Advice for Serious Students & Professionals
“How much should I spend on a violin?”
At MyLuthier this is one of the most frequently asked questions, but confusingly the cost of a stringed instrument can range anywhere between £100 – £10million.
A quick answer might be –
“Spend what you can afford on a violin you like, rather than simply the most expensive you can afford.”
Perhaps a better question to ask should be –
“When I find a violin I like, how do I know I’m paying a fair price for it?”
It is easy for a musician to fall for an instrument, seduced by its tone or looks, which could lead to a poor financial decision. You can purchase an anonymous antique instrument that might sound very nice, but might have little market value, for instance. This will become a problem when you try to sell it in the future.
Besides sound and playability, there are other factors to consider in terms of how much to invest in a violin.
In order to be confident with your purchase we believe there are 3 important factors to consider:
- Condition of the instrument
- What am I buying as a long-term investment?
The first step should be to determine your level of confidence with regards to the authenticity of the instrument.
In the case of a modern, contemporary maker, this can be as simple as receiving a certificate directly from the maker, or it can require some investigative work from an expert opinion.
You should pay close attention to specific different terms used to present an antique instrument, as these can have vastly different meanings.
For instance, an instrument described as “labelled” Nicola Amati gives you no guarantee of its authenticity as labels are often forged, or placed in the instrument as guide.
Other terms like “Attributed to”, “Ascribed to”, “Possibly by”, “Circle of” all express different levels of evaluation in terms of the authenticity of an instrument. These loose terms are routinely used by auction houses and dealers and can be overlooked by the first-time buyer. Check out Tarisio Auctions’ Catalogue Practice page for more information on this.
Certificates of authenticity for antique violins should come from a reputable expert. We would usually recommend that they have been written within the last 10 years. Expert opinion can change when new evidence emerges about a specific maker or new evaluation techniques emerge. For instance dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is a modern scientific method of dating tree rings, also called growth rings, to the exact year they were formed. This can date the age of wood used for the construction of an instrument; many violins thought to have been fine antique Italian instruments have had their provenance questioned as a result of this scientific detection.
Lastly, it’s worth bearing in mind that even the country of origin is not always guaranteed by dealers or auction houses. This becomes particularly relevant in the evaluation of instruments which have no maker’s name attached.
After you have determined exactly who has made the instrument (the luthier), the next step should be to assess the condition of the violin.
Once again, in the case of a modern contemporary instrument, this should be in perfect (mint) condition.
In the case of an antique instrument, advice from an established restorer should be sought. There is much skill and craft in restoring stringed instruments and bows; even the most compromising damage is sometimes not visible to the naked eye. Worm damage, a sound post crack, replacement backs or front (composite), ribs and scroll are some of the factors that will substantially affect value caused by a restoration.
What am I buying as a long-term investment?
This question is essential not only to determine your budget, but also inform your expectations, should you wish to sell your violin in the future.
Dependant on the level of craftsmanship devoted to the creation of an instrument, a violin purchase can either be a depreciating expense, or an investment that will bring long-term return.
A factory violin might initially look and sound nice, but anyone looking to buy one will not pay any higher than the recommended retail price. The large amount of similar instruments manufactured, made with inferior materials, means that at best you can expect to recoup only a portion of your money if you wish to sell it.
An instrument from a maker who is not yet established may sound promising, but it’s hard to know if he/she will be able to generate future demand for their instruments. This should be reflected in its price.
A very fine old Italian violin, in excellent condition with a history linked to great performers will attract a valuation that reflects all these aspects of its provenance.
As a general rule, the lower the risk across all these different variables, the more you should expect to pay.
For most college students, professional musicians, soloists and amateurs, we firmly believe that fine contemporary instruments provide by far the best value for money.
These represent all the factors that eliminate risk, whilst providing long term reward. As professional musicians ourselves we select our instruments for their outstanding tone, created by makers whom we have identified as the finest luthiers in the world. These instruments are in perfect condition, our makers’ violins are already played by professionals with firmly-established international careers, they are fully insurable and are already proven as long-term investments.