This is a lovely John Betts violin from around 1800 in an exceptional state of preservation – the sound is refined, sweet, and beautifully balanced.
In some sense John Betts was the obvious antecedent for JB Vuillaume – starting out as a gifted maker, moving into restoration, dealing and expertise, ending up running a busy and successful workshop, employing the finest talent of the day. Vincenzo Panormo, Richard Tobin, Joseph Hill, Lockey Hill and the Fendts all worked for Betts at one time…
This violin is the quintessential circa 1800 London violin, a typically English take on Stradivari with long ornate corners, a fine orange-brown varnish lying slighlty matt on the surface of the wood, very crisp details but with a soft and mellow arching and a deep recurve inside the purfling. This is most likely Betts’ own work – the model puts it quite late in the 18th century, but the brand to the upper back wasn’t used much after around 1800.
It’s a joy to see a violin from this period that’s been so well preserved – it even retains its original saddle, cut into a point at the lower rib, and sitting outside the purfling on the table. If you scroll down the thumbnails you will find some additional photos showing these details.
There is one small repaired crack under the chinrest, otherwise the violin is in perfect condition – the varnish is as good as any we have seen.
This is a sophisticated and mellow violin – highly responsive and playful, definitely not a headbanger! It has a uniquely elegant voice and it would be ideal for chamber music – it’s also in a relatively pure state and it would be a great candidate for historically informed performance of classical repertoire.
The essential tone of this instrument is quite fruity, but it’s never fuzzy or unclear – it really sings, and there’s a lot of tonal and textural variation to be explored. It’s a very friendly violin, physically comfortable and easy to steer.
Beautiful to look at, beautiful sound… probably one of the nicest remaining examples of the work of John Betts.