players' take on varnish,,,

November 24, 2008 at 06:30 PM ·

not sure if you have followed the discussion on "china white" where varnish was discussed, or touched on:).  one comment, from a maker if i am not mistaken or misquoting:), is that players are quite particular with varnish on the violins when evaluating them.    it almost sounded to me as if the choice of  varnish (color, texture, what have you) are players' preference driven.

really?!?  since i am much of an outsider,  forgive me for being a little surprised by that line of thinking.  i have always thought that varnish is an integral part of the individualistic violin making process  and plays a significant (may be too strong a word)  part in the final sound production (on a well constructed violin as a given).  some other comments suggest that a violin without varnish can sound as good?  

one advantage of knowing close to nothing, as the case with me,  is that you can enjoy the great feeling that everything is credible:)   but at the same time, it can be as invariably  confusing as it is interesting.   not that a thread like this can help clarify everything for me (don't try,,,i am hopeless:), but a discussion on varnish, particularly from players' perspective, can be fun and informative...  

from the dealers and makers, stories on players coming in the store on varnish may be even entertaining:)

do players look for antiqued models more or the original varnish look more?  etc etc etc

Replies (49)

November 24, 2008 at 06:49 PM ·

Gentleman never ought discuss religion, politics, or violin varnishes.....

A good violin sounds good before the varnish goes on.  It can sound just as good after the varnish is put on---or it can sound far worse (if the varnish is bad or poorly applied).  There is no miracle varnish that can be applied to a VSO-and have it sound like a well-played Strad.


As far as players goes--less experienced players and less-experienced students tend to be suckers for a pretty violin, meaning aesthetics can win out over tone/playability.  Meaning a violin with a beat-up looking finish (that doesn't sound great), can win out over a solid-colored "new" looking varnish (that sounds better).

In the professional field......  Tone and playability take priority over aesthetics, these are after-all what win you jobs--committee's don't care what your violin looks like. That being said- all else being equal (and it never is), the violin which is most aesthetically pleasing gets bought-all else being equal.  When someone finds an instrument that not only sounds great, but plays great for them, and matches their aesthetic ideal-it is a match made in heaven :>)

November 24, 2008 at 08:02 PM ·

November 24, 2008 at 07:20 PM ·

I help many of my students pick out violins, and I use three points to help form the decision:

  1. Sound
  2. Playability
  3. Condition

What is more important than antiquing, or how pretty the flames on the back are, or what color the varnish is, is the shop that it comes from!  Good trade in policies, honest sales people, and quality maintenance and repairs are crucial!

Also, keep in mind, one of my students plays a purple violin (Insert smiley face here).

November 24, 2008 at 07:31 PM ·

It has been my experience that professional musicians care more about sound quality than anything else. They will play everything that is presented to them regardless of how the instrument physically presents itself, within certain limites of course.  Less experienced players / students look at color and finish first, and proceed from there.  Professionals will reject, or classify an instrument as a "maybe" within minutes, and move on to another.  They know what they are "listening" for... note that I did not say "looking" for.

One thing for certain, at least in my mind, is that everything that is related to "finish", i.e., color, gloss, depth / thick or thin is secondary to the carving skill of the craftsman, adherence to accepted technical practices established many, many years ago, selection and age of the wood employed, and setup. The myth that Stradivari's secret to success rests solely on his approach to finishing is just that.

If memory serves me, David Burgess once commented here on his preferences, and lack of interest in aged looking reproductions.  I apologize to him, if I have mischaracterized his point on this subject. Luis, told me, in a personal conversation, that he was at odds with several Cremonese luthier friends on the subject of glossy finishes versus flat/satin type finishes.  He noted that the highly polished instruments are not widely accepted in the NY market.

I am somewhere in the middle on the subject of finish. I make very shiney instruments and matte finished instruments, and use a variety of colors. It keeps boredom from creeping into my life, and keeps my creative suices flowing.  I french polish instruments mainly because I can. I spent alot of time perfecting the technique. Unfortunately, all of the extra work does not significantly impact the sale price of an instrument. Beauty is surely in the eye of the beholder, and highly subjective.

I can tell you this, everytime I make a faithful reproduction of an aged del Gesu 1742 Alard, it sells immediately. 

I am sure David, Luis and others will have a lot to contribute on this topic. As far as marketability and sales statistics are concerned, we need to hear from some retail sellers. 





November 24, 2008 at 07:34 PM ·

not sure if i have been driven to the other extreme with the constant assault on the glassy, shiny, hard varnish,,i have since developed the antique syndrome, that is, if the varnish looks old, soft, worn,  i have an urge to bet the house that the violin has to sound good! :)  (even if it smells weird, with fur balls rolling inside the f holes:)


November 24, 2008 at 09:11 PM ·

I'm hoping that one of our Luthiers can tell us a little more about the science behind the varnish. What does it do for/too the instrument? Slows/inhibits decay? Evens out the surface tension on the instrument or that has nothing to do with it? Dampens unwanted vibes? etc.,?

I was just tossing out some brain storming folks. What does varnish do? Or what sould it do? What's it's purpose? Who do you think will be in the Super Bowl this year? {sorry, just kidding with that one ;) }

November 24, 2008 at 10:34 PM ·

Sorry if that came off rude Al ;>)

It is the only accurate manner I know to describe how some folks completely get focused on the superficial aspects of a violin and set aside the abilities of the instrument in favor of aesthetics.


Last year a few of my colleagues were auditioning instruments.  One was a contemporary maker's work (who shall remain nameless), only a 2-3 years old---priced at a reasonable $16k-20k IIRC.  Said  violin looked like it had been through World War 4, the maker intentionally made the finish worn and the violin look beat-up (even had the "violin resting on cloth on a hot humid day" marrings in the finish on the back, varnish was a very opaque less-than-nice-brown).......

..........well the violin was OK-it tonally wasn't balanced across strings well at all, needed a post adjustment and (very) different strings--and it might've been a nice fiddle to of my dear colleagues (who was auditioning that instrument as well as a few others) couldn't stop going on about "how beautiful it is"--said colleague was/is a better violinist than I am--but I could barely get them to focus on what wasn't there tonally.  I told them what I thought was lacking-and the only counter argument I got was "but it is sooo beauti....".

 The maker seemed to be banking on the overkill "antique" taste some folks have is my only explanation.



@Mr Gammuto:

As I recall Monsieur Burgess has some strong opinions about the whole tradition of "antiquing" finishes....I'll be suprised if he doesn't sound off before too long ;>)

November 24, 2008 at 10:50 PM ·

Sacconi mentioned that the varnish should not play havoc with the soundbox capacity of producing sound, and I think he was right.

Michael Darnton told me that "varnish is evil", and I think he is right, as usual.

I try to get a varnish that is thin but at the same time gives depth to the wood,  The ideal varnish makes the varnish tridimentional, the so called "hollographic" effect, you can see "into" the wood, mainly on figured maple.

It may not be "cloudy" but quite transparent, even when hightly coloured,  otherwise it will hide the beauty of the wood and the wood will appear unatractive. When you move the instrument in your hands under the light the wavings must "dance" and move under the light, hence the words "flame" and "inner fire" that are used to describe good varnish.

The varnish may appear quite attractive to the player, triggering the interest of the player to try it. The varnish may say to the musician: "hey, come here and play me!!!". When the player says nothing about your varnish is that  because you are starting to make a good varnish. 

In general it's hard to describe the colour on a good varnish. The colours will change depending on the light source. It may appear golden yellow under the sun, brown under "cold" lights and red under "hot" lights.  Hence the description of the colour on good varnishes will envolve more than one colour: golden yellow, red/brown, orange/red/brown, brown/red over a golden ground, etc.

Bright reds and oranges (called "arancione" in Italian) were widely used by classic makers. A Del Gesù "pochette" was displayed on Cremona sometime ago and its colour was described as "bright red".  These instruments were seen in the 18th century in candle lighted rooms that were much more darker  than our modern rooms so that these bright colours appeared ok in such conditions.  Bright colours were widely used in the Baroque era, both in art objects, furniture and closes.

Most people don't know that on the most part of old instruments no coloured varnish was left, what we see today  is the ground  and patina/polishing.  It's quite rare seing original coloured varnish on Stradivaris because it was quite delicate or was removed by abrasion, French polishing, etc.  Charles Beare mentions that most of the wear on Strads was made during the first 20 years of the instrument's life. 

Most of the photos we see portrays old instruments with colours they don't have when seen in person,  in general it will appear much more red than it is. It's hard to find books in which the original colour of the instrument was treated in a "naturalistic" way, such as on Biddulph's book on Del Gesù.

The varnish used today by top makers is quite quite good, it's much better than the varnish we see in many many modern Italians, and even in some old instruments.

November 24, 2008 at 11:13 PM ·

I would really love to do the following experiment - not least because several non-violinist friends have wondered what the results would sound like - given all the hype we violinists read and talk about regarding "the art of varnish":

To take two newly made violins by a master maker - who has a professional pedigree enabling him to sell his instruments at a not inconsiderable price.  Two violins made from similar wood stock, to the luthier's favorite "model", thus with very similar dimensions, style etc etc.  One would be varnished as per the luthier's well tested and carefully concocted personal varnish, the other would be varnished with Walmart's "This Weekend Only Clearance Special All-Purpose Varnish" - as per instructions on the tin...

The two violins would then be finished with identical fittings/strings/carefully adjusted bridge etc.

A professional would then play them both in, in as similar way as possible - say for a month or two.  Then we v-commers and our non-violin obsessed relations and friends would all assemble in a perfect acoustic - I'll suggest the Goldener Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna, with our guinea-pig player, perhaps one of the Wiener Philharmoniker Konzertmeisters... we are blindfolded in the audience so we don't know which violin is which.

Completely putting aside how the two instruments looked after the varnishing was complete, how would an experienced violinist be able to differentiate between their sound?  How about someone who like listening to violins but doesn't play themself?  Will it be such a significant difference that both groups can notice any difference between the "luthier specialist" varnish and the "Walmart Special"?  Or maybe only enough difference for the trained  violinists/luthiers present to make a precise observation?  

Are there any general differences that people on here can state before even considering this hypothetical experiment - i.e. the Walmart Special varnished  violin would without doubt sound muffled, fewer overtones, won't project so well etc etc.  Or could we end up in a situation that because both violins were constructed by an expert craftsmen - there IS no real discernable difference between the sound comparing the two varnishes?  (Which would obviously be a shock!)

I'm just intrigued to hear opinions and now I have to stop procrastinating and get back to a final burst for today of bars 147-201 in Bach's C major sonata fugue mvt.  Amazing music... which you can probably guess has fried my brain!

November 24, 2008 at 11:51 PM ·

I imagine they would sound very similar, provided that no big error was commited with the Wall Mart varnish, such as a too thick film. But the violin varnished with the Wall Mart varnish would be rejected by the market and would appear quite ugly too, if applied by an unexperienced person.  But it's good remembering that it's nearly impossible to make two identical instruments.

But if you give the Wall Mart varnish to a good maker he will be able to varnish the violin in a reasonable way, I think, because not only the varnish matters but the ability of the maker to apply it.  The maker's ability will prevail over the material. But I may be wrong.

November 25, 2008 at 03:36 AM ·

manfio vs walmart,,,,bet on the former. hands down.

home depot vs walmart,,,hmm, a push.

marc, would it be rude to ask what IIRC stands for?:)

you know, another factor comes into play here.   perhaps more people agree that played-in violins sound better than freshly made.   a properly played violin, changing from one pair of good hands to another over generations,  may retain  the magic of  the better  sound, thus the link between that old look and that sound to die for:)  

November 25, 2008 at 03:51 AM ·

IIRC=If I Recall Correctly

Sometimes between my posting here and a linux forum I forget where I am-and quit my graduate student scholarly snobbish pontificating (and causing communicative ennui) and start typing English internet acronyms.


There is a lot of placebo effect in playing and auditioning violins.   Not only is there age and appearance, but also $$$$$$$$$ value can wildly skew what we hear and listen for (or don't listen for).  You tell someone something about a violin-and they immediately make assumptions about it.

Older instruments tend to already be sorted out-the good violins stay in circulation, and the not so good slip away to the corners....hence the old instruments seem to be better *when in fact, most of the crap and VSOs that were made at a similar time is just already filtered out)

There is also the myth of the Strad and the old violin at play.  In the start of the mass-produced factory violins-the Cremonese master's work was revered as being great-and part of that contributes to the age myth.

Also, from an aesthetic standpoint-people tend to favor the more nicely figured wood, as well as the gold/red varnishes (which tend to occur after aging, this can get associated with age--nowadays people call it "antiquing")--rather than the sharp oranges and bright colors of newly finished violins.


The best way to sort out all the myth in auditioning-and I did this when I was shopping, and I encourage others to do it:

Have a violin teacher/master stand in another room and play several violins without saying which (no watching the player, just listening)-same excerpts, same style, 1st the student/listener picks out in order which they like best and why.....No limits on going back and forth to relisten-this isn't a pass fail test-but something to fine tune the ear...

...then the student/listener needs to identify which instrument is which.....usually it is obvious to someone who has been practicing with the instruments....the real challenge is then mixing in several bows--where the student listens for which bow sounds the best on each violin.  It is an ear and mental workout.


November 25, 2008 at 08:17 AM ·

An amature's "player's take" on varnish:

Several years ago, I used varnish condition as a gage for instrument quality (how well it was taken care of), much like you would on a used car's paint finish.  When I went shopping for a new viola two years ago, I kept my focus on tone, not just aesthetics.  However, it was the deepness in color and flaming that caught my eye when I picked up "Hilda" for the first time.

I must admit though that when Hilda started to display "crackling" in the varnish on the upper rib where my hand made contact while shifting or in rest position I was a bit distressed.  I'm still not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing.  I spoke with the luthier and he told me that the varnish he formulated is very soft for various reasons (can anyone comment on this?) .  He has since switched to a slightly harder varnish that does not crackle or mar nearly as much. 

Hilda now has some additional "cracks" in the varnish on the lower bouts, lower ribs, and on the back in the last inch down by the end-pin, and some "smear" marks where my shoulder rest legs sit on the ribs (from a few days of practing in hot humid weather).  I was told that these blemishes are not a big concern other than aesthics.  Her tone is still remarked upon by my fellow violists as being "rich, deep and a projecting tone", just what you would want in a viola. 

Though Hilda is "aging" faster than my old student viola ("Old Man"), the wear and tear marks are more of a "right of passage" of sorts.  Her tone is still as good as before.  Regular check-ups have shown no signs of serious problems outside of the crackling. 

November 25, 2008 at 02:42 PM ·

>>>>>>I would really love to do the following experiment - not least because several non-violinist friends have wondered what the results would sound like - given all the hype we violinists read and talk about regarding "the art of varnish":

To take two newly made violins by a master maker - who has a professional pedigree enabling him to sell his instruments at a not inconsiderable price.  Two violins made from similar wood stock, to the luthier's favorite "model", thus with very similar dimensions, style etc etc. ........<<<<

We've done exactly that, many times over.  The difference isn't so much in the varnish as it's in the ground, and very small changes in the composition of the ground can make large differences in tone. 

The master luthier I work with has made the same model instrument for over 15 years.  During all that time, his instruments have gone from good bench-made instruments to outstanding ones, and have been bought and are played by soloists and symphony players all over the US and Europe.  The improvement is almost entirely due to incremental improvements in the ground and varnish system, primarily the ground.

I can only say that the difference in sound from one ground to another is clearly obvious even to ears that are not highly trained. I wouldn't have believed it before I came here, but I believe it now after hearing it with my own ears for so long.  You can clearly hear the difference every time he makes a change, and not all the changes go in the desired direction.

November 25, 2008 at 03:57 PM ·

Yes, the ground, that is called "imprimittura" in Italian is much more important to the sound than the varnish.

And violin ground is a highly controversial issue.

November 26, 2008 at 01:36 AM ·

Interesting views in this discussion...  and I have a feeling that "gentlemen never discuss varnish" is one of the best pieces of advice offered thus far.  :-)

At the risk of falling off the "gentleman" cart, I'll throw in a few comments.  I'm NOT stating my own tastes here (though you can probably read some of my preferences into my text), so hold the bullets.  This is just based on a couple decades of observation.

1) Antique instruments are probably easier to market, as a group, than un-antiqued instruments.  Antiquing is at a very high level these days (by better makers who do it).  Many instruments I think would look better un-antiqued, however (on those that the level doesn't come up and/or is unconvincing).  Some makers (like Ravitan) have developed finishes that hint at age, but are rather personal in style.  Some (a portion of) players are much happier with a "new" looking fiddle than an antiqued one.

2) For those who believe that sound always trumps appearance, I have to disagree.  I've found it's simply not the case.  Many players (at all levels) seem to have a bias that brings them 'round to the violin they can imagine themselves playing...  and looks have a great amount to do with that vision.  I've witnessed the selection process for hundreds of players, and many times the "best" sounding violin (in my opinion) is left sitting on the table.  To me (this is one of those places you can read in my own preferences), the best instruments are those that reflect the "best" in design, materials, workmanship and performance... though some may find some idiosyncrasies or individual characteristics charming where others do not.

3) Shinny (very) instruments were popular in the past...  and many of the great Italian instruments were polished within an inch of their lives to accomplish the look and many makers complied to the taste with their new work.  Unfortunate.  In classic instruments, varnish gloss, like a number of things, varies by the maker...  and some of the most charming instruments (to my eye) are those that have escaped being perverted.  It's not always a simple case of "gloss" or "matt", it's a combination of surface texture, aging, wear, and patina.  For example, some instruments have varnish that lays on the instrument in a way that reminds me of maple syrup, others have a dry finish, or the varnish crazes in a particular way with time,

It's always a pleasure to see instruments that have the character of their original finish intact. David B. visited  few weeks ago when I had a fine Venetian viola in the shop, and as I recall, one of his first comments was "I wonder how this one escaped...."

November 26, 2008 at 12:13 AM ·

....getting F'd up!  ;-)

November 26, 2008 at 12:35 AM ·

:-)  Figured I'd better leave that part of the sentence to you...  :-) 

November 26, 2008 at 12:40 AM ·

What is this, "ground" that is being mentioned?

November 26, 2008 at 01:20 AM ·

The "ground" could be loosely characterized as anything that goes between the bare wood and the varnish, or penetrates into the wood.

November 26, 2008 at 01:19 AM ·

Could you give a few examples of ground materials? (I have a feeling Buri is going to make a coffee joke.)

What about wiping the wood with denatured alcahol?

November 26, 2008 at 01:24 AM ·

ground would be a type of wood stain or colouring agent involved.

November 26, 2008 at 01:44 AM ·

Joe, I'd think of that as a ground color.  Many ground applications have little color.  Some grounds are simply a coat of uncolored varnish or shellac.  Some contain minerals and a binding agent.  Some makers use(d) linseed oil (which darkens a bit).  Some makers use(d) gelatin.  Others used preparations with color inherent (or added). Etc. 

November 26, 2008 at 01:42 AM ·

So does the ground act as a sealant?

November 26, 2008 at 05:36 AM ·

Gentlemen..... don't tell anyone here about the egg white, or  bee bi-product grounds. It will drive them nuts!!!!!!!!!!!  The focus will shift from Walmart varnish to health food store products and their applicability.  ;-)

November 26, 2008 at 05:52 AM ·

Marc Bettis has shared some pearls of wisdom here: This is GREAT advise.

"Have a violin teacher/master stand in another room and play several violins without saying which (no watching the player, just listening)-same excerpts, same style, 1st the student/listener picks out in order which they like best and why.....No limits on going back and forth to relisten-this isn't a pass fail test-but something to fine tune the ear...

...then the student/listener needs to identify which instrument is which.....usually it is obvious to someone who has been practicing with the instruments....the real challenge is then mixing in several bows--where the student listens for which bow sounds the best on each violin.  It is an ear and mental workout."

GG: I have advocated this approach for many, many years. It eliminates much of the subjectivity associated with the instrument evaluation process. The only other thing I would add is, do not try and evaluate an instrument in a closed / cramped environment. If you have access to a large room with high ceilings, that is the place to do some real listening. 

November 26, 2008 at 01:23 PM ·

Royce: yes the ground is also a sealer. If you apply coloured varnish directly over the bare wood it will be unevenly absorbed, resulting in a blotch an uggly appearence.  Violins have lots of endgrain and it absorbs much more varnish tha the other parts, hence we have to seal - size - the wood first, and just then apply the coloured varnish.

Some makers will use their uncolored varnish as a ground, and that's what many contemporary Cremonese makers do. . Others will use a mineral ground (varnish plus pomice, for instance).

Some makers will try to prevent varnish absortion by the wood as much as possible, so that the varnish will not penetrate in the wood. Some will prefer a ground that penetrates a bit in the wood.  

Others will use Sacconi's "vernice bianca", that is decanted egg white (albumina), honey, sugar, and arabic gum dissolved in water.  The "vernice bianca"  is described by Sacconi in his book "I Segreti di Stradivari". According to Sacconi Stradivari used it on the inside and outside of the instrument. II used it in the past. It worked quite good in some instruments, but became cloudy in some few.... I don't use it anymore. Sacconi also mentions potassium silicate as a ground, and it's use is a highly controversial issue.  

There are also some ready made grounds on the market now, such as "Imprimitura Dorata".

The ground may also give some colour to the wood. The Cremonese ground in many times  is golden yellow.

My current ground is my oil varnish (Marciana Manuscript in Venice, circa 1550 - 2 parts oil, one part colophony and one part mastic) that I cook myself in a paste with fine tripoli that I rub in wood. Depending on the case I may use also some propolis in spirits.

As many makers, I change something every time, I'll dance the music the wood is playing. 


November 26, 2008 at 04:05 PM ·

Luis- Thanks a Million!!!!

November 26, 2008 at 05:35 PM ·

Luis, can you dance to Stravinsky's Rites of Spring? If so, do you give lessons? ;-)

November 26, 2008 at 06:01 PM ·

No, I don't dance...    I would like to dance tango....

November 26, 2008 at 07:39 PM ·

Luis, My wife is quuite an accomplished tango dancer.... when we visit South America again, I am sure you could talk her into a lesson, or two. ;-)

November 26, 2008 at 08:02 PM ·


  • Protect the instrument from atmospheric impurities.
  • It's cohesion and elasticity should allow for extremes of atmospheric, and temperature variations.
  • The physical strength and integrity of the wood under the varnish should be preserved and maintained.
  • Be transparent enough to highlight the natural beauty of the wood.
  • Be capable of being applied thinley enough to facilitate multiple layering.
  • Should be able to be removed, should that become necessary in extreme situations.
  • Varnish should not be applied in a manner that mutes, or restricts tone quality.
  • Amen.

November 26, 2008 at 09:58 PM ·

Hi Giovanni!  Some oil varnishes are quite thick (like honey)  and are applied in  2 or 3 coats. That's why some old Italian varnish recipes mention that they can be applied with our fingers.

November 27, 2008 at 06:49 AM ·

Luis, I have several quart jars of "honey Varnish" I made awhile back sitting idle on my chemistry self in the shop. The finger rubbing approach works very nicely,  but I prefer to "complicate matters" by applying as many as three different tints to achieve a desired look.  I may start out with amber, move to burnt sienna, and finish up with a vandyke..... or change the order, or select a completely different group of tints to work with. It adds time to the project, but it is part of the creative process for me. (As a side note: I do not apply as many as 15 coats of rubbed out varnish to an instrument, as some collegues I know do.)

November 29, 2008 at 11:54 AM ·

Talking about varnish, I've changed a bit the colour on my latest instrument, I don't know how to put pictures here, but you can see it here:

November 29, 2008 at 02:57 PM ·

see, this is what i was talking about,,,sometimes when i look at the varnish,,,the eyes sugget to the ears that the instrument must sound good!  dark chocolate...salivation.  we need a link to the sound one day, manfio!

have couple questions out of ignorance :)

1. on the back plate,  top and bottom, looks like 2 pins/nails.  is that for as much style as function?

2.  i cannot see the bee stings very clearly because of the photos.  are the 2 pieces of purfling designed to meet symmetrically?

3.  on the bottom of the scroll, on the treble side, just above the nut, there are 2 cut marks...hand maker's style?

4.  meant to ask you this one earlier in another discussion, not sure if it is too personal:),,,do you have a preference how you will be remembered or referenced in terms of maker's nationality, that is, italia or brazil?   or it does not matter because the instruments speak for themselves? :)

November 29, 2008 at 02:42 PM ·

"meant to ask you this one earlier in another discussion, not sure if it is too personal:),,,do you have a preference how you will be remembered or referenced in terms of maker's nationality, that is, italia or brazil?"

Al, are you referring to the thread I think you do? Cause if you do, then you would be mistaken, cause that discussion was not at all about the maker of an instrument, but about international trade regulations which govern the specification of country of origin of products and whether or not these rules apply to (second hand) violins as well.

November 29, 2008 at 02:48 PM ·

hello ben!

yes, while what you are saying is different from what i was asking,,,the cat inside me wants to know! :)

in that thread, there was some discussion on makers who have moved around...

November 29, 2008 at 03:04 PM ·

Al, yes, I realise that you are curious about something unrelated to that other thread and that is fine by me, but still that threat was about country of origin as defined by law, not about makers and whether the makers move around or change passports or styles matters absolutely not for country of origin.

Let's put it this way, if you import an instrument into a country and you are asked by customs to fill out a form one of the questions on which says "country of origin of imported goods" and if you mess this up and fill in the wrong country, that is to say, a country where the instrument was in fact not made when it was made, then you are effectively making a false customs declaration and this carries extremely hefty penalties in just about every country on this planet, in some places this may even get you a prison sentence. The customs guys don't care who made stuff, they only care where it was manufactured. That is what "country of origin" means, there is no room for any kind of interpretation, creative or otherwise.

November 29, 2008 at 03:05 PM ·

concur, ben!  that actually to me is rather straight forward.  i have friends who are in the textile industry and to avoid paying higher tariffs here and there, they have to set up shops everywhere and play accordingly.

my point, trivial as it is, is about how makers want others see them, not per se on their instruments, when they relocate "permanently" to another location.  pretend you are a maker for instance.  you start out in the west in the first ten years and then spend next 10 years in japan.  it just happens that most of your important instruments are made in japan in that second 10 years.   so you are a japanese luthier now?   or does it matter,,,that is what i ask?

November 29, 2008 at 03:17 PM ·

Al, fair enough. I don't think that you'd become "a Japanese luthier". It may even be that there is a consensus that the instruments would carry a non-Japanese adjective, e.g. if you are a maker from Italy and you continue in the Italian style, there may well be a consensus that the instruments be called Italian violins, that's quite possible. However, the country of origin would nevertheless be Japan, regardless of what adjective the instruments may be considered to have.

There is precedence for that. Take the car industry for example. AFAIK, Daimler Benz make Mercedes models for the US market in US factories. Therefore, the country of origin for these cars will be USA with out any doubt. However, if people talk about a Merc, they will consider it a German car, regardless of where it was manufactured. Thus, the adjective given to a product (by public consensus, or by marketing) is not necessarily the same as country of origin of said product. Nor does it say anything about the people who make the product. The (presumably) Mexican workers who work in the US Merc factory do not magically become Germans just because they make Mercedes cars. The car doesn't become a Mexican car because of that either.

November 29, 2008 at 04:36 PM ·

lol, your car analogy is right on,,based on my own personal experience:)

November 29, 2008 at 05:21 PM ·


Here a link to some sound samples.Click on the gramophone on the 2006 viola owned by Alberto Lepage, there is a small sample of Berlioz's "Harold in Italy" played on my viola, with the Cordoba Orchestra:

Yes, there are two pins there. They are used  to aligne the top and back to the rib cage during the building process. They were used by the classic makers too.

This viola is inspired in Andrea Guarneri, hence no bee stings but, yes, the two pieces of purfling meet simetrically.  I applied a patina over the varnish and it obscures a bit the purfling region,  emulating what occurs in old instruments, lots of dirt acumulates in this region.

Yes, there are tool marks on the scroll.

My family came from Northern Italy, Veneto region, from a "paese" called Fontaniva. I speak Italian fluently and know the whole mass in Italian, I cook Italian food,  I love Italian culture in general but, yes,  I live in Brazil, that is mentioned on my website, My instruments are made in Sao Paulo - and I mention that in my tickets too -  so they are Brazilian instruments. 

I find it strange when Sacconi and Peresson are mentioned as "American makers"...  they are Italians!  I find the instruments made by Carl Becker in the 20's and 30's very very Italian...   and I can't see Italy in some contemporary instruments made in Italy today ...

November 29, 2008 at 05:28 PM ·

November 29, 2008 at 05:28 PM ·

November 29, 2008 at 05:34 PM ·

thanks,,,heard that sample before,,magnificent,,,also great to see the crown prince of japan playing your instrument on your website,,,,

self taught???  incredible!

goes along with the saying,,,there is no denying that some are born with innate talent,,,politically correct or not:)

interesting that people say violin simulates human voice,,,i think viola does!

December 1, 2008 at 02:37 AM ·

"there is no denying that some are born with innate talent,,,politically correct or not:)"

Al, did you mean that to apply to the Japanese crown prince or to Luis?

December 1, 2008 at 02:11 PM ·

hi ben,,to luis for his viola making acumen.  might as well to the be born a prince is perhaps the ultimate innate talent!

December 1, 2008 at 02:16 PM ·

"to be born a prince is perhaps the ultimate innate talent!"


Now, I am glad I am not talented :-)

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