not telling

Factory instruments reworked, sold as new artist instruments

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I have heard on good and valid hearsay ^_^ that this is definitely, absolutely happening. Well trained luthiers, and certainly not without connections among established and in some cases prestigious luthiery and instrument dealer businesses, are selling upper-end Chinese (etc.) Factory-made instruments as new personally handmade works, after a few modifications here and there.  Perhaps even cutting the ffs themselves, but the box is prefab. And these bandits are selling for full price, whatever that means... And certainly they are not telling their customers.

Sure, I heard in a general sense that this was happening, years ago. I became aware of a certain business involved and there was no outrage. I probably rolled my eyes, as it was not a high-end business that was doing it.  It was almost expected.  The employee who told us was very embarrassed, and I should mention, he didn't hang around working there for long. I laughed when I saw the truck pulled up in the back unloading the latest future masterworks... certainly wasn't surprised. But then I heard a new where and by whom that made my hair turn gray. Or at least my hair definitely thought about turning gray. What a business to be in, where this could be allowed to happen. Possibly because some of the lower end professional luthiers have been getting by with this for years, some of the up and comers and established pros shrugged and asked, "why not?" It's probably easy to justify if one is doing the higher skilled work, just shaving off a few hours of rough work, and anyway, it was all done exactly to one's specs. So what's wrong with that?

One problem with this topic is that those of you who are very personally aware and involved in the practice but know it's wrong won't talk, to state the obvious. 

Those of you who are angered by this to the nth degree may not discuss it because such a shameful and fraudulent practice belongs to everyone (as all of the professional luthiers may be perceived as a unit, like everyone does the same thing)...and also, it seems to be a difficult practice to fight. So instead you all have never discussed this here. 

But maybe it should be discussed. What can be done, or what should be done? I think this is a good and juicy topic, could yield a good discussion, and maybe the beginning of some solution, but I am not sure anyone will have anything to say about it. And for probably good reason I am withholding specifics, but I wish someone would give some other than myself. I only know what I heard. Some of you really know a lot about this. If word is getting to the likes of me, a lot of people already know.

This all begs the question... how many people here would recognize a reworked Chinese (or E. Europe) instrument if you saw it, every time? Is there really less and less difference between an upper end white violin from a factory in wherever, versus one made by a person who has graduated from a major school in the US?

Am I correct in suggesting that this is a widespread practice? I don't know if it is, but it is apparently happening in higher places than I would have thought. 

Am I wrong to be horrified? Of course not. I know it's wrong. I would enjoy reading someone's attempt to  try to justify it, however.

Can the Fed (AFVBM) do anything about it? I mean, a statement officially addressing luthiers doing this...but only if it is actually a widespread phenomenon. Like I said, I don't know. But I hope that the standard of modern luthiery is high enough to condemn luthiers not being honest about how much their instruments are actually handmade by themselves.

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This is an old problem in Cremona, as you can see here, an article in one of the most prestigious Italian newspapers: https://milano.corriere.it/notizie/cronaca/16_marzo_09/i-maestri-liutai-guerra-44913e06-e573-11e5-a224-f2704d495d88.shtml?refresh_ce-cp

German ready made lute parts were found in Italy in the "old good times"  too, and in a large number.

There is a more sophisticated version of this, and it was offered to me: I would send one of my violas to China, in the white, with the plates lightly glued, and they would make me as many copies of my own viola for a very reasonable price, they would be sent to me, I would regraduate them, refinish, varnish, and sell them as my own violas.

I refused the offer.

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Rather than importing the unfinished violins, perhaps the Chinese could come to Cremona.................... https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/16/the-chinese-workers-who-assemble-designer-bags-in-tuscany  Apparently it's working for the Italian fashion industry.  :rolleyes:

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5 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

Rather than importing the unfinished violins, perhaps the Chinese could come to Cremona...

I've heard that Cremona regulates its violin makers, allowing them to only make so many violins a year. They have to keep their wood shavings in a bag for a government inspector to weigh them or something.

So, it a Cremonese luthier today were to be as successful as Stradivari, and seek to hire assistants to carve the necks of his violins and so on... he would have to move out of Cremona.

Which means that there is no danger of the Chinese coming there, apparently.

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2 hours ago, not telling said:

...how many people here would recognize a reworked Chinese (or E. Europe) instrument if you saw it...?...

It would depend entirely on how the instrument was made and how much it was reworked.

This is not a new phenomenon.  For more that a century, American violin makers and dealers have been importing instruments to rework, regraduate, varnish, etc. and then labeling them and selling them.  The list of familiar names who did this includes August Gemunder, John Friedrich, Rudolf and Rembert Wurlitzer, William Lewis, Lyon & Healy, Carl Fisher, etc. Sometimes the labels say something like "regraduated by …………, made in Germany," but often they don't.

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Agreed fully that the alleged behavior is reprehensible, and that it is occurring to a greater or lesser extent from place to place. It always has, in every industry, and it's execution in our own trade is ancient and well documented. This is just what money does to people. Or perhaps this is just what people do to people. Best I can think of to do is to hold myself to a higher standard and keep working wood, keep earning trust, and taking pride in the knowledge that that trust is deserved. 

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I just wanted to say again that I wasn't totally naive to the practice, but hearing that some really surprising names and shops are involved took the wind out of me a little. It's not information I know first-hand, so it would be more inappropriate than I should be to elaborate.  Obviously!  But I guess the non-plussed "meh" attitude of everyone so far is also a kind of indication that nothing could surprise anyone.

I wonder if these alleged fraudsters are competing in the VSA and etc. with their imported instruments? I don't know why they wouldn't.

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3 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

I've heard that Cremona regulates its violin makers, allowing them to only make so many violins a year. They have to keep their wood shavings in a bag for a government inspector to weigh them or something.

So, it a Cremonese luthier today were to be as successful as Stradivari, and seek to hire assistants to carve the necks of his violins and so on... he would have to move out of Cremona.

 

 

No.  

A long and contentious practice of reworking instruments in Cremona,  yes it is well known. 

In an effort to maintain  the good name of Cremona in the market place,  the Consortium was established to  bind members of the consortium to the greatest moral integrity in the exercise of their craft.

But only to be a member of the Consortium, and receive the official stamp of approval do you jump these hoops (some  as mentioned above.) 

http://www.cremonaviolins.com/en/the-consortium/  (more on the rules/use of the collective trademark after the jump.)

There are many more makers in Cremona other than those in the Consortium.

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2 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

Which means that there is no danger of the Chinese coming there, apparently.

You might want to have a look at these articles, regarding the Chinese "coming to Cremona":

https://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/21/style/the-odyssey-of-a-master-chinese-violin-maker.html

Went to Cremona in 1983.

https://www.corilon.com/shop/en/info/china-violin-makers.html

Cremona turns up in most of those mini-bios.

Off the top of my head, I know of one young Chinese maker, Su Qi, currently working for Francesco Bissolotti. She is making instruments under her own name, as well. 

 

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I've had the same experience as Manfio, except that the representatives who visited me were much more blunt. After looking around at the work in progress, one of them said,

"You're stupid to be making your own violins, when we can arrange to have them made for you."

Maybe I am, but that's the way I want to do it.

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8 hours ago, Brad Dorsey said:

For more that a century, American violin makers and dealers have been importing instruments to rework, regraduate, varnish, etc. and then labeling them and selling them.  The list of familiar names who did this includes August Gemunder, John Friedrich, Rudolf and Rembert Wurlitzer, William Lewis, Lyon & Healy, Carl Fisher, etc. Sometimes the labels say something like "regraduated by …………, made in Germany," but often they don't.

I think that you're painting with a broad brush here. For example, John Friedrich made, numbered, and labeled his own violins, but his firm also finished and sold various grades of imported violins with the "John Friedrich and Bro." label. Others you mentioned such as Lyon & Healy were not individual American violin makers at all, but were violin sellers that sold manufactured violins under their house brands. 

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@not telling

Having apprentices and workers make violins under the supervision of a master luthier who will ultimately finish, label, and sell them under his or her name is not new or necessarily dishonest. It has been a practice for centuries in all countries with substantial violin-making industries.

Perhaps you are objecting to the fact that the unfinished violins are now being manufactured in China and imported instead of made locally in the luthiers' own workshop, but ultimately the luthier is responsible for the quality control as if it had been made entirely in his own shop. The difference is really only a plane ride.

In regards to distinguishing the differences between start-to-finish handmade violins and "workshop" violins, this is a discussion that happens all the time for many famous makers. See Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, for example. 

 

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13 hours ago, not telling said:

because such a shameful and fraudulent practice belongs to everyone

I agree in many parts with you. You are right. It is shame. But it is also shame people in Balkans, China, Asia etc trying to survive (and not to live) with 250$ or less monthly. It is shame working on violin factories  that pay nothing. (And a pair of Nike shoes cost 150$). Saying "Chinese" or "East European" - sounds bit racistic. Who said that American or European instruments are  better than Chinese or ex East Europeans? This is called overgeneralization. Sure there are good makers at East. East Europe was great at instrument making too. For the same job you can be payed 2000$ in Germany and 200$ in Balkans and less at East.

For the word "bandits"  I have to divide it in two categories:

1. The human need

I live in Balkans (Ex East Europe). For example: What can a father do with 250$ per month? It is easier to become that "bandit". If he had a 'chinese' and could sell it as "European" or as his handmade instrument- watching his children starving - he would sell it.

2. The real "bandits"

"Big" instrument dealers (Companies, Banks, Goverments etc.)

If we want justice - we have to let the violins away and discuss about poverty, wars etc in our planet.

 

 

 

 

 

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As it has been throughout the history of our trade, so it is today: only our own practices are under our own control.  Manfio's and David's responses being exhibit #1.  The practical challenges involved in regulating this behavior might be surmountable if the US had a guild-like system.  But who among us is ready to work in a highly regulated environment?  Even if we sought a solution short of the creation of a guild, -- for example, the Federation somehow taking this on -- how would this work in practical terms?  Putting out a statement without any consequences for not adhering to the desired standard wouldn't be worth the time in terms of reining in the practice.  And teeth would require inspections which would require inspectors.  And so on...

So far, I have not been able to come up with an answer other than following my own sense of what practices I want to follow.

BTW, I would distinguish between those who make it clear that these are "shop instruments" and those who don't.

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8 hours ago, Wee B. Bridges said:

 

No.  

A long and contentious practice of reworking instruments in Cremona,  yes it is well known. 

In an effort to maintain  the good name of Cremona in the market place,  the Consortium was established to  bind members of the consortium to the greatest moral integrity in the exercise of their craft.

 

I think the consortium label has been created on the demand of Japanese wholesale companies. There are a few who sell now only consortium approved makers. 

At the same time I know first hand from a Cremonese maker that  there were makers breaking the rules right from the beginning. This was eventually the reason for this maker to quit the consortium.

My guess is that 80 percent of the produced stuff goes to Japan and Korea. Here in Japan where I am  living, most players are educated from very young age to believe in the excellence of Cremonese instruments with almost no crtitical judgement. They believe that the tradition continued from the workshop of Stradivari down to Pietro Sgarabotto who was teacher at the school in Cremona. (Historically not correct)

To serve this enormous demand makers are just going back to practices of the past in America and elsewhere. It is serving the belief of people, stating the truth would just destroy the beautifully constructed image.

I have to add from my own practice that I sometimes make varnish and antequing tests on white Chinese instruments and once  l got somehow very surprised how some players estimated the value. Maybe I was stupid enough to sell it much lower...

As many money making inventions, it is too late to turn it back. Any accuser will be dumped as the bad boy. Fritz Reuter in Chicago was doing it until the end of his life, but now just a few years later, who remembers his name? As a matter of fact, guys in the business who ARE selling their stuff are known. (What is the logic from there in a market economy???)

What is the conclusion. As  a maker, knowing that it is impossible to fight those practices, I have the philosophy to measure my own skills in comparison to those fiddles. And as long as I am sure that every of my own entirely hand made instruments varnished with my own varnish can beat any of those instruments in a concert environment, I will continue to make instruments. (And besides, one of the reasons why I am making copies, because this can't be done by reworking premade parts.)

Or, maybe it  is time to redesign the violin and be proud of an individual piece of art and sell it as such. There are certainly creative responses to the reworking-violin-making. (Lets invent a new abbrevation for that: Rewovim)

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Just now, Nik Kyklo said:

I agree in many parts with you. You are right. It is shame. But it is also shame people in Balkans, China, Asia etc trying to survive (and not to live) with 250$ or less monthly. It is shame working on violin factories  that pay nothing. (And a pair of Nike shoes cost 150$). Also saying Chinese or East European - sounds bit racistic. Who said that American or European instruments are  better than Chinese or ex East Europeans? This is called overgeneralization. Sure there are good makers at East. East Europe was great at instrument making too. For the same job you can be payed 2000$ in Germany and 200$ in Balkans and less at East.

For the word "bandits"  I have to divide it in two categories:

1. The human need

I live in Balkans (Ex East Europe) and what can a father do with 250$ per month? Yes. If I had a 'chinese' and could sell it as "European" - sawing my children starving - I would sell it.

2. The real thieves

Big instrument dealers, Companies, Banks, Goverments etc.

If we want justice - we have to let the violins away and discuss about poverty, wars etc in our planet

 

 

 

 

 

I also think that you are right, except that I believe the individual luthiers involved are stealing from their customers. I don't blame big banks for their greed, dishonesty, and corruption of the trade, or the government for taking such a big wet bite out of the asses of the self-employed, I blame those who try to justify the fraud to themselves or anyone else.

Much of my issue with the practice is that apprenticeship is a relationship more than it is a way to make a living. Being paid a small wage to learn is a great situation if it is a means to an end. Unfortunately there is none of the benefit or relationship for the factory worker, who is not using the experience as an education but a way of life, and they will not make a living either. 

I said E Europe and China because I know that is where the bulk of the white instruments come from, not because I believe American instruments are superior. I am aware that even the quick and dirty white instruments are sometimes an improvement on the works of recent graduates of schools in America.

Posting examples of eminent Cremona School graduates who happen to be from China is also not helpful to the discussion, as though the true issue is race. Having a problem with secret economic arrangements between luthiers and some intermediary of the factory is not having a problem with Chinese people, workers in the factory, or the idea of apprenticeship.

Ordering instruments to be made abroad is not entering into a master-apprentice arrangement, it's more a master-slave dialectic. And it is dishonesty not to admit to the customer how the instruments are made. Nothing else.

The difference between a personal instrument and a budget shop model should be obvious. But even those, my husband's teacher had the apprentices make. He wanted his people to learn (not to mention, a better product was created).

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I really don't see why the industry can't agree to start a new, above board, labelling/branding system.

So anyone can do what they want - and the consumer can buy what they want.

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6 minutes ago, Rue said:

I really don't see why the industry can't agree to start a new, above board, labelling/branding system.

So anyone can do what they want - and the consumer can buy what they want.

If the "industry" had a lot of empowered police to investigate and enforce their system... maybe.

Wherever there is money to be made more easily, there will be those who go there, regardless of ethics.  As was and ever shall be.  And the energy and creativity of the quick-buck crowd make it extremely difficult to stop. 

Money makes the unethical practices go.  Where does the money come from to make it stop?  

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16 minutes ago, not telling said:

Ordering instruments to be made abroad is not entering into a master-apprentice arrangement, it's more a master-slave dialectic. And it is dishonesty not to admit to the customer how the instruments are made. Nothing else.

The difference between a personal instrument and a budget shop model should be obvious. But even those, my husband's teacher had the apprentices make. He wanted his people to learn (not to mention, a better product was created).

I fully agree with you. Also, congratulations for the great topic you started. It is truly a big subject with many levels need to be discussed.

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7 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

If the "industry" had a lot of empowered police to investigate and enforce their system... maybe.

Wherever there is money to be made more easily, there will be those who go there, regardless of ethics.  As was and ever shall be.  And the energy and creativity of the quick-buck crowd make it extremely difficult to stop. 

Money makes the unethical practices go.  Where does the money come from to make it stop?  

I realize money is at the root of all evil - ^_^

So - if the entire industry isn't on board - an ethical subset could be - and instruments that are properly attributed could be labelled with some thing along the lines of "approved by the Global String Association".

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5 hours ago, David Burgess said:

I've had the same experience as Manfio, except that the representatives who visited me were much more blunt. After looking around at the work in progress, one of them said,

"You're stupid to be making your own violins, when we can arrange to have them made for you."

Maybe I am, but that's the way I want to do it.

Nothing like permanently slamming the door shut for any hope of a business opportunity! The person who made that comment was not a very good salesman.

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44 minutes ago, not telling said:

Ordering instruments to be made abroad is not entering into a master-apprentice arrangement, it's more a master-slave dialectic. And it is dishonesty not to admit to the customer how the instruments are made. Nothing else.

Did you ever ask the question where the parts of your computer, your car or your bicycle were made? 

In our modern world this is just the way how many, many things are manufactured, if we like it or not. It is upon the seller to maintain in this scheme a certain standard quality to justify the price, just like Vuillaume did. (nobody asks who were the makers of a Vuillaume, for sure Vuillaume made only a very small number entirely himself.)

Ethically you are right, in practice the world looks different. Money doesn't know ethics and never will.

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1 minute ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Did you ever ask the question where the parts of your computer, your car or your bicycle were made? 

In our modern world this is just the way how many, many things are manufactured, if we like it or not. It is upon the seller to maintain in this scheme a certain standard quality to justify the price, just like Vuillaume did. (nobody asks who were the makers of a Vuillaume, for sure Vuillaume made only a very small number entirely himself.)

Ethically you are right, in practice the world looks different. Money doesn't know ethics and never will.

Unfortunately in the simplest of terms, it amounts to supply and demand. The Chinese wouldn't be building them if there wasn't any demand.

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41 minutes ago, Rue said:

"approved by the Global String Association".

It would be better if the Global String Association encouraged the use of Global parts, and discouraged the lone genius Hollywood stereotype :)

 

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