Violin in the $5K or Less Range

September 12, 2023, 10:50 AM · I am looking to buy a violin in the $5K or under price range. I am not able to go to many luthiers and violin shops in person because I am immunocompromised. I’m hoping to narrow the field down with suggestions and advice, and then try a few in person or via shipping. I want something that is playable, but it doesn’t have to project for performance. Tone is most important, while age or nationality of the instrument are secondary. I prefer a richer, deeper, darker, fuller tone, perhaps a tall order in this price range. I had a Klotz when I was young, but its thin, bright tone wore on me as I got older. I’ve read about instruments like Jay Haide, but they sound like they might be on the brighter side, tone-wise. I live in western NC. I'd be most grateful for suggestions.

Replies (46)

September 12, 2023, 1:11 PM · Jay Haide will probably not remind you of an elderly German, but they are one of the benchmarks for what is possible at around $2,500. Worth a look just to see what is there.
Edited: September 12, 2023, 2:21 PM · For $2500 I have EH Roths that will blow Jay Haide's away and older antiques for a warmer fuller tone, unfortunately I don't do mail order or internet sales, however the Jay Haide is basically the bench mark for Chinese crap, nothing more
September 12, 2023, 2:22 PM · When I was getting ready to buy a violin in about 2010, I tried a Jay Haide Balestrieri model that had a wonderful dark sound - much darker than their Guarneri model that I finally purchased. One of those might meet your requirements.
September 12, 2023, 2:25 PM · It is worth noting that Jay Haide is a large organization, and there are lots of different guys working away at their benches. A dealer with good access and a real selection process will have a definite advantage.
Edited: September 12, 2023, 6:53 PM · I would suggest that for a Jay-Haide instrument you contact the American founders and owners of the company, at Ifshin Violins in El Cerrito, CA.

You should be able to tell them exactly what you want your instrument to be like, sound like, play like. I would recommend their Euro models (I'll tell you why below). You should require approval and return shipping paid by the seller should the instrument not meet with your approval.

I have owned two Jay-Haide cellos (as well as two older cellos from the years 1960 and 1877). My second Jay-Haide is a l'Ancienne Stradivarius model that I bought from Ifshin Violins in early 2005. After I walked into the shop that day Jay Ifshin said "I have something to show you" and he picked up a cello that was on display and walked it and me back into one of their demo rooms and had me play it. It reminded me very much of a Carl Becker (well-known Chicago maker) cello I had a chance to play on at a chamber music workshop the previous summer. So we made a deal - trading in the previous model 101 Jay-Haide cello I had bought from him (for what I had paid) and some extra money. Once, in my years of giving cello and violin lessons after that a new (potential) student (almost aas old as I was) came for a lesson and he had one of the (then) new Euro Jay-Haide models (made with European woods) and it was a better cello than mine. That is why I recommend a Euro model.

The reason Ifshin had me at " I have something to show you" was that on one of my previous visits to his shop he walked through carrying a violin and asked me "Do you know what this is?" to which I replied "A violin," he answered "Antonio Stradivari, 1698, want to try it?" So in the back room I got to play that Strad (the 2nd in my life) and an Andrea Guarneri violin that I think had been making the rounds of Bay Area violin shops for a while (at $300,000), I'd seen and played it previously in San Jose. That Strad was later sold to the San Francisco Symphony (for $2,000,000). I don't know what happened to the Guarnerius.

Although I have not played any of the l'Ancienne violins, (one nice viola) and some cellos, but I know (and have played with) at least one "ringer" who subs in various orchestras with his l'Ancienne violins and violas.

I do not take issue with Lyndon's opinions on this subject.

September 12, 2023, 5:17 PM · I've heard the other theory on wood choice: that Chinese forests, whatever you think of the species growing there, are much more likely to have old growth. That would mean narrower, straighter grain, all else equal.

Anyway, there is almost certainly a difference, so see what you think.

September 12, 2023, 6:32 PM · I agree with Andrew that you need to find a good shop with an extensive inventory that can provide you with the level of service and experience that you need in your individual situation.
September 12, 2023, 6:36 PM · Jay Haide l'Ancienne violins are reliably quite good and very attractive in your price range and circumstances.
Edited: September 12, 2023, 8:33 PM · I agree with the l'Ancienne model. I never owned one, but almost did way back when I was moving up from my garage sale fiddle. In retrospect, I should have chosen it as opposed to what I did chose. You might be able to find one that has been around a while and has "settled in" some. There are shops that will ship for trials all over the US and you could describe what your seeking. Usually you're just out the shipping cost if you don't buy. I too do not take exception to Lyndon's comment. Remember too, most likely what you choose will someday not satisfy anymore and you'll be on the hunt again, so make your best decision based on what the circumstances are now.
September 13, 2023, 3:08 PM · I recently tried several Jay Haide violins at Triangle Strings in Cary NC. I was helping a friend select an instrument in this price range. They have a good inventory and excellent set-up. I was pleasantly surprised by depth, resonance and response especially considering the price point. We went to several shops and tried dozens of fiddles. She ended up buying a Jay Haide and is very happy with it.
Edited: September 13, 2023, 5:07 PM · I appreciate all the input. The Klotz I mentioned was actually purchased at Ifshin before the internet, and they helped me sell it years later. Got my Jacques Poullot bow there too. Lots of valuable feedback about Jay Haide. I didn't have an opinion about Jay Haide one way or another, or Chinese violins in general, but mentioned them because I figured the name would come up in this price range. Appreciate the few other suggestions as well. Thank you for the Triangle Strings suggestion, John. I could probably travel as far as the Washington DC metro area, but if I could find something closer, that'd sure be optimal. It's challenging to buy a violin when you can't safely go inside buildings, so the more I know in advance, the more streamlined my selection is likely to be.
September 13, 2023, 5:47 PM · For what it's worth, I bought my Jay Haide from Johnson Strings. They sent me a couple at a time to try and gave me a return shipping label. Other large dealers will certainly have similar arrangements. Best of luck with your search.
September 13, 2023, 5:51 PM · Always good to consider the source, as not every specimen will be as good as the others. Ifshin, of course, is one of the partners. Yung Chin knows one of the insiders, and can get decent examples. But don't assume that the first you try is as good as it gets.
September 15, 2023, 2:36 PM · I haven’t had an opportunity to play any of the Haide or Roth workshop violins, but I got a chance to play an instrument by the Snow workshop not too long ago. I thought it was a good instrument.
September 15, 2023, 6:03 PM · Another vote for a better 1920's era EH Roth.
Another contemporary maker in the SF Bay area with a wide product line is Scott Cao.
Edited: September 16, 2023, 4:47 PM · I own three violins by Wang Zhiguo. I own a number of other contemporary violins and have tried innumerable others at auction showings and at exhibitions of contemporary instruments in New York and Cremona. In my opinion, my Wang violins are concert quality instruments that would fit in very well in the above mentioned settings as well as also compare very favorably with many name older instruments both in tone and in workmanship. The last I looked- I bought my third one about a year ago - they were going for only about $2,000 or less! Prices are always subject to change but I doubt that these prices have changed too much.

When it comes to tone and response, it always comes down to the chemistry between instrument and player. The first Wang I bought, a del Gesu model, is rich, deep and fairly sweet, with a good deal of presence. I think that Leslie, the op, would like it. The second one, same model but different varnish, is more brilliant and gutsy, with a lot of edge, more projection and grit. My third, a twin to the second, sounds very similar but has for me a nicer quality overall.

Mine are not for sale but I can provide information on the maker’s agent.

Edited: September 18, 2023, 11:40 AM · The Jay Haide l'Ancienne violins are sold to violin shops without any of the setup done, so the final quality will vary quite a bit, depending on which shop is selling them. And most shops sell them for the same price.

Triangle Strings (the Jerry Pasewicz shop) mentioned above does excellent setup and adjustments.

September 18, 2023, 11:05 AM · Its a pity they don't have an online shop.
September 18, 2023, 12:17 PM · Johanna, some shops and people already have so much business, that seeking out more via online sales would probably be counterproductive.

In my case, I have something like a seven-to-12-year waiting list for my instruments. How much time and effort should I devote to setting up and administering online sales, versus making fiddles?

Edited: September 18, 2023, 12:26 PM · Online is really a terrible option for buying a violin, you should only consider violins you can play and hear preferably among multiple options, an online shop is going to keep their best sounding violins for in house customers, and Jay Haides are just mass produced Chinese violins and there are going to be sub par and better sounding ones and you're not likely to get the best ones online IMHO
September 18, 2023, 12:34 PM · Lyndon, most old German violins were mass-produced too, and often at lower quality levels than contemporary Chinese in the same price range.
September 18, 2023, 1:09 PM · As we have gone through COVID, many shops will have strategies to deal with the OPs immunocompromised concerns-
Try calling Triangle or whoever is nearby and arranging an outside pick up of a number of violins to try at home? Others are more used to shipping for trial than you might expect.
German, Chinese, seems like you need to try a good number of violins rather than relying on nationality or label.

September 18, 2023, 2:08 PM · better grade German production violins can sound much better than similarly priced new Chinese violind but if and only if they are priced competitively, many big shops overprice old German and French violin only to make their new Chinese violins sound like a good deal, if you price the German violins for half as much, as I do, the new Chinese violins are the ones that come up short.
September 19, 2023, 2:34 PM · Lyndon, I will leave "the proof in the pudding" of such claims up to you.
September 19, 2023, 6:44 PM · you're welcome yo visit my shop!!
Edited: September 19, 2023, 6:45 PM · I'm certainly no expert but what Lyndon says about shops marking up their antique violins to improve the apparent value of contemporary Chinese models rings true to me.
Edited: September 19, 2023, 7:40 PM · Good antique European violins cost more because they can't make them anymore. Hence, the supply is limited and shrinking.

Good modern Chinese violins are currently being produced in large numbers by skilled workers with great economy of scale using tools that were unknown to early 20th century makers. Hence their supply is large and growing.

Pricing is all about supply and demand.

The argument that dealers are marking-up antique European violins to "improve the apparent value of contemporary Chinese instruments" is frankly absurd. Antique European violins cost more at the wholesale level than Chinese violins of comparable quality because of supply and demand.

September 19, 2023, 8:51 PM · Chinese violin are the product of mass production, that's why they are relatively cheap compared to European violin.
September 20, 2023, 12:05 AM · Antique German production violins were made in the millions, there is no shortage of them, what there might be a shortage of is qualified restorers with the patience to work on them
September 20, 2023, 7:10 AM · I did not say that there was a shortage; I said, "the supply is limited and shrinking," and I was speaking of good antique German and French violins.

Most of the millions of the pre-war European mass-produced violins were mediocre to terrible quality, and are not worth the time and cost of restoration, particularly when much better and more attractive Chinese violins are available for lower prices.

Good brand-name European workshop violins from the early 20th c. such as Roth, Heberlein, Todt, and various Mirecourt workshop violin continue to increase in value because of limited and shrinking supply and steady demand, not because of some dealer conspiracy.

It's economics 101: supply and demand.

September 20, 2023, 7:24 AM · I don't know the business well, but I am just wondering.

Can violins produced in China still be that much cheaper? It seems like with rising costs of labor, extra taxes, and every middle man trying to make a profit along the way, that by the time it reaches the buyer, there wouldn't that much of a difference in costs.

September 20, 2023, 7:53 AM · Rebecca, kindly re-read my post above. And I am not talking about a mass-produced violin. Wang studied at the Cremona school of violin making. If he were to enter and win a prize at a violin making competition and or got an endorsement from a famous player, his prices would go way up - the same violins, no better and no worse. That’s another market reality.

Years ago David Nadien bought three Chinese violins in one go. And I understand that Elmar Oliveira has a Jay Haide in his collection. But what do those guys know? ;-)

September 20, 2023, 8:14 AM · Addendum: at a gig recently I compared my favorite Wang Zhiguo with that of the concertmaster whose collection includes a Guadagnini, a Storioni, etc. That day he was using a Peter Greiner, considered to be one Europe’s best and most successful contemporary makers. My Wang compared very well. I’d say that the Greiner sounded sweeter and more transparent while my Wang had more core and brilliance. We probably each preferred our own after the brief exchange and that’s just fine. But just a little further context…
September 20, 2023, 8:17 AM · George, I was speaking of a well known LA dealer charging $4500 for a Stradivari made in Germany, something I might charge $500-1500 tops if it sounded great, and you speak of cheap low quality German violins, what about the cheap garbage coming out of China in the $50-$300 range, Chinese know how to make a violin look half decent, but I don't think they understand tone as well as the historical German makers
Edited: September 20, 2023, 8:50 AM · Lyndon, as you know, most violins coming out of pre-war Germany were made by piece-workers who did not know anything about how to make a good violin. They knew nothing about tone, and they did not care. They only made parts as fast as possible, and were paid a pittance for each piece they produced.

The actual violins were then assembled by other poorly-paid piece workers from the pre-made parts, and sold by the dozen to importers for pennies a piece. These would then be imported and sold by mail-order for a few dollars each in the United States. Nowadays, most of these violins have fallen into disrepair and are not worth the time or effort to restore

This discussion is about higher-quality good violins, and why higher quality Chinese production violins are less expensive than antique European trade violins of the same high quality.

In regards to understanding tone, many Chinese have been trained in Europe, and have taken that knowledge back to their production facilities. As you can read in this thread, many people have been quite pleased with the tone and quality of the better Chinese production instruments. Frankly, your prejudice against them is clear and erroneus.

Edited: September 20, 2023, 10:42 AM · Your take on things is fundamentally wrong, German production violins are not worse than Chinese production violins, the main appeal of the Chinese is that they are new and have no scratches etc, the same highly trained individuals over saw german production in many cases and the head of the factory does no work whatsoever on the violins, the main difference is that half the german makers could play a violin, not true of the chinese, that's why they produce pretty boxes with no soul so to speak

for $5000 I have a mint condition 1793 Ficker violin with no cracks at all, no Chinese violin is going to come close to that for $5000, except perhaps being louder and obnoxiously brighter

September 20, 2023, 12:01 PM · Ficker is correct, lol!
September 20, 2023, 12:05 PM · JG.?
Edited: September 20, 2023, 12:16 PM · Its a Johann Gottlob Ficker from Markneukirchen 1793 appraised by experts, not a French copy Grafted scroll modern set up, Rondo strings its on the 4 sale page of my website if you click on my name
September 20, 2023, 12:44 PM · very good! Thanks (sounds like a really good buy!)
September 20, 2023, 5:59 PM · I feel so sorry for the likes of David Nadien and Elmar Oliveira who lacked the wise counsel, sagacious advice and unbiased judgement of Lyndon when they so foolishly bought Chinese violins for themselves!
September 20, 2023, 7:21 PM · I respect both approaches, something unique with character, a history, and the old-wood sound I never hear in a modern instrument, or a more readily available Chinese instrument you can more easily audition and buy. My daughter is a cellist and we could never find old Markneukirchen or Mirecourt cellos for sale here, let alone something that sounded great and was reasonably priced.
September 20, 2023, 9:33 PM · Raphael, how much does the Chinese violinmaker pay you or discount to you for your recommendation.
Edited: September 20, 2023, 10:45 PM · Oh, I’d say I should be ready to purchase my genuine Strad any day at the rate I’m going!

Btw, I didn’t even get to my Wangs today. With about a dozen fiddles in my collection - mostly Chinese - I use a rotation system. When I count up how much all of those makers owe me, my genuine del Gesu can’t be far behind! I also own an old German or Czech violin that is very nice. I am owed some marks for mentioning that one!

I used to own a fine old French fiddle as well. Wait a minute…Raphael saying something nice about old European violins? I thought there was some kind of divide here! If there is, as far as I’m concerned it’s between being informed and fair on one hand and so obviously biased as to be ridiculous.

David asked me a similar question in another thread that I answered seriously and in detail and I’m not going to keep answering it.

September 21, 2023, 6:23 AM · Well this has devolved into an argument about nationality. Lumping instruments in this way is rather absurd.

When buying an instrument you want to play it, preferably over a period of days. You want to compare it to several other instrumrnts, including one which you are familiar with.

Given that the op cannot go indoors, and that there are no local shops with instruments she can audition at home, it makes the most sense to have the items shipped to her.

She can choose a semi local shop like Triangle, or any larger one that will ship her several instrumrnts to try.

The fact that the instrument does not need to project well may open up some possibilities.

September 21, 2023, 9:54 AM · For violins in this price range, any dedicated violin shop in one of North Carolina's significant cities (Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, etc.) should have reasonable inventory.

If for some reason there isn't anything satisfactory in those shops, there are shops in Virginia -- Richmond, Charlottesville, etc. -- that aren't going to be as far as the DC area (which has plenty of good shops for this price range).

Go during the day on a weekday and there should be few patrons, lowering risks.

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