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Thoughts on this violin?


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I recently picked up the violin pictured and wondered if anyone had any thoughts on it? 

It is labelled by G.S.MacKay Aberdeen, who is listed in David Rattray's book on Scottish violin makers as an Aberdeen maker (d. 1917). However, I hear that many makers of the time also imported trade instruments and re-labelled them. Does anyone have any thoughts on whether or not this is the genuine article?

I also have a standard German trade fiddle at home and there is no doubt this is a far superior instrument to that. I read one of the give-aways with the low grade trade stuff is the over-smoothness of the back/varnish. The MacKay labelled instrumnet has a much more varied texture to the figured grain markings as you can almost make out from the images. Does this suggest hand made? Are there any other indicators that can be seen? 

Any thoughts much appreciated. 






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It was also possible (and frequent) back then to buy a “Schachtel” (the box) and a pre-cut scroll, not only in Scotland, which one finished oneself. The only way to tell if it is an individualy finished pre fabricated box is to check the inside work, which isn't displayed in your pictures. I certainly have a box of scrolls like that, which I got from the estate of the Viennese vm Trostler, who ways the successor to Jaura. The other way around to check it out is to ask a Scotttish colleague if they have or know another “MacKay”.

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Thanks Luis, the back looked attractive to me too!  I'm simply not familiar with levels of variation in the quality of the 'prefabricated' instruments Jacob is referring to. 

Jacob, thanks for your input - I take some encouragement from the fact that you don't definitively recognise it as an imported prefab!  However, as you say, perhaps a local may provide more incite.  I have read MacKay may have been an associate of the more well known Aberdeen maker John Marshall, and a comparison against his instruments looks to my eye to be favourable to this violin, and by extension to that theory.  I have no knowledge of any other MacKay fiddles at present though. 

Unless anyone here could enlighten me further?

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Hi Colin

I can't say I'm familiar with this maker, but I do know Marshall and some of his followers.

To me I can't see much that's Scottish about this violin, and it certainly doesn't make me think "Aberdeen" - generally violins from the NE jump out at me. Overall it doesn't really look like a late 19th century amateur maker either. I can't really see much to distinguish it from a Markneukirchen instrument of the period, which is not to say that the label isn't genuine ....!

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Thanks Martin.  MacKay had a shop on Guild Street in Aberdeen and I can be quite sure that it did come from that shop (it has only had 2 owners before myself - both Aberdeen locals).  Whether MacKay made it himself or simply finished it off and labelled it is another story!  He seems to have been more well known as a violinist although is also noted to have been a maker.  He was conductor of the orchestra at the Theatre Royal in Aberdeen. 

I'm certainly enjoying playing it which is the main thing!


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  • 2 weeks later...

Hello Colin

I have a violin here labelled G S MacKay.  Looking at your photographs they are not too dissimilar.  My violin has a very vapid (?) varnish, and is much lighter than yours though this may have been due to years of abuse followed by an extreme clean.  I suspect mine was perhaps a school instrument at some point.  Someone has scratched their initials onto the back :-(

  I have also questioned the origin of mine, as, like Martin said, it lacks some of the typical NE features.  No fluted pegbox volute etc, however, if he did work with John Marshall, that would make sense as he did not flute his either.  To further muddy the water John Marshall supposedly also imported violins in the white...

I'm glad you are enjoying playing yours.  My mother took a liking to mine, and she gets good feedback as to its tone. I always thought it was a little on the small side, but I have just re-measured it and it's full fize.  It is slightly heavy, but not like some NE fiddles.

Are you local to the Aberdeen/shire area?

Best wishes


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  • 5 months later...

Hi I also have a fiddle with the GS Mackay label dated 1895. It was in a poor state when I bought it as the neck and half the back was off and a former scroll repair was loose. Also two of the “ears” had been nibbled by furry friends. I have restored it and it has a good mellow tone but not over loud. I too would like to know what the characteristics of hand made Scottish are as I am interested in its origins. It does have a very high belly and it has been impossible to find bridge blanks with enough foot thickness to deal with the profile. I have had to resort to bridge with angle adjustable feet in order to get full foot contact but feel that the bridge compromises the quality of the instrument. Any information on scottish characteristics that you have would be appreciated

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Instruments like this were probably imported into Scotland like other dealers of the time from Czechoslavakia or 200 miles radius  of  that area.

I have an illustrated catalogue from one of the Scottish dealers  with similar stuff in it.

Scottish violins in general have strange oddities in construction with some exceptions.:)

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