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Dom40

Best British violin maker?

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One of the big rules for English makers is that they were very flexible in their ideas of quality - largely because they were working towards a locality of clientele, rather than to a specific price point. Their versatility was good for their businesses, but it does make it rather harder for us, now that they are dead. A genuine Kennedy cello, for example, can be anything from £25,000 to £125,000 depending upon a number of factors of quality. When you can put one against the other, it is perfectly easy to justify the difference in value, but it puts the cat amongst the pigeons with many musicians, and it does mean that sometimes people can have an underwhelming experience of a particular maker by comparison to their reputation in the marketplace. It's all too easy for dealers to overprice something because they have a mediocre example and they are asking the price associated with an exceptional example. At the same time, musicians can be unwilling to pay the price needed for a superb example, because they see too many price points too far below the asking price. It makes it a more specialist area, but there are comparables elsewhere - we have no problem with some Strads being 10 times the value of others, and makers such as Grancino and Testore can have a very parallel diversity of quality. 

Beyond this, we also have the fact that they were a great deal broader in the scope of instruments that they made. Forster cellos, for example, come in Stainer, Amati and Stradivari models, and each command a very different price in the market, both for the general model, and their size with corresponding differences in sound and taste. As a result it is rather unsatisfactory when you hear that "some don't sound as good as others" - or words to that effect, without knowing what the facts of the matter are. Vincenzo Panormo is an incredibly fluid maker, producing things to all kinds of models, which is also the case for the later English copyists. A Testore copy by Wulme Hudson will be profoundly different from one based on a Bisiach, and one has to be mindful to assess each of these carefully by their own merits within a slightly more complex matrix of "comparables" than one would see for say, Collin Mezins or Klotzes. Hence, I have never played a Parker that I have not liked, but only the broader model ones match up to the reputation that they had with Kreisler and look like late-period Strads: If you have a high-arched long-pattern it will obviously offer different qualities, and will in my experience excel at them. 

I see quite a bit of curmudgeonly negativity in some of the responses to this post. The key is to consider how things play and the price they are able to fetch. A Thomas Earle Hesketh can be a fabulous instrument and the better ones punch well above their weight - but only so long as they are fairly priced, which they generally are. It's the kind of instrument I'd really like to see conservatoire students making the best of. 

Onwards and upwards, but to the original question, I would rather it was phrased "is there an English violin that stands above the rest?" It's absolutely an exciting terrain to explore!  





 

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1 hour ago, Ben Hebbert said:

One of the big rules for English makers is that they were very flexible in their ideas of quality - largely because they were working towards a locality of clientele, rather than to a specific price point. Their versatility was good for their businesses, but it does make it rather harder for us, now that they are dead. A genuine Kennedy cello, for example, can be anything from £25,000 to £125,000 depending upon a number of factors of quality. When you can put one against the other, it is perfectly easy to justify the difference in value, but it puts the cat amongst the pigeons with many musicians, and it does mean that sometimes people can have an underwhelming experience of a particular maker by comparison to their reputation in the marketplace. It's all too easy for dealers to overprice something because they have a mediocre example and they are asking the price associated with an exceptional example. At the same time, musicians can be unwilling to pay the price needed for a superb example, because they see too many price points too far below the asking price. It makes it a more specialist area, but there are comparables elsewhere - we have no problem with some Strads being 10 times the value of others, and makers such as Grancino and Testore can have a very parallel diversity of quality. 

Beyond this, we also have the fact that they were a great deal broader in the scope of instruments that they made. Forster cellos, for example, come in Stainer, Amati and Stradivari models, and each command a very different price in the market, both for the general model, and their size with corresponding differences in sound and taste. As a result it is rather unsatisfactory when you hear that "some don't sound as good as others" - or words to that effect, without knowing what the facts of the matter are. Vincenzo Panormo is an incredibly fluid maker, producing things to all kinds of models, which is also the case for the later English copyists. A Testore copy by Wulme Hudson will be profoundly different from one based on a Bisiach, and one has to be mindful to assess each of these carefully by their own merits within a slightly more complex matrix of "comparables" than one would see for say, Collin Mezins or Klotzes. Hence, I have never played a Parker that I have not liked, but only the broader model ones match up to the reputation that they had with Kreisler and look like late-period Strads: If you have a high-arched long-pattern it will obviously offer different qualities, and will in my experience excel at them. 

I see quite a bit of curmudgeonly negativity in some of the responses to this post. The key is to consider how things play and the price they are able to fetch. A Thomas Earle Hesketh can be a fabulous instrument and the better ones punch well above their weight - but only so long as they are fairly priced, which they generally are. It's the kind of instrument I'd really like to see conservatoire students making the best of. 

Onwards and upwards, but to the original question, I would rather it was phrased "is there an English violin that stands above the rest?" It's absolutely an exciting terrain to explore!  





 

I was hoping you'd post. Always a pleasure, Ben. 

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It's interesting to note the contrast between players' and dealers' viewpoints in this thread. Players generally don't get to try that many examples of a given maker, often only one, and based on the impression from that instrument often either aren't interested in trying others or go out searching for one by that maker for themselves. Dealers on the other hand are used to the idea that playing qualities can vary a great deal between different instruments from the same maker or shop, and are experienced with the sometimes fickle nature of players who can sometimes fall in love with one violin and reject another for reasons that can be difficult to fathom.

The case of Cuypers is interesting since it was brought up. The first one I ever came across was amazing, standing up to and even surpassing a really good Nicolo Gagliano head to head. That one was already in the hands of a good violinist and was definitely not for sale. Having played over a dozen Cuypers since, I can say that the first one was exceptionally good, and although I've seen others I wouldn't mind having to play on, I haven't come across another I'd actually want to own.

When it comes to English makers, I've come across many individual violins that I'd be happy to own and play on, but I have simply not been able to try enough Lotts, Vollers or Parkers to be able to say "these violins sound like this." Panormos, second generation included, are always very interesting, and I've played at least one Joseph Hill that was excellent. Many "punched above their weight" price wise, like early 20th century Hills or Wulmes. I'd love to try more Fendts and Dodds and if north of the wall is included, Hardies and Stirrats.

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5 hours ago, martin swan said:

Joseph Chanot made creditable violins, as did WE Hill & Sons, nothing to blow your socks off. Joseph Hill, Lockey Hill - not my thing.

Hesketh is in my view another maker whose stylistic gifts outweighed his understanding of tone.

Alfred Vincent violins can be very good, though some of them are very drab.

The idea that there's an "English sound" is absurd - one English violin will be wiry and plangent, another fuzzy and dark, another flute-like and sophisticated. 

My sincere apologies in the comment about the "English sound." Of course, there is an immense degree of quality and variation in the vast number of instruments and was not meant as a generalization in the context of my other posts. 

When i was younger, the nationalistic stereotyping was the easy way to parse out the instruments that were shown by the dealers. And i wanted to reflect that. Those would have been the 300th anniversary years of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, more than 30years ago. Period performances in Boston were certainly scholarly but what was being exported via Polygram, on disc, to the US was far more exciting. I did not reflect this information in my post even though it was going through my mind - so i did over-simpiify.

There was nothing, at the time, like hearing the entrance of soprano solo. Emma Kirkby's voice, floating from beyond the walls on the recording of Christopher Hogwood's Mozart Requiem. In my eagerness to be a part of what was new, i wanted that energy and color. And soon wanted a David Rubio instrument. One of my students mispronounced Sphinx last week...

Since then, many fine English instruments have been played and experienced, but still wonder if there is a "nationalistic" sonic identity. So many young student instrument makers hold up a mirror and see an Italian crafts-person because that particular sound is everywhere. The brother of the above student plays a Howarth oboe, which is distinctly an English sound ( in the old days ) while the default oboe, locally or the surrounding 3000km anyway, is a Loree. The family came from asia where, the presence of RCM teachers abound. 

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Since he is still temporarily "British" I'll say that the British violin that impressed me the most was by Matthew Hardie (still got it, Ben?). My own current favourite is an 1809 Charles Harris - another maker who's reputation mainly rests on his cellos. I'm still wondering, why was it so cheap? It could be the lob of 363 mm, but that I'm sure is what gives it its richness. But if BoJo is allowed his way there'll soon be no more "British" anything

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It's funny - we've had 5 Matthew Hardie violins (we have one right now) but although they have all found a home only one of them was what I would call a good fiddle (and not really great either).

I suppose my perspective comes across as slightly negative because although I'm very interested in the evolution of different schools and admire great workmanship, I'm fundamentally interested in sound, and from a rather commercial perspective too ie. the sort of sound I can sell. Everyone has their own clientele, but mine seems to be getting ever more demanding!

For this reason I tend to think of makers in terms of how consistently successful their work is tonally - there are many great woodworkers whose quality control doesn't seem to have extended as far as their ears.

The points about inconsistency and the importance of a large sample size are well made, but it depends what you're looking for. If it's a widely acceptable sound character which the maker was able to reproduce with some consistency, then the list is very small.

Cuypers is a great example (Johannes Theodorus I) - I've played one or two which I thought were top class, but quite a lot which were indifferent or even not good.

So if someone in ta foreign land told me they had a great Cuypers they wanted to sell, would I get on a plane? Probably not, though if I was going anyway I would be very interested to see it. If they said Pique, Lupot, or various other names I would rather keep to myself (including one English maker), I would be off like a shot.

I think Dominic's question was fundamentally about sound, but maybe he can clarify?

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Martin, 

I think you are exposing the fact that different violin dealers take different philosophical approaches towards finding the kinds of instruments that they feel comfortable putting to market. I am certainly not going to take issue with the way that you engage with violins, but the market is such that there are certainly different approaches that have the same validity, so I am certainly not attacking or undermining your approach. 

However, it seems to me that you approach a violin with it's fabled potential, and thus find some examples underwhelming for one reason or another, and in English instruments that really can be an issue. I think I've seen ten Parker violins that stand shoulder to shoulder with Kreisler's, and about fifty that are quite different for one reason or another, but they are no means weaker violins, any more than an early Amati is weaker than a Grand Pattern Nicolo. A Kennedy cello at £35k is a wonderful cello at £35k that stands comparison to say, a similarly priced contemporary instrument, and it is irrelevant that you can pay nearly £100k more for a tonally and visually sublime example. Hesketh can make violins that equal the golden period of 20th Century Northern Italian making, but he seems to have pulled out the stops only rarely. Others - the majority - tend to be a slightly stiffer more diffident model, but at a price that is one or two steps above a contemporary violin, those things are fabulous in the market. The superb work ends up weighted down by the ball-and-chain of cheaper prices for lesser works  by the same maker, so it is almost impossible to get the price that "they are worth" and you have to price them to sell them, which offers musicians a degree of fairness that is not necessarily there with sexier nationalities of violin. 

To me, I genuinely see this as a field of violins where players can find the opportunity to buy instruments that punch above their weight tonally because of the way that I think about pricing. If, on the other hand you are going to index them in the way that applies to heavily consistent French making, for example, then it is possible to bring a negative perspective to them. That's fine, there is nothing set in stone about this business, and we should all deal with the things we are confident in.  

 

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6 hours ago, GoPractice said:

My sincere apologies in the comment about the "English sound." Of course, there is an immense degree of quality and variation in the vast number of instruments and was not meant as a generalization in the context of my other posts. 

When i was younger, the nationalistic stereotyping was the easy way to parse out the instruments that were shown by the dealers. And i wanted to reflect that. Those would have been the 300th anniversary years of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, more than 30years ago. Period performances in Boston were certainly scholarly but what was being exported via Polygram, on disc, to the US was far more exciting. I did not reflect this information in my post even though it was going through my mind - so i did over-simpiify.

There was nothing, at the time, like hearing the entrance of soprano solo. Emma Kirkby's voice, floating from beyond the walls on the recording of Christopher Hogwood's Mozart Requiem. In my eagerness to be a part of what was new, i wanted that energy and color. And soon wanted a David Rubio instrument. One of my students mispronounced Sphinx last week...

Since then, many fine English instruments have been played and experienced, but still wonder if there is a "nationalistic" sonic identity. So many young student instrument makers hold up a mirror and see an Italian crafts-person because that particular sound is everywhere. The brother of the above student plays a Howarth oboe, which is distinctly an English sound ( in the old days ) while the default oboe, locally or the surrounding 3000km anyway, is a Loree. The family came from asia where, the presence of RCM teachers abound. 

I would want to uphold some of your views on "English Sound" especially within the period of recorded music. We only have to look at things like the Boosey & Hawkes 1010 model Clarinet, or the Tertis model viola to get a glimpse of the way that an idea of distinct national identity arose not only in Britain but elsewhere too, and wind players are acutely aware of the importance that this lends in performance practice. 

I think, however, that the "British Sound" for stringed instruments is probably more measurable in the choices of strings than the kinds of instruments. Tertis model excepted, professional orchestras used as many French and Italian instruments as they do today... but I do wonder if certain characteristics of Voller, Hudson, Manchester Chanots and other instruments of the early 20th century were developed out of an experience of what worked best with the prevailing choices of string, just as Collin Mezins were worked out to get the best from early metal strings. Within that, and with some appreciation of Elgar, Butterworth, Vaughan Williams and the likes, and perhaps performing Finzi and feeling that I use my bow differently to absorb my sound into that of the clarinet, I should say that there is something to be said for the concept. 

Edward Elgar's bow, a James Tubbs of 1878 has an enormous head, and it sinks into the notes wonderfully in a way that one always tries to achieve when playing Elgar. Albert Sammons owned it, and you can hear the formulation of the notes in his recordings. It makes it natural. Tubbs bows are variable, because he had various ideas that he put into them, but these ones particularly seem to speak of a philosophy of playing particular to English taste. There is nothing absurd about the idea of British Sound in the early 20th century, but it is abstract and to an extent intangible especially now that strings, setup, preferences have all moved on. 

 

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From my standpoint as a maker the work of Lott always gave me a kick. He was a maker with an unfailing intuition. Good enough that a violin by Lott got into a picture book as GDG. 

 

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17 hours ago, Ben Hebbert said:

One of the big rules for English makers is that they were very flexible in their ideas of quality - largely because they were working towards a locality of clientele, rather than to a specific price point. Their versatility was good for their businesses, but it does make it rather harder for us, now that they are dead. A genuine Kennedy cello, for example, can be anything from £25,000 to £125,000 depending upon a number of factors of quality. When you can put one against the other, it is perfectly easy to justify the difference in value, but it puts the cat amongst the pigeons with many musicians, and it does mean that sometimes people can have an underwhelming experience of a particular maker by comparison to their reputation in the marketplace. It's all too easy for dealers to overprice something because they have a mediocre example and they are asking the price associated with an exceptional example. At the same time, musicians can be unwilling to pay the price needed for a superb example, because they see too many price points too far below the asking price. It makes it a more specialist area, but there are comparables elsewhere - we have no problem with some Strads being 10 times the value of others, and makers such as Grancino and Testore can have a very parallel diversity of quality. 

Beyond this, we also have the fact that they were a great deal broader in the scope of instruments that they made. Forster cellos, for example, come in Stainer, Amati and Stradivari models, and each command a very different price in the market, both for the general model, and their size with corresponding differences in sound and taste. As a result it is rather unsatisfactory when you hear that "some don't sound as good as others" - or words to that effect, without knowing what the facts of the matter are. Vincenzo Panormo is an incredibly fluid maker, producing things to all kinds of models, which is also the case for the later English copyists. A Testore copy by Wulme Hudson will be profoundly different from one based on a Bisiach, and one has to be mindful to assess each of these carefully by their own merits within a slightly more complex matrix of "comparables" than one would see for say, Collin Mezins or Klotzes. Hence, I have never played a Parker that I have not liked, but only the broader model ones match up to the reputation that they had with Kreisler and look like late-period Strads: If you have a high-arched long-pattern it will obviously offer different qualities, and will in my experience excel at them. 

I see quite a bit of curmudgeonly negativity in some of the responses to this post. The key is to consider how things play and the price they are able to fetch. A Thomas Earle Hesketh can be a fabulous instrument and the better ones punch well above their weight - but only so long as they are fairly priced, which they generally are. It's the kind of instrument I'd really like to see conservatoire students making the best of. 

Onwards and upwards, but to the original question, I would rather it was phrased "is there an English violin that stands above the rest?" It's absolutely an exciting terrain to explore!  





 

Best value for money must be a (GOOD) George  Craske! I’ve only played on 3 Hesketh violins but some of the Craskes I’ve played are far better tone wise. But maybe only 25 percent of Craskes are really good. 

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7 hours ago, Ben Hebbert said:


feeling that I use my bow differently to absorb my sound into that of the clarinet, I should say that there is something to be said for the concept.
 

Ouch! ;)

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1 hour ago, Dom40 said:

Best value for money must be a (GOOD) George  Craske! I’ve only played on 3 Hesketh violins but some of the Craskes I’ve played are far better tone wise. But maybe only 25 percent of Craskes are really good. 

Craske would go very near the bottom of my list of “most over-rated makers of all time”, though to be fair I once played one at Ben’s place which was a really good violin and which shook my curmudgeonly world view somewhat ...

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19 minutes ago, martin swan said:

Craske would go very near the bottom of my list of “most over-rated makers of all time”, though to be fair I once played one at Ben’s place which was a really good violin and which shook my curmudgeonly world view somewhat ...

Yes but there is such a large spectrum of quality  from crap to very good with Craske. One of the best Craske violins I payed was at Turners a maggini copy with the double purfling. It was one of the most responsive violins I’ve tired and so even across all strings. I have a feeling the Craske you tried at Bens may have been the violin I learnt to play on. There is a picture of it on his site still but I think it’s sold

 

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I like Craske, but finding one that is not too large AND sounds good is difficult.

I see a number of them, and I like the small violas the best, but too many of the fiddles are in the mid-360's, a good deal if you can play one that large long term.

 

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33 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

A Hesketh won the Weienasw... Wiena..  that Polish competition.

I suspect it might have been the player who won the competition rather than the violin ...

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31 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

there was no player!  it was amazing!

I'm now imagining the violin equivalent of a player piano, with a paper roll between the f holes. It's an oddly appealing idea worthy of a maker like John Joseph Merlin (since we're talking British builders).

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28 minutes ago, Three13 said:

I'm now imagining the violin equivalent of a player piano, with a paper roll between the f holes. It's an oddly appealing idea worthy of a maker like John Joseph Merlin (since we're talking British builders).

IMHO, it's worthy of a fake advertisement on Saturday Night Live:lol:

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10 hours ago, Dom40 said:

Yes but there is such a large spectrum of quality  from crap to very good with Craske. One of the best Craske violins I payed was at Turners a maggini copy with the double purfling. It was one of the most responsive violins I’ve tired and so even across all strings. I have a feeling the Craske you tried at Bens may have been the violin I learnt to play on. There is a picture of it on his site still but I think it’s sold

 

707BED92-36EB-4E46-9EC9-3734934F64F2.png

 

 

 

Well bless me - I bought that Craske and of course I rate it too. I recently spotted its near-twin (minus worm track) hanging in J&A Beares

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2 hours ago, matesic said:

 

 

 

Well bless me - I bought that Craske and of course I rate it too. I recently spotted its near-twin (minus worm track) hanging in J&A Beares

There are 3 numbers written on the finger board 729 ? 

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I haven't got it with me at the moment. It looks identical, but then the one in Beares is very similar too. Maybe Craske even cloned his own "worm tracks"?

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