Monday, October 22, 2012

Adventures in violin rescue, part two

Saxon/Bohemian violin, c.1800, all set-up and sounding fabulous...

This last week I posted images of this violin on and found out some interesting things about this instrument I had written about in the previous post.  That 1791 Casper Strnad label is a standard lithographed copy of the original copper engraving label, in other words--not genuine.  Another participant had a similarly-anonymous violin attributed everywhere from Prague to Schönbach (west Bohemia) to Saxony with this same bogus 1791 Casper Strnad label.  Apparently in the late 19th century, violin dealers in Markneukirchen in what had been Saxony (but was now a part of the new German State) had copied labels of famous makers and stuck them inside violins, in this case, into one that was already around 100 years old at the time.  It probably had lost its label decades before; maybe it's under the fake label.  It seems that most features of this violin point to late 18th-century violins made in Saxony and western Bohemia.  One weird feature of this violin that indicates that it could have been made in Prague is this hole in the back of the peghead.

Apparently some makers in Prague (including our man Casper) would drill a hole to make stringing the A string easier, but the consensus on the site was that the dealer who put in the fake label probably had his guy drill this hole and then plug it, so that it looked like it was from Prague.  More likely is that it is from further west, as the original Skinners auction description proposed somewhat tentatively.

So, not a Caspar Strnad.  Looking at all the repairs, both participants and my friendly neighborhood string instrument repair god, Paul Hill, suggested that this might not necessarily sound very good.  When I showed up at his workshop yesterday, I was expecting that I had thrown my money out the window, pretty much.

After carefully checking that every single repair was stable (especially the ugly ones), he fitted a bridge to the top, cut a rough arc on top of the bridge, and put the strings on.  Here he is in action.

Then he handed it to me, I tuned it up, and...

Oh, my...Both of us looked at each other with our eyes wide--this thing was wonderful!  So, then it was worth it to go all out.  He trimmed down the bridge, we kept going back and forth, playing a bit, shaving the bridge here and there...Then he tweaked the soundpost here and there.  In about an hour, it was perfect.  As Paul said, "This fiddle has a voice!"  

I played a real Stradivari once, which was interesting in the way it threw an amazing singing tone out all around me.  I can see why classical players love this, but it's not an instrument for fiddle music.  The 17th-century Jacobus Stainer I played once was a different story; that violin had a rich, intimate sound, complex and dark down low and sweetly singing up high.  I wanted that fiddle!  And I have to say, this anonymous 200-year-old violin from Schönbach or Markneukirchen or wherever had that intoxicating Stainer sound.  For about $250K less than a good Stainer would cost. 

Ideally I should include a link to a little soundfile of it on my website, which I will eventually do, but first I have to get to know this instrument for a couple of weeks.  We'll be spending a lot of time together...

1 comment:

  1. Was there anything out of the ordinary you noticed about the violin that may have affected the sound? i.e. extreme arching, odd bassbar, etc..