Fiddling Around with Violins!

The Violin, or fiddle is a magical instrument. Developed in the 16th century in Italy, it has been synonymous with great music and great musicians ever since. It is no surprise then, that they have been collected as objects of beauty and rarity, as well as fine musical instruments.

The most sought after and most prestigious instruments are those made by the Italian Stradivari, Guaneri and Amati families. The world record auction price for a violin is the ‘Lady Blunt’ Stradivarius, which sold for a £9,800,000. Another interesting sale was that of the Wallace Hartley violin from the Titanic, which achieved £900,000. Generally, such prestigious violins are beyond the financial scope of a musician. So, interestingly, there are institutions (some charitable) that purchase quality instruments and loan them to professional musicians. Of a middle quality are French, British and Austrian violins, with many basic but honest violins coming from Saxony, Germany.

When judging the quality of a violin, an old violin is always desirable, as they do in fact mature like a fine wine! Not is taste, but in tone. The tone is of course purely down to personal taste, but as wooden resins dry, the tone of a violin changes. Some modern violins are even kiln dried. The maple back sometimes has a pattern, this is known as ‘flame’, ‘figure’ or ‘curl’, whilst the top surface is made of spruce and grain widths vary a good deal and sometimes continue into the scrolling pegbox. In the pegbox, the tuning pegs are inserted, some are ebony, some rosewood and some maple or satinwood, again it is down to individual taste; as is the colour of the varnish. Because of the tensions on the strings and correspondingly the wooden timbers, a good violin will always be strong. For this very reason most violin timbers are cut diagonally or ‘quarter cut’.

So there a few basic points to look out for in a violin and we hope you enjoy viewing them for yourself and coming to a conclusion about your own preferences.

This month, The Clocks, Scientific & Musical Instruments Auction at McTear’s boasts a selection of twenty five violins to choose from (illustrated is an 18th century example, lot 320, estimated £800-1200), and quite a few Scottish violins, so there is plenty of scope for inspection of different kinds of violin. It will certainly be a very interesting auction; we hope to see you there.

click here to view the illustrated catalogue

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