Does it Pay to Finance a Fine Stringed Instrument?

Financing a fine violin, viola or cello

Much like investing in education or a home, there are specific criteria that a musician can apply to borrowing in order to buy a fine violin, viola, or cello. Here are the basics.

When an individual musician or the musician’s family recognizes that the player’s talent exceeds the capabilities of their current instrument, the question naturally arises: to advance in their career, the violinist/cellist/violist needs a better (i.e., more expensive) instrument. But how does someone pay for something that might cost as much as a new mid-price car?

A quick glance at an online catalog of any fine violin shop in Los Angeles or New York tells the story. Fine violins, violas and cellos for sale – those of quality, used by professional musicians – can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and some go well into six figures.

This then assumes another vital question, “Can a violinist or player of any fine stringed instrument earn enough to pay back a loan on such an instrument?”

The answer is yes, it is possible. And importantly, there are financial institutions equipped to make such loans. That said, there are various means by which one can go about it.

How to finance a fine stringed instrument

Several lenders – Synchrony, Harbor Pointe, and ActorsFCU among them – are structured to lend to aspiring musicians, sometimes with loans up to $250,000.

Importantly, these are not predatory lenders, sometimes considered “lenders of last resort.” The average APRs are in the 10-35 percent range, gauged to the credit worthiness of the borrower (consider how credit cards tend to make unsecured loans in the 25-30 percent range).

Other options include the Maestro Foundation, which offers financing, rental, and other instrument lending programs. And, what some families with sufficient equity in their homes do is take out a home equity loan.

How to pay back the loan

As with all loans, a key consideration is how will it be paid back? It’s somewhat similar to the age-old question of “how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer of course is “practice.”

But more to the point, the musician will need to work. The good news is, work is possible! Read on.

What is the market for talented and dedicated musicians?

The accomplished violinist can be well compensated. There are various places where a healthy income can be generated.

First of course are major symphony orchestras: A concertmaster can be paid $200,000 to $300,000 annually, plus benefits and pensions. Section violinists can earn $100,000 to $150,000 per year.

Given that there are 650 professional orchestras in the US (plus another 130 in Canada), there are approximately 16,500 violin seats that provide compensation. Obviously, the larger orchestras in the larger cities offer the best compensation. But in smaller markets as well as large, orchestral instrumentalists can command top compensation as teachers and professors outside their work with a philharmonic orchestra.

Outside of classical music, there are several other ways to be a well-paid musician:

  • Recording studio musicians: $150 to $300 per hour in a three-hour session. Album fees can range between $2000 and $10,000, plus royalties in some situations.
  • Television and online advertising: $500 to $2,500 per commercial
  • Television shows: $750 to $1500 per episode
  • Touring bands: $50,000 to $150,000 for tours
  • Solo concert fees: $5000 to $15,000 per show

If all else fails can the instrument be resold, sometimes for more money?

Indeed, if an instrument is well-made and well-maintained, it can hold or even increase in value over time. And not Stradivarius time – even in just five to ten years into the future a new violin purchased in the mid-range (e.g., $40,000-$50,000) can be resold at that or a higher price.

But that depends on several factors. First, the craftsmanship and use of high-quality materials (e.g., properly aged spruce, maple, ebony, and quality tailpiece fittings) are essential – pretty much a given in this price category. The established reputation of the luthier should proceed them; it’s an old-world craft (which requires years of training) that has increased in value with time. The condition of the instrument – free of damage, maintained to professional standards – is a key component. Documentation of the maintenance schedule can be important. If the instrument has had several owners, the provenance should be documented.

Where it comes to sound quality, evaluation of the instrument is subjective and as much a function of the player as the instrument itself.

For all these reasons, it’s understandable why lending institutions consider fine instruments a bankable asset. Also, it’s why an aspiring musician can look at financing to purchase the violin (or cello, viola, string bass, etc.) as a sound business decision.