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Kallie

White violins

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Hi there.

 

First of all, I live in the Western-Cape of South-Africa, and the only violins that being sold here by music shops is cheap chinese violins, or like some people like to call them, VSO's (Violin-sounding objects). I'm currently learning violin restoration by myself, (so much easier with all the resources available on the internet, and since there are no violin making schools in SA).

 

So here is my question. I want to try to introduce better, yet affordable violins to the many, many violin beginners that I hear of over here every day. I sell old violins that I buy/repair already, but beginners aren't looking for that. I always hear my violin teacher saying how kids struggle to get even a decent sound out of the violins (The VSO's), or even a decent volume, and believe me, Ive played on some of those violins and it is indeed true. Now I know people might say "a bad worksman blames his tools" but with better tools, a worksman can do much better work. 

 

So what I want to do, is buy white violins, that are available on Ebay for example. I know you can buy better white violins at other places, but I have to keep this affordable for beginning players. What I plan on doing then is maybe do some final scraping/thinning of the plates if that was done poorly, do a proper set-up, and apply some varnish that is not so thick that a spear wont even be able to penetrate it.

 

Have anyone tried this yet? What sound quality can I expect from these violins then? Will there be enough of a difference that people will buy these, rather than cheap violins at music shops? Here is a link to one violin, for example, http://www.ebay.com/itm/BEGINNER-MAKE-A-VIOLIN-WOOD-PROJECT-KIT-with-ebony-pegs-/200916112585?pt=Guitar_Accessories&hash=item2ec78894c9

 

Thank You for taking time to read. Hope to hear from you guys soon.

-Kallie

 

 

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Hi Kallie,

Your plan does have historical precedence, early twentieth century "in the white" imports from Germany, and US makers/dealers today still do practice this. A supplier company in the US, Howard Core, sells various grade string instruments in the white. The will they sell part, well that's

always the dilemma it seems. :)

Here is the page in their web catalog: http://www.howardcore.com/Catalog/instruments/white_instr.html

I'm not sure how these would come out cost wise with shipping to SA.

I looked at the ebay listing. Seems like this kit has a lot of work left to complete, bass bar, purfling, assemble body, neck setting/gluing. Not the greatest looking back wood from what I can tell in the pics. I think I would try to get more complete white violins for myself, and some flame or tiger striping will help the marketability.

Good luck,

Steve

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Thank you very much Steve for that link. I checked it out, but unfortunately the cost of such white violins will highly exceed "Cheaper" violins. I know it will be better, but convincing someone to buy a more expensive violin for a child who might not even stick with playing the violin is pretty hard. :D

 

I also realize that the kit I did link has alot of work, and personally I think that might even come in useful for me still learning all the finer details to violin repair, even if it ends up taking more time to assemble.

 

As you said, the back wood doesnt look very attractive, which also makes me skeptical. But unfortunately, I would have to pay more for decent visuals though.

 

Unfortunately, the cost of the violin isnt the only problem, since for beginners, you have to supply everything. Like the VSO's, which comes complete with a case, bow (pathetic bow though), strings, and rosin. Basically everything you need to take out the violin and play. So getting all the prices down to the minimum while still making enough of a profit to even continue doing it, is pretty hard.

 

Thank You again for your help. I will definitely make contact with Howard Core to find out how much the shipping cost will set me back.

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Kallie, let's talk some numbers here and see if any sense comes out of it.

 

The costs to you:

 

White violin: $100 (any cheaper than that and it's a waste of time)

Case: $40 (you won't get anything cheaper in South Africa)

Bow: $30

Parts, including strings: $60 (this is a rock-bottom minimum estimate).

Shipping costs: minimum $60.

 

That gives us $290, which at current exchange rates is about R2700.

 

Now you have to do the work you mentioned, including varnishing. Are you going to charge for this or do it for free? Let's imagine you can do a week's work for about R500, and sell your outfit for R2750 (in other words, you make zero profit). How many beginners will be prepared to pay that much? And how will your product compare to what is already available on the market here for R2700?

 

But of course, unless you do all this for free (apart from earning R500 for a week's work, which nobody can survive on), you really need to sell the outfit for something like R5000. Now, if we look at what's available here in that price range, your enterprise would seem to make very little sense AS A BUSINESS PROPOSITION.

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I admire your enthusiasm and respect your motives, but wouldn't it be simpler to rework the instruments they already have? Just about any VSO or POS has lots of wood left for graduating. You can instantly improve just about any of these instruments simply by thinning the top and back to an even 3 mm all 'round.

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Kallie, I think you should also keep in mind that several Western Cape shops sell Chinese and other violins up to R30,000.

 

The real problem is with the customers. Too many of them, when presented with an article for which the shop claims the designation "violin" at R700 for an outfit, will simply buy it because of the price, not because they have exercised any due diligence when parting with their money. It is a sorry fact that of all categories of instrumental teachers, string teachers in general know less about their instrument than any of their colleagues who blow, hit or hammer. Consequently, the advice available to students who need to purchase an instrument is either deficient or absent.

 

So, I really see two separate issues here.

 

1. If you want to improve the general quality of what unsuspecting students buy, educate the teachers (and students). The problem is NOT availability.

 

2. If you want to complete white violins, carry on learning about repairing and making, and don't consider pitching the instruments at less than R10,000 as far as the business aspect is concerned. There is an amazing amount of crap on the market under the description "white violins". You need to work with materials and products which will make the exercise worth your while.

 

At present I am not able to source any Chinese white violins on which I'm prepared to expend any energy or waste any money. I have mine made by Karl Höfner in Germany. Even so, I have them made without f-holes and bass bar, and with extreme plate thicknesses which enables me to adjust the arching prior to interior thicknessing. The necks are supplied separately. It's better to work all things things myself rather than "fix" them if they were badly done, or worse, are a fait accompli (like the f-holes) with which I can't live, and with which I don't want to be associated.

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Thank You Ernie, Jacob, and Bill.

 

To Ernie,

I have considered the varnishing cost. Thank you for pointing that out aswell.

 

To Bill,

I have thought of buying VSO's, and reworking the instruments. That was my first idea, but I figured there was only so much you could to to make an instrument sound better. I will see if I can find one of those violins, perhaps from a student who gave up playing, and then see how much difference it would make on the sound if I rework it.

 

To Jacob,

Thank you for all the numbers. It really gave me a much better understanding of what Im trying to do. About educating the teachers, I know 2 violin teachers in the area personally, and the one never encourages starting players to buy those R700 outfits. She says students can hardly get a decent sound out of them. If I cant make white violins to sell for beginners, then I suppose my next step would be to try and sell it for students who know they will continue with violin playing. The only problem here is people are always thinking "Older violins is better", which is not the case at all. So it might take me longer to sell new white violins (Fully set up and varnished).

 

One more thing, you said if you make all this to cost R5000, and look at what else is on the market, it would make little sense as a business proposition. The violins that I know of, in a more expensive range than R700 available here, is Palitino, Stentor, Sandner. Would a decent white violin, which you could sell for R5000 while still making a profit, be much better than any of those? A big enough difference that inexperienced parents will notice and rather buy the white violin? Also, you mentioned that shops here sell Chinese and other violins for up to R30 000. Would decent white violins be in the same class as those? Here Im not talking about 100$ white violins, but rather a bit more expensive.

 

Again, thank you all for the contributions so far.

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It's a lot like buying flowers, you get what you pay for and there are many kinds available. A dozen roses might be appropriate for a wedding anniversary...but not for a first date. Many of the cheap completed fiddles out there are really not that bad. So much depends on prevailing economics and desire.

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I was hoping that this thread would help me understand the trade in white violins, but I am still sort of in the dark.

 

A quick search on Ebay brings up a couple hundred hits for unfinished violins.  Many of them are sort of strange, and we can ignore them,  but most are normal looking violins. http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_trksid=p4712.m570.l1313.TR2.TRC1&_nkw=unfinished+violin&_sacat=0&_from=R40%C2'>

 

My question is....Who is buying these, and what are they doing to them.  My impression is that someone must be using these inexpensive "raw materials" to turn a profit.  How does that work?

 

Mac

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Yeah, be careful with the flowers. I gave my girlfriend the roses and wound up married, and it also set a precedent.

 

What I was suggesting was to rework the violins belonging to the students, if they are acceptable to the idea. You would just need one loaner instrument for them to use while you are working on it.

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I was hoping that this thread would help me understand the trade in white violins, but I am still sort of in the dark.

 

A quick search on Ebay brings up a couple hundred hits for unfinished violins.  Many of them are sort of strange, and we can ignore them,  but most are normal looking violins.

 

My question is....Who is buying these, and what are they doing to them.  My impression is that someone must be using these inexpensive "raw materials" to turn a profit.  How does that work?

 

Mac

 

I was wondering that aswell. How do people make a profit from buying the cheap white violins, and then selling it while making a profit? Perhaps the people they sell it to are really inexperienced in different violin tones and blindly listen to people saying they wont find any better for that price. Maybe its true, maybe its not.

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I always thought VSO's were Violin Shaped Objects. I guess my visual (astronomer) orientation overrules any auditory concepts with me.  :lol:

 

Mike

 

I think you are right. VSO's are Violin Shaped Objects, not Violin Sounding Objects as I said in my original post. But atleast everyone still understood what I meant. :P

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Kallie, my point was that you cannot make a DECENT white violin and sell it at a reasonable profit for R5000.

 

Any of the makes of instrument you mention can be set up so that they work reasonable well: new bridge, post, afterlength adjustment, nut height and string spacing, good set of strings, fine-tuning tailpiece. That would cost between R1000 and R1500, but the total cost of the instrument plus setup should still be under R3000. This is what I would suggest for fraction-sized instruments, each size of which won't be used by a particular student for longer than two years.

 

As for a comparison between white violins and more expensive Chinese instruments: it will depend on how good the white violin is, and how well the Chinese ones are set up, and how well-made they are. My bottom line is that with white violins I need to know exactly what I'm buying, and I need to know that there is room for not only thicknessing, but also arching adjustment if necessary. The dimensions must be standard, including f-hole placement. Neck sets are very often an issue, and this can negate anything else you do on the instrument.

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Kallie, my point was that you cannot make a DECENT white violin and sell it at a reasonable profit for R5000.

 

Thank you Jacob, I understand the point you were making now. May I ask how much you sell your finished white violins for? If you don't want to mention it here, no problem. Also, can you perhaps give me a link to where I can buy/look at white violins made by Karl Höfner?

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Kallie, the cheapest Höfner white violins cost 220 Euros - and they are no good for my purposes and standards. That's why I have the bodies made incomplete, and get the necks separately. So, I think it is streching it a bit to call them "white violins". They're not even kits.

 

To repeat what I've stated in an earlier post: have them made without f-holes and bass bar, and with extreme plate thicknesses which enables me to adjust the arching prior to interior thicknessing. The necks are supplied separately.

 

For the rest, contact me via the e-mail address on my website (see my profile).

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The best white violins on ebay for instance run $299 US.  I make my own bridges and depending on how much you want to spend on a blank, that can range from     $4 -50 US.  30cc's of Hill varnish runs $150.  Larsen strings are pretty high too.  When it's all said and done, you will have put close to $500 into the instrument.  If you are good at varnishing, you can get $750-$1,000 for it.  My highest was $1,900 for a violin I bought in the white from China on ebay.

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A few years ago, I bought a couple of white violins from different places. The first one turned out pretty good, and I used it as my primary playing fiddle for a year or two. The second one, slightly more expensive with better workmanship, sounded like crap no matter what I did to it. I also picked up a few VSO's for even less money that the white ones (with case). They souded OK as-is, but I took them apart anyway for regraduation, and found they weren't excessively thick, and the varnish was not horrid (not oil, though). By far the worst VSO I came across, for thickness and varnish and sound, was a German student instrument from a few decades ago.

The whole point is this:

- For low-priced instruments, white or complete, you never know what you'll get. Some good, some bad, most medocre. A lot is the luck of the wood.

- For a complete novice in varnishing, it will be difficult to do much better than the completed VSO's.

If your goal is to learn varnishing, then by all means go with white fiddles and forget the profit aspect.

If you want to provide student violinists the best value without you losing too much money, I'd suggest the modified VSO route.

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I don't actually know a lot about the white violin market, but if this is your first foray into varnishing, set-up, etc, I do know you should be prepared to spend a lot of time and money learning how to do it well. I don't mean to be negative. I actually think it is a cool thing to do and it is good that you want to provide something better for new students. I just think that at first it might be difficult to turn a profit if that is one of your main goals. You might have to be prepared to spend years learning how to do it well enough for profit. Especially if you don't have an actual teacher in the flesh. If you go into it with those expectations though, this could be a fun venture.

For a little personal story, I started into this business about 9 years ago. When I started, I had this thought that I was going to have instruments ready to sell right off the bat making good money. I heard people telling me that this was a really hard business to learn and it took time. Somehow I thought my optimism and smarts would make my experience different. Basically I have spent the last 9 years finding out exactly what I was told by those people and I'm still realizing it more and more as time goes on. It's really fun and satisfying, but hard and frustrating as well.

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While there is an advantage to having an actual teacher looking over your shoulder giving instruction, I feel that many things can be learned in the virtual classroom...Take advantage of everything the web has to offer while it lasts...and practice a lot!

I started a similar thread a few years ago with the same idea...now I will be starting my 10th new fiddle.

I also thought seriously about attending a violinmaking school...but unforeseen circumstances prevented me from that. Regardless I'm still able to keep learning and improving just by what the internet has opened up to me.

Friendships come with involvement in the craft and that is where some real help comes.

Good Luck.

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Kallie,

Between obtaining instruments for the varnish workshops and for myself I have a bit of experience in this process.

Certainly cost is a factor.  However an instrument that does not sell is worthless and an expensive investment lesson.

Most shops price their instruments according to the experience of the maker...so a $100 violin is the work of a maker in training.  The $250 violin is more likely to be made by a competent maker.  If you buy from a company rather than ebay you will have the chance to communicate your likes and dislikes about what you buy.  Be loyal and communicate and eventually you will be sold instruments that meet your needs and price points.

In the process, you will learn to varnish.

After years of winnowing through the market,my current instruments are hand made by a trained maker in European woods...graduated as the original models.  But the cost is in keeping with the product.

If you would like specific information about white instruments, PM me and we can talk.  There are a lot of good white student grade instruments available.

Joe

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While there is an advantage to having an actual teacher looking over your shoulder giving instruction, I feel that many things can be learned in the virtual classroom...Take advantage of everything the web has to offer while it lasts...and practice a lot!

I started a similar thread a few years ago with the same idea...now I will be starting my 10th new fiddle.

I also thought seriously about attending a violinmaking school...but unforeseen circumstances prevented me from that. Regardless I'm still able to keep learning and improving just by what the internet has opened up to me.

Friendships come with involvement in the craft and that is where some real help comes.

Good Luck.

 

That pretty much sums up my "career" as well, except that I started in sales and setups, then repairs, then making. In ten years I've made just over 40 instruments, but in my spare time. It would have been easier to have had a teacher or gone to violin-making school/apprenticing, but those opportunities were not available.

 

There is a lot one can learn from forums such as this in conjuction with other reference material: I've managed to aqcuire over two decades's worth of Strad mags. I think when the need is dire, one "seeks" harder, becomes more discrimitate in grading information, and one is more grateful for whatever crumbs of wisdom are picked up along the way.

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I have gotten 3 very nice instruments in the white on ebay made by students is Cremona. I'm not sure that seller has them any more though.

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