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Cracks on violins (no jokes, please)

Instruments: What is effect on price and tone of a surface crack on a violin?

From David Fowler
Posted February 27, 2005 at 12:48 AM

I've seen many descriptions of old violins with special attention to whether or not there are any cracks on the top or bottom of the instrument. In particular, cracks in line with the soundpost. Cracks descending from an f-hole. Cracks over the bass-bar. Cracks as differentiated from a separated seam (for example the seam on two adjoining pieces of a two-piece back).

Which ones are detrimental to value of instrument. Do they always result in deterioration of tone?

I have a violin bearing the label "Ansaldo Poggi" and it seems like a nice-sounding instrument to me. It has a poorly-repaired crack on the top, which may account for the bargin price. I'd love to compare it with a certified (uncracked) Poggi some day.

Thanks for any information on violin cracks.

From Peter Ferreira
Posted on February 27, 2005 at 01:35 AM
I am not a luthier, but the cracks that concern me the most are the ones inline with the sound post. All others are very reparable and I can live with them as long as they are repaired properly by a professional luthier.
Seam "cracks" are not cracks and so they can be re-glued by professional using hide glue. Open seams also cause the instrument to lose sound quality.
Use only hide glue on your violin! There’s a reason for it.

Sound post cracks are definitely a price chopper!
At least I was told so and I’ve come across many great violins with sound post cracks that I had to turn away. I’ve also seen a couple of violins that had inline sound post cracks professionally repaired but with time the cracks returned and got longer due to the amount of pressure in that area of the violin.

As for Ansaldo Poggi violins, I don’t know about them and I recommend you take it to a good luthier and get it appraised. Does it have a good sound? Any photos?

Best regards,

PF

From Mark L
Posted on February 27, 2005 at 01:38 AM
Actually I have a similar issue. The ridge that extends beyond the seam where the top face meets the side has broken off in one place (due to an unfortunate accident), not quite touching the seam but pretty close to it. Will this cause a change in sound? I am afraid the break has hurt the integrity of the wood, and that the seam might be impacted, causing a buzz or otherwise weakening the sound quality. But so far, it sounds fine, despite looking ugly anbd abused.

Should the raw, exposed face created by the break be repaired with wood or re-varnished? Or will it be best to treat it gently and live with the cosmetic imperfection?

From Peter Ferreira
Posted on February 27, 2005 at 01:45 AM
Take it to a good luthier, they can fix it!
PF
From Teruyoshi Shirata
Posted on February 27, 2005 at 03:19 AM
the worst case of the crack is on back sound-post. if the instrument has this crack, you can forget about it.
From David Fowler
Posted on February 27, 2005 at 05:48 AM
I appreciate the advice of taking my violin to an expert, here and in other threads. When you live in a sparsely populated part of the country, then you have to plan your trip to a luthier as part of a vacation, or maybe a business trip -- which I could do.

Violinist.com is a great help to people like myself who don't live in large metro areas.

These are good responses, and I hope to get a few more.

thanks, David

From Michael Avagliano
Posted on February 27, 2005 at 08:21 AM
What everyone has said above is basically good advice from a value standpoint. Cracks in the center of the instrument, over the post or bass bar, are detrimental to the value. How much depends slightly on the instrument. With older violins (such as those from the 18th century), there are very few around that are fully intact with no cracks at all, so having a few cracks or even a top post crack is very common. Therefore, the presence of the crack doesn't affect the value quite as much as on a newer instrument, where there may be many examples that are in perfect condition. Soundpost cracks on the back are the most detrimental, and generally cause at least a 40-60% drop in value.

From the perspective of structural stability and sound quality, I don't think there's any damage that makes an instrument a "lost cause". Back post cracks can be restored by a good luthier, as can all manner of puncture wounds, multiple cracks, or worm damage (although worm run can be maddening to say the least). I've seen many instruments that were heavily damaged and brought back to life by great restorers. I've also seen great restoration on major damage that's lasted for many decades, and should continue to last for the foreseeable future. In terms of value, these violins may never appreciate quite the way their undamaged brethren do, but they are great playing instruments, and the people who own them often wouldn't trade them for any money.

That being said, a poorly restored crack, or haphazard restoration, can make an instrument very temperamental and difficult to adjust. The key is having a luthier who knows what they're doing when it comes to restoration.

From David Fowler
Posted on February 27, 2005 at 02:38 PM
Michael, that's a helpful summary. I have a related question: have you heard the term "flea bites"? Is this an antique dealer's expression for minor nicks or pits on the surface of a violin? I assume it's not actual insect damage.

I've seen this term in descriptions of old violins on auction sites.

From Sean Sullivan
Posted on February 27, 2005 at 11:03 PM
Someone borrowed my violin without asking me yesterday and dropped it on the floor. Guess what? Bridge fell down, sound post pushed up through the top and My violin now has a wonderful new stripey design. Yay. Student bow: $800; 1902 German Violin: $5000; My 1902 German Violin: Worthless. Thank God for insurance.
From David Fowler
Posted on February 28, 2005 at 01:13 AM
Sean,
That's bad news for sure. Insurance can help, but you still have to search for an instrument that suits you to the same degree as the one that got dropped.

sorry to hear that.

David

From june rhee
Posted on February 28, 2005 at 03:46 AM
how rude and disrespectful to borrow your violin without asking, sean. i hope this person at least offered to pay for the damage, even though it sounds like it's gone. sorry to hear, and good luck on your violin search.
From Daniel Touchstone
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 12:36 AM
If you have a big enough hammer, you can fix anything. Even a crushed violin.

I remember reading about a strad that went down in an airplane crash, and was eventually recovered from the bottom of the English Channel. It took an expert several years, but it was restored, with some suggesting they couldn't tell it had ever been damaged.

I think it is really key to have a competent, experienced "crack repairer" (sic?). Anyone can glue two pieces of wood together. But, the good ones make the crack all but disappear.

From Rita Livs
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 01:12 AM
I have a crack on my old German violin, it is a little on the right of my chinrest, along the tie of bottom body and side. What is interesting about it, I tried to fix this crack two times (not me, I asked a luthier to repair it). But after a while the crack appears again, making my violin sound better, than without it. So I decided to leave it.
From David Fowler
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 06:04 AM
Rita, I had a similar experience with an old violin that had a separation of the top from the rib on the upper treble side. When it came back from the shop, I thought it had sounded a little better before. I'm going to try this with still another violin that's in the same condition.

It may be all subjective nonsense, but I was wondering if some violins, maybe not great ones, might seem to sound "better" if they have a slight separation of one plate from the rib. Maybe the top and rib were forced into a shape that doesn't hold, and the slightly less constrained top vibrates better?

(I know this idea invites typical violinist.com "humor", but maybe a violin maker has some experience or useful information to add.)

From D Chin
Posted on March 1, 2005 at 02:54 PM
I have a crack on my violin that is in-line with the soundpost running almost all the way from top to bottom. I bought it that way (over 10 years ago) because it happened to be the best-sounding violin in the shop. I recently had it re-glued by a luthier. I only played it for about 20 minutes this morning, but the instrument sounded better. The E string in particular seemed to resonate much more.

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