Contemporary makers

Edited: October 12, 2017, 6:49 AM · Who are the "must-try" contemporary makers?

I'm attending the Reed-Yeboah Contemporary Maker's Exhibition in NYC this weekend: LINK

Any thoughts on the violin and bow-makers there?

And anyone else going to be there?

Replies (79)

Edited: October 12, 2017, 7:15 AM · Wanted to go but not sure if I can yet.

Emmanuel Bégin bows. Tried two earlier this year and they were very fine. Both played very well. One was a better tonal match, but I ended up sending them back, because the better sounding one was a bit too similar to my Voirin without quite the tone.

I've heard great things about Jeff Phillips.

Grubaugh-Seifert (I have a viola by them) and Peter Goodfellow seem to be known for their cellos, but I'd love to try their fiddles.

Have a great time! (and hope you report back :)

Edited: October 12, 2017, 8:24 AM · Their exhibition page seems to be down right now. Here are the makers submitting this year:

Contemporary Violin Makers Exhibition

Presented by Reed Yeboah Fine Violins LLC

Oct 14 - 16, 2017

The Kosciuszko Foundation
15 E 65th St
New York, NY 10065
Email Us


Luiz Amorim
Giancarlo Arcieri
Michele Ashley
Emmanuel Bégin (Bow)
Thomas Bertrand
Andrew Carruthers
Antoine Cauche
Daniele Ciaccio
Alvaro Corrochano
Paul Crowley
Joesph Curtin
Ulrike Dederer
Michele Dobner
Ron Fletcher
Éric Gagné (Bow)
Fabienne Gauchet
Andranik Gaybaryan
Peter Goodfellow
Grubaugh & Seifert
Gruszow & Baumblatt
David Gusset
Lee Guthrie (Bow)
Jeffrey Haas
Jordan Hess
Hans Johannsson
Alina Kostina
Cody Kowalski (Bow)
Felix Krafft
Silvio Levaggi
Jesse Maschmeyer
Ryan McLaughlin
Eduard Miller
Hayato Nagaishi
Paul Noulet
Kaspar Pankow (Bow)
Jeff Phillips
David Polstein
Yann Poulain
Andreas Preuss
Ada Quaranta
Stephen Quinney
Shahram & Saeid Rezvani
Yael Rosenblum
Charles Rufino
Benjamin Ruth
Bill Scott
Kelvin Scott
Theodore Skreko
Nathan Slobodkin
Rachel Spitz-Becker
Joesph A. Thrift
Guillaume Turgeon
Chris Ulbricht
Stefan Valcuha
David Van Zandt
Matt Wehling (Bow)
Isabelle Wilbaux
Christo Wood
George Yu

Edited: October 12, 2017, 8:32 AM · I would add Don Leister (Richmond VA) and Patrick Toole (Roanoke VA). I have played their violins and was impressed. My friend Daniel Foster (Blacksburg VA) has retired so unfortunately I don't think he can be considered contemporary any more, but he made nice violins, violas, and cellos. He made a poplar cello, late in his career, that was beautiful.
October 12, 2017, 9:29 AM · Hi Lydia,

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the following makers. Also heard good things for the two younger makers (Begin and Kostina, both trained by great makers)

- J. Curtin
- D. Gusset
- J. Phillips
- A. Kostina

- E. Begin
- L. Guthrie
- M. Wehling

October 12, 2017, 10:23 AM · Personally, I wouldn't mind test-driving a violin by Ada Quaranta and/or a bow by Matt Wehling, if I ever had the chance. Have fun! It sounds like a great event.
October 12, 2017, 11:25 AM · Burgess, Zygmuntowicz, and Curtin are amongst the best contemporaries I have played.

The violin makers on your list that stand out (that I have tried): Curtin, Grubaugh & Seifert, Phillips, Ruth, Scott.

For contemporary bows, Rolland and Fuchs are amongst the best I've played for both sound and feel.

The bow makers on your list that stand out to me (that I have played): Begin, Gagne.

Enjoy yourself, and let us know what you buy :-D

October 12, 2017, 7:22 PM · I have the indefinite use of a Kuttner violin and a Raguse bow, and I really enjoy them both.
October 12, 2017, 8:15 PM · Lydia - IMHO, must tries:

Curtin (overpriced?? LOL)
Grubaugh and Seifert (though I have found a little rough sounding)
Silvio Levaggi - (some vg, some OK)
Jeff Phillips
Yael Rosenblum
Kelvin Scott
Ada Quaranta

Sometimes Carruthers is worth a listen. Would be very interested in your comments of therr relative merits of the above

Would also be interested in seeing how Wehling's bow compares to your favorite(s).
There are some Mnutters who will be there...

October 12, 2017, 9:55 PM · Try a bunch out and see what you like. I know there's a gazillion choices, but you can randomly pick a few and see what's you fave.
October 12, 2017, 10:36 PM · Sounds fun! Enjoy your visit there
October 13, 2017, 6:41 AM · @ Mary Ellen -- How did you select the Raguse bow? He is one contemporary maker I would like to try, but have not.
October 13, 2017, 6:55 AM · Douglas--I didn't select it. I was teaching an adult beginner--a dentist--who very suddenly and sadly passed away. He owned the Kuttner and Raguse; the family member who is the recipient of those instruments does not currently have the time to keep them played, so I am the caretaker at the request of the family.

I'd buy a Raguse in a heartbeat if I had a spare $6K or so burning a hole in my pocket, though.

October 13, 2017, 7:10 AM · I have to say I second the Raguse. He is just incredible as I own his bow as well.

As far as makers to try I'd go with try as much as you can because what's most important is sound!

October 13, 2017, 12:00 PM · I own a Raguse bow already. :-)
October 13, 2017, 12:45 PM · Jesse Maschmeyer, Shahram & Saeid Rezvani and Cody Kowalski (Bow)
Edited: October 13, 2017, 4:19 PM · since this is about collateral advertising :

Isabelle Wilbaux, luthier, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Eric Gagne, bow maker, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Edited: October 14, 2017, 11:26 AM · I attended the exhibition today. I spent about two hours there, and I tried every violin, as well as every violin bow. I arrived right at the beginning when it was relatively quiet. (I was bemused to see that the players that arrived were nigh universally Asian women.)

In general, I thought the violin quality in this exhibition was, on the whole, significantly higher than the traveling Cremona exhibition, which I've sampled repeatedly over the years. I generally liked most of the violins that I played, which had significantly more variance in tonal concept than the Cremona exhibition, where the violins can seem very similar.

I liked all the bows (they all felt pretty good), but did not really have a favorite. I did most of my tryouts using the picture-bow (I think that was Matt Wehling's bow), which had a nice articulate plays-itself feel that was quite similar to my own bow (a Victor Fetique).

I did not try anything blind -- every violin was in front of a prominent maker's bio -- but I only found out price tags after I was all done. (There was no general price sheet and I had to inquire about each individual instrument, which is why there's only prices for a few of the violins I talk about below.) In retrospect I should have looked at the dates on the labels; I don't know how old each of the instruments was.

The really excellent violins:

Because I got there early, I got to spend some time with Joseph Curtin's violin in relative silence. It disappeared pretty much immediately thereafter into a private room at the hands of a player who apparently was seriously interested in it. It was both extremely powerful and colorful, with a lot of bite. I would describe it as "aggressive", like a big growly lion -- I felt it was the most soloistic of the violins on exhibit, but certainly capable of doing anything. I wouldn't trade my Vuillaume for it (my violin has a smoother, more refined warmth) but it was an excellent violin.

I liked David Gusset's violin a great deal, an opinion that seemed shared by other players there. It had a superbly easy response with a smooth, clear, balance, singing sound that was easily audible under the ear even when the room got very noisy. It had a broad tonal palette, and sounded good no matter what I did, from an easy smooth whisper to taking a lot of arm weight and sustaining a long ff bow without the sound cracking. The more I played it, the more I liked it. I wouldn't choose it over my Vuillaume -- but the violin is plenty adequate for my needs (concertmaster, chamber music, solo recitals, a concerto with orchestra once every year or two). If I'd tried this at the time I bought my Vuillaume, given the choice between it plus a fat sack of cash versus the Vuillaume, I suspect practicality would have led me to pick the Gusset. At its $36k price tag, it would easily hold its own against antiques several times its value -- it's better than, say, the Antoniazzis I've tried, and probably competitive versus a Bisiach. (For my personal taste in sound and playability, I think I would also choose it over the Curtin.)

My next favorite was Benjamin Ruth's violin, which was overall very pleasant to play. (I liked it considerably more than a just-off-the-bench Ruth that I had previously heard.) This one had a penetrating focused clarity of sound under the ear (which turned out to be a boon when I came back to it for a second round, later when the room was very noisy) -- though interestingly, hearing other people play it, it was not as penetrating as the under-the-ear sound would have suggested, but it also had more bloom than it did under the ear. I would be happy to own this violin, too. At $30k, I expect it'll make some player very happy. (I initially liked it better than the Gusset, and in a full trial shoot-out of different playing circumstances, I'm not certain it wouldn't win.)

The very good violins:

I really liked these instruments but wouldn't put them in quite the same class as the others. I could have chosen these over my previous violin (an Enrico Marchetti, present value about $60k), but they aren't competitive with my current instrument.

Isabelle Wilbaux's violin was superb; it was clearly well-liked, with several of the players returning to it a few times. It had power and growl, and a good range of color, and it sounded great to the listener. At $20k, this is undoubtedly a great value.

Giancarlo Arcieri's violin had a rich warmth to it that I really liked, and sounded the least "modern" of any of the violins. I unfortunately didn't get to try it while the room was quiet (so I'm not sure how well these impressions would hold up in silence), but it was a violin that I found myself spending significant time with, simply because it was really enjoyable to play, with a sculptable sound. At $20k, a good deal, too.

Other likes:

I didn't like these violins as much as the others above, but they made a notably positive impression, but not in a way that really stamped their personalities into my mind.

  • Kelvin Scott
  • Nathan Slobodkin
  • Grubaugh & Seifert
  • Yann Poulain
  • Christo Wood

I also liked instruments by Alina Kostina, Michele Dobner, and Ada Quaranta, but not to the same extent.

Other notes:

Trying this many violins (about 30) over a period of 2 hours is mentally exhausting, especially when the room is noisy. Towards the end of that time, if I didn't like something within the first minute, I'd generally give up on it and go on to something else (or go back to things I'd tried earlier). Broadly, spending more time with a violin that wasn't initially appealing tended not to change the first impression. Spending more time with something that I initially liked might cause me to develop a more favorable impression.

Many of the better instruments in the exhibition would be competitive with sub-$50k antiques, and I'd take most of them over, say, the Gemunders I've tried. Some of them had a more raw, tight sound that I associate with newer instruments, but not all did.

October 14, 2017, 11:56 AM · Thanks Lydia! Fascinating and well organized report.
October 14, 2017, 12:13 PM · Thanks Lydia! You've made me really wanna go Monday, if there's anything left, though I assume they leave the instruments until the end of the show even when sold.

October 14, 2017, 12:20 PM · You should totally go. I imagine it'll be quieter on Monday too. :-)
October 14, 2017, 12:24 PM · Oh, a note on strings: The strings of choice seemed to be mostly Vision Titanium Solo or Evah Pirazzi Gold, but also some regular EPs, Peter Infelds (with the platinum E), and Dominants. I'm not sure that I saw any other string brands.
October 14, 2017, 12:45 PM · It's been a long time since I tried all those nice old and modern fiddles and I don't know how much I trust my memory. Would you say, based on your experience, you've still not come across a newer fiddle as warm as your Vuillaume?
October 14, 2017, 12:53 PM · I haven't. But I also haven't played another violin that I think is as good in its price class, period.
Edited: October 14, 2017, 1:36 PM · The question of warmth stands out because a friend recently bought a 19C German (can never remember the maker's name) and has sworn off newer fiddles for their presumed lack of warmth. It's such a fuzzy notion but I think all players have a conception, or preconceptions, about it. He made me want a warmer fiddle :) whatever that means (though I don't find his fiddle particularly warm.)

"I generally liked most of the violins that I played, which had significantly more variance in tonal concept than the Cremona exhibition, where the violins can seem very similar."

That's interesting. Does that mean contemporary Cremonese have a specific tonal profile? Do Americans have another profile? That makes me want to sample English, German, French, etc. also.

Edited: October 14, 2017, 4:58 PM · @ Lydia Leong & Jeewon Kim

Thanks Lydia for the hard work in testing violins and reporting your impression.
I really appreciate it, but i would like to comment your sentence comparing the Cremona exhibition :

"In general, I thought the violin quality in this exhibition was, on the whole, significantly higher than the traveling Cremona exhibition, which I've sampled repeatedly over the years. I generally liked most of the violins that I played, which had significantly more variance in tonal concept than the Cremona exhibition, where the violins can seem very similar."

I think it is appropriate to point out that the Cremona exhibition does not represent the Cremonese violin making neither the best Cremonese violin makers, but only some Cremonese makers members of the Cremona Consortium and who participated in the exhibition as belonging to this association.
On the contrary, the exhibition you visited works at the invitation of the organizers who call to participate who they prefer, so the exhibitors are selected.
I do not know the selection criteria, but I believe that in any case this increases the quality of the participants.
Not something to be compared on an equal basis, to be fair.....

October 14, 2017, 5:59 PM · In the latest Cremona exhibition I went to, the instruments were generally bright and responsive, but didn't have a very interesting sound. As if someone had taken the tonal concept popular in a student instrument, and given it faster response and more volume.

The makers represented in the Reed Yeboah exhibition come from both North America and Europe, I believe.

October 14, 2017, 6:53 PM · @Lydia: thanks for sharing it generously! Great report & experience!
October 14, 2017, 7:28 PM · Thank you Lydia! That's a most helpful report and I'm sure it will be reviewed in future again and again.
October 15, 2017, 12:33 AM · It bodes well for the future that new instruments can impress fresh off the bench. Imagine how good these instruments will sound in 100 years when they have matured!

Cheers Carlo

Edited: October 15, 2017, 3:53 AM · @ Lydia Leong

"In the latest Cremona exhibition I went to, the instruments were generally bright and responsive, but didn't have a very interesting sound. As if someone had taken the tonal concept popular in a student instrument, and given it faster response and more volume."

This may depend on the fact that many of the makers (not all) of the Cremona consortium are young makers at the beginning of their career, which could be negatively affected by an overly standardized teaching from school.
To understand this just look at the selling prices, I think they are very different between the two exhibitions.
but I am not here to defend the Cremonese makers (also because I am not present in any of the two exhibitions) but since I am a Cremonese maker, when the message that passes is Cremona = not very good sound, then I think it should be clarified that you can not always generalize when the name of Cremona is improperly exploited for the umpteenth time for an exhibition.

Anyway, in the Contemporary makers exhibition you have visited there are some Cremonese and it would be nice for me to know your opinion on these, so to check out my competitors....:-)
They are :
Daniele Ciaccio, Michele Dobner, Silvio Levaggi, Yael Rosenblum, and also the non-cremonese but italian Ada Quaranta (from Cuneo,Piedmont)

EDIT : I saw in your previous post that you have already given your opinion on Michele Dobner and Ada Quaranta

Edited: October 15, 2017, 4:36 AM · Thanks Lydia, nice writeup, and a nice supplement to the concurrent MONSTER THREAD. :-)

Jeewon Kim, very broadly speaking, American string player taste in sound tends a bit more toward more focus and punch in the sound, than that of Euorpean players. I don't know to what extent makers of various regions try to target the preferences of their regions. High-end making has become such a melting pot these days, that "schools" of making and regional differences have become rather blurred. For example, for two weeks every summer at the Oberlin Violinmaking Workshop, you'll have makers from many nations working side-by-side in the same large room, sharing ideas, working styles and techniques.

Of Lydia's "top 3", I know that David Gussett and Ben Ruth are frequent attendees. I don't know whether Joseph Curtin has attended. His role as one of the program directors in a different program (the Oberlin Acoustics workshop) may conflict with his being an actual attendee, since the schedules of the two programs overlap, but he's definitely around.

Sam Zymuntowicz, although he did not participate in this exhibit, has been to the making workshop quite a bit too.

October 15, 2017, 5:15 AM · Is "focus and punch" the same thing as projection?
October 15, 2017, 5:19 AM · Thank you Lydia.
Mr. Sora, I dont think anybody reasonable will boile this statement down to Cremonese makers are worse than US makers. What I read out of those lines was simple that the sound variaty of the instruments showed there was bigger than the variaty at the Cremonese exhibition and this is something I trust Lydia in to recognize and of course it might be the other way around if you compare next year exhibitions.

I had the pleasure to try one of your instruments once btw, and was impressed by the great workmanship and also liked the sound! But I also think your violins stand out of most of the current Cremonese makers violins. In the end you make the violins, not your city. People who dont realize that are doomed to buy by name and city and likely overpay in comparison.

Edited: October 15, 2017, 5:22 AM · Paul, not exactly, at least not in my mind, but I think there's some overlap.

We don't have precise definitions, or universally agreed on terminology in the fiddle world, so that does make things more complicated.

Edited: October 15, 2017, 5:46 AM · Thanks Davide and David!

I do remember trying a couple of contemporary Cremonese, including a Nolli (?) for which Lydia's description rings true.

I look forward to trying a wider selection in the coming years.

I was aware that most makers study at a handful of schools (Salt Lake, Chicago, Newark, and Cremona--do I have that right?) regardless of their nationality, but it is interesting that Lydia discovered international, i.e. non-Cremonese trained, makers to have more variety in their sound (not just between makers, but more complex sounds in general--is that correct?) and the Cremonese, acknowledging their possible inexperience, had less, especially in light of Carlo's "one trick pony" comment in the Monster Thread (as I suspect he has tried many more modern Italians and relatively few non-Italians.) Is there a bit of Cremona vs. the world going on, as it's still typically marketed to prospective buyers?

Edit: Ah I see there were several Cremonese makers at the exhibition

Edited: October 15, 2017, 6:05 AM · In the Monster Thread Don mentioned physical changes to wood, hemicellulose degradation. I'd heard of the phenomenon before, but as it was explained to me, it is the cause of the 'mature sound', claimed by more than one dealer (reputable, highly experienced dealers and a respected restorer/dealer,) especially past the 100 year mark.

For me, that myth was completely busted by my Grubaugh-Seifert viola. Lydia, how has your experience so far affected any notions of a 'mature' sound correlating with age? Others wish to weigh in?

October 15, 2017, 6:17 AM · Thanks Lydia, an amazing and useful thread/post! Would love to read more from anyone else that have gone and played the instruments. 2 quick questions

1. What was the Joseph Curtin being sold for?

2. What was the range of prices? From your notes it seemed like the lowest starting price point was $20k?

Edited: October 15, 2017, 9:35 AM · Sorry, Paul, I'll take another stab at answering your question.

Some of the US conservatories were early adopters of an expansion in playing style, which enabled a broader range of tonal colors, mostly by expanding the envelope on the focus and "perceived projection" end of the envelope, without taking anything away from the opposite end. If you hear one of these players using that end of the envelope in a hall, the impression is usually that it is cleaner, more articulate, and projects better, than a player who is not using this style.

While this can work well in a hall, it may not be the most pleasant thing up close, or under the ear. So some of this comes down to whether someone is playing more for their own enjoyment, or that of an audience, and what the player is accustomed to hearing. What the player is hearing can be very different from what the audience is hearing, and tastes in sound which are formed from listening in the audience can leave one a bit unprepared for the way some of these instruments and players sound up close.

Some violins inherently have a sound which goes more in this direction. Some may find these less pleasant up close, or under the ear.
To get a better idea of what this type of sound is, notice the difference in tone color when a violin is played hard, with a slow bow and more pressure close to the bridge, versus when it is played more moderately. While there may be little or no change in actual measured volume, the perception of loudness or projection changes, due to the change in harmonic content.

That's about the best I can come up with right now. "Projection" is still a word, and a topic, which isn't well defined or understood, except that it usually has more to do with audience impression. It is one of many things that the researchers are trying to better understand, and define.

Edited: October 15, 2017, 7:23 AM · None of my violins are really old" one made in 1951, 2 from the early 1970s, and one from 1996 - I bought them all when they were either new or no more than 2 years old. But the most "mature sounding" violin I owned was made in 1990* and it had that mature characteristic when the maker showed up with it right after the varnish dried at one of our orchestra rehearsals and I was in the back of the hall when some of the younger violinists were trying it on stage during our break. It blew me away! And i tried it and reinforced that opinion. One of the young violinists (who later that year went to college and earned a degree in violin performance) had it for a couple of weeks and I feared she would buy it - but her teacher advised purchasing an old French fiddle instead - so i ended up with it. So I had it for about 10 years until my granddaughter chose it as her violin when I offered her my choice of any of mine. I paid the maker (a personal friend) $1,400 for it - but I felt it held its own against any $30,000 violin I later tried. I also had opportunities to play violins "in the white" this man made and later the same violins after they were varnished. We would try these instruments in his shop and later in the large space of the church he attended. Although these violins did not meet the standard of the Stradivarius I had played 30 years earlier, they were very good (although none quite as good as the one he sold me in 1990*).

* I only heard a recording of this violin once, a recording the father of the bride made at a wedding I played for - and it amazed me the way it filled the hall with sound and overshadowed the accompaniment.

About 10 years ago I was regularly playing baroque chamber music in a piano, flute, violin combo, and at one session the flautists brother (a very good violinist) showed up with an amazing sounding violin, antique in appearance. (I think I'd been asked to play cello that day.) I tried his violin and it was amazing, I was sure it was a fine old (maybe Italian) violin. He had lived in China for a while and bought it new from the maker (whose name I could not understand, and do not remember) for the equivalent of $1,500.

I recall the beautiful, new Francis Kuttner violin I tried in a San Francisco shop (no longer in business) about 10-12 years ago, it was definitely "ownable."

I was not overwhelmed by any of the violins I tried at three of the traveling Cremona shows, only instruments by Riccardo Bergonzi struck me as "ownable."

October 15, 2017, 6:55 AM · Lydia -- glad you enjoyed yourself and thanks for the great details about the violins. Any more bow details?
October 15, 2017, 8:46 AM · @ Marc Marschall

"Mr. Sora, I dont think anybody reasonable will boile this statement down to Cremonese makers are worse than US makers."

Of course this is not the point, what I wanted to highlight is the tendency of some associations or exhibitions to use the name of Cremona as a brand, subtly implying the concept "we are THE Cremonese Violin Making".
I believe that every intelligent and competent violinist realizes that this can not be so, but in the case of less experienced buyers the message can be badly interpreted.
I hope that someone from those associations or the organizer of these events that improperly exploit the name of Cremona will read my posts, my criticism is directed more to them than to Lydia, which has made a very good service to everyone with her so appreciable and interesting remarks on violins.

PS I thank you so much for your kind words about my work, but it was not at all my intention to insinuate that I am better than the other Cremonese maker....:-)

October 15, 2017, 8:54 AM · Hi Lydia,

Have you tried violin by J. Phillips? I’m particularly interested in your view on this. Thank you.

Edited: October 15, 2017, 12:22 PM · Davide: Ciaccio's violin had a sound I liked but did not distinguish itself sufficiently from the other fine makers present. The Levaggi was one that I put down almost immediately; if I recall correctly I didn't find it to have much color, and I tried it towards the end, when it was noisy. I don't remember a Rosenblum -- he might have had a non-violin instrument there instead.

Douglas: In general, I liked all the bows, but didn't give any of them much of a serious workout. Begin's bow felt elegant to me, but it turned out not to feel naturally easy for me to bounce. Wehling's bow (if I remember the maker correctly, whoever made the picture-bow) felt remarkably similar to my Fetique -- I mean, extraordinarily so, to the point that I'm not sure I'd have been able to distinguish them if blindfolded and not able to feel the differently-shaped frog-ends. (I love the Fetique's tonal profile, but I think Wehling's bow is a fifth of the Fetique's price.)

Kevin: Jeff Phillips's violin? I tried it briefly. I didn't particularly care for the way it played, if I recall correctly.

I tried to be fairly consistent in what I played on these instruments. I started trying a violin by playing the opening of the Bruch, which is a pretty good way to hear all four strings and the ability to pull a range of color. Ditto the opening recitative of the Tchaikovsky. Then, the opening measures of the Brahms, which will pretty much tell you what an instrument will do if you use a pretty hard attack. Then the total opposite, the opening cadenza of Lark Ascending, to listen to the softer palette, playing near the fingerboard, etc. as well as the clarity with which fast notes pop. Finally, the concertmaster's solo from Dvorak's Carnival Overture, which is on my mind of late because it's on my current orchestra set, and it has some repeated notes that require changing color, along with one long forte sustained note that turns out to be a pretty good test of a fiddle's ability to sustain a long loud note without the sound cracking.

In general, these were the principle sins of the less-great violins:

Bottoming out. I'm definitely not an aggressive player, but I do like to be able to sink the bow deeply into the string at times. Some violins continue to give; some have a top dynamic or the sound simply gets crushed beyond a certain point. Crushing at relatively little weight is thumbs-down. Quite a few of the violins gave a harsh, gritty, crushed sound when played at concerto volumes; this was very audible throughout the room with instruments in many people's hands, at a distance.

No sound with little pressure. When it's a problem, this is either a high effort threshold (how hard it is to get a note started with very little pressure), or the sound evaporating on a sharp decrescendo rather than continuing on at softer volume.

Inadequate color. Inadequate richness/complexity in the sound and/or difficulty in getting a range of color. In general, most of the violins had really lovely E strings, which were singing and brilliant. It was the lower strings that were the issue.

David's notion of "focus and punch" was a distinguishing factor between good and excellent instruments. To me, "focus and punch" means that there is a clear presence to the core of the note. Even though ideally there's a complex nimbus of sound around that core, the core is there, like an arrow penetrating or a knife cutting -- there's a kind of edge to it that slices through everything.

October 15, 2017, 12:49 PM · Jorge: I didn't ask about the price of the Curtin. It had effectively already been sold. There were less-expensive violins there. Yann Poulain's, for instance, was $15k, and I think a very nice violin compared to others I've played at that price point. One of the makers, Jeffrey Haas, is an amateur; he said the violin on display was the eighth one he's made, and I imagine that he would have been selling it for considerably less than most of the other makers present.
October 15, 2017, 1:29 PM · Thanks Lydia, probably Rosenblum have a viola family instrument, if I recall correctly she is more focused on those instrument than violins.
Your test program looks great and accurate, I like also Sibelius adagio from violin concerto for G string testing.
Edited: October 15, 2017, 4:56 PM · @ Lydia -- Interesting. I've tried a few Begin bows. One in particular pulled an amazing and refined tone with superb on-string control. It refused to sautille or bounce well. Similar to your experience.
Edited: October 16, 2017, 9:59 AM · I own a Bégin bow -- light and nimble, refined tone, and quite the contrary to what has been said above, it has a very lively response for sautillé strokes. I tried three or four different Bégin bows before settling on this one, but they all performed extremely well for off-the-string strokes. Bright articulation and clarity made it a perfect match for my instrument (a Guy Harrison 2011 Del Gesu model).
October 16, 2017, 7:37 AM · Sibelius is one of the concertos that I don't know. There was another player in the room for whom it was their initial test on every violin, though. It's quite revealing in terms of a violin's ability to project, heard that way.
October 16, 2017, 9:32 PM · There’s a thread at Maestronet with many good photos.

October 16, 2017, 9:53 PM · That thread identifies the Gusset as from 1983. Interesting. That makes it nearly 35 years old. That might explain to some extent why it has a more mature sound. (And now I really wonder what his current instruments are like, after he's had a few more decades of experience!)
October 17, 2017, 2:46 AM · Hi Lydia,

You could actually check out Laurie’s previous post on modern instrument maker where they had Martin Chalifour tested both the Curtin and the Gusset.

October 17, 2017, 3:01 AM · D.Gusset is one of my top 5 favorite US makers, as well as one of my top 10 favorite worldwide makers. Sophisticated (philosophical) sound & playability and great design approach & workmanship.

Same for J.Curtin and D.Burgess.

October 17, 2017, 6:00 AM · I would be interested in your non us top 10 ;)
October 17, 2017, 8:59 AM · J.Spidlen, S.von Baehr, F.Leonhard (namely Gabor Draskoczy), C.Goetting, F.Ravatin, P.Robin, F.Chaudiere, R.Hargrave, J.Dilworth, P.Beare.
Some interesting young makers: P.Augustin, P.Ihle,..

I'm quite sure that there are many other fine EU makers as well.

October 17, 2017, 9:39 AM · There are more for sure, I miss to have played a Ravatin, a Beare, Chaudiere and Dilworth yet.
I am alway looking for more interesting violins to play, thank you.
October 17, 2017, 10:14 AM · Which countries are typically regarded as top in violin making? I read people usually go after Italian and French violins? Then German? Where does the US rank? Then Chinese-made are usually avoided.


Who are your top 5 US makers?

October 17, 2017, 11:01 AM · I think contemporary its France, Italy and US sharing the first place, than GB and Germany.
Antique its Italien, French, GB, German I think.
Edited: October 17, 2017, 11:24 AM · @John: my other two favorites US makers are S.Zygmuntowicz and.. hmm.. X, because the 5.position X changes very often. ;)

@Marc: just behind the USA, imho Gemany currently has the largest number of fine makers. Sure, some of them live and work in GB or France. I don't like most of the contemporary well known italian makers.. I try and try to love some of them because of their lovely names and their great tradition, but their violins doesn't work to me.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 1:31 PM · "I was aware that most makers study at a handful of schools (Salt Lake, Chicago, Newark, and Cremona--do I have that right?) regardless of their nationality,"

Some very good makers also have the "North Bennet Street School, and the Mittenwald School in their backgrounds.

"Bottoming out. I'm definitely not an aggressive player, but I do like to be able to sink the bow deeply into the string at times. Some violins continue to give; some have a top dynamic or the sound simply gets crushed beyond a certain point. Crushing at relatively little weight is thumbs-down. Quite a few of the violins gave a harsh, gritty, crushed sound when played at concerto volumes; this was very audible throughout the room with instruments in many people's hands, at a distance.

No sound with little pressure. When it's a problem, this is either a high effort threshold (how hard it is to get a note started with very little pressure), or the sound evaporating on a sharp decrescendo rather than continuing on at softer volume.

Inadequate color. Inadequate richness/complexity in the sound and/or difficulty in getting a range of color. In general, most of the violins had really lovely E strings, which were singing and brilliant. It was the lower strings that were the issue."
Great supplemental evaluation criteria, Lydia. Some people are mostly concerned with "how pleasant is the sound, to me?" Not that this doesn't matter either.

October 17, 2017, 1:27 PM · Gurus, who are your candidates for #5? :P Top 5 of #5? haha
October 17, 2017, 1:44 PM · You are right, von Baehr, Greiner, Leonhard and some others are pushing France/GB while originated in Germany. I counted them to the countries they work at.
Btw, my tipp is always Rittwagen, a medium known German maker in the 20k range.
Edited: October 19, 2017, 6:58 PM · Thanks, I have heard good things about Rittwagen. Imho, Kolja Jens Lochmann is another very fine german maker as well..and he has won both gold for violin and cello at the Cremona Triennale 2000. His 4-5 violins which I tried around 10 years ago were excellent, with different characteristic sounds.. in general exquisite and lively. I didn't really like the intense reddish (a bit hard for my taste, possibly by the mineral components or pounders, sorry I don't know) vanish of his Del Gesu copies and models.. but they are excellent made with beautiful carving details.. It was my most regretful moment as I did not buy a Guarneri copy of him that has a very deep, dark, smooth and lively sound.. It was just basely us$14k - 15k. I used to hear its sound in my head until now.. don't know how are his instruments now.
Anyway, Germany has many other fine makers who names don't show up on this site much, or at all. The Germans who have won gold at the Cremona Triennale can not be bad, just as the Italian who have won there must not all be great. :)

October 17, 2017, 9:25 PM · @John: my top 5 candidates for #5 at this moment are Feng Jiang, G.Alf, J.Phillips, T.Borman and.. hmm I forgot his name again.. Let's say Y. ;) Could I have many candidates for Y as well?
Edited: October 19, 2017, 7:17 AM · @ Gurus Goring

"The Germans who have won gold at the Cremona Triennale can not be bad, just as the Italian who have won there must not be great. :)"

I would be curious to know why you make this statement.
Have you tried violins of the Italians who won the gold?
Marcello Ive (1988 gold), Luca Sbernini (1991 gold), Primo Pistoni (1997 gold).
I'd be interested to hear your opinion about the violins of these makers.
I've never won a gold, so I have to be great! :-)

October 19, 2017, 8:03 AM · Gurus, sure why not :P
Edited: October 19, 2017, 7:09 PM · @ Davide: I edited my post with the quantor "all" added. My apology! Yes, I like the work of Pistoni and have heard good things about Ive's and Sbernini's instruments but unfortunately have not tried one myself. My other experiences with some other italian gold medalists did not always confirm that. Maybe I have had just my bad days, or some makers have had their bad days. It's totally normal I guess.
Edited: October 19, 2017, 7:19 PM · @John: I have just heard the youtube clips represent Marvin Beaver played 30 modern Cremonese violins (Laurie's blog) and found a "noname" (to me) contemporary US maker: Odin Bykle. Good violin, great price! Why do I need to make the list of top any longer.. You have just too many great new made violins out there, not just some great makers.
Edited: October 19, 2017, 9:37 PM · Kevin, on Jeff Phillips' violin: Seeing pictures reminded me of more impressions of it. It had a particularly pure sweetness to it (or at least I hope this is the violin I am remembering). I remember that I abandoned my usual testing on it (where I didn't especially care for the sound) in order to play bits of the Beethoven concerto on it instead, something that it was very suited to.
October 20, 2017, 12:38 AM · Thanks Lydia. The reason why I’m particularly interested is because it must take something very special for him to win VSA so often in such short period of time. And your comment seems to confirm it :)

Would be interesting to hear other people’s comment if they’ve tried it.

Edited: October 20, 2017, 7:13 AM · @ Gurus Goring
No need to apologize, I just wanted to point out that your observation is valid for everyone and not just for the Italians....
The other Italians who won the golds did not won them in the violin category,but in viola, cello and double bass categories.
The violin is another beast, it's quite different to make a good violin than a good viola or cello, not to mention double basses.
There is no automatic transposition of skills, often some concepts are counter-intuitive when moving from the construction of a violin to a cello or a viola.
October 20, 2017, 11:20 PM · @Davide: yes, you are right! I forgot that they've won gold for viola, cello, bass..
Edited: October 24, 2017, 12:42 PM · thanks for all the useful information as I am in the process of procuring a new instrument for my child.

Here is a question : How uniform are violins from a given modern maker ? that is, if modern maker A makes 15 violins how similar is the sound and playability of the 15 violins ?

I am very close to purchase, I will try to share some details next week.
My kid has been playing on a good student instrument for a few years now and the new instrument, now on home trial, made a BIG difference in sound and overall playing was noticeably better, and yes I do spent a lot of time listening.
thanks for answering in advance.

October 24, 2017, 2:10 PM · It depends on the maker. Some are relatively consistent. Some are not. Even the very best makers often have significant variability -- sometimes deliberate, sometimes not.

Make sure your child tries a lot of instruments in your price range. Several dozen, at least. If you're looking in the typical contemporary maker range ($10k-40k), you'll want to look at antiques, too. You could easily look at 50 violins or more.

October 25, 2017, 10:05 AM · Thank you Lydia !

You are a wealth of information and kind enough to share it.

I was trying to go for 15k plus or minus a few k, and a nagging question in my mind is how much better instrument can i find for 20k compared to 15 or 25k compared to 15. Seems like there are some answers in your analysis of the violins at the exhibition but feel free to elaborate if you can.

October 25, 2017, 11:01 AM · I think the important metric between 15-25K might be the reputation of the maker and what kind of gamble are you willing to take should you decide to sell the instrument some years later. There is no guarantee a 25K violin will sound better than a 15K violin...but this is simply a $$ consideration.
October 25, 2017, 11:20 AM · I would say that in the $10k to $25k price band, whether you are looking at contemporary or antique instruments, that price is more a matter of the number of acceptable possibilities, than about absolute value. This is true in other price ranges as well, but is especially true when you are looking in this price range.

In general, the higher you are willing to go, the more likely it is that you will find an acceptable instrument in a reasonable timeframe. You might be able to find a gem at $10k that outplays anything you've ever heard for under $30k, for instance, but it might require you to either be very lucky or willing to search for years. That's great if you have the money on hand to buy a violin opportunistically, but not workable if you have a growing kid who needs a full-size instrument right now.

My guess is that you'd benefit from extending your price range to $20k, if an additional $5k doesn't represent a lot of additional hardship. But make sure that you reserve money for a bow, too -- $4k-$6k will get you a fine contemporary bow

Edited: October 26, 2017, 1:56 AM · I encourage players to try everything they can get their hands on, including what is way out of their price range, whether new or old.

Upon doing this, one might discover that above a certain price level, playing "bang for the buck" starts to take a serious dive, so that can help in sorting out how much it is practical to spend. Even if not, it's a valuable experience to get a sense of "what's out there", or use the experience to help refine your tastes.

Lydia has posted some excellent advice and opinions. I can't comment on her opinions regarding specific instruments in this particular exhibition, since I was not there.

October 28, 2017, 10:36 AM · As I'm sure that everyone here aware that drawing definitive conclusions on a maker based on a sample of one instrument heard in crowded noisy conditions by any one player are questionable at best, the thought I'd like to add is that dealing with a contemporary maker is also a two-way interaction with potential for changes in the future. All the instruments (including bows) are different, even if they have some family resemblance of the maker, simply because the materials cannot be the same, and as players, our tastes and needs are not all the same. Dealing with a living maker is an opportunity to express your needs and preferences to that maker, and if what she or he has made at the time doesn't satisfy you, maybe as a consequence of that conversation, the maker might make some changes, or build something new, or remember you when those characteristics arise in another instrument at a later time, or even direct you to another.

I wonder then how much feedback makers get at such gatherings and what they make of it.

Edited: October 28, 2017, 2:01 PM · I believe Elmar Oliveira played the instruments privately the day before the open exhibition and may have offered feedback to the makers. There might have been other private events for that purpose, as well. I did talk to one maker who was hanging around listening to players try his violin, and I suggested to him that its set-up might not have been optimal. (He talked to Julie Reed afterwards, and I think they might have made some changes.)

One argument for using a local maker is the ability to have him more readily make changes after the instrument is finished. It's more difficult if you're commissioning something from someone who isn't within convenient driving distance.

(I recently played two contemporary instruments owned by a friend, in front of their very-skilled maker, and in response to feedback and hearing what they sounded like, he took them back and did some regraduations. One of the violins was much improved by that.)

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