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Chinese Violins

Instruments: Author seeks information on the quality of Chinese violins--and the maker Bai Li Xing

From D. Brian Neufeld
Posted July 26, 2006 at 04:52 AM

Chinese violins? I have a family member making a trip to Beijing in December of 2006. I will ask her to check out some Chinese violins for me. Are there some good ones out there? I've done a little research via the Internet on a Chinese luthier named Bai Li Xing. His instruments seem pretty good based on the references and descriptions on his web page. He uses 15-20 year naturally seasoned Chinese and/or European maple and Himalayan spruce and claims to use his own recipes for varnish. What experience have some of you had with the Chinese violins? Good quality? By that I mean suitable for a professional level vioin. Let me know of your experiences with Chinese violins.

From Cheng Hooi Lee
Posted on July 26, 2006 at 05:27 AM
Excellent! I have a Xu Fu (Andrea Guarneri model) made in June 1987 - superb response & beautiful tone. The maker (from Canton) apparently won some medals in USA (Salt Lake City).
From Angelo Eftimeo
Posted on July 26, 2006 at 03:13 PM
Chinese violins (in general) have improved greatly in the past 3 years. For many years the average Chinese violin was of fairly poor quality using unseasoned wood, bad varnish jobs, and always in need of major work (fingerboard planing, string & bridge replacement etc.) before being of any level of playing quality. In these past years price has remained their huge advantage, but the quality of work has steadily improved and a (still small but growing) segment of Chinese luthiers have started producing some quality mid-level instruments. As with any group you still need to check out the individual instrument and make sure it fits your playing needs and style. Good luck.
From Henry Z Liao
Posted on July 27, 2006 at 08:06 AM
I got a Samuel Shen SV600 in Shanghai for about $200, bow and case included. I need to adapt to the wider finger spacings but the tone on the violin is very nice and mellow.
From Dan Keller
Posted on July 27, 2006 at 04:08 PM
I asked those that make and repair violins what they thought of violins made in China compared to Germany or Romania. You can read how they responded at the address below.

http://www.maestronet.com/forums/messageview.cfm?catid=4&threadid=313589&enterthread=y

I found their opinions very helpful.

Dan Keller
Select Violins

From Dato Lin
Posted on July 31, 2006 at 05:09 AM
They're a few famous luthiers in Beijing, China, amongst them, Maestro Maolin Song of Beijing Forest Musical Instruments Co.(www.forestviolin.com) is a well known figure.
From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on August 2, 2006 at 09:15 PM
I lived in China for almost 4 years. Chinese violins have escalated in price these past 2 years. I head and tested many violins from all the better luthiers, all over the country. Build quality can be very good. Wood quality is a choice between local woods and imported. A best quality violin of best imported woods by a so-called famous luthier will cost you about +$4000, in China (much more outside). This does not mean you will get good sound, but you will get good woods and good craftsmanship. I have found all Chinese violins lacking in many aspects of sound, and I note that outside China, no pro or advanced student anywhere plays a Chinese violin. Even within China, advanced students prefer a foreign violin, and will purchase a foreign one if they can afford it. I note also that owners of Chinese violins have difficulty in selling or trading Chinese violins.

Recently, I purchased a violin from an unknown Canadian luthier for about the same price as a good Chinese one, but which sounds substantially better than any Chinese violin I have heard. In fact, my new violin sounds better than a genuine Roth I played recently, and better than some older French violins too, which were all very much higher in price.

So, the rule is "caveat emptor", and to keep your eyes and ears open for a good deal and sound. An open mind helps too.

From Kristian Rahbek Knudsen
Posted on August 2, 2006 at 10:23 PM
Shiang Jiang is quite good. I have tried a couple and they sound quite nice. The edgework is a little flat and some aspects are not quite to top 10 standard but the craftmanship is not bad over all and compares well to many western world makers.
He won a silver medal in the VSA competition as well. I know for a fact that one is played by a young LSO violinist. Another is played by a guy in Royal Philharmonic. Tuff to afford an italian instrument living in London on a musician's pay!

http://www.jiangviolins.com/eindex.htm

From Steven Wong
Posted on August 11, 2006 at 09:17 AM
so i guess no one has information on Bai Li Xing.... or his instruments...
From al ku
Posted on January 8, 2007 at 06:51 PM
just saw a 5-6 page article in a weekly magazine that accompanies a chinese newspaper, The World Journal (No,1187 Dec.17-Dec 23, 2006) in which there is a detailed original reporting (in chinese) on the several award winning chinese violin makers. since i do not really know who is who, to the best of my knowledge in terms of translation, there are the Jians (one in china, one in michigan), a Zhu (from southern china), Zhao Shi Quan (in LA), etc. it provided some background for each.

both Zhao and Jian graduated from the same Central Conservataory in Beijing, and Zhao is more senior than Jian, if i am not mistaken.

Zhao, known for violin, viola and cello, described an incident when he was a student in china a famous teacher took him aside and said,,the lines and angles are beautiful, but can you make something different? puzzled at first, later Zhao came to the realization what the teacher meant...to be artistic, to have life and spirit, to be a master.

also an interesting description of how he came for school in utah but was immediately asked to be a worker by everyone, including the principal, hehe. showed how capitalism works, no, scratch that,, showed how he weighted the alternatives...to be a student or a money maker or a man of class or confucious virtues:). i admire the way he handled himself in a foreign land, with his back againist the wall... shows true character. i think now he works in Moreys Music.

then there is the jian in the usa (one that jeffrey knows well i presume), his transition from being an employee to being independent, with the hassles that comes with it:) he's grateful to the previous employer who has shared with him valuable knowledge with no reservation. makes about 8 violins per year.

these boys have come a long way in 20 years. there is a will, there is a way. how far they will go only time will tell, but it is only fair to tell the true chinese makers apart from the mass producers, the true artists from the opportunists.

From ian macfarlane
Posted on February 28, 2009 at 09:38 PM

I met Bai Li Xing at his home in Beijing in November 2007. He has a website (www.chineseviolins.com) which is interesting. Subsequently I commissioned a violin from him with which I am quite pleased. It is a Guarneri 'Lord Wilton' copy, well made though perhaps a little heavy. The woods and the materials generally are of good quality. One nice thing is the efficiency of his site and his contacts with the buyer - he is in regular touch and sends photos of the violin at various stages of its construction.  The violin arrived in May of 2008 and is therefore less than a year old, but it has a good full sound, very clear and fairly sweet. It was unquestionably good value at around $2500. It will develop further and I don't know how good it will eventually be, but I have no regrets about buying it and would be happy to recommend his work.

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on March 1, 2009 at 04:19 PM

Thanks for letting us know.

I was looking at his site a while back, and wondering how his instruments were.

 

From LyeYen Tien
Posted on March 1, 2009 at 04:46 PM

Did anyone check out the Advanced Student violins link? It opens onto a separate site. There are good looking violins (don't know about the sound) at USD 160, There are actually plywood violins selling at USD30+, and I think that includes express shipping. Amazing..

From Kevin Keating
Posted on December 13, 2010 at 04:16 AM

 I play a 2008 Capri Maestro "Made in Beijing" and I love it.  It's a gorgeous instrument with a warmer tone, which I like. 

From Christian Passy
Posted on November 6, 2011 at 08:34 PM
Just bought a Chinese violin from eBay. Beautifully reproduced label from original design by Pietro Messori.

Rang a top London restorer before buying, and he kindly looked at the photos. We agreed it might be Chinese. I said I couldn't understand it, because most Chinese instruments I'd seen were student models, but this had some unusual refinements not usually seen on those models. Such as a beautifully pretty neck with a gazillion little flames up it, and what appears to be fingertip smudging worthy of Mr. Michelangelo, where the varnish colour layer line stops, at the bottom and top of the neck. The overall effect was clouds. Or my head is in them, I don't know?

Anyway, Mr Restorer said that you could 'buy handmade Chinese violins which could be superb in the region of £1500 - 2000'. So I thought it might be somewhere between the two and paid £700, nearer £800 with expenses down to my caution (insurance and new case).

The set-up was not high quality. On replacing it, my luthier friend said it sounded better than anything in his shop. I won't go into what's in his shop, because I haven't played them all, and this was about sound.

I think the instrument was actually probably made by a mix of craftsmen, because, for example, some of the peg holes are not quite perpendicular. But they're so small, you could enlarge them and then they would be :-)

I'm keeping the small pegs for now, to discover the fine-tuning abilities (I've been told there aren't any, but I'm not convinced. I say 'small pegs, 4 fine adjusters, AND reasonable tension - then you can actually turn the pegs :-)).

This new instrument has GREAT clarity with Vision ordinaries. Visions are of course very focused. But it's almost like playing a digital keyboard. Press it, it goes. The power is high, but it's also warm. The machine of it is great.

But today a Thomastik Red snapped at pitch, and the sound was already a "little" nasal and tinny, so now I'm playing half a tone down. Errmmm...the body response was so good, I suddenly developed new thoughts about tuning the strings to the optimum tension (where it's not crushing the bridge or belly, you can turn the pegs on your shoulder, and it's sounds OK), THEN buying strings from Damian Dlugolecki according to measured tension, adding in required pitch, and choosing a gauge from there (having said that, Mr Dlugolecki gave me four gauges to buy after a two-minute description, and I bet he's right. Just to make a fuss, I'll buy an unvarnished 'a' and a varnished 'd' in his sizes, and compare them to a Dominant).

But to expose the power of the violin, and any remaining adjustments required to the set-up, Vision Titanium Solo might be good.

When a violin is this good, it's worth throwing a bit at it until you know it's reached it's true potential.

Every violin has beautiful potential (notice, I did not say 'is a potential Stradivari'. There is more than one kind of beauty. Maybe.). If it isn't beautiful, someone isn't listening to their intuition (innate knowledge).

By the way, today I learned that strings are sold especially for playing pizzicato on! Wow.

I also spoke to Mr. Giovanni Gammuto about a violin he made for his grand-daughter, which I saw on eBay. He was most interesting. I'm sorry the call got cut short by the phone cutting off suddenly. I do remember him telling me he had invented the diagonally cut-away tailpiece on the violin of his I saw, and that others were now making and selling that design. He didn't feel such things should be patented (despite some feelings...) because he felt that everybody should be able to try such things. I hope he doesn't mind my mentioning this, but I saw some threads on this forum about him, in which people were debating whether he made his violins. I don't know whether he makes them, but he told me he made the one in question. I did not question him, and I had not read the aforementioned threads, at the time. Nor would I have questioned him on this matter, if I had.

People seemed to be believing that Mr Gammuto had been upgrading Chinese violins bought in the white and claiming to have hand-made them.

To me it's irrelevant whether wood is hand-cut or machine cut, although in my case, it's likely to be better if it's cut by machine! Ah ha. I have great respect for CNC, having once persuaded the local college to make me a Stradivari 'G'-mould out of MDF, on it. Where I joined the three curves on the lower bouts, there were two tiny indentations not visible to the eye on the design, when transferred to the computer screen. But you could feel them with your fingertips on the mould. So we blew up the design a million times, and eliminated them using curves or whatever. Then we re-made the mould - and, BINGO!! No dips!! What an accurate mould that is.

Which brings me nicely back to Chinese. Dim sum, anyone???

P.S. Of course I'm interested to see the work of top international-award winning luthiers at Chinese prices. Wow. Hopefully, without travelling. When I have the money ;-)))

From Tony Boone
Posted on November 7, 2011 at 01:27 AM
@Christian: Your post is no good without pictures.
From Peter Charles
Posted on November 7, 2011 at 01:57 PM
"But it's almost like playing a digital keyboard. Press it, it goes. The power is high, but it's also warm. The machine of it is great."

How awful!! It sounds like a nightmare. But I think I needn't be clairvoyant to see throught it ...

Anyone for tennis?

From David Burgess
Posted on November 8, 2011 at 11:55 AM
"I do remember him telling me he had invented the diagonally cut-away tailpiece on the violin of his I saw, and that others were now making and selling that design."
________

That's a very interesting claim. I first made one in the early 70s, and had seen them on instruments long before that. They've probably been around since long before Gammuto was born.

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 8, 2011 at 01:05 PM
There's a wide range of Chinese work, the best of which compares well to work from any other country. I have Chinese violins and bows in my permanent collection, as well as a couple for sale.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 9, 2011 at 04:58 AM
Actually I think that's not being fair to Chinese makers, many of whom have studied abroad and some of whom have won competions where the judges did not know who the contestants were. Our own David Burgess can attest to that.

It all depends on the individual maker and player. There are super individual makers here and there. But at this point, as was discussed in another thread, the natonality is secondary. I just got home from a gig using one of my contemporary Italian violins by Vittorio Villa and one of my 3 bows by Hang Wang. I've yet to come across a better contemporary bow - though I am always open to experiment.

From jamus flodquist
Posted on November 10, 2011 at 12:03 AM
I have a new anton brenton violin that's chinese. It's a vso but after I had my Luther set it up its sounding pretty good for what I had expected from one. Who knows maybe I got lucky.;) but yea I know the old lark violins from China are worthless junk. But cheers.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 10, 2011 at 01:25 PM
A better example than me: Elmar Oliveira, one of the top soloists, and very knowledgeable about violins, has owned 2 Strads, and his current main violin is a del Gesu. He has a copy of it by Joseph Curtin, I believe. He also owns a number of other contemporary violins - including some Chinese ones. He could have the pick of any litter, and yet his own collection includes some Chinese violins. What does that say?
From Franz Zinfandel Janito
Posted on November 10, 2011 at 11:32 PM
A few yars ago Gammuto was the character who stole photos of violins off other makers' sites, doctored them and then displayed them on his website purporting to be his intruments. I have these archived.

I would not trust anything that comes from that stable.

ps - that whole saga was nicely sanitized on V.com, so that archive will not provide an accurate record of postings.

From David Burgess
Posted on November 10, 2011 at 11:35 PM
"He could have the pick of any litter, and yet his own collection includes some Chinese violins. What does that say?"
________________________

It doesn't say a great deal one way or the other, I'm afraid. Major players can be offered violins for free, or at a discount, so makers and factories can say, "So and so owns one of ours".

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 05:19 AM
From what I know about Elmar it says a lot. And he has sometimes performed on Chinese fiddles and nobody knew the difference. Of course a great deal of that is Elmar, but come on - he wouldn't perform on a mediocre instrument. you want another example of a great violinist with Chinese violins in his collection, which he used? David Nadien. You want another such example? Charles Libove. Shall I go on? And in my own modest(?) way I've gotten compliments on my sound in my 1st CD and on my youtube - www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ul2QUc5Gqc both performed with Chinese violins. Though I should get credit for my own tone production, I wouldn't perform on cr** either.

And David, in the thread re contemporary Italian makers, didn't you point out how well makers of various countries have done in VSA competions - including China? I've seen this myself in the VSA Journal. Obviously I'm not talking about Skylark violins, or even Snow or Eastman - though some of them are very nice. My 1st CD was on an Eastman. I'm talking about the Chinese makers who have studied abroad and work individually. And I think that there is still prejudice from some quarters against them.

From David Burgess
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 12:52 PM
Easy, Raphael. My comment above wasn't targeting Chinese violins. It was about drawing conclusions from what a high-profile player owns. Some of them will provide various kinds of promotional services, and these might be taken with a grain of salt, just like product endorsements from famous athletes.

There's one story about a violinist making the rounds of violin shops, desperate to get a particular violin working well, because he was under contract to use it in a performance. Some of the luthiers he visited are friends or acquaintances of mine... that's how I know about it.

Yes, I've personally had players offer me various kinds of promotional deals. All this is the main reason I've decided not to use any player endorsements on my web site.

Now I need to go eat my Wheaties, because that's what Olympic athletes eat. ;-)

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 01:21 PM
David, I know that YOU are not prejudiced against Chinese makers. And I know about one or two of such promotonal deals, too. ;-) But the proof of the pudding - or Wheaties! - is in the eating. Are such violins used more than once or the minimum agreed to amount? In the cases that I've cited, the Chinese violins have really been used.

What I want to recommend to players is to get educated - a life-long journey in which I'm still in junior high - be discerning, but also to be open-minded.

From al ku
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 01:41 PM
ignorance gives birth to prejudice.

it is probably safe and fair to say that the top tier chinese (whatever that means these days) luthiers have had training in europe and in america. combined that with thousands of years of craftsman tradition, i think making a good violin can be learned.

From LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIO
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 02:54 PM
When a musician gets a 5K chinese violin he thinks: "I would pay 20k for a similar violin made in Europe or in the USA".

That's why I will Chinalize my name to Lu Man Fu and boost my sales...

www.manfio.com

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 06:18 PM
BTW, that point about athletes and endorsements is well-taken. That is certainly a fact of life. But what if we knew for a fact (and I have something specific in mind, w.o. wanting to go too far afield) that several top athletes or fighters, or fitness experts actually used a certain exercise device (among other things) that they didn't even endorse, and it only confirmed one's own independent satisfaction with the same device? And what if somebody else doubted its efficacy apparently because of where it was made?
From Ellie Withnall
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Seems like the statement "so-and-so owns a chinese violin" isn't even remotely helpful unless you know the maker of the violin and maybe the lineage of who taught that maker.
From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Well, I reside in China, own a few Chinese violins, tried many hundreds by different luthiers, dined with many luthiers, visited shops, and frequent the conservatory. Overall, I have not seen a more dedicated and zealous collection of luthiers.

But, pros and cons. The pro is price. The con is sound. When weighing all factors, the violins are now hard to beat for price and reasonable sound, and have been of great benefit to students.

IMHO, Chinese luthiers are in evolutionary stages. Stage 1: how to construct a violin to almost perfect build quality. Stage 2: improving 1 to include oil finishes, best woods, playability, projection, and optimum setup. Stage 3: will be the focus upon sound. Stages 1 and 2 are here, for a small select group of luthiers. But stage 3 may be a long way off.

Chinese violins simply do not have the tone to compete with the top violins. But I expect someday someone will break through the barrier, and create a top violin in every detail.

From al ku
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 04:36 AM
i don't understand why you guys give raphael a hard time after he has offered reasonable explanations.

although i do not own a chinese violin (unless you want to count my kid's very first ebay special:), i am impressed by the progress made by the chinese luthiers in a relatively short span of time, when western music making and violin making in china has been at its nascent stage, with limited financial and knowledge resources.

of course a few VSA chinese winners do not represent the whole chinese violin scene, but the flip side is that not every italian maker, then or now, is stellar despite the rich tradition and culture. in fact, if we include all european makers who have tried their hands on violin making since 400 yrs ago, what percentage do you think really make the A list? 1% or less!

am i the only one to find it moronic to compare the top chinese violin makers with the top in the world past or present? why???

earlier a poster made a statement about chinese $5000 vs european $20000 violins. well, i hope they are not the same quality first of all and if they are, by all means buy the cheaper one!

and if they are not the same quality and people flock to the $5000 chinese, that is the direction of the market.

From Peter Charles
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 07:53 AM
Hi Raphael - off topic for a second, how is Charles Libove? I met him here in London some years ago when he did a Wigmore recital. Friend of a friend. I know he owned a "difficult" Strad then. Lovely player.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 01:01 PM
Ellie Withnall
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Seems like the statement "so-and-so owns a chinese violin" isn't even remotely helpful unless you know the maker of the violin and maybe the lineage of who taught that maker. [Flag?]

If that's true, then it certainly isn't remotely helpful to bash Chinese violins in general - something repeatedly done in this thread and in other circles of the violin world w.o. referring to every single maker and every single instrument that you are bashing. And I've already mentioned a specific Chinese bow maker, Wang Hong. I have 3 of his bows, and keep 2 of them in very active use. Considering that my other bows include a FR Simon, an EA Ouchard, and 2 Bazins, I think that's pretty good company. And no, I am not in any way a compensated endorser.

from Al Ku:
of course a few VSA chinese winners do not represent the whole chinese violin scene, but the flip side is that not every italian maker, then or now, is stellar despite the rich tradition and culture. in fact, if we include all european makers who have tried their hands on violin making since 400 yrs ago, what percentage do you think really make the A list? 1% or less!

Very well put!

Peter Charles
Posted on November 12, 2011 at 07:53 AM
Hi Raphael - off topic for a second, how is Charles Libove? I met him here in London some years ago when he did a Wigmore recital. Friend of a friend. I know he owned a "difficult" Strad then. Lovely player. [Flag?]

Hi Peter. Sorry to say that Charles Libove passed away about 5-6 years ago. I don't know about his Strad being "difficult". It was "the Lord Norton" Strad, thought to be one of the last violins Stradivari completed. I heard him play it wonderfully numerous times in recital. I only had a few lessons with this great and underrated violinist. At those lessons he did not use his Strad; he used one of his Chinese violins! No, it did not compare to his Strad, but obviously, he would not have used junk in any circumstances.

From Peter Charles
Posted on November 13, 2011 at 12:16 AM
"Hi Peter. Sorry to say that Charles Libove passed away about 5-6 years ago. I don't know about his Strad being "difficult". It was "the Lord Norton" Strad, thought to be one of the last violins Stradivari completed. I heard him play it wonderfully numerous times in recital. I only had a few lessons with this great and underrated violinist."

I'm sad to hear that Raphael. I recently heard a CD of his quartet playing the Barber String Quartet with the famous "Adagio" and I was was very moved by his wonderful playing. I was told by the friend who knew him quite well that his Strad was "difficult " but this could have been inacurate.

From Shen-Han Lin
Posted on December 17, 2011 at 08:32 PM
>>earlier a poster made a statement about chinese $5000 vs european $20000 violins. well, i hope they are not the same quality first of all and if they are, by all means buy the cheaper one!



Keep in mind of the resale or investment value. It is still commonly felt that European instrument is way superior than Chinese made. So if you have an instrument made in China, hardly everybody will spend over 5k to buy yours in case you want to sell your violin. (I'm talking about buying directly from luthier in China, not those overprice Chinese violin that you can get from the shop in US/Europe) But if you have a 15k US/European instruments, it's easier to sell at the same price even to Chinese population.

It felt like good Chinese maker has to immigrant to US/Europe to raise their prices. In China, if it's the same quality, not many people will pay for the same price for a luxury product Chinese maker or company made. -> Not only violin but also electronic or other stuff.
From Don Meek
Posted on December 21, 2011 at 10:40 AM
Just of note I bought, more out of curiosity than anything, a Chinese Violin on Ebay from maker Liu Rongguo. It was an "Amati" copy and the photos looked lovely, beautiful two piece flamed back and sides. There was no reserve on it and I won it for around £150 (USD$ 240) including shipping to the UK ! I wasn't expecting much but was really impressed with the instrument. I set it up myself and loved the sound of it, so much so I put down my 18th. century French Fiddle.

I thought I would splash out on one of his Master Violins (UKP£ 400) , it was a bit vulgar looking but I wanted to hear it after the lovely Amati... well.. sadly it is vulgar looking and vulgar sounding LOL. However I have had the Amati professionally set up and dressed with some nice bits (tailpiece, pegs etc) it looks and sounds amazing, even my Luthier loves it and I have had some amazing comments, never achieved on my old violin, whilst playing it. It is now "my violin" I think I just got lucky :)


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