This is a lovely English violin in the tradition of Joseph Chanot. It’s in pretty much flawless condition and the sound is just great.

I have to confess that I’ve never come across James Steele before, and I’m pretty astounded to find work of this quality from such an obscure maker. From the style of constuction, the varnish and the various aesthetic details, it’s clear that Steele was of the London Chanot school, heavily influenced by the Fench makers but trying to achieve a more rounded and mellifluous tone. He was contemporaneous with Alfred Vincent and Alex Hume, and his work seems broadly equivalent.

The violin is very well preserved – just a few dings to the varnish on the back and some slightly hurried peg bushings we need to mention, otherwise the condition is exemplary.

Where on earth did James Steele come from, and how did he manage to produce such a great violin? it’s one thing to master the tools and produce a great looking violin, but it’s so rare for this to be accompanied by really fine tone.

It’s true that this instrument is more geared towards chamber music and ensemble playing than the exigencies of solo performance, but I love it. It’s very even-tempered, fruity and enveloping in tone, very quick to respond, and consistently rewarding throughout the whole register.

Sweet and velvety, a big sound but in no way oppressive, this is a great violin for lyrical repertoire, and absurdly fine for the price.

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