Need recommendation for Violin in $8K to $12K range

October 12, 2019, 3:26 PM · My daughter's past two violin instructors has repeatedly said that her current $2K violin is greatly limiting her ability to produce the sound that she is capable of, and we should be looking into $10K range violin for her skill level.

For the past year, we've visited every violin shops within 2.5 hour driving distance, and tried all ranging $5K to 12K. Every weekend, she would pick three best, and bring back for her instructors to try them. Eventually, we were able to narrow down to one that had the best sound. But my girl hated its reddish french style color. And the instructor also said this $11K violin's sound and quality should be worth around $5K to $6K.

After a year, we're still no where close to finding the violin she needs, and running out of time. We need to find her new violin by end of coming Summer.

Please help. Need recommendation on maker or violin shop that we can look into for a violin $8K to $12K range. For past 15 years, I've put in $100/mo into her education fund, and I can't spend more than $12K max.

Thank you.

Replies (91)

October 12, 2019, 3:38 PM · Buy two airplane tickets to Detroit (Shar)?

Maybe make a vacation out of it. I've been to Michigan because my son lives there, it's a great place to vacation, although strangely I never stopped in Ann Arbor, it's on my list of things to do next time I'm there.

October 12, 2019, 4:12 PM · Where do you live this is a pretty common price range for a shop to have many, many, many options. Maybe go to a bigger city center like Chicago or ny or even Atlanta. you could go back to the other shops and look around to try but this seems like a very unlikely turn of events to try all these violins and not like one if I’m honest.
Edited: October 12, 2019, 4:17 PM · With a new violin in this price range, you'd either have to luck into an exceptional workshop instrument, or you find a promising young maker but this could become difficult.

Since your money does not grow on trees, you will wish to find something that will hold it's value best. For 8-12k you can either look out for a top Mirecourt workshop instrument, or to an individual antique maker. Personally I'd narrow it down to Markneukirchen (don't forget about the instruments made during the "German Democratic Republic" era!), Vienna (e.g. some quite nice 18th century Thir out there) or Hungary 19th and early 20th century until the 1920ies. But on the other hand, I'm living in the region...

If you're running out of ideas, you may consider contacting Dr. Annette Roeben from Corilon. I hope it is legitime to "advertise" for them, since they're a sponsor here. They offer a good service, good value for their price, and a trial period.

Whatever you will decide for, your daughter has to love her new instrument. If she doesn't like it, it will not have the motivational boost a new and better instrument usually should have. Would it eventually be possible for her instructor to join you when you're going to a shop next time?

Keep in mind that musicians are good in evaluating the quality of an instrument as a tool for making music. But usually not necessarily helpful when it's about evaluating an instruments financial value as an art object.

October 12, 2019, 5:47 PM · @Kurt Hutchison; I have been looking at the Shar, Johnsonstrings, etc. online. I can't seem to justify the cost and time to fly/hotel out to each of them, not knowing which makers to look for and which would have the better value. I'm sending them emails to see if they have in-home trials through mail. I noticed that Fiddlershop does.

@Mark Kliesen; I'm in Texas, and I was amazed that some of the salesmen had little knowledge of the violins. My girl has tried many of the $10K violins, and they were slight improvement to her $2K violin. Her instructors agreed, and believes the prices were far too bloated for the quality. We may have to visit San Antonio and Houston.

@Nuuska M.; I've googled your suggestions. But how do you deal with these overseas companies without visiting? Although Corilon has 30 day money back guaranty, I just don't see buying something without trying them out. Even then, shipping back and forth overseas seem scary.

Edited: October 12, 2019, 7:36 PM · you don't, i wouldn't buy a instrument without trying first nevermind one cost 10k. what sort of characteristics is your daughter looking for. there is a huge violin exhibition in nyc next weekend so if your tired of waiting maybe splurge on two plane tickets and go check it out.

http://www.reedyeboahviolins.com/

other than that, i know couple luthiers that will bench make a violin for 10k, so thats something you can consider

October 12, 2019, 7:23 PM · There seems to be a gap in the $7-12K offerings. Either you get an overpriced antique, or luck out on a talented up and coming but not yet established bench instrument maker. You could settle on top Chinese or Baltic instruments, in the below $7K range and be satisfied for many years to come.
October 12, 2019, 7:38 PM · How close are you to Houston and Austin?
October 12, 2019, 8:53 PM · The instruments at the Reed Yeboah exhibition are almost exclusively above the OP's price range, if it's similar to the previous such exhibition that I went to.

This price range is problematic. You're basically hoping to luck into a talented apprentice's violin, or other young maker who hasn't yet properly established themselves, or hoping that you can get another lucky find of an older violin from a deceased maker without much of a reputation and a one-off unexpectedly good violin. If you could go to $15k that would significantly increase your options. Consider the possibility of taking out a loan.

I might consider doing a slight upgrade -- trading in for a better quality workshop violin (say in the $3,500 range) -- and then buying an excellent bow instead. Either way you're going to need to visit a major city. Houston sounds like it's closest? If you could get to Chicago that would offer you a very large selection.


Edited: October 12, 2019, 9:20 PM · What you have discovered is that it's not only the violin that's expensive. The shopping experience itself is expensive.

What Lydia said about the price gap is true. Look at Potter's website. Their "fine violins" start at $10000. If you want to spend less, they say to look at their "brochure" which had exactly one violin above $4000.

A lot of places will ship violins for trials. You should just call some of them on the phone and explain your predicament to them. See which one reaches out to help you.

October 12, 2019, 9:31 PM · One of my violins is by John Newton, and with right adjustment it plays and sound no less than 20k violins I tried. I think his range is around US$10k that you are looking for.

https://www.johnnewtonviolins.com/

But be noted that even with the best violin like strad, with wrong adjustment and setup, it can sound really bad.

Also if good luthier is not available around you, I’d suggest buying instrument that 2-3 years older vs brand new (new violin needs constant adjustment within the first few years before it settles).

October 13, 2019, 12:47 AM · Song, you shouldn't worry too much about overseas shipping and the risks and costs this might bring. The instrument(s) will be securely packed and well insured. You don't carry any risk. It's basically an ordinary in-home trial of up to 30 days, and the fact that the violin will come to you just opens another option if you couldn't find a suitable instrument nearby but wouldn't want to travel. Which I do understand, since you had to deduct the travel and hotel expenses from your violin budget.
The reason why I'm naming this company is because they know their instruments extraordinary well and will amazingly narrow down the possible choices according to your wishes.

While I a totally agree that increasing your budget would give you more options (how shouldn't it...) you made it clear that this isn't an option. Also don't underestimate the role of the bow, as Lydia suggested. You should definitely investigate in the <7k region for a violin, and also evaluate bows at the same time to see how much it's really the violin that's holding your daughter back?

October 13, 2019, 1:09 AM · It's hard, even when you have only yourself to please. With three of you apparently involved in the decision it can only get harder. Someone really ought to mention the William Harris Lee workshop in Chicago so it might as well be me. They often get very favourably mentioned in discussion on Maestronet.com and I can support that from my own experience
October 13, 2019, 4:56 AM · Not sure if I got everything correctly: How old is your daughter and is the violin intended for conservatoire (admission)?

Every weekend, three violins over two years? So even it was not every weekend, it would be well over 100. And all in the range of 5-12k$. I guess your daughter liked all those violins, because otherwise you would not have went through the effort to bring them to the instructor right?

The information is a bit scarce, but at least you could also consider that the instructor(s) might be the problem ... with more than 100 violins in this range which would have been acceptable for your daughter there should have been something apart from one ...

As George said "You could settle on top Chinese or Baltic instruments, in the below $7K range and be satisfied for many years to come" does not sound too bad. Especially, if you are planning to spend the education fund for it (I was not sure about this connection).

Just as an example since I know the story a bit (no advertising, I am not related to the seller, and it is also the wrong continent for you): This violin got the previous owner through conservatoire and into a decent orchestra position before buying a better instrument. https://www.ebay.de/itm/Wunderschone-feine-Violine-4-4-Geige-italienisches-Zettel/283489915935

October 13, 2019, 7:43 AM · If you're going to the Detroit/Ann Arbor Area in Michigan, there are several excellent modern makers in that price range as well as a few violin shops that carry a nice selection of instruments. You may want to check out violins by Jonathon Price, they are super affordable for the quality of sound you get. A former concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays on one of his instruments.
Edited: October 13, 2019, 8:55 AM · Actually, I can entirely believe that the OP is having trouble finding a good violin, given the mediocrity and sparsity of most violins in this price range. Possibly part of their problem is that they could actually look in a lower price range. There's a ton more inventory available in the $2.5k-$5k range, where there might be the possibility getting lucky with an exceptional workshop find. Since in the $10k range you're also pretty luck dependent it makes sense to widen the range of possible good luck.

Also, OP hasn't said what level their kid plays at, but I assume this is for a kid on a pre-professional trajectory who has some idea of what they like. My only question is if there's enough intersection between what the kid likes and what the teacher knows is a good violin. All players have a tendency like "what I already have but louder". It might be instructive to take one trip with the instructor (pay them), in order to ensure that the kid is actually good at picking promising violins.

October 13, 2019, 9:56 AM ·

The answer is to 1. don't buy retail 2. look for bargains for other reasons. 3. shop with eyes closed.


A quick look at other threads shows the sad reality of the instrument market: like sailboats or horses, violins are very easy to buy but almost impossible to sell. So somewhere out there are good violins in this range that someone wants to sell but can't. They may end up putting them on consignment, where the now-overpriced instrument will sit gathering dust.

The trick is to find those private owners that are looking to sell their violins. These will be from students that are upgrading or quitting to play soccer, or from retiring musicians. Places to look may include conservatory or area private teachers or community music school bulletin boards. Remember: those people who have, say, a $10,000 violin would much rather sell it to $7500 to you than trade it for nothing or have it sit on consignment for years and then take a 30% hit anyway. I've had violins on consignment, with the average time to sell 1-2 years. One decent modern Italian never sold.

The other idea, looking for bargains: Violins that have some kind of minor flaw, such as no papers, extensive repairs, revarnish, whatever.

Finally, forget how the violin looks.

"Eventually, we were able to narrow down to one that had the best sound. But my girl hated its reddish french style color."

Regardless of what your instructor thought (is he/she an appraiser?), You MUST forget about how a violin looks. Appearance has NOTHING to do with sound or playability. And in fact what I've found is many ugly but great-sounding violins sitting unsold in shops. If looks mattered, then no one would buy those bright-orange Beckers or many other plain or otherwise unsightly violins.

The looks of a violin is sheer marketing, which is why violin makers today take such efforts to antique them. They know that customers are helplessly drawn to certain looks. It works for every product in the market place, and is an almost irresistible force.

October 13, 2019, 10:04 AM · A lot of shops will ship to you. When I was a kid, I had 15 violas (not all at once!) shipped to my rural location from all around the country. I ended up purchasing one from NM and sent all the rest back. This is not uncommon and definitely something you should consider.

We bought in the same price range as you did and found an amazing instrument -- it is a new instrument from a not that well known maker. You will probably do best looking for instruments in this category.

October 13, 2019, 10:49 AM · Yes, many shops will ship. However, what is shipped is, unless you specify an instrument, it's out of your control.

For example, if you say "ship me your best $12k violins" what you might get are instruments that aren't selling. They may be sending instruments they want to get rid of. It's like at a restaurant that bought too much halibut: the chef will implore the servers to "sell halibut."

October 13, 2019, 11:10 AM · re Scott Cole: looks don't matter

I read a post somewhere, I think it was here, where a girl said that she chose her strings because she thought the winding at the tail piece went well with the color/finish of her violin.

October 13, 2019, 11:31 AM · Chicago is a great place to sell a violin and/or bow, as the prices are HIGH. I like Scott Cole's advice...avoid retailers, especially big advertisers. Try to make contacts with individuals selling their instruments: you can do this by inquiring of prominent teachers and luthiers. I got my viola this way. I wish you luck and fortitude; the shopping experience is the best learning experience you can have...
October 13, 2019, 11:53 AM · If you haven't already done so, check out Claire Givens Violins in Minneapolis. That is where I found my lovely William Whedbee violin in your given price range.
Edited: October 14, 2019, 4:58 AM · I disagree with many of Scott Cole's assertions, in his second post back. I'll address just one for now, and maybe take the time to flesh some others out later.
____________________________________

Scott wrote:
"If looks mattered, then no one would buy those bright-orange Beckers or many other plain or otherwise unsightly violins."
______________________________

Actually, the vivid color of Carl Becker Jr. (and since) are probably very close to the way Strads appeared originally. Granted, those who have had a chance to see only the highly road-worn ones may not be able to appreciate things like that.

October 13, 2019, 1:24 PM · In the chicago area, my favorite shop is Seman Violin in skokie, They have several luthiers on site that sell their violins in the 10 to 12k range. I was at WhLee about 4 years ago, and thought their makers were just ok. Also seman has a 100% trade in policy. The sales support was much better at Seman, as a luthier/fiddler will help you vs someone simply hired to work the front counter
October 13, 2019, 1:42 PM · If you're in the DFW area, you might give Jay Rury violins a call to see what they have available.
October 13, 2019, 2:24 PM · Isn't Rury going out of business?

Seman seems to be a pretty good and knowledgeable guy.

October 13, 2019, 6:55 PM · There's an overwhelming valuable information here, and I appreciate all of you. It may take some time to do, but we're going to checkout every one of your recommendations. Thank you very much.
October 13, 2019, 7:05 PM · One advantage to Johnson Strings (or one of the other bigger shops, I've also heard great things about Roberston and Sons) is that they often offer full-trade in value on an instrument purchased from them. So if your daughter, for example, finds an instrument that she likes okay and her teacher is satisfied with, but isn't absolutely in love with for under $12K now, you could save up for a few more years and get the full price towards an even better instrument while having a pretty good instrument to play on in the meantime. While many shops will offer this, they often don't have much of a selection in the higher price ranges, whereas the big shops will actually have a reasonable selection at any given time. It is almost always hard to sell a violin for what you paid, so a good trade-in policy is a fantastic option.
October 14, 2019, 4:24 AM · DB Wrote: "Isn't Rury going out of business?"

I just checked their web site and, you're right! I've dealt with them since 1996, but only get by there a couple of time a year. Now I've got to find someone else to re-hair my bows, etc. Hate to see them close.

Edited: October 14, 2019, 7:29 AM · Does anyone else find it strange that we keep hearing stories in here of teachers specifying (often highish) price ranges for their student instruments? Sound is only one small component of the price of an instrument, and it is in no way true that a 10k instrument sounds qualitatively better than a 5k which is better than a 2k instrument.

Given that teachers often receive commission on student purchases, I am a bit suspicious of such advice. They should be specifying sound characteristics they want, not price points. Good and mediocre instruments can be in all price ranges above about 1k and sometimes below if you get lucky. A certain amount of evenness and consistency is more common in higher price ranges but it is very individual by instrument.

Edited: October 14, 2019, 8:17 AM · If this teacher were looking for a commission, this affair would have been concluded a long time ago!

A friend of mine used to say that if someone has seen 30 violins from good shops and not found an acceptable one, something is wrong with the process. There is a lot that could be addressed here, but this purchase appears to have gone way beyond that point. I give these two following suggestions as possible problems without knowing the whole situation:
1/ a teacher who sees (for example) 100 examples from a mix of shops and thinks them all too expensive is woefully out of touch with the market.
2/ the wisdom of leaving a $10,000 decision in the hands of a child is questionable.

The best long term decisions that I have seen in violin purchases involve a strong teacher with good opinions and a grasp of the market telling the student what to do and expecting the student to do it, just as a good teacher does in all of the other parts of the learning process. In the last 35 years in this business I have had quite a few good players tell me that their teacher did them a solid by forcing them to buy an instrument they could not appreciate at the time. A good teacher will make sure that their students are well equipped in all aspects, fingers, mind, attitudes, behavior, and instrument/bow.

October 14, 2019, 8:27 AM · Agreed, and I'm not suggesting that the teacher is the problem, just saying I'm not sure specifying instrument mainly by price range is a good idea.

Note that it probably makes more sense for new built instruments than for the market in general. Within one country of origin, for new, prices probably are roughly linear to sound, .... Depending on your idea of sound and how well it matches the maker or setup.

October 14, 2019, 8:40 AM · Michael makes excellent points. The "looked at 30, didn't find anything satisfactory" doesn't necessarily indicate a player who doesn't know how to pick a violin, though; it can also indicate unrealistic expectations for the price range. (Or a nebulous definition of "good shop".)

Francis, a teacher who understands the market will be able to tell a student the approximate price range of instruments of the quality that the teacher believes the student needs. It is always possible to get lucky in a lower price range, but hoping to do so will extend the search time massively.

The lower the price range, the more directly price equates to sound. In the $10k and under range, provenance almost doesn't come into the equation at all. Obviously a Chinese workshop instrument is going to be sold for its standard price for the brand and line, but everything else in that range is probably priced at where the shop thinks it can be sold for, which will more directly relate to its sound relative to that workshop baseline, as far as I know.

Children who are on a pre-professional track need instruments that will help them develop professional-level skills. I'll always be grateful to one of my teachers for hunting down a good contemporary bow, negotiating the price down with the maker, and insisting that my parents buy it for me. And I'm also grateful to two of my teachers for having insisted to my parents that I needed a better violin -- my parents couldn't afford it at the time, but a few decades later, I now own something like what they wanted us to buy back then.

Edited: October 14, 2019, 9:30 AM · The way I was reading this, the OP doesn't have shops in driving distance with deep inventory and is struggling some with the next step to take, because it's a lot more work and because they won't have the same access to the teacher during the process. For $12k you can find much better than acceptable even if it takes some travel and effort.

p.s. I know nothing about the shop but Terra Nova Violins (not sure if San Antonio or Austin) is showing several makers' violins whose violas we've played and whose instruments I've seen selling previously-owned at $10-12K at good shops - Wojciech Topa (not workshop), Marilyn Wallin, Bronek Cison. (If they're offered at retail they'd run more.) Depending on the drive I wonder if that's an option, at least to calibrate your ears.

October 14, 2019, 9:43 AM · I agree that looking for a bargain from a private seller is a good option. It's the option I chose when I was looking to upgrade. Pre-bargain, the instrument had brought the owner through conservatory. My teacher approved of the instrument prior to my purchasing it.

The suggestion to have the teacher go along with is excellent.

October 14, 2019, 11:46 AM · Just a note here that any shop sending violins to try will be sending you things they think you will like and buy. Sending things that won't sell is not worth the expense and risk, and is counterproductive to making a sale. If you want to see those things, come to the shop and you will see everything they have, "good" and "bad", at no cost or risk to them.
October 14, 2019, 12:57 PM · Many reasons for "looked at 30". Personally when I spent some serious time looking for an upgrade to my 2K violin about 5 years ago, I was thinking "ok, if I spend 5K I will get something noticeably better". So as I visit shops and tell them this, I am bombarded with a plethora of mostly German made violins from earlier 20th century. I don't think any of those violins sounded better than my current 2K violin. After going thru that exercise, I eventually worked my way up to the 8k/10K to get exposed to violins from a single maker. At that point I was hearing violins that were noticeably better than what I had. I probably played about 6 to 8 violins in that category. None of this had anything to do with current teacher. It was more of an education (and a depressing one at that) for me on what the violin dollar buys you.
October 14, 2019, 4:56 PM · I think the "I looked at 30 and couldn't find anything" is a phenomena of both too much choice and the relative outrageous expense of violins in general.

If a parent is going to spend $10,000 on a violin, they want "fiddle magic." As do we all. And so they look, and look, and look, and the student says "I don't like this" and the teacher says "I don't like that" and on and on. And of course the lay person expects perfection for this kind of money. But the sad fact is, you can't get it. You have to weigh the relative options and, unfortunately....settle. Because you can look forever in this price range and never be blown away.

Edited: October 14, 2019, 5:19 PM · 1) Violin makers, shops, and dealers do not price instruments according to tone or sound. Statements to the contrary should be disregarded. This is true in ALL price ranges, including the lower price ranges. Tone is highly subjective and can be modified with a slight movement of the bridge, sound post, or a change of strings.

2) Looks matter. A lot. There is no reason that your daughter should not be able to find a violin that both looks and sounds good to her. If she isn't going to be delighted every time she opens her case because of the appearance, then she should not buy it. This is not to say you need to buy the most attractive looking violin, but an unattractive color to her should be deal killer. There are good violins in all colors.

3) You can find violins with excellent tone at half your price range. Some vintage workshop violins are simply outstanding. So look there, too.

October 14, 2019, 8:55 PM · I remember trying a violin in a shop in Denver that had a repaired belly crack. I was reminded of it when I saw the continental rift at Þingvellir. The young man showing me violins assured me that it was "properly repaired" so I should be ignoring it, etc., but there was no way I was going to be inspired pulling that nag out of my case every day.

I agree generally with those who have advised to look in a lower price range. The sheer number of violins in the $3500 range suggests you'll find something that meets your needs. For now.

October 14, 2019, 10:34 PM · To Scott's point, Susan Agrawal's son has an excellent-sounding violin (recently discussed in another thread), which is, as she noted, in this price range. However, the G string, while acceptable, is also notably not as good as the upper register of the instrument. It's those kinds of compromises that a buyer has to make.

One of the things that the teacher is hopefully useful for is helping the student decide which compromises are the ones that they can live with, and which ones they really shouldn't.

Whether or not someone "likes" the tone of an instrument is subjective. The quality of set-up does vary, and one has to develop something of an instinct for whether or not issues with an instrument are a function of set-up or something more fundamental. But this is not to say that violins don't fundamentally differ from one another, or that there aren't objective ways of looking at tonal quality -- in evenness, in speed of response, in clarity, and the like. There are certain plenty of things about a violin that one might not like that have a high probability of being uncorrectable by adjustment.

Edited: October 15, 2019, 2:12 PM · George Huhn said:

"Looks matter. A lot. There is no reason that your daughter should not be able to find a violin that both looks and sounds good to her. If she isn't going to be delighted every time she opens her case because of the appearance, then she should not buy it. This is not to say you need to buy the most attractive looking violin, but an unattractive color to her should be deal killer. There are good violins in all colors."

In that case, the daughter can go ahead and not buy the violin with all her infantile buying power. If a student practicing is truly contingent on the violin being pretty looking, then there is some kind of deep mix-up of priorities in this situation, and the parent should not be looking to spend ten thousand dollars on a hood ornament at all. When the student is ready, the violin will appear...

Edited: October 17, 2019, 9:51 AM · I guess a blind player would be at an advantage if a violin's appearance were such a strong factor in choice. I have some downright ugly instruments, and some beautiful brand new ones. The worst-looking one has the best sound and the second lowest cost. Well, the lowest cost instrument was free (grandfather's attic). BTW, if you think shopping for a violin is crazy-making, try shopping for glasses...from $57 online to $450 at the corner shop. Today's markets require tireless shopping and more shopping, plus lucky timing (what's in the shop today??). As I said earlier, the education one gets is priceless.
October 15, 2019, 12:15 PM · If a kid (or adult) doesn't like the appearance of an otherwise suitable violin, perhaps some decorative stickers would help? ;-)

October 15, 2019, 12:16 PM · I would compare buying a violin to a house. You don't get as much for your money as you would like. Thus each option has its strengths and weaknesses. And if you wait, will you lose out?, or do better for your money? To another point, finding a good violin amongst the factory made violins is hard. Everyone talks about it, but in practice it is difficult.
One question I always have if looking at a non-new violin...."Why is this for sale? If this was so good why didn't someone buy and hang onto it? A new one doesn't invite those questions
October 15, 2019, 1:41 PM · From Christian Lesniak:

"Looks matter. A lot. There is no reason that your daughter should not be able to find a violin that both looks and sounds good to her."


I agree. My daughter who just turned 8yrs old, and now going through Suzuki Book 2 is using a 1/2 size violin that has butterflies professionally hand-painted on it. She had butterflies hand-painted on her 1/4 size violin as well. She loves to see those butterflies on her violin. Fortunately, the violin has a good setup and good sound as well. So she not only enjoys looking at her violin, and make it a conversation piece with her friends, but she also enjoys playing her violin because it is setup correctly and sounds good to boot.

I don't believe there is a certain price point you need to be on to get a concert level/"soloistic" violin that will allow you to play more complex pieces. But I do believe it will allow you to have more choices.

To me, buying a violin is like buying golf clubs. Just because I buy a $2500 set of golf clubs doesn't mean I will be able to play like a 5 handicapper. I will still be a 35 handicapper regardless of how expensive my clubs are. On the other hand, a good player can still maintain their low handicap even with cheaper clubs.

October 15, 2019, 2:08 PM · To the OP- has she tried any 20k violins at these shops?
And liked them? Might be a useful experiment to hear what sound or qualities please her or her teacher, even though it is out of your range.
I do think a better violin makes a difference to a talented kid.
There is a feedback loop in terms of sound production and playability?
ButI am just a non-player dad.
October 15, 2019, 2:13 PM · With all due respect, I can understand Ben's philosophy coming from the parent of a child on Suzuki book 2. It is likely that her level of playing isn't high enough yet where she has begun to feel that her instrument is keeping her from achieving the things she wants to achieve. However, there definitely is a price point you need to be on to get a concert level violin to play complex pieces. A rendition of the Bruch or Mendelssohn violin concertos will not sound so great on a cheap violin: it will either lack warmth, clarity, projection, subtlety, or any combination of the above. Quite simply, you'll be inspired by recordings of phenomenal musicians playing on world class fiddles and realize there are things they are doing that cannot be achieved on a cheaper instrument. The cheaper the fiddle, the more one is forced to compromise on any of these sonic qualities. We can only hear just how amazing violinists like Anne Akiko Meyers and Hilary Hahn are because they play on such well-made instruments that bring out their intentions and subtlety. The golfing analogy seems to imply that a skilled violinist will sound just as good on a cheap fiddle, and that is definitely not true.
Edited: October 15, 2019, 2:45 PM · Hi Evan, I don't necessarily equate a cheap violin with a bad setup. You can get cheap violins with good setups, and a more expensive violin with bad setups. So in my opinion, a skilled violinist will still sound good on a cheap violin with a good setup.

I don't mean to sound hypocritical about it and I apologize if my analogy didn't make much sense. Personally, I will still get the best violin at whatever price I can afford without going cheap or way beyond my own budget.

When the time comes where my kids have advanced to a certain level in their violin skills, and pursue it at a higher level, i will definitely spend the time and the financial resources to get them their perfect instrument. But the price is a secondary consideration.

October 15, 2019, 3:11 PM · Hey Ben, I agree with you about the setup. Price does not always indicate quality, nor am I suggesting that it should be a primary consideration. I guess I'm arguing that attaining an instrument that has a nice balance of warmth, power, projection, and clarity necessitates a certain price range, regardless of the setup. As an aspiring professional, I think my and the OP's definition of "sounds good" is probably a bit more nuanced than what you mean, hence our misunderstanding. I don't mean this to sound arrogant at all - at eight years old, I was not super adept at judging violins, nor was my playing good enough that I could really sense the difference. I'm mostly making the points I am because the OP mentioned looking in the 8-12K range, which tells me that he/she is at a point where they need an instrument that approaches professional quality. At that level, an instrument that merely sounds pleasing (or at the very least, inoffensive) to the ear doesn't cut it, and one can really demand an instrument with the clarity and/or response needed for high level repertoire. Their technique is at a point where the difference in instrument quality become obvious. Regardless, I wish you the best with your daughter and hope she enjoys her studies. Sounds like she has a natural love for the instrument.
October 15, 2019, 3:20 PM · Hi Evan:

"I guess I'm arguing that attaining an instrument that has a nice balance of warmth, power, projection, and clarity necessitates a certain price range, regardless of the setup. As an aspiring professional, I think my and the OP's definition of "sounds good" is probably a bit more nuanced than what you mean".

I agree with you.

One of these days, I will probably be at that crossroad with my daughter on choosing a violin that will meet her needs - should she continue to advance to a higher level.

Thank you for your kind comment.

October 15, 2019, 4:04 PM · I have worked with Johnsonstring.com in the past. They are located in the Boston area. I do not live anywhere near the Boston area, however, I have found them to be a very good company to conduct business with. One of their services offered to potential instrument buyers is a 7 day trial period. There is a shipment charge of $30 for standard shipment which includes prepaid return shipment.

I noticed that currently in the $7,500 to $8,000 range they have 3 contemporary maker violins for sale. In the last 30+ years there has been a great deal of important work completed to better understand the acoustics of the violin and other bow related string instruments. This time in history has been referred to as the “new golden era” for violin making as a result of this significant body of work. Most contemporary makers are very familiar with modern methods of constructing especially top and bottom plates of the violin in order to maximize the resonance.

I would strongly suggest that you take advantage of Johnsonstring.com's offer of 7 day trial of their violins. I would also suggest that you try first one of the contemporary maker violins available. They currently have one in stock, not out on trial, made in 2017 by Adam Kology. Looking at the picture of the side profile of this violin appears that Adam Kology knows his stuff with respect to modern violin making techniques. The price for this instrument is $7,500.

Hope you find this helpful.

Edited: October 15, 2019, 4:22 PM · what a bunch of nonsense!! If I remember correctly, Johnson strings has some of the highest prices in the business. A $7000 modern maker violins almost has to start its life in China or Romania.
October 15, 2019, 6:16 PM · One way, I suppose, that a big outfit could sell bench-made American violins for $7000 is if they're supplementing payments to younger luthiers with other forms of compensation (that is, shop space, equipment, ready access to the advice of more experienced makers, advertising, etc.). Lyndon -- is that not possible? I just don't know.

Regarding specifically the $7-8k violins at JSI, well, you can try them.

Not trying to get too personal here, but I think one would need a great deal of experience and insight to judge the craft of a luthier from one side-profile photograph of one of his violins.

October 15, 2019, 6:52 PM · Ben wrote, "You can get cheap violins with good setups, and a more expensive violin with bad setups. So in my opinion, a skilled violinist will still sound good on a cheap violin with a good setup."

Ben appears to be confused. A set-up basically involves carving a suitable bridge and correctly placing it, and fitting and placing the soundpost properly. It does not fundamentally make an instrument better or worse. All the set-up can do is ensure that it sounds as good as possible given the inherent limitations of the violin.

A bad violin with a good set-up is still a bad violin which will not sound very good. A good violin with a bad set-up is still a good violin whose may not sound as good as it could possibly sound. In general, bad violins with good set-ups sound tolerable. Good violins with bad set-ups sound "okay, nothing special". There is a material difference between those two things.

A skilled player can sound good on nearly anything, because they already know the correct thing to do and can adapt to force the best sound they can out of something that's inadequate. A student faced with the same equipment doesn't know how to make it do that thing, and because it doesn't give them properly feedback, it's much harder for them to develop the skill.

Every single violinist on the planet hopes that they will become the lucky owner of the affordable, amazing violin that everyone is sure that if you play enough violins in enough places, you will manage to stumble on. Practically no one wins that lottery of finding the miraculously awesome Chinese or Mittenwald workshop violin.

I'm glad that some of the folks here have found workshop violins that they've found personally satisfying and which they love a lot, and don't have any need or desire for anything better. But the needs of casual amateurs are enormously different from the needs of aspiring professionals.

Edited: October 15, 2019, 7:17 PM · I agree with Lydia that you're just not likely to find a $5000-10000 violin that makes everyone think you're playing a $25000 violin.

When people ask me (which they rarely do, perhaps for good reason) about how to select a violin for purchase, I say: (1) Go to a few shops and try a few violins at each one, try maybe 15-20 in your price range and pick out three or four (total) to bring home. If orange violins will never be found acceptable in your world view, then don't bring home any orange violins. (2) Play them for one hour (each), and have another violinist play them for you (one hour total). (3) Have a checklist in advance of what you're looking for and how important each one is (essentially, a figure-of-merit): raw power, variety of tonal color, overall apparent workmanship, brilliance in high treble, amenability to being bowed hard near the bridge, general responsiveness, etc. Don't have more than ten things on your list. (4) Unless you're spending a fortune exceeded only by your own home, there will be areas where each violin earns B's and C's -- hopefully no F's (you wouldn't have brought that one home). Hopefully your prioritized checklist helps you decide which deficiencies you can tolerate. (5) Pick the best of that group and be done with it. (6) Ask your teacher for help only if you can't make a clear distinction between your top two or if you feel hopelessly unqualified. Pay for their time. As long as you are dedicating at least one day of each weekend to the process and have a few shops you can get to, you should be done in a month.

Our closest shop is Potter's in Maryland which required us to stay overnight, etc., but we arranged in advance to see 5-6 cellos in our price range. We spent about two hours in the store (during which Dalton did three violin appraisals for me), and we just bought the one we thought was best of that group. Our daughter and her teacher are both quite happy with it, several months hence.

October 16, 2019, 9:28 AM · One thing I remember doing was trying out a few fiddles that were above my desired price range. Namely, I was looking in the 10-20K range and tried a 63K fiddle. It wasn't because I would have been willing to buy a fiddle that expensive. Rather, I wanted to hear how the instruments I was trying out compared to a truly expensive instrument. In the end, the violin I chose was the instrument that made me feel like I was getting a lot of value for the money I spent. In other words, there may have been close to a 50K price difference between my chosen fiddle and the ridiculously expensive one, but I didn't get a sense that the sonic differences between them were huge. I left the shop thinking I got a great instrument and saved a lot of money rather than wishing that I had the extra 50K to buy the more expensive instrument. Doing something like this can also provide a good perspective on the qualities of super expensive instruments so that you know what not to compromise on when searching for a somewhat less pricey fiddle that can offer most (if not all) of those qualities. However, if you're a parent, you should only do something like this if the child knows that buying the super expensive instrument is not in the cards. The child should know they are trying it out for perspective and not because you might buy it for them.
October 16, 2019, 9:39 AM · I would suggest, when you are at shops, asking to try the best things they can possibly show you, because that effectively shows you what is possible, and thus what you should be aiming for. I think that an active understanding of where you are making compromises will help you make a more intelligent decision about what you're buying. Getting a chance to play a Strad really crystallized, for me, what I wanted out of a violin. (And playing a great instrument is an amazing life experience.)

It doesn't matter how big the maker's name or how big the price tag -- a lot of inventory hanging out in shops on consignment is because it just doesn't play well for the money. So you want to make sure that this sort of inventory doesn't become your benchmark for how good your choices are. (I once played what was apparently a perfect visual example of a Stefano Scarampella, and it was terrible sonically. The shop owner cheerfully admitted that yup, that was the opinion of every player who touched it, and that he was hoping that the right collector would eventually come along. It had been there for years.)

I do remember, from my childhood shopping expedition for my first full-size, that we got three instruments from the Becker shop -- a Carl Becker Jr., a Jennifer Becker, and a violin from Becker's apprentice (Rafael Carrabba). I was not a huge fan of the bright-red varnish (just because it was a little unusual, but I don't much care about the look of violins, so it wasn't really a purchase factor). I really liked the Carl Becker Jr., even though it wasn't entirely perfect, but in the end my parents decided it was too expensive, which was pretty crushing. (We bought the Carrabba. That was a mistake, really.) It would have been fine if I'd gotten to try it with the clear expectation it was out of budget, rather than spending days thinking that it was a viable choice.

October 16, 2019, 9:48 AM · Evan you have to be careful with this. Somewhat similar to what Lydia is saying, the really top instruments make an otherwise fine instrument sound like junk. I experienced this personally at Bein&Fushi a few years ago, I got to play their Strad, but even more so the Michele Deconet they let me play on. When I picked up the "lesser" instruments after that they really sounded like junk, although originally when I first picked them up, they were actually really nice.
Edited: October 16, 2019, 10:03 AM · Jean I would argue that what I described is only a good idea for people looking for a professional quality instrument. If you're restricted to below 8K, you're absolutely right: trying out the most expensive violins is just teasing yourself with something you can never have. However, I think once you get above 10K, you'll start to see instruments that sound almost as good as the very very pricey ones. The differences also become less obvious (i.e. 5K to 15K is a huge jump in quality, but 15K to 30K is much less so. I have a friend whose instrument is worth 30K and I don't find it any better than mine). They may have some minor issues or quirks that a Strad may not, but the buyer won't be forced to make the same type of sonic compromises that they would be at a lower price range. I didn't feel like the 63K instrument I tried made my violin sound like junk - that's why I chose it. For me, it provided important perspective. Otherwise, it's so easy to convince oneself that certain faults (i.e. difficulty of playability, unevenness between strings, clarity, etc) on a particular instrument are to be expected/tolerated. Going between instruments allowed me to discover what instrumental weaknesses I was willing to tolerate/cared less about and which I would not. I agree with you that it is not a strategy for everyone or every situation.
October 16, 2019, 10:12 AM · Quality is a logarithmic function of price.
October 16, 2019, 10:13 AM · "...a lot of inventory hanging out in shops on consignment is because it just doesn't play well for the money"

Yup, I've been saying this for years: There's a reason it's there--someone wanted to get rid of it!

HOWEVER--it's also true that sellers gravitate to shops because they simply don't know what else to do with the instrument. Unfortunately, the options are just not great. Craigslist? Ebay? Not great options, especially CL. You just get spammed ("I will pay double your asking price. I am currently out of the country, so my assistant will send you a check....").

Violins are a super-specialized, highly subjective, non-liquid niche product. First we fall in love with one and HAVE to possess it, and next thing you know we find fault with everything about it and we have to get rid of it NOW!

Maybe it's not the violins that are the problem....

Edited: October 16, 2019, 11:54 AM · Many years ago, when I was still under the tutelage of a violin performance professor/conductor from a local university, he and I went to a local shop to check out a violin that was valued a little over $100K. When I tried the violin, my first impression was, "WOW"! I already had a good violin (bench made violin from a local maker), which my teacher also said was good. But I was so tempted to buy that violin. I just paid off my student loan, and in my mind, I was trying to justify buying it. But alas, I was also getting married soon, so I had to regrettably say, "no thanks" to that wonderful instrument.
Edited: October 16, 2019, 12:36 PM · I think it's an excellent idea to try instruments well above one's price range. How else will one become educated on what these may, or may not have to offer?
And one's opinions can change as time and skill levels march on, so I think it's valuable to revisit this periodically.

I've heard and played many instruments which I will never be able to afford, but always found it to be a very useful learning experience. Sometimes they were better than less expensive stuff, and sometimes not.

Super-pricey old violins partly derive their value from the "rare antiques and collectables" investment market. A lot depends on what you want a violin to do.

October 16, 2019, 4:18 PM · ... and while I do believe that quity and price usually go together, at least up to a certain level which may be 25k or 35k, for a high level contemporary instrument, we should not forget how big a bias the knowledge about a super huge price tag has on us. I'm not competent enough as an evaluator of highest end instruments, and one may or may not believe in the numerous blind testing shootouts done between Strads / delGesus and top level moderns. Personally I think that it shows how competitive the modern makers are. but how about all the pros owning an expensive antique violin but rather preferring to use their bench made copy... I know at least one of these privately (not willing to drop the name, so don't try...) and I'm wondering how often we're hearing something different than we're told. Not that I would mind - the artist should pitch the instrument he can collaborate best with.
October 16, 2019, 5:54 PM · When violin teachers say something like "think about a $30k+ budget" they are not really thinking about antiques. They are thinking about the contemporary violins from the top living makers.
October 16, 2019, 6:35 PM · It would be stupid to ignore antiques at a similar price point!!
October 16, 2019, 10:13 PM · "When violin teachers say something like "think about a $30k+ budget" they are not really thinking about antiques. They are thinking about the contemporary violins from the top living makers."

Violin teachers think and say many things.

No one knows why.

October 16, 2019, 11:51 PM · Lyndon, I assume that anyone looking at $30k+ violins is not an idiot. Non-idiots don't need to be told to look at everything in a given price range. But the fact of the matter is that by and large, the output of the top contemporary makers generally outplays most antiques in a similar, sub-$50k-ish price range. Getting your hands on a top maker's work in a timely fashion is another matter entirely, of course.

October 17, 2019, 12:47 AM · rubbish!!
Edited: October 17, 2019, 7:34 AM · Lydia Leong wrote: "But the fact of the matter is that by and large, the output of the top contemporary makers generally outplays most antiques in a similar, sub-$50k-ish price range."

Where do you find such "facts?" Do have a reference? What does “outplays” mean?

Violins are not priced based on tone or "playability." That is a fact. In comparing properly set-up violins, tone and "playability" are completely subjective.

You can find good and bad violins at all price points. Dishonest people change the label in a violin and then add zeros to the price tag. Does the fake label make the violin "better?" Of course not. Violins that aren't even set-up to play are bought and sold for thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars every day because tone is not a factor in the price of a violin.

Violins are priced according qualities such as:

Maker or workshop
Condition
Appearance
Model
Geographic origin
Age
Provenance

It is misleading to people coming here for information about violin buying to suggest that they should judge the quality of a violin *as a musical instrument* by its price tag because that simply isn’t true.

October 17, 2019, 7:20 AM · A budget of $30,000 will buy you some incredibly good 1700s and 1800s German violins, every bit the equal of today's top makers if not better.
October 17, 2019, 7:57 AM · I think everyone here has a point - I really don't understand the dismissiveness. I agree with Lydia in that the trend of modern instruments costing less than antique ones definitely exists. Studies have shown that the listener cannot really distinguish the Strad from the modern violin, yet Strads go for prices that are exponentially higher. This phenomenon is pretty widespread. However, I agree with Lyndon in that this is not a reason to forsake looking at antique instruments in the low 10Ks. My 1880s French violin is in that price range and I have found very little wanting in it. In fact, the only colleague of mine whose instrument has astounded me with superior quality in the last 5 years is one who violin is close to 60K (I'd love to know how he afforded it). The reality is that instruments are not priced by sound but by many other factors. The "antique factor" to which Lydia refers is most certainly a thing, but Lyndon's point about there being many fine antique instruments in a sub-50K price range is also valid.
October 17, 2019, 9:03 AM · I have looked at a lot of violins, and I think my opinions echo the dealers and experienced players who have posted here in the past.

For some reason, people seem incredibly, personally sensitive on this issue. Relax, people. I'm not telling you that the instrument you love wasn't a good deal for you.

The fact of the matter is: Sure. There is no direct correlation between price and an individual violin/bow's playing qualities. And the quality of an individual violin/bow, from a given maker, can vary -- sometimes widely but sometimes not (makers vary in consistency). The typical quality of a dead maker influences the price range for that maker; makers who command high prices generally have more consistently produced violins/bows with better playing qualities. Makers who are sought-after by collectors as well as players will have higher prices since there's more interested buyers. Condition and provenance (i.e. the likelihood that something is actually by the maker that you think it is) will significantly impact the price of a specimen by a given maker. If you're willing to sacrifice either, it's sometimes possible to get great "bargains" in terms of playing quality for the money.

The current commission price of a living maker sets the general price range of that maker (note that living makers have to balance demand / speed of sale with how much they want to get for their work, and different makers have different preferences there, so there's no linear correlation between price and quality for living makers, though price bands are a reasonable indicator of how a maker feels their work stacks up to the competition).

Basically, the higher the price of a violin/bow, the greater the probability that it will be good. The wider your price range, the more likely it is that you will find something satisfactory. The more skilled you are as a player, the more a violin needs to give you in playing traits. However, not all skilled players seem to care about their equipment, and not all skilled players have a meaningful need for equipment that's better than a certain threshold. So what is "satisfactory" varies widely from player to player.

It's useful to look in a wide price range, but only to a limited degree. We all only have so much time to try stuff out, and it's polite not to waste the time of shop-owners. Sure, it's possible that one might luck into a miracle violin below $10k, say, but your odds of doing so are so small that if you have, say, a $50k budget, you probably don't want to bother with trying a ton of violins in that low price range unless someone tips you off that there's a lucky find available. (Well-connected teachers are useful for this -- these violins often don't show up in shops, but are sold between personal contacts, often a teacher facilitating a transfer from one student to another.)

Once you get into the $20k+ range (ish), you can really encounter fantastic contemporary violins. Most of those are in the hands of players who commissioned them and will cling to them for a lifetime, granted. So while they may represent best bang for the buck, if you commission, the results are not predictable, and many top makers have very long waiting lists, which doesn't help people who need a better violin Right Now.

I encourage people to try everything they can get their hands on, regardless of price, when they come by a violin, if they're interested in this stuff. Go to exhibitions where you can play a lot of violins. Accompany friends on their shopping expeditions. Try the instruments of friends, acquaintances, fellow students, etc. . It's always interesting. You'll learn a lot in the process. (And note: If people bought something years ago and it carried a modest price tag, don't forget it might be worth a heck of a lot more now.)

Purchasing a violin or bow is about picking your compromises. You want, if possible, to become educated about what it is that you're choosing to sacrifice in return for things that you like.

Edited: October 17, 2019, 9:37 AM · Agreed just about everything being said here is individually valid.

Violins are priced according to sound and playability, at any price range, only within the band of other instruments of the same country of origin, maker, age, etc. The categories George lists can be quantified clearly (except for fakes, heh), and set the overall price band. This is critical. Within that band, an instrument that sounds "bad" - whatever that means - will likely sink to the bottom of its price band. But that is all.

This is why I am still a bit puzzled by the idea that a teacher would say you should be in a budget of Y, or that a Y instrument sounds like it has value X. The only way it would make sense is if certain characteristics an advanced student needs (speed of response, variety of color, high position ease, and projecting over an orchestra are likely things) are only available in one country of origin:maker band, not others.

While this would be a totally logical assumption, it has very much not been my own experience. (However I never aspired to be a pro, and have played only two old italian instruments, so feel free to ignore my opinions in favor of some of the more expert folks above. I do play, like an amateur, some of the more advanced violin music out there, so I believe I am reasonably exercising my instruments...but the qualifier "like an amateur" is important here. Decide on your own the size of grain of salt.)

An alternate version of the first statement (quite possibly what was intended in this case) might be "I want your next violin to have X,Y,Z characteristics, and those are most readily found in new violins made in X country because the higher price warrants better materials and setup, so I'd like you to be look at A price which is near the top of that band."

An alternate version of the second statement which would be more clearly reasonable (but again, more complicated) would be "this instrument, which is Eastern European bench-made and new, should fall in a range of 6-10k, and I feel it sounds/plays terribly, so it should be at the bottom of it's range."

But this in no way implies that, across countries of origin or maker reputation, the experience or possibilities of playing an instrument 1k < 5k < 10k < 20k. It's simply not true. They've been blind testing high end instruments since about 1900, as long as the prices have been nuts, and the results have almost never shown the ability of expert listeners (or in some nice new tests, even expert _players_) to distinguish between new well-made violins and old masterpieces.

I am not saying that there are no differences between instruments - far from it, the differences are massive and it is hugely helpful to the student to have the right one. I am just saying that price is a very low quality signal. Your teacher needs to teach you exactly what attributes they want to see in an instrument that your curernt one doesn't have.

Then, take that list of attributes, and your current violin, to some shops, and try things below through above your price range and look for those attributes. You may find them in a 1k Chinese workshop violin (though be careful to check for things like high position power and wolf tones). You may find them in a 100k 1920 Italian instrument - in which case, don't sweat it, but remember what it feels like to play that, and watch for an instrument you can afford that feels the same way.

Also don't neglect the bow. I am pretty sure I learned more from my bows than from my instruments, though plenty from both. There also, you have to learn what to look for first, so play other peoples' good bows and shops expensive ones and learn what to look for.

Perhaps it would be a more useful exercise to ignore price range and list the qualities one might want in an instrument that is worth 10k to a player (regardless of market), then the poster could ask their teacher which of those qualities they would like to see improved in the student's current instrument? Here's my list...

Quality of sound (lack of harshness, brightness or darkness as you desire - but check what it sounds like to listeners 20ft away)
Ease of response to fast separate bow playing
Volume and ease of playing in high positions
Lack of bad wolf notes (especially C above middle C on g string). Note, if your open E wolfs, don't replace the violin, buy a $10 non-wolf E string. They work.
Variety of tone color.
Ability to blend into an orchestra (if you're a section player)
Ability to cut through the sound of an orchestra (if you're a soloist who actually gets engaged to play over an orchestra, or a section leader who solos)
Ability to blend with the sound of, say, a quartet's instruments
Dynamic range (easy to vary between loud and quiet, sounds good at all volumes)
Projection (can be heard clearly from a distance) - note, you can't judge this while playing the violin yourself.
Shape of the violin works with your shifting technique. (For instance, I like violins with narrow shoulders, which I only discovered when playing someone's excellent old italian and discovering I couldn't shift high on it.)
Ability to sound harmonics easily (including double-stop artificial harmonics if you want to play Paganini D Major)
Ability to sound fingered thirds and chords well. (Only one of my two favorite instruments likes Solo bach for this reason).
Ability to hear the accuracy of your own intination (this really does vary by instrument and especially setup)

One other note: always, always, bring your current violin to the shop and compare in the same acoustic. Shop acounstics can be very different. You may think something new sounds like a strad, then play your own and discover it also does.

One rule that has served me well: I never buy an instrument that doesn't make me sad when I pick back up my current instrument.

Good luck! One thing I can say, there are lots of superb things out there in the ~10k range in most of the US, and I really think many great things even below it.

October 17, 2019, 10:03 AM · It'd be useful if someone like David Burgess, who is knowledgeable about the sorts of "shootouts" that have been done, could weigh in on the violins used for testing. It's my understanding that the methodical comparisons have been done using top-notch, well-set-up contemporary violins -- violins from makers whose work generally sells, AFAIK, in the $25k+ price range, and some of which might sell for close to six figures (like a Zygmuntowicz). And set in opposition to big-name but not necessarily great antiques with somewhat random set-up quality. I'm not disputing that contemporaries can be very competitive, of course. (Indeed, I expect to commission a contemporary myself someday, thus my ongoing interest in exhibitions.)

Teachers, at least in my experience, don't say, "You must spend $X". What they'll say is, "Can you save towards a budget of $X?" That budget often has to include both violin and bow (and possibly a decent new case). The budget is generally set with the notion that it encompasses enough money that the probability of finding something satisfactory for the student's needs is high.

The thing is that a positive or negative set of traits on the violin is all a matter of degree. Once you get to a certain level of baseline functionality, which you can often find even on higher-end Chinese workshop violins these days, it becomes significantly about refinement, finesse, range of color, etc.. (True cut-through-an-orchestra projection is less common, too, but not that many players genuinely need that trait.)

Edited: October 17, 2019, 11:03 AM · Francis wrote: "This is critical. Within that band, an instrument that sounds "bad" - whatever that means - will likely sink to the bottom of its price band. But that is all."

So this is the fallacy: Nobody agrees on what sound is "good" or "bad," so violins don't rise or sink in their “price band” based on tone. Furthermore, tone can be easily and dramatically changed for better or worse on a violin by simple adjustments or changing strings. It is not a static thing. A dealer can tell you the price of a violin is before you play it because it is not based on how much you like or dislike the tone.

As one luthier told me: "I can have a violin that nobody buys for years, and then somebody comes in, plays it, and says, 'This is the sound that I have been looking for my whole life.'"

And, Francis, I love your list of attributes!

Lydia, nice comment clarifying things a bit. I’d just add that many of the good makers of the early 20th century ago were making violins of equal quality as good makers today, but are much less expensive. Furthermore, the reputations of some of these old makers were enhanced as much by good marketing and distribution channels as much as the quality of their instruments. So excellent violins by lesser-known or even unknown and anonymous makers can be purchased for much lower prices than the better-known makers, and they are not that uncommon.

It should also be pointed out that prices of new violins from most lesser-known living makers depreciate significantly the moment after they are first sold by the maker. You can see this in auction prices. So good buys can be found by looking for these violins at dealers and auctions.

Lyndon: A budget of $30,000 will buy you some incredibly good 20th century American and Italian violins, as well as German violins. :-)

October 17, 2019, 11:33 AM · One should keep in mind that your existing bow, while useful for comparison, may not be well matched to the instrument. In the higher price range instruments, one should always make a point of testing with a well matched bow. A reputable shop should have a number of bows available for testing, and know which bows are better matched to each instruments. This is the only way to know the true potential of the instruments you are considering. Many time I am sure, otherwise excellent instruments are being past over because they are trialed with the wrong bow.
October 17, 2019, 11:55 AM · "A budget of $30,000 will buy you some incredibly good 1700s and 1800s German violins, every bit the equal of today's top makers if not better."

We are now off-topic in this price range. But since it's been brought up, a few thoughts based on my experience:

-Older German violins, such as Klotz family, can be very good. The can sound nice under the ear, with a warm, rounded tone. They are good for amateurs, or those wanting to blend in an orchestra. However, they may not appeal to a modern conservatory student, and tend not to project with the same brilliance as the French 19th century violins. Those tend to project, though without much character.
Collin-Mezins remain affordable and popular, though tonally nothing special. I consider them, along with Roths, the "pickup trucks" of the student violin market: solid, dependable, but nothing special.

-As far as more modern Germans, I remember trying a couple of very nice violins by Otto Moeckel. from the early 1900s. Sometimes I wish I'd bought one. Unfortunately, I can't say I've run across many other German violins that I liked.

-If you haven't been blown away by any modern violins, leave the continent (the one with France and Germany on it) and try some English makers.
I had a Craske--sometimes I wish I still had it. His instruments are fairly easy to find (Shar has one now), and some are very nice. A colleague locally has one, and it sounds excellent. There are other English makers that I would consider, especially if I had $30,000. Arthur Vincent is one, though those prices may be more than $30k now.

-At this point, from what I've seen, $20,000-30,000 is still problematic for modern violins. Inflation has simply made mediocrity more expensive. I'm sorry to say I haven't found anything that has really moved me. One maker that has is Terry Borman--I've heard a couple of fantastic violins by him. However, his violins are now in the mid-$40s.

I currently play a 2012 Robert Clemens. I have to say I didn't much care for it for several years, but it has opened and become more pleasant. It took a while, though.

Edited: October 17, 2019, 12:29 PM · As the owner of an 1887 Collin-Mezin, I have to disagree with your generalizations, Scott. One of my favorite things to play on it is Mozart 5, because it projects with such a happy and outward character to the sound. In the few years I have owned it, quite a few colleagues (and competition judges) have remarked positively about my instrument. That being said, they're not for everyone, and if you really have a thing for dark sounding instruments, you won't generally like French violins. I'm not suggesting that there aren't bland Collin-Mezzins out there (his output quality is known to decline significantly after 1900), or that everyone would like the particular timbre of my instrument. However, you call them "tonally nothing special" and "the pickup trucks of the student violin market," which is not at all my experience. I intend to take professional auditions on my current fiddle and don't feel that it is holding me back from sounding my best.
October 17, 2019, 1:53 PM · In the "professional modern" violin price range of $20-$30, what are the modern makers that people have had the most luck with (maybe if we limit it to people with waiting lists that one could actually get on)?

On the flipside, maybe a direct question for Lyndon, what are the early-20th century antiques that are good in this price range.

October 17, 2019, 1:55 PM · For the OP, it should be sub-$12k.

I've tried some nice apprentice-made violins, but those makers are selling their current work for a lot more money than the price tag on the first one or two violins they made.

October 17, 2019, 2:29 PM · there are multitudes of good makers, the idea that violin making is getting better is a fallacy hoisted on us by violin makers desperate to sell their often overpriced violins.
October 17, 2019, 3:21 PM · I started skimming about halfway through. So I’ll apologize in advance if any of this has already been mentioned.

In my quest for an instrument in this price range; I tried over 20 violins before I settled on one. There is an instrument I just returned after having made a decision. It’s an instrument by Eugene Holtier at David Folland Violins - which you should ask for a trial of like now - and it’s well within your price range. Also, Stringworks has a couple of consignment violins that could work nicely and their service is second to none.

October 17, 2019, 5:57 PM · Lyndon, it is quite apparent that you have never attended any of the major violin making competitions, or exhibits like the Julie Reed one currently taking place in New York.
October 17, 2019, 6:42 PM · That was unnecessarily rude, Lyndon. David makes very nice violins. (Yes, I've tried one.) He's not exhibiting at Reed-Yeboah, though. But many fine makers are. Definitely worth checking out. (The VSA contemporary display is also worthwhile if it happens to show up near your hometown.)
Edited: October 18, 2019, 8:55 AM · Dear Ms. Bahn--

You live in Texas? Are you close to Arlington (Dallas)? If so, I highly recommend you make an appointment to visit Wayne Burak & Associates and speak with Nick Burak. I have no vested interest in recommending them other than, first, my high opinion of this luthier, and, second, their likely proximity to you.

I have frequented their shop many times, can vouch for the quality of their workbench instruments, having purchased one myself, and, especially, for their honesty. You may likely find the violin you want in the price range you stipulated there. I hope this helps.

Edited: October 17, 2019, 8:43 PM · Lyndon, I made no reference to my own violins, and they are not entered in any of the violin making competitions (my involvement is judging these), nor will I have anything at the Reed-Yeboah event.

I do see a lot of contemporary instruments though. :-)

November 8, 2019, 9:46 PM · As a father of 2 kids and knowing how Violin Quality can affect the student’s playing capabilities (I am also a Amateur player) I fully understand the difficulties finding a Violin right for the Kid. It ahould not be too expensive as Kids are Kids. They can easily break or get their violin lost paying less attention. So for safety reason parents tend to buy not too much High priced Violin.

I started with a Roth by myself. But as this Roth that my parents bought me was in the middle range of Roth’s line up I soon became familiar of its limit. Especially expressions cannot be transferred to the Violin. Yes if you are a professional you can do it much easier than a amateur. I tried many things to find a way to get a improved sound and playability from this Violin. But in vain. It’s capability doesnt get better whatever I was trying. I went to very well known luthiers to discuss but the answer was always the same. This is why I am still hunting for Violins for my kids.

My first one was learning with my Roth Violin for a while. But as I know the limits of this Violin I was sure that she will get the same frustration while playing the Roth. I did many researches and came to conclusions that I need to buy a Italian Violin for many reason. I live in Korea and to have the reselling value high you need to buy an Italian. Anyway so I came across to Dario Verne Violin. There are not many info about Dario so that he is regarded as some kind of Hobby maker. But what struck my attention is that he was repairing Stradis for many years for a famous Violin Player in Turin. And the Violin player also holds several Dario violins by himself and think very high of his work. So I decided to buy one and am very happy with it. What I want to say here is that you do mot need to chase for the best makers. There are so many luthiers who makes great Violins but not advertised much. Some luthiers who do mot care to attend a Violin Making competition. Even in Korea there are many luthiers now who makes great Violins. Maybe you will think that it is as good as the Chinese or maybe less but when I tried it out the quality and sound was exceptional. Anyway the Dario can be in your price range and if you come across of one then consider this. I saw 2 other Darios in the past 2 yrs but somehow mine sounded much better than the others. My teacher here in HK was also using a Dario and when he played mine then he was so shocked to see that mine sounded much better than his. So as I predicted my first one came in that situation where she asking me whether she can use the Dario for herself. So I let her play with it. But after a while seeing how she keeps the Violin I decided to buy a less expensive one but much better than the Roth one. I saw a rocket high price increase in the Roth made in 1920 eras and I was sure that these Violins must be very good otherwise people would not buy these in such a high price. So I bought another Roth but on his top Lines. Around 4000 euros. Lucky to buy that one in that price. The sound quality was much better and the responsiveness of the Violin is very good. My kid was very happy of this Violin. She had a Carnegie Hall recital and she took this Violin to play. After the recital I recognized that the sound projection is not that good. Sitting in the back of the stage the sound lost its power. I understood now what a sound projection means. Next time I will ask her to use the Dario.

So short with my Experience, I would buy a Violin not limiting myself with the budget as Kid will improve its skill level and Violin prices tend to go up. I will also make sure that Kids learn how to keep the Violin well not to lose or break it. Do not just look at the Makers’ name. If you do ur research right then you can find Gems!! I recently bought an Otto Moeckel 1930. One of the best German Luthier but the Violin price is affordable.

November 8, 2019, 9:58 PM · I'd be dubious about the resale value of an amateur maker, regardless of whether or not he's Italian.
November 11, 2019, 11:30 PM · Though rare, there are great violins in that price range. I got mine from Warren and Son in Chicago and it outplays many violins worth twice as much. Usually these violins will fall into categories like workshop instruments, violins with no procedence, one-off violins made by lesser makers (such as mine), or damaged but well-restored violins. Advantages of buying from a reputable shop are, as said here, being able to trade-in, but also to have it properly set-up. A good adjustment can be the difference between a violin sounding mediocre and a violin sounding great.
Johnson has such a big selection that it is worth going there to try. In Boston you could also try Reuning (they had one Heberlein which I probably would have bought if I hadn't come accross the one from Warren and one other by a korean maker which also sounded good) and also Paul Dulude of New England Violins, which carries some modern instruments which fall in that range.
Maybe a roadtrip to Robertson in Albuquerque is worth it? At least so she can have a feeling of what's around. They also have a big inventory. There is a maker in Amarillo (Kruno) which is under that price range and makes some great violins too.
November 12, 2019, 3:26 PM · Bruno wrote " mine ... outplays many violins worth twice as much." Almost every one I've met who talked about their instrument have said the same thing (me included as a matter of fact!), I sometimes wonder who ever buys these lesser but more expensive instruments? Is this what we like to say to feel good about our carefully selected "affordable" instrument or is it the other factors beside sound quality that justifies some of the higher prices?

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