Very Nice 19th century skilfully faked 18th century Amati violin (full size, 4/4), one piece maple back.

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Professional violinist and music teacher Ursula Donnelley plays and reviews a violin supposedly made and then faked by famed luthier Richard Tobin in the early 19th century. But was it? I think the truth is that we shall never really know one way or the other.

Playability and sound review by Ursula Donelley

“This violin has a bit of an interesting history. Dr Sutton’s research shows it to be a 19th Century fake Amati violin (with a fake 18th Century Cremona label) and has been artificially aged to appear older than it actually is (despite now being quite old regardless). It was made by an Irish luthier called Tobin who was tragically destitute at the time of his death.

At first I found the tone a little on the cool side but began to warm up to it when I was playing the E string where I began to feel very connected to the instrument due to its ability to “cry” (around 1m 30s in the video). Perhaps it has something to do with Tobin’s own tragic demise, but the soul of this violin is screaming out in sweet pain, which is a very good thing in my opinion as a violin should be able to do that.

Despite its criminal history, this violin would be a great choice for a student to study up to Grade 8. Tobin may have been a forger but he certainly could make decent sounding violins. Some of the most cutting edge technology now comes out of China, which has no intellectual property laws. Whilst I’m not here to make an argument for forgery, I would be very happy with this instrument if I were an intermediate to advanced level student.”

History, repair and restoration notes by Dr Mike Sutton

Experts (here) have attributed another violin, almost identical in faking details and appearance to this one to most likely have been the work of 19th century luthier craftsman Richard Tobin, who faked violins such as this to resemble well worn valuable 17th and 18th century Italian masterpieces. He did so because those older instruments were more valuable and because he was frequently impecunious, because so many British violin makers were finding it hard to sell their violins due to the number of cheap imports arriving from Germany and France at the time. Sadly, Tobin died in the workhouse. But there is no hard proof of this violin being his work.

Other very similar violins to this one have been attributed (again by professional expert guess work) to high-end master craftsmen luthier studios in Germany in the 19th century. For example, a fake Amati (also – very much like this one – also with very similar fake cracks and a faked neck graft etc), was owned and a favourite instrument of the celebrated South African violinist, Annake de Villiers (1975 – 2012), which she is said to have used for the major part of her career (here).

This particular violin played by Ursula Donnelley and depicted here was once owned by the doom rock music producer of the Band Electric Wizard. Rolf Startin introduced violins on some of their tracks on the Let Us Prey album here).

Startin, who was more lately of the folk band Thirsty Man engraved his name on the back of his violin. This is something I have, on thoughtful advice from hard rock fans and musician friends, left there for the historic record. I blended Rolf’s name in with a little varnish of the original shade so that it is only really plainly visible now if you look for it and turn the violin into the right angle of light. The first picture below is of the back of the violin before this was done. The final picture is of the violin after Rolf’s name was blended in

Ursula Donnelly is right, this violin does have a soul. But whose soul? Or does it contain multiple souls?

This interesting violin deserves to go to someone who will really love to own and play it and appreciate its interesting personal history and lovely appearance as well as its sound and easy playability. Perhaps they too will be a known musician, will love this instrument, and add their name below Rolf Startin’s?

When I bought this violin it had suffered three minor genuine cracks to compliment the many other faked cracks and fake worm holes in its fake distressed table, back, ribs and faked neck graft. The sound post was an extremely badly fitted disaster area, as was the bridge and tailpiece. On written advice of expert local luthiers I repaired the crack with traditional hide glue and with parchment (rather than pine) cleats.

The violin is fully lined and is fully blocked in the lower bouts, The upper bouts are unblocked. It has a separate bass bar firmly glued in place. It has an illegible faked Italian label inside.

I cut and tuned the bridge for this violin from a very high quality seasoned maple blank. To correctly follow the fingerboard and attain the correct height for al the strings, the bridge may appear a little low on the G-string side, but it is exactly as it should be for this particular violin. Being an Amati replica it has a very high arch on the table. To get the best sound I had to tune the bridge with a matching high arch. I have carefully fitted a new sound post for optimal sound. I also fitted this violin with Witner geared tuning pegs. These are brilliant and dispense with the need for any fine tuners on the tailpiece. I finally gave the violin a new set of medium tension Dominant (synthetic core) strings.

Something more about superstition and Amati Violins . From “Why the Devil Plays the Violin” by Addison Nugent” :

“Before the rubab and rabec (two of the violin’s earliest relatives) were imported from Arabia in the 15th century, bowed instruments did not exist in Europe. (The violin as we know it today was not developed until the mid-1500s, when Italian craftsmen like Amati from Cremona and Gasparo da Salò from Salon created the first ones.) And it was precisely because the violin had Eastern origins that it also carried an association with evil. There existed, as far back as the Middle Ages, a perception of the East as sensual and uninhibited — a perception that would grow into a cultural obsession with the eroticized Orientalism of the 19th century.”

Back of violin after refurbishment.



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