J.B.Vuillaume violin.

March 2, 2014 at 09:26 PM · Hello all,

I bought a Guarneri J.B.Vuillaume violin from Hills in 1990. At the time I paid a premium on it as it was better than other Vuillaumes I was told. It came with certificate and everything inside, is as it's supposed to be.(Label,stamp, signature, with the last two digits of the year it was made (1857),serial number (2206) K630 on the fingerboard). Andrew Hill told me that they had it in their vaults for something like the last 80 or 90 years, thus the good condition.

After I bought it and upon inspection the bass bar was found to be smaller than it should be and also at the wrong angle. This was observed by a reputable luthier. I had it changed to a normal size one and the sound improved on the spot. My question. Was it normal for Vuillaume violins to have a bass bar like this when they were first made? My luthier when he de-tabled the instrument told me that it had never been opened before, so I assume that was the original bass bar.

Replies (21)

March 3, 2014 at 06:03 AM · Joe Green,welcome to the blog.

I think you are right, I never thought about the Messiah violin and Hills replacing the bass-bar as it was found to be weak. Maybe this is the case with my Vuillaume also. Yes we did take pictures and also a thickness chart which showed the violin to have very healthy thickness all over.

Before I had the bar changed I did the rounds in London asking about the effects of changing the bar and everyone told me that the violin would be chocked for six months or so until the new bar settles in. That wasn't the case with my luthier who said that it would sound right away, which it did. He also took his time to find an old piece of wood identical in grain to the grain of the top plate.

I am glad I took this road as I think people in London meant that they would put in a bass-bar with tension that would put the top plate under strain. ( I think a technique used in the States to make the sound bigger and more brilliant).

But to tell the truth now with a relaxed bass-bar my violin holds its own even with good Guadagninis and never ceases to amaze with its tone and projection.

March 3, 2014 at 03:33 PM · "I am glad I took this road as I think people in London meant that they would put in a bass-bar with tension that would put the top plate under strain. ( I think a technique used in the States to make the sound bigger and more brilliant)."

Why would people in London think you were going to have your bass-bar put in in the States , under tension?

The only instrument I am aware of having had a bass-bar put in under tension was a good French workshop cello from 1920's Lyon. It certainly caused problems over time.

That's where my knowledge ends. I doubt however that reputable luthiers - wherever they are from - use this technique on their new violins or on their repairs. But maybe I'm wrong.

March 3, 2014 at 05:10 PM · Hendrik Hak

I assumed that the people in London would put in a bass-bar under tension because they said the violin would take about six months to be responsive again, whereas the bass bar I did put in, was without tension and the violin responded immediately.

March 3, 2014 at 08:52 PM · If someone indeed opened a Vuillaume which was never opened before, for reasons other than essential damage repair, in this day and age, I think that's rather sad.

March 3, 2014 at 10:29 PM · I agree with David. In my opinion, that borders on vandalism.

March 3, 2014 at 10:49 PM · How much did replacing the original bass bar affect the value of this violin?

March 4, 2014 at 04:31 AM · What are you saying guys, that the violin shouldn't be opened to replace a faulty bass-bar? I didn't buy it to display it in a museum but to play it. I do maintain it in peak condition and take care of it and in the 24 years of my ownership the violin looks as fresh as the day I bought it.

I wish I could upload pictures for you to see but last time I tried I didn't manage.

Joe Green,

Yes My Vuillaume looks a bit like that one on Cozio with a 2 piece back, but my scroll is much more elegant and has more character.

Andrew Hill told me that it's not a particular copy of any Del-Gesu that they know of (unless destroyed before being recorded),but a combination of Del-Gesu's best ideas combined in one violin.

March 4, 2014 at 04:52 AM · The violin at Cozio is serial number 20159, mine is 2206.

Looking at the Hill-Millant book on Vuillaume serial number 20159 makes it a violin made in 1855.

Serial numbers for 1857 are from 2201 to 2240.

March 4, 2014 at 05:04 AM · Yes you are right, the serial number is 2206. It must be my violin.From the BW pictures it looks like mine. How did it get there at Cozio?

Now I see it. Cozio got the records from Hills until 1990. I bought the violin in 1990. Do you think I should update Cozio about my ownership?

Also,It wasn't a case of the violin not sounding right from the start, but rather it was asleep from not having been played for a long time. In Andrews's words he said, take the violin and give it a good bashing for a couple of weeks to wake it up.

When I asked him why they kept it for so long, he answered that they had other Vuillaumes to sell.

And the last story. Right after I bought it I went to Ealing strings to show it to the late Malcolm Saddler who used to work at Hills. He loved it and took it down to show it to the boys in the workshop, he also said that he didn't see this violin in the vaults at Hills, but also said that The Hills had a half size Stradivari in their vaults that they forgot about.

In Any way 1990 was the last year that Hills were operating before the brothers went their own separate ways, so they had to sell everything. I went there recommended by a good customer of theirs who bought in the 70's the lord Newlands 1702 and other great instruments and bows. They showed me an other Vuillaume and a Bellosio but Andrew recommended that I take the one I finally bought. After that what remained was auctioned off in London including their records.

March 4, 2014 at 08:00 PM · I have contacted Naomi Sadler from Cozio and she asked for colour pictures of the Vuillaume and the certificate in order to update the listing of my violin. I'll let you guys know when this happens so anyone interested, can log in and take a look.

Thank you all for your contribution to the bass bar issue, but I still think that David Burgess is wrong for thinking it's next to sacrilege to open an antique violin to replace a sub standard bass-bar. After all, a violin is meant to be preserved but at the same time sympathetically played and kept at its playing peak.

March 4, 2014 at 08:51 PM · So the violin was sub standard when Vuillaume made it but now you've made it better????

Hendrik, Its common practice for a lot of luthiers to spring the bass bar under tension, with the perhaps mistaken notion that they are fighting the downward pressure of the bridge.

March 4, 2014 at 10:42 PM · So the violin was sub standard when Vuillaume made it but now you've made it better????

If original, wouldn't it be logical to assume the maker made the bass bar suit the instrument?

March 4, 2014 at 10:45 PM · "At the time I paid a premium on it as it was better than other Vuillaumes"

But still not good enough for you. Did your "reputable luthier" regraduate it while he had the top off, to kill two birds with one stone?

March 5, 2014 at 12:22 AM · How would one know whether a bass bar is "faulty" unless you install a new one? Besides, I'm sure that if you ask 10 luthiers to look at a violin, you'd get 10 different answers. Unless some of them desperately needed some good repair work...then of course you "need" a new one to replace the "faulty" one....

March 5, 2014 at 02:47 AM · Would it be normal for Hill (or anyone else) to keep a violin that is "better than the others" in their vault for 80-90 years? That seems like a bizarre claim to me.

Maybe that's why they went out of business...

March 5, 2014 at 05:06 AM · Well,a lot of questions to answer.

By looking inside through the button a good luthier can determine weather the bass bar is in the right place and, or right size. We took the fittings off to look inside to ascertain the condition of the violin. At the same time it was found that the sound post was also not fitting properly. We de-tabled it and only changed the bass bar, no re-graduation of the plate took place. That would be sacrilege.It was also not a matter of being dissatisfied with the sound, but a case of realizing the violin's full sounding potential.

Maybe Hills kept on the violin as it was a special specimen, not a copy of any particular Del Gesu but a combination of the best features of Del Gesu combined in one violin (in Andrew Hill's words)

When I send the new pictures to Cozio you will be able to see it and decide for yourselves if it's a sub-standard violin, but clearly in Cozio's records it states that Hills held on to the violin from 1945 to 1990 when I bought it. The friend who recommended me to Hills asked for a special violin and I'm sure Hills listened to him as he only dealt with them and bought among other things the lord Newlands Strad 1702, a Pressenda, a Rocca ,a gold mounted Tourte and a Pajeot from them.He was such a valued and esteemed customer that when the Hill brothers had something special they would first offer it to him. This of-course is not my estimation of the violin's merits, but the opinion of other dealers in Europe when I showed it to them.

As things go, it was not a case of just looking at only this particular specimen and buying it on the spot. At the time I did the rounds and looked at a lot of violins. I remember at the time I had five violins on my bed from different dealers to evaluate. This one clearly stood out. I also didn't confine my search in only one country the U.K, but also went to Germany, Switzerland and France to look at violins.

March 5, 2014 at 10:49 AM · "I still think that David Burgess is wrong for thinking it's next to sacrilege to open an antique violin to replace a sub standard bass-bar."


That's not quite what I said. I said that if the violin had never been opened before (which would make it quite rare and unusual), it's rather sad (to open it for non-essential work).

Once upon a time, violins were taken apart, and original parts replaced at the drop of a hat. Partly from greater interaction with conservators in the museum trade over the last 30 years of so, attitudes have changed, at least among the cutting-edge, high-end restorers who get out and about and stay "up to speed". Maybe the bass bar needed to be changed to get the outcome you wanted, and maybe it didn't. I wasn't there, so I don't have a good way of knowing. But there are a few people who can do some amazing things with non-invasive adjustment. This wouldn't just be soundpost adjustment, but also experimenting with things like the mass, mass distribution, hole spacing, and positioning of the tailpiece, for example.

March 5, 2014 at 11:44 AM · Yes we did some experimentation with the mass of the tail piece also how close it is to the saddle and we found that a slightly longer tail piece positioned closer to the saddle improves the sound, although this is true for my violin.

I fully agree with David Burgess that the less invasive one is with an important violin, the better.

Vuillaumes however are not golden period Italian instruments and twenty or thirty years ago they were not considered to be soloist material, most of them owned by orchestral musicians. Now that golden Cremonas are beyond the reach of most of us mortals, Vuillaumes have come into vogue. Some of them are exceptional, some not so, but they are still Vuillaumes which are French copies of classical instruments. They are meant in my opinion to be played, but also preserved for posterity. As such, they have to be adjusted according to the current perception, of how a good violin should sound,as to give the best service possible,provided the operation is not invasive with the main parts of the instrument.

Replacing a bass bar in my opinion is part of the sound adjustment, albeit a more serious operation than changing a bridge or a sound post. It is part of the process however to achieve the best possible sound results.

As a final statement, I don't think we will ever see a Vuillaume instrument in a glass cage displayed in a museum next to a Strad or an Amati, because Vuillaume did not break any new ground as far as violin design or anything else (violin) is concerned. Therefore if a violin no matter what the make is, is found to have potential it should be adjusted to the player's preference for sound.

March 5, 2014 at 01:30 PM · An interesting discussion occurred here ten years ago regarding this maker,


March 5, 2014 at 03:23 PM · Yes there is a small Vuillaume brand(stamp). along with all the other Vuillaume identification marks.

March 5, 2014 at 06:13 PM · Joe Green,

thank you for the kind comments, In a short while you will be able to view new colour pictures at cozio. I'm also sending them a copy of the Hill certificate and bill of sale, but I don't think they will post those.

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