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Factory violins.


~ Ben Conover
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Rather than comparing modern eastern factory stuff to 'bench made' western stuff 
as has been done recently, I thought it interesting to look at the recent history of factory stuff,
and where the profits have gone. 

I found this video interesting and surprising. Essentially all hand made the stages are well thought out
and the hard work of the crafts people rather under rated, I think.
Rubbed center joints, pegboxes whacked out with mortise chisels, f holes sawed out by hand in about 2 mins....they're very quick !  
The modern factory stuff is much 'better', but the CNC has removed much of the skilled work,
leaving only finishing and assembly. 

Had Stentor remained in south London and operated  the small shop it's likely 
some other business would have set up in China, it's just a pity that they chase money rather than quality. 

Here :

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Glad you enjoyed it....& hello. 

I didn't imply that western bench made violins were inherantly 'better', 
and I specifically set out to NOT compare the two....if that's what you're aiming at. 
What I was talking about was the quality of the CNC hand finished stuff compared with 
the older factory workshops. 

In that video I found the Chinese pattern gouges with long chest handles interesting,
amongst other things. 

It's quite likely that the Strad workshops weren't trendy flat cap faux Scottish byzantine alchemical artists dens, 
just functional places of hard working people who didn't have a market of doting amateurs at hand or the competition of modern production methods. 


 

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Factory work will never be artistic. At least, it's not there yet imo. Yet one need only peek into various facebook groups to see dozens of players enthusiastically liking some higher end factory job and commenting on how beautiful and stunning it is to realize that professional makers are in trouble. Players usually can't see the difference. Factory work can be set up and regraduated to be perfectly fine as a working instrument, and even a very thorough job that way produces a perfectly profitable instrument for US (etc.) shops. There really is no need to buy a single maker's work unless a player is in search of something beautiful, which, as everyone knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Jmo, but one has to look long and hard at hundreds of instruments to be able to even halfway see what is good in terms of taste, skills, and details...

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When he says that the wood is specially selected for its tonal qualities can they really tell just by looking? I liked the bicycles. I also would almost believe that the film has been slightly sped up some of them are working so quickly. I wonder if they can keep that pace up all day.

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Michael, I noticed the bass bar gluing, no clamps ! 
The C rib bending scene was also pretty quick. 

Again, of course the end product is not 'artistic' in the western sense, but the process of making en mass 
with an army of workers is reminiscent of the ancient terracotta army, (hundreds of life size warriors)
which was made thousands of years ago and is now considered to be an amazing work of art. 

Similar to the gouges used for hollowing, in the video :
https://www.dictum.com/en/tools/woodworking-metalworking/sculpting-tools/carving-sculpting-tools/700978/chinese-long-handled-gouge-sweep-4-73-mm?ffRefKey=OGV6vULut

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The ancient terracotta army is an amazing work of art though, especially due to the age and condition of the army. Each soldier is an individual with different faces, hair, clothing, etc. The violin "factory" work is all rather samey, even the better factory work. I understand the point though. In 300 years the current factory stuff could be highly sought after. Grumble.

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Notice there is not a single photo or poster to be seen. Everyone knows their own jobs in an amazing, impressive way, but they don't really know what they are going for visually and the whole is nothing more than parts hacked together with a quickness; that's all this business model will ever produce. That's a small victory for the professional makers in the West, although ultimately I think anyone must concede the model does work well and modern makers cannot compete and should not try to. You all must produce a far superior product for different players than would consider a Chinese workshop piece, that's all.

Does anyone know the real working conditions that these sweatshop woodworkers live with? Pay, hours, living situations, etc.? I suspect it is not good for them.

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Factory work will never be artistic. At least, it's not there yet imo. Yet one need only peek into various facebook groups to see dozens of players enthusiastically liking some higher end factory job and commenting on how beautiful and stunning it is to realize that professional makers are in trouble. Players usually can't see the difference. 

 

 

I guess there must be some clarinet players that see one clarinet as a work of art, another as factory junk, but most probably get the best instrument they can afford for the job they need it for.  And I imagine that is true also for most professional violinists.

 

Artists or not, the workers in the video look like skilled professionals to me.  The building of a violin by one person working alone and carrying out all the steps is far from being the only model historically. 

 

But the real factory violins, designed from the ground up for mass-production machinery with a minimum of handwork, were the Jackson-Guldans, produced in the USA between about 1920 and 1950.

 

As Don Stackhouse wrote on another forum:

 

"If Henry Ford had redesigned the violin to suit mechanized mass-production, the result would have been a Jackson-Guldan."

 

His post continues with a detailed description of the unusual design features  these instruments incorporated in order to eliminate hand work.  In general, Mr. Stackhouse concludes the design served its purpose well.  For those interested, his post appears about halfway down this thread:

 

http://www.fiddlehangout.com/archive/425

 

(And yes, I play one, but only sometimes.)

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  • 5 years later...

I found an early 2000's guitar sales magazine that had the Stentor II {Lewis} going list for $230.00, regular price $149.00 and on sale now for $129.00.

Solid everything wood wise w/ ebony fittings except the chin rest.  Poly finish  1/8 thru 4/4 .

The Palatino vn-300 on sale $79.99 - ebonized fittings/inlaid purfling.  Wonder if both were made at the same factory.  

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On 1/31/2016 at 6:31 PM, not telling said:

Factory work will never be artistic. At least, it's not there yet imo. Yet one need only peek into various facebook groups to see dozens of players enthusiastically liking some higher end factory job and commenting on how beautiful and stunning it is to realize that professional makers are in trouble. Players usually can't see the difference. Factory work can be set up and regraduated to be perfectly fine as a working instrument, and even a very thorough job that way produces a perfectly profitable instrument for US (etc.) shops. There really is no need to buy a single maker's work unless a player is in search of something beautiful, which, as everyone knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Jmo, but one has to look long and hard at hundreds of instruments to be able to even halfway see what is good in terms of taste, skills, and details...

I'm not sure about this. The prime objective when a player chooses an instrument is its sound, playability etc. Its provenance matters to many, (its nice, when asked, to be able to say "its a Whaveverini, made about 1760") but others don't care. Many professionals play on anonymous old German instruments. One soloist I know has a great instrument by John Dilworth but, last time I saw him he was looking for a Chinese instrument as a second one for travelling and other work. There will always be a demand for single maker instruments but some professionals can't justify spending that sort of money so good factory instruments are what they buy.

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