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Ben Hebbert

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Everything posted by Ben Hebbert

  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.
  16. Bravo! Someone reads my articles then ??? I hadn’t expected I would actually find some of his work...
  17. That’s pretty cool dendro, but what we should understand is that there is a certain bias in the database towards Italian sources, because those are most of what has been measured, so most things that are nebulous tend to seem to swing towards Italy. Well, it’s still a sexy violin... I ain’t got no more opinions than that, but I would cherish seeing it again
  18. I can genuinely say nope - but the carver did date his daughter...! True fact! My thoughts are that it was the norm for carved heads in the seventeenth century to be carved by professional carvers, rather than instrument makers in London. Not for any guild rules, but simply because it was quicker and more effective. When you think of all the churches being rebuilt after the fire of London, carvers were easy to find, pretty much on any street corner
  19. I'd be very curious to see what the outcome of a dendrochronological analysis would be. It looks like good wood and should produce an excellent result. With that in mind, the cross-matches that come from it could be highly informative. I wouldn't be sceptical of it in the least. I agree with the general sentiments here. One thing I would say is that 345mm (or thereabouts) is a regular measurement found in English violins of the seventeenth century. The problem with them is that I know of about ten famous 17th century English makers through documents for whom no work whatsoever is known. Furthermore, I think in this early period, you can often see traits that cross over a variety of countries. Christopher Wise's work is remarkably similar to both Tielke in Hamburg and that in turn seems quite similar to Groblicz and Dankwart in Poland and Lithuania. I keep telling people that "I don't know" can mean two different things, it can mean exactly that, or that I know exactly which city, decade and pub the maker drank in, just not which of them. Enjoy!
  20. Amazingly, I think that "violoncello da spalla" is an entirely invented term of the last 20 years, and I would be very interested to be stood corrected about any historical precedent for that term. Viola da spalla would seem to be the historical term, but at the risk of being a dirty ol' cynic, it's not so marketable for the cello suites. By all means, these intermediary instruments existed. The 24 violins du roi had small, intermediate and large violas, the biggest being called quints (which is pronounced unfortunately) which would seem to be much the same as these. As of my own big-boy which is a Barak Norman, well the English court copied the French court so it is probably what appears in 17th century documents as a "low tenor". This corresponds in size with the big tenore Cremonese violas, but simply have cello-scaled ribs. I am not sure what to say about strings either. Mine has a perfectly preserved pegbox for only four strings. The Bachology really comes from the fact that there is a JC Hofmans one of these things, and he knew Bach. I think they are a marvellous thing, but I don't feel that the historicity of them really meets anything more than a worn hypothesis. One thing, the folds on the back of my Norman seem to do acoustically limit the back so that it doesn't have the hollow sound that normally comes from very large violas. I think there is something to learn from that. Here's a project we did on this, given a different set of links... .enjoy! https://hebbertsviolins.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/a-grand-experiment-childe-haroldes-tenore-and-a-170th-anniversary-concert/
  21. I thought I'd post this picture of a scroll that I've been working with for an article in the British Violin Making Association's newsletter. It's a subtle hint to say that if you're reading this, you should probably think about joining. www.bvma.org.uk membership is worldwide, it's kind of the opposite to Britain of everything that Brexit stands for... enjoy!
  22. I think you need to understand that almost all Markneukirchen violin trade centred on America, whilst the Mirecourt trade found its market in France and Britain. As a result, you almost never see a Roth or a Heberlein in England, and if it appears in auction, it's probably been consigned from the States. By comparison the better French violins, such as Colin Mezin - the obvious comparison are as common in England as Roths are to America.
  23. There is a group of French makers in the 1650-1670 period that habitually used what I assume to be silver wire in purfling and inlays, including rather prettily twisting it into braids. Dumensil is one of the makers in mind, and they in turn sold pochettes to Joachim Tielke in Hamburg, so there is a bit of an extended relationship there. Metal inlays of this sort exist in quite a lot of decorative furniture of the period - Augsburg makers typically combined metal inlays with ebony for small cabinets and similar things, so it is no surprise to see it emerge here and there in instrument making. I think Bruce Carlson pointed out a Rugeri with pewter a while back.
  24. Thanks Mr C As to the best old makers, I firmly put my money between Daniel Parker and Jack Lott. At Lott's best, is very capricious experimenting around a theme of Del Gesu, which has it's own integrity to it. He wasn't a copyist in the way that Nemessanyi or Vuillaume could be described as, and the capriciousness is one of the things that makes him as dangerous as he is exciting. The best Daniel Parkers have the paradox of being remarkably similar to late-period Stradivaris, although they are made - probably - ever so slightly earlier. I think we should also remember that however Italian Vincenzo Panormo may have been, he doesn't behave like an Italian, and the way he works between models is very much an English characteristic. He was led by his market. We have had a lot of conversations on Maestronet and elsewhere about the state of living makers, and I think that it really is a case for the majority of makers, whether British or from elsewhere, that they fall into categories, to the point that I am not particularly bothered about whether we will be able to confirm "who" made the majority of violins by them in the future. I think what will be overridingly important is a kind of grade system for instruments identified as made in our current period of time. There are brilliant makers who are an exception to the rule, and will be considered differently "in the same league as the Voller brothers" - or something like that. I've had quite a say in the market of violins made by a dear friend who passed away a few years ago. I always felt that he underpriced his violins when he was alive, and now I am happy to see his instruments go for the same price as the equivalent violins made by his friends and colleagues who work at a generally similar level. But as far as I see it, once instruments that were sold "under" market price have been "corrected", there is no further need to think about price in that way. When he passed, there was quite a scramble of people wanting to get high prices. I can think of very few instances where prices will increase above the standard market price for instruments of equivalent quality (including age). Overall, that is good news for buyers of sensibly priced instruments. One simply has to ask if the price of the instrument can be justified. I really don't know what will happen with the new generation of super-expensive violins, but one also has to understand that if something is well ahead of the market, it is implicitly a greater risk.
  25. I would want to uphold some of your views on "English Sound" especially within the period of recorded music. We only have to look at things like the Boosey & Hawkes 1010 model Clarinet, or the Tertis model viola to get a glimpse of the way that an idea of distinct national identity arose not only in Britain but elsewhere too, and wind players are acutely aware of the importance that this lends in performance practice. I think, however, that the "British Sound" for stringed instruments is probably more measurable in the choices of strings than the kinds of instruments. Tertis model excepted, professional orchestras used as many French and Italian instruments as they do today... but I do wonder if certain characteristics of Voller, Hudson, Manchester Chanots and other instruments of the early 20th century were developed out of an experience of what worked best with the prevailing choices of string, just as Collin Mezins were worked out to get the best from early metal strings. Within that, and with some appreciation of Elgar, Butterworth, Vaughan Williams and the likes, and perhaps performing Finzi and feeling that I use my bow differently to absorb my sound into that of the clarinet, I should say that there is something to be said for the concept. Edward Elgar's bow, a James Tubbs of 1878 has an enormous head, and it sinks into the notes wonderfully in a way that one always tries to achieve when playing Elgar. Albert Sammons owned it, and you can hear the formulation of the notes in his recordings. It makes it natural. Tubbs bows are variable, because he had various ideas that he put into them, but these ones particularly seem to speak of a philosophy of playing particular to English taste. There is nothing absurd about the idea of British Sound in the early 20th century, but it is abstract and to an extent intangible especially now that strings, setup, preferences have all moved on.
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