Delabo

Oversized violins

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The term "oversized" is a description about larger violins than normal that martin Swan has used  in a current thread.

These oversized violins are often depicted as undesirable and difficult to sell by martin.

So why were these violins (often French) made bigger than normal ?

Especially as we are often told that 19th century people were smaller than today.

Why do pro violinists not want them ?

And what makes the size of 14 inches LOB so desirable ?

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23 minutes ago, Delabo said:

Why do pro violinists not want them ?

While some find it uncomfortable to play a 360mm+ fiddle, most avoid them because of resale. Its been something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A slippery slope that we may never get back up. I've run into many people playing 364mm instruments that didnt even know it (and vice versa with 350mm).

I actually find larger violins more comfortable. But I admit that I think about the resale consequences. 

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3 minutes ago, deans said:

While some find it uncomfortable to play a 360mm+ fiddle, most avoid them because of resale. Its been something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A slippery slope that we may never get back up. I've run into many people playing 364mm instruments that didnt even know it (and vice versa with 350mm).

I actually find larger violins more comfortable. But I admit that I think about the resale consequences. 

Yeah people are easily swayed by popular opinion. I would imagine if a violinist looking to buy were told that 360+ was not "standard" then they'd by much less apt to buy, even if the fiddle sounded and played great. 

Just my 2¢

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I also tended to dismiss the prejudice against oversized violins as nitpicking and have been happily playing a 363mm fiddle for a year now. Today I went back to a 358mm for the first time and was surprised at the effect it had on my intonation. Of course it isn't the lob but the difference in stop length (also 5mm) that's the culprit. Players with a more precisely honed technique than mine might find it even harder to adapt.

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12 hours ago, matesic said:

I also tended to dismiss the prejudice against oversized violins as nitpicking and have been happily playing a 363mm fiddle for a year now. Today I went back to a 358mm for the first time and was surprised at the effect it had on my intonation. Of course it isn't the lob but the difference in stop length (also 5mm) that's the culprit. Players with a more precisely honed technique than mine might find it even harder to adapt.

I wonder whether it might actually be good for you to switch between lengths to improve intonation? I currently switch between 322 and 328 each day, one has a practice mute which I don't like to keep taking on and off.  I will soon add a 323 into the mix.

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1 hour ago, Muswell said:

I wonder whether it might actually be good for you to switch between lengths to improve intonation? I currently switch between 322 and 328 each day, one has a practice mute which I don't like to keep taking on and off.  I will soon add a 323 into the mix.

In the longer term you could be right but I could understand it if many professionals feel they can't take the risk of short-term compromise when switching back and forth. My 363 violin (vsl 331) has a body stop of 202mm which puts the fifth position at least a quarter-tone flat if I go by my thumb on the button. Pity because it's got a great "long Strad"-type tone!

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2 hours ago, matesic said:

My 363 violin (vsl 331) has a body stop of 202mm which puts the fifth position at least a quarter-tone flat if I go by my thumb on the button.

Your violin makes an interesting comparison with mine which also has a LOB of 363mm.

Assuming I am measuring correctly my body stop is just about 195mm . And the string length is 325mm.

So although my violin is "oversized" it should play just like a standard violin once it is setup ?

So am I correct in assuming that all oversized violins are not necessarily created equal  and some could be used by a professional as a long strad type instrument ?

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3 hours ago, matesic said:

 Pity because it's got a great "long Strad"-type tone!

That's what I'm hoping for :)

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35 minutes ago, Delabo said:

Your violin makes an interesting comparison with mine which also has a LOB of 363mm.

Assuming I am measuring correctly my body stop is just about 195mm . And the string length is 325mm.

So although my violin is "oversized" it should play just like a standard violin once it is setup ?

So am I correct in assuming that all oversized violins are not necessarily created equal  and some could be used by a professional as a long strad type instrument ?

It would certainly seem so. I think dealers such as Martin Swan would agree that lob isn't the best criterion to go by if you're concerned about finger placement. I suspect many players don't really know what the issue is - they've just been told that long = bad

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One of the more depressing aspects of selling oversize violins, is when the client decides they would also like a new to case to house it.
7 times out of 10, the violin won't fit into the type of case the client would like, and things can get awkward fast. Sometimes it might just fit, but makes it impossible to then get a shoulder rest in too.

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27 minutes ago, Dave Slight said:

One of the more depressing aspects of selling oversize violins, is when the client decides they would also like a new to case to house it.
7 times out of 10, the violin won't fit into the type of case the client would like, and things can get awkward fast. Sometimes it might just fit, but makes it impossible to then get a shoulder rest in too.

You might just have explained why the case that my violin came in is not a standard factory case but looks to be bespoke.

 

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I think that in a previous post @jacobsaunders has suggested simply ignoring the placement of the inner-notch of the f-hole nick (the measured body stop), and setting-up the violin based on the correct proportions for string-length and after-length. 

 

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There are different reasons why a violin is "over-large".   As mentioned above it might be a long Strad type.  These instruments have a "long" body length but are also somewhat narrower making the playability good.  And they may have a desirable sound, too.  Another point is how the body length was measured.  Was it done with calipers or was it done with a tape over the arch?   The latter would give a slightly larger measure.  360 mm is not terribly large.  Some golden period Strads measure around there.  Many DG violins are "short"  yet play beautifully.  If I recall correctly Martin Swan had a violin by Peter Goodfellow listed some time ago about which he was extremely enthusiastic and it was rather short.    My feeling is that you can't buy an instrument according to measurements just as you can't make one just by following measurements.

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People often invoke the "Long Strads" when talking about oversized violins. But I suspect they are less valued than other Strads,  perhaps by as much as 50% But still well in the millions.

Someone who really knows the Strad market have a better idea, always hard to make comparisons of different instruments. I might guess that a good Golden period Strad is hard to find for much less than 10MM retail these days, and that you could get an equal condition Long Strad for 5-6? Maybe not.

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The largest ones i usually convert to 5-string instruments.

Yes, as mentioned, there isn't much more embarassing than having a sale ready to close and not having a case that the fiddle fits in. Certain cases work, and I usually include one with the violin, solving that problem, usually...

Only real problem after resale is problems in the higher positions. Yes the string length is the same, but when you shift up and your thumb hits the heel of the neck and you put a finger down, expecting a certain note, it isn't right. Not to mention the stretch above the edge that is too much for some players.

I agree that large fiddles are maligned without merit. Where did it start?

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3 minutes ago, duane88 said:

I agree that large fiddles are maligned without merit. Where did it start?

Maybe you answered your own question. Its the case manufacturers.

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I find old Lifton cases and old Gewa cases that fit large fiddles. I had a John Marshall, 1891, from Scotland, that was 368 mm. The old Lifton case that it came in fit just fine, not tight, but I had to use a Bobelock dart case in fiberglass to send it out the door in. Nothing else in the shop fit safely.

 

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8 hours ago, deans said:

Maybe you answered your own question. Its the case manufacturers.

I hadn't considered the case manufacturers conspiracy, I sense the Illuminati lurking somewhere hear a-bouts.

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I have a fiddle that is wider than usual (213mm lower bout, 174mm upper, body length is 355mm) Of course it won't fit in any case I have ever seen except the horrible home-made plywood case it came in.

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7 hours ago, bungling_amateur said:

I have a fiddle that is wider than usual (213mm lower bout, 174mm upper, body length is 355mm) Of course it won't fit in any case I have ever seen except the horrible home-made plywood case it came in.

I have one that’s around 210 in the lower bout that just barely fits my cases - I’ve taken to calling it the Kardashian. Sounds great, though...

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Before I came to Japan I thought that there is hardly any violin around over 360mm because Japanese buyers like to make an argument if 356 mm isn't better than 357mm. That's what I thought. 

In the end o have seen here roughly the same percentage of 'oversized' violins than in the US. (Where I was working before I came here) 

In the end 'ideal size' measured in millimeter is just in the mind of a specific violinist. (For what reason ever.) And it seems that in every country there are buyers who would reject an instrument on the ground that it is 1mm too long compared to what they think is the absolute maximum. 

But we have to realize that everybody has his/her preferences. Some people like measurements, some prefer certain colors, some prefer a certain workmanship, etc. 

Why are 19th century French violins often big? Could have simply been a trend in those days and I think Paul Kaul was a maker who deliberately made his instruments over 360 mm having his mouth full of 'better than Strad' for this reason. (Who knows him today?) 

 

 

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22 hours ago, deans said:

Maybe you answered your own question. Its the case manufacturers.

Did the old Italian violin makers make their own cases or were there always separate case manufactures?

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The French influence crossed to Northern Italy  and we find oversized violin made in Piemonte (Turin) and also sometimes in Venice during the late 19th  century and beginning of the 20th.

If you pay attention, you will find many oversized violins in auctions, many of them are very fine.

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Forgive the long post but I have been mentioned several times in this thread so thought best to clarify my thinking.

From a dealer's perspective, oversized violins are difficult to sell to professionals. We can argue that this is because of prejudice, but I think there's more to it than that. 

Long pattern Strads are always brought up as the counter-example, but they are worth significantly less than smaller models and a lot less than Golden Period examples - I would say the current going rate for a good Golden Period is around $15M against about $6M for a long pattern if you are very persuasive. That's a huge devaluation, and it kind of proves the point.

The vast majority of classical Italian instruments come in at around 35.3 - we could say that this is a sort of average of the most admired/coveted violins.  Apart from a couple of outliers (Maggini being the main exception) the Italian instruments of the 18th century and earlier are small, and most of the careful and successful copyists have also stuck to these sizes.

Professional players with a highly developed technique simply can't swap between different scale lengths, and if they've built up their chops on something that's got a 130/195 stop and a string length around 327, they are for the most part stuck with something close to that for life. For most really good players, a back length of 35.7 seems to be a comfortable upper limit, though of course there are exceptions. I know one giant who has a 36.8cm Maggini, and Josef Suk had a massive Vuillaume, 36.9 I think ...

Most players who spend their careers zooming about the dusty reaches of the fingerboard seem to favour smaller body sizes because they just have better access to that part of the fingerboard. I think this is as much to do with the angle of the arm as the neck stop - in other words, a regular neck stop and a long body stop is not comfortable because it takes the entire playing area further away from the shoulder.

There is also some correlation (perceived or real) between size and projection, and smaller instruments (for example the del Gesus around 35cm, small pattern Gaglianos, small Guadagnini cellos etc) are perceived as "rockets". I tend to agree with this perception, and 35.2 to 35.5 seems to be a kind of sweet spot for projection in large spaces.

For amateur players or any player who pitches by ear more than by memorised tactics, then large violins should work fine - after all, who complains about the size of a viola? But everyone who gets deeply into violins seems ultimately to succumb to the received wisdom. 

Personally I'm not a fan of big violins - even the Josef Suk Vuillaume didn't make me fall in love, and it was for sale at a very reasonable price. On the other hand, I regularly find violins of 35cm or 35.1 to be outstanding, and all of the stellar violins I have played or heard have been 35.5 or less.

Good big violins - Maggini, Vuillaume, ASP Bernardel - can be very powerful, but I've never found one with enough nuance to be really satisfactory. I don't know if it's to do with string tension or just overall mass, but they always seem to lack pliability. But maybe that's just me ...

MY current feeling is that 35.3 - 35.5 is the perfect size for a violin, more than 35.9 is "oversized", and under 35 is "small".

 

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