Violins by Needham and Janzen

April 12, 2007 at 07:36 AM · Just recently I had the privilege of auditioning one of Vadim Gluzman’s Master Classes in Vancouver BC. He was an excellent teacher- with his intelligent, supportive and humorous style. I even had a chance to examine his Auer Strad closely. Supposedly, the great Russian pedagogue tried Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto on this very fiddle before he made his famed claim that the piece was unplayable. Having listened to Gluzman play live a few times, I have to say that the Auer is one of the greatest Strads exisiting today, both tonally and visually.

The highlight of the master class came when a friend of mine played the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Upon the opening octaves I immediately noticed his violin- it had a warm, colourful, Strad-like ringing sound. As I found out, it’s made by a maker by the name of Hermann Janzen.

So I looked up on the web for his info/bio and we talked on the phone about his works. Surprisingly, he told me that he knows Howard Needham and in fact they compare notes and collaborate.

He offered me a very reasonable price to commission a new instrument, considering the prices some of the comtemporary makers command today. Does any of you know his work/ or have tried his instruments?

Replies (10)

April 14, 2007 at 06:19 PM · Hi Joshua,

Funny that you mention it now, but Hermann and Howard were both at my house a few weeks ago as I tried out various fiddles from both of them. Each, actually, brought three fiddles: Howard had his del Gesu copy, a Strad copy (not the one I'd previously performed upon) as well as another, smaller instrument. As a side note, I should mention that the variability in the size of the instruments seemed to have no direct correlation with the nature of the sound the instruments in question produced. Interesting.

As for Hermann, he had a recently-completed fiddle with a GORGEOUS quilted maple back plate, and two other instruments which, if memory serves, had already been sold. I can't recall their appearance as accurately, but I do remember their sound.

I found all six instruments remarkable. If I had to pin-point a difference it was that I heard more of a turbocharger, an added reserve of power from Needham's instruments. For all three of Howards instruments - including, emphatically, the smaller-dimensioned instrument - I felt as though I could pull out as much sound as I wanted. For Hermann's fiddles, I sensed more of a ceiling in terms of how much raw volume the instruments were willing to put out. But the trade-off was that all three - and especially the quilted maple fiddle - were simply stunning in the subtlety and delicacy of tone they could produce. On Hermann's fiddles, a delicate, sustained nuanced, LIVING pianissimo was not only possible but downright EASY. Plus, the varnish on his tops is distinguishable from Howard's as more glowing, with the grain of the wood somewhat obscured. Howard's tops tend to be a bit more stark, with the grain ultra-clear and the overall look being a bit more matte. Both makers' back plates are beautiful; probably a reaction of the varnish with different wood than that used for the tops.

All these similarities and differences are much more understandable when one considers that Howard and Hermann have studied with the same teacher in recent years, and both say it changed their professional lives. The teacher is a researcher - somewhat obscure to players but not to lutherie scholars - from Colorado who wrote a book on classical violin varnish in the 1980's which was, by all accounts, a watershed work. He's been deciphering the missing elements of the Cremonese system of violin making for the past 30-odd years.

Hopefully, with instruments like those Howard and Hermann are now putting out, it'll give some much-deserved visibility not only to them as outstanding makers, but also to their mentor as someone who can accurately be called a violin-making revolutionary.

April 14, 2007 at 07:57 PM · After hearing such raving reviews about Needham, I must say I rather want to try out one of his instruments...

April 15, 2007 at 04:37 PM · I think this post highlights some important facts about modern makers:

1. There are a great many out there and most are good. Few are not.

2. Some of them are reasonably priced, some are not.

Earlier today I tried a Guarneri model violin from Neil Ertz. He worked on the Guarneri book by Biddulph when he was at Hargraves. He lives 5 min from me, hence he always asks me to drop in to try the latest violin.

The fiddle just had the strings put on the same morning and I was the first to play it. It had a bit of a raw component as usual when things are new but I was surpriced how beautiful the sound was: Nothing nasal or closed, endless reserves and colours right from the start.

Playing through the Tchaikovsky concerto I felt noting holding me back in dynamics or expression. Just sheer joy of playing and a treat for the eye. This is how a modern violin should be!

The morale for me is there is absolutely no reason to go for those high profile modern makers who claim to be the new Stradivarius. The amount of talent is so big that you can find a top violin for a small budget. Great news for violinists: You don't need a second mortgage to get something good!

April 15, 2007 at 05:33 PM · Are Zyg's instruments THAT much better than other moderns or does he just have better marketing?

April 16, 2007 at 01:24 AM · I’ve known Hermann Janzen for four years. The very first impression that struck me upon playing his instruments is that they did not sound like typical :modern” instruments.

I’ve never played a Janzen that has sounded strident of harsh. The best instruments I’ve both tested and performed on have had a soft quality under the ear and have possessed a sound that expanded in

a hall. Also my years as a concertmaster in Europe an especially as leader of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, I was in the enviable position of having heard most of the great players of the second half of the

twentieth century at a very close distance. With few exceptions I was treated to a beautiful warm and shall I say controlled, contained sound. One of the notable exceptions Zukermann, always sounded huge and beautiful.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s I was very fortunate to study with Milstein. His intimate approach to the bow and violin was identical at lessons and in concert. His approach to the string always projected.

Mr. Janzen’s instruments have the playing qualities of great Italian instruments. The instruments are, to borrow a term, “user friendly”, they play easily and yet they are challenging. By this I mean that Janzen’s instruments have depth. The better your execution and the more you seek, the more you find. For this reason I am so grateful to Hermann Janzen for building instruments and sometimes lending his instruments to my students. This makes it possible for me to introduce my students into the more subtle aspects of sound production. For myself, I am about to begin playing a wonderful strad copy from Janzen. I look forward to “meeting” this new violin and to a long time of getting to know and love this creation.

In closing I must add that the art of violin making seems to be making great strides as of late. I am aware of the wonderful research done by Geary Baese. He has somehow gotten to the heart of the matter of violin making. His influence has spread to include both Hermann Janzen and Howard Needham. Their creations are a confirmation of Baese’s ideas and findings.

For the violinst’s world this is indeed a gift. The great Italian creations are more and more out of reach for the younger player. We must also consider the fact that the older violins are going into their retirement years. They are getting past their prime but as all old masters we are happy they are still around to “give” their advice to the new initiates.

April 17, 2007 at 03:05 AM · I played a zgmotiwics many time was very good....but I play Needham in Orange County and I think even better...both really great hard saying which better

cannot do wrong with both the makers....but really think Needham best I play ever

also think Needham many less then zyg....but even same price I think Needham maybe better... very close. Both great!!!!!!

But I has not played great makers in Europe: Greiner, Robin, Dilworth, Chaudiere, Ravatin, Rattray...

anyone has thinking on these makers.

Also did not play Jenzen, but if like Needham must be good

April 18, 2007 at 05:41 AM · Natalie,

It sounds like you have been in the US for a while.

Para govorit horosho po angliski......a mozhet bit ti pretvoryayeshsya chto ti iz Rossiyi? :)

April 17, 2011 at 10:20 PM ·

I have received enquires about my "meeting" a Janzen instrument. Due to time constraints I am not in the position to answer individual enquiries about Hermann Janzen's violins but would like to say the following:

I have played the violin built by Hermann Janzen for four years starting in 2007.  I have performed and given master classes using this instrument in Great Britain, Europe, North America , Taiwan and China.  Throughout this time despite the travel and change of climate ( for example, last summer I went from the mountains of Switzerland to the extreme humidity of Taiwan), the instrument never once failed to remain stable and was always comfortable to play.

I played concerti and chamber concerts  and the instrument never failed me in terms of projection and quality of tone.  Listeners, colleagues and students I happened to be working with often commented very positively on the instrument and asked about the possibility of owning a violin built by Hermann Janzen.


Robert Rozek

April 18, 2011 at 04:17 AM ·

I commented on Hermann's violin before, judging just by recordings, it's at least on par with Greiner in terms of the tone quality. Also solely just listening to recordings, I prefer Hermann over Greiner.

Recording of Hermann's violin.

May 12, 2011 at 01:07 PM ·

Hi everyone, this is my first-ever post, couldn't resist joining in...

My violin was made for me by another of Baese's students: Martin McClean, in Northern Ireland.  It was finished in August last year.  It is amazing.  The clarity, quality and depth of sound are out of this world.  Projection is fantastic.  It really talks!

I can't speak highly enough of it.  If you are in the market for a new fiddle, these really are worth checking out.

Best wishes,


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