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The Myths and Mysteries of Violin Pricing

Part Four of Seven

by James W Robinson



Addressing the first question above;" newer is better, right?" While newer may be better in many products, it is not necessarily better when referring to violins, though it may be.
The new violins most people will come across either in music shops or elsewhere are mass manufactured. They would have their origins in factories most probably somewhere in China, but may also come from Sri Lanka, Romania, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Czechoslovakia, or Germany. These are often identified as being ‘ hand-made’ by a master craftsman either on the label inside the instrument or on the sales promotion material by the seller. Often, they have a label inside with an Italian, German, or French-sounding name. By law, in Australia, the label should state the country of origin, for example, ‘Made in China, however it is very commonly left out, and not enforced. 

These days, they are made by some combination of machining and massive assembly line work, where people would be highly specialized in one small operation, repeating their operation on each instrument to pass through their station. This is also known as 'Fordism'. The quality of the output by this process would be determined by the quality of the materials used, the skill, training, and motivation of the workers, and the quality control/assurance processes in place at the factory. These instruments must also meet current industry standards to be successful in the marketplace. Each factory produces a range of instruments based on a range of price points and quality levels, and they are most often sold as an ‘outfit’ (including a case and bow). The entry-level class of instruments provides a very affordable means for a student to begin their musical studies. The production standards of most student factory-made instruments, these days, are generally high relative to their price.  So much so that one could suspect dumping. In general, they cannot be expected to appreciate in value over time. Also, you should expect to pay extra for a professional setup. Some things to look out for are poor set-ups (fingerboard, bridge, soundpost, and strings) are:


  1. Check to make sure the measurements especially the neck and string length are correct.

  2. The pegs fit properly and turn smoothly 

  3. The top nut is not too high or low above the fingerboard 

  4. The strings are not set too deeply in the top nut

  5. The fingerboard does not have a ‘hump’ in it causing string buzzing

  6. The curve or radius of the fingerboard is correct

  7. The bridge material is of good quality 

  8. The bridge is not too high or too low 

  9. The feet fit well and in the proper position on the top

  10. The bridge curve is correct not too flat or too rounded

  11. The inner shapes of the bridge are cut to a high standard

  12. The brand and quality of the strings are also very important

  13. The soundpost fits well and is in the best position

  14. Check to make sure there are no open seams; top and back to ribs

  15. Check to make sure there are no open (nor show any movement) center joints, especially under the fingerboard or tailpiece. 

Many of these instruments, especially the higher-level factory instruments are generally attractive, showing neat workmanship (at least on the outside) and good materials, but still need to be set up to a high standard by the retailer, for the player to get the best use out of them. The bows provided with the Chinese outfits are mostly of poor quality, usable, but not much more. 

One trend that I am seeing within the trade more often (unfortunately), is when a shop offers for sale 'workshop made instruments' 'made especially for them ' and then personally finished off by themselves. They could also be just called their 'workshop level instruments' What this means in reality is when a violin shop buys and imports violins 'in the white' from China. These are mass produced in the usual way in some Chinese factory, and sold unfinished , without varnish. The seller does not disclose this, pretending they are not Chinese made instruments.

(copyright James W Robinson)

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