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KingGopal

Handmade or factory?

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I have a viola made in 1998 by an Erich Pfretzschener. It has a nice, big tone. I wanted to see if the maker had a good reputation, so I checked the archives. I found this post by Al Stancel:

http://fingerboard.maestronet.com/ubb/Arch...1-1-024765.html

In it he says that it is a factory made instrument, but on the label inside it, it says that it is handmade. Which is it? Is it a combination of both? How are factory instruments acutally built?

-Gopal

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Why shouldn't use of the machine be any less acceptable a premise than saying only Italians make good violins. There is no harm with using machines. That's why we had the industrial revolution. If no two pieces of wood are alike then apart from perhaps the monotony of the same design (Strad and Guarneri copies ring a bell?) and given the premise that the wood is not compressed and the cut is adjusted electronically for each piece I see no harm in using machines. To merely dismiss the premise in a cavalier fashion without more seems medieval in thought...at least to me.

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How about violas (and violins) made by "Erich Werner" and imported by Knilling. Is that a made-up name or is there really a guy named Erich Werner working in a German fiddle factory?

I seem to recall there was once a famous musician (violinist maybe?) of that name but then again maybe it's a common name in some places.

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Some instruments are mass produced and don't have the same attention paid to them as one made strictly "by hand...by a maker" Sometimes those pieces of the instrument are all stamped out, and then assembled by a person that may or may not know much about it. While generally the ones made by a luthier are somewhat better, they can lack consistency, while most mass produced instruments may not sound as good but most of the same brand will sound comparable. Although, I have seen many instruments come from mass production that have far surpassed the handmade jobs.

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I am currently working about 2 miles from Bubenreuth in Germany. In this area there are a number of very well known makers. I have been fortunate to have contact with a large number of people in the "Trade" who make parts of instruments. In England we would call it a "Cottage Industry" where various sub-parts and parts are made, taken to the main factory and assembled there. I believe IBM also use(d) this method. One man who varnishes white violins for me, some by hand some by spray, is currently working on hand made violins for the Frankfurt Exhibition.

There are of course many others who hand make instruments and bows to a very standard.

Regards,

Norman

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Hello KingGopal,

In the late 80's I used to visit the Midnight Cowboy club in Houston. There was an Englishman called Johny Oxford who played fiddle. I think it has closed down now.

Regards,

Norman

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I've had a bit of trouble with the concept of 'handmade' in fiddles, too. In silver smithing, 'handmade' means 'no power tools'. In fiddles, it means 'one maker', who can presumably use whatever tools she/he likes. So a fiddle that is carefully done using traditional handwork methods, but by more than one person, is a 'factory' or at best 'workshop' instrument rather than a 'handmade' instrument. It seems strange, particularly as folk seem to handwave this pejorative in the case of Strads etc.

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I think the distinction has partly to do with technology, partly to do with economics. For optimal tone quality, volume, and projection, violin tops and backs are carved very thinly, and the degree of thinness depends on the qualities of an individual piece of wood. Moreover, the top plate isn't graduated to the same thickness all over--it's thicker in some parts, thinner in others. And, while not all makers do this, some swear by the process of "tuning" the plates so they vibrate at specific frequencies when tapped. It would be hard, if not impossible, to program a machine to perform those operations and, more particularly, to make those judgements.

As far as the "factory" distinction goes, I think factory instruments tend to be less valuable because the workers who make them tend to be less skilled. You could, in theory, have a factory instrument each of whose parts had been made by a master luthier that would be the equal (or better) in quality of an instrument made by a single master, but top quality luthiers usually can make more working alone.

I actually saw a violin in my local shop once whose back and ribs were definitely made by one of the Amati family but whose belly was made by a Guarneri. It was a smallish instrument, but tremendously loud and powerful. Which it should have been, given its price.

quote:

Originally posted by Mairead:

I've had a bit of trouble with the concept of 'handmade' in fiddles, too. In silver smithing, 'handmade' means 'no power tools'. In fiddles, it means 'one maker', who can presumably use whatever tools she/he likes. So a fiddle that is carefully done using traditional handwork methods, but by more than one person, is a 'factory' or at best 'workshop' instrument rather than a 'handmade' instrument. It seems strange, particularly as folk seem to handwave this pejorative in the case of Strads etc.

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I believe it was in STRINGS magazine that Jay Ifshin was quoted as saying that about 10% of "factory fiddles" are very good indeed and about 50% are quite poor.

A stated by others here, in a "factory" a lot of backs, tops, ribs, neck/scrolls, and fingerboards are glued together to make instruments. The people who make the parts are really quite skilled at their jobs - so it is up to the final assemblers to match parts in the best way - apparently over history of the past 100 years, this has been done well about 10% of the time.

I have tried new "factory" instruments of same brand and have no trouble picking my favorite from a batch of say, 7 violins or 5 cellos - other than such selection, I have not tried ranking a group of such instruments. I have certain characteristics I look for and if an instrument doesn't have them it goes back in the pile. The next job is to select from among those that were not returned to the pile. This can be tougher.

I suspect a factory fiddle is unlikely to get the same final adjusting that a handmaker would carefully give his "lastborn" before it goes off to its new owner. But if you buy from a reliable dealer, chances are some level of professional setup will have been done.

I have a German factory viola the top of which was regraduated by a respected California maker - in fact a lot of his work these days involves such regraduation to make decent insruments available and affordable to the student trade. Apparently this is one way some of the other 90% of the factory instruments can be improved - of course, the original wood used has to have been good enough.

Andy

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If one remembers that a so called decent violin made by a modern luthier costs about $10,000 or more then surely I could afford more than a dozen factory fiddles for that price and the odds that at least one would compare favorably to the so called decent instrument would be extremely favorable. I would still I'm sure be able to get a second decent sounding instrument or even more for the same price out of the same bunch of violins. It would appear that there is a madness of so called informed opinion that militates against reason in the violin making industry - naturally fed by many just as mad hopefuls who would willingly swear they possess Le Messie itself.

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nemesis,

I recently went through an exercise in which I tried 33 violins priced about $1,500 and below. Most were probably "factory" made, others had hand-written labels that indicated a single hand maker (at least to me). I found 3 that were acceptable to me (close to that 10% ratio). None were at the level I would expect for $10K, although with optimized string selection the three could be very nice, indeed. What if the ten I found had not included any of those three?

Andy

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Just a reminder that there's more than graduation to make a violin sound good--there's the choice of the wood, the shape of the arching (one of the most important things) and the varnish as well. Then the neckset affects much more than you would imagine. In order for a violin to sound its best, all of these things have to be in order, and on factory instruments they rarely are--and when many are, as many as can be randomly within the design of the model, as Andrew notes, the results still don't approach what a more expensive violin is able to deliver. Bottom line: don't expect that graduation will solve all your problems.

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Yank,

I always listen to Michael. Considering that I was quoted a price of about $350 to recondition the fingerboard and change the neck angle on a viola (I'm not going to have it done) and that I just paid $400 to have a cello peg box bushed and new pegs installed - you can just imagine how much it might cost to have the top of an instrument removed and regraduated. And the result might be unsatisfactory. (I know nothing about these things - but my guess would be you could be looking at 10 - 15 hours at $50 to $80 per hour - or between $500 and $1,200 (after all the professionals who do this kind of work are the same ones who might get $10 - $15K for a violin they could make in about 100 - 120 hours.

See if you can find someone who does this sort of thing cheaper - or first, if the instrument just needs a new setup and strings.

What are the current problems with the instrument? What have you tried to cure them?

Andy

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My wife has a decent student violin that had a long saddle crack in it. I took it a local luthier to ask what it would cost to fix it. He replied that he charges $400 just to take the top off and put it back on, plus a charge for whatever time it took to glue the crack. I would assume that Andrew's price range for a top regraduation ($500 to $1200) is correct, at least by someone competent in a big city shop.

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Andrew,

My violin does not project as well as I would like it to. It does have a sweet sound on the upper strings, but the lower strings do not have the dark sound I would like, and they require a bit more effort to get the sound out (they are quieter than the upper strings). Would this be called "not playing evenly over the strings"?

Also the violin is not as warm sounding as I would like.

I am thinking of having a new bridge cut and having the set up worked on. I have the Ultra De Jacques bridge with the seperate feet. I've been told a thinner bridge would be better.

A player friend thought it should be higher, but this I totally disagree with.

I just need to talk to a few people and try and decide where I should take it.

Do you think a bridge and set up could help some of the problems I have with my violin?

Yankee Fiddler

[This message has been edited by Yankee Fiddler (edited 02-27-2001).]

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You could polish a brass buckle for years, and it still won't turn to gold, ever.

Don't spend precious dollars trying to make your fiddle into something it can't be.If it doesn't have the tone you long for,look for one that more closely has it. Sell/trade the one that is not as good. Keep doing that with fiddles, and eventually, you'll be satisfied.

Doing different bridges,soundposts, set ups can be expensive and non productive, assuming that your fiddle already has a fairly correct set up.

Remember that when you change something on a fiddle to improve it,it is almost always at the expense of losing some other component of it's voicing. There is rarely a 'net gain',except when the set up is glaringly wrong to begin with.

IMHO, Bob

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When it comes to the efficacy of a new violin setup (bridge, soundpost, fingerboard adjustments) I can only relay my own experiences after some 30 years of procrastinating. My ninth (and last) instrument (of the past year) is in the shop now, for a new bridge, in spite of Jay Ifshin's opinion that it doesn't look like it needs it - but the G string is relatively weak and the bridge is a tad low on that side, so it's worth it to me to try to get the low end punched up since the top end is so strong and clear.

Two of the violins they set up for me changed so incredibly from the new setups that I still marvel. One was definitely a poor projector for the 30 years since I bought it - but not any more. On the other hand, I had in hand last night a stand partner's 1826 J.F. violin Aldric that would seem to have nothing other than 175 years of age to recommend its $25,000 appraisal.

Certainly I've had some new bridges put on in my time by some luthiers (and myself) that did nothing for the instrument - but that has not been my recent experience in the Ifshin Violin's workshop. If they do something I hear and feel it.

Some of the lower-cost violins I have recently tried I rejected for inadquate G-string sound and responsivness - it seems to be where they fail for me, and rather typical, I think, of lower price instruments (the rule rather than the exception). I would not have one of them regraduated - unless it was something I could do myself, and would not consider failure a loss.

I think it's worth a try - at lest an inquiry.

Andy

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My experience as a consumer is that the level of ability of luthiers and repair shops in 'tonal restoration' varies enormously, and I'm just talking about basic bridge and soundpost fitting, never mind more comprehensive work. Just because a shop is big and busy doesn't appear to mean they are good at this. I have had a poor setup (in tonal terms) from a very well known high class London shop, and I had the tone of the instrument they messed up at significant expense restored to health by a guy who doesn't play the violin and works out of his garden shed (no, I don't know how he did knew it was right, but it worked). Of course, I've had even worse cheap setups, and I had a poor sounding setup from a luthier who makes very nice instruments - it doesn't seem to follow any pattern I can find.

The only fairly reliable way I have found to figure out who is good at this particular part of lutherie is to ask professional classical players (rather than teachers). They need a good sound, but they're not usually rich enough to waste money on a poor sounding setup or tonal adjustment, however little or much it costs.

Max

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