Buying your first instrument at auction can be a nerve-racking process. In this short article our Managing Director, Simon Morris, gives some tips to a student on the kinds of things to look out for at a viewing.
My first suggestion is that you find a professional violin restorer or a trusted auctioneer to give you some guidance. Here is a short list of points to ask yourself and your advisor:
Is the neck crooked or overly long or short? A new neck would be a major expense!
Cracks and repairs
As well as checking for cracks on the outside, take a look inside and see if there are patches - and, in particular, how well any past repairs have been executed.
Is the instrument abnormally long or short? Does it have particularly wide upper bouts, making it difficult to move to the higher positions (something one may not notice with a five-minute trial)?
Is it normal? This is particularly crucial for cellists. A bridge placed particularly high or low might be an indication of a problem.
Is the instrument easy to tune? If not, perhaps it requires the pegholes to be bushed and new pegs fitted.
How is the quality of the varnish? If repairs have been polished or varnished over, then proceed with care.
Check to see whether the bridge is warped; the fingerboard rutted; the fingerboard too short (this can particularly apply to cellos) - and if anything else seems unusual about the set-up.
How much would it cost, if anything, to get the instrument into good shape?