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Sofia violins and Gregory Sapp violins from Shar

Instruments: Evaluating "advancing violins" from Shar, especially the Sofia violins and Gregory Sapp violin. Any comment regarding your experience and opinion on any of these instruments will be greatly appreciated.

From stella kim
Posted March 9, 2005 at 07:45 AM

I am in the process of evaluating the Sofia violins from Shar. Has anybody played the Sofia Guarneri del Gesu Model Violin or the Sofia Guadagnini Wieniawski Model Violin? I also am looking into the Gregory Sapp's "S type" or something rather that's supposed to have smaller body. If you have any experience with these instruments, could you share your opinions? Thank you much!

From Jonathan Parle
Posted on March 9, 2005 at 06:46 PM
Hello Stella,

Yes, I have played through the range of Sofia instruments you described. When I purchased my new instrument in December, the Sofia range were amongst the instruments I auditioned.

I don't know what the prices are like in the US, but I felt there was a very significant improvement when jumping up to the Wieniawski model you mentioned and that the extra cost of that model was well worth it over the others. I can't say that any of the other models particularly impressed me sufficiently to get on my audition shortlist, but the Wieniawski certainly did.

In terms of craftsmanship and build quality, all of the instruments I tried were very good, but the Wieniawski was a noticable step up in these departments as well. The luthier explained to me the varnish treatment in the Wieniawski was quite different to the other models.

Bear in mind that even within a certain model, there would still be some variation in quality and sonic character and that my experience pertains only to the batch of around four instruments that I played.

In the end, although the Sofia Wieniawski lost out to another instrument, I was still very impressed by it. Incidentally, I might add that a girl was auditioning violins at the shop around the same time I was, and both she and I both "zeroed" in to the Wieniawski as being in the top three violins in the stores entire inventory.

The good thing about the high end of the Sofia range is that the instruments are generally comparable to anything you would find at the middle to upper middle range of the new instrument "commission" route. They certainly don't compare to anything made by a maker with a high reputation, but they are very solid middle of the road handmade instruments, at least at the top end of the range. I think I personally would prefer to go the Sofia route than to commission an instrument from a maker whose violins fall into a similar price range.

I do need to state once agin though, that the lower models in the Sofia range failed to impress me, as they all sounded a bit like upper range factory fiddles. Of course, they were all brand new and needed breaking in, but so did the Wieniawski. But as one highly respected luthier once told me, if an instrument doesn't sound good when it is new, it isn't going to sound much better when it is old either.

From stella kim
Posted on March 10, 2005 at 04:32 AM
Thanks, Jonathan, for your thorough reply! By any chance, have you also played the Gliga Maestro violins? What are your opinions?
From Jonathan Parle
Posted on March 10, 2005 at 05:07 AM
Hello Stella,

Unfortunately I have no personal experience whatsoever with the Gliga Maestro violn. So I am sorry I can't offer an opinion. That said, I have not heard anything bad about them either. A quick search via Google came up with quite positive comments from owners, plus the other thread you have going seems to support that view. I believe they are made in Romania? If so, that isn't far from Sofia, and the work coming out of Eastern Europe is of pretty good quality and good value for money.

From Stella Kim
Posted on March 17, 2005 at 06:33 PM
So, I've tried the Sofia Wieniawski and I am not sure whether I am terribly impressed with it. I like the way it resonates, but the tone was not mature enough. Now, is that something that will develop over a period of time?

If you had to recommend a new instrument in $3000-4000 range, which one would you choose?

From Jonathan Parle
Posted on March 17, 2005 at 08:07 PM
Hi Stella,

In my opinion if you don't like the violin as you have played it now, I would move on in your search. Whilst the sound will develop and losen up over the next couple of years, I very much doubt the changes would be to such an extent that you change your mind about it.

It is difficult to make a recommendation at that price point, since I don't think it is so much a case of which brand as it is a specific violin. Similar models will obviously sound different, so I would perhaps simply spend more time auditioning whatever instruments you can find at that price point.

To be honest, if I were a dealer and you said these things to me, I'd be asking if you might instead consider a good, German early 20th century workshop type of instrument. These are usually in very good condition due to their relative youth and the good examples have a very pallatable tone and have the easy speaking qualities and tone maturity you are after. Very good examples of these in your price range could be the highest grade instruments from Herman Dolling Junior (avoid the lower grades) or the Roth models (which have been the subject of much discussion here lately).

The only other new violins I have played around your price point are an Aubert Lutherie model (French) that sits around the $6,000 mark Australian. Again, very nice sound and easy speaking. But again, some sound better than others even though they are the same model.

All said and done, I don't really think you are going to find a new violin that sounds "mature" enough for you at your price point. It seems that you have to pay a lot more than that to experience a true "mature" sounding tone in a brand new instrument. About the cheapest new violins I have tried that sound "mature" are around $8,000 - $9,000 US upwards, so that is way out of your price range. That is why I am sugesting you broaden the search to include workshop fiddles 60 plus years old in very good condition.

From Stella Kim
Posted on March 17, 2005 at 11:19 PM
Jonathan,

Once again, thanks so much for taking your time for your response! Yeah, I agree with what you said - what I am really looking for is probably in the range of 10K instead of 4K. Time to save up more, I guess!

I am starting to appreciate my current violin more, though. My mother bought it for me when I was in early teens and I never thought much of it honestly until I started comparing it to other instruments. It's a copy of Amati. The tag says 1647, but I somehow doubt that it is real. I think I need some major repair done on it. Maybe I will spend the money to do the repairs rather than buying a new instrument. My main complaint about it is that it doesn't resonate as much as I'd like it to. Lately I've been trying out different strings (such as Obligatos) and noticed some improvement over dominant strings.

From Jonathan Parle
Posted on March 18, 2005 at 02:14 AM
Hi again Stella,

Don't confuse resonance with necessarily being a "great" quality in a violin. The absolute best instruments I have *ever* played are, in actual fact rather subdued and non-resonant - even slightly disappointing - under the ear. My instrument sounds quite warm, soft and subdued under the ear. But to an audience it is a completely different matter. The sound absolutely fills a room and bounces of the walls. It's almost frightening how much sound can come out of a little wooden box when it doesn't sound anything special under the ear. On the other hand my German workshop violin could be described as quite "resonant", but I would never dream of performing on it because the sound simply won't carry. The volume meter readouts on my digital recording software tell the story. My "subdued non-resonant" violin blows the VU meters a good 8 decibels higher than my "resonant" workshop violin in the exact same conditions. 8 decibels is getting close to twice the volume (which is 10 decibels). And this experience extends to very good instruments I have had the pleasure of playing such as a Carcassi and two Nicolo Gaglianos.

I think you are onto a good thing with experimenting with strings. The Obligatos do tend to vibrate a bit more freely than some others. So do the Larsens which I recommend. Maybe Christian can chime in since he has more experience with strings.

To be honest though, a good thorough setting up and a good quality tailpiece can do wonders. Also, I tend to think if your current instrument is not that bad, then a great bow is a better investment than another violin - at least for the moment. I have seen so many people want to buy new violins when what they really should be looking at are $3,000 bows.

From Stella Kim
Posted on March 20, 2005 at 09:49 AM
Thanks for the tips, Jonathan.

I've been playing the Gregory Sapp violin for the last few days and I am starting to like it more. I put Pirazzi strings on it. I think Shar treated the instrument poorly, though - the pegs are beat up and the E-string came broke upon shipment.

I don't think I will keep either one of the two, but it was a nice start to get an idea what I want in my next violin. One of these days, I will go up to Los Angeles and try some violins in shops there.

Thanks for your help, Jonathan.

From Sean Themar
Posted on March 14, 2007 at 01:59 AM
Um, I wouldn't recommend buying a Sofia type I know you can find better. That's just me speaking. But my friend has a Sofia model and it just feels so awkward playing. From my luthier I heard most or all are manfactured. So don't buy it just yet try out more violins. Just recommending
From Sanford Barton
Posted on July 22, 2007 at 04:34 AM
Not sure where your Luthier got his information, but it is most certainly incorrect. Sofia has about 15 employees in eastern europe and about 5 in the US. All of their instruments are handmade by no more than 2 or 3 people. Most of the violin is constructed by 1 person in Europe and then setup and finished in the US. They only make about 350 violins per year. Its pretty unique in the sub-$4000 market.
From Eric Horne
Posted on March 29, 2008 at 02:31 PM
I would not give up on Sapp violins. Greg is a friend of mine and he makes some very fine instruments. Possibly you need to see what other Sapp instruments they have in stock to preview. If that doesnt work, you could check out his website for contact info. Good luck.
From Benjamin K
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 10:44 AM
> By any chance, have you also played the Gliga Maestro violins?

I have a Gliga Maestro and I chose it over several Sofia violins which I had also checked out in a local store. I don't remember exactly which models those Sofias were but the instruments I looked at were all in the price range from 3000 - 7500 USD (at Japanese prices, cause that's where I am). I also read that Gliga make the bulk of their instruments for other violin brands (in particular German ones) which then sell them for several times the price than comparable instruments sold under Gliga's own brand.

To me the Gligas seemed more consistent and better value for money at comparable prices. I also noticed that the local shops here mark up the Gligas far more than the Sofias which means they can comfortably sell the lower priced Gligas against higher priced Sofias. Note that you can order a Gliga from their US based internet shop and try it out for 7 days before you purchase (or send it back).

However, you might first want to follow Jonathan's advice and try out some bows. I wasn't thorough enough with my first bow, I bought a cheap one and at some point my teacher pointed out to me that a better bow would probably help me advance faster. I then got a better bow after trying out several bows in various price ranges. I found the differences to be astounding.

As a rule of thumb it is said that every dollar spend on a better bow generally makes as much of a difference as 2 or 3 dollars spent on a better violin. My personal experience would seem to confirm this.

Ilya Gringolts

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