Self taught luthier made my violin
I was so surprised the other day, when a reputable luthier told me that my violin, constructed by a self taught luthier has so many imperfections, by comparing my violin to a Stradivarius mood. Differences I could see, such as a flatter plane of the fingerboard making for less clearance between the top of the violin and the bottom of the fingerboard, smaller f holes, tops flush to the sides of the violin and there were more items noted. I thought it was so unique and an example of masterpiece of contemporary violin makers. Boy was I wrong, let this be a perfect example of how proper guidance in buying a violin would have prevented me from ever buying this imperfect home built. He told me that the violin should have never been sold. It has served its purpose, but who really knows what to look for when you are a teenager upgrading to a new instrument. I bought this violin in 1985, I am not sure what drew me to the violin, maybe it was the uniqueness of a one piece back the shop owner identified. Who knows!? Alas I have fallen in love with a new violin and it is made so well, and has an amazing sound. This violin will take me to a higher level. I will say that the reason for not being content with the violin I have is that there was an inherent lack of responsiveness while I was playing some more advanced repertoire and etudes. It simply wasn’t easy to play. I played the new violin and it was like going from a 78 rabbit with rack and pinion steering to a Cadillac Eldorado. Who would have thought ...a violin that is easy to play. I have learned so much as a result of this experience. It is my hope that anyone looking to upgrade, find a ship willing to show you that there instruments are properly made and compare any more anytime you you might be interested in to a high end instrument. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into buying something you aren’t absolutely sure of. There are some classic violin construction basics, atleast try and understand some of these before you buy something you think you love only to learn that you didn’t bug what you thought you did.
Some luthiers are self-taught in the same way as I'm a self-taught violinist (frankly I should be banned from teaching anybody) while others have shown considerable skill and artistry. In the early 20th century it seems almost every violin-maker in Britain was self-taught. I've owned 3 violins by these guys; the first one looked awful but sonically was at least an improvement over the hideous wrecks I would otherwise have been forced to play at school. The other two stood up well against "professional" standards on both counts. One self-taught maker of this generation, Wilfred Saunders, even went on to found the Newark School of Violin-making.
I have to agree with Steve. I bought a violin from a local amateur maker in 1990. It was his #11. By profession he was a mechanical engineer and was using modern, sophisticated technology in his making. I first heard this violin when he brought it to a rehearsal of our local community orchestra and different violinists were trying it during our break. I was at the back of the hall when I first heard it and immediately thought "I have to have this one." Trying it confirmed my desire, but one of our high school violinists got first dibs on it. Fortunately for me, her teacher told her, since she was planning to major in violin at college, that a certain 19th century French violin was a better choice. So I ended up with this violin. But only for about 10 years because it was the violin my granddaughter chose from my collection when she got to that stage in her studies and I gave her choice of whichever of my violins she wanted.
When I was a kid my violin teacher said I needed a full-sized violin and he knew where there were a couple of good ones to choose from. I chose the Birds-Eye violin because was gorgeous (they sounded the same to me). I played this violin throughout my childhood.
I think there's a relatively well-known paper which researched many violins and reported a surprisingly high number of those which placed in a "better" sound category were made by amateur makers. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it just now.
My current viola was made by an amateur luthier in the 1970s and the tone and response definitely make it suitable for professional use. I paid a low-end professional price for it (low 5 figures), but by the time it reached me it had already been used in Hollywood studio orchestras for 20 years, and when I purchased it I was comparing it to other violas in the same price range.
Many makers were self-taugh or received no formal training, they were mostly musicians or falegnami (woodworkers). Of coarse formal training is important, but some makers made good violins without formal training.
Another Italian autodidact to add to Luis's list - Giuseppe Matesic was a medical doctor (gynaecologist?) living in Florence who I think started making violins relatively late in life. When I was in Florence in 1997 for a conference I went looking for a new violin without a great deal of money to spend. At the workshop of the Vettori family I tried several violins made by apprentices but it was the one by Giuseppe Matesic (in the shop for its final setting-up) that blew me away. Next day I was introduced to the maker and we soon arranged a deal. To my eye the construction looked exemplary, although experts have noted certain "amateur" characteristics. I played it happily for 20 years but finally decided to move on so it's now looking for a new home.
Tim wrote, "I have seen and heard some amazing instruments made by unknown makers." Yes my daughter has a violin that says "Hermann Jaas" inside it. But when I had it appraised, I asked the luthier who Jaas was, and he just laughed and said the violin was made by Eduard Reichert who apparently was fond of putting random names inside the violins produced in his workshop.
I recenly bought a violin from a maker and outstanding violinist named Aurthor Mikhailov. It's is #22, out of 22 he's made (2018). It's really an exemplary instrument certainly suitable for professional use, and when compared with other violins from various shops in the surrounding area, it was distinctly better than several violins more than TWICE it's price.
I don't know. As long as it sounds good and plays well, it doesn't really matter if it's way off pattern. But there is a reason why most people base their violins off established designs. Sometimes experimenting can really pay off, but it sounds like this one didn't really benefit from the oddities. Hope you didn't pay too much.
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