November 5, 2011 at 10:38 PM · Hello,
Does anyone know about Wojciech Topa & his instruments? I welcome all comments, good and bad.
November 7, 2011 at 01:38 AM · I have tried around 6 Topa violins and they have all been fantastic. I know 5 people who have purchased them, and I would have been one of them, but I ultimately decided against it. I think they are excellent instruments for the cost in terms of craftsmanship and sound.
November 7, 2011 at 05:21 AM · I've played a few Topa violas, including one made when he was at the William Harris Lee workshop in Chicago for a time, and another owned by a friend made more recently.
They were quite excellent, and I love the "bulge" in the design of the pegbox. Makes it much easier to string up!
November 8, 2011 at 03:07 AM · Thanks for your thoughts! I'm quite impressed, so far, and have only heard positive things. Do you think his instruments are ones that will increase in value over time or stay about what they are sold for?
November 8, 2011 at 07:01 AM · I would venture that individually-made instruments from master makers DO appreciate in value over time, compared to workshop instruments that have much less involved in their creation.
I have a 2005 violin by Ran Dim from the William Harris Lee workshop in Chicago. Since I bought it some years ago, the value of the instrument has appreciated a little bit as evidenced by my semi-annual appraisals for insurance purposes.
I also own a modern workshop fiddle from somewhere in China that sounds okay, but isn't going to be worth a penny more than the $500 I paid for it, ever. The worksmanship is a dead giveaway for anyone even remotely schooled in the arts of the luthier.
November 8, 2011 at 07:17 PM · "Thanks for your thoughts! I'm quite impressed, so far, and have only heard positive things. Do you think his instruments are ones that will increase in value over time or stay about what they are sold for?"
As morbid as it sounds, the only real way they will increase in value is if his reputation suddenly skyrockets, or if he dies. I wouldn't worry about investment at this price range, as it's probably not something you'd make much profit on. Good instruments always increase in value, but at this price range, there is no real gain to be had for investment purposes. If it sounds great, plays great, and you feel it would be a good partner for you, then go for it! It's hard to find instruments as good as his for that price.
November 9, 2011 at 04:59 PM · Sage advice... Will think it all over. :O)
My current viola is from Bill Harris's workshop, made in 1995. Purchased for $4k but I think sells for $5k now?
I agree that Topa's instruments probably won't appreciate much until more time passes... I think my main concern is for the Topa viola to at least "hold" it's value and whether the $12k price tag is about what his instruments are going for these days (re: good investment).
Right now, I'm looking at a 2009 Topa for $12k or a 1925 C. Dvorak selling for $16k. I've tried about 30 instruments out and these two are most what I'm looking for in size and price. The $4k difference is nice, especially since we're not in the "best" place to make investments. But, I'm worried the Dvorak might "increase" in value much more over time.
I love your thoughts... keep 'em coming!
November 10, 2011 at 03:28 PM · I've been trying a lot of violins lately including two by Topa. They are GREAT instruments at $12000 and I predict they will advance in value, maybe not quickly, but inevitably. Gorgeous violins. This guy knows how to make a violin.
You'll get your money back if you decide to sell your Topa in five years when the next irresistible violin finds its way into your hands. In that sense the Topa is a good investment.
November 18, 2011 at 04:07 PM · Today I bought a 2006 Topa violin. It was made in 2006. I love the sound, and I feel that I will grow and learn with it. I got a good deal on it too. I've also recently heard a Topa viola. It was fabulous. This maker has incredible talent.
October 22, 2016 at 02:31 AM · @Jeremy, would you be so kind as to elaborate on the reason you didn't buy a Topa? I'm considering one of his 2016 violin and any input will be most appreciated.
@Paul, do you still play your Topa? Is it a Guarneri copy or Guadagnini?
October 23, 2016 at 12:15 AM · Yixi, wow I have not heard from you in a while! Great to have you back. My answer to your question is that yes, I still play it and I enjoy it a lot. But I don't know which model it is, or even how to tell. I'd be happy to send you pictures of it or specific measurements if that would help. Feel free to contact me by regular email, pdeck at vt dot edu.
October 23, 2016 at 05:45 AM · Thank you Paul! Yes, it's been a while. Thanks for offering the details, but I think the difference might be very minor. I'm considering the Guadagnini model since it supposed to be a smidgen smaller than Guarneri. The violin is on its way. I will keep you posted.
October 23, 2016 at 06:26 AM · I've played a couple of the Guadagnini models from Topa, they're really quite excellent!
October 23, 2016 at 10:35 PM · Gene, thank you! I have only heard the good things about Topa, with the exception of its setup, which seems in need of work in some cases.
For a solo quality violin at price range under $15K, there are a lot of modern makers for me to choose from. I haven't tried many so far. I know the best way to approach this is to try as many violins as possible. However, in absence of availability of such opportunity, one may have to rely on the reputation of the makers and professional judgements of others. For an amateur but serous violinist, I still hesitate to buy a violin simply based what sounds great to me after a bit trying. I did that in the past and ended up with ok violins that won't do what I want them to do now that I need more colours and power for bigger pieces such as Mendelssohn or Dvorak violin concerti.
So this time I will do it differently. Tell me if I am crazy,this is my approach: after initial research on some of the available reputable modern violins makers, I will order one online with one month trial, suspend my judgement, ask a concertizing violinist I know and trust to play and break in, try it myself to assesss playability, and get feedback from others to assess suitability. Then I will decide whether to keep it or keep looking.
October 24, 2016 at 01:40 AM · I have seen Topas at dealers for $12 to 13k. I paid considerably less, but I did not buy from a dealer. I kind of know what you mean about setup. A few years ago my teacher said he thought my violin could use a little more "oomph" in the bass, and a luthier at Potter adjusted it for me ... and yes there was a difference. Also, the violin has its original bridge (cut by Topa) and I'm kind of wondering whether a luthier who specializes in setups and adjustments could do better. Our local luthier Patrick Toole just did a new bridge for my daughter's violin and she saw a huge improvement.
I think your shopping approach is very sensible. By the way I have played three Topas. Mine is a 2006, and I have played a 2007 and a 2013. The 2013 was more powerful but did not have the same refinement or sound color subtlety. But it had many of the same sound qualities, and it looked the same (the Topa scroll is unique) except for lighter varnish. It was, at the time I played it, quite new. So it's possible a very new Topa will calm down and more tone colors will open up with time. I guess that's always a possibility with a very newly made instrument but also seems rather difficult to predict.
October 24, 2016 at 04:38 PM · If Topa violins are as consistent as we can expect from master benchmade violins, then I will be happy to have one like this 2003 Topa played by a Polish competitor during 2011 Wieniawski international competition:
The sound quality of the recording is not ideal, but one can hear richness of the tone, how balanced and powerful it is.
October 24, 2016 at 05:48 PM · I could have chosen either the 2006 or 2007 when I bought mine, the same individual owned both. Honestly they sounded identical to my ear, but my teacher said he thought the 2006 was a little more rich. Since that was back in 2011, they both had time to "age" for a few years. I was kind of glad to hear that my teacher liked the 2006 since the body was much cleaner for some reason (no fingerprints, etc.). I think the owner used the 2007 for teaching and still does (his performance violin is a priceless Italian antique).
October 28, 2016 at 04:59 PM · So my Topa 2016(Guadagnini)came yesterday. My first impression:
- Very playable. It's responsive without being terribly edgy.
- Consistent tonal quality across all strings and all the way up the finger board. This is truly amazing.
- Good projection: not loud under the ears but has a nice professional violin sounding in distance.
- The G string is warm and well-balanced with the other string in its tonal quality, but I wish it could be a bit darker.
Overall I`m impressed with it. Given that it is brand new and needs time to break in and that my ears are used to certain sound of my current violins that are quite different from this one, I am curious to see how both this Topa and I will evolve over the trial period of the next a few weeks.
Here is the harder question: Do I love it? Well, it depends on what we mean by love. I`ve not been blown away by the sound as I would when I hear a soloist plays a great old violin. But then if I had been so blown away by this Topa, I`d very question my state of mind and my judgment at this point. I can say I`m impressed by it and hope to see more as time goes on. In the past, I bought two violins based on love at the first sight and they both turned out to be ok but problematic in certain ways, as it often happens when the violins are not made by reputable makers, I think. This time, I`m going to rely on reason ;) And hopefully, this Topa will prove to be as great as everyone said they were.
October 28, 2016 at 09:11 PM · This is in the $15k range? If you're hesitant, I would move on and try others.
October 28, 2016 at 09:53 PM · Yes. Any suggestion in terms of reputable modern makers' violins in this price range? The biggest limitation for me is that I live in Victoria, British Columbia, a small city in West Coast Canada and I don't want to travel to shop around. It'll have to be online shop for me.
October 28, 2016 at 10:13 PM · I also found I wanted the G string a bit darker on my Topa. Actually it was my teacher who suggested I consider adjustments. A luthier at Potter's did a sound-post adjustment for me (two minute job) and there was notable improvement. My impressions about my violin are similar to yours. However, I didn't pay anywhere near US$15k. I think that's on the high end for a Topa unless those are Canadian dollars.
October 28, 2016 at 10:36 PM · Paul, the price does vary from dealer to dealer. Its current market value is between US$14-16K, but with luck, one can get as low as a bit under US$12K before sales taxes at this point. Also in terms of the price, I was told by a dealer that if it's an earlier version, it could be a bit cheaper. If it's a used one, especially if it has a scratch or two, the price could go down even further.
I think with some set up tweaking it'll make a huge difference. I'm having some concertizing violinists try it out the next a week or so and then I'll see about the result.
October 28, 2016 at 10:57 PM · I would do one trip just to hear a lot of instruments in this price range. $15k is enough that it's worth taking a chunk of your budget and flying to a city with a lot of shops. Stay for one or two days and play enough to get a very solid idea of what you are looking for in an upgrade.
Then if you have to do one-off online trials, you'll at least have a better notion of what you're looking for.
October 29, 2016 at 02:17 AM · Lydia, as usual, you give good advice. Thank you! With the one month trial timeline, I should be able to do some comparison work.
October 29, 2016 at 02:24 AM · I always respect your opinions and suggestions, Lydia, but I just decided I wasn't going to agonize over a violin when I was spending less than $10,000. I just knew how easily the process could consume me if I didn't exercise some restraint. I never drove farther than Richmond and the whole process took me a month. I relied heavily on my teacher and another local professional violinist to help me choose. I bought the violin that my teacher said clearly stood out from the others and sounded very good (and powerful and balanced and nuanced) to me. I also bought (for $3500) one of the violins from Richmond because it's sound just "grabbed" me, and some of the people I played the violins for (amateurs) said they thought it was the best among them, so knowing that my daughter would need a violin soon thereafter, I kept it. She's 14 now and let's just say the Bruch G Minor sounds pretty good on that violin in her hands.
October 29, 2016 at 02:58 AM · Yes, but how many violins did you play in your price range during that time?
More than one, no doubt. :-)
October 29, 2016 at 03:11 AM · Paul, do I need to tell you that is how I view the whole thing too?
There is a lot to be said about certainty in deciding on what we really want. Trying a lot violins can give one a sense what we look for. It can also lead to confusion and indecisiveness. I may go to Vancouver or Seattle to try a few violins after I've got feedbacks from my teacher and other concert violinists, especially if they express something negative about this one. I rely heavily on professional opinion right now because my head is too clouded and my music taste is still evolving. And indeed,it's not too big a financial risk in my case.
Lydia, I did try a few violins in the past 12 months frome a local luthier and several shops in Shanghai. I also bought two violins in last 8 years or so with varied degree of success. I've tried some friends' violins and some are supposed to be very good but often I'm not sure what to make of them.
October 29, 2016 at 03:58 AM · Do try a lot, including some great ones beyond your price range so you can educate your palate.
But if you're in BC, also make an appointment with Hermann Janzen. His best work is very fine, and roughly in your price range, IIRC.
October 29, 2016 at 07:18 AM · Thank you, Stephen!
The new Topa is noticeably opening up in Day 2. My husband and I are taking turn playing it and we both are delighted to hear it keeps making more and more sweet sound that I don't often hear.
October 29, 2016 at 03:01 PM · Lydia, yes I tried about a eight violins (total) at two shops in Richmond and brought three home from there, plus three that were available locally, made six violins that were serious candidates, which I had in my home for two weeks and played them for a few groups of people including some non-musicians, plus I used one of my regular lessons so my teacher could hear them and play them.
About a "sweet" sounding violin, a local pro advised me that if I have a tendency to play sweetly, I should buy a more forceful-sounding violin to counterbalance that. If you tend already to play with vitality and "edge" then you can take a sweeter-sounding violin.
There is an aspect of buying a violin that is like finding a spouse -- if the right one comes along, you just know it, even if you have not dated a lot of others.
There is one additional thing, thought, and that is that you have to listen to someone else playing it, so the time while your husband is playing it might be even more valuable to you than when you are playing it yourself. Since you both play, take it to a church or other large space and take a few licks on it there.
October 29, 2016 at 05:33 PM · Ditto!
To push the marriage metaphor a bit further: there need to be both love and compatibility to make it work in a long run. Love is entirely subjective and blind in many cases. Compatibility on the other hand takes skills and experience and a whole lot of other factors into consideration to realise. A person who is in love often isn't able to assess compatibility objectively. Love can be cultivated when the compatibility is there, as numerous successful arranged marriages indicate. Compatibility may be improved if love is strong and long lasting, as we see in successful marriages in this culture these days. Either way, it's wise to seek honest opinions from our friends and family before tying the knot.
October 29, 2016 at 09:00 PM · Marriages and violins don't often work well together, in my experience. Best to keep them separate.
October 31, 2016 at 03:50 AM · This afternoon, together with a fine concertizing violinist and my husband (an accomplished amateur violinist) we compared side by side 5 violins at the prices range between US $4K to $40K. Our judging criteria are 1) playability, 2) clarity and balanced, 3) projection. After some discussion, we agreed not to judge the tonal quality of the instrument because it is a matter of personal taste once the minimum quality is established. Each violin has its own tonal character and, just like each good singer's voice, one is not necessary better or more beautiful than that of the other good singer, just different. We agree that once the above three conditions are well met, it will be up to the player to bring the best voice out of the violin one has chosen. We also are mindful that there are a lot of moving targets: our ears will adapt and the violin will change over time, again, like human voice does.
This is somewhat a new way of choosing a violin for me, but it does make a lot of sense. In the end, we all agreed that one lacks clarity and the other one doesn't have enough projection. The remaining three violins have met the above-mentioned criteria. Two have big sound but too bright for my taste.
One interesting thing both my husband and I noticed yesterday was that, in terms of the sound, no matter which violin was played by our fine violinist friend, it sounds colorful, moving and beautiful. If I were told that the sound is the most important thing, then I can live with any one of them if I were given no choice. Since I must choose in this case, my choice remains with the Topa 2016.
October 31, 2016 at 08:32 PM · Interesting report, Yixi. Your approach seems very sensible. I'd sure like to hear that 2016 Topa vs. my own (2006). Let us know what you finally decide.
October 31, 2016 at 08:38 PM · Thank you, Paul, for your on-going support! I would like to try his earlier versions if I could as well. I did hear some recordings on YouTube of one or two earlier versions and they are wonderful, as much as one can tell from recording, that is. This one I'm trying is still very new and it may take a few years to open up. So my guess is that your 2006 should sound a lot more mature and colourful than the 2016.
October 31, 2016 at 10:01 PM · I also played a couple Topa violas in 15.5" and 16.75" that were pretty darned impressive as well...
October 31, 2016 at 10:21 PM · Gene, what did you particularly like about Topa's violins and violas? A few people suggested to me that at that price range (US$12-$16K), there are a lot of choices to choose from. I`m just curious what qualities of Topa particularly stood out for you, if you can recall.
October 31, 2016 at 11:28 PM · A local professional violinist showed me a Topa viola in his home. It was unbelievable. He said that visiting professional chamber violists are invariably impressed with it. I think it is a 16.5" but don't quote me on that.
November 3, 2016 at 04:23 PM · Paul, I'm now officially joining the Topa fan club. I've dug out something (Topa's violin as well Topa as an artist) that might interest you or any other Topa fan. Enjoy!
Janusz Wawrowski: “I asked once about it to my luthier who built for me was the second violin - it's Wojciech Topa, a prominent luthier, a fantastic man. He once told me: Janusz You know, I have a nice piece of wood. I think that a few months I will be able to show a good instrument. I ask him - how do you know? What does it mean that you have a nice piece of wood? For me it is all magic, because I do not know the construction of the violin. I do not know whether I should give away - because he said between us. - 'Do not laugh, but I just feel it metaphysically. I touch this piece of wood, touch his skin, I look at it, feel it, some energy and I feel that it will be good wood.' And indeed, one year later he gave me a tool where I played today. I think this is one of the most successful of its instruments. Something magical can this be.”
http://www.zamosconline.pl/text.php?id=8794&rodz=kul (The article is in Polish.)
A very nice recording of Wojciech Topa, 2003 played by Maciej Burdzy: http://www.wieniawski.pl/maciej_burdzy.html
Brothers Topa: a musician/luthier and the other is an actor (this video is in Polish): http://dziendobry.tvn.pl/wideo,2064,n/bracia-na-topie,99612.html
November 6, 2016 at 12:49 AM · After one week trial, which included several professional and non professional good players played it in different venues such as a cathedral, studios and different homes, the consensus is it's a really good fiddle with rich sound, highly playable and powerful. The only thing needs tweaking is the E string, as it needs a bit more brilliance at high registry. I tried a new E string, although it's improved somewhat but still not ideal. I'll have a luthier adjust the soundpost to see if it'll resolve the issue.
November 6, 2016 at 03:02 AM · I just use the "silvery steel" E string that comes with the Evah Pirazzi set (mittel).
November 6, 2016 at 06:44 AM · The E string is fine on itself , but other there strings are consistently rich, with bite. In comparison, the E string is less bright on very high notes. I hope this can be fixed with tiny little soundpost adjustment. If not, I can live with this.
November 6, 2016 at 10:54 AM · Always worth a look from a luthier, but the PI Platinum is often a miracle worker.
November 6, 2016 at 03:54 PM · I second Stephen's recommendation. More broadly, you might just want to try a whole bunch of E strings. Finding the right one can make a big difference.
November 6, 2016 at 04:11 PM · That's the great thing about E strings: Cheap.
November 6, 2016 at 04:22 PM · Is the e string slightly quieter, if so this would point to a misadjustment of the soundpost that could be easily rectified by a competent luthier.
November 6, 2016 at 04:28 PM · Also have the luthier look at the bridge slot for the E string, maybe the parchment wasn't fixed properly or whatever.
November 6, 2016 at 05:00 PM · Stephen, Lydia, Lyndon and Paul, thank you all! Yes, Lyndon, the E string sounds nice by itself but comparing with other three, not as strong especially on very high notes. I put a new string (Goldbrokat steel) on yesterday and noticed some improvement already. I'll order a bunch differect E strings to try. I like to have one variable at a time. I've got a luthier appointment tomorrow. Luckily my people will come with me to try and give me their feedback. Will report back.
November 6, 2016 at 05:24 PM · Often, making the soundpost very slightly tighter (moving it to the right) can solve that problem, but it may very slightly restrain the g string, if you can solve it just by using a different e string, that might be easier.
November 6, 2016 at 06:28 PM · Right, I don't want to lose the richness of the G string so will be mindful of this when working with the luthier tomorrow. Thank you, Lyndon.
November 6, 2016 at 06:53 PM · You don't lose the richness, you lose a tiny bit of the fundamental, keep the overtones.
November 6, 2016 at 07:14 PM · The fundamental would contribute more to the "fullness" of the tone, not the richness, which has to do with the overtones or harmonics IMHO
November 7, 2016 at 07:28 PM · So this morning I went a luthier along with my teacher. The diagnosis is that the fingerboard is slightly warped, which can happen due to the change of climate and is an easy fix -- just plane the fingerboard. No need to adjust the soundpost or string change at this point. Apparently, "smoothing out" the fingerboard from time to time is a common procedure for professional string players. Comments much appreciated.
November 7, 2016 at 08:54 PM · I am not a repairer, but that sounds like the chance to avoid a haircut or a new shirt by submitting to an easy root canal.
But if it needs doing, it needs doing.
November 7, 2016 at 10:44 PM · My local luthier says that most of the violins that come to him for this or that repair could probably stand to have their fingerboards planed, but how bad was it? That shouldn't affect the tone of the E string for example, and it would have to be fairly significant before you'll have an issue with playability.
November 8, 2016 at 12:56 AM · Paul, that's good to know that planing the fingerboard is often needed. My teacher said professionals have to get this done from time to time because the dents they get after playing for some time so it's not a big deal. Well, I probably wouldn't know so much about the extend to which the problem causes (the sound? intonation?), had I not been showing the fiddle to several pros, whom unanimously agreed that the E string is weak and advised me to get luthier check before finalizing the deal. I know I'm somewhat blind towards flaws due to the excitement and lack of experience of playing tons of good violins like these pros have. This is why at this point, I chiefly follow the direction given by those who know much much more than I do.
What the luthier noticed is that the fingerboard on the new violin is slightly convex due to warping of the neck. To fix this, the fingerboard needs to be planed and resurfaced.
Now I've learned this: before you've committed to buy a violin, it's good not only playing it a lot and having professional violinists to play it for you to test the sound and playability, but also to find the best luthier in town to take a look at the fiddle's condition. Fortunately, I'm able to get this problem quickly fixed by a luthier within a few hours and the cost was covered by warranty. Now the violin E string is brilliant without compromising the rich sound of the G string.
November 17, 2016 at 11:47 PM · So, I've got my new Topa for nearly a month now. I'm very happy to report that the Topa and I are very much bonded. I can't believe a good violin can motivate me to play so much. And what a difference a good violin can make in one's playing -- I can hear a lot of colors that I didn't before, especially on D and G strings. With the clarity of sound, it's much easier for me to spot out of tune notes.
November 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM · I saw this very helpful comment made by David Burgess at the other thread. This is the link . I thought some of you might have missed it. When buy a new violin, it's good to keep in mind things will change, as David put it:
"The bottom line is that instruments are very unstable when first strung up, both in sound and in shape, and it's pretty useless to try to assess the sound of a violin within the first several days of having first been strung up. It will change a lot! Over time, these changes will become less and less, and eventually hit a plateau, where further changes are minimal (not that an instrument ever reaches a point where there is no further change).
Are you considering an instrument which was set up and gotten to you as soon as possible? Don't do it. You won't know what you're going to end up with.
I have two violins here which are about ready to go to the people who commissioned them. This doesn't mean that they were just finished. It means that they were essentially finished and strung up some time ago, and the rest of the time was to allow them to "plateau" and become stable in sound. It would be irresponsible for me to send an instrument to a client and expect them to make a decision, knowing that the instrument will still change a lot."
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