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Schönbach/Markneukirchen vs Mittenwald?


hungrycanine
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I've heard enough unpleasant remarks on this forum about Schönbach/Markneukirchen trade violins that I get the point. But as far as generalizations go, is a Mittenwald or Bavarian violin from around 1875 just as likely to be a mediocre or factory violin as is the oft-defamed Schönbach/Markneukirchen trade fiddle? Or does it stand a significant chance of being a better instrument?

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I don't think this question can be limited to comparing cities or regions and their working methods. It's more about the "price point" intended by the makers. The much derided MNK/SCH trade fiddles were made fast and cheap, but so were the low-end student grade fiddles from Mittenwald or Mirecourt, and my personal experience is that finding one that sounds good and is well set-up and easy to play is just as hit and miss no matter where it comes from. I used to think that the cheapest Mittenwald and Mirecourt fiddles from that period were better, probably because they look a little more like how we expect better violins to look than the Saxons in terms of outline and arching, but over time I've come to feel that it's more a question of "moving up the food chain." All of these cities produced medium and higher grade violins as well as really cheap junk, and I recommend to my students and friends to avoid the cheap stuff altogether. If you're looking at a violin, the things that count are the quality of construction, wood, arching thicknesses, condition, set-up, and of course how it plays and sounds. Focusing on the city of origin could lead one to think too highly of a cheap trade fiddle, and possibly miss a better made and finished example from the "wrong" place.

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Thanks, Michael.  Stole my thunder!  :P  ;)

 

Don't confuse the Mittenwald Verleger fiddles from the later 1800's with the post WW2 "Handarbeitet in Mittenwald" marked fiddles, however.  The latter are late model Schönbach/Markneukirchen style violins made by Saxon refugees from Czechoslovakia relocated to Mittenwald in the late 1940's, and were made "fast and cheap" indeed.  I've noticed problems with the center joins and a greater tendency to pegbox cracks.

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I've heard enough unpleasant remarks on this forum about Schönbach/Markneukirchen trade violins that I get the point. But as far as generalizations go, is a Mittenwald or Bavarian violin from around 1875 just as likely to be a mediocre or factory violin as is the oft-defamed Schönbach/Markneukirchen trade fiddle? Or does it stand a significant chance of being a better instrument?

You, in my view, put your finger on a neuralgic question, the one which, for instance, causes me to get ratty when certain individuals express the opinion that any violin made from a “Schachtel” (pre-fabricated parts) neccesarily equates too “rubbish”.

The survey of the “Handels und Gewerbekammer Plauen” (Plauen chamber of commerce) of 1871 surveyed the production of the area in that year, and counted 3,200 dozen (i.e. 38,400) violins with a price range between 12 and 600 Talern per dozen. That that equates to an enormous variety of qualities is surely self evident. I also have an old Johann Reiter, Mittenwald, sales catalougue somewhere (can't find it just now), which starts off with the escalation (?) “Stradivari-Amati-Guaneri-Reiter” and also lists violins at a breathtaking range of prices. “Unpleasant remarks” might abound, but at the bottom line, one must open ones own eyes.

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These guys are correct. But if I just take just my own experience, which has certain geographic and economic limitations, the Mittenwald instruments win.

 

M-wald violins from that period I have come across are usually at least playable, that is to say there are usually no dimension/structural problems that would take them out of being a fully functional instrument, if they are still in good enough condition to warrant the effort. Saxon/Czech instruments from the same period often have a serious fundamental problem, usually with the neck set/dimensions  that make them non-functional without major alterations. And other design problems such as weird model, strange archings, crazy thicknesses are also much more common.

 

But some of this bias could be based on how and who imported instruments to the regions of Pennsylvania and Maryland where I spent the most time looking for treasures. Probably most of the Saxon instruments came through mail order where the M-wald and French came through shops.

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These guys are correct. But if I just take just my own experience, which has certain geographic and economic limitations, the Mittenwald instruments win.

 

M-wald violins from that period I have come across are usually at least playable, that is to say there are usually no dimension/structural problems that would take them out of being a fully functional instrument, if they are still in good enough condition to warrant the effort. Saxon/Czech instruments from the same period often have a serious fundamental problem, usually with the neck set/dimensions  that make them non-functional without major alterations. And other design problems such as weird model, strange archings, crazy thicknesses are also much more common.

 

But some of this bias could be based on how and who imported instruments to the regions of Pennsylvania and Maryland where I spent the most time looking for treasures. Probably most of the Saxon instruments came through mail order where the M-wald and French came through shops.

While I agree that the M'walders are the way to bet both for quality and for market value (on the "snob scale", Bavarian is to Saxon as Italian is to Bavarian  :rolleyes: ), my observations differ somewhat from yours.  You seem to be referencing all Mk/Sch production to the lowest grade of Dutzendarbeit mail-order catalog instruments, and the most common problems with those are usually the "conning tower" bass bar, "beaver-chewed" graduations, roughly mill-marked rib inner surfaces, and roughly-done linings, etc..  The necks and dovetails are not only quite functional but seem to have been made to a pattern.  I have had some which were freely interchangeable between bodies, suggesting that they were made to order for manufacturers by different groups of specialist craftsmen, then mated at the factory.  I find that the worst rubbish makes the best kits, BTW, as you have more belly wood to work with. :lol:

 

Your statement about differing origins for different pools of eBait is likely valid, IMHO, though I feel that some of the bias is due to where more immigrant violin dealers in the US had ties to back home,

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I never said "all" of anything, just "most" or "often".  Most Mk/Schoen that I have seen were junk in my opinion, most Mittenwald were better, so I am biased toward the latter. Of course that's just an opinion and I suspect it differs geographically.

 

Somehow if you were able to gather up all of the M-wald violin in the world made in 1875, and all of the Saxon ones from the same year, and come up with an average score, M-wald would win. I have no question that would be the case if you gathered them all up from central PA. But that doesn't mean that there aren't good and bad ones from both places.

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