china white :)

November 16, 2008 at 05:27 AM ·

if i bother to study and investigate the components inside the "stuffs" in my shack, i will not be surprised that almost all things have something that links to the manufacturing base in PRC, even though i did not have any intention to seek it out, or necessarily avoid it. i guess i just accept it as a way of american life, as long as my family is not poisoned in one form or another.

whereas china made violins have taken a firm hold in low price market in the west for the beginners, the simple mention of "china white" or chinese made violin among some luthiers/makers/players/v.com posters is perhaps as potent as poison. or chinese herbs for colds if you ever tried it:)

i am pretty sure a topic like this will be more popular than ledger lines, cough, cough, and may invite input from all angles, from communism bashing to capitalism bashing, so be my guest and make your day, as long as we restrain from setting up a prison torture cell in our own backyard, or in laurie's living room as the case may be, to take the law into our own hands, to smoke out the suspects with the boys. save your list of who's who,,,the good, the bad and the beautiful,,,.for santa.

i am interested to know:

if i hold a violin in hand, what gravitates my mind toward the thinking that it is a chinese made violin. what you say may or may not make sense but what the heck because i am not the judge! i would like to get a sense of the mentality out there or here, so that other lurkers may also get something out of it. i have travelled in asia extensively for biz, including prc, and for those of you who have never been there, china is a little big and diverse in regional cultures. i understand there are northern and southern violin making clusters in china. do they make products with similar features that can be identified with some level of certainty? also, i see the mention of glossy varnish as a sign of china made violin. how reliable is that? a glossy varnish means china made, or china made has glossy varnish, or something else?

final question that i can think of for now,,,we hear people talking about western finished violins made from china whites. tricky! what do you look for in that case to confirm the suspicion?

Replies (101)

November 16, 2008 at 05:38 AM ·

For those who don't know, a violin that is "in the white" is a violin that is purchased with no varnish and finished by someone else, who presumably sets the soundpost, does some acoustical work, makes the bridge (maybe?) and varnishes the fiddle. (Perhaps someone who knows more about it than I do can elaborate on, or correct, this definition?)

Violin dealers have told me that it's not an unusual practice, among violins of a certain price range (on the low side), that a maker purchases violins in the white, finishes them, and puts their label inside. Not only that, but there can be quite a range of what a "Chinese" white violin is: sometimes the wood is of low quality, sometimes it's actually high-quality wood from Europe! In any case, there is a range, and the fact the wood came from China is not an automatic mark against it.

I would like to know what dealers and luthiers think on this subject. Obviously, a violin purchased "in the white" and finished by a craftsman does have some of that craftsman's skill or even art in there. But, it is not the same as a violin that is cut completely by its maker, nor should it be priced as such.

 

 

November 16, 2008 at 06:47 AM ·

This doesn't seem to be limited to China though. There are also many white instruments from Eastern Europe. Two well known brands come to mind: Sofia which are made as whites in Bulgaria then finished in the US and sold with full disclosure about the fact, and Gliga in Romania which states that it sells 80% of its production (50.000 instruments p.a.) as white instruments for export, many of which are sold to Germany to be finished and sold as German instruments. Under German law/regulations a violin can legally be labeled "made in Germany" if 40% of the work was carried out in Germany. I wouldn't be surprised if those rules also state that varnishing and setup accounts for 40% of the work that goes into a violin.

November 16, 2008 at 07:46 AM ·

A few of my thoughts for what it is worth. Have you ever dreamet of making your own violin?? I did but realised at my advanced age it would not be a good idea to start anything now, thinking of economics. So I bought a white violin from an American webside and all the necessary parts to finish it.It was the greatest joy I had, it took me 2 months and the owner of the  website was available at all times to assist with my queries, It just took lots of patience.As I bought it for myself for my 70th birthday ,he presented me with a super case to go with it. It is finished and sounds lovely, almost as good as my beloved Magginni. And I did it myself! My violinpupils are so impressed they want to do the same and do it altogether. I would do it to morrow againif I could afford it.

I don't know if I'm allowed to mention the name , It is Dov Schmidt. Anything I neede i bought from his catalogue

November 16, 2008 at 07:47 AM ·

Sorry ,I forgot to say It was not China White but Italian white

November 16, 2008 at 08:17 AM ·

It doesn't really matter what anyone wants to do--they can sell violins made out of cardboard by troops of apes in a hidden community in Antarctica and ask $10,000 each for them, just so long as they are up front about what they are doing to anyone who has the sense to ask.

Selling shop-finished instruments purchased in the white from whatever cheap source has been a common practice for at least 50 and probably 100 or more years.

November 16, 2008 at 09:29 AM ·

It's been going on for 200 years: apparently there are invoices extant from Pique to Lupot for violins in the white, that Pique would then varnish and sell as his own.

 

gc

November 16, 2008 at 03:41 PM ·

To answer Al's direct question, it's like with a lot of similar things: I know my brother and can pick him out of a crowd at a distance, but though I can tell you exactly what he looks like, I doubt you can do the same. Once you meet him a few times, you will be able to pick him out, too. This is the core of expertise: experience, not description.

November 16, 2008 at 03:56 PM ·

Michael, how true!

My opinion on Chinese violins?  I had one a few months as a beginner and I would say, if you can afford a better one run! Go for it!  Maybe there is some quality Chinese makers that have studied in Italy etc and are very serious because (where do the Chinese government would find all the good violins to give to their prodigies or advance ones?  In these contries, they do a lot of "inner business" to encourage the local facturies when they can)  But they are also reknowned for their cheap violins.  It is surely better than nothing but if one can afford a little better, I would say GO FOR IT!

Anne-Marie

November 16, 2008 at 04:25 PM ·

When I think of "China white" I usually think of bow hair :).

To answer the question of white violins being supplied to dealers, as mentioned above, this has been going on for several centuries with violins being supplied from places in China, Germany, France, Romania, Czechloslavakia, and even Italy. One of the most popular lines of modern student violins are made in this manner--the Doetsch. Read about their process of turning white instruments into violins on the Eastman Strings website here.

There are so many different levels and types of white instruments that are being supplied from different sources, that sometimes it could be impossible to tell their origins. The other factor that will make it difficult to tell the origin, is how much work is done by the "maker" after receiving the white violin. Some folks will simply varnish it, but many will thin the top and install a bassbar, recarve the scroll, corners, and f-holes, and perform other work to make it look more handmade. This is an accepted practice, but I think that the issue at hand (especially in recent discussions) is how the violin is labeled, marketed, and sold.

Josh Henry, Bow Maker
www.FineViolinBows.com

November 16, 2008 at 07:41 PM ·

Like Andres, I also don't care how a violin came to be, or where it came from, as long as the purveyor isn't out to deceive anyone. Sure, I'd prefer if it wasn't made by slaves. ;-)

One sad thing about the super low-end violins (from any source) is that they can make playing much more difficult than it needs to be. They can also be a nightmare for a shop to work on. Same with bows.

Michael has already done a good job of summarizing how one learns to identify instruments. I don't think it can be done with just words or text. Shiny, smooth varnish can come from anywhere, so that alone won't tell you much. It's less common on high-end modern violins though, and I don't think it was ever seen on a new Stradivari or Guarneri. "Smooth" is a look that can be achieved by any semi-competent auto body shop guy.

David Burgess

 

 

November 17, 2008 at 12:12 AM ·

I prefer not giving Chinese food for my dog,  or Chinese milk for my cat. Perhaps not touching a white Chinese violin may be a good idea too.

November 17, 2008 at 12:20 AM ·

 

I prefer not giving Chinese food for my dog,  or Chinese milk for my cat. Perhaps not touching a white Chinese violin may be a good idea too.
 
This kind of coded language is insidious racism. It also makes no more sense lumping together all Chinese instruments  than it does lumping together all Chinese people. Many Chinese instruments are perfectly adequate to their task. Among the many instruments in our house, we own two Chinese violas that give us good band for the buck, as it were, in terms of how they sound versus what we paid for them. 

November 17, 2008 at 12:34 AM ·

I guess my question is: What is the definition of a handmade violin? One that is made without ANY kind of machines? I have heard some luthiers use their own patterns, but use factory machines to do their cutting. Is this a true handmade violin? When I think of a handmade instrument, I think that whoever does the work basically would cut it out of the tree itself, you know. Make all the fittings from patterns and measurements.

Maybe I am wrong, but believe me if I am paying for a handmade violin... all the work better be from the hand of the luthier.

My husband says he has photos of actual violin factories.. They aren't easy to look at :(

November 17, 2008 at 12:44 AM ·

So you want me to go to Europe, cut a tree down with an axe, drag it out of the woods by hand, and swim back with it? Then I can't use any bandsaw or anything like that? What about electric light, is that OK? This is going to cost you BIG $$$!

November 17, 2008 at 12:46 AM ·

No, I'm not a racist, I was just referring to some sad  recent sanitary problems with Chinese milk and food, and to my personal lutherie preferences.

 

November 17, 2008 at 12:47 AM ·

Luis does make a point tho. I mean China has been in the media spot light alot about recalls. I remember the toothpaste recall. But I have a Chinese violin and it's decent. Who knows the wood may have lead in it and is soaking into my body. Aslong as the lead doesn't stop the violins Tone.

November 17, 2008 at 02:01 AM ·

"Shiny, smooth varnish can come from anywhere, so that alone won't tell you much. It's less common on high-end modern violins though"

I have to confess I have never seen one of those cheap Chinese violins, so perhaps I don't know how shiny a shiny varnish is, but amongst the instruments I have seen (and tried) the ones with the shiniest varnish were often fine Italian modern ones, usually selling here from 2.5 million yen and up (about 25.000 USD or  20.000 EUR at current exchange rates). I sure hope they weren't made from cheap Chinese whites :-)

November 17, 2008 at 02:02 AM ·

Mr. K, I believe that they may be talking about those student violins with a bright-orange varnish.

November 17, 2008 at 03:17 AM ·

Oh I see, you mean shiny as in shiny colour, not shiny as in shiny finish. [Sigh of relief]

November 17, 2008 at 04:49 AM ·

No, it's shiny as in shiny finish, as in smooth and polished.  .  . and there we have the problem with descriptions. Yes, a lot of Chinese, modern Italian, and ancient violins all fit this description. And a lot don't. On Chinese and modern Italians it's considered a feature, but on old violins it's an indication of abuse.

November 17, 2008 at 05:12 AM ·

It always amazes me how opinionated people are when it comes to how violins should be constructed. If someone starts with a white violin and it allows them to get a great result, than what does it matter? I'm sure Michael and David would agree that there are more than a few "makers" making violins entirely by hand, that are incapable of making a violin that is superior to a well made chinese instrument. The term "handmade" is pretty meaningless if we dont define who's hand we are referring to.

November 17, 2008 at 06:27 AM ·

Many of the above opinions are substantively correct, but don’t come close to covering the scope of this topic.  It is far more complicated than the casual observer might imagine. As someone correctly pointed out, this has been going on for a long, long time. The Mittenwald violins are a prime example in many respects.

Personal experience: About 15 years ago I purchased a Peresson violin from a small shop in Caracus, Venezuela.  It was a fine looking instrument, age appropriate, and in the right country. Unfortunately, the sound was not very good, and it didn’t have a label. In spite of this, I purchased the violin because I had a good feeling about it. As soon as I returned home, I took it to a colleague to show it off. After looking it over he concluded that it could not be positively attributed to Perreson, he was familiar with his work in Philadelphia. We debated the issue for awhile, and I left his shop disappointed. I took it to another shop, they looked it over and came to the same conclusion… maybe, maybe not, they couldn’t be sure.  The violin hung in a shop cabinet for five years before I looked at it again. With the passage of time, I noticed that the fingerboard was ready to fall off. When I completely detached the loose fingerboard to clean and re-glue it in place… there it was, a distinctive signature in pencil, number, and  date. I went to NY with the instrument and detached fingerboard. After a week or so, I got a call, come get your instrument and certificate. I sold the violin last year for 25 times what I paid for it. The indecision in one of the shops was based on a rumor that Perreson, late in his career, was importing Eastern European made instruments, and putting his label in them. I don’t know who accused him of this, or if it was true. Thank God, I didn’t sell this instrument for less than I paid for it… although the thought had crossed my mind.  There is a lesson to be learned here. Sergio Peresson left Italy to seek new opportunities in Venezuela, and ultimately immigrated to America. He passed on in 1991.   All of the skepticism, and rumors about his instruments came after his death. They now sell for $30,000 + in good playing condition.

A distinction can clearly be drawn between the origins of contemporary vs. vintage instruments. The older variety can be identified by geometry, configuration, and assembly techniques employed in specific eras.  Not to mention the use of date appropriate and regional species of tonewoods employed, hand tool marks, sealers, and finishes, to name a few. Carbon dating, xrays, etc., puts this work into the hands of scientists not speculators.

On the other hand, Contemporary makers have access to far better tools, work environments, sources of wood, and the technical records of centuries past to work with. I never thought I would ever hear myself admit to this, but this is the result of the expanding global economy, increased research capabilities, and a fair number of quality violin making school programs. Some will argue that today’s makers are producing a higher percentage of superior instruments when compared to the numbers attributed to the Masters of the craft.

If you doubt this, take a look at this web site,

http://www.carvers@dreamscape.com

The firm advertises in VSA literature. Someone must be using these machines? Does it matter to you, should it? I have never seen one, but I am told that they sell in the neighborhood of $20,000. I’ll bet Messer’s Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari would have used one of these if they were available in their time. Dremel tools, electric chisels, etc,. would have also thrilled them. Personally, I think the use of a carving duplicator would take the challenge and “fun” out of the work, but that’s me.

Another point that should be considered is the purchasing distinctions that exist between musicians and collector / investors. Musicians want tone quality. Investors want something they can make money on. I hope musicians will never buy into the Harley Davidson approach to marketing, and start wearing T-shirts that make reference to “Rice Burners.” ;-)

 

November 17, 2008 at 09:37 AM ·

I thought they were called rice rockets, although I never thought of it as a derogatory term, since I like both rice and rockets.

November 17, 2008 at 02:26 PM ·

Giovanni Gammuto wrote:

"With the passage of time, I noticed that the fingerboard was ready to fall off. When I completely detached the loose fingerboard to clean and re-glue it in place… there it was, a distinctive signature in pencil, number, and date. I went to NY with the instrument and detached fingerboard. After a week or so, I got a call, come get your instrument and certificate. I sold the violin last year for 25 times what I paid for it."

___________________________________

A signature under the fingerboard doesn't tell much. Fingerboards are typically removed for varnishing, whether it's a "white" violin or not.

_________________________

Giovanni Gammuto wrote:

"A distinction can clearly be drawn between the origins of contemporary vs. vintage instruments. The older variety can be identified by geometry, configuration, and assembly techniques employed in specific eras."

_________________________________

I believe you might feel differently upon looking at some of the better copies. Not that they will necessarily be confused with old instruments, but that geometry and artifacts of assembly techniques are some of the easiest things for a good copyist to copy well.

 

November 17, 2008 at 02:14 PM ·

 "... signature under the fingerboard ..."

Note to self: next time you see an old violin at a flee market, buy it for a ridiculously low price and check if there are any treasures hidden under the fingerboard, e.g. a jackpot hitting lottery ticket, a microfilm with a map marking the location of the holy grail, the Blue Mauritius etc etc

2nd note to self: if there's a fortune cookie under the fingerboard, then the violin in question was once a Chinese white. 

November 17, 2008 at 02:31 PM ·

i would think it is considerate to have high gloss violins for kiddo  beginners imported from china or elsewhere,,,much easier to wipe off tear, nose run and saliva:)     

as i look over the inputs,  my mind starts to wonder off to the land of arguable parallels,,,

in academia where the big boss puts his name on every paper with min or no involvement;   

fiction authors have teams of ghost writers, james peterson being one, to keep the cookie cutter machine churnning;

your surgeon will probably walk in after all is preped to go and walk out after the crucial part is done, while you are still unconscious, and let his students to close the store.   and i don't think the surgeon bothers to tell you that part  while going over the risks and benefits of the procedure the day before;

your lawsuit in the supreme court arguing that classical music should get a bailout from the fed like the car cos is handled by a chief lawyer with possibly 100 juniors doing the detail work;

i love german engineering so much that i bought a mercedes made in tennessee, usa,  as it turned out.  

we love italian food so much that we travelled to italy 2 summers ago and later saw a  report  that 50% of food items sold inside italy were imported from outside the country.  burp.

so i give up and live happily ever after on ny pizza.

but before i give in to what the experts have said about the chinese violins,  i have yet to see one of my questions answered directly, other than michael and his brother,:)  that is, forget about shining examples of varnished cheapos,,,when china white is reworked by western makers, well, lets still call them makers,  when looking at a finished violin without glossy varnish,  how can you tell if that violin was first a white violin from another hand, or, further, how can you tell that if that first hand is chinese or others?   if michael darnton, david burgess or professed italian food loving manfio state that certain violin is suspicious, i may buy it.  but is an average guy (sorry, if you are offended then i am not talking about you:)  in a violin shop capable of making that determination?

or is it the case that the china white phenom is so ubiquitous that even a dumbo like me can make the right call most of the times if i insist that every suspicious violin has marks from china?

 

ps, ben, haha, but fortune cookie is an american invention:), much like flench flies.

November 17, 2008 at 02:29 PM ·

To directly answer your question again: no, you can't tell. You're totally at the mercy of what you're told. That's why when people ask where to buy violins, I, and many other people have repeatedly said, buy from someone you trust. I can't tell you how to determine that, though.

November 17, 2008 at 02:37 PM ·

Al, please don't burst my bubble about "chow mein"! ;-)

November 17, 2008 at 03:05 PM ·

thanks md.

david,  if one day i get a violin with chow mein sauce stains on your label,   they better come from a chinese takeout in michigan!

--------------------------

another brain fart just dawned on me.  no wonder violinists are becoming such a paranoid bunch.  they have to worry about if the critics like their playing, as well as wondering what they are really playing on! 

November 17, 2008 at 03:07 PM ·

Hey Michael,

I said handmade...not amish :)

I would love to see you do that... maybe that can become a new reality show. With the US, you never know :)

Seriously, is it just a matter of how many hands it goes through or quality of materials etc?

I, personally, would want one set of hands on my violin if it were handmade... just my opinion... however I don't have the money for that... just a fantasy.

November 17, 2008 at 03:14 PM ·

To make things worse, some friends in Italy told me that there is a new  Chinese "service" for violin makers  now:  you make an instrument in the white and send it to China and they will produce  "replicas"  in the white of your own instrument for 1K and sent it to you for final adjustments, varnishing and set up.

November 17, 2008 at 03:21 PM ·

There are things a maching can do that are just a waste of time when done by hand, and things that hands can do much faster and better. It's just a matter of choosing the right strategy to fit the event.

A duplicating router, which I believe was mentioned above, isn't inherently evil--it's just a tool. There was one in one large shop where I worked for a while, and the most interesting thing is that the makers there (about 20) universally scorned it because it was noisy, dangerous, threw chips in your shoes, and the pain wasn't worth the gain. It didn't cause the violins to be inherently worse, though. Everyone, including me, used purfling machines, though, because it's just a waste of time to spend hours doing something that's entirely cosmetic that a machine will do in minutes.

The real question, I think, is whether the maker has done the right thing to lead towards the results he wants. I know one very famous maker who supposedly routs out plates at a summer hideaway, far from customers, and another who even routs out the outlines. It's his outline, and he's developed and perfected it. I don't have a bit of problem with that because the work, design, and results are entirely his. I know other makers who employ assistants to do the heavy lifting under direction--I worked for two of them, and their violins always looked like theirs, not mine, because after I'd done the grunt work they took over. That is different, though, from getting vioilns nearly completely finished, in the white, made far away without supervision, taking a few cuts mainly to disguise the origin, not improve the product, and painting it up as your own.

November 17, 2008 at 03:28 PM ·

"... there is a new  Chinese "service" for violin makers  now:  you make an instrument in the white and send it to China and they will produce  "replicas"  in the white of your own instrument for 1K and sent it to you for final adjustments, varnishing and set up."

Oh dear, how long will it be until we have to worry about Chinese replicas of instruments by renowned makers commissioned and sold out of Nigeria, complete with highest quality counterfeit certificates of authenticity.

November 17, 2008 at 03:46 PM ·

luis, looks like some are taking the marco polo silk road tradition to a new height:)  

jodi,  if we can convince md to really go through your fantasy expedition, it will be much fun to watch...  i know md does some formal teaching,,,it will be great if someone does some good taping to allow his humor comes through...imo, most violin documentaries have paid little attention to subtle touches...

ben, you mean getting an email saying that the writer is the wife of a military general/violin collector in the thick jungle of africa who recently passed away.  his 100m fortune is still locked in the bank vault since no americans have stepped forward with a small fee to activate the fund.  but she has one violin that looks very old, with italian words inside, 1710 something, possibly worth a lot of money, and she remembers that when her husband played it , it moved her to tears.  and all she needs now is,,,...

November 17, 2008 at 03:50 PM ·

There are already fakes of some living makers running around. Most makers will be willing to certify one of their instrument if you send it to them.

As Michael said, when buying a violin, it may come down to who you trust. Most people have more experience with evaluating people than they do with violin expertise.

November 17, 2008 at 04:08 PM ·

I have been thinking about buying a violin kit, and put the whole thing together.

* what varnish do you Luthiers recomend?

November 17, 2008 at 05:08 PM ·

Hi Royce.... varnish is  a highly controversial issue.... in general we don't discuss religion, politics, varnishes - and, even worse, ground - in public.

But I'm in good humour today!

My whole process is the following:

I start with a somewhat dark coloured wood, this way:

Sun tanning,

strong tea,

4% potassium nitrite in water followed by exposition to direct sun (6 hours), perhaps 2 times that (test in samples first, take care with the top, it can get blotched),

some of my oil varnish (the recipe in Biblioteca Marciana, Venezia, also on Baese's book: 2 parts oil, one part colophony, one part mastic) diluted in turpentine, 2 coats,

strong tea,

light glue sizing with a bit of alum,
stain (harmell)

more tea,

If it gets too dark in the middle stop the process I stop it. It's a bit intuitive, like cooking (I love cooking...).

After all that the wood will have a strong cinamon colour and the wavings will be darker. This method would not be used by people with a faultless and very clean work,  but it's good for a "Guarneriesque" work as mine.

Ground: my oil varnish (2 parts oil, one part colphony, one part mastic)  in a paste with pumice rubbed into the wood (don't leave it build up, don't leave it thick anyway). I take off the excess with a rag with kerosene, apply a bit more of my oil varnish (with my fingers)  and rub it over the wood to develop a very thin, but quite reflexive surface. This ground will penetrate a bit in the wood and that will make the contrast in the flames more visible, I think. The penetration in the wood will be stoped in different depths of the wood (this process had already started with the aplication of my thinned oil varnish) causing the holografic and tridimensional effect.

Varnish:

two coats of Padding's "Doratura Rosso" varnished thinned with Kerosene and heavily coloured with asphalt (roof tar) and Alizarin Crimson. The kerosene/pigments thinner will be very very concentrated, a residue will form in the bottom of the jar, so filter it;

You can see the final results here:

http://www.manfio.com/italian_files/Page341.htm

 

www.manfio.com

November 17, 2008 at 05:14 PM ·

www.earlscheib.com/index.php

Perhaps David can recommend a color.

For a first violin, anything will do, the easier the better, is my opinion. When you get more deeply into worrying about how the violin is made, instead of using a kit, that's when to move to worrying about varnish. I was looking at some wood stains at Home Depot the other day wondering if they had enough varnish in them to use just by themselves---I have seen some that do-- in fact the door on my shop was done that way (by someone else).

One of the most reflective grounds I've ever seen (on a guitar) was spray shellac from the hardware store. I have a feeling that the thinner used in the spray version had something to do with it. I haven't tried that on a violin, though--that's pushing my sensibilities too far.

November 17, 2008 at 05:34 PM ·

Michael Darnton wrote:

www.earlscheib.com/index.php

Perhaps David can recommend a color.

_________________________

China white?  ;-)

November 17, 2008 at 05:47 PM ·

By the way, the French makers around 1890 had this problem worked out pretty well. Many French shops offered three grades of instrument, in descending order of quality and price:

"Made by Xxx" (the maker named--usually the shop owner)

"Made in the workshop of Xxx" (under the owner's supervision, but not his)

"Made for Xxx" (from a factory--Mirecourt, at that time)

November 17, 2008 at 08:00 PM ·

 @al ku

- "we love italian food so much that we travelled to italy 2 summers ago and later saw a report that 50% of food items sold inside italy were imported from outside the country." -

You know the best running Restaurant in Cremona today? - Mc Donald`s

November 17, 2008 at 08:18 PM ·

This has the makings of an excellent thread! The best I have seen on the site, ever. I almost fell off of my chair when I read Luis' outline of his approach to finishing. As he said, you can find bits and pieces of what he has shared in old texts, but not everything. The fact that he shared some old Italian "secrets" such as sun coloring of instruments in the white, and using asphaltum (tar) in the mix was very generous of him. My grandfather did everything Luis described to the tee. To safeguard his secret formulations, he would mix up batches of grounds,varnishes, etc., and put them into wine bottles, and intentionally mislabel them so no one actually knew what was in them.  He would call oil varnish "Special Strasis #1, and so on. .. and only mix the formulations late at night, so no one could walk in on him and discover his secrets. There was a time in Cremona, if you were taken on as an apprentice, you had to swear you would never share any of these kinds of things, with anyone, (especially Germans) and they were serious about it. I don't know if that is still true today, or if it has become old school? I have been alittle lax in this regard. Many people have come here to find a violin in the white hanging on a clothes line, taking in some sun. I tell them I am warning up the instrument before applying the finish. Most people accept that and do not pursue it further.  I better get to the cemetary and calm grandapa down, I know he is flipping around in that box!!!!!!

November 17, 2008 at 10:18 PM ·

- "and put them into wine bottles" -

Come on!  Where is the wine? 90% of them in makers stomach? (That explain us the "kind of del Gesu") 10% left in the bottle wich could be the found minerals and mushrooms today.....

- "you had to swear you would never share any of these kinds of things, with anyone, (especially Germans)" -

Come on (Part 2)  .......he-he.....

Britain, not chinese, but an Italian sound.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k08yxu57NA

November 17, 2008 at 10:33 PM ·

Greetings,

Luis, i`m confused. Please clarify whether yu put the tea on the violin or just stop off for a tea break every five minutes like the average British road worker?

Cheers,

Buri

November 18, 2008 at 03:20 AM ·

Buri & Luis-

That's what I was wondering, apply the tea to the instrument or drink it???

Luis, thank you so very, very much!!!! What is the "Oil" you mention in the ingredients? Lindseed? Something else?

I'm sorry if you are uncomfortable about discussing varnish, I didn't mean for you to feel that way :( Just email me at Royster@uwyo.edu or fiddle-styx@hotmail.com

Luthier in training,

Royce

November 18, 2008 at 10:32 AM ·

No, you don't drink the tea, you apply it to the instrument with a rag. Make a quite strong English type tea, much much stronger than drinkable tea,  I leave it boiling for some minutes, than  let it cool and apply it with a rag.

Yes, linseed oil, and you have to cook it outside (and that is very very dangerous). I make something different every time, as most makers do, I think.

www.manfio.com

November 18, 2008 at 04:46 PM ·

Jodi B

"I, personally, would want one set of hands on my violin if it were handmade... just my opinion... however I don't have the money for that... just a fantasy."

I take it you would turn down a Strad, a Guarnerius or an Amati(s)?

November 18, 2008 at 05:21 PM ·

Well, if you really want one of those, you have to allow for a LOT of work by assistants. In fact, a lot of violins which were formerly known as and labeled as Nicolo Amati were completely made by others, and were different enough from his own work to be eventually sorted out as to who actually made each.

November 18, 2008 at 06:45 PM ·

Re: Luis' varnishing formulations: 

Colophony is an old name for rosin... also refered to as Greek Pitch. All string players will recognize the term rosin for sure, but they might not know where it comes from.

Rosin is a clear, somewhat transparent, brittle material that is sticky to the touch, and is made from pine tree gum. It is the residue left in the vats after  turpentine has been extracted from the crude exudation. In addition to being used on violin bows, it is also used by baseball pitchers, in powdered form, o improve their grip on the ball. 

Violins and baseball, two fo my favorite things! I knew there was a connection.

November 18, 2008 at 09:46 PM ·

Here the recipe in the Biblioteca Marciana, in Venice, in a manuscript dated about 1550:

"Item Vernice che si distende come olio et seccha presto et è molto lustrante et bella et pare uno specchio di vetro et per stare alla cosa et sopra liuti et simile cose è mirabile;" ma nel testo, queste "simile cose" sono descritte come manufatti in legno, ferro, carta, cuoio e opere dipinte:

"Togli per una misura: una libra d'olio di linseme, et quocilo come si fà in una pignatta invetriata netta, poi vi metti su mesa libbra di pece greca chiara et bella et polverizzata et mesta quando la metti, tanto che si incorpori bene a fuoco dolce, poi vi metti su mezza libra di mastice macinato, et quando lo metti perché ei rigonfia leverai però la pignata da fuoco et mettilo su a poco a poco mestando et incorporando bene, poi torna la pignata al fuoco et mesta tanto che si solva ogni cosa bene, poi mettivi quanto una noce di allume di roccha arso pesto et mesta che si solva et incorpori bene poi lievala dal fuoco et colala per peza lina vecchia et serbala, et per legname, et per ferro et per carta et corame et per ogni dipintura et lavoro farà un opera bellissima et per stare alla aqua, et quando ti pare soda stempera con olio di lino come si fa etc. ". 

www.manfio.com
 

November 19, 2008 at 01:28 AM ·

Thanks for that Manfio. I know you are very busy but it would be great if you or other Italian speaking members could translate this recipe.

November 19, 2008 at 03:03 AM ·

Who made what in the 17th century, in my opinion, remains controversial.

Records show that violin makers had employees and family members working in the shop, but who knows what functions they performed?

Francesco and Omobono Stradivari worked with their father, except for a time when Omobono lived in a different city. If they were doing much or all of the work for Dad, why are their violins (or what we believe to be their violins) easily distinguishable from Antonio's?

A shop today might have someone for materials and inventory procurement, someone to do the books, someone to do repairs and maintenance, and someone to handle public showroom traffic. Is there a good reason why a 17th century shop would have been different?

Maybe. There also may have been people making things like pegs and cases in a time when there weren't enough local players to support dedicated manufacturing of these item.

Did 17th century makers make all of their own violins in entirety? Lots of conjecture about outside sources and multiple workers, but records don't provide sufficient information for us to really know. The numbers attributed to individual makers suggest that they could have indeed made their own stuff, and I've often felt that theories that they didn't could be an attempt to justify instruments made today which are made by multiple people.

I changed the style of my scrolls around 1990. Will future "experts" conclude that there was a change in the person carving them? ;-)

November 19, 2008 at 12:53 PM ·

Hi Melving!

Claire Givens offered this translation, that I find good (Tradutore, traditore!):

"put a pound of linseed oil in a glass vessel, then half a pound of good greek pitch (clear, attractive, and pulverized). Mix on a gentle (?sweet) heat. Add a half pound of minced mastic. It will swell up so remove the vessel from the fire and mix until every thing is dissolved well. Then add the walnut-size amount of ground burnt alum and mix until it is all incorporated, then filter through a piece of old linen." 
 

But it is very very DANGEROUS, it must be made outdoors, by an adult, with all the safe rules possible, it can catch fire, explode, etc and you can get seriously injured.  I make it in small batches, 100 grams oil, 50 grams rosin (from Kremer), 50 grams mastic.

www.manfio.com
 

November 19, 2008 at 12:26 PM ·

Luis You are the greatest!!!!!

November 19, 2008 at 03:46 PM ·

Listen to Luis' advise on outdoor varnish cooking. I do it in very small batches, and it doesn't come out "exactly" the same each time. I have never had the soup explode on me, but have had the content of the pot catch on fire.... better have a lid handy to smother the flames ASAP.  It is harder than  cooking a perfectly toasted marshmello, or a medium rare steak on a forked stick. If you screw up the marshmellos, or steak you can still eat them... not so with the varnish. ;-)

November 19, 2008 at 03:47 PM ·

Giovanni, Thanks! I'll do just so!

November 20, 2008 at 01:11 PM ·

David; "The numbers attributed to individual makers suggest that they could have indeed made their own stuff, and I've often felt that theories that they didn't could be an attempt to justify instruments made today which are made by multiple people".

600+ violins, not to mention the cellos and violas (and the odd guitar) attributed to Stradivari?

Even with a little help from the Vollers, Mr Lott and Mr Vuillaume that's some going.

November 20, 2008 at 01:31 PM ·

to  those with chemistry experiment  in every pot,,,good cooking!  still remember mine in college, indoor i may add, where the instruction was to pour the content from container A the blue fluid into container B the clear fluid, slowly.   turned out it was not the same as pouring B into A a little fast:) 

which brings us  to another topic,,,about record keeping in luthiery, a touchy subject that may pop in our face.   it is probably fair to say that if strad had kept a journal (may be there was one but omobono traded it for one drink:), the field of violin making might have been very different.  less experimentation and more just follow it.    seems to me, while a few makers in history had left some how-tos, most tended to keep the trade within the lines, or to themselves, which might or might not have propagated  the wisdom to  the proper place or added it  to the collective knowledge database of luthiery.  clearly, there is concern of competition...coke understandbly will not want to share much with pepsi.   one can also argue that if everyone since had known strad's secrets, if there were such things, or how-tos, his legacy might have been viewed under a different light if everyone else can do as well.  to me, this dicotomy of a situation is quite intriguing and i wonder if modern makers have any  thoughts about it.  for instance, after you pass onto violin heaven,  can the next generation gain easier access to your hard drive?

November 20, 2008 at 03:25 PM ·

You've asked "for instance, after you pass onto violin heaven,  can the next generation gain easier access to your hard drive?"

I think my answer to your question is, even if the next generation gain access to our hard drive, they will make different instruments....  

Strad's two sons, Omobono and Francesco, produced instruments that are quite different from their father's instruments.

There are many many subtleties in violin making, and everything matters, and it's virtually impossible to make "everything the same". Even for us is impossible making two identical instruments.

It's a bit like cooking.  When a cook dies, he may pass his recipes, but the resulting food will be different -  sometimes worse,  better!!!.  That's why I don't care about sharing some of my "secrets", if there are  any. Few makers are willing  to try other makers' ideas because they already have their own....    And what works to me may not work to a friend maker.

Take for instance the varnish craving. It seems there is a varnish obsession... What I notice is that a good maker will choose a good model, make good archings, good thicknesses, good wood  choice, a good scroll, have a good style and cover all that with a  good varnish. So, it seems that good makers get all those good things at  the same time, and that's not an easy thing at all. Thus, if you get all the other important things you will get a good varnish too, so don't worry about varnish. But I  may be wrong (or mad).

www.manfio.com

 

November 20, 2008 at 03:25 PM ·

Martin wrote: "600+ violins, not to mention the cellos and violas (and the odd guitar) attributed to Stradivari?

Even with a little help from the Vollers, Mr Lott and Mr Vuillaume that's some going."

Just for the sake of argument, it's 600+ surviving instruments.  The actual production is projected as many more...  but if you break things down, the number per year is certainly possible for an industrious maker with a little help. 60 years at the bench, producing 17 instruments per year, yields 1000.

There was a single, recluse, maker (certainly not the same caliber) who produced somewhere near 3000 in his lifetime (Craske).  No television probably has advantages.  :-)

 

November 20, 2008 at 04:02 PM ·

Martin, if willing to work long and hard, and not get sidetracked with other things, many makers are capable of producing that kind of output. I'm far from the fastest, but my personal best was 17 instruments in one year, 3 of them cellos. This required putting in 60 to 80 hour weeks though.

Past makers in Mirecourt have talked about being required to make 2 or 3 violins (minus the scroll) per week. That's just what was expected, and it was all done by hand. There was one guy though who only had to make one per week, because he only had one arm. ;-)

Does that give you a sense of what was possible back when people had to work their tails off  just to eat, and the 40 hour workweek hadn't been invented yet?

 

Al, there's lots of information sharing going on in our business. Much of it takes place at the VSA/Oberlin workshops every summer. It's become the "grad school" for violin and bow makers. I'm one of the teachers and program directors there, so that's where I focus my efforts. Jeffrey Holmes was one of our guest teachers this past summer.

In a typical Oberlin session, along with a plethora of other teaching and information exchange, there might be two or three people sharing their varnish procedure from start to finish. As important as the ingredients is the application process, and demonstrating even part of the process in a meaningful way can take several days or longer. Putting several days of demonstrations into text is about as challenging as educating someone in violin expertise over the internet. Not that people won't try, but this type of information sharing is more likely to take place on one of the violin making forums. We don't want to bore you folks more than we already do. ;-)

There are numerous other educational opportunities, including Michael Darnton's summer program in making and repair.

Both The Violin Society of America and the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers have educational lectures at their conventions.

 

 

November 20, 2008 at 03:41 PM ·

What are ways of applying the varnish mixture? Brush, rag, fingers? I use fingers when applying lindseed oil to rifle/shotgun stocks then use #0000 Steel wool.

Regards,

Royce

November 20, 2008 at 03:50 PM ·

thanks for those replies people.  yes, agree that the trend is toward opening up idea exchanges and i think those institutions are indeed great breeding ground for a better tomorrow for luthiery.   the fact that better modern violins are making such a name for themselves is perhaps a reflection of that.   still, if it were me, i would hesitate about total disclosure , but that is me:)   and agree with manfio,  those special touches,,,it is not easy to share or to document.

david, on those mirecourt violins,,,,having seen some low quality ones myself,,,2-3 a day,,,i believe it:)

November 20, 2008 at 04:52 PM ·

"Francesco and Omobono Stradivari worked with their father, except for a time when Omobono lived in a different city. If they were doing much or all of the work for Dad, why are their violins (or what we believe to be their violins) easily distinguishable from Antonio's?"

"600+ violins, not to mention the cellos and violas (and the odd guitar) attributed to Stradivari?Even with a little help from the Vollers, Mr Lott and Mr Vuillaume that's some going."

That's because the sons made their own violins from scratch, but the old man just bought his in the white (from China?) and had some assistants put the varnish on.

November 20, 2008 at 06:15 PM ·

If amature luthiery actualy picks up, look out for some outstanding works!!!!!! A sure way to stimulate a thing to begin to evolve further..... get into the hobbists hands, especialy if it becomes voque!

November 20, 2008 at 07:12 PM ·

Gentlemen..... I can't wait for someone here to ask, "What other (secrets) do luthiers tend to keep to themselves, outside of sealing and varnishing?" That will really get the ball rolling. I might be willing to surrender one! ;-) 

November 20, 2008 at 08:20 PM ·

Well, if you are wanting to share, I'll ask the question and see what jewels come up:     "What other (secrets) do luthiers tend to keep to themselves, outside of sealing and varnishing?"

November 20, 2008 at 08:45 PM ·

"If amature luthiery actualy picks up, look out for some outstanding works!!!!!! A sure way to stimulate a thing to begin to evolve further..... get into the hobbists hands, especialy if it becomes voque!"

I'm not a violinmaker and I've never tried my hand at the craft, but I am an amateur violinist.  I think making violins is like playing them in that even the best amateurs can't quite get to the same level as someone who devotes a career to the activity.  For one thing, I suspect that having the opportunity to work closely over an extended period with outstanding makers and repairers and to examine a wide range of violins first-hand is essential.  You don't get these opportunities by puttering around in your basement--you have to spend years working full-time in a leading violin shop. 

November 20, 2008 at 11:40 PM ·

David and Jeffrey you are absolutely right- it is possible, it is also highly unlikely: Besides what did Stradivari keep his two sons, not to mention Carlo, around for if not to assist. It is also highly probable, and generally accepted, that Guiseppe had plenty of help from Andrea. My belief, and it is only a belief (albeit areasonably well informed one), is that apprentices and assistants did a fair chunk of the work while the likes of Stradivari both contributed and directed operations. Stradivari in particular must have had devoted a considerable ammount of time to business administration, though he could also have had assistance there also.

Does it really detract from the instrument? Not really, it may detract from some peoples perception of what a violin is worth though!

David- seventeen instruments in a year, including cellos, is impressive.

November 21, 2008 at 12:23 AM ·

Yours is a popular view.

Question:

Why would you think that  Antonio devoted considerable time to business administration, and had other people who made violins, instead of the other way around?

How many artisans have you met who would rather be administrators?

November 21, 2008 at 12:36 AM ·

"I'm not a violinmaker and I've never tried my hand at the craft, but I am an amateur violinist.  I think making violins is like playing them in that even the best amateurs can't quite get to the same level as someone who devotes a career to the activity."

With all due respect, this is double nonsense, at least in this generic form. Yes, in any given field, the percentage of professionals who are very good to outstanding will typically be higher than the percentage of amateurs, mostly because the average time amateurs can devote is to be expected to be less than the average time a professional spends in the field.

However, that doesn't mean that a good to outstanding amateur cannot put an average to good professional to shame, it doesn't even mean that an outstanding amateur cannot be as good as an outstanding professional.

Take the Honeks as an example, they are a family of medical doctors (grandfather, son, grandson) and they make violins as a hobby, not only did Alois Vincenc Honek make about 90 instruments in his life part time, but he was a celebrated maker whose instruments were and are still being played in the Czech Philharmonic, and they've won awards, too.

As for violinist professionals, I happen to have been at several concerts of a professional string quartet here in Tokyo who are really mediocre at anything they play, even if you want to give them some slack and try to remain hopeful for the next concert, playing a different repertoire etc etc. I have never been at any concert by any amateur quartet which wasn't clearly better than those professionals. I won't post their name here in public, but if anybody must know, I am happy to provide the name of the quartet by email. This is not a first experience, when I was living in Europe I have also experienced amateur quartets who outplayed certain professionals, including amateur quartets who could match good professionals. The only thing those amateur quartets lack is a large repertoire, the professionals always have an edge in the size of their repertoire, yet in some cases this leads to lower quality.

"... the 40 hour workweek hadn't been invented yet?"

David, it's even less than that now, Mirecourt being in France legally has a 35 hour week ;-) 

November 21, 2008 at 01:16 AM ·

 " Mirecourt being in France legally has a 35 hour week ;-)  "

^^^^^ Thats with a 10 hour smoke and wine break  !!!!!

November 21, 2008 at 02:51 PM ·

not going to  bore on the effect of varnish on sound production, i wonder if there are any videos or audios documenting the pre- and post -varnish sound differences (on the same instrument)...what does varnish add to the sound...

November 21, 2008 at 03:01 PM ·

On the topic of amateur making, here's a link to the "teaser" for an upcoming Strad magazine article on the subject, titled "Make yourself at home". ;-)

www.thestrad.com/nStory.asp

November 21, 2008 at 03:28 PM ·

"i wonder if there are any videos or audios documenting the pre- and post -varnish sound differences (on the same instrument)"

Not a video, but a scientific study and paper by said medical doctor and amateur violin maker Alois Vincenc Honek which aimed to measure that difference. I seem to remember his conclusion was that the varnish does not influence the sound anywhere near as much as the wood and the shape and the way the violin is put together, so he didn't bother any further trying to find the magic varnish formula. I think the Honeks' website (www.violinmaker.cz) has a link to the paper.

 

November 21, 2008 at 09:22 PM ·

I will speak as a maker and player.... ...

The problem of playing an instrument in the white is that we may fall in love with the sound and find a pity  having to varnish it... If musicians were contented with 4 coats of uncoloured shellac perhaps we would have better sounding instruments today.

I like this part of the Hill' s book on Stradivari:

"If players would be content with instruments treated with colourless varnish, the difficulty of producing fine tone would be very greatly dimisnished, as the addition of many and various injurious colouring substances, or the artificial staining of the wood (at sometimes accomplished by the use of acids) in order to please the eye, in the one case mars what would be a varnish favourable for tone, and in the other adversely affects the material from which the instrument is made. In fact, tone is, and has been, though often unintentionally, sacrified by many through seeking to gratify the taste for mere outward appearence. The great influence of time is not suffiently taken in account when the ordinary observer compares the newly varnished work with the old. As well try to change quickly new wine into old as try to obtain in a short time the richly matured and soft-toned appearence wich age alone can impart to perfectly varnished violins.

Could we have seen the most brilliant works of Italian violin-makers fresh form their hands, we should have been not a little surprised by their bright and unsubdued aspect; nay, in many instances, notably with regard to some of the violins of Joseph Guarnerius, we would have been struck by their positively crude appearance. The conditions for ultimately ensureing a fine appearance were certainly there; but to the wonder-working effects of time and use, and to these alone, we unhesitatingly attibute all that charms us now. That the more ambitious of modern makers should have sought to rival the productions of the old masters in external appearance is readily conceivable - however injudicious at times their procedure - when we bear in mind the popular demand for a thing of beauty. An ugly or even plain instrument, though excellent in tone, is again and again rejected. Many may view this statement with incredulity; it is nevertheless strictly true, and the statement is the outcome of innumerable experiences." (see the  Hill's chapter on varnish).

www.manfio.com

November 21, 2008 at 08:38 PM ·

David- do you believe that what we consider a Stradivari was made entirely by the man himself?

Fair point Manfio, it is remarkable how many musicians hear with their eyes, and how many musicians will convince themselves that an poor sounding instrument sounds good because it had an illustrious maker.....or because it was made in Italy!

November 22, 2008 at 03:12 PM ·

Benjamin K.:

"I'm not a violinmaker and I've never tried my hand at the craft, but I am an amateur violinist.  I think making violins is like playing them in that even the best amateurs can't quite get to the same level as someone who devotes a career to the activity."

"With all due respect, this is double nonsense, at least in this generic form. Yes, in any given field, the percentage of professionals who are very good to outstanding will typically be higher than the percentage of amateurs, mostly because the average time amateurs can devote is to be expected to be less than the average time a professional spends in the field."

I've thought about this and I think you're right that talented and dedicated amateurs can reach a higher level than many professionals, both in playing and making violins, and I don't mean to be disrespectful of amateurs in either field.  But I still think--and perhaps you may be in agreement with me here--that amateurs in either activity who aren't able to dedicate their entire careers to those activities are at a disadvantage relative to professionals.  I think that studying full-time over a number of years with a good teacher and practicing 6-8 hours a day without other commitments, in the case of players, and working full-time in a shop under the direction of  experienced violin-makers and having the opportunity to examine large numbers of outstanding violins on a regular basis, in the case of violin-makers, are advantages that allow talented professionals to achieve a higher level of mastery than talented amateurs.  But I don't want to denigrate the efforts of amateurs, who can, as you emphasize, reach a very high level of accomplishment, and I agree with you that my original post should have been more qualified.  I hope I haven't offended anyone.

November 22, 2008 at 03:29 PM ·

Career Professional/expert- an amature now doing what he/she has always done but now devoting time towards a paycheck on top of applying self to love for said craft.

CONTEST- Luthiers share sectert, see which amature can best it!

November 22, 2008 at 07:31 PM ·

Would you pay 50K or more for a violin made by a self taught maker?

Well, the market pays...  A Marino Capicchioni violin was recently sold for 52K on Tarisio, There is an old tradition of self taught makers in Italy, even on Strad's time there were amateur luthiers.  Some of them were Franciscan monks!

The fact that they were self taught is mentioned "en passant" on biografies in this way: "prese qualche consiglio del Bisiach" (took some advice from Bisiach).

The following list of self taught makers or "diletanti" speaks for itself:

Marino Capicchioni

Otello Bignami

Romolo Parmeggiani
 

Gaetano Pareschi
 

Alberto Guerra
 

Giuseppe Pedrazzini
 

Celeste Faroti (he himself usually said he had no master);
 

Andrea Cortese
 

Valentino de Zorzi (an important florentine maker that started making violins when he was 40 years old!)
 

Anibal Fagnola (who declared himself self taugth)

Alessando D'Espine (a Dentist)

Chiocchi (a doctor, actor, musician)

and many many others.

I'm  sefl taught too... 

 www.manfio.com

 

 

 

 

 

November 22, 2008 at 08:38 PM ·

I will pay what a violin is worth, if it is a true $18,500 violin, that's what I'll pay regardless if it's a 1756 whatever or a 2008 Billy Joe Jim Bob.  If it's 4 stars above the Strad that josua Bell plays and Jimmy Joe Johnson made it in his wood shead next too the moonshine still and I have 2.5 million then that's what it should sell for. Playability and sound is what matters not who made it. (There are exceptions).

November 22, 2008 at 10:35 PM ·

Mr. Faina, that post summarizes my entire belief of violins.  I agree totally-a violin should be priced based on quality of sound.  However, that is not (and will not) be the case in the world.  I know many horrible Italian violin that sell for 50,000 dollars to an investory because of the fact that it is purely "Italian".  Then there are the violins that are sold for much less than what they're worth because of the maker not being well known.   It is quite sad, really.  Players get violins based on quality of sound, but it seems like people (dealers) are shifting their focus to investors, because of the better income.  Thus, they raise the price of violins, which is horrible for middle-class violinists, especially in this economy, where a musician's check is hovering over a deep chasm.

By the way, I do own a $2.5 million Jimmy Joe Johnson violin.  Sounds great! :)

November 22, 2008 at 11:27 PM ·

Billy Joe Jim Bob violins won't be worth much, once they find out  is was four separate guys what made 'em, instead of one good ol' boy whittlin' next to his still. ;-)

November 23, 2008 at 01:33 AM ·

Brian, would you acept 2.2 million?

 

November 23, 2008 at 03:37 AM ·

Brian wrote: "Players get violins based on quality of sound, but it seems like people (dealers) are shifting their focus to investors, because of the better income.  Thus, they raise the price of violins, which is horrible for middle-class violinists, especially in this economy, where a musician's check is hovering over a deep chasm."

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way (that us bad old dealers keep raising the price without any compassion for those poor old musicians).

That's not really how it works, by the way...  and while I wouldn't argue that it's an important priority in the process, musicians often choose instruments for other reasons besides pure artistic expression.  Many musicians are just as concerned with the investment potential, or the status, of the instrument as an "investor" might be.  

As far as who keeps raising the price, consumers place the demand on the market... both setting prices and in their demands for a return on their investment.  Do some dealers play into this (take advantage)?  Sure.  If you think the dealer that you're working with is pushing the envelope, work with another.

In the 17th & 18th centuries, Amatis, Strads, etc. were purchased by those that were rather well off (nobles, ruling class, wealthy merchants) when they were new...  and continue to be purchased by wealthy individuals today.  

A cost of a good Gagliano ran roughly the equivalent to the cost of a small farm in upstate NY in the '20s, and runs about the cost equivalent of a small farm in upstate NY today.

There are some very fine makers who make great sounding new violins.  There are a good number of older violins that don't run into 6 figures that also perform extremely well.  

With all due respect, I believe that many who voice opinions like the one you have are simply envious of what they can't have...  Understandable.  I see something I want every now and again that I simply can't afford...  but it's simply not the fault of those that have them or sell them.  It's just the way it is.

 

 

November 23, 2008 at 03:17 AM ·

 "I've thought about this and I think you're right that talented and dedicated amateurs can reach a higher level than many professionals, both in playing and making violins, and I don't mean to be disrespectful of amateurs in either field."

fair enough

"But I still think--and perhaps you may be in agreement with me here--that amateurs in either activity who aren't able to dedicate their entire careers to those activities are at a disadvantage relative to professionals."

in principle, yes, I can agree with that, but only if it is not understood to be an automatic disqualification, as the amateur may be able to make up for the time disadvantage with something else in which he has an edge. The Honeks' family philosophy is that they can make better violins because they don't have to make them for the money. I could imagine that their desire for non-compromising purity might well give them an edge over quite a few professionals despite the disadvantage of less total hours spent in the art.

November 23, 2008 at 03:36 AM ·

Mr.Holmes, I am sorry if I offended you.  It was not my intention.  (I have been off of v.com for a while and I recently came back last week, and I have succeeded in pissing off quite a few people already).

I was solely basing my opinions on the fact that a major violin-dealing company in my area is selling some quite crap violins for a very high price, and some very nice no-name violins are sold for as low as $2000 dollars.  The violins that are very expensive are all old Italian violins that don't necessarily sound very good. I should have just limited my words to this violin dealer.

Please forgive me.

November 23, 2008 at 05:43 AM ·

Luis said,

The problem of playing an instrument in the white is that we may fall in love with the sound and find a pity  having to varnish it... If musicians were contented with 4 coats of uncoloured shellac perhaps we would have better sounding instruments today.

Truer words have never been spoken.  Before I start the finishing routine, I customarily set the instrument up and give her a whirl.  If "pretty" and "longevity" were not  important sale components,  I'd seal them and apply minimal coats of finish to them. The sound is usually quite compelling. Selling an instrument in this condition would be next to impossible. Too few people judge an instrument's value on tone quality alone.  I have an instrument in the shop that has a single coat of gamboge, and 3 coats of varnish on it... it has an amazingly beautiful sound... not a single person has looked at it more than once.

November 23, 2008 at 10:19 AM ·

"Before I start the finishing routine, I customarily set the instrument up and give her a whirl.  If "pretty" and "longevity" were not  important sale components,  I'd seal them and apply minimal coats of finish to them. The sound is usually quite compelling. Selling an instrument in this condition would be next to impossible."

I saw two such instruments on the Gliga USA webstore a few months ago. They are still listed there. One of them can be seen at:

http://www.violinslover.com/OutfitIn.php?I=A7781

As far as appearance goes, this actually looks quite nice to me.

November 23, 2008 at 01:05 PM ·

Brian- don't sweat it, I am one who has opened his mouth way too wide here @ V.com. As far as I can see, you're cool.

Great that you're back!

I switched Dominants for Passiones on my Billy Jo Jim Bob which I bestowed the name, " Fiddel Castro", and it sounds great!

November 23, 2008 at 02:39 PM ·

You opened your mouth way too wide here? nawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

And make sure your violin doens't turn communist....even if it sounds beautiful.

November 23, 2008 at 03:02 PM ·

Brian:

Thanks Bro :^D

November 23, 2008 at 05:23 PM ·

On the subject of Chinese Violins. If you want to see, feel, and hear what they sound like... go to the nearest Sam Ash store.  They will have 30-40 for you to inspect. The company specializes in providing low cost, entry level  instruments for "newbies."  They all  are set up with the cheapest components available, and have a common look about them.  They sell alot of them.

November 24, 2008 at 01:13 AM ·

On the subject of Chinese violins, if you want to see/hear/feel what they can sound like at their best, maybe you should bypass Sam Ash and contact Shan Jiang, or a dealer who sells his violins. He just won a silver medal for tone at the most recent VSA competition. He previously won a silver medal for workmanship, and several other awards I'm blanking out on at the moment.  He's not the only violinmaker from China to have won awards at the VSA.  The bottom line is that all American violins don't sound the same, all Italians don't sound the same, and all Chinese violins don't sound the same either. And they're not all "factory" made, although it's worth noting  that there are even material differences amongst these so-called factory-made instruments.  At the student level some good values can be had; at higher levels, China's best luthiers are, at least, on the come and worth considering. 

 

 

November 23, 2008 at 07:13 PM ·

Thanks for making that distinction, Sean, and providing a more complete picture.

November 24, 2008 at 02:33 AM ·

Mr. Gammuto,most makers of stringed instruments keep records of instruments they have made..........Tell me,if you will,what is your current count of   instruments  you have  made  ?             to  speak ,  your opus  number    of  instruments    ?          Most makers keep  tabulations in this regard...............I'm   just curious, in case a referral to   you  may   be  an option   for  me in  my  travels---------just  so others may appreciate  your  workmanship......    

November 24, 2008 at 06:26 AM ·

It was such fun to read it all. Thanks for the laughs but I also detected a bunch of sour grapes(good for coloring). I realize that most of you would not have the patience anyway and also found out that you don't seem to have much trust and are hyper critical. shame on you.

November 24, 2008 at 09:42 AM ·

"... most of you would not have the patience anyway ..."

You lost me there. Patience for doing what?

November 24, 2008 at 04:03 PM ·

Neat! It's about to reach the 100 mark. What a neat and informative thread!

 

Thanks Al!!!!

November 24, 2008 at 05:21 PM ·

don't thank me:),,,,thank all the great makers/dearlers/players/varnish secret holders/lurkers/laurie, etc to be gracious enough with their time and wisdom, to make the thread informative to all of us to some degree.   while you are cooking your pots of varnish, royce,  i will start another thread on that:) 

with david:). when he says no,,,he means yes!  ( i wonder if i should title it,,,david's take on varnish:)

November 24, 2008 at 05:34 PM ·

Oh no, not a varnish thread! :-(

(Just had to get in post 101) ;-)

Al, I thought it was girls on dates who said no when they mean yes. (easy ladies, I'm just kidding)

And no fair using psychic powers to respond to content of the next post. :-) :-)

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