Before buying a new master instrument, make sure that you're really getting one.
Ask these questions.
How long has the maker been carving violins, violas and cellos?
Do they make originals, copies, or both?
Ask for references, independent appraisals, and musicians who play upon their instruments.
Did they completely carve and finish all the pieces themselves?
Where did the wood come from, how old was it and how was it stored before making the instrument?
Ask to see their wood supply for yourself. (Since wood must age for many years, there should be at least a twenty year supply hanging from their ceiling.)
Was the instrument made around a traditional inside mold? (The process used by all the great masters.) I would keep an open mind, but realize that outside molds are traditionally used only in factories and to make copies.
Are all the joints well-fitted and held together with hide glue?
Does the instrument have fully-mortised linings and blocks? And was "that" wood fully cured also?
Does the pegbox have the proper proportions, widths and clearances. (On fine instruments, the cheeks of the scroll should flare out wider than the sides of the neck to allow proper clearances for the G and E strings, not form a straight line.) A lot more work, but well worth the time.
Is it oil varnish (used by the old masters) or spirit varnish (quicker drying but usually not considered as high of quality) and did they make it themselves?
Does the maker consider their creation a complete “work of art?” Ask them to explain.
Then ask the maker to play the instrument for you. Anyone truly serious about making “master” instruments will at least play at a “competent” level, and you can tell how much they love the violin by the music they play and how they feel about it. After all, that's what it's all about.
Copyright Lee Instruments 2005
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