So what is a White Violin?
Where do they come from? How does that have anything to do with the Makers Label? I became re-educated with the Theft of my 1933 German made instrument I purchased for college study in 1969. That embarked on a shopping spree and was literally shocked. As I began, I thought of others shopping for an upgraded instrument, either for their advanced student or themselves. I realized the fact today's strings instructors often rely on public school employment, with schedules that prohibit assisting students by locating quality fine instruments. Parents and students found it easy to rent a retail shop instrument However, now they where making a sizable investment in something very unfamiliar, a fine stringed instrument. With that in mind will share what I found to be a drastic, and seemingly fraudulent change by sellers of fine instruments.
2. "Made for"or, "From the Shop of" Labels: These type labels became a new and alarming phenomena for me when I visited shop of a respected dealer in fine instruments where the lowest price tag was $1,000.00. In their plush air regulated room displaying a collection of fine instruments the vapor of fresh turpentine (actually fresh stain varnish) took my breath away during the 10 minutes I tried 3 instruments ranging in price from $1200-$5000.00. All labeled merely with the name of the shoppe, or model name, and most often with a label stating, By:XX, Master Violin Maker,For: __, or By:The shop of XX, For:__. Although I was an experienced musician, I found I was now a amateur in the purchase of a quality handmade fine instrument. I became determined to explore and understand how fine instrument labels that in the past were highly trusted, actually indicated for modern day (younger) violinists. During my last purchase in 1969 it was understood Master Violin makers traditionally did not put a retail or shop dealers name on their labels, nor had they used the marketing tactic of "Models" when labeling their craft. I discovered many reputable dealers of fine stringed instruments were forthright in explaining the marketing practices of the current day. I determined of utmost importance for inexperienced buyers following :
- The use of Multiple Apprentices in Violin Maker Shops - One acceptable change in the making of Violins is the use of apprentices to make fine instruments under the supervision of a Master Violin Maker. However, it is important to understand that the few Violin Making Schools in the U.S. require 3-4 years of study to become an apprentice. Juried reviews of hand made instruments demonstrating a high degree quality is required to receive a diploma or certificate. Regardless of the coursework completed, "Certified" Violin Makers from these schools will have such demonstrated this proficiency by similar rigorous examinations. Multiple recitals or rigorous reviews will delay the receipt of a school's diploma or certification. Once Certified, Master Violin Makers can begin to make and sell handmade instruments and build reputations by and clients, or, further their credentials as an apprentice in the shop of a Master Violin Maker whose instruments are in demand, the finished product is in turn labeled by the shops maker. When shops limit apprentices to only those certified, and supervised by the Master Violin Maker, quality instruments priced from $1000.00 to $5000.00 can be trusted to be of high quality. However, modern day trade with industrialized countries not historically associated with Master Violin Makers, has brought the introduction of WHITE VIOLINS, which purposefully are intended to appear as shop built handmade instruments. .
- Beware that these instruments pass between up to 3 separate shops, each a assembly line. These instruments can often be labeled using the name of a Master Violin Maker as modified to include the name of the distributor in the U.S.
- Violin Factories - "The Advent of Violin Factories" - Today a Violin factory may supply Violins parts in various stages of completion. These factories may not have any qualified apprentices. Factories may incorporate processes of automation in crafting specific crafting parts of a stringed instrument, using factory workers as monitors. Templates of Stradivarius or Guarnieri Violins can actually be purchased by the ambitious hobbyist from E-Bay sellers. Templates can then be replicated using mechanical automation to create parts for finished violins. They can also be computer imaged using modern day CAD drafting programs that automate the machinery cut the parts of a violin. Factory workers merely monitor the process. It is highly possible that the only hand-made crafting of these instruments is the sanding of rough or burred edges.
- Actual "Glue Factories" - Once a place for animals, it is a modern day reality for many Stringed Instruments. Previously cut instrument parts are shipped world-wide for completion by smaller shops, or larger production line shops. Prior to shipment to sellers, the "Hand-Crafting" of many instruments is limited to gluing larger pre-cut parts together, with possibly some planing, referenced as Reduction of the Top & Back of the instrument.
- Paint Factories -This final stage, can equally be completed by mere factory workers, although, in the past several renown Master Violin Makers specialized in "Varnish Finishes". Paint Factories as referenced herein use commercial Vanish to Color the instrument; often used with antiquing finishes to appear aged. The Violin then receives a heavy coat of polyurethane or High Gloss Finish prior to their sale. This last stage often involves either applying labels of pseudo-named Master Violin Makers (closely sounding or appearing as renowned makers). At times, however these actually are labels of Master Makers contracted for "Quality Control Checks" or "Spot Checks" during one or all of these stages, in exchange for allowing their labels to be placed on the instrument. The fact must be acknowledged that entrepreneurship has been embraced in today's world of Violin Making by some individuals.
1. Look closely - How are the views of the pictures of the instrument provided, can you see all angles for inspection? Read the description of the wood. Always remain ready to pass on any instrument that does not state the top is Spruce and the back is Maple. Solid Maple Backs - Always ask, "So What?", as stated in other guides if it is kiln dried, or not aged as indicated by heavy tiger stripes, regardless of the fact it is solid the instrument will sound like a tin box. What more is said about the top, other than Spruce. Do they explain where it came from. Their are many forests that are favored for the Spruce wood that is used in making Stringed Instruments. Do they tell you of the origins of the Spruce, how long it was stacked or aged? Pass on the instrument if all that is stated is the fact the top is Spruce.
2. Beechnut necks - It may have an ebony fingerboard, but what is the fingerboard applied to? What is used to attach the end of the instrument to the body. Remember, the tension required to tune the stings on a violin is massive. It is the neck that must connect these strings and the body and the tuning pegs. How thick is the ebony, the pictures should indicate more than a thin layer of ebony, and the neck should be described by the type of wood it is made from. Do the pictures show the body and the scroll but fails to allow side views of the neck and fingerboard. Regardless of what is said about the material used for the fingerboard, do they show it to you?
3.Shiny and Pretty - An oil based stain is absolutely necessary, this stain both seals the wood grain, and at the same time, allows the wood to breath.This is the reason for the referenced "break in" period of a new handmade instrument. The true sound of a stringed instruments evolves the longer an instrument is played. Don't purchase a really shiny and pretty instrument simply for that reason. Read again, is it evident that the varnish is really varnish. How is the finish described? If it relies on the pictures and uses the pictures as a "hard sell" tactic, consistently stating the pictures reveal the quality of the instrument without actually stating what kind of finish is used and how it was applied PASS!!!
4. Use the Ratings - This does not mean reviewing how many satisfied buyers a seller has accumulated. Move over to the right and check out the sale numbers. How many of the same instrument have they sold over and over. Do they all say the same thing? Do they all look alike? If so ask yourself how handmade instruments all look the same. Check the "Sellers other Items". How many more identical instruments do they offer"? Are all the instruments sold, and all in their store identical, and the descriptions are merely a template that appears when choosing the item for review. Ask yourself how these could be handmade by Master Violin Makers.
5. Ugly Violins - STOP! LOOK! and READ! Old ugly violins may be diamonds in the rough. Minor cracks well described, and repairs already made and explicitly shown in the pictures are signs of honesty, as well as an opportunity to purchase a well seasoned and long after cherished sounding instrument. A seller of an estate simply threw an instrument in with a purchase I made in 2007, he determined it too ugly to sell on Ebay. The older "Less Ugly" instrument I purchased was just what I paid for, but the "really ugly" instrument was a seldom found "Red Violin"; instruments that are notorious for aging badly in appearance, while having a wonderful and sought after sound.
6. Missing Parts - STOP! LOOK! READ! If a seller is honest enough to offer an instrument without strings, and a bridge, read more. If the cracks are not long and running along the right side where the E string is located above the sound post, click on the pictures, save the images to your computer and take them to a local Luthier, or violin repairman. If he works for a local dealer don't tell him where they came from, for all he knows they may be part of an estate settlement. New Strings,a Bridge, or new chinrests are quite inexpensive, even when the old ugly instrument is "Set Up" by an experienced Luthier and compared to the price you paid. You will discover the sound of the past will evolve from that well matured instrument. Ugly often is Good, and most always a sign of honesty of an equally inexperienced Ebay seller. With these purchases Ebay serves its best purpose, buyers and sellers of items coming together using the technology of the modern day.
7. Assertive Questions - I have used the email the seller option of Ebay to send the seller a concise but complete set of pointed questions. To date, when a seller is asked where and how the instrument is made, all have returned my inquiry with honest answers. The integrity of Ebay allows nothing less, and to not answer an email during the period of a sale, or to send a fraudulent answer is indeed enough to save and send to Ebay's dispute resolution department. I know this works, remember the first unfortunate purchase I made, well that seller is no longer an Ebay seller and it was not because he was out of factory made assembly line painted instruments.