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Why are new violins under 5k (or even 10k) so awful?

August 16, 2022, 2:30 AM · I understand that student-level instruments don't have everything one could want, but in comparing a modern chinese $4000 student violin to a $4000 Roth from 50 years ago, I feel the Roth is leaps ahead. I assume the Roth was considered a student instrument in its time, and yet it at least has all the characteristics which would enable it to operate as a proper violin. Compare this to a modern student level violin, which has a dull, unresponsive tone with no projection.

And I've noticed this time and time again: every time I play a NEW instrument under 10k (and especially under 5k), it's just awful. I haven't found any exceptions.

Are there any NEW, brand-name violins under 5k, or even 10k that aren't complete garbage?

And, if others feel the same as I do, why is this the case? Why are new student violins so bad?

I have some hypotheses, such as this one: perhaps the influx of self-taught beginners (or ones with bad teachers) with money to burn has leaned the entire sub-$5000 in the direction of "warm (dull), easy-to-play" violins. These always seem to make beginners very happy to play initially, but when put in competent hands they are missing many important things, such as clean response close to the bridge with son file. The entire sounding point range seems to have been moved far away from the bridge, which once again makes beginners pleased because it allows their over-the-fingerboard bows to sound decent.

So, am I right? Has the student-violin industry shifted its aim to comply with the desires of lower-level players? Or has the entire standard of quality just sunk down due to ample demand?

Are there any decent brands in that price range which offer new violins with proper response across all sounding points? Or should I just keep looking in the antique violin category forever?

Replies (63)

Edited: August 16, 2022, 3:37 AM · Because a good violin needs individual hand-crafting. There are some living makers in the UK whose violins can be had for less than £10K (e.g. Christopher and Elspeth Rowe, Philippe Briand) but not many and not by much. In the US I'd commend the William Harris Lee workshop, at least for their violas. That's the sum total of my experience.
August 16, 2022, 3:50 AM · Steve, that still doesn't explain why student violins from 50+ years ago were so much better. Roths, for example, were still made in a factory setting.
August 16, 2022, 3:53 AM · Regarding the perceived quality of old instruments, it's a survival bias (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias). Old violins in shops are not good because they are old; they get to be old because they are good. Bad violins don't survive more than one or two generations before ending with the ragpicker.
Edited: August 16, 2022, 4:46 AM · Erik, maybe Roth is exceptional? Not many seem to have been sold over here (I've never seen one I could try out in a dealership or at auction) and in my youth it was always understood that for my first "proper" violin I'd have to go for an antique. After bothering a lot of dealers I came away with a 1920's violin by a superior amateur English maker. Today that would cost in the order of £4-5K and make someone a pretty satisfactory intermediate instrument.

btw, what do you think of William Harris Lee? In some ways their product resembles Roth in that their instruments are often anonymous as regards maker and they give them model numbers instead. I'm sure a lot of hand-crafting went into WHL and Roths too, and in the 1920's Roth may have found it financially advantageous to export a lot to the US at relatively low prices.

August 16, 2022, 5:22 AM · Erik, where are you seeing them? $4000 is kind of a weird price point--much higher than the typical beginner violin but not yet over the hump into a higher quality.

I have several Chinese violins bought for kids and they do vary some, but as a parent they seem mechanically fine and sound "good" to my ear (not dull or tinny, as were some of the earlier fractional instruments). These are ones that sell $500-1500. This summer I played an old family-owed factory German violin that's 100+ years old and one of the Jackson-Guldan violins. I would say the German violin was a little dull and the Guldan was loud and bright.

I also see the two previous comments making sense: (1) the good violins survived and (2) Roth may have been a better-than-average maker.

August 16, 2022, 7:11 AM · I have had several students find good violins in the $3000 - $5000 range and excellent violins in the $5000 - $10,000 range. I can’t answer your question because it has not been my experience at all.
Edited: August 16, 2022, 12:41 PM · I was shopping in the sub-$5K price range earlier this year -- and recently resumed doing so -- and that hasn't been my experience either. I'm currently trying to acquire a decent instrument for fiddling -- something that I'm willing to risk outdoors in good weather, but has the projection, color, contrast and response of a decent violin. (I'm playing outdoor competitions, solo, so sound quality matters. Bonus if it pairs well with my JonPaul Avanti bow.)

Indeed, earlier this year, in the $3.5k - $4k price point I found so many acceptable instruments that I decided I'd drop my price point and keep looking. (The less this costs, the better.)

In the $4k range, I generally preferred older German workshop violins, but there were some new Chinese ones I liked as well.

Dropping down into the $2k-$2.5k range now, I'm preferring the new instruments to the old ones. I'm finding that the new instruments sound significantly better paired with the brightness of the CF bow, which is something of a toss-up since I can use my regular wood bow outdoors and it is meaningfully better than the CF. (The Avanti is perfectly fine but does not have that 'plays itself' quality of a great bow; it does what I want, when I'm conscious of "programming" my arm for precision.)

If anything, I think the new violins I've tried -- all the way into the $20k range -- tend to be bright and loud under the ear. The opposite of warm and dull, in other words. They are optimized for the upper register, and their brightness is exacerbated by the fact that they're strung with Evah Pirazzis or PIs or Visions.

Certainly what I'm trying new at the $3k-$4k price point is better than the (far more expensive) handmade American contemporary my parents bought for me as a full-size when I was a kid.

Worth noting: The quality difference between ~$2.5k and ~$4k is huge.

Right now I suspect it'll be a toss-up whether I buy in the $2k-3k range or end up spending a little bit more, but I'm reasonably certain that I can find something that will be more than acceptable. (The delta from my regular instrument is huge, of course, but that's completely expected.)

As a side note, I haven't encountered an older Roth in this price range. At least around here they're going to be $7k+, afaik.

August 16, 2022, 10:47 AM · I have a brand new 3k instrument that sounds wonderful. It deserved a much better bow. And with Obligato strings it's even better.
August 16, 2022, 11:05 AM · I have a violin I bought new two years ago for £3500. I really like it, my teacher likes it, and my luthier likes it. I recently spent a very happy afternoon trying violins out at the luthier's up to about £10,000 and didn't find anything better.
August 16, 2022, 11:48 AM · This is interesting to hear, because I would have said the exact opposite. The vast majority of good-sounding violins my daughter tried this year (in the $4000-$10,000 range) were actually new(er) instruments. While we found a few good no-name older ones, in general we were finding you got a way better instrument for the dollar if you went with a new maker. I guess the caveat to this is that the primary shop we use has a close association with a school of violin making, and all employers are violin makers. So we likely were seeing instruments from some of the better new, younger makers.

I will agree that we didn't find anything good sounding, either new or old, in the under $4000 range.

August 16, 2022, 12:22 PM · If you haven't already, try looking at the "shop" violins from William Harris Lee (as others have mentioned) and Robertson & Sons in Albuquerque. There are definitely violins under 10K that are quite nice.
Edited: August 16, 2022, 2:28 PM · My immediate reaction when I read the OP’s comment is that I wonder where he’s looking. Perhaps the shop(s) he’s visiting just don’t have much to offer in that range or don’t do setup and adjustment.

The price range mentioned is often considered the “sweet spot” for shops, because it’s one that is approachable to a wide range of players and allows a good array of options in new and old violins. You could find an excellent old German or Czech violin, or a good quality Mirecourt instrument, perhaps a lesser known English violin, or even a modern Italian workshop violin. All of these violins can be played at a professional level. At the lower end of the price range, you might find some good modern German or Eastern European instruments, and there are some very well-made Chinese options. There are some highly skilled Ukrainian makers putting out wonderful violins in the sub-10k range; I’ve seen a lot of these.

The comparison to 50-year old Roths seems a bit odd to me. Post-war Roths are nowhere near the level of the pre-war violins in workmanship, and the same can be said of their tone. One made in 1972 and unaltered would not compete well with a lot of the other violins you could buy for $3000-$4000, new or old. There are some who make use of the name recognition to alter the newer ones to sound better and relabel them as pre-war to get more for them in a sale because the newer ones are far less desirable. If you call a shop saying you’ve got a Roth, chances are there will be some excitement on the other end of the line. If you then explain that it’s made after WW2, that excitement will vanish rather quickly.

Assuming decent quality materials and workmanship, a lot comes down to the setup. Factory violins often come with a setup, but this does not mean the setup will produce great tonal results out of the box. To keep prices attractive, corners are cut somewhere, and setup tends to be one of the things that gets economized. A number of details such as neck shape and thickness, afterlength, projection, and nut shape at the ends, are frequently overlooked, but they can easily make a violin feel uncomfortable and therefore undesirable. Just getting a good setup on a violin can transform it.

All that being said, there are certainly a lot of instruments marketed in that range that sound awful. Despite what they may say in their promotional material, a lot of factory violins are made with wood that hasn’t been dried enough to be stable, and it tends to make for dull-sounding violins. However, there are still plenty of excellent new violins available that perform well above their price range.


August 16, 2022, 3:54 PM · My violin is a German-made, student level violin from the 1950s. Its sound is warm but a bit dull. Almost every modern workshop-range instrument I've played or heard sounds brighter and seems to project more.
August 16, 2022, 4:05 PM · Carlos: I do think survival bias is a possibility.

Steve: I haven't looked at William Lee Harris violins before. I'll have to check them out.

J Seitz: I've tested in local violin shops but more so when students have ordered from online shops such as Shar. Scott Cao is one example of a brick and mortar shop that disappoints me: their student violins have a tendency to start sounding OK when brand new, and then within a few months have dulled considerably. My guess is wet wood.

Mary: Would you mind sharing the brands of the good violins in the 3-5k price range? I should reiterate that this thread is specifically about *new* instruments; I have found plenty of decent violins in that price range that weren't new, brand-name instruments. Also, were these instruments capable of playing major concertos?

Lydia: I'd be curious what you end up buying, if it is indeed a new violin.

Ann: What is the brand of your violin? Have you tried much more expensive violins so you have a proper reference point for where yours lies in the grand scheme of things?

Tony: What is the brand name of your new violin?

Susan: I think it largely depends on the shop. I've noticed that shops that specialize in more expensive instruments seem to have pretty bad antique instruments in the sub 5k range, but maybe that's just due to a lack of selection. The good ones get bought quickly, then, due to slow replacement for that price range, only the crappy ones are left. Then, comparatively, the new violins they have in stock seem better. Meanwhile, you go to a shop that specializes in repairs/restorations and tends to have a bunch of older violins in the 2-10k range, and I've found that the older instruments are much better there. Still, it seems your experience was similar to the ones I've had, in that finding a "Good" violin under 4k is quite difficult ("good," to me, means it can play major concertos decently).

Karl: I'll take a look at those! I really like the idea of being able to tell a student to order a violin online, and then be pleased with its sound. Generally, if I have a student who wants something decent, I have to go with them to a physical shop and sort through quite a few options. I don't have them order online anymore.

Rich: This thread is about the difficulty of find a good *New* brand-name violin in that price range. I am usually able to find something decent if I go to a shop and sort through their antiques (meaning anything 40+ years old.... I know that the word "antique" means different things to different people). I understand Roths are very different pre-war and post-war, but that's why I think the comparison is perfect: a 1968 Roth was very much a true "Factory instrument", which to me puts it in the same class as new factory instruments. And I still find it substantially better than most new chinese violins in the same price range. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the quality of woods used: I do feel I've gotten to the point where I can immediately hear if a violin was made with wet wood. And most new chinese violins that I've tried seem to have this characteristic. You mentioned "there are still plenty of excellent new violins available that perform well above their price range." Would you mind giving a couple of examples (preferably closer to 5k)?

August 16, 2022, 4:24 PM · Erik:

Jay Haide models are good

Fevrot models can be hit or miss but I have a Fevrot viola in your lower price range and it is perfectly satisfactory.

I would never encourage any student to buy a violin that they could not play a major concerto on. Most of my students do get to that level. Are these violins that would take them through conservatory, no, but can they play an acceptable Lalo on them? Yes.

August 16, 2022, 6:52 PM · "What you get" is a challenge with violins. I bought a used violin primarily for the Musafia case it came with ($500) but the violin itself is a nice Karl Becker (a Chinese model sold in Chicago and in Asia). I think the person I bought it from paid $1200 for the violin but I've seen the same model listed for 3000 euros. Presumably this is the same instrument with the same setup. Considering how hard it is to tell a good violin from a bad one, I honestly don't know how shops can price violins fairly. I think violins come out of China graded but then what happens to them after that is kind of a mystery. Certainly setup is important, but does change the price $2-3000?

Cao is an interesting example. They seem to start at $1300, but have several models that are 2-5000 and supposedly one going at $25000. What's the difference? I'm guessing it's the same wood and process? Hard to know.

Edited: August 18, 2022, 9:16 AM · I'm playing viola in a string trio with a teenage violinist. His violin is a relatively new Ming-Jiang Zhu violin that probably cost around $5000 (his parents can afford much more, but they're inclined to be sensible). Likewise I paid $3500 for my MJZ viola several years ago, so in today's dollars that would probably be around $5000, too. I love the sound of the young man's violin and I've received many compliments on the sound of my viola, from professional players. I conclude that MJZ makes a good advanced-student type of instrument.

Erik, maybe you just like the sound of Roth violins.

Edited: August 16, 2022, 9:22 PM · Oh, yes. I know several major-concerto-level string players who play MJZ workshop instruments priced in the $3k-$6k range. MJZ and Jay Haide L'ancienne instruments seem to be mainstays in high-level amateur circles, and they sound fine playing major concertos.
August 16, 2022, 10:11 PM · It's funny that MJZ is mentioned, as that is one of the crappy violins I have in mind. A student bought it while I was on hiatus; his teacher at that time had him order some instruments from Shar and that's what they chose.

I find the sound to lack projection, clarity, and to be feisty close to the bridge (and not in a good way). Yes, it is an OK instrument, but I feel that for 4000 dollars, one should be able to get a lot more.


I probably shouldn't have mentioned Roths at all, as that seems to be getting too much attention here. I was just using them as one example. Plenty of other older german violins I have tried were just as good. My main point was that brand-new violins, for the price, seem crappy to me compared to older violins at the same price point.

However, based on what others are saying, perhaps my experience has just been skewed.

August 16, 2022, 10:16 PM · I recently bought a new handmade violin for $7500 that I would have easily paid much more for. It definitely deserves a better bow though and I'm planning on starting the search soon. I found it when I returned a trial instrument and he had just finished it. I played a few notes on it and was instantly hooked. It gave me the exact sound I was looking for, but at an affordable price.

I know a grad student at my university that plays on a Jay Haide. I thought she was playing on a violin much more expensive before she told me she was playing on a Jay Haide. So I can attest that Jay Haide violins are good.

August 16, 2022, 10:20 PM · A Cao selling for $20k+ will be one of Scott's own handmade instruments that he's done himself, just like any other contemporary single-luthier-made violin.

At least 20 years ago or so when I tried his violins, he was quite a good maker. (He won a lot of VSA awards back in the 1990s.)

Edited: August 16, 2022, 10:30 PM · Thing is, my experience has been the exact opposite: it's the older German violins that sound warm but lack clarity and projection, while the newer violins are brighter and project more.

Admittedly I'm not entirely sure what price point I've been looking at, because most of the old violins I've tried have been inherited violins (mine and my friends').

Edited: August 17, 2022, 3:17 AM · Interesting that you say that, AndrewH, as my French violin is warm and lacks projection, and I had been assuming that one day I'd find a German violin that would offer a contrast. However, the strings do matter. Recently I've found that Visions sound a lot better on my Breton than Dominants, so I'll be trying Vision Solos next.
Edited: August 17, 2022, 9:23 AM · About 10 years ago I arrived at a conference having left my violin at home as I'd beeen told it would not be needed, only to find that a violin would be needed. So I went into the Aberystwyth Music Shop and bought a Piacenda for some £200 (perhaps $250). It wasn't as good as my regular violin, but I would not describe it as "so awful". Long term it may need planetary pegs fitted, but that's about it.
August 17, 2022, 9:42 AM · Christian Harvey's response above mirrors almost exactly what happened to me 3 years ago today! I walked into the Violin Shop Tampa with no intentions to buy an instrument - only to look. I played on several high-end instruments that ranged in price from $15k to $35k. Then I played on one with no label that just blew me away! Turns out it had been finished a week before by the owner of the shop, Dereck Coons. He kindly accepted my violin as a trade-in and I paid the difference, which was a lot less than what I would have had to pay (or could afford to pay) for a violin of that caliber. I've been a happy violinist ever since!
Edited: August 17, 2022, 11:51 AM · My experience has also varied from the question stated. I own a Scott Cao 750 David copy which I bought for around $1200 seven years ago. I play it quite regularly, alternating with a modern American instrument from about 20 years ago that is several brackets up.

I also played a Jay Haide lAncienne in the same shop and it was definitely competent, though the shape of that model didn't agree with how I play.

My Cao is indeed warm (which I like), but definitely not dull (if it errs, it's rather bright), and it responds pretty well to close-to-bridge bowing, though not quite as well as my American instrument which will let me sit right on the bridge all day long. The Cao has more under the ear volume, though a bit fewer overtones, more responsive dynamic range, and appears to have pretty good projection. It initially appeared to have a distinct weakness in projection/overtones above seventh position on the E string, but Larsen Il Cannone strings fixed that pretty nicely, as long as paired with a good bow.

If anything, the Cao (Chinese workshop) instrument is more demanding in terms of bowing precision, angle, attack, etc, than my American instrument, but responds quite happily when I get it right. Most of the time when it doesn't respond, I am the one getting something wrong, and my job is to figure out what.

I found the Cao to be very sensitive to which bow, SR, etc I use - when I first played it in the shop with a random (Coda cf) bow, my response was "this is a good violin that makes the sound I want, hmm", but when I played the same instrument in the shop with my Bausch (maybe real), my response was "this instrument is going home with me immediately" as its basic sound reminded me of a 20k modern luthier instrument I'd recently played.

I think (?) the Cao 750 line is shop-setup, so your mileage may vary based on the skill and taste of your shop. I played a Cao 850 setup in a different shop, and was quite underwhelmed. Either I got super lucky in my 750, or the 850 was badly setup, or variability is high.

I recently tried two higher level (4k-8k range) Cao instruments in the same shop I bought from, and while they looked way better than mine (wood, fittings, antiquing, etc) and were pleasant to play, I'm not actually sure they sound _better_ than my 750 (which I didn't have on hand for a direct comparison). But they were definitely instruments I would have felt fine paying that sum for had I needed one.

Note: I wonder if having even a good shop mail you $Xk instruments is really representative of the class of $Xk instruments as well as walking into a good shop and trying a bunch.

August 17, 2022, 12:16 PM · Erik,

For violins right around $5k, the first few that come to my mind are:

Federico Fiora’s workshop violins made in Cremona

Eric Caldwell—now that he’s no longer living, there aren’t more new ones coming out, but he made a lot and they’re still circulating

Klaus Ludwig Clement

Modern Polish violins—there are a lot of them popping up lately

Meteny Workshop violins from Brussels

Edited: August 18, 2022, 7:09 AM · While not even a qualified amateur player, I have atypical interest in violin for my level of play, tone, appearance, workmanship, age, provenance..., you name it.

Nonetheless, my experience is overall consistent with everyone but OP.

Try to be unbiased (or probably less biased), I have seen good Chinese violins under $4K as fore-mentioned, and also good old German/Bohemian and French, especially made in 1920s, probably of a slightly higher price.

However, at $4k (not referring to the flea market tag price), an old Roth would be very likely a piece of firewood while a new Chinese, on the contrary, a good player.

Just for demonstration, all three violins in the YouTube videos below are priced well under $4K. As expected, none of them sound like a Strad; however, they sound quite different, and I would not rank the Chinese at the bottom among them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaNhxPEw85Y
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN7NWvjiNa8

August 17, 2022, 5:50 PM · Cao is an interesting example. I mentioned them as an aside but they now have a factory line, a Chinese workshop line, and then a US line overseen by Cao himself (but apparently not necessary made by him). It probably works from a marketing and business sense. I guess other lines do this too (Yamaha). I was kind of complaining about this approach, but I guess in some ways it makes sense in helping to steer people towards a set of instruments that match their needs.
September 5, 2022, 5:16 PM · I will briefly come out of retirement for this one and maybe a couple of other subjects and then probably disappear again.

I have a collection of about a dozen violins. One is about 100 years old and the rest were all made after 2000. More than half are Chinese. My latest discovery is a maker named Wang Zhiguo. I currently have three of his violins. Having tried many violins - including American and European ones at exhibitions and auction showings from New York to Cremona, it’s my considered opinion that Wang Zhiguo violins would be competitive in such showings, both in terms of tone and workmanship. And they can be had at this time for well under $2,000! I’m not his agent but have bought through his agent.

If you want more info you can contact me at violinist@rkviolin.com. I don’t expect to hang around for long here.

September 5, 2022, 5:47 PM · As Erik requested, I'm reporting back on what I ended up purchasing.

In the $4k range, I felt that a lot of stuff was effectively fully adequate. I could have taken one of those violins -- what I liked was mostly older, but did include two new Chinese -- and not been unhappy playing them in ordinary circumstances, even if they were worlds away from my usual violin.

My hunt in the $2k-3k range was significantly less pleasing than the hunt in the $4k range. Every instrument represented a meaningful compromise in some way -- the kind of compromise that I was constantly consciously aware of because it required consciously adapting.

In the end, I purchased a 1930-ish John Juzek from Weaver's. At $2k, I thought it represented very good value, and I won't have to worry about dragging it out into the sunlight, heat, and humidity, or getting the occasional bump-and-ding. It has a pleasant tone (and sounds good when amplified), clarity under the ear and reasonable volume in a session, and predictable response. In other words, it's well-behaved.

I liked a couple of Konos at the $2,600 price point, but I felt their sound was more raw by comparison, and the greater brightness and punch wasn't worth the additional $600 to me.

Edited: September 6, 2022, 1:17 AM · You can pay $2000 for your Wang, or buy a quality antique from me for much less than retail!!
September 5, 2022, 6:05 PM · A variant of survivor bias: probably many of the brand-new instruments that arrive in a shop haven't been set up optimally. And the staffer in charge of getting it ready to sell or rent might not be the best adjuster in town. Give them a few years of small tweaks, string changes, etc., and they stand a chance of being more reliable.
Edited: September 6, 2022, 12:45 AM ·
Decades ago in Los Angeles, I was in an antique shop and came across a violin and bow outfit for $150. I purchased it, and subsequently, it was appraised for $250. (It was a german, factory produced, violin.)

A couple of years ago, I took it to a local, respected luthier, and he took it on consignment to sell for $2500!

So I would suspect, were you to pay $5000, you would be purchasing what you might consider to be a $500 violin.

September 6, 2022, 8:10 PM · I was going to post a link and forgot: YouTube - the Juzek outdoors

(Harder to play in tune, between the music in the background, and the faintly unfamiliar physical feel.)

September 6, 2022, 8:15 PM · Nice playing, Lydia!
September 6, 2022, 10:10 PM · Lydia, you and the Juzek sound great!
September 7, 2022, 12:34 PM · I'd actually extend the price of poor instruments much higher. I won't say how high...

My best answer is that the violin is, physically, practically impossible to get a nice tone out of. Why?
It's too small, and the strings are too short and all of uniform length. That's a recipe for something that sounds bad. String length is very important, generally the longer the better, just as in piano design.
Spinets sound like crap, and concert grands sound good. It's the limit of physics.

So, to make a violin that actually sounds good, the limits of physics must be overcome by either a genius like Stradivari, or a lot of expensive twiddling with the acoustics. This is the kind of work that a factory can't do.

Other than that, as we can see from the answers above, one's assessment of violin tone is quite subjective.

September 8, 2022, 1:54 AM · I do not think new instruments are worse than old ones at any price range. There’s just more pouring into the market (old ones are fixed in numbers) and the percentage of acceptable boxes is the same.

That being said - the more strings matter, the more suspicious the instrument. Good sonorous instruments will play well with any string, while crappy ones will disappear unless you use VST or EP or some such monster string.

Subjectiveness of a violin sound is also something that baffles me… especially because you never hear yourself playing from 30 feet away, so there is no way of knowing what you sound like to literally everyone else.

Edited: September 8, 2022, 2:57 AM · Neil and Scott, I've said this before, and I'll say it again.
It may be that the USA has a problem.
On two unrelated TV programmes I've seen status symbols in the USA bought retail with a price tag of 10 times what they were worth according to top auctioneers.

It's inflation - the rich can and will pay anything for status symbols, so their retail price sky-rockets. And a lot of people believe that a price-tag reflects an object's worth, so they pay what is asked. (this psychological factor is so great that, I remember reading 30 years ago, sellers were deliberately escalating prices because customers believed that price accurately reflected quality)

September 8, 2022, 9:09 AM · What something is worth is…what someone will pay for it. If some idiot buys a $30,000 watch, you can’t say it’s really worth $100. If gas was $2.50 last week and $4.50 this week, gas isn’t suddenly “too much.” It’s the price it is.

The US doesn’t have a unique problem with status or high-status goods. ALL humans seek status—it’s one of the imperatives of human adult life, whether it’s expressed in how many pigs or water buffalo you own, how many scalps you took on a raid, how massive your pickup truck is, how manicured your lawn is, or what floor your office is on.

September 8, 2022, 9:33 AM · I've only tried a new instrument once, a violin made by the Snow String Instruments that cost less than 1K. I thought it was pretty good. It was set-up well from what I remember and had a good-sized sound; I didn't have any problems playing closer to the bridge and pulling a larger sound.
Edited: September 8, 2022, 1:01 PM · 50 years from now, new violins won't sound like they do now. I'd bet antique violins sounded like new violins when they were new. Age matters, but many other things matter, too.
September 8, 2022, 2:45 PM · For Violins at any price level you still need to shop around. Some low end factory violins come through the assembly line playing a lot better than their price tag, by dumb luck. I have test driven a number of pricey violins with pedigree that I thought sounded ordinary, worn-out. And the Violin needs to match your playing style, the ideal sound that you mentally strive for, which has a lot to do with how you use the bow.
Edited: September 8, 2022, 3:26 PM · Also, is a $5k violin a status symbol at all? We're talking about workhorse instruments typically used by advanced students, serious amateurs, and some freelancers, not antiques from famous makers. If you're an amateur, I guess you could say it signals the ability to drop $5k on a hobby, but the cost isn't immediately apparent to other people, it's probably being played among other musicians who have instruments of similar quality, and instrument prices tend to only enter conversation when someone in the conversation is either shopping for an instrument or trying to sell one. And almost everyone who is looking to buy a $5k violin is probably well aware of what professional violins cost.
Edited: September 9, 2022, 2:41 AM · Violinist is your status, currently a high one for reasons that escape me. Any equipment is symbolic of it.
As to value, I hate that old classical economics crap. "If I buy a $1k violin for 10k it's worth 10k". Yeah, have fun reselling it.
September 9, 2022, 8:31 AM · If someone buys your $1k violin for $10k, it’s now worth…
$10k.

This happens all the time, in all sorts of markets, with all manner of goods. People make a living out of flipping. Yes, it may be hard to resell a $1k violin and get $10k, but it happens frequently enough.

For example, as a piano technician, I’m always amazed at how many people pay outrageous prices for terrible pianos. Why? Probably magical thinking. For some reason, people tend to research some products, like gadgets or cars, obsessively, but not musical instruments. They’ll just trust a story about an instrument: “The seller’s great grandmother was a concert pianist!”

Of course, people invest poorly in many other goods as well: For example, based on Jeep’s perennial reliability problems, no sane person would ever buy one. But they do.

September 9, 2022, 11:55 AM · Then count me among the insane. I own a Jeep, and have had three prior. They've all been great.
Edited: September 9, 2022, 1:31 PM · Scott,

I think it’s too much of a simplification to say that Violin prices are set just by supply and demand or by the highest price for which one has previously sold. I do agree to an extent that the price is determined by what the market will bear, but things can sell for more or less than their value.

Price history plays an important part, but that’s looking at trends over time, not the most recent result. Keep in mind that the price paid for a violin can be affected by many factors like condition, provenance, the venue, or even whether it’s being auctioned for charity vs. a regular auction or a private sale. An unscrupulous seller can sell an instrument for more than its actual value to a buyer who trusts without knowing what he ought to be paying. Last year I saw a customer who had bought a Chinese factory violin at a teacher’s request. The teacher had led the student to believe it was a modern Italian, and they paid $20000. The proper retail for a violin like that would have been $2000 at the most, and the wholesale would have been half that on a good day. At the other end of the spectrum, someone can decide to sell below value to make the instrument more attractive to buyers if it’s sat around unsold long enough to annoy them. Of course, there are a few examples of instruments selling and that immediately affecting their market, but that’s an unusual circumstance, and a lot of it has really come down to provenance. Sometimes it just comes down to finding the right market for violin.

Looking at the automotive analogy a little more, there’s a common saying about Jaguar: you have to buy two so that you’ll have something to drive whenever one breaks down. That’s something you could call a reliability issue and an insane purchase. Yet the demand for the brand remains strong. There are a lot of reasons for making a large purchase, and consumer reports and data sheets don’t tell the whole story.

September 9, 2022, 4:07 PM · That's a really cogent and insightful post, Maxham!
September 9, 2022, 4:39 PM · Rich, was that teacher ever prosecuted? I feel their name should be publicly known.
September 10, 2022, 12:12 AM · Under 5k may be a bit hard but I think there are good very violins under 10k; for example, I have a Holstein Premium copy of the Lord Wilton; made by a single luthier. It's priced at just under 6k with taxes, etc. I also have a new Italian made Sarmiento violin that is worth about the same. Both violins sound better than any new instrument I've ever played under 15k. I did try a large number of violins before settling on the Holstein though.
September 14, 2022, 5:27 PM · Absolute monetary value is impossible to determine, but can be estimated by an experienced appraiser. The fair market value of any goods and services is defined as the price negotiated by a knowledgeable buyer and knowledgeable seller in a free market environment, without government distortion. Most young violin students and their parents are naive; they are vulnerable to paying too much.
September 15, 2022, 1:44 AM · It might be hard to prove in a court of law that the teacher intentionally deceived their student into buying a 2k instrument for 20k, but that doesn't mean that they should have no social consequences (thus, my request that their name be released).
September 15, 2022, 1:53 AM · But what if the instrument was worth $20,000 and its the student that has it wrong??
September 15, 2022, 3:25 AM · OK, I think I've found the best way to express it: -
The answer is because a violin that's worth 5k to an American is worth 500 to a non-American.
September 15, 2022, 3:26 AM · Based on how I'm interpreting Rich's story, it seems that Rich's shop is the one that determined the approximate value of the violin vs the price the student had paid.

So, either

1) The student is lying about paying 20k
2) Rich is incorrect in his assessment of the real value of the instrument
3) The teacher made an honest mistake, and actually thought the violin was worth 20k when he recommended it to his student
4) The teacher was "in" on it with the dealer and split the earnings.

Edited: September 15, 2022, 9:33 AM · Applying the principle of the Internet Razor, the most outrageous and disgusting of the various options is the correct one.
September 15, 2022, 10:01 AM · Why can't violin teachers get their kicks by just stealing batteries from 7-11 like the rest of us?
September 15, 2022, 12:31 PM · In America, the accused should have a presumption of innocence. As Erik postulated there are several possible truths to this outrageous story.
September 15, 2022, 1:42 PM · The customer’s parents bought the violin from the teacher in their home country before coming to the US, so I don’t know the name. When the violin came into the shop, the family had already started to wonder about it a little. My understanding was that they’d been to another shop previously that had simply told them they wouldn’t touch the violin but didn’t offer an explanation. It came unlabeled with no appraisal or certificate and had been sold to them directly by the teacher. The way they described it, the teacher was well known in their city and would often sell instruments to his students. They said that they never dared to question anything, partly because they trusted the teacher, partly because they were worried that it would bring dishonor on them to question the teacher.

The student had ended up wanting to find another violin, so the family came in hoping to trade their violin in. I say they had begun to wonder about its authenticity because they’d realized that there wasn’t any real information about their violin, and I believe they’d shown it to someone who said it didn’t all add up. The owner of the shop where I work looked at it and could easily tell its origins immediately. Had there been even the slightest question, we would have told the family to show the violin to one of the violin experts for an opinion. Italian violins have identifying characteristics, and the violin in question had none of them. It was obvious that the violin was rather new, and it had bright white wood on the inside. When they said what they’d paid, I asked several questions to make sure they really meant they’d paid that much in USD, not that there was confusion with the number of zeros or that the currency had been another kind.

It was heartbreaking to witness the family processing the news that the teacher they had trusted had cheated them. Unfortunately, that kind of thing does happen, especially in certain areas.

September 15, 2022, 2:08 PM · @ Rich thanks for providing clarity. It seems quite despicable indeed. As always, Caveat Emptor.
September 15, 2022, 3:17 PM · Greed kills. Hate when teachers take advantage of their students and parents that have been supporting him/her all that time.

It is sad, but I take for granted that all teachers selling instruments are "in it", and they have to prove me wrong. People use the "but I have to survive!" excuse to commit the most dishonest actions. Earn your living doing what you love with all honesty. Do not take advantage of those who trust you. "But my money!" is not worth these unethical, cruel actions.

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