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William Lewis & Son / Einsele with problems


Tom_R
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Greetings, First post here from Ithaca, NY. Maybe a little long but the details seem important.

I’ve got a violin I acquired about 15 years ago that I need to decide what to do with. It’s not very responsive and hard to draw out a good tone. It’s actually not bad on open strings but stopped notes especially on the G & D strings really suffer – another player aptly described it as having a stuffed nose. A couple of luthiers worked on the setup many years ago. The bridge is currently placed on the f-hole nicks (about 192mm) and the latest sound post position is shown below. No joy. We also tried the bridge at 195mm with commensurate post adjustment. LOB = 359mm  Fingerboard projection at bridge a little low = 25mm.

I struggled with it awhile trying to play it in, but eventually set it aside and have a couple of other daily players. BTW, I’m an old-time fiddler, not a classical violinist.

The label identifies it as William Lewis & Son with Geo Nicholas Einsele as the maker. But no date entered on the label…odd. I’ve looked at the other MN threads on Einsele / Garimberti and Chicago violins. This violin doesn’t seem to have the characteristic model or varnish of an actual Einsele. Whether this is one of the Garimberti violins that were imported in the white and varnished by Einsele is an interesting question. Maybe it’s neither? The varnish is very even and gold toned with no wear (the streaking that shows in the pictures seems to be an artifact of lighting and iPhone camera). But it has the look of having a heavy clear coat, applied even over top of various surface imperfections. The “clear” aspect of the varnish is heavy enough to smooth the sharpness of features like the f-hole nicks (see pic below). I've wondered if it's damping the sound.

https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/337815-the-beckerwm-lewischicago-sound/&tab=comments#comment-752461

https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/304978-ferdinando-garimberti-violin/

The violin has also been sadly modified with an “Acoustical Bass Bar” patented by Adam Szymanski (presumably in 1966  by the label). I found the patent. Odd shape.

So, my questions are…

  1. Any thoughts on actual provenance?
  2. Ideas about improving the sound? It has been tried with a couple of types of strings, reasonable bridge/soundpost adjustments, and the original classical tailpiece. 
  3. Opinions on replacing the bass bar? I’ve seen the recent thread with concerns about replacing an original integral carved bar, but I’d say this differs because the original has already been replaced and it’s unanimous that the instrument is a dog. 

Thanks for any thoughts. Identifying pics below.

- Tom

 

Front_back (Phone).jpg

Side (Phone).jpg

C-bouts (Phone).jpg

Corner_detail (Phone).jpg

IMG_1358 (Phone).JPG

IMG_1373 (Phone).JPG

Scroll_front (Phone).jpg

Scroll_side (Phone).jpg

Bass Bar Full (Phone).jpg

IMG_1370 (Phone).JPG

Labels (Phone).jpg

Soundpost (Phone).jpg

Edited by Tom_R
Typo on Szymanski, clarifications
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From the photos you have both linked and posted,  I am unable to support your notion that the violin has a heavy (thick) varnish. I might even suggest the opposite. A very thin varnish film can level out irregularities in the wood surface quite well, if one really knows what one is doing, and has levleing as a goal.

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2.If the top arch is as low as it appears in the side view pics, you might ask your luthier whether that patented bar is doing its job of helping  support the top.   I wonder whether this Szymanski made any other internal modifications.

What is the overstand measurement?      Your luthier might be able to tell you whether a neck reset/lift (raising the overstand and the projection) could benefit the instrument.   

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1. I don’t know

2. From what you say about the sound, the response of lower strings seem the major problem. 
For this changeing the bass bar seems to be one option, but I would first check out all other possibilities because a new bass bar is rather expensive.

a. Starting with simple things first you can ask your luthier to enlarge the bass side ear of the bridge.

b. If you use a Kevlar tailgut you can try to place the two tailgut threads on the lower saddle as close as possible. (You can eventually play around with this in the given limits moving the tailguts to the g string side or e string side. )

c. I would look at the lower nut as well. For your violin I would make it as low as possible to increase the string angle. 
 

d. Sometimes a too strong e string is not a good idea either and trying a Goldbrokat 0.25 is certainly worth the effort.

e. For the last thing I  would look at the sound post.  setting it not too close to the bridge and not too tightly can bring again a small improvement.

3. only if all above mentioned measures didn’t bring a satisfactory result I would advice to change the bass bar and make at the same time raise pitch with a new bridge.

I am not sure if raise pitch and a new bridge alone are a good idea because the the weak bass bar might not transmit sufficiently the stronger bridge motions.

 

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Thanks all for the replies so far.

First, I should clarify that the attempts at sound adjustments I mentioned were done 10-15 years ago. The luthiers I mentioned are no longer involved. I've since had some setup and repair training and have restored a few violins (with care, mentoring in traditional methods, no unmentionable glues, screws, bolts, turnbuckles, etc.). I'm not in the trade and am just working on my own fiddles. So I'd undertake the setup experiments and then assess if next steps are within my capability if the instrument is not particularly unique or valuable. That's partly why I'm interested in identification first.

A few direct responses below:

Andreas - I'll consider all your suggestions. Good thoughts, thank you. We did try the Kevlar tailgut threads but I don't recall trying to bring them close together or shifting them to favor the E or G string.

4 hours ago, Brad H said:

2.If the top arch is as low as it appears in the side view pics, you might ask your luthier whether that patented bar is doing its job of helping  support the top.   I wonder whether this Szymanski made any other internal modifications.

What is the overstand measurement?      Your luthier might be able to tell you whether a neck reset/lift (raising the overstand and the projection) could benefit the instrument. 

Brad, The overstand is ~5mm. The arch doesn't show any signs of collapse. It looks even across all dimensions. I wouldn't take on a full neck reset but I was looking to see if it's a good candidate for a New York neck reset, which I've done before.

4 hours ago, David Burgess said:

From the photos you have both linked and posted,  I am unable to support your notion that the violin has a heavy (thick) varnish. I might even suggest the opposite. A very thin varnish film can level out irregularities in the wood surface quite well, if one really knows what one is doing, and has levleing as a goal.

I think I understand what you're saying, David. Assuming it is a thin varnish as you suggest, it must have been very viscous since it indeed leveled and obscures any sharply defined features. It's odd that wood discoloration and indention in the upper treble area of the top seems to be "varnished over." I guess I assumed a maker wouldn't have continued with an imperfection like that so maybe the "clear" was applied by someone later after a mishap. But maybe it's a birthmark and this is the original, thin varnish.

48 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

Here are the photos, made a bit easier to see.  IMHO, it's not "the usual".  For one thing, the C-bout ribs are lapped at the corners. 

Thanks for enlarging the photos. I was going "small" from the sticky guidance but these are clearer. Would you please explain a bit what you mean by "not the usual?" I'm not following...

26 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

What kind/brand of strings are you using and how old are they?

The current strings are Helicore. They're quite old now, on the violin when I gave up on it at least 10 years ago. At the time I tried it with Dominant, Helicore, and also Prim (the latter two being somewhat common in the old time fiddle community because we often change tunings and they tolerate that and settle quickly). All changed the personality a bit but didn't shift the core "stuffiness" and unresponsiveness. At this point I think I'm assessing whether there's something else worth trying to improve things. If so, I'll start with fresh strings.

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9 hours ago, Tom_R said:

They're quite old now, on the violin when I gave up on it at least 10 years ago.

Well, I guess you're long overdue for a string change! And then give whatever strings you put on time to carefully break-in before you try any adjustments.

(Also, people who cross-tune GD to AE tend to destroy those two strings pretty quickly.)

I personally think you should put on new strings, break them in, and then take it to a luthier who is good at tone adjustments and finding the right set-up to open the "core tone" of the violin. Of course, some violins have a core tone that doesn't appeal to some people (but may appeal to others), and maybe your violin's will never appeal to you.

In that case, @jacobsaunders's advice is the best course to follow.

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The violin seems to have started with a more brown varnish (visible at the lower pegbox/nut region) and was probably heavily overworked by Mr Szymanski or somebody else. Wether it’s a Vogtland/Schönbach made with outside mound or a Mirecourt isn’t clearly to decide but doesn’t matter much in the actual state and an attempt to alter something structural appears to be a waste of time and money . So I agree with Jacob’s advice.

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I can't tell what the dimensions are of that goofy bass bar, but it looks to be extremely low, with a blob directly under the bridge.  In a normally graduated violin, I would expect a bar like that to give excessive low-end response, and show some cave-in of the island.  Neither of those have been mentioned, leading to the possible deduction that the top graduations are abnormally thick.

Is this violin unusually heavy?  What does it weigh without the chinrest?

A fiddle with a "stuffy nose" I don't think is going to be cured with adjustments or new strings, but something is fundamentally off in the structure.  New violins often have this problem for a while, but this is not a new violin.  If it is excessively thick, with the nutty bass bar to get some flex out of it, then the cure attempt would be to pop the top and regraduate it, with a normal bar (and there's no assurance that this would work).  If it is not excessively thick, and a few simple adjustments or new strings don't do it, Jacob Saunders made a good suggestion.  The wood might just be hopeless.

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I would not suggest amateur regraduating of decent violins. But if this one is of no value and sounds bad, I don't think that messing with trash would be vandalism.  It's a good way to learn.  Besides, it has already been vandalized with that bass bar.

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11 hours ago, Tom_R said:

Thanks for enlarging the photos

Would you please explain a bit what you mean by "not the usual?" I'm not following...

You're welcome.  I felt that a better view of your violin would encourage informed comments about the provenance.

In MN parlance, "the usual" (from a Jacob Saunders bon mot, "the usual rubbish") refers to the  most common antique violin found "in the wild", the 1870's-1920's Markneukirchen-Schönbach trade violin.  These were mass-produced to a general pattern (I've repaired several where the parts, though handmade, were interchangeable) in a piece work system, and known as Dutzendarbeit from being sold to wholesalers by the dozen.  Rather than having their rib garland assembled using a mold, "Markies" (as they are often called here) show the use of a built-on-back construction method where the rib ends at the corners were left very long to allow gluing by clamping them together, then cutting them off at the plate corner edge when dry.  This method leaves a plainly seen seam at the mid-line of the corner, no matter how the corner is later trimmed and chamfered.

Your violin shows that the corners weren't made that way, therefore, whatever it is, it is not a classic Markie, even though the parts might have come from Markneukirchen.

23 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

I would not suggest amateur regraduating of decent violins. But if this one is of no value and sounds bad, I don't think that messing with trash would be vandalism.  It's a good way to learn.

Don, IMHO, the violin is a shop-labeled trade fiddle, but it's probably not trash on the current market.  If a genuine Lewis, it may be worth a few thousand dollars when restored.  I'd advise the OP to be a little cautious here.  :)

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1 hour ago, Blank face said:

The violin seems to have started with a more brown varnish (visible at the lower pegbox/nut region) and was probably heavily overworked by Mr Szymanski or somebody else. Wether it’s a Vogtland/Schönbach made with outside mound or a Mirecourt isn’t clearly to decide but doesn’t matter much in the actual state and an attempt to alter something structural appears to be a waste of time and money . So I agree with Jacob’s advice.

Blank

what time period would have markneukiirchen violins using outside molds

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47 minutes ago, Strad O Various Jr. said:

Violadamore is spot on about regraduating, but I do think its just a Markie from the 20s, I have a Lewis and Son in the shop right now, same thing, outside looks almost like Mittenwald but inside has veneer blocks at the bottom and no top blocks, the OP might look inside to see if his violin has top blocks.

Violins like you describe are the "missing links" in the transition process between built-on-back and mold methods in making Saxon trade fiddles.  Outside mold doesn't absolutely require the insertion of corner blocks, though it's more stable with real blocks.  I expect that the OP violin has blocks, if they'd look for them.

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