Learn About Instruments

A World of Difference

How many different kinds of violins are there?

Even many seasoned professionals may find the variety and styles of instruments available today bewildering. The best student instruments were invariably made in Germany. Today, the available supply of nice, quality, inexpensive instruments has never been more abundant. In areas of the world with a rich tradition of fine craftsmanship, from Eastern Europe (Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech and Slovak Republics) to Eastern Asia (China, Japan) and even Mexico, violin making has become an international industry. The result is a wonderful, if somewhat confusing, variety of string instruments with a wide range of qualities and prices. Add to that the common practice of shared production and materials and the mix becomes even more mysterious. The following sections will start to untangle the various groupings and prices to help you sort out in what range you should be shopping to find the appropriate instrument for any level of player.

China: No other country has had so large an impact on the string industry in so short a time. Because of the massive availability of conscientious, inexpensive craftsmen these instruments have virtually flooded the student market. With instruments ranging from inexcusable to really very nice, there’s no reason to opt for the cheaper, terrible ones when better examples are so reasonably priced. Many manufacturers have started using European wood in an effort to match the German sound at a lower price with some success. These violins typically have a nice warm sound with good projection. Some teachers feel they are “one dimensional”and therefore only suitable for students up to Suzuki book III. These are totally handmade violins, although their prices range from only $400 to $1500 US.

Japan: The home of the “Nagoya Suzuki”which was the standard small size violin for 30 years and is still quite common in chain stores and rental programs. Currently, older mass-produced Japanese instruments are quickly being replaced by Chinese products. A little pricey in comparison to their Chinese counterparts, these instruments are good for students through Suzuki Book II. Violin prices range from $ 500 to $ 1200 US.

Germany: German craftsmen have been responsible for more beautiful sounding intermediate and advanced student instruments than any other group of luthiers. For the better part of two centuries, Germany’s long tradition of instrument making is reflected in their most basic products. These are the violins, violas, cellos and basses most players fall in love with as beginners and will facilitate many of their fondest experiences in music performance throughout high school and college. These instruments tend to be very forgiving and easy to play, while still retaining a depth and quality of tone. Players will experience a wide range of tone colors and projection and balance. Prices for student violins range from $ 2500 to $ 6000. Violas are $ 2500 to $ 7000, cellos are $ 1700 to $ 7000 and basses $ 5500 to $ 12,000.

France: French master-made instruments enjoy a well-deserved reputation as being comparable to the best Italian makers. Many of these older instruments currently are available in the same price brackets as contemporary handmade instruments from Italy, America, Japan, Great Britain and Germany. We import these fine, older instruments directly from London and Paris and are able to offer them to our customers at half the price of their Italian counterparts; many with certificates from such experts as Millant, Rampal,Vatelot and Raffin. Old French violins prices begin at $ 4,500. French cellos start at $ 6000.

England: Our agents in London and Paris often provide us with older, master made instruments (typically violins) dating from the late 1700’s through 1920’s. English makers concentrated on recreating the work of the Italian classics. They have a smooth, powerful sound perfect for chamber and small orchestra work. Prices range from $ 4,000 – $ 12,000.

Italy: In the famous schools of violin-making in Cremona, Parma and Milan, the traditional painstaking methods are passed on from master to student. Only superior Italian maple and spruce are used. No machines are used in the carving. Natural varnishes are applied by hand. The same techniques employed by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gésu are demanded here, where they once produced the finest violins and cellos. Violins are available starting at $ 6,000. Cellos are offered for as little as $ 7,500 but most are about $ 10,000. See page 16 “Modern Italian Instruments.”

United States: America is currently experiencing what scholars will undoubtedly call “the Golden Age of American Violin Making.” Since the mid 1970’s, luthiers all across America have been producing one at a time, handcrafted masterpieces that are the envy of the world. While they tend to be pricey, and the long-term (resale) value has yet to be established, the quality of craftsmanship and the conscientious nature of the American luthier is at an all time high. As with the British, American luthiers don’t uniformly follow a single style. However, with the advent of high tech testing and exhaustive research by makers like Gary Baese, Joe Curtin, Howard Needham and other members of the Violin Society of America, American luthiers are highly skilled and not as bound by tradition. Using the best modern scientific research has given these makers a better understanding of the techniques used by the grand masters.They are producing some of the finest instruments made. Most good makers have a waiting list of several months or more, but we will happily act as agents for you, contracting with one of the many makers associated with our shop to produce for you a beautiful custom-made violin, viola or cello. $6,000 – $15,000 (deposits may be required by some makers).

Potter Shop

The Potter Violin Company has over a dozen individuals on retainer as “Shop Makers.” These luthiers work from their own home studios in the United States making instruments to the most exacting standards. We are privileged to be the beneficiaries of the current “Golden Age of American Violinmaking,” when some of the best makers in the last two centuries are quietly working, expanding and improving the paradigm of the violinmaker’s art and setting new benchmarks for excellence for future generations. These violins, violas and cellos come to us one at a time and represent some of the very best values for advancing string players who are looking for an affordable entrée into the world of professional-level performance.

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