How The Dealer Prices A Stringed Instrument, Part 6, Condition
Did you know the condition of an instrument is crucial when purchasing? The overall condition of an old violin must be weighed against the advantages of the structurally perfect condition of a new violin, as we have just discussed. For new violins, this step will not be so important. However, with an older violin, condition becomes a critical factor. When purchasing consider these points on condition.
What is the general health: We need to consider, first, how the violin has been handled, transported, and stored. A violin with a lot of cracks and repairs may sound well when it is purchased; but changes in the weather, bumps, lack of humidity, or excessive moisture can cause structural or tonal problems. Cracks can open or form, the neck angle can drop, buzzes can occur, and endless problems can result from the presence of many repairs. Violins are made of wood, and wood is affected by humidity or lack of it. Because of this, it is important to examine the body of any new or used violin, you want to make sure that there are no cracks in the top or back. Well-repaired cracks in the top of an older instrument may not be a problem, but did you know soundpost cracks on top of an instrument can depreciate its value as much as 50 percent!
Next examine the ribs (sides) of the violin to make sure that they are not bulging out beyond the edges of the top or back. This happens because wood that is not well seasoned will shrink when it dries out. It is not uncommon to find this problem in used instruments over 50 years old regardless of quality. But if we see it in a newer instrument buyer take note....MOST Instruments of reasonable quality do not have this problem, because close attention is given to curing the wood properly. Any violin that is over 100 years old has probably taken a visit to the repair shop at least once. Make sure all repairs are done by a qualified luthier. Repair shops are not all created equal, and therefore a nice violin that has been badly repaired by a less than fully competent luthier will lose value if permanently damaged. Keep in mind that any serious repair devalues a violin. For instance, a back soundpost crack will likely decrease the value by 75%, even if well-repaired. To make matters worse, amateur luthiers can perform horrors on nice violins, which reduce their value to a fraction of their potential.
Most violins over 150 years old have probably been modernized from a baroque set-up with a neck graft. This is a challenging job, and many old violins were lost because it was not done properly. That's one of the main reasons older violins are in limited supply. This scarcity causes the price to go up.
Proper functioning of parts: Any instrument hanging on the wall waiting for the customer to try must be correctly adjusted and ready to play. Nobody wants to test drive a car that has to be jump started. "Set-up" on a violin is very important. Expect some minimum set-up standards even on an inexpensive instrument. As a general rule, pegs should be made of ebony or rosewood because most other woods are not dense enough to retain the smooth roundness that is necessary for easy tuning. The pegs need to turn smoothly, stay in place and work with the fine tuners. The strings should be neither too high nor too low. There should be plenty of bow clearance from string to string, without hitting the edges of the instrument when bowing the outer strings. If the bridge feet do not fit, the bridge can be prone to falling over. The fingerboard must be accurately planed so that every note can be played clearly, and the nut (where the strings cross into the peg box) must be properly shaped, both for comfort and so the strings do not break. The strings should be good quality. Consider upgrading them if the teacher recommends it; strings make a big difference in sound. The soundpost should be set for proper tone adjustment. Some music stores do not set up their own instruments, but well-known brands generally are shipped in good adjustment. Many violin shops do their own "set-ups," and work to meet the desires and specifications of local teachers and professional players.
Maintenance and care: Like most musical instruments, the violin requires occasional maintenance. You should expect a few broken strings from time to time, but if the same string breaks often, have the violin examined to make sure something is not out of adjustment. Upgrading to synthetic core strings can give a much more pleasing tone, and is often worth the investment. Violin bows need to be rehaired every year or two, depending on the amount of playing. Because the instrument is made of wood and is held together with glue, it is very susceptible to heat and humidity changes. Leaving the violin in a car in the heat will often cause it to come apart or crack. Extreme cold can also crack an instrument. When transporting your violin, keep it in the passenger compartment of the car, not in the trunk, where it can get very hot or very cold and cause serious damage. Rosin is used on the bow to make it grip the strings. Dust from the rosin will collect on the fingerboard and on top of the violin. This rosin dust should be wiped off with a soft cloth regularly, or it can build into a hard unsightly layer which will have to be professionally removed.