The Essentials of Violin Collection

Notes from Master Luthier Tong Ming Xi’s Desk

Is Violin Collecting for Everyone? Violin Collection Bases and Basics

Collecting violins is fun and a pastime that is available for everyone. Often, there exists the misguided opinion that a person who cannot play the violin cannot then collect violins. Simply put – No! And on the contrary! The best part about being or becoming a violin collector is that you don’t need to learn to play the violin in order to collect violins! Violin collecting is fun, fulfilling, and instantaneous. Learning to play the violin, on the other hand, can take many painful hours; even years!

The fundamentals of violin collecting do not even begin with being or else becoming a good or even competent string player. Instead, the art of violin collecting is rooted in how one is a firm believer of music and in good sound. In light of this, here are some relevant questions to ask, and to find answers to:

  • Do you have an expert ear and ear?
  • Do you enjoy excellent acoustic and exquisite beauty and craftsmanship respectively?
  • Do you enjoy looking at beautiful instruments, marveling at all that went into the order and creation of that world?
  • Do you enjoy collecting?
  • Would you consider investing in violins which often appreciate in value over time?

If so, then violin collecting might just be the perfect pastime for you.

Many collections start humbly. In my personal experience, almost anyone can begin to collect and at any time. It is remarkably egalitarian. One common scenario that I do know of relates to individuals who were earlier denied a chance to play the violin in their youth. Later on in life, and after finding some measure of financial success, they decide to start learning the violin at a later stage. Since these are individuals who come to learn the violin of their own volition, they do not have the work foisted on them. Better enjoying the sound of the violin, they also more easily become fine connoisseurs who appreciate the sound that it produces, so much so that they start to explore different sounds through different violins, and oftentimes end up violin collecting, starting violin collections of their own.

Others may start violin collections of their own because of their children. They have personally and for themselves seen the positive and excellent results that owning a better or different violin can bring to their playing. They are hence willing to invest in a different sounding violin so that they can further their violinistic and curatorial interests.

This said, starting a collection doesn’t involve collecting Stradivaris, Derazeys, Vuillames, or Guarneri del Gesus. You don’t have to be collecting top-of-the-line brand name violins all of the time. (Although some of these names are indeed available at or from the TMX Gallery! Just call and ask, or come down to play or hear it). You can even simply own for yourself a collection of very beautiful and rare workshop violins. The most basic form of collection is one that is essentially made on the basis of good sound. Sound, however, can be a very subjective topic. A musician’s personal perspective on sound varies across individuals and time, thus adding to possible variations, if not confusion. Also, there are also factors to consider such as ease of use, tone, penetration, tonal colour, volume, and also the matter of a violin’s individual voice and worth, just to name a few. Here, the beauty and power of violin collection come into play. An instrument that may not have the tone that you enjoy today could well tomorrow, or even be an instrument of the future that will propel you forward or reap enormous monetary returns in the near-future.

All this said, starting a collection does probably mean finding an instrument with some characteristics that your previous violins do not have. For example, if your current violin has a warm tone, then the next one should probably sound a little brighter. Also, if you already own a German violin, then the next one may well need to be a differentially sounding French or Italian one. The possibilities, really, are endless.

Moving forward, listening to a different violin for a different sound, a different music, and also a different expression for each and every violin can be a real joy, real pleasure in itself. It gets even more exciting when a distress sale comes along and when instruments are offered for a really good price. Of course, these occurrences are cyclical, and something that one can only wait for the perfect opportunity to jump into. Here, at the Tong Ming Xi Gallery, we own violins carefully curated from all over the world, from all times and seasons, and we would love to share these artistic creations with the world.

In the case of Mr Rin Kei Mei, a world-renown violin collector, one of Singapore’s most prominent and esteemed musical patrons, and a regular patron of the TMX Gallery, on whose behalf we at the TMX Gallery and luthier’s workshop also provides tailored and bespoke luthier and repair services (as we have always), the Rin collection started because Mr. Rin Kei Mei wanted to support some budding musicians with great love for music but the inability to afford an expensive violin, or a tool of the violin trade that offers the very basis of a good sound, to move their careers forward; an essentially tragic situation. As a charitable act, and out of immense kindness, Mr. Rin decided to invest in several violins that then cost not more than $5k each, to help them. Under the extremely encouraging progress that these violinists made as a result of the ownership of these excellent violins, these musicians ended up becoming world renowned violinists and pedagogues. Some of the names worth mentioning are violinists Lu Wei (now a concertmaster in Germany)and Yang Tianwa (now an Assistant Professor in Switzerland). Mr. Rin’s act of charity beget tremendous musical and violinistic good! The young, fledgling violinists are now superstars, arguably after having owned and improved from these excellent violins. In turn, the violins themselves have appreciated greatly in monetary value. Violin collecting creates excellent outcomes for all, musician, collector, and hobbyist alike.

Collecting can also bring great emotional relief and relaxation as music can soothe the soul. The joy of seeing a child perform their music better because of a better and wider range of violins, or of a collector seeing his collection performed on a world stage is priceless and just simply exhilarating.

With warm regards,
Tong Ming Xi

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