Some old violins are worthless. Others are priceless once they’ve gone through a proper repair and restoration process.
How can you know if your violin is worth repairing?
Although it can feel nostalgic to find an older violin, it isn’t always worth the cost to repair it.
Even if the item has passed down through your family for a few generations, there isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get a return on this investment.
The best way to know if a violin is worth repairing is to take the instrument to a trusted luthier. If that option isn’t available, you can hunt for clues!
Is My Violin Worth Repairing?
The fastest way to determine if a violin is worth repairing is to look at the instrument’s decorative inlay. If it is engraved in the wood or made from natural materials and not painted, you have a sign that indicates it is worth having a professional luthier inspect it.
It doesn’t take long for violin repairs to exceed the instrument’s cost on many older models.
Although a violin might be vintage, that doesn’t mean it has value. The $99 instruments you can find online today will one day qualify for that description, and they’ll never increase in value.
Here’s an example. If you were to purchase a vintage antique Luis Otto 4/4 violin made in Germany in 1899, the average price would be approximately $265.
What if you had to repair the instrument? If there was damage to the inlay or body, the cost could easily run between $200 to $300.
If you put $300 into an instrument worth $265, you’re going to lose money. When you pay for repairs and the violin ($565 vs. $265), you’re better off buying two entry-level models that are brand new.
On the other hand, you might have a labeled Mathias Hornstainer Mittenwald violin in your possession that requires repairing.
If you spent $1,500 with a professional luthier, the instrument might fetch over $15,000 when sold.
In that situation, your violin is worth repairing.
What Are the Clues to Spot on a Violin?
If you think that your violin might be worth repairing, some telltale clues will let you know if you have a valuable instrument, something in the mid-range, or a product that can go to the landfill.
Here are the most common tells that you can see during a cursory inspection of a violin that was built in the past 300 years.
|Paper Labels:||● If you can find a paper label inside of the violin, that clue indicates a tradesperson built the instrument. |
● You’ll find numerous examples of craftsmanship over the centuries of skilled people who never became famous for making violins.
● Even if what you spot is curled and yellow, it’s probably worth getting a second opinion on a repair or restoration.
|Scrolling:||● When the scrolling looks detailed and artistic on a violin, you have an excellent indicator that the instrument should go to a luthier for an appraisal. |
● This work was considered a sign of luxury, creating a unique embellishment that showed off the player’s status.
● It’s even better if you see the work continue into the scroll’s center.
|Separated Seams:||● Although some people walk away from violins because the seams start to unravel, this trait can indicate that you have a fine instrument in your hands. |
● Repairing this issue is considered a standard restoration effort.
● It usually shows that someone was playing it regularly, which means a more in-depth inspection is warranted.
|Missing Pieces:||● It’s not unusual for the old adhesives on a violin to crack with age. |
● Instrument makers use crackling glue to help luthiers make repairs, intentionally creating weak points for professionals to access when a restoration becomes necessary.
● Even though the pegs, chinrest, fingerboard, or bridge might display problems, it’s still often worth the investment.
|Grime:||● Violins can get remarkably dirty. It’s typically easy to remove, and this clue shouldn’t sway you one way or the other on repairing the instrument. |
● If anything, it might be evidence that someone attempted to store it to preserve value, which means its value could be higher than expected.
|Purfling:||● Although this clue isn’t always an indicator, it can let you know how much the instrument might be worth. |
● When the decorative inlay is made from wood instead of being painted on the violin, it’s often a sign that it could be valuable.
Purfling isn’t always the best clue to use when evaluating a possible repair.
Testore was famous for painting or omitting it, which means you could miss out on a valuable instrument if you only went by that one option.
What Are the Items That Can Get Restored or Fixed on a Violin?
If you have a violin of excellent quality, the bottom line is that virtually anything on the instrument can get fixed or restored.
The actual restoration cost depends on what needs to be addressed on the instrument and how much your preferred luthier charges.
You’ll want to get a professional appraisal in writing before proceeding with any repair.
If you have more than one luthier near your home, it is a good idea to get up to three written estimates before proceeding with the restoration.
When you don’t have multiple luthiers, it helps to get opinions from a trusted dealer, your instructor, or even a local music shop.
Should everyone reach a general consensus about what needs to happen for the instrument, you can proceed with confidence or abandon the idea without regret.
■ Common Repairs That Are Worth Considering on a Violin
- Peg replacements
- Small cracks under 3 inches in length
- Refitting tasks, including bridge adjustments and soundpost
- Seam regluing
■ Expensive Repairs That Might Not Be Worth Repairing
- Large cracks that disrupt the instrument’s integrity
- Replacement pieces or broken items
- Soundpost or rib patches
- Miscellaneous structural repairs
- Pegbox cracking
- Neck resetting
When you think about the expensive repairs, the instrument quality must be the only reference to consider.
If you inherit the violin and a $5,000 repair bill could give you a $25,000 sale, it’s worth the investment – when a trusted luthier is available.
If you’re spending $5,000 on a $5,000 violin, the sentimental value of the instrument might make it worth repairing.
Some families keep them as a prized possession, especially if they own a handcrafted one.
When the quote you receive is worth more than the instrument, your best option is to purchase something new.
What Is the Average Cost of Specific Violin Repairs?
If you’re researching the cost of a violin repair today to gauge whether restoration is worth pursuing, here are some of the prices you can expect to find for some everyday tasks.
Please remember that the following information should be treated as a general guide only and not financial advice.
The final estimate you receive is based on your luthier’s specific costs, the instrument’s age, and the severity of the damage that requires fixing.
|Bridge Repairs:||● A violin’s bridge can sometimes warp when it gets stored in humid conditions. |
● This issue also occurs when the strings have too much tension over an extended time.
● It’s one of the most common repairs you’ll find.
● It’s often easier to complete a full replacement than a restoration, which means the cost could be anywhere from $50 for a student instrument to over $100 for a professional one.
|Open Seam Repair:||● When your violin keeps making a buzzing sound, you likely have an opening between the instrument’s back or face and its sides. |
● It’s usually a fast repair that only requires a few simple techniques to complete.
● Even in an expensive market, the cost is typically $40 or less.
● You’ll want to fix this one immediately because letting it fester can cause the other wood to warp, creating a more costly restoration.
|Cracking Repair:||● Cracking can happen on a violin near the ribs, back, or face. |
● This damage is often more severe than an open seam problem, especially when it gets left untreated for an extended time.
● Your cost depends on the severity of the issue and its overall size.
● If you need cleats, it’ll get expensive.
● At the lower end of the estimate, you should expect the repair to cost at least $150.
|Fingerboard Repair:||● When a violin gets exposed to extreme temperature swings, the fingerboard often becomes damaged. |
● It doesn’t take much for this problem to develop.
● If you leave it in your vehicle overnight and temps drop below freezing, you’ll want to visit your luthier.
● If it needs to be reglued, it might be a $20 fix.
● When you need a complete replacement, expect the cost to be at least $150.
|Scratches and Chips:||● If your violin has picked up a few dings over the years, the damage doesn’t usually impact the sound quality you receive. |
● When you see a piece come off of the body, try to save it so that the area can get glued back.
● Should the scratch or chip require filler and refinishing, the repair will cost a little more.
● A basic repair might cost $20, while something more involved could be in the $100 range.
|Cleaning and Polishing:||● When you don’t feel confident in your ability to clean and polish your violin, most luthiers provide this service as a stand-alone restoration charge. |
● It’s even included for free with some repairs. As with everything else, the cost is based on the problem that requires addressing and what availability is near your home.
■ How to Reduce the Risk of Needing a Violin Repair
One of the best ways to prevent damage to your violin is to wipe it down after every playing session.
The natural oils from your skin can ruin the finish, create warping, and cause other repair issues that can get costly.
If you buff out the violin about once per month, you can typically remove the appearance of most minor scratches. You’ll want to use a soft cloth and a little paraffin oil to complete the work.
Another issue to manage with a violin involves the humidity levels it encounters during storage.
Soft-body cases tend to experience more significant swings than hard-body options, but you’ll still want to control interior levels consistently.
Some instruments prefer low moisture levels, but a violin often needs more support with its natural materials.
The Dampit® moistener is easy to use, and it comes with a humidity gauge to let you know when you should be using the product.
You’ll want to have humidity support in the winter because the air gets a lot drier during the cold weather. If you live in a desert climate, summer support might also be necessary for some situations.
If the humidity levels are arid consistently, you’ll want to invest in a product like Dampit.
Final Words of Advice About Repairing a Violin
When you encounter a violin that needs a few repairs, you’ll discover that it isn’t always easy to tell what should get fixed and what is best to avoid.
That’s why the best solution is to speak with a trusted luthier whenever you face this situation.
Although it makes sense to repair some vintage violins with tangible value, it doesn’t always pay to improve a student model.
That’s because you’ll find several decent entry-level violins for under $200 today.
If you need to repair a crack and the bridge because the instrument was kept in high humidity on a model like that, you’re better off getting a new one.
When you look at the 3/4 violins that are available today, you’ll find even cheaper models available. Some student instruments for young children are under $100.
To be clear, I’m not recommending these cheap, entry-level instruments. It doesn’t take long for them to develop sound issues, and a small bump can often be enough to ruin the violin for good.
If you want an excellent student 3/4 violin, I’d recommend the Bunnel Pupil violin from Kennedy Violins. It’s made from solid maple, uses ebony fittings, and comes with a brazilwood bow.
You’re getting Prelude strings, an extra set of Portland strings, and a carbon fiber shoulder rest.
These elements work together with a satin finish to create a fantastic work of art.
You’ll get a soft-bodied case for storage, although I’d recommend an upgrade to prevent humidity issues from affecting the instrument.
Unlike other student violins you can buy online, professional luthiers set up this instrument before it ships. You’ll need to tune it once it arrives, but it’s something that you can play almost right out of the box.
All Bunnel Pupil violins come with a lifetime warranty and a 45-day money-back guarantee.
Is your violin worth repairing? That decision is ultimately up to you.