Purchasing in Canada

Edited: June 2, 2019, 7:10 AM · Hi, new to Forum. By way of introduction, I have 10 year old violinist who is (relatively) advanced. Finished Suzuki, most recent solo Ten Have Allegro Brilliant And has been learning Mozart 3, and fist couple sections of Bach Partita 2. We live very rurally, which presents challenges.
My question today is, has anyone from US bought a violin in Canada?
We are beginning to plan financially to buy her full size. Her mom is Canadian with relatives in Ottawa and Calgary, and we are about 8 hours drive south of Montreal, 4 hours from Toronto. Any advantages with exchange?? After tax and fees possibly at border?
She is currently playing a 2.5K 3/4 German violin.
Thanks, I have been mining the archives here for awhile and am grateful for the info!

Replies (32)

Edited: June 2, 2019, 9:09 AM · You told us where you live without telling us where you live. I don't understand how you can be 8 hours due south of Montreal and still be within 4 hours of Toronto. If we are a little more loose about the word "south" but close on the travel times, then in the US that would put you within a couple of hours of Cleveland or Pittsburgh or even Detroit. More information on your location would help folks recommend dealers. Many dealers will ship instruments for trial.

Coming to your main question, my gut tells me that any advantage you realize with the exchange rate will disappear into inconvenience and decreased selection.

June 2, 2019, 9:12 AM · Finger Lakes, south of Rochester, east of Buffalo. The Montana of NY.
Where the Rust Belt meets Appalachia.4 hours 11 min to Toronto, 6 hors 33 minute to Montreal. Ottawa 5 hours 30 minutes.
June 2, 2019, 9:20 AM · I would assume prices in Canada are pretty much the same as USA when you convert to US dollars, just because their dollar is weaker does not mean you get bargains on violins. Plus sales tax in Canada might be higher, I'm not sure.
Edited: June 2, 2019, 9:28 AM · I assume you've been to Sullivan Violins already then? That is, if I'm understanding your location. Nothing in Ithaca or Syracuse? But you're still better off driving to NYC than you are to Montreal I would think.
June 2, 2019, 9:36 AM · She purchased her first couple violins at String House (trade in).
Met Ken and will certainly be shopping at Sullivan’s. Thought maybe we could do better with exchange. We are also interested in possibly a contemporary maker and the Canadian connection appeals to my wife.
Does anybody know how much a Guy Harrison costs?
Really, on a steep learning curve, so....
June 2, 2019, 9:39 AM · Lyndon, people do cross border shop here. Canadians when their dollar is better? But with GST, etc. likely you are right.
June 2, 2019, 9:48 AM · Shopping across the border is fine, but what possible reason would the same violin be priced lower in Canada than USA, there's no reason for it, my small experience on ebay is that Canadian sellers ask premium prices.
June 2, 2019, 10:23 AM · "Does anybody know how much a Guy Harrison costs?"

Guy Harrison probably does. Why don't you contact him for the details, including taxes, shipping, trials, availability, etc.?

Listed price on his web page is $25,000, which is ~ $18,500 USD at current exchange rates.

The currency exchange does make a difference - prices are magic numbers to a large extent, and also determined by local cost of living, etc. Cost of living in Canada isn't low in local or global terms, but the currency is right now, so many of the price are bargains for outsiders.

Whether or not a particular violin is, or suits your needs, is an entirely different question. The answer might be probably not - knockoffs of Chinese instruments are probably your best bet for bargains.

June 2, 2019, 10:25 AM · Regular v.com contributor Elise Stanley lives in Toronto and I believe she shopped seriously for a violin around there, so she probably know the dealers and has a general idea what they are offering.
June 2, 2019, 10:34 AM · Missed prices on his website. Thanks, Not really looking for a ‘bargain’ as much as trying to get the most violin for what we choose to spend. I am assuming we have a year, possibly more depending on her growth, so asking and trying to educate myself.
She just played NYSSMA (NY state competition)for the first time on Friday.
She’s 5th grade, but playing a level 6 solo (highest level, mostly high school kids) She recievd a 99/100. She says she wants to go to music school.

Edited: June 2, 2019, 10:46 AM · These things take time, so don't delay contacting makers if you want such an instrument. You might be on a waiting list, or benefit from having made an earlier contact if the prices happen to go up. Also consider the bow.
June 2, 2019, 11:14 AM · A lot of shops -- Canadian or US -- will also let you try violins by mail. They typically send out 2 in your price range and you can buy or return. It may be a cheaper/easier option than driving there. This is what we did when I was a kid and we lived rural.
June 2, 2019, 11:50 AM · Thanks. I can’t imagine buying without her playing.
The Rochester shops are quite good. Like the people at both places. Just seems from what I’ve read we should have her play as many as possible. We have family in Canada,
So Ottawa especially easy. And we go to NYC often enough.
But my sense of NYC is that you would pay a premium for their cost of retail space.
Edited: June 2, 2019, 12:07 PM · If your child is serious about the violin, the most important things are:
* Her own motivation and industry
* The love and support of her parents
* A qualified and capable violin teacher
* Having a good-enough violin for the "next level"
More or less in that order. Notice what's at the top of the order. So, you will get the most for your money if the violin you buy is the one that she absolutely loves and adores and wants to practice for hours at a stretch, so long as it is not so inferior that it holds back her technique.
June 2, 2019, 12:38 PM · Yes, she currently loves her 3/4 violin, and it has been part of her moving forward. She’s a 10 year old, so she needs to be nudged to begin practice, but happy to do it once she gets started. Both here parents are visual artists
So understand the pros and cons of a life in the arts. We did not have an agenda for violin but are just in the mode of following her as she keeps
making jumps in ability. She has 2 teachers, one at a distance. Both excellent iin their own ways. She loves performing, the music and the attention.

June 2, 2019, 2:00 PM · At that stage of education, investing in a high level hand-made instrument takes a leap of faith...
If I were you (and I am not) I would look for a good-enough transitional instrument. In other words, save your money for the next phase, which will be just before university.
Within that imaginary price range, Lyndon is probably right; buy local if you can.
Once you start looking for the next instrument, you can consider fine violin makers in Canada and their competitive prices.
Edited: June 2, 2019, 3:16 PM · If you are interested in Guy Harrison's violins: I own one and have played a number of them visiting his shop. Guy is meticulous and keeps very detailed records of what he does. He has been attending and teaching at the Oberlin workshops for many years. From what I have seen his quality is very high and very consistent.
There are no structural problems, for example my violin has been exposed to prairie conditions for 8 years now and sounds great even when the humidity level is very low.
His instruments have been favourably compared to some big names.

As an American you may not have to pay the GST or HST when you import, but may have to pay US customs tax, I'm not sure how that works.

June 2, 2019, 3:38 PM · I didn’t realize Guy Harrison’s were quite at that price point,
Probably beyond us. And I will take the advice to think about an intermediate violin before college. Again from reading posts etc it seems like there is a tipping point once you have traded up with a particular dealer, say to 8K for the next one- if you then need to move out into the broader world, another dealer, you can take risk of not getting the 8K of value back from another dealer? So each full trade-in feels great but at the final full size college purchase when needs and wants become more particular risks losing “equity”.
Not sure if I am making sense.
Anyway, we will have advice from her teachers, and I am a little ahead of myself. Also as a full time artist, craftsman the idea of supporting an individual luthier has appeal. In the end we want to give her our full support as long as she is on this path. Thanks for your responses.

Edited: June 2, 2019, 4:49 PM · If you get her a good violin in the few to several thousand dollar range for her first full size instrument, she can still get good use from it even if you get her something really nice as she starts high school. Kids orchestras, school, and camps can be pretty brutal on an instrument regardless of how careful someone is, so at least for us the Jay Haide generally goes there and the good cello goes to lessons and performances.

In addition to Guy Harrison I keep hearing good things about Isabelle Wilbaux and Martin Heroux; for bows Francois Malo, Emmanuel Begin, and Eric Gagne, all in the Montreal area I think. I talked with Rocky about John Newton on a viola thread recently as well - astonishingly reasonable pricing, not sure if he still makes many violins these days though.

Edited: June 3, 2019, 12:37 AM · I have been very impressed by the Isabelle Wilbaux instruments I've tried.

For a 10-year-old, I wouldn't buy a $20k-ish violin, which is what Wilbaux's violins cost, and what you'll generally find other good contemporary makers cost. You will not get a bargain by going to Canada, but there are good Canadian makers if you are interested in commissioning a violin.

But you don't buy a forever violin for a 10-year-old, especially not if you want it to remain in great shape. She's not advanced enough yet to be ready to pick a forever violin, either. You're better off buying in the $2k - $4.5k range, US dollars. Get a Hiroshi Kono or Jay Haide L'Ancienne or similar high-quality workshop instrument. Don't forget you'll probably need $1k to $2k or so for a bow. Trade-in value will be basically what you paid for it.

When she's 14 or so, in high school and hopefully playing at a more advanced level, hunt for the violin that will take her through conservatory and a professional career. Budget $15k - $20k for that. And add $5k for a bow. That's the cost of good living makers. That will be an investment that will hopefully appreciate. Note that with commissions you can't try the violin/bow in advance, so you need to be able to articulate what you want, and possibly work with the maker to adjust and refine (in which case it helps to be close by).

The intermediate price range between the workshop violins and the modern masters is dangerous. You run the risk of not being able to sell the violin for the price you paid, or the risk that it takes years to sell at all.

June 3, 2019, 4:24 AM · Hermann Janzen is based in the Vancouve area, a bit of a trip but definitely worth it.
June 3, 2019, 5:00 AM · I had the sense when I first posted, from limited research, that there were more affordable contemporary violins out there. 10-12K. It seems like that
Is less likely from what I am hearing here.
Her 1/2 and 3/4 were both Mittenwalds which she was/is very attached to,
both in the 2-2.5K range. She has tried the Konos (in 3/4 and a friend has one, she has liked the German ones whenever we have compared.
A bigger purchase would be a one shot deal. So thanks for the discussion and education.
Edited: June 3, 2019, 7:46 AM · I don't mean to divert this thread into a discussion of wood vs. carbon fiber (CF) bows, as there have been many whole threads on this in the past. But, you can save money now -- and possibly some grief -- by buying her a good CF bow instead of spending $1000-2000 as Lydia has recommended, by which I presume she means an entry-level pernambuco bow. For a child you are better off (in my admittedly less-informed opinion) with CF which is more sturdy and, in that price range (below $2000) is likely to be a better tool in other respects too. A lot of people here have recommended the JonPaul Avanti bow which is probably around $800. My teacher likes the Cadenza "Master" (3-star) bow which is around $450.

Unless you are rolling in money (which "beginning to plan financially" suggests you're not), you need to think about economizing on these things because if your daughter is serious there are really expensive things in her future like specialized summer camps, travel to competitions, changing strings more frequently (and bow re-hairing), 90-minute and 2-hour lessons (possibly twice a week at an advanced stage), luthier fees for adjustments, and some teachers will take your daughter through a dozen chin rests before they settle on something that actually works. Then there's the college violin and the insurance for it. Everything you were planning on putting into her 529 is going to evaporate into this process.

June 3, 2019, 7:49 AM · Already camps (one I go with at her age, and preference) and 2 hours of lessons many weeks between the 2 teachers. We shoot for 2 hours a day practice but the reality usually ends up with 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes at night.
So no not rolling in money and seeing the long climb in time and finances if she continues on this path.
June 3, 2019, 8:01 AM · Janzen's best stuff is amazing, and he specializes in a small Guarneri model that goes well with young-ish kids and other short people. Not huge prices, all told. He trained with the same man who raised Howard Needham's game a lot.

Raymond Schryer charges $20K-- Canadian. So that is a pretty good deal if you like the instruments (which have won some very impressive prizes).

June 3, 2019, 8:30 AM · You can find contemporary violins in the $10k-$12k range, but they are probably going to be younger, less proven-consistently-good makers. If you commission, that is more of a gamble, plus later resale value is also more dubious.

As for a bow, I was thinking CF, too, but you cans sometimes find decent wood bows in the sub-$2k range if you're lucky. At $3k you can sometimes find bargains on antiques, especially if the bow has been repaired.

June 3, 2019, 11:31 AM · "John Newton on a viola thread recently as well - astonishingly reasonable pricing". Reasonably priced - and lovely instruments. I played on one for several years. Another way-underpriced luthier is Itzel Avila - unique, finely crafted violins.
Edited: June 3, 2019, 1:01 PM · Elise I looked at Avila's info and she has cross-referenced https://www.leforumdesfabricants.org which pretty much looks to be a whos-who of Canadian luthiers and archetiers. There was a Makers Forum in Montreal a few days ago which would be the ideal way to see and hear what these folks are doing.

It's not totally comprehensive e.g. bowmakers Francois Malo and Michael Vann aren't listed but wow that would be a tremendous opportunity to try a bunch of different Canadian violins.

Also https://www.facebook.com/leforumdesfabricants/.

June 3, 2019, 3:19 PM · I heard that Avila recently finished another violin but have not tried it personally. I believe she was at that forum - and, yes, it would have been fun to attend!
June 4, 2019, 9:26 PM · Out of obligation I must mention The shop Tutti Violini in Toronto-the owner is a soloist with 30 years playing PLUS does repairs and extremely knowledgeable (and a very nice man to boot!)

Can ask him for a recommendation on your behalf-although I have teied one instrument he used many times during active career that is 'only' 16k CAN! Plus, it is a gorgeous pale gold/brown as well. :)

Gorgeous even sound somewhat reminiscent of a Strad (of which he also has one-Omobono).

You may give him a call at 416.486.5050... tell him Mr. A referred you from violinist.com

June 15, 2019, 8:33 PM · I have just the violin for her.I am a retired professional violinist.I have a 17c. violin what I played all my life...now that I have arthritis its just sitting here at home.I am in Toronto...send me an email...we can take it from there....nellydios@aol.com
June 15, 2019, 9:52 PM · You must be very proud of your daughter's acheivements!

I don't know about violins, but I do know a bit about children and adolescents. You can teach them to be careful, but you can't teach them all the social skills and anticipation they need to prevent damage to the violin from other people horsing around or who don't have a clue how expensive it is.

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