Where are violins made?
Even many seasoned professionals may find the variety and styles of instruments available today bewildering. The best student instruments were invariably made in Germany. But today, the available supply of inexpensive quality instruments has never been more abundant. In areas of the world with a rich tradition of fine craftsmanship, from Eastern Europe to Eastern Asia, and even Mexico, violin making has become an international industry. The result is a wonderful, sometimes 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 help untangle the various groupings and prices to help you sort out in what range you should be shopping.
Violin makers, countries, and their pricing
China: No other country has had so significant an impact on the string industry in so short a time. Because of the massive availability of conscientious, inexpensive artisans, these instruments have virtually flooded the student market. With instruments ranging from inexcusable to very nice, there’s no reason to opt for the cheaper, lesser-quality ones when better examples are so reasonably priced. Many manufacturers have started using European wood to match the German sound at a lower price. These violins typically have a warm tone 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 $1,500 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 artisans have been more responsible for more beautiful sounding intermediate and advanced student instruments than any other group of violin makers (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 $2,500 to $6,000. Violas are $2,500 to $7,000, cellos are $1,700 to $7,000.
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 can 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 $6,000.
England: Our agents in London and Paris often provide us with older, master made instruments (typically violins) dating from the late 1700s through 1920s. English makers concentrated on recreating the work of the Italian classics. They have a smooth, powerful sound perfect for chamber music and small orchestra work. Prices range from $4,000 to $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 is used. No machines are used in the carving. Natural varnishes are applied by hand. The same techniques employed by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù 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.
United States: America is currently experiencing what scholars will undoubtedly call “the Golden Age of American Violin Making.” Since the mid-1970s, violin makers all across the US have been producing handcrafted masterpieces. While they tend to be pricey, and the long-term 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 violin makers don’t uniformly follow a single style. However, with the advent of high-tech testing and exhaustive research, American violin makers 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 grandmasters. They are producing some of the world’s finest instruments.
Potter Violins has over a dozen individuals on retainer as “Shop Makers.” These violin makers work from their home studios in the US, making exceptional instruments. 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 violin maker’s art and setting new benchmarks for excellence. 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 entry into the world of professional-level performance.
We understand musicians today face a distinct challenge of finding an instrument that allows maximum playability with captivating tonal quality. For this reason, we offer a “concierge” service to anyone—student, professional, or investor—looking for a unique and distinctive instrument to take their musicianship to the next level. Check out our concierge service here.