Master Hand Violin Shop

  • 546 S Main W Street
  • Broadway, VA 22815
  • 630/ 292-2641

    Store Hours

  • By Appointment Only
  • Owner

    Elizabeth Ecklund

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    Used Violins Aren't So Bad -- Let's Talk Stradivarius

    By Diane Bruce

    It is not uncommon for a customer to come in our shop and be surprised by all the used instruments that we have for sale. Because many other stores are unwilling to sell used instruments, most people assume we will not stake our reputation on used instruments either. We respond by casually pointing out that Stradivarius is used. So is Guarnari, Amati, Guadagnini and even JTL. The customer's eyes invariably light up with understanding. Yes, used instruments are worth at least considering for purchase, as there are many advantages and disadvantages to both new and used instruments.

    Used instruments are not just for history buffs and antiquers! People who play on used instruments often like them because they can’t find the instrument of their dreams in new condition. The great makers are all dead. Many of the countries that formerly produced nice, step-up student instruments are no longer heavily invested in the string business (think France), and those that are still involved often produce instruments with different characteristics. Used instruments are already aged; the wood has had a chance to dry out and the sound has already matured and improved. Oftentimes, especially in the case of bows, the materials that were used 100+ years ago are better than today’s materials because the once plentiful trees are now endangered. This all adds up to a much better sounding instrument for the price.

    However, there are many advantages to new instruments. If you want a violin that is beautiful, with no signs of age, it will be challenging to locate an old violin that meets that standard. And if the new violin that you are looking at does have a flaw, you can usually easily get another made by the same company. Additionally, the instrument's tone will improve with use, encouraging practicing to discover the personality of the instrument. Depending on the desired tone and country of origin, one may have to choose a new violin; some reputable instruments, such as Chinese violins, have not been available for more than a decade or so.

    Neither new nor used instruments are without drawbacks. Used instruments might have repaired cracks which, if not properly cared for, can worsen and ruin the instrument. In the winter, some tend to get seam openings from dried out glue. They also frequently have unsightly blemishes from a former player rubbing varnish off with his chin, a smoker getting cigarette burns on the violin, or a previous repair job gone wrong. These instruments often have to be accepted with blemishes as there are no others available anywhere. Sometimes the story of the instrument is hard to discern and the instrument remains a mystery.

    On the flip side, it is often difficult to discern a new violin's character because it has not aged. Discernment can be espcially difficult with new instruments often cheaply made, due to widely available methods for cheapening production. Additionally, while you won't find these instruments at Master Hand, cheap instruments can be prone to warping and very poor craftsmanship. Yes, there surely are great makers currently working, but it is impossible to know now how their instruments will stand up against the test of time.

    With so many advantages to both new and used instruments, how come many stores don't carry used violins? In most cases it is a business strategy rather than a condemnation of used instruments. To deal in used instruments, one has to not only be able to restore the old instrument, but also to ensure that these instruments are not out competing any instruments by local luthiers who may also sell through the shop. It is often easier, though not necessarily better, to carry only new instruments. So when you are deciding which violin to purchase, we recommend at least considering a used instrument.


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