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Ted_B

Can you turn a trade violin into a pro-quality instrument?

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3 hours ago, David Burgess said:

I don't recall having heard or played a Jay Haide which I considered to be "outstanding", but they can be really good bang-for-the-buck.

Well I suppose that depends on your benchmark. I find them in general a bit thin and bright, but that may just be how they set them up. They are easy to play, consistent, well made, attractive and sound good. The really fine ones have had a bit more body in the sound. I do prefer the old Stohrs and other German stuff but I’ve never complained about a Haide.

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I appreciate very much all of your helpful responses so far. Below are pictures of the (Heberlein) violin in question.

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Edited by Ted_B

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11 hours ago, martin swan said:

 

Good arching and appropriate thicknessing can make a great sounding instrument out of most kinds of wood, and we find fantastic historic instruments made out of wood which all contemporary makers without exception would reject immediately.

 

Basically I agree, but....

 

....then there wouldn't be bad wood?

I find discussions about 'wood' often too generalized. (If I may continue your thoughts) It is a completely different thing if you look at the wood for the top or the back.

Past makers had at times a very poor choice for the parts supposed to me made of maple. (Including Antonio Steadivari) They used whatever they could get hold of, field maple, Willow, chestnut, poplar and often poorly flamed, knotty, close to the root, branch section or whatever. 

For the top this is a different story. There is definitely bad wood. Too heavy and resinous or cut too far off the splitting direction or cut too far off quarter.  However I am convinced that those tops of ancient makers which show defects like knots had overall good acoustic proportions. (Good stiffness weight relation)

in this respect I find the work of Lorenzo Storioni very interesting. The tops look visually always ok, the rest can be whatever. 

(Making replicas using wood match as close as possible teaches quite a lot of things)

 

 

 

 

Edited by Andreas Preuss
add pictures

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Wow, this topic got a lot of attention fast! I'd love to comment on the bike theme, but maybe I'll start with my experience trying to improve factory instruments. As a kid, my father had me cut my teeth re-graduating, re-barring and re-setting necks on cheap trade fiddles. It was a way to learn the ropes, and since he'd bring home a box of them every weekend for an average price of probably $1 a fiddle from various junk shops and flea markets in the area, there were plenty of them around the house to work on. Were any of them improved to "professional" grade? I remember them being decent, useable violins, but I don't remember any that I wanted to use instead of the better quality violins I was playing.

Skipping forward several decades, when I moved to France, although I hardly played viola at the time, I thought it might be useful to have one around, and I took the cheapest viola we had, a left over new cheap MNK factory instrument (Paesold label under the Strad label) from the 1960's or 70's that had been part of my dad's stock. The thing was ridiculous, thick, heavy, neck like a baseball bat and an ugly opaque brown varnish (more like car paint, really), and in the end, it sounded so bad and was so difficult to play I never used it, even when I needed to play viola. (I'd string up my french 37cm Maggini model as a viola and it would work better!) I brought it around to some shops and auction houses to try to get rid of it, but no one wanted it, even for firewood!

I decided to give it a going over, stripping the sprayed on lacquer finish (all those years of working on cars helped!), regraduating, re-barring, re-varnishing (using a mineral ground which seems to have helped to mitigate the horrible quality of the wood) and the end result is an instrument that sounds quite good, and is totally useable in a professional situation. I used it and lent it to colleagues for several years until I got around to making a viola myself.

The violas I've made use better wood, a better model, and better arching (something I couldn't really change that much on the MNK trade viola), and they do sound quite a bit better, and frankly making one from scratch is a much more attractive proposition to me. The work involved in re-doing the trade viola was nearly as time and energy consuming as making one from scratch, and frustrating, since I couldn't choose the wood or the arching.

As a side bar, several years ago I decided to take a cheap "junk" bike, a Virago 535, and turn it into a café racer. It was a fun project, kept me sane at a time I was juggling a lot of stress, and the end product was a good-looking (to my eyes) bike that was much more enjoyable to ride for me than the original. I prefer low bars/clip-ons and rear-sets to pull-back bars and highway pegs, and making an 18" rear wheel and having custom longer Hagons made for it improved the handling. On the other hand, the bike is nowhere near my "serious" classic sport bike (RD500LC) for performance or thrills, but it still makes me smile.

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The Markneukirchen trade violins that are good enough for professional use were built that way and would get no benefit from regraduation as they are already graduated just fine. as to taking a cheap one and trying to improve it, its a big waste of time, with questionable results.

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I doubt you can turn a cheap violin into a pro-quality instrument, but there are cheap violins that are already pro-quality instruments.  They aren't from luck of the draw as Herron-Allen or somebody described, but from schemes involving brilliant insight into needs and possibilities.  You can get a totally American made famous shop workshop fiddle for $5000 but from recordings I suspect they are worse

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9 hours ago, martin swan said:

Your blistering sarcasm aside, if you study some Strnads, Testores, Gaglianos, maybe Genoese violins and consider their success as musical instruments against the choice of wood, this conclusion becomes unavoidable.

You can make a great violin out of all sorts of wood - spruce can be different densities, different speed of growth, different stiffness, different regularity of grain. Maple can be flamed, not flamed, slap cut, quartersawn, half-slab, knotty, wavy - all are usable in the right hands.

My blistering sarcasm? You're too kind.. aside, I have sawn and split a lot of wood  maple and spruce. Most of it went the same  way as Wood Butcher's; in the log burner. I have kept over 200 bolts of spruce, some of which might be decent to work with, maybe? Moron that later.

 

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I see way too much generalization in this thread. What is "cheap trade instrument" and what is "professional grade instrument"? Without defining clearly these two terms everyone can have their own different opinion and be correct....

My opinon would be that some of the "common stuff" instruments can be vastly improved while some barely. I've seen instruments that were constructed properly and with good looking wood and decent arching scheme and not too abused after century of their life that some minimal work could make them into really good instruments and with fake label of older lesser known luthier name they could make many professionals happy for their career without even doubts about their prvenance. There are some instruments that were made to lowest standards (cheapest dutzendarbeit) that are near impossible to imrove too much. Often the right question is if it would be worth doing. Sometimes that would be more work than making decent violin.

I have done this just to one violin (old schonbach) and it now plays really nice, though it was roughly damaged and worn before I got it. I've done work on many mandolins though. I once reworked (inside and outside) a Gibson mandolin (that should have been a pro-instrument from get go but it wasn't) when the neck joint failed and owner was more than happy and commented the instrument is now few levels higher than before. I once worked on old Ibanez and even though I reworked the bars that were 1" tall, the outside arching was so odd and the body blocks and neck so heavy that improvement was rather small...

Regarding the wood, I've cut/split maple and spruce logs and my current work is all from wood I harvested. The latest spruce I got was destined into firewood pile. It was large log with some rot in the center, over 85cm diameter (almost 3') and I counted over 250 rings, it had perfect straight split and no knots in the outside 25-30 cm (1') and it cost me full 20Euros (it was 2 meters long - 6'). I got several one piece tops and some quarter split wedges I split into two "consecutive" mandolin/viola sized wedges (could leave them as full cello/ guitar sets). No wood grows to become firewood or tonewood, it's the forrester/cutter who decides what he makes out of it.

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14 hours ago, violinsRus said:

Did you say Chinese?  But it says Cremona inside!  :)  

:D  exactly. that is next thing to discuss. 

I expect also advocates of printed violins raising voice and telling about" value" 

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TL:DR I say play what you love and feels right to you.

I don't really have anything to add on the technical aspects of instrument making. My observation would be that there are different personality types when it comes to instruments, similar to how people think about their cars. Some like shiny, new, low maintenance, and not thinking about who touched it before you owned it. Some really want a rare "classic" that has a sense of history to it and will pay more even if they could get as good or better performance with a new model. I fall into a third category, the guy who loves to have an instrument that can sound great even though others might look down on its lack of pedigree or newness. I call this the contrarian type (funny, that is what my wife calls me too...). I love my cello, but if someone compliments its sound I will gladly launch into the story about how I rescued it from a pawn shop while on a vacation, and that I liked it better than the $5-6k brand new ones that I had just been playing in a reputable music store that caters to a well regarded college music program. Oh, and it was less than 1/10th the price of the new ones. This approach to instruments works for me, doesn't work for others. To each their own. 

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20 hours ago, martin swan said:

Good arching and appropriate thicknessing can make a great sounding instrument out of most kinds of wood, and we find fantastic historic instruments made out of wood which all contemporary makers without exception would reject immediately.

18 hours ago, martin swan said:

You can make a great violin out of all sorts of wood - spruce can be different densities, different speed of growth, different stiffness, different regularity of grain. Maple can be flamed, not flamed, slap cut, quartersawn, half-slab, knotty, wavy - all are usable in the right hands.

13 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

There is definitely bad wood. Too heavy and resinous or cut too far off the splitting direction or cut too far off quarter.  However I am convinced that those tops of ancient makers which show defects like knots had overall good acoustic proportions. (Good stiffness weight relation)

If wood didn't matter, then violin tops could be out of rosewood or ebony or whatever.  The fact that good performing violins are almost exclusively found with spruce tops means (to me, anyway) that there is something about the properties of spruce that matter.  With that as a given, and knowing that all spruce is not of uniform properties, then logically to some smaller degree those properties matter.

While I certainly agree that most spruce is pretty good, and will work well in the right hands, the trade instruments I have messed with generally tend to be way out of the normal range of stiffness/weight as indicated by taptones, and no amount of dinking with graduations would ever get it into a reasonable range.  These instruments can be adjusted sound fine on a microphone, but if a player wants a powerful soloist instrument, forget it.

Defects and visible aesthetic deficiencies I don't think matter, so I'm with Andreas on this aspect.  And I don't really believe that stiffness/weight is the ultimate measure of wood potential, although I don't think it's totally meaningless.  But I DO think there is something (or things) in the wood that make a difference in the tonal result, as yet not well defined.

 

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

I don't really believe that stiffness/weight is the ultimate measure of wood potential, although I don't think it's totally meaningless.  But I DO think there is something (or things) in the wood that make a difference in the tonal result, as yet not well defined.

 

It's something that comes out of the wood to move the air in a way that makes our ears prick up. How much of this is our own projection? We hear what we want to hear, loving it, hating it, neither?

How often will we all agree? If we all had to rank 20 instruments for tone and projection in a blind test, how would our marks compare?

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

If wood didn't matter, then violin tops could be out of rosewood or ebony or whatever.  The fact that good performing violins are almost exclusively found with spruce tops means (to me, anyway) that there is something about the properties of spruce that matter.  With that as a given, and knowing that all spruce is not of uniform properties, then logically to some smaller degree those properties matter.

While I certainly agree that most spruce is pretty good, and will work well in the right hands, the trade instruments I have messed with generally tend to be way out of the normal range of stiffness/weight as indicated by taptones, and no amount of dinking with graduations would ever get it into a reasonable range.  These instruments can be adjusted sound fine on a microphone, but if a player wants a powerful soloist instrument, forget it.

Defects and visible aesthetic deficiencies I don't think matter, so I'm with Andreas on this aspect.  And I don't really believe that stiffness/weight is the ultimate measure of wood potential, although I don't think it's totally meaningless.  But I DO think there is something (or things) in the wood that make a difference in the tonal result, as yet not well defined.

 

I can't disagree with any of this - my own feeling is that there are many kinds of spruce (and related coniferous wood) that could make good violins, but that each kind of "outlying" wood needs its own approach. 

My larger point was that wood choice today, like everything else in violin-making, has become incredibly conservative - but this maybe goes hand in hand with the fact that pretty much everyone makes Cremonese models, so they like wood which looks like Strad wood.

If we look at the Neapolitan makers or the Prague School, or even the authentic Kloz family violins, all use types of wood which are now widely regarded as unsuitable, yet they were appropriate to the model and they worked/work extremely well. Super-tight grain, super-wide grain, wavy gravy - it would seem that these are not the things that matter. 

As you say - "as yet not well defined" - kind of sums up violin-making!

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22 hours ago, Bodacious Cowboy said:

In an alternative mythology: "Triumphs and Nortons and Beezers won't do - they don't have a soul like a Vincent '52 "

But there is nothing more superior than a Brough!

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All this talk about the perceived lack of quality in Chinese instruments vs other presumably superior european instruments leads me to suggest a rereading of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

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Frankly, some of the comments about Chinese and Chinese instruments are disturbingly and blatantly racist, and have no place in Maestronet.

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46 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Frankly, some of the comments about Chinese and Chinese instruments are disturbingly and blatantly racist, and have no place in Maestronet.

Virtue-posturing, much? No sense of humor? It's quite alright if you want to stereotype me as a nerdy violin-playing preacher's kid, who later went a little wild in an attempt to counter the belief (stereotype) that such a person couldn't be any fun. Have some fun with that. :)

Oh, I also dance as badly to pop music as some Chinese people do, despite having graduated from a disco dance class at the local YMCA sometime in the 70's or 80's. :lol:

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32 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Virtue-posturing, much? No sense of humor?

Racism is not funny to me, and it is disappointing to me that you think it is frivolous.

Perhaps if you were a violin maker of Chinese origin you might not find overt and public prejudice against you and your instruments so humorous.

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1 hour ago, GeorgeH said:

Racism is not funny to me, and it is disappointing to me that you think it is frivolous.

Perhaps if you were a violin maker of Chinese origin you might not find overt and public prejudice against you and your instruments so humorous.

Get over yourself. At the Oberlin Workshops and VSA Conventions, we have people from all over the world, and we all get along just fine. And when I was in China, I much admired the natives and the culture.

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