Workshop vs Bench Made

January 1, 2023, 3:48 PM · I'm looking at an upgrade after three years with my current violin. My question is, are the Bench made violins really that much higher in quality than the workshop models? I'm referring to the larger volume violin makers. The image I have is that Benchmaker A has 20 years experience making the ABC123 (example) model violin and is very dedicated to his/her craft. Benchmaker B is new at the trade and his/her technique is not as good as Benchmaker A, yet they are both turning out the same model for the manufacturer.
On the flip side, you may have a crew of luthiers making the workshop XYZ123 model violin and all are experts in their specific area of violin making and turning out a higher quality instrument.
So, is the Bench Made designation from the maker really worth the extra money you pay for their brand of violin when the quality between two bench violins of the same model may be completely different?
Again, I'm not referring to the small shops with only one maker who's lifetime dedication is to is to the quality of their own name brand.

Replies (17)

January 1, 2023, 4:18 PM · I do not mean to derail the thread, but there is variation in what is produced. The most important thing is to play the instruments you are considering purchasing and compare them. Take the pick of the litter.
January 1, 2023, 4:47 PM · Bench made is a meaningless term used in marketing, the real meaning of bench made is supposed to be you are making a copy of an original instrument you have in your direct possession to copy, none of these people using the term are doing that
January 1, 2023, 5:09 PM · 'None' is a rather strong word Lyndon. I have a copy of the Knoop Strad - and can verify that the luthier had in his hands, and even dismantled, the original to get his measurements.
January 1, 2023, 5:45 PM · Perhaps I have the wrong perception, but I would consider all of what you listed to be a workshop instrument, whether it is made by one person or multiple people. To me, bench-made means the independent luthier who is making his/her/their own instruments based on individual designs and processes.
January 1, 2023, 5:56 PM · was he calling it a bench copy, Elise

no yes there is such a thing as a bench copy when the maker had the original in his possession, but those aren't the ones marketing "bench copies" online etc

January 1, 2023, 6:25 PM · He called it a copy (it has a copy of the Strad label inside AND one from the luthier himself. I have no idea if he used the term 'bench' but it might have been valid...
Edited: January 1, 2023, 7:01 PM · Like Susan, the impression I get is that everything listed in the original post is a workshop instrument. If the violin is made under anyone else's supervision, it's not bench-made. Bench-made instruments don't have model numbers/names; if it's made to some company's specifications, it's not bench-made. There is simply no such thing as "two bench violins of the same model."
Edited: January 1, 2023, 7:31 PM · I think two different terms are getting conflated here: bench made and bench copy.

A bench copy is a violin made with the original at the maker’s bench for reference. Having the violin one wishes to copy in one’s hands theoretically affords the opportunity to make a more faithful copy, as many aspects of a violin’s form and character can’t come across in pictures or on a poster.

The term bench made is meant to imply a violin is made by a maker, not machined out and assembled by a team of factory workers. I see this term used a lot by factories to market their higher-end models and to differentiate them from the cheap models they sell.

Both terms are used a lot in marketing, but so is the word “copy.” I would recommend that the OP focus more on the maker than on the model.

To the OP’s question: a master maker’s violins are more expensive than those made by his apprentices because the master maker has both the higher reputation and the years of experience that the apprentice has not yet accumulated.

Edited: January 2, 2023, 3:50 AM · One reason I struggle to get my head around the question is the capitalization - what exactly is a Benchmaker and how does her Bench differ from that of an individual maker who presumably has only a bench to work on? As I understand it, the William Harris Lee workshop (or should that be Workshop?) comprised skilled makers (Benchmakers?) who'd construct their instruments in conformity with a particular model, defined quite loosely and not a precise copy of any existing instrument. In my experience their instruments can be fully the equal of those made by individual makers working independently.

Actual copyists are another thing again - rare because accurate copying entails extra work. Those violins marketed by a certain (and highly reputable) Chinese ebay seller that profess to be copies of particular violins are to be taken with a heap of salt, as are the old Mirecourt violins that always look the same no matter what their label says.

January 2, 2023, 4:35 AM · I wouldn't pay much attention to these terms. There are no precise and universally-agreed-on definitions, except that "bench copy" is kinda supposed to mean that the instrument being copied was present when the copy was being made, which it may or may not have been. In most places, a seller can use these terms any way they want. They aren't a good way of determining quality.
January 2, 2023, 9:31 AM · Well, I've learned a lot from the above responses. Mostly, that online violin vendors terminology can mean just about anything. Just today I looked at a specific listing that claimed their workshop violin was made by one individual luthier, so again isn't that supposed to be a workbench violin?

I'm sure someone can find that one in one hundred workshop violin that sounds perfect, but it's looking like I need to extend my budget and search for violins made by individual makers.

As Mark said in the first post, the most important thing is to do an at home trial of any violins under consideration. Maybe I can find that diamond in the rough.

Edited: January 2, 2023, 10:36 AM · I don't know that you can buy a violin "made by an individual" for less than 5-7k maybe Chinese and 8-12k from a young maker?
OTW going to shops and playing everything. ignoring origin and label at your determined price point is the best strategy. Lyndon mentioned above and I think sells many older German violins at that 1k to 3-4k. They were sold by Sears and Roebucks and others by the thousands and so fill most violin shops.
And there are some great ones among the many.
Many of the shops willl have some of the same brands you've mentioned. If you buy at a larger good shop
in the US at least you usually have a guaranteed 100% Trade in, especially important if your kid takes to the violin or if you want to indulge in a couple years in something better. (Outside the shop the value of a sub-1k violin will drop to a max of wholesale the moment you walk out the door, likely lower).
Violin prices above a couple K have little to so with sound- values of age, provenance and maker enter in so it still comes down to playing them.

January 2, 2023, 12:07 PM · My daughter has a French "workshop" violin. She played 5-6 violins 20-75k that were (very kindly) offered as a possible loan for a concerto performance. She chose to stick with her own.
Vuillaume was a workshop? HH does ok.:).
Price, workshop, bench, you need to figure out what you want to spend and play as many as possible.
At least at a large shop, things would likely be set up well. A strad with a wrongly placed soundpost and a badly fitted bridge might manage to sound like a VSO.

Edited: January 2, 2023, 1:08 PM · Good luck on your search. I just got through that process. I used to be under the impression that the name on the label represented the luthier or the factory where it came from. Maybe it was something from the past. Nowdays you have italian names on chinese violin labels, and the name of the sellers listed on the label as their brand (but they didn't really make it). Shopping for a new violin was an eye opening experience.

I also felt like I was getting taken advantage of, like going to a used car lot or something. There are really good dealers and makers, and there are not so many good ones. I played lots of violins.

I finally had a friend that knew the business a lot better than me and help me find a decent german workshop violin under 5k that plays very nice for it's purposes.

If you can have someone help you, reach out to them If not, good luck!

January 2, 2023, 6:57 PM · The term “workshop violin” can mean a couple different things as well: a violin made in a shop by the hands of multiple makers in collaboration or one made by one apprentice maker under the supervision of a master maker.

If you’re buying from a shop in Cremona, for example, a violin by the maker who owns the shop will cost about twice as much as a violin made by one of his apprentices.

I agree that the terminology isn’t necessarily the determining factor for purchasing, although it isn’t meaningless. Unfortunately a lot of terms are used by those with a flexible sense of morality to entice potential buyers.

Yes, when you learn more about the history of great makers, you find that many of them were producing violins with the help of other makers under their tutelage. That being said, a violin that shows the clear hand of the maker is always more valuable than one that is recognizable as the work of someone under his direction. Vuillaume was, in addition to a successful dealer and maker of violins, a very shrewd businessman who was not above a bit of subterfuge.

The idea of a violin made at a “bench” is really more about the workman than the furniture in the shop. The implication is that a “bench made” instrument is made by one or more makers who have the skill and experience to be able to make a complete violin alone. A “factory” violin is one made in a more industrial setting where more machinery may be used to produce parts or one made by a number of workmen who are only able to do work on one portion of the instrument (e.g. someone who only cuts f-holes or purfling channels but can’t do any other part of the process).

I often hear complaints that the violin market is not determined by sound. To me, this is actually a boon to the player, as one can find an inexpensive violin that sounds quite good. Most cheap violins aren’t stellar performance instruments, but you don’t have to raise the price all that much to find an instrument that can do everything you need functionally. The other side of the coin is that these instruments aren’t investment instruments. Expensive violins have a value that is determined by a number of factors like place of origin, association with a maker or school, age, use by professionals, etc. I disagree that sound has no place in the equation, because players who look in the high end have an expectation that an expensive violin will sound good enough for its price. This is why so much is spent to maintain or improve fine old violins. If you’re looking for a violin under $1 million, you’re likely going to compare it to just about everything else you can find that’s comparable in every shop you can find that has them throughout the world. As you compare them, the worst-sounding ones will be eliminated. You can’t discount condition and provenance, because those things will become liabilities eventually if you take on too much risk. Over the $1 million mark, you start to get into the violins that are so much rarer that many collectors are willing to buy them regardless of sound because of authenticity.

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