Saturday, March 23, 2013


Every time I shop for instruments I get a new case of "sticker shock." Prices always seem to be rising. Fortunately, it is still possible to find quality in most price ranges.

What matters more than country of origin is the quality of materials and workmanship, the setup, the tonal characteristics and playability of the instrument.  Country of origin can affect the price, often enhancing the value of a less-expensive instrument.  All of these qualities are of utmost importance to a dealer, which reinforces the case for purchasing an instrument from a specialty string shop skilled in evaluation and setup, and avoiding the internet like the plague!   With respect to commercial "step-up" instruments, Edlund's law almost always applies: you get what you pay for. As a corollary, a business-owner friend of mine offered this observation: "Price, quality, service--pick any two."

Any dealer can educate a teacher on what features to look for at each price point. Teachers should be sure to play the instruments and bows in each of the price ranges their students should be shopping for, since the proof is in the pudding.  Teachers have an obligation to stay abreast of the market. 

As with any business, one doesn't have to dig very deeply to find some distasteful practices. In the violin business, these can include outrageous markups, misleading representations, and sometimes out-and-out counterfeiting. So it's important for teachers to find dealers they trust, and build the relationships that enable them to work effectively on behalf of their students.  Students and their parents are more apt to trust their teacher than a dealer, so teachers have a responsibility to be familiar with the offerings of dealers in their area. I hasten to add that it is unethical for any teacher to accept a commission (i.e., a "kick-back")  from any seller under any circumstances.  Dealers who do this are able to do it because they are overcharging for their instruments. A good dealer builds his reputation on quality products, honest pricing and excellent service, not on bribery.  And teachers are NOT sales associates.

Shopping for an instrument should be an interesting learning experience with (hardly any) stress. A good relationship between teacher, parent, and dealer will help make this happen.  The dealer wants to continue to serve his clients in the future, and teachers and parents want a dealer who can provide quality service. Teachers should encourage parents to invest in the highest quality instruments they can afford, because using such an instrument helps the student make the most of his/her potential.