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If you have ever considered purchasing a violin, you will probably be aware that the instrument’s price varies massively.
Whether you’ve visited a classical music store or are searching around online, it’s pretty easy to find a beginner’s violin for around $100. Still, it is equally easy to find one that costs 10 or even 100 times as much!
As a long-term violinist, I find this truly fascinating. Music is my career, so I have a decent amount of budget to spend on high-quality instruments. Still, whenever I start to fantasize about purchasing a super high-quality violin, the dream quickly fades away due to the truly outrageous prices.
If you haven’t come across this before, you’re in for a treat – when I tell friends about some of these expensive violins, they often don’t even believe me.
I’m going to be breaking down the most expensive violins ever made, explaining why they are so darn expensive, whilst also providing some commercially available, slightly more affordable but still costly options. Read on to find out more!
Bottom Line Up Front: Violins can be extremely expensive, especially vintage ones that are hundreds of years old, have been crafted by world-famous luthiers, and have been owned by famous violinists.
Out of all of these, the most expensive sold violin is the Vieuxtemps Guarneri at a mind-blowing $16,000,000. Still, the highest ever valuation for an unsold violin is the Messiah Stradivarius at $20,000,000!
What Makes a Violin Expensive?
It can be challenging to understand how violins can be so expensive as a beginner violist. Sure, it’s understandable that beginner violins are available for around $100 and that professional ones will cost around $1,000, but how on earth can they hit the $10,000+ range?
It does seem pretty insane, but there is a lot to it. I’m going to explain this through four key areas – material, craftsmanship, luthiers, and history and age.
The first contributing factor to an expensive violin is the wood that has been used to make the instrument.
These days, violins are available in all sorts of different materials – cheap violins are often made from wood that is considered to be cheap and less noble, such as Rosewood, generally including fittings such as tuning pegs made out of synthetic materials such as plastic.
Professional violins are usually made from woods that are considered to be nobler – the body will usually be crafted out of spruce or willow.
The fittings such as the fingerboard and tuning pegs will be made out of ebony. Ebony is key here – due to the rareness of the material, it has become extremely expensive and desirable. It is, therefore, a staple of an expensive or a high-quality violin in general.
There are exceptions to this rule – some violinists prefer to perform with carbon-fiber violins, and these can range from cheap to expensive. However, it is undeniable that the truly expensive violins (I’m talking $10,000+) will be crafted out of wood.
So, what is the difference between the wood used for professional violins and extraordinarily expensive violins? Generally, this doesn’t come down to the specific wood being used – expensive violins will still be made out of spruce, willow, and maple.
However, the main difference will be that the wood will have been aged over an extremely long amount of time, preserved in a treated environment, and acoustically treated to prevent contraction or expansion due to temperature changes.
For example, suppose you come across a violin that costs over $1,000,000 (you heard that right – one million dollars). In that case, it is almost certain that the wood used to create the instrument will be over 100 years old.
The century-old wood allows the violin to resonate in a simply impossible way to emulate with newer materials.
A violin this old cannot simply be left on a violin stand – it will be preserved in a controlled environment, as mentioned before, to ensure that the wood can age without being negatively affected by temperature or weathering.
Another contributing factor to the lucrative nature of the vintage violin wood is the specific trees and location from which the wood has been sourced. Much like the ebony used for fingerboards and fittings, trees are finite, and this can make it challenging to source specific types of wood.
For example, the spruce found in the tonewoods of vintage violins are sourced from the high-altitude mountains of Italy and Russia. These areas are difficult to access and pricey logistically. Still, the sources are gradually being depleted, hence the immense market value.
To make matters even more expensive, the most sought-after spruce comes from the Lombardy region of Cremona, Italy, named Paneveggio. This area was recently decimated by a brutal storm.
This area was where Stradivari sourced his tonewoods (more on Stradivari later), and the storm has naturally left this famous resource depleted. Projects have been in place to salvage as much of the lucrative spruce as possible. Still, naturally, the price has skyrocketed since the storm.
It should go without saying that the most expensive violins out there were not made in bulk within a factory environment. After all, they are mostly all so old that they predate that sort of assembly. Instead, they will have been handcrafted by professional luthiers, but some luthiers are better than others.
Violins that go for insane prices are almost always designed by luthiers with an excellent reputation for honing their craft to perfection.
They would not only be masters at preserving the instrument but also at perfecting the craftsmanship in terms of the body, providing a resonance, tone, and amplification that was unmatched by other luthiers even back in their day.
Ultimately, this means that it is relatively rare to come across an extremely expensive violin that was named after a brand. Instead, it will generally have a full human name, named after the luthier who created it.
History & Age
This point has already been mentioned to some extent. Still, it is arguably the most important of all of the factors – a highly expensive violin will always be very old.
Perhaps more importantly, it will have a history behind it. This means that a violin won’t necessarily reach high prices simply because it was made in the late 19th century. Even if the violin is of good quality, a lack of history behind it could significantly reduce its price.
Examples of historic background include violins played by famous violists, used to compose famous musical arrangements, or perhaps never even played at all. Violins can also develop their history over time in more recent decades due to auctions resulting in famous owners.
For example, a vintage violin from the 1800s could have been initially sold to a violist for $100,000, who then became extremely famous, resulting in them selling the instrument for $1,000,000. This can continue until the violin reaches unbelievable prices.
Ultimately, there is almost always a historical story behind the most expensive violins ever made. The material used, the luthier who made it, and the overall quality are incredibly important but can easily be made redundant due to a lack of historical character.
Last but not least, the condition of a violin plays an enormous part in the price it can be sold for. Believe it or not, there are many 100+-year-old violins out there on the market made out of luxuriously aged wood, preserved, and made by master luthiers. However, this will not equate to a million-dollar violin if the condition is poor.
A vintage violin will be handcrafted by professional luthiers, use aged wood, and be free from synthetic materials. After all, that is inevitable due to the instrument’s age, as factories and synthetic materials did not exist back then.
However, the condition may be bad despite attempts to preserve the instrument. This could result from poor wood preservation resulting in the contraction or expansion of pieces that have been physically damaged.
Even just a small chip in the wooden body of an otherwise luxurious violin can significantly reduce the instrument’s value.
Ultimately, most vintage violins going for a price of over $100,000 will have gone through a rigorous preservation process. However, accidents happen, and mistakes are made. These minor details can make the difference between a luxury vintage violin and a million-dollar musical instrument.
The Most Expensive Commercially Available Violins
Hopefully, you should now have a much better understanding of what makes a violin so darn expensive. It has a lot to do with the build of the violin, such as the wood used, how it has aged, who crafted it, and how they did it.
However, this doesn’t mean all that much if there is no historical significance behind the instrument.
The result of violins such as these will usually be an extremely expensive instrument but still within the $10,000 to $500,000 price range. While this will still sound like an insane amount of money to pay for a violin, believe it or not, these are not the highest prices by any means.
As a result, violins in this price range are generally sold commercially, available to any willing purchaser online instead of being sold as antiques at an auction.
To provide a bit of perspective on this, I’ve decided to list three of the most expensive commercially available violins, covering a price range between $16,500 and $330,600. The crazy thing is that you could go online today and purchase these instruments if you had the cash to burn, that is!
DZ Strad Landi Sheng – $20,000
The first violin on my list of the most expensive commercially available violins is the DZ Strad Landi Sheng. Out of all of the violins listed in this article, this is perhaps one of the most significant. It is the cheapest listed yet still costs around $20,000.
That is insane – I actually own a DZ Strad violin – they are a well-known modern violin brand renowned for producing high-quality instruments. However, my model only cost me $3,000, and this felt like I was truly committing a lot of my hard-earned cash to the purchase.
This violin is gorgeous – the tone and projection are incredible. The ebony fittings and winter-grain wood are stunning. The instrument was handcrafted and signed by the modern luthier Landi Sheng in 2014. However, the price of the instrument says it all – $20,000 is a heck of a lot of money.
Still, the fact that it is not even 10 years old and was crafted by a professional yet non-famous luthier means that this instrument can be sold commercially, not auctioned as an antique.
- DZ Strad is well known for selling high-quality modern violins
- Landi Sheng is a critically acclaimed luthier
- Stunning winter grain wood and ebony fittings
- In the grand scheme of things, $20,000 is nothing in comparison to the most expensive violins ever made
- Under 10 years old
- Whilst Landi Sheng is an excellent luthier, he is not particularly famous or of historical significance
Giuseppe Marconcini – $87,355
Now that we’ve taken a look at the low-end of commercially available yet expensive violins let’s take things up a notch with the incredible Giuseppe Marconcini that is currently on sale for just under $90,000! This price may seem like a very significant jump.
Still, it is justified – as opposed to the previously mentioned 8-year-old DZ Strad. This violin was made in the early 19th century, estimated to have been crafted by Giuseppe Marconcini in 1820 – that’s over 200 years old!
Giuseppe Marconcini is well-known in luthier circles for being an Italian master of violin craftsmanship, and this violin is no exception.
Many have commented that the wood grain is so intricate that it almost looks hand-drawn. The golden-brown varnish presents a unique aesthetic that is not often found. The instrument’s sound is said to be enormous, warm, and mellow.
Despite all of this, there is still nothing particularly historical or famous about this violin – Giuseppe Marconcini was no doubt an incredible luthier. Still, he is not particularly well-known outside of luthier circles.
- Over 200 years old
- Stunningly intricate wood grain
- Unique golden-brown varnish
- Enormous amplification and a warm and mellow tone
- Despite its age, there is still nothing that is particularly famous or culturally significant about this violin
Nicolò Gagliano – $330,600
The last violin on this list of expensive yet commercially available violins is truly going to blow your mind with its price tag of $330,600. That’s right, give the violin a search online, and you can add this to your basket with a 30-day return guarantee today, crazy!
That’s almost four times as expensive as the Giuseppe Marconcini, so what’s so special? Well, Nicolò Gagliano was known as the most important figure behind the Neapolitan tradition of violin making in Italy, being a favored interpreter of Amati and Stradivari due to his deep understanding of the Cremonese models.
Whilst there is no denying that this violin is beautifully crafted, just like the others listed, its real value comes down to its history and luthier. Oh, and did I mention that it’s 260 years old? Yup, mind blown.
- A whopping 260-year-old violin
- Crafted by Nicolò Gagliano himself
- Approved by composers such as Stradivari and Amati
- An antique of Neopolitan musical culture
- Whilst Nicolò Gagliano is a very famous violin interpreter, his violin was not famous for original compositions
The Most Expensive Violins Ever Made
If those violins have already blown your mind, read on because you’re in for a treat. While those violins were some of the most expensive currently available, other precious violins are simply not for sale.
This may be due to being only accessible via private auctions or simply because the owner does not want to sell them, instead choosing to preserve them in a museum. Hold on to your socks because these prices are about to get crazy!
Mary Portman ($10,000,000)
Believe it or not, the cheapest violin on this list is the Mary Portman coming in at not one, not five, but $10,000,000! That may sound completely bonkers, but it’s all down to the fact that it was created by Guarneri del Gesu, an Italian luthier who many violinists consider the greatest.
This violin was handcrafted by one of the most famed luthiers of all time. Still, it was also designed for and owned by its namesake Mary Isabel Portman in 1735, a lady from Great Britain who ordered the building of Kranzbacj Castle. If its incredible tone, luthier, and initial ownership weren’t enough, it was also owned performed by Fritz Kreisler and Adele Anthony and is now in the hands of Francisco Fullana. Incredible!
Vieuxtemps Guarneri – $16,000,000
You would probably imagine that the previously mentioned Mary Portman was the most expensive violin that Guiseppe Guarneri ever created. Still, you couldn’t be more wrong – the Vieuxtemps Guarneri comes in at almost double the price at a tremendous $16,000,000!
This violin is technically the official most valuable violin globally due to being designed for Belgian violinist Henri Vieuxtemps and being owned by stars such as Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi, Menuhin, and Pinchas Zukerman.
No one has ever found out who purchased this violin for 16 million dollars. Still, we do know that it was donated shortly after to the tremendous violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. The violin is technically on loan to her for her entire lifetime, so who knows – when Meyers eventually passes away, we could see an even higher price!
Messiah Stradivarius – $20,000,000
Last but certainly not least, we’ve got the Messiah Stradivarius, commonly known as the most expensive violin ever made.
Whilst the previously mentioned Vieuxtemps Guarneri is officially the most valuable violin due to a confirmed purchase, the Messiah Stradivarius is simply based on estimation, with the figure coming in at a violin-shattering $20,000,000.
The violin was created by Antonio Stradivari in 1716, making it one of the oldest violins in the world. It was also created by one of the best luthiers of all time.
The wood was sourced from the previously mentioned Lombardy region of Cremona, Italy, named Paneveggio, an area containing the most sought-after spruce globally, recently decimated by a brutal storm.
Various other factors contribute to the price, though – the instrument has never been played, resulting in the condition being impeccable. Furthermore, whilst Stradivari was always known for creating fantastic violins, this one was designed with special care during the luthier’s “golden period.”
The violin has been owned by several world-renowned violinists over its three centuries of existence, including Joseph Joachim, Nathan Milstein, and Jean-Delphin Alard.
Still, it is now unsurprisingly on display at the Ashmolean Museum in the English city of Oxford. Perhaps someday, the violin will be auctioned, and we will learn its true value!
I hope that you enjoyed learning about the world’s more expensive violins as much as I enjoyed researching them! Some of those prices are genuinely out of this world, especially the last couple.
I’ve decided to put together a few last answers to frequently asked questions, just to round off a whole lot of information. I hope that the answers help!
Answer: While many people believe that the Messiah Stradivarius is the most expensive violin to be sold at $20,000,000, it is estimated to be valued at that price, making the most expensive violin Vieuxtemps Guarneri at $16,000,000.
Answer: The quality and rareness of wood, appearance, and tone of a violin are major contributing factors to the price of a violin, but the most expensive violins are priced according to their luthier and the history behind the instrument.
Answer: The most expensive commercially available violin changes regularly according to online listings, but the current most expensive option is the Nicolò Gagliano at $330,600
That brings us to the end of this guide to the most expensive violins ever made. It’s crazy to think that whilst DZ Strad’s gorgeous Landi Sheng is incredibly expensive at $20,000, you could purchase 1,000 of them for the same price as the $20,000,000 Messiah Stradivarius!
I would be amazed if anyone reading this is going to ever have the funds to own such a violin, but let’s be honest – sometimes it’s just nice to dream big.
However, I wish you all the best on your musical journey, and who knows – if you create something truly magical, then perhaps you will prove me wrong. Good luck!
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