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Violin Supply Shortage? Inflation?


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I know used cars are very expensive right now.  Have violins seen a rapid price increase over the past few years?

I'm helping a student shop for a violin to take college auditions on, so this is a big step up for her.  We've been looking in the $4,000-$8,000 range which I expected would get her a nice new shop instrument from somewhere.  It seems to me that in this price range, if you shop enough you should be able to find something.

However... I've spoken with a few shops now who suggested to me that $4,000-$8,000 is now on the low end of quality instrument pricing and that students applying to music school should be looking at $10,000-$20,000 instruments.  That is not an option for my student.

She currently has out on trial a 20th century Markie in decent condition that the shop is asking $8,000 for.  It's a reasonable sounding instrument, but I would've expected it to sell closer to $5,000?  Am I out of touch with the market?

Who the heck are $4,000-$8,000 violins for?  I can tell the difference between a $100 violin and a $500 violin.  A $500 and a $1000 violin.  Is there no difference between $1,000 and $5,000 any longer?

 

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I think 4-20K in general is tough price range. Still can get something like a nice Jay Haide for under 4, which is a great student instrument. After that, the next step up could be a handmade new maker, but now you are looking at 20K+ to start having a lot of choices. Something like a Roth or other Markie in the 8-20K seems a bit over priced right now, at least to me. Of course there is a lot in that price range that is good, but a lot of weeds to push through.

I see students going really far with their Chinese instruments, all the way to the point where they can start making decisions for themselves on what their next thing will be.

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I was in the market for violin in similar price range like 4-5 years ago and my experience was similar.

My boy and I brought home ~10 violins from 2 local shops in upstate NY of $4-8k but none sounds as good as my old German trade violin (Stainer-esque archings, probably 1860-1890s) which luthiers informally think was worth about that range. My old German one is loud, quite strong bass, but less tone color variations - good as a second violin orchestra instrument. 

We ended up not buying during those trials. Then a year later on a stray violin came along from the violin teacher, probably made by a German amateur ("Otto Kick") around mid-20th century. Set up quite well before we tried it. Sounds the best (with interesting tone colors, quite bright), and costs <$2500 including (a well-matched) bow.

So I think $4-8k is tough all along, even before this recent round of "inflation".

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Cars are expensive (buying one right now sadly) because production stopped for a while for the cars and their components, and because rental companies didn't update their fleets during the pandemic (which affects both new orders and the used market).  The used market drying up really drove demand for new cars.  

Violins didn't suffer chip shortages and individual makers could still make, but probably not sell as well.  I can't see even factory/workshop violins suffering.  People still needed cars during the pandemic, hence the shortage.

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I can personally vouch that you can still get a new violin good enough to win a seat on the L A Phil for $15,000, because I've seen it happen.  Good new student instruments can still be had from $6500 to $9000. A lot depends on the dealer and their setup and communication skills. 

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5 minutes ago, Michael Richwine said:

I can personally vouch that you can still get a new violin good enough to win a seat on the L A Phil for $15,000, because I've seen it happen.  Good new student instruments can still be had from $6500 to $9000. A lot depends on the dealer and their setup and communication skills. 

Yeah... my impression of the market before now was that higher quality was available at a lower price than it used to be.

1 hour ago, Derek Law said:

I think starting $15k+ instruments from quite good contemporary makers are available. Could commission new instruments in that range, and possibly for less. Right?

That's what I thought, yes.

2 hours ago, deans said:

I see students going really far with their Chinese instruments, all the way to the point where they can start making decisions for themselves on what their next thing will be.

Right, that's what I thought.  I assumed any dealer would have their source for high grade shop instruments that they'd import in the white or whatever.  Hmm...

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44 minutes ago, Stephen Fine said:

 

Right, that's what I thought.  I assumed any dealer would have their source for high grade shop instruments that they'd import in the white or whatever.  Hmm...

You can get suitable instruments made entirely in the USA for $6,500 to $9,000. Not gonna advertise here, and don't have any financial connection with them, but I know of at least one source near you. You'd have to ask, though. (thinking I may have overstepped...)

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What you see at many high end shops is they are basically pushing Chinese violins at the student and intermediate level, so when they have a decent Markneukirchen violin they price it really high so that their high profit Chinese violin sounds better for the price, you also see this with commissions, they take in violins they have no intention of selling at high prices just to make their cheaper violins sound like bargains, I know one local violin shop that has Stradivari made in Germany violins listed for $4500, that's just nonsense, but it makes an overpriced Chinese violin for $3000 sound like a bargain. Now if the German antique was priced at $1000-1500 realistically, The Chinese violins for more wouldn't seem like such bargains which would defeat their whole business model which is to market heavily marked up new Chinese violins.

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I just completed my rounds locally and expect to drive north soon. Quite a few reasonable instruments, very few bows.

Talking to dealers, their expenses are up. One can imagine that it's not as simple as a distributor raising their prices ( strings pricing... ) The most pragmatic shops that I visited are re-pricing, but very carefully. Traditional clients are still coming in... but I think that foot traffic is down. I was able to drop by without appointments.

If anything, I have dropped rates. I have recovered just over half of clients which almost stabilizes daily routines.

There are a few dilemmas when working with kids that go off to college. Inevitably they need something different at school or when graduating. How many bumps does one need during school? Of course, it depends on the teacher and their demands. I tell parents that they may need to think of saving for an instrument along with dealing with tuition.

Pre- college, the auditions are interesting. So many factor must be considered. Certainly the school, and potentially the desired teacher ( s. ) At auditions, most schools want to see developed techniques, bow usage, smooth shifting, complex tone development. All these can be found/ shown on less expensive instruments, but yes, we have to locate them. Between playability and tone, if the student is less experienced, playability across the fingerboard is most important ( to me. )  

Realistically, the initial choices are reduced to China, Eastern Europe, Poland and others. This is where virtually everyone who potentially plays in college looks for their first fullsize instrument. I start with used instruments, but play virtually everything they are willing to show me. I have the benefit of some expertise but on any given day, there might be something different in the lower end. Inevitably, most settle for a lower end instrument set up well or a more expensive instrument with faults.

I have an ex-student going to Philadelphia and they are looking in the 10s -20s and there are many more options I know what they should play, but I am not sure whose studio they will belong. I tell them to wait to purchase because they have been accepted, but the parents are impatient. I think it is also worth PMing some makers or dealers here. 

As for teachers, I learned the most about music and truly playing the instrument from those who played primarily one or two instruments, while I learned the most about sound and sonority from those who owned or had access to several, including Strads. Horrible simplification, but it is sort of true. My first paid 10 years was about doing the best with what was within reach. Adapting was not something that was stressed in school. Teachers tend to do the best with what they have, not with what they might have.

Yesterday, a parent just returned a borrowed instrument ( one of my instruments ) from a Midwest school. Mom flew back to Orange County after finalizing some things for school. Approx 15.5" Chinese Strad pattern, European wood and a high end Arcos Brazil bow. Articulates and plays as well as a violin, but the c- string is a bit lean. The bow cost more than the viola. The offset fingerboard looked a bit strange, but after the neck reset, would be perfect. I purchased the instrument pre- pandemic, but I know the workshop is still producing overseas. Do not be discouraged... keep looking. It takes time. 

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2 hours ago, Strad O Various Jr. said:

What you see at many high end shops is they are basically pushing Chinese violins at the student and intermediate level, so when they have a decent Markneukirchen violin they price it really high so that their high profit Chinese violin sounds better for the price, you also see this with commissions, they take in violins they have no intention of selling at high prices just to make their cheaper violins sound like bargains, I know one local violin shop that has Stradivari made in Germany violins listed for $4500, that's just nonsense, but it makes an overpriced Chinese violin for $3000 sound like a bargain. Now if the German antique was priced at $1000-1500 realistically, The Chinese violins for more wouldn't seem like such bargains which would defeat their whole business model which is to market heavily marked up new Chinese violins.

Life must seem tough when you are living in a conspiracy theory.

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1 hour ago, Wood Butcher said:

Life must seem tough when you are living in a conspiracy theory.

It is pretty standard business practice to have some overpriced options to make what you genuinely expect to sell look cheap. On the secondhand car lot, or in the supermarket, or buying software. A friend who was an antiquarian book dealer told me about it. I even bought a painting from someone I know who had put just one in the series of near-identical items at double the price of the rest of the series, perhaps to make the others look more affordable. Yes a conspiracy theory, and like many conspiracy theories, something for which I have seen plenty of evidence. However, I have no evidence of it in the violin trade.

What with senior figures in the US pushing for sanctions on China, and the Chinese wanting to shift their economy away from cheap exports, the dishonest violin dealers (if any exist) will in future jack up the price of Chinese fiddles to help them sell German trade instruments.

Perhaps the ever-increasing overheads of a shop, with large chunks of the turnover being passed to landlords and tax authorities, will promote more direct sales from makers to end users?

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1 hour ago, Wood Butcher said:

Life must seem tough when you are living in a conspiracy theory.

Ever heard of Edward Bernays?   Perhaps all the public campaigns in the media to make conspiracy theories unfashionable are based in conspiracies themselves...........  :ph34r:  :lol:

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24 minutes ago, John_London said:

It is pretty standard business practice to have some overpriced options to make what you genuinely expect to sell look cheap. On the secondhand car lot, or in the supermarket, or buying software. A friend who was an antiquarian book dealer told me about it. I even bought a painting from someone I know who had put just one in the series of near-identical items at double the price of the rest of the series, perhaps to make the others look more affordable. Yes a conspiracy theory, and like many conspiracy theories, something for which I have seen plenty of evidence. However, I have no evidence of it in the violin trade.

What with senior figures in the US pushing for sanctions on China, and the Chinese wanting to shift their economy away from cheap exports, the dishonest violin dealers (if any exist) will in future jack up the price of Chinese fiddles to help them sell German trade instruments.

Perhaps the ever-increasing overheads of a shop, with large chunks of the turnover being passed to landlords and tax authorities, will promote more direct sales from makers to end users?

Hmmm. I think many shops try to be transparent. There is a market price for everything dictated by an assortment of consumers. They can not help it when certain instruments are not as desirable as another to customers and teachers. Also, there definitely are very good sounding and playable instruments at a given price points and they disappear quickly.

But you might be correct in the argument that, recent corporate "standard business practices" evolve towards maximizing sucking customers dry, then perhaps there is a lot to study, But perception and fact are not the same. When people were hording toilet paper, I was envisioning the inevitable path of newsprint, Heron, Jalovec, washi, parchment... 

My favorite old restaurants used to own their buildings. When their kids sold the properties, I lost my favorite foods. But it just wasn't the buildings, was it? It was the final product that I miss. And that was the sum of the kitchen, food distributors, cooks and the servers. Direct sales do work, but best for the educated or those who are pre- sold on a specific product. 

 

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9 hours ago, Wood Butcher said:

Life must seem tough when you are living in a conspiracy theory.

I've personally observed this phenomenon, whether intentional or incidental. In today's violin marketplace you will also sometimes see Chinese violins upgraded with Europeanized trade names. Similar to that of how German violins were once upgraded; Carlo Micelli (Karl Meisel), Enrico Robella (Ernst Heinrich Roth), Andreas Morelli (Karl Hermann), etc. Additionally, these instruments become stepping stones into higher dollar instruments through trade-in, as unlike antique instruments, they possess little value in the private-sale market. In my opinion, it is completely logical (and ethical) for dealers to sell high profit margin instruments, especially when the underlying product is better than the public's opinion of it. 

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I was shopping for viola, and the shop keeps pushing "Sean Peak" at me. They have all sizes from 15" and up at 1/4" increment ... shop claims it is semi-mass produced by hand in US, but I keep thinking that this might be higher end Chinese factory instruments. They do sound quite good though I have to say, but I didn't end up wanting to pay $5-6k given my suspicions. The shop seems happy to sell that Sean Peak to me than the other  >$10k early 20th c. American instrument I was also trying. (Maybe the shop thinks given my mediocre playing skills I really don't need a more expensive one?)

So are "Sean Peak" violas legit and how much should one pay for those?  

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It would seem the market, in America, is very different to what I would typically expect to see in shops here.
Also, the sales methods there seem wildly different.

The shops I've frequented recently, mostly are stocking a range of antique Bohemian, Markneukirchen and Mirecourt violins. These seem to start from around €1500, rising to maybe €5,000 for better French workshop stuff.
The Chinese violins they have are quite basic, and seem to fill in the up to €1500 area. Most are grim, but some of the Gewa and Jay Haide can be quite promising.

Above €5,000 some new Polish instruments can be had, which although not looking particularly nice, do tend to sound pretty good. Certainly a good choice for a promising student, amateur orchestra etc.

At a similar price, there are older violins by less well known individual makers, and even for €10,000 you could get something new from an experienced maker (not everyone charges the same as Stephan von Baehr, or Greiner). Above €10,000 good antique instruments start to feature too, and on it goes.

The biggest difference however seems to be the sales approach, which from a few of the posts here sounds very pushy, with a lot of steering. I wonder if the shop staff there are relying on commission payments as part of their wages?
If I go to a shop, I'm left to try what I like, and make my own decision about anything I'd wish to take on trial. The staff there are not breathing down my neck, or trying to push things onto me.

As to the OP's original points, those prices would seem extreme here, and by some margin, although I do appreciate that markets are not the same all over the world.
 

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13 minutes ago, Wood Butcher said:

As to the OP's original points, those prices would seem extreme here, and by some margin, although I do appreciate that markets are not the same all over the world.

9 hours ago, GoPractice said:

My favorite old restaurants used to own their buildings.

 

The whole UK, especially London, property question upsets me deeply. It has a terrible effect on businesses who are not Starbucks or similar, as well as on local people who needs homes. A violin shop in Bond Street (where Hills, and Chappels, were in my life time, and where Bromptons had rooms until recently) would probably now have rent and property tax a long way into the hundreds of thousands a year. Maybe similar in parts of the US.

Home prices are also pretty crazy in the Alps, which I am familiar with, but the property market works differently, buildings tend to stay in the family, and low-profit businesses seem to survive better.

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20 hours ago, Violadamore said:

Ever heard of Edward Bernays?   Perhaps all the public campaigns in the media to make conspiracy theories unfashionable are based in conspiracies themselves...........  :ph34r:  :lol:

https://www.amazon.com/Conspiracy-Theory-America-Discovering-Book-ebook/dp/B00CBVSLR0/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?crid=29424ZW0QH7TD&keywords=conspiracy+theory+in+america%2C+lance+dehaven-smith&qid=1652551857&sprefix=Conspiracy+Theory+in+America%2Caps%2C207&sr=8-1-fkmr0

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13 hours ago, Derek Law said:

I was shopping for viola, and the shop keeps pushing "Sean Peak" at me. They have all sizes from 15" and up at 1/4" increment ... shop claims it is semi-mass produced by hand in US, but I keep thinking that this might be higher end Chinese factory instruments. They do sound quite good though I have to say, but I didn't end up wanting to pay $5-6k given my suspicions. The shop seems happy to sell that Sean Peak to me than the other  >$10k early 20th c. American instrument I was also trying. (Maybe the shop thinks given my mediocre playing skills I really don't need a more expensive one?)

So are "Sean Peak" violas legit and how much should one pay for those?  

I have not played a Sean Peak viola in ten+ years, so can not easily recommend what you have tried.

But if the form is roughly the same, I would suggest you check the dimensions. The form is original are an interesting set of compromises. The shoulders are narrower allowing access to developing players, the lowers are full enough to give it a better lower end.

The tone that might seem a little bumped in the midrange, giving it a slightly nasal quality on so many of the smaller models. One of the most successful <15" models. Tried to work around that aspect with set up, but was never fully successful. The last large model I heard in a large classroom with a lower ceiling was really good. No fancy adjectives. Just sounded great. A past student of perhaps the best SoCal viola teacher, me, not.  

Since then, I have played many Peak- esque models from the better workshops in China and for beginning chamber students, they are better. That there is not a Jay Haida or Scott Cao model that is Peak shaped may indicate that it is not a lasting design, but no enthusiast will stay in a lower end instrument for too long.

Not that I have played or examined too many Gofriller violas, there are some Chinese models with wide bodies, possibly misattributed models that are quite good. Upper bout is harder for shorter armed players to get around.

Must confess that last batch of workshop violas purchased were Strad patterns with higher arching and taller ribs. I questioned this purchase too late as two of my female students, with longer necks could not play the instruments comfortably with chinrests. One has grown out of the instrument and recently purchased something in Michigan where she now goes to school.  

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7 hours ago, GoPractice said:

I have not played a Sean Peak viola in ten+ years, so can not easily recommend what you have tried.

But if the form is roughly the same, I would suggest you check the dimensions. The form is original are an interesting set of compromises. The shoulders are narrower allowing access to developing players, the lowers are full enough to give it a better lower end.

 

Tone was quite good and c string has power. The one I tried was called "Goffriller" model - but I couldn't find any Goffiller's listed in Tarisio's database with similar proportions. The one I tried was 15.5", and in mm the LOB/UB/MB/LB are 393/188/137/248. Very wide lower bout - can really feel it when trying to fit the shoulder rest on it. The string / stop lengths as 365/213 -- still feels too long for my left hand with short pinky.

In any case, is Sean Peak violas actually Chinese factory products, or are then hand (mass)-produced in a workshop in the US?

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On 5/14/2022 at 7:50 PM, Derek Law said:

Tone was quite good and c string has power. The one I tried was called "Goffriller" model - but I couldn't find any Goffiller's listed in Tarisio's database with similar proportions. The one I tried was 15.5", and in mm the LOB/UB/MB/LB are 393/188/137/248. Very wide lower bout - can really feel it when trying to fit the shoulder rest on it. The string / stop lengths as 365/213 -- still feels too long for my left hand with short pinky.

In any case, is Sean Peak violas actually Chinese factory products, or are then hand (mass)-produced in a workshop in the US?

Since it's been awhile, I apologize for not having an answer. But my gut instincts were reasonably correct.

It takes awhile to get the left hand to relax enough to allow longer stretches. And yes, there are hands that do not stretch, so with out seeing one's playing, it is difficult to offer general advice. Many violinists, delighting in the throaty- ness of the sound will play so much in the lower/ lowest positions. I love it myself. But it is more practical to play in 3rd to 5th position. For some beginning violists, I do have them anchor around the lower octave resonance in 3rd position. We work up and down positions after the initial start in 3rd.

This gets some into larger violas more quickly. And if it does not work, we can always go smaller.

OK, here's a link, after recalling a comment about Potter's in another thread.

https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/342172-who-is-sean-peak/

Though one shop I worked with dealt with Potter's/ House of Weaver/ Eastman, I recall acquiring Peaks from another source around 15-20 years ago.

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Now, to confuse things further...

a couple more instruments have entered the mix.

A violin with a turn-of-the-20th-century Hungarian label from a Hungarian who didn't make violins.  So, I assume he imported it for sale, but the shop tells my students it's by the maker... guy is not mentioned as a violin maker, so it seems unlikely.  It is what I'd call overpriced.

And, a recent instrument by a maker in Cremona in perfect condition that seems about half price of what I'd expect a contemporary violin, let alone one from Cremona to sell for.

I'm definitely learning that I didn't understand the market as well as I thought I did.

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1 hour ago, Stephen Fine said:

Now, to confuse things further...

a couple more instruments have entered the mix.

[A description of a really questionable offering.]  :rolleyes:

[A description of what happens when hundreds of luthiers move to Cremona and produce thousands of scarcely distinguishable violins,]  :lol:

I'm definitely learning that I didn't understand the market as well as I thought I did.

The market, IMHO, is easy to understand.   "Greed is good!".  When, as is often vociferously proclaimed here, price has nothing to do with performance as a tool, then gold is where you find it.  I found mine in an overlooked violin obtained from an online auction for a pittance, and wish you and your students equal good luck.  Start trying out as many fiddles as you can find, for no more than you care to pay.  :ph34r:  :)

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10 hours ago, Stephen Fine said:

Now, to confuse things further...

a couple more instruments have entered the mix.

A violin with a turn-of-the-20th-century Hungarian label from a Hungarian who didn't make violins.  So, I assume he imported it for sale, but the shop tells my students it's by the maker... guy is not mentioned as a violin maker, so it seems unlikely.  It is what I'd call overpriced.

And, a recent instrument by a maker in Cremona in perfect condition that seems about half price of what I'd expect a contemporary violin, let alone one from Cremona to sell for.

I'm definitely learning that I didn't understand the market as well as I thought I did.

 

Concerning the Cremona maker, I saw in the small ads in London a "master" violin by the owner of a Romanian workshop for about half the expected price. I found an email address, and he "maker's" son told me that the date on the label was enough to show it could not be genuine. On the other hand I did buy a violin with undoubted provenance from a living maker for about half price because the owner who had it from new wanted to sell quickly, and his usual shop offered a ridiculously low price. (Perhaps they perfer to sell on consignment.)

I bought a bow in the March Brompton's general sale, and noticed that items with name recognition sold, though with a few exceptions around the bottom of somewhat optimistic estimates, and many cheaper items remained unsold. Inflation is a tool to cause the rich to turn cash into enduring assets (and get richer) and the poor to cut expenditure in an attempt to cover the cost of food and shelter (and get poorer). So it would not be surprising to find violins which appeal to the wealthy reach eye-watering prices, while items towards the bottom of the market fall, and present nice opportunities for someone who does not need a big name violin and bow to play their best.

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