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4/4 Violin hunting

(541 Posts)
Kutik73 Mon 12-Feb-18 17:41:00

We've started hunting for a 4/4 violin for DS. We have visited two luthiers so far and each let us take one home. We can keep one for a week and another for two weeks.

DS likes one in particular and it costs £5500 for the violin alone. I know the price is not always mirrored to the quality of the sounds. It only makes difficult to judge as I don't play any instrument. So I did a bit of research and accidentally found the same violin being sold back in October for £1200-1800. It's auctioned so the exact selling price was not displayed. Looking at the photo, it has the same marks and scars so it's definitely the same violin we have here.

I can see the bridge, chin rest, and tuners has been replaced. But the selling notes stated the condition as excellent so I assume major work wasn't required by the luthier. But I don't know.

Surely luthiers have to make money so I understand it's common practice for them to buy something cheaper and add some work and sell at a higher price. But more than doubling the bought price sound quite a lot, especially it seemed to be in great conditions already.

Should I be careful or can I trust the luthier? I hope he is not pricing unnecessarily high... Any input/advice/sharing experiences would be greatly appreciated!

Giraffey1 Mon 12-Feb-18 17:46:29

Does he have lessons with a violin teacher? I’d ask them for advice. You could also contact a couple of violin shops and ask them for their price for similar spec?

semideponent Mon 12-Feb-18 17:53:16

I think you should be careful and shop around. Yes, of course the pricing is high, especially if the person you're buying from is maintaining a shop front. OTOH, you can reasonably expect new strings, no hair line cracks, bridge in correct position, peg holes with a decent grip.

People like to dress it up as an alchemical, mystical process. Resist that with hard questions. Try as many as possible. Take advantage of loan times. Be patient. Look online and ask the teacher. You may come back to the luthier, but at least it will be an informed choice.

Kutik73 Mon 12-Feb-18 20:48:37

Thanks for your advice, Giraffey and semi.

We are going to show the teacher all the violins we've selected but while she is happy to examine she is a teacher not a luthier (her words). So I need to have confidence and faith in our choice as much as I can.

The luthier has a shop in an expensive area where I can imagine significant amount of money would be needed to maintain. Hmmm. hmm

Any suggestion of a good luthier/violin shop?

Giraffey1 Tue 13-Feb-18 00:10:31

Where are you based?

Kutik73 Tue 13-Feb-18 05:15:17

London! smile

Horses4 Tue 13-Feb-18 05:16:56

Stringers in Edinburgh is excellent and I believe they have a London shop

disorganisedmummy Tue 13-Feb-18 07:40:55

Kutiq we're in Essex so not far from London and I've heard fantastic things about Stringers. Please keep us posted re violin as I suspect Ds who will be 12 in June will need a full size violin this year 😬.

Kutik73 Wed 14-Feb-18 06:34:24

We visited the 3rd luthier today. DS tried £3k - £6k and picked £4k.

The luthier actually agreed it would be the best one among all the violins DS tried there. It'd been just set up, fab condition, rich yet bright, great projection and very comfortable to play. He explained that there wouldn't be much difference between £3k - £8k for the performance ability, and if we were dissatisfied with the violin DS picked (£4k), the next bracket would be £10,000+ rather than £6000 or £7000.

DS played the 4k one and £5.5k one side by side at home. Both sounded great, but the £5.5k one was actually slightly nicer and richer in tones for my ears. We did a blind test so I certainly felt this way by purely the sound of it. But I am a novice...

Horses, thanks for the suggestion. I heard of them and several people I know told me good things about them but have never visited the shop for some reasons. Does anyone know about Tom Blackburn? I am thinking to visit him and also Stringers if we can find time this week.

Kutik73 Thu 15-Feb-18 08:14:16

DS tried and compared again and he liked both £4K and £5.5k but perhaps £4K more.

We've got £3.5k too. It's beautiful and comes with the original certificate but it's a bit weak in sounds when compared with other two. The luthier emailed me yesterday and offered 8% discount from the initial selling price as we bought DS's 1/2 and 3/4 in the past. They do trade in also. So we'll save quite significantly, especially it's the cheapest already among our selection.

We are seeing the 4th luthier today - quite exhausting as we are squeezing those visits in our hectic half term schedule!! The luthier said he has nice selections for our budget. Hopefully we'll find something special!

Floottoot Thu 15-Feb-18 10:06:21

Hi Kutik,
It sounds like you're having a similar journey to us, looking for our DS's 4/4 size cello.
We went to string specialists in Cardiff and Bristol, with a view to also seeing instruments in London and Oxford. Just the 2 shops was mind-boggling, with DS liking instruments that we and his teacher didnt. We finally narrowed it down to a £5k and £6k and then the £5m instrument, which we have been offered a discount on because DH and the teacher both play with national orchestras.
The advice we were given by an excellent Luther was to decide a budget, halve it and then try every instrument in the range between those 2 figures. Also hear in mind that an antique instrument is valued on age, not standard as such, and will hold and increase its value - we were advised to insure for £1k more than purchase price.
Hope that helps.

Floottoot Thu 15-Feb-18 10:07:05

£5k instrument, NOT £5m!!!!

Kutik73 Thu 15-Feb-18 20:26:43

Hello Floot. Thank you for joining the thread. It's so nice to have 'hunting buddies'! I'll take note of the insurance advice. By the way I wish I had £5m. grin

We had a bit of run through with someone with more experience today. And we narrowed down to the £3.5k and the £4k. So the £5.5k is now going back to the luthier. What's an unexpected turn!

We visited the 4th luthier today. DS tried quite a few and narrowed it down to two £6k violins. Interestingly, one of them was made by the same maker in the same year as the £3.5k! The lutier said we could take two home but DS decided to take another one only. So we missed the opportunity of comparing two violins of the same maker and year from different luthiers. I hope the 6k sounds much better than the £3.5k!?

catkind Thu 15-Feb-18 21:32:00

Really hard decision to make. I'm thinking about upgrading my violin so have been asking around about the same. I was told the same as you about having to go to 10k+ to get significantly better sound than c5k. I was also advised you should be thinking of spending about half on your bow what you spend on your instrument shock.

From talking to orchestra friends, there really is a huge difference between auction prices and violin shop prices. They were talking of the order of double. The people I know who have bought very nice violins have often taken the leap to buy at auction. Bear in mind though they may not sell in the guide range, and you have to add on commission and tax to the price that it is auctioned for. I feel like you might have more comeback if you buy something from a shop and it turns out to not be what it's sold as, is that true?

Generally, take your time, when you have ones on loan play them to anyone and everyone, and don't feel you have to get one of the first ones you bring home to try. The more he tries out the more idea he will get of what he wants and likes.

One tip I was given is go along and play really really expensive instruments and see how they sound/feel. Then choose one in your price range that has a bit of that feel to it. I know people who have gone along to pre-auction showings and tried really amazing named instruments and bows, which is an education in itself.

Prices do seem to vary wildly by outlet. Do you have anyone in the know (teacher?) to advise on which shops price relatively lower? And as floot says remember you're looking for sound but paying for antique value - so quite reasonable to hope to find something relatively cheap that you love.

Kutik73 Fri 16-Feb-18 01:35:34

cat, nice to see you here and thanks for all the sound advice. smile

I heard of spending 1/3 on a bow. I also heard that some people spend more on a bow than their instrument. shock But the teacher said 1/5... Anyway, DS will keep using his 3/4 bow for a while. So we are focusing on finding a violin for now.

Bear in mind though they may not sell in the guide range, and you have to add on commission and tax to the price that it is auctioned for. That's a great point. I didn't think of add-on expenses. However, I assume no tax was added for the £5.5k as it's an antique/secondhand item.

One tip I was given is go along and play really really expensive instruments and see how they sound/feel., that's superb advice! Wish I knew this before. Unfortunately most of luthier visits are nearly coming to end for DS. He's back to school next week... Most violin shops are closed on Sunday and DS goes to a jd on Saturday so no time for him to make a visit during school terms... But it's still not too late for disorganised. smile

The teacher didn't give me any advice on shops. However she said she was not very keen on Stringers which was a bit of a surprise as I hear so many good things about the shop on the internet.

I totally agree on sound vs antique value. We cannot afford spending any penny on antique value really, and we were very much open about it with all the luthiers. HOWEVER, I would prefer knowing the background of the violins we selected (but only after we selected them purely by the sound and playability so we wouldn't be biased for the selection).

We know the maker, year, country for the £3.5k, £5.5k, and £6k, but no information available for the 4k... The luthier thinks it was probably made 1910, and by the shape and varnish he believes it is east German, possibly Dresden. But it doesn't have any label inside so it's all just a (but knowledgeable) guess and I do worry if it'll cause a headache when we want to sell it for upgrading.

Kutik73 Fri 16-Feb-18 02:23:37

By the way, do you keep your DC's fractional violins or you opted to trade-in at each upgrading stage?

We traded in DS's very first his own 1/2 violin against DS's wish. He was very attached to it and although he loved his new 3/4 violin he missed his 1/2 for a long time (he begged me to buy it back many many times). When a parent said she had kept all the fractional violins of her DC's because she couldn't think of parting them, I felt slightly bad that we let it go. I regretted we didn't even keep his 1/2 bow!

Interestingly, although DS does love his 3/4, and it's actually much better violin than his old 1/2 quality-wise, he is fine with us selling it. What was the drama about the 1/2? Was it like the first love sentiment?? And more interestingly, I am the one who is hesitating to let it go this time!

DS was learning violin very casually at school until he moved to the 3/4. Then suddenly he started craving for challenges and has achieved a lot more than I dreamt he would do since then. He went through all the challenges that changed the relationship between him and violin significantly with this 3/4. I feel DS has grown together with it.

The downside of keeping it is, if we change our mind and decide to sell it in future, we'll be likely to gain a lot less profit than selling now as by then the violin won't have been played for quite a while (so the sounds will be lost). And of course we don't get any extra cash now. grin

I just wonder what others are doing with all those little violins with full of memories.

catkind Fri 16-Feb-18 09:06:43

Hmm, we still have DD's first but it's only a 1/10 and not worth a lot. Don't think I would keep 1/2 plus, too expensive and if it's a decent instrument it should be out there being played. OTOH DD's current violin is on loan from a friend who did keep her DCs' castoffs. So clearly some people do! If you wanted to keep for now and sell later, perhaps you could lend it out for a period to get it played back in?

cingolimama Fri 16-Feb-18 13:42:04

I'm in a similar position, based in London and looking for full-size violin for DD. First thing I'd say is take your time - this is a big decision.

I'd also suggest going to specialist shops outside of London, which often give better value because of lower overheads. I've dealt with Cardiff Violins for DD's fabulous 3/4 violin - and it was all done via phone calls and emails. I will visit Cardiff, though, for her 4/4. Might be worth a call - talk to Cecile, who's extremely helpful.

You want to establish a good relationship with a luthier/specialist string shop for the next few years. If you don't feel you're getting good advice or you don't trust them, go somewhere else.

Good luck, OP. Please update us!

Kutik73 Fri 16-Feb-18 21:10:56

cat, I totally agree with you that a decent instrument should be out there being played. I am feeling a bit sentimental about DS's 3/4 and also I like the idea of handing down in family...

cingolimama, thanks for the suggestion of the shop in Cardiff. I also hear good things about Woodbridge Violins. It takes nearly 3 hours one way by car to Cardiff/Wood bridge. But I am willing to extend my radar outside of London and actually I am more than happy to make efforts to visit those fabulous shops.

My worries would be the aftercare. We popped in the shop where we bought DS's 1/2 and 3/4 violins as often as we wanted and needed and they were always helpful and looked after the violins together with us. If we buy a violin from somewhere so far, I doubt we could build the same kind of a close relationship.

Or not? I am very keen to see their violins really!

Kutik73 Fri 16-Feb-18 21:15:43

We have narrowed it down to three violins. DS has preference actually, but his preferred order may change tomorrow. He is testing the sounds in a large recital hall with his teacher. Exciting!

Kutik73 Fri 16-Feb-18 21:17:13

But we don't need to decide tomorrow. If you have any suggestion in regard to luthiers/violin shops please do let me know!

Floottoot Fri 16-Feb-18 21:18:57

Cingolimama, we've been dealing with Cecile at Cardiff Violins for DS's new cello - she's great and we've ended up with a beautiful instrument. I would also recommend Bristol Violins, Cremona House (also in Bristol) and there's somewhere decent in Oxford too.

catkind Fri 16-Feb-18 21:40:52

That's a good point about handing down family, it's lovely if you can.

I don't think the looking after violin relationship has to be with the same person as the buying violin relationship. The repair person I go to doesn't sell instruments at all, but came highly recommended for repairs. (Hark at me sounding like I know what I'm talking about - I don't actually take my instruments in nearly as much as I ought to.) When I bought my viola I took it to repair person to get an unbiased opinion first.

Have fun testing in the recital hall! It will be a really good comparison to have teacher play them all to him/you too. Teacher's own violin could be a good "this is what a good violin sounds like" benchmark.

Kutik73 Fri 16-Feb-18 21:58:29

That's very true cat! DS actually played his teacher's violin once (when we were not thinking of looking for 4/4) and I remember as soon as he played the first note he was like, WOW. Later he told me he would want to move to 4/4 asap. He so noticed the difference between his 3/4 and hers.

Not sure if he felt the same 'wow' moment on the violins we selected. I don't think he did, although they are all clearly much nicer than his current one. He hasn't really said 'this is the one!'.

Oh it's so hard!

Kutik73 Fri 16-Feb-18 22:02:54

Floot, may I ask you which shop in London you were going to visit? Although I am very interested in the shops in Bristol it will be quite a hike for us.

If we are still unsure which one to purchase after testing in the recital hall, we may try to visit those shops outside of London. As advised by many, I should take time.

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