Yes, we rent and sell Chinese violins. We’re not crazy about the idea, as I still feel that European instruments provide the best value long term in an instrument. That’s why in full size instruments we try to represent older European instruments whenever possible.
Things are changing however. The traditional violin making centers of Europe can no longer compete with the Chinese on price, and the quality of the Chinese instruments has continued to improve. Five years ago I’d have never dreamed of renting a Chinese instrument because of both poor quality and the fear that the instruments would self destruct within just a few years… after all, a few years ago they did exactly that. Now, especially in the smaller sizes, they have the best sound, and with instruments now being made to our specifications and dimensions, they now hold up well over time and clearly provide the best instrument for kids to learn on.
But what of the German instruments? Sadly, it appears many are no longer German themselves. Paul Prier is a European trained bow maker and is one of the owners of JonPaul Bows in Salt Lake City. His father, Peter Paul Prier, is a Mittenwald graduate and founder of the American School of Violin Making in Salt Lake City. Allen Gatchell is a graduate of Mittenwald and the owner of Gatchell Violins, a wholesale supplier to the trade. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen both of them and it’s led to interesting conversations about German law and how Asian instruments are now being sold as German.
Evidently for an instrument to be called German, it must be made in Germany “40% by value”. Instruments are being imported from Asia in a basic state, with pegs, fingerboard, bridges and other finishing touches being provided in Germany. Comparing German and Chinese labor rates means that it takes very little finishing for the instrument to exceed that 40% threshhold and miraculously become German.
According to Gatchell, virtually nothing in the lower price range in the way of German instruments are still made start to finish in Germany. Yet many shops still represent them as such.
The question is, do the shops selling what they advertise as inexpensive German instruments even know the truth? Probably not. They’ve been duped as much as they’re duping their own customers.
You can check out his blog at:http://luthier.net/wordpress/