Price point at which more $$ won't necessarily be better?

Edited: September 10, 2022, 3:09 AM · I assume it's a pretty sure bet you can find a better instrument than a $500 eBay violin without having to test numerous $500 violins. You just *know* an instrument by a given maker is going to be superior, sight unseen.

Is there an approximate price threshold beyond which you feel an instrument has to be tried to know where it falls on the continuum? I.e. at which point it's entirely possible one instrument can potentially be equal to or superior to others priced many times more?

A scenario like "My violin was $X,000 and I've never found one I felt was truly superior including half-million dollar instruments I've tried."

Replies (39)

September 10, 2022, 3:14 AM · 5 million $
September 10, 2022, 4:36 AM · I completely and totally disagree with Lyndon.

The price point at which you are just picking preferences and not quality is arround 25.000 to 30.000 usd. That is what top makers today are charging for new top instruments which for the great part surpass the volume and tonal qualities of the old instruments.

Old instruments have other qualkities which new instruments can not posess - history, name, prestige, etc... That's it.

September 10, 2022, 4:46 AM · rubbish, you're buying into propaganda
September 10, 2022, 5:31 AM · I guess, in a sense, the question is this:

At what price point is the BEST $_____ violin as good as the best violin, period?

Sound is too subjective for a real answer, but I'd say somewhere around 50k.

Edited: September 10, 2022, 5:35 AM · Lyndon, so, what you are saying is that old Italian makers had this special sauce, that made their fiddles that much better?

Any reasonable explanations?

September 10, 2022, 5:33 AM · Also, I'm fairly certain Lyndon is being sarcastic.
September 10, 2022, 6:04 AM · No, you are of the opinion that top soloists are idiots for preferring Stradivari's and Del Gesu's and the only reason they're not playing Burgesses is because they care more about their image than the sound.
September 10, 2022, 6:41 AM · Tony's answer makes sense to me (acknowledging that maybe some ultra rare, historic instruments might be more valuable).

What are the price points on contemporary luthiers? What are the gradations between, say, unknown makers, well-known makers, and top flight makers? What *do* the most expensive modern violins cost?

September 10, 2022, 6:53 AM · $100,000 about, $30,000 doesn't even buy you the top makers
September 10, 2022, 8:02 AM · Kind of sad I asked :)
Edited: September 10, 2022, 8:14 AM · I am sorry to report that the premise of your question is erroneous. Violin pricing has nothing to do with tone. Tone is both subjective and malleable. Violins are priced based on:

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

There are many poor and mediocre but expensive violins made by well-known makers, and there are many excellent but inexpensive violins made by lesser and unknown makers and workshops.

There is no demarcation of price based on tone.

Edited: September 10, 2022, 8:19 AM · Since "superior" is subjective and varies with instruments too, all you can get are personal opinions or anecdotes, not any universal answerrs George just posted. My favorite anecdote is a $5k violin (mine) being chosen by a soloist over a $4m Strad to play in concert.
September 10, 2022, 8:28 AM · I don't have a ton of expertise in this area, but from what we have experienced, you need to be up near $100,000 to pretty much guarantee the instrument is really good (though there are some crappy Strads and other violins with amazing provenance but terrible sound that might break this rule).

My son recently received a loaner violin for a competition. His personal violin is a modern instrument by a not terribly well-known maker priced at $10,000. The loaner is a French violin probably in the $40-50K range. While it is somewhat of an improvement (particularly in ease of playing), it is certainly not 4x or 5x better or even 2x better. It's a slight improvement in sound, and a significant improvement in playability. I'm not sure if this says more about the $10,000 violin being underpriced, though!

When he was at the competition the luthier there said the loaner still wasn't near enough of an instrument for him, and it definitely was difficult for him to project on it with full orchestra. So, yes, $50K violins still can have significant faults.

September 10, 2022, 9:04 AM · Susan, my experience with (general) bow and instrument prices is that the scale is logarithmic. Of course, first you have to define your variables and attempt to quantify them.

But having done that, using base 10 logs:
log 100 = 2
log 1,000 = 3
log 10,000 = 4
log 100,000 = 5
log 1,000,000 = 6

and so on. The real question is "What is the increment worth to the buyer?"

The thing to do is to try to find the outliers and buy one of them. They are out there!

Edited: September 10, 2022, 9:15 AM · Don, what is the provenance on that Stradivari, was it ever played by any well know soloists, is this the instrument owned by an amateur collector, Doc something if I remember, that keeps making the rounds in Southern California?
September 10, 2022, 9:19 AM · Actually at any price point, a more expensive violin, even much more might not be any better, but also at almost any price point a better violin can be found for more money
Edited: September 10, 2022, 10:00 AM · Lyndon, I don't know exactly what Strad it was, but it was played (and owned?) by the concertmaster in the orchestra. He had a short solo in the concert, so I could hear both instruments played onstage. The Strad was all high-frequency... clear, maybe a bit "jangly", but missing the low and midrange power and projection needed for the soloist.
September 10, 2022, 10:18 AM · I don’t think the OP question is being answered… I don’t think that it’s about at what price a violin can be guessed “top shelf”

Let’s reverse the question. At what price can you safely asume that a cheaper violin is worse?
In a way… from what price down you would not even pick it up in the shop to try?

Edited: September 10, 2022, 11:23 AM · Don, that's what Strads sound like when they have multiple thick layers of French polish on top of the original oil varnish, this is where the story of bad Strads comes from, that and poorly done and too many repairs
September 10, 2022, 11:13 AM · Which orchestra was this??
Edited: September 10, 2022, 11:57 AM · Carlos D'Agulleiro

September 10, 2022, 10:18 AM

I don’t think the OP question is being answered… I don’t think that it’s about at what price a violin can be guessed “top shelf”

It's basically at what point do you feel it's in the realm of plausibility that it might be on par with great instruments, you have to try it to reach a conclusion.

The answers I've seen so far are fine, even if they're conflicting. I've seen where someone's $5k instrument was regarded in a particular scenario to be preferred over a Strad, by someone with presumably fairly refined sensibilities. Seems like a feather in the cap of whoever made the less expensive instrument.

September 10, 2022, 11:41 AM · You can Take a $300 Chinese instrument and find a known maker for $20,000 that sounds worse, that still doesn't mean the $300 is a good as a $20,000 violin

Just like this $5000 violin sounds better than a ??? Strad, that doesn't mean this $5000 violin sounds better than most Strads, just this one in particular, and to one person

Edited: September 10, 2022, 6:36 PM · Lyndon Taylor

You can Take a $300 Chinese instrument and find a known maker for $20,000 that sounds worse

Can you say you've personally ever experienced an actual example of this? I'm certainly no expert but having looked somewhat into what goes into making a good violin it just seems that if someone has enough of a rep where their instruments command that kind of money that if there were something discovered so fundamentally flawed with a particular project that the "abort" button would be pushed before it was offered for sale.

Isn't it correct that certain aspects of factory-made violins aren't even done the same way as better instruments - for ex. that the back and belly plates might be steam-pressed or CNC routered instead of painstakingly hand-carved, the wood isn't selected or aged the same way, etc.?

September 10, 2022, 12:30 PM · You have no idea how badly repaired and set up an instrument can be
September 10, 2022, 12:31 PM · Does a million $ violin sound 10 X better than a $100,000 violin? Probably not. Incrementally better, yes, like the difference between coming in first or second at the audition or contest. Agreed with Andrew: A pseudo-scientific graph of the relation of quality to price would look logrithmic(?), Significant increased value/price at the low end, and rather flat at the high price end.
September 10, 2022, 12:39 PM · Lyndon Taylor

September 10, 2022, 12:30 PM · You have no idea how badly repaired and set up an instrument can be

I'm sure you're right but I'm assuming instruments in good condition.

September 10, 2022, 12:41 PM · At any price point there are violins that don't sound as good as they cost, and at many price points there are violins that sound as good or better than they cost. So with that information its hard to make a logarithmic curve that makes any sense.
September 10, 2022, 1:31 PM · "Violin pricing has nothing to do with tone. Tone is both subjective and malleable"

Violin pricing roughly correlates with tone, response, and projection. No, it's not a perfect correlation. But over large numbers of instruments it is valid. Most violinists (and listeners) will prefer a Scarampella over a Roth, a Lupot over a Lannini, or a Bergonzi over a Craske. Many makers, especially as they mature, are able to turn out instruments with similar qualities, and the broader market, over tens of thousands of violin sales and three centuries, has reflected that. Violin characteristics are somewhat malleable, but not infinitely so.

September 10, 2022, 1:53 PM · If you’ve ever been involved in the sale of high-end violins, you’ll know that tone is not unimportant. True, there is a lot of subjectivity, but there is such a thing as a bad-sounding example, and word tends to get around about them.

When a professional player comes in looking for a high-end violin, the process starts with showing several instruments within the budget. Any one of them that doesn’t have the right sound for the money gets knocked out pretty quickly. In some cases, sellers will keep a few bad-sounding but expensive instruments on consignment in order to use them as cannon fodder against the instruments they actually want to sell, but that isn’t any guarantee of a sale. Players with considerable means will travel all over the country to try instruments from multiple shops against each other.

This is true even in the lower end of the professional range. Not long ago we had a customer at the shop who had gotten 15 different violins from all over the country to compare. Tone was definitely a part of that process, not just price.

September 10, 2022, 2:59 PM · Lyndon - data scatter and the standard deviation is large.
September 10, 2022, 4:27 PM · Don - that was a violin you made that was used instead of the Strad?
September 10, 2022, 6:13 PM · At any given price, the violins that you'll find will have enough individual personality to be worth trying out. Even the cheap eighth-size fractionals that I tried out when my son outgrew his rental 1/16th were meaningfully different from each other, both in personality and objective traits of sound quality/response. (My son immediately picked out his favorite after I played a couple of notes on each, and had a strong opinion when he tried each himself, and after more playing, I agreed with him.)

When I shopped for a bow a couple of years ago, I tried bows from many shops along the east coast from DC to Boston -- along with bows sent from B&F in Chicago (that's where I eventually bought from). If you're spending enough money, the travel is effectively part of your budget.

There are certainly crappy really expensive violins. I've tried more than a few to which my reaction has been 'meh', or even 'bleah'. (Antiques sitting in shops for a long time are probably not great violins. The great ones get snapped up by players relatively quickly. Now, the personal collection of a shop owner is a different matter...)

Edited: September 11, 2022, 8:49 AM · Buyers and sellers exchange violins for money all the time without ever hearing them. Most violins are wholesaled without the buyer ever playing them. People commission violins from makers for ten's of thousands of dollars when it is literally impossible to hear the violin before paying for it.

Violins are bought and sold for pre-determined prices based solely on the criteria I listed above.

Dealers bring out violins with pre-determined prices for buyers to try ("within the budget") without knowing what tone the buyer may prefer because they are not priced based on tone. One player's terrible tone is another player's wonderful tone. People have different ears and different tastes and different perceptions of "good" tone.

And don't forget about the role that bows have to play in the tone of a violin, and bow preference is also highly subjective.

If tone had anything to do with price, there would be some Strads selling for hundreds, and some Roths (for example) selling for millions, and a simple soundpost adjustment or a string change could raise the price of a violin by orders of magnitude. That is just not the way pricing violins works.

September 11, 2022, 10:31 AM · @ George. I agree with your statements regarding pricing. The one thing I might add however is that highly reputable makers command the highest prices and those instruments are "more likely" to sound good to "most players". Although sound is highly subjective. Certain aspects of violin sound and response are generally more sought after. I have found this to be especially so amongst modern instruments.
September 11, 2022, 11:01 AM · There is yet another factor: the cost versus the financial value. Limiting this to contemporary violins, you can spend 30K on an excellent violin by an unknown maker but its value (for resale) may instantly plummet to 10K because of 'lack of provenance'. OTOH you can spend the same amount on an equally good violin from a luthier that has begun to be recognized as 'investible' (for want of a better term} and the resale value only drops to 20K. Its a factor that too many purchasers do not consider when they buy.

The question is did these violins cost the same? Only in the very simplest sense. Older workshop violins (such as my back-up Wolf Bros one that I have) are less affected by the wiles of the market in that the resale value is pretty well set and very unlikely to change markedly, even over the longer term.

September 11, 2022, 11:46 AM · George wrote:
"Buyers and sellers exchange violins for money all the time without ever hearing them."

George, while that is true, it is done with heavy reliance on the past record of these violins sounding good, or being perceived as sounding good, or being easily modified to do so. So sound isn't really ignored, even if it might appear that way to a casual observer.

September 11, 2022, 1:27 PM · Yes, some violins are purchased unheard, but this is done by experienced dealers who are good at predicting the results they can get out of the violins they buy. It is bit of a risk, and the auction houses are full of the mistakes dealers have made.

The shop where I work buys from several shops abroad, but nothing is purchased until we’ve flown a trusted player over to try everything out. Anything that he doesn’t like stays at the shop. His instincts have proven to be excellent over the last several decades. We also buy from some new makers, but buying their instruments is contingent on them sounding good. If we get any that aren’t good, the get a strike against them. If it happens again, they’re out.

September 11, 2022, 3:15 PM · Very subjective. The sound of any instrument is a combination of the musician and the instrument.

What isn't discussed is that the high-end instruments are unforgiving. Unless you play with exceptional skill, you will not get the sound that the instrument is capable of producing.

I remember that Tessa Lark is reputed to have said that she had to up her game to play the instrument she won the rights to play in a competition. Apparently, the high end instruments demand high end musicians.

I've personally experienced this. It took me years to get the same sound quality out of my violin that my teacher and other professionals could make with my instrument. Also, I've tried a lot of instruments that are above my price range and I know I never met the limit of that more expensive instrument.

If you are a multi billionaire you can buy yourself the most expensive violin for sale on the planet. Will that make your playing sound like one of the great performers playing the exact same music? Highly doubtful.

September 11, 2022, 4:49 PM · "Buyers and sellers exchange violins for money all the time without ever hearing them."

People watch golf on TV. That doesn't make it right....

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