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asovcl

'Brand Name' instruments

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Not to mention any names in particular, but this summer I happened to be in a local vln shop, and was asked to play an instrument by a [very famous and well-known Chinese luthier closely associated with Northern California], so as to help judge if it was a good value for the student, who was also present there with his teacher.

 

Problem is, it turned out to be an exceptionally fine instrument, but 6 months ago I wasn't in the market because I had no need.

 

Now, down the road a piece, I decide I want this instrument (or its twin...), but the individual one I fell in love with [not too strong a word!] was bought by that student, on his teacher's recommendation. [my playing had little or nothing to do with the decision, trust me]

 

So I quick-like-a-bunny decide to call the vln shop, when I'm told "yes, I remember the instrument you liked, it comes in 3 different models, I'll be getting 3 more in very soon" etc., etc. 

 

In the next sentence, he's telling me I really shouldn't buy one because they're "made in China, from Chinese wood.  You really should try these two, they're excellent instruments.  One is made especially for us, the other is a first-class Rumanian instrument."  IOW, he's implying I'd really be a food to spend the same money on "a Chinese instrument.", despite the fact I fell in love with its sound and response.

 

So my question to MNers is, is this guy blowing smoke in my face or what?  Just this summer he couldn't say enough good things about this [famous] Chinese maker and his instruments, now he's trying to sell me something else.  Obviously I'm not going to buy something I don't love.  Is he just trying to sell me an instrument that has a higher profit margin for him??

 

TIA

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Within your price range, buy what sounds the best.  If none of them sound good, country of origin doesn’t matter... so why should it matter if a violin does sound good?

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A few things seem curious.

 

First, for the guy to say, "I remember the violin you liked; they come in 3 different models."  Well, I assume he means there are three different prices for three different levels, although he COULD also mean that they come in Strad, Guarneri, and some other pattern for the same price.  Either way, the one you liked was one specific price and model.

 

I'm pretty sure we all know the brand you mean, but there may be at least two associated with N. Cal.  In my experience they are very good for the money.  The problem you have here is that with any 3 or 4 violins of the same grade, one will almost always be better.  You can't trust that one you might order will be as good as the one you liked.  If you can compare several and find one you like as well that would be wonderful.  If not, I think you'd be best to start over and just look for a violin you like, regardless of make.

 

As for the smoke, I don't want to judge.  But certainly hold out for something you like; and if you are not that well educated in the matter, get several opinions from people who don't have an ax to grind.  Good luck and let us know what happens.    —MO

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He's as much as told me I would be making a poor decision to go Chinese because "it's made of Chinese wood that isn't properly seasoned, may be subject to warping", etc.  Obviously I'm not going to buy something whose sound I don't like, but even if I like the sound, I don't want to get sucked into something physically/architecturally unstable.  

This is the advice I'm looking for.  He may be telling me the truth, he may be telling me the 'truth' as he understands it to be, he may be telling me the 'truth' in order to attempt to sell me an instrument with a higher profit margin, or he may just be blowing smoke in order to, as Carl says, clear his unsold stock.

 

Thanks.

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I think it is easy and possibly misleading to fall into a "brand name" trap with violins. It's one thing when your comparing digital pianos, but even comparing new electric guitars, one can be surprised by the difference between two examples of an identical brand and model. Pianists will compare identical new models of the same maker before choosing the one they want to buy, and between two examples of violins by the same individual maker, there will be differences. If it's a "shop violin," the differences can be enormous, even if the outward appearance is almost identical. Try them all, without prejudice, and see if there's one that really pleases you.

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Asovcl,

 

You could probably find what you are looking for from another dealer.  As stated earlier, you could be referring to one of two companies from norcal.  Either one - I'm sure google could point you to others to try.  The one coming out of El Cerrito is very good for the price.

 

Jerry

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I believe Michael Applemann is correct here. 

You cannot really compare the tone of one specific violin, and then think that you'll get the "same thing", on a violin of the "same model"...

Violins really are all different, acoustic instruments in particular - though I don't wonder that the same might be said about electronic instruments.

 

As he says;

 "Try them all, without prejudice, and see if there's one that really pleases you."

 

Because the ONE that pleased you when you were in the store last time is now gone.

(And probably for the exact reason why you also liked it so much.)

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Almost all violins have a high profit margin

 

Explanation ? Compared to who or what ? I don't know of any super rich violin makers. In fact many of those that I know repair as well to make ends meet. If by high profit margin you mean money going out on material in comparison to money coming back in as the sale of a violin, sure I guess it seems high profit. Then you take into account cost of the shop, tools, general upkeep, insurance etc. plus the skilled labour costs involved in producing a hand made instrument and it doesn't really seem all that high to me. You should know this though as you run a shop, (which by the way looks very nice from the pic you posted a while back).

 

If it takes 100 hours to produce a violin and a maker gets paid only $20 per hour for his labour then the cost is $2000 just for labour. (I would put the per hour skilled labour at a much higher rate though.) Once you add in the other costs and the various uncertainties it seems about like any other business to me. That is to say, it is difficult and requires a great deal of drive and patience and even perhaps some luck.

 

A dentist on the other hand, now there are some high profit margins. Or how about the profit margin on a cup of coffee ? Where I live there are at least 10 independent coffee shops in 5 minute walking distance and they have been going for years now, clearly able to pay rent and staff and generate a profit and with little else than a good espresso machine, coffee and milk. Of course these are just my outside views as I am neither a dentist nor a barrista.

 

r.

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Rick, I think he was referring to the wholesale/retail part of the violin biz.  It's a high margin compared to the rest of the music retail biz, believe me.  Most of my violin shop buddies are shocked at the margin the rest of my company deals with.  I love the margin of my "unfretted string" catagory.  Your, of course, right about the majority of makers margins on their own instruments.  The only margins I see poor in a retail violin shop are consignments, but that doesn't count as much since you have invested usually nothing in the instrument (GMROI, or performance as my stores refer to it).  Some shops compete heavily on the margin on strings too.  jeff (in N. calif  :rolleyes: )

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He had some other violins with more margin for himself. I've had my head bitten off before here, so I'm not implying that all dealers act this way, or even that it's wrong to push what will make one more money. The explanations he gave aren't the meat of the story, though. When you hear something like that, you're hearing: I have something comparable words words words that I'll clear more profit out of words words.

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Does anyone know if  there's a way to contact Admin?  Not all my posts are coming up, the system is treating me like a new member forever.  I shouldn't need "a moderator before this post is shown."

 

Just in case this gets posted, I'll say thanks to everyone.  I'm aware not all instruments of the same "pattern" sound alike.  I'm under no pressure to buy, but if I find something else I really, really like, I also won't hesitate to put my Italian instrument up for sale in Chicago.  I only have one or two more seasons to play, at the most.  I'd rather not leave something of great value to my family, none of whom have any expertise whatsoever in this minefield.

 

Thanks again.

 

Larry

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If the wood isn't 'seasoned properly' why on earth is he selling these instruments and 'getting 3 more in'? That seems like a recipe for many very disgruntled customers. It doesn't make much sense at all.

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Explanation ? Compared to who or what ? I don't know of any super rich violin makers.

I don't either, except that maybe a better job at that can be done by violinmakers who don't actually make their own stuff.

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I don't either, except that maybe a better job at that can be done by violinmakers who don't actually make their own stuff.

 

Hey David.

 

Should these people actually be called violin "makers" then ? I guess in my last post I was thinking of the individual like yourself who make their own instruments from start to finish. I know that there are many different approaches and models of shops and I am not making value judgements, I am only clarifying that in my previous post I meant a one man business creating hand crafted items.

 

For me once there are many other hands involved creating the product it becomes a different thing.

 

r.

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For me once there are many other hands involved creating the product it becomes a different thing.

 

 

When you study the history of violin and bow making, it turns out that many of the most romantic figures were running workshops. Stradivari, Vuillaume, Sartory just for starters ...

It would be interesting to know at what stage in our recent history this became such a vile concept! It used to be the only way that anyone learnt how to make a violin.

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Not new fiddles by actual violin makers! The thread was about modern, mass produced trade instruments. My statement also refers to many old violins and bows. Take a look at auction prices compared to retail prices. Yes I know some instruments need lots of repair and set up and that they can sit in inventory for years, etc, etc. I have no problem with profit and profit margin, just the potential abuses inherent in human nature. It's true that there aren't many rich violin makers, but there are certainly wealthy dealers. Does that clear it up?

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When you study the history of violin and bow making, it turns out that many of the most romantic figures were running workshops. Stradivari, Vuillaume, Sartory just for starters ...

It would be interesting to know at what stage in our recent history this became such a vile concept! It used to be the only way that anyone learnt how to make a violin.

 

I am of course well aware of this fact Martin. My point was simply that the profit margin for a single maker is very different from that of a business who produces violins in a production line manner or those businesses which sell these instruments. I also know that there have been many other scenarios of how instruments have been manufactured and retailed in the past as for example the Mirecourt and Markneukirchen manufacturers and subsequent points of sale.

 

I too think that it is interesting that I, and I am certain there must be others, have this feeling regarding the "lone" maker, but I wouldn't say that I personally am vilifying the idea of "ye olde shoppe". To clarify my feelings, using a Fender guitar as an example, I can accept that it was made in a factory by any number of individuals and that it is clearly a mass produced item bearing a brand. When it comes to an instrument with a label inside signed by one hand indicating an individual and personal involvement in its creation then I could find it somewhat misleading. If one considers an item outside of the violin world for a moment like the work of a writer for example, it is clear to me that we as a society have always had a predilection for the individual creator in the way we praise and celebrate the individuality of authorship. In the same way, a bespoke item has always held more value in our society than something which was "mass produced" and in my opinion rightly so.

 

Stradivarius' "shoppe" and the factories of Mirecourt are of course completely different, but perhaps the modern concept desiring a single author is a slow motion knee jerk reaction to the facelessness of what began as the industrial revolution. I think it might simply come down to the fact that as human beings we seek humanity in everything we engage in, so when there is no "personal handshake" that comes with a product which suggests it, we might feel confused or even alienated.

 

I realize that this thread was started in regards to the OPs experience in a violin shop and that my comments aren't exactly within the topic of this thread, however Eric stated something which I felt was not completely correct. Eric has subsequently clarified his thoughts and I will post my reply to him after this one.

 

Sorry if this is a long winded response, and I don't expect a personal detailed reply from you.

 

Cheers.

 

r.

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Not new fiddles by actual violin makers! The thread was about modern, mass produced trade instruments. My statement also refers to many old violins and bows. Take a look at auction prices compared to retail prices. Yes I know some instruments need lots of repair and set up and that they can sit in inventory for years, etc, etc. I have no problem with profit and profit margin, just the potential abuses inherent in human nature. It's true that there aren't many rich violin makers, but there are certainly wealthy dealers. Does that clear it up?

 

Eric, I think I may have completely misunderstood where you were coming from and further more the title of the thread should have helped to clue me in !  I guess I found something provocative in your statement. I agree with you on what you have stated above and I suppose it is partially these realities which may have initiated my comments. I am not certain that the wealth of a dealer immediately signifies "abuses" but of course it is possible. The thing that gets me down is the gap between reasonable financial success while still keeping things small and personal.

 

Cheers.

 

r.

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Rick,

 

I don't want to contradict you nor pull this thread way off topic, but your mentioning of Fender electric guitars made me want to just highlight something that I think casts an eerie light on our violin obsession. If you get into the world of electric guitar collectors, you find a bizarro mirror world of violin nuts. People pay old violin money (20000-300000$) for electric guitars, made in "factories" only 60-70 years ago, of which the brand and model are still being produced in modern factories, officially and as fakes, in the US and all over the world. People obsess over the year, the workshop, and the individual worker who made parts like the bolt-on neck or wound the pick-up coils of a '62 Fender. They are convinced that the wood, pickup magnets, or oil-soaked paper capacitors of an aged '59 Gibson produce a sound that cannot be found in a modern Gibson and will pay crazy money for an authentic old one. Unscrupulous e-guitar luthiers will make aged copies with faked serial numbers and pass them off as "vintage," while certain real "vintage" guitars by less esteemed marques, or less prestigious models by Gibson and Fender sit on dealer's shelves and can't be given away.

 

To me being exposed to this world has helped me put alot of violin lore into perspective. It's not necessarily because our legends are hundreds of years old that they are more valid than those of electric guitar nuts. 

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Hey there Michael.

 

I know a little about guitar prices. During my life I have played in many bands and have owned some nice guitars. I however would be much more inclined to spend serious money on a hand made violin than a factory made electric guitar. This is not only because of a predilection for violins but the fact that an electric guitar's "sound" in my opinion has much less to do with it's construction.

 

Bringing this thread back on the topic of brand name instruments, I bought a re-issue Gretsch guitar 3 years ago which plays and "sounds" fantastic ! It was one of three that I tried in the shop that day. I wasn't really in the market for a new guitar but the price was great and the instrument incredibly pleasing to play and I had an upcoming gig which could justify the purchase.  This "brand" used to be made exclusively in the US and the original copies of these are somewhat expensive but nowhere near the frenzied pricing of Fender or Gibson. In my estimation the re-issue that I bought is every bit the guitar of any original Gretsch I have played. The interesting thing is that now Gretsch manufactures mainly,

( perhaps only ? ) in Japan and Korea. The Japanese made guitar that I tried that same day, same model exactly, was close to three times the price of the Korean one that I bought, yet the Korean guitar was hands down a better playing and sounding guitar.

 

So when it comes to brandname instruments or just instruments in general, as I think you may have stated earlier,  I suppose once you get over the "label" and country of origin, the "musicality" of the instrument is where the true value lies.

 

Cheers.

 

r.

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