Did You Know? Musical Notes from the Penn State Laureate

February 02, 2009

Q: How much does a string instrument cost?

A: Recently I went backstage after a string quartet concert at the Smithsonian Institute, featuring the famous Stradivari violins, viola and cello. As I waited in line to talk to the musicians, the violist came up to me and said: "Here, hold this viola. It is worth $27 million." As I gasped, I tried not to drop it, and then I looked at the beautiful instrument; so beautifully carved, with inlaid ivory and wood. Each of these instruments is hand carved from the early 1700s. They are antiques, beautifully made with the highest craftsmanship, but they are most valued for the magnificent sound qualities they have when played. Some violinmakers today feel that Stradivari has never been surpassed in terms of tonal excellence, design and superiority of the workmanship. Scientists and violinmakers alike are still trying to discover and recreate the secrets of violinmaking at this time.

How much does an instrument for students or professionals cost today? To buy a student instrument today, the cost of a cello can range between $2,000 for a starter instrument to $10,000 for a fine student instrument, to a high quality professional instrument which can cost anywhere from $30,000 to around $6 million. It's not just the cello that is expensive. A professional quality bow can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000. Music can be an expensive habit.

Please send any other musical questions that you always wanted to know but were too shy to ask to Penn State Laureate Kim Cook at kdc3@psu.edu.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010