Who's buying all these violins?

Edited: October 3, 2017, 12:05 PM · There are Chinese and other factories churning out violins constantly, seemingly endless smaller shops all over the world and hobbyists who give making violins a crack. There's an ocean of used violins on Craigslist, Ebay, pawn shops etc. There must be hand-me-downing that goes on.

It seems amazing that there's enough of a market for new instruments to keep all those making violins afloat.

Replies (32)

October 3, 2017, 12:31 AM · Well, obviously people in China are buying these instruments. There is a huge market in eastern Asia. Your question sounds a little Ameri-Euro-centric.
Edited: October 3, 2017, 12:39 AM · Your question sounds a little Ameri-Euro-centric.

Not sure where that came from or what part of my question wouldn't be applicable anywhere in the world - I specifically used the phrase "all over the world". Is the sale of used violins forbidden in China?

Edited: October 3, 2017, 12:52 AM · I have two thoughts:

1. The world is bigger than we think it is - globalism has connected us closer than before, but there are still 7,510,000,000 people out there. That's a lot of people, that's a lot of potential market. For however many violins that are made in a year, it's no where near that number. The population of the USA is 323,950,000 people. China? 1,370,000,000. Those are probably two of the largest markets, and they're large. The European Union clocks in at 509,670,000, likely another major consumer of mass produced violins, as well as producing their own workshop instruments (Romania, etc). That's not taking into account violin consumerism outside of the western world - India and much of Asia - not just China - have a strong demand for violins.

2. Western cultural consumerism. A lot of the mass produced instruments are not that great - replaced and disposed of over time. I wonder how many end up in landfills or closets, effectively 'out of circulation'.

In addition: Hobbyists who give making violins a crack likely don't sell many if any of their product, and high end luithers are really a different market (and not a market share) of lower end instruments.

I'd say you need to pick a price point to split the hair at in order to get a meaningful response. Anything that will last longer than a single player is very survival of the fittest. A bad violin won't be passed along for very long, but a good one might be in circulation for generations (think strads!). The lower quality the instrument the less likely it is to remain in circulation for an extended period of time, so the saturation isn't so bad once you get out of the sub 5K category - I suspect, at least.

October 3, 2017, 3:20 AM · Competition is not a new thing in the violin market. The Hills mention that the competition with cheaper Milanese violins lead to the decadence of violin making in Cremona.

It is interesting also, that in the end of the 19th century many italians frowned upon the violins produced by the local makers and praised the French factory made violins, that is mentioned by Eric Bloc in one of his books.

The names of the top makers today is about the same of 10, 20 years ago, perhaps.

Think about other crafts, 40 years ago there was a taylor near you, they all have gone. But some have survived, so that if you want a custom made suit, you will pay a mint for it, it became a posh thing. The same will happen with bench made violins.

Edited: October 3, 2017, 5:20 AM · We have no numbers on how many violins are actually sold. There might be thousands laying in warehouses. If they don't move the factory probably re tools and makes something else for awhile.

I notice many ebay violins not selling.

The drop out rate for hobbyist players is high.Still many buy and at the least try them. Many violins are bought and end up in a closet or at a flea market. Many of those who stick with it are buying second and third violins because they made bad choices earlier.

New students are buying or renting instruments all the time and these are also usually on an upgrade path eventually.

Different "tiers" of players and their expectations of the instruments differentiate price points and chosen vendors.

Like anything else it all balances out. Supply and demand.

October 3, 2017, 5:52 AM · There are a lot of rather new markets opening up with not many old instruments in it. China, India, Russia (although the violin got played there quite some time there are still not as many available as in Eu/us) and even Africa.
October 3, 2017, 5:55 AM · I think a lot of violins end up in closets and attics.
October 3, 2017, 7:49 AM · Yes, many new markets in Asia. I recently sent one of my violas to Hong Kong.

A big percentage of students in top music schools is constituted by Asians.

In Asia we see new concert rooms, concervatories etc. being inagurated. It is rare to see that here.

Bruno Giuranna told me that the situation of Italian conservatories is bad today.

Edited: October 3, 2017, 8:56 AM · Timothy has noticed that many ebay violins aren't selling. A few weeks ago I put up a functioning violin from a decent Schoenbach workshop, Jan Basta, without huge expectations but hoping to recoup my total outlay of about £90 with a little interest. It received nearly 1000 viewings, 17 watchers and 3 bids all from Asia, the winner being £64. I'd said I was prepared to ship it worldwide for no more than the actual cost, but the winner then declared his bid to be a "mistake" and cancelled. That was OK by me!
October 3, 2017, 9:30 AM · I wonder this about many things. From the sideline it seems little demand from such large numbers. But, it must work out fine because if someone wasn't meeting their profit lines it wouldn't be happening.
October 3, 2017, 9:32 AM · Steve - re: Ebay sales - when selling an instrument I recommend putting up a decent quality video on Youtube with particular attention to the audio showing what the instrument can do and embedding it in the auction - eliminates the pig-in-a-poke factor.

I have some decent recording gear and sold an inexpensive but nice sounding and playing Chinese flugelhorn on Ebay and included video (audio recorded separately and sync'd) which I believe contributed to getting almost double what I paid for it. I actually got considerably more than the original Buy It Now price.

Edited: October 3, 2017, 10:12 AM · I'm surprised that one didn't sell Steve. It seems a fair price for a decent violin.

I like to see the option to return. I agree with Scott. I like to see good pics or videos.

Ebay seems more tilted to the buyer which can be a good thing.

I know this is jumping the subject some, but I can't help also considering the better made Chinese instruments as compared to the others. Is this in answer to the Asian appetite for instruments they can actually use to a pro level?

Are there higher end Chinese instruments set up individually by local luthiers of superior quality?

Is this all marketing mumbo jumbo or is there some validity to this example ?- https://superiorviolins.com/products/elisa-damiano-violin

It looks as if he has commissioned a Chinese company to make these specifically for his company. I'll admit, the violin sounds good, especially for this price.

* Ducks and runs*

October 3, 2017, 10:28 AM · There are high-end instruments made by individual Chinese luthiers, that cost the same as other contemporary master-made instruments. Some of these luthiers no longer live in China (for instance, Scott Cao, who works out of the Bay area). The late Ming Jiang Zhu made fine instruments of his own, but he also lent his name to workshop instruments under the MJZ brand.

Asian pros are, as far as I know, pretty much like pros anywhere else -- many are playing antiques, and the rest on fine contemporaries made by the best luthiers in the world (Chinese or not).

October 3, 2017, 10:34 AM · I did link the ebay sale to a still audiovisual clip (Yeti microphone/Audacity with reverb added) on youtube. One of the unsuccessful bidders complimented the violin's tone!

The advice of my friendly guru is that when selling a cheap violin on ebay it's a mistake to give the impression you know anything about what you are selling! People like to have a punt in the hope they're getting a bargain.

October 3, 2017, 2:26 PM · Another group of violins and violinists that hasn't been mentioned in this thread is fractional violins. Professional-quality fractionals are fairly uncommon, but not impossible to find. There are many child-aged violinists in the world. Also, fractionals get passed around a lot because kids constantly grow out of them. It is also fairly common (especially with fractionals, I think) for violins to sit in a closet unused for a period of time and get passed on to siblings and friends. What about the market in South America, Central America and Australia?
October 3, 2017, 3:01 PM · Chinese "factory" violins are sold all over the world, at a rate of about three hundred thousand per year (last I heard, if I remember correctly, and if the factory reps in China weren't lying to me).
October 3, 2017, 3:48 PM · Lydia, it's a good thing that Chinese violins wind up in attics and closets. In 50 years time, after the labels have faded away, a certain small fraction will inevitably be reborn as Stradivari.
October 3, 2017, 5:46 PM · When you look at buy it now options on ebay, you can easily make the mistake of thinking these instruments are actually selling for those prices, fact is very little of it is selling and much of it is so overpriced that it never will sell.
October 3, 2017, 6:16 PM · Most violinists own multiple instruments. Primary, secondary, outdoor, and so on.
October 3, 2017, 6:37 PM · I've asked a similar question about many other things. Who buys all those new cars on the lots? Actually,
who buys all those Chryslers and Fiats? Now that's an interesting question.
And those "Smart Cars"? Who is buying all those? People who want to save money and buy a combined coffin/car?

The world is awash in stuff. Everything, including violins, have become commodified. It's probably why growth has stagnated in most western countries.

Too much stuff. Including violins.

October 3, 2017, 6:57 PM · Our entire economy is based on the idea that people will buy way more stuff than they need, that people need an endless array of choices. Just look how many different kinds of dog food there are.
Edited: October 3, 2017, 7:59 PM · "Just look how many different kinds of dog food there are."

And I haven't found a single one of them I find to be particularly tasty. :)


October 3, 2017, 8:04 PM · Sampling dog food is kind of like sampling cheap Chinese violins off ebay!!
October 4, 2017, 12:34 AM · At least sampling dog food I don't get splinters in my gums. :)
October 4, 2017, 6:40 AM · I have a MJZ workshop violin as a backup for outdoor performances and travel. Several of my friends also have workshop instruments from Cao, Snow, MJZ, etc. for similar purposes. The principal second violinist in our orchestra has a Snow viola that she bought used from a college student so that she could diversify a bit and get more gigs.

I bought a violin with decorative carving off ebay once out of curiosity; it was so pretty, I figured if I didn't like the way it sounded I could turn it into an art piece. (At the moment, it is on the wall in my practice room, displayed inside a shadow box.) I also have an inexpensive viola that I bought so I could find out if I really did have the time/inclination to pick that up on the side before making a larger investment. I've enjoyed trying it out and building skills in the practice room, but I'll get a better one before I start advertising myself for viola gigs.

October 4, 2017, 8:25 AM · David Burgess said on October 3, 2017, 3:01 PM · "Chinese "factory" violins are sold all over the world, at a rate of about three hundred thousand per year..."

At that rate, if all these new violins were given away to newborn children each year, 99.7% of the children would not have a violin.

There are a LOT of people in the world.

October 4, 2017, 9:21 PM · The Chinese factory made violins are usually for practice or secondary instuments. There are plenty of people destroying violins- ex) toddlers who first learn the violin and is not careful, people who forget all about it in their garage, violinists who take cheaper ones with them it trips and them being damaged, etc.

Also the huge population of china and sevral other big countries are developing in economical, cultural ways these days, so maybe they are the ones who buy those.

However, I dont think this only goes bu violins. Think of things like smat phones, cars, hairpins, sissers are all being constantly made.

October 7, 2017, 5:03 AM · Anyone have decent figures for French factory violin production rates for example? According to this - http://violininformation.webs.com/tradeinstruments.htm JTL alone produced around 150,000 instruments a year. Given the population growth, the Chinese production volume in comparison doesn't seem that high.

"These instruments are very plentiful and some can be very nice." plus ça change..

October 14, 2017, 7:34 PM · "Chinese "factory" violins are sold all over the world, at a rate of about three hundred thousand per year..."

At that rate, if all these new violins were given away to newborn children each year, 99.7% of the children would not have a violin

I don't know the exact numbers but I'm confident a very high percentage of children don't have a violin. :)

October 14, 2017, 8:38 PM · I don’t think the population is growing so much but that the economic growth is playing a great role at enabling more people to afford violins and violin lessons.
Edited: October 14, 2017, 9:20 PM · Am I the only person who thinks that it's a beautiful thing that the world is flooded with violins? I am more than a tiny bit scared to see so many guns are made and sold in some country.
October 14, 2017, 9:42 PM · Yixi, you are not the only one. A world flooded with violins is a beautiful one.

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