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Best American Violin Maker


GlennYorkPA
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A couple of comments:

Manfio (Hi) - I wasn't necessarily implying that it takes 50 years for an instrument to reach ideal performance characteristics. As I mentioned, some violins achieve admirable tone from the get go but if one is going to pay the big bucks for a good instrument (e.g $100,000+) one needs to be reassured that it won't deteriorate after a few years. Only the concensus of players over a generation or two can provide this confidence.

This is the situation we are now in with Chinese violins. The top end instruments are superb but we don't know how long the wood is seasoned or what 'treatments' might be given to enhance the tone. They will remain inexpensive until confidence is established.

Oldgeezer - you make a strong point about the cost of repairs. I guess my motivation in asking the original question was to assess whether the old, American violins are under-appreciated (not to say undervalued). I have violins by Hyde, Ricard and J.B. Squier and they play well, especially Andrew Hyde who managed to produce a wonderfully powerful and resonant lower register, but I'm not sure I would put any put them in the top flight. Certainly good enough for orchestral work but maybe not beyond that.

I have never played a Becker but I only hear good comments and the price of Beckers has soared so they must be good.

I had hoped that the recent event on 'The American Violin' at the Library of Congress would put American lutherie into perspective and raise its stature on the world stage.

It didn't!.

Glenn

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Hi Glenn! I've never seen "sound deterioration" of a new instrument.

Problems associated with too thin plates (that are the most mentioned cause of "sound deterioration") can be spotted imediatly, since it produces sound problems from the very beggining of the instrument's life, such as hollow sonority, poor sound on high position on the bass strings, wolves, etc (as a player I can feel that).

"Sound deterioration" can be caused by problems with the set up (unoticeble by most of players), wrong string choice, etc. Sometimes it even occurs that the sound of the violin is the same but the opinion of the player about what "good sound is" had changed over the time.

And every instrument (even by the same maker) is unique. I've heard a Peresson that had a very open sound (a bit unsophisticated to my ears) but I know one in our local orchestra that is totally different in sound.

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"--Assuming that it takes about 50 years for a violin to reach tonal maturity--"

I believe, aging helps violin's tone, If the violin is one with good acoustic balance already.

I think fifty or five hundreds years will not make much difference in a violin that is poorly constructed acoustically.

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In the case of violas, violists are almost obliged to play on modern instruments, because old ones are scarce. Stradivari made about 14 or less (and they aren't a must among violists...). Del Gesù made none. Andrea Guarneri made perhaps 8. Violas made in the 19th century and most part of the 20th are on the too small side (38 centimeters, 39 centimeters, etc). Tabea Zimmerman plays a modern instrument, she started using it when it was brand new. The same for Pietro Farulli, of the Quarteto Italiano, he started playing his brand new viola when was young and used it for the rest of his life.

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Manfio,

In another thread, Jeffrey mentioned a violin which held its color nicely for 4-5 years and then developed a greenish color. This may not affect the tone but it will certainly affect the value of the instrument and reputation of the maker.

The varnish is one of the most noticeable aspects of a violin and time can play cruel tricks on it or it can work magic. I guess that was another aspect that was on my mind when I suggested it takes 50 years for a thorough assessment of a maker's work.

(I'm sure your instruments won't turn green but can you be sure the varnish will hold up well over the years?).

Glenn

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Manfio,

Not that I don't think modern instruments are wonderful, but in my experience there are lots of historical violas out there. Granted, not as many as violins or celli, but quite a few. Also, I'm not sure what you mean about the size. I suppose that perhaps my experience is limited, but when I've been viola shopping I've been never shown such small instruments as 39 cm, and many of the instruments have been early 20th and late 19th century instruments. My viola is 41.6 cm (late 19th century), and I've seen plenty of other violas in this range.

I guess my point is this: there are historical (and lovely) violas for sale right now and those violists who are not playing them are doing so by choice, not because of scarcity (not that there's anything wrong with that).

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I once commented to a violin maker that I have stripped plenty of varnished woodwork with darkened alligatored varnish from the late 1800's and early 1900's and wonder about modern violin varnish. He's a varnish cooking maker and said that researching varnish chemistry will quickly turn up information about the well known causes of bad varnish and the reasons for the bad commercial varnish of that era. There's plenty of good violin varnish available today and plenty of information about varnish chemistry.

Of course if a violin maker chooses to ignore all the information available about varnish, dyes and pigments then bad results are possible. The green look from using dragons blood is well described by Michael Darnton "Sometimes we do things that make us think we know better than a couple of hundred years of collective experience, and then BLAM! "

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Ooh! Everyone check out this month's Strad. Talk about relevant. The article is titled "American Beauties." The article mentions the following makers:

John Antes (1740-1811)

Peter Young (they cite an instrument made in 1778 in Philadelphia... though they also mention that it wasn't very pretty)

Abraham Prescott (1789-1858)

John Albert (settled in Philadelphia in 1852)

George Gemunder (came to the US in 1847... trained by Vuillaume)

Herman Macklett (the maternal grandfather of Carl Becker Sr. arrived in America in the early 1860s)

Asa Warren White (1826-1893)

O.H. Bryant (1873-1943 his clients included Kreisler, Ysaye, and Zimbalist)

Simone Sacconi (brought by Emil Herrmann in 1933 he was American for 40 years)

Carl Becker Sr. (1887-1975)

William Moennig Jr (1905-1986)

An interesting article. Check it out.

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Hi Lymond! Perhaps you haven't seen many 39 cm violas just because dealers haven't bought them, but they are in some place, many of them.

I'm with Blot's book on Piemonte school in my hands now. Fagnola 401 milimeters, Marengo Rinaldi 400 mm., Rocca 400 mm., Rocca 392 mm., Pressenda 394 mm., Felice Guadagnini 390.

On Blot's book on Lombardia and Veneto: Riccardo Anoniazzi 395.

As a viola maker, I'm allways observing viola models and sizes, and I've noticed that.

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I see alot of smaller violas at auctions and they dont bring particularly good prices ,even when they are nice looking 18th century Italian.I see alot more small sized English violas though than any other school.Also many were obviously much larger and often originally viols or tenor instruments. I think there must have been a massive viola chopping fad going on in 19th century Britiain.

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This is a terrific thread. I am buying a David Caron, and it arrived last week.

Words don't describe the sound, nuance, and power of this cello. It's just amazing...I told the maker I'd be interested in seeing a new cello that played better, so I was about to post a question asking about "Greatest American cello makers."

The most wonderful thing about being an advanced string player is the abilty to experience these instruments both as works of art and as working tools.

I think what one must first do is distinguish between a maker as cello maker, and/or as violin/viola maker. For instance, I have heard much about Erdezs' violas, but not a peep about anything else he makes, to the extent I wonder if he's ONLY a viola maker.

One local viola friend sold her Caron viola and is playing a Matsuda, and another viola sold her Peresson and is playing a Caron.

(I don't recall seeing Matsuda's name yet, BTW)

Overall, isn't Becker the most respected financially? I am told that a good condition Becker Sr cello would sell for at least 60K.

Squire, Gliere, et all, are fine makers(I have a 1915 Gliere violin for sale, it's beautiful but not expensive) but I don't think they are in this category at all.

I wish someone would write a Book about the new england makers, because some of them, including both whites and william conant, made really fine violin, but I have never seen a cello by any of them...

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Indeed, Manfio, I did not intend to deny that there are smaller violas, just that I doubted that this was what was keeping people from buying historical violas. My point is that there seem to be plenty of older violas in the right size-range. My theory is that modern violas compete much more favorably against historical violas than modern violins and celli against their historical counterparts. Again, this is just in my experience.

Edit:

However, the best violas I have ever played have all been historical examples... my Celani, a teacher's da Salo, and another I'm too stupid the remember the name of right now. Ach!

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These two fiddles came my way about one year apart, and I took them in. They have very similar tonal qualities, nearly parallel in fact. Luckily in this case, it is a good thing.

I just bought a Paul Pfeil from Tarisio btw, a maker I have next to no info about; looks like he made very few.

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I personally believe that most of the fine makers which have been mentioned here will become a part of the mainstream more and more over the next few years, and decades. It is simple economics. The old Cremona violins as well as classic French, i.e. Lupot, Vuillaume, continue to become more in-accessible to the average player, due to the price run-ups which are ongoing.

At the time that I owned my De Chaponay Strad, I was one among innumerable players, teachers etc. who had some extra cash , and wanted to use it so as to fulfill a dream. Today, no way is that possible, except for the very select few. All the great old fiddles are gradually going to foundations, museums, banks etc. And this is only the beginning.

Players in the know have been using great American violins for quite some time. (By the way, nobody has mentioned Reindahl, who seems to be suddenly on the way to top status). I believe that one reason the great U.S. makers are being recognised more now is economic necessity. Who has $500K to spend on an instrument anymore? The time is right for modern makers of all nationalities, and everybody has their names on the tip of their tongue.

It used to be that the great old Italians were owned not only by concert players, but also by orchestra musicians, the doctor in Brooklyn, the freshman at Curtis, Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, the insurance man in Boca Raton, and the string teacher in the mid-West. That time is past.

We are going through a re-classification of makers and instruments, and making the happy discovery that there are enough great sounding, great looking instruments for anybody who really wants one. They have always been available and always will be. Our minds are beginning to open.

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Hi Larry,

Interesting you mentioned Reindahl because the whole point of the thread was to see if any American makers had achieved genuine merit after their work had had time to be assessed properly. Ron Humphrey is a great advocate of Reindahl but I must confess to knowing his work only from pictures.

In another thread relating to the recent Tarisio auction, Ron points out that a Reindahl was exceeded in price only by a Presenda (the Reindahl made $8,000).

The names that keep surfacing in this thread are living makers but my point is that violins need a period of many years before we can be sure their tone will not fade or the varnish crackle.

The only other maker whose name commands real respect is Carl Becker Sr and I have never played one of his violins either.

For exactly the reasons you indicate, the snobbish obsession with old Italians will have to mellow as players are forced to look elsewhere and I have to believe that the discerning violinist with a limited budget must also be looking towards the East for quality instruments.

Perhaps they should also be looking closer to home.

Glenn

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Hi Glen. I can't disagree with your basic premis but here's a few thoughts re what you say. ....I guess you use the phrase VARNISH CRACKLE as a catch all phrase for all the undesirable things that might happen to varnish...but crackle per se is not necessarily a bad thing. It is characteristic of some highly regarded makers like Montagnana & Fagnola and a fine cracle can also be seen on some Strads & del Gesus..............Also the reputation of instruments has something of a social history dimension which can become something of a self fulfilling prophesy. For instance, Instruments that for some reason begin to aquire a good reputation increase in value. The increase in value means that they recieve the attention of better restorers and get better set ups. Bad instruments by a valuable maker will recieve special attention to re graduate re set up etc untill they sound good enough to justify the increasing price ..further increasing the reputation of the maker...etc

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