Experience with Joseph Hel

January 6, 2008 at 05:12 AM · I am a professional violinist in search of a master instrument. Does anyone have experience with Joseph Hel? Any assessment of current market prices? I would appreciate your support. Will give you the details of the Hel violins I was offered later.

Replies (10)

January 6, 2008 at 06:56 AM · J. Hel violins can be wonderful instruments. As far as value, it really depends on the example you're holding. Not all violins by any maker are created equal. :-)

January 6, 2008 at 02:33 PM · I almost bought a J. Hel violin about 12 years ago. It was worth at that time 40,000. I'm not sure how that would translate now but it was fine instrument without that nasal quality that is prevlant amongst French fiddles.

January 7, 2008 at 02:01 PM · For what it's worth, that nasal quality is curable, but it takes a bit of $$$$ to do. Most French violins of that period have some construction quirks that once removed make for a much better instrument.

January 8, 2008 at 03:42 PM · I agree with Michael.

If 'tweaked' these French violins really work! The quality of Hel's work is very high and at the price they go for are good value when compared like for like with Modern Italians.......



February 14, 2009 at 09:52 AM ·

I've played a Joseph Hel violin for the past 35 years!, as an amateur.  I agree that the sound is a little brutal, although Eudoxa strings help to reduce this.  But it's such a beautifully made instrument (and it was given to me by my old teacher) that I cannot bear to part with it.  My luthier made the comment that, like many French violins, it is made with quite a thick table. He did offer to shave it, but without any guarantee of the result. I declined!

Five years ago I found an old, neglected, Neuner & Horsteiner "factory-built" Mittenwald instrument, for which I paid just 500 GB pounds.  After a little luthier work, it is now my preferred instrument, -  it wants to give off its sound much more sweetly than the Hel and I am playing more and more Baroque music.  However, I may soon change its Zyex strings for something else.

It just goes to show that the monetary value of an instrument  is not necessarily commensurate with its ability to give enjoyment!

February 28, 2010 at 01:11 AM ·

My violin teacher in the late 1950s, Laurence Turner, had a Strad as his main instrument but he also had a Joseph Hel which he used as leader of the Halle Orchestra under Barbirolli.

Laurence said that in some ways he preferred his Hel. I now know what he means as the typical Hel sound is very clear, projects well, is untempremental, and can be easier to play as it speaks instantly and can be therefore more efficiently monitored.

Players usually make their own sound on a good violin and a bright sound can be softened with good bowing and left hand technique, but a small mellow sound will usually come out as forced if the bow is vigourously applied!

Joseph Hel's son Pierre made fine violins. Both Enesco and Szering owned and played on a Pierre Hel.

With the hyping of almost any modern Italian violin over 40 years old to £20-30K sterling I think Hels are very good value by comparison

February 28, 2010 at 02:06 AM ·

Sean, Michael,

What "tweaking" do they need? I have always thought that the French nasal sound was exactly what those makers wanted, based on the nasality of their speech, and singing (listen to Edith Piaf, or Charles Aznavour,.And so, I've avoided French fiddles.

I have played a couple of decent Vuillaumes, and a very duff A.S.Bernadel, but now wonder whether they have been "tweaked" - re-thicknessed, or what?

I really want to try a virgin Lupot.


March 10, 2010 at 02:23 PM ·

Tweaking can mean re thicknessing! it all depends though on the violin. Lupot was a genius and his violins are worth seeking out! Big dosh though............



March 30, 2010 at 02:52 AM ·

I have an 1884 Joseph Hel, bought at a London auction about 15 years ago. It is labelled as one of Hel's "Stradivarius Moderne" violins and has a good orange-red varnish. Its tone is very clear, even, responsive and melodious. Definitely as good as or better than some quite well-known Italian makers.

No need to tweak (the very idea makes me shudder)!

April 1, 2010 at 09:37 PM ·

I had only one experience with a violin by Hel, and it was a very strange one.  

Many years ago, it was sent by a well known US dealer for me to try.  I was told that it had been owned by Ysaye. When I received the violin, I found it to be quite unremarkable in its playing characteristics and tone, but this is not what makes me remember the experience as "very strange".  Even to my not very cultivated eye - I am no expert in evaluating the construction or appearance of a violin - it looked poorly made; amateurish actually.  I recall especially that the way the top and back plates seemed not to fit well on the ribs made me wonder: "What's going on here?"  Was it a young maker's first or second attempt?  Surely Ysaye didn't choose it. Was it given to Ysaye as a gift from the maker?  If so, was Hel not ill advised to give this to Ysaye as a sample of his work? Was the violin bogus?--Not by Hel? Not owned by Ysaye? Was I way wrong to perceive it as badly constructed? Of course, I very quickly sent it back to the dealer.  Not for me, thank you.

I'm still mystified. Has any VCommie here ever seen this instrument? I'm curious to hear any information that might clear up this strange incident.

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