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Old Factory Violins?


Fellow
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Hi all,

I have these two questions on my mind,(other may have same questions ), many experts here please help. Thank you in advance.

(1) I always think, factory violins are modern inventions

(industry revolution). Can an old (150 years old) German

violin be a factory violin? How can you tell (without label)? Workmanship is terrible, wood are bad, except the top which amazingly decent. It seems those factory workers

knew what they were doing. (same no frill concept nowaday ) Could they be

violin master makers without the right recognition in the unfriendly society at time?

(2) Do you think fancy wood (material) and worksmanship have little to do with sound (tone quality). In other words, wood of that time, of that area are good, even an unskill violin maker could do no wrong? Or bad violins did not survive.So, we just do not see them now. Possible?

I don't know what to think but go circle. /yuen/

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The world of "factory violins" can cover violins made more than 100 years ago by skillfull craftsmen and top material to very bad violins made yesterday with poor material. You have also factory made violins made today with top material and craftmanship. What these violins lack in general is the personality of a violin made by a master maker, personality in sound and in construction.

Good violins were made with what would be considered third class wood (some even with knots) and they sound good because the wood was accoustically good.

Bad violins survive a lot, since they are not played, they survive sometimes much more than good sounding violins.

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There is a book or article that mentions the estate of a violin maker in Venice in the 18th century. Among the goods left by the deceased luthier are hundreds of German factory made violins... The man who listed the goods in the shop was a famous Venetian maker, perhaps Montagnana or Gobetti, if I'm not wrong. I don't remember the place I've read this information. Some of those violins in that shop perhaps were upgraded and today...

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Hi Glenn! I'll give a look at home and try to find this book. Perhaps is the catalog of the Paris Exhibition of Venetian Instruments or the Montagna book. I believe that these instruments were sold as factory made instruments. But imagine their look today, old, polished, respectable, played in, etc...

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Henry Ford is often credited with inventing the assembly line, whne in fact the process predates his birth. Factory production requires parts interchangeablity. That process was fairly well developed around the time of the American revolution. Eli Whitney used it in his firearms factory.

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very interesting... Of course if people are doing it now, they were doing it then.

Yuen, violins with no labels were probably made for export, for wholesalers, by unknown people who were employed by one of these factories, production houses, workshops, whatever. They were unlabeled so that the retailer could put whatever label they wanted on it. Some ended up unlabeled because their they fell through the cracks or remained unsold, or were given to or inherited by someone else who wisely decided to not put a label in them.

I read somewhere that Mirecourt was sort of a crank them out type of place, forcing workers to produce 1 violin every two weeks, or was it 1 violin a week? I can't remember but it seemed like an insane pace. I don't know what the labor conditions were like, but I imagine the workers couldn't have been too concerned about labeling their work, just getting their paycheck and not getting fired.

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I got my violin two months ago without label. I have no idea how long has it been unlabelled or there was a label but removed. It puzzles me that the "master maker" or just

a factory worker did a amazingly job under the circumstance. (poor wood except the top, slappy workmanship

yet did not compromise the sound?)

I said " bad workmanship". It is exactly this " the top at some place very close to the edge (ribs) and some place has

a wide over hang. Top made by a master,bottom and ribs by some kids after school to make a few extra bucks. ( In today's language.)

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Maybe it was a student making the violin and he/she got an "F" on the exam? Poor wood means they couldn't have been too high up on the totem pole. Sloppy workmanship gave them an "F", and maybe they didn't get any credit for the sound. Or maybe they also got an "F" on the sound but now the sound has improved with playing in and age or setup? All it matters is that you like it now, right?

Whatever happened, he/she did not label it when the violin was done. We'll never know since there was no "message in the bottle" left for you.

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Ol'factory violins do not necessarily stink. :-)

150 years definitely falls into the period when Mirecourt and Mittenwald makers were having apprentices specialize in making just one part--scroll carvers, for instance. The same thing was happening in the cabinetmaking and carriagemaking trades at the time.

As mentioned elsewhere, good tonewood doesn't always look first-class. I think that's been pretty exhaustively commented on in these threads. Some factory pieces have beautiful wood, too--there just wasn't time for the shop master to optimize graduation and joinery. IMHO there are shopmade violins out there that were good enough to start with, such that masters massaged them for sound and sent them on their merry way to end up as 'interesting' unlabeled fiddles at auction 150 years later.

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Great questions and discussion!

However, I think it is necessary for someone here, more knowledgable than me, to categorize, identify country, and date the various violin manufacturing situations,

such as possibly:

1)One craftsman using hand tools.

2)One "Master" using hand tools with apprentices or helpers doing a portion.

3)"Workshop made" with each worker doing individual carving, assembly and finishing tasks -overseen by a "Master".

4)Community or town "Co-ops", with individual families or shops each doing a specialized manufacturing task.

5)Industrialized factory with duplicating routers and machine tools to perform each function.

6)Fully industrialized modern factory with computer controlled 3 axis machine center,spray booths,Automated measuring and testing devices, and maybe even robotic devices for some assembly.

We need some definition of terms in order to properly discuss

"Hand Made" vs. "Factory Violins".

There are a lot of variations involved. Correct me where I am wrong.

Any ideas? Or am I just making the discussion more difficult?

Jimbow

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++++++++

scroll carvers, for instance

++++++++++++++

This old German violin has a scroll. The head of the scroll

one of the most asymmetrical I have even seen.(like a piece of dough could not stand by itself) It must be carved by someone just for fun ,not even a kid for school

project. However, the peg box is perfect and fucntional. How do you make this out? Where is is important, never overlooked. Amazing. Some message there, I would say.

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Don't get carried away with modern automation of a wood product. Wood isn't a uniform material and using machinery for everything often doesn't work out economically, particularly if labor is cheap.

I'm reminded of a fellow I knew who was a toolmaker and got a job building a robotic welding machine to weld ferrules to garden rakes and pin it to the wooden handle. The thing worked great as it was tried out. When the next batch of rake components was loaded up the thing didn't work. It turned out that the components are not uniform and the batches vary. When the job was done by hand the worker would just fill in any gaps as he did the welding. The cost of making uniform components was far more than the cost of paying a worker to put them together by hand. So much for automation.

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"Don't get carried away with modern automation of a wood product. "

----------------------------

Obviously I was not suggesting this, in fact the very idea of violinmaking automation is absolutely abhorrent to me!

I was suggesting that we define our terms so everyone is on the same wavelength when discussing "Factory" violins.

Jimbow

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Jimbow, I get the idea that your catergories (2) and (3) are where the action is - one could name labels such as Roth, but why bother with 20th-century German if Vuilluame falls into the same category?

But the biggest name in those categories is still "Stradivari". If you tire of him, you could go on to "Amati" and "Guarneri", and if you've run through most of the Cremonese School, you could go on to the rest of the classical Italians, Venetian, Milanese, Neapolitan, and so on. Then there are all those 19th-century French "workshop" violins for which you have to rob a bank to own one, etc.

It seems that if one wants to own a violin made by one single, unassisted maker, the chances are almost 50-50 that the maker would still be alive, so novel is the modern notion of the "solo Master Maker".

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Yes theres a lot of people who are credited with inventing things(when the real inveners are sadly forgotten). One that comes to mind is a smalltime Scottish inventor up near Aberdeen who invented pneumatic tyres almost 50 years before Dunlop is credited with inventing them, but because he designed them for use on horse drawn carts and wagons his invention didn`t catch on until the motorcar was coming in.

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Yuen,

From your description I wonder if yur violin isn't a composite; a nicer (and ill-fitting) top put on an instrument that someone valued enough to have the top replaced. As you say, it has very good tone, so perhaps some long ago owner wanted to keep it going after the top gave out (shrinkage cracks from poorly dried spruce?).

Dave Gardner

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My understanding is that the old German 'factory' violins were made by piecework, not by what we would call an assembly line. That is, there was one person (or family) that made scrolls, one that made rib assemblies, one that carved plates, etc. When you finished a dozen or so, you would sell that batch to the 'factory' that assembled the fiddles.

Some of the workers were very skilled; some might even have been masters in their own right. But as anyone who has been self-employed can attest, there are times a steady paycheck looks darned appealing...

What makes it a 'factory' instrument is that it's piecework; there is no one artistic vision that defines a violin. Sometimes, when the boxes of parts contain some nicely made pieces, and when the assembler has a good eye for matching parts, the quality of the 'factory' violin can be superb. But most of the time, there is no such coherence of design.

A bunch of apprentices working under a master produce an instrument that follows one vision, although it is made by several hands. That is a 'workshop' violin, rather than a 'factory' violin.

Today, sometimes people will buy an instrument in the white, regraduate it, make it conform to a 'vision', varnish it, and sell it as a 'workshop' violin. I think that _may_ still qualify, under the definitions I've given -- the idea being that there is a coherent design to the final violin.

I dunno. These are all working definitions. But my understanding of the old German 'factory fiddles' is that they were the product of piecework cottage industry, rather than of an assembly line.

--Claire

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My violin (old German,150 years) is not an expensive violin

being old. It was cheap from day one. The whole back (one piece maple)has only three lines of flame (if more flame,the better) and one heavy line looks like a tree branch mark (knot?). It is not even (level)at the mark due to hardness of the grain to plane. The top is decent.

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I found the book, it's the book about Venetian Instruments Exposition in Paris, the comment is by Charles Beare:

"In 1733, after the death of a minor maker of stringed instrument, Andrea Sopran, whose shop was in the stringed-instrument maker's street, Calle degli Stagneri, an inventory was taken of everything in his shop. One hundred German violins were found there. It just so happens that the person who did the stock-taking was none other than Domenico Montagnana. if I remember rightly, Montagnana valued each violin at one and a half liras! There was stiff competition in cheap violins in venice, because the real stringed-instrument makers in the city demanded too high prices."

I remember reading a more precise version of the same story in a Strad article, if I'm not wrong.

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Quote:

It seems that if one wants to own a violin made by one single, unassisted maker, the chances are almost 50-50 that the maker would still be alive, so novel is the modern notion of the "solo Master Maker".


Yes, this is what seems important today in this day and age. In the past, it was pretty much a given that apprentices did all of the "grunt work" and allowed the master to supervise. In these days of individualization, credit given to the individual, the ideal becomes solo master maker, entirely by his hand (with some exceptions of course, chinrests, fittings, strings).

Actually I heard that even today there are people who buy neck scroll combinations from other folks, but put their own label on the violin, with no mention of the other guy. So what counts are handmade by one person? What if someone else varnished the violin? Also, didn't we read in another thread that violin maker's family or wife also help with the making?

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