Help with a Modern Fiddle

January 27, 2010 at 10:53 PM ·

I am a mother of a 13 year old son who has won and placed in many violin competitions. His teacher, a promininent member of the L.A. Philharmonic, strongly reccomends that we get him a great and powerful violin soon for him to continue his success in all these competitions, etc.  He reccomends that we look at the great modern makers. We can afford to spend 60k, but of course would like it if it were a little less.


He is willing to help us audition them by getting a few others from the philharmonic to listen to them at Disney Hall, but my husband and I are on our own to round up some great moderns for them to audition.


I have talked to a few others in the L.A. Philharhamonic and this is the short list we have come up with after talking to them:

Croen, Curtin, Zygmantowicz, Chaudiere,Borman,  Burgess, Grubaugh, Needham, and Bellini.


My question is does anyone have any experience with these makers? Are they the guys who we should be looking at? What characteristics can you tell me about each of these makers. Are there any really good players who have played some of these violins, and if so, what can you tell us?

Thanks in advance.  

Replies (32)

January 28, 2010 at 03:10 AM ·

What an opportunity for you!

Have you ever heard of/considered the Chicago maker Carl Becker, Sr. as another option?  The number to phone is 312-220-9700.  His violins are typically quite bright red in varnish when new, but apparently their color tones down in time.  The ones I have played were very even across the strings, with good carrying power and a somewhat bright tone initially that is said to mellow out nicely over time.  I've heard high recommendations of his violins by top-notch professional violinists.  I believe the starting price is around $30,000 USD.  I know he puts a lot of time and care into his work, not only initially but down through the years whenever his instruments come back into his shop, and my impression is that he has more of an "Old World" approach to making than some.  Just another name for your possible consideration!



January 28, 2010 at 04:04 AM ·

Rather than looking for specific makers, I would recommend going through a reputable violin dealer who may have in stock, or may be able to look for a semi modern Italian, or an older English instrument for instance. There are some great sounding violins in the 30-40k range. I had an excellent HS student who is now at Cleveland Institute who got a great sounding  instrument from the Robertson violin shop in Albuquerque for about 30k. Build up a relationship with a dealer so you can trade up in the future if necessary.

January 28, 2010 at 04:59 AM ·

If you type the names that you mention in the search box one by one you will find some threads discussing each of these makers. You shouldn't have to spend more than 30K. Good luck.

January 28, 2010 at 07:07 AM ·

 I tried a Bellini that I liked.  Sweet under the ear and surprisingly powerful from a distance.  I've heard good things about a bunch of those makers--if you look to the search menu to the right, you can dig up some discussions on them.  In the upper 20 K range... you can definitely find something by a great modern maker that would generally outplay older instruments in much higher price ranges.  Some makers are willing to send out their fiddles, others not so much.  One maker once was able to find a customer that lived near me and whose house I was able to go to, to see a sample of their work.  So if you live far away from a maker perhaps there are other similar solutions.  Best of luck in your search.

January 28, 2010 at 07:21 AM ·

All very good makers; it just depends on your taste.

You might want to talk to Robert Gupta with the L A Philharmonic.  He auditioned and won his seat with his everyday violin, and says he is very happy with it.  It's well within your budget.

January 28, 2010 at 01:26 PM ·

With $60 000 you have moved beyond New makers.

Try Barry Hou at Marquis violins in LA....he has a very fine Fracassi violin for sale in your price range. well as a few violins by O.Bignami of Bologna...another maker on the rise.

Good luck!

January 28, 2010 at 01:30 PM ·

G. Marten Cornellissen around 20 K ...check Johnson's, they have a couple

January 28, 2010 at 01:38 PM ·

 In that price range you can even comission a new instrument. Every maker would love to hear your preferences and make an instrument according to them.

January 28, 2010 at 02:05 PM ·

Oh, my. Your son is very fortunate that you are able to provide that amount. I do have a question. Is he on board with the idea, and does he have a deep desire to play? //  With violins over about $15,000, I think It's easy to buy , and not so easy to sell.  I support folks building violins today,  but for myself, I would have to think long & hard about commissioning a violin for the dollars you have. I don't think makers have quite that much control over the tonal results of what they build. You should be able to find older English, French or German violins, and new Italian ones. Don't overlook good shops in smaller cities. They often have fiddles as nice, but at lower cost than dealers in major cities. IMO better to spend $20-25,000 on a violin, $5000 on a bow, and put the rest in a savings account to help your boy attend summer programs, master classes and auditions. Sue

January 28, 2010 at 02:15 PM ·

January 28, 2010 at 02:23 PM ·

Sue Bechler wrote that " I don't think makers have quite that much control over the tonal results of what they build."

I don`t agree about that. An important factor that makes good makers sell their instruments is that they control the tone results of their instruments. It would be impossible to develop a good market for our instruments if they varied a lot in terms of tone.

January 28, 2010 at 03:03 PM ·

It is my understanding that the teacher of many of today's finest makers, Geary Baese, has several instruments that will be available soon.  If you wish to contact him, send me a private message and I can give you his contact information.


January 28, 2010 at 08:45 PM ·

The only advice I would offer is that price does not equate to quality.  Sound and playability are very subjective.  Once you get above $10K, you get into professional grade instruments that top professionals would be willing to play.  I know several professional violinists that belong to major orchestras whose primary instruments are below $15K.  $60K is a nice budget for a violin (and bow), but don't overlook the makers in the $10-20K price range.  There are some very good ones and you should try them with an open mind.



January 28, 2010 at 09:59 PM ·

Your budget should be high enough to "buy" you some nice choices.  A number of fine contemporary makers have been mentioned here, and there are a good number more... as well as some slightly older instruments that will do an excellent job.

I'd suggest talking with some makers, and visiting a shop or two...  Try some things.  If you're still confused or uncomfortable, a few of us in the industry do offer consulting services, but I'd bet that at this level, things will sort themselves out for you.

Just a couple things that I thought should be clarified (mentioned earlier in this thread).  Carl Becker Sr. died in the mid 20th century.  Carl Becker Jr. is the maker still living, but I'm not sure how much he's making at this point.

This is the first time I've heard of Geary Baese referred to as "a teacher" of well known violin makers... and I'd disagree with that description.  His area of interest & research is varnish, and he's worked with a number of makers in that arena...  and he's published on the subject of varnish, but he didn't "teach" them to make instruments.  I don't know his recent instruments so I won't comment on their quality.

Good luck,


January 28, 2010 at 10:10 PM ·

Geary Baese began his teaching career in the area of varnish however in the last decade he has taught an acoustic violin making class to a number of makers including Howard Needham. 

January 28, 2010 at 10:34 PM ·

Hello Lawrence;

I was aware that Geary was offering master classes in varnish (and I know a number of makers who credit him with providing good and valuable information on that subject), but am not aware that he offered classes in making.  Even if he does, at least for now, I'm afraid I'll still stick to my disagreement with the description.  

Howard does not mention him as a "teacher" on his site, btw...  and does mention Mittenwald and other training.



January 28, 2010 at 11:01 PM ·

Actually, Geary taught Howard the technique he is currently using.  It was only after incorporating those "magic" techniques that Howard was able to produce the quality instruments he is making today.  Prior to the year 2000, before he learned the "tuning" techniques of Geary, even Howard will admit that his instruments were mediocre.

Note: I spent some time with Howard when I was doing my own violin search.  His instruments are nice but like many good makers, there is a pretty significant waiting list.  I dont know how long it is now, but last year it was about a 2 year wait.

January 28, 2010 at 11:25 PM ·

Very interesting.  Sounds like Geary is working in the acoustics area now as well.  Glad he's having success...  

Still having trouble with the words "teacher of many of today's finest makers". Feel free to write me off for being a stickler for semantics, but the acousticians & chemists that other makers have worked with aren't referred to as "teachers of violin makers".  If what is mentioned above is true, I could probably agree that he's teaching a technique.  To how many of "todays finest makers" is another question.

January 28, 2010 at 11:50 PM ·

When Howard Needham visited me last year he told me he is self-taught.

January 29, 2010 at 01:35 AM ·

What a lucky young man to have this opportunity to get a very nice violin.  I want to second the comments above about setting aside a proportion of the funds for a good bow.  A fine bow can make all the difference to technique and development.

As already mentioned there's a lot available in your budget range and I think the best way forward is for your son to have the chance to play as many different instruments as possible so he can get a good personal idea of what's what.  It was mentioned in another thread that it can be helpful to even try instruments way above your price range simply for the experience of knowing what possibiities are out there in terms of tone, sound production, ease of playing etc. 

Happy violin (and bow) hunting!

January 29, 2010 at 01:48 AM ·

On the Carl Beckers, sorry for the slip-up!  I realized after I'd posted my comment way back at the beginning, that I had written Carl Becker, Sr. when I meant Jr.!  He was still somewhat active when I bought my violin through his shop in 2002.


January 29, 2010 at 09:20 AM ·


I have a few people that have websites that you could look up.  They are modern makers and they run across seasoned old instruments occaisonaly as well.  The three that I know of thagt are very good for sound are Nick Frirsz, Goeofrey Ovington, both have websites and are located in Upstate New York and Joseph Grubach and Siegrund Seifert in Pataloma California.  I have heard these violins and known some of my professional coleagues to have been quite happy with their results and tone quality presence, and of course, you should not have to worry about high prices in this case either.  From the last I knew.  Anyway, Good Luck in fiding a Violin.


January 30, 2010 at 01:58 AM ·

Thanks for the mention, Michelle. The money ain't spectacular, so sometimes we work for kudos.

Threads like this come up every now and  then, and it seems like it's an opportunity for everyone to hump their favorite maker. ;-)

Jeffrey Holmes occasionally has stuff from some really good modern makers, and I believe he chooses quality over profit (he's local to me, so I get some feedback).

There’s no agenda here, because I don’t sell through him. In fact, I recently refunded deposit money to a musician so he could make a faster acquisition from another maker through Jeffrey.




January 30, 2010 at 04:44 AM ·

Thanks to everyone for their input. Some of you are recomending shops to find older instruments, but his teacher and the other philharmonic players involved are highly recommending the modern makers I listed.

Many of you recommended that I read previous threads, so I did.

A few observations: all the makers I listed are highly respected on this site.

Some elite players seem to think that Zygmontwics is the best there is.

Needham and Curtin seem highly reccommended on this site too.

Many threads mentions people labled as "the studio guys." It seems that these people have tried a lot of modern fiddles. Can anyone tell me more about these guys and how I can get in touch with them.

Finally, has anyone played many of the makers I have mentioned.


Mr. Burgess thank you for the advice. I will contact you soon to see if you have something we could try.


Thanks to all! 

January 30, 2010 at 11:57 AM ·

Needham waiting list is not so long now, just about a year , I guess due to some people canceling because of the crisis, like it´s happening to many other makers.

January 30, 2010 at 12:06 PM ·

Apologies, Michelle, I don't even have a "sample" violin right now, and don't know of any for sale (or I'd probably buy). I've heard through the grapevine that Grubaugh and Siefert, and Curtin, might be in better shape.

Best of luck.

January 30, 2010 at 12:16 PM ·

 "Finally, has anyone played many of the makers I have mentioned."

Yes, I've either repaired, adjusted, setup, and played (or listened while others played) almost all of the maker's instruments mentioned here.  I've also handled the work of some from time to time.  Once you're looking at the work of the most highly regarded makers, it comes down to the needs of the player and taste, I think.  What works best for one player may not be what works best for another...  or what works best for one group of players may not work best for another group... and especially for younger players, stature may be a factor (some models makers work from are larger/smaller/shaped differently) and some makers use more than one model.  To add to the pile, Ravitan is another maker I believe worth looking at as well.

Even though the teacher is suggesting contemporary makers, don't ignore the shop listings... sometimes a nice gently used one from one of the makers above comes on the market.

Joe and Sigrun (Grubaugh & Seifert) had just finished a nice fiddle when I visited them in mid-October and were working on others.  You may want to contact them.  Not sure what Joe Curtin has in stock, though a local player purchased on from him a week or two ago.

January 31, 2010 at 12:33 AM ·

Your list of first-class modern makers is a good one.  I have tried violins by Croen, Burgess and Alf and Zygmuntowicz.  Zyg would be the most expensive.  I tried a Croen a year ago that was one of the best violins by anybody that I have played.  Strong sound, excellent quality of sound, astoundingly even across the strings, and easy to play.  A Croen will cost you a lot less than $60K and you will have a fine playing instrument, to boot.  He is located in Walnut Creek, CA.  Burgess also has a fine reputation, but is further away from you, in Ann Arbor, MI.  

January 31, 2010 at 12:44 AM ·

I recently heard a very fine British pro violinist who'd chosen an Alf as his new instrument.  I have to say the violin sounded absolutely stunning and projected beautifully over the orchestra.   Gorgeous tone, everyone loved it.

January 31, 2010 at 01:50 PM ·

What a great opportunity for you lucky parents!

Just to chime in a bit from my perspective. From time to time I have customers who show your son's promise and usually consider them to have "outgrown" my little shop. But they return from time to time for strings, and simple set up things, loose seams and emergency problems.

It might be good for you to established a relationship with a local shop for this reason and it can avoid getting nickle and dimed to death.

If, however you are simply going down the list of good comtemporary makers, which is quite understandabale, I would also like to mention Michael Darnton, Tim Jansma, Ming Jiang Zhu (bench made), and bows by Doug Raguse.

January 31, 2010 at 08:06 PM ·

Here is a list of contemporary makers. The price range lists these makers as 20-50k:

Alf Studios

Carl Becker & Son

David Burgess

David Caron

The Chimneys Violin Shop

Clemens Violins

Joseph Curtin Studios

J. Michael G. Fischer

Fabien Gram

Mark A. Hollinger

Heironymus Köstler

Claude Lebet

Mario Miralles

Moes & Moes

Morel & Gradoux-Matt

M.W. Sheibley

February 1, 2010 at 12:51 AM ·


I just spent a lot of time checking out modern makers, and at one time or another have tried all on your list except for Borman and Bellini.   It's a great time to be looking at new instruments, and you won't have to spend anywhere near $60K to get something good if you strike gold in a new violin.  Every one of those guys has produced some excellent fiddles, and I ended up with not one, but two with which I am very happy.  The odds are high that you'll see something that is not only good but that you like.

Beware, though: not all makers will have anything for sale today.  In some cases you're looking at a commissioning period of 1-3 years.  So that can add risk as well as inconvenience to the problem even though you're talking about fine makers.  Even the most consistent maker has off-days, or will experiment in a direction that you won't like.

Carl Becker is still taking orders for around $50,000.  I think his list is 2 years long, and he just passed 90.  The Becker shop is likely to have some older Carl Jr or Srs in stock-- about the same price. 

I did just last week play a quartet in the company of a Peresson, which in spite of its appearance also sounded great.  Probably the same general price range as the Beckers.  Be careful on those, though-- apparently his quality varied a bit and everyone has their own list of which were the better ones.

Off the track: Ryan Soltis is another name to add to your search.  He varies his output based on what he thinks the buyer will want, but has made at least one fantastic-sounding violin that I know of.  (Sold to a concertmaster in Denmark last year, so you can't see it.  But if he repeats that formula he could do wonders for you.)  I gather there is a new Guarneri copy in his shop that... who knows?

 Good luck!  And report back if you find any miracles worth sharing.

Feel free to e-mail me if you want other impressions: (adjust to fit the facts of the case).

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