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Violin/Erich Pfretzschner Handmade Violins

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QUESTION: Hi Jim.

I am considering the purchase of a violin described as:
"Erich Pfretzschner Handmade Copy Antonius Stradivarius 905603 #1989." It is a 1/2 size violin with a two-piece apparently non-flamed back, and ebony fittings.

I would guess that 1989 is the year of manufacture, rather than a series number, but I am not certain about that.

Without asking you to try to appraise or estimate the value of this particular instrument, I wonder if I could ask you whether you have any general knowledge about the work of this maker, and perhaps of the range of prices for this type of instrument when it was sold new?

I have read that the Pfretzschner name has a long history, initially as the name of a multi-generational family of respected luthiers, and later as a brand that was applied to production shops (e.g. in Rumania) where quality might be relatively inconsistent.

I have also read that when a pair of initials appears on the label, rather than the first name (e.g. "W.A. Pfretzschner" or "E.R. Pfretzschner"), then the instrument was probably made in a production shop (e.g. in Rumania), but that when a full first name is used (e.g. "Wilhelm Pfretzschner") then the instrument was personally made by the person named.

Do you have a sense of whether a violin labelled as "Erich Pfretzschner Handmade" was made by Erich Pfretzschner?

If so, is there anything you know about the quality and/or consistency of instruments made by that maker?

Would you have an idea the range of price an instrument of this description might have had when new?

Many thanks!

(If it is helpful, there are photos of this particular instrument, here:
http://www.auctiva.com/hostedimages/showimage.aspx?gid=962991&ppid=1122&image=53 )

ANSWER: Hi Burro,

Thank you for your question.  From your description and the pictures you provided, I'm certain that this is a factory-made student instrument, and was not hand-made, by Erich Pfretzschner or anyone else.  There are many such inexpensive lines of violin made overseas in such places as China and, as you mentioned, Romania, where the labor needed for assembly is cheap.  This particular line is imported and distributed in the U.S. by a company called International Strings, inc.   

A quick search on the web lead me to this site . . .

http://www.dndcart.com/products/Erich-Pfretzschner-4-4-Violin-126338.html

They show it with a list price of $450.00 and are selling it for $299.90.  From what I can see in the pictures, that sounds like a fair price, new.  The bow and case would account for about $100.00 of that price.  It looks like the basic setup is not too bad - I've certainly seen much worse in factory instruments.  The strings appear to be correctly spaced at the bridge, at any rate.  The adjustment was rushed - as you would expect from a factory instrument.  The fine work that is typically done when carving a bridge in order to bring out the best tonality has simply been skipped.  But, the feet appear to be flat on the belly and the curve looks to be about right, so it could be worse.  

If you are buying used, I'd be careful.  You never know what damage has been done.  And, this instrument isn't worth much even new.  Personally, I'd never carry a violin of this quality in my shop.  Even if it is properly adjusted, it's going to sound nasal and edgy, and it's going to be difficult to play.  I'm sure you don't want to spend a lot of money on an instrument that your child will grow out of in a year, but this one will be difficult for your child to play well.  Learning the violin is difficult enough with a good instrument.  It can be very discouraging for a child to do everything right and still sound bad, which is what will happen with this violin, in my opinion.  Don't misunderstand me - I don't say that they are cheating you.  But, I would suggest getting a better instrument for your child.

The best option for most people who need smaller instruments is to find a good rental program that offers quality instruments.  You can usually trade-up sizes when needed.  Often the instrument is covered for accidental damage and maintenance under the rental program.  And, usually you get at least a portion of your rental fees put toward the purchase of a full-size instrument, when the time comes.  If your child has a teacher, perhaps he or she could recommend a good rental program in your area.  There are many rental programs out there that offer this level of instrument, and I'd recommend staying away from them.  Unfortunately, there's no easy way for you to tell the quality of instruments offered, so I'd try to get some advice from local teachers who know what's good in your area.

I hope that's helpful.  To recap, I'd say that $300 wouldn't be a bad price for this outfit, new, but I personally wouldn't buy it, and I certainly wouldn't recommend buying it used.  It would be better in my opinion to get a higher quality violin, that will be easier for your child to play, via a rental program.  Best of luck to you!

Regards,
Jim Fisher
 

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks, Jim! I am very grateful for the completeness of your answer.

I wonder if I could ask about the math of rent versus buy, to help me understand the advantage of renting?

I'll lay out my thoughts, and if you feel like it I'd be very grateful for any feedback you might have. I'm truly not trying to make a case -- I am just wondering what I am missing.

I'll apologize in advance that this might get lengthy -- part of this will be thinking out loud -- I'll try, at least, to keep the ideas organized.

In my thinking, a lot depends on the quality/value of the rental violins. Maybe you have some thoughts about this?

In local shops I've seen rental violins that, when sold new, are in the $150.00-200.00 range, and others that are in the $200.00-300.00 range (low-end Palatinos, Cremonas, etc.). Online, I found a few rental outfits that list the make and model of the rental violins, and the sold-new prices of those violins are similar ($150-300).

Do you believe violin rental outfits typical offer violins that are much superior to those?


At the premiere local rental outfit, I am not sure how to value their instruments, because they make them all there. Here's what they say:

***
Student Model ("Borcheto" Made by Ifshin) (1/2)
BOUGHT NEW: $495.00 + bow (fiberglass or chinese wood ~$40-55) and case ($55)
RENTAL:  $19.39/month [ $15/month + $1.39 tax + insurance ($3 -- $15 deductible)]

Intermediate ("Jay Haide 101") (1/2)
BOUGHT NEW: $795.00 + bow (Steiner ~$99) and case ($55)
RENTAL:  $29.22/month [$24 +$2.22tax + insurance ($3)]

Advanced ("Jay Haide A L'Ancienne")
BOUGHT NEW:  $1,650.00 + bow ("JH" $150-175) and case ($55)
RENTAL:  $38.24/month  [$35/month + $3.24 tax, no insurance available]
(Must get insurance on your own, if you want it.)
***

However, listening to 1/4 and 1/2 rental violins at Ifshin, the 1/4 and 1/2 instruments I heard there don't sound any better to my inexperienced ear than some of the new ~$200-$300 1/4 and 1/2 size violins I've heard.

Possibly the best deal at Ifshin, if one has the up-front money, is their trade-up program -- if someone buys an instrument new from Ifshin, they can later receive $80-100% trade-in value, when moving up to a larger sized instrument, *provided* if cared-for. The customer would be responsible for getting their own insurance for the instrument,/outfit, if they want it. So there is the up-front cost, and also the risk.



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BUY vs. RENT -- SHIRT-CUFF ANALYSIS -- PREAMBLE
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At our nearest prominent rental outfit, Ifshin Violins, a low-end rental runs about $15/month -- after insurance, etc., it works out closer to $20-21/month. (http://www.ifshinviolins.com/Rentals.aspx)

The next step up ("Jay Haide" violin), goes for ~$24/month which works out closer to ~$30/month with insurance, etc.

Looking at the lower-end student violin (we rented a 1/10 there for about a year), if my daughter is using a particular violin for 2-3 years, that tallies up to (24x$20 to 36x$20) = $480.00-$620.00 for use of a used (albeit presumably well-maintained), not very high-end violin. I am guessing that the entire violin outfit could be purchased for something in that range, or less.

Rental instruments at the several local music shops I have investigated seem to me to be even lower end (low-end Palatinos, etc.) than those at Ifshin.

So that's on the one hand.

Also in favor of renting, I think, is that I understand that buying a violin online is a risky gamble, even when the violin is new.

My daughter's mother bought a new $100 Cecilio CVN-200 for her household. The bridge is so badly built that the E-string is nearly flat on the fingerboard. In general, the instrument is VERY nasal and pinched, like a miniature electronic toy violin. It was a big mistake. That violin was chosen based on the high reviews on Amazon. If that had been a rental, I would have simply taken it back and requested a different instrument.

On the other hand is the idea of buying outright.

My perception is that by buying outright, even if some additional set-up were needed, someone can get a violin at least as good as the ones we can rent for less than the cost of rental over the period of use of a particular instrument.

Also in that corner, is that by owning, one can re-sell the instrument when done. Based on what used instruments seem to be selling for, I am guessing that:
Bought new, a carefully cared-for instrument can be sold for 20-40% of original price
Bought used cautiously, a carefully cared-for instrument can be sold for 50-100% of the original price

An even nicer example: I was able to buy a 1/4 Yamaha AV-5 in very, very good condition online for $200. I don't know much at all, and my ear is not very good yet, but to my ear it sounds fine -- better than the 1/4 rentals. It doesn't have deep resonant tones when playing A- and E- string notes, but I didn't expect that in a 1/4. It came with an appraisal letter valuing it at $500.00. I see used AV-5s in similar condition priced at over $300.00 online (Original MSRP ~$1200; now commonly sold new at $900). When I go to sell it, I may be able to sell it for more than I paid, without having paid any rental fees.

I realize there are not always "finds" that good available. For example, at this moment, based solely on my wild guessing, the best-looking ≤$500 deals available on eBay might be:
Knilling Bucharest 1/2 Violin w/ Bow & Case ($99) -- appears to have cosmetic flaws only, with minor maintenance needed ($600 MSRP)
Yamaha 1/2 Size  Violin (AV-5)  ($339) -- "Good condition" formal rental ($900 new)
Cremona SV-225 Premier Student Violin, 1/2-Size  ($139.00) -- Open-box, like new ($320 MSRP)



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BUY vs. RENT -- ANALYSIS -- EXAMPLES
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ASSUMPTIONS:

I am intentionally choosing assumptions that I believe generally favor renting:
These examples are based on a 2-year rental period. Shorter periods would favor renting; longer periods would favor purchasing.
I am assuming insurance is purchased during rentals.
In the first three examples, I've used the Ifshin instrument costs to select price ranges of new instruments for comparison. Many rental outfits seem to rent out far less expensive instruments, which would favor purchasing.
I am assuming modest re-sale recovery of owned instruments (30% for instruments bought new; 50% for instruments bought used). It might be possible to get more back for a well-maintained instrument, which would favor purchasing.
I am assuming a used instrument may be purchased for 50% of it's new cost (in fact 20-40% is more realistic, which would favor purchasing).
I realize that some maintenance might be needed during ownership -- I have not included those costs, which would slightly favor renting.

--

EXAMPLE #1 -- $800 NEW Purchase vs. Intermediate Ifshin Rental:
If I bought a brand-new kit from a local shop for $800.00 (in reality that isn't doing to happen because I don't have anything close to that money, plus the risk of damage is too risky) -- and my daughter used it for just two years:
Both instruments presumed comparable
Total cost of ownership during that period = $800 - $240(30% of new price) = ~$560.00
Total cost of renting during that period (for intermediate rental @$30/month) = ~$720.00
BOTTOM LINE: Better to buy than to rent

EXAMPLE #2 -- $800 NEW Purchase vs. Low-End Ifshin Rental:
If I bought a brand-new kit from a local shop for $500.00 (in reality that isn't doing to happen because I don't have anything close to that money, plus the risk of damage is too risky) -- and my daughter used it for just two years:
Purchased violin much better than the rental
Total cost of ownership during that period = $800 - $240(30% of new price) = ~$500.00
Total cost of renting during that period (for low-end rental @$20/month) = ~$480.00
BOTTOM LINE: Buying and renting are comparable, here. Buying gets a superior instrument. Renting has the benefit of insurance coverage.

EXAMPLE #3 -- $500 NEW Purchase vs. Low-End Ifshin Rental:
If I bought a brand-new kit from a local shop for $500.00 (in reality that isn't doing to happen because I don't have anything close to that money, plus the risk of damage is too risky) -- and my daughter used it for just two years:
Both instruments presumed comparable
Total cost of ownership during that period = $500 - $150(30% of new price) = ~$350.00
Total cost of renting during that period (for low-end rental l @$20/month) = ~$480.00
BOTTOM LINE: Better to buy than to rent

--

EXAMPLE #4 -- $250 USED Purchase (of a $500 MSRP violin) vs. Low-End Rental:
Both instruments presumed comparable
Total cost of ownership during that period = $250 - $125(50% of purchase price) = ~$125.00
Total cost of renting during that period (for low-end rental l @$20/month) = ~$480.00
BOTTOM LINE: MUCH better to buy than to rent, provided the used instrument is in good condition.

EXAMPLE #5 -- $500 USED Purchase (of a $1,000 MSRP violin) vs. Low-End Rental:
Purchased instrument superior to rental instrument
Total cost of ownership during that period = $500 - $250(50% of purchase price) = ~$250.00
Total cost of renting during that period (for low-end rental l @$20/month) = ~$480.00
BOTTOM LINE: MUCH better to buy than to rent, provided the used instrument is in good condition.


Am I off-base with these guesstimates?

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BUY vs. RENT -- ANALYSIS -- END
==============================================================================

So what it feels like to me is that -- if one is very careful and at least a little lucky -- the math works out better by buying (especially buying used), even if online, possibly even allowing for re-selling an instrument or two if they are re-sold right away upon receiving them and deciding they don't live up to desires.

And I imagine that the need for luck could go way down if buying used in person from a local shoppe.

Again, I'm truly not trying to make a case -- I am just wondering what I am missing...??

I'd be grateful for any and all thoughts you might have on this.

Thank you.

ANSWER: Hi again Burro,

Your follow up question is very welcome.  Certainly, the value of renting vs. buying does depend on what instruments you find to purchase and the exact details of the rental contracts in your area.  And, I should probably admit that I am more particular than most about the quality of the instruments that I sell and that I allow my students to use.

Regarding your math, rent vs. buy . . . The only big thing I see missing is the amount of credit that the store may give you toward the purchase of a rented instrument.  This may not be applicable to the stores in your area, but it's certainly worth checking.  In my shop, for example, a student can rent an Eastman model 100, roughly equivalent, I believe, to the Jay Hayde model 101 that Ifshin Violins rents, for $14.00/month.  This includes maintenance and repairs of accidental damage.  There are no additional fees.  If a student continues with their musical studies and works their way up to a full size instrument, the parents often choose to purchase that or a better instrument for the child.  Either way, we apply 100% of the rental fees that they have paid ($14.00/month x the number of months rented) toward the purchase price of whatever instrument they buy.  In this way, the customer is able to put a quality instrument into the hands of their child without a commitment to buy, without a large amount of cash up front, without taking on the liability of owning an expensive instrument, and without having to buy new instruments every time the child grows to the next size.  All this, they get for the purchase price of a single instrument.

Ifshin Violins is, I know, a reputable dealer of instruments.  I feel confident that any of their rental instruments will be properly setup and adjusted, which is a very important consideration.  (Kids can't learn to play if the strings are not the correct height off the fingerboard, etc.)  Any of their rental outfits are going to be a decent option.  With that said, I would highly recommend their middle choice if you can afford it - the J. Hayde.  Their cheaper option is not only going to sound less pleasing, but it is going to be harder to play.  Steel strings are hard on the fingers and are difficult to attack cleanly with the bow - particularly for students who are just learning how the bow works.  The synthetic strings of the J. Hayde, as well as other factors, will make it a much easier instrument to learn on.  Also, the tonal difference will become more and more apparent as your child get into larger sizes.

I would be surprised if Ifshin doesn't offer some form of credit toward purchase in their rental program.  But, I don't know what it typical in your area, so I could be wrong.  If they don't, then you are probably right about the math on the rent vs. buy.  Buying and trading in as needed at 80% credit is not a bad option.  But, again, I can't stress enough the difference a quality instrument makes on the progress and attitude of a young player, so I'd go with the best violin that you can afford.

Ok, I'm going to read over your question again to see if I missed anything.  I'll list any further comments that come to mind as I do so . . .

Your question: "Do you believe violin rental outfits typical offer violins that are much superior to those?"  Answer: I don't know what is typical in your area, but there are many general music shops across the country that carry and rent nothing but very bad violins.  Violin shops - shops that specialize in stringed instruments exclusively - tend to be better, but range widely in what they offer.  Personally, I'd stay away from anything under $500.00.

". . . buying a violin online is a risky gamble, even when the violin is new. " I whole-heartedly agree.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to tell new students that the violin that they just spent $250 on at Ebay isn't worth a dime and that I can't teach them unless they get a better one.

Ok, I hope that's helpful!  Let me know if I missed anything.  Don't hesitate to follow up with further questions.  Good luck!

Regards,
Jim



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks, again, Jim!

Yes -- that idea of application of rental fees to a purchase *does* seem like a big missing piece (ESPECIALLY in the case of your shop!!!).

I called Ifshin to see if they had anything like that, in addition to the "trade-up" program.

They off a *little* something like that:
1. If someone has rented a Student violin for a year or more, then three months of rental fees can be applied to purchase of a new Student violin.
2. If someone has rented a Jay Haide violin for a year or more, then six months of rental fees can be applied to purchase of a new Jay Haide violin.

I also asked if they offered any form of owner's insurance to violin owners -- they do not.


I have to tell you -- if you can stay in business while offering 100% of rental fees toward purchase of a new instrument, that is really a tremendous service to would-be musicians, and, I think, to music on the whole.

Would you ever consider a mail-order rental? With that feature a part of the deal, I really am asking...   :-)


I have another follow-up question about your comment on string selection -- but I'll post that under another heading. I probably should have posted my rent vs. buy question under a separate heading too...

Many thanks, again, for your time and insights.

Answer
Hi Burro,

It's a shame that they don't offer more.  Still, I expect that's the norm in your area, and they are only keeping pace with competition.  Here, most of the shops offer 80% - 100% toward purchase, and customers have come to expect it.  I'm afraid that we don't offer rentals outside our immediate geographical area.  It's just too difficult to handle routine maintenance and trade-ups when we have to keep shipping the violin back and forth.  You could certainly check with our competition.  J.R. Judd is the biggest shop around here for rentals and they offer a similar program to ours.  They might be willing to do a rental by mail, if you're willing to pay the shipping fees.  You can find them at http://www.jrjuddviolins.com/.  Also, I can vouch for the quality of their work and their instruments.  It's a good shop.


I'll watch for your other question.  It's been good chatting with you.

Best,
Jim

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James S. Fisher

Expertise

Please Note: For an accurate appraisal of your instrument's value or history, I must advise you to take it to a local luthier or string shop for an evaluation. It's really not possible to do this with any accuracy via email.

However, I am happy to answer other questions about violins, bows, violin playing, and violin/bow repair. I can also talk with you about what bows, rosin, strings, cases, shoulder rests, etc. might work best for you and your particular instrument. (There are some great new products on the market.) I've taught violin and fiddle playing for the past 18 years and will answer questions about playing and technique.

Experience

I've been studying the violin for over thirty years. I started teaching in 1996. In addition to my training at Lebanon Valley College and at the Violin Institute, I handle violins, bows, and customer questions of all sorts on a daily basis in my shop - J.S. Fisher Violins, www.fisherviolins.com.

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NAAM, ASTA

Education/Credentials
I hold a Bachelor of Music degree from Lebanon Valley College, as well as certificates in violin repair, violin maintenance, and bow rehairing from the Violin Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

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