Berl Mendenhall/Bill Weaver

Edited: July 12, 2020, 3:33 PM · Does anyone know anything about this luthier? I can't seem to find much about him on google except for a couple of instruments (mainly from around 2013 so nothing recent) and an article on thestrad.com about his method of purfling from 2018, but nothing about his background or anything. I suppose if he was able to get on a magazine issue for thestrad then he must be somewhat known, but I can't find anything.

Any help is appreciated.

Replies (28)

July 10, 2020, 5:31 AM · As far as I know his violins don’t go for too much money but they latest violin I could find online that sold was I think in 2016. A lot can happen in 4 years.
July 10, 2020, 12:29 PM · I believe he lives in S.E. Ohio and is a member of Maestronet. I don't think he has posted in a while.
Edited: July 10, 2020, 12:40 PM · A Berl Mendenhall violin sold at auction (Bromptons) in 2014 for $1298 (below estimate of $1,800 to $2,500).
July 10, 2020, 11:28 PM · Contact him on Maestronet.com. He is somewhat active there.
July 10, 2020, 11:47 PM · I suppose I could contact him, but it’s more a question about the quality of his instruments and if they are a good buy. I read through his “Berl Mendenhall’s bench” threads on maestronet and his work is really beautiful, but of course looks have nothing to do with sound, playability, and what not.

I was just curious if anyone had played one of his instruments or knows someone who has or knows someone who has so I can get an idea of the kind of work he does.

July 12, 2020, 3:32 PM · After emailing the shop who had a Mendenhall I found out that the one they sell is actually a Bill Weaver Violin that is carved by Mendenhall and then sent to Bill Weaver for finishing/setting up. I've heard good things about Bill Weaver's instruments are they good?
Edited: July 12, 2020, 7:10 PM · You're confused. That would be a Mendenhall; the luthier that does the set-up does not normally put his name on the violin. The "finish" sometimes includes varnishing if the violin is received "in the white".

Bill Weaver runs a violin shop. The shop is notable for importing Hiroshi Kono workshop violins from Japan, which they set up. I believe they also wholesale other workshop violins.

As with all violins, you have to try it and see. Just because a maker's output is usually a particular way doesn't mean anything with regard to an individual violin by that maker.

July 13, 2020, 4:25 AM · I know it’s actually a Mendenhall instrument I’m just saying that it’s sold through Bill Weaver’s shop which is where the violin shop I saw the violin gets them from. The violin shop told me that the finishing and setting up is done by Mr. Weaver who receives it in the white. I suppose I could have worded that better.

Yeah I know I’ll have to try it I just wanted to see if anyone knew anything about the consistency of his instruments.

July 13, 2020, 8:29 AM · That's a bit surprising -- that a contemporary individual maker would wholesale their violins in the white as well as fully making their own instruments.
July 13, 2020, 9:24 AM · makes you think he might be regraduating white violins himself????
July 13, 2020, 4:09 PM · You're right it does sound a little strange. I wonder what the logic is for doing it this way...
July 13, 2020, 4:33 PM · $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Edited: July 13, 2020, 11:42 PM · Specialization only seems to require explanation because it's easy to fall into thinking that the romantic vision of a solitary "auteur" violin maker is the essential truth of the field, when in fact on the whole it's comparatively rare.
Edited: July 14, 2020, 5:24 PM · Many years ago Bill Weaver created a violin line from instruments he bought from good sources in the white, then varnished himself. He wasn't buying $50 junk white instruments--these were real violins.

There are plenty of makers who like the woodworking part but aren't wild about varnishing, and I think he was working that to his advantage. I haven't followed what he's been doing in the 30 years between then and now, but this sounds very much like the kind of thing he'd do.

He would be far from the first to do this, too! Some of the c1900 Italians got their hands in this type of dealing; in their cases buying German factory instruments and reworking them into their own. I understand there's been a similar problem in the recent past in Cremona with Chinese white violins becoming "Cremonese" when varnished, the difference with Weaver's being that he's using real white violins underneath, not Chinese or German factory white violins, and in this case advertising where the base violin comes from rather than hiding it. Not much to criticize, I don't think.

I don't believe he was regraduating the violins years ago--if they're made well, there's no reason to do that. Someone at the time told me that he was varnishing at home, evenings, for entertainment. He had the varnish thing down, and it was relaxing for him. That gave the line a consistent look, too. They weren't incredibly expensive--those were a high end student instrument, and they had a good reputation.

Edited: July 14, 2020, 6:13 PM · I last saw Berl at the 2016 VSA convention, and his last post on Maestronet was a little over a year ago, where he briefly mentioned battling cancer (not clear if it was past or current). Recently someone asked about his whereabouts, but there was no answer.

He had a "bench thread" where he discussed his work: https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/333811-berl-mendenhalls-bench/
From this, it looks like he did his own varnish work, at least through 2016.

I recall visiting his room at VSA 2016 and vaguely recall looking at violins, but after 4 years I don't recall anything in particular. I would say he was an enthusiastic amateur/hobyist maker, generally competent but not accomplished.

July 21, 2020, 1:08 PM · I work at The Violin House of Weaver. After reading this thread I asked Mr. Weaver about Berl. It’s a shame to hear his work dismissed. I’ve met him a couple times when he’s visited the shop with his good friend and renowned violin researcher, Bruce Babbitt, and I’ve seen a couple of his violins in the shop over the years. As a result of the conversation, Mr. Weaver asked me to write the following response on his behalf.

There are a couple points Mr. Weaver wants to address. First of all, Berl Mendenhall has made a number of fine violins which Mr. Weaver has sold. The violins have all been quite nice, and their varnish is excellent, much like what you’d see on a good Italian violin. As a result, Mr. Weaver has never had any reason to revarnish or regraduate Mendenhall violins. It is true that the shop buys violins in the white from some very good makers, but this is not the case for Mendenhall.

If anyone is interested in getting in touch with Berl, call The Violin House of Weaver.

July 21, 2020, 8:16 PM · I'm guessing the violin in question is this one at Quinn: LINK

The page says:
BERL MENDENHALL
Carving in the US by Mr. Mendenhall, with finishing by Bill Weaver. This is another exceptionally great value for an instrument made entirely in the US.
$6,000

July 23, 2020, 2:36 AM · Yes, that is the violin in question.
July 23, 2020, 6:06 PM · That violin appears to have been removed from the link's listing.
July 23, 2020, 9:44 PM · Well that's the other shoe dropping I think.
Edited: July 24, 2020, 5:34 AM · Interesting contradiction here, that Weaver himself states that he only sold violins by Mendenhall but never did anything extra to them, while the posting claims it was finished by Weaver from a violin in the white (that is how I interpret the "carving by Mendenhall").

Lydia once more shows her excellent googling skills :-)

Edited: July 24, 2020, 10:19 AM · Mr. Maxham stated, "Mr. Weaver has never had any reason to revarnish or regraduate Mendenhall violins" The link said that he finished a violin in the white, carved by Mendenhall.
Both statements could be true.
July 24, 2020, 12:04 PM · Yeah I noticed the violin had been taken off of their website as well along with another one by Eric Caldwell. In terms of the two statements contradicting it could be the fact that a portion of violin shops rarely update their website except every once in a while when they need to take something off that is no longer available or if they finally decide to do that page that has been “in development” since forever and a day.
July 24, 2020, 9:57 PM · Thank you to Lydia for finding the link to the violin. The listing was not accurate, so Mr. Weaver contacted the shop and asked that they change it. That’s why it’s been removed. I posted before to clarify that Mr. Weaver had not varnished the violin but there was some confusion given the listing. Hopefully it’s cleared up now. I’m not sure if the Caldwell’s listing had the same issue. In my time in the shop I’ve never seen any violins that Eric made but didn’t varnish.
July 25, 2020, 12:14 AM · Thanks for the clarification, Rich.
July 25, 2020, 1:13 AM · Interestingly, the website's mistaken information works in quinnviolins favor, as no violin by a single maker can be so affordable these days, regardless tonal quality and playability. Not even the lesser known chinese makers charge (relatively) so little for their own, non-workshops instruments, I believe. If I am wrong, feel free to correct me, but I do not know of any modern violin that can cost $6,000.00 under normal circumstances.

Everyone makes mistakes.

July 25, 2020, 2:54 AM · I believe the Ming Jiang Zhu Violins run for $2500-$7000 or so depending on the level of the violin.
July 27, 2020, 5:17 PM · I got in contact with Berl a few days ago, and is apparently alive and well, but not doing much with instruments these days. The violin in question was a mystery to him. He never carved instruments in the white for someone else to varnish, and even imported a few white instruments to varnish and re-sell (labeled appropriately).


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