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Ben Hebbert

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    Violin dealer and researcher based in central London. Visit my website, www.hebberts.com or email to arrange a visit. My stock ranges from fine contemporary makers to outstanding classic Italian instruments. violins@hebberts.com

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  1. Its still clear that violins sound different with the same strings on, irrespective of whether we are talking Strads, Contemporary instruments, or any other kind of line up - so clearly although strings are a super-important consideration, they don't constitute all of the sound of an instrument at all, and there is ample scope for Strads to offer difference to other instruments in ways that are more appealing - just as out of two equally priced instruments one will always appeal more than the other. So in terms of whether Strads are being done out of the market by string technology, I think there is an awfully long way to go before that kind of claim can be made. It is interesting though that some of the qualities that are expressed as being characteristic of great instruments can be manipulated a great deal by new kinds of strings. I certainly see that there is a whole class of antique instrument that is given a new lease of life, because there are strings today that make them sound great, and make them punch well above their traditional reputation - Colin Mezins are a perfect example, which I am really being able to appreciate as a part of Great French violin making with certain newer strings, whereas they were the embodiment of mediocre when they had slower strings on them. I actually find that 90% of tonal adjustment can be done by finding the best string to suit a violin rather than messing around with the soundpost. So long as it keeps being fun, that's the important thing...
  2. I'm not sure how I missed this, but the majority of the decoration is very familiar to me from my knowledge of viols, though purfled, not painted on, and consistently points to England. I have not seen an English cello like this, but it is not far removed from French cellos of the period that I can think of, and perhaps with the popularity of English viols in France at the time, that is not at all surprising. It is very interesting, and if it is still around, it would be good to see more of it. Peter's dendro of around 1700 makes perfect sense to me.
  3. That’s not the worst marketing I’ve read by a long shot. I really have no problems with this being a Hoffmans - the soubdholes, particularly the upper circles are typical of the several other Hoffmans in museums (although there are other German makers who followed a similar idea). Any Hoffmans instrument has a legitimate interest for his associations with J.S. Bach, but that is enough that need be said.
  4. and likewise, understanding the incredible number of makers and dealers connected to Wardour Street and how they worked amongst each other is equally difficult to get an idea of...
  5. I think sadly that the video falls a little short of giving the whole picture, which explains some of the scepticism that has been given in the comments above. There are two parts to the system, and what Meike sadly doesn’t write is that the tailpiece is much shorter and calculated so that the “senza” afterlength can be tuned harmoniously with the playing length of the strings. As it doesn’t have a winding on it and as the adjuster for the e-string is behind the nut of the specially made tailpiece, the string is as unimpeded as possible. Like many of you, I am cynical of anything new, but I also took the time to examine it and play with it myself. It certainly - irrefutably - has an acoustic effect on an instrument that is fitted with it, but as with all of these kinds of things it doesn’t help all instruments, and can have a negative effect on some of them. If I have one reservation, it is that it is more complicated than one would imagine to harmonise the string on both sides of the bridge, and fine tuning comes down to manipulating the bridge a little bit, so the full benefit of the tone can only really be found in a studio environment where you have time to do those things, but even that can be beneficial in the long run if it means you are practicing with a violin that has a heightened responsiveness than normal, but it seems as if a longer and more freely vibrating afterlength may anyway be a good thing, even if it is not totally harmonised. In the same way that it can be extremely beneficial to practice in a generous acoustic in order to bring out a better understanding of the dynamic range of an instrument, this is a bonus, if only to return to a usual acoustic with a better sense of the violin. I certainly enjoyed playing solo Bach with it, and if I were to have a violin solely for that purpose with the time to minutely adjust the tuning, I would absolutely be converted to this (Menuhin, it should be remembered, was unable to get the right sound for his recordings of Bach until he recorded in front of an open grand piano). I certainly know of credible musicians who have invested in it, and have found it very much to their liking, and as one option to get more out of a violin than it is presently able, I can say as someone who has taken the time to try it properly that it’s a very very good step to explore. My recommendation on this is therefore altogether a positive one. I wish Meike well in developing it as it is exactly the thing that some musicians are looking for.
  6. I put 1880s/1890s because there is some uncertainty in my mind about when Hills left Wardour Street, and I strongly suspect that they kept a workshop there for some years after they moved to New Bond Street. Things are not at all clear during this period.
  7. I certainly have a bespoke made coffin case for a Bass Viol (of all things) that was restored by Withers, which has both a Withers label and a W.E. Hill & Sons (Wardour Street) label in it from the 1880/90s. It seems to me that Hills were probably the ones making them.
  8. Well, I think Kevin has nailed it right there... no pins intended... (ok, well, maybe a couple) but no pins, no Cremonese! I don't think anyone can seriously argue out of that particular box. It also looks like there was a fair bit of damage to the bottom rib, if the purfling lines denote where new rib was added. My guess is that if you had to add that much rib, you probably had to replace a block On the bright side, there is copious amounts of spruce adhered to the top. That could have serious scientific value for analysis samples.... if it's from a Strad...
  9. Henry, Having worked in one of the big-name auction houses, if you ask the specialists ahead of time they will have a better idea of the safe violins to go for in your price range than if you look yourself, and then it's up to you to take a punt at your own risk. If you are lucky, you may be able to take the instrument out for a day, but that is certainly not guaranteed, especially at the lower level and depending on the time before the auction, and if it's a firm favourite within your budget, there is a really strong chance that other people will have spotted it, and all your efforts will be for nothing when it gets bid out of your price range - (or that it becomes less of a bargain when you end up in a bidding war). So if you want to potter around and make it a part of your life to go try and beat the dealer, you may be waiting a long time. If you buy something too easily, you might not have quite the bargain you imagined. I've seen some absolute horror stories in which no one was at fault except the hubris or naïvety of the buyer. People are always happy to talk about the person they know who got an absolute bargain, but for obvious reasons, people aren't so public about the things that turned out poorly for them. Everything in auction is fair and transparent as long as you understand that the first rule of auction is caveat emptor - buyer beware - i.e. it's on you, mate.
  10. Hart & Sons can be quite a minefield, and people are right to say that Mirecourt and German instruments appear with their labels quite frequently and of varying (normally better than average) qualities. However, their adverts in the Strad Magazine in the 1890s Guaranteed that the instruments that they labelled as theirs were British-made. There are some instruments that appear which are "straight" Vollers, that are not awfully unlike good French work but with all the characteristics of their making, and equally there are instruments that can best be described as "Anglo-French" probably made in England by some of the various Mirecourt makers who came over here. The model and the shading of the varnish tends to be different from ordinary French work, and they can fit into a bracket where English experts think they are French and French experts think they are a little bit English. W. Meredith Morris in 1904 goes into considerable depth in his introduction to British Violin Makers into differentiating between English "artists" and French "technicans", refraining from adding the French makers in Britain to his dictionary because he viewed them as artless. Needless to say, treat this area with extreme caution. I think that Hart & Sons may have rethought their policies on what to label as their own several times over the lifespan of their business. There are also better Voller brother violins, the sort that we might think of as fakes which have Hart labels in - especially ones that seem to mirror 19th century Italian making. Rocca and Pressenda seem to have interested them particularly, the latter lead to some violins (with Hart labels) that are surprisingly similar to later work by Fagnola.
  11. It sounds to me as if someone wants to become intimately acquainted with a trauma surgeon. For what it's worth there are plenty of violins out there that are just worth the labour hours. They work, you can even find instruments for cheaper that are more than adequate for what lots of people want, but the funny thing is that when you get to these instruments that have a higher price, whose makers have made a more artistic approach rather than simply whacking out shapes, you also tend to find that through some kind of magic, they are just a whole other level of good, and ultimately it is the market that decides the value more than the maker... you can stick your violin at £10,000 or £30,000 until the cows come home, but if it doesn't compete with other violins in the same price range, you will be lucky to find a buyer, and with so many cheaper instruments out there, no buyer is going to stick their neck out and overpay. So one way or another, the market is savagely Darwinistic and every violin finds its level. It's the hundreds of musicians who buy these, not the dozens of makers, who you are arguing with.
  12. Mr Woodbutcher, that was unnecessarily cynical to translate my comments to mean mediocre... we've had enough of political double-talk here in the UK - but, seriously, there has to be an equation of time and money, and there are very few makers that can indulge in the kind of endless project, especially when it comes to careful copying of an old original. One person (who frequently posts here) has told me that it takes them more than twice the time to make a convincing copy than to make a nonetheless superb 'pastiche', and that time has to be paid for. John Cockburn made a comment earlier in the thread about the ability to make a violin within the £10,000 - 15,000 region. I agree 99% with him, although I see some violins that are genuinely deserving of more (and we probably agree upon which ones they are). The high prices that various "brands" are asking don't mean that violin makers generally should be asking up to £30k, but simply that there is less congestion in the market and it is easier to ask more than £10,000. That I think is critically important, and it is at that level that we see the freedom in violin making for people to make masterworks without compromise. I'm glad to say that there is a lot of excellent work at that level in Britain, and I keep seeing really exciting works by contemporary British makers, as I do with makers from around the world.
  13. Oh dear, what cynicism we have here. Having seen and played a few of these violins, the workshop is under the supervision of Greiner and Brewer-Young. Frankly, I am of the opinion that small workshops of makers working individually and together have potential advantages over isolated makers because of the continuous feedback that they get from their peers. If I was wanting to go down that route of making, it would be a wonderful experience. I’m actually very grateful that the larger names are asking high sums for their instruments, as there has been too much congestion around the £10000 mark for new instruments. It means that makers don’t have the financial incentive to go the extra mile and really focus on great work. Since things began to open up a little, we’ve seen a real flourishing of top end makers because they can charge a price that allows them to afford to spend the extra time on these instruments. Would I buy one? With a lot of knowledge of contemporary makers in Britain I can find just as good for less than they are charging. But for people without the ability to do that kind of a search, or from cultures that put a high premium on brand security, I think these are a compelling choice. So, begrudgingly - I have to take my hat off to them.
  14. I lived a while in Leeds, once when I was very very little, and then when I was studying for my masters. That's left me with a sincere interest in the Leeds making crowd... Here's a couple that I have photos of that I have also seen properly. There's much more in common than not, though he clearly turns a bit of a corner in his style, abandoning the very pleasant decorative elements on this one. At the same time, I don't think we can underrate the influence of German imported instruments to England and how they must have influenced didactic makers because these are the ones they got to pull apart and gather ideas from, so I am less phased to see Germanic traits in English interiors, just as some English makers just bought Mirecourt rib garlands to save the bother of doing it themselves, so I quite respect your point of view
  15. I've seen several. Most of the time they have little quirky relief carvings embellishing them, you see scrolls where the turn over the back is broadened, and others where the back below the button forms into a kind of triangle.. really lovely work, and probably the kind of tasteful embellishments that your father would approve of having seen the beautiful way he finished the back of his scrolls. The soundholes really never change, and there's an awful lot that is familiar to my eyes. I think what you can't see is the really pinched Amati-like arching. I had a Camilli in my hands very recently, and it really leapt out as trying to do the same.
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