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Williams violins from China?


AJ

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Is anyone familiar with a Chinese maker named William Fan? Apparently the name of his factory in China is Williams violins. I tried one out the other day and was impressed with the sound and tone, but it is a new violin and I am hesitant to buy one out of China without having some idea of the history of violins coming out of this factory. Is it going to stand the test of time or start coming unglued in a couple years? Apparently they are sold extensively in the U.S., but there is no label inside so I don't know if they get re-labelled when sold in stores in the U.S. Anyone heard anything?

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I wouldn't worry about not knowing the precise origin of a Chinese violin. In fact, I don't worry about it. The labels in most Chinese factory violins don't mean anything anyway. They don't indicate anything reliable about where the instrument was actually made or who or what factory made it.

But I do like Chinese violins. I have been buying, reworking, and reselling a lot of them. Aside from a few careless defects in some of the cheaper ones, Chinese violins are generally quite well made. I got some especially nice ones in the white recently from a distributer in Shanghai (didn't ask what factory made them).

I have been playing a no-name Chinese violin that I should have sold over a year ago. I like the sound of this one so much, I just have not been able to part with it.

So here's the bottom line, AJ: If you like that violin, buy it!

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The person I was talking to was William Fan himself, and he is the one who imports the violins from his factory in China so I guess I'm just trying to find someone who might know the name and the work that comes out of his factory as he probably has a biased opinion if favour of his own instruments. The violin I liked had a flaw in the varnish, it wasn't smooth, almost like someone touched it in a couple places before it was dry. He says it happened in shipping. Does this sound right or is he trying to cover up some sloppy work? I'm going to borrow the violin for a week or so and give it a try, it's probably the best way to decide, but my old beginner fiddle is nothing to use for comparison. I tried finding some information on the internet, but he is not online and I got a lot of results for 'Williams', fans, and violins, but nothing about him specifically.

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If it helps any, I just got a group of violins from China, and almost all of them had finish defects I'm going to have to deal with because, I know, they were either packed before they were completely dry, or they met with excess heat in shipping. A finish defect isn't a big deal, and the shop you're dealing with should be able to make it completely go away if you're worried about it.

Sloppy work in violins is a very subjective issue: you'd probably call every Italian violin made before 1800 "sloppy" but it doesn't affect their price at all. I'd encourage you to look beyond small defects at the greater picture of how the violin works for you. If you play at all, pretty soon you should bless the violin with a whole new bunch of "finish defects". :-)

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I believe this may be the same William Fan with whom I have dealt. Several years ago, he appeared at my door with a van full of violins etc. I have bought a few things from him including hair. Since that time the general level of work on Chinese violins has improved. I have no reason to believe that his merchandised is inferior. I do not know if he is an agent for his own factory, or another. He did not strike me as a maker, but as a traveling representative.

As to description, he is a large man with close-cut hair. Does this match the man you met ?

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If violins from William Fan's factory don't have labels, he must market them like so many other Chinese violins that are sold without labels or labeled with whatever by other entities who sell or distribute them.

One common fault, in my opinion, about many Chinese factory violins is that the finishes are often ugly and the varnish is a hard, plasticky, synthetic stuff - quickly, and sometimes carelessly applied. I had one that actually had fingerprints in the varnish. I refinished it with oil varnish.

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The description doesn't match, but he did mention he was in Alberta all last week with a trailer full of violins and cellos, most of which he sold. The instrument I'm looking at is priced around $1500 Cdn, and I actually like the finish on it. It's a matt finish of a medium colour, not too reddish or fake antique. I'm not too worried about the flaws in the varnish other than I thought it might be indicitive of other, unseen flaws. My current fiddle is scratched in several spots, and all the edges are well worn, and I think it gives it character. I looked at another fiddle in the same price range that I didn't like as much, but it had dominant strings on it, the one I like has tonica? Can just the strings make such a big difference?

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It's interesting that the most obvious flaw with both the violins I tried was that the varnish had something wrong. The second violin I tried had a long dark streak on the back like someone had let the varnish drip, then didn't bother to try to clean it up. I wasn't aware you could refinish a violin, I thought you were stuck with it once it was done. I'm going to ask when I go back just what companies sell his violins and what they are labelled as. Then maybe I can look them up and find out what they sell for retail as the shop I visited is his wholesale warehouse and he claimed his prices were as much as 60% less than in stores.

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The fact that the varnish is faulty doesn't mean a thing. We have had Chinese violins from two sources, neither of which are the one you are talking about, and varnish faults are common from both. We also had a german violin at the same sort of price range you are talking about with fingerprints in the varnish. it seems impossible to get round this one

Liz

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Hi All,

It is amazing to me to discuss a violin without knowing its price tag. I have a $4k violin and $1k violin, by comparison I am not that happy with my $4k because I expect a lot more of it but then I visited my local shops around me and tried some of that price range and then it turned out just neck to neck. Am I supposed to be that unhappy? We must factor in the price or we never know where we stand. My $4k violin has no obvious defect. Is it perfect? I don't think so if you apply a higher standard. I have seen better varnish than this one but mosr are of higher prices (if not a lot more) . I have also seen higher price violins than this one with inferior varnish.(How can it be? Oh,yes). What conclusion I should draw? (No conclusion!??) Really,no defect? I can think of some. Like he did not cut the wood in the right direction. If you ask me what is it supposed to be the right direction? Honestly I don't know. If the cut was made

in certain direction,the grain may show its better face(lines),a kind of imaginary defect. Thank you, please comment.

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It is nice of you to inform me.

If I happen in that area I certainly will try.

I am always impressed by many American contemporary

makers with their excellent workmenship and very good sound of their violins. Some are even quite reasonable. Why does anyone look for bargains? Of course, I won't tell you where to look (being an average player as I am ) but it is there. I love to try violins

and keep queit.

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Quote:

With these guys it's hard to tell what's real or not. Sometimes I suspect there's only one violin factory in China, and about 30 owners, each of whom owns the whole factory.


Hahah!

No, actually there are a myriad of "factories" and shops throughout mainland China. In fact, most major cities have makers and shops, many of them making high-quality instruments. In one shop in Shenyang, I visited with the maker himself who was a master luthier having trained in Cremona. He had several "students" in his shop (about 6) turning out maybe 50 violins a year. He was marketing them domestically and throughout Asia with a few showing up in S. Korea, even.

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Quote:

I had one that actually had fingerprints in the varnish. I refinished it with oil varnish.


How do you refinish a violin? i have a nice sounding chinese-made instrument that the finish is really ugly on the front, but quite good-looking on the back and sides.

The front just looks ugly with very emphasised stripes, not in an attractive way, yet the back and sides are quite nice.

Would it be possible to refinish just the front? (Not that i'd even think of trying, the fiddle sounds quite ok as is, and looks ok-ish.)im just wondering if its possible?

Also, is the ugly striping effect on the front due to some kind of staining that wouldn't be removed even if you stripped back the varnish and refinished?

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The ugly striping you are talking about is some sort of bizarre effect that their stain-varnish combination produces over the grain of the spruce. Not that I'm recommending you refinish the violin, but the top would look perfectly normal if the violin had been finished with a more traditional approach. The ugly striping would disappear if the violin were refinished.

You would not want to refinish a fine old violin if not necessary because of some extreme or extensive damage to the varnish. That would greatly reduce its value and could also have an affect on its tone quality, if not done right.

A new factory violin with a bad finish is another story. Refinishing these is a service to them and their future owners. It is a lot of work, but If done properly, the violin will be beautiful and will probably sound better. To do it right, you'd really need to do the whole violin. Without more of the original varnish, it would be very difficult or impossible to perfectly match the texture of the original varnish in trying to redo only the back or front, or whatever.

Just briefly, here's a little from my experience, if you would like to know some of what is involved in this. The first thing you have to do is get the original varnish off. You first remove the strings, tailpiece, etc. When taking the tuning pegs out, use a pencil to mark which string each peg is for unless you intend to replace the pegs with new ones. Ideally, you would also remove the fingerboard, but the job can be done with the fingerboard left in place.

You remove the varnish from a violin the same way you would remove it from furniture. You use paint & varnish remover, lots of paper towels, and 000 or 0000 steel wool. This is messy, stinky, tedious work, and may burn your fingers, depending on what solvent you use.

Some details require special attention. You need to be very careful around the f-holes so that you don't have globs of dissolved varnish falling into the violin. I hold the instrument bottom side up while working in that area. You have to work a little harder in tight spots, such as in the corners around the instrument where the plates are joined to the ribs. If the inner edges of the f-holes and/or inside of the pegbox are painted black, you have to decide whether to try getting it all out (and you can't) or disturbing it as little as possible to avoid a mess.

After the varnish is off, you will probably find that a little stain is left over in the maple parts. Whatever stain the Chinese like to use seems to dissolve completely out of the spruce, but not the maple. I work on that some more with a lighter-weight solvent, wiped/rubbed over large areas. The stain can not be completely removed. It can be lightened somewhat, and you can ensure that what residue is left is uniform. A little pool or drop of solvent missed somewhere when wiping and drying the instrument will leave a ring.

After every speck of varnish has been removed and the wood has had time to dry, the surfaces will need to be made perfectly smooth again. The grain in the spruce may have risen and the surface of the maple will have a slightly fuzzy texture. I use 800-grit sandpaper followed by 1000 -grit and/or 1500 or 2000-grit paper to make everything smooth again. (These super fine grades are used in working with automobile finishes and are readily available wherever automotive parts and supplies are sold. They are very useful in various types of violin work.) This smoothing removes a very miniscule amount of wood, but you need to do it uniformly and be more careful with the scroll. If the grain in the top has really risen a lot, I sometimes wet it afterwards and smooth it down some more if it rises again.

Some luthiers frown on the use of stains, but if the maple parts are considerably darker than the spruce at this point, you will have little choice but to stain at least the top in order to get the color tones more consistent. You still have a choice in the what color the violin will be when it is finished, but the more consistent the top, ribs, and back are to begin with, the better. This is very important. (Using stains is another topic altogether, especially when it involves the top plate of a violin.)

And that's the first part, basically. Varnishing would be the next step, and that's a very broad subject involving numerous methods and opinions.

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It's on Heather street, south of Marine Drive. Hard to find as it's small and hidden in the back of a strip of small businesses. Do you know it?

Just to confuse the issue I looked at an old hand-made German violin about 100 yrs old, or so. This is what I was really looking for, but it's hard to compare it with the other one unless I can get them in the same room. I think I'll pick up the Chinese one and take it to the other place to compare to the old one. I might be able to get the old one for the same price as the new one.

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I've found that a little micromesh and 15 minutes will polish those "shipping" marks in the varnish right out. The "factory owner" I bought some fiddles from would bring them over by air padded but packed very tightly together -thus leaving those rough shipping marks in the varnish where the padding material would imprint.

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Thanks for the reply nicolo, im glad to hear that you think the stain would be removed from the front wood if stripped back.

im interested in this problem for my student who ive given this violin to try, and the sound is much better than her current one, the price is good, but she wont play it (even if i lend it to her without her having to buy it) because she hates the look of the front. i dont like the look either. The violin sounds pretty good for the price, but it does look ugly. Id like the violin if the front was finished better, and i know my student would love it.

hmmm... but i for one am definately not up to refinishing it, it will probably have to wait for a less fussy student, or wait on a shelf for years and years, until i get some experience/courage/or find someone who can do it for me for not too much a cost, but i think its too much work and not really worth it to get it done properly by someone. and if i do it myself, id prolly make the violin completly unusable, rather than just ugly!

wish i was experienced in this, but i will have to be learning to varnish soon

here's a pic of the front which doesnt really do the uglyness justice, (it looks far more ugly in person,) and the back, which looks pretty good, which is why it be great if it were possible to just do the front:

v_front.jpgv_back.jpg

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Based on the photos, it looks fine. The dark lines are an attempt to replicate something which is usually seen on old violins, when dirt accumulates between grain lines, but it's not usually done as subtly on new ones.

It's not really a bad varnish job. If you don't like it, why not find a new home for it with someone who does? I suspect that anything anyone does to it, the results are going to be worse than they are now, unless the person who does it is good enough to charge more for the job than the violin is worth.

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yes, thanks, it is fine, infact im very happy with it, in terms of sound and price (it even looks prety in a way to me too) and i know i would never actually do anything to it, (but it does look uglier in person.)and i'll just be happy to wish it wasnt stained or whatever was done to it in the first place.

im happy keeping it, i quite like it. and im sure i'll find a home for it one day, thats why i bought it, i know it will find a happy home.

How is this kind of stain likely to have been done?

i cant seem to get a photo that shows how it looks in person. it looks far more artificial, than i can seem to capture

closeup.jpg

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