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nemesis

Are modern makers price crazy?

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Can anyone tell me why modern violins are so highly priced considering no one has even approached the golden age of violin making two centuries ago. Could it be that the price is pegged to the million dollar instruments of yesteryear with a ripple effect to the present value of modern instruments? Do makers deserve the price requested for violins in the white which are refinished to a greater or lesser degree? Haven't there been thousands of instruments over the centuries which have been made by good makers as well but which would not fetch more than a few hundred dollars today? Is this yet another age of madness - see the book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay. I submit it applies to the prices charged for modern instruments especially from Italy. Am I missing something or does the nationality rather than the skill of the maker determine price? Is there also an arrogance on the part of American makers who believe they own the new golden age? Any comments?

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What makes you think that no one has even approached the "golden age" of violin making from two centuries ago? When was the last time you tried one of the pricier modern fiddles? I have, and I must say... if they're this good now, I can't even imagine what they'll sound like in 200 years (probably better than the Strads do now). Remember, we don't know how Stradivari's instruments sounded fresh off the block... As for the American's owning the "new golden age"... frankly, I've only played one modern Italian and one modern German that come close to the quality of sound and the beauty that I've seen in the Michigan or Salt Lake City instruments (that's where I played the really nice moderns). Madness...? Perhaps. When was the last time you paid more than $1.00 for a shirt... that's what it costs to make. Luthier's actually put a substantial amount of time into creating their work... your (and my) name brand clothing is far more of a price inflation than these instruments (depending on money spent, work put into product, and lifespan of product)... think about it.

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Your argument contains fallacies which have discounted your conclusions. For example a brand name T shirt and an ordinary T shirt are basically the same and perform the same function. Only difference is the label. The only true test for determining whether the pricey instruments are better than anything else or whether the relatively young American violin making industry is as good as you say it is, is to subject the instruments to across the board comparison without the player or the listener knowing the origin or the price of the instruments. In addition there are great sounding violins from the European schools as well as Chinese instruments which put the modern instruments in the shade. Believe me because I have played a large cross section of all makes of violins. I have argued in other posts that common sense should prevail...I would urge anyone to read the book I have referred to above if only for self education. Coming to the argument of the maker putting heart and soul then there may be no price to compensate for that but I wonder how many makers in the past have also done the same thing and I certainly don't see their names with a halo or whispered in uninformed reverence.

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Valuation is really not so mysterious. If people will pay it, that is the price it sells for. A big issue with the best Chinese instruments (which are really good) is that they have no resale value (yet, maybe someday). Therefore, they are actually less of a good deal than the fairly good big name maker whose instruments will sell for more than they were bought for once the maker dies. This applies to violin as an investment. As for an instrument to play, that's another story...

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Nemesis,

Please state what you consider to be a fair price for a new, well made, good sounding, good playing instrument.

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Remember, there are two different markets in Violin sales:Players, and Investors.

Unfortunately for the players, the investors have driven up the prices of not only the ancient violins, but also of the new instruments being made by alive and respected makers.

Many times the investors take these wonderful sounding fiddles out of circulation and into the vault for safekeeping,further away from player's hands and listener's ears.

But, All's fair in love and war(and fiddles).

[This message has been edited by bob kogut (edited 03-01-2001).]

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Not that I know alot about it, but from my observations the price heriarchy of modern fiddles is steeply pyramidal, with a select few at that top. The upper range quickly makes a steep descent, to a very good bargain, with some brilliant makers at less than 10K and great ones at 2-3K. If a fella, or gal isn't getting two thousand for a good fiddle, he's working for charity.

Just my observations, I may be all wet.

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People come over all the time to try out my instruments:

I ask them what they are looking for and what price range they expect to buy in:

The Fiddlers who play old time and Bluegrass typically say:I need a great playing and sounding fiddle, and am ready to go up in price to about four or five hundred dollars, if it's the right one!

The Violinists say: I need a great playing and sounding violin, and am ready to go up in price to about fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars, if it's the right one!

It's amazing up here in the mountains how many excellent old european violins are being bought and sold for as little as four or five hundred dollars, that would easily go in the thousands in the urban markets.

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Very freaky, bleeviola.

Day in and day out, my luthier and I set up CHEAP instruments (<$2000) to make them sound as good as they can sound.

A lot of times, people think they're buying the quality of the instrument when they're actually buying the setups. The authentic Strads and Guarneris I've seen were not spared from this.

My thing is that if you put a price tag on an instrument and somebody buys it, then it's worth all that much to the buyer AND the seller.

I myself will stick to the cheapos - though I did shell out $12,000 for my "Gagliano" (the best violin I've ever played).

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I believe the point is either being missed or the responses of stephen et al are simply a quod erat demonstrandum of the original hypothesis. I do agree with HKV 100% that proper set up is important. Upsetting the status quo or going against established but wrong ideas will always provoke antagonistic responses but let those who can hear indeed hear...Galileo, Martin Luther, Copernicus, etc ring a bell?

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Well, most luthiers did not get into this for the money, let's be honest here. They've undertaken many years of skilled study, often at great expense, to develop unusual skills. They have to set up their own small business, no trivial matter, and then try to sell in a market in which the prevailing prejudice is for older instruments. If, as you suggest, they are truly overpriced, then nobody will buy their instruments. The ones I know barely scratch a living. Even if they sell in excess of 10 K, factor in overhead etc and it's still not a whole lot of money. And if they get rich at it, fair %*s to them, I say.

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This is an interesting question. On the one hand, as a person who might like to upgrade her fiddle, I wish the good modern makers sold fabulous sounding instruments at a price I could afford. I'd love to say they are overpriced.

On the other hand, it appears to me that most modern luthiers think of themselves (and are thought of by others) as more than manufacturers. They are artists. A painting does not cost much to make. Some famous artists don't take very long to paint their paintings. Prices of paintings are really unrelated to their cost or any markup. They are related to the reputation of the artist, to the track record of sales of the artist, to popularity of the artist or of that style of work, and also to some extent, to whether people like how the painting looks. It's the same with violins. You really cannot compare a fancy American violin with something that depreciates in value, like a t-shirt. Sure, some factory violins may not be appreciating assets, just as many art store posters aren't either. But good original art goes up in price and gets expensive, and it is a perpetuating spiral, because if people think an instrument will go up in price, then they will pay a lot for it, and then it does go up in price. And I'll bet the bottom never drops out of fine art and fine instruments, so they will stay good investments. Though time will tell which are the best investments.

I don't think violins are going the way of tulip bulbs.

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Another way to look at this is the classic supply/demand curve chart of microeconomics. If something can be produced for one price (the height of the supply curve) and someone values it at a much higher level (the height of the demand curve at that x-coordinate), then there are societal gains to be had by making the product and placing it in the hands of the person who values it.

The question is, who pockets the difference between the value placed on the object by the buyer and the cost to make for the seller? If prices are driven down to bare minimum or below, the buyer benefits. If the seller can get the buyer to cough up the full value of the good, then the seller gets the surplus. Most market clearing prices split the difference in some way.

nemesis, you seem a little peeved that some sellers can differentiate their goods and charge full perceived value. Such activity may take advantage of a few, but if you're not the one getting stuck, why complain?

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nemesis,

You are not the first on your crusade, and thus you should not treat it as one. Change, you say? I'm not fighting against change. I bought my 1774 Widhalm for a meager $4,000. I paid a similar amount for my ca. 1930 Roth viola. If I see an instrument that I want, I will pay the price as low as the seller will go. If a luthier puts a year into an instrument (granted he'll be putting a year into 20-50 instruments) that instrument ought to be treated as a year of work. A point for you... if the instruments were sold for much less, there would be no more luthiers. I'm glad you've played a broad range of instruments... I'm not sure what you've been playing though. Certainly instruments that have been played in (classical European) will sound better than an instrument straight from the shop if the classic is any good at all. However, from having played several Montagnanas, 1 Guarneri, a few Stainers, 2 Widhalms (including my own), 2 Chanots, and assorted other instruments; I'm only listing the ones that I can remember (let me tell you... playing these instruments was wicked cool)... none of these accept the Guarneri, one of the Montagnanas and my Widhalm were able to soundly defeat (in tone quality and playability) one of the moderns that I played in the same sitting. As long as people are willing to pay the prices, they will be paid. If we want to keep having new instruments (which will become the classics of tomorrow) then we ought to pay what is fair. YOU don't have to buy them, but for you to accuse people of being stalwort in their ideas of price is wrong.

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It's a question of economics. Supply is limited and demand is high. Production costs are lower or higher depending where you go. I have no problem with that. It's when demand is uninformed and dictated by irrelevant facors like nationality and price that I have a problem. There are thousands of excellent and not too expensive old and new violins out there but I wonder if we the collective consumer isn't to blame as well for making demand what it is based on uninformed reasoning. As for the investors - they again are only as good as the demand of the consumers.

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nemesis:

Exactly what level of quality are you thinking of when you compare modern makers' work to the old stuff? If you're assuming that there are lots of treasures in the Hopf category, then I suppose Michael Darnton is going to be overpriced at $14,000. Be aware, however, that the starting point for investment grade antiques is a lot higher. A Panormo, Gagliano, or Vuillaume (to look at the low end of the high end) can take you to $100,000 in the blink of an eye. Spending $10-20K for a good, clean instrument that the maker will keep in good order starts to look more reasonable for a lot of people in this case even if it's not quite at Strad levels of quality-- not to say that Michael's aren't. (Haven't had the pleasure of trying one.)

[This message has been edited by Stephen (edited 03-01-2001).]

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I don't think modern violin makers are asking too much money. Because of inflation, you need more money to buy anything. You should expect to pay more money for a violin in 2001 than in 1981. Also, I don't think the supply and demand model fits here. Sure, some violin makers ask a lot of money because they get many commissions. Many violin makers have a few violin in stock and they do not get to sell everything immediately.

I think they deserve the price. Violin making is a labour intensive process and not that many people can do this.

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Forgive me if I came across as peeved. I was trying to ensure some objectivity was brought to bear on the issue. Believe me it's not a personal crusade because there are too many consumers out there who are easily swayed or dead set in their thoughts. I agree with the last comments of Lymond and Stephen and would like to add that inflation does not seem to play a big part here as suggested earlier on. Any business student can use the discount tables used by actuaries, insurance companies and other business concerns to arrive at the present day value of money or what x dollars for an excellent instrument in 1925 would translate into the present day value of money. One would inevitably find the present day value is well below $10,000. Aside from the inflationary aspects it is also a question of consumer versus investor. If I intend to play the violin my first step in purchasing would be to try a range of new and old violins without knowing the price or the maker. Having then selected my preference I would consider the maker, the price and the investment side for possible resale/upgrade further down the road. An investor would have a different approach and perspective. However and this is what I am trying to get at, there are lots of good instruments out there both highly and lowly priced. The consumer should try to be objective in the purchase but inevitably they believe that price and quality are equated and this is not necesarily so. If they wish to spend their money on the higher priced instruments then so be it - this is what makes the makers continue in the market. Personally I would look around for a better instrument in the lower price range (and believe me there are many thanks to the ignorance, prejudicies and misinformation of consumers) and save my hard earned cash for other more objective investments.

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http://www.apa.org/journals/psp/psp7761121.html

I believe the concept of objectivity as determined by single random individuals is a suspect method of determining the truth. You mention "Galileo, Martin Luther, Copernicus, etc"--that's three people out of several billion, and if you show me someone who's unquestionably in that category, I'll listen to him, but by far the greatest percentage of guys with off the wall ideas are simply wrong and clueless about it.

[This message has been edited by Michael Darnton (edited 03-02-2001).]

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Thanks for that article reference, Michael - I've only scanned it while printing - but I observed the title principles in action over long decades of management experience - and yes, recognized the limits of my own abilities as well - in that long process.

However - to the subject at hand, which I think we have discussed here at least a few times before. Skilled violin makers usually go through long and arduous schooling, spend years of relatively low-paid work further developing their skills in a formal lutherie setting. When they have won some juried awards for their own hand-made instruments, they can raise their prices, and if they become a favorite of well-know players (as Curtin and Alf, to cite only two, have) they can raise their prices to significant amounts - comparable to prices for some decent instruments of the better early 20th century makers (at this time). Theirs are often fine concert instruments.

However, in other highly skilled and professional fields (engineering, for example) consultants command about the same level of prices (about and upwards of $100/ hour and ranging to 2 and 3 times that amount depending on circumstances). Lawyers and medical doctors have much higher fees than that. Even run-of-the-mill technical people, when their services are billed by their employers and include the costs of benefits and overhead today cost the "buyer/client" upwards of $150/hour. So it is easy to see the 100-120 hours it might take to carefully make a good violin costing the prices people are complaining about. (Some makers can shortcut considerable time and price by buying finished scroll/necks in the white - but any expert can quickly spot the grain discrepancy.)

Get your car repaired and check the $75/hour rate (or so) of most garages.

Why shouldn't the most skilled makers be rewarded at a professional level for their work?

Other hand-made violins made by makers with less formal training can be found for much lower prices - and if you find a good maker, who knows how to select good wood and applies good principles to much of the product (even if some less "classical" personal characteriestics show up in the finished product) can give you an new instrument with sound and playing characteristics you can cherish all your life.

Andy

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Markets are not inefficient per se. What might be inefficient is the consumer and the buying process. Failure to inform oneself properly about a product will inevitably lead to uninformed choices. Those choices drive the market. The sellers in return say thank goodness for the shortcomings of mankind smile.gif

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Markets are not inefficient per se. What might be inefficient is the consumer and the buying process. Failure to inform oneself properly about a product will inevitably lead to uninformed choices. Those choices drive the market (investors aside). The sellers in return say thank goodness for the shortcomings of mankind smile.gif

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