Makers and instruments to look for in the $20k-50k USD range.


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Hi Everybody,

I am an amateur violinist who has been playing since high school (over 10 years ago) on a German trade violin purchased for about $8k.  Although it is not a valuable instrument, my teacher and I picked it out of many instruments on the market, and I find that it has a powerful tone that exceeds its price.  My playing has not yet exceeded the instrument's tonal limits, but a bit as a personal reward for myself and just out of love for music and instruments, I am considering getting a new, better violin.  I have set a wide budget at this time, from $20k up to $50k at the absolute maximum.  I am still figuring out what I want and need, but the purpose of this post is to gather some input on that side of things and also to ask for suggestions to look out for. 

I recently went to a well known shop and tried six violins around the $20-$30k range. Out of these, two I disliked and four I liked. To be honest, out of the four I liked, I would be hard pressed to rank them, as they were all powerful and beautiful in tone. Perhaps it is my inexperience playing fine instruments that I could not rank them. I would say the four I liked were indeed slightly better than my current violin, but not drastically so.  Power was similar, but the instruments seemed to have a bit of a sweeter tone and faster response. Surprisingly to me, three out of those four were new fiddles made within the past year and the two I disliked were old Germans. So in this price range, the violins by new makers were indeed very appealing to me.  Given that I already own an old German, I decided to discard the one German trade violin I liked from consideration (I believe a fine example of Roth) and focused on the three new fiddles. The cheapest (surprisingly) was made in Italy, for $20k. The other two were by modern American makers and had won prizes in America, they were priced close to $30k. The sales assistant told me that competition in Cremona for new construction is fierce, which means new Italian instruments are often priced more aggressively than the American violins. 

I did note however, that at the $20-$30k price range, if the goal was to get an antique, it seemed far too low to get a fine French or Italian fiddle.  I must admit, that when I was a violin student, I only cared about quality of sound.  Now that I am older, making my own money, and playing only for hobby rather than performance or competition, I must disclose that my motivations are more impure, as I am now also somewhat concerned with the issue of collectability and appreciation in conjunction with sound. I wonder if I were to extend my budget to $40-$50k, what types of violins would become available? I am also aware that at the higher end of the price range in the title it is also possible to acquire a new violin from one of the more well known new makers. So to distill my thoughts into a series of questions.

1. What antique violin makers are available in the range of $40-$50k? Some Italian makers I have heard of include Poggi and Scarampella, although I fear my price range is much too low? 

2. Do you find antique instruments in the $40-$50k range to be better, worse, or equal to modern violins (speaking in huge generalities, of course).  I unabashedly claim that the modern violins I have tried in the $30k range to be tonally outstanding and perhaps superior to antiques in the same price category. 

3. From an economic perspective, do you expect a modern or antique violin in this price range to hold value better (or perhaps even appreciate)?  Of course for violins like my current one, the issue of collectability is a moot point.

Thank you for reading this long rambling post, I would love to hear everybody's thoughts.  

Best,

Jason

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You are in a very strong position to get a nice instrument. My advice is to not obsess about future resale value and think long term. And save room for a good bow. I would look hard at new instruments, you are well within the price of many talented, experienced, proven makers. 

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I suggest you disconnect your sound quality and the investment goals.

Go to a Violin Society of America competition or some similar event and try out a hundred or two violins that will be on display afterward.  Negotiate a price for one you like to play and buy it for probably a modest cost.  Then buy another century old Italian or French one for investment purposes. 

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For that money, great quality can be had. There are some very good makers on this forum, but I doubt they'd start advertising themselves in this thread. Maybe look at the contemporary makers forum and see if you like something.

If you are willing to travel to Europe, you could try my local favorites: Andrew Finnigan and Pia Klaembt. I know their cellos, which are fantastic, but at least one of their violins is good enough for Anne Sophie Mutter, so I guess they should be quite good.

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1 hour ago, baroquecello said:

, but at least one of their violins is good enough for Anne Sophie Mutter, so I guess they should be quite good.

OK, but let's face it. Just about any maker can donate a violin to some high-profile player, and expect some favorable reaction. Not saying that this is what happened in this particular case, but it certainly can happen, based on my experiences of having been solicited for such.

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5 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

There are also excellent pre-WWII violins by American makers that you could consider in your price range such as George Gemunder, Carl Becker, Ole H. Bryant, and John Friedrich. 

A Carl Becker for 20, 30K? Where? I will buy 10 of them?

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1) play every violin you can. Go to auctions in person and play. Go to every violin shop and play their most expensive violins. All of them. Go to Robertsons & Sons. They have hundreds of violins. Play them all.

2) if you buy used, by perfect condition and perfect provenance. Sound is subjective. Provenance and condition are not. Nobody cares how good a no-name violins sounds if horses have danced on it.

I play a Caron cello, one of 55 in the world. When I head for Heaven someone else will sell it, so I don’t care about that. It may not be the best modern cello in the world( oh who am I kidding? Of course it is!) but I love it. A great Caron violin costs 25-ish, but half the makers here are world-respected. Find out what you like and approximately what your desires cost, and I bet Don Noon, Burgess, Slobodkin and many others can fit you out.

But first find out what you like and what you want in terms of sound quality and playability.

And that requires playing every nice chunk of wood you can get your hands on.

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4 minutes ago, MANFIO said:

A Carl Becker for 20, 30K? Where? I will buy 10 of them?

Just my reaction!

Marty K. is right that price and quality are not always perfectly aligned. As a fairly fast and efficient  maker I have always been able to keep my prices within reach of young professionals but have often seen some pretty badly made violins which somebody was convincing people were worth larger sums. On the other hand there are certainly some makers whose consistently fine work have allowed them to charge top dollar also. The best makers are making instruments of a recognizable, individual  visual style and who have the ability to adjust instruments to their customers preferences but I really can't say I know of any maker whose instruments are consistently preferred by all players from a tonal aspect.

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50K still limits options with Becker. But I just took a peek over at the Reuning web page, there's a nice looking Gemunder in that price range. And it leads me to another good choice, an early 20th century Hill, those seem to be pretty reliable. I'm actually intrigued with the new Hill production too, but never saw one yet.

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I appreciate the helpful suggestions here! When shopping for my first violin from $5-$10k, I felt the new violins did not compare well to the old Germans instruments.  At $30k, I feel the roles have reversed and new violins seemed to me (a little) better.  (Would it be in good etiquette to disclose some of the makers of the violins I tried?) 

I will try and test more violins, and thankfully I am not in a rush to get a new instrument. As GeorgeH mentioned above, when my budget is stretched higher there are some nice vintage options that I have not had the chance to try.  This is what I am curious about, as I've also seen some references to Becker and Gemunder.  Those who have tried, did you like them? 

But I suppose to ask more directly, with $50k in your pocket, would you rather buy a Gemunder (or comparable), or a modern violin from an esteemed maker plus one or two nice bows?  And what would your reasoning be?  

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19 minutes ago, deans said:

50K still limits options with Becker. But I just took a peek over at the Reuning web page, there's a nice looking Gemunder in that price range. And it leads me to another good choice, an early 20th century Hill, those seem to be pretty reliable. I'm actually intrigued with the new Hill production too, but never saw one yet.

The 20th century Hills I have seen were not even close to he quality of a Becker.

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My philosophy is that setting a top end price is all you need. Don't even look at the price tags, makers, or color until you have weeded them out (unless of course you aren't necessarily looking for so much of an improvement as a high-dollar/name investment). of course you would need to play hundreds against your current violin... so having names and prices would help if you don't find that convenient. Also, on an inconsequential note, when at a stale mate on sound quality and price, I personally just go with the one that looks more to my taste :lol:

Happy hunting, I would love to get a part two on this one

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9 hours ago, supraman said:

I will try and test more violins, and thankfully I am not in a rush to get a new instrument. As GeorgeH mentioned above, when my budget is stretched higher there are some nice vintage options that I have not had the chance to try.  This is what I am curious about, as I've also seen some references to Becker and Gemunder.  Those who have tried, did you like them? 

But I suppose to ask more directly, with $50k in your pocket, would you rather buy a Gemunder (or comparable), or a modern violin from an esteemed maker plus one or two nice bows?  And what would your reasoning be?  

As others have said, play everything you can and try to refine your preferences.  As I've said to some customers who were shopping for a new instrument, it's a lot like finding a new personal relationship.  Sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the right one.

If I had that amount of money to spend on violin equipment I would buy a Burgess, Zygmatovich or other well established maker who makes great sounding instruments and a bow or two.  You might have to wait though...  I would do that for two reasons, cost and the likelihood that the instrument would be healthy and stable.  That said, love is where you find it and I've played and worked on many low value instruments that sound MUCH better than many of the instruments I work on routinely that are worth well in excess of your budget.  

But I wonder..., have you explored the limits of what you have and worked with someone who's good at maintenance and adjusting?  I have the impression that your taste and preference may not be well defined at this point and that you're not sure what you are looking for.  Working with someone who's good may help with that and give you more satisfaction playing your current instrument while you search.

When these sorts of discussions come up I always think of the University student who brought me an inexpensive German trade instrument that his mother had given him wanting me to put into good playing shape.  I tried hard to talk him out of it as I knew he was very talented, had limited resources and didn't think the violin would serve him well.  It apparently had enough sentimental value to him that he twisted my arm into working on it.  I was wrong!  It turned out to be a fantastic sounding instrument.  He won some competitions, got Columbia Artists management and had a decent solo career with that violin before getting a University teaching job and being loaned a Strad.

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11 hours ago, supraman said:

would you rather buy a Gemunder (or comparable), or a modern violin

It depends on what you're looking for. 

Older violins by a name maker with an excellent reputation (like Gemunder) tend to have an appreciating price history.

New violins by very well-known contemporary makers may hold their value and even appreciate in the short-term. 

New violins by lesser-known (and unknown) contemporary and recent makers are harder to resell. In fact, auction houses like Tarisio usually won't even consider them for their fine auctions or even their T2. But if you look around, you can find many excellent violins in this category.

Personally, I love old violins by better-known American makers, and I have played some remarkable modern American violins by contemporary makers. @Marty Kasprzyk's suggestion to go to VSA is an excellent one.

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19 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

I suggest you disconnect your sound quality and the investment goals.

Go to a Violin Society of America competition or some similar event and try out a hundred or two violins that will be on display afterward.  Negotiate a price for one you like to play and buy it for probably a modest cost.  Then buy another century old Italian or French one for investment purposes. 

Agreed.  If you enjoy music and playing the violin, sound quality and investment goals should not even be on the same plane.

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Posted (edited)

I disagree. When one pays tens of thousands of dollars of hard earned money for a violin, is it so ridiculous to consider resale value as one of several factors?  I have zero interest in buying a collectible that sounds bad, but I would like to avoid purchasing a fine sounding violin that is one day difficult to sell.  This is a large sum of money and the soundness of the financial decision is important to me. 

Edited by supraman
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Back in the early eights, I got a computer and printer for about 8K Dollars... less than 3 years later it was rubbish.... the same with cell phones, cameras, TVs., no resale value. Most of the things we get have almost no resale value.

See your violin as a tool for making music.

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2 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

It depends on what you're looking for. 

Older violins by a name maker with an excellent reputation (like Gemunder) tend to have an appreciating price history.

New violins by very well-known contemporary makers may hold their value and even appreciate in the short-term. 

New violins by lesser-known (and unknown) contemporary and recent makers are harder to resell. In fact, auction houses like Tarisio usually won't even consider them for their fine auctions or even their T2. But if you look around, you can find many excellent violins in this category.

Excellent summary.

Price and investment value depend on the name.  You might get lucky with a name that's little known now, but becomes known in the future.  Or unlucky with a known name that falls out of favor.  As a playing instrument, I think the highly reputable makers might be relatively consistently good, while some little-known names might be as good... but require more effort to search out.  There's also often major issue of wait times with modern makers, where you won't really know what you're getting until a year or two (or much more) down the road, if you go the commission route.

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1 hour ago, violinnewb said:

Agreed.  If you enjoy music and playing the violin, sound quality and investment goals should not even be on the same plane.

But it's nice when they can overlap, don't you think? Having one doesn't necessarily rule out also having the other.

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2 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

 

New violins by lesser-known (and unknown) contemporary and recent makers are harder to resell. In fact, auction houses like Tarisio usually won't even consider them for their fine auctions or even their T2. But if you look around, you can find many excellent violins in this category.

 

This is incorrect.  Tarisio often has "lesser-known" and unknown contemporary makers instruments for sale.

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Claudio is correct, by what you like and enjoy it for what it is. Any appreciation that happens will be a bonus. With that in mind I would highly recommend you find a good well-known modern maker. You will get a perfect condition instrument that is already desirable by virtue of the reputation of the maker.

I have owned my own cello for 15 years, and I will never put it down for another one. Every time I play it I love it. It does everything I want it to do. The maker is still alive, but is no longer making cellos, having finished his last one a couple of years ago. I’m not worried about resale value, my heirs will deal with that, but I’m confident that if I do decide to sell, I will get my money back and perhaps a wee bit more.

I can name a dozen makers off the top of my head who will give you the same enjoyment. And your instrument will hold its value.

 

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2 hours ago, MANFIO said:

Back in the early eights, I got a computer and printer for about 8K Dollars... less than 3 years later it was rubbish.... the same with cell phones, cameras, TVs., no resale value. Most of the things we get have almost no resale value.

See your violin as a tool for making music.

Shoot, all of the violins I've bought (and all of which would fly below the radar of the high-rollers here) have better resale values by percentage (always 100% or better) than any of the new tech I've ever bought.  One reason why I always get the giggles when somebody here gets their shorts in a wad about the subject.  Enjoy playing your fiddles, and thank God you have them, folks.  :lol:

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