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  1. This violin looks to me like a standard "Richard Rubus" German trade violin made for Russian export. I'd peg it at late 19th-early 20th century. I think these are neat-looking instruments, even with cheap finish, and the thinner-than-average ribs of many of them make for some interesting (not necessarily poor) tonal qualities compared to other trade fiddles of the time. I don't believe that they're graduated particularly well, though. Be aware that some luthiers will be very reluctant to take the top off to repair cracks--it takes a fair amount of fiddling (no pun intended) to fit the tops back on as precisely as they were before removal. Usually, it never looks quite as good as it did originally, unless you take the heretical step of trimming any overhanging wood off the table. I believe that these were assembled as conventional violins and trimmed once the tops were glued in place?
  2. I read this bidding pattern as someone trying to chip away at a higher bid, one little bit at a time. 44 minutes before an auction closes is not necessarily when you want to get your best and highest bid in--which, of course, can make this incremental bidding look a bit more like shill bidding. I have bid like this in an auction where I thought I was getting close to the "real" value of an item and then thought I might end on top if I bid "just a little bit" past my personal maximum. It's a fairly stupid way to bid if there's ample time for someone to outbid you after you've maxed yourself out. However, not everyone subscribes to the sniping school of eBay etiquette. All that said, the one time I *really* wanted a violin on eBay (BTW, attributed to White workshop, more likely Ira, not Asa), I put in a pre-emptive bid well before the close of bidding because I wasn't going to be around to watch things in the final seconds. I got the violin, too, though a number of other bidders threw themselves at the auction in the final 8 minutes and drove the price up considerably from where it had been less than half an hour before the auction's close....
  3. Today's NY Times has a detailed article about this very topic: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/08/arts/mus...ountry.html?hpw It seems that a lot of musicians keep their "working" instruments at a particular facility that offers rehearsal space and secure storage. Unfortunately, that facility is/was located near the river and is badly flooded, wiping out a huge portfolio of instruments. In addition, it sounds like some of the music stores located on honkytonk row (another low area) may also have experienced flooding. My guess would be that "personal" instruments kept at a musician's residence probably made it out of the flood zone without a problem. However, many, many other instruments were not as fortunate. I hope that some can be saved, though I don't know enough about guitar and mandolin construction to know how you can dry out a water-logged instrument without some serious warping.
  4. I own a 14" viola that's been strung and played as a violin for many years. Setup-wise, the only difference is that the instrument has a true violin bridge that is arguably a bit narrower than a viola bridge. I don't think the previous owners changed anything else. In playing it, I'm aware of the higher rib height and also, to a lesser extent, the angled slope on the lowest string (it's a German student viola, so its fingerboard isn't evenly rounded like violin fingerboards, instead having a sharper slope to make room for the wider vibration of the C string. I suppose I could change the fingerboard if I really felt like it. The sound is surprisingly good, given the inherent limitations of the instrument. This is an early 1970s student viola, so I was expecting a typical plywood sound (it's carved, but you know what I mean). Instead, it has very strong low-end response due to the larger resonating chamber, and it's pretty smooth though not as powerful on the high end. I put Helicore strings on it to give the instrument a fast response to compensate for its inherent viola-ness.
  5. I am indeed primarily a violinist, though I have learned a great deal about maintenance and simple repairs by following this group and learning from both positive (why can't I do this?) and negative (I should never try this!) examples. However, that plus a whole lot of wishful thinking still won't make me a luthier. These violins were finished to blend into an ensemble of wooden instruments as much as possible. Accordingly, they originally shipped with a faux wood finish ("nice two piece back") and the interior appears to have been sprayed with a light coating of "wood-colored" paint, including the aluminum bass bar (the sound post is wooden). As finished, there would be no visible bare aluminum anywhere on the instrument. The exterior paint on this instrument appears to be applied in two coats--a color coat and some type of shiny lacquer finish. I am wondering if this second coat was applied later or whether it was applied at the factory. As for its utility to a maker, I strongly suspect you'd be better off trying to find a Pfretzschner aluminum violin of the same vintage. Aside from the fact that they are considered to have a better sound, thanks in part to a wooden neck and some wooden blocking inside the instrument, the instruments are also partially screwed together so that they can be taken apart for repair. I believe they also have wooden bass bars, though I'm not entirely certain as to that. An ALCOA violin, on the other hand, is welded completely shut, so while that gives you tremendous purity of material, it's also very difficult to repair if something ever goes wrong. I imagine that the best you can do is take it to an automotive "ding removal" service if something ever happens to the body. Broken necks are also a common problem--they are typically brazed back together. Brobst Violins in Alexandria, VA has a Pfretzschner aluminum violin that's been sand blasted down to bare aluminum in one of their show cases. It's not set up, and it's on display as a curiosity. When I asked about it, I was told that it is not for sale (too bad!).
  6. After years of searching (and saving my pennies), I have finally obtained an attic-fresh aluminum violin. Though the label long ago peeled off, it's almost certainly a 1930s Aluminum Musical Instrument Co. fiddle, not a German-made Pfretzschner. From the looks of things, the violin appears to have been last played in the 1950s, then put away in a basement--it's got a definite musty note, though the bow bugs that attacked the bow hair didn't get very far with the instrument itself. :-) Condition of the instrument is very good--would be excellent if the faux-wood paint weren't starting to freckle a bit. No open seams, either--the welding is of excellent quality. Other than ebony pegs, tailpiece, and fingerboard--and a wooden slat to which the fingerboard is glued/mounted, the entire instrument is aluminum. It's only a bit heavier than a wooden violin, and my initial impression is that it's quite responsive. I had expected something more sluggish, like a student viola. The vintage 1950s bridge that came with the violin was still good enough (straight, not discolored) that I threw a set of cheap strings on the instrument to hear how it sounds. I'm still in the early stages of experimenting with it, but my initial impressions are: (1) it's loud, with a lot of power; (2) it's got surprisingly good low end response; and (3) it's somehow both muffled and shrill on the higher strings, though this almost certainly due in part to an unfortunate combination of sound post placement (i.e., the original post is wedged in there pretty tightly and I didn't want to mess with it) and Super Sensitive Strings (I told you I put cheap strings on it). At any rate, I was wondering if anyone out there has set up one of these idiosyncratic instruments, and, if so, what strings they ultimately found worked particularly well with the instrument. I'm sort-of leaning towards Helicore strings, since I think I want a string with fast response, but I figure I'll need to work on smoothing out the upper register somewhat. My initial thought is also that the nuances of premium strings won't necessarily be captured by the aluminum resonating chamber, but that's only a working hypothesis. Thanks in advance for any advice!
  7. It's not exactly the same design, but Lark in the Morning sells a modestly-priced kit violin. http://larkinthemorning.com/product.aspx?p=EAR033 In addition, there's always the wiplstix. It's sold as a practice violin, but it takes a lot of inspiration from kit violins. I can also say, from personal experience, that the instrument behaves quite differently if you put Red Label Super Sensitive Strings or Evahs on it. :-) http://www.wiplstix.com/ws/
  8. Well, I certainly felt that way, but if you look at the problem from a lawyer's point of view, I lost ownership of the violin when my father accepted the insurance company's check back in 1990. As a result of his claim under the family homeowner's insurance policy (I was still a student at the time of the theft), any recovery from the theft technically belonged to them, and I would have had to return the insurance proceeds, most likely with 17 years of accumulated interest, if I wanted the violin back from them through that mechanism. Though I was grinding my teeth in frustration as I sent an appallingly large amount of money to a crooked pawn shop, I established a new chain of ownership in the instrument in a way that was faster and cheaper than the alternative. And though it is correct that a thief cannot pass clean title to an object he has stolen, that basic principle of law collided with the fact that the New Haven Police (and eBay and PayPal) refused to take any action against the seller, on grounds that the statute of limitations had run out years ago for prosecuting the case. In addition, the police declined to take any action against the pawn shop, even though they had clearly accepted stolen goods. New Haven politics at its finest, I guess. But the bottom line: I got my beloved instrument back, years after I had given up all hope
  9. My best eBay violin buy happened in 2007, when by chance, I stumbled onto the listing for my old violin that had been stolen 17 years earlier. Still in its case with the two bows that had been with it when it was taken in a smash'n'grab, the violin had apparently spent the entire time in suspended animation in the back room of a Fair Haven, CT pawn shop about 5 miles from where it was stolen. I had spent over a year combing through flea markets and pawn shops in the area trying to find my violin, and I had long written off this instrument as lost--or worse, smashed by some crack addict who didn't understand or didn't care what it was. I was reunited with my violin (late 19th century Boston School, unsigned but likely from the White workshop) on October 8, 2007. I've played better violins over the years, but I don't think I'll ever have the same connection to an instrument as I do to this one. It was an amazing experience to tighten up the bow (no bow bugs!) and hear the violin speak again. And yes, the pawn shop owner clearly knew that there was something squirrelly about this violin. I paid my bucks (about half of the 1990 insurance settlement, by the way) and made sure the violin was in transit to me before I started asking questions. The statute of limitations had long run out, so he was in no danger from the New Haven police (I called them to check). Mysteriously, though, he claimed that he had ripped up the pawn ticket before listing the violin for auction and had no records anywhere as to who brought it in or when it was brought in. Riiiiiight..... He did say that it had been in the back of the shop for "a very, very long time," possibly dating as far back as 1991, but it had never been brought up to the front of the shop for sale. I also found that just a touch odd. I've bought my share of eBay VSOs over the years, but this pretty much balances everything out.
  10. T'ain't no such thing as a medieval fiddle--the form wasn't developed until the 1600s. You'd be wanting to make a rebec, which has, on a good day, a whiny nasal sound. Pretty nasty, really--you can see why the viol was such a smash hit as a replacement instrument. I recently played a reproduction rebec at a medieval faire. It was fun, but not my cup of tea. On the other hand, construction is considerably simplified from a Renaissance (and beyond) viol or violin. Starting with the lack of sound post and possible lack of bass bar.
  11. I've had mixed reactions when I travel with my violin. US Airways has been pretty good about letting me bring my violin on board, though some passengers think it hogs too much precious carry-on space. JetBlue has also been cool with it, as has Southwest. United, on the other hand, has razzed me about the violin, even when it was 1 of my 2 pieces of carry-on luggage. I was permitted to keep the violin out of the cargo hold, but I was warned sternly that I shouldn't try this again. And I've heard bad stories about Delta, though I haven't flown them with an instrument in years. This is, however, one reason that I will sometimes pack my Wiplstix instead of a real violin. No one can complain about that little guy!
  12. I watched eBay violin listings very closely for somewhere between 2-3 years, from 2006 through 2008. During that time, I saw a highly noticeable decrease in "actual" violins being sold and a huge upswing in extremely cheap VSOs from China. In early 2007, for example, eBay averaged between 1200-1500 new violin listings daily, including relistings. Today, the number is significantly higher. As eBay seller fees changed, I also watched the sales price of cheap violins decrease while their their shipping "costs" doubled or tripled. I eventually gave up considering eBay an interesting source for instruments. Back in 2006, I picked up a number of German trade instruments fairly inexpensively, and they will make good projects when I finally get around to them. Today, with very few exceptions, I see a lot of violins selling far in excess of what I would pay for an instrument with condition issues that I haven't had the chance to inspect in person, much less hear. The anonymity of eBay bidding makes it far easier to engage in shill bidding, and I can't help believing that's going on quite a bit. Either that, of my violin price-meter, which I calibrate against pricing around where I live (greater Washington DC area) is seriously out of kilter.
  13. I have a small viola that someone set up as a violin. I had purchased it as a student violin and was surprised when I gave it a closer inspection. The lower bouts are wider than a violin body, and the ribs have noticeably greater height than an equivalently sized violin. However, the fingerboard length is fine, and it's not much heavier than a violin. I am certain that no one re-tuned the bass bar, but I though it sounded much better than the average student violin. I think you'd need to play with a few different string combinations to find something that responds a bit more quickly to compensate for the overall slower response of a viola body. I'm thinking Helicores, but that's only because I haven't tried the new Zyex strings.
  14. To some extent, you get what you pay for in strings. Those ultra-low price Chinese steel strings are so thin that one set (I believe they were "Alice" strings, but others are similar) on a cheap violin I was trying cut through my callouses. The strings may sound quickly and easily because they're so thin, but they also sound whiny and run false quite quickly. Note that electrifying the instrument has only made things worse, in my experience. I'm not familiar with cello strings specifically, but I'd think you might try looking at Helicore or Primm strings as a point of entry. More expensive than 3 sets for $10 ultra-thin strings, but much more durable and better sounding.
  15. One or more Chinese workshops ground out a bunch of low-copy VSOs with upside-down scrolls a few years ago, so be particularly careful when considering one of these. I don't know the name of the craftsman who originally decided this would be an amusing instrumental joke, but the Chinese copies I've seen have had a wide range of labels in them--usually well-known luthiers who never would have made these.
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