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Limited time to try the best makers in the U.S.


Fernred
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My question is how many have first hand experience playing these fiddles? How many of you have first hand experience playing these fiddles in comparison to each other?

Lastly, if were you, how much better would the Zygmuntowicz need to be in order to justify the huge difference in price.

I don't see anyone that actually tried to answer your direct questions, but rant on about everything else. So:

I have played (badly) on instruments by Zygmuntowicz, Curtin, and Burgess. They were not together for any A/B/C comparisons. The only thing I can say is that they were good, but how good, and in what ways relative to each other, are impossible to say. And even if I DID say, it would be the opinion of an old-time fiddler, who likely has a different set of grading criteria. I did have an A/B comparison of a new Zyg against my most recent (and best) fiddle, and I preferred the Zyg for its superior clarity and brilliance... but I know mine is slightly weak on the top end. I have also played a couple of Strads and a Guarneri. They were good, too.

The second question is even more impossible to answer in any meaningful way. For ME, I can't justify anything, because what I already have is good enough for me. How much better than a Zyg does a Strad have to be to justify the Strad's 100X price differential? Or 10X for a bad Strad that sounds lousy? Nobody can answer these types of questions except for the buyer.

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I have a violin by a maker in New York City who isn't nearly as famous as anybody you mentioned, but my friend compared it to her Zygmuntowicz and she said that mine was by far superior... and for less than half the price, too. He's gotten commissions from top soloists (I feel it'd be inappropriate for me to list names publicly), and his violins have replaced Guadagninis and Gaglianos as the primary instruments of some professional players.

Oh, and by the way, Christophe Landon charges just as much as Zygmuntowicz does. I've never actually seen or heard any of his violins, though.

There was a topic on Maestronet once about the Ole Bull "contest" and if I remember well the first violin to be played was from C. Landon. Of course it will only be a video, so not the best way to know a violin. You can probably find the link.

And it's true that not many people did answer the original question, but Jeffrey said basically everything in the first answer.

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Resale value is important to me because over the years I have bought and sold fiddles as I grew out of them over time. For that reason I not only want to find the best fiddle for me, but also a very well respected maker whose violin will appreciate and be easy to sell if it ever comes to that. This is paramount to me.

While I understand your concerns about your retirement fund it's probably a bit premature to talk about "appreciation" when it comes to living makers.

Virtually every maker learns new things as time goes on. So the natural course is their later instruments are likely to be better than their earlier ones, until their infirmities due to age take over. I'll grant there are exceptions to the rule.

If you accept this as true, and if the maker will take a trade-in of his own instrument (yes you may indeed be leaving money on the table when you do this), just how much do you think a contemporary maker's work will likely appreciate? It's not as if you can get away with charging considerably more than the maker unless you're a famous player or become one.

It might not be politically correct to state this, but perhaps you're looking for a maker who is about to "kick the bucket?"

I just find this line of thinking a bit odd. Even if you think we are all prescient this still makes no sense.

I also suggest you take as much time as you need to evaluate fiddles. It just sounds like to me you're setting yourself up to make poor decisions when you say "one time opportunity for me." What's the big hurry?

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I could never be a maker/luthier because learning how to play is time-consuming enough for one life. However, sitting here enjoying my morning coffee at my neighborhood hangout I wanted to thank each and every one of you for the good laugh. Being a bachelor is a lonely undertaking, even in da' big city, and I appreciate every laugh I can get!

PS - FWIW, I wouldn't have a modern instrument that wasn't "antiqued" in an artistic way, but then that's why opinions are like...noses....because everybody has one.

"Back to you, Chet"

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Fernred,

It's an interesting endeavour in which you have decided to partake; though, confusing. You list positive (if not vague) characteristics of modern instruments but don't state what it is you want or prefer, other than a good (antiqued?)violin that is a sound investment. It sounds like you are a player forcing himself to think like a collector.

As long as you have a certified example of any of the makers listed, you have as much of a chance of desireable resale as you can reasonably expect. If you are willing to come to the U.S. to buy an instrument, than there is nothing preventing you from returning to sell/consign it, if for some reason the European market doesn't approve (many feel that antiquing is a fading fad - I hope it is as well). I say go back to being a player and find the instrument that matches your style, voice and personality. Ultimately, isn't that is the investment you are making?

Good luck,

Chris

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"one time opportunity for me". Indeed, the joy is in the quest, not the grail. It sounds like a fun personal project, Fernred - it would make a great blog or book that many violin makers would probably like to read. Marchese's "The Violin Maker" was interesting, but focused on only one maker, Zygmontovicz.

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Oh, yeah... revision:

I don't see anyone that actually tried to answer your direct questions except Mr. Holmes in post #2, which is followed by rants on about everything else.

Right. I may also be guilty of a partial rant, but I believe my rant was subject appropriate... and an honest answer... especially when considering the information the poster already had/has access to. In reading the responses, a few others mentioned direct experiences pertaining to one maker or another on the list... and of course, a few responses that indicate the responder didn't really read the original post very carefully... so what's new? :)

The poster mentioned he was hooked in the the LA studio guys. If so, that group has done more comparison of modern instruments, in halls, rooms and on recordings, than any other group I can think of. There are a few threads on violist.com which contain information about this process. As I mentioned, there's many opinions I agree with, a few I don't... but they did the heavy lifting and I have a great respect for that. I correspond with one of the individuals from time to time. Heck of a player, and super sharp fellow.

Unfortunately, what often comes out of this sort of group testing is information that's used a sort of "rating system", which I'm not crazy about. I don't think that was what was intended, but many use the information that was shared as kind of a "consumer report" guide to tone. From what I can tell, those involved understand the effects of sample size and taste. They simply shared what they'd found. Taken as more than a snapshot in time, the information may not yield the results the reader hopes for, and may in the end be self limiting.

I did read the original post carefully... and it's my opinion that the criteria /preferences limits the posters choices from within the short list. I'm not sure what the original poster hoped they would gain on a discussion board that was more insightful than what they already had access to... I'm not a psychic.

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Hmmm... I see my "revision" wasn't worded properly. I didn't mean Jeffrey ranted after answering the question, I meant that the posts following it were mostly rants. I won't bother with revision 2, as I'll probably get it wrong again.

No worries Don. My self-judgement was self-imposed. I admit to ranting a little. :)

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East Coast

New York Area

1. Zygmuntowicz

4. Luiz Bellini

East Coast Central

Maryland

2. Howard Needham

West Coast

Oregon

6. David Gusset

California

7. Tom Croen

North Central

Detroit Area

3. Joseph Curtin

5. David Burgess

And you might want to see Gregg Alf since he too is in the Detroit Area.

Hope this helps.

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As a postlude to my earlier "rant", I would conclude that if I were in your shoes I would concentrate on Ann Arbor. It's sort of the Cremona of our time. Both in what I've heard and tried, there's nothing superior in terms of modern makers. 2 of the makers there in particular, Burgess and Curtin, have won all kinds of contests, Vsa medals, Macarthur Genius grants, and so on. They are not even allowed to compete any more they are that good. Safe to say that this sort of recognition will have a very positive influence as far as investment in the long run. Personally I don't like antiqued violins much, although a friend of mine just sort of gave me a heavily antiqued instrument which is sounding better and better. I mainly care about sound but in my opinion, the most valuable violins will be those who escaped the current fad of hyper-antiquing. It takes balls to make a pristinely clean violin and it takes a lot more skill. It also requires something of a unique yet subtle personal style. If I had to narrow it down to one maker: David Burgess. I have heard that he is something akin to a contemporary Stradivari.

best wishes,

Steve

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I don't see anyone that actually tried to answer your direct questions, but rant on about everything else. So:

There are very good reasons why one might not answer the questions directly. Here's one of mine:

At the 2008 VSA convention, violins from Tom Croen, David Burgess, David Gusset, Joseph Curtin, Gregg Alf, were available for playing. I spent a couple of hours playing those instruments and had a clear favorite. So why not announce which one it was? Because the next time that opportunity comes up with a different set of instruments from the very same makers, I'm pretty sure it will be a violin by another maker which will be my clear favorite. That's just the way violins are, from one set to the next.

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Burgess has a pretty huge advantage over the competition - his secret weapon, the Sawzall.

I think I remember seeing the film from which your avatar comes from...

But how long is the waiting time for a commission from D. Burgess or others of the makers who were mentioned ? Are you ready (Fernred) to wait 2 or 3 years before being able to play this violin?

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Fernred,

I think your objections to non-antiqued violins may be short sighted. Two of the most famous American makers, Carl Becker Sr and Jr, did/do not antique their instruments. I wonder if all the recent hoopla about the Lady Blunt and the Messiah, and their excellent states of preservation, will push makers away from antiquing. There's nothing more visually beautiful than a straight, non-antiqued varnish, when the varnish is of the best quality. It takes a real craftsman to achieve that. In displaying his carving skills, the quality of his wood, and the quality of the varnish, the maker can't hide behind antiquing.

I think the idea of makers "hiding" behind antiquing is a bit daft. All the well known "antiquers" are wonderful craftsmen, who could/can turn out superb new looking violins if/when they chose to do so. I really don't think antiquing at the highest level obscures craftsmanship one bit. Nor does antiquing help a badly made violin look acceptable.

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In general I don't agree with "resale value" issue, mainly in the case you are looking for an instrument as a "tool"... That's a question hard to answer, just imagine what happened with some of the "blue chips" in the recent years... It is good remembering that Van Gogh sold just one of his oils...

And what is the "resale value" of other tools we use such as cars, computers, eletronics in general? Near nothing... Just imagine how much we have spent in the last 20 years with computers and eletronics and their "resale value" today...

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