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Urban Luthier

The allure of a fine 'straight' varnished instrument

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I would avoid the steel wool.

Joe

I know about the rust issue. I brush it and blow it off with compressed air. It all comes off. And the wood is pretty clearly still sealed in all the ones I have tried. I do not use it on raw wood.

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Antiqued instruments sell better than straight ones.

 

 

Some of the antiquing on factory Chinese violins has become half-decent too, so I'm thinking that "pretty-good" antiquing will soon fade as a way of setting one's work apart from factory stuff.

Many of the better US makers, even if they established their repurations with antiqued instruments, have been experimenting with moving away from that for some years now.

 

I was in a shop last week (run by someone with a great reputation) and I asked about antiqued vs. straight varnish, and the immediate answer was that the antiqued ones sell faster.  He also commented about the better makers, with the opinion that with their skill and reputation established, they don't need to do antiquing to sell their instruments.  Perhaps there is also some other factor at work here, too... once your name is well known, a pristeen example becomes more desirable??

 

I was also shown (without me asking) some examples of Chinese production instruments with antiqued finishes that were quite good, far more convincing than anything I have attempted to date... although certainly not good enough to fool an expert, and quite a bit short of the work I saw on the VSA winning violins.

 

This all makes a difference to what I do.  If I want to sell stuff (assuming I don't somehow become an overnight sensation), I'll have to do antique jobs, and put more effort into those techniques.  For competitions, until I can do antiquing in first-class fashion, straight varnish will likely get fewer points taken off... and I'll have to put effort into getting a perfect job.

 

Any way I look at it, varnishing practice looms large in my future.  Probably a lot of Bix, too.

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Don, it's down to taste of the buyer and quality of the varnish job.

 

My reading is that, all things being equal, for an unknown maker, antiqued varnish will sell better in the present market.  And if selling is desirable, it seems logical  to make to the market, rather than try to make the market buy what you want to make.  That second sentence might make sense after rereading it a few times.

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I have noticed that in a real concert setting it is not so easy to tell whether a violin is "worn" or pristine.  The stage lights reflect off of worn varnish as well as pristine varnish.  So audiences mostly can't tell if an instrument is antiqued (natural or artificial). I went to a recent concert and sat very close to the stage and I'd swear the performer was playing a "new" pristinely varnished instrument.

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Great topic! Some fine comments and some fine fiddles. I am probably one of the oldest makers to make a contribution here. All that I can say is that when I started, pristine violins were exceptionally difficult to sell. Over the years it has gradually become easier, nevertheless (at least in Europe) it is still difficult and it has been since the time of Vuillaume. Just look at his sales even today. My own thoughts are that if you can make a good copy (I mean good - not mediocre) you can also make a good pristine violin. I am not sure that this works the other way around. Good copies require all the skills that a good pristine maker needs, but they also need much more. I have taught many people how to make copies, but most, like me, and I am still learning, take a long time to get it right. Some never do. Good copies are not just about wearing varnish, they are very much more. They require a good knowledge of style and method as well as skill with materials. The (fewer) pristine violins that I have made have generally worn well. However, they were all way too pristine ever to look like classical Cremonese instruments, now or in the future. In this respect the seriously stunning violin by Hans Pluhar will never wear like a classical Cremonese fiddle, any more than my pristine instruments will. But as long as we can accept this; so what? But don't go thinking that these two approaches are or (given time) ever will be the same; they won't. You would have more difficulty selling an accurate copy of a del Gesu, finished as it left his workshop, (warts and all), than one of Hans's beautiful creations. In the end it is all about what the market will accept. We can, as has been suggested, educate, but that won't keep the wolf from the door today.         

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Wouldn't it be necessary, for accurate antiquing, to know what kind of "treatment" these old instruments went through? I mean not everybody seems to even agree on what kind of polishing (assuming polishing was used) they underwent, and how many times, etc... I would think this makes a big difference in the end.

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...The (fewer) pristine violins that I have made have generally worn well. However, they were all way too pristine ever to look like classical Cremonese instruments, now or in the future. In this respect the seriously stunning violin by Hans Pluhar will never wear like a classical Cremonese fiddle, any more than my pristine instruments will. But as long as we can accept this; so what? ...

Exactly. So what. I started the thread in the first place because I admire the artistic sensitivity and skill of contemporary makers who are able to make pristine finished instruments look every bit as alluring as a good 'antiqued' or historical instrument (at least to my eye).  A darn hard thing to do.

 

I wanted to learn more about the creative process these makers went though -- in that regard a special thank-you to Hans, Kelvin and many others who shared their views.

Chris

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In the recent thread Philip Dukes plays Archinto, Dukes mentions how beat up his new viola looks after 17 years, compared to the Archinto.

Wonder if he's had it seen to much at all over the last 17 years, players are often the last to care.

A bit of a late answer on this one, but 17 years ago sounds like just after it had a major restoration. Compare the photos in the first and second editions of Masterpieces of Italian Violin Making.... Enjoy :)

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Great topic! Some fine comments and some fine fiddles. I am probably one of the oldest makers to make a contribution here. All that I can say is that when I started, pristine violins were exceptionally difficult to sell. Over the years it has gradually become easier, nevertheless (at least in Europe) it is still difficult and it has been since the time of Vuillaume. Just look at his sales even today. My own thoughts are that if you can make a good copy (I mean good - not mediocre) you can also make a good pristine violin. I am not sure that this works the other way around. Good copies require all the skills that a good pristine maker needs, but they also need much more. I have taught many people how to make copies, but most, like me, and I am still learning, take a long time to get it right. Some never do. Good copies are not just about wearing varnish, they are very much more. They require a good knowledge of style and method as well as skill with materials. The (fewer) pristine violins that I have made have generally worn well. However, they were all way too pristine ever to look like classical Cremonese instruments, now or in the future. In this respect the seriously stunning violin by Hans Pluhar will never wear like a classical Cremonese fiddle, any more than my pristine instruments will. But as long as we can accept this; so what? But don't go thinking that these two approaches are or (given time) ever will be the same; they won't. You would have more difficulty selling an accurate copy of a del Gesu, finished as it left his workshop, (warts and all), than one of Hans's beautiful creations. In the end it is all about what the market will accept. We can, as has been suggested, educate, but that won't keep the wolf from the door today.         

Hi Roger, thanks for this eloquent contribution and also your praise. It means a lot to me to hear it from you!

You are absolutley right in assuming that my instruments will not wear like the classical Cremonese ones did. There are many reasons for that.

Charles Beare told me some time ago, he thinks most of the wear pattern we see on the old Cremonese happened in the first 25 years of their life. This leads me to believe that the varnish must have been quite soft and taken a long time to cure. Playing habits were different then, cases were different. There was no climate control like we have today. 

One thing that must be fundamentally different though to our work today is the way the Cremonese varnish adheres or adhered to the ground. How is it possible it came off so easily creating these characteristic holes? It is as if one could pick it right off with one´s fingernail. I don´t think I would like to use a varnish like this today, even if I could. It is not so great to have the fabric of the cases sticking to the varnish. If a musician plays it for a couple of weeks and returns it and it has several traces of wear, shoulder rest not to mention, it would not be nice to offer this (not pristine anymore) instrument with blemishes to someone else. So yes, we have to make instruments for todays musicians and market and I will not cease to work hard on improving the look of my unworn violins......

I am aware you have taught many makers very well to do fine antiquing but as you say it is very difficult and I wish I could do it well too but it seems I am not willing to put all this energy into it, but who knows, maybe one day I will come knocking on your door :-)

 

Kind regards, Hans

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