Does Your Instrument Have a Story?

September 26, 2009 at 03:22 PM ·

My mother gets a modest allowance once a month.  She put money aside at a sacrifice to herself.  We go togeather to a Luthier in Colorado Springs.  I try out a violin, I like it and the money that she had saved pays for it.

What about your violin / viola?  Was it passed on to you?  Who was the previous owner(s)?  Was it an adventure to acquire it? What went through your mind as you saved for it?  What is your instruments story?

Replies (45)

September 26, 2009 at 03:13 AM ·

Oh, the violin that she bought for me was once the violin of the son of the luthier that sold it to us.  He did a fantastic job setting it up!  It was made in 2007.

September 26, 2009 at 03:45 PM ·

My fiddle was given to me by a man in the Old Time Fiddlers in my town.  He never played so he gave it to me, knowing that it would be played.

We don't know exactly what year she was made but we know it was sometime in the early 1920's, made for Eaton's Catologue.

I gave my fiddle a birthday : November 17th, 1921.  Obviously, thats not the exact day she was made, but that's the day she was given to me.  Emmy Lou will be 88 in a couple of months!


September 26, 2009 at 07:20 PM ·

November 17th! A Scorpio!  Sexy!  Neat story too! Thanks for sharing!

September 26, 2009 at 07:58 PM ·

My viola was made in Montpellier in the south of France. At the time I was living in Normandy so I went down by train to take delivery of it as soon as it was finished. On the trip back the TGV (high-speed train) had to make an unexpected stop in the middle of the countryside as somehow a pigeon had ended up inside a carriage on departure. The train staff decided that there was no way any pigeon was going to get a free ride to Paris without a ticket, so they pursued it through the carriages and it ended up in the carriage where I was sitting, and for a moment perched itself on the seat in front. It eventually found its way out a door that had been opened and the train took off again. Because of this incident with my viola and the pigeon I've always attached the symbolism of "message carrier" to my instrument. 

September 26, 2009 at 08:57 PM ·

Wow, what nice and very emotional stories you all have. I read them all with great interest as I love instrument stories!  How true about the "messenger"!!!   My violin with the most special "history" is the one I have now.   I remember like yesterday this day just a little after Easter.  It's a violin made in Montréal in 2007 that happilly somehow  came out much better than his listed price.   Ennough so that my maker though it was good ennough to lend it to one of her clients who plays with the Montreal Symphony when this client had work done on his violin (It didn't have any owner then. It was for sale).   I just knew it had played with the Montreal symphony after I had made my choice (fourtunately because my choice would have been biased otherwise!!!) and I admit it added a little "special" to my violin. This hall where the orchestra and many of my soloist idols played...   Be sure that I know very well this is something absoluntly impossible for me as a player but at least one of us went there : )  and I sometimes call him "maestro" to joke about this as far as we can joke with a violin!!!  

My parents too made much sacrifices and it is the only luxury object I have. (no cell, ipod, car whatever lol) but a good instrument is priceless.  

Tell us other stories!!!


September 26, 2009 at 10:44 PM ·

Mine, I found it in an estate sale. What strike me was that it has it very unique varnish, I think they called it patchmark. I got it for only $ 50.00 and have it professionally set up for a few more, but its all worth it!

It has a name inside, which I looked for, and found out that it was handmade during the war in Germany, as its said on that paper inside. Jan 1940.( Accdg to some  family member in upstate New York) So, HE is 69 years old, had the most sweetest sound you can ever imagine, and the most forgiving instrument I have. I mean I can always find my note fairly easy, not with the other backup violin. ( although I love them all) I called him Om, for he bring calmness, and he always make me sound good. ( wink!)

I wish I could upload the pix but I don't know how. Just check the picture on my profile if your curious.

This is a  great thread Royce, good job!


September 26, 2009 at 10:54 PM ·

 Nigel- Neat story! I'll share that one with friends!

Anne-Marie- always a pleasure hearing from you!  Of all the luxuries to have be it a violin!

Elinor- What a find!  would love to hear your violin!

September 26, 2009 at 11:09 PM ·

Hey Royce--you probably didn't read what I posted on the weird looking violin shape, I post that I want to see you on that "hot pink" cammo number when you go hunting.

Of course I am just kidding!

Stay well, and be safe!

September 26, 2009 at 11:27 PM ·

At age twelve, Dad thought it time to get a better violin for me than "The Cigar Box" (his name for the VSO I was using)... My violin teacher at the time, spent that summer in Europe and returned with several violins. My grandmother bought it  for me; a nice shiny 16 year-old French violin and "Fifi" and I have matured together ever since. Purchased for $600.00...most recent appraisal was $32,000

R&M Millant, #422; 1947

September 26, 2009 at 11:57 PM ·

Oh I love these kind of stories - can you imagine hearing them from a load of flautists or oboists?!?!  

Sam:  Fifi is an absolutely brilliant name for a French violin, and she looks very beautiful too.

Both my violins have a lot of sentimental value to me for different reasons.  My French violin Charles (Charles Buthod ca 1900 probably) was bought for me by my parents and accompanied me through much of high school and university, so has lots of  intense personal and musical memories for me.   My Dutch violin - Johannes - I bought for myself using some money my father had left me, so he is also very special, especially as he's definitely the best quality violin I could imagine owning (unless I win the lottery...)    He reminds me of my parents every day.

I wish that I knew something of Johannes' past "life".  Having been born in 1784 in den Haag, he has lived through a lot of tumultous periods of history and I do look at him and wonder about the previous people who owned, played and hopefully loved him as much as I do.

September 27, 2009 at 12:34 AM ·

My violin was a high school graduation present in 1974 from my father. He took me to Beck-Beihoff in Milwaukee where I listened to several I liked. I narrowed them down to two but couldn't choose between the cool looking dark varnished, high-arched top violin, or another that also sounded nice, so the apprentice played each one for me behind the partition. The one I chose was not the one with the cool, dark finish, but the one that sounded better to me. It was made by Johanne Baptiste Schweitzer. The date inside was written as 1837. It has a full, deep sound that I just love. I am very attached to it!!

There are three stories about this violin:

-The violin was found with a group of others in a German salt mine, hidden during WWII and shipped to New York, then some on to Chicago, and then some to Milw.

-As a music major at UW-SP, a friend of mine and I were practicing together and we thought our instruments sounded alike: we found that they had the same violin maker with 2 or 3 years age difference. I have never seen another since, that I know of.

-The peg box became badly cracked so it went back to Beck's where they replaced the neck, but didn't save the original, which was hand-carved. I was upset, but they said it couldn't be fixed anyway (back then). Years later, I took it to my luthier here in Green Bay and complained that I didn't like the neck, it was too wide, not like the original one, which I still regretted losing. When leaving it with him to narrow it, the discussion went to how and where I had gotten it. TURNS OUT, that he was the apprentice that had played it for me 25 years before! I brought the original receipt to symphony with me for him to see and sure enough, there was his signature!

It's questionable as to whether the violin is really as old as the label says, but I don't care. It's obvious that it is very old, but it has such a beautiful sound! I always wonder though, who played it? Did the original owner ever know where his/her violin had been taken? Was it's owner killed in a concentration camp? What symphonies did it play in?

September 27, 2009 at 01:02 AM ·

My husband bought me (with "our" money)  a Colin-Mezin fils violin with a Nurnberger bow almost 10 years ago, after I once again started to play violin in my 30s.  They both have certificates from a reputable store in Chicago; however, at least one person has told me he thinks it is not a real label in the violin. I've looked a little on the internet, and it seems that the label is authentic. The violin supposedly belonged to Alan Ginsberg, famous poet. I have a bad habit, though, of occasionally hitting the side of the violin with the metal edge of my bow. Boy, does that hurt.

Both violin and bow (I must say the bow is especially) are a great improvement over what I was using previously. My parents were rather frugal, and I didn't know what a difference it would make to have a nicer bow (and other investments) when I was seriously studying violin. I've since learned that saving money is not always worth it.

I've played a lot better now, and sometimes when my husband walks by when I'm playing, he says we should get an even better violin. At least I got the husband right!

September 27, 2009 at 01:03 AM ·

Karen, how cool!!!  

Sam, I like the name "cigar box"!!!  I call them either "tin can", pancakes or picouille (french word for a good old horse but that worths nothing) Oistrakh named them "Samovars"  lol Do you know what it means???   However, we all have names for VSO!!!

Rosalind, you remember me the so good idea someone here gave once:  to write a little letter to describe your violin's story with you so that it can have little infos about his life with it .   In many years people will be happy to know its story!!!  



September 27, 2009 at 02:24 AM ·

What great stories!  I hope that this keeps up!

Need a hot pink violin to go with the hot pink camo!

September 27, 2009 at 08:52 AM ·

 What a nice thread!

My parents bought my violin when I was 10 years old and it was practically new (its only 10 this year), and I've had it for 7 years.

My teacher at the time organised for a bunch of her pupils that had outgrown their 3/4 size violins to come and listen to her playing 6 or 7 different violins. She played through them all and I didn't like the sound of any of them, until she played the last one. She also did not say what the price of each one was so that the choice would be based on sound alone. I immediately loved the deep and powerful sound of the last violin, and then she said that it was the most expensive! (R15 000 which is about $1500). My parents are not well-off and could not afford the price. Then, while we were dicussing the price etc. about half an hour after I had heard the violin my dad got a phonecall from a client who phoned to say that he was buying a painting that my dad painted, for R16 000! It was such a wierd coincedence! I absolutely love my violin, everyone has commented that they cannot believe I got it for that price. The maker is Rolando Rinfreschi, originally from Italy. I am still incredibly grateful to my dad for putting all of the money from his painting straight into the purchase of my violin! 

September 27, 2009 at 03:47 PM ·

Karen -

The story of your violin sure is amazing!!!

September 27, 2009 at 05:51 PM ·

 I fell in love with my fiddle but it didn't happen right away.

I had played another violin by the maker and loved the depth of response, the richness and complexity of the overtones, and, at a distance how the sound just "popped" out at you.  I can't explain it, but it put fine old Italian instruments to shame.  So, I tried other instruments by this maker.  There were two of them, both of which presumably hadn't been played in awhile.  One was bigger and sounded better right away.  The other had been made for a tiny woman (much like myself) but it just didn't have much sound at that point.  However, the appearance of said fiddle was gorgeous and I knew somehow it was meant for me; I was sad that the sound was at the time was so closed in.

That all changed when another violinist played the smaller one.  Close up, it just didn't have much sound, just as when I played it.  Then, he moved very far away and played.... the sound of it was just unbelievable.  That was the sound it would have under the ear eventually.  So then it was just a matter of playing the fiddle more to open it up.  I played it 13 hours that day and 7 hours the next day and it just sounded better and better and it was instant love.

Here's the mysterious part.  I'm not a particularly superstitious person but this violin comes with its own story, which, as its first owner, I am adding to every day.  I don't know much about the woman that commissioned it, but I do know that we have some commonalities.  We're both very tiny.  I know that she commissioned it, but never owned it.  Apparently, health circumstances took over and she was unable to play by the time the instrument was complete.  My violin has an "old soul" already.  It doesn't sound like a new fiddle--it plays like a fine old Italian.  I like to think of it as this woman's soul having been imprinted inside.

Here's another mystery; my violin has never been owned before, but it was definitely played.  When I got it the fingerboard had to be replaned.  Violins don't play themselves, so it makes me wonder.  Yet the violin spent years and years without a bridge or sound post setup--so who played it, and when?

Here's the last part.  Within a month of getting this violin I was unable to play due to health reasons.  It's over a year later and I'm still unable to play, trying to recover from my operation and running into complications.  I will return to playing one way or another, whether I'm pain free or in terrible pain--music is just in my bloodstream.  I have to hold off until I get more answers, medically.  My violin hasn't even nearly reached its full potential with the sound.  So, as the first owner, I'm hoping to re-write its history from tragedy to success ... because it is a gorgeous instrument visually as well as tonally and it was meant to be played.  I am determined to play and reach new heights with it... I owe it to myself, but I owe it to the instrument and to the maker as well.  I owe it to the first lady who couldn't play but whose soul is in my instrument.  I don't believe she is alive any longer.  My playing will be her voice.

September 27, 2009 at 06:52 PM ·

Wow, Elana what a story!!!  My maker too had a similar story with a woman who played cello professionnally and developed a hand degenerating problem that makes her in the impossibility to play cello.  She tried 10 years after her first injury symptoms but the doc said her hand would degenerate much much faster if she played again so she brough it back ... (the maker and her cried together in the shop... such a tragic story)  Yes, I also think the souls of all those who owned a violin and loved it deeply (not just a little) + lived so much happy and sad things together + really needed it for any reasons possible are trapped in the violin forever : )   It's even more true when there is miseries like ilInesses, hard debut and\or conditions etc etc because I think you get more attached to your instrument then.  Well, maybe it is just a belief lol  I didn't know you could make a violin for a special need in particular. (outside of lowering the bridge or minor adjustments like this).  It's special then! I though a maker always followed a "pattern" as Strad, Guarneri or Gofriller etc 

Good luck to you and I'm sure you'll make this instrument live again with a wonderful voice!!! Yes, I know what you mean by I owe this instrument etc... When the violin is so good, we owe them and we feel we have to do something about the raw potential of the instrument. (the best we can according to our situation of course)


September 27, 2009 at 08:17 PM ·

Sam- Sounds like an heirloom to be passed down!

Elana- You'll be in many prayers and we're there for you.  Your posts will be welcomed.

Anne-Marie: You should write an Opera about someone being in a violin and their soul mate finds the violin and the music they make is magic.  Then a jealous person through crookedness frames the soul mate violinist and gets the violin but it wont sing so this person is mean and will have it's soul mate executed if it doesn't sing, so on a night of a performance the mean one plays, but somehow the soul mate violinist gets it, plays it and the music is so magic it sets the soul free, and the soul mate violinist says, You can take my life now, so that the soul in the violin that is now free and I can be one.  Amour! No?

September 27, 2009 at 09:13 PM ·

Wow Royce, you impress me with this imagination! Truely Victor Hugo wouldn't write better than the idea you just gave...   (and it's a deserved comment!!!)   What incredible dramma in your idea!!!   Ah one time, this HAS to be published! It's a too good drammatic story and I can imagine in my head a soooo drammatic opera for violinists, book or poem etc out of this. Yes yes Amour passionné et véritable in this story. (at its maximum : )

 Bravo mille fois!  


September 28, 2009 at 12:28 AM ·

Thank You!  Would be neat to have the members here contribute to an opera.  Know any here who compose?

September 28, 2009 at 12:54 AM ·

Royce, what's in the pipe?

opium bong GIF Animation

September 28, 2009 at 01:06 AM ·

Hahahaha!  My room mate is a catapiller with a hookah!  He keeps chanting A.E.I.O.U.

September 28, 2009 at 02:00 PM ·

Royce, you are so right. I also though it would be so nice to all contribute to a violin concerto or piece.  A really nice one, not  just noise... (no offend to anything : )  A composer could take the bribes of compositions, put them in the same key and somehow get inspired by them???   An opera... cool also.  You have a heck of a good idea!!!   Just, be careful with Sam's stuff : )  


September 28, 2009 at 02:37 PM ·

Anne-Marie:  No worries.  Sam's stuff isn't my kind of Mother Nature.  I don't smoke at all, or trip.  A drink ocationaly.  I was just teasing him!  But thanks for the concern!

More Stories!

September 28, 2009 at 11:54 PM ·

Such interesting stories. I'm not sure I can compete with them. But....

When I was in college (Antioch College in Ohio) in the early 1960's, my teacher (and the orchestra conductor) there was Myron Kartman. He was friends with a violin maker in Tampa named William Walls. Mr. Walls would make fiddles, send them to Mr. Kartman, and Mr. Kartman would let students use them for a semester or so to give the fiddles a chance to get played on before Mr. Walls would sell them.

Mr. Walls made a mold of Mr. Kartman's priceless Guarnerius, and I got to use the new fiddle for the semester. I fell in love with it. It had the richest, creamiest tone you could imagine, even though it didn't project very far. I wanted to buy it, but Mr. Walls had already promised it to a violinist somewhere. But he told me he'd give me the next one off of the Guarnerius mold. He didn't finish it until after I had graduated (in 1964). But he sent it to me, and I paid his asking price (which then was $500). In a year or two he asked me to send it back because he had improved the varnish and wanted to revarnish it.

I've had the Walls fiddle ever since, and it is like part of my skin. It projects nicely, and has a great tone. I can't imagine parting with it for anything at this point. And so, I'm the only owner it's ever had since it was built. I still have the letters Mr. Walls sent me while he was building it.

Maybe that's not a very romantic story, but I think that if time ever comes to sell it, and if I could figure out a clever name for it, I could get a lot more for it. Maybe I'll call it the "ex-Sandy" or something like that.

September 29, 2009 at 03:22 PM ·

It's a nice story Sandy!  Thanks for sharing!

September 29, 2009 at 04:41 PM ·

 Lovely stories! My violin doesn't have much of a story - yet...

I bought it new. I had left my old one for repairs and mentioned that I was thinking about looking for a better one. When I picked the old one up my luthier had one he wanted me to try. I tried it but didn't really liked it. I returned a couple of weeks later and played six different instruments. Two of them I took home over the weekend to try some more. One of them I fell in love with. And, of course, it was the one he had picked out at the beginning! :-)

September 29, 2009 at 05:34 PM ·

Haha!!! : )


September 29, 2009 at 09:14 PM ·

the first time i saw my violin was when i was at my luthier to do an adjustment on the violin i had back then in 2007.( I visit my luthier often, he is a friend to me although he is 50 years older than me). And i can't remeber that he has ever before or since been so proud to present a violin to me, he said  "i think this one is really promising" it was beautiful mahogany red. The Violin varnish was still drying.. But the same day i met the violin that i fell in love with at first sight and first touch and it matched the image i had in my mind of what my violin would look like (That violin was old and made in germany).

One week later i had to call and ask if he would sell it to me and he said yes. I got to take it home to try it out and he also gave me his new violin to take home and i was happy that he wanted to sell that instrument to me but i had allready made up my mind. He gave me a good deal and i visited him once a month to give him money for the took me one and a half year to pay him the total price of the violin, so month after month i got to see his latest violins being finished and sold..but that mahogany violin was still hanging on the wall and i started thinking, why doesn't anybody want that violin?

when one and a half year had passed i started realizing that the violin i was buying was not a good instrument and i remembered that my luthier had told me that i'm free to trade to another instrument.. was that red violin ment for me?

I decided to trade to another violin and i went to try out a new one.. he offered me the red violin and i said that i had been thinking about it as well but at that time he had many new good looking and nice instruments for sale so i started to play them all until i had just two violins to decide from.. one of them was the red one, and i didn't know what to do so i asked the luthier to play them both for me.. and the red one really touched my heart. my sister was with me to help me decide and she said "it's as if it is whispering secrets" when i was playing it,  and now i could hear it as well. my luthier had called it wild and a rebell.. it had something extra that just went straight to the heart. So the day of my last payment i went home with the violin that i really had been paying for for the last one and a half years. Now as time goes by i realize that i have an exeptional instrument and i am so happy that it was there waiting for me!

I named it Malaki that means messenger because it is as if it is whispering secrets

September 30, 2009 at 12:05 AM ·

Sarah, gee, it's as romantic as the red violin moovie lol!  


September 30, 2009 at 08:25 AM ·

  Well, I think I have posted this before, but cannot remember where.

It was 1992 that I travelled to Chile (I live in Madrid) to pay a visit to some family i have there. I stayed at my uncle Carlo's house (He, and part of my family come from Milano, Italy). Lying on a bookshelf I saw a damaged fiddle: unglued fingerboard, a 5 cm crack in the top, loose soundpost and partially unglued seams (later I knew it fell from the shelf in the 1986 earthquake). The violin looked very old. Label inside the violin read "Io. Bap. Ruggerius Bon. NIcolai Amati de Cremona Alumnus Brixiae Fecit 16  ". 

By that time I was starting with violin, so I took all the pieces and put them together the best I could and started playing Albinoni's Adagio. Suddenly my uncle Carlo entered the room with a distorted face. I suddenly stopped playing and thought "I should have not touched it". My uncle urged me to continue playing and started crying (If you had seen a 50 years old man crying like a baby your legs surely would start to shiver like mine did).

He told me the story of the violin. His family in Milano played this violin since mid 1800's and has passed from generation to generation since then. He played it when young, but nobody had played it for more than 30 years. The violin travelled from Milano to Chile in the first decade of 1900 and was played by Carlo's grandfather and father before him. Then he said, "it is time for the violin to return to Europe, keep it with you and play it until one of your descendants can play it".

Once back in Spain I took it to Fernando Solar to have it repaired, I have been playing "The Grandpa", as I call him, since then and has a beautiful voice. Later investigations say it is not an authentic G.B. Rogeri, but a copy made probably late 1700's - early 1800's, The violin is in a fair state taking in account how much it suffered during all these years.

Now my 4 years old is starting her first lessons with a tiny 1/8 fiddle. Hope she can play "The Granpa" when it is due.

Violins don't belong to us, we belong to the violins.


September 30, 2009 at 11:13 AM ·

That's my violin. Not much of a story behind it. I went to Metzler's (they run ads on this site.. and I actually live just a mile away from their shop). I tried a bunch of violins in my price range. This one was my favorite. I've always been extremely happy with this violin. I call it Miracle, because it sounds really, really great. When I (when, not if, lol) get the money for a Vuillaume, I probably won't even buy one. I can't imagine any instrument sounding or playing better than my Miracle.

Yeah, I'm sure there are some really awesome Italian violins out there, etc. I have played a fair amount of violins valued at around $50,000 to $100,000, but my Miracle is just awesome. I love it! That's why it's a Miracle.

I really love my violin. This is why you will see me telling people to protect their instruments throughout these forums. I tell people stuff like - "don't bring alcohol near your strings! Just change the E every few weeks!" and people don't take it seriously. I guess they really don't care about spillage on their instruments. Well, I do.

I don't have any plans to change my instrument. As Stern said, "the instrument is not important." The instrument is important, but I believe that Stern meant - "you don't need a Stradivarius or even a $50,000 dollar violin to sound great." I firmly believe that. Now, I'm not saying that most instruments are playable, nor am I saying that a person can spend just $1,000 dollars and get a great instrument (some $1,000 violins are nice!); but, instruments in and around the $10,000 dollar mark can be extraordinarily good.

Whenever I play with a new crowd, I usually get a few admirers of my sound. I attribite this more to Miracle's glory than my playing ability. Mircale is a great instrument.

I guess this is a love story without any fluff. She's MINE I tell you!

Ah, and in case you were wondering, Miracle is a copy of one of the Golden Year Strads.

September 30, 2009 at 02:55 PM ·

I used to live in Bristol, 1982-85, and spent many Monday mornings sitting in a small old-fashioned violin shop on Christmas steps. talking to Fred Bartley, who owned the shop.

He had some lovely violins, but none had any real provenance - a sweet little fiddle he said was N. Amati (eventually bought by the violinist from gypsy group "Waso"), one labelled Andrea Guarneri thet he thought was by the Voller bros, another by Jeffrey Gilbert of Peterborough, then another from Worcester by Henry Handley. There was an old dark violin labelled Barak Norman and Nathaniel Cross, and a few decent French and Germans, such as you would see in any fiddle shop.

I would hang out, play the fiddles, talk about violins and anything else that came up, and drink coffee from the cafe across the steps. When I was about to leave, Fred would invariably bring out a case from under the counter and say, "Go on, play the Lupot for me, play Sweet Georgia Brown"

Now Fred's Lupot was famous in Bristol. He thought it was the best sounding fiddle he had ever had, and he asked a very high price for it, even then. However, no one would buy it. "No provenance, see," said Fred. I always would play it, but I didn't like it - too shrill, and he had dreadful strings on it. One day i went in with a set of Dominants, and put them on. Now it sounded like a good violin. Not like my old fiddle, but a very good violin. It was much better than the others  Fred had.

Fred's shop was just around the corner from the Colston Hall, Bristol's main concert hall. Whenever visiting players came to perform, they would have some time in the afternoons, and very often would find Fred's shop. "We've had them all in here," he would say. "Menuhin, Kriesler, Heifetz, the lot. And they've all played my Lupot." Of course, Fred would always bring out his favourite instrument for them.

When Fred came to retire, he offered me the "Lupot" at a much lower proce than he had been asking, and I bought it. It's funny, but it seemed to sound better from the very day I gave him the money, stronger, brighter, richer. For a while, I half-believed that it really was a Lupot, but  that didn't matter so much - this violin gave me a much broader range of tone and power than my old violin had done. I ended up using it exclusively for all my work, from busking in the Tube, to gigging in restaurants and jazz clubs, and then, using a strip pick up I used it onstage with Gong, and other bands.

At one concert, the guitarist turned quickly, and bashed my fiddle's corner, putting a crack in the belly. When the top came off, we found a signature, place and date written in pencil on the belly - "J. M. Knilling, Mittenwald, 1840"

So old Fred's "Lupot" was nothing of the sort - but it is still my main working instrument, and sounds as well as ever.


October 11, 2009 at 03:20 AM ·

Although I am trying to piece together the stories of my instruments (my better violin and better viola are both made by 20th-century American makers), I think two of my  bows have a more interesting story.

The story begins when I emerged from the doldrums of not playing since high school.  (I had never owned an instrument while growing up; I simply used the instruments available in the public schools I attended)  I bought decent student-quality outfits to begin with and started saving for future upgrades.  When I had gotten back into practice and had saved some money, I upgraded my violin and viola but at first retained the same bows.  When I could no longer tolerate the bows and had saved enough money, I went shopping for upgrades at a shop that specialized in bows.  I asked to try the bows blind -- no price or maker info -- so that I could make as unbiased a choice as possible.

I tried the violin bows first.  From an array of about 30 violin bows, one bow stood out.  The proprietor (who was in the next room at the time!) even commented on that bow the first time I played it.  It drew a clean and lively tone, projected magnificently, and handled as if it were made with my bowing technique in mind.  I tried the rest of the bows, and some were quite good, but no bow even came close.  Harry Potter fans might liken the experience to buying a wand at Ollivander's. "The wand chooses the wizzard, Mr. Potter.  It's not always clear why."

There were fewer viola bows to try, but very quickly two bows recommended themselves.  They were very nearly equal.  One bow drew a lovely tone but was somewhat difficult to control to my satisfaction; the other bow drew a tone almost as sweet but was completely obedient.  I picked the obedient bow.  Half-joking, I said to the proprietor, "I bet the same person made those two bows."  She replied, "Actually, they were."  Talk about consistent output!

October 11, 2009 at 04:05 PM ·

There is not much of a story behind my Violin; I went to all the shops in London and kept (bought) the one I liked best!

However, there is a nice addition to the story. Ten years after purchase I had a luthier/shop owner look at it and he noted a number inside it on the opposite side to the name label. He went out the back and returned 5 minutes later with another Violin just ONE number different. The two were brothers/sisters.....they were identical in every aspect other than the varnish. Sadly, my beaten-up and well-used instrument sounded so much better than the litter sibling I didn't leave with it.

To think....over 100 years ago, 100s of miles away, the two were hung up next to each other (presumably) waiting for someone to complete the instrument and choose a color varnish.

October 11, 2009 at 08:40 PM ·

@ David Joyce- The violin that my parents bought me (1983) that I played for 2 years in college was taken to a Luthier in our city for repairs.  They picked it up at an auction.  Had a flower engraved in the back of the scoll and a Silver & Pearl flower in the tail piece. Hanging in the luthiers shop was it's twin!  Someone bought it at an estate sale.  Talk about coincidence!  Both German student models made aprox. the teens or 20's.


October 11, 2009 at 09:15 PM ·

Thanks for the other cute stories. They all worth beaing read!   I agree Nicolas with your last sentence. David, nice story!  Me and my teacher play with brothers. It's pretty fun! Sorry you couldn't see the "sister" more than this.   Luke, lol you made me think of myself when you told how much you loved your instrument!  You are right about the 1000$ violins (when you told that there is once in a while a few really great in this price range).   My violin is now at my makers for its check up of the year. My maker kindly lended me a 1500 $ 1968 german violin in the meantime.   My mom and her (because I couldn't go; had school) joked that it would make me appreciate my violin even more.  That I would see how lucky I was...  I wanted maddly to try this German violin to see how much of a "punishment", so to speak, it would be : )  It was beautiful and I though " you're  beautiful as a great violin but you must be quite of a pancake to be this price, no ?"  A little bit like in reality shows when you see a beautiful person with an empty inside!!!  (because usually, 1500$ can be good but... not suppose to be that great) and... when I tried it, my jaw fell as I heard its sound, its power and nice tone + easy to play in all pitches.  It was as amazing as a many k $ violin!!!  I had the pleasure to have my best lesson (like I didn't have for a while) with this violin yesterday. My teacher 100% agreed that it was a "joke" that a so good violin worths just 1500$ (for how good it was). The student who will have this will have a pot of gold for the money invested.  I'll never look at violins in this price with the same eyes...   (I never though badly of them but I never though one of them could play like  professionnal rated violins of many K $ Maybe not like "the" best but like one of them for sure!)   This violin must also be a miracle!    So true that you can find miracles in every price ranges...


February 5, 2010 at 06:50 PM ·

I have a response to this conversation, but it is too long to post here.  Needless to say it is my own fun version of the history of my violin.  Please note many people have written to me asking how I learned so much about my violin, to which I shake my head and laugh.  (you'll see why when you read it)

Enjoy and thanks for starting this conversation up.

February 6, 2010 at 01:15 PM ·

You are welcome!

February 7, 2010 at 01:30 AM ·

Nothing dramatic about either of my violins, but both came to me in an interesting way.

Back in the 1980's, I made the acquaintence of a very sweet elderly gentleman named Delbert.  He was in his 80's at the time.  My best friend had "adopted" Delbert as sort of an honorary grandfather.  Delb didn't have any living "blood" relatives, so when he passed away in 1992, my friend was responsible for dealing with the estate.

One of the items in the estate was an old violin -- in really sad condition.  It (he) was missing just about every piece that wasn't glued down -- strings, bridge, tailpiece, chin rest, etc.  And he had a rather major crack in his top.  I'd always wanted to learn to play the violin, and in spite of his condition, I fell in love with this elderly instrument.  I offered to buy him from the estate, but my friend just gave him to me.  The violin had belonged to Delbert's grandfather.  I've tried to do some research on the grandfather, but haven't been able to track down his name.  I do have an old photograph -- hand-tinted back in 1926 -- of him playing the violin.  He looked to be, perhaps, in his 60's in the photograph.

I found a luthier here in town to make the necessary repairs, and when I got the violin back I began lessons.  I could practice for hours at a time, and it went by like minutes.  My lessons only continued for about four months -- after that, my work schedule got really wild, and I wasn't having time for lessons or practice.  I put the violin away, with the idea that when my schedule got back to normal I'd resume lessons.  The lesson resumption hasn't happened.  I thought about my violin often, but one thing or another always came up, and I didn't bring him out again until last month -- nearly seventeen years after I'd put him away!  I felt SO guilty for neglecting him for so long!

Last week I was telling another luthier here in town about this violin (I'd taken a new violin to him for an evaluation).  He said he'd like to see my older violin, so I showed him to him a few days ago.  The luthier told me he was an import from Germany, back when Conservatory Violins were commonly brought in from Europe for the student trade.  More than likely, he was made a little over a hundred years ago.

I can't manage the lengthy practice sessions I used to with this violin.  In the past ten years or so, I've been having more and more arthritis-related problems.  I discovered that  3/4-size violin is much more comfortable for me to play.  But I still play my beloved old violin nearly every day -- just not for so long at a time.

My new violin is a Bellafina 3/4-size.  I've had her less than a week.  I'd purchased a very inexpensive Chinese violin, and discovered when I had it evaluated by my luthier that it had so many structural problems that getting it into playable condition was virtually hopeless!  I returned it to the store where I'd purchased it.  They offered me, as an exchange, a lovely Bellafina Model 330 that an inventory glitch had prevented them from selling.  It was a dream-come-true -- I never thought I'd ever have a violin as fine as this one!  She has a very sweet and mellow voice (which I'm sure will be even better when I get my new bow out of layaway sometime next month!).  She's sounding better every day!  She's the answer to many prayers, and I know that we were brought together by positive forces beyond my understanding.  Right now I can't afford lessons, but my beautiful new violin is helping to teach me in a more spiritual way.  Research and observation might give me the "nuts and bolts" of playing (but not as well as an actual teacher would), but the soul of my violin is breathing life into my playing.   

February 8, 2010 at 08:37 PM ·

There's one that I've had for many years, which is currently unplayable. I only know of its history with me. Basically, I bought it from an older gentleman for 50 bucks. I t had been stripped & revarnished, had a pair of saddle cracks, and a missing fingerboard. I used it to learn about how violins were constructed and to practice repair methods, and re-stripped it to bare wood and gave it a new finish of oil varnish. Once I managed to get it into playing condition, it sounded surprisingly good for what it is. But alas, it sat in an unconditioned workshop for too long; the pegbox developed a crack and the fingerboard became separated again. No worries, as it is not worth anything except sentimental value as my first beater & fixer-upper.

I currently do not own one that is playable, so I am currently searching for one. I am trialing a couple of instruments that appear promising. One is a modern Italian, late 40's, by Michele De Luccia. There's not much to be found regarding this maker. All I could find was that he made mostly guitars; he only made about 80 violins. There is no provenance or documentation with this fiddle so history is unknown, but it has a very nice tone and is well crafted, after a Guadagnini model I believe... The other is a very nice example of a mid 20's EH Roth, Strad repro ca 1724. I'm sort of favoring the Roth at this point.

So history is still in the process of being made. :)

February 8, 2010 at 09:13 PM ·

What fabulous stories!

February 11, 2010 at 01:23 AM ·

What used to be my main violin has the distinction of never having been paid for.

There's a shop (or used to be) in Liverpool called Rushworth and Dreaper and they used to make their own instruments. Top of the range was their "Ardaton" violin. The guy who I believe to have been their chief maker made one for a friend of his

"For Arnold Cowell Esq as a token of esteem and friendship

George Hemmings  Liverpool June 1933"

When Arnold (I never knew anything about him) stopped playing, the instrument was given to my Dad's uncle, and then when he in turn finished his playing days, he passed it on to me. This was the instrument I had from the age of about 15 and through 12 years of professional playing. I still have it, but am now playing on a modern Chinese instrument that is actually far better (to play). Hopefully, it will stay in the family and never be sullied by changing hands for money!


February 11, 2010 at 07:22 AM ·

 That is a nice story. Hope you can keep that violin within your family for years and years. Mine has been in my family sinde early 1800's. 

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