Archive for the ‘Re Homed Violins’ Category

Maidstone full size (4/4)

October 15, 2021

.Assessment of the violin’s playability by Ursula Donnelley (professional violin teacher and performer) of Nottingham.

Ursula Donnelly writes:

“This violin is very easy to play and has a rich, warm tone that I liked immediately. This is one of those violins that has a distinctive character that would certainly do justice to a soloist. I really enjoyed playing this violin.

Dr Sutton’s violins are always well set up and this one is no an exception. The general playability was very good. The fingerboard is very smooth and easy to change position on. I found it very easy to control the sound and produce clear, warm tones without squeaks and scratches.

This violin would suit an intermediate to advanced level student. It would be a suitable violin for a student to complete their Grade 8 on as it can handle the more technically difficult music and sounds great. If you or your child is committed to learning the violin and you are looking for a budget friendly option to see them through to their Grade 8, then this type of violin is for you. Additionally, Maidstone violins in general make excellent folk violins. 

Usually at this point I would list the drawbacks of the instrument, but I haven’t found any. It’s really a great all rounder and a solid investment for anyone who is taking violin seriously.”

Repair and Observation Notes by Dr Mike Sutton

On this blog site you will see several Maidstone (Murdoch) violins that I have repaired and restored. They are all good.

In my opinion this is the best sounding Maidstone violin I have played to date.

I must stress, that all Maidstone violins are certainly not the same. I learned from one very experienced violin luthier that the square label Maidstone violins are generally the best. I do know they are the oldest.

The above violin is immediately very pleasingly responsive on every string and is very easy to play. It has a very nice sweet and open sound, both under the ear of the player and to an audience. It is also not muted, in my opinion, like many 19th century German student violins can sound.

Most Maidstone violins have an oval label depicting two girls dancing. Murdoch, who imported most of his Maidstone violins from the Saxony area of Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, later involved his son in the company. Hence the later models were labelled “Murdoch and Murdoch and Co. There are typical oval labels bearing the simple name Murdoch and Co and later ones as “Murdoch and Murdoch and Co. As far as I know, all the square ones simply say Murdoch and Co just like the violin above does.

As said, some experts claim the square labeled violins are best. Rumours exist that some Maidstone violins were made in what was then named Czecho-Slovakia (Bohemia) and even France. Moreover, that not all Murdoch violins were Maidstone’s.

I own another square labelled Maidstone violin, which I am currently repairing. That violin will be featured on this site in the future.

I must say the above violin beats into the ground all my oval labelled Maidstone’s – using exactly the same type of strings (Thomas Infeld Vienna, Alphayou – synthetic core strings).

The violin also has a new high quality Korolia bridge that I carved from a blank, then tuned to the violin, and a sound post newly made of high quality spruce that I very carefully fitted, using a new-design non-sound-post-damaging tool, for optimal sound. Some minor German spirit varnishing has been blended into the instrument using my own formula to keep the lovely original golden varnish wear-patina whilst ensuring there is no bare wood. The neck was re-set and the fingerboard carefully refurbished. The end block inside the violin was also repaired. A brand new light alloy integral fine tuner tailpiece is fitted, of a type I have always experienced surprisingly good set-up results with in the past.

The violin has historical expertly bushed peg-holes, which lets us know that the violin has been very extensively played for many many years and expensively repaired in the past. This is just one physical clue of it having being considered by a past owner to be a high-quality sounding and once-loved violin. This instrument is quite clearly a cut-above most Maidstone violins. It sounds surprisingly good (even for a Maidstone, which already have a great reputation among those in the know) now, but it will certainly improve even further with post-repair playing, because it has not been played regularly for many years. Why? Because people have been saying it for years, but playing a violin extensively and regularly is now known to improve its sound for sure. Playing a violin, incredible though it sounds, changes the molecular structure of the wood for the better (here). Good job it does not change it for the worse, then.

I am looking forward to seeing how my newly acquired second square labelled Maidstone compares with this one. Once it too has been repaired and restored to beautiful playability in the same way.

On the advice of local luthier experts, I have used traditional genuine parchment sutures to reinforce the spruce-wood repair of some damage that had been done historically to both f-holes. These are extremely tough, acoustic and flexible, whilst being least likely (in my opinion) to interfere adversely with the sound of the instrument.

As with every full size Maidstone I own, the violin has a carved-in bass bar, is fully lined but is not blocked in any of the corners.

More on Maidstone Violins

Unevidenced claims some were made in Czechoslovakia (here).

Dealers will sell a standard quality Maidstone Full-size violin for between £500 and £600. (e.g. here)

I have been advised that a full size Maidstone violin of the sound quality of the one played in this post by Ursula Donnelley would most likely sell in a violin shop for between £800 and £1,000.

Front and back of the restored violin

Full Size Later 19th Early 20th Century, “The Maidstone” Saxony Violin (Reference ♭)

April 10, 2021

NOTE: This violin has now been re-homed

This Maidstone violin would suit someone who wants to learn without being too loud. It’s a perfect adult first ever or, as you improve, your second purchased, higher quality violin, that won’t make you worry about disturbing the neighbours when practising.

It could also be well suited to a younger person who is approaching the advanced grades but doesn’t necessarily want to be the loudest violinist in the room. It can handle the more advanced stuff due to Maidstone’s quality vs affordability sweet spot. 

The tone is sweet and muted. It sounds pleasing to the ear but won’t make the new learner feel embarrassed when practising. It’s also quite easy to play and not overly resonant, meaning the student will not have to work hard to get a pleasing sound out of it. It is the perfect violin for blending into the back of the orchestra with! It would not however suit a soloist as it simply isn’t loud enough.

The only drawback for me was that I struggled a little not to catch the other strings when playing the D string, but with time you would get used to this.

If you are looking for an affordable starter violin of a reasonable quality, this would be a great instrument.

Ursula Donnelley (Violin teacher and professional violinist)

History, repair and refurbishment notes

Despite what you may have heard, all Maidstone violins are not the same. This is one of several full size Maidstone violins in my private collection of antique and vintage student violins. I also have many 3/4 size Maidstone violins in the collection.

Following the expert review of this violin by Ursula Donnelley, above, I adjusted the arch of the bridge of the instrument to ensure the G and A strings were each lowered by 0.25 of a mm to address the playability issue she experienced. Furthermore, I found I had set the sound post a little further from the foot of the bridge than the optimal position for volume. Therefore, also in response to Ursula’s expert review, I moved the sound post about 1mm closer to the foot of the bridge, setting it now at a ‘bridge foot’s thickness’ away from the foot of the bridge. The top of the bridge was also thinned fractionally, to increase the response of the instrument.

In consultation with expert Luthiers, I am informed that the patina finish to the varnish on this instrument was caused by it having been stored in an attic for many decades. In the UK, attics tend to get hot in summer and cold in winter. This causes the wood to shrink in winter and expand in summer. Years of this shrinking and expanded produces this aged effect to spirit varnish. It is also notable that at some point in history the ebony fingerboard of the violin was visited by woodworm. Close inspection reveals 8 ancient flight (exit holes) of a wood boring beetle leaving the wood. I asked a number of leading luthiers about this and was informed that this was certainly due to the ebony fingerboard having been, unknowing to the original German maker, infected with worm when it was put on the instrument over 100 years ago. This explanation was arrived at because the UK has no resident wood boring beetles that are capable of living in the UK climate that can attack ebony wood. I could have changed the fingerboard for a new one, but the exit holes have at some point been expertly filled and make zero difference to the playability of this instrument. Therefore, in keeping with my personal philosophy of sustainability I have left it as it must have been for over a century.

In addition to making the bridge for this violin and tuning it to the instrument, I made and fitted a new sound post, added a Wittner composite tailpiece with integral fine tuners and complimented this set up with a set of good synthetic core strings. Namely D’Addario Ascente medium tension strings. The lovely antique chinrest is the original Bakelite model that was supplied with the violin in the last century.

Interestingly, this Maidstone violin came from the attic of a nice old Victorian house in Tonbridge Kent, just a few miles from Maidstone where the Maidstone Orchestra for the People movement first began. There, it had been stored for many decades in its original wooden case. My son, who lives in Maidstone and has a business in Tonbridge picked it for me from the lady of the house, who expressed great, bemused, surprised that it was destined to be fully restored.

Today this genuine ‘loft find’ violin is once again being enjoyed in the hands of its new violin student owner.