Why You Shouldn't Purchase Fine Stringed Instruments on Craigslist
Purchasing Violins from Individual Sellers Online is Probably a Mistake
Even affordable student violins come in a wide range of quality and playability. Anyone purchasing a violin will get better service with an established retailer.
In the realm of stringed instruments, there is a wide range of prices for entry-level, mid-range and virtuoso caliber violins, violas and cellos. The pedigree and craftsmanship of an instrument are what determine the price, but as with art, vintage automobiles and wine, the relationship between value and price involves some degree of subjectivity.
Unfortunately, this leads some people to believe they are finding something of great value when they pick up a violin at online websites such as Craigslist. “We often see this at the lower end,” says Eric Benning of Benning Violins in Los Angeles, California. “People will come to us with a violin that they purchased for $75 from someone cleaning out their attic. But the repairs required to make it playable can cost several hundred dollars, more than the price of a new entry level violin.”
Benning does sell instruments to musicians in other states and other countries who find the family-owned violinmakers online, in part because they sell fine instruments sourced from around the globe in addition to their own high quality concert instruments crafted in their shop with their own label. But such sales are the result of much in-depth discussion about the particular needs of the musician, shipped to that individual for trial and returned if they buyer wants to try something else.
Benning stresses the importance of the relationship between the maker-sellers and the buyer. “All instruments need typical maintenance and general repairs,” he says. “The more they play, the deeper their need for a dealer who knows the instrument and can maintain it properly.” The iconic store was founded by Benning’s grandfather in 1953, and Benning feels a responsibility to maintain quality relationships with the music community that will enable future generations of his family to make and sell fine violins, violas, cellos, bows and accessories.
Why is there such a broad price range in violins and other stringed instruments, even among those that were made hundreds of years ago? “The Italian violin makers of the 18th century are most valued,” says Benning. “In many other countries they started using mass-production techniques which led to lower quality instruments.”
To the untrained eye – and often, Craigslist customers – those kinds of distinctions are not readily seen. Fraud in violin dealing has become the subject of at least one movie (“The Red Violin”) and one book (“The Violin Hunter,” Silverman and Gingold). But Benning enjoys developing a discerning eye and ear for students, as the store also rents entry-level violins to students. “They are the virtuosos of tomorrow,” he notes. “We appreciate being able to start a relationship with them early in their training.”