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How to set a price for a new violin


Noah Scott
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I'm curious if we could start a discussion on how makers price instruments without disclosing what we sell the fiddles for.  I'd like to focus on the factors that other makers use in setting a price.  To date I've priced my instruments based on a few factors:

 

  1. What did it cost me to make the instrument, both in materials and time?
  2. What are my contemporaries charging for their instruments (by contemporaries I'm referring to people in the field with comparable experience and education)?
  3. What I feel like my client base can afford.
  4. How many instruments have I made, and who plays them.
  5. What the rest of the violin industry is doing (where do old instruments, commercial instruments, other makers fall compared to my instruments)

I also try to make my violins sound better than anything else in that price point, and to that end I usually compare them against much more expensive instruments when adjusting them (aim high in sound).   I offer lifetime adjustments on my instruments because if they sound good the instruments I have out in the world are my best advertising. 

 

Thoughts?  Any other makers use different parameters?  Is there anyone out there who thinks they are selling their to low?  Anyone surprised by how much they earn on an instrument? (not likely I know)

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I'm curious if we could start a discussion on how makers price instruments without disclosing what we sell the fiddles for.  I'd like to focus on the factors that other makers use in setting a price.  To date I've priced my instruments based on a few factors:

 

  1. What did it cost me to make the instrument, both in materials and time?
  2. What are my contemporaries charging for their instruments (by contemporaries I'm referring to people in the field with comparable experience and education)?
  3. What I feel like my client base can afford.
  4. How many instruments have I made, and who plays them.
  5. What the rest of the violin industry is doing (where do old instruments, commercial instruments, other makers fall compared to my instruments)

I also try to make my violins sound better than anything else in that price point, and to that end I usually compare them against much more expensive instruments when adjusting them (aim high in sound).   I offer lifetime adjustments on my instruments because if they sound good the instruments I have out in the world are my best advertising. 

 

Thoughts?  Any other makers use different parameters?  Is there anyone out there who thinks they are selling their to low?  Anyone surprised by how much they earn on an instrument? (not likely I know)

 

I'm not a maker nor a dealer, but I did spend a lot of time about 15 to 13 years ago talking to professional makers and trying their instruments, and in some cases acquiring or trying to acquire their instruments.

 

It looks like you have the variables which might determine price pretty well covered.

 

I do have a question, though, concerning lifetime adjustments, I assume, without charge.  Is that offer to the original owner, only, or to any subsequent owner also?  If it's for anybody who has one of your fiddles, do you find that there are owners who want constant adjustment even when adjustment probably isn't called for?  As long as you feel that your free life time adjustment policy isn't being abused, that should be a great selling point.

 

The other question I would have is your policy (not stated) for allowing for return of the instrument for full or partial refund.  Some makers have a very liberal policy in terms of time for return for full refund; others, less generous.  I remember one maker would not refund money for a commissioned instrument, but would make a second fiddle, if for any reason the player didn't like the first.  But that's as much accommodating as was done.  I remember another maker (a very successful one, selling to many professional players) would take the fiddle back and charge a minimal fee of a few hundred dollars mostly to cover materials.   Other makers seemed willing to accept the fiddle back for a full refund if return occurred within a definite period of time, but a fairly long one, say, a year.  Successful makers with liberal return and refund policies seemed to feel that if you, as the buyer, didn't want the fiddle, someone else would.

 

It seems to me that makers with liberal return and refund policies were able to ask for higher prices.

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It seems to me that a violin maker must decide who his/her buyers are, and set the price accordingly.

For instance, a Christophe Landon is $75,000, a Caroline Campbell is £3500. In terms of workmanship and quality of sound the violins are broadly equivalent (I would say Campbell has the edge on sound and Landon on workmanship), but Landon handles Strads and has big shops in several major cities frequented by high-level professional classical musicians, Campbell works alone in a small attic in the East Neuk of Fife and is selling mainly to Scottish trad players, who are a bunch of skinflints.

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This reminds me of commentary by Meredith Morris, over a century ago. Some Scottish violin makers (really, I am not making it up) selling for between £3 and £5, the standard price for a newly made instrument by an English maker being around £10 - £15, and some getting a whopping £65 for their work, when second-tier 18th century Italian violins started around £80, Rudolph Wurlitzer was happy to pay £50 wholesale per violin to the Vollers for instruments that he subsequently sold clearly labelled as such. With import duty etc, he must have sold them on for more than double that! Add three noughts to the end of these figures and you'll find that things really haven't changed in a century! At least this proves that there isn't some recent bubble in prices for contemporary makers.

Any idea what Peressons or Sacconis sold for relative to a 'base-rate' for contemporary American makers half-a-century ago?

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Noah

One factor I add to all of that is. How fast do I need to get paid?

I consider myself a working class maker who needs to sell my instruments within a reasonable time, and I consider this in my prices in aiming it at the largest market. The Landon example shows how he is set up to find that one customer who will pay that, and I have to make ten and find the ten who will pay my price. It probably takes the same amount of time, except I have to make ten :( or is it I GET to make ten ? The needs of the players in these markets are obviously different. Assuming someone like Landon's instruments are 7 times better than mine, part of me would rather be putting ten instruments into the market than making them acceptable to the the far smaller number of people who will pay that much and then go find them and convince them not buy an antique

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Colledge, that's usually the rub!

I love wholesale-ing new instruments, and moving on, when possible. Before being 'established' allows you to climb above the 10k range or so for a fiddle, producing more work to get you there seems most desirable to me.

To the OP, some of it seems to be daring, too. Will the market support a high price if I boast that the fiddle is worth it? Maybe. But the next eight you make that year had better stand up too.

It is awful trying to sell someone's fiddle when their prices are all over the place. A few maker's price instruments according to how much they like each particular one, or they have a bad spot, and sell a bunch of backstock off as retail at less than wholesale price.

Then when you have a nice new fiddle by that maker, the customer wants to pay the lowest quote they can find.

So I guess I shoot to have the strongest instruments in my (semi-modest) price range, and to stand by those prices as worthy.

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I would assume that an important factor in a maker's price is the length of the waiting list for their instruments.  It's simple supply and demand.  A longer waiting list might well mean that newcomers to that list pay more.

 

Incidental factors may influence variation in a maker's pricing.  For example, I know that one maker charged more if the commissioned fiddle was antiqued.  Another maker charged more if the fiddle had a one piece back, the justification being that you don't have that convenient center line to monitor symmetry, thus complicating construction.

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Another maker charged more if the fiddle had a one piece back, the justification being that you don't have that convenient center line to monitor symmetry, thus complicating construction.

That sounds like a bizarre way to justify the extra cost of a one piece back! A straightedge and a pencil will soon sort that 'problem' out.

A one piece back costs slightly more but why not just say that? Personally I prefer one piece backs, usually the extra cost is more than covered by the time it saves on having to do a centre joint.

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Another maker charged more if the fiddle had a one piece back, the justification being that you don't have that convenient center line to monitor symmetry, thus complicating construction.

I think the question is where to set the your market price, not how much to charge for certain features.

Also, that is ridiculous.

A maker who cannot find a center line probably can't join a plate either, so they should be the same price. And in the case of that maker, very inexpensive.

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A number of posters seem to believe that for the purposes of controlling the instrument's symmetry, drawing a center line on a one piece back is just as good as having a center line created by a two piece back.  I'm not a maker, so I don't have a definitive position on that. 

 

But I do have some questions whose answers might give me more insight:

 

A two piece back center line never changes position in the course of the entire making process and is always visible, regardless of handling and carving.  Does the pencil drawn center line of a one piece back ever change in the making process?  Does it need to be re-drawn at certain points because it has been obliterated by carving of the plate or just got smudged from handling the plate?  If such re-drawings occur, how certain are you that you've drawn exactly the same center line you had before?

 

I suppose that a pencil drawn center line on a one piece back needs to be removed at some point in the making process.  Nobody wants a finished one piece back with a pencilled in center line.  How certain can you be that any adjustments made after the line elimination are done symmetrically?  Your guide for symmetry is gone.

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I only use the centre line for initial marking out when scribing around the ribs, and final alignment when gluing the back on, The centreline is on the underside of the plate and does not need to be redrawn several times, just once does the trick.
Even after the back is hollowed and thicknessed, the centre line still shows on the flat areas where the end blocks will be glued.

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I think the question is where to set the your market price, not how much to charge for certain features.

Also, that is ridiculous.

A maker who cannot find a center line probably can't join a plate either, so they should be the same price. And in the case of that maker, very inexpensive.

 

Sometimes I go looking for the like button...

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The recent Mondomusica in NYC provided a great time for comparative analysis...workmanship, sound, pricing...all were out-front so this was a major topic of conversation. 

The question is not what a maker is asking.  The question is: "What is the instrument selling for?"

More important: Whose instruments are selling?

Not to name names but I saw and heard contemporary violins with 60K price tags that couldn't hold their own with violins that were priced at half that or less.

Guess which one sold.

Joe

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I would think it depends, for a maker starting out, how good is the finished product? If you have something clumsily made or something that sounds mediocre, I wouldn't care if you were asking 500 or 50,000. I wouldn't pay 50 for something if it is not worth playing, or if another fiddle next to it is selling for 5,000 and is a far superior instrument and a joy to play. Once one gets a reputation for good quality and good sound, then the price can increase. If it took you two years and 300 hours to build, and the end result is garbage, then your time is worth about 50¢an hour for that particular instrument.

 

When one has made a few really good instuments, and they are savvy enough or with a bit of good luck thrown in, to get their instuments out in the spotlight and known to be good, then the price can start climbing, I would think.

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Here's another question...when does a violin reach a level of workmanship/sound where it is acceptable to start charging more than, say, $3,000?   Because I have played many, many instruments that apparently were thought to be worth that much, but didn't sound any better than a $369 Chinese VOS in the local music shop. Kind of where I was going in the thread I started on Violin Worth in the Auction Scroll forum...what makes a violin "worth" a certain price if it quite obviously isn't on any higher of a plane than the VOSs? Again, it is mind-blowing to see what some (many!) people think is "worth" thousands of dollars, if it is to be something that they are going to actually play.

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Recognizing what makes something worth investing in is the same problem in any field. And anyone with an incredible palate for wine, or incredibly good taste in fiddles or art will always have to field this same question about their evaluations of 'worth'. There are steps in the ladder. I always say that there isn't much difference between a $10 and a $30 bottle of wine. But a $60 bottle changes the game.

If a violin is OBVIOUSLY not on any higher plane than a VSO, then go with your instinct. It's not worth the higher asking price.

But that in no way leads to the assumption that all price points suffer the same problem.

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