About Our New Instruments
We make a range of stringed instruments including three patterns of violin, a viola and a cello. These are all made by Hungarian luthiers using only hand tools, and are finished in Italian oil varnish. We select and buy the wood for these instruments in Transylvania – this wood is the best Carpathian spruce and maple available.
- Design Principles and Practice
- Grading & Pricing
- Part size instruments
- Left-handed instruments
Although Antonio Stradivari is widely accepted as the greatest violin maker of all time, no-one has been able to entirely explain his success, let alone match it. Contemporary makers continue to experiment with most details of violin-making, but there are two basic principles which are as essential now as they were in Stradivari’s time. Firstly, the wood must be chosen for its acoustic properties, and secondly, each piece of wood is different, and needs to be thicknessed differently to obtain the optimum sound.
It therefore follows that any form of industrialized production of violins will almost always fail when it comes to tone!
All of our violins are made using the traditional techniques of hand-thicknessing and tuning of plates. This is a skill which can only be acquired through extensive experience, and professional makers with a high output tend to be much better at it than semi-professional makers who make a couple of violins a year. We work only with highly experienced master luthiers, and have sought out individuals who have a particular talent for producing instruments with good acoustic properties rather than, for example, decorative ‘antiqued’ finishes. Most luthiers are not themselves players and one of the strengths of our collaboration is that our makers get detailed feedback on the tonal qualities of their instruments.
The new violins on our website all meet our standards for tonal quality, and are suitable for semi-professional and advanced amateur players; our Artist violins are those which we find to be exceptional in tone, and are suitable for professional players.
In addition to violins we produce a 40.5cm viola and a cello, both broadly Stradivarius in concept. We use the same principles of construction as for our violins, and exercise the same level of quality control.
You can’t make a great violin if you don’t start with great wood. These days pretty much all violin wood comes from the Carpathian Mountains (including almost all so-called “Bosnian” maple and “Italian” spruce). We choose maple that has regular, even structure and straight grain. The degree of flaming is an irrelevance, and in fact the plainest maple often seems to perform the best for sound. The spruce we use is perfectly straight grained, with even growth lines across the width. In our experience, the actual grain spacing seems to be less important than its regularity, and we don’t share the widely held view that the grain should widen towards the edges.
All of our instruments are finished entirely with Italian oil varnish. We attempt no antique detail or wacky effects, believing that most serious players will appreciate the simple beauty of the wood itself. Oil varnish has a pliablility and warmth to the hand which spirit varnishes lack, and although the varnishing process is far slower, it’s worth the effort. The received wisdom is that oil varnish gives a better sound than spirit varnish, but as with most violin-making theories, this is open to debate. Oil varnish certainly smells better!
However good the wood, however exacting the workmanship, no two violins built on the same pattern will ever sound the same. In view of this we grade all our violins on the basis of tone.
This rather obvious idea is at the core of our business philosophy, and yet it seems to be pretty much unique amongst contemporary sellers of new violins. We borrowed the concept from the Mirecourt makers of the early 1900s. The JTL workshops in particular used any number of methods for distinguishing between violins of the same shape and size, and also priced their instruments on the basis of tone. For instance their Sarasate violins were all made to the same pattern, but were branded student, master or artist depending on the quality of sound.
Of course these assessments can only be carried out by an experienced professional player, since the instrument has to be tested to its limits.
Once a violin is first set up it needs about a week to stabilize – during this time the sound usually improves significantly. So we set up all the instruments in rough form and leave them for a week or so. Martin then plays these violins intensively and grades them according to their sound. Instruments that don’t quite make it tonally or which have aesthetic flaws are classed as “seconds” and are sold with our label as student instruments. The violins which pass our “tone exam” are graded either as ‘Standard’ or ‘Artist’ and labeled accordingly. Artist violins are set up with extra care and attention using Aubert Deluxe bridges and fine fittings.
We always have Standard violins for sale through this web site; Artist violins are subject to availability.
All of our part size instruments are handmade to the same exacting standards as our fullsize instruments, and they’re finished with the same Italian oil varnish.
We believe that young and growing players should be able to learn on instruments that sound good, but most part size instruments on the market today are shockingly bad. Parents are generally (and understandably) unwilling to spend a lot of money on something which will only be used for a couple of years, so the standard remains poor.
Our solution to this is to offer high quality new ½ and ¾ instruments at a very low price and with a trade-in guarantee. This means that if you buy a small instrument from us and wish to upgrade after a couple of years, we will take it back and credit the full purchase price against a larger instrument. If the condition of your smaller instrument has deteriorated significantly, we will negotiate a trade-in price which is fair to you.
There’s a knack to producing small instruments with a good sound, and it can’t be done by simply reducing thicknesses in proportion with body dimensions. The wood needs to be as good if not better, and the plates have to be tuned very differently. None of this can be achieved by the automated processes used by factories and large workshops.
If we don’t have what you want in stock we can have it made, although the waiting time can be 3-4 months. Email Martin (email@example.com) to find out what we currently have in stock or to place an order.
The world of stringed instruments is something of a nightmare for left-handed players, but when it comes to actually making instruments, it’s no harder to make a left-handed violin than a right-handed version. We can provide new handmade violins, violas and cellos in left handed versions, and we don’t charge any more for them. If we don’t have what you want in stock we can have it made, although the waiting time can be 3-4 months. The only differences from right-handed instruments are that the bassbar and the peg-holes are reversed; in all other respects we exercise the same high standards in choice of wood and tonal grading.
Professional orchestras will probably never open their doors to left-handed playing on grounds of aesthetics and safety – orchestral players are squeezed onto the stage in serried ranks, and a bow traveling in the opposite direction is clearly a health hazard. For this reason the classical establishment often encourages left-handed players to learn in a way which can disadvantage them. Not every left handed musician aspires to be a professional orchestral player, and we’ve found that there’s a significant demand for our left handed instruments.
As with part-size instruments, if we don’t have what you want in stock we can have it made specially for you. Email Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to discuss commisioning a left-handed instrument.
So far our violins have made it onto a number of performance stages, and we have sold instruments to classical and traditional players, mainly professionals but some keen amateurs. In tonal quality these violins are amongst the best handmade instruments currently available, and for a serious player they represent unbeatable value for money.