Ricker, Olson

Edited: October 27, 2019, 10:04 AM · Has anyone heard of or had experience with Joseph Ricker
Or Anton Olson violins. Both American first half 20th century
6-8K range. Trusted violin shop. Daughter’s choices from an initial shopping trip. First full size for 11 year old. Also liked a Carl Freidrich Ficker
late 18th.

Replies (34)

Edited: October 27, 2019, 11:34 AM · Well, of course it's your money, but I think most people would say that $8000 is a lot to spend on an 11-year-old's first full size violin. But if she's advanced in her playing skills and needs a fine instrument (it certainly can't hurt), and if she has the judgement to make a good selection at this level (teacher helping?), then it could be a good move. Just be prepared to "trade up" at a later date.

You can (should) also scout around to see what violins by these makers have brought at auction. What I'm seeing is that Ricker violins are typically in the $3000-4000 range. Olson violins have brought somewhat less than that, it seems. But my search was a pretty quick one.

Having said that, I spent $3500 on an Eduard Reichert violin for my daughter, and everyone said I overpaid, but I don't care because I like the sound of it, she likes it for sound and playability, and her teacher likes it, and when I played it as part of a group of violins for several people, it was consistently in the top three even though the other violins were in the $10000-18000 range. I was going to buy it for myself when I happened into an opportunity to buy a Topa at a good price. I was vindicated when Dalton Potter told me I didn't make a mistake.

October 27, 2019, 11:56 AM · Just to expand on the above post, auction prices are typically (I say typically because all rules fall apart at the top end of the market - which this is not) considerably lower than dealer prices. The reason is that you take a chance with an auction instrument - even if you have an opportunity to try it before the sale because you can not return it or get credit. The rule of thumb I think was that the auction price was 1/3 to 1/2 of the dealer price but that ratio has grown (higher value) as more players are attending the auctions.

Thus, an auction price of $3500 is not that out of line with a dealer-sales price of $8000.

Caveat - the above assumes the instruments are in excellent, playable shape for their age.

October 27, 2019, 2:00 PM · Help from 2 teachers. One went with us. Dealer most would recognize.
She is starting the Bruch after Christmas. So on a reasonable path but not
ready for Menuhin competition.:) Who knows what she will do.
It is a lot of money, but I assume she would need better for college. We have trade in for 3/4. Having 1/2 and 3/4 Mittenwald violins that were decent
I think helped her progress.
There is another good shop in town (who will meet trade in). We are just starting and eventually will borrow 6 or so for both teachers to hear in a couple of spaces.
I don’t think I would ever trust myself knowledge wise to buy by auction, and we live in the middle of nowhere, so feel lucky there are two good shops with great people running them about an hour a way.
I struggle whether to go 100% with sound over recognizable name. (Roth, etc.) I worry about value at next purchase, if there is one.

October 27, 2019, 6:06 PM · All other things being equal, a genuine Fiker would have a better resale value IMHO
October 27, 2019, 7:04 PM · If you're thinking of upgrading again and your daughter is at Bruch level now, I'd seriously consider doing $12k now (borrowing against a 401k or home equity or the like if necessary) and hoping that you don't have to upgrade again unless she actually does compete in the Menuhin.

October 27, 2019, 7:52 PM · Its easy to recommend spending someone else's money!!
October 27, 2019, 9:45 PM · The reasoning behind is straightforward: Reselling violins is really, really tough. Trade-in heavily restricts your choice of the next violin, which is pretty likely given the OP's stated hoped-for trajectory that aims for a pre-professional competitive track.

I think it's probably safer to go up enough to buy an excellent violin that has a good chance of never need upgrading (thereby putting aside a resale concern), than gambling with the lower budget. A Bruch-level kid, appropriately guided by a teacher who usually teaches pre-professional students, is capable of figuring out the right violin for them when given the chance to try out a bunch.

October 28, 2019, 6:33 AM · Sounds like the buyer already feels drawn to trade up at a certain one or two dealers at the $8000 level though. But I agree that all of the indicators (teachers helping, child quite advanced for her age, parent who seems intelligent and thoughtful, trustworthy dealers) suggest that they might as well go for broke. (Sorry for the choice of words there.)
Edited: October 28, 2019, 6:54 AM · I'd seriously recommend disregarding opinions offered that assume that a higher price automatically equates to a better violin as a musical instrument.

The price of a violin is not based on tone and playability.

For your purposes, you're just as likely to find an excellent musical instrument at $8,000 as you are at $12,000.

American makers often represent an excellent value for the money in terms of the quality of the instrument versus the cost compared to European instruments of the same quality.

October 28, 2019, 11:03 AM · "For your purposes, you're just as likely to find an excellent musical instrument at $8,000 as you are at $12,000."

I'm curious to learn what the qualifier "for your purposes" means here.

If George was correct, then you shouldn't spend any more than $500 because a $500 violin is just as likely to be good as an $800 violin, and an $800 violin is just as likely to be good as a $1400 violin, etc. Since quality is roughly a logarithmic function of price, the difference between $8000 and $12000 may be marginal ... but ...

George also suggested American makers -- well I agree that modern makers (whether American, European, Chinese, etc.) are making nice violins, this is one very good reason why shopping at the $12000 level makes more sense because that's kind of the level where prices start for recently-made non-workshop violins. But in my experience you can realize a better value by looking for Eastern European and Chinese makers because their overhead is lower. It's pretty hard to find American bench-made violins at $8000 because the maker just can't earn a living wage from that price.

Edited: October 28, 2019, 2:05 PM · “For your purposes” means finding a violin that sounds great and performs well as a musical instrument.

And, yes, you can find remarkably good violins at lower prices, and you can also find remarkably bad violins at higher prices.

As I wrote in an earlier thread, violins are priced according objective attributes such as:

- Maker or workshop
- Condition
- Appearance
- Model
- Geographic origin
- Age
- Provenance

The difference between an $8,000 violin and a $12,000 is going to be because of a combination of those attributes, not tone.

In regards to American violins, one does not need to go to living makers to find great modern American violins. Americans have been making some great violins since the the late 1800’s, and good examples of these violins by lesser-known makers can be had for a fraction of the cost of a contemporary violin by a living maker.

Maybe Matthew Metz has found two of these.

And, yes, very good Eastern European and Chinese are also available.

October 28, 2019, 4:39 PM · Paul Deck's comment captures my sentiment. Basically, at the $6k-8k price point, you are generally looking at instruments from someone who isn't earning their daily bread from making violins. They might be an apprentice, an amateur, or a violin-shop luthier who makes the occasional violin -- whether living or dead. You might luck into an unusually good specimen; you should certainly look in this price range.

However, at the $12k price point, you start to get into well-established contemporary makers. Going up in price will significantly expand the number of violins within your price range. I maintain that price range represents the probability you will find something satisfactory within a reasonable period of time.

At the very least, you should look at the next category up. The fact that you are expecting to upgrade again suggests that what you're finding now is what you are considering sort of good-enough-for-now. You will probably find, trying a significant pool of instruments in each price category (and not just one or two, which will be luck-of-the-draw good or bad), that there's a general price band that contains the things that you deem to be good enough forever.

I would argue that "for your purposes" here also has to include the financial implications. If you get something good for the price, but only good enough for now, its future resale value (and how long it takes to sell) probably needs to factor into the decision because you'll need that money for a future upgrade. If you need the full price of that violin as cash on hand before you can upgrade, your eventual resale price is likely to be much lower than someone who can afford to let the thing sit on consignment for two years.

Edited: October 28, 2019, 5:44 PM · Lydia Leong,

It is absurd to judge bench-made violins that you have never seen nor heard nor played solely by the price.

The fact is that violins made by most living makers depreciate significantly in price after they are first sold. Auction houses won't even list most violins made by most living makers because they fetch such low prices, regardless of how well made they are.

Furthermore, violins made by 20th century makers (such as the ones Matthew Metz is considering) can be really outstanding violins both in craftsmanship and as musical instruments. And they were made by people making their living making violins!

Respectfully, you really should stop pushing the idea that price is related to the quality of a violin as a musical instrument because it is factually incorrect.

Edited: October 28, 2019, 6:41 PM · @George

You're not entirely wrong considering the tonal quality of the instrument, but Lydia's insight makes a lot of sense financially. Selling instruments, especially in that price range, is a financial crapshoot, and if the OP is seriously anticipating upgrading again, might not make sense.

If all OP is looking for is a nice violin that will last decades for a serious amateur, this wouldn't be a problem. Good shops may even offer some sort of trade-in credit when you pull the trigger on a nicer fiddle.

However, once you start treading into the territory of upgrading to a conservatory or professional class violins, your $6000 might become a dead asset. There are so many of these instruments that they're hard to move, they're in a price range where dealers aren't going to buy them (like some antiques, for example). It's a very tough proposition to basically double the budget for sure, but if the OP is seriously considering conservatory for their child, it warrants serious consideration from a financial standpoint.

I play on a violin that's in the same price range. In a sort of abstract way I consider it's value to be "zero" for exactly the reasons Lydia mentioned. Where would I find someone who would want to buy it?

BTW if your daughter becomes a legitimate Menuhin candidate, she may be able to find people who will loan her instruments for the competition.

Edited: October 28, 2019, 7:22 PM · James T.

Respectfully, it does not make any sense to assume a violin isn't a suitable musical instrument for the Menuhin competition based on price alone.

There are fabulous bench-made violins made by relatively unknown 20th century makers available for very reasonable prices. Just because a maker is relatively unknown does not mean that their instruments are not good or great. Many of them only sold locally and did not have national distribution networks, so they did not get "known" outside their local area. In fact, unscrupulous dealers are buying some of these instruments and putting Italian labels in them and then adding a zero or two to the prices.

The OP has said that they have found 2 that they like. They may have found 2 excellent violins for a fair price. It is ludicrous to suggest that the OP should mortgage their house simply to buy a more expensive violin when the person suggesting that has no idea at all what the 2 violins they already found are actually like.

If the goal is simply asset value, then buy something like a 1920's factory Roth in good condition for $8-12k. If the goal is a great lifetime violin at an affordable price, then find and buy a fine violin made by a lesser known or even unknown maker.

Edited: October 28, 2019, 9:52 PM · I'm getting pretty exasperated here. For the Nth time, George, I have said repeatedly, including one incredibly long response to you in another thread, that I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT PRICE IS DIRECTLY CORRELATED WITH PLAYING QUALITIES. I have no idea how many more times I need to repeat that, or if you are going to respond each and every time as if I had not already stated my explanation of the way that price does/does not correlate with quality what feels like at least a dozen times recently.

I have made what I think is the relatively uncontroversial statement that The higher your price point, the bigger the pool of instruments you can choose from and that the higher the price of a violin, the greater the PROBABILITY that is plays well.

At NO POINT have I said that early 20th century makers were not the equal of contemporary makers. However, OBSCURE 20th century makers are generally the ones that didn't have a track record of producing lots of great instruments. I have REPEATEDLY encouraged the OP to try everything in a broad range, as they may get lucky. But just because they get lucky doesn't mean that they'll have much luck reselling their lucky find in the future.

James T captures my point succinctly above. I was super specific in my response. In case spelling it out in steps helps, here's the instructions for hopefully maximizing reading comprehension:

1. Evaluate the violins (either these two or others the OP is looking at) to determine whether or not they are the final end point of purchasing (i.e. fully satisfactory in every way, now and for the anticipated or hoped-for future) -- i.e. determine if another upgrade will be necessary / wanted in the future.

2. If this violin is not seen as the end point, play a wider pool of higher-quality violins (the shortcut here is "more expensive violins" though of course if you can get access to vastly more violins in the same price band, great), to figure out what the player is satisfied by.

3. If that satisfaction point is not significantly greater than the current budget:

3a. Consider whether a budget stretch (to the extent financially reasonable for the OP) is sufficient to get something fully satisfying.

3b. Consider whether getting an upgrade in the future will be feasible without cash in hand from sale of the not-satisfying violin -- and how much of a return on that price would be necessary to meet the projected budget of that violin.

3c. Take those two factors to determine whether or not to try to buy something satisfying right now rather than waiting to upgrade later.

I don't know why this is so darn controversial. If there were no correlation whatsoever with price, and we could all find magnificent concert violins for the cost of a contemporary apprentice-made instrument, we'd all be happy campers with our $6k violins that dropped into our laps miraculously one day.

Edited: October 28, 2019, 10:02 PM · I'm not wild about the home equity loan idea either. And George is right that we don't know how the two violins sound that they've picked out.

But the idea that there's this enormous "dark matter" stockpile of bench-made violins that nobody knows about because they're only sold "locally" isn't practical for a family that's trading up a fractional instrument at a particular dealer. Maybe the home equity loan should be for a Winnebago so they can scour the countryside for these hidden gems?

Lydia, respectfully, to say that the likelihood (probability) of higher quality trends with price is not substantially different from what George is labeling a correlation. The former is a fuzzy-logic version of the latter. In that regard I think you guys are talking past one another. I happen to feel that the difference between the average $8000 violin and the average $12000 violin may be relatively small especially when you consider the "error bars" involved. On the other hand I definitely agree that you will find a lot more inventory at many shops in the $12000 category because the $6-8k range is often sparsely populated from what I've seen, and partly that's because the $12000 range includes recently bench-made violins.

Edited: October 28, 2019, 10:11 PM · @George

There is a chance of finding great violins at every price point, and certainly at the $5-$10k range. If you aren't a pre-professional/conservatory player, I would argue that it's even possible to find lifetime instruments in that range.

HOWEVER, if the OP plans on upgrading if and when a student outgrows their instrument (which is both A: more likely to happen as you creep towards the $6000-$8000 price range rather than at $150000, and B: at 11, I highly doubt the player is mature enough to decide on a lifetime violin) they are left with a very real and very serious financial conundrum.

It is very very difficult to sell a $6000 violin, and the OP may (or may not) be in a financial situation where that is a very real concern. Of course you may say "well in the 5 years between now and conservatory auditions, the breadwinner will get promoted and get more money".

Your comment about living makers is sort of tautological, in my opinion. Of course they are going to charge less for fiddles by living makers (Zygs aside, let's say). Because the makers are still making, and it's trivially easy to obtain fiddles by that maker. If a maker is still actively taking commissions it doesn't make sense to buy one at auction unless there is something severely wrong with it (example, David Burgess instruments generally go for above market price, but I have seen one sold at a discount because it has a soundpost crack in it).

As well, nobody is claiming one should mortgage their home to do this, but rather that getting an instrument by a known modern maker for a few thousand dollars more will cost money that OP may end up spending anyway. An additional $5000-$10000 a home mortgage does not make. Again, this may not be the case for you, or for the OP, and we have no way of knowing. But it is worth seriously considering. And at a $15000 price range, OP has plenty of instruments to choose from that will sound fantastic. And if the two mentioned above beat out the $15000 instrument, all the better.

"In fact, unscrupulous dealers are buying some of these instruments and putting Italian labels in them and then adding a zero or two to the prices."

You say this as if it's common practice. I don't know any dealers who are doing this. $1000 Chinese factory instruments claiming to be "strad copies", maybe, but no dealer I have ever visited would be caught dead even trying something like this.

@Paul

In this case, I think you may be a little off what Lydia is trying to say. Think of it more like this. If you took a random collection of 5 $8000 violins vs 5 $150000 violins and ranked them in a blind test, maybe you would find the results slightly weighted towards the $15000 instruments. Let's say for argument's sake it's only a slight bias, 3 expensive instruments in the Top 5 vs 2 cheaper instruments. Nobody is disputing that you can find great violins on a budget.

HOWEVER, going from $6000 to $15000 more or less opens up the world of "modern makers who haven't made a big name for themselves" that was closed off to the OP before. In any case, you should always try instruments outside of (and in some cases, far outside of) your price range (blind, IMO) to understand the differences and to gain experience.

October 28, 2019, 10:15 PM · To James's point, there can be a timing issue when you're dealing with kids who need a full-size right now. First off, unless you're willing to bridge the gap by renting or the like, you have limited time in which to try out instruments. Second, you have to work with the money you currently have saved. If you just need another year or two to save for the your ultimate budget, it becomes feasible to take out a loan to bridge the gap (for instance, when you pay interest on a 401k loan, you usually pay that interest back into your 401k, so it's useful for this kind of deferred sort of investment).

This tends to conspire against having the kind of time, search radius, and volume of shops and instruments to really find something great. Ideally, for pre-professional kids, the violin is effectively a teacher unto itself -- the way it plays encourages the kid to naturally respond to its feedback, becoming better. And then it's fully suitable for competition use, can produce what's needed if a kid gets to solo with orchestra, still blend fine in chamber music and in orchestra, etc. That's pretty darn difficult to find even in quite expensive violins.

If someone's got a $6k violin that does all that, and is suitable for a kid who's able to compete in the Menuhin, I'd cheerfully take it off your hands. Seriously.

Edited: October 29, 2019, 8:50 AM · Ok, if you look back at my OP, Menuhin is quickly followed by :). I am sorry if the wording was unclear, I meant she is on track to be at a point of being competitive to go to a good conservatory, to consider a professional track.
She is 11, currently very committed. But anyone who says they know what their 11 year old will do at 16 or 17........
The argument was made to me that if the two American
fiddles were made today, they would be much more, because the maker would need more to make a living. Hence the bottom of the new maker violin being around 12K.
And that given the ups and downs of popularity, the new were not necessarily more likely to increase in value.

October 29, 2019, 8:58 AM · And I agree with Lydia about the violin being a teacher.
We have had good older German fractionals @2K and I think it has benifitted her. And frankly, she has been noticed, resulting in opportunities she might not otw have had. I know that has not all been the violins, but I think it has helped.
Edited: October 29, 2019, 9:08 AM · @Matthew Metz,

Sounds like you might have found two very good bench-made American violins that you don't need to mortgage your house for.

In a previous thread, @Francis Browne offered the following list for evaluating the subjective qualities of a violin at any price point. I think it is pretty good. I hope it helps.

“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 intonation (this really does vary by instrument and especially setup)”

Here is a link to the entire (long) thread:

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=3517

October 29, 2019, 10:10 AM · These were good. And the final selection would come down to some “blind”
testing with two teachers.
I will say that to my non violinist ear they were not as amazing as the Wilbaux and others she played a few weeks ago at the contemporary makers show in NY. In other words, they do not sound like 20k plus but the best in the range we asked for at 6-10k. We have a lot of looking yet to do.
October 29, 2019, 10:01 PM · As I mentioned in that thread, Francis's list is a very bare-bones minimum -- a minimum bar to pass for even higher-end workshop violins. Somewhere, I think in one of David Burgess's threads, there's a much deeper list, across a couple of respondents, of what to look for in a truly excellent violin -- i.e. for serious pre-professional students.
October 29, 2019, 11:02 PM · LOL anyone want to chip in for a bounty on finding that thread? Be interested to read it...since I'm on the hunt as well.
October 29, 2019, 11:13 PM · I spent the last 30 min looking for it but cannot find anything.

Lydia, any more hints?

October 30, 2019, 6:38 AM · Knowing the dubious capabilities of the search feature on this site, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.
October 30, 2019, 6:52 AM · use google
October 30, 2019, 7:33 AM · Regarding George’s list my daughter had struggled to make her harmonics in Czardas as well as she wanted. When she played the violins at the Expo in NY every one she played produced nice sounding clean harmonics without a struggle. Could have also been the 6K bows.
Thanks for all the discussion, it’s very helpful. It would likely mean a loan for
us, especially if we went higher. I’m an artist craftsman so I am drawn to the idea of supporting a maker. But likely will focus on these two shops due to time and distance.
Edited: October 30, 2019, 9:14 AM · Regarding ease of playing harmonics, that could also indicate old worn strings.

In regards to tone, human beings, especially men, lose the ability to hear higher frequencies as we get older. Your daughter is likely physically hearing a violin's tone differently than you are!

And a Wilbaux violin was my favorite violin at the VSA a few years back. She makes lovely violins.

Edited: October 30, 2019, 3:17 PM · What I most love about Wilbaux is actually her violas. I tried one at a VSA exhibition that had a lovely resonance, and unusually for violas, an ease of response.

I dug up this old thread, but it wasn't the one I was thinking of: 2012 LINK

Another thread: 2017 LINK

My notes on last year's Reed-Yeboah exhibition and what I did to try violins: LINK

And a great article by Michael Darnton: Understanding Violin Tone

October 30, 2019, 5:50 PM · Thanks for the links, Lydia.
October 30, 2019, 6:04 PM · Does Wilbaux make cellos too?
October 30, 2019, 6:36 PM · Yes. One of the readers here might have commissioned a quartet from her; I'll leave it to him to speak up, though.


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