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What about eBay?
Trading Safely - Scams
 
Ebay is probably the biggest DotCom success, even
bigger than giannaviolins.com.  Almost anything one can
think of shows up on eBay.  If they had a jet fighter
category I imagine one would find a Mig 21 listed!  
Hundreds of apparently tempting violins are listed.  

I get to evaluate purchases made through eBay at times,
when some buyer comes in with their find.  They want to
know what they actually bought and to be told what a good
deal they got.  Sometimes they got a deal, often they
didn't.  Few had any idea what they were actually buying.  I
don't like trying to tell people gently that they got a bad
bargain, or that their new fiddle has near-terminal
problems.  

The wide open market provided by Ebay is not for those
inexperienced in safe remote dealing or inexperienced in
the articles being bid on.  Violins are hard to judge by
vision alone without a great deal of experience.  Even
then, experts get fooled.  New violins require careful setup.
But I buy and sell on eBay myself!

The most important thing on eBay is to evaluate who is
selling, why they're selling, and how to reach them.  A real
store with legitimate return policies, accurate descriptions,
and fair prices (not too low, not too high) is likely OK to
buy from.  Talk to them on the telephone.  Make sure you
are really dealing with who you think you are.  Make sure
there's a return policy.  
  Even if photos on eBay were detailed and complete, which
is rare, the computer screen can't show fine detail.  
Condition and authenticity are very difficult to tell even if
you know exactly what you're looking for.  The seller may
well be unable or unwilling to give an accurate description
of the violin and its condition.  The buyer's final cost is the
price of the violin plus the price of the repairs required to
bring it into playing shape.  Needed repairs are often hard
for a player to evaluate, even when a violin is examined in
person.  An apparent bargain may soon turn into a money
pit.

Old violins may require both repairs and
setup.  Let's take
a look at some typical eBay bargains.

The beginner violin for $100.  Usually these violins have
heavy front and back plates, have painted or dyed
fingerboards and fittings, and have absolutely no setup.
They squeek and are very hard to play, if they are
playable at all.

The pretty new violin with special features.  For
example, statements that "it's the wood."  Well, to some
extent a pretty violin may indeed sound nice.  But simply

For either beginner violin or the pretty violin, the buyer can
expect to spend from $45 to $150 to get basic setup work
done on the violin.

Older violins may be a good deal.  Or they may not.  
They are very difficult to judge.  One may get a bargain,
but need to spend $300 on repairs.  Or one may end up
with a piece of junk painted pretty.  Damage and setup
problems are very difficult to see on pictures and are
rarely described well.

Why is a fiddle on eBay to begin with?  Someone
doesn't want it!  Generally good violins in good shape are
wanted by the owner.  I suspect a substantial number of
the violins on eBay are being dumped because they don't
work well enough.  If this is just a setup problem, then it
can be easily fixed.  If it is more, then you may end up with
more money in the violin than it is worth.

Fraud.  Ebay is also inhabited by a certain number of
crooks.  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  
Unfortunately some of these ethically challenged
individuals are violin dealers of one kind or another.

Availability of repair.  Another factor is whether you'll be
able to get your eBay prize restored.  Many shops are very
busy.  Will they really be willing to set aside a loyal
customer's work to fix up a cheap German trade fiddle
needing a fingerboard and setup?  Is it really fair to ask
them to do so?  Setting up junk, low-end Chinese trade
fiddles is even less rewarding.  How to tell someone their
$80 violin needs $100 in minimal setup before it will work?

Violins aren't expensive from shops.  I find that people
think violin shops are too expensive.  Some are if they
have lots of overhead.  Some aren't.  Regardless, violin
dealers must support their customers.  They must sell at a
competitive and fair price AND back up the products they
sell.  They have to keep a repair capability in hand, which
is a non-trivial matter.  Auction buyers don't get this
support.

Final caveats.  If you are going to buy via eBay anyway,
look at the images carefully and ask lots of questions.  
Make sure you know who the seller is.  
And read this.  Be
very careful about auctions offering no return. Expect that
some work will be required.  But one can expect violins
bought at private sale to require some work as well.

Good deals exist on eBay, but we urge rank beginners to
stay away until they gain sufficient knowledge to buy
intelligently.  Certainly avoid bidding more than you can
afford to lose.  I will gladly examine violins to determine
their approximate value in the market at no charge or for a
nominal fee.
     
 
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