Who would buy an antique 1/4 size violin for more than $2,000?

November 13, 2020, 11:43 AM · I have heard many say that the sound does not vary that much from the cheaper ones below $500 and the expensive ones above $2,000 due to the limitation of the small size body. Then what’s the upsides of owning a more expensive one, like those from France, Italy, Germany with 100 years history? Any dealer on this website who could share some insight am based on their experience?

Replies (23)

November 13, 2020, 1:19 PM · If it is well-made, it can be a lovely collectable, just be sure to keep it away from children.
November 13, 2020, 1:48 PM · Or maybe it sounds really great and you have tons of money and you want junior to have the best instrument he or she can have for his or her lessons.
November 13, 2020, 1:51 PM · For the vast mjority of children a fractional size violin under like $800 is sufficient. They will grow out of it anyway and have to pass the instrument to a younger sibling or someone else. The really expensive fractionals can sometimes sound really nice because they are better made. They are worth it for very serious students who play at a very high level at a young age or a child prodigy type.
November 13, 2020, 2:10 PM · The wealthy parents of a prodigy.
Edited: November 13, 2020, 2:42 PM · Rent!!! Children have a tendency of getting larger and growing up.
Edited: November 15, 2020, 12:03 PM · I dunno if any of you have tried any pint-sized fractionals of late, but there's a pretty wide range of variance even in identical models of the same brand -- just as there is with larger fractionals and full-size. And there's of course variance between different price bands.

Most violin shops will allow 100% trade-in on fractionals, so it's not necessarily going to cost you a lot more than renting.

Between a $600 fractional and a $1,000 fractional at, say, a quarter or eighth-size, you'll notice a meaningful difference. (Even my four-year-old can hear and feel the difference.) The one thing that will unexpectedly sock you in the wallet, is that fractional violins aren't always sold as outfits. Much to my annoyance, my setting out to buy a $1k outfit to replace a one-eighth rental resulted in spending $1,500 -- because I had to buy a bow and a case as well. (Less out of pocket because the store allowed application of previous rental fees to a purchase.)

Rental fees at $45/month translate to $540/year. Rent for two years (or three years, if you count the bow cost), and you're breaking even vs renting -- and you own the outfit afterwards. (Smiley Hsu pointed this out in a v.com post a few years back over why he chose to buy rather than rent for his kid. His logic was that each time you upgrade, you get a slightly more expensive outfit, and by the time they're ready for a full-sized, the cost of the upgrade to a very nice student violin isn't painful.)

When you live in an area where Suzuki violin lessons are in a program that costs you about $125/week (because the cost of living is so high), trading up to a $2k fractional doesn't seem unreasonable relative to the total cost of the activity.

Honestly, a $2k fractional is still very much a student violin and is still going to have sound trapped in its tiny body. You might have some that hit the $4k or so price range (maybe a Nicholas Vuillaume or other antique high-quality workshop violin), and there are a few extremely rare, extremely valuable famous-name antique fractionals that are in the hands of prodigies. But a fractional under $5k? Probably just a kid with upper-middle-class parents.

November 13, 2020, 2:55 PM · The wealthy parents of a prodigy
November 13, 2020, 3:03 PM · I sell them at that price point and above quite frequently, not to mention fine small bows!

Nice Neuner & Hornsteiner fractional violins as well as very nice Mirecourt fiddles. I have sold small instruments by Jacques Camurat, A small David Van Zandt (beautiful and wonderful sonding 1/2 size!). I have a couple of small Bazin bows that come and go, and there is a wonderful 3/4 Espey that isn't for sale but does get loaned out on occasion.

A fine little fiddle can make a big difference.

You can not learn good tone from a violin with poor tone. Well, you probably can, but it is easier with a good instrument and bow.

November 13, 2020, 8:02 PM · I am not sure why people continue to push the myth that price is an indicator of tone quality, but that is not true for fractionals, either.

Violins are priced based on:

- Maker or workshop
- Condition
- Appearance
- Model
- Size and specifications
- Geographic origin
- Age
- Provenance

Not tone.

November 14, 2020, 12:21 AM · Price doesn't have a linear correlation with quality, but given a particular budget, there's a strong statistical correspondence between the general quality of violins at different price points.

I suspect that this is particularly true of contemporary Chinese workshop violins, where the quality of wood and workmanship is almost certainly segregated based on the "model" (and thus price point) of violins under a particular brand. That doesn't mean that there aren't happy accidents that might make a particular specimen significantly better than others of that model, or mishaps that might make a particular specimen significantly worse than others of that model, of course.

Having done this shopping recently myself, I will tell you that the typical parent probably doesn't have the patience to shop extensively for a fractional. I'm picky enough that I looked at a dozen instruments, of several brands, with an openness to price, and compared them to the available rentals. Spending an hour in a violin shop, masked, with a four-year-old, trying violins, is not for the fainthearted, I assure you.

Instruments were tried blind. I had picked my favorite with a handful of notes in mere seconds. (My son had the same reaction: "That one, Mommy." He liked it better when he tried it, too.) It wasn't the most expensive (though everything was within a few hundred dollars of each other), but interestingly, it turned out to be the oldest of the bunch. Even with the cheap bows, I could feel differences in handling (again, not the most expensive, though bows were in a narrow price range).

No one really cares about "traditional" violin-buying factors in a fractional unless you're talking about a historically significant antique. Shops price these violins at what they think they can get for them. The manufacturer's price will determine the effective cost of contemporary violins.

Edited: November 15, 2020, 4:17 AM · Me on another forum, paraphrased: -
"In 1920 aged 4 Yehudi Menuhin expressed a desire to learn the violin. His parents (not loaded - dad is a schools inspector, mum a housewife) are given 800 bucks (10,000 in today's money) by a relative and they spend half on a car and half on a violin. Then 4 years later he acquires his first Italian violin, a 7/8 size, so his 400 buck violin was how small?
OK, if it had been 4/4 his parents might have taken investment advice, but I don't see that much investment advice around for fractionals. So, why did they spend so much?
The one clue is that he sang, so if he sang like an angel by the age of 4, that might explain it."
Edited: November 14, 2020, 11:35 AM · Peter Pan.
November 14, 2020, 8:47 PM · Here’s a half size violin labeled STEFANO SCARAMPELLA that sold for 23K at auction (Estimate 30-$50).

https://www.skinnerinc.com/auctions/3007B/lots/61

November 14, 2020, 9:47 PM · I wonder what the buyer thought it was. The auction says "labeled" and not "by", as it would have said if the appraiser actually believed it was a Scarampella. To have hit that price would probably have required multiple bidders with an opinion of a much different attribution.
November 15, 2020, 10:41 AM · Thanks for all the different opinions, which are very insightful indeed.
November 15, 2020, 6:54 PM · Stradivari made a pint-sized violin, which was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston until recently. (Must see where it went-- it was owned by the Kolisch family, I think.)

Allegedly better varnish than the Messiah-- so I'd pay a bit more than $2,000 for that.

November 19, 2020, 11:48 AM · Why would you buy a kid a $2K violin? If my kid was good enough to play a $2K violin, I'd definitely think about it. Right now he plays on a $150 fractional sized violin that I did some work on so it plays correct. If he gets good enough when it's time to step up, I said I'd buy a better quality fractional. Maybe $500. I guess if someone out there had 4 times as much cash in the bank as I do, $2000 wouldn't be that much of a stretch to justify. Of course the real question is how I justify paying that much for a violin for myself! ha ha!
November 19, 2020, 7:57 PM · People spend that kind of money on hobbies all the time. Think about what people spending on gym memberships, sewing machines, golf clubs, a nice set of power tools, etc. Or even just taking a vacation.
November 19, 2020, 9:03 PM · My daughter played Jay Haide from 1/2 size and traded up as needed. I would certainly do it again. Even though you only have to buy one, a good piano costs way more than that, count yourself as fortunate :-).
November 19, 2020, 9:34 PM · Yes, I tend to agree it is worth it if the sound is good for the prize. If I had a child I would most certainly consider it for him/her, knowing how much easier it is to learn on a better instrument rather than the cheapest you can get by. And I am not by any means wealthy. Of course I am biased as a violinist first and foremost, but I do not see a vacation or expensive hobby as important as gifting my child with a decent fractional violin he/she would enjoy learning and growing with.

Consider giving your kids the best you can afford, within measure and your budget.

November 20, 2020, 3:05 AM · Lydia's last comment on other hobbies and holidays/vacations is what finally swung me. I had no idea what an amateur should spend on a violin until a friend pointed out that the money I had was what many people spend on a vacation each year, and I haven't been on vacation for 20 years.
Edited: November 20, 2020, 1:51 PM · People talk about using money to buy experiences rather than using money to buy Stuff. But we can't ignore the fact that Stuff usually creates experiences, if of a more mundane everyday kind. For instance, if you are choosing between a big-screen TV vs a vacation, the vacation is probably going to generate more singular memories, but the big-screen TV is likely to make your life better every day for several years, especially if you watch a lot of TV. Same thing for a violin if you practice regularly.

November 20, 2020, 5:00 PM · My daughters first violin was off Amazon, second from Shar, but 1/2 and 3/4 were older German fiddles. Judged them in blind test with teacher against
Cheaper ones.
I feel like it made a difference to her- the feedback loop of good sound and playability. And sounding better has given her opportunities. And we were buying from one shop so trading in over several years so not dropping one big lump sum. And having that trade in value in the end for her full size made that easier. Hopefully it will last her through High School. But 1/2 and 3/4 were right under and just over the 2K, have no regrets and don’t believe it’s that unusual if you have a kid who is committed.


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