VSA convention violins

November 12, 2017, 7:44 PM · Following up on my previous Contemporary Makers thread: LINK

I went to try the New Instruments Exhibit violins at the VSA convention this weekend, with two other player friends for company.

One violin stood out to us, Feng Jiang's. This violin was the personal instrument of someone at the convention (I won't name who, since I don't know if it's public). At $30k, and not for sale, I thought it was among the best contemporary violins I've tried. It had presence, a soloistic edge of brilliance, nice bloom to the sound (especially at a distance), and a good range of colors. (On the "how much Lydia likes it" scale of recent try-outs, it would be about equal to the Ruth at the Reed-Yeboah NYC exhibit, but not as much as the Gusset.)

I also liked Isabelle Wilbaux's violin there, although not as much as the violin of hers that was at the NYC exhibit. But she had a really lovely viola there, with a smoothly buttery sound that's unusual in violas, at least in my experience.

I didn't love anything else in the room. There were two Ray Melanson violins that other players there liked, though.

Anyone else there with comments? :-)

Replies (16)

November 13, 2017, 12:21 AM · Wow, you're really getting around, Lydia!

Thanks for sharing all your impressions.

November 13, 2017, 5:09 AM · Thanks for those detailed notes, Lydia. Good to have them archived here in case I suddenly find myself with $30k in my wallet! :)

For a while I have suspected that smoothness and mellowness are not valued in violas these days. The fad seems to be toward a piercing or screaming nasal sound. Maybe the objective is to be more soloistic, or perhaps it is to counter-balance the current fad of minimizing the viola by forcing them to face the wrong way in string quartets.

November 13, 2017, 6:59 AM · I loved Isabelle Wilbaux's violin at VSA. I just did not want to put it down. It was beautifully constructed, tastefully varnished, and a joy to play and hear. I also particularly enjoyed playing David Swanson's violin.

One overall impression that I had of the new violins was that antiquing seems to be overdone, and in my opinion, it distracts from otherwise beautiful wood, varnish, and workmanship.

I don't know if this is a modern fad, but I wonder what some of these instruments are going to look like in 100 years after they get actual wear on top of the fake wear.

November 13, 2017, 7:23 AM · I happen to live a short drive from the VSA convention, and had Friday off work, so this was an easy visit. NYC turned out to be serendipitous; I had a client meeting in NYC the day before and so staying an extra day for the exhibition worked out nicely. :-)

One of the makers in the room (whose name I didn't catch) mentioned that he antiques because his style leaves a lot of tool marks, etc., and without antiquing, it looks rough and unfinished. I thought his instrument looked beautiful, though.

November 13, 2017, 9:31 AM · He antiques because he's sloppy?
November 13, 2017, 9:40 AM · George, I have similar misgivings. Most of the genuine antique instruments which are used as inspiration for "antiquing" are going ever more downhill with use and repair, so where will we end up?

I'd like to see more of the best preserved old instruments used for inspiration instead. But I think the main challenge is that this is harder to do, than imitate an instrument which has become rather amorphous from excessive wear.

November 13, 2017, 9:43 AM · Funny what that maker said, "his style" leaves a lot of tool marks, in other words he hides a somewhat rough workmanship with antiquing.

Generally I am not a big fan of over done antiquing myself. I like a subtle and tasteful varnish variation, but don't need the scratches and dinks technique used for some antiquing, nor an overly simulated varnish wear.

November 13, 2017, 9:57 AM · I like antiquing that gives a certain patina to the wood -- that brings out richness and variation. I'm not keen on antiquing that simulates varnish wear.

But I don't have that much appreciation for the beauty of these things; the appearance of a violin mostly doesn't affect how I feel about it, other than the super-dark varnishes of some early 20th century violins, which I find ugly.

November 13, 2017, 10:45 AM · I wonder how contemporary antiqued violins will look like after s few hundred years (if we're still around).
Edited: November 13, 2017, 12:41 PM · There are plenty of antiqued 100 plus year old violins out there with additional 100+ years of real wear if you want to see what it looks like, it can actually make the antiquing look more authentic IMHO
November 13, 2017, 12:42 PM · I unfortunately didn't find those other violins mentioned above to be very interesting, but probably largely due to the acoustics and background playing in the room when I was there. Someone was playing on one that sounded amazing when I walked in, but I didn't get to see or ask which one it was with the other things going on. I wish now I could go back and try again!
Edited: November 13, 2017, 4:37 PM · Environments like these can be very challenging.

And they can get even more challenging, if a maker has hired a "ringer" player to play their instrument, and make frequent loud comments like, "Oh wow, I'd trade my first-born son for this fiddle". LOL

November 13, 2017, 6:21 PM · George,

I'm glad that you enjoyed playing David Swanson's violin. That is my personal violin. Dave is a very fine luthier with extraordinary attention to detail and craftsmanship. He doesn't attend the VSA exhibitions as often as he probably should. He is focused on the art form and simply loves what he does. He doesn't self promote and is a very modest guy. I really enjoy visiting his shop in Hillsborough NC. It's an historic old home he renovated himself and feels like a step back into time. The wood shavings on the floor and the hand tools,instruments and bows all around just make it feel like a special place.

November 13, 2017, 7:33 PM · Hi Terry,

Well, thanks for sharing your Swanson violin with the VSA! I am sorry that I did not get to chat with David. When I play a new (to me) violin, I tend to judge it by how reluctant that I feel I am to put it down to try a different violin. Your Swanson violin was one that I kept going back to try "one more time." It had a wonderful tone quality that was easy to produce, and it responded well to extremes in bow pressure and changes in the sound point.

November 13, 2017, 8:01 PM · I was fortunate that when I first entered the room, and through some intervals of time, no one else was playing, though it got loud later.

In brief conversations with other players there, it was clear that people had a variety of desired characteristics in an instrument, though.


Edited: November 14, 2017, 4:33 PM · Here's another event, planned for October 2018.

"Dear instrument- and bow-makers,

After the success of our 2017 event, we are very excited to announce that our Contemporary American Violin & Bow Maker Exhibition and Sale will be returning again next year. Please find attached an invitation to exhibit, and an application form. We look forward to seeing the next batch of America’s finest new instruments and bows!


Thomas Metzler Violin Shop
1-818-246-0278 | www.metzlerviolins.com
604 S. Central Ave. 91204 | Glendale, California
Tues.-Sats. | 10AM-6PM PST


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