Questions for Andrew Victor

December 18, 2017, 8:57 PM · … But anyone else is welcome to participate.
I have what it seems to be the close brother of one of your violins. A Fernando Solar González #159 made in Madrid in 1971. Very, very close to the one you have written about, your #157 also from 1971. You can imagine that I have been searching any comments you had about it and still I am full of questions because –in the end- you are a bit the reason why I got it. I was itching to have a Solar violin and in your comments it is clear that you like that instrument a lot.
The reason why I wanted a Solar… Well. I am from Madrid but I live now in Asia and I will not be likely living back in my city for many years. However, I miss Madrid. I always loved it and in particular walking by the small streets of the Austrias Quarters and browse the little family shops, of which many are still there run by the third, fourth or fifth generation. I have walked countless times by the street “Divino Pastor” and looked by the window of the Solar Luthier shop. My Solar violin, by itself, roots me back to those memories.
Disregarding the (huge) sentimentality I have for it, I am amazed by its sound. In particular how responsive and beautiful is its G string. In that, it seems it is similar to yours. The E is very clean and forgiving and a pleasure to play it without fear. So far the A is asking for some extra attention while playing, but nothing to frown.
I have not messed with its soundpost (If it ain’t broken…), as I have read you saying that it is a particularly picky violin to find the sweet spot. In that regard, past November I went to Spain and took the chance to visit the Solar Shop and had a wonderful chat with the grandson who is there maintaining the business. A very nice man. He has recently engaged in a popular project making a violin out of old wine barrels. They have made a documentary about it, here the trailer: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsXcUti5Pso). He was explaining how thin they had to do it due to the higher density of the oak from the barrel and other challenges. Well. Regarding my violin he said he would be happy to adjust it next time I visit Spain. He seemed excited to examine another of his grandfather’s works.
I suppose being so close in time of production, your violin and mine are likely to come from the same stock of wood from Fernando Solar warehouse and the same pattern, hence the same strengths and weaknesses. About that, I see that you took yours to be remade and thinned… I don’t intend to do it (except by the same Solar family), however would you recommend it?
I have also seen you using Tzigane on it, except a G Pirastro Wondertone do you still use this combination?
In general I would be most obliged if you can share your experiences, comments and stories of your violin, your experience with the Solar makers, suggestions, recommendations, etc.
We can move this dialogue to emails, but I thought that it was a nice story that two violins that likely shared bench and hanging space have ended in opposite parts of the world and after 46 years we can pinpoint them.
And it would be amazing if the owner of the one in between, the #158, would appear thanks to this thread.
hechoenmadrid159

Replies (14)

December 20, 2017, 5:03 AM · Hi Carlos,

If you think your A string needs a better sound have you considered trying a steel A such as the Warchal Russian A? I haven't used steel strings since changing to Dominants in the late 70's but have considered trying a steel A in the never ending quest for optimum sound.

Edited: December 20, 2017, 9:45 AM · Carlos - This is very exciting for me too!

I AM NOT using Tzigane strings on this violin at this time. The only violins I used them on with some success were lacking in the 2nd octave up the G string with other strings, but I did try them on at least 5 different violins and moved them around a lot until I found a good fit. Those strings had just been issued at the time and after I tried them I checked with the string expert at Ifshin Violins (then in Berkeley, CA), Richard Ward who was not fond of them at the time. I have not checked back with him about them since.

I think I now have the best string combination on my Solar that I have ever had and it consists of a Peter Infeld platinum-plated E string with Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Gold medium on the other 3 strings. Actually I now have 4 violins and it looks like I am using this string combination on all of them, even though the violins have quite different voices. I think (actually, I'm certain) the platinum E is responsible for the good balance of all the strings on these violins. I have used these E strings with the other 3 strings being Peter Infeld, Thomastic Vision Solo, and the current Evah Pirazzi Gold).

I have never had any trouble anywhere with any of the strings on the Solar violin - but when I got it in 1974, I cannot recall what string brand(s) was on it. I had used Pirastro Eudoxa and Olive on my other violin before that and I was starting to experiment with Dominant and Tonca. There have been times when I thought the G string on this violin was too rich for the rest of the strings, but it seems this is no longer a problem.

It has good balance for chamber music but also good solo qualities and I performed a number of solos on it since I bought it in 1974, including 2 in front of orchestra and several as sitting CM as required by the scores. But my days for that sort of showmanship have been over for the past 30 years. Several strangers who have played this violin have asked whether I would sell it. That kind of thing makes you feel good.

My difficulty in moving the soundpost to find the sweet spot on this Solar has to do with the curvature of the top, which is not the typical flatter and gradual-contour Strad shape. I did play a couple of Solar Strad copies in Solar's shop when I visited in 1990 (his more recent copies of the King of Spain quartet violins) and of course, they had the lesser-contoured tops - and fancy inlays. My violin's finish is more yellow than red, not antiqued but with a seasoned appearance.

I purchased this violin from England via an advertisement in The STRAD magazine of 1973 (or 1974) - back in the day when it had classified ads. I have never regretted it!

Since I purchased this violin there have been 2 (I think) articles about the Solar shop and its activities in the STRAD magazine, which I subscribed to for about 50 years - until my final renewal expired earlier this year. Finally, I seem able to survive without it.

Edited: December 20, 2017, 9:36 PM · Thank you Jeff. I replaced the A string with another one of the same type (Tonicas) and now all strings are balanced. I am using Tonicas now in the honeymoon with the Violin (nicknamed at home "el madrileño") because I believe that Tonicas are just not too much not too little of anything and this way I can explore the properties better. In time I will be rotating all kind of strings on it and see which ones I like better. But patience. I have a long time ahead with it and I plan to savour each session :-)

Please, Andrew. If you keep the past magazines and you can find them, let me know in which issues of The Strad were the articles about the Solar shop. I don't mind ordering them from my suscription.

I wonder which Solar you met in your visit in 1990. They are currently in the third generation of violin making. The pioneer was Fernando Solar González, then his son, Fernando Solar García and now the flag is carried by the grandson, Fernando Solar Soriano. The patriarch, Solar González passed away in 2011. The story of that Luthier is quite beautiful. It is said that when he was 8 he saw a blind man playing in the street and upon arriving home he grabbed wood and a saw and tried to make that instrument. It is a non-playing toy but it is still kept in the family. Thinking that what he wanted was to be a player, they gave him a violin but instead of trying to play it, he disassembled it to see how it worked.
After the Spanish Civil War he moved to Madrid and became an apprentice of a Guitar Luthier for 5 years (In Spain the Luthier tradition leans more on plucked strings) until he stablished his business focused in bowed instruments.
The grandson also had a vocational moment. He was starting a violinist career and at age 18 he went to a Vengerov recital in Madrid. He found himself watching the violin more than the player and decided that he did not want to be like Vengerov. He wanted to be the one that made the violins for people like Vengerov. So he joined the family tradition, as he said "My hands, but my Granfather and Father's heads".
The shop is very highly regarded among professionals in Spain and its bows are quite sought after. I would like to have a Solar bow. The archetier is actually Mercedes Solar.

Your comment about the Tzigane makes me laugh. That is something that happens a lot in V.com and Maestro. After the years you find the same person changing opinion radically and it is necessary to pay attention to the date of the comment! Anyway. I think I will test many different sets in the months to come before I try your combination. The country I live has tropical humidity and makes funny things to the strings' voices. By the way, the third Solar, the grandson, recommended and used Passione. Did you try them on this instrument?
The color of my solar reminds very much to amber. Brown-orange and with a blurred shine. I think the son and grandson have kept the formula because I have seen the same hue in more modern instruments coming from the shop. And very similar voice (so maybe they keep on using their famous wood). For example in this video the player uses a 2002 Solar.
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Regarding the wood I know the story that Mr. Solar told you that it came from the pillar of an abbey which in turn came from a galleon. At the beginning I doubted the legend (It was said very much the same, of using old ships masts, of Stradivarius and Amati). However upon researching I believe it is plausable. Spain never had good spruce and during our Empire times the ship masts' wood had to be imported from the Baltic countries. The rest of the ship came from our own good oaks. It has to be pointed out that Spain had for centuries the biggest (in tonnes) navy in the world and upon retirement, those ships were recycled as construction materials. When Mr. Solar started his job, after the war, Spain was embargoed and there was no possibility of him importing spruce so he would have to use recycled wood from buildings. And in Spain there are abandoned convents and churches a dime a dozen. I wonder if they are still using that wood for the violins they still make.

One final question: In these years as its only owner, how often have you taken the Solar to the Luthier for checkup, repairs, etc? As long as they are still in business I can use some of my visits to Madrid to take it to the family for maintenance.

I guess everyone can see my excitement. Honeymoon with a new instrument! May it last!


Edited: December 20, 2017, 10:35 PM · Carlos, the maker I met with at the Solar shop was the "old" man himself. His son was there also. The relationship between them seemed somewhat strained that day - maybe it always is (if the son wants Dad to retire, perhaps?).

One of the Strad articles was about the bow making turn the shop had taken and how the woman who married into the family was "leading" that. Perhaps that is Mercedes. Or maybe I'm getting my luthier stories mixed up.

I gave all my STRAD magazines away over the past two years.

Actually I have only taken my Solar to a luthier once about 15 - 20 years ago. My local luthier is Ifshin Violins, about 16 miles from my home, an easy 25 minute drive. The only thing he found to do on it was to clean the rosin off and adjust the sound post - even Solar's original bridge needed no work. At that time I had 4 violins, one viola, and 3 cellos. The Solar required less attention than any of the others. When I picked up my Solar and another STRAD copy I own that I had left for whatever service he thought it needed, the owner of the shop, Jay Ifshin, took me into the back room where I got to try a 1698 Stradivarius that they were working on to sell and an Andrea Guarneri (that as making the rounds of the San Francisco bay area shops - I'd seen it a year or so earlier in San Jose) - we also played my two fiddles, I was very pleased and able to go home without envy (except that if the Strad had been mine selling it would have paid for a very nice house across the Bay) - Ifshin later sold it to the San Francisco Symphony for $2,000,000. I later heard that the Strad finally turned out very nice.

I have tried Pirastro Passione strings on all my fiddles, but I like a string with more "punch" than I get with those. Also if you are in the tropics, gut-core strings are not stable in variable humidity conditions. Gut and hair absorb moisture and stretch/expand at high humidity.

Edited: December 21, 2017, 12:31 PM · Hello Andrew,

I know you are a champion of Peter Infeld platinum-plated E strings.
If I may ask, how would you characterize the tone of these strings?
Would they be on the brighter side of the spectrum or darker side?
Also, since they are very pricey, are they durable?

December 21, 2017, 12:14 PM · The PI platinum E is a very brilliant, bright-sounding string.

They're among the most durable E-strings I've ever used.

December 21, 2017, 1:08 PM · I've had the same Pt E string on while I'm on the third set of A-D-Gs on those violins. I like the PI Pt best for what it does to the sound from the other strings, especially the G. I've now tried it with PI, Vision-Solo and Evah Pirazzi Gold "tri-sets." I like the EP Golds best on all 4 fiddles - with the Pi-Pt-E.
December 21, 2017, 1:19 PM · Andrew, how would you rate the response between Evah Gold and Peter Infeld on the A,D,G...and what is your 2nd favorite E after the PI Platinum? :)

Right now I'm using PI Infeld A,D,G and a med Warchal Amber E. I like the PI Platinum E but it's sometimes too bright for my taste...

December 21, 2017, 4:39 PM · After reading Andrew Victor's comments on the platinum E string I finally bought two on sale and have had one on my main instrument for two days now. It is a wonderful string and compliments the lower strings but I am not sure if I can justify buying more of them in the future. . I change my E string once a month but after paying $25 for this string I will try keep it on longer and will try the second string down the road with another set. When the titanium E first came out I tried a couple of them and although I thought they were a great string I could not justfy paying so much money for them. I also bought a set of Warchal Ambers on sale with the unusual E string to try some time in the future. Warchals are great strings with Brilliant being my favorite so far.

I am sure Mr. D'Agulleiro does not mind a little E string talk on his thread. I enjoyed reading about his prized Solar violin and it's wood source.

December 21, 2017, 8:02 PM · No problem, Jeff. Actually I had the same question about the durability of PI Platinum E. It is true that they are five times more expensive that the Pirazzi Gold E, or even the Infeld Tin... But if they last at least three times longer than the others, they might be a very good deal.
I really want to check for myself that comment of its influence on the rest of the strings, specially the G. I like very much the G String sound of my Solar and I'm very curious at how the PI Plat. E would support it.
Edited: December 21, 2017, 9:56 PM · Peter, my strings responses seem to be more a function of the fiddle they are on than the strings themselves. As I "upgraded" my violins (A, D & G strings) from Peter Infeld to Vision Solo to Evah Pirazzi Gold I felt they were all improving. But one violin has always been the most responsive. The Solar is a little tougher, but the tonal reward is so great. The other favorite of mine (that I have had since 1952) is very responsive, but a little more treble (not shrill).

I do not have a 2nd favorite E string - maybe the Gold-plated Peter Infeld waiting to be installed some time in the future will be it. My 2nd and 3rd sets of Peter Infeld strings were sent to me with the Nickel-plated E strings instead of there platinum strings I had ordered - and not only did I not like them but they did not do anything for the tone of the lower strings, which improved immediately when the dealer sent me the correct E strings I had paid for.

I don't recall earlier strings - except that a lot of the plain steel wire whistled on some of my open-E Bach chords, and the wound Dominant E didn't.

December 23, 2017, 5:52 AM · This "instrument of the month" is a sibling cello built at about the same time. Unique and beautiful wood selection.

https://www.johnsonstring.com/cgi-bin/music/scripts/violin-viola-cello-music-itm.cgi?itemno=C-1741

December 23, 2017, 7:51 AM · Stan,
Very nice! Thanks for linking that.
December 25, 2017, 6:49 PM · That's a lovely instrument Stan, and a very sucint but good history of the brand.

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