American modern instruments

January 20, 2011 at 06:47 AM ·

A friend of mine as about $30,000 USD to spend on a violin. she's a professional, playing regularly orchestral, solo and chamber music.

Can anyone recommend makers in USA that could set her up with a fine fiddle?

Replies (39)

January 20, 2011 at 07:59 AM ·

I can recommend a number of 20th century luthiers.  From my relatively small experience, I've learned that Salt Lake City, Chicago, and New York City are the hubs for brokers and luthiers.

You can email me at for particulars.  But I have to tout the virtues of the undervalued and magnificent violins of a Chicago luthier who I believe passed perhaps in the 1950's.  His name is Carl George.  He shared a work bench with several of the best known of the local violin makers of the 20th century here in Chicago, then remained on congenial terms as each developed their own independent businesses.

There aren't as many available on the market as for example, Carl Becker and his family, because Mr. George didn't have family that kept the name going in the trade.  But they can be found through various dealers if you care to contact me.  I own one, and have tried to keep my finger on the pulse of the market for just what you are looking for.. modern American luthiers.  I look forward to hearing what others here have to contribute.

January 20, 2011 at 03:15 PM ·

This is a semantical thing, but if you are referring to living makers, I think the accepted term is "contemporary" maker rather than "modern."  And in that price range, the contemporary makers offer the best bang for the buck.  I'm not sure why this person is exclusively seeking American makers, but I think they could be missing out on other makers that could be just as good; perhaps cheaper too.  At any rate, here's a list of contemporary American makers off the top of my head that have good reputations:

Burgess, Alf, Curtin, Grubaugh and Seifert, Needham, Melanson, Kelvin Scott, Matsuda (Japanese, but currently living in US), Borman (maybe a little out of the price range). 

I would also recommend looking at some contemporary Italian makers.  There are quite a few, and they are doing some pretty nice work. 

January 20, 2011 at 05:18 PM ·

Joseph Curtin

January 20, 2011 at 05:21 PM ·

I also have a Darnton violin which is outstanding (and I was a fiddle hound for many years checking out shops and auctions  in NY, Chicago, and Philly).  He doesn't stick to one model but seems to experiment a lot so there will be lot of variation in the tonal qualities of his violins.

January 20, 2011 at 06:18 PM ·

I second Smiley's endorsement of Sigrun Seifert and Joseph Grubaugh (husband and wife team from Petaluma, CA).  I have a violin made by them and I love it.  An amazing instrument. 

January 21, 2011 at 12:20 AM ·

Benjamin Ruth, Boston.  If you can think it, it can play it.  Beautiful sound, beautiful varnish, and so responsive.  Benjamin is also very nice to work with.

January 21, 2011 at 01:48 AM ·

A couple of events where large numbers of violins can be tried:

The Violin Society of America Competitions. These are held every two years, and provide a day or two when one can try all the instruments entered.... something like 300 instruments from 15 countries. You may even be able to have the competition results in hand when trying them. Their web site:

The American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers "makers meet players" events, held during their convention, also every two years. The Federation is the US professional trade group, and members need to have met certain training and proficiency requirements. Most of the makers Smiley mentioned are members of this group. More on this event from their web site:

January 21, 2011 at 08:28 PM ·

Howard  Needham in Annapolis. I think his instruments are wonderful, you will not find anything better  for that price and even for much more.

January 21, 2011 at 10:10 PM ·

I haven't been in touch with Howard for a while.  How much is he charging for his instruments now and what is the waiting list?

January 22, 2011 at 09:35 AM ·

 thanks everyone for your opinions... yes, contemporary.. living..

a great help! 



January 22, 2011 at 02:56 PM ·

I'd agree with pretty much all of the names listed.  Others to think of are Tom Croen and Kurt Weidenhouse.   Among the younger group, Ryan Soltis.  And doubtless others I've forgotten or haven't seen yet.  There's some great work being done in this country these days. 

If your friend is willing to go north of the border, there are also some excellent makers in Canada.   Going from east to west, you have Isabelle Wilbaux, Guy Harrison, Raymond Schryer, and Hermann Janzen  (whose marvellous-sounding work I just tried this week).

January 22, 2011 at 03:12 PM ·

Young, and with very impressive work: Sam Payton of Philadelphia.

January 22, 2011 at 06:55 PM ·

There are so many excellent American makers. Some of the better-known ones include Sam Zygmomtowics, our own David Burgess, Howard Nedham, Guy Rabut - the list goes on and on. I would like to personally recommend Edward Maday of Long Island, NY. He has made two of my violins, and is currently working on a third! I used his 2007 violin when I recorded my 2nd CD.

January 23, 2011 at 01:59 AM ·

More fine makers to consider:  Marilyn Wallin, Feng Jiang, Mario Miralles.

January 23, 2011 at 02:11 AM ·

Oh yes, also in the NY area Christoph Landon is well-regarded, also as an appraiser.

January 23, 2011 at 08:31 AM ·

 wow, sounds great! Thanks everyone!

January 23, 2011 at 12:16 PM ·

Hey, come over the border too :)

I have a John Newton (Toronto) and adore it...

January 23, 2011 at 12:19 PM ·

Oh, and I heard that David Burges makes a pretty good fiddle too ;)

January 24, 2011 at 08:43 AM ·

Sorry if i seem to be muddying the waters of this thread, but Smiley Hsu has a point when he suggests that there are good "contemporary" fiddles being made in other parts of the world than the USA. However, the wider any search becomes, the more confusing it gets.

I found nearly 20 years ago that I could buy a decent new instrument for peanuts compared with local prices by going to Italy. It might be that prices in, say, Montpellier, are competitive, too. A Zyg violin, for example, costs big money. However, for me, living in the UK, the distance to Cremona is about the same as they tell us folk in the USA will  travel for an evening at a drive-in movie ! All depends on personal taste, which you can't argue about, ability to travel, and budget.

I'd add that I held down many professional jobs; and I still have and like the inexpensive 1993 violin. I bought it after the trusty Vuillaume I had used for many years went in my divorce.

January 24, 2011 at 10:54 AM ·

elise stanley wrote

Oh, and I heard that David Burges makes a pretty good fiddle too ;)

I have heard he is learning ;-)

January 24, 2011 at 01:49 PM ·

Well, if we're talking Cremona now - some of you probably guessed it - I'm going to recommend Vittorio Villa. As with Ed Maday, he custom-made two of my violins, and again like Ed, he will eventually make a third one for me. I can also get you onto his que faster.

January 24, 2011 at 03:31 PM ·

David Burgess was a so-so maker, but it wasn't until he started reading that he really honed his skills.  He spends most his time getting instruments for soldiers in Iraq and providing bear proof cases for needy eskimos.  If he really focussed his attention on making violins, I'll bet he could win one of those big violin making competitions.


January 24, 2011 at 03:34 PM ·

BTW, his youtube video on fitting bridges is ingenious.  It really illustrates his incredible creativity and versitility as a maker.

January 24, 2011 at 04:36 PM ·

Heh heh, this is veering in the direction of a Burgess-roast. I wonder if it's a special occasion, like the 50th anniversary of the first time I removed three pounds of chewing gum from the inside of a rental fiddle? LOL

Some of the gum still had flavor....

January 24, 2011 at 05:03 PM ·

 Ah, so fiddles are made from overnight bedposts.

January 24, 2011 at 06:00 PM ·

 david, was that old man really you in the video?  :)

while others paid attention to your creativity, which is a given,  i noticed your skin.

you have a very healthy glow.  i reached out to the screen to touch it.  is it due to a certain brand of moisturizer or some sort of pagan or vegan lifestyle?

you tend to bring out the worst in people, well at least in me. the other day i laughed at something i should not have laughed, with your story on a stripper and her child.  just terrible.

now you shared your finding that old gum has flavor,,, 

i hope you continue to make fiddles that make people smile.


January 24, 2011 at 07:15 PM ·

Before David Burgess, violin makers were considered girly-men.  After David Burgess....well let's just say you'd be hard pressed to find a woman that will chew gum extracted from a 100 year old fiddle and enjoy the taste. 


January 24, 2011 at 07:45 PM ·

"....the other day i laughed at something i should not have laughed, with your story on a stripper and her child.  just terrible."

Al, it's a true story, but I think it's OK to laugh. Yes, it's sad to think of a little girl who learned to win attention and approval from her birth parents by stripping (her mother's profession). It's also sad to think that these kids were born addicted, and their first experience of the world was going through drug withdrawal. But my sister's stories about her pragmatic efforts to deal with some of these challenges are hilarious. She told me, "David, I tried to make her clothes harder to remove at school by safety-pinning them on and together in various ways, but ultimately, that didn't work out. She needs to be able to go to the bathroom, you know."

If there were not some light moments, it all might be too much to deal with. Five adopted fetal alcohol syndrome/crack babies, and a few of you will know the challenges entailed. My family and I love these kids, and the prognosis isn't great, so we expect to have some sad times.

January 24, 2011 at 07:56 PM ·

September 7, 2012 at 08:31 PM · Samuel Zygmuntowics of Brooklyn, New York.

September 7, 2012 at 08:33 PM · Also, John Harrison of Redding California.

September 7, 2012 at 11:37 PM · Why not Canadian?

Isabel Wilbaux, Montreal

Itzel Avila, Toronto

Excellent instruments and 50% less expensive.

For the difference in price, your friend can visit Benoit Rolland in Boston and by one or two of the bests bows made today!

September 7, 2012 at 11:45 PM · Rocky makes an excellent point. Consider also Guy Harrison of Ottawa, Canada, who makes magnificent instruments, equal to the finest American makers. His website:

September 8, 2012 at 04:13 AM · Another few incredible makers in New York City are Lukas Wronski (former employee at David Segal Violins), Stefan Bauni (former employee in Christophe Landon's shop), and Jason Viseltear. They're all great guys and great makers who truly care about the musician, more than about making a big profit. Lukas also has instruments for sale by modern makers in Europe, including the Czech maker Alexandr Svycarsky, who used to work for Florian Leonhard in London.

Shan Jiang is another fantastic maker in Tenafly, NJ, and Guy Rabut is also near the city and another top notch maker.

September 29, 2013 at 11:08 AM · Iizuka? No one mentioned him.

Doug Cox makes some good violas.

I've never liked a jago paternella...

The dr. that griener used to work with. Great stuff.

Cornelisson and "burgessi" = oh yeah

Helmuth Keller I think is contemporary enough. Wonderful stuff.

All of these are better than any sderci, carletti, or descendants of big early italian moderns.

Sacconi of course if you can find one.

Wemby was popular among the Cleveland crowd, as well.

yanbing Chen made one of the best $3,000 violins I've ever played. But violins are just awesome to play.

I intend to make a viola with the wood of relics stolen from the Vatican that might sound nice.

Michael Fischer made some killer maggini copies. Truly great

I think casper doo salo of Florida is great. ~2004. Not sure about the facts on that one.

All are american makers, though originating from elsewhere.

Oh and some guy made a balsa wood viola if you wanna be different and have something that can float on water.

September 29, 2013 at 01:02 PM · From the 20 or so makers in the $25,000+ category I've tried, I would highly recommend trying a violin by Andrew Ryan, Joseph Curtin and Sam Zygmuntowicz if you haven't already.

Good luck to you and your friend!

September 29, 2013 at 02:03 PM · For that price, I could provide three violins: one for orchestra, one for solo, and one for chamber music. Heck, I'd even throw in a bonus practice one.

But, of course, I don't have the reputation... yet.

Yes, Sam Z, Andrew Ryan, and Joseph Curtin would be good choices, I think (but I'm not sure of the prices they charge). Jeff Phillips and Feng Jiang, some newer makers, have taken Gold at the VSA competitions consistently, and definitely worth a look.

And of course there's David Burgess, who posts here frequently.

This is by no means a complete list of good makers in the US, but just a few thoughts.

Oops... posted before I noticed that this is a revived 2 year old thread.

September 30, 2013 at 10:19 PM · Michael Darnton who occasionally posts here also makes very fine instruments. I have one of his violas.

October 15, 2013 at 03:58 AM · Joe Thrift Dobson NC........highly recommended.....!!

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