Have there always been junk violins made - i.e. "old" doesn't necessarily mean good?
You see a violin on eBay and it's purportedly 100, 150 or more years old. "Antique German violin" or whatever. Assuming it really is as old as claimed and not a newer antiqued instrument and there's nothing structurally wrong with it - i.e. not cracked, no glue joints coming apart, bass bar's intact, etc. - it can still be a dud? Even before the era of factory Chinese violins, were there people turning out not so great instruments? I.e. it's possible it was a chintzy violin when it was made and 175 years later it's still chintzy?
Have you ever bought an old violin online just for grins? Were you pleasantly surprised or did you add to your collection of wall hangers?
Yes. Before the era of Chinese factory violins, there were German and Czech trade violins, which are really hit and miss. I don't think they were ever as bad as the cheapest Chinese violins (as in the plywood VSOs) and they tended to be piece-work by fairly skilled woodworkers rather than truly amss produced, but some were quite cheaply made using not-so-great materials.
Certainly old doesn't necessarily mean good - I'd be more inclined to ask does an old factory fiddle necessarily sound bad? Over the years I've picked up quite a few to resurrect and tried to convince myself they sounded OK and were enjoyable to play, but frankly none of them were so I sold them again. Nevertheless I'm sure there are decent ones still to be found if you really know what to look out for
I'm not entirely sure of the economics, but the idea is that the violin was one of the cheapest instruments in 19th century Europe (if you ignore penny whistles and wooden flutes), and they catered for every budget, therefore...
Just because they weren't working in China doesn't mean the craftsmen of old didn't make cheap, lazy garbage just like we do today. The thing is that most of those firewood fiddles were, well, burned. Or used as tennis rackets.
For at least 100 years, the vast majority of violins produced have been of the cheap VSO variety... perhaps related to the second industrial revolution of the late 1800's. It will take a better expert than me to say what went on before that period.
not an expert at all, but here is what i experienced so far whilst violin shopping. definitely not, i tested out a couple german violin from the 1920s, and it sounded like a tinbox compared to another chinese violin in the same price range(1200)
If you take a cheap German $300 violin and price it at $1200 of course the Chinese $1200 violin is going to sound better but the $30 Chinese VSO is going to be abysmally worse.
It is an interesting question.. what did amateurs and beginners play early in the days of the violin? All the early violin makers seemed to cater to aristocratic clientele... Even the roughest makers like the Testores and Mariani and such are now extremely expensive now and probably weren't cheap back then either.
You find old instruments that are made from the most humble of materials. Naples gives us violins made with stunning one-piece backs and wonderful top wood as well as terrible wood. I look after a Gagliano that has totally plain wood for the back with painted flames and a mis-matched top that looks like the maker harvested a fence post for one half of it. I am sure that if you needed a violin and had 20 bucks, they would make you a twenty dollar fiddle. If you had $100, then you would get nicer materials and varnish.
hi lyndon, ofcourse! but the thing is alot of folks jacking up the price on these 300 dollar german violins purely because its old. they are selling it for the historic value rather than how good the instrument really is.
Its probably because they work for $150/hr, and that's what it costs to fix it up to be saleable. I work for $50/hr and if a violin is disappointing in tone, I lower the price, no matter what I payed for it.
@Kai - In spite of what some optimistic violin sellers seem to think, the "historic value" of an old factory instrument like the ones I was forced to learn on doesn't amount to much. In the UK and I'm sure elsewhere hundreds of old violins appear at auction (e.g. Amati.com) almost every month and sell for £100 or so. Most of them are in poor condition and hideous to behold so it's hard to imagine anyone ever actually playing on them, or even hanging them on the wall. Their fate is surely just to go round and round the auction houses
Actually the vast majority of these instruments, with the exception of later French are not factory instruments at all but cottage industry, meaning parts made in people houses seperately then finally assembled and labeled with a wholesalers label which has little if anything to do with who actually made it, these instruments were made in all levels from dirt cheap VSOs to high grade master pieces, and priced accordingly, the better ones are quite good and will easily beat high end Chinese violins like Jay Haide of Scott Cao.
In answer to the original question: most of the old stuff sold on e-bay is junk for 2 reasons: usually the condition is poor, and even if they are fixed up they sound bad and/or are hard to play. Some people have a knack for finding some good stuff on e-bay but you really have to know what you are doing.
I just heard a very interesting discussion involving a luthier and an appraiser about this category of violin. There are tens of thousands of cheap German, French and American workshop (i.e. factory) violins from the late 19th to early 20th century.
I repeat, The German violins circa 100 yrs ago were not made in factory on an assembly line, that came much later.
Lyndon, I was wondering -- do you ever regrade an old factory violin? I can't imagine it would be worth the time, but it's intriguing, the idea of buying one of these "grandpa's attic" instruments and revoicing it.
I'm totally against regraduation, these violins are a part of history and deserve to be preserved as such, most regraduaters aren't even makers so they don't even have clue what makes a good violin, and most of these German violins just aren't that thick, and making them thinner can just as easily make them worse.
Lyndon, what I was referring to was old cheap workshop instruments that are not nice sounding because the plates are thick -- but made of excellent wood that is now 100 years old. Not of historical value because these are a dime a dozen. I'm assuming a real luthier would do the regraduation and rebuild.
I'm totally against it, if a violin sounds good regraduated, chances are it sounded at least as good to start with.
Ah, but "cheap" wood at that time would have been better than today's cheap wood. Decent tone wood was not in short supply back then.
People should be careful not to place all “cottage industry” German violins in the same basket.
Scott, I did in fact buy an old German violin online for "grins" as you put it. Not from eBay or the like but from an actual Auction that was streamed live.
"I'm totally against regraduation, these violins are a part of history and deserve to be preserved as such..."
you seem to be under the delusion that regraduation actually improves them.
I'm also sceptical of the assertions that excellent tone wood was in unlimited supply at some unspecified past date. And that it was much cheaper than today. And that any old wood on any old Dutzenarbeit violin would make a top violin now if regraduated.
Is anyone claiming they'd be top-quality violins, though? It's more that they wouldn't be quite as terrible as today's cheap factory violins because the cheap wood then would have at least been much better than today's cheap wood. If it's as good as the wood currently being used on mid-level workshop violins, then it may be possible to turn a cheaply made 100-year-old instrument into a significantly better one.
they are what they are, the idea that they can be improved upon is a tweakers fantasy
Improving one of these violins involves fitting a proper bridge and soundpost and, leveling the fingerboard, working on the pegs and using good strings, nothing more is needed. These tweakers that regraduate never bother to set up the violin properly before they begin carving away at it, they are the violin equivalent of terrorists.IMHO
In general, I agree with Lyndon about not re-graduating the well-made old German violins. There is no guarantee that they will sound better afterward.
those violins were built cheaply in every aspect and look like crap on the outside too, what possible benefit would it be to waste time regraduating them??