Salary for today's violin makers


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There is an interview extant given by Mike Seeger, in the 1980's, in which he gives a very small number (can't remember the exact number at the moment)of individuals in the US making a living playing Folk Music. He further asserts that the number depends on your definition of "living" and "folk music".

I let my Nursing lisc. lapse about a decade ago. I can't imagine doing anything other than this, and I wish that it had been available to me as a choice before I became a Nurse. Low overhead, hard work, luck. My first job in the trade was

a low paid, part-time job with no benefits because I wasn't making much, if any, money for the shop owner. I was making instruments on the side, and when that earned me more money than the job, it was time to leave.

As I think about the books that I have read about violin makers of the past, it seems that it has almost always been a marginalized trade, from Andrea G. taking out a large loan for his wife's funeral that seems to have been used for fixing the house and paying debts, to later great makers dying destitute, and I am not sure that much has changed today.

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Newnewby wrote: "... ...very talented maker who is looking for an ideal location would want to be around a Major Music School, so that the students would buy their instruments... ..." Perhaps, but not allways... "Nemo propheta in patria sua". In my case I sell mostly abroad, I rarely sell an instrument here and I live a in city with 16 million people.

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Newnewby wrote: "... ...very talented maker who is looking for an ideal location would want to be around a Major Music School, so that the students would buy their instruments... ..." Perhaps, but not allways... "Nemo propheta in patria sua". In my case I sell mostly abroad, I rarely sell an instrument here and I live a in city with 16 million people.

All of the advice I have ever been given boils down to this: If you are going to enter the trade as a livelihood, do it because you love it. And if you love it, don't confuse that with romantic notions inspired by that popular picture of Strad, seated at his bench in a beam of sunlight, gazing at one of his works.

My goal is to make the best instruments I can, make a fair wage (not expecting to compete with the plumber), recover materials costs, and keep the lights (and AC!) in the workshop on. If I can do that, and maybe make enough more to show up at the convention and buy the occasional tool and book, I'll be content with my material income. The primary riches lie in following the calling.

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Mr. Burgess,

Would you mind sharing your knowledge on Francais now?

Charles

One former employee has been on the forum in the last few days, but posts anonymously, so maybe doesn't want to comment. I'll take a stab at it, hope I don't get too much wrong, and maybe another one of the former employees will make corrections.

The Francais shop had pretty high turnover too, compared to Wurlitzer. It generally went something like this:

You would start by spending a week or two working in the shop, without pay, covering your own travel and living expenses in New York. Getting that far would probably depend on having references (I had two employees move on to that shop). If things went well and you were thought to have potential, you would be offered a job, and Rene would tell you something like, "Forgate what you seenk you know. You are zee lump of clay to be molded". :D

Rene's Mirecourt tradition brought with it a requirement to work in an extremely fast, efficient and focused manner. The pay was such that you needed to set up a workshop at home, and work evenings and weekends. Some work might come from the shop, once they thought you were good enough. Other work would come from area musicians. If you worked for Francais, I guess that was good enough credentials that work wasn't hard to come by.

The result of this system was that employees gradually gained skills, knowledge, speed, and their own business experience and client base, and as the steepness of the learning curve at Francais decreased, eventually reached a point where they thought being on their own was more viable. I didn't hear of Rene objecting to this, except that in some cases, he didn't feel that people had stayed long enough to learn everything they should.

I don't think Weisshaar was quite as comfortable with employees leaving, but some had originally come with the mutual understanding that it was for a specified period of training, and both he and Morel were clearly proud of some of the excellent people who had come out of their shops. The biggest draw for employees was the learning experience, along with access to some really nice instruments. Without that, I'd think the pay would have needed to be much better.

If an implicit question in your first post was, "How much should I pay?", I don't know. I haven't hired anyone for over 20 years. But if you start out with a restorer who has a sufficient reputation to be a major draw to those who seek to continue their training, I'd expect that you can get people "in the door" for much less money. What you do after that would depend on how much you want to keep them, and whether the business can generate enough money to make that viable.

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I pay my bills with my law work and make from 6 to 8 violas a year, working in the night and weekends, this is a hard work and is just justified by the "calling".

I make violas, my own model, if I were a copyst I would be able to make less instruments, I think.

Last year I visited NYC (as I do every year) and Germany. I have some instruments in the NYC Opera, which now is facing serious money problems resulting in money problems for their musicians. In Germany during the International Viola Congress I noticed that some German makers were selling violas under my own price, which is already in the lower range of the market, and even so some makers had many many instruments with them, instruments that they had made 8, 10 years ago...

We talk a lot about Strads, del Gesùs, Vuillaumes etc., but in most of the cases today's professionals can't afford a good contemporary instrument, even if they play in an stable opera company in a small city in Germany since their salaries are far from being high (less than 2K Euros in many cases). I have met quite good players which liked my violas but had no money. I remember talking with Christopher Landon and he mentioned that "in the top of that musicians don't have money".

Students are much harder to please since in most of the cases they don't know what they are looking for, they lack experience in judging instruments, they have no reference tables to judge instruments, I rarely sell to students.

On the other hand making instrument after instrument that sounds good and can satisfy a professional player is a quite stressing thing, it is a neurotic obssessive/compulsive job. Musicians pass more time looking at their instruments than to their mother's, wife's and children's faces, they are obssessive/compulsive about their instruments. In my experience it is easier to content a client in a multi million dollars litigation case than an orchestra musician because we deal with subjective things, sound is "subjective", visual aspects too, at least to most of the players. Most of other professionals deal with tangible, objective things.

I focuse in sound, I make no copies and I am not obssessed by visual aspects, but making a good sounding instrument is just a part of the story, selling the instrument may be even harder so that you have to keep a big network, travel to distant places (I would have preferred going to Florence and Venice than going to Germany last October...) and meet many musicians.

In many cases musicians are not contented in just liking the sound of the instrument, they want to talk to you about music, politics, instruments etc. (I like it too!) so that I receive many musicians at home every year (with a good dinner and wine included). Even musicians that got my violas 5 years ago when they come back to Sao Paulo they will appear for a dinner and I like to receive them, this is definetly a different market.

Many have mentioned costs, I would add that the commercialization costs may be high too. A player takes one of your instruments to a test drive and after a month gives it back to you with worn out string, you lost 90 bucks. Many friend makers in Italy complain about dealers but what many of them don't know is that it is hard today to have an instrument accepted by a good dealer.

I see full time dedication to new making important. In many cases while reading the biography of a good maker we will read "when he was about 40 years old he decided stop making restoration work to dedicate himself esclusevely to the making of new instruments...". That because I think a maker must make many many instruments in order to achieve a good level, if he makes few instruments a year - due to other works - it will be more difficult to him to reach a good level.

Many musicians get irritated with a waiting list but I find it essential to pay your bills in the case you have a family to care for. Two of my dealers in NYC suggested me to raise my prices and my reply was that I will only do that when a have a long waiting list, wich is a hard thing to have today.

My idea about the market is that in some years just the top makers will survive, the middle makers will disapear. Many makers that are considered top makers today were considered just middle makers when they were alive and they would not survive todays market, makers like Rocca (he was declared legally poor), Scarampella, most of the Milanese, Napolitan, etc. would not survive in today's market. and that is a sad thing. Perhaps 90% - or more - of all Italian makers of the past would fit the middle makers range today. Well, these middle makers will disappear, at least in expensive cities in the first world countries.

Eventually this will make top bench made instruments even more exclusive and expensive. European sports cars are comparatevely much more expensive now than they were 40 years ago, the competition made them more expensive, more exclusive. Our clothes are made in factories today (and are rather cheap) but if you need a custom made suit with English fabric you will pay much more for it today than 40 years ago when we had many taylors in our neighborghood. The same for good mechanic watches, you will pay a mint today for a good Swiss mechanic watch that 40 years ago was affordable for most of the people.

But I may be just too pessimist and wrong today, and I have to varnish my new viola. Ciao!!!

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I pay my bills with my law work and make from 6 to 8 violas a year, working in the night and weekends, this is a hard work and is just justified by the "calling".I make violas, my own model, if I were a copyst I would be able to make less instruments, I think. Last year I visited NYC (as I do every year) and Germany. I have some instruments in the NYC Opera, which now is facing serious money problems resulting in money problems for their musicians. In Germany during the International Viola Congress I noticed that some German makers were selling violas under my own price, which is already in the lower range of the market, and even so some makers had many many instruments with them, instruments that they had made 8, 10 years ago...We talk a lot about Strads, del Gesùs, Vuillaumes etc., but in most of the cases today's professionals can't afford a good contemporary instrument, even if they play in an stable opera company in a small city in Germany since their salaries are far from being high (less than 2K Euros in many cases). I have met quite good players which liked my violas but had no money. I remember talking with Christopher Landon and he mentioned that "in the top of that musicians don't have money".Students are much harder to please since in most of the cases they don't know what they are looking for, they lack experience in judging instruments, they have no reference tables to judge instruments, I rarely sell to students. On the other hand making instrument after instrument that sounds good and can satisfy a professional player is a quite stressing thing, it is a neurotic obssessive/compulsive job. Musicians pass more time looking at their instruments than to their mother's, wife's and children's faces, they are obssessive/compulsive about their instruments. In my experience it is easier to content a client in a multi million dollars litigation case than an orchestra musician because we deal with subjective things, sound is "subjective", visual aspects too, at least to most of the players. Most of other professionals deal with tangible, objective things. I focuse in sound, I make no copies and I am not obssessed by visual aspects, but making a good sounding instrument is just a part of the story, selling the instrument may be even harder so that you have to keep a big network, travel to distant places (I would have preferred going to Florence and Venice than going to Germany last October...) and meet many musicians.In many cases musicians are not contented in just liking the sound of the instrument, they want to talk to you about music, politics, instruments etc. (I like it too!) so that I receive many musicians at home every year (with a good dinner and wine included). Even musicians that got my violas 5 years ago when they come back to Sao Paulo they will appear for a dinner and I like to receive them, this is definetly a different market.Many have mentioned costs, I would add that the commercialization costs may be high too. A player takes one of your instruments to a test drive and after a month gives it back to you with worn out string, you lost 90 bucks. Many friend makers in Italy complain about dealers but what many of them don't know is that it is hard today to have an instrument accepted by a good dealer. I see full time dedication to new making important. In many cases while reading the biography of a good maker we will read "when he was about 40 years old he decided stop making restoration work to dedicate himself esclusevely to the making of new instruments...". That because I think a maker must make many many instruments in order to achieve a good level, if he makes few instruments a year - due to other works - it will be more difficult to him to reach a good level. Many musicians get irritated with a waiting list but I find it essential to pay your bills in the case you have a family to care for. Two of my dealers in NYC suggested me to raise my prices and my reply was that I will only do that when a have a long waiting list, wich is a hard thing to have today. My idea about the market is that in some years just the top makers will survive, the middle makers will disapear. Many makers that are considered top makers today were considered just middle makers when they were alive and they would not survive todays market, makers like Rocca (he was declared legally poor), Scarampella, most of the Milanese, Napolitan, etc. would not survive in today's market. and that is a sad thing. Perhaps 90% - or more - of all Italian makers of the past would fit the middle makers range today. Well, these middle makers will disappear, at least in expensive cities in the first world countries.Eventually this will make top bench made instruments even more exclusive and expensive. European sports cars are comparatevely much more expensive now than they were 40 years ago, the competition made them more expensive, more exclusive. Our clothes are made in factories today (and are rather cheap) but if you need a custom made suit with English fabric you will pay much more for it today than 40 years ago when we had many taylors in our neighborghood. The same for good mechanic watches, you will pay a mint today for a good Swiss mechanic watch that 40 years ago was affordable for most of the people. But I may be just too pessimist and wrong today, and I have to varnish my new viola. Ciao!!!

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i agree with the idea that all the trades, music, art are in the same boat. How many people actually make it to the top ? You are a lot more relaxes if this is you hobby and your living expenses come from some where else. making money and making something beautiful are not in the same catagory it seems. because they are not valued the same. a guy who sells derivatives )at one point) was averaging 2.5 million a year. but what kind of life was that, and at the end of his life all he did was make money. I place making money at a very low priority. Of course I need money to live at the level I want, which is not that high. But I feel at the end I can say i did something with my life.

So what we are asking is : is what I am doing have a lot of value to me? money is a handy comparator because we know what we can buy with it, but is a fancy sport car of equal value to a fine violin? not for me.

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One of "Charles Moritz'" first questions was what a maker could expect to make. But there's also a matter of what can we expect the climate to be like say 10 or 20 years down the road?

Would anyone disagree that the making profession is entirely dependent on how how many people want to play a violin? In my lifetime Japan, then Korea and China expanded the market, but what's happening now?

And what is happening in the U.S? I don't think the job market is expanding. If anything, orchestras seem to be under more stress all the time. The small towns that pay practically nothing to a musician can survive, but the mid-range orchestras that are trying to pay a "living wage" seem most endangered. A recent example is Louisville. And I think even the Philadelphia was having troubles last year.

So while there seem to be plenty of kids who want to learn the string instruments, their needs can be satisfied cheaply with Chinese instruments. I even have a professional client that recently gave up his first-rate contemporary Italian violin for a $2,200 Chinese student instrument. And he's giving well-reviewed quartet concerts on it. Scary.

So, it seems to me there are three things to worry about. One is if there is no one to buy a violin, you can't sell it; two is that if no one can afford to pay you what you need to survive, then you're making for fun; and three is that if someone can get as fine an instrument for say $5,000, why would they give you $10,000.

And if you guys who are doing all the research ever really arrive so that any body can get a Strad sound, then we've really had it!

I hope I'm wrong about all this; argue with me for goodness sake! :(

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And if you guys who are doing all the research ever really arrive so that any body can get a Strad sound, then we've really had it!

Will, you touch upon an interesting point. I wrestle with whether secrecy in the trade should be a valued practice, or not. In a day in age where "transparency" seems to be the trendy buzz word, I wonder if everyone feels inclined to jump on the bandwagon. Although, we don't know where that wagon is heading.

In Italy, during the Renaissance, trade secrets were not only common place, but an essential practice for financial, and familial, survival.

Being that MN IS my teacher, I have noticed that I have a tendency to ask too many prying questions. I sometimes wonder if I should shut my mouth, being that the answers are not only viewed by me, but the world. I think the knowledgeable folks on the forum should certainly freely exercise their right to NOT answer questions, if they do not feel inclined to do so. And the ask-ers, should weigh the weight of their questions, and consider whether PMs are appropriate. Of course, to each their own! It's a wild, woolly, world on the WWW.

Remember the good ol days, when people actually cared about things like privacy?

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[My goal is to make the best instruments I can, make a fair wage (not expecting to compete with the plumber), recover materials costs, and keep the lights (and AC!) in the workshop on. If I can do that, and maybe make enough more to show up at the convention and buy the occasional tool and book, I'll be content with my material income. The primary riches lie in following the calling.

I am a plumber. I have a good steady job, but there are a lot of plumbers out of work right now!

If you want to make a living in violin making, I think you need to sell some student quality violins, bows and cases too.

Students get use to coming to you for all there violin needs. When it is time for them to get a better violin, they will try your hand made violins first.

This what I am trying to do anyway. ( Only you have to have some money to get started.)

Larry

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Being that MN IS my teacher,

Have you heard the expression,a pictures worth a thousand words? ...well a demonstration is worth a thousand pictures,I would strongly advise finding SOMEONE to be your teacher....and to consider MN as a great adjunct to your education...not knowing your background,it sounds like you are just starting out on the journey,violins are such a human endeavor that it is best to learn from humans.....I also would not worry about secrets a bit as in all art-craft trades (and most other) there is no magic bullet that you can just obtain,somehow the cream always rises to the top. I'm in Ashland if you ever wanted to stop over I'd be happy to share what little I know.

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Have you heard the expression,a pictures worth a thousand words? ...well a demonstration is worth a thousand pictures,I would strongly advise finding SOMEONE to be your teacher....and to consider MN as a great adjunct to your education...not knowing your background,it sounds like you are just starting out on the journey,violins are such a human endeavor that it is best to learn from humans.....I also would not worry about secrets a bit as in all art-craft trades (and most other) there is no magic bullet that you can just obtain,somehow the cream always rises to the top. I'm in Ashland if you ever wanted to stop over I'd be happy to share what little I know.

I'll back that up with a ditto here!

The problem with Maestronet as your teacher is that anyone trying to constantly follow all of the advice here, will eventually end-up in the looney bin.

Too many cooks spoil the brew. ;)

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Will, you touch upon an interesting point. I wrestle with whether secrecy in the trade should be a valued practice, or not. In a day in age where "transparency" seems to be the trendy buzz word, I wonder if everyone feels inclined to jump on the bandwagon. Although, we don't know where that wagon is heading.

In Italy, during the Renaissance, trade secrets were not only common place, but an essential practice for financial, and familial, survival.

Being that MN IS my teacher, I have noticed that I have a tendency to ask too many prying questions. I sometimes wonder if I should shut my mouth, being that the answers are not only viewed by me, but the world. I think the knowledgeable folks on the forum should certainly freely exercise their right to NOT answer questions, if they do not feel inclined to do so. And the ask-ers, should weigh the weight of their questions, and consider whether PMs are appropriate. Of course, to each their own! It's a wild, woolly, world on the WWW.

This is assuming everyone reading maestronet will execute everything they learn here perfectly. Not to mention that they happened to listen to the right advice in the first place. Jones was explaining that it is a good idea to have a teacher because you can learn a lot more in person than you can on an internet forum. I agree, but I will also say that you can show someone something in person and they still can't execute it like you can let alone reading it on the internet. So I'm not too worried about trade secrets being exposed. I think the biggest secret is that it takes a really long time to get good at this stuff.

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I think the biggest secret is that it takes a really long time to get good at this stuff.

This is so easily overlooked because it will not grab Headlines in the News.

I also believe that we all learn on many different levels, so the printed word is just one of many, and it takes them all, if you want to do your best.

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Once Gregg Alf said that this is a wonderful time to be a violin maker. He was referring, I believe, to the amount of knowledge we now have that allows us to be pretty darned successful in making good stuff. Thanks to the VSA, Strad Posters, Courtnall Johnson and Roy, Sacconi, and certainly Maestronet, the beginner has a lot better chance of making something nice enough to inspire him to continue. Just look at Pest as a good illustration; his first violin, IMO, could not have been made to that high a level 100 years ago. This is almost a renaissance. 50 years ago there was practically nothing to aid the poor guy out in the middle of nowhere.

But that wasn't my last point. My last point is that while it is a good time to be a maker for one's personal satisfaction in doing a good job and producing a fine violin, it may be becoming less than a good time for doing it for a living. I don't know this, I'm only presenting it for discussion. But I am worried.

I'm not worried for the exceptional, the lucky, the person who doesn't have to make for a living, or the person who is offered information on a silver platter but can't or won't take advantage of it (see post 43). Right now I can count a few makers who make a product as good, and sometimes better in my opinion, than some of the big name makers. These people are the ones I worry about. One is barely surviving, and gave up for a while.

I guess my question boils down to this: Are market conditions going to get better or worse for those wanting to be professional makers?

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... if someone can get as fine an instrument for say $5,000, why would they give you $10,000.

This reminds me of a story about Philip of Macedon who sent a message to the Spartans saying: "You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city." To this, the Spartans replied simply: "If".

And if you guys who are doing all the research ever really arrive so that any body can get a Strad sound, then we've really had it!

I'm not a maker so I can't back this up, but I suspect violin making is the kind of art where knowing all the "secrets" still wouldn't make you as good as the really good makers.

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And if you guys who are doing all the research ever really arrive so that any body can get a Strad sound, then we've really had it!

There's that "if" again.

"When" we have it figured out, what makes you think we're gonna tell anybody? :P

And "if" we do publish the answer(s),

-it might not be easy to do

-most makers probably won't believe it anyway

-what kind of luck would Joe Schmoe have of getting big $$ for his work just because it sounded like a Strad?

I have a violin that was proclaimed by a very good violinist to sound like a Strad*, yet nobody is hounding me to buy it.

*"it sounds like a bad Strad" - Fan Tao

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"The workers earn $150-$300 U.S. Dollars per month." Personally, I see opportunity for makers in more developed nations shrinking, because the high cost of living leads to a necessarily high cost per instrument, if one is to survive financially (in other words, the market just keeps on getting smaller and smaller for said maker). Certainly, in time and as the standard of living in China becomes elevated, the cost of living will drive up wages as well (it is already happening, in fact, and at a rather astonishing rate), but the divide remains rather large. True, as one man says the sound is not quite there yet; however it is on the rise. There is opportunity for these people in China, really good opportunity and the ability to capitalize on a unique point in time. As for me, I only look on making as an opportunity to supplement my income as I grow older. Make no mistake, I am driven by the passion and intend to make to the very best of my ability, but I am not driven by the potential for profit (and as I have never cared about money anyway, it suits me just fine).

I think the only way a person can really assure a long-standing career is to get into service work and sales (rentals included), as this is always a local function (i.e., something which cannot be jobbed out to some remote locale such as China).

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The main point I'd like make, though, is that I believe one must start young, so they may work on establishing a career (cultivating a reputation) when it is more affordable to do so. Furthermore, a base set of skills will become developed at the ideal point in life.

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