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nathan slobodkin

Value of originality

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I, too, would prefer not to repair or restore, and hope to reach a point in my making career where that's all I do. There are a lot of really talented folks out there who specialize in rehabilitating damaged instruments - I think of it as an art unto itself. 

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I guess there is no dilemma in the case of an instrument with catastrophic damage, e.g. caught in a flood or, say, dropped onto a concrete floor and having the neck detached and major damage to the plates or sides.

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5 hours ago, gowan said:

I guess there is no dilemma in the case of an instrument with catastrophic damage, e.g. caught in a flood or, say, dropped onto a concrete floor and having the neck detached and major damage to the plates or sides.

The dilemma remains in that while you are obviously going to glue the cracks and reset the neck you may also be looking at overly thick grads to begin with and the question is if you are going through all that trouble why not do what you think will make it sound better at the same time? In a case like that I think I would be more likely to do the regrad as the historical value is already compromised . A pristine example of anything I would be much more likely to preserve untouched.

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After reading this thread before I noticed that most of my own instruments, in which I get a lot of enjoyment, have been altered at some point (mostly neck grafts). So I cant get on too high of a horse.

Think of all the great music that has been played over the years on altered instruments. Especially things like Strads. Its not the worst that could have happened. 

 

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OK.

Since this seems to have stalled, try approaching it from a different perspective.

Your dreams have come true. Not only have you discovered what the Cremonese makers did, and how they did it, but you've hit on short cuts that enable you to quickly and easily accomplish what took them months. Along with this, some simple tweaks enable you to directly apply what people like Don have learned, getting each one right (optimum) the first time.

Now you have an important choice. You can make instruments from scratch, turning OK wood into world class warhorses, eventually becoming rich & famous.

OR. You can accumulate many hundreds of "Markies." Properly re-graduated by your automatically functioning CDC-analytical setup, alcohol varnish stripped and efficiently refinished for maximum beauty and functionality, you can turn out fiddles that perform like GB Guads and Nicolo Gaglianos as soon as the finish dries. Or, with some individual tweaking, Strads & GdGs.

Bypassing the whole commercial  "value" structure that was previously maintained by controlling and allocating supply, you can flood "the market" with instruments that blow the doors off anything "out there" at six figures, sell them for $5,000 each,  put everyone aspiring to a career as a soloist in a position to compete, and rupture the whole rarity-dependent instrument hierarchy, reducing what's left of it to Originality- and Significance-dependent museum collecting. Not to mention becoming "as rich as a Stradivari" in the process.

Affordable, beautiful, thoroughly non-original instruments for all -- the greatest good for the greatest number. Would you do it ?

I would.

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11 minutes ago, A432 said:

OK.

Since this seems to have stalled, try approaching it from a different perspective.

Your dreams have come true. Not only have you discovered what the Cremonese makers did, and how they did it, but you've hit on short cuts that enable you to quickly and easily accomplish what took them months. Along with this, some simple tweaks enable you to directly apply what people like Don have learned, getting each one right (optimum) the first time.

Now you have an important choice. You can make instruments from scratch, turning OK wood into world class warhorses, eventually becoming rich & famous.

OR. You can accumulate many hundreds of "Markies." Properly re-graduated by your automatically functioning CDC-analytical setup, alcohol varnish stripped and efficiently refinished for maximum beauty and functionality, you can turn out fiddles that perform like GB Guads and Nicolo Gaglianos as soon as the finish dries. Or, with some individual tweaking, Strads & GdGs.

Bypassing the whole commercial  "value" structure that was previously maintained by controlling and allocating supply, you can flood "the market" with instruments that blow the doors off anything "out there" at six figures, sell them for $5,000 each,  put everyone aspiring to a career as a soloist in a position to compete, and rupture the whole rarity-dependent instrument hierarchy, reducing what's left of it to Originality- and Significance-dependent museum collecting. Not to mention becoming "as rich as a Stradivari" in the process.

Affordable, beautiful, thoroughly non-original instruments for all -- the greatest good for the greatest number. Would you do it ?

I would.

I believe there are many who think they've already done this.

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37 minutes ago, deans said:

OR. You can accumulate many hundreds of "Markies." Properly re-graduated by your automatically functioning CDC-analytical setup, alcohol varnish stripped and efficiently refinished for maximum beauty and functionality, you can turn out fiddles that perform like GB Guads and Nicolo Gaglianos as soon as the finish dries. Or, with some individual tweaking, Strads & GdGs.

Having purchased the collection of a delusional restorer many years ago who tried to do just this, I can tell you it's not going to work.  Simply delusional, sorry.  He ruined a bunch of instruments.  Luckily I knew what I was getting, paid bottom dollar, and put them into school use, where many are still functioning today.  

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1 hour ago, deans said:

After reading this thread before I noticed that most of my own instruments, in which I get a lot of enjoyment, have been altered at some point (mostly neck grafts). So I cant get on too high of a horse.

Think of all the great music that has been played over the years on altered instruments. Especially things like Strads. Its not the worst that could have happened. 

 

No argument.

There is the past... and then there is the future.  There may be more hesitation these days than in the past when deciding to graft a neck on a fiddle that has had it's original since 1650... or 1790... and once a chest patch is in, it's kinda difficult to reverse.  If it fails it'll need another one. Sound post patches are still considered acceptable, or standard procedure... as are button patches, but some other inset patches are often resisted as "last resort".

As I mentioned, perspective can alter future decisions. 

My hopes are that any discussion of this sort aids in decisions for the future. 

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14 hours ago, A432 said:

OR. You can accumulate many hundreds of "Markies." Properly re-graduated by your automatically functioning CDC-analytical setup, alcohol varnish stripped and efficiently refinished for maximum beauty and functionality, you can turn out fiddles that perform like GB Guads and Nicolo Gaglianos as soon as the finish dries. Or, with some individual tweaking, Strads & GdGs.

Bypassing the whole commercial  "value" structure that was previously maintained by controlling and allocating supply, you can flood "the market" with instruments that blow the doors off anything "out there" at six figures, sell them for $5,000 each,  put everyone aspiring to a career as a soloist in a position to compete, and rupture the whole rarity-dependent instrument hierarchy, reducing what's left of it to Originality- and Significance-dependent museum collecting. Not to mention becoming "as rich as a Stradivari" in the process.

Affordable, beautiful, thoroughly non-original instruments for all -- the greatest good for the greatest number. Would you do it ?

I would.

I would say from personal experience that re-doing old trade fiddles takes a lot more time and energy than making new ones. Even starting with white violins, by the time I've opened them, re-graduated them, often had to re-purfle them to get the edge thickness I want, checked and often had to re-set the neck, I don't feel as though I've saved that much time compared to starting from scratch. All respect to VdA, I don't think this scenario is particularly realistic. Also, with alot of trade fiddles having weird string length/body stop dimensions, one isn't necessarily doing any favors to students, who might be better off with a well-built new fiddle.

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The whole dream scenerio hinges on magic  -- on wave of the hand transformation.  Real world relevance minimal:), as you point out.  The intended point being setting up desirability (multi-faceted appeal) in opposition to originality (in the end, an abstract idea).

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What about cleaning the inside of a violin by a known maker from about 250 years ago? Should one try to remove some of the caked on grunge? It's definitely not original, but does testify to it's age. What would be ethical here?

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4 hours ago, luthier said:

What about cleaning the inside of a violin by a known maker from about 250 years ago? Should one try to remove some of the caked on grunge? It's definitely not original, but does testify to it's age. What would be ethical here?

What kind of grunge are you talking about? Light dusting should be all that is needed unless you have to remove glue runs. If you need to glue studs or other reinforcement  then cleaning the surface at those spots would be necessary.

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On 7/9/2019 at 4:55 PM, nathan slobodkin said:

I have been primarily making instruments for many years and am just now getting into more repairs and having to make decisions about when to "fix" stuff and when to leave it alone.

In the recent thread about stripping varnish my thought was  just don't. However some one asked if the replacement of necks and bars should be thought of  in the same way and of course this was and is done fairly often in order to allow an instrument to play evolving music which didn't exist when the instrument was made.

There are many times when one is repairing obvious damage but when faced with original features which are "wrong" for today's requirements these decisions create a dilemma. In the past month I have been faced with a decent French fiddle where the grads were thick and the bar small which I decided to leave as it was until I have had a chance to set it up and hear it and a historically important and very nice looking American violin which had a neck length of 135 mm with a slightly short stop which I elected to shorten to a more reasonable length for today's players by making an extended nut. In the past I have been guided by whether it was possible to modify an instrument in a way which matched modern specs but have also had times when achieving modern specs was impossible and I have elected to leave pretty outlandish stuff alone.  At times I been very pleasantly surprised. In particular I was doing some crack repairs and set up work on a Pollastri violin years ago which had what seem like ridiculous grads which I am remembering as over 4 mm in the centre of the top and about 1.5 around the perimeter. Since the only way to achieve "correct" grads would have been have been incredibly invasive and expensive I suggested to the dealer who  owned  it that it was worth hearing before making such radical changes. As it turned out Mr. Pollastri apparently had his own ideas about sound as the instrument was quite adequate in the bass but had an amazing singing quality to the upper strings which had one of the violin teachers down the hall running into my shop to ask what kind of violin I was playing.

So the discussion about revarnishing has got me thinking about when to do what. As a maker I would love to say just preserve all the old stuff as historical examples and buy a new violin to play on but something tells me that isn't going to work. Comments please?

I wish we could sit somewhere and chat over coffee.

i can’t contribute anything to the chat. But I will enthusiastically read what everybody else contributes.

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6 hours ago, luthier said:

What about cleaning the inside of a violin by a known maker from about 250 years ago? Should one try to remove some of the caked on grunge? It's definitely not original, but does testify to it's age. What would be ethical here?

Whatever you do, don't deface labels or inscriptions!!  :angry:  Before you thoughtlessly attack the roach schmootz and air pollution with a toothbrush dipped in dish detergent, or whatever, remember that others will come after you.  I'm currently (p.i.) trying to decipher a handwritten Kurrentschrift label where somebody pretty much effaced the half bearing the maker's name and town, doing something like that. :rolleyes:

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On 7/10/2019 at 5:53 AM, arglebargle said:

For me it comes down to art vs tool. Is the violin in question an object of art to be preserved and admired or is it a tool for musicians to use? For all but a few instruments on either end of the spectrum it is some combination of the two. Although on the bottom end I might substitute "trash" for "tool".

It also depends on what you consider to be an artist's expression. While there is an "art" too fitting pegs, a well fit set of pegs is not art. The same could be said for graduations and bass bars and fingerboards. In Nathan's example of the terrible sounding American violin, if it is not made to sound "better" it will be relegated to "art" status only. If it is regraduated it could be a violin fulfilling its purpose: making music. To my mind, altering the interior work, or the exterior playability, does not impact the artists statement.

There are of course as many exceptions as there are violins and each is a case by case basis. One that comes to mind would be continuous lining that are placed over the blocks. I would not alter that interior work. To me that speaks very strongly of the makers intent. But what is the difference between that and a bass bar? I don't know, aside from a bass bar having much more impact on the sound.

I had an Asa White violin open in front of me. Mr White had written very clearly on and around the bass bar Do Not Alter! A later, though contemporary, repair person had written next to it "Very well Mr. White. Here your violin will sit as it was made. Out of sorts and singing a bad tune." Paraphrasing, but you get the idea. This is not a question unique to our time.

That’s hilarious. Would you please take a photograph and share it? Meanwhile, Mr. White and his brother were significant American makers. I’m not sure how actually good they were, in the grand scheme of things, but they were certainly significant, so I would advocate leaving that violin exactly as it is, but take lots of pictures.

I’m not sure that any rule of thumb works here because there are so many variables, but if I were contemplating such a question, I would think that the more individual an instrument is, the more original it should remain. Mass produced stuff, fine, do as you wish, But something made by a specific maker, no. If it sounds bad, just get another fiddle.

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PS it’s a well-pondered question, but should Vuilluame have a couple extra coals on his fire and brimstone because he replaced the neck on Messie?

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16 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

PS it’s a well-pondered question, but should Vuilluame have a couple extra coals on his fire and brimstone because he replaced the neck on Messie?

The neck was lengthened and remounted by Vuillaume but he did not replace it.  It is original!

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1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

That’s hilarious. Would you please take a photograph and share it? Meanwhile, Mr. White and his brother were significant American makers. I’m not sure how actually good they were, in the grand scheme of things, but they were certainly significant, so I would advocate leaving that violin exactly as it is, but take lots of pictures.

 

This was many, many years ago. A lot of pictures were taken, but I have no clue where they are. This was at a different shop, with a different hard drive. I miss paper pictures. All the Asa White violins I have seen (I've seen a lot over the years) were quite good. Not sublime works of art, but competent and well executed. They remind me of the better Markneukirchen violins. Indeed, some say that is just what they were. ;)  They can sound very good with a bit of fussing over. 

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4 hours ago, Ron MacDonald said:

The neck was lengthened and remounted by Vuillaume but he did not replace it.  It is original!

I did not know that, thank you!

I still think he shouldn’t have done anything to it.

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3 hours ago, arglebargle said:

This was many, many years ago. A lot of pictures were taken, but I have no clue where they are. This was at a different shop, with a different hard drive. I miss paper pictures. All the Asa White violins I have seen (I've seen a lot over the years) were quite good. Not sublime works of art, but competent and well executed. They remind me of the better Markneukirchen violins. Indeed, some say that is just what they were. ;)  They can sound very good with a bit of fussing over. 

Was Asa better than his brother?

were they “the brothers white”?

 

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8 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

Was Asa better than his brother?

were they “the brothers white”?

 

Asa Warren Whites I saw were clean and "professional" looking violins, while Ira Whites could often be "funky" and quirky in their style and workmanship, almost like the difference between a well-made Mirecourt or Markneukirchen "Standard" model and a quirky "off the radar" Italian fiddle. 

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Many years ago I got keel-hauled here on Maestronet for talking about re-graduating a decent old fiddle, and although I at first tried to defend myself and justify my actions with those Scarampella stories I had heard from people who had worked at Wurlitzer's, I realized my detractors were right in that at the least it was a big mistake to talk about it here as though it were "just another day at the shop, just another re-graduation," not to mention the fundamental question of whether or not I should have done it at all.

The details of the story were that I had picked up an unidentified c.1800 violin that went unsold in a "minor" auction. It was cheap, and looked like it had been in a professional shop where it had received a neck reset and was being off-loaded in the sale. What was it? I did do my best to pin things down, from showing it to experts, getting a dendro, even posting photos here on MN. Best I could do was narrow it down to provincial French, c.1800, but the violin was impossible to ascribe to a maker or a city. (Looking back, I wonder if someone hadn't replaced the blocks and linings at some point, making the inside look "italian?") I set it up as I got it, and it got a thorough playing for six months or more to see what it could do. 

It was disappointing, with a thin, tiny sound, despite it's broad, flat arching. Taking a Hacklinger to it, I found the back to have quite "normal" grauations, but the top very thick in the center, over 5mm. I decided to re-graduate, and in this case, the improvement was huge. The violin became useable in professional concert situations, with knowledgebale listeners (colleagues, dealers, experts) reacting with "what is that?" curiosity on hearing it. It's now in the hands of a former student who got to move up from his JTL for basically the same price he had paid for that (he had bought the JTL long before he came to study with me).

When I was a kid, one of the tasks my dad gave me was re-graduating and re-barring dutzenarbeit "beaver chewed" tops, but this violin definitely was of a higher quality, so I can understand the viewpoint that I should have just left it as it was. Part of me thinks it was a bit excessive to re-graduate (and cut out the original carved-in bassbar), but the violin is now being used by a young professional, whereas it was languishing unused for years (decades?) before. I wouldn't do it again, though. Today I feel I'd rather just make a new fiddle than mess around with someone else's work, and if a colleague or a student came to me asking for that sort of intervention, I'd just turn it down.

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I realized my detractors were right in that at the least it was a big mistake to talk about it here as though it were "just another day at the shop, just another re-graduation," not to mention the fundamental question of whether or not I should have done it at all.

FWIW, I think you were right. That is was just a normal re-graduation. Business as usual in the fiddle trade. Same as putting any top-made-too-thick-because-the-retailer-didn't-want-it-coming-back-to him-cracked trade instrument. (A hundred year-old Mirecourt medio can be, if not a pretty 'cello, at least a nice sounding/playing one after a weight loss operation).

Who would have wanted ( --> valued it enough to treat it carefully) it if you hadn't ?  Ditto Scarampella and the rest of them. What people enjoy, they love, treasure and take care of. What they don't, they don't.

Arguing otherwise, while well intentioned (and yes, people should have left the Cremonese ones alone), is not considering the question from the real-world perspective it ends up in anyhow after all is said and done (or, not done). For the sake of perspective, consider this from Benjamin Hebbert's magazine as food for thought :

Quote

During the early 20th century as British musical taste pushed towards celebrating British music, enhanced first by composers such as Parry and Elgar, and later driven by a resistance to German culture influenced by the First World War, attention likewise diverted towards better celebrating English makers. Early work by Jacob Rayman and Thomas Urquhart has always been rare, and comparatively speaking Pamphilon work is relatively common, leading W.E. Hill & Sons and other protagonists of English work to promote Edward Pamphilon as the leading maker of the period. Prices rose drastically, and at a time when a Klotz and a Gagliano were evenly valued, Pamphilons found an equal market through the marketing of the Hills. However, Pamphilons have numerous problems. They are prone to woodworm because of the kind of local sycamore that they are made from. Original pegboxes of English instruments tend to follow the same traditions of making found in viols, with desperately thin pegbox walls that are prone to breaking. I have seen some Pamphilons with eighteenth century replacement scrolls owing to their vulnerability, and by and large if they passed through the Hills, they would replace the scroll entirely either to provide a better scroll than the non-original one already on it, or as part of a rehabilitation of the instruments to allow them to endure modern use: I was recently shown a box of scrolls carved in the Hill workshop and in the bottom was a bundle of early 20th century – carved ‘Pamphilon’ scrolls prepared for future restorations. The Hills ‘rehabilitation’ went further than this, with the interior blocks and linings all replaced to give the instruments modern robustness, whilst they went to extraordinary levels to repair these instruments. Pamphilons can exhibit some of the most extensive and costly restoration, sometimes outweighing the perceived commercial value of the instrument. During the First World War, it is recalled that work was so slow for the remaining restorers who hadn’t been called for War Work, that a lot of this kind of work was done simply to keep them busy.

. . . In terms of modern market value, Hilled Pamphilons constitute the majority of what exists, whilst most others have at least lost their original heads. Prices reflect an acceptance in the market that this is the baseline of what constitutes a good Pamphilon.[/quote]

Same with Strads. And Scarampellas, Saninos and the rest of them. All treated carefully and preserved because, in their present configurations, they delight their owners.

FWIW

 

 

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