Posts Tagged ‘Inroduction to the Collection’

Dr Mike Sutton’s Exclusive Violin Collection. Please visit my website Disology.com for further details of some of these violins.

April 12, 2021

This site provides a record of Dr Mike Sutton’s private collection of traditionally repaired, refurbished and optimised student violins. More restored violins can be seen on Mike’s sustainability website Disology.com

Anyone wishing to know more about any of the violins on this site can email Dr Mike Sutton at drmikesutton@hotmail.com

Introduction to Super Sustainable Student Violins

Repairing a cracked antique violin using traditional conservative techniques, and correct materials, takes many days of thoughtful, expert work. The good news is that a properly repaired, restored and set-up violin often sounds significantly better than it ever sounded before. This is because many violins are sold, even when they were brand new, with imperfectly fitted bridges and sound posts, often latterly with poor quality budget steel strings. All the violins in my collection are correctly set up for optimal tonality and playability. And all are fitted with good quality synthetic core strings, matched to the violin.

Most of the the restored instruments in this collection have been fitted with new sound posts of high quality aged spruce. Several sound posts are usually cut in order to ensure the one to remain in the violin is an optimal fit in the correct location.

To avoid “buzzing”, strings must be clear of the fingerboard when in tune, which often means it is necessary to correctly refurbish or replace the nut of the violin. The fingerboard, if it has become grooved or otherwise worn through years, of use must also be refurbished.

Most of the violins in this collection have been fitted with a new high quality, aged maple, bridge. Making and fitting a bridge correctly takes an entire day. The feet of the bridge must be expertly cut to precisely fit the face of the violin in the correct place and the bridge must then be cut to the required height for the strings to the fingerboard. The bridge is then thinned, whilst keeping the integrity of its arch. The bridge is then tuned to the violin by playing the instrument and then knowing where to remove very, very small quantities of wood from particular key areas of the bridge until the optimal sound for the instrument is achieved across all strings.

Being student instruments, many of the vintage and antique violins in my collection have often seen many years of hard use in the hands of keen children and so have picked up many characterful dings and scratches along the way, which I personally love to see on an old student instrument, because they reveal circumstantial evidence of the violin’s worth as an instrument that young people will definitely play. Conservative touching up of the spirit varnish on the instruments in this collection was done with a spirit varnish of the correct colour, personally imported from Germany.

To demonstrate their playability and tonality, the violins in my collection are assessed and demonstrated by a professional violin teacher and performance violinist

Details regarding strengths, exceptionality, student suitability, and any limitations of the instruments are provided.

In some cases, where possible, playability and volume issues raised by the expert violin teacher are addressed with modifications made to the bridge, and/or slightly altering the sound-post position.

Good quality at a fair and reasonable price

When it comes to affordable (sub £2000 violins) many violin teachers will tell you that 19th Century Saxony/Bohemia and some French student violins represent the very best value for money instruments, because, in their expert opinion, they are of a significantly superior strength, finish, playability and tonal quality than modern standard student violin imports from China, such as Stentor and similar others branded under different names.

A few, but by absolutely no means all, Czech-Slovakia student violins (1918-1945) and Romanian Violins of the latter half of the 20th century can be a wise choice for the careful buyer looking for superior quality student violins at a fair price.

Buyer beware

When buying a student violin, there are many things to consider. However, I have four “golden rules”, which are arguably the most important of all:

  1. Condition. Unless you are buying an instrument as a repair project, only ever buy a violin that has been set up correctly, has a good bridge, properly cut and set sound post, is optimised and is ready to play, with good quality strings. Most importantly, the instrument should have no unrepaired serious damage such as cracks, because that can sometimes very seriously affect the sound. Note: not all cracks are actively spreading and may be classed as “stable”. While some experts would prefer to leave “stable” cracks alone, my philosophy, when it comes to student violins, is to always to repair them using traditional conservative methods. Note: not all cracks are easily spotted. They frequently occur, hidden under the fingerboard or tailpiece. Open seams (where the spruce face or maple bottom of the violin is glued to the maple sides), are often not at all visible but can also seriously affect the sound of a violin. These are quite easily repaired with traditional hot hide glue and luthier clamps. Damage that affects sound is, in many cases, quite likely to get worse to the point where costly repair is essential for the instrument to be played at all well. When buying from classified advertisments or eBay this advice is most pertinent. The violin repair notes on each instrument in my private collection can be studied to learn the type of things that commonly need repairing for an antique violin to be ready to give centuries of further use. Bass bars on antique Saxony and Bohemia violins are often (but not always) an integral part of the face of the violin, having simply been carved out of it. Other violins have their bass bars made separately and then glued into place. As a rule of thumb only, the latter are found on better quality violins and it is important to ensure they are firmly in place. Many wonderfully sounding Saxony and Bohemia student violins have carved-in bass bars, which of course cannot ever become loose.
  2. Price. Many violin dealers, with lovely shops, charge several times the fair price value of an antique or vintage student violin. By way of example, many of the student violins in my collection, worth a fair “good deal” price of£125-£475, would be sold in such shops for £600 to £1,875 and even higher. I know this, because I’ve seen them at such prices many times. Do not be hoodwinked by such dealers telling you any violin they are selling is an investment. Never buy a violin as an investment item. There are far better things than violins to invest your money in for a reasonable chance of making a profit, rather than a loss.
  3. Sound and playability. If you are not playing the violin yourself, then have it demonstrated by someone who can. And, most importantly, have others in the same price range played for you too, so that you can try to distinguish one from the other and then reject them all, or make your purchase choice accordingly.
  4. Beware of violin teachers on sales commissions. If your own, or your child’s, violin teacher is taking you to a dealer to buy a violin, do not be afraid, or think it impolite, to ask them if they will be paid a commission from the dealer should you choose to make a purchase. If the honest answer is “yes”, then for what I hope are obvious reasons, I suggest you be very cautious regarding the teacher’s advice. I know of more than one example of a student who has been seriously ripped-off by dealers and teachers working in consort. A teacher of high integrity should not, in my opinion, put themselves in a position where money they can make from a sale may influence them to recommend you buy from a particular third party. A good teacher will take the time to help a student choose the violin that is right for them, at the right price for them, and will make no monetary profit from that professional, ethical, responsibility.

Dr Mike Sutton (amateur violin repairer, restorer and small-time patron of the arts).

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