Buying an unlabelled Violin/Viola


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Hi everyone,

 

I have an unlabelled viola in my possession for a week to try out before I buy. German instrument from 150 years ago.  Very beautiful tone, responsive, full sounding.  Pricey (for me) - around 15k.

My only concern in buying this is how much I would lose if I later on decide to sell it.   Anyone who owned a violin would know they do not always go up in value, in fact the mostly go down, with the difference paying for restoration, new setup, rent, space and effort of the violin shop - I have nothing against this.  Plus time to get that buyer to surface.

In my experience it is incredibly difficult to find exceptional sounding instruments - at any price.  I have recently tried a new handmade viola at the same price - not the same quality.  I have had the same experience with violins.  I got luck after going through about 40 violins at various shops to find a very nice (also older and unlabelled) violin at just under 3k.  It is not perfect (a bit wolfy in the high register on the G string, and the harmonics are difficult to get to ring), but I love the sound quality for baroque and classical pieces.  I have to say I tried mostly at the 5k range, plus a few 7k to 8k violins.  The few violins priced at 15k to 20k that I tried just to see were worse than this gem - they were labelled from mid-tier European makers.

I have only tried one new handmade instrument.  Maybe I will find more consistency and quality here.  I don't know.

 

What is the upper limit you would pay for an unlabelled instrument?  Am I the greater fool here?

By the way, I live in Europe, so plenty of violin dealers (players and students) around.

 

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Lots of people could supply you with a label if it bothers you. The seller must have some sort of attribution beyond just "German" to justify that price I would think, and should be able to back it up with details about the instrument regardless of it being without a label.

My advice would be not to buy any instrument if you have any inkling that you may have to sell it soon. You should also try more new instruments.

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Unless you are buying very highly priced instruments, possibly collectible or attractive to big buck investors, you can't count on making money when you sell it.  Also, violins are not very liquid investments, i.e. you might have to wait for years before it sells, or you sell it at auction and often get a lower price than you paid.  My attitude, unless you are a dealer, is don't buy an instrument unless you love it.

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9 hours ago, dhat1 said:

Hi everyone,

 

I have an unlabelled viola in my possession for a week to try out before I buy. German instrument from 150 years ago.  Very beautiful tone, responsive, full sounding.  Pricey (for me) - around 15k.

My only concern in buying this is how much I would lose if I later on decide to sell it.   Anyone who owned a violin would know they do not always go up in value, in fact the mostly go down, with the difference paying for restoration, new setup, rent, space and effort of the violin shop - I have nothing against this.  Plus time to get that buyer to surface.

In my experience it is incredibly difficult to find exceptional sounding instruments - at any price.  I have recently tried a new handmade viola at the same price - not the same quality.  I have had the same experience with violins.  I got luck after going through about 40 violins at various shops to find a very nice (also older and unlabelled) violin at just under 3k.  It is not perfect (a bit wolfy in the high register on the G string, and the harmonics are difficult to get to ring), but I love the sound quality for baroque and classical pieces.  I have to say I tried mostly at the 5k range, plus a few 7k to 8k violins.  The few violins priced at 15k to 20k that I tried just to see were worse than this gem - they were labelled from mid-tier European makers.

I have only tried one new handmade instrument.  Maybe I will find more consistency and quality here.  I don't know.

 

What is the upper limit you would pay for an unlabelled instrument?  Am I the greater fool here?

By the way, I live in Europe, so plenty of violin dealers (players and students) around.

 

Your experience sounds much like mine. In the nineties I tried numerous violins up to £10k without finding one that seemed to justify the outlay on grounds of playing qualities better than my old violin (worth maybe £3K) and/or pedigree. Finally it was a relatively cheap brand new one by an amateur Italian maker that hit the spot. In the last few years I've acquired a clutch of old British violins that I like almost in inverse proportion to what they cost. So I sold the Italian for almost exactly what I'd paid.

My upper limit for a violin without any pedigree would be maybe £500, but maybe I'm a snob because for me history and back-story count for a lot

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20 minutes ago, matesic said:

In the last few years I've acquired a clutch of old British violins that I like almost in inverse proportion to what they cost.

Antique British violins can be picked up for peanuts compared to many other things. They aren't all good but a lot of them are, I have no idea why they continue to be worth so little in relative terms.

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10 hours ago, dhat1 said:

I have only tried one new handmade instrument. 

$15,000 is a lot of skins.  I could say a lot, but the biggest thing is make sure it sounds to people a few feet away as interesting as it sounds to you while playing.  I have had people say wow that is great about an instrument that sounded 100% nothing special to me while playing it.  Letting other judge instead might save you ten grand or so.  Not to ruin somebody's sale, but just saying. 

How does the seller justify the $15,000 to you -- frankly I have to wonder if you drove up in a Mercedes and raved about the fiddle in front of him and his family...  If the seller says it's the sound, sound really has little to do with price. Sound is too personal.   Price is who made it, and its health.

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5 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

Not to ruin a sale, but just saying.  How does the seller justify the $15,000 price tag to you -- I have to wonder if you drove up in a Mercedes and raved about the fiddle in front of him...

That is rather speculative, and probably completely wrong.
Many shops have stock lists where you can see the price of everything before you start.
Maybe where you live it's different Bill, and people are making up the price on the spot, depending on how clean your dungarees are?

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10 minutes ago, Wood Butcher said:

We don't know if it's a run of the mill instrument, or not. 

Its origins are unknown and it's from Germany.  Me too, but does that make me worth $15,000?  I think not...

I have to assume the poster is telling us everything he was told about the fiddle.  If not, then it can be a genuine Jacob Stainer, and whoopie

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11 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

Its origins are unknown and it's from Germany.  Me too, but does that make me worth $15,000?  I think not...

I have to assume the poster is telling us everything he was told about the fiddle.  If not, then it can be a genuine Jacob Stainer, and whoopie

Stainer wasn't German.
I think you would fetch more than $15,000 on the transplant market.

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1 minute ago, Bill Merkel said:

maybe, if it was bill gates needing the kidney,

but seriously, if you're a violin dealer, and i have no reason to suspect you aren't, how would you justify that tag with the information about the fiddle you've been given?

I'm not. The point I am making is that we don't have enough information to say one way or another.

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6 minutes ago, Wood Butcher said:

I'm not. The point I am making is that we don't have enough information to say one way or another.

okay, then we will wait for the op to let us know the seller said it was made by stainer's cousin on his mother's side by marriage once removed.  otherwise you know and i know it's not worth 15,000 somalians. 

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lol  "without any evidence" is the first cousin by marriage on the mother's side of "unjustified claims".  problem is evidence is actively ignored at all costs!.  again and for the last time i ask you what would make it worth 15,000  american greenbacks?  it was used by marilyn monroe to ...?  never mind

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I'll ask for more info - it looks to be in very good condition.  The maker is unknown - I know this for sure.  I can't see any cracks or anything structurally unsound.  Something I should ask about - including what restoration if any was done.   Ultimately I buy it for the playing experience, but my tastes may, probably will change over time.  If I can sell it again for 10k I would buy no question.  If it is really worth 3k... then not so sure.  I'm happy to put a 5k wager on this being my long term instrument.

I'm reasonably experienced player - not an experienced buyer though.  To me the sound of this instrument is exceptional compared to what I have played before - everything just works, intonation, responsiveness, tone is wonderful, sonorous and no wolf tones.  I'll play it hard over the next days to see there is an area of weakness - especially the upper registers.  I have a lesson on Monday - my teacher is a pro player and see what she thinks.

I don't know if sound quality is completely subjective.  There are clearly poor and average sounding instruments.  At the high end I agree, some people like it more nasal, powerful, bright/dark.   But I wonder if exceptionally good sounding instruments simply don't get traded all that often.  Average or poor instruments are plentiful on the market.  Would this not lead to a markup for this quality more so than indicated in the posts above?  I'm talking here about the really exceptional instruments.

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19 minutes ago, dhat1 said:

I don't know if sound quality is completely subjective.  There are clearly poor and average sounding instruments.  At the high end I agree, some people like it more nasal, powerful, bright/dark.   But I wonder if exceptionally good sounding instruments simply don't get traded all that often.  Average or poor instruments are plentiful on the market.  Would this not lead to a markup for this quality more so than indicated in the posts above?  I'm talking here about the really exceptional instruments.

Sound quality is subjective, what one loves, another might not. It also depends on the context, something which sounds rich and dark, with a chocolatey C string might sound truly amazing played at home on your own, or in a quartet. In an orchestral setting, it might be really hard to hear yourself, and the sound is just lost.

Instruments for this reason, need to be priced on what they are. Although you say the person selling it does not know the maker, this does not mean that another person won't. You really need to look into getting a second or third opinion, before considering it further.

 

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So you have it in your possession for a week, and you ask us to "appraise it" without pictures???? Can't be done!

Take a very good series of pictures as recommended in the post at the top of the page, and post them. For all we know at this point, it could just be a dolled up dutzenarbeit worth $1000.

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I think you guys should read the original post.  I'm merely looking for an opinion of unlabelled violins in general, and how much the sound quality should affect the price.  The answer I have received here is, basically, "not that much".

Thanks to the contributions I am in a better place to consider what to do.

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Buy whatever makes you happy at a price you are comfortable paying - assuming you get less than half the price back if you sell it.

"Value" in the violin world means about a much as it does in the art world.  Better artists than Banksy make nothing... and so it goes.

I have an acquaintance who dumped a TON of money on a historic fiddle from a Boston maker - and it sounds like crap, seriously, like it is stuffed with damp dish rags.  But he loves it and brags about how little he paid.

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13 minutes ago, dhat1 said:

I think you guys should read the original post.  I'm merely looking for an opinion of unlabelled violins in general, and how much the sound quality should affect the price.  The answer I have received here is, basically, "not that much".

I don’t have an opinion in general about unlabelled violins (or labelled ones). Nor does anyone else who knows what they are talking about

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