I spent yesterday evening talking to parents or orchestra students about the merits of higher quality instruments. I’ve been having very similar discussions for the past ten years and some questions keep surfacing. I’m going to start trying to answer a few of them and hope to add accompanying videos as time allows.
“What is the difference between a $500 violin and a $1,000 violin?”
This question (and variations of it) is easily the most common question I’m asked. First, some ground rules. In my answer, I am only talking about recently produced instruments, not antiques. Also, as in everything, my answer is a broad generalization that always comes with exceptions.
The difference in cost between these levels of violins can be broadly described in two words – time and material. Almost all quality violins are made of the same material – maple, spruce, and ebony. However, each one of those materials can vary a great deal in quality. Up to a certain point, the higher the cost of the new violin, the higher the quality of the materials. Workshop violins are produced through a combination of person and machine. Many of the large workshops are now implementing the use of computer-controlled machinery to accomplish the “rough” work – cutting outlines, removing excess material, etc. Then the hand-work begins – carving of the f-holes, final graduation (setting the thickness of the top and back), bending the ribs, etc. The greater the skill of the craftsperson and the more time they take to make everything as ideal as possible, the higher the quality of the instrument.
When you combine better material and better workmanship, the result is a higher-performance instrument. So while the difference in COST is created by these two variables, the reason a musician will PAY the higher cost is because it produces a better sounding violin.