To 'tique or not to 'tique? That is the question!

October 25, 2006 at 04:43 AM · Whether 'tis nobler to stay with that which wast - or to take arms (keys, etc.) againts a sea of varnish, and by opposing, end that newness!

OK - enough of my cutsie psudo-Shakespeare! At least since the 19th century some makers have made new violins look old with varying degrees of success. Today some makers only make fresh work, some only antiqued, and some both. So, friends, Romans and countrymen (-there I go again!-) what is YOUR preference?

Replies (88)

October 25, 2006 at 09:09 AM · New-looking, but if I was a concertizing pro I'd want antiqued and I'd tell everybody it was the Baron Le Chrysler Stradivarius.

October 25, 2006 at 12:19 PM · I like your pseudo-Shakespeare!

The Strads with the highest estimated value look almost new.

Here's a picture of the Messiah Strad, which would probably set an all-time record if ever sold.

Messiah Strad

As a rule, historical instruments with the least wear are most highly valued by connoisseurs, all other things being equal.

Just food for thought.

October 25, 2006 at 02:13 PM · My preference depends on the maker (for example, I think David Burgess' instruments are beautiful just as they are... I like Frank Ravitan's rather artistic approach to patina, and there are a several makers who make "copies" that I find very fine... etc. On the other hand, there are makers who's distressing I find forced or tacky... and some who I think may use it to cover less than careful work...). BTW: I find a bad antiquing job on an instrument as ugly as a bad "straight" varnish job...

From my experience, the market has a stronger appetite for distressed instruments (by a good %), so it's probably a bit more difficult for a maker to establish themselves if they do "straight" instruments... I have a feeling that at least some of the reason for this is due to an image thing (players who feel that having an instrument that looks old is preferable to having one that looks new) rather than just a taste thing (at least based on artistic or performance criteria), but maybe I'm being unfair? I must say that I have seen a player pass up a nice looking, great sounding "straight" instrument for an "antiqued" instrument that I was not as pleased with on more than one occasion.

I know several makers who have established themselves with distressed instruments that would enjoy the opportunity to make straight instruments (at least occasionally). Some makers make and sell both.

In the end, for whatever are the reasons, it's probably good that players have choices... I’d hope makers make what they feel shows off their work, and tastes, best within the confines of what is accepted on the market... and maybe even push the envelope a little... but I know it doesn’t always work that way.

October 25, 2006 at 02:07 PM · I personally prefer new looking instruments. This way you really see who is a good maker and who is not. A well made instrument will be beautiful without fake wear.

As mentioned above the market prefers older violins that are mint. The more mint they look the higher price.

I also noticed that new instruments that are antiqued can look very nice when new. What then happens is that the natural wear comes on top of the artificial one. These two kinds of wear do not look the same and the result is often quite awfull to look at.

October 25, 2006 at 02:15 PM · "What then happens is that the natural wear comes on top of the artificial one. These two kinds of wear do not look the same and the result is often quite awfull to look at."

Actually, on instruments on which the antiquing is rather convincing and the instrument is well maintiained, I have not found this to be the case. You can use Vuillaumes as a reference point, if you wish. A poorly maintained instrument can end up looking awful no matter how it starts out.

October 25, 2006 at 10:56 PM · Oh my - I see that the Messiah has had a Second Coming! That'll teach me to be an unbeliever! But seriously, David, before going on topic, I'd like to reiterate a question that I'd asked toward the end of that thread, which may have gotten lost in the shuffle. I think it may prove a cautionary tale to owners of all violins, new and old. I think you mentioned a Strad that looked good for a long time, and then after 30(?) years of one particular ownership, was barely recognizeable. What factors especially contributed to its decline? Was it amenable to restoration?

Now my two cents on topic. I love good violins, old, new, and inbetween. I currently own 9 violins. (Some are for sale, he said in a regretable lapse of self-promotion.) One is a 19th cent. French. The rest are all pretty new. Most of the time I've held more of a purist view, preferring a new violin to look like what it is. I can be charmed by a beautifully made piece of fresh work, as well as enchanted by a well-preserved but just time-worn enough old instrument. I'm also well-aware that there are degrees of antiquing, but for this thread I'm especially thinking about very antiqued instruments. I wouldn't reject one on those grounds, but for me usualy it's been "OK, here we go again." I read that even that most successful of antiquing copyists, (who also makes fresh work) Samuel Zsygmundtovics(sp.??) said that surveying a room full of del Gesu copies reminded him of being in a room full of Elvis impersonators!

Then came the Hellier Strad. Rather, a wonderful antiqued copy of the Hellier, that I acquired about a year and a half ago. It's 1st class Chinese work - which today, means 1st class, period - but not worth big bucks. First and foremost it has a beautiful, complex quality, along with great cutting edge and brilliant projection - a real solo fiddle, and my favorite. But this topic is mainly about appearance. It would not fool any connoisseur, but it's really beautiful, with plausible antiquing that is achieved with few nicks, and very little ground-in dirt - something I particularly don't like. So I make an exception for that one! Yet, I'm currently comissioning a violin from Ed Maday who does both, and asked him not to do any antiquing at all. Let time and use, along with good care on my part, take their course.

October 25, 2006 at 11:35 PM · Raphael;

Cute one about the "second coming". : )

Sorry about not answering your question in the other thread. I was hoping to side-step it, because I wanted to avoid saying anything about the person who was using it.

Briefly, it just got a lot of use, with everything that entails. Some people also happen to have a perspiration chemistry which reacts strongly with varnish.

This fiddle started in very nice condition, so the change was quite noticeable. If something is already severly degraded and most of the original varnish is missing, the same use would have produced a less noticable change.

Your question about restoration? Sure, any kind of damage can be fixed. But "fixed" isn't the same as "original". That's what's great about fiddles like the Messiah. We can actually see what the maker did, intead of seeing what some repairman has imposed upon it.

October 26, 2006 at 12:25 AM · Interesting thread..........

I must say that I have come to really love clean instruments rather than antiqued.

Antiqued instruments, and some can be really superb no doubt, are still frozen in time. As opposed to a normal beautiful instrument.

As for the Chinese Hellier copies, I find them extremely unpleasant.

They belittle the whole point of the original.

It is same for the chinese knock-offs of Rollex, Christain Dior, louis vuitton, chloe, fendi etc. etc. etc.

No matter how you slice it, to be original, is the name of the game.

Even Vuillaume, despite all of the copying, managed to stay original and showed his personality no matter what. Just look how he affected the greatest bow makers.

October 26, 2006 at 02:46 AM · You haven't seen this one, Gennady. I've seen the original behind glass some years ago at the Smithsonian. I think for my tastes it is the most beautiful violin I've seen in person. I don't think what I have belittles it; it pays homage to it. It's really careful work, yet it breathes. Very few name makers could do better. The same maker from whom I've comissioned a fresh instrument thinks this one is gorgeous, as well as great sounding. He didn't sell it to me, btw. All he did was cut a bridge for it. Chinese makers today are winning prizes at VSA and at Cremona competitions, some with antiquing, some with fresh work. But as I've said, I usually prefer fresh work. And I also, all things being equal, will respect an original model - although my commission is for a del Gesu model I admire - the Lord Wilton. Speaking of homage, at the same time, someone once said that even one copy or reproduction diminishes the original just a little. I don't remember where I read it. It could have been referring to a painting as well, as Art is another subject dear to me. I think there's something to that. Before there were any copies or reproductions there was only this violin or that painting. At the same time each object has its own existence and, eventually, history.

Speaking of competitions, I've been noticing a lot more antiqued instruments among VSA winners. I wonder if it poses any difficulties to judge these alongside fresh work - in an apples and oranges sort of way.

October 26, 2006 at 02:41 AM · "Speaking of competitions, I've been noticing a lot more antiqued instruments among VSA winners. I wonder if it poses any difficulties to judge these alongside fresh work - in an apples and oranges sort of way."

David Burgess would probably be the best participant here to answer that question.

October 26, 2006 at 02:47 AM · I know!

October 26, 2006 at 03:06 AM · Greetings,

Isued to own a good Hesketh Guarneri copy with the lable reading `Rough and Irregular like original.` Frankly it added nothing to the isnturment. For me, a good violin just leaps at you. There is soemthign`s like a catch in the throat. and it makes no difference that it is in pristine modern state. This also comes across in photos a lot of the time,



October 26, 2006 at 03:21 AM · Raphael,

Trust me, I know the work of the best Chinese makers, and I was at the last VSA in Portland.

The Chinese examples that I have seen of the Hellier just look rather cheap to me. Sorry that is my take on it.

The main problem with their manufacture these days, is that you don't really know if it is the maker or one of the other 10 makers in his shop that made the scroll, the top plate, the back plate, the ribs etc. etc. etc.

You see what I'm sayin'?

October 26, 2006 at 03:47 AM · I know or assume that it was not made by one person, which is one of the reasons I could so easily afford it. And this is also true of some good 19th cent. Mirecourt violins, isn't it? But it's a honey of a fiddle. Another very strong and knowledgeable violinist, who had studied with Heifetz, assisted Rosand, and whose large collection includes a Guadagnini, made me two offers for it in one gig! We can agree to disagree on this one. "De gustabus non disputatum est"

October 26, 2006 at 03:47 AM · I know or assume that it was not made by one person, which is one of the reasons I could so easily afford it. And this is also true of some good 19th cent. Mirecourt violins, isn't it? But it's a honey of a fiddle. Another very strong and knowledgeable violinist, who had studied with Heifetz, assisted Rosand, and whose large collection includes a Guadagnini, made me two offers for it in one gig! We can agree to disagree on this one. "De gustabus non disputatum est"

October 26, 2006 at 03:48 AM · I don't know why it posted twice. Sorry!

October 26, 2006 at 04:15 AM · __it happens!

October 26, 2006 at 04:28 AM · Greetings,

it would be nice if the second version could be the antique one,



October 26, 2006 at 04:35 AM · Raphael,

The bottom line is, I also do not care for their unethical business practices. That also goes beyong the violin trade.........not to mention the political ramifications of their "diplomacies".

Ex: Chinese Troopers Shooting Fleeing Tibetans (Video) now available on

October 26, 2006 at 06:05 AM · Of course. Feng Jiang and his brother have a lot to do with Chinese foreign policy. If that is so, you must have a great deal of trouble sleeping at night in the good ol' US of A.

This isn't supposed to get political, but anyways.

Antiquing certainly does sell. I can tell you that from calling many different makers over the past few weeks, many of them are relieved, almost intrigued that someone would want a clean instrument. I'm not going to lie, I think a beautifully antiqued instrument is such an incredible thing to behold, especially when done by someone like Mr. Alf, or Mr. Boreman. This isn't just a way to sell violins, it's a respect and admiration for what is undoubtedly one of man's most beautiful creations.

A lot of modern italians are very plain looking to me... makers like Bisiach and Poggi to my untrained eye use very "boring" wood. A lot of the new makers have this candy apple finish which to me looks terrible. So yes, I think my Gadda sounded the best of the lot when I bought it, but it's a nice looking violin and I still like looking at it a year after buying it. Too bad it's about to go out the door.

In the end, buy what makes you happy. There are certainly some people who think it's cheesy or tacky, but whatever. It's for you, right?

October 26, 2006 at 09:07 AM · From Jeffrey Holmes

""Speaking of competitions, I've been noticing a lot more antiqued instruments among VSA winners. I wonder if it poses any difficulties to judge these alongside fresh work - in an apples and oranges sort of way.""

"David Burgess would probably be the best participant here to answer that question."

The Cremona Competition doesn't allow antiqued instruments, I guess because they're trying to stay true to the tradition of 17th and 18th century making, and Cremonese making.

The VSA Competition does.

Yes, it's a challenge knowing how to judge antiqued instruments. Do you judge them as original work and look for a personal style? Do you see how well they captured the "flavor" or a particular historical maker? Or if it's obviously a copy of a specific instrument, to you look at how faithfully it was reproduced? The quality of the antiquing will always be a major factor. It's difficult to do convincingly.

I think the reason more antiqued instruments are winning VSA competitions is that more are being made, so the ratio of what the judges have to consider has changed. Why? Many reasons:

I think it's easier to copy a known successful instrument than to come up with a successful personal style. It's hard to come up with a varnish that looks good if not antiqued (there's much more leeway if it's going to be distressed).

Many buyers won't consider a new looking instrument. After all, most of the time we've been shown a great instrument, it's most obvious feature was that it looked old, and this sticks in our memory. We've been conditioned in a way. It probably also ties into the fantasy we all have about owning one of the "greats".

Vuillaume was quite a marketer, and was one of the first high-end makers to capitalize on these things successfully. It's interesting that the anitquing he did was much more reserved than what we usually see today, because the instruments he was copying were in much better condition in his era.

Pieter Viljoen mentioned that some makers he's contacted expressed relief that he might be interested in a clean instrument. I often run into this sentiment as well. Many or most of the copyists I've talked to would like to move on.

The following is a quote from a well-known maker of antiqued instruments, contemplating the future of making:

"Where would the world of fine art and literature be today if most of the painters since Leonardo and many of the poets since Shakespeare had limited themselves to recreating copies, in ever finer detail, of the Mona Lisa or Hamlet . . . why are we still copying?"

At one time, antiquing well was a bit unusual, and a way to make ones work distinctive. Now that a lot of decent factory instruments are starting to go that route (and doing a much better job than some of cheap instruments from the past with their "scored in" artificial cracks etc.), I think many high-end makers are looking for a new way to be distinctive, and considering doing what they may have wanted to do all along.

October 26, 2006 at 12:30 PM · Thanks David! Now I'm put in mind of another question (to David and/or one and all). I'm thinking of issues of restorartion vs. conservation. As I understand it, with conservation, you take the violin pretty much as it is, do whatever repairs it absolutely needs, and then preserve it as you found it for as long as possible. With restoration, you take a more aggressive approach in order to restore an instrument to how it (may have?) looked prior to years of accumulated dirt, french polish etc. I personaly don't like the look of lots of ground-in dirt in an old violin and all the more so in a copy. But a bit of dirt accumulated in nicks can add up to a certain charm. I've heard that there is more of a trend today to clean classic instruments more than in the past. But at what point do we go too far, and remove some of the charm and history, along with the dirty "bath water"? My guess would be that there can't be one exact point to suit everybody. In the Art world there was a major project not long ago to thoroughly clean and restore the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo. It ended up looking as fresh as the day it was painted - and many were unhappy with the results, calling the effect 'cartoon-like'.

October 26, 2006 at 03:35 PM · The Sistine Chapel restoration shocked a lot of people, didn't it?

With what we're exposed to today, many people have forgotten that much art from the past used brilliant, vivid colors, including the work of Stradivari. Think what they looked like when new, before the wood became darker with age and the varnish oxidized or faded!

It's also shocking to see Greek statues painted in their original bright colors!

I don't know if I'm prepared to make a strong distinction between restoration and conservation.

In the violin world, these two things are merging, with restorers thinking more and more like conservators. It used to be common to replace damaged parts or areas of instruments with new parts, slap on some new varnish etc., but the trend more and more is to consider this an act of vandalism. A messed up or broken original part usually shows much more of the makers intent than does a replacement part or a repair.

This move in the direction of convervation is sometimes at odds with the practical requirements of musicians. For instance, if I were to repair a crack for a museum (and I'd only do this to keep damage from spreading), I'd glue it with a glue which can be easily undone and removed in the future, and I wouldn't dream of retouching the varnish in an attempt to make the crack disappear. On an instrument that a musician uses though, a repaired crack needs to be protected, and musicians are accustomed to a good repairman being able to make the crack disappear. I'm not sure how all this will shake out in the future.

Maybe Jeffrey Holmes can add some about current practices, since I'm not really in the repair business any more.

October 26, 2006 at 02:52 PM · Ok, its hard for me to read all the "english", but I understand the most.

For me as a Violinmaker I think also as a Businessman. I make the Instruments as the customers like to order. New-look, antiqued or anywhere between like here And I am a little bid proud to say "sorry, no repair or restauration work".


October 26, 2006 at 03:55 PM · Restoration/conservation. Big subject... which I don't have time to write a response that I would feel was complete or that the question deserves... So I'll just say that , based on my experiences, I agree with David. The trend is to lean more towards conservative approaches these days (avoiding things like "French polish", excessive touching in, inlay patches where not absolutely required, replacing parts, invasive techniques, etc.).

There is certainly a departure from what one would consider "pure" conservation when speaking of instruments that are used on a regular, or daily, basis. I've done work on both sides of the fence... but it is different sides of the SAME fence.

As concerns "sins" of the past (over-coating, polish, etc.); When appropriate, if an instrument will be in my care for an extended period (visiting me on a regular basis), I use the opportunity to work slowly... over a period of time, to reduce or eliminate the effects of past work that has left is mark (so to speak) rather than attempting to "right all wrongs" at one sitting (and possibly distress the original finish). Cleaning of the varnish is an operation/procedure/technique that has benefited from good information shared by conservators, curators and restorers over the past decade or so, I believe.

Here is a quote from a paper called "Considerations for the Ethical Conservation of Historic Musical Instruments" by John Sinclair Willis (who I believe restores organs in the UK) that I find interesting.

"The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) has a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, perhaps the most relevant of which are:

Respect for the "aesthetic, historic, and physical integrity of the object"

that "although circumstances may limit the extent of treatment, the quality of the treatment should never be governed by the quality or value of the object"

that one "avoid the use of techniques, the results of which cannot be undone if that should become desirable"

that "a conservator may supply little or much restoration, according to a firm previous understanding with the owner or custodian" but that he may not modify "the known character of the original"

that a "written report (supplemented with photographs) detailing the object's condition, the proposed treatment, and the actual materials and methods used in the treatment be made and provided to the owner."

On the basis of the above, conservators of musical instruments could reasonably work to the following guidelines:

No historical object should be restored to a state of functional operation unless there is a reasonable prospect that the result will meet with the minimum standard of its original maker, or of a competent historical user, and that it will be properly maintained thereafter."

October 26, 2006 at 04:03 PM · Why is Ann Arbor such a hotbed of violinmaking?

Do Jeffrey and David see each other around town?

Very interesting and informative stuff from both of you.

October 26, 2006 at 04:39 PM · "(1)Why is Ann Arbor such a hotbed of violinmaking?

(2)Do Jeffrey and David see each other around town?

(3)Very interesting and informative stuff from both of you."

1) Must be something in the water... :-) Actually, the opportunity to work with/for David was the reason I moved here (it doesn't seem like it unless I really think about it, but that was over 20 years ago now).

2) Yes.

3) Thank you!

October 26, 2006 at 04:42 PM · Fascinating stuff - thanks! BTW, I visited Ann Arbor a couple of times years ago on tour with an orchestra. It's a very nice town! I'd sure love it, though, if a VSA convention/competition or two would be held in the New York City area, where I live. Lots of violin afficionados out here!


October 26, 2006 at 05:09 PM · "Do Jeffrey and David see each other around town?"

They live in the same bunkhouse at the violin ranch.

But seriously, here's how it works in this kind of art: Someone becomes well-known. Disciples move there who in turn become well-known and it snowballs. Here's how woodworking works: A barefoot guy wearing beads shows up and gets into your tools and stash. Put the three together and that's what happened. Most often the barefoot guy is a burned out Ph.D. in mathematics, in my experience.

October 26, 2006 at 06:03 PM · i greatly prefer new instruments to antiqued ones. to my way of thinking, instruments become antiqued by players who do not take care of them.

why anyone would make a raggedy copy of a guad, gesu, or strad is beyond me. i guess buyers want to own an instrument that has been well-played-on without the bother of actually, you know, practicing and stuff. *smh* everything is for sale these days...

October 26, 2006 at 07:47 PM · What is more appealing? Josh or Hilary or antiqued players, with a bit of ground in dirt and nicks in strategic places?

October 26, 2006 at 07:51 PM · Why doesn't anybody do a sunburst pattern with white and black binding, a-la Gibson F-5 mandolin?:-)

October 26, 2006 at 09:40 PM · I don't really know much of what you all are talking about, but I still think it's fascinating.

I've thought sometimes about training to be a luthier after I get my B.M. I don't know if I really have the patience, but I love string instruments so much.

By the way - what do you all think of the antiquing on this instrument: ? It's my roommate's viola, and it was made by Pablo Alfaro in 2005 (it's a copy of a Gasparo da Salo). She actually isn't too happy with the sound, but maybe it's because it's so new and it just needs more time to open up. The wood is kind of odd.

October 26, 2006 at 10:26 PM · "why doesn't anybody do a sunburst pattern with white and black binding, a-la Gibson F-5 mandolin?:-)"

I don't think a black & white binding was employed, but I believe L. Lanaro did produce some violins with a "sunburst" pattern while he worked in S. America.

October 27, 2006 at 02:53 AM · From Amanda Southern

"By the way - what do you all think of the antiquing on this instrument? It's my roommate's viola, and it was made by Pablo Alfaro in 2005."

Pablo is of Mexican origin, worked in a shop in Salt Lake City, and received training on the side from Gary Vessel who is a pretty darned good copyist from what I've seen.

I knew Pablo because he attended my VSA/Oberlin workshop for a number of years.

Pablo is a very talented and witty guy, but unfortunately I heard he's left violin making to return to violin performance. Before leaving the making/repair business, he most recently worked for Williams Gengakki in Atlanta. Sorry to see him go.

I can't tell much from the pictures, but the instruments I've seen in person were quite nice.

October 27, 2006 at 05:01 PM · Pieter,

I was speaking from experience and therefore stated that I do not care for their unethical business practices. And that includes the makers you mentioned.

Foreign policy was just an afterthought..........

October 27, 2006 at 06:23 PM · Gennady, I hope you can appreciate that saying that about Feng Jiang, a very well respected person in the music community is highly libelous. I imagine you have excellent reasons for saying that about him.

In any case, I'm not going to argue. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but certain opinions can get one served.

October 27, 2006 at 06:55 PM · Gennady, i read your exchange with pieter with some interest.

your labelling of the chinese business practice (mainland china) is essentially accurate, which is my opinion based on my experience, not from media or second/third hand knowledge.

you do need to exercise some caution when referring to the chinese business practice as a whole and specific violin makers with chinese names. you may need to treat each maker individually and draw a distinction between makers who are based in china and potentially employing your so called chinese business practice and those who are now based in the United States of America.

October 27, 2006 at 09:08 PM · "I was speaking from experience and therefore stated that I do not care for their unethical business practices. And that includes the makers you mentioned."

Ummm.... I guess I need to ask you to explain this Gennady? What experience? I'm confused... and having trouble connecting the Chinese gov't. policy with individual craftsmen... one of which lives here with his entire family (and has for years).

October 27, 2006 at 10:07 PM · Pieter,

As I said, making a personal observation from past experience is quite different from what you are insinuating. Feng would know very well what I am talking about.


We can talk about it privately if you wish.

Pointing out foreign policy as an afterthought on, does not need to be connected to music or violin making.

As we see from so many posts by many here (on this site)including Pieter, who sometimes sway very far from discussing violin, music and anything related.

October 27, 2006 at 10:30 PM · cast ye the first stone...

October 27, 2006 at 10:45 PM · now here is a man with an open can feel the breeze from here :) LOL

October 27, 2006 at 11:43 PM · if my head is empty then I cannot even imagine what a lot of other people must be.

October 28, 2006 at 01:40 AM · Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes? :) LOL

BTW, I don't know what examples you have seen by Poggi, but the ones I have seen, including those owned by Rosand, are superb.

And the C. Bisiach I own, has a superb one piece back and is quite stunning in every way.

October 28, 2006 at 02:27 AM · It seems to me that antiquing is done to deceive. I don't think it gives the violin any special accoustic properties. If it did the old masters would have dragged their new violins in the dirt before selling them. Perhaps antiqued violins are a fashion statement much as prewashed jeans are. It is one thing for a fine instrument to be distressed over time by the artists who loved and played on them and another for someone to make a new violin look like it had a rich history. I think there is an aesthetic dishonesty in antiquing anything.

October 28, 2006 at 04:54 AM · I don't think anyone, at least in this thread, suggested that antiqued instruments have superior accoustic properties.

Michael, I'm not sure I'd be so bold as to ascribe motives across the board, unsavory or otherwise... Some makers like to copy what they see. Simple as that. Others (in the past and in the present) are cunning. Others are responding to the market (if you were in the jean market, you might be tempted to offer pre-washed jeans to keep up with your payroll). Some may not be capable of making a convincing straight instrument. Some are commissioned to copy specific instruments by the owners of the original. There are also a few makers who ad patina in an interesting, personal and artistic way (Frank Ravatin, for example) that is certainly not meant to deceive.

David mentioned that there's more leeway, in terms of varnishing, if the instrument is going to be distressed. I agree, in general, but I think that there is a significant difference between distressing a model and copying a specific instrument (wood, varnish, warts and all). Convincing copy work is a skill that not all makers are capable of. I think it's fair to say that there are some makers, who make (what I think is) a very nice full varnished instrument, that have attempted (or do attempt) copies, or distressed finishes, without terribly good results.

October 28, 2006 at 05:37 AM · I prefer a straight finish on new instruments. But I can see why others might prefer antique'ing, like distressed jeans. It is harder to varnish a straight finish aesthetically. The VSA winning Luca Salvadori I saw has a straight finish, but if you hold it to the light, the varnish looks like it is applied in little facets (fish scales)? I can't describe it well and have no clue how that is done. But it is very artistically done. No antiqueing so all has to be perfectly done. One brush stroke wrong and you'll lose the design.

October 28, 2006 at 01:12 PM · I am not blaming violin makers for giving custormers what they want or questioning the skill that it takes to make an antiqued violin look credible. I just find it wierd and tacky that anyone would want to have this done. Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think brass players would buy a new instrument and pay more for it to look dented, scratched and oxidized. The craftmenship and varnish on new violins can be quite beautiful and creative and there are few aesthetic reasons that I can think of to make it look like an antique. Perhaps someone can explain why a violinist would want his new violin to look old. The only logical explanation I heard was that some famous violinsts with famous violins don't always feel comfortable taking out their 5 million dollar fiddles, so they use their double instead. If the double is convincing other violinists would likely commision fiddles from the copiest wanting to play on a similar violin.

October 28, 2006 at 02:29 PM · This sort of discussion comes up on a fairly regular basis and having argued my own view point (which has changed several times over the last twenty five years) the only conclusion I have come to is thank goodness there is as much diversity in the taste of musicians as there is in the output of violin makers.

A while ago on another online forum someone was expressing the opinion that any kind of copying of classical Italian violins was just looking backwards and not real violin making, and we should all be designing and making our own models if we wanted to call ourselves real violin makers , I got pissed off and wrote this down

“Is copying wrong or somehow artistically heretical? Having heard this age old argument being flogged to death for some twenty years since I became involved in violin making, I am now prompted to put down some ideas.

Firstly the definition of a copy is pretty vague. If we mean the way the varnish and wood work are finished, there are some compelling arguments in favour of a fully varnished “straight” finish. Interestingly, usually the most vociferous voices against an antique finish are from those who don’t make a living from making. It’s very easy to be idealistic and even sanctimonious if you make your living in another field and make and occasional instrument for fun. But the bottom line for any full time maker is to be able to sell what he makes. This means that what we make must not only sound and function extremely well to outperform whatever the customer is comparing it against, but it must also be attractive to that customer.

I have many colleagues earning a good living from making wonderful straight instruments. My own experience to date is that when I produce two identical instruments, same model, same ground, exactly the same varnish, just one lightly antiqued and the other fully varnished, my clients invariably chose the antiqued one. The funny thing is, when given the choice, clients who have expressly ordered a fully varnished instrument will very often end up choosing the lightly antiqued finish.

Now possibly the answer is not to give them the choice, but to try to “educate” musicians. I personally think this attitude is extremely patronising. As a result I build predominantly instruments with a finish which is lightly antiqued.

If, however, the word “copy” is used to refer to the model, then the arguments against become even shakier. All violins produced and sold today are based on the basic principles lain out by the founders of our profession, predominantly Andrea Amati.

No maker of the classical schools ever produced a model so radically different that it could be said not to be just an evolutionary development from what was being made by his for fathers, teachers and colleagues. And the same applies today. I know of no maker making a living who has developed a successful model (both acoustically and commercially) not heavily influenced by the classical Italian school. Trying to be different just for the sake of being different to prove your artistic credentials is not a route I take seriously.

As a maker, the most important thing is to produce consistently fine sounding, fine functioning and attractive tools that musicians want to use. Because of the diversity in taste found amongst musicians, often what is attractive to one is not to another….and thank goodness. This means there is plenty of room for different makers with different approaches to their work to keep different musicians happy.

So for someone to clime up on their moral high chair and pronounce to all around who don’t follow his particular ideal as “wrong” is as unattractive in violin making as it is in any other situation”


October 28, 2006 at 02:56 PM · Mr. Ertz, I must say after looking at your web page your work is amazing. Eventhough I questioned ones motivation for wanting an antiqued violin I can see why they would find your instruments to be very attractive.

October 28, 2006 at 04:07 PM · From Michael Baer;

"Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think brass players would buy a new instrument and pay more for it to look dented, scratched and oxidized."


Strangely, the "antiqued" thing never seems to have caught on with bows either. Why violins and not bows?

But I'm still chuckling over your "pre-washed jeans" comment. :-)

October 28, 2006 at 07:05 PM · "Strangely, the "antiqued" thing never seems to have caught on with bows either. Why violins and not bows?"

Certainly, not nearly to the extent of instruments... but there are aspects that have caught on with bows (the color of the stick, for example... It's easier to sell a bow with the stick darker in color, oxidized looking, that it is to sell one that is "natural". Some players dislike the feel of sharp, clean edged work on the frog... which is usually an indication that the maker is a good one... and some even ask the maker to be tone it down.)... and there are those, present and past, who do produce "copy" bows (I've seen Bazin Tubbs copies with a bit of wear induced... and there are a few, quite dangerous, more modern copyists).

The modern bow being relatively "new" at the time when Strads and Guarneri's were having their necks changed over may have something to do with this as well. A well worn bow is not something that most players find "attractive"... Rather they feel they kind of look used up.

Don't get me wrong in all of this... I am not arguing for or against "straight" or "antiqued". As I mentioned earlier in the thread, what I like depends largely on who is doing it and how it's done.

Neil; nice post.

October 28, 2006 at 07:51 PM · I should note that Neil defies the rule of preferring new looking instruments for me. His last Strad copy was just gorgeous to look at and it sounded terrific. The antiquing was very subtle and tasteful, I was quite a bit jealous of the guy who had ordered it.

October 28, 2006 at 08:31 PM · From neil ertz;

"Now possibly the answer is not to give them the choice, but to try to “educate” musicians. I personally think this attitude is extremely patronising."

Why is that? One can educate without being offensive or conscending.

Musicians educate us. Why should we not return the favor?

October 28, 2006 at 09:36 PM · Antique instruments often have tremendous charm. Perhaps when you look at one you think it's only charming because of what the marks of age "stand for".

But actually those marks of age have inherent interest, the variations in texture and color make old violins richer as objects of esthetic contemplation.

Antiquing is just a decorative art like relief-carving or normal varnishing, the only difference is that it is based on the emulation of wear and tear, so the esthetic standards are different.

But in every other way it is essentially the same--learn the principles, seek to enact them the best way possible, make the result look 'right', and then the market and the connoisseurs take over and evaluate it for everything from accuracy to artistry.

In other words antiquing is not fakery, it is not falsehood, it is just another craft, an 'art form' in the looser sense in which violin-making is one.

One can educate one's customers, one can point out all the subtle beauties on a new instrument, just as one can lead a horse to water.

But if the horse prefers the more fully or obviously-flavored stuff in the other trough you're out of luck. ;-)

October 28, 2006 at 10:43 PM · From Andres Sender;

But if the horse prefers the more fully or obviously-flavored stuff in the other trough you're out of luck. ;-)

Is that why "Cocoa Puffs" outsell "Shredded Wheat"? ;-)

October 29, 2006 at 10:23 PM · It IS true that most, if not all people will find that certain effects of age, use - even siginificant accidents (-I'm thinking now of Greek statues currently without limbs-) to be charming and picturesque. Yet somehow, it doesn't work with other things, such as bows, pianos - to say nothing of cars! I'm also fascinated with more subtle effects that exposure to air, light, daily wiping, etc. can have in maturing and mellowing the appearence of a violin. I think that I've noticed this in some of my own instruments that are fresh work. But living with them on a daily basis, makes it more difficult to tell for sure. I'm wondering if any of the makers here have had their work brought back to them after not seeing them for at least several years, and have noticed such subtle changes.

To go back to the original point of antiquing vs fresh - there's another feeling I forgot to mention having, that I wonder if other people share. (If somebody has already expressed something similar and I missed it, I apologize.) Again, I can admire and enjoy a really convincing antiqued instrument - if it doesn't look too beat up. But one reason that I generally prefer fresh work is maybe a romantic one. A violin that starts fresh is a tabula rasa waiting to have its history gradually etched in it. Through a combination of such subtle factors mentioned above, layers of some trapped dirt and polish, and some real 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' (-again with the Shakespeare?-) an overall patina of age and encodings of history develop that, for me, count for so much more - even if I can only speculate. Is it Bernard Greenhouse' cello that is supposed to bear the boot spur marks of Napoleon when he once tried to play it, as well as some spilled brandy by which princess?

If a fairly young actor is engaged to play an old man in a movie, he may pull it off through a combination of makeup, wigs and his own acting ability. At the end of a shooting day, the makeup, etc. comes off - and the actor hopefully leaves the character on the set. With an antiqued violin, nothing's coming off!

October 30, 2006 at 01:35 AM · the only thing is,an antiqued fiddle is frozen in time.........sort of like Woody Allen in "Sleeper".

October 30, 2006 at 03:50 AM · I wonder what an antiqued violin will look like in about two hundred years. It could be strange and confusing meshing of the patina from use over the fake patina. Will the real patina please stand up.

October 30, 2006 at 06:29 AM · Read the October issue of STRINGS:

Dr. David Fulton talks about the famous Voller copy of one of his famous Del Gesu (you have to guess which one).....he owns both of the fiddles.

And the Voller looks like that Del Gesu did a 100 years ago (according to all data available to him).

The Voller is a copy frozen in time.........

October 30, 2006 at 06:40 AM · I’m not convinced a copy or antiqued instrument has to be frozen in time, certainly some copies I have seen are very much like paint jobs and the natural aging they get in consequent years bares no resemblance to the artificial aging the maker originally made, but a well made copy will carry on aging naturally and if the maker has done a good job it will be verging on impossible to tell where natural aging starts and the original artificial aging ends. …

October 30, 2006 at 11:43 AM · The Voller is a copy frozen in time...if we take out 2 factors one being oxygen two being time.

October 30, 2006 at 11:50 AM · I wonder what an antiqued violin will look like in about two hundred years...

by then it will antique to the point that it will look bland new.

October 30, 2006 at 12:32 PM · I think there is a bit of a misconception that making copies and antiquing the varnish is a relatively new practice, there are quite a few makers who where working close to 200 years ago who where making antiqued instruments, the best known name is most probably J B Vuillaume who from the late 1820’s was making antiqued instruments, but he certainly wasn’t the first to be doing it on a regular basis.

October 30, 2006 at 12:54 PM · Yes. There were such clever makers as John Lott and the Voller brothers.

October 30, 2006 at 04:33 PM · Yes Neil, exactly right.

We have great examples of such fiddles from the past (from around 200 years ago and up).

The point is, the examples we have of such instruments such as Vuillaumes , Voller Bros.etc

are very much frozen in time (for they were artificially) "treated" to look aged etc.

Now ofcourse depending on the current owners, that will either add to its condition or detract. If the instrument receives its share of use and abuse, it can get more beaten up sure, but the general feel of the instrument if it was a copy of something very well known,stays without change since it was painted on (and or etc) to look like the original.

That is what is meant by frozen in time.

As the STRINGS article explains this issue rather articulately by Dr. Fulton (greatest collector of the best instruments).

October 30, 2006 at 04:34 PM · Yes Vuillaumes especially give a fascinating snapshot of the condition of Strads and Guarneris during the mid nineteenth century. Although I think it’s wrong to conclude that they haven’t worn naturally in the intervening 150 plus years, I think it is fair to say that (especially) Vuillaumes varnish was never as fragile as the classical Italian varnishes that he was trying to emulate.

Another thing worth pointing out is that the classic ware patterns found on the classical Italian instruments that some of us try to imitate would not happen to a modern instrument today, the type of cases and the way instruments where held in the seventeenth and eighteenth century is a prime facture in the way these instruments have aged, and my guess is that the varnish was far more fragile during the early part of their life then many modern musicians would consider acceptable.

October 30, 2006 at 04:38 PM · Neil, "frozen in time" is a figure of speech.

Funny enough Dr. Fulton used it to describe the Voller copy of his Del Gesu.

October 30, 2006 at 04:56 PM · straight vs antiqued is a matter of artistic expression driven by different interests or agenda.

one day old varnish is one day older. anything on earth is subject to oxidation, not to mention effects from UV/moisture/contaminants.

1000 years from how, the Messiah will not look the way it is even if no one ever puts a finger on it from now on.

one thing that often freezes in time is our perception based on fallacies.

October 30, 2006 at 04:59 PM · Some Voller violins can be amazing, but they do vary a lot in quality. One of the most amazing copies I have ever seen was a Gagliano copy by the voller brothers that was at an exhibition of copies in Germany back in the early nineties if I remember correctly.

There is a good book about their work that has been brought out by the BVMA a couple of months ago which includes photos of David Fulton’s Voller violin together with the original that he owns.

October 30, 2006 at 06:16 PM · If violins are to be antiqued, I prefer to see this done in the fashion of some of the better preserved instruments.......more along the lines of what Vuillaume was doing.

Going beyond that doesn't add anything for me, only detracts.

Some makers are taking their cues from truly distressed instruments!

One of my pet peeves is makers who copy archings which have become badly distorted with time. These old archings may have reached a state of equilibrium, but when reproduced in new wood, I think they will go down hill quickly. The first impression may be nice, but I don't think it's fair to the purchaser.

October 30, 2006 at 06:33 PM · Yes I would completely agree with that, a lot of the copies and antiquing I get to see I think totally misses the point and sometimes is so over the top that it just give the impression of not being in control………….. were as the best sort of antiquing (in my opinion) gives the impression of being fresh, clean and capturing the very best of a certain makers style without slavishly trying to mimic every bit of distortion and damage that the original inspiration has been subjected to.

October 30, 2006 at 08:03 PM · "Some makers are taking their cues from truly distressed instruments!"

I agree with David's post (and although a commission bench copy may sometimes blurr the lines a little... if those who make bench copies stuck to commissions on only the better preseved fiddles... :-) Well, I don't pay the rent by making bench copies, so it's easy for me to say...), and absolutely agree with his quote above...

October 30, 2006 at 08:56 PM · Hey Neil, that reminds me.

I saw one fiddle that R. Hargrave did, made to look like maybe a 50 year old Guadagnini (was it a Guad, I can't remember). Very conservative, mostly varnish wear.

Very tastey!

October 30, 2006 at 09:19 PM · Al,

That's a rather "Qualudian" statement. What drug of choice are you taking? Just kidding.

Perhaps you are not familiar with some of the techniques Vuillaume applied or Voller or some of the most recent copyists..........?

But what they do is more art than straight varnishing that is applied when one is doing a straight fiddle.

In a straight fiddle, wear & tear happen with use. In antiqued instrument, those elements are replicated with a great many techniques.

So I am not sure what you are arguing........

Perhaps David and Jeff can extrapolate for you?!


October 30, 2006 at 10:31 PM · gennady, i was pointing out a physical phenom that is equally applicable to strads or any other copies of strads. "frozen in time" as you later pointed out is a figure of speech.

October 31, 2006 at 12:47 AM · From Gennady Filimonov

"That's a rather "Qualudian" statement. What drug of choice are you taking?

Perhaps David and Jeff can extrapolate for you?!



I was thinking it was more of a "Cannibian" statement than a "lude" one. :-)

Also reminds me of things Timothy Leary said.

Could possibly be a result of meditating to excess though.

What do you think Jeff?

(Just joking Al. Hope it's OK if we kid around)

October 31, 2006 at 12:59 AM · david burgess joking with me? to gennady i must owe the honor:)

you violin people are beginning to scare me. all that fumes of choice are making me frozen in time.

October 31, 2006 at 01:31 AM · I bet Jim Miller can't stay out of this one! ;-)

October 31, 2006 at 02:02 AM · "What do you think Jeff?"

Timothy Leary's dead, right? An old friend of mine has his old university job... never asked him if he drug enhances or works clean... was Leary a violin maker too? Did he antique? :-)

October 31, 2006 at 03:54 AM · "Mr. Natural ! What does it all mean??"

"Don't mean sheeit..."

October 31, 2006 at 04:01 PM · Oh......I guess we are regressing to that Jim? :)

October 31, 2006 at 04:46 PM · Hi David, I’m fairly sure I know the violin you are thinking of, it is a baroque violin made to look like a 30-50 year old Guad, lots of rich red varnish and just a bit of wear here and there…I have photos of it somewhere. It’s that sort of antiquing and that I find the most exciting, another guy who does lovely work is Martin Bouette, there’s a violin he made I saw years ago at Bears that is Strad based and was made with just the beginnings of wear…it looked fabulous.

October 31, 2006 at 05:03 PM · Would that be a copy of the 1776 Guad he did the mapping on for the Strad poster?

October 31, 2006 at 06:31 PM · "Don't mean sheeit..."

! ! !

My favorite Mr Natural quote! Jim, we may be kindred souls after all.

"Dig yer head."

November 1, 2006 at 05:56 AM · Arggh.....Aaarrgghhh!

Ye better says tis time to ponder over Messiah yonder.......

November 1, 2006 at 07:50 PM · What are some of the methods of antiquing? I read something once telling how to just shade the varnish and it sounded like fun.

Also, regarding the Messiah violin, are there any very detailed photos on the web? I'd like to see what the edges of the top and bottom plates are like. To me that seems like an area where there are big differences between violins.

November 2, 2006 at 03:14 AM · Jim,

Here is a site where you can view pics in BW of the Messiah Strad.

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