Kurt Widenhouse and Joseph Curtin violins

December 20, 2018, 12:59 PM · Hi guys,

I'm thinking of commissioning a violin by either Kurt Widenhouse or Joseph Curtin. Of course I'll try to find a convenient time to visit them both and try (I live about 20 hours flight from the US its not easy to get there).

I collect violins for myself and hopefully for my 2 young daughters if they choose to learn violin one day. The prices of good antiques are ridiculous and I don't live in London or NY so its difficult to buy from auction. I'm therefore looking for the best contemporary violin maker to commission violins. I look for violins with superb sound and also reputable violinmaker, hoping they will increase in value long time from now.

The price of Curtin's violin is almost double that quoted by Widenhouse. Anyone know if Curtin violins are vastly superior or is it mostly due to his reputation only?

Is anyone playing on either a Curtin or Widenhouse?Or has anyone play/own both and can give some insights on how they compare? sound? (I'm more of a guarneri guy, love the deep tone of guarneris, plus the overtones tend to help hide my imperfections )

I know there are a ton of excellent makers but I cannot be emailing all of them, so I focus on these 2 makers only.

Replies (18)

Edited: December 20, 2018, 1:32 PM · Not just a good idea in case your daughters play violin. It's a good idea in case your daughters go to college, because the value of your violin collection might not be visible on the FAFSA. Kicking myself for not buying twice as much house.
December 20, 2018, 2:54 PM · My teacher has a Joe Curtin Violin. I think the best word to describe it is powerful. It can play quite loud.
About 1 to 2 years after my teacher purchased it, he was having some second thoughts about its tone. He actually sent it back to Curtin and he re-did the bass bar and probably other items as well. It was relatively major surgery. Currently he's quite happy with it. Impressive that Curtin provided this level of support.
December 20, 2018, 4:15 PM · The best Curtins that I have seen are very good. My only peeve is that he seems to have drifted to a del Gesu pattern for most of his stuff, and he prefers antiquing even though an experimental violin he did with straight varnish was gorgeous.
December 20, 2018, 5:44 PM · del Gesus are easier to make sound, Strads more complicated, hit or miss. Kurt's violins are every bit as wonderful as Curtin's, just different.
Edited: December 21, 2018, 3:34 AM · Don't do it. There have been lots of threads arguing that buying expensive violins is not a good investment. There is really no telling whether a Curtin violin will have appreciated anywhere near a solid investment in fifty years' time.

There is even less telling whether any of your daughters will need a concert level violin when they grow up. There is a weird chance they do, but the odds are overwhelming they won't. If you just put 40.000 dollars in a trust they'll be a lot happier.

By the sound of it you already have a bunch of good violins. So... why do you (or your as yet non-playing daughters) need yet another one?

Edited: December 21, 2018, 4:04 AM · antiques are better investments because its much easier to find bargains, unfortunately you have to be some kind of expert to recognize the bargains from the fakes, even so at retail prices good antiques are appreciating faster than good moderns. that may change though, if the moderns are as good as some people say they are.
December 21, 2018, 4:43 AM · yeah, those bargain Strads keep a coming...
Edited: December 21, 2018, 4:57 AM · the paucity of bargain Strads is hardly representative of the number of bargains among more reasonably priced antiques. For instance I just bought a 1784 Joseph Wagner violin for $450. After a $500 restoration its now worth $4000, very uncommon, but it does happen.
December 21, 2018, 8:07 AM · People collect things, whether it's art or fine wine or baseball cards or violins. People always hope there's a resale value, but that's always speculative. Violins aren't a great financial investment, but neither are, say, antique cars. Collectors get pleasure from owning. Hopefully in this case, also from playing, but there are people who vault their instruments and to some degree, this is a nice way of preserving them for posterity.

I've never played a Widenhouse. I did like a Curtin that I tried a year or so ago. Lots of power and growl and color. The value of Curtin's work has actually increased substantially during his lifetime, as he's raised his prices with demand. I imagine that his violins will continue to appreciate.

December 21, 2018, 8:34 AM · Utility stocks arent perfect investments either.
Edited: December 21, 2018, 9:55 AM · I have played at least 3 Curtin violins and they were stellar instruments. A close colleague has one and while I have not played that one it always sounds fantastic to me. They seem to have a good amount of power, responsiveness, and feel comfortable to play.

I have not played a Widenhouse violin, but they seem to be well regarded.

December 21, 2018, 10:29 AM · You are choosing from between two masters. I have tried both Widenhouse and Curtin. The Widenhouse was for sale at a well respected dealer in NYC, very warm, beautiful tone and responsive. Maybe among the best contemporary violin I tried on that trip.

The Curtins I’ve tried however was at another level. Especially the newer ones with his new bridge. Powerful, beautiful, and resonant. Better than violins I played which were 2x to 10x more expensive. I know that’s a controversial statement - not trying to reopen the old vs new debate. Just a limited sample size and my own personal experience.

December 21, 2018, 10:36 AM · Both are nice, I like Curtin violins. If you going to meet with them and try their instruments, I'm sure you'll make a good choice. As a collector, I'm sure you have a number of nice old instruments, a Curtin would be a nice addition to collection.
December 24, 2018, 9:29 AM · "del Gesus are easier to make sound, Strads more complicated, hit or miss."

I've heard this same sentiment from makers.

December 24, 2018, 11:01 AM · Why is a Strad more complicated to make than a del Gesu, hit or miss?
December 24, 2018, 1:23 PM · I have heard some say that del Gesu was using a pretty straightforward evolution of the original Amati model. In spite of how weird they look to the layman.

By contrast, Stradivari did a lot of experimentation that, by its nature, presented risks. Not a problem for a genius, but we are talking about workmen who are trying to figure out what the genius was up to.

December 28, 2018, 3:32 AM · Guys, thank you for the overwhelming response.

For those concerned about the lack of investment value or the need to buy a violin or my financial well being, thank you for your thoughts and advice. For me, the violin is something I want, not something I need. I have a family and other things to prioritize, so I'm not worried with my own financial plans. My dream is to have a Gagliano/Vuillaume violin but that will wait for another day.

Regarding the question why I want another violin? Well, I simply like collecting them, like people collect cars or watches or paintings. I keep hearing and reading that there are many respected luthiers in America, so I would like to get one. My daughters may or may not play the violin, no pressure on them, but should they choose to play, they will be considered very fortunate. I did not have such nice violins to play on when young.

From reading your comments, seems like Curtin is a bigger name. However, I have decided to get a Widenhouse Guarneri model because of the huge price difference. I'm sure it will be a nice violin as well, will let you guys know how it sounds. There is still a big possibility of me getting a Curtin in the near future, let's see.

If anyone else plays/owns a Widenhouse, please share with me your experiences whether dealing with the luthier or playing his instruments. Thanks

Thank you for your many replies.

December 28, 2018, 6:35 AM · Widenhouse is a super-nice guy, very easy to deal with. You shouldn't have any problems.

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