Violin Price: The Finest Instruments
The Personal Touch of the Craftsman
Getting into the $6,000 to $10,000 range, “you see either the better antique workshop instruments, or ‘personal instruments’: violins that were made from start to finish by one master craftsman,” Fritz says. “So these are instruments that will bear the label of the maker, where they’re dated and signed by the person who took them from start to finish.”
At this level, “you’re not just buying a tool, you’re buying a piece of art. A piece that was designed and planned out by a master craftsman. In general, these makers have dedicated their entire lives to creating better and better instruments and so you have the benefit of a lifetime’s -- or at least the career of the full-time professional’s -- dedication to producing high quality instruments.
“You’ll have the very best materials, especially with the maple. It’s going to be very dense, very even, beautiful to look at, and also aged properly. Sometimes violin makers age wood 10 years or more before they even start thinking about turning it into an instrument. And then that person, somebody who really knows what they’re doing, can make an instrument out of those materials to capture what’s possible in those materials.
“Not every piece of wood is created equal, so it’s not just a matter of making it the right thicknesses throughout, it’s about working that particular piece, getting the feel, having a concept of where you’re headed and then achieving that as much as possible. So now we’re talking about an instrument that will have the nuance and the complexity and the level of tone and playability that a professional player would require.”
Playing a High-End Violin
“Professional level instruments are extraordinarily responsive. On the other hand, they’re not forgiving in the tone they produce. Any mistakes or inconsistencies are amplified by a really sensitive instrument.
“To a trained player, it’s actually much easier because the response time is quicker, and the dynamic range is bigger. But to somebody who is still finding their way, the mistakes they make -- or unpleasant noises that sometimes result from amateur or beginning level play -- come out much more clearly on a professional level instrument.”
Antiques and Collectors’ Items
“Once you get over $10,000, with very few exceptions you’re almost exclusively talking about personal instruments, either new or antique,” Fritz reveals. This is where “the value pretty much is determined by the maker, the age of the instrument, and the condition that it’s in.”
There’s also a fourth criteria that can be more nebulous: that specific instrument, versus others by the same maker. “So taking Antonio Stradivari, the most famous violin maker,” the buyer must ask these questions: “Is it one of the best things he made? Is it him on a bad day?” These can only be determined by someone with a vast knowledge of not only violin making, but also the history involved.
“There are some Strads that sell for $10 million or more, and others that are selling at a fraction of that price. A lot of it depends on the condition and where the world is placing it within the quality of work [Stradivari] produced.”