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Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Violins

Hello everybody,

There are 5 main tiers of violins that you can buy.

1. VSO violins (usually below $200): Otherwise known as Violin Shaped Objects. These violins represent the least expensive violins and are almost exclusively only available on the internet. Their main characteristics are usually:

—Not made from traditional woods (don’t use ebony for fittings, not real purfling)
—Not made with traditional methods (not carved wood, could be pressed or plywood veneer)
—Made “factory/assembly line” style
—Usually not set-up
—Made from wood that has not dried properly yet
—Very little quality control or standards in terms of internal carving.

The only time I’d recommend these violins is if you know of somebody they can perform a good set-up for free for you and you don’t plan on keeping the violin for very long. They can be made to be playable, but because of the quality of the wood, they will shrink and distort over a short period and be rendered unplayable fairly quickly.

2. Inexpensive student violin (usually $200-$1,200): This represents the most common type of violin that is purchased today. Many of these are purchased on the internet and can be an inexpensive way to get back into playing the violin as an adult or for a child to start their journey with the violin. Their main characteristics are usually:

—Usually made from traditional woods
—Usually made in a fairly traditional way (using traditional glues)
—The cheaper ones are made factory style, the more expensive ones can still be made by one maker
—Often when purchased online, they will be set-up to some extent and ready to go play
—The cheaper ones have wood that is often not dry enough, but the more expensive ones will often have much better wood.
—More attention is paid to the workmanship of the internal carving/sound post, and towards the upper end of the price spectrum, even the characteristics of the wood will be taken into account when the thickness of the plates is decided.

3. Advanced violin outfits . ($800-$3,200): These violins are usually purchased by people who have been playing for a while and have the ability to distinguish the finer differences in violin performance characteristics. They are usually purchased in violin shops because the people were buying them want to play them first. Their main characteristics are usually:

—Made from higher quality traditional woods
—Made using traditional “one luthier” methods
—Set-up is usually pretty good or very good
—Usually made with woods that have dried properly for the proper amount of time
—High degree of quality control in the internal workmanship and the individual characteristics of the wood has been taken into account when deciding the plate thicknesses. On the higher end of the spectrum, the wood has even been tuned.

4. Professional violin outfits ($2,500-$15,000). Generally purchased by advanced students, semi-professionals or professionals who make their living almost exclusively with their instrument. Their main characteristics are usually:

—Made from highest quality traditional woods
—Made using traditional “one luthier” methods
—Set-up is usually very good
—Made with woods that have dried properly for the proper amount of time or made with very old wood
—High degree of quality control in the internal workmanship and the individual characteristics of the wood has been taken into account when deciding the plate thicknesses. Often the plates are tuned at different points during construction.
—There is some “value of antiquity” in the higher end of the spectrum. If the maker is well known or in high demand, the value of the instrument can go up with age and is a deciding factor when purchasing these violins. It also can add to the initial cost.

5. Collector violins : ($15,000-Millions): Generally purchased by wealthy semi-professionals, highest level professionals or collectors. Their main characteristics are usually:

—Made from highest quality traditional woods
—Made using traditional “one luthier” methods
—Set-up is the best
—Sometimes made with very old wood
—High degree of quality control in the internal workmanship and the individual characteristics of the wood has been taken into account when every decision. Often the plates are tuned at different points during construction.
—There may be a lot of “value of antiquity” in the higher end of the spectrum. If the maker is well known or in high demand, the value of the instrument can go up with age and is a deciding factor when purchasing these violins. It also can add to the initial cost. Often times the instrument's playability is not really that great, but they are purchased solely because of their antiquity status: Strad, Steiner, etc.

I hope this answers a few questions!