Family Violin

September 23, 2018, 5:50 AM · Hello everyone,

This is another “grandpa’s violin found in basement” story.
I was given a violin yesterday, it belonged to my godmother’s grandfather and had been sitting in a basement for 20+ years.

According to my godmother, her grandfather was a violin teacher and this violin should be at least 60-70 years old. It has no label but it came in an old black wooden case labelled “made in England, patent n° 165333”. The violin needs some maintenance and I’m planning to take it to a shop tomorrow to see what can be done.

There is one problem, however. I don’t live in the city where my godmother lives. I only came here to visit and I have to fly back home on the 26th. I’m not sure how much a violin repairer can do in three days. I could go to my usual violin shop back home but I think it’s better if somebody here takes a look at the violin first, just to be sure that it is in a good enough state to board a plane. Obviously, I’m taking it as hand luggage. Also, I have my good flying case with me (with a separate bow holder) since I don’t want to take the risk to board the violin with the old wooden case it came in.

Anyway, I would appreciate if anyone had any advice to share. Are there any “first aid” violin repairs I should ask the violin repairer to do? And can they be done in three days? Anyhing else I should be aware of?

I’m also linking some pictures of the violin, if anyone is interested.

Thank you again.

Replies (23)

September 23, 2018, 7:05 AM · You should post these on maestronet. It's mostly luthiers, whereas this is mostly players. Prepare to be told that it's a piece of junk, though. That's what they usually say. :-)
Edited: September 23, 2018, 7:22 AM · To me it looks to be in terrible shape whatever it's origin:
Hand-carved pegs
soundpost crack
bassbar crack
purfling damage

I can't see how boarding a plane could make it worse. I would say that any violin in this condition is not worth attempting professional repair unless it would be worth at least $10,000 when repaired. But if you wanted to learn how to do the work by doing it yourself - that's up to you.

Probably more work to fix this thing than to make a new one.

September 23, 2018, 7:30 AM · Family gifts and inherited items often have inconvenient moral strings attached. One of my string quartet colleagues was given a viola made by her uncle and felt obliged to play it...
September 23, 2018, 8:06 AM · The violin is really cheap, barely worth $500 if it were in mint condition, with its present condition definitely not worth fixing, even as a family heirloom
September 23, 2018, 9:15 AM · Even if "not worth fixing," it would make nice wall art. Has a lot of character.
September 23, 2018, 11:54 AM · Those found- under-the-bed violins are frequently mass-produced mail-order fiddles from late 19th to early 20th cent. My Sears catalog from 189_ has them for $20. If they are Not damaged some of them have aged well and can be very playable. The bow or the case might be worth more than the fiddle.
September 23, 2018, 12:40 PM · this is more like the Sears catalogue's $5 model, the $20 ones were half decent.
September 23, 2018, 1:18 PM · If it has emotional value, that means a lot. My violin is of an ilk reviled by the folks at Maestronet, but I played Tony as a kid and my recently dearly departed father played Tony when he was a child. I guess, never having played another violin, I just don't know the difference, but Tony sounds good to me, and I was happy to spend $500 to fix him up when I pulled him out from under the bed and started playing after 38 years away. :-)
September 23, 2018, 1:21 PM · Except the repair bill for this violin in question is $2000+, that makes a difference to most people.
September 23, 2018, 3:02 PM · Just a player here but even I can tell that making that violin playable is big $$, far more than it is worth. It will make a lovely piece of wall art, if you like that sort of thing.
September 23, 2018, 4:01 PM · Vicki,

As one who spent a lot of cash to restore a family instrument with sentimental value, from a pure financial point of view it just isn't worth the money. Looking at the pictures the instrument would have to be totally taken apart, repaired, and put back together. For what that would cost, you could probably buy an excellent serviceable instrument.

I was somewhat lucky in that the basic instrument I restored was well made the fittings (tailpiece, fingerboard, pegs) were garbage and had to be replaced. I also paid to have the plates tuned. I have a "good" instrument with a history that is interesting (albeit not "Joe's Violin" interesting).

If I had the opportunity to go back in time and start over, I would have purchased a very-good instrument instead. Not that I'm complaining I'm happy with what I have accomplished but would not do it again.

Edited: September 24, 2018, 12:52 PM · Yes--$2k would stop me. I was kind of amazed by how well my Tony weathered 38 years of neglect (including a few years in a barn (I am very ashamed) -- those old thermofoam cases were ugly, but they were work horses, and it kept him safe). But if they had told me $2k I wouldn't have been able to get the work done.
September 24, 2018, 3:50 AM · Thank you for your advice, everyone. Since my own instrument is not old at all, I never had to deal with repairs of this kind before so your help is much appreciated.

I just came back from the local luthier. He told me that the violin is a student instrument and yes, it needs some work. On the bright side, it will cost me around 120€ to make it decently playable, maybe a little more but nothing over 200€. This is the price to open it, fix everything inside, fix the crack on the fingerboard, the open seams and change the pegs. For this price, I figured “why not?”. It would cost more to make it look more “presentable” but I’m not too concerned about appearance at the moment. If I like the sound, I can always go back and decide to spend more.

Anyway, this is a lot of work for the luthier so I obviously can’t have it ready for Wednesday but I’m coming back here in November. He agreed to keep it for me until then so that’s good.

Thanks again to everyone for answering!

September 24, 2018, 4:14 AM · what if I tell you your luthier is incompetent, a soundpost crack requires an expensive soundpost patch on the inside, just gluing the crack will not work, and that alone costs about $1000, then you have a bassbar crack, another expensive repair.
September 24, 2018, 4:57 AM · Well, maybe he is. I wouldn’t know, I’m not a luthier myself. Still, had he asked me for 1000-2000€, I wouldn’t have accepted because it’s simply not worth it, as you all so well said.

Will the violin end up on the wall anyway? Maybe. Maybe not. And if it does prove to be useless, I’ll just pretend I spent the money to treat myself to a spa day.

September 24, 2018, 8:11 AM · It all depends on the hourly rate of the repair luthier for this work. In a USA shop expect it to be $100/hour perhaps this is to be done for 10€/hour.

I postponed repair on one of my cellos for 30 years until a friend had finally become an experienced violin, viola and cello maker and did the work for $10/hour. Previously all professional repair estimates exceeded the value of the cello.

September 24, 2018, 10:20 AM · I'd certainly go ahead with the work. 20 years ago I spent about $500 Canadian to repair a similar old German violin that I'd inherited from a long-deceased cousin of my grand-mother's. I thought it well worth the investment at the time, since it had some sentimental value to me. The luthier re-glued the seams, repaired some cracks in the top plate, and fitted it out with decent pegs, bridge, tailpiece and chin-rest. It cost more money than the fiddle was worth, but after the repairs it sounded pretty good, and twenty years later I still use it from time to time. I've learned to enjoy its tinny old-time fiddle sound, and most people who have tried it agree that it's way better than most modern Chinese student violins. It has a label which says "Stradivarius Made in Germany", and "Conservatory Violin" stamped on the scroll, which seems truthful enough. It was purchased from Eaton's Catalogue (the Canadian equivalent of Sears) in 1901 for the princely sum of two dollars. Fortunately I have a good violin for my main instrument.
Edited: September 24, 2018, 11:50 AM · At auction a few months ago I picked up a violin possibly from the same workshop, except that mine bears the legend "Concert violin", carved or stamped into a flat shield on the back of the scroll where the fluting has been interrupted. I guess this is a grade up from the "conservatory"! The next higher grade I think must be this one:

Above that do we see something like "Wonderful virtuoso violin"?

September 24, 2018, 12:47 PM · Less than €200 to make it playable? Please do a follow-up once it's done? I would love to see it once restored. :)
September 24, 2018, 1:02 PM · I agree with Lyndon on this.

Those repairs cannot be done properly for that price.

Edited: September 24, 2018, 2:05 PM · Just for the sake of curiosity and historical comparison, the price of mail-order German factory violins in Eaton's Catalogue -- Canadian equivalent of Sears -- for Spring and Summer of the year 1901 ranged from $1.00 for the cheapest model to $12.00 for the most expensive. They had 8 different models. The high-end fiddle listed as #313, for example, was described as "Conservatory Straduarius [sic], brown and amber shade, highly polished, fine trimmings, well made and good tone, a splendid instrument, $10.00". Three dollars would get you, in their words, "the best violin on the market for the money." They had seven violin bows, ranging from 25 cents for a maple bow with black frog and bone button, to the very top of their line: "Pernambuco, ebony frog, full German silver trimmed, pearl slide and eye, fine quality, $2.00". Strings were 10c each, 40c per set, or for the better "Imperial" grade, E, A, and D 20c each,; G, 30c each.
September 24, 2018, 3:08 PM · Mr. Andrew Victor makes an excellent point. Please note that this repair shop is located in a country which is struggling with the crisis. While 200€ might not appear to be a lot to someone like me, who doesn’t live here anymore, it is still a considerable amount of money for the people here who make on average maybe 700€ a month.

Just as a comparison, one can rent a 50 square metre apartment for 250€/month.

Thank you for sharing the stories of your own restored violins, everyone. It’s always interesting to read how other people dealt with similar issues.

And Fox Mitchell : I’m looking forward to see it once restored too. Although there is a chance the work will not be perfect, as many people have suggested, I’m curious to see the end result. I’ll try to follow up in November, hopefully :)

September 24, 2018, 7:54 PM · That makes quite a difference! Same apartment in Vancouver could be $2000 and up which would male Lyndon's estimate and your luthiers estimate pretty much equivalent.

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