Is it worth it to buy a violin in Cremona?

Edited: May 27, 2021, 12:21 PM · Hello,
I am soon finishing high school and planning to study the violin at university and I need to upgrade my violin. We could probably afford a violin of 2000-6000 euros and I wonder:
1)If it is worth it to visit Cremona to buy a violin in that price range?
2)If there is a place in Europe where I can buy a good but not very expensive violin near me (I live in Greece)?
3)Are violins in Greece cheaper that those in other European countries or in Russia?
4) Will a violin in that price range be enough for a music university in Europe(ex. Germany)?

Thanks a lot,
Nikoleta.

Replies (30)

Edited: May 27, 2021, 2:14 PM · All the violins in Cremona in that price range were actually made somewhere else. I'd be surprised to see a bench-made Cremonese violin for under US$10,000, but maybe there are younger/lesser makers who offer their violins at those prices. I've heard there are good violins being made in Romania, southern Poland, etc.
Edited: May 30, 2021, 3:40 PM · Nikoleta, I can't tell you about Cremona, but I'd guess Paul is dead right.

(Edit to delete a controversial statement.)

If chosen wisely, an instrument in this range could be sufficient to bring you comfortably through conservatory and even further. But it's also easy to find a real cucumber for €6k.

For a bit more, around 8k and eventually slightly negotiable, I know about an exceptionally good bench made new violin by a young, highly talented Austrian maker new on the market.

Pauls suggestion about Poland or Romania is good. Nowadays there aren't any trade secrets anymore, and in these regions wages and cost of living are much lower than in Cremona or any western European country.

I cannot advise you about makers in Greece, unfortunately, but if buying abroad you should also consider travel cost which would be significant compared to your violin budget. Therefore it would be of advantage to find a suitable instrument "immediately" at your first trip. Therefore, traveling to a place with major violin shops and a significant selection of instruments would seem like a big advantage to me.

Another option could be to find a sponsor. A bit tricky though to find, but there are people equipped with quite nice violins who'd like to have them played. (For myself, unfortunately there's only a fine surplus cello at the moment... Don't expect you to move up...?)

May 27, 2021, 4:55 PM · Paul is right about Polish instruments. Polish instruments are really good for the money and can be real works of art if you find the right maker. You can find a real gem for the price of 6000 euros, especially if you get it directly from the source. €6000 equates to 42 shy of 27,000 in the polish currency. With that kind of money, you could get a really good violin from a Polish maker who works out of Poland. One that comes to mind is Jan Pawlikowski. I'm not sure how expensive his instruments can get, but I had a friend who asked about commissioning a viola from and it was going to only cost him around 4000 US dollars which is around 14,500 in the Polish currency.

There was a DMA student at the university I did my undergrad at who plays on one of his violas and it is magnificent despite being one of his older instruments. Didn't cost her that much either. I think she spent less than $8000 for it which I think is about 6500 euros.

There's also Wojciech Topa but I think his stuff goes for over $10000

May 27, 2021, 10:59 PM · If you want to travel to Cremona and buy a nice handcrafted violin add another zero to your budget. Otherwise get a decent workshop violin from Eastern Europe.
Edited: May 28, 2021, 1:28 AM · Find a local luthier who has restored/reconditioned 19th/early 20th century German (Austro-Hungarian/Bohemian) or French violins for sale and play them all. For 6000 euros you will find something excellent. But these things can take a little time - you may need to start looking now if you want to find one by September. You'll have to get your teacher to recommend a luthier.

(I guess I didn't see John's last sentence! I suppose the point is, don't go to Eastern Europe - get one that was made there)

May 29, 2021, 5:35 AM · @Nuuska, there is no such thing as a "Cremona bonus" charge. The reality is that there is no other city of 70K people that has well over 100 registered violin makers in business, almost all of whom have studied at the Stradivari Institute.

Between the competition and quality, it's actually a buyer's market.

May 29, 2021, 8:32 AM · I got a violin from Cremona. My parents bought it directly from a maker, Morassi. Back then 40 years ago it cost the equivalent of about 10'000USD. Now at Tarisio the highest price payed for a Morassi was 60'000USD. Not sure if mine is worth that much but I'm pretty happy with it.
May 29, 2021, 8:43 AM · GioBatta Morassi was my teacher at the violin making school. Since he passed away, the value of his instruments has shot up dramatically.
May 29, 2021, 8:48 AM · Dimitri wrote, "The reality is that there is no other city of 70K people that has well over 100 registered violin makers in business, almost all of whom have studied at the Stradivari Institute."

Now of course I respect Dimitri's opinion on this since he is obviously more familiar with Italian violin-craft than we are, but one does wonder why these Stradivari-Institute-trained violin makers don't venture elsewhere to establish their businesses if proximity to so many others creates a "buyer's market." I don't think there's any question that Cremona is a "destination" for violin-shopping and violin-tourism generally.

Maybe the two effects counterbalance one another?

Also although there may be no "Cremona bonus," there still might be a more generalized "Italian bonus" since "everyone" seems to agree that Italian instruments are somehow better than those made elsewhere.

May 29, 2021, 9:20 AM · @Paul, well most alumni of the Stradivari Institute - founded in 1938 - have indeed ventured elsewhere to set up their workshops. Otherwise there would be literally thousands of shops here!
Edited: May 30, 2021, 3:41 PM · (Edit to delete a controversial statement)
May 29, 2021, 10:16 AM · @Nuuska, living in Cremona and being a member of one of the craftspersons guilds, I have no knowledge of violins being purchased in Romania (or elsewere) and finished in Cremona as "real Cremonese". If you do, please do elaborate, with sources and names.
May 30, 2021, 1:14 PM · The only rational answer is that one must compare various violins and buy based on sound, playability, and price. If you travel to any specific place, including Cremona, you would have to also take with you several violins from different makers and compare them in different settings.

That would be complicated enough. But then you have to throw in the factor of how long the violin has been at tension. If the maker grabs a violin off the shelf that is a 5th low, it will sound fantastic...for a short time. It will seem like the easiest, most responsive fiddle ever. A week later, it will calm down and you will start to notice the wolfs, weak notes, and other imperfections. It's possible the maker may have THEIR choice of strings on, but that may be different than YOUR choice. For example, many shops think that Evas are the "best" strings to use, but I've never felt that way and had to put on my own combination of Dominants. So great, another factor because Dominants sound pretty bright, and even nasty, for the first two weeks until they too calm down. So there's that factor.

So what I'm saying is that there may be no objective way to travel to Cremona and make a fair comparison over a reasonable (I believe 1-2 weeks) time period in a variety of acoustic settings.

I have seen and played some modern Cremonese violins, but I couldn't say they were any better than many fine modern American makers. There is certainly a "critical mass" effect from having a large number of professionals of a given type in one locations, like movie or tv professionals in LA, or musicians in Nashville, or software talent in Silicon valley. It's hard to say whether that is true in Cremona.

It is fair to say, however, that Cremona does, to some extent, leverage its past glory, not unlike the Swiss watch industry.

May 30, 2021, 3:52 PM · Dimitri, I'm far from being an expert on Cremonese contemporary makers, and although I never intended to generalize, in fact my informations related only to one (or two?) persons / companies which I would consider some kind of free riders.

I have deleted the passages in question. It's only something I've read, and one should never rely on hear-say. Especially as long as I'm too busy with other things and can't afford digging deep for that d*mn source I couldn't find at the moment. As soon as I'll stumble over these questionable facts again, I'll forward them via a PM. And who knows, maybe it was a misunderstanding...

I hope you're OK with that...?

May 30, 2021, 4:14 PM · Cremona has the history and pedigree of violin making like nowhere else in the world. But I personally prefer contemporary American over Cremonese violins. I hate to generalize but that has just been my experience.
May 30, 2021, 4:24 PM · Scott Cole "The only rational answer is that one must compare various violins and buy based on sound, playability, and price."

True. Great makers in Cremona, the US, and elsewhere.

May 30, 2021, 7:22 PM · Dimitri, the point of hundreds vs. thousands is well taken. I didn't think of that.
Edited: May 31, 2021, 3:20 AM · @Nuuska, I'll save you the trouble. In the early 2000s The Strad published an article by a certain Laurinel Owen, where she quoted a violin maker (based in California) serenely stating "Cremona imports containerloads of violins in the white" to be finished as bonafide Cremonese.

This absurd and highly defamatory article resulted in a diplomatic crisis between the Cremonese elected officials and the magazine; it was resolved at a lunch (where I was present) and now The Strad publishes a yearly Cremona special.

Edited: May 31, 2021, 2:50 AM · I suspect the problem of finishing imported violins in the white and passing them off as self made is more of a problem in America than Cremona.
May 31, 2021, 9:53 AM · I was of the impression that there are luthiers and dealers in Cremona who import factory instruments in the white, finish and brand them as their own in order to offer a cheap alternative to customers. Perhaps they are transparent about the practice and not selling them as bonafide Cremonese. Of course this happens in the US as well. Sellers don’t usually advertise these facts and labels never disclose the original country of origin. Perhaps finishing and set-up provides a loophole in that regard?
May 31, 2021, 11:13 AM · Dimitri, If I recall correctly it was my SF bay-area luthier (in Berkeley at the time and now in El Cerrito, CA) whom she quoted for that remark.
Edited: May 31, 2021, 6:21 PM · There are questionable practices going on all over the world. Why would Cremona be an exception, not very far away from the home of the Mafia? Does one need to jump through hoops to set up shop space there? Not as far as I have been able to determine.

In my opinion, there are good, and not-so-good makers in Cremona, much like the rest of the world.

May 31, 2021, 1:14 PM · When the pandemic is over or at least "safer" to travel to the EU, one of the places I want to go to is Cremona. I even intend to get a violin "from" Cremona. But to be honest, it is more as a souvenir for me. I'm not necessarily looking for "the" violin. And truth be told, I will not be shelling out 30,000 euros either.

But that means the violin is not really made by a "Cremonese" maker you say? Well, maybe or maybe not. Besides, so what? The label says "Cremona", and I bought it in Cremona" ... lol.

Sidenote:

Sometimes folks buy violins from this or that place (i.e. Cremona as an example), because of the perception that they are better, and may very well increase in value over time.

False on both counts. Just check the internet for the price of your favorite violinmaker, and you will find that they're all over the place. Cremonese instruments do not necessarily sound better either. I've tried a few in my lifetime that both impressed me, and disenchanted me about the "myth".

IMHO, it is best to see violins as what they are -- "tools of the trade" that you can enjoy playing while your audience enjoy listening to, as you make (hopefully) beautiful music.

As others have already pointed out, there are other places to get a good if not even great sounding violin other than "Cremona".

But I want an investment too, you say? Look somewhere else to put your nest egg to retire on. Purchasing a violin is not one of them.

Just my .02 cents.

May 31, 2021, 1:50 PM · Plenty of people have made good money investing in violins. At least, isn't that what dealers do by trade?
Edited: May 31, 2021, 2:35 PM · It might be that you need to get another violin for your budget right now. But going to Cremona could be a fun adventure and certainly you could find great violins there and learn a lot about violins and violin-making at the same time.

It's hard to find a great violin for the money if you are not familiar with what a great violin is, period. So trying a lot of violins is important.

I've always wanted to go to Cremona - definitely on my bucket list!

May 31, 2021, 4:10 PM · Dimitri, it was more recently including names, but as I said...
Edited: May 31, 2021, 6:19 PM · buying anything that's fungible is easy- the internet, wholesale stores, discount stores, aliexpress, etc. are all good for that. If the goods are all identical, then all you have to do is find the lowest price and most convenient location or shipping. No brainer, but anyone who tries to buy a violin this way has no brains.

Violins, on the other hand, are a great example of a non-fungible good. Each one is a different from the others, and each one can be different from itself with a different setup, or just different strings or bridge. Beyond that, I may play one with my bow and technique, and it sounds different from the same one played by another player or with another bow. My main violin sounds like a completely different instrument when played with a friend's bow than it does played with my main bow.

So, there are no shortcuts or formulas. Just realize that, and as several other posters have said, try as many as you can, learn as much as you can about violins and playing, realize your limitations and get help if you need it. Anyone may find their dream violin in Cremona or around the corner from them. You don't know until you search and try them!!

May 31, 2021, 7:31 PM · The actual history of Cremona violin making had a gradual decline after Antonio Stradivari died in 1937. His death was celebrated in Cremona 200 years later (1937) with much fanfare and visits by at least 40 Cremona-made violins to festivities that also launched the International School of Violin Making in Cremona that has led to well over 100 violin making businesses in the city today. But there was a big gap in that trade for two centuries between those two events.

The romantic notion of CREMONA violins has always excited me - enough that I visited the visiting Cremona-makers exhibits three differerent annual visits to my favorite violin shop. There I played violins, violas and cellos from the cheapest (violins for approximately $10,000) up to the most expensive (cellos priced at about $30,000). In my opinion the higher price instruments had better sound and were more "playable" higher up the strings. (My favorites in all genres at every exhibit were the instruments made by Riccardo Bergonzi and they were the only ones I would have considered wanting to own.)

In my lifetime I have had brief opportunities to play on instruments made by Amati, A. Stradivari (2) and Andrea Guarneri - and one whose sound and playability put it in the same category (in my judgement) by a Chinese maker (whose name I never did hear right) - the owner had bought it in China, while he was living and working there, from the maker for the equivalent of $1,500 (which seems amazing - but I don't know when he bought it - so maybe not).

I would love to visit Cremona and spend a couple of weeks there walking to all the shops and trying violins, violas and cellos (not buying any, you understand - not at my age) but that will not happen because my legs are no longer up to the task, nor are my arms and hands - and my ears probably lie these days, so what's the point?

A late violist friend of mine did visit Cremona and commissioned a new viola from a maker. When it arrived at his California home sometime later some of the varnish and been ruined by the case interior and his luthier's attempts to repair it left it looking very sad.

I guess we are lucky when we get what we hope for, and probably should be more thankful for it than we often are and continue to be.

June 1, 2021, 12:10 AM · You can easily eat that budget in travel alone. If that's your budget it would be far better to go to a major city near you. You're still primarily looking at Chinese or Eastern European workshop violins in that range, and you can get those anywhere.
Edited: June 1, 2021, 1:04 AM · @Andrew, you are correct. @Nuuska, these articles come out periodically and are usually examples of journalistic sensationalism. Here are two facts to dwell over:

1. There is one maker whom I will not name, but yes he does have his lower-end instruments made in Germany and then he has them finished in his workshop. However, he discloses this information freely and does not try to pass them off as Cremonese master instruments.

2. The consortium of violin makers(60 members circa) will provide you with certification that the instument was wholly made in the maker's shop. That means retaining some of the excess wood and taking photos of the construction.

As David said, certainly there are some makers who bend the rules to a greater or lesser extent but they would tend to be those without a good reputation to protect, and in the suspiciously low price category.

In any event, now that the world is opening up again a trip to Cremona can be fun. And in every workshop you'll see people carving, gouging, scraping, sanding, and sawing and it's not just for show!


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