Commissioning a new instrument

April 24, 2006 at 11:18 PM · Dear all,

I am looking for a better violin for my graduate school. I have contacted Sam Zygmuntowicz, but he said his waiting list is too long to accommadate my request. I have also looked into Terry Borman and Kurt Widenhouse. I was wondering if anyone has any recommendation regarding great violin makers today that takes commission either make your own instrument or copy of antique old Italians such as del gesu, strad, etc. PLease let me know. Thanks!

Replies (60)

April 25, 2006 at 02:24 AM · Hi,

There are many fine makers around in the USA. On top of Zig, Joseph Curtin, Terry Borman, Philip Injean, Marylin Wallin, David Burgess all make fine instruments (I have left out many I know; apologies to those I did not name). The best is to contact all of them, try an instrument by them near you (I know that Borman arranges that with his clients) and see what's out there. Don't overlook other instruments in your price too that are not new. 40-50K gives you a lot of possibilities. I would suggest that you put money aside for a good bow too - just as important as the fiddle.


April 25, 2006 at 02:53 AM · Did you try Gregg Alf?

or Georg Eittinger

Jim Brown may have a recommendation for you

try the VSA site see when/where the next show/sale is going to be.

that should gt you started :o)

April 25, 2006 at 02:57 AM · You could easily get a really good instrument from Curtin/Alf/Boreman and have enough left for a Rolland or another bowmaker.

April 25, 2006 at 08:21 AM · Yep, Pieter, thats what I did. Most of the top American modern makers would be in the $20,000's. With the remaining amount you could buy a couple of bows.


April 25, 2006 at 05:41 AM · I think Sam Z is the only one over 30.

April 25, 2006 at 06:51 AM · I play an Andrew Finnigan violin. I compared it recently to a Zygmuntowicz in a blind test and it came out on top. It projects well and it has quality which is rare for a modern instrument. Have a look at

Right now they have one a Morels shop you can try. The best part is that they are much less than 40-50K. Anne Sophie Muter recently played her's in Carnegie Hall.

April 25, 2006 at 08:27 AM · Some sites for you all: (Gregg Alf) (Joseph Curtin) (Howard Needham) (Terry Borman) (David Burgess) (Michael Darnton who frequents this site)


April 25, 2006 at 05:07 PM · Anthony Lane -

Some of the best modern violins I've tried!

April 25, 2006 at 05:24 PM · I have a beautiful violin from John Montgomery in Raleigh, NC. He might be a good place to look as well.

April 27, 2006 at 03:43 AM ·

April 27, 2006 at 04:17 AM · Re your email Mike, sorry cann't help mate.


Topic: $40-50K gives you many choices for modern violins. You could also look for a 20th century Italian instrument too. Or maybe just buy a couple of Tourte bows :)

April 27, 2006 at 04:40 AM · I know it's under your price range, but I just tried an Andrew Ryan violin that sounds better than anything I've ever tried under 50k. I even heard it compared to a very nice Scarampella, and dare I say I liked Mr. Ryan's instrument more. It is a copy of a 1742 del Gesu, and is priced extremely reasonably (under 20k). I'm actually seriously considering buying it. I don't know if he does commisions, but I wouldn't see why not. Check him out, he works at Reuning & Son. Very nice sounding (and looking), instruments.

April 27, 2006 at 03:21 PM · Since you are in the range of 40k-50k,

I would not rule out trying older 20th century great makers such as Sgarabotto (Gaetano & or Pietro), O. Bignami, I. Sderci, S. Rocchi, G. Lucci.

I play a Pietro Sgarabotto for my quartet concerts on a regular basis, and it is a fantastic sounding instrument circa 1976.

Besides, the makers on my short list have been collectables for a long time.

April 27, 2006 at 03:23 PM · about modern instruments, my teacher from Encore, Mr. Danchenko, has a Terry Borman and he loves it. :)


April 27, 2006 at 03:37 PM · There are lots of options in the $40-50k range. A colleague of mine recently found a mid 20th c. Italian that sounds terrific for $20k. Also, you can find excellent English 19th c. instruments of the same workmanship and sound of higher priced Italian instruments. As an example, a number of years ago I was interested in a Vincenzo Panormo violin for sale for $60k. When it turned out to actually be a Thomas Kennedy, the price dropped to $12k. It is probably worth about $25k now.

April 27, 2006 at 03:50 PM · yes there are many options, but unlike a car (which is a negative investment), if you are dishing out 40k-50k, you want to feel that you are making a solid investment as well.

If you are looking to find an excellent sounding modern violin, you could find it in the range of 10k-15k as well.

I am speaking from experience as a collector and an appraiser.

April 27, 2006 at 04:16 PM · Does anyone play an Ettore Sofretti? (sp) Years ago those in the know said that his instruments would be superb down the road.

April 27, 2006 at 07:03 PM · I can personally suggest both Mario and Gaetanno Gadda, both of which can be had in this price range. A good Mario will allow you to buy a nice Francois Peccatte or a spiffy Lamy as well.

April 27, 2006 at 08:43 PM · Ray,

My stand-partner at Seattle Symphony plays a beautiful Ettore Soffritti, and loves it. They are very collectable and much appreciated.

BTW, your friend (as well as my teacher) Aaron Rosand, had a collection of Ansaldo Poggi violins along side his Del Gesu.

Another great 20th century maker well worth the investment.

April 28, 2006 at 01:22 PM · No-one has suggested this yet, but with $40-50K you could buy 2 modern violins! Dylana Jenson mentioned she has two of Sam Zigeunerweisen's violins. One Strad model and another Del Gesu model. (Obviously 2 of Sam's would be more the $40-50K though).


April 28, 2006 at 03:11 PM · Michael,

Perhaps you may noy be aware of this, but Zyg. charges 46K (US$).

Hence my suggestion about looking into the 20th century classics.

April 28, 2006 at 08:48 PM · Gennady,

It might be more than that now. A colleague of mine recently made an inquiry and told me it's quite a bit higher, but his mythical prices seem to deviate every time it's discussed.

April 28, 2006 at 11:01 PM · Pieter,

If they are higher, I would strongly recommend looking into Fiorini, Ornati, Garimberti, Poggi.

These are the some of the greatest makers of 20th century that made fantastic sounding instruments. They are also very collectable and are only increasing in value.

April 28, 2006 at 11:20 PM · Giusseppi Fiorini is a definate must to try if you are in this price range, and my personal favourite 20th C italian, is Ornati.

I have tried a Poggi which I didn't like much at all, but it belonged to a collector who doesn't play that one much and I think it needed some reviving.

April 29, 2006 at 05:14 AM · GF,

I believe Zyg's are $48K US with a 4-5 year waiting period as per the thread on him recently. But Pieter is right, every time he is mentioned, a different price is quoted :) It's as if his instruments are on the stock market, constantly going up and down :)

I hope our Kevin Shue is still out there, not too confused.


April 29, 2006 at 06:36 AM · I'm just saying, I know someone who just inquired and I heard it's actually closer to 60, but I never know since what I hear every time is different. My inclination is that she is wrong, since I'm reading here that it's lower than that.

April 29, 2006 at 06:41 AM · Maybe we should nominate someone in NY to confront him and ask him for a price history. Maybe not a bad idea :)


April 29, 2006 at 07:20 PM · Still, in this case it is up to the maker to dictate the prices according to the demand.

May 7, 2006 at 10:33 PM · Howard Needham in Annapolis is making extraordinary instruments.


May 7, 2006 at 11:50 PM · Unfortunately when some makers raise their prices to levels of lunacy, there are still many who can pay them. Leaving some of us in the dust...

May 8, 2006 at 04:18 AM · and then there are those who would prefer older instruments for that budget...............

May 8, 2006 at 05:19 AM · yup, I'm among those people.

May 10, 2006 at 09:31 PM · I own a viola by Andrew Finnigan and his wife Pia Klaembt, it is a fantastic instrument, I know their violins as well, really great instruments,...and they are lovely people.Top instruments that can compete with any old italian.


Sven Arne Tepl

Prof. viola&hamber music Guildhall School, London

Conservatorium van Amsterdam

May 10, 2006 at 10:38 PM · I was listening to a David Burgess instrument this past week and was strongly impressed. David Gussett would be another choice/option (just remember to judge the instruments quality and not get discouraged by the attitude).

March 29, 2007 at 03:54 PM · Regarding the prices of Sam Zymuntowicz's instruments; It's not that price that fluctuates (his prices have been the same, to my knowledge, for almost 4 years), but rather the guesses as to what they are. I am certain that Sam is not altering his prices in both directions based on demand fluctuations as the demand for his instruments, as shown by the waiting list, has always been consistent. I would also like to add that, if any of us had people trying to book us for concerto dates 5 years in advance, we might also raise our fees....

March 30, 2007 at 04:31 AM · You think you really have to spend 40-50k to get a good modern instrument?

March 30, 2007 at 04:29 AM · A maker here in Tx makes quite nice instruments which are very well crafted, sound excellent for only $8000. He had professional training and keeps working to perfect his craft. The name is Tim Johnson.

March 31, 2007 at 06:02 AM · for 40-50k i really advise investing in an older instrument

August 21, 2008 at 03:31 AM ·

August 21, 2008 at 03:37 AM ·

September 2, 2008 at 05:12 PM · You need to contact Stefan Valcuha. He, like Sam, was a pupil of Rene Morel, but since he is younger than Sam, is still relatively unknown. However, his fiddles have been commissioned by top players, including Concertmasters and Soloists...and not so they could sit in cases, either! I'll leave it to him to tell you their would be inappropriate for me to list them here. Call him at 212.307.7224. His shop is in Manhattan within the walls of Tarisio.

September 3, 2008 at 01:07 AM · I play a Kirschnek with Pirastro Oliv strings. I've played other instruments priced at 8-10 thousand and mine actually sounds better.

It was made in 2004, and in Germany by Franz Kirschek. It really is a beautiful violin. Both in appearence and sound.

The violin was 3 thousand. I would like to get a new instrument next fall, but the quality for the price of some of them just isnt worth it.

September 6, 2008 at 02:02 PM · I also suggest Andrew Ryan at Reuning & Son - I own a 1733 Strad replica (I hate to call it a "model"..sounds so much like a factory produced violin), and it was better than several others in the 40-50k range I tried while looking.

September 6, 2008 at 05:00 PM · Although I don't play a Kurt Weidenhouse violin full time, I have colleages here at and around the university that do, and they are all extremely satisfied with them. When I was shopping 2 summers ago for my current instrument, a Weidenhouse was in my top 2, and only beat out by a vintage Strad copy. I saw him a couple of months ago - he does all the lutheir work on my instrument and the Guarnieri my teacher plays - he told me his instruments were currently selling in the $18-20K range. I know that Aaron Rosand has a Weidenhouse as a backup instrument to his del Gesu, which is to me a testament to the quality of his craftsmanship.

September 9, 2008 at 08:55 AM · - Michael Darnton's work is great

- Finanza's work impressed me; I heard he's in Idiana now

August 26, 2009 at 10:37 AM ·

Hmmm.. about the older instruments.

Still a better investment?  Probably.  But I think it's a hard argument for very many older instruments to match the level of craftsmanship of the best modern makers listed here.  I tried a Burgess not too long ago.  It was 10 years old.  It blew the socks off of my teacher's Gagliano, which I'm pretty sure is worth more than 50k....  I think that's a pretty good illustration.

Jesse Branovacki

August 26, 2009 at 01:06 PM ·

 Ask Peter Prier Violin School - Charles Wolff 

August 27, 2009 at 04:34 AM ·

check out Micheal Darnton @ Darnton and Hersh. He is good maker. photography background which gave him the oportunity to travel around the world to see most of all the old instruments out there. very knowledgable and a great maker.

August 27, 2009 at 01:46 PM ·

Thanks for the appreciation of new makers, folks. Most of us are motivated to do our best in large part by the appreciation (hardly anyone is getting rich) so it's nice to hear.

August 28, 2009 at 07:49 AM ·

 Maestro Burgess, believe me that if had the money I surely commission one of yours. This summer I had the chance to hear and play one of your violins here in Spain and I was literally shocked. Not only for the sound but also for the beauty of the violin.

September 1, 2009 at 04:34 PM ·

 I am just wondering, since this thread is 3 years old, have you (Kevin) found your ideal instrument (new or old)?

September 21, 2009 at 11:40 AM ·

I'd like to mention 2 excellent makers whose violins I have and use, and whose prices are way under the price-range mentioned, and whose work will compare very well to more famous, and higher-priced makers: Edward Maday, of Long Island, NY, and Vittorio Villa of Cremona, Italy. Let me know if you'd like more detail.

September 24, 2009 at 09:37 PM ·

When my wife wore her skeleton out playing her Erdesz viola-- a perfect instrument for her except the size-- she ordered a small one from Ed Maday.  It looks rather different from what is on his website now, but she was very happy with it.

I've been looking around to replace a new instrument myself, and am faced with building two lists-- those available today, and those requiring a commission.  It has been most interesting.  In general, those who've gained the nicest notes here also impress me a lot.  Certainly there are no punches to be pulled with respect to our regular posters.

A modest piece of news for the forum is that Francis Kuttner has also done some really fine work.  His reputation is out there, but nobody here seems to have played his stuff and his name doesn't get around a lot.  Still not sure if I like his varnish, and his best-sounding new models look a bit incongruous.  But there's a lot to like.

What else?  René Morel's restorer makes in his spare time.  I saw a Strad copy this week that has a lot of the virtues one would expect from that source.  A little bright but well made.  A young man with some possibilities.

Roger Hargrave seems to have an unusual genius.  I've seen two of his violins and while I'm not sure they are for me (del Gesu copies), they look and feel  and sound older than nearly every new instrument out there.

I tried two of Andrew Ryan's in Boston.  He's a talented guy working on some slightly off-center models.  Not a perfect fit for me yet, but worth a look.

I also found that my local luthier also has a family member that makes the occasional instrument.  THeir philosophy is 180-degrees different from pretty much everyone else who's been mentioned in this thread and elsewhere on  In his world, oil varnish is a crock foisted on the world by the Brits and German factories.  He has similar dislikes for much of what passes for good violin sound, blaming NY pedagogues and luthiers.  Anyway, I'm trying a new axe from there to see if it works.  His varnish has some really good aspects, as well as a few oddities.  The sound so far has potential but probably needs some tweaking.  It is different from the normal US top-drawer.

Anyway, off to Chicago and points south to see what's there.  After that, a bottle of Burgundy and a long nap should produce a few good solutions to the problem(s).


September 27, 2009 at 12:17 AM ·

A few other points:

Matsuda is a potentially good value purchase.  Tried 2 yesterday and one was really good, the other just needed some adjustment.  Guarneri copy but no stereotypical del Gesu characteristics.  Just good violins with a little depth to the sound.  Only lacking the ultimate in power or sex appeal.

The Becker family is pretty interesting.  Carl Sr made some amazing instruments, and Carl Jr (age 89) is back at the bench and taking commissions.  As are his children.  Sadly, I didn't see anything from their hands except one from Jennifer when she was much less experienced.  I gather most of their orders come from owners of older instruments who are in the shop often enough to get an idea of what they want next.

Michael Darnton didn't have anything in stock this time, except an unbelievably beautiful Classical (Mozart/Haydn) violin.  Lovely varnish.  I wonder how it will age.

One more thing to remember generally, which has been said before: Adjustment counts. 

I saw one violin, made by a maker who gets well over $20K for his new ones; while it sounded exciting and articulate it was lacking in support.  Some notes were actually hollow with a tin-can kind of resonance.  [One person whose ears I trust said that is a typical flaw in that guy's instruments. ]   Anyway, a quick hit on the soundpost and a tweak to the bridge rake fixed most of it.  The guy in the shop said that to do more in that direction he'd have to cut a new soundpost.  If he did, he might end up with something that mimicked an actual Strad in more than its outline.  The last owner (I'm assuming) had tweaked it into a disaster-sounding thing, probably not knowing what a really good old fiddle sounds like.  Now the maker is possibly getting nasty gossip about inadequacies that are hardly his fault.  Sort of like a tailor getting whapped for tasteless alterations made well after purchase.


October 6, 2009 at 10:20 PM ·

October 6, 2009 at 10:21 PM ·



October 7, 2009 at 02:13 PM ·

Stephen, adjustment can certainly be a wild card. Sometimes I'll adjust an instrument according to what I expect a player to want, based on their playing history and how they will use the violin. This can work OK, but sometimes I'll be way off. Other times, I'll leave it the way solo players have liked it, with the result that some other players don't care for it at all.

If we had an agreed-on language for describing sound, or players were more in agreement on what they like, a maker's job would be easier. :-)

October 8, 2009 at 02:05 AM ·


Although that's certainly part of it, the most perplexing and irritating problems with adjustment that I've seen have come at a dealer.   While makers don't all have the same ability there, they will generally recognize a flaw when you show them, and do their best to iron it out.  I have never left a maker's shop fuming that he could be selling terrific instruments if only he knew where to put the soundpost.  There are some so good that one might have a lot of fun tuning it to play quartets, or outdoor recitals, or whatever.  And maybe it was set up for a task that you don't plan to do.  And, finally, it might be intrinsically  bright and ping-y where you want a bath of Tyrolean hot chocolate.  But that's different.

Consider when a dealer-based instrument with obvious potential has a real flaw in the tonal balance, or even sounds just awful.  The luthier can maybe fix a lot of that with just a tap on the soundpost, but the real question is, why not before?  Was the fiddle set up by the previous owner, who had done it so badly that he felt obliged to sell?  Was it set up to sound a particular way by the dealer who just likes odd stuff or plays with a weird bow?  Is it so low on the shop's totem pole that nobody every discovered that it could be done better?  Or was it deliberately mis-adjusted prior to your visit so that you'll prefer something more expensive or profitable?  Shoot me an e-mail and I'll disclose some more specifics on one of those situations.

October 8, 2009 at 03:40 AM ·

Stephen, I'll respond with an email, but for the benefit of others, the  scenarios you have presented are all plausible.

I would have felt frustrated too, had I been a player in the market for a violin, knowing as much as you do. My last "musician" purchase was when I was still a teenager, knowing next too nothing.

I made a choice to get away from dealers in large part, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There may be some  jewels.

October 8, 2009 at 11:30 AM ·

Yes-- the real trick is not giving up on the jewels when they're dusty.


It's a little like drinking 3-year-old red Bordeaux.  Most of it will be awful-- but eventually you'll know which will go well with dinner in 10 years.  This example applying, of course, to a somewhat badly retailed violin with untapped potential-- not modern instruments in general, many of which sound really good right off the chute.   So that's not even a little swipe at David's excellent work.  :-)

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