A Very Lovely 3/4 Sized Saxony Violin

This violin is available to buy. Details on my website Disology.com. HERE

History, repair and refurbishment notes

When I received it, this rather beautiful little 3/4 violin was in a pitiful state. What had happened to it to cause the damage I don’t know. I suspect, however, that it had been in some kind of accident. The neck was detached and it had several cracks on its face, including one that is not a sound post crack, but is very near to the sound post area and so in need of particularly thoughtful and very robust repair without removing the integrity of the original instrument and materials it is made from. The last owner purchased it in that condition from an antique fair, and then subjected it to the ignominy of hanging on the wall, as a decoration, for the next 20 years!

Once rescued and safety in my little workshop, the top of the violin was carefully removed so the the neck could be re-set and fixed back into place and all the cracks could be very carefully assessed before being sympathetically, conservatively and traditionally repaired by using cleats and hide glue.

I made a number of violin grade seasoned spruce cleats (also known as studs) that I hide glued over the underside of the repair to act as permanent sutures. The cleats were then very precisely thinned to provide just the right degree of strength and flexibility. The result is now a fully and robustly repaired instrument that sounds absolutely wonderful and is full of genuine antique violin character. Perhaps it sounds even better than it did when new? Although, of course, we can never know.

Antique violins costing many thousands of pounds often have several repaired cracks visible on their face. Indeed, fakers of antique violins used to actually make and then repair fake cracks to give the instrument that look of a violin of such a valued quality that it had, down the centuries, been so expensively, extensively repaired by past owners.

As the expertly written and renowned ‘Violin Owners Manual (2001)’ notes on the issue of crack repair, properly done:

The good news is that the effect of a repair, even a serious one, is almost always undetectable. And not all changes are for the worst; after being repaired an instrument can often work better than before it was damaged. How can this be? The answer is that not all instruments are set up to produce the best sound to begin with.’

This violin almost certainly has an old (perhaps 19th/ or 20th Century) fake label inside it. The label says it is a Mirecourt (French) Thibouville Lamy instrument. However, my internal inspection and personal consultation with expert luthiers and dealers reveals it is not definitely, but is actually in all probability, a Saxony (German) violin, or else it might be one made in Bohemia. This is because it is not fully blocked in all the corners and the bass bar is carved as an integral part of the table of the violin. Such construction methods were not traditionally used in France and are far more typical of 19th century German (Saxony) and 19th century Bohema (Czech) instruments made in small cottage workshops.

Note that on the topic of the quality of German violins, James M Grimes (2014, p. 58) writes in ‘Violins of Hope’ that in the first half of the 20th century many professional orchestra musicians preferred German violins over ones made elsewhere, even though there was no difference in price – at least before the Holocaust. After the horrors of the second world war everything changed in that regard.

‘So why did Italian and French violins eclipse German instruments in prestige and cost in the second half of the twentieth century? The answer is simple. The market for musical instruments is driven by demand, and that demand is based on the instruments played by the leading virtuoso. Since the greatest violinists tended to be Jews who would play [only] on instruments made in Italy or France, the rest of the world followed suit, creating a run on those instruments and ignoring their German counterparts. Today German instruments are sold at a fraction of the prices demanded by comparable instruments that just happen to be made in Italy or France.”

This, is not a typical German (Saxony) “factory” small cottage workshop violin. It is, for example, far better looking and sounding than, by way of example, any of the 3/4 Maidstone violins and is the equal any other of the very best 3/4 size (fractional) Saxony or Bohemia) violins I have worked on.

The violin is now properly set up with a good quality Teller aged maple bridge with ebony insert on the E-string position, Piastro Tonica strings, a new sound post and integral modern fine tuners, this instrument is ready to play, and enjoy, right out of the case.

Just watch the video of it being played by my neighbour the music teacher and professional International performance violinist Ursula Kathryn Donnelly.

In the video, Ursula makes some very positive comments about this lovely 3/4 size violin. Below the video, you can read her expert opinion about it.

Please note: because of its superior sound and aesthetic appearance, Ursula, understandably as I did, and as many expert others have done the same, mistook this sympathetically restored violin as French and describes it as such in the video. Yet, as said, it is more probably a 19th century Saxony or Bohemia instrument that has been pretending to be a high quality French student instrument for much of its life, and is still doing an excellent job of that, in my opinion.

Dr Mike Sutton

Music teacher and performer Ursula Kathryn Donnelly’s assessment of this antique violin

“This violin is absolutely gorgeous to look at and just as beautiful to listen to, a real gem. It’s the sort of violin you fall in love with before you even try it.

In general, the tone of this violin is clear, bright and sweet. The top end is incredibly responsive and can really handle showman pieces like the Hungarian Dance by Nolck. I found the lower end to be less responsive and a little more muted than the top end, but it still carries its weight and is not off putting by any means

This would be a great violin for a first violinist or soloist in a more advanced student orchestra as it’s volume and clarity of tone would cut through above the rest and certainly do justice to a more confident player.”

Ursula Kathryn Donnelly

Ursula Kathryn Donnelly’s Bollywood Violin School can be found on Facebook (Here).

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A podcast of this post is available HERE


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