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A Heron-Allen Del Gesu by John Wons


hk1997

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I stumbled upon this violin by John Wons while surfing. It's actually on apartmentluthier's website (cupertinostrings.com). At first glance it looks like a violin made off the Heron-Allen Sainton DG plans (the description says "Modeled after the Guarneri pattern of the Heron-Allen school"). If you've ever read Heron-Allen or attempted/used his plans, you might have a small connection to this violin. I like looking at the imperfections just as much as the imperfections on the actual Sainton DG. My first assumption would be that it was made by an amateur but a further search finds a 1964 and a 1973 article from a Wisconsin newspaper about John Wons as being a professional violin maker.

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apartmentluthier, can you tell us more about this violin?

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apartmentluthier, can you tell us more about this violin?

Sounds like you have it pegged pretty well. I had forgot about the Heron Allen reference. It was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek, but you can see how I made the connection.

The overall feeling of this John Wons as stated, looks like a somewhat naive effort. This may be in part related to his age. I believe 1980 was late for him. It is indeed quite tubby. I received some information over the last few years from people either owning earlier Wons fiddles, or have known him or his family. Sharing it below with the contact names removed.

Contact #1

I knew John,and he showed me what he learned about violin plate tuning,as he was learning it. His best violins were made around 1987 and later. I own two of his violins, both are very good, and project. the violin you have the body is made out of popple wood that he cut on his property. He used It on all his later violins. His brother Geo. made most of the later violins,and they also worked together.

Contact #2

John Wons and his brother George lived in Eagle River, WI. Eagle River is a small resort town in Northern Wisconsin. When John and George were young the town was a very rural logging town. Their father was a strict immigrant who taught both boys to play violin, organ, to draw and to carve wood. I believe it was in the 1960s that John opened a music shop in Madison, WI with George as his assistant. John made most the violins. The shop served mostly to students in the local area. Both John and George retired back to Eagle River, WI. Both men died poor. Material things never seemed important to George and I would suspect that John was the same way. They made all kinds of thing out of wood. Imagine two little old woodcarvers. They lived right next to each other for years on their families original homestead. I would suspect that the Violin that you have was one made near the end of Johns career. I think John died some time in the 1990s. George, who I got the pleasure of knowing, past away in 2004. All of Johns violins had the unique F hole carving that you see on the one you have.

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Sounds like you have it pegged pretty well. I had forgot about the Heron Allen reference. It was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek, but you can see how I made the connection.

The overall feeling of this John Wons as stated, looks like a somewhat naive effort. This may be in part related to his age. I believe 1980 was late for him. It is indeed quite tubby. I received some information over the last few years from people either owning earlier Wons fiddles, or have known him or his family. Sharing it below with the contact names removed.

Contact #1

I knew John,and he showed me what he learned about violin plate tuning,as he was learning it. His best violins were made around 1987 and later. I own two of his violins, both are very good, and project. the violin you have the body is made out of popple wood that he cut on his property. He used It on all his later violins. His brother Geo. made most of the later violins,and they also worked together.

Contact #2

John Wons and his brother George lived in Eagle River, WI. Eagle River is a small resort town in Northern Wisconsin. When John and George were young the town was a very rural logging town. Their father was a strict immigrant who taught both boys to play violin, organ, to draw and to carve wood. I believe it was in the 1960s that John opened a music shop in Madison, WI with George as his assistant. John made most the violins. The shop served mostly to students in the local area. Both John and George retired back to Eagle River, WI. Both men died poor. Material things never seemed important to George and I would suspect that John was the same way. They made all kinds of thing out of wood. Imagine two little old woodcarvers. They lived right next to each other for years on their families original homestead. I would suspect that the Violin that you have was one made near the end of Johns career. I think John died some time in the 1990s. George, who I got the pleasure of knowing, past away in 2004. All of Johns violins had the unique F hole carving that you see on the one you have.

That's very interesting. Thanks for sharing that.

The violin looked very tubby on my home monitor, which was why it caught my eye. Here at work, my monitor is configured differently so the front looks a little more like what it's supposed to be, but the back still looks wonky.

post-3698-0-43456600-1338948347_thumb.jpg

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi,

My wife is George Wons' Granddaughter. I have one of George's Violins which was his personal daily player. I also have a John Wons Violin that was made in Eagle River in 1989 and is one of his later violins. I believe I was "Contact 2" on apartmentluthier's posting. I'll take some pictures tomorrow of the John Wons' violin. I don't know much about violins at all. My daughter plays buts she is 8, so a long way off from using either one.

If you saw John's and George's houses and the way they lived you would understand their violins. They seemed to make do with what they had and the skills they had. Definitely neither was a perfectionist. I think they enjoyed what they did and wanted to make simple affordable instruments.

Mark

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Hi,

My wife is George Wons' Granddaughter. I have one of George's Violins which was his personal daily player. I also have a John Wons Violin that was made in Eagle River in 1989 and is one of his later violins. I believe I was "Contact 2" on apartmentluthier's posting. I'll take some pictures tomorrow of the John Wons' violin. I don't know much about violins at all. My daughter plays buts she is 8, so a long way off from using either one.

If you saw John's and George's houses and the way they lived you would understand their violins. They seemed to make do with what they had and the skills they had. Definitely neither was a perfectionist. I think they enjoyed what they did and wanted to make simple affordable instruments.

Mark

Looking forward to seeing the photos. Every violin should have a little story attached to it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sorry not the best pics. I don't have a great camera. This is a 1989 John Wons. When it came into my possession it had been pretty neglected. I spent about $500 having Korinthian Violins in Milwaukee get it into playing condition. It still needs new pegs and a better bridge. There are 3-4 bouncing around with other family members. At the end of his life George Wons, would give them to family members and spouses. I am trying to get them all in my possession so that they are properly taken care of. My wife and I are pretty sentimental about them. Either George or John carved the tail piece. I'll see about getting some photos of their other violins.

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  • 1 year later...

I know this original post is now two years old, however, I would LOVE to be in touch regarding John Wons violins -- especially with the WICamper77 who is related to George Wons.

 

I am in proud possession of a John Wons violin that I think is beautiful and is dated "1955 Chicago" This is such an earlier date than many of his violins which I see comments about in this forum.

 

John Wons had a violin shop on the second floor of a building at State and Johnson Streets in Madison WI when I was in high school (late 60's) and my parents bought me this violin from him in 1968 as a graduation gift.

 

Any comments or responses welcomed. I can post pictures if there is interest in same.

 

Thanks,

BJ

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That sure is one tubby-looking Guarneri model, especially the C bouts and just below the lower corners.

And that zig-zag in the G-string at the nut doesn't look like anything a "professional" would do, either... at least, not after his first one.

Yup, at first glance it might appear to be "a tubby looking Guarneri model", but it isn't "a Guarneri model" at all.

That's why Charles Beare failed to recognize the original (ex-Sainton) as being a "del Gesu" after 20 years or so --

-- which caused him a great deal of embarrassment due to the very wealthy owner's consternation--

-- which "embarrassment" then forced Charles to "change" his mind--

You might get "the picture" if you stare at it long enough. :)

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Yup, at first glance it might appear to be "a tubby looking Guarneri model", but it isn't "a Guarneri model" at all.

That's why Charles Beare failed to recognize the original (ex-Sainton) as being a "del Gesu" after 20 years or so --

-- which caused him a great deal of embarrassment due to the very wealthy owner's consternation--

-- which "embarrassment" then forced Charles to "change" his mind--

You might get "the picture" if you stare at it long enough. :)

 

The violin by John Wons is a VERY LIBERAL PERSONAL interpretation of a Guarneri 'del Gesù'. It doesn't really resemble to any great extent the 'Sainton-Betti' which, besides the photographs in post # 11, is illustrated in the Hill book on the Guarneri Family and singled out by them more than once as a representative example of the period.

 

I know Charles Beare very well for many years and he does not need to be defended as he is perfectly capable of doing that himself but I find it sorely disappointing when someone on Maestronet can insinuate that he "changes his mind" just to please influential people. Reconsider an opinion is one thing, changing one's mind for convenience is quite another.

 

Bruce

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Thank you Bruce.  I was formulating a response, but I doubt mine would have been as pleasant as yours.

 

Joe G.  I am getting a little tired of your dogged interpretations of family history, physical details and motives, and I feel you show little respect for a number those who have made quantifiable and important contributions in this field, both living and dead.  I ask that you consider a different approach should you wish to participate here... and if I am correct in guessing this is simply another incarnation of an old participant, it's a request I've made more than once in the past.

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Bruce, I can appreciate you expressing your opinion of Charles Beare but he's not perfect and neither were the Hill brothers.

I'm far from perfect, but I can say with as much certainty as anyone claiming otherwise, including you, that the formerly dated 1734 fiddle known as the ex-Sainton was NOT made by Joseph Guarneri del Gesu. It was made by Andreas Gisalberti. Period.

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Mr. Holmes, I have in no wise shown "disrespect" any member of this forum at anytime. I have, however, expressed what I know to be valid information, though it may quite unknown to many participants in this forum, even to those still active within the trade. Old habits are hard to break, but that can happen if one is willing to try. You may be assured that I am NOT an "incarnation" of any old participant.

 

Joseph Green

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