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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: How old is your violin?

January 31, 2010 at 5:08 AM

You know the saying, "the older the fiddle, the sweeter the music."

Actually, there are a lot more factors than "oldness" that relate to a fiddle's "sweetness." But today, I'd like to talk about age; specifically, how old is your primary fiddle?

I have three fiddles, made all over the world and across several centuries. My Gagliano, made in Italy, is about 200 years old. My old German fiddle is about 120 years old, and my American, made by David Scroggin, just barely qualifies as a 20th-century fiddle, made in 1999 in Bozeman, Montana.

Does age matter? It's a good question, made confusing by the fact that certain masters happened to make all their fiddles several centuries ago. Let's take Antonio Stradivari, for example,. A Strad, necessarily, is 275 to 330 years old. Are Strads exceptional because they have "aged," or because of their craftsmanship? This is open to debate.

I don't actually know of too many 400-year-old fiddles, but the ones I do know tend to be Amatis – more fine violin makers – with Nicolò likely being teacher to Stradivari. Does this mean that a given violin will sound better at 400 years than it does at 100 years? Or does it just mean that the only violins that were kept over 400 years, instead of being chopped up and used for firewood, were the great ones?

I can give personal testimony to the fact that a century-old fiddle does not necessarily surpass a modern one for sound quality, simply by virtue of its age; my modern American sounds far better than my much-older German violin.

I tend to think that quality of wood and craftsmanship has a bigger role than does age, but age can "mellow" a fiddle. Certainly, a violin gets "played in," and it does matter how this is done, and by whom. Make your violin resonate; it opens up over time. Play it carelessly; it shuts down.

What are your thoughts and experiences regarding violins of various ages? Please tell us how old your primary instrument is, and then share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Posted on January 31, 2010 at 5:38 AM


French fiddle; R & M Millant 1947...she's a real femme fatale

English fiddle by William T. Atkinson 1899.

American viola by G. Marten Cornelissen  1973



   animated gifs


From Alayna Faulkenberg
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 6:09 AM

My baby is an 1897 German fiddle :)

From William Gibson III
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 6:21 AM

From what I have been told by my luthier , she is a French School made violin made for an English shop her maker unknown / exact date unknown ... They must have known what they were doing for both my teacher and my luthier desire her . The luthier did say if I had the time and desire that more research could be done and possibly a good idea of who and when she was made could be narrowed down, nothing that a bit of time and money could not  resolved .... My challenge is to learn to play her as well as they do to give her voice to the song that they make seem so easy ...

 Bill G.

Posted on January 31, 2010 at 7:52 AM

Bill G...very well said

From Alan Swafford
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 7:46 AM

My 100yr old Albani  has definitely "played in" to the music I love.That is "The American Songbook"  swing tunes . It resonates when it hears "Sweet Georgia"  or Lady be Good" It is bland when I play 2nd violin in our local small orchestra on minor "classics". Probably because I seldom practice them. .But it's mine and it "knows" my favourites' Alan S.  Golden Bay  N.Z.


From Danielle Gomez
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 9:28 AM

 When I was shopping for violas several years ago I ended up buying one that was not only new (7 years old) but cheaper than the other, much older, violas I tested.  I simply liked the sound better.  My primary violin is 130 something years old and I had fully planned on spending far more than I actually did on my viola purchase.  I guess one never knows.

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 10:11 AM

My primary violin is currently my only violin (due to problems I had with a newly-purchased Florea that's going back to the store).  It's American-made, and although I haven't been able to pin down its exact age, knowing who the original owner was puts it at a little over 100 years old.  It has "Conservatory Violin" stamped into the back of the scroll, so it was always considered a student-level violin.  It has a rather "robust" voice (putting it politely); I have yet to determine whether that's just its nature, or if my own inexperience hasn't been able to bring out subtleties that it's capable of.  Sometime I'd love to have a more experienced violinist play it so I can hear how it's supposed to sound!

UPDATE (2/20/10):  Since my initial post, things have taken a decided turn for the better!!  I returned the defective Florea to the store, and now have a beautiful German-made Bellafina that was made in 2004.  Wonderful "voice", even in the hands of a beginner!  I have a bow upgrade on order, so I'm looking forward to hearing the improvement that will make when it arrives.

I took my older violin to a local -- outstanding! -- luthier.  He made a few relatively minor (maybe not "minor", but definitely quick!) adjustments, and I can't believe the difference it's made.  This violin used to sound somewhat coarse, but the adjustments have mellowed and sweetened the sound immeasureably!  Also, my luthier thinks the violin is German, not American-made as I'd originally thought.  There was apparently a lot of importation of German-made violins for the student market back in the late 1800's and early 1900's.   

From Robert Lundquist
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 12:36 PM

I have a Grand Gerard violin.  I am told it is French, but not sure.  If anyone has a label inside their violin that says "Grand Gerard" please let me know.  I bought it for $150 when I was 12 and have loved it and will never part with it but I also made several violins and I play my 3rd violin because it just sounds great.  I copied the thicknesses of a Stad, made certain areas around 2 centimeters thick or less, put a very light coat of horse glue solution inside the back and front to give it some strength taken away by being so thin. Strad did this.  But, the sound is good (workmanship not perfect).  I am looking for the perfect back with all of the maple stripes to use for my next violin.  The wood is so difficult to remove (almost like iron) but I think that is a big factor with a Strad's sound.  Strad could make the back so thin because of this strength of the wood heavily endowed with  (can't think now what they are called) but, you know, the stripes that make the wood look so good.

From Michael Divino
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 1:43 PM

 New born because the violin I own was made in 2001???? The violin I use is twenty years old, Erich Werner.

From Deborah McCann
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 2:18 PM

My current, and most likely my last prime use instrument, is a  John Paul Lucas, 2006, Salt Lake City, UT.  It is the most like my Guadanini 1856 in sound and playabilty of any instrment that I have had since I sold the Guad.  A sweet, yet full sounding instrument that  I look forward to each day.

From Laure Miller
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 3:49 PM

My son's violin is a Nipon made in the 1920's.

From Barry Nelson
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 4:22 PM

Mines a 2008 German, she's still a baby

From Matt Peebles
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 5:24 PM

My primary fiddle is a Caressa & Francais c. 1915

My backup/outdoor instrument is a Doetsch from 2003

Also have a Juzek Master Art viola c. 1950

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 6:24 PM

My violin is a few years old, made in China, and very inexpensive.  I love its tone, but the luthier who sold it to me (who also makes violins) said that because of the type of spruce it was made of, its sound will never improve.  My goal is to find a new violin (old or new), whose tone WILL improve with age.

From Pamela Schulz
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 6:37 PM

My violin is an old, unlabeled aging Mittenwald that my luthier told me was made sometime in the mid to late 1800's.  It has quite a bit of wear, many repaired cracks, and looks rather battered from the old bad cases that were inflicted on it.  It sounds great on the G & D string (big, mellow sound), but it doesn't do the higher register that well. 

From Wiebke Nazareth
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 7:04 PM

 My daughter plays a violin made in 2001 by Martin Schwalb, Vienna, Austria. She loves it. She recently was offered to play one of the "great" instruments and declined. She said that would be like cheating on her fiddle...

Her viola is a couple of years older, made by Andrea Masurat, Lübeck, Germany. It turns out, Andrea Masurat and Martin Schwalb were classmates at the famous Mittenwald school for luthiers... must have been a great class!

From Mayra Calvani
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 9:09 PM

Fascinating subject. Thanks for sharing, Laurie.

From Dimitris Avramidis
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 9:53 PM

 My primary violin is "labeled" inside with this text "Nicolas d'aine A ville de Cremone. I don't know the year which it is made exactly.

My secondary violin is a bohemian violin labeled inside " Richard Gareis 1905"

From Sara Richards
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 11:54 PM

 My viola is an unlabelled French c. 1900... So I've been told :)  I love her!  My violin previously was a Jay Haide but I sold it because I play it rarely.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on February 1, 2010 at 12:17 AM

Johannes was born in 1784 in The Hague, Holland, and I'm very pleased with him this evening as he played beautifully in Mahler's 1st Symphony.   Sometimes I have had this really weird feeling - I can't begin to describe it - that "he" has played a particular piece in his past, many years before I became his violinist, and this was most definitely one of these occasions.  I've never played another violin that has given me that strange sensation.   It is almost as if the instrument could play the music by himself...

Charles, my French violin (who is currently sulking in his case) was apparently made around the 1900s.

From Margaret Mehl
Posted on February 1, 2010 at 2:31 AM

Konrad Kohlert 2008

For over 30 years I played a Markneukirchen violin, probably built around 1920 by Unnamed for Schuster (whose label is in the fiddle, but he was the merchant, not the maker). Although it was as good as you can expect from that type of instrument, I have to say that practically every workshop or master instrument I tried sounded like a significant improvement.

Having said that, I am very happy with my two-year-old. From the start it seemed to have a `personality` which set it off from the other fiddles I tried. Recently, I proudly presented it to my former violin teacher, who said I should work harder to play it in properly (has anybody any good hints on this?), but that it sounded like a good instrument. And there is something wonderful about playing an instrument no one else has played before...


From Annette Brower
Posted on February 1, 2010 at 2:41 AM

The label says 1872 but I was told by a reliable source that the label is fictitious and may have actually been made in the 1950's. 

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on February 1, 2010 at 4:53 AM

You've touched a subject close to my heart.  My #1 violin was made in Germany around 1900.  It belonged to my teacher before it belonged to me.  It is very special.  I have two other violins made at about the same time, one in Germany and one in France.  They are very good, but they don't have the personality of my primary violin.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 1, 2010 at 5:23 PM

I have had 10 experts give me 11 opinions over the years (one changed his opinion when I took the violin to him about 15 years after getting a first opinion).  I got it in 1966.  It has a Bailly label, but it is possible that the label was lifted from another violin because the edges are not even.  One expert thought it was a Bailly.  A couple of experts have thought it might be a Bailly, although it is larger than the normal Bailly.  Generally, experts have concluded that it was either a French violin or a German trade violin.  In those cases, the experts have not been able to tell me who the actual maker was.  The most recent date I have received is 1940s French.  Others have said 1920s or 19th century.  Who knows?  I love it but am a touch frustrated not to be able to pin it down.

From Margaret Lee
Posted on February 1, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Not until my second time around with the violin did we realize the worth of buying a better instrument-- but we rushed.  We bought a violin that is marked "Colin-Mezin fils," late 1800s. I didn't know about then--I would have done better to get some advice before the purchase. Anyway, I'm fine with it, and I'm not the type who thinks about selling things and making money. Will take this young vs old instrument issue into account when we consdier buying a violin for my daughter. She's playing on my husband's very old (late 1700s?) violin.

From Marcos Kreutzer
Posted on February 2, 2010 at 12:45 AM

Johann Christian Ficker , circa 1720

From Annie Girard
Posted on February 2, 2010 at 9:12 AM

To all of you who are curious about the history of your French violin, that was most probably made in Mirecourt:  here is an incredible site, from a very renowned expert violinmaker, Roland Terrier,  an authority on Mirecourt's 4 centuries of violinmaking.

Besides telling the history of Mirecourt and its violinmakers, he has reproduced an incredible number of old catalogs  on his site, and the wealth of information is constantly growing. He is a very nice gentleman, I have emailed him a couple of times and he was very kind in his replies. He even offers to confirm the origin of a violin if you send him pictures, and can do authentification and appraisal. His site is totally in French, though, except for an English version of his menu. It's a bit tougher on those who don't speak the language,  but the pictures and reproductions of catalogs speak for themselves. It is the best site I know for the knowledge of History and identification of violins.

What an incredible amount of information! Many kudos and thanks to him!

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