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GlennYorkPA

Best American Violin Maker

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Hi Manfio - The process of recognition is sometimes tediously slow, and tied up with outside factors. As you have mentioned, your instruments are liked by top professionals, so why don't we hear your name more? It's quite simply Buenes Aires, IMHO. Move to Cremona, Bologna, Milan, and boom. Everybody will have you on their list (I mean even more than now.) Strange but true...

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Glen - Good to hear from you. I still can't quite figure out why new U.S. violins by the big names are used more than some of the excellent older makers, (with the exception of Becker Sr.)

Speaking of which, I have seen and tried out quite a number of Becker Sr. violins over the past few years.They are mostly excellent sounding, beautifully made, with spectacular wood. But I still would have to say that they didn't seem overall better than a host of other violins from the same period. I think the real kicker is their beauty in appearance.

Re "looking toward the East" - you are speaking of China, am I right? I don't want to start another whole thing on Chinese violins, but I really feel that as we get to know the makers by name, and learn about their lives, training, working methods etc. they will no longer be simply lumped together in one catch-all category. Please, all you excellent makers over in China, let us get to know you better! Tell us a story, send a picture of your workshop, the street you live on, tell us your hobbies, and whether you like to cook, and if so what. I for one am all ears.

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The best cellos I have ever heard are made by David Caron. His violins and violas are good but not as outstanding as the cellos, which are his specialty.

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"The best cellos I have ever heard are made by David Caron. His violins and violas are good but not as outstanding as the cellos, which are his specialty. Dr.S

David Caron has a very interesting website.

http://www.caronviolins.com/davidcaron/index.shtml

(one interesting snip)

"Keeping Up With Steinway

'I can't help feeling cheated when I go to a concert in a large hall, featuring a consummate, elegant cellist, and an equally talented pianist, playing something like a Beethoven or Brahms sonata, and only a fraction of the music reaches my ears. The reason this is happening is that the cellist is playing some ancient instrument that was either originally a church bass, or a cello designed for the drawing room The limited sound of these instruments, although sometimes quite lovely, requires the pianist to use the short stick, (or to close the lid entirely), and limit their technique using only a small part of the musical range of their 12 foot Steinway. As a result much of the musical intent of the composer is sacrificed, or is altered in order to maintain balance. This is not the composer's fault. When this music was written the composers took into account the relative strength of both instruments of their day. Then Steinway, one of the greatest geniuses of musical instrument design since Stradivari, built the piano that Beethoven only dreamed of.

Unfortunately no one has been able to get the old cellos to equal Steinway's piano. People have tried to increase the volume and projection of the sound in these lethargic beasts. They have cut down those old church basses, installed large center patches in their backs, raised neck angles into the stratosphere, installed girder size bass bars, fit soundposts so tightly that the are in danger of cracking the top, and have used barbed wire tonal quality strings. The results of such extensive re-engineering is, in my opinion, seldom successful and often unpleasant. Because of the incredible tension these changes apply to a delicate old cello, or church bass, these instruments are usually difficult to play, requiring an aggressive technique that often results in physical problems for the player. These instruments are much more sensitive to weather changes which drive some performers and their violin technicians more than a little nuts. Lastly the arching, over time, begin to distort and collapse, requiring a very expensive restoration in a few years. I am not saying that there are not some great old cellos out there. Unfortunately I could probably count them on one hand. If you don't already know from experience you would be surprised how much work they are to play. The probability of acquiring one for less than $2,000,000. is unlikely.

When I spent 10 years designing my cellos I had in mind a sound like a great violin. I designed a sound that can be easily produced and heard over a large orchestra, or a thick piano accompaniment. Actually I had Milstein's sound in mind. So, I wasn't surprised when I started getting comments back from cellists like: "what a large, free, clear sound" or "so easy to play!" or "I could clearly hear every note in the back of the hall." What did surprise me was one of the most common comments I have received: "My pianist loves it! The cello allows him/her to open the lid and play out." From a listener's point of view, when I have heard my cellos with piano in concert, I am surprised and pleased that I hear much more music in the piano part than I ever knew was there, without compromising the balance. I am also pleased with how much more of the cellist's intent and ability reach the audience.

So you can see why I feel cheated when I spend $25.00 or more to hear an elegant cellist struggling with a diminutive sounding, contentious instrument that forces the pianist to mute his sound and restrain his interpretation so as not to bury the cellist. I feel like I only got $5.00 worth of music. But then, as Dennis Miller says, "That is just my opinion; I could be wrong."

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Franz Kinberg. Very difficult to come by, though.

Otto Erdesz is mainly known for violas; the ones I've played have been quite good. Another very good now-deceased American viola maker is Frederick Rowe, who worked at Minneapolis and then Ft. Lauderdale. Also, Karl Berger (NY; deceased) made good violas, though I was not as impressed with violins of his.

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Older American violins in good condition made by respected but uncelebrated makers are still a bargain for utility buyers. They're more rare than the thousands of older factory fiddles but often sell for little more than a new better quality factory fiddle. Like those factory fiddles, they have little collector value and won't appreciate much but the quality of the workmanship, tone and playability may surpass some much more expensive and collectable instruments from more prestigious makers.

Under the library tab at the top of this page the article by James McKean in Maestronet Magazine "Inexpensive Doesn't Mean Cheap" is still well worth a read for its wisdom about the violin market. Dealers aren't going to encourage buying strictly for utility because it can lead to loss of customer good will from the large majority of players who reject this approach and it's not good for profit margins either. I expect older American violins will be mostly a market for utility buyers for a long time to come.

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.

My wife plays two George Gemunders--one is his own model and the other a Guarnieri. Both play and sound wonderful. We got both these as fixer-uppers and had them immaculately restored. In both cases, most of the restoration expense was in re-doing poor quality work by people who were probably first-rate furniture makers. The Guarnieri model had suffered a chair break at sometime in its history, and the repairer didn't even get the neck back on straight. 

 

My daughter plays a contemporary violin made by Thomas Croen in Walnut Creek, California. It has a flawless, full tone. When she's giving lessons or rehearsing with others for a gig, I can usually tell when a phrase comes from her violin. Croen is only one of several modern American makers of fine violins. Will instruments from these makers get better with age? I don't know, but now--today--they present no tonal or playability barriers to professional performance. 

 

Years ago, 60 Minutes interviewed Itzhak Perlman, and the interviewer (Mike Wallace, I think) asked if a Stradivari was really better than other violins. Pearlman picked up his Strad and played a phrase--it sounded absolutely magnificent. Then he switched to what he called "a good, conservatory grade instrument," and played the same phrase--it sounded absolutely magnificent. He looked up with a big, mischievous grin and said, "See?"

.

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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.

 

I think Itzhak Perlman remarked that when he was a student at Juilliard some students were pitied (by other students) because they had to play on instruments by inferior makers like Guadagnini.  There has been a general acceptance of instruments by a wide variety of makers including older Italians (Storioni and Ceruti), newer Italians (Rocca, Scarampella), and modern European and American instruments.  The story about Perlman playing the same thing indistinguishably on his Strad and on a lesser instrument simply shows how much of the sound is due to the player, not necessarily to the instrument.  But playing a short phrase is hardly a fair test.  I wonder whether a performance of Bach's Chaconne on the Strad and the "conservatory" instrument would be so similar sounding.

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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.

 

Great post.

 

I can remember the 1960s and early 1970s at Indiana University and other places when the "second and third rank" Italians, eg, Januarius Gagliano, Testore, Storioni, were instruments you settled on somewhat regretably, hoping to move up later in your life.  Vuillaumes were a step below that, and the really impoverished American student would settle for Carl Becker, Sr or Jr.  Time does indeed change perspectives.

 

One group of American makers who are essentially nameless but worth looking at are amateur makers, who despite that amateur standing, take their making seriously, giving it a lot of thought and doing a lot of research.  The Arizona violin makers group does a good job of highlighting their work.  I've played a number of instruments by a repeat Arizona competition winner and own one of his instruments. Here's their website: http://www.vmaai.com/

 

The lesson for me in all of this is: Don't pick your instrument by the name of the maker; pick the individual instrument based on its objective qualities.  Maker reputations change over time.  Some go up, others go down.  But the individual instrument itself retains its essential qualities over time.

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One group of American makers who are essentially nameless but worth looking at are amateur makers, who despite that amateur standing, take their making seriously, giving it a lot of thought and doing a lot of research.  The Arizona violin makers group does a good job of highlighting their work.  I've played a number of instruments by a repeat Arizona competition winner and own one of his instruments. Here's their website: http://www.vmaai.com/.

 

Good point.  My violin is by one of these 'amateur' makers.  He sold me his favorite fiddle of those he made.  He owned a Bergonzi and an Amati and had access to several other great old instruments, but he patterned his instruments loosely on Guarneris.  His Bergonzi is by far the best violin I have ever put under my chin, and in fact there was a concert violinist who borrowed it any time he could in preference to his Strad.   The violin I own, this same violinist also occassionally borrowed, again in preference to his Strad.  It is a very nice violin but a bit tempermental and difficult to keep in adjustment (and I have only found one luthier capable of adjusting it properly since the maker died).  When it is adjusted properly the tone it pure gold, (and the description is one that is coined over and over by people who hear it) but as is gets out of adjustment is become a bit stuffy.  The only flaw is that harmonics don't speak as well as I think they should.   However, my stand partner has a modern Italian I would trade my violin for in a heartbeat.   

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I can remember the 1960s and early 1970s at Indiana University and other places when the "second and third rank" Italians, eg, Januarius Gagliano, Testore, Storioni, were instruments you settled on somewhat regretably, hoping to move up later in your life.  Vuillaumes were a step below that, and the really impoverished American student would settle for Carl Becker, Sr or Jr.  Time does indeed change perspectives.

In all fairness, time also gives potential luthier talent time to grow and mature.  I have professional colleagues and friends who adore their modern instruments, and don't at all envy my temperamental 18th. century cello.

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Only time can be the ultimate judge of a violin's performance characteristics.

Things can be done to achieve immediate and impressive results; (Vuillaume destroyed hundreds of fine instruments by baking them. The short term effect was good but temporary). Acid treatments can also enhance the sound but ultimately destroys the wood fibers).

Peresson cut his plates very thin to achieve quick response and this resulted in delighted clients whose enthusiasm waned after a few, short years.

That's why I was asking about earlier makers whose results have endured.

But as Stefan points out, Peresson cannot be considered American. He was born in Udine and learned his craft in Italy.

That's why I was asking about American born and raised makers living and working in the 19th or early 20th century.

 

Scott St. John, recently of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, plays on a 1886 J.B. Squier. Squire was born and learned violin making in America.  St. John tried Strads but preferred his Squier. See interview below.

 

http://www.pcmsconcerts.org/learn/blog/artist-interview-scott-st-john-violin/

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Scott St. John, recently of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, plays on a 1886 J.B. Squier. Squire was born and learned violin making in America.  St. John tried Strads but preferred his Squier. See interview below.

 

http://www.pcmsconcerts.org/learn/blog/artist-interview-scott-st-john-violin/

I just read it and didn't gather that he "preferred" his Squier. 

Every time I've heard him, he was using a Strad. 

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Here is the relevant part of the article (May 2012):

 

""This program of all-American composers has been on my wish list for a long time. There are two main reasons I put together this specific program, and the first has to do with the violin I own and play. When I was a student, everyone talked about fine old Italian violins. I was very fortunate to borrow and play two different Stradivarius instruments, and yet I would always enjoy coming back to my own violin. And what was my own violin? An early American instrument, made in Boston by J.B. Squier in 1886. A terrific instrument, but with no “Euro” pedigree."

 

The thread is about Best American Violin Maker. Posters talked about modern American makers used by professionals but couldn't cite examples of professionals using 19th century American makers.  My point is that here is one fine violinist who owns and plays a 1886 Squier now.  As a student, tried fine old Italians specifically 2 Strads but enjoyed coming back to his own Squier. Furthermore he calls his Squier "terrific."

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