Insecure violin makers


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I have been trying violins through the years and one phenomenon I keep on encountering is the repair guy (yes, they are mostly male) that decides to make his own violins. I feel uncomfortable when being face to face with the maker of a violin and telling him/her that I really don't like their violin. When I try to be specific about my dislikes, they respond with the line that: "it's a Strad/Gesu/Amati pattern" I'm finding that most modern violins are very similar to each other, very nicely crafted but no individuality. When I remark that a neck feels thick, a typical response is that "X" famous violinist likes it that way, so I am not worthy and it's my fault that I don't like it. What would the makers on this forum do with a person like me that walks in, ready to spend money and does not like their product?

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" Thankyou sir,may I have another"

I love it when players and other makers give me their un-varnished opinion, I ask for it and seek out players who aren't afraid to give it. It makes me a better maker. And critiques usually directly influence the next instrument for me. The last time a client felt his neck was too thick for his liking, I took him down to the workshop and started shaping it down as he watched, and had him play it at each stage until he was happy with it. It could just be that I'm a Libra, and I have strong urges to please everyone, though.

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Depends on who you talk to. The makers I know would listen and try to accommodate, or educate in a way that would leave you nodding your head rather than shaking it.

But maybe what you're seeing is what has led many players to simply not be truthful at all when trying instruments. I recall one fine player who tried a bow and after a few minutes handed it back and told the maker "It works.". :)

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I have been trying violins through the years and one phenomenon I keep on encountering is the repair guy (yes, they are mostly male) that decides to make his own violins. I feel uncomfortable when being face to face with the maker of a violin and telling him/her that I really don't like their violin.

It can be an uncomfortable situation. I've run into a few musicians who'd rather not deal with makers because of some awkward experiences. I've also run into some whose strongest negative experiences were with pushy dealer salespeople, so they'd rather deal with makers. I think most know though that one can have good or bad experiences in either arena.

When I try to be specific about my dislikes, they respond with the line that: "it's a Strad/Gesu/Amati pattern" I'm finding that most modern violins are very similar to each other, very nicely crafted but no individuality.

While modern information sharing, and more of an international community of makers has had advantages, I believe that one downside has been a blurring of "schools" of making, and less individuality. This is one reason why I'm very reluctant to critique, beyond setup, and more likely to say, "Do what you want" when people inquire about the "right" way to do things. One can find some highly individual work though by looking at enough fiddles.

When I remark that a neck feels thick, a typical response is that "X" famous violinist likes it that way, so I am not worthy and it's my fault that I don't like it.

A response like "X famous violinist likes it that way" isn't necessarily an accusation of unworthiness. :) Players can over-react to input from a maker, just like makers can over-react to input from a musician. Makers can learn from musicians, but musicians can also learn a great deal from some makers and repairmen who have vast experience with the preferences of a wide variety of musicians, and also good experience-based reasons for what they do. If a musician wants something "off the beaten track", the first duty might be to inform them, so they're better equipped to make an informed choice. For example, a cellist might want the bridge lower. I might inform them that with the current fingerboard shape, a lower bridge will result in more buzzing during pizz. More buzzing may or may not be OK with them, and we might also explore options to keep a cleaner pizz with a lower bridge, such as adding more scoop to the fingerboard. It's not an effort to "make them wrong", but an effort to see that they know enough of the big picture to get what they want.

If a player believes that a neck is too large, and it's actually within the range that we consider "standard", the first duty might be to inform the player of this. Some will still want it reduced to what they're accustomed to, and others will decide to spend some time exploring the "standard" size first.

What would the makers on this forum do with a person like me that walks in, ready to spend money and does not like their product?

Depends. If you want something that I'm able and willing to change, I'd probably do that. If I'm unable or unwilling to change it, I'd probably recommend that you keep looking.

On unwillingness:

There are a few things that I won't do on an instrument, unless the player already owns it, and also owns the consequences. For example, there are some kinds of sounds that I won't make, because I know that if the player doesn't end up purchasing the instrument, it will be almost impossible to sell to anyone else. I also know that even if they purchase it, they will have difficulty reselling it some day. I have responsibilities to the customer, and to myself.

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What would the makers on this forum do with a person like me that walks in, ready to spend money and does not like their product?

Violin makers need to have very thick skin. Both for the sharp tools and the rejection of their instruments for others.

If you were seriously interested in purchasing one of my instruments, I would listen and adjust what ever it was that you didn't like, within reason. (What D. Burgess said) If you were simply browsing, or "kicking tires", I might take your suggestions a little lighter, perhaps even(gasp) offering a counter point as to why I did this or that on this or that particular model.

If you don't like my instrument, I would certainly want to know why. But my response would be different based on whether you are a serious buyer or not. It can take weeks for a player to be 100% satisfied with a new instrument, and a lot of work on my part. Not really worth it if you are not really serious.

That said, criticism is ALWAYS welcome. You can't hurt my feelings. (I have none :) )

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I have been trying violins through the years and one phenomenon I keep on encountering is the repair guy (yes, they are mostly male) that decides to make his own violins. I feel uncomfortable when being face to face with the maker of a violin and telling him/her that I really don't like their violin. When I try to be specific about my dislikes, they respond with the line that: "it's a Strad/Gesu/Amati pattern" I'm finding that most modern violins are very similar to each other, very nicely crafted but no individuality. When I remark that a neck feels thick, a typical response is that "X" famous violinist likes it that way, so I am not worthy and it's my fault that I don't like it. What would the makers on this forum do with a person like me that walks in, ready to spend money and does not like their product?

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

Exactly,

Just say "nice" after tryings and return it. You know what you would get

if they do not hear something nice .

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I have been trying violins through the years and one phenomenon I keep on encountering is the repair guy (yes, they are mostly male) that decides to make his own violins. I feel uncomfortable when being face to face with the maker of a violin and telling him/her that I really don't like their violin. When I try to be specific about my dislikes, they respond with the line that: "it's a Strad/Gesu/Amati pattern" I'm finding that most modern violins are very similar to each other, very nicely crafted but no individuality. When I remark that a neck feels thick, a typical response is that "X" famous violinist likes it that way, so I am not worthy and it's my fault that I don't like it. What would the makers on this forum do with a person like me that walks in, ready to spend money and does not like their product?

Thanks zefir68, great topic.

I do two basic set ups;

1. Classical

2. Fiddle

I'll change or modify the strings, soundpost, nut and bridge, even add two fine tuners, or take one off (I start off with one on both the E and A string). If the player prefers, I'll even replace the tailpiece with a mechanical one, like a Whittner, which I carry in stock, if that's what they want. (as most fiddlers, even professional ones, want four fine tuners - and will not be talked out of them).

I won't change the chinrest - if they prefer a certain type, I'll let them replace the one I have on there at home if they wish. (which is an over-the-tailpiece, large cup, Guarneri style)

I have several different styles of violin already made, slightly different set up parameters, in tune, and ready to go - both classical and fiddle style.

I also have several different finishes - from heavily antiqued to no antiquing - depending on how I felt when I made the violin.

The classical music people typically want thinner necks, and the fiddlers typically want thicker necks. I' ve got both.

Since I get lots of; students, fiddlers, and orchestra players here in Roswell, I try to accomodate them all.

I am really critical with regard to my my sales tactics. I do not want to sell to someone who feels pressured to buy - who is not happy with the violin. My wife and I are both employed and I'm not starving - if you get here I believe that this soon becomnes obvious - I like a relaxed customer to deal with...

*If* they find a violin they like, I request that they take the violin home for a couple of weeks and practice with it exclusively, in order to get a feel for it, and give it a fair chance - then, buy it if they like, or return it in the same shape they got it.

They can take another if they like, after that, but almost without exception, if they liked it enough to take it home, I find that they rarely want to part with it when they bring it back. I now have one price for a handmade violin, so, they already know that there is a single price and they can afford it or not. I have worked out payment plans in the past.

Since I am always making something anyway. I will accept a commission, no fee (then, I guess it's not really a commission, huh?) - no obligation to buy.

It isn't as if I have a years long waiting list (guffaw!) and have to squeeze people in...

I'll speak with the customer at length about exactly what they are looking for, and make it, If they don't like it when it's done, they don't have to buy it - and it goes into stock for another buyer. I have always found a buyer so far, so no big deal, no hurt feelings.

The interaction is between the customer, the instrument, and the maker. There are people who will buy or not buy, simply because they like or dislike who it is they are dealing with. Oh well, every salesman knows that.

Either way, I do not hesitate to send someone who is obviously still looking, to Robertson & Sons Violin Shop in Albuquerque - where they have a huge inventoy, student to Strad, a world class selection of fine violins available.

There are people who cannot find what they want, even there.

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What would the makers on this forum do with a person like me that walks in, ready to spend money and does not like their product?

To specifically answer your question, I would thank you for coming in, take your contact information and "promise" to let you know of any other instruments that may come in and which may be of interest to you, whether made by me or others in the general price range.

For your dilemma of how to respond to instruments you don't like, think for a moment of how the violin maker must feel listening to violinist of every imaginable ability day in and day out, many of whom think there is something wrong with their violin and expect you to help them out when you realize that no matter what you do, they will not be able to make the instrument work in the way they wish it to. It's of no use to tell, or lament the fact, that they "are very similar to" most other violinists or that they have "no individuality" or that they don't play a specific passage like Heifetz did. If I am asked by a musician how something sounds, I think it is my job (since I'm being paid for my opinion), to be honest, but to frame my answer within the context of 1) the ability of the player and 2) the ability of the instrument. If you, as a violinist, are SO sure of yourself and your ability to discern what is really good, then you should also have the ability to frame your response according to the makers ability and the specific instrument. Sometimes simple politeness, humility and empathy are the best ways to frame a response to something you don't care for.

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If someone tells me that the neck is too thick, then I see if I can measure what they consider to be right.

Sometimes there is no difference, so what is perceived is not necessarily the same as what is reported.

If you cannot be open and honest with a maker, then find one that you can be, since the main advantage that a living maker has, over a dead one, is that they have working ears!

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Great responses folks, with some cute stuff tucked in the crannies. :)

zefir68, we makers have our tact challenges too. Someone might bring in their violin which moos like a cow, and wonder why ours, back from Joe Concertmaster to have the fingerboard planed, doesn't sound nearly as good. What do we say? B)

Once in a great while, we'll even get some player who has done "lots of research", and shows up with their own goofy graduation scheme and wants it used. :)

And it can be very tempting to tell someone how to play, when we observe that someone doesn't know how to play a particular fiddle to get the most out of it. Maybe they're stuck in the style that worked well with "the cow" fiddle, and we'd just really like to help. B)

I've seen Rene Morel give playing tips to some very good players (and his comments were valid), but I try to avoid it. OK, once in a while I can't resist, but I try to limit these to making a fiddle "work", and don't say anything about fingering, dynamics and phrasing. :)

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Great responses folks, with some cute stuff tucked in the crannies. :)

zefir68, we makers have our tact challenges too. Someone might bring in their violin which moos like a cow, and wonder why ours, back from Joe Concertmaster to have the fingerboard planed, doesn't sound nearly as good. What do we say? :)

Once in a great while, we'll even get some player who has done "lots of research", and shows up with their own goofy graduation scheme and wants it used. :)

And it can be very tempting to tell someone how to play, when we observe that someone doesn't know how to play a particular fiddle to get the most out of it. Maybe they're stuck in the style that worked well with "the cow" fiddle, and we'd just really like to help. B)

I've seen Rene Morel give playing tips to some very good players (and his comments were valid), but I try to avoid it. OK, once in a while I can't resist, but I try to limit these to making a fiddle "work", and don't say anything about fingering, dynamics and phrasing. :)

But I am actually looking for an instrument that has some bovine qualities B)

I am not a very fussy player, but was taken aback when I commented to the feel of the neck/fingerboard and the maker pulls out a measuring device and tells me that everything is according to well established specs and that my own violin must be off! (I get it regularly checked out by a very reputable person who occasionally chimes in here)

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But I am actually looking for an instrument that has some bovine qualities :)

I am not a very fussy player, but was taken aback when I commented to the feel of the neck/fingerboard and the maker pulls out a measuring device and tells me that everything is according to well established specs and that my own violin must be off! (I get it regularly checked out by a very reputable person who occasionally chimes in here)

It's quite likely that the neck/fingerboard measurements on the new instrument that you tried were within the normal range of standard measurements and that your own violin are also within those specs, however if your fingerboard, for example, is 20 years old and has been planed 10 times, then the measurements will differ quite a lot from a brand new fingerboard. On the other hand it is possible that the measurements of your violin neck are not "normal" but you are accustomed to them. It would not surprise me that your own violin repair person does not make mention of it, and that person is probably wise not to. If it works for you and you are content with it and it does not harm the sound, why do anything? (besides..who needs more work?!?!)

Now to be fair, maybe the maker of the new instrument did goof or is not fully versed in what constitutes a good neck, then there may not be too much more you can do! Just shrug and move on to the next instrument!

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My personal experience is this;

To be blunt, thick necks, wide necks, bulky necks period, are EXTREMELY common with new or self taught makers. Even many makers with some experience under their belts, who should have learned better, still make the neck or even the neck/fingerboard too bulky.

People who go to violin making school seem to be less inclined to want to be off with this measurement.

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I am not a very fussy player, but was taken aback when I commented to the feel of the neck/fingerboard and the maker pulls out a measuring device and tells me that everything is according to well established specs and that my own violin must be off! (I get it regularly checked out by a very reputable person who occasionally chimes in here)

I just wonder, were you approaching this violin as a potential purchase, or were you just looking around? Was your violin there to be compared against? Personally, a stranger off the street that comes in and tells me my neck doesn't feel right doesn't hold a lot of importance to me. Not that I'm perfect (Lord knows), but that I work hard, do the best I can, and I don't have much time for random critics with no real interest beyond criticism. Again, any criticism is welcome, but I won't necessarily give a flip for all of it.

Think of a random audience member that runs into you and tells you your vibrato is all wrong. Do you have an obligation to adjust your playing for him/her?

If that person was paying you a lot of money to make a specific recording for him, then yes, you do.

Otherwise, would you give it much thought?

It seems to me that you think quite a bit about your opinions of what a violin should or should not be.

Maybe not every violin maker agrees, and maybe that is a good thing.

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"It seems to me that you think quite a bit about your opinions of what a violin should or should not be." arglebarge

"If you, as a violinist, are SO sure of yourself and your ability to discern what is really good, then you should also have the ability to frame your response according to the makers ability" erocca

To those that question my ability, rest assured, I have had the privilege of playing many instruments and have been employed by the Met Opera, the Baltimore Symphony and some others of their ilk. As a player. My instrument of use is a Nicolo Gagliano, but I am missing an instrument by the same maker that I had the fortune to use in the early 90's that I couldn't afford to buy at the time. I know it was sold through Shar and have asked Mr. Holmes to try to track it down, but have not had much luck. I am happy with my current ax, but am missing the old one. I am in a position to buy something as a second instrument and am committed to finding a modern violin but am just unable to find an instrument that feels and sounds right. I am finding that the violins that are made these days feel heavy (another post), the fingerboard shaping is shoddy, and when you complain or diplomatically suggest that the maker did not get some things right, I am made to feel like an amateur that is not worthy of playing the maker's violins.

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I am finding that the violins that are made these days feel heavy (another post), the fingerboard shaping is shoddy....

Isn't that kind a sweeping indictment?

Periodically and regularly, I take a detailed look at instruments from hundreds of makers, and find these factors to vary widely.

Can you work with a maker or repair person to find out more about your impression of weight? It could be that it's in the fiddle itself, or largely in the accessories and fingerboard, or that it's an impression which comes from the size or feel of the neck. Something as simple as a lighter chinrest can make a huge difference, because it's on the end of a rather long lever when the violin is held at the neck and rotated up into playing position, and is typically of a dense wood. A bigger change can be had there than by reducing the thickness of the top by one half.

Low weight is kind of an unusual request on a violin though. I rarely hear a violinist mention it as being desirable. What I hear much more often is the belief that higher weight is assurance that a violin hasn't been made excessively thin, and therefor is less likely to present problems down the road.

If you decide to work with a luthier on the weight issue, here's a suggestion:

Rather than saying something like, "All modern violins are too heavy" (which probably wouldn't be accurate), let them know that weight is an issue for you personally, and you'd like help in investigating what can be done to make a violin feel lighter.

Come to think of it, that might be a good approach for neck thickness too. Instead of saying something like, "This neck is a friggin baseball bat" (just kidding :) ), try making it clear that a small neck is important to you personally. This will lessen the blow to your typical insecure violin maker :) , and make them more likely to work with you.

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Right now I'm handling a collection of instruments of a retired local luthier. He was a competent maker, but some of the necks are indeed too thick and I'm trimming them down. As far as the instruments I'm building, I've decided to cut the customer out of the equation and build violins just to please myself. I have a hard enough time pleasing flaky, "tire-kicker" musicians with the other instruments I sell, I don't need to compound the issue by offering the instruments I build. I'd also like to keep the money aspect out of my instrument building and do it just for gratification. By the time my instruments fall into somebody else's hands I'll be taking a long dirt nap...

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"To those that question my ability...

zefir68, please don't think that I questioned your ability. Basically the range of newly made violins runs the gamut from really poorly made things to truly first class instruments, (...just as the range of violinists does.) Simply categorizing contemporary instruments as having "shoddy" fingerboards only tells me that you have not yet found the right instrument for you from a violin maker you feel comfortable working with. There are several makers on this forum who have made instruments for players who also have fine old instruments, including Strads and Guarneri's and who have vast amounts of experience in working with all sorts of players. I think you just need to keep looking and trying instruments. Also, it's been mentioned that many makers are willing and happy to make adjustments to their instruments once it is purchased.

Good luck in your search!

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