Salary for today's violin makers


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Income is dependant on location, who you know, type of work and how it fits into marketing, and of course who buys it.

With the right contacts and location, some money up front and some hard work, any old Joe can set up shop and make money.

The question is what they make and why, is it sustainable, is it special, etc.

A maker in downtown NY can sell a fiddle for $30,000 and a maker in China can sell one for peanuts through a dealer who makes money off his back. They are both violin makers and the Chinese guy might also be able to play.

It's a hard life but if you love it you do it anyway.

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

I think the market only gets better as the fine old instrument prices just keep rising. But I think it is hard to compete with the best makers today.

Seems like it is a good idea to have more than one education to support you. Manfios model seems like a possible route, although it takes some passion to keep going on top of a (part time?) daytime job.

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For my part, I went to a school and graduated with a diploma. I entered school hoping to learn how to make violins as a hobby (I already had a career). I graduated, set up my shop in house, and puttered around for a month. One month and a day after I graduated I got offered the part time rental bench at a local shop w/o even looking. That part time job grew into a full time job where I don't have to deal with rentals, but I don't work on (real) instruments as much as I like, but then again I kicked the old day job to the curb.... I found that exploring every opportunity is the best way to make it in the violin business- It's how I've found success here at the shop. I still make, but it's at home in my studio. I make money off of my making, but the shop is by far where I make my living. My boss pays a living wage and while my wife works, I'm the "bread-winner". I have benefits and I'm profitable for my employer. I do "ok".

That said, of the 8 people who started in school with me, 4 graduated and only one graduate is still working in the field full time (me). One of the people who didn't complete the coursework has become a full time maker, but he's had to put his time in as well. This is not easy, and you don't get rich. Makers should do this because they love the making. It takes time, but someday I hope when I've put in my 35 years to reverse the ratio of shop time to studio time.....

I just thought a perspective from someone who has less than ten years out of school might help.

-NS

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There is one more component to be a successful violin maker. It's people skills. I know one violin maker, not on this forum, who is very successful because he is able to work with professional violinists and convince them he can adjust their soundposts better than anyone else. I talked with him enough to see how convincing he is.

The aptitude for people skills are not evenly distributed in the population. Not everyone has the aptitude. And even if you have the aptitude, which involves listening in a sensitive way, and talking in the appropriate way, you might not have the personality to take charge and CONVINCE the buyer.

I am positive Rene Morel had not only the hand skills and technical knowledge, but also very keen personal skills and he was not afraid to "take charge."

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Lacking people skills...belief is a working substitute. The better you like your work, the easier it is to make the connection to the buyer...dealer or player.

on we go,

Joe

This is interesting Joe and actually pretty simple. I don't know why I haven't really thought much about this. Most people in this business, myself included, can be pretty down on themselves and their work. What you said is a good reason to be happy with oneself.

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Do you think maybe the self deprecating behaviour is due to some guilty feeling for being one of the fortunate few who love what they

If I had to guess, and in my own experience, it would be what a coworker of mine calls "luthier goggles." It's where you get so focused on details, and being hypercritical of your work that it's easy to get down on yourself. I think your eyes and your mind always outpace your hands.

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If quality of work alone were the determining factor for price then we'd see far less hyper expensive makers and less slave labour.

True you get what you pay for but you can get a good bottle of wine from a vineyard direct much cheaper than from a wine snob shop and you might like to walk in the vineyard.

I represent the 99%, the other 1% of elitist super rich will exist in all walks of life even the violin market, unfortunately.

B)

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Interesting thread - I've been enjoying the existential questions raised here.

I've been following my calling to make new instruments since graduating from violin making school. It's not easy. It takes a lot of faith and patience. It may still result in "failure", or it may not, like any small business.

Currently, I take in repair/restoration work from a shop to help cover expenses, and make new instruments when I'm not doing that. Eventually I'll be a full-time maker. I've put in time (including those years that are a net loss), to make the best instruments that I can, get better as a maker, and develop a client base for my new instruments that will help me segue into full-time making.

Yes, it's a calling. No, I wouldn't recommend it. Yes, follow your calling, whatever it is.

Choose for your tombstone:

He/She:

1) followed their heart.

2) made a good living.

3) tried to do both, and either succeeded or failed.

On we go!

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This is interesting Joe and actually pretty simple. I don't know why I haven't really thought much about this. Most people in this business, myself included, can be pretty down on themselves and their work. What you said is a good reason to be happy with oneself.

Matthew,

Varnish is a prime example of this idea. On a practical/learning level one should look at your varnish work as if it was someone else's and critique accordingly.

BUT. What we know is that the varnish is the emotional connection between the maker and the player. If the player is not attracted to the look of the instrument, they don't pick it up. On the flip side...if, as a maker, you are not happy with your varnish work, then you cannot represent the instrument well.

on we go,

Joe

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