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Can Someone Give Me a Story to Go with my Fiddle?


mikesusangray
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Hello All!

A few months ago I popped up in this forum asking some questions

about a violin that has been in my family since it was purchased by

my grandmother's uncle sometime around the turn of the century. It

has a label claiming to be an Eberle made in Prague - which, people

pointed out, even the type of printing on the label pretty much

rules out.

In the meantime, I've had the violin spruced up a bit and setup by

a local luthier. As far as I can tell, he did a very nice job

setting it up. He was going to look into its background and kept it

in his shop for about three months (rather annoying, since I wanted

to start playing again) but never found out anything of interest -

except that he didn't think I could trust the label.

Wherever it comes from, I'm delighted to have it back. My daughter

has started learning cello, and playing with her is incredible

fun!

Here are some new shots of the violin. (BTW, there's a magnifying

glass function to see the pictures in greater detail.)

"http://picasaweb.google.com/mikesusangray/TheOldViolin ">Picasa

Link

Still, I wish I could get a little more of a story about where the

violin might come from. I'm particularly intrigued by the wedge

thing under the fingerboard. Was the neck originally so low? Or did

somebody mess up the build and find a quick fix? Could it be

some kind transitional thing? 

I'm also curious about where it comes from. I understand there were

some Czech workshops in the 19th and early 20th century - given the

Eberle attribution, might that be a reasonable guess.

Also (#2), my luthier didn't seem to be too crazy about the varnish

work on the back, though I didn't quite get why. I love the mottled

look. Can someone educate me a little?

Also (#3), can anyone tell me what "family resemblences" it shows?

I've been trying to learn about this stuff, but I'm still not able

to see the things you guys can.

Ugh. When I made my photographs I also noticed a crack up around

the left side hole of the peg that turny the E string. I'll

definitely ask the luthier about that, though. I'm guessing he

would have told me if it were a problem.

And finally: my home insurance covers up to ca. $1,000 in case of

theft. Would anyone recommend - in the vaguest possible terms! -

that I raise that a little or is that probably in the right

ballpark? (That last question isn't a sneaky way of finding a

selling price. Whatever it is - and it seems like a decent violin,

though it's no national treasure - I'm going to keep learning to

play it.)

Thanks  for any (further!) help you can give me here - and in

general, thanks for keeping this forum going. I love reading and

learning!

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quote:


Originally posted by: mikesusangray

Also (#2), my luthier didn't seem to be too crazy about the varnish

work on the back, though I didn't quite get why. I love the mottled

look. Can someone educate me a little?

Hi Mikesusangray-

From what I've been able to learn, the "mottled look" you are referring to is the maker's intentional "antiqueing" of the instrument, intended to mimic the age and wear patterning seen on very old instruments. There are two definite schools of thought on the intentional antiqueing of instruments- some folks really dislike it, while others prefer it to the clean, "new" look. Apparently your luthier is of the first group, and you are of the second. If it's any consolation, I believe it has been determined that more people prefer the old and worn look than the clean, new look. I think the antiqueing on your instrument, by the way, is done quite well and would be considered more appealling (to those who like antiqueing) than the majority of antiqued instruments.

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Sounds like you already have a good story. Family stories are the best!

quote:


Originally posted by:
mikesusangray

I'm particularly intrigued by the wedge

thing under the fingerboard. Was the neck originally so low? Or did

somebody mess up the build and find a quick fix? Could it be

some kind transitional thing? 


I really don't think the violin is old enough to have been transitional. The wedge appears to be a repair to correct the neck projection (a better correction would have been to reset the neck to the correct angle). The cause may have been error in original construction, but more likely, the neck settled a bit too far after it was made and someone stuck the wedge in at that point.

quote:


I'm also curious about where it comes from. I understand there were

some Czech workshops in the 19th and early 20th century - given the

Eberle attribution, might that be a reasonable guess.


I wouldn't argue with your guess... but if it's as old as 19th century, it's late in the 19th century. I would have guessed 20th.

quote:


Also (#2), my luthier didn't seem to be too crazy about the varnish

work on the back, though I didn't quite get why. I love the mottled

look. Can someone educate me a little?


The antiquing is a little heavy-handed for my tastes... but I've certainly seen worse.

quote:


Also (#3), can anyone tell me what "family resemblences" it shows?

I've been trying to learn about this stuff, but I'm still not able

to see the things you guys can.


I think you're probably trying a bit too hard in looking for it's "family"... It has a general look about it (material/shape/etc.) and some details (open ffs, wide/large notches) that resemble Czech fiddles I've seen that were produced at the turn of the century (19th to 20th) and later, but it's not a masterworks type instrument... probably made in a workshop for the export trade.

quote:


And finally: my home insurance covers up to ca. $1,000 in case of

theft. Would anyone recommend - in the vaguest possible terms! -

that I raise that a little or is that probably in the right

ballpark? (That last question isn't a sneaky way of finding a

selling price. Whatever it is - and it seems like a decent violin,

though it's no national treasure - I'm going to keep learning to

play it.)


You'll need an appraisal... Have you asked your local luthier to value it for you?

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Mike,

To me your fiddle looks no older than 150 years, probably a few decades newer than that. So, I don't think it's an 18th century instrument. Maybe early 20th century.

The shading in the varnishing is not the result of age but done deliberately when new, as Ron noted, to imitate older fiddles. From the black-white pictures in Jalovec, JU Eberle didn't shade his varnishes. Commercial fiddles of the early 20th century often have such shading.

The wedge under the fingerboard is one way to get the fingerboard raised to the proper height and angle above the top. If the neck does not have enough overstand above the top of the violin, a wedge under the fingerboard is an ok way to correct that problem.

Edit: Sorry to be repeating stuff in Jeffrey's and Mcarufe's posts. They weren't visible when I started mine.

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Side view of scroll says German and coupled with asymetrical malformed button I'd say cheap factory German. Back is original to early 20th century but top looks like recent Chinese we all see on ebay for $19.99. Side view of violin looks like top is thicker at edges than back. The wedge/ fingerboard repair-replacement was done by an amatuer as is visible by shrunken wedge (not aged wood) and amatuer nut. The 'wear' on the back of the scroll is very over-done. I have seen/handled many violins from early 1700's forward and this amount of wear would date the violin to say...... Nero's day. Or it was constantly laid on a concrete piano.

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Thanks for all your input, guys!

Family stories *are* the best stories, of course - but in this

particular case, there isn't much to tell. No one living knows much

about the uncle in question except that he wanted to be a musician

and didn't live very long. Apparently, he left an antique (and

well-used) morphine injecting kit to go with the violin. Not a

happy story, what little there is of it!

I do wonder whether he was a bit of a DIYer, though - perhaps he

got the violin cheap because of a neck problem and put in the wedge

and button on his own.

As for the violin's "family" - I was just curious about the kind of

pattern used to make it. From the things I've already heard I'm not

laboring under the delusion that it's anybody's masterpiece!

* * * *

Quick remark about appraisals: I did ask my luthier about that -

simply in terms of ballpark estimates - and he avoided answering.

Perhaps he figured it isn't worth enough to justify the expense -

or perhaps (being a genuinely nice guy) he just didn't want to hurt

my feelings! It would have been helpful for insurance purposes,

though, since I simply don't have clue.

It's certainly good for me, though - and I should mention that

people have generally been very positive about its sound - back in

the early 80s my grade school violin teacher had a strange habit of

raving about it. (Perhaps she was listening to the label?) At about

the same time a shop in Libertyville IL also offered my mother

$1,000 for it when she brought it in for setup when it first came

out of storage. This fed a family tradition that we had something

special. In retrospect, I wonder if there was less

ready knowledge about old instruments at the time and that the

shop offered my mother more than it would have been worth.

At any rate, I'm certainly glad I spent about $300 to get it set up

to play (new bridge, new strings and tailpiece, new saddle,

touch-up work on the varnish, ribs coaxed back into place) and not

to get it appraised! (My neighbors might beg to differ ... )

Mike

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Mike,

I hope you don't perceive anything said above as disparagement of the instrument or discouragement about playing it. It looks like a decent fiddle in good shape. And if it has a sound you like, that's all that counts.

If there's a family story to this fiddle, it will be the one you make by being its present owner. If it allows you to play together with your daughter, that's already a remarkable story. Enjoy the fiddle and give it the good care it deserves.

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The value of a violin is not as firm as you may think. I used to have a violin

I bought for $3k and I disliked the sound of it, so I traded it with a better sound violin with less

name (commercial). It was sold almost right away for a much higher price by the shop.

(good for them, bad for me). They say sound has nothing to do with the price.

Your violin looks decent to me. It serves you well. It is bit looks like a Juzek violin.

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It was not that good but the repairman has made it better or made it more decent.

Good thing about it was that some time ago, someone was care enough to have it re-done right. It meant that

someone played it and found out it was not right then and sent it to repair. At least a player

in the past cared. Cheer.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
yuen
At least a player in

the past cared.

Thanks Yuen! *That's* a story I like!

In fact, I hereby declare my great-great-uncle Whoever the Player

Who Cared. Nobody cared enough about him to even pass down his

name, and he couldn't even care for himself well enough to keep off

the poppy seed - but he loved his fiddle and gave it the best he

had. God speed, old man - and maybe Natascha and I can duet you a

requiem.

* * * *

Going off on a tangent: The original bow got lost when my parents

split up a few years ago. I'm a doctoral student on zero budget

with two kids learning four different instruments, so money is

pretty thin. My luthier has loaned me a bow for now, but he doesn't

have anything I can afford (things are at a premium in

Switzerland), so I reckon I'll buy something over ebay nad have a

family member bring it over. I get the impression that I could get

a something half-way decent for between $50 and $100. Carbon, maybe

- or a chinese direct sales job? (I've had excellent experiences

with chinese and taiwnese sellers in other fields.) Would some have

a good tip that might fit in nicely with this instrument?

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To me a decent bow is harder to find than a decent violin. My work place people gave me a German bow ($500-$600) as a gift about three months ago

(From Shar music ? Pernambuco ?) it is an okay bow. My faorite bow is a German Rao bow about $1000 I treated my self 35 years ago.

. The best bow I have ever had. If you ask me what I recommend to you

I would say a Coda Diamond, GX about $600-$700 It will satisfy your desire for a while. Your favorite may cost you even more. Only your pocket

book can tell. But it can wait. Right?

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Hmm.

Having looked around, I *do* see that I look pretty silly asking

for a decent bow under $100! OTOH, anything that'll scratch the

strings, is a big step up from pizzicato ...

Thing is, I can't do a whole lot better right now. I *can* keep the

loaner until next summer - I've rented my daughter's cello from the

same luthier and he threw in the bow for free until then. Round

about next summer I'll have to figure something out, though.

I'd also like to buy my daughter a cello this summer to stop

leaking rental fees. Not to mention the baroque style tenor

recorder she and my wife have their hearts' set on. And of course,

there's my son playing a guitar I saved from the trash ... and

counting the months till he can go to his first singing camp with

the Zürich Boys choir. And, of course, the pickups in my

e-bass that keep on wonking out when I'm on stage ...

Not that I'm complaining, exactly. I love music and my family seems

to be in some kind of musical hyper-drive just now, and it's all

amazingly fun. I'm an unbelievably rich man. But with grad student

grants to pay the bills for the next two years, I do have to set my

priorities carefully!

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I've never bought from e-bay, so can't advise about them.

For bows around $100 I'd stay away from ordering, sight unseen and untried, a used bow from a private buyer. The bow may or may not have hair in good shape, and a rehair will cost you about $40 or $50.

In the US, the major violin mail order and internet shops do have new bows, carbon fiber bows, with good natural horse hair, at about $100. They're ok. I bought a viola bow in that price range that serves me ok.

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The easiest way to get a decent bow cheaply is to keep your eyes open for old clunker violin sets from estates or attics (check classified ads). often the bows are worth much more than the violin. My two favourite bows were obtained that way, one a no name brazilwood, the other a genuine Otto Hoyer. Both ended up costing me nothing. Usually they can be put back in playing condition for the price of a rehairing which might be recuperated by passing the violins along sans bows.

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Appraisals: my previous violin was appraised by a top notch luthier who repairs instruments sent from all over the world, sometimes in a thousand pieces. But when I sold it through the best violin dealer in this part of the world it fetched 5 times that appraisal. Now I own a much better playing instrument but that same shop only values it at 1/10th the price of the previous one. So, never mind, the appraisal can change depending on what's in favour, and who is appraising, and who is buying. I think you have an interesting violin that will appreciate in value. But you will never sell it. Read below.

Here's your story and I'm sticking to it: If you stare at the button hard enough you will see the word VENITE appear. This is part of VENITE ADOREMUS, or in English "Oh Come Let Us Adore Him". Obviously this was your great-great uncle's plea for a memorial, and possibly a suggestion for his name. The fiddle is a Christmas violin which links you to your past. It may be the best present you've ever received; a time machine that speaks.

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Well, as much as I enjoyed Strauzart's "story", you may find that a really knowledgeable luthier can give you a pretty clear idea of when and where your violin was made, while giving you a reasonable appraisal (for a price).

I have a cheap, crummy old fiddle (poor material, poor workmanship) that is valuable to me and my family simply because it belonged to my great-great grandfather-- all that was known for sure was that he bought it second-hand, in New Orleans, in the year 1900.

I had taken that fiddle with me to a Paul Schuback set-up workshop in California, and he took one look, and exclaimed, "Oh! I know exactly where that was made! I have been there, and have seen the guys bring them in to the school, in Mittenwald!" He went on to relate that the local cowherds evidently have time on their hands during the winter months, and sit in the evening, making violins. Rather than varnish them, they bring them (literally in gunny-sacks) to the school at Mittenwald, and dump them there, for a very small price, where the students will do whatever is necessary to make them minimally salable, and varnish them and ship them to buyers elsewhere.

Did knowing that background make it worth more? Of course not, but it was a neat tidbit to add to the "family story". Probably, brand-new, it was worth less than a dollar, but it is still valuable to me, as that is the instrument my mother learned on, as well as others before her. It sounds OK, but not great...maybe not even "good". That's fine. I enjoy playing it, and knowing the history.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
strauzart

Appraisals: my previous violin was appraised by a top notch luthier who repairs instruments sent from all over the world, sometimes in a thousand pieces. But when I sold it through the best violin dealer in this part of the world it fetched 5 times that appraisal. Now I own a much better playing instrument but that same shop only values it at 1/10th the price of the previous one. So, never mind, the appraisal can change depending on what's in favour, and who is appraising, and who is buying. I think you have an interesting violin that will appreciate in value. But you will never sell it.


You know... appraisals can vary a bit due to regional tastes and markets, but if the attribution is nailed down within reason, it's unusual to have the varience be more than 10 or 20%. So the question I'd have concerning your story is: Who screwed up? The restorer who appraised it or the dealer who sold it? No matter who was the culprit, the answer should make you squirm just a little.

The problem I have with this sort of story is that it kind of indicates there's a magic number being pulled out of a hat... The truth is, one of the characters in your story just didn't get things "right".

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I liked all three of those stories - both of Strauzart's and Cob3's

too!

Actually, this violin has turned into a special sort of Christmas

story - at the fact that my son and daughter will be playing Adeste

Fideles in church on recorder and guitar in church on the 24th make

the reference particularly apt. (It would be even more fun if

Natascha and I were doing it on cello and violin - in fact, I think

I'll see if I can transpose something so she can try it. Still!)

So, thanks for helping to add another layer of patinae to that

mottled old back!

Cob3's point is well taken, though. Wondering about an instrument

is - or at least can be - more than wondering how much cash you

could wring out of it. The money aspect is important - for example,

when I end up buying a cello for my daughter I'd like to get her a

good deal and not just a good story! - but that natural curiosity

about the people who crafted the things we own is part of what

makes us human. In some cases (one thinks of sweatshops), that

curiosity can even help us to become *humane.*

However you look at it: this whole exchange has meant something to

me and taught me a lot. Thanks. Have a blessed Christmas!

Mike

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