Friday, May 11, 2012

A Brief History of the Violin Making Industry for the
Past 30 Years
by Alexander Ross
Until 1980 or so, the best commercially made violin family instruments were made in Germany, Czekoslovakia, and France.  The Germans especially made quality control a primary concern, and made the most consistent and well made instruments for students through most of the 20th Century.

The Chinese violin making industry became active following the Cultural Revolution during the 1960's in China.  China had a resource of labor and a cultural tradition of fine handwork that matched the needs of the growing worldwide violin market.  By the 1990's, Chinese shops began producing violins that competed on a construction, workmanship, design and materials plane with the best European workshops at a fraction of the cost.  Most of the cost in a violin, viola, cello or bass is labor.  A violin represents about 200 hours of labor, and manufacturers found it cheaper to hire chinese labor than to automate, which would produce less fine instruments because of the individual nature of each piece of wood.

By 2000, most of the workshops that produced violins in such places as Marneukirchen, Mittenwald, and Mirecourt had shut down, as European labor was more than 10 times as expensive as the Chinese equivalent.  Prices on many instruments have actually dropped over the last twenty years!

Today we are in new period of change, and where we will see instrument prices go is a matter of conjecture.  What we do see is that the exchange rate of the Chinese currency is making it less advantageous for us to buy Chinese labor intensive products. The supply of that labor is diminishing in China due to the influx of more of manufacturing such as high tech electronics industry jobs.

So now is the time to buy! Prices are going up, all our suppliers are saying to expect a 10-30% increase in prices of Chinese violins, cases, and bows, and so we will forced to raise prices soon.

Incidentally, the master made violin market has not changed due to these pressures.  Fine individual works of art are not dependent on local labor costs, material costs, or other normal manufacturing constraints since the individual artist and the quality of the artistry create the market value.

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