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Recommendations for an 'advanced/step-up' violin under or around $1000-1500


jmaya
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Hi,

Am sure this question has been asked tons of times before, and I did try to search for any previous threads on this topic, but could not find any useful, consolidated advice for an 'advanced/step-up' violin label, preferably a German/Italian/French one from the early to late nineties, ideally priced under or around $1000-1500 and targeted towards an advanced student/orchestra player.

What would be some commonly found German/Italian/French labels at the various playing levels - intermediate student, advanced student, conservatory orchestra student, etc.

I was looking at some commonly found 'german/italian/czech' 'antique' labels like Pfretzchners, Morellis, Amati Sandner, Josef Lidl, Josef Lorenz, etc. on reverb.com and ebay, etc. but was not sure how they compare in quality to a contemporary one like, say, Cremona 'maestro' or some 'artist' or 'master' level violin labels like 'Allessandro', 'Snow', 'Jay Haide', Scott Cao, etc. from stores like Fiddlershop, or from any of the local music stores.

IMHO, most local music stores that I have checked out mostly have overpriced, contemporary violins (increasingly from China) of an OK quality, but am afraid not good value for money, especially when compared to what similar money can get from an antique German/Italian/French "hand-crafted" models from the 20th century.

Any guidance, advice or pointers to any older threads on this topic will be highly appreciated!

Thanks! 

Some listings I was looking at below. I realize they span a wide price range, but am looking for a decent 'intermediate/advanced' level violin under/around $1000-1500, if there's such a thing. Don't mind spending closer to the higher end of that price range, as long as there's enough improvement in quality vs. say a Pfretzchner around $300-400, but not sure where to start and how to filter out the substandard/fake ones. 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/134024972998
https://reverb.com/item/51225377-1940-francois-barzoni-chateau-thierry-violin-blonde-4-4-size-french-model-flamed-maple-blonde-finish

https://reverb.com/item/48662661-ludwig-koschat-4-4-full-size-violin-1910-curly-maple-w-bow-case-ready-to-play

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I am afraid, you will have to try for yourself. Many violins in that price range are being sold as cheap beginner instruments by shops here (Germany), and most are still rather disappointing concerning their sound qualities, even though there are lots of them available here... Don't order something which you cannot return, especially from dubious sources (ebay and the like)! That will be a waste of money for sure. Better see what's available at local luthiers, take it home for trial and see if you like it, or maybe rent an instrument first, or save a little longer and acquire a decent violin (with resale potential) for a little more in the future! (Besides, I am an amateur player, too, just did some violin shopping; online was not successful at all.)

Edited by Vafan
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For around $1000 the Jay Haide 101 model is a consistently good performer, different from most Chinese instruments in that the American owner has provided good wood, good varnish, and good models to follow, rather than let the Chinese do their normal thing, which is consistent but not inspired. We sell quite a few of these. With a good setup they can be sufficient for professionals to use on more dangerous gigs (outdoor concerts, etc). They vary a bit, but between pretty good and a lot better, not between meh and good.

As has been said, just being old doesn't imply goodness, especially in what were originally quite low level factory trash, which is what you're going to find in your price range.

I recommend you deal directly with the source for these, Ifshin Violins in California.

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I know some people want something European, but I see so much success with Chinese instruments in that price range. If you can get to a shop that will let you cherry pick, you have a good shot. Anything purchased on line is a much greater gamble, particularly in getting something set up well.

If you do have to go online then Chinese is really the way to go, and pick a place like Eastman.

Michaels pick of Jay Haide 101 (or 104) would by my first suggestion, especially where I live. Many times I have run into some youngster doing fabulously and think that his rich parents shelled out for an instrument. Nope-Jay Haide. (they shell out for the lessons)

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Go visit your local luthier. You might be pleasantly surprised at what can be had in your price range and you can try the instruments out for yourself instead of trying to guess what they might sound like. Your ear and your tastes are unique so buy what sounds good to you and don't worry too much about names or countries of origin.

You are going to spend hours and hours with this instrument get something that you will be excited to play every day.

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I agree that a brand like Eastman or ordering from Fiddlershop will be your best bet.

Placing weight on the descriptors in ads is somewhat misplaced - because the vendor needs to sell a product and describe it (in positve, glowing terms) in order to sell.

In your price range (on the low end for a "better" instrument) what you will get is a student/beginner instrument.

And that's absolutely fine. If it's well set up you may never even need to upgrade.

 

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the valuable insights, everyone! I had initially thought that $1000-1500 might be a decent range for an advanced/orchestra grade violin. But, as your replies point out, that might not be the case. Accordingly, I've warmed up to a slightly higher range of $4000-5000, if that's the only way to get a good 'forever violin'. 

My ask really is about how to ascertain that a higher priced violin is really worth that much vs. just an overpriced and overhyped markup. Is higher price by itself a good enough indicator of quality? I can afford a $5K violin, but am struggling with ascertaining the real 'value for money' vs. hype.

I appreciate suggestions about trusting your unique ear, taste, etc. but I'm afraid I don't have that sophisticated an ear, yet! I'm a total noob, and can't really distinguish between the sound of a multi million dollar Strad vs a $2000 violin. I just want to buy a 'good' violin that my 9YO DD won't outgrow until, say, she performs in an orchestra, in say 10 yrs. She's a very committed student and practices at least for an hour everyday without any coaxing. So, I know she won't give up on violin anytime soon.

I considered getting her a $500 'student' violin for now and then let her outgrow it, but then again am thinking why I should not get her an advanced/professional violin right now, so she can play and enjoy it for years to come?

I have visited some local music stores, along with my daughter's teacher, and my experience was not unlike that of visiting a used car dealership. So much of salesmanship and pressure, largely based on eagerness to close the sale and peddle 'something' just based on the higher end of my budget, using salesy and flowery prose that sounds sweet - not unlike that found on cheesy ebay listings vs. true and honest expert consultation based on my ask for a 'good forever' violin based on a good 'value for money' thinking.

So, am not completely sold yet on the idea that *all* luthiers/music stores can truly live up to the hype of being true and honest experts who can truly setup a violin to its best ability, and not over mark it up in the process. I certainly realize the commerce aspect and the need for a reasonable mark up, but I find that most local stores that I visited just blatantly inflate the prices on their own 'proprietary' self-sourced contemporary 'Chinese' factory manufacturers albeit with Italian/German sounding labels/brands that you can't find anywhere else other than that store, so there's no possibility of an 'apples to apples' comparison, making the whole buying experience highly subjective and iffy at best.

Is a sane, rational, 'good value for money' buying process possible at all for someone who's not a luthier/violin expert to sort out a decent 'good forever' violin, or is it all highly subjective and complicated 'hit or miss' process with so many fakes and damaged/covered up and misrepresented and overpriced junk all over (including online and in store options)?

Edited by jmaya
minor typos/corrections
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Is your teacher making any suggestions?

Most people dont view this stage in playing life as time to find a "forever violin", it can be for some people, but I think its rare.  Hundreds of people are in your exact position and things usually work out fine. Lately its usually been with a Chinese instrument. But you're right, they arent all equal. You may have to extend the range of your shops. 

 

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I understand where you are coming from.

Unfortunately, shopping for a violin is difficult because our modern day strategies of online research, comparing features and properties, and finding the best value for money offer, are not really applicable to violins. There is no google-top-10-list of vintage violins to buy in 2022.

You seem to come around to the idea that labels have very little meaning and "one of these..." doesn't carry the same connotation as when referring to the make and model of a car.

You have two options. You can become an expert yourself (not realistic) or you can live with a huge information asymmetry between seller and buyer. Your best hope is to find a seller who you will trust and believe that they want what is good for you. Music shops and retailers are very sales oriented, obviously. A violin maker/ luthier might be a better idea. Ask around for recommendations, find the person first, then find the violin.

One thing you might be able to find, if you are lucky, is a trade-in policy. Some vendors offer to take the violin back at full price (provided it is still in the same condition), when you upgrade. In one of these situations you would give your child the opportunity to grow and help make informed decision the next couple of times around. No need to buy the forever violin just yet.

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3 hours ago, deans said:

Is your teacher making any suggestions?

Most people dont view this stage in playing life as time to find a "forever violin", it can be for some people, but I think its rare.  Hundreds of people are in your exact position and things usually work out fine. Lately its usually been with a Chinese instrument. But you're right, they arent all equal. You may have to extend the range of your shops. 

 

My DD has been learning for 2-3 years now. The teacher is suggesting we continue to rent, which is not cheap in the New England area where I live - ~$500/yr for an 'advanced student' violin. I'd rather spend that rental money on buying a good violin instead.

Let me rephrase and clarify. When I said a 'forever' violin, I meant more like a violin she can grow into and continue to play until (and if) she chooses/gets to be a professional player able to buy (or contribute towards) her own violin, in the next, say, 5-10 years. 

2 hours ago, Strad O Various Jr. said:

wouldn't a 9 yr old be on a 3/4 violin?

In my DD's case, she was suggested to go with a 4/4 starting this year (she'll be turning 10 in a couple of weeks).

4 minutes ago, avandesande said:

Making a 9YO responsible for an expensive instrument might not be a great idea

My DD is a rather unusually responsible and 'mature' kid for her age. Touch wood. And, I always accompany her to all her violin classes, and participate with her while she practices at home. So, she won't be fully 'responsible' for the upkeep/safe keeping of the violin on her own. I will be.

1 hour ago, Rue said:

Not necessarily.  Depends on how large the child is.

Yes.

 

 

2 hours ago, Guido said:

I understand where you are coming from.

Unfortunately, shopping for a violin is difficult because our modern day strategies of online research, comparing features and properties, and finding the best value for money offer, are not really applicable to violins. There is no google-top-10-list of vintage violins to buy in 2022.

You seem to come around to the idea that labels have very little meaning and "one of these..." doesn't carry the same connotation as when referring to the make and model of a car.

You have two options. You can become an expert yourself (not realistic) or you can live with a huge information asymmetry between seller and buyer. Your best hope is to find a seller who you will trust and believe that they want what is good for you. Music shops and retailers are very sales oriented, obviously. A violin maker/ luthier might be a better idea. Ask around for recommendations, find the person first, then find the violin.

One thing you might be able to find, if you are lucky, is a trade-in policy. Some vendors offer to take the violin back at full price (provided it is still in the same condition), when you upgrade. In one of these situations you would give your child the opportunity to grow and help make informed decision the next couple of times around. No need to buy the forever violin just yet.

The local music shop that we currently rent from does have a trade-in policy, but trade-ins are (understandably) limited to violins in their catalog, which I find, in cases of the shops that I visited so far, to be focused around average quality (despite being labeled as 'maestro', 'sonata' etc.) and relatively overpriced (imho) contemporary Chinese violins with fake Italian/German names or overpriced (imho) contemporary European trade/factory violins, presumably because they have higher margins.

Let me rephrase and clarify. When I said a 'forever' violin, I meant more like a violin she can grow into and continue to play until (and if) she chooses/gets to be a professional player able to buy (or contribute towards) her own violin, in the next, say, 5-10 years. 

>> Thanks so much everyone for your kind and insightful responses and guidance. Sorry for my delayed and combined responses. This forum has a daily limit on my posts since I'm a noob here.

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6 hours ago, avandesande said:

Making a 9YO responsible for an expensive instrument might not be a great idea

But what is a good idea is to buy a decent instrument which she likes to play. I remember that my first violin was just not good-sounding, and it discouraged me from playing, until my parents bought an old Mittenwald violin in quite a bad state, but that sounded better. Though I knew that I did not want to become a professional in my teens, I never stopped to play and startet with lessons again as an adult. So I guess it is not a bad idea at all to get your daughter a decent violin that she likes, even if she might not become the next Anne-Sophie Mutter :)

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You will need the teacher to help you shop it sounds like.

You've had a few people here point out that cherry-picking the instrument out of mass production is your best bet.  If your teacher will accompany you to the shop and try out instruments for you (or if the shop will let you check out 4 or 5 to bring to a lesson) then you'll have an expert set of ears discerning.

In the $4,000-$5,000 range your teacher will help you to find many good violins.  I've been considering picking up a violin by Atelier De la Dyle/Meteny Workshop from Potter Violins (although I first tried the Belgian line at a viola congress that Julie Reed Yeboah was selling them at).

Buying from a well-established shop allows you the possibility of future trade-in.

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6 hours ago, Vafan said:

But what is a good idea is to buy a decent instrument which she likes to play. I remember that my first violin was just not good-sounding, and it discouraged me from playing, until my parents bought an old Mittenwald violin in quite a bad state, but that sounded better. Though I knew that I did not want to become a professional in my teens, I never stopped to play and startet with lessons again as an adult. So I guess it is not a bad idea at all to get your daughter a decent violin that she likes, even if she might not become the next Anne-Sophie Mutter :)

Thanks for weighing in. That aligns with my thinking too! Are the violins labeled 'Mittenwald' trustworthy enough?

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17 hours ago, jmaya said:

New England area

I know New England is bigger than many people think, but can you make your way to the Boston area? A place like Carriage House comes to mind. Tons of experience in your situation, and just a quick look at their web page shows a wide range of suitable instruments, especially if you do bump up the price a bit. Most important, they will be well set up. There are other good shops there too.

 

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19 hours ago, jmaya said:

Thanks for the valuable insights, everyone! I had initially thought that $1000-1500 might be a decent range for an advanced/orchestra grade violin. But, as your replies point out, that might not be the case. Accordingly, I've warmed up to a slightly higher range of $4000-5000, if that's the only way to get a good 'forever violin'. 

My ask really is about how to ascertain that a higher priced violin is really worth that much vs. just an overpriced and overhyped markup. Is higher price by itself a good enough indicator of quality? I can afford a $5K violin, but am struggling with ascertaining the real 'value for money' vs. hype.

I appreciate suggestions about trusting your unique ear, taste, etc. but I'm afraid I don't have that sophisticated an ear, yet! I'm a total noob, and can't really distinguish between the sound of a multi million dollar Strad vs a $2000 violin. I just want to buy a 'good' violin that my 9YO DD won't outgrow until, say, she performs in an orchestra, in say 10 yrs. She's a very committed student and practices at least for an hour everyday without any coaxing. So, I know she won't give up on violin anytime soon.

I considered getting her a $500 'student' violin for now and then let her outgrow it, but then again am thinking why I should not get her an advanced/professional violin right now, so she can play and enjoy it for years to come?

I have visited some local music stores, along with my daughter's teacher, and my experience was not unlike that of visiting a used car dealership. So much of salesmanship and pressure, largely based on eagerness to close the sale and peddle 'something' just based on the higher end of my budget, using salesy and flowery prose that sounds sweet - not unlike that found on cheesy ebay listings vs. true and honest expert consultation based on my ask for a 'good forever' violin based on a good 'value for money' thinking.

So, am not completely sold yet on the idea that *all* luthiers/music stores can truly live up to the hype of being true and honest experts who can truly setup a violin to its best ability, and not over mark it up in the process. I certainly realize the commerce aspect and the need for a reasonable mark up, but I find that most local stores that I visited just blatantly inflate the prices on their own 'proprietary' self-sourced contemporary 'Chinese' factory manufacturers albeit with Italian/German sounding labels/brands that you can't find anywhere else other than that store, so there's no possibility of an 'apples to apples' comparison, making the whole buying experience highly subjective and iffy at best.

Is a sane, rational, 'good value for money' buying process possible at all for someone who's not a luthier/violin expert to sort out a decent 'good forever' violin, or is it all highly subjective and complicated 'hit or miss' process with so many fakes and damaged/covered up and misrepresented and overpriced junk all over (including online and in store options)?

Only experience enables that kind of judgement.   Bring a good teacher or expert along.    

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2 hours ago, David Beard said:

Only experience enables that kind of judgement.   Bring a good teacher or expert along.    

As long as you have reasonable assurance that the teacher or expert isn't getting a kickback from the shop.

There were a couple times when I was buying violin, and the shop owner asked me who my teacher was. Upon replying, the shop owner said, "Oh, you're student of so-and-so, so you qualify for a discount."

I later learned that my teacher would not accept teacher sales commissions, demanding instead that the commission he would have been eligible for be discounted from the price.

That's a helluva guy, willing to make some financial sacrifices in the interest of honesty and integrity.

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On 3/5/2022 at 12:12 PM, deans said:

I know New England is bigger than many people think, but can you make your way to the Boston area? A place like Carriage House comes to mind. Tons of experience in your situation, and just a quick look at their web page shows a wide range of suitable instruments, especially if you do bump up the price a bit. Most important, they will be well set up. There are other good shops there too.

 

Thanks. Will check them out. Any specific model recommendations from the below Carriage House list, apart from the previously suggested Jay Haide, Eastman, etc. Any other specific 'good shop'/luthier recos in the New England area?

https://www.carriagehouseviolins.com/cgi-bin/music/scripts/vvc-f.cgi?search=Violin-Instruments and Bows-0-4999-Acoustic Instrument&size=1&f=size

On 3/5/2022 at 12:56 PM, David Beard said:

Only experience enables that kind of judgement.   Bring a good teacher or expert along.    

OK. The teacher is a big shot busy lady with back to back classes all weekend and weekdays are a bit of a struggle for me. But will try. Thanks. 

On 3/5/2022 at 3:48 PM, David Burgess said:

As long as you have reasonable assurance that the teacher or expert isn't getting a kickback from the shop.

There were a couple times when I was buying violin, and the shop owner asked me who my teacher was. Upon replying, the shop owner said, "Oh, you're student of so-and-so, so you qualify for a discount."

I later learned that my teacher would not accept teacher sales commissions, demanding instead that the commission he would have been eligible for be discounted from the price.

That's a helluva guy, willing to make some financial sacrifices in the interest of honesty and integrity.

Wow. You are lucky to have an expert teacher with such integrity.

On 3/5/2022 at 4:09 PM, David Beard said:

Yeah.  The trust.    If you can trust the dealer, than they could give the needed help.

Expertise.  But also trust.

OK. Will try with Carriage House.

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Wonder how the Ma Zhibin M20 or Master (from Yitamusic on ebay) compares to other contemporary chinese labels like Jay Haide, Eastman, etc. and to other 20th century (possibly fake) German/French 'antiques' like the below:

Karl Hofner 1960 - https://reverb.com/item/43252132-vintage-karl-hofner-violin-4-4-germany-c-1960s-stunningly-beautiful-very-good-sound

Carlo Micelli 1900 - https://reverb.com/item/37229363-vintage-1900-carlo-micelli-4-4-violin

Rudolph Wurlitzer 1930 -  https://reverb.com/item/32836272-rudolph-wurlitzer-cremona-german-4-4-violin-ca-1930

Snow - https://reverb.com/item/31560520-snow-liuthieria-pv900-4-4-violin-90044-631-no-case-or-bow

Eastman Andreas - https://reverb.com/item/39512533-eastman-andreas-eastman-vl605-violin

Earl 20th century German - https://www.ebay.com/itm/194508422523

 

Tons of thanks everyone for taking the time to help and educate me!

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1 hour ago, jmaya said:

Wonder how the Ma Zhibin M20 or Master (from Yitamusic on ebay) compares to other contemporary chinese labels like Jay Haide, Eastman, etc. and to other 20th century (possibly fake) German/French 'antiques'...

The only way to compare the sound of violins is to play them and compare the sound.  You cannot compare the sound by reading reviews or descriptions or advertising.

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