Contemporary violin? luthiers?

December 21, 2004 at 06:01 AM · I'm looking for a violin. I currently play on a contemporary violin (2001). It's a copy of a del Gesu. I've looked at a bunch of modern Italian violins and some older things, from about 25-40 thousand dollars, and I've been really disappointed. In this price range, should I still be looking at contemporary makers? Does anyone have any suggestions?

A few years ago, I heard about a luthier in Texas making copies of Strads and Guarneris that were so good, that major soloists were buying them as backup violins. I can't remember the guy's name.

Replies (37)

December 21, 2004 at 10:31 AM · I am no expert, but believe this could be the Texas maker (Joseph Nagyvary) you were referring to. He doesn't actually carve the fiddles, that's done by his business partner; what he specialises in is his varnish, which supposedly matches that of the Cremonese masters.

http://www.nagyvaryviolins.com/

December 21, 2004 at 04:12 PM · I purchased a violin recently, no where near that price range, but I believe the sound quality to rival or beat many violins in the price range that you're looking at.

It was made by Gregory Sapp and is a 7/8th violin. He followed a lot of the traditions of the old italian makers and the sound of this violin proves it.

You might want to take a look at instruments that are lower than the $25-40k price range that you've specified. You'd be amazed at what you could find!

December 21, 2004 at 04:21 PM · Katie:

I didn't know if we were allowed to "plug" actual people on the board, but since others have...

My personal favorite maker of all the modern instruments I've heard is Mario Miralles in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he has about a ten year waiting list. I've played several of his violins and they are superlative! He copied YoYo Ma's cello and has made a lot of instruments for players in the LA Phil as well (for one, copied Martin Chalifour's Strad).

I think all the "great" modern makers now are going to have waiting lists, which will make it hard to find a violin in that price range.

The man considered the "best" maker right now is on the East Coast (New Jersey?) and is Sam Zyg.... (can't remember his last name - I'll have to find that for you, maybe someone else can spell it!) Of the people I know, they consider him and Mario to be the two best makers in the States now.

But, if you look in a lower price range, you really can find some very nice violins. I am coveting one now that is made by a local maker to me: Jim Brown in Claremont, CA. He copied Paganini's Canon and it came out beautifully with a fabulous, rich sound. It is still in the white though, but I keep reminding him that it is MY violin. He charges a ridiculously low price (don't read that Jim) partially because he is "unknown." I wrote a plug for him regarding his adjustments in a new post, but I don't think Laurie has let it go through yet.

So, you might really want to start with your local makers and then work outward. Also, if you get in touch with the Luthier organization in the States (can't remember that name either! getting old!...) you can find out their most recent competition winners (there was just one in Portland, OR about a month ago), and probably a list of their members. Maybe that is even online. There are so many good makers now that you should have a wealth of violins to try.

Lisa

December 21, 2004 at 04:43 PM · I tried out a Joseph Curtin violin recnetly, they are 28,000. Amazing instruments! The sound just explodes when you touch bow to string and Mr. Curtin I found to be very personable and helpful.

http://www.josephcurtinstudios.com

December 21, 2004 at 05:21 PM · I don't know your range too well, as it is too rich for my blood! :)

That said, there are certainly some quality instruments in the lower range of your region and below. I'm really a fan of my violin (what else is new? A violinist who thinks that the best instrument in the world is his?), which was made my Michael Darnton. My violin is Mr. Darnton's del Gesu "Cannone" model, and it is just a fabulous fiddle. Great sound and lightning quick response. Another really prominent maker worth checking out is Matsuda. He makes very nice violins, and I almost bought one of his before getting my Darnton instead.

In your proposed range, you might want to check out Becker violins. They are awfully popular, and, in my experience, they do sound very good. You should keep in mind, however, that I still preferred my Darnton over the three Beckers that I tried. My experience might be an anomaly, as I really didn't have that much time to adjust to the Beckers (though I did play one for almost an hour), but it is a testament to the fact that you can find professional quality violins from contemporary makers in the $15,000 range.

These are all Chicago-oriented suggestions because I live around here. Good luck in your search!

December 21, 2004 at 05:48 PM · Check out the Luthier section of this site Katie. There are some very good makers listed there, including Borman, Curtin, Townsend, Burgess, Needham, Tim Johnson, Injeian, Cox. All these people should be within your price range.

Sam Zygmuntowicz now has a waiting list of 3 or 4 years but I do believe that it's worth the wait (Easy for me to say since I only had to wait 2 years).

Keep in mind that some very sucessful makers have very few instruments on hand for you to try out since their instruments are usually sold before they're made.

Good Luck!

December 22, 2004 at 12:20 AM · I think John Sipe makes wonderful violins. Prices are usually 15K-30K. He lives in Charlotte NC. You should really try one of his if you can arrange it. His web site is www.johnsipeviolinmaker.com

December 22, 2004 at 01:16 AM · Thanks for the responses. Does anyone have more information on Sam Zygmuntowicz? Does he have a website? Where is he based out of? What do his violins go for?

Also, does anyone know more about the Nagyvary violins? I read the article from the link about them, and it was impressive.

Any information would be much appreciated, and thanks for all the help already, I'm very grateful!

Katie

December 22, 2004 at 01:39 AM · I'd look hard at violins by Sergio Peresson if I was going to spend money in that range. I think they go at auction for around $20-30k. Jacqueline Du Pre played a Peresson cello. Among owners of his violins were Stern, Laredo, Fodor, Galamian, and Nadia Sonnenberg. Norman Carol called him the best modern maker.

I heard Fodor's, and you really couldn't have asked for a nicer sound.

I have read (on the web) that his first ones were crude and that some of his later ones may not be completely his, but I'm sure the right one would be a great investment. Good luck. I'm jealous :-)

December 23, 2004 at 05:21 AM · Sadly, $40k is not a lot in the violin world. If you are looking at older instruments, you should probably avoid "modern Italian" violins. Try British, American, German, Austrian, or, (maybe -- they are getting up there) French violins.

There are many good makers out there today. The only issue is whether a new violin can sound the same as a 200 year old violin. You will have to decide that one.

I think about $30k is the top of the range for new instruments. Peressons are now over $30k. But I heard of one dealer in Chicago trying to sell them for in the $50k range. I suspect they are pretty good investments. I tried the Norman Carroll one, by the way ( a copy of his Del Gesu). I'm not sure it justifies its $45k price.

December 23, 2004 at 06:37 PM · With respect to Peresson, there are Peressons and there are Peressons. His output was somewhat inconsistent, and the late violins (from the 1980s) routinely come under fire for not being up to snuff. That said, I've seen several, mostly from the early '70s, that are second to none among 20th-century makers. And not all dealers are offering them at $45,000...

Among living makers, I'd highly recommend Andrew Carruthers in California. I've seen several of his instruments (violins and cellos, too) and I like their sound and look very much. There's a large number of great makers in the US today. A look at the website of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers (www.afvbm.org) would be a great place to start.

January 3, 2005 at 01:58 AM · The price range does not determine how good the violin will be. Have a look at another discussion thread about Marcello and Vittorio Villa of Cremona, Italy. Their violins are appreciating quickly in the States with recent quotes of $13,000-$14,500 see www.stringnet.com or www.kerrviolins.com or www.riedstrasviolinshop.com but it is also possible to commission from them directly.

I am in New Zealand and recently rec'd a commissioned 1742 del Gesu from Marcello and have been sufficiently impressed to have gone back and ordered a 1715 Strad from the same woods. Their website is http://www.violini-villa.com Good luck in your quest!

January 3, 2005 at 09:31 AM · Apart from the last message all the luthiers mentioned are in the US. Are the best US makers better than the best British makers?

I thought about working towards affording a new fiddle, as a good old one will prbably always be too expensive for me. I assumed I would be looking in the UK, but have no idea whether there are still national traditions to distinguish country of origin.

Also, does anybody have any thoughts on the chances of getting a bargain by enquirng about trying and buying finished student instruments from violin-making courses, such as Newark?

January 3, 2005 at 08:12 PM · Sam Zygmuntowicz is based in Brooklyn, NY. He doesn't have a web site (no need really) but should be listed under directory information.

Joseph Nagyvary is in College Station, TX.

There is no comparing the two. Sam is an amazing craftsman, as are many of the other great American makers, including: Joe Curtin, Feng Jiang, Gregg Alf, Ben Ruth, Mario Miralles, Francis Kuttner, and David Burgess.

Katie, you really need to decide first, what price range, what model you want to play, then what sound you're going after, then whether you want the violin antiqued or new. That will help you fine tune a list of makers. I would be happy to make some recommendations based on that criteria.

Bill

January 4, 2005 at 09:27 PM · There are great makers in the UK, including Peter Beare, John Dilworth, and David Rattray.

I would LOVE to own a Peter Beare violin. He's got the antiqued look down pat and his sound is beautiful.

Bill

January 4, 2005 at 10:40 PM · There are many makers on the boards which are top quality, and easy to contact, as above Bill Townsend, Steve Perry, Michael Darnton, and I think Michael Avilgiano.

And I know if you're in that price range, as Emil Chudnovsky would reccomend, you should certainly look at Howard Needham's work.

January 4, 2005 at 11:31 PM · Thanks for the above, I looked at makers' websites where they have one. For buyers with limited funds obviously exchange rates tend to favour buying anything from US over Europe or UK just now, although rates can change fast. Perhaps there are also good makers in E. Europe or even the far east or S. America who can also export violins which are not cheap but which benefit from attractive exchange rates.

Bill Townsend's website talks about breaking in new instruments by exposure to music. Why don't dealers store great instruments in music-filled rooms to stop them 'going to sleep'! More seriously, breaking in raises another problem for the potential buyer of a new finshed violin. Can the buyer (or even an expert) tell how well a violin will age? It is easy for an amateur to make an approximate judgement about which violin sounds best, but comparing instruments which have not been broken in, even if they are properly set up (and more so if they are not) surely makes buying on sound quality difficult?

January 4, 2005 at 11:54 PM · It's just as well that the exchange rate favours U.S. made products, as American violins are just about the best the world has to offer nowadays.

A good violin will be good two hundred years from now.

January 5, 2005 at 02:24 AM · John, I think just a few days is enough to "wake them up." What really happens and if anything really happens is debatable. Or for a prolonged break in for that matter.

Relevant article:

http://www.acousticguitar.com/Gear/advice/vibration.shtml

January 5, 2005 at 02:31 AM · The issue from a makers' perspective is that most players who are looking for a new violin aren't experienced enough to recognize a violin with potential--it has to already be there or they put it right back down after they pick it up, and blow on past it. I have one particular model, my personal favorite, that takes a couple of months to ripen in use into something that's REALLY fabulous, and with only one exception, all of that particular model have gone to experienced professionals with much more expensive violins, who immediately see the potential that less experienced customers have missed.

January 5, 2005 at 02:40 AM · What is the particular model?

January 5, 2005 at 03:23 AM · The del Gesu "Cannone", but made to the genuine original specs, which means 50% thicker wood in many places. I suspect most makers who do that model say they do it accurately, but don't own up to not doing the original graduations. I figure it was good enough for Paganini, so it's good enough for me. Usually they sit around my shop for a couple of years before they start to open up at all, and then they need six months' of hard playing to bat them home. Remember--the Hill's speculated that they took 75 years to open up, so I figure if I can get one sounding good in three years, I'm ahead of del Gesu. :-)

January 5, 2005 at 05:30 AM · Michael, I went to your site and it looks like a great setup there. Thanks for the Swanson link. Next time I'm in Chi-town, I will drop by for a rehair. A $40 rehair by a wiz, "while-u-wait." How much is he charging for his bows?

You have a great background for what you do. Given your experience as a photographer of old violins for B&F, why aren't there photos of violins on your site? I'm also a former photographer, but I mainly photographed surgical techniques for teaching materials. Not as much fun :)

January 5, 2005 at 10:26 AM · Michael,

This is just the point for an inexperienced amateur like me. How to predict the violin's potential.

Colin Nicholls showed me a violin he made in 1990 - I do not know, but suspect it has had little use - and a 70-year old violin. His newer instrument sounded better in some ways, with an attractive rounded sound, no reediness, and especially its evenness across strings. The older fiddle he told me had been used professionally, though not played for a few months, and it already sounded more open and responsive than the newer instrument. If the newer instrument 'opens up' in a couple of years, it will be the better buy according to my taste. It also looked at least as good the older instrument if you are not prejudiced against a finish which is not aged. But how is it possible to know, short of relying on the maker to tell you, how it will develop?

January 5, 2005 at 12:35 PM · Jim, it's shoemaker's children syndrome. I assume you found the viola-making story, and the links on the "contact" page.

John, for someone who's inexperienced, I think the only way to know is to find someone who's got a violin of that maker that's already broken in, and try that for comparison. My violins always age in about the same way, and I assume others' must, also. Or rely on the advice of someone you trust who's got a lot of experience. Also, if someone's in my shop and verbalizing what they're hearing, there's a lot I can do with adjustment that can guide a person in understanding what a violin is capable of, which is often not obvious to a player. I'm not fond of "casting call" sales where a player is confronted with piles of violins and encouraged to charge through them until something sticks--that's a recipe for missing the best ones, which may be not initially impressive, but are much more complex and need five minutes of playing to warm up. A teacher, a good player with a performance career, too, who has had a number of students buy my violins insists that she needs a week on a violin before she has any idea what it can do.

Finally, buy from someone with a reputation to keep. It doesn't happen often, but I'm always disappointed when I hear second-hand that someone who's had one of my instruments for a long time gets another without me having had a chance to make sure their old one was properly maintained and working well, which is often not the case.

In many cases (not only sales of my own violins, but I also see this all the time with others too--a big part of what I do these days is tonal adjustments for professionals) I know I could have improved their violin a lot with and up-to-date setup and adjustments, and I like a chance to keep my customers happy (and I've seen how some shops push new instruments without a bit of suggestion that an old one could be quickly fixed instead of a new one bought). This is hard to believe, but I actually once walked into a shop that had taken one of my violins in trade just an hour previous, because it had become "unsatisfactory" to the owner and had lost in the salesroom to an instrument I knew was worse. The player, not professional, and not experienced, had been playing with the bridge on mine pushed so far over to the side that one string wasn't over the board, and the salesman (still in the business, in New York) had taken advantage of this horrid misadjustment to sell another violin and collect a quick couple of thousand dollars, knowing that mine could quickly be put in order and easily resold--I couldn't believe it!!

Anyway, the bottom line of this is that after an instrument is sold, I want the owner to remain happy, and am of course willing to trade people across to instruments that might suit them better if adjustments don't help. This is something you should always expect from a good maker or dealer.

January 5, 2005 at 11:04 PM · One time I borrowed from a teacher a book of photographs of old Italian violins. It was old and coffee table- sized with grainy B&W shots and there was a companion volume on German makers I think. Many of the photographs were of instruments by famous, expensive makers, and often the fiddles were almost freakishly mis-shapen judging by a modern esthetic. Scrolls cocked 30 degrees to one side and things like that. I would love to see a modern volume of photographs of those same instruments. There's a strong emphasis on the neatness aspect today, in making a sellable violin. It seems like a shallow attitude.

In choosing a fiddle, a lot of times beginners have no idea what is good or bad. If the NY dealer had fixed the bridge, the player still might not have been satisfied. There's no telling what influenced the guy to trade it in. Many years ago as a beginner I needed a fiddle fast. No internet in those days, and a dearth of useful information. I called a famous shop (hint: Michael might have been working there) and asked them to send me something in the low four figures. The guy was like uhhh...we don't have anything like that. He thought for a few minutes on the phone and then remembered a fiddle he could sell for that and sent it to me. It was a Mittenwald violin I think, with the typical light brown varnish, structurally ok, but beat to death. It was a special case - it had been used there to teach violin making and repair. They had re-graduated it and so on. They were asking only $1100 for it. It was very easy to play, and everybody was telling me how great I sounded on it, but I was hung up on some inconsequential things about it, didn't keep it, and ended up with something more expensive and worse for the next few years.

January 5, 2005 at 11:08 PM · Like I said earlier, I have a Darnton del Gesu model, and I'd just like to confirm a few things of what Mr. Darnton's said.

A) My violin has opened up beautifully. When I initially received it, it was just stunningly loud. However, just in the first couple of weeks that I was playing on it, it improved considerably. While still kind of brash, it had a much wider tonal palette than my previous Darnton Strad model (more on that later). I'm lucky to have stuck with this violin; as time has progresed, this violin has really started sounding great in just about every way. I'm very happy with it now, and the violin is only nearing its third year under my possession--I'm very excited to see how it's going to evolve in the next three years!

B) Mr. Darnton does offer fantastic after-purchase support. About every six months, I take it (along with some treats from Chinatown) into Mr. Darnton's shop in Chicago and get it tinkered with. After each adjustment, my violin's sound is significantly improved. It's amazing what a little adjustment by an expert can do.

C) As a further testament to Mr. Darnton's after purchase support, I used to have Mr. Darnton's Strad model, but after using and abusing it for over a year, he still let me trade it in for one of his brand new del Gesu models after my teacher and I discovered that the Strad model didn't have quite enough juice for my style of playing. I've been very happy ever since!

Okay, enough shameless plugging. I'm done, and Mr. Darnton's probably embarrassed!

January 6, 2005 at 01:50 AM · Thanks. :-)

January 6, 2005 at 08:07 PM · Thanks for the advice.

I like a violin that is hard work, and that needs breaking in. I tend think it might make me improve my not-very-good playing, provided it is properly set up and has the potential to sound good.

Understandably, top players who depend on their performances to make a living have different criteria, and sometimes expert players say they need a Strad. For me, a violin which rewards good playing and punishes bad is ideal.

January 8, 2005 at 05:10 AM · The problem with brand new violins is that you don't know if after you've worked very hard breaking it in, what direction the sound will evolve. It's great that there are luthiers like Mr. Darnton who will followup on their instruments, and adjust setup and care for their instruments years after they are sold. I do think there are other violins that are made to sound great while new, but the maker or factory does not care how they sound years later. These are the ones that eventually have a hollow sound. In fact, some probably sound better when brand new, than a violin that breaks into something superb years later. So my guess is that if you're going with a contemporary violin, the reputation of the maker and followup care is very important. I know another maker who says that you can return your instrument to him if you are unhappy after a year or so, and he said that only one was ever returned. These are the ones that are confident that their violins will sound better and better as the years go by.

February 12, 2005 at 02:48 AM · I bought a violin by David Burgess in January 2004 and have been completely overwhelmed by the instrument. It is extremely well made, and the tone is incredibly big, round, and deep. In fact it put a fine violin by Omobono Stradivarius that I recently tried to shame. Check out http://www.burgessviolins.com

February 21, 2005 at 05:58 AM · as far as new makers,(and very much unknown so far)mr alfred michels violins are really a terrific bargain in my opinion.mr michels is a 8th or 9th generation german traditional string builder.he makes violins,violas,cellos and both flat back and arch back upright basses,most of which sell to professional orchestra musicians.his repair skills are legendary with the local college music dept.he is a most unpretentious builder,check with donley violins in charlotte for another opinion of mr michels esoteric fiddles.

February 21, 2005 at 02:17 PM · Hi,

In response to the original post. I think that in that range of price, unless you get lucky, go for something modern and new. Non-Italian won't gain as much in terms of value, but it could be a potentially great investement in terms of sound.

This said, there are some well-known makers. Of courses, there is Joseph Curtin, but his instruments are about 25K now. Other great modern American makers are Terry Borman from Salt Lake City (great fiddles and famous clients too!). On the less expensive side, I tried a fabulous violin by a Boston maker named Marylin Wallin last year (Guarneri model). There is always Michael on this thread :).

Personally, I play a modern instrument by the Canadian maker Denis Cormier from Montreal. And it's a fantastic instrument.

I am all for modern instruments!!! Like Stern once said, and that was back in the 90's: unless you have 200K to spend, go for a modern instrument. You'll do much better. Plus, you can save the money to buy something else... Like a good bow and a house!

Cheers!

February 21, 2005 at 04:16 PM · Christian - I'm always so happy to see Marilyn Wallin's name in a post. I've owned one of her violins for 4 years, and my love affair with it continues. I lucked into it - I was an inexperienced player looking for a new fiddle. It started out mellow and quiet, but clear, and has matured into a gorgeous sound that projects beautifully and is full and round. I love it!!!

Karin

June 16, 2008 at 01:08 PM · Hi everybody,

I am French and even if that may sound like nationalism, I would like to say a word about French contemporary violin making.

Please have a look on the following website : www.ot-montpellier.fr/lutherie/en.

Montpellier is hosting 11 contemporary workshops and the following four makers have won the world best prizes !

Frédéric Chaudière (Maurice Vieux viola sound competition) : http://www.fchaudiere.fr/en/fchaudiere.htm

Wolfram Neureither : http://neureither-luthier.com/

Nicolas Gilles (twice Violin Society of America gold medal) :http://www.luthier-gilles.com/english.htm

Yann Poulain : http://www.luthier-poulain.com/english/english.htm

Together with Peter Biddulph (to whom a message of this discussion refers as one of the best UK maker), the last four luthiers built up the Stradivari exhibition that will put together 15 instruments in Montpellier, July 14th-31st 2008. More info : www.antoniostradivari.net

And to consider the Montpellier makers' price range... there is nothing to say but that they offer more than what you could dream of !!!

October 7, 2008 at 04:29 AM · Hey! You'll find posted on YouTube a direct comparison of a new Nagyvary violin and an authentic 1735 Guarneri "del Gesu" recorded in September '08 at Eastman School of Music. The link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIF9UxmrxeM

If the link doesn't work then just got to www.youtube.com Do a search for Nagyvary. The title is: Nagyvary violin vs. 1735 Guarneri---which is which?

October 8, 2008 at 04:42 PM · Re: The Peresson violins. The ones he made early in his career, especially those made in South America, were wonderful. The ones made in Philadelphia were junk. He was even accused of buying white violins and fishishing them. I had a very, very nice Peresson that I paid $1,000 for in Venezuela 15 years ago. I sold it to a big shop in NYC $30,000. They already had a buyer lined up before they paid me for it. Who knows what they sold it for?

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