Violin Shop Tips: 5 Things Violin Shops Never Want You to Know

Here are some violin shop tips for you that could save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars the next time you are in the market for buying an instrument/bow.

I’ve been around violins my entire life.

Not just from the standpoint of playing, but from a unique perspective as a dealer and instrument salesman.

My career started at a very reputable violin shop where I worked as a stringed instrument salesman for three years.

A few years later, I worked as another instrument sales manager at another shop, so I got to know all the ins and outs of how stringed instrument shops do business.
Here are the five things that are violin shop never wants you to know.

1. About the Consignment Process

First, let me tell you how consignment works in the stringed instrument world.
A person who is associated with playing violin has an instrument they want to sell.

Typically it’s an instrument they have had inherited down or a violin that was recently found in their closet.

They have no reason for playing, but interest in making money off the asset.

A violin shop has interest in selling instruments from the public in most situations.

It strengthens their inventory/options without having to pay cash to acquire a significant amount of inventory.

So here is what the problem is.

When a shop takes on a consignment instrument, they have to give a substantial amount of the profit of what they sell an instrument for to the customer.

Rightfully so.

The Problem with Consignment Instruments Related to the Customer

A violin shop has an incentive to over-price consignment instruments so that the profit level is closer to what they usually would get for one of their owned instruments.

So if a violin should be priced at around $2,000 to the consumer, you might see a consignment violin priced at $3,500+.

This ultimately hits the pockets of many players out there including parents looking for instruments for their children.

In general, the over-priced violin will not sell.

But it’s a shame when they do sell because the player likes the over-priced violin.

When you try to re-sell that violin (especially to another violin shop), they will give you the news that it is worth much less than you paid for it.

And that is a shame.

So my suggestion is to ask the shop to eliminate consignment violins out of the bunch of instrument you try out.

Or take the consignment violin that you like to a few appraisers to get their opinion.

If an appraiser is unbiased, then this is how you can prevent the situation of buying an over-priced consignment instrument.

At a minimum, you can have more leverage for negotiation when getting a few appraisal opinions.

And that could help you save thousands of dollars.

2. Some Violins are B-Grade

When violins come directly from China, they can have their fair share of issues.

From my experience, 7/10 violins from China are decent, 2/10 are terrible, and 1/10 are “gems” which means they are outstanding.

Another significant factor though outside of sound quality is also the condition of the instrument.

Which is where I want you to know the difference in grades…A and B.

Violin Shop

B-grade level condition would be a violin that has some cosmetic flaws like…

1. Chips in the wood
2. Opened seams
3. Imperfections in the wood
4. Deep-Cuts

It isn’t terrible to have a B-Grade instrument.

Honestly, I’ve sold many of them over the years at a discount, and they can still have the excellent sound quality that you are looking for at a particular price range.

But you don’t want to over-pay for a B-grade instrument if you can avoid it.

My suggestion is to point out to the violin shop that you like a specific violin but notice that it is B-grade level.

Ask them to fix the issues, or to offer you a discount.

They should do either of these things being that they want to make a sale.

Don’t throw out the potential for trying out a B-grade instrument…that is if you are most interested in getting a good sounding violin.

Sometimes that “gem” of a Chinese violin can start off as a B-grade.

A little wear and tear never hurt anybody.

But ultimately this information is included in what a violin shop would want you to know.

3. Dishonest Promotions

It’s important to note that this doesn’t happen all the time – there are many honest shops out there.

But I sometimes see places where a shop is advertising a violin bow for $75, and they claim it is made of pernambuco wood.

I’ve seen places where a shop is advertising a violin bow for $75, and they claim it to be a pernambuco bow.

Being that pernambuco wood is the best and rare, this is almost always a lie.

Most likely the bow is Brazilwood, and the shop prefers to advertise it as pernambuco.

Reason?

Again it’s the best type of material for a bow, and many teachers will tell a student to find a pernambuco bow.

The other unfortunate thing violin shops will do is say a violin is hand-crafted when it is factory-made.

Violin players and teachers universally know a hand-crafted violin as being higher quality than factory-made.

And they are right.

So you might see a deal for a violin under $500 that is claiming the violin is hand-made.

They could justify it as the fact that someone took the parts of the violin and put it into the factory press (that explains hand-made).

You can tell if a violin is genuinely hand-made by the definition of the wood, especially the corners.

A factory-made violin will be a lot simpler, typically glossier, and doesn’t come off as a piece of wood – they look artificial.

But you can’t always take a violin shop’s word for it.

So What do You Do?

I recommend in both the situation of pernambuco and factory-made to take any violin/bow that is being claimed to be that quality and have it looked over by an unbiased source.

Most experienced violin players and teachers will be able to tell you.

Don’t try to get an opinion from another violin shop either…

They could lie and tell you a hand-made violin is factory-made just because they don’t want you to buy it.

This happens, so be aware and smart about who you have given you an evaluation.

Most violin bows above the $300 range are going to be pernambuco…

Most violins over $1,000 are going to be hand-made…

But anything under those price ranges is where I would be careful. The difference between Brazilwood vs. Pernambuco and Factory-made vs. hand-made is huge.

4. Violin Shops Sometimes Drop-Ship

Getting a violin drop-shipped to you is unideal for the customer.

Here is the process…

A wholesale shop in the United States is just starting out, or they don’t specialize in stringed instruments.

Some wholesale shops (more than not actually) are staffed with nobody that plays the violin.

This means there is no personalization with the violins they send out.

If someone orders an ABC violin, they go to the shelve and ship it.

They potentially could avoid checking it over for issues, and if they don’t play, they definitely can’t test it to make sure it sounds right before going out.

I can’t imagine that especially with how much sound-post effects the sound quality of a violin and it quickly can move around.

And as I mentioned in my video above, sometimes some wholesale shops will accept any violin they get directly from China – not remove any of the duds that I predict to be around 20% of the violins they get.

This has given Chinese violins a bad name – the customer buys a violin from a retailer that does drop-shipping.

Some Violins From China Are Excellent

Keep in mind there are “gems” as well from China.

So I don’t recommend throwing out the potential to try a Chinese violin just because it is Chinese.

That is another mistake people make because they think all Chinese violins are bad.

And it’s the contrary in some situations…

Some of the best violins you can find under $3,000 are made in China.

That is why most retail/wholesale shops in the United States have every reason to master the process of finding the best violins from China.

Just try to stay away from violin shops that drop-ship in any capacity…

That is a good sign they don’t have a suitable quality control process and are just trying to make a buck…

And ultimately it leads to you getting a sub-par violin for the price you paid.

5. Violin Shops Lack of Inspection Process

I talked a little bit about this above, but getting a good violin in any price range comes down to the inspection process.
Violin shops have options of hundreds (even thousands) of sources of where they can purchase violins.

If they just buy from a source and expect every violin, they buy to be the same (consistent quality)…

This will lead to them being taken advantage of first of all (by the Chinese manufacturer).

They are a prime target for the violins that are sub-par that the Chinese companies want to get rid of.

I know of wholesalers in the United States who have a very weak inspection process.

I also know of others that are very tight and detailed about their inspection process.

Here is the way it should go…

A violin wholesaler gets 100 violins from China.

They take 20 or so out of the 100 violins and send them back to China – the ones that sub-par.

They do enough business with the Chinese manufacturer that the Chinese company makes the return process seamless…

Many make it very difficult…

Then the wholesaler has a luthier on staff that can repair, tweak and take care of instruments owned by the shop.

Then the finished product is hand-picked to some degree, and any issues are addressed before going to the customer.

What Sets Me Apart

Here is one more thing that I do that sets me apart…

I have a guy that goes to China and hand-picks violins himself – being that he’s Chinese he has his way of getting the best violins back to the states.

Then being a teacher and player, I choose the best violins from him (not just buy any).

Then my luthier makes adjustments.

What sets me apart is I get to know every instrument.

As a player I have an expert awareness of richness vs. projection, and when a violin needs a specific adjustment.

In the case of my more expensive instruments, I’m super picky about the way I know it should sound and how I expect them to sound.

And ultimately because the customer wants the best sounding instrument, it’s a huge advantage to work with me for this reason.

I also will take it a step further by being the one you would be working with.

So I encourage you if you are looking for an upgraded violin/bow, to visit this page to check out some of my violins.

6 replies
  1. Charlie Boyd
    Charlie Boyd says:

    I would be interested in learning about bows. I have several, but have been told if I bought a better bow, my fiddle would respond better. I don’t really understand…how do I tell a good bow from the others.

    Reply
    • Michael Sanchez
      Michael Sanchez says:

      Hey Charlie, thanks for your question! It’s hard to understand hows bows can make that much difference in your ability to create a good sound on the violin. Once you find the right bow you will find it easier to get a clean sound on the violin, and you’ll get a bigger/clearer tone out of your instrument. It also is much easier to articulate. So take any violin/fiddle tune that you struggle to make a clean sound and you’ll notice an improvement in that section with a better bow. Things like crossing strings, playing fast and spiccato are a lot easier. I highly recommend trying bows out first as I mentioned in the video. If you would like to email me at michael@violinshack.com I’d be happy to coordinate a trial of 2-3 bows so you can test various ones out. I have a really good source for bows and am happy to send them on a 30-day trial first after we talk about what type of bow you might want to try. Look forward to hearing from you!

      Reply
  2. dean r hawk
    dean r hawk says:

    Michael i just want to tell you that the Elisa Damiano Violin and the Carmela Pietro Bow i bought from you a few years ago are are both excellent , the violin plays,sounds great and is beautiful.

    Reply
    • Michael Sanchez
      Michael Sanchez says:

      Hey Patricia, the violin bridge should match up where the notches in the F-holes are on the violin. The sound post (although I don’t suggest adjusting yourself) should be just behind the bridge on the lower-bout side. I suggest bringing your violin into a shop if you intend to get your sound post adjusted which is a good thing to do every once in a while even if it hasn’t fallen. Hope that helps!

      Reply

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