Buying a Fine Instrument

Purchasing a fine instrument that hopefully you will use for a long period of time is not easy. You will need to be quite patient because it might be a long process, especially if you are on a limited budget and are searching for specific instrument this process might take a long time. Don’t give yourself any deadlines. You want to take your time and make a right decision.

First of all, you need to know your budget, this way you will narrow your options. If you are spending anywhere from $20.000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars keep in mind that none of the serious violin dealers will borrow you – let you try a valuable instrument – without proof of funds.

Before you lay down a serious cash you need to know exactly what you are buying. Learning a true value of your instrument is a part of the success. Be a wise buyer, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and request a full condition report of the instrument that you are buying, even if the instrument of your choice is a few years old, you should be able to receive an accurate description and detailed condition report.

So let’s talk about the condition report. If you are buying a fine 200 or 300 years old violin that require a major investment, you want to make sure that this instrument doesn’t have many cracks or at least no major cracks like sound post crack or any cracks on the back of the instrument. Lets be honest, it is pretty impossible to find and purchase a “perfect” old instrument, but you have to educate yourself and know what might eventually bring down the value of your instrument. The condition report of your violin should also include changes of violin’s originality. So how original is the instrument that you are buying?

Most of the old instruments has a neck replaced, as well as the top block and sometimes even top rib is replaced as well.  There might be some instruments with replaced head, ribs, settings, retouched varnish, loss of original varnish or could even have top or the back of the violin replaced. All these alterations as many others diminish the instrument’s originality as well as their value. Condition report should tell you if there are any major parts replaced in the instrument that you are purchasing or tell you if the instrument was damaged and has been restored. You need to be very careful since restored instrument could mean that your violin was completely damaged and brought back to life, or that just had a few minor issues that were fixed.  Restoration has become a real art, and some of the violin restorers are so incredibly talented that it is nearly impossible to notice any repairs with the naked eye. As a buyer who invest a big chunk of money you must know exactly what was fixed, replaced and done to your instrument.

It might be a good idea to find an independent expert who can assess the condition of your instrument as well as provide a second opinion before you make any purchase.

Most of the very expensive instruments comes with the certificate of authenticity. It sounds good but you need to be careful.  Certificate of authenticity signed by the dealer that you are dealing with is not always a good sign. I would take violin to several experts, violin makers, dealers and ask for the second opinion. Having a dendrochronological report is a must when dealing with more expensive instruments.

If you don’t want to purchase your instrument from the dealer, and if you are more adventures you might consider purchasing the instrument of your dreams from one of the fine instruments auction houses. Before you do that you should also do your homework and learn about specific terms that are used to describe all the instruments listed in the auction.  Most of the auction houses like tarisio.com bromptons.co, ingleshayday.comvichy-encheres.com, amati.comskinnerinc.com/auctions etc., provide world class expertise and efficiency of internet bidding.  You are also welcome to visit auction house and try all the instruments before bidding.  Upon request you will also receive full condition report with lots of detailed pictures. If you are lucky you might purchase an amazing instrument well below the estimated market value price.

You may also consider signing up for Cozio Archive http://tarisio.com/cozio-archive the world’s largest reference resource for buyers of fine stringed instruments. I personally find this website incredibly helpful and use it all the time as a reference before making any major investment.

As you can see there is a lot of things to think about. Lets be honest, fine old instruments especially Italian are in the high demand. They are not cheap and for the most professional musicians they are a lifetime investment. Educating yourself, knowing what you are buying is extremely important. Be a smart buyer!

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2 Comments

  1. kypros
    June 14, 2015 / 11:03 am

    I almost totally agree with you on the condition provenance of the instrument.
    If it is however a 200-300 year old instrument, the chances of it not having a sound post patch are minimal to non existent. A well executed patch though will give no further trouble for the useful playing life of the player and it has been reported that some instruments will sound better after the operation. This however is to be taken with a pinch of salt in my opinion as people try to resist the fact that now their instrument are worth less than before the operation. As values go, two comparable violins, one with a patch and the other without, the one without will be about 40% dearer. This is not true with cellos however, as one will be hard pushed to find an old cello without a sound post patch. A cello without a patch will almost be the same price as one without ( provided one can find one without a patch).
    Primarily one should look be looking for an instrument, original in all its major parts with well restored or executed repairs.
    One more point that I would suggest, is to ask for a thickness report, as a lot of older instruments have been re-thicknessed along their long life and if this is the case, the structural integrity of the instrument might well be compromised.
    If one however manages to find a structurally perfect old instrument, the responsibility of keeping it that way is tremendous, because as far as good instruments new or old are concerned, we are not the owners, but the life long curators having the responsibility to hand them over to the next generation of players in the same if not in a better condition we received them. A players life span is only a season in a violins life as we have violins and other string instruments handed down to us from the early 1500’s.

    • violinista
      Author
      June 15, 2015 / 2:07 am

      Great comment! but I must say that there is lots of old violins with no sound post crack. You need to be very lucky to buy violin with sound post crack that will actually sound wonderful. Yes, it may be fixed beautifully but it will have a very low value.

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