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Jacob Steiner's violins (and their sound)

Instruments: Looking for information on Jacob Steiner's violins and the sound they make

From Peter Lynch
Posted November 13, 2004 at 01:16 AM

I am looking for information related to Jacob Steiner's violins. Those who read this site know that I am a new adult student. (Hopefully the amount of my posts are not too much). I am not only interested in playing, I am interested in making. I am an serious amature furnature maker and with falling in love with the violin, I am also drawn to the making of the violins. I have come across information about Jacob Steiner and how sweet sounding his instruments are.

Does anyone have any information on people who play his instruments, or contemporary makers who base their violins on his. Who are they, what recording are there of this sound.

After "test driving" a number of violins, I am much more drawn to the mellow, sweeter sounding ones and thought that from the written descriptions, Steiner's violins make a sound that I would enjoy. Any input about this would be greatly appreciated.


From Joseph Franke
Posted on November 13, 2004 at 09:41 PM
Linda Quan of the Aulos Ensemble plays a Stainer. She recorded a Bach accompanied sonata on it for Musical Heritage.
From Thomas McEvilley
Posted on November 14, 2004 at 08:36 AM
I have never played a satisfactory sounding Stainer copy, and I have tried many fine ones by master makers.
From Melanie Kaboy
Posted on November 15, 2004 at 01:38 PM
From what I know, there are two different makes that are being spoken of in this thread - Steiner and Stainer. I believe the post was originally talking about the former - Steiner. From what I've heard, Steiner violins are rather rugged and not as refined as some violins with a rather cruel sound. Am I right or totally off base?
From Peter Lynch
Posted on November 15, 2004 at 03:03 PM
Sorry, I was meaning Jacob Stainer, the maker who some think apprenticed with Amati


From K G
Posted on November 15, 2004 at 05:35 PM
Stainers were once very highly sought-after. They still have a good reputation. But they were overtaken by Strads and Guarneris beginning in the late 18th century. I once read that the average price of a Stainer actually declined in the 19th century, the only instrument by a major maker to do so. Violinists such as Viotti (with Strads) and Paganini (with Guarneris) liked the greater power of these instruments for concerts. In general, Stainer copies are less highly regarded and also cheper than copies of the others. That said, there are people that like them. I recently played a very nice copy by a British violin maker.
From Tom Holzman
Posted on November 15, 2004 at 07:25 PM
I think Bach may have owned a Stainer.
From Sam Li
Posted on November 17, 2004 at 01:44 AM
Stainer, Steiner, To-may-to, To-mah-to. It’s the same guy. Bach loved his Stainer as did Mozart. Authentic Stainers have some of the prettiest scrolls you’ve ever seen. They are considered by many to be in the same class as the ones by the holy trinity from Cremona. Anything with the name – either spelling – stamped on the back is a copy, and most of them were crude. The tops and backs have a much higher arch than the Cremonese pieces. That and probably the environment and wood in the Austrian Alps gave his violins their flute-like sound. Once upon a time a Stainer commanded four times the price of a Strad.
From Preston Hawes
Posted on November 17, 2004 at 06:09 AM
Now I Understand



From Laurie Niles
Posted on November 17, 2004 at 02:23 AM
He earned so many demerits in the past that he has an automatic demerit.
From Preston Hawes
Posted on November 17, 2004 at 06:08 AM

My bad. I still don't get this moderation system. Work it off Sam...Work it off. lol


From Kelsey Z.
Posted on November 17, 2004 at 04:18 PM
I own a Stainer copy and have played a real Stainer. I actually liked my Stainer copy better then the real Stainer, but the real one hadn't been played very much at allin a very long time and wasn't too responsive.
My copy, which I own, I played on for two years or so. It had a very rich, warm sound but it got quite muddy in the higher positions. It responded easily though and it was a good violin for me. :)
From Tom Holzman
Posted on November 17, 2004 at 04:21 PM
There is a CD of Mozart's piano quartets on which the musicians are playing Mozart's piano, violin and viola and a cello from the period. You could listen to the CD and get an idea from it of what the violin sounded like.
From Richard Perras
Posted on November 25, 2004 at 06:55 PM
Information on Jacobus Stainer can be found at
From Maximillian Tresmond
Posted on November 26, 2004 at 12:12 AM
The Stainer violin was the supreme baroque instrument - him and Amati. During the baroque era, they were much more sought after than Stradivari or Guarneri (this frustrated A. Stradivari to a great degree).

The Strads and Guarneri's are great for a concert hall, but the Stainer, as a baroque violin, can produce both rich, lute, and flute tones at command.

As a further note, Mozart played no Stainer, he had a Klotz

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on November 26, 2004 at 12:54 PM
"After "test driving" a number of violins, I am much more drawn to the mellow, sweeter sounding ones "

...isn't this the 'wrong' sound for a violin? Aren't they supposed to be shrill? (In a good way...)...:D

From Lefebure Alain
Posted on November 27, 2004 at 01:12 PM
I am quiet puzzled.
It seems there are two Stainer and Steiner named Jacobus or Jakobus. The former beeing the Amati'pupils
but both would be of great reputation . I personnally have a vln carved "Stainer" on the back but no coat of arms nor label .It's in a poor condition with a F hole larger the this other,,wonderful varnish on the back,totally ruined on the top ,the wood is crude in some place. the sound is good but not powerful.
What puzzles me is the description of a "Steiner" which exactly fits to my Stainer.
Morever some Steiner seems of high quality for some and Study vln for other.
From Peter Lynch
Posted on November 27, 2004 at 02:08 PM
Is there a right sound for a violon? To me a "shrill sound" even in a good way seems unpleasant. Although I am only a beginner in playing, I know what sound good to my ear. The most pleasing to me is a sound with a sweetness to it. Maybe I'm not using the correct term. But a singing quality with subtly, richness and warmth, that pulls me to it, not jarrs me away from it. Maybe this is just an unsophisticated notion based on a personal preference. Any others have input on this.


From Clare Chu
Posted on November 27, 2004 at 05:11 PM
Peter, in the violin world there is a lot of mystique, prestige, acquired taste, snobbery, etc. Often times there is that "emperor has no clothes" conundrum in that if everyone thinks a certain sound is THE sound, then no one wants to appear unlearned and unable to distinguish. You must use your own ears, both playing, and more importantly have an unbiased person play it from a distance. Of course the connoisseurs will claim that they have heightened sense of distinctions. But at the end, you need to trust your own ears for your own personal instrument. Unless you're a soloist and need to be heard about orchestras in large concert halls, you will probably enjoy your sound much better and learn faster with a more pleasing to you violin. The reason for the shrillness (in a good way), is for cutting above a large orchestra, or other string instruments, when playing solo. Power, projection is important for them, and any temporary hearing loss for the player is par for the course of being a professional. :-)
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on November 27, 2004 at 05:35 PM
...I wasn't in any way, shape or form thinking 'snobby' at all (I'm not even close enough to being a good player to have any aspirations of snobbiness :D)...just suggesting that since a violin is the soprano of the string family it should sound like a soprano (er, a good soprano)...and to my ear, sopranos are shrill...

...but yes of course you need to play a violin you like the sound of, that's very important. I'm always astounded at how the sound and projection varies from one instrument to another...

...I'd then only suggest that if you choose a to play a particular instrument that doesn't quite sound like a good example of what a 'typical' good violin should sound like, that you're aware of it...

...awareness helps prevent those nasty little surprises down the road (...it's been 30 years and I'm still reeling from the realization that The Village People are not 'good' music...:D)

From Peter Lynch
Posted on November 29, 2004 at 11:58 PM
I'm not a fan of the village people, but how do you know that the village people are not good music?


From Clare Chu
Posted on November 30, 2004 at 02:16 AM
Sorry, I wasn't meaning anyone on this board is snobby. I just got back from reading Fritz-Reuter critique of violin merchandising http://www.fritz-reuter.com/reports/rin037.htm

Of course a certain brightness, and sizzling sound is what a violin should have, being soprano. But... shrill harshness is not pleasant. Of course it is a matter of taste, but I thought a person who likes Stainer violins would not like shrill harsh that takes your teeth off. sorry, no offense intended...

From Stephen Perry
Posted on November 30, 2004 at 02:25 AM
Interesting discussion. I have some nicely matched pieces of wood (same back, possibly same front). I just ordered The Strad Stainer poster. Maybe I'll do a Cremona violin and a Stainer side by side. See what difference I get. If I do that, I'll do the final arching on the mall in DC, making trips to see the Smithsonian's Stainer. Seeing then cutting is so very helpful.
From Michael Avagliano
Posted on November 30, 2004 at 03:33 AM
Which Stainer in the Smithsonian?

I've been lucky to see a few great instruments of his in my (not very long) life, and the cello that I saw last year was by far the most stunning. You can see why he had the influence he did in northern Italy. The performer in me can appreciate the sound they produce, although I tend like most modern players to like something a little more powerful. But from the point of pure design, craftmanship, and artistry, there are few makers in history that can rival him.

From phileo kang
Posted on December 3, 2004 at 03:51 AM
i have a violin, labaled- jakobus stainer ex absam Oe______ fecit ____. some words could not be seen.
I'm not sure if it is STAINER or STEINER.
Any idea if this is a real stainer? I'm a student currently playing on that violin, i play it badly though. But when i hear my teacher play it, the violin produces a very mellow sound. My teacher has no idea if it is a real or a imitaion.
From Jonathan Parle
Posted on December 3, 2004 at 04:41 AM

It would almost certainly be a copy. Copies of Stainer instruments have been mass produced over a very long period of time. That is not to say it is necessarily an inferior instrument, as there are many excellent workshop and handmade Stainer copies as well - as is evidenced by comments made earlier in this thread.

Any reputable violin appraiser will be able to give you a verbal confirmation one way or another after viewing your instrument - and probably for free or at worst a nominal fee. But the chances of it being real are extremely slim indeed.

If you can take a very good quality photograph of the scroll, back and belly, it might even be possible for one of us to give you an opinion prior to your taking it anywhere for further appraisal. But the vast majority of Stainer violins are usually German workshop violins of basic to adequate quality.

From Stephen Perry
Posted on December 4, 2004 at 12:56 PM

I don't know how to describe it. I remember the arching. Last time I was there it was on the left side of the case with Stainers I think.

From phileo kang
Posted on December 7, 2004 at 01:27 PM
i just found a website to verify the seal for me it's a imitaion, but i don't think that mine were the ones that were mass produced in germany because those that were mass produced in germany they last two numbers at the back were written in pencil. anyone know if where mine is made? i would send you the pictures...
From Daniel Gordon
Posted on December 9, 2004 at 11:50 AM
I have an old Steiner copy in my closet - you wouldn't know it was Steiner design by the sound, though. I can describe it in one word - empty.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on December 14, 2004 at 06:33 AM
I've always been fascinated by him too, and the Germans who came after. To me, on baroque recordings, Stainers don't sound much different from anything else. I think a majority of the copyists produced really bad fiddles though. I've always thought it would be fun to get some kind of decent ancient Stainer copy and convert it to a baroque fiddle.

Here is a pic of a Stainer you can visit next time you're in S. Dakota.


From Jose Martinez-Canas
Posted on April 11, 2008 at 12:08 PM
Peter: If you are interested in Stainer violins, there is a nice book in geman with english translation titled"Jakob Stainer" by Walter Senn and Karl Roy. I got my copy from Montagnana Books.
I also love Stainer violins.
From Pooya Radbon
Posted on July 8, 2008 at 07:29 AM
Do modern Violinists know Harnoncourt,s wife ?
Alice Harnoncourt is good tasted (gifted) pioneers in playing baroque violin . She owns a Stainer .
She also has recorded the Sonatas for violin and Harpsichord + cello with Tachezi and his husband .
Thats great . The volume of this violin is like a Strong strad . Its not dolce like Guarneri but really strong and proper for music of the non-Italian and french composers .
From Zina Lee
Posted on July 8, 2008 at 07:44 AM
K, I'm late to this one, but...

A fair amount of Irish players like Stainers (I'm speaking here of copies, of course), so long as they're decent (so many Stainer copies are so bad). They're not as brilliant nor as loud as most Strad copies, and seem to tend towards a certain darker tone that is attractive to people who play trad music.

From Ted Sinoski
Posted on July 8, 2008 at 03:18 PM
You can hear a selection of Jacob Stainer's instruments played on the CD:
Jacob Stainers Instrumente
Acanthus International Records
It features original instruments
It can be ordered from the Mational Music Museum (U.S.A)

order #37 $19.95

From Casey Jefferson
Posted on July 8, 2008 at 03:52 PM
If you want to have a quick listen instead of buying the CD, check this out.

MP3 Sample

Personally I find it very sweet sounding violin and I can sort of understand why it was a prefered instrument before Italians become a standard.

From Steven Frucht
Posted on July 8, 2008 at 05:19 PM
I've enjoyed reading this site, and could not resist posting a comment. I purchased a Stainer copy about a year ago, at auction, a violin that bears a Stainer label and was auctioned as a good Tyrolean violin from mid 18th century. It has a drunken lion head, a very high-arched top (you can see through the f-holes!), and was cut down (probably from a small viola). It has been extensively played, some repairs, but I love the instrument. It is very easy to play, and I don't think it is lacking in power. The quality of the sound is different from the Italian golden sound, more baroque. I've looked at other Stainer originals, and I would guess that it was made to mimic these. Drunken lion heads are not that common, and I wonder if others have a violin from this period with this head. Also, because the belly is so big, I suspect that the neck should be reseated at a higher angle, but I am reluctant to do this.
From Alicia Schueler
Posted on January 6, 2012 at 06:11 PM
I have a Steiner/Stainer copy from the late 1800s/early 1900s, made in the Tyrolean Valley. Beautiful wood, plainer scrolls and it is much wider in the middle compared to my other Japanese instrument. It has sat for a long time until I started playing it three months ago. It sounded hollow at first but there was a mellow sweet sound as well. It's sound keeps waking up and changing the more I play it. A well-respected, local violin maker said it might take until May before I hear it's real voice. He wants me to bring it in for a check up then. I am breaking all the rules, BTW. I'm an older student returning to playing at the beginning level, playing an antique violin, and learning to play the viola at the same time. I must be a little nuts.

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