“What makes this one cost more?”

“What’s different between these two violins?”

“I don’t see any difference between these two when I look at them?”

These are a few variations on one of the most common questions I hear in the shop.  It’s true – to an untrained eye it can appear that a $1,000,000 old Italian violin and a $1,000 workshop instrument look exactly the same.  So what are some of the differences that make up the cost difference between violins?

First, let’s limit this discussion to newly produced instruments.  When we wade into the deep waters of antique instruments, it is easy to drown!  In that world, authenticity, originality, and condition are huge factors in determining the value.  With newly produced instruments, we assume that those factors are givens – we know who made it, we know they actually made it, and we know it’s in perfect condition.  So again, what are the differences?

Workmanship quality.  A new violin could be made in a workshop environment by a team of newly trained apprentices, and another new violin could be made entirely by one master maker.  That first violin made by the apprentices might only take a total of 40 labor hours to make, and the master maker instrument might take 200 hours.  All of this factors heavily in the cost of the instrument.  The benefit of this additional experience and time is a much more carefully made instrument – more resonance, quicker response, larger tone, easier playability.

Material quality.  While both the violins in the previous example are likely made from the same types of material – spruce, maple, and ebony – the quality of those materials can vary greatly.  The ideal wood for violins is comparatively rare.  The spruce tree for the top needs to grow at a certain elevation, on a certain side of a mountain, on a level space, sheltered from high winds, and not too crowded by neighboring trees.  That tree then needs to be cut and air dried for at least five years – longer the better.  As you can imagine, finding the right trees, harvesting them, and storing them properly costs money.  The best wood commands incredible prices.  A recent auction saw highly prized cello maple sell for nearly $10,000 – that’s the wood for just one cello!

Setup.  This includes pegs, nut, strings, bridge, soundpost, tailpiece, chinrest (violin/viola) endbutton, endpin (cello/bass) and all the skill and labor to properly add all these components to the instrument.  Even if you take two violins that are the same model from the same workshop, the price of the instrument could fluctuate by hundreds of dollars based on the setup.

While there can be additional factors that impact the cost difference between new instruments, these three factors comprise the bulk of it.  Always feel free to reach out to us with questions!