What is it Really Worth?

What is it Really Worth?? by Luthier, Tom Mcshane

There are so many old musical instruments that are found in attics, closets or old estates, or some that have been passed down from generation to generation. Most of these instruments are, to say the least, not in very good playing condition; some
have almost completely disentregated due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

These relics pop up during routine house cleanings, re-locations, estate and yard sales everywhere. When these items are brought to my shop, I will hear the same type of questions asked each time: Is this worth anything? Are you able to fix this? Looking at and restoring these old instruments have become the better part of my business and is one of my favorite things to do. A lot of time is spent researching vintage instruments and assessing their values. It's rewarding to see the shock on people's faces when they find that 'Grandpa's old violin' is actually worth way more than they had ever expected. Even though each situation is unique, there are some basic things that everyone should know when they are considering what to do with these space and dust collecting relics.

You will sometimes see these items at yard sales, or at an online or estate auction in their rickety old cases selling from anywhere between $15 and $75, and depending on their condition, this is exactly what they're worth. However, if the same instrument is restored to a solid, well adjusted playing condition, it may be worth many, many times as much. The fact is, an old instrument that is repairable (and most are) is more sought after by performing musicians than new, 'fresh from the factory' ones for many reasons. Here are some important ones:

• Many of he materials used back then were of better quality; i.e., some of the woods
that were cheap and common back then are all but extinct today.
• Better craftsmanship: less automated, more integrity in structure.
• It has stood the 'test of time': wood is more aged, making a more 'mature' sounding
instrument.
• If it had been played regularly for a number of years, the 'natural conditioning' that
comes from doing what it was created to do had already occurred. There is less
likelihood of needing as many future adjustments.

Old Instruments are like Old Cars:

...worth very little when sitting out in a field rusting, but when restored, they have great value. But, just like old cars, they will need consistent attention thereafter.

People who invest in vintage cars, know that they increase very little in value when they are just put away in storage. They know that these cars need to be taken out and driven on a regular basis, always being 'welllubricated'. It is no different with vintage instruments.

When I lived near Washington, D.C., I would visit the Smithsonian Museum to view the cases of old Stradivarius era instruments. The museum actually has a staff of musicians who play and perform with these instruments on a regular basis. They know if they do not do this, the instruments will very rapidly begin to lose integrity.

So, this is the bottom line: The future of
Grandpa's broken old violin can go two ways: 1.)
Put it back in the closet, and don't do anything.
The result will be that the instrument will
continue to deteriorate until it looks so bad that
you will want to throw it away, or sell it at a yard
sale for $5. -OR- 2.) Bring it to me to find out the
true restored value of it. Make the investment,
and have in your possession something that will
actually appreciate in value more than most
stocks or CD's. But here's the catch: If your
newly restored instrument does not get put in the hands of someone who will PLAY it
and MAINTAIN it, then it will rapidly begin to depreciate in every way. So please
consider who will take on this responsibility BEFORE you bring it in to me.

Earn Money with Your Instrument!

If you need to keep your instrument 'in play', you may consider offering it in our rental
program. This way, an aspiring musician can experience a quality instrument without
buying it, and you will make some cash!Ask us for details.

Here are some of my notable recent projects:
• A violin with an authentic label. Owner didn't think it was worth anything because
the label said 'Copy of Stradivarius'. I told him it was worth at least $3500 after $145 of
work. With tongue in cheek, he agreed to the job. Comparisons with ten other instruments
with the same label showed that it was valued at between $5000 & $8000. Customer was
happy as a lark.
• A fiddle with no name, but a repair label from 1921, and geared tuners was
brought to me. The style of case it came in indicated that it was made around the time of
the Civil War. Needed a total re-assembly. The investment will be $450 - $650, and the
resulting instrument will be worth $1800 base value.
• A guitar was brought in for stringing, and a crack in the top. It was missing the
pickguard, and the owner didn't think it was worth putting one on. Turned out to be a 1972
Harmony guitar with a solid wood body worth over $200. I'm putting one on anyway.
• Another heirloom violin someone
unfortunately tried to refinish. Setup will
cost around $275, and the instrument will
be worth over $800, even though I will not
do much with the finish.
• Recently, an unlabeled 12-string
Bowl Back Mandolin was brought to me. It
was probably made by Oscar Schmidt
between 1900 and 1915. Needed minor
repair. The investment will be about $150. I
have seen these for sale at around $1000.

Yes, It Can Be Done! 

Whether it be a pile of splinters that was
once a fine instrument, or a good ole' guitar that just needs re-stringing, Hewn from the
Mountain can do it all. So go ahead and get those relics out of the attic. It probably won't
be one of the 'missing Stradivaris', but . . . you never know unless you try!Either way,
you'll most likely be making a good investment.
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