the building."

Yes, but he may be back when he has something to sell (like a Villa) or wishes to promote something like a summer camp....

Edited: August 31, 2018, 9:56 AM · You never know. There was a kid locally playing an old Italian half-size that must have been worth over $100k (Gagliano, I think). AFAIK that kid is now a major symphony pro.

I think it's a mistake to commission a violin for a child, for reasons I've already stated above, but I don't think $35k is an unreasonable budget for a family who can afford it, who has a child on a pre-professional career track.

I probably wouldn't want to send a kid to school with that violin (indeed, I'd probably have qualms even at the high school age), but it should be fine for home and youth symphony and such. And you buy musical instrument insurance at that price level.

Although George's comment reminds me of an incident from my high school years. A violist friend and myself were subbing for a professional symphony. He was driving and his car refused to start. His parents were out of town (back in the days when parents could actually just leave their teenagers alone for days at a time). And so he went to his next door neighbor (in a perfectly normal suburban neighborhood of middle-class homes), explained the situation, and asked if he could borrow his car. The guy actually loaned my (17-year-old but tuxedo'd) friend his Porsche 911. My mother was bemused, to say the least.

Edited: August 31, 2018, 11:14 AM · The guy actually loaned... his Porsche 911. My mother was bemused, to say the least... I can understand, beats the old BMW ;-) nice neighbour.


August 31, 2018, 1:42 PM · "I think it's a mistake to commission a violin for a child, ..."

Not necessarily. I know the father of a highly talented and multiple price winning prodigy girl who commissioned a violin from a now reputable but then still rather new-in-business local luthier when she stepped up to her first full size at age 9. He then charged €14k, and it was the best they could get for this money back then. Meanwhiles, seven years later, she's at the beginning of a professional career, still playing the same instrument, and the luthier charges 21k. The instrument is marvelous (not only my opinion, but also judged by folks who are able to...) and not less to those he's producing now.
Doesn't feel like a mistake or bad investment to me, although I do have to admit we're still not talking about a 30k limit.

August 31, 2018, 2:37 PM · I think the question isn't so much cost, if the OP has the means it could be pocket change for all we know, but rather can the 9 yrs old benefit from a professional level instrument at his stage of development, or would he be better served by a good student grade instrument.
August 31, 2018, 5:04 PM · That actually wasn't what I was thinking of. An excellent violin helps the pre-professional student find the right style, and guides their development. A child generally doesn't yet know what those playing preferences are going to be, or how their needs are going to evolve. They are also not at an age where they can work with the luthier to adjust (or even modify) the violin to suit them. They will probably not be able to articulate what they want out of a commission.

Buying a contemporary instrument that has been carefully chosen with the aid of the teacher to be the right instrument for the child for a while is perfectly fine. Buying something sight unseen is unwise.

In general, I think that children should receive the best instrument that their parents can afford, and that they have the level of technical ability to control (or to learn that control with the instrument as a guide). I don't see a reason to buy a student-grade violin for an adept student if the parents can afford to do otherwise.

Edited: August 31, 2018, 6:05 PM · I agree with George Huhn above. But, giving benefit of the doubt and therefore assuming there is both disposable money and an honest inquiry in the original post, my advice would be to IGNORE prices and luthier reputations. Have your child try many many violins and then just buy the one he sounds best on. It might very well be a fraction of your price is good enough. If he has a good teacher, trust the teacher's advice on what he needs. A million dollar violin will not make a million dollar player, so focus on the artistic development more than a vain search for the finest instrument.
Edited: September 1, 2018, 3:39 AM · Last spring I was one of the judges in a national competition for young musicians. One young boy showed up with a 3/4 violin … and his own accompanist, and played Wieniawsky if I remember correctly.

He already had a good violin, but won first price in his category, which included the use (for one year) of a 3/4 violin made ad hoc by famed Cremona luthier Stefano Conia Sr.. Maestro Conia had donated the violin to the initiative in his belief that it could help budding talents.

At least in this case even an upgraded 3/4 may make a difference.

Edited: September 1, 2018, 4:25 AM · Lydia "Buying something sight unseen is unwise." - Definitely, yes. That's why one should stay local if any possible. For Sau Wai Mui this may not be possible for geographic reasons, although there are some really great luthiers around in South East Asia, especially China. If so I don't think it's wise to buy a newly commissioned instrument from another continent at all, but rather one that's already seasoned. Not necessarily for decades, but for a few years, and has already been played. When a totally new violin has settled in after some months, there usually is some major work required on the setup. (Even more if the instrument will be exported to a region with different climate than the instrument was built in.) If your luthier is several thousands miles away by then it even will be possible that the instrument suffers damage. In the best case it will not appreciate, which it definitely should after a few months of playing in.


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