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Geoffrey Allison violins


Peter Jackson

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I’ve been playing about two and a half years and have a violin made by a local maker here. I was in Nashville and had the chance to play a violin by Geoffrey Allison. I loved it immediately. The price tag was $12k. I can’t find a whole lot on him except he was an army medic who made violins while in Iraq. I don’t mind spending good money on a nice violin I’ll keep for life, but the high price is making me a little shy wondering if it will retain value. Violin making is a cottage industry and some builders are more renowned than others, and I just wonder about going with and older European violin with a more prominent name or the one I played by Allison. Does anyone have any knowledge and experience with this maker? 

 

Peter

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I have found a handful of articles in various magazines, some are just duplicates. I was looking to see if anyone had any more information other than what I found. Actually looking to see if anyone had played them or had any more personal contact with the builder. I found one thread where a member spoke as if he had some type of deeper knowledge of his violins 

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If the instrument is handmade by a single maker using good materials, $12,000 could be a good price for it if you love the sound.

It will probably hold its value.

However, at $12,000, you have so so so so so many options.  That's a really nice price range to be in.  Make sure you have some fun shopping around.

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Well, my concern is the with violin building being such a cottage industry, there may be a wide range of perceived value to a builders violins. One person who is familiar with the builder might value a violin highly, while another person who is not familiar with that builder might not value it as much. I have only been playing violin for two and half years, so I am a real new player. I sincerely appreciate any input from anyone. My goal would be to not repeat what I have done with other instruments, which is to buy a beginner instrument, and then upgrade to a slightly better one, and then a slightly better one, etc. I have collected quite a few instruments now I have to sell. This method seemed to have worked with a guitar. I purchased a nice Martin D-18 and have no aspirations to upgrade, and I figured I saved myself countless evolutions of guitar upgrades. I would like to do the same thing with violins. I know this is a lifetime pursuit, and I would like to purchase an instrument that will last lifetime. I played a violin made by him and was struck instantly but putting down that amount on a violin I really dont know a lot about just makes me nervous as it pertains to retaining value. 

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May i offer an alternate view? You have stated a goal of not having to upgrade, but...

Unless there are other family members who will play violin, you should sell what violins you do not need. You live near a musically vital area so it should not be that difficult. And though not as easy as selling guitars, a little thought provoking. Now is the time as schools are starting up, if the schools near by are fortunate enough to have programs.

Depending on style of music or the direction your personal abilities might take you, it might help to purchase an interim violin before heading into the five-figure range. Bowed instruments, even more so than any other instrument including guitars, have different ways they play and shape one's ability to improve. As a windplayer, one aspires to a set brand and often a newer model Buffet, Loree, Yamaha, Bach... Violins have had too many years to ferment.

It might be to your advantage to try brighter instruments that help with developing intonation, warmer sounding instruments for developing tone. How large are your hands? Have you had an instrument you like fit to be comfortable? Have you tried better bows? I say the four to seven year mark is when a player settles in and improvement stalls a bit. Some will jump start their interest in playing by purchasing an instrument then.

Which will a player do? Improve to the level of the violin or develop their playing to purchase a violin that sounds as one would like?

For example, If there were enough funds to capture a Jonathan Cooper, as he is a well-known maker who has been consistent and respected in several genres of music, the financial risk is very low and the people who are supportive in that network of players is very encouraging. There are some who feel that the much older Douglas Cox instruments at lower, reasonable prices are also very low risk. This is certainly trying to look into the future as to what you might want.

For the interim violins, there are newer German-constructed violins of companies like Eastman instruments and models like Doetschs and Kliers played on by advancing students that have a variety of tonal choices that could be a great place to learn. Based on more conventional forms, they are low risk for resale and adapting to another instrument would be easy. Also a good platform to discover how bows behave. This might be an exception, but i have played on an outstanding handmade Knilling in St Louis, which i should have purchased ( some violin shops are clustered there in downtown St Louis. ) These are primarily European wood instruments. Some of my friends in Southern Texas swear by Southern Chinese instruments as the climates are similar and in areas like Dallas Metro there are an abundance of great relatively inexpensive cellos.

Which bring me back to where you live. I have extended family in Nashville and a friend's spouse was a Surgeon at Vanderbuilt ( of music related injuries ) so i had been there often. Many things are un-orthodox ( as related to high-European art ) but the music scene is varied enough that if there was personal development to be had, you would find it. If the Allison violin is at a shop, is there an upgrade program from a lower instrument or to a higher one? Maybe you'd want an early century 000-28 or a more fancy 1940s 000-45?

Enjoy the process, but would get working on selling what you do not want as this is the season.

 

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Right now I only have one violin, made by Elon Howe who lives not far away. My many instruments would not be violins, but rather others I am in the process of selling.  Actually I really only shop for violins in Nashville because that is where I typically go, and the said violin is at a shop there. I’ll try it out when I go in October providing it’s still there. 

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On 8/20/2019 at 5:05 PM, Peter Jackson said:

Well, my concern is the with violin building being such a cottage industry, there may be a wide range of perceived value to a builders violins. One person who is familiar with the builder might value a violin highly, while another person who is not familiar with that builder might not value it as much.

Yes.  You understand correctly.

I wouldn't use the term cottage industry in quite that way, but, indeed, violin makers are often independent artisans, not well known on the national and international market.

(I usually think of "cottage industry" referring to 19th Century large-scale industrial production at home shops.  Those instruments, touched by many hands, even if quite good, I would expect to fetch a lower price on average.)

Probably, someone over on the Pegbox has a better sense of it than I do, but paying between $8,000-$18,000 for a new master made instrument (whoever made it) sounds very normal, these days.  I can't say for sure that the material scientists and 3D printing engineers won't get together and create a $4 violin tomorrow that'll put every Stradivari to shame.  The market on handmade violins could collapse at any time.

One of the most valuable lessons in investing: past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Just because violins and bows have gone up in price throughout my lifetime, just because fine Italian violins have been one of the best investments in the world, it doesn't mean it's safe money.

My own Baroque viola is by a relatively unknown living maker who has made no other Baroque violas that I know of.  I certainly thought about that fact as I shelled out close to what you're considering.  But, then, I could consider the Baroque viola an investment in my career and I made sure to buy the instrument from a reputable shop.  (And, I had been shopping for years at that point and knew what I was looking for.)

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 9/16/2019 at 1:56 PM, chip19 said:

are you talking about this year you saw that violin.  what store if you dont mind me asking?   I own one Allison violin is why.  Thanks.

Chip19, yes it was one I saw this year in Nashville and played it. My question really goes to the heart of what sells a violin, the story or the instrument. I see violins at this store by John Dailey of Carriage House Violins and its for sale for much less than the Geoffrey Allison, by 1/3 the amount. John is a well schooled violin maker. I"m just trying to ascertain how much "instrument" I'm buying and how much "story" I'm buying with the Allison violin. 

A friend just bought a violin from Paul Bradley in Ireland, again a professionally schooled builder, and the price was in same price range as John Dailey's violin. 

What are your thoughts on your violin and sound? Any comments would be appreciated. 

 

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THe only story known to me about Allison is that which was printed in the press LA Times and International Herald Tribune I think, regarding building violins in a bunker in Iraq.   I think mine is from 2005.  The article link is here if you dont have it.   https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-sep-25-et-violin25-story.html

Mine plays very well, beautifully antiqued, and a medium focused tone.  Not too bright or dark.  I have Larsen strings.  I gave it to a professional violinist touring my city once to try out in a nice recital hall.  Man, it was amazing.   Always good to stand back and let someone else play it for you too.   

 Personally, I would not worry about whether or not it will be a investment to turn into more money.  I would buy something that I like , period.  Although, I would probably choose an individual maker over a factory or shop make.  Unless you are talking about 1800's shop of Vuillaume or the like.   Also, there are plenty of single maker violins under 10 grand to like.   Also, I think that 12k is steep for an Allison.  Unless he has won a major prize recently.  I havent been keeping up.   Good luck!

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I also agree with the advice to look for a nice workshop violin, which would set you back around $2k-5k, and which you could probably eventually sell for a break-even or slight loss when you're ready to upgrade again. 

If you're considering a $12k violin, I would set yourself a budget and do some serious shopping in that price range (and below) -- say $10k to $15k. There is tons of inventory at that price, and you owe it to yourself to try lots of violins before settling on one. This miracle Allison violin you're playing may feel wondrous simply  because you haven't had enough experience with better violins.

Find a violin that you think is worthwhile even if it turns out that is worthless for resale later. Resale value is nice, but if you want to invest your money, go put it in the stock market or something; focus on the utility value of your purchase and not its investment value. Think of it more like buying a car.

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  • 1 year later...

Dear Mr. Jackson,

     Geoffrey Allison is the real deal.  If you like his violin, go ahead and buy it.  You will not be sorry and you will not lose value.

     I first met Geoffrey Allison when I was an Army physician and he was one of my combat medics.  I've been to his violin studio in Washington (state) and really respect his craftsmanship -- as do Roger Hargrave and the folks at the Violin Society of America.  He's spoken at the Oberlin violinmaking workshop multiple times.  He's built not only standard violins and violas, but also five-string instruments, much in demand in Nashville, which are the only five-strings I've ever played that don't sound either like a violin with a bad-sounding C string or a viola with a bad-sounding E string.  They are remarkably even in sound across all five.  Obviously, violins are a very personal taste, and no maker is right for everyone, even disregarding price.  But if you like Geoff's violin, don't worry that he's a no-name.  There's nothing second-rate about him other than that he hasn't been dead 300 years.

     For what it's worth, I'm a hemi-demi-semi-professional violist, among other things.  If I needed a new instrument I'd call Geoff and ask him to make me one, sight unseen.

     Jonathan Newmark, Burke, Virginia

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  • 4 weeks later...

I bought one of Geoffrey's first instruments on the market in 2011. I loved it immediately. I have a degree in Violin performance and my Dad is a retired violin professor. I was looking for something that had similar tonal qualities to the old Italians I played at the violin shops and Allison's violin was the closest I could find that wasn't going to cost a mortgage. I continue to love it! I would not hesitate to purchase his instruments.

 

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