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How do you sell your handmade violins?


TedN
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I have a question that seems to not be discussed very often, but seems quite important. How do you sell your own handmade violins?

It seems there could be many approaches that a luthier could take to selling their violins. A luthier could make a website and post pictures on their site and try to popularize the website.

You could go to musical tradeshows and sell them there.

You could become involved in musical communities and get to know violinists, and sell them directly to musicians.

You could strive to win an award at the VSA and grow your reputation through this channel.

You could sell directly to dealers.


What is your opinion about the best approach for selling your violins? Or do you use many of these tactics and more?

I am a professionally trained student, but breaking out into the market seems a little difficult. Thanks for your help!

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Hi Ted! Selling is an art by itself. Although we sell "tools for making music", our market is far from being a a rational one, it looks more like the art market, perhaps you could read some articles about that

It will depend a bit of your "target market". Do you sell for students? Fidlers? In my case, I am far away from my players that are, in general, professional, in a good orchestra, over 30 years old,  already have a good viola and are very demanding. So I have to travel a lot with my violas, find good dealers in different places, answer to emails, etc.

Selling is a work like being in your workbench. If you don't work a bit on sales, they will not occur, in general.

In my case, there is nothing like "natural sales", they are in general the result of work. So I meet players here when their orchestras are in the city, teachers in the USA and Europe, dealers, other makers, answer emails and messages, etc.

My latest sale was to a very fine player and soloist in the Royal Phil. Orchestra in London. I just gave a look and she first contacted me back in ...   2013!  In 2012 I sold a viola to an important teacher in Seoul, S. Korea... I imagine I would sell a lot to his students....  well, it took 9 years to happen.  A dealer may take years to sell your instrument.

But I am a viola maker, and my market is a bit different too, more difficult than the violin and cello market, perhaps. 

And, yes, it may be hard for a young makers today. Keep working and good luck!

 

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I own a cellist made by a great maker. He used to live in Dallas and sold a few violins and violas to colleagues, so he developed a name, and a couple violinists and violists bought instruments from him.

This is over the course of perhaps 15 years?

his reputation grew and he started making full-time, after doing it only on the weekends, and he built up a waiting list and was able to move out of Dallas into the mountains, and he started making cellos.

One of the violists who had owned an early instrument from him sold it in favor of a Ceruti, But apparently in the last few years has sold the Ceruti And returned to one of his Violas.

I don’t think you wanna wait 20 years, but it’s the rest of the story that might be of benefit to you.

Several years ago he was on the verge of retirement, and he met a young girl who had talent, and she became his, hmm not necessarily his apprentice, because she was already a competent craftsman; I’m not sure what the best word would be, but he passed on his secrets to her, and he started spreading her name, she’s probably made five or six instruments by now, I’ve seen some but haven’t been able to play one, last I checked her third cello was for sale for a quite pretty penny, after her first two had sold quickly for a slightly less pretty penny. So maybe you could develop a relationship With an established maker?

Contact some famous makers, show your work and ask for possible referrals, as well as requesting some guidance?

i’m not sure how feasible that is, but it’s certainly an avenue to explore.

Wish you all the best! It would be lovely to see some of your instruments.

Edited by PhilipKT
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45 minutes ago, TedN said:

I have a question that seems to not be discussed very often, but seems quite important. How do you sell your own handmade violins?

It seems there could be many approaches that a luthier could take to selling their violins. A luthier could make a website and post pictures on their site and try to popularize the website.

You could go to musical tradeshows and sell them there.

You could become involved in musical communities and get to know violinists, and sell them directly to musicians.

You could strive to win an award at the VSA and grow your reputation through this channel.

You could sell directly to dealers.


What is your opinion about the best approach for selling your violins? Or do you use many of these tactics and more?

I am a professionally trained student, but breaking out into the market seems a little difficult. Thanks for your help!

I think I have used all the ones you mention, but essentially the most important thing is to let people know that you exist and above all to make known the quality of your work. If it reaches this goal, every system is fine and the more you use the more chances there will be

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I say that you travel to all the shops in the area and show your instruments to them.  They may take an instrument on consignment.  Price your instruments fairly.  Fair to you first and fair to the prospective buyers.  I would also wait until I have several to show also. 

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First step-- grow callouses over your ego. As Luis said, ask every player for serious feedback.

And take your axes to shops, and ask them-- what would I have to do better for you to confidently sell my stuff here? This will teach you about different markets, and if you're not a complete dipshit, it will get you used to hearing stuff you don't want to hear, and allow the callouses you grow over your ego to help you succeed.

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And Ted, sorry, none of that was aimed at you in particular! I just find that makers, even quite good makers! get in their own way and stop shops and markets from helping them sell their stuff. We all have this chip about integrity and selling out and our own vision, when we can focus on making violins Within the strictures of the needs of a given market and succeed, instead of taking advice badly and failing to grow relationships where money is to be had.

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Any discerning musician will want to try your instruments along with others and take one for trial in different environments.  Depending on your target customers this may include a trial in a large performance space as well as more intimate environments. I think the only realistic way of achieving this (unless you have a sufficiently high profile that people will seek out your website and contact you directly) is to work with a shop. Of course there will be commission to pay and you will be competing with other makers and older instruments but if your instruments are good and appropriately priced they should sell.

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2 hours ago, MANFIO said:

Hi Ted! Selling is an art by itself. Although we sell "tools for making music", our market is far from being a a rational one, it looks more like the art market, perhaps you could read some articles about that

It will depend a bit of your "target market". Do you sell for students? Fidlers? In my case, I am far away from my players that are, in general, professional, in a good orchestra, over 30 years old,  already have a good viola and are very demanding. So I have to travel a lot with my violas, find good dealers in different places, answer to emails, etc.

Selling is a work like being in your workbench. If you don't work a bit on sales, they will not occur, in general.

In my case, there is nothing like "natural sales", they are in general the result of work. So I meet players here when their orchestras are in the city, teachers in the USA and Europe, dealers, other makers, answer emails and messages, etc.

My latest sale was to a very fine player and soloist in the Royal Phil. Orchestra in London. I just gave a look and she first contacted me back in ...   2013!  In 2012 I sold a viola to an important teacher in Seoul, S. Korea... I imagine I would sell a lot to his students....  well, it took 9 years to happen.  A dealer may take years to sell your instrument.

But I am a viola maker, and my market is a bit different too, more difficult than the violin and cello market, perhaps. 

And, yes, it may be hard for a young makers today. Keep working and good luck!

 

Hi Manfio,

This is excellent advice. Thank you for taking the time to craft this response. I have heard that selling a violin is just as hard as making a violin. I am not very experienced in salesmanship, to be honest, but you have to start somewhere I suppose. I will probably need to nash my teeth a bit more and work on selling instruments. I think my target audience will eventually be the same as your target audience, but I will need to start by selling to students.

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37 minutes ago, Christopher Jacoby said:

First step-- grow callouses over your ego. As Luis said, ask every player for serious feedback.

And take your axes to shops, and ask them-- what would I have to do better for you to confidently sell my stuff here? This will teach you about different markets, and if you're not a complete dipshit, it will get you used to hearing stuff you don't want to hear, and allow the callouses you grow over your ego to help you succeed.

That's a good point. Humility is always a friend and so is critical feedback.

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11 minutes ago, TedN said:

Hi Manfio,

This is excellent advice. Thank you for taking the time to craft this response. I have heard that selling a violin is just as hard as making a violin. I am not very experienced in salesmanship, to be honest, but you have to start somewhere I suppose. I will probably need to nash my teeth a bit more and work on selling instruments. I think my target audience will eventually be the same as your target audience, but I will need to start by selling to students.

Yo, we ALL want Luis' target audience:D

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15 minutes ago, Brumcello said:

Any discerning musician will want to try your instruments along with others and take one for trial in different environments.  Depending on your target customers this may include a trial in a large performance space as well as more intimate environments. I think the only realistic way of achieving this (unless you have a sufficiently high profile that people will seek out your website and contact you directly) is to work with a shop. Of course there will be commission to pay and you will be competing with other makers and older instruments but if your instruments are good and appropriately priced they should sell.

That's a good point too. If it's obviously a good instrument, it will sell. It will speak for itself.

With that being said, is it fair to say that some of our work is better than other pieces of our work? Not every instrument we produce is a masterpiece. Even looking at Strads life work, we can say that certain instruments are better quality than other instruments. The really great instruments are always easy to sell. What about the ones that we recognize as being slightly lesser quality for whatever reason? Maybe we didn't use as nice of wood. Maybe the varnish didn't come out the way we hoped. Maybe it's a little too bright and we wanted a darker sound. Do we still sell these instruments, even if we think they are not our finest quality level of work? I'm sure Strad attempted to sell his instruments no matter what because he was working to put food on the table... as are we. Just curious what our thoughts are about this topic, as it's something we all have to face in one way or another, as instrument makers.

I suppose, one approach to rectifying this issue is price. If we feel something is not the highest level quality of our work, should we lower the price? And, likewise, if we feel it is a masterpiece, do we raise the price?

Or, do we have a "lemon closet". Just don't sell instruments that we deem to be of lesser quality.

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41 minutes ago, Brumcello said:

Any discerning musician will want to try your instruments along with others and take one for trial in different environments.

Uh oh! This can be interpreted or read in two ways. No, any discerning musician will not want to try your instruments, because they've already been bugged to death by overly aggressive "stagedoor fiddle salesgeeks".

I agree on the value of comparisons.

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35 minutes ago, Christopher Jacoby said:

Yo, we ALL want Luis' target audience:D

There is the other side of that.... if the viola sounds 3% than the one the player saw with a friend, he will not get it.

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29 minutes ago, MANFIO said:

There is the other side of that.... if the viola sounds 3% than the one the player saw with a friend, he will not get it.

Yup, we are always competing with not only other makers, but also our own past production. 

OP, fiddlemaking is a rather cruel world, which I wouldn't entice anyone to enter, unless one has a combination of stellar training, stellar insights, and an ability to fluff off all the duffer criticisms.

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42 minutes ago, TedN said:

1.  That's a good point too. If it's obviously a good instrument, it will sell. It will speak for itself.

2.  With that being said, is it fair to say that some of our work is better than other pieces of our work? Not every instrument we produce is a masterpiece.

3.The really great instruments are always easy to sell.  

4.  Or, do we have a "lemon closet". Just don't sell instruments that we deem to be of lesser quality.

1.  In my own words after reading what Davide wrote -  you may be the best maker in your area but if no one knows you are making good violins, nobody will show up at your door.

2.  You need to be fair to yourself first and afterwards be fair with pricing.. 

3.  Whoever told you that first is who I would ask for help.

4.  just be fair to a potential buyer, closet them for future experiments or have a bone fire session - out of sight, out of mind.

Seems Manfio actually caters to the front door of others - might be something to look into. 

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12 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Yup, we are always competing with not only other makers, but also our own past production. 

OP, fiddlemaking is a rather cruel world, which I wouldn't entice anyone to enter, unless one has a combination of stellar training, stellar insights, and an ability to fluff off all the duffer criticisms.

Not only cruel, but neurotic too.

Van Gogh sold just one of his paintings, but Andy Warhol, Pollock and Damien Hirst are examples of successful artists.

In the case of violin makers, Scarampella and the Antoniazzis were market failures.  Rocca asked the local authorities to be declared legally poor.

Ricardo Antoniazzi trained Leandro Bisiach who, eventually, became very rich.

There is a letter that Riccardo wrote to Bisiach from the Milan prison, where he was put in prison for theft, that is quite poignant:

"Dear Leandro, I beg you the favour of helping me as I find myself in great need. you know that in the past I helped you greatly in your art and rendered you many services. This was to your great gain and initially, I contributed to your well-being, making you an artist and bringing fame to your workshop with awards. It was fate, bad luck that brought me misfortune but In the past, you had need of me. For this, I beg you to help me but a little in my misfortune and tell my brother to send me some pairs of stockings as I am completely without. Please put your hand to your heart that God wills that my disgrace finish soon. Once again I beg you, if you can within the week, to contact my brother and send him my regars. Greeting you from the heart, dear friend, Riccardo Antoniazzi".

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I'm only part time maker (of mandolins) but I think I can relate to this topic. I live in area (Slovakia) with very few mandolin players (basicly dozen or so worth calling half serious players) and most of them can afford chinese product at best. When I started building I strived for perfection and quality, of course I found out I will have to wait for the perfection but eventually I managed to build enough quallity that folks who saw my work understood it is not junk and I sold my first few to local players (I never imagined they would pay the serious asking price back then but they did after trying out) After that I sold few in Czech Republic and even to US (my 7th instrument). The owner spread the word over internet and I soon got more inquiries from all around globe than I could handle. I build instruments without waiting list, I just tell the folks to keep in touch till the next instrument is nearing completion and it will be theirs, if they won't there is always someone else... I don't have any website and my web presence is basicly just on one internet forum like this. I rarely post about my instruments it's mostly the happy owners who spread the word.

Being a decent player helped me a lot and during my musician time I played and compared hundreds of instruments. This allowed me to judge quality of my own builds and also set the price correctly. That is important  - to set correct price especially at the beginning.

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