LONDON, England (CNN) -- Record oil prices, the sub-prime mortgage mess and slumping stock markets are hardly music to the ears of investors.
In tough economic times like these, investors seek out safe, stable investments such as guaranteed government bonds or CDs.
Yet a growing number are being wooed by the sweet sounds, and profits, of something new -- investment funds specializing in high-end musical instruments.
The Stradivarius violin -- only about 700 are believed to exist -- is the premier investment instrument. Talented musicians want them, but can't afford them -- one fetched $3.5 million at auction.
Enter Nigel Brown, winner of The Queen's Award for Enterprise and Chairman of the NW Brown Group, a financial services company. He brings musician and investor together.
"What happens is, a musician comes along to see me, having fallen in love with an instrument," Brown says. "Then, what I do is to pull a syndicate of people together to buy this instrument so that the musician can then have the use of it ..."
Down the road, the musician can buy the instrument from the investors. They split the profits if its value appreciates.
That's how violinist Matthew Trusler got his $2 million Stradivarius. Brown loved Trusler's playing and funded the instrument himself.
"They are just the most fantastic violins that were ever made," Trusler says, clutching his. "This one was made in 1711 ... and it's been around for 300 years and it's a really wonderful violin."
Not everyone is convinced a Stradivarius is such a great deal -- particularly modern instrument makers.
"I think if you can get hold of one of the very best Strads, not just any Strad ... I think they probably give you, as a player, something special," says violin-maker Andreas Hudelmayer.
"But if you can't have one of the very few best, you are just as well off with a new instrument."
The cost of insuring a Stradivarius for just a couple of years would pay for a new, top-quality violin, Hudelmayer says.
Even so, the reality is that old violins are attracting those looking for alternative investments.
A new hedge fund called the Fine Violins Fund is dedicated to top-range instruments.
The latest studies show exclusive violins are earning a steady 3.5 percent a year since 1850. That beats U.S. Treasury bonds over the same timeframe, with their 2.19 percent average yield.
Of course, you have to be in the investment game for the long haul.
"They've proved to be fantastic investments," says Simon Morris, director of Beare's -- a broker and appraiser of high-end violins, violas and cellos.
"For many of the musicians that bought say in the 1960s, they've been the best pension plan they could've had.
"Like anything, you have to purchase well and sell well. You can't just go and buy any old thing."
But for these investors, the financial return is only part of the investment.
"The fact they make a financial gain is of course gratifying at the end of the day, but it is mostly the support of the musician," says Brown. "They like being able to go along to a concert and hear their instrument performed by their artist." E-mail to a friend
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