British and French Modern Fiddles

March 17, 2010 at 05:25 AM ·

In my last thread many of you objected to my oppinion, even though I said it was just my opinion. So now I will go a step further and just ask, who do you think are the best British and French modern makers.

I would love it if people from Europe actually stepped up to the plate. 

Replies (33)

March 17, 2010 at 09:49 AM ·

Well Raymond, who is the best maker? I find that question a bit difficult in many ways so I will say that the following makers are some of the ones who's work I find most interesting.

UK: Neil Ertz, John Dilworth, Christoph Götting

France: Christian Bayon (french even though living in Portugal), Frederic Chaudiere, Andrea Frandsen, Jacques Fustier

and I am sure many more who's work I havn't seen.

March 17, 2010 at 11:44 AM ·

Although you are only asking for British or French makers, here in Spain we have also some very good makers: Fernando Solar (not only the father, but Fernando Solar Jr. is making good violins), Yuri Pochekin (Russian born) , Huges de Valthaire (french born), Jose Angel Chacon Sr & Jr., Jordi Pinto...

March 17, 2010 at 01:22 PM ·

Dont Forget Melvin Goldsmith in the UK............

March 17, 2010 at 01:58 PM ·

Not a lot of experience here, but I have seen fiddles by Goldsmith and Chaudiere that were very good.  No regrets for buying closer to home, but they're also well worth thinking about.

March 18, 2010 at 07:09 AM ·

Last year at a recording session I heard a viola player sounding MARVELLOUS on a Dilworth instrument. Some are very enthusiastic about Roger Hargrave, who makes fine reproductions. My own instruments are recent Italians, and include Lucci. I should not use this thread to seem to endorse the living ones !

The egalitarian in me dislikes the idea of any rigid line of demarcation between "U" and "NonU" makers - however the makers you mentioned are very successful indeed and I think most of us will respect that. I and many others over here have not encountered any actual instruments at all by the folk you mention but of course we have recordings of the Emersons playing on Zygs, and they sound excellent. And I recall Manoug Parikian performing on a Bellini in preference (?) to his early Strad.

Many colleagues in my Manchester (UK) area are satisfied users of Paul Ayres violins. But another local dealer is selling new Chinese violins like hot cakes (even to some pros) and setting them up to sound really well. The market seems a very strange beast, satisfaction cropping up at various price levels, as other threads reveal.

Makers making for soloists are going to make - er - SOLO violins !

If I wanted another new violin, I'd go to Italy, but then that's just me.

March 18, 2010 at 11:04 AM ·

Hi David, a solo  violin can be adjusted to sound as a normal violin, the contrary is impossible in general.

March 18, 2010 at 12:53 PM ·

I have played many modern English makers' fiddles, but those of Colin Cross here in Buxton have most consistently impressed me for sound, though there have been a few that are less impressive.

It may be a little unfair, though, because I play all of his  violins, while I have only played one or two (three at most) of other makers.

Currently I own a Cross Strad model that works very well, and he has recently made a "Lord Wilton" del Gesu that is amongst his best. He also has a strange small Milanese model (copied from the original belonging to a local player) with huge f-holes that I like a lot - great sound, bags of charm and character.


March 18, 2010 at 03:21 PM ·


You are right - so makers of violins for soloists will of course set them up as SOLO violins.

Another local maker with professional clientele (Manchester UK) is George Stoppani.

March 18, 2010 at 03:43 PM ·

Mr Stoppani has a good reputation, but I haven't tried one of his yet.

I believe he also makes gut strings (could be wrong).


March 18, 2010 at 03:58 PM ·

There's a very fine maker working on the Isle of Wight - someone will remember his name - he has done well at a Cremona Triennale and his wife makes as well.

There's plenty of talent around and whether you get a solo violin seems to depend to some degree on what you ask, and are willing to pay, for, because those classic designs have been around for ages and anyone can get Balkan maple etc. etc. I don't mean to suggest that a modern maker can sleepwalk into making great instruments, however, - perish the thought ! It's just that many of the old "secrets" seem to have been disseminated worldwide - think of Sacconi.

Who's the man Tetzlaff uses? Greiner, is it ? My spelling is probably becoming seriously challenged !! Anyway, I think he's German and outside the boundaries of this thread.

Graduates of the Newark violin making school emerge well-equipped to make excellent fiddles, I am told. All equal - but some more equal than others ! "Give us the tools and we will finish the job". I auditioned (successfully !) for my first job on a Wilfred Saunders violin, one month or so old - he was one of the founding-fathers of this school.

March 18, 2010 at 05:48 PM ·

Of course, Raymond, you are begging the question, "what do you mean by 'best'?"

Best workmanship? Best faking? Best sound? Best sound for whom? Nicest model?

I don't think we have a consensus on what "best" means.



March 18, 2010 at 08:20 PM ·

Well, gc, I feel sure Raymond doesn't mean "the most hyped up"

If anything, the publicity machinery over here is rather low-key. The Alfred Vincent instruments for example, were highly trumpeted, supported by Albert Sammons, then their price crashed. A similar phenomenon was Bert Smith. It could be our natural reserve, I suppose, but I think we might have learned a lesson to the extent of becoming over sceptical of exalted claims for new work. Lower-profile makers such as Richardson held their value better, I think.



March 18, 2010 at 09:23 PM ·

David, I suspect by "modern", Raymond means "contemporary".

I mean to say, it wasn't that long ago that we would refer to Scarampella as "Modern Italian", i.e "within the last hundred years, or so".

So, should we be discussing Luff, Vincent, Mayson (!) Hill, Smith, Saunders, Richardson, Handley, Gilbert, and others, who may no longer with us, but were making within the last hundred years?

Or does "modern maker" have a different meaning according to national origin?


March 18, 2010 at 09:41 PM ·

Ooh, or Job Ardern, the younger Tarrs, that Leeds maker J. W. Owen, or his daughter, Ivy Rimmer Owen.

I don't know.


March 19, 2010 at 06:02 AM ·

 gc, "Hyped up" was in reference to "best", not "modern". and I wanted to illustrate that time and tide can take down the reputation of an overhyped name by a peg or two.

Saunders was mentioned because he helped kick-start the internationally esteemed Newark school of making. He seemed to advocate traditional construction and thicknesses (if it ain't broke, etc.) much as Sacconi and the Cremona School do.

Glen Collins ! Is he still with us ?

Montpellier has quite a few fiddle makers, and one Nicolas Gilles hasn't been mentioned, although I think a violin of his made it onto Smiley Hsu's shortlist of 3 in another thread.

Sheffield has the Milan trained Stefano Gibertoni, who has attracted a following amongst the pros. The list of those who COULD make you a terrific playing fiddle is endless, an unfortunate obstacle being the occasional neccessity to make down to a price. The sort of uncannily precise workmanship once associated with the Vuillaume or Hill workshops is admittedly rare but it remains to be observed that lots of famous old fiddles would have looked quite crude when new ! As gc observes, what ARE the criteria of "best" ?

ps gc forgot George Wulme Hudson, Hesketh, Louis F. Milton af, sorry OF, Bedford. and indeed Richmond Henry Bird of Rushworth and Dreaper fame. An oversight, I'm sure !

March 19, 2010 at 10:27 AM ·

Not mentioning George Wulme Hudson and  Hesketh (Manchester) was an oversight, as was Bird, one of whose Artist Apolloes I played. That was a fine instrument.

However, I don't know Louis F. Milton af Bedford.

There have been many fine British makers over the last hundred years, and I don't really understand why they are not regarded more highly.


March 19, 2010 at 10:51 AM ·

knock, knock.

who is this?

the best! :)

March 19, 2010 at 12:06 PM ·

I agree that Nicolas Gilles of Montpellier should probably be included as a contender for "the best". I'll give a mention to my own luthier Friedrich Alber, also of Montpellier. There are of course oodles of fine and impressive violin makers in France, most of whom are mentioned on either the ALADFI or GLAAF sites. Good luck to all in finding the best amongst that lot.

March 19, 2010 at 01:57 PM ·

Talking about Manchester makers, I am a very happy owner of a 2002 Helen Michetschlager violin . Beautifull work, beautifull varnish, fantastic sound: powerfull, even and very responsive.

March 19, 2010 at 03:28 PM ·

 In the U.K.:

Peter Goodfellow, Niel Ertz, Andreas Hudelmayer

In France:  

Antoine Cauche, Nicolas Gilles, Marcus Klimke

There are other really fine makers in both of these countries, but these are all men whose work I have seen on multiple occasions and all displayed a consistent level of excellence in their work.

Kelvin Scott   

March 19, 2010 at 05:46 PM ·

William John, ex-Ealing Strings - a copy by him of the Heifetz,ex-David Guarneri gained him a great result at Sotheby's. That might put him into contention.

I am ashamed to have forgotten to mention Helen Michetschläger, who works in my area. 

As to "There's a very fine maker working on the Isle of Wight", It's Christopher Rowe.


March 20, 2010 at 12:27 PM ·

What I think is also worth noting is the exceptional value that British makers offer. At the moment  many are priced at around half of what you pay for similar quality in Europe and the US.

March 20, 2010 at 09:41 PM ·

Thanks to Kelvin Scott, who is a great maker. It is really nice to hear from makers like this on this site. 

March 20, 2010 at 09:51 PM ·

deleted - couldn't phrase it right


March 21, 2010 at 06:19 AM ·

Thanks for Kelvin Scott for "stepping up to the plate". Notice how our English makers have been backward in coming forward ! It seems ours fight shy of over self-publicity, and personal websites seem to be few in number. 

Here is an example I found, after a brief search, showing publicity issued by a shop, rather than a maker. Disclaimer - I have no connection with either shop or maker !


March 22, 2010 at 02:16 AM ·

 The British Violin Making Association    holds a 'Makers Day' in London every year around March time. There are usually about 50 or so violin makers as well as bow makers exhibiting work, mostly British Isles but also other nationalities including French. It provides a good opportunity to see and play a lot of contemporary work. I feel there are many fine makers working at this time in history. I will refrain from mentioning the names of collegues in case my personal experience so far would omit someone deserving of mention. One thing to keep in mind is that exposure and promotion when it comes to makers is not necessarily proportional to quality. I can think of one or two very fine and busy makers who currently do not even have a web site. 

March 22, 2010 at 06:05 AM · 

Usual disclaimer !

In addition to Newark, there's a Welsh school of making - one exponent being Derek Roberts. There are other schools, too, and I hope someone out there will fill in the details.

March 22, 2010 at 08:27 AM ·

I think the Welsh school has been closed for a few years now, but past graduates have gone on to do tremendously well around the world.

I personally think there has never been such a large choice of really fine contemporary makers available for the discerning client to choose from….probably only time will tell who are the very best (and by then it will be too late to buy direct from one of us!)

The most successful will very likely have a waiting list of some sorts, just as the least successful will very likely have a lot of stock…

But I think the assumption that a long waiting list is some sort of guarantee that the maker is one of the best is as misguided as assuming the most expensive is the best.


March 22, 2010 at 08:54 AM ·

Wise words, Neil.

Retired now, I don't get out enough ! I didn't know the Welsh School was shut.

I wish more players of new English & French fiddles would come out of the woodwork - "step up to the plate". There are splendid new English bows, too.


March 22, 2010 at 09:01 AM ·

 Don't forget Scottish fiddles :-)

March 23, 2010 at 07:52 AM ·

What would boost the reputation of makers within the British Isles would be evidence of, say, a quartet using instruments by one maker, the local counterpart to the Emersons who use Zygs.

As students at Cambridge University (long, long ago) our quartet used a quartet of Alfred Vincents donated by Montagu Cleeve (who also happened to be my first teacher !!). Surely someone out there can quote a modern instance ??

March 23, 2010 at 11:15 AM ·

Hi David

The best makers in England and indeed Europe generally do not need to push the  publicity of their work! The best makers I know have waiting lists and thats all any maker needs.

You mention Vincent, yes a good maker (I have 2!) however he does not get close to the best living makers now!

In my opinion the best makers in the UK are (in no order!): Gotting, Dilworth, Rattray, Goldsmith, Goodfellow, Munro, P. Beare, Ertz and Szemmelveisz!



March 23, 2010 at 05:03 PM ·

 Hi, Sean,

 "The best makers in England and indeed Europe generally do not need to push the  publicity of their work! The best makers I know have waiting lists and thats all any maker needs."

Granted, but Raymond Paul might think we are all deluded unless convincing evidence from players can be adduced to the contrary. The Americans might be tempted to assume that just a handful of their makers qualify for a global monopoly on excellence.

Regrettably, I don't have a locally-made modern instrument just now - however, I do own 13 "Hill" and ex-Hill bows. Very nice too IMOH. Don't forget my sincere remarks about the Dilworth viola.

You can hear said viola on asc cd115

As to Alfred Vincent, your remarks tend to add weight to my argument concerning the perils of over-hyping. I'm told that at their zenith they commanded huge prices, but that then a market correction occurred..



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