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How much should a violin cost?

How much do you think someone should have to pay for a good violin? One of the best kept secrets in the industry is something most dealers know but won’t tell you: the BEST violin is not always the more expensive violin.In fact, I’m beginning to think there’s almost NO rhyme or reason reg how violins are priced. A violin (or cello or viola or bass) gets priced according to the name recognition of it’s maker or brand, sort of like a painting. Often the better sounding violin that’s easier to play may cost less. When you buy a car, you expect that the most expensive car will drive better and have more amenities, right? That’s what most people expect when they buy a violin too, but they’re wrong. Now don’t tell anyone this, (especially the folks standing in line to pay thousands of dollars for my performances and workshops:) but I paid $2,000 for my violin (20 years ago), and it’s been appraised at around $3,500. Most of my classical violin playing friends have spent upwards of $20k, and in some cases, $100k for their instruments. Even my bluegrass and jazz friends often spend upwards of 10k. One saving grace for rock players or electric violinists is that they can spend more or less the same price on an electric violin (my favorite, The Yamaha Silent Electric VIolin models run from $800-$1,200). But most players need to have an acoustic in addition to their electric violin. Whatever you may think of my relatively small investment in my instrument, i.e., that I’m cheap, or “thrifty”, “humble”, broke, lazy, misguided or what have you, let me tell you a story about one of my concerto appearances. This experience strengthened my conviction that I can get by just fine with my old box.   I showed up for a week long engagement with a community orchestra. The conductor is a violinist, great musician and nice guy. He saw me coming a mile away with my fine tuners and Yamaha PICKUP ( a hunk of metal attached to the instrument!) and immediately suggested that I use one of his “fine” violins (priced at between $14k and $30k). There were three of them, all with a long bio touting the virtues of each…  “this English model is a new violin costing $26k with a particularly dry yet sweet sound”… he could have been describing wine or cheese as far as I could tell (the marketing guys behind this stuff are pure genius!)   I suggested we do a “blindfold test”, so he sat in the hall and listened while I played all 4 violins, without knowing which was which.   He picked two violins as his “favorites”, one of which was mine (the cheap violin with all the metal on it). Needless to say, I played my violin during the concert- acoustically for the Lalo Symphony Espagniole, and amplified for the Charlie Parker “Bird with Strings” arrangements as well as some nice jazz arrangements I love by Bert Ligon.   I will admit that I’ve played some violins that I like a lot, and, especially bows….I will probably invest in a bow before a violin… How much is your violin worth? What did you have to sacrifice in order to obtain it? Where do you side on this issue? Leave a comment below and let the argument ensue… Jon Cooper is a beloved violin maker (and fiddle maker!) who really set me straight on a lot of these questions and more.. One of his specialties is 5-string acoustic violins. Check out the video below where he shares some eye-opening insights. This is a guy who puts a lot of love into his work- a true artist- some day I might be persuaded to buy one of his fiddles, which I’ve been told run somewhere around 15k…:)              

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