Entry level instruments tend to be inexpensive, as they are for beginners. They are made in large workshops by many hands, and, depending on what part of the world they come from, they are often made of pre-carved or pre-assembled parts; and usually the wood is plain looking and the varnish monochromatic and shiny. There is no excuse, however, for them to be badly made or cheap looking; and they should always be set up properly.
Student grade instruments can range from entry grade boxes made with fancier wood (usually called “step up”—a term I don’t like) to beautiful instruments costing many thousands of dollars. Many instruments made by individual makers still reside in the “student” category, but typically they are made by many hands in small workshops with better materials and with more attention to detail. This is where you start to see “highly flamed” wood. Remember, “flame” (which is sometimes called “tiger striping”) has nothing to do with sound—it just looks good. Also, “antiqued” varnish is quite common, and, when done well, can really enhance the appearance, as well as reduce the amount of varnish on the instrument, which can improve the sound.
Professional instruments are those that are of a quality that would be acceptable to a professional musician; and this usually means a musician in an orchestra or a soloist. They are typically made and varnished by an individual maker. Professionals, more than anyone else, are more likely to own either fine vintage instruments, or new products of today’s best makers. Prices for these instruments seldom get below $15,000, and if you read the papers you’ll know how high they go. The best vintage instruments are so expensive simply because there are x number of them left and x2 number of musicians and collectors who wish to obtain them. (x2\x=$$$$$)!!!! 🙂