Friday, December 28, 2012

Orch. Dork Vacations - Where to Travel to See Stradivaris, Guarneris & Amatis. Part 1- U.S.

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

A violin by Nicola Amati, Cremona 1669, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

For hundreds of years, the best violins makers have been making exquisite works of art, and Music Geeks around the world can fully appreciate every detail of these fine masterpieces. But where are the best places in the world for us Orch. Dorks to gather and learn more about the finest violins ever made? There are fantastic violin museums all over the world.

The first place I would recommend is the The National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why Do Instruments Have Names?

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins,
and Ben Schuneman

Sometime in the year 1827, Luigi Tarisio acquired a violin from the late Count Cozio di Salabue and added it to his private collection. Both men were avid collectors of prized violins, and Salabue was well known for buying a large quantity of Stradivarius instruments.

                                                                                    The back of 'The Messiah' 1716 Stradivarius violin

In fact, the instrument was in such good repair and such high quality, that Tarisio would refuse to bring it out of his collection to show anyone, and instead just preferred to boast about it whenever given the chance. In fact, Tarisio was so well known for this perplexing habit, and he played the game for so long, that the famous French violinist Delphin Alard had joked, "Your violin is like the Messiah...One always waits for him, but he never appears!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stanley Steamers, X-Rays, and Violins! Huh?

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and Kevin Berdine

A long time ago, an elderly woman brought in a violin she wanted to sell. Like many old violins, this one had a story. When she was a girl, her family had owned movie theaters during the silent movie era. They hired musicians to play music during the movie. One musician, a violinist, stayed with her family until about 1933. One day in 1933, he just disappeared. He took almost all his belongings, but he left this violin under his bed. Since that day, no one had played the violin. I opened up the case and there was a beautifully made violin with a wonderful varnish. It was made by F.O. Stanley in Newton, Massachusetts in the year 1889. The top was made from Spruce that looked very similar to Spruce on Cremonese instruments from the same era. The Maple on the back, though, reminded me of European Maple I had seen on the dashboard of an early automobile, a "Stanley Steamer". Strange, but this is a strange business.

A Stanley Steamer Automobile

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kreutzer (?) Sonata: An Inspirational Work

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and Kevin Berdine

The birthday of the great French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer is on November 15. This year, his birthday inspired a discussion in the shop about the Kreutzer Sonata, The Kreutzer Sonata, The Kreutzer Sonata, the Kreutzer Sonata, and a few more 'Kreutzer Sonata's. Of course, we mean, the sonata, the novella, the painting, the string quartet, a ballet, and several movies and plays. Too bad Rodolphe Kreutzer never played Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Title Bout: Guarneri del Gesu versus Stradivari. Which is Best?

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins,
and Kevin Berdine

Be careful what you ask for. This morning, while taking photos (to send to a customer) of an Atelier Cremone del Gesu model, I asked Andy "what's the difference between the models of del Gesu and Stradivari?" And, in Andy's usual fashion he exclaimed "Great idea! You have figured out your next blog posting!" Then he showed me some resources and sent me on my way.
1703 "Lady Harmsworth" Stradivari

1743 "Il Cannone" Guarneri del Gesu
The violins of del Gesu and Stradivari are at the utmost pinnacle of violin making. Each innovated violin making and broke away from the highly arched traditional forms of Stainer and Amati. Interestingly, however, the strides that both makers achieved were completely different from one another. Stradivari is known to have executed his violins with extreme physical elegance. Because of their extreme beauty, Stradivari's violins were immediately sought out by the courts and nobility of Europe. A Desiderio Arisi manuscript, written in 1720, lists many nobility, from princes and dukes, among those who purchased instruments from Stradivari. In contrast, del Gesu's instruments were rougher and much more unique. Each instrument left the shop with a much more adventurous design. Although rougher in design and workmanship, his instruments yielded a wonderful tonal palette that was both beautiful and powerful. His instruments, unlike Stradivari, were used by the the common musician who required a great sound without the high price tag.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beethoven and Bonaparte. The Eroica Was Almost the Bonaparte

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and Kevin Berdine
What does a cantankerous musical genius and a man of short stature with plans of taking over the whole of Europe have in common? 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Can't kick the tires of a violin-What to look for when buying an instrument.

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
Kevin Berdine, and Amy Tobin

Looking for a "new-to-you" instrument is a daunting, but exciting task. There are many items that must be factored in before taking the leap. Cost, quality, warranty, trade-in, condition, and playability all contribute to the overall impression an instrument makes upon you, but we believe the most important factor has to be sound. Sometimes, however, cost is a very important limitation. Below, I delve into cost's contributing factors.

Many things contribute to the cost of an instrument; maker's reputation, wood quality, workmanship, condition, location, and yes, even appearance.

Friday, October 26, 2012

All in the Family

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and Kevin Berdine

Yo Yo Ma, in PBS's Face of America with Henry Louis Gates, states "It takes three generations to make a musician: the first to leave poverty, the second to go to school, and the third to master an instrument." This quote inspired us to delve into musician families and to see just how many famous musicians have become successful, in some part, due to their upbringing. The results are a wonderful testament to the power of family.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What viola do they play?

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins and Kevin Berdine

When you hear a violist, ever wonder "what viola are they playing?" We have compiled a small list of violas that famous musicians have played or continue to play.

William Primrose

1735 Nicolo Gagliano Violin
"ex-Primrose" Amati, now played by Roberto Diaz
1697 "ex-Lord Harrington" Guarneri, now called "ex-Primrose"
1950 William Moennig Jr. now played by Peter Pas

Yuri Bashmet
1758 Paolo Testore

Ida Kavafian

Ida Kavafian
image from Curtis Institute of Music

1751 Guadagnini Violin
1987 Peter and Wendela Moes Viola

Atar Arad

images from his website
Nicolo Amati

Helen Callus

Gabrielle Kundert-Copy of the Primrose Amati

Roberto Diaz
ex-Primrose Amati
Kim Kashkashian

1617 Brothers Amati

Paul Neubauer

Nobuko Imai
Peter and Wendela Moes

Nils Monkemeyer
Peter Erben

Melia Watras
Samuel Zygmuntowicz Viola

Lionel Tertis 

1717 Domenico Montagnana (17 1/8 inches!) 
Lawrence Cocker "Tertis Model" viola

Are you a violist or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Violas!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Violin Making in Germany

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins,
and Kevin Berdine

Lion's Head Scroll Carving by Jacobus Stainer

German violin making all began in Fussen, Germany. The German school of violin making, however, managed to infiltrate all areas of Europe: George Epp, the Hollmayrs, and the Fichtls took on Vienna, Andreas Ott and Bathasar Kogl were the founders of the the Prague cohort, Caspar Tieffenbrucker introduced violin making to Lyon, and Naples was home to Georgio Bairhoff and Eberle, while Michael Platner and David Tecchler lived and worked in Rome. The most famous of all German makers, to this day, remains Jacobus Stainer. His instruments became the model of excellence before Stradivari's instruments became the ultimate.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Maestro Rodolfo Cazares - Kidnapped

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 & Kevin Berdine

Maestro Rodolfo Cazares
In the sophisticated world of classical music, we often feel immune to the chaos and violence that grips much of our world. Unfortunately, no one is immune to the violence and brutality of the gangs and organized crime of northern Mexico. A member of our musical world, Maestro Rodolfo Cazares was kidnapped more than one year ago and is still being held for ransom.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What Violin Are They Playing? Is That A Strad?

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 & Kevin Berdine

When you hear a great performer, do you ever wonder, "What violin are they playing? Is that a Strad?" A common assumption is that all violin soloists are playing on the violins of Antonius Stradivarius. Many are, but not all.

Then there are those lucky few that own and play on more than one great instrument. Two Stradivaris or a Stradivarius and a Guarnerius. Hmm, what should I play tonight?


1710 Lord Dunn-Raven Stradivari

Playing the 1703 Emiliani Stradivarius

Friday, September 28, 2012

What Cello Are They Playing? Is That A Strad?

Written by: Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
 & Kevin Berdine

When you hear a great performer, ever wonder "What instrument are they playing? Is it a Strad?" 

If you hear a great solist on violin, chances are good that they will be playing on a Stradivarius or a Guarnerius del Gesu. Not so much with great cellists. Sadly, the great Guarnerius del Gesu never made a cello. And many of Stradivarius' cellos, particularly the cellos he made before 1700, were very large and not particularly well suited to the demands of a modern soloist. All but two of those large pattern Stradivarius cellos have been "cut down" and reworked into easier playing modern instruments.  Luckily, two great Venetians, Montagnana and Gofriller, made great cellos that meet the demands of today's great cellists.

Here is a list of some wonderful cellists and the instruments they play.


1733 Domenico Montagnana-Nicknamed "Petunia" by a student in Salt lake City, Utah.

1712 Antonio Stradivari, "Davidoff"-formerly Jacqueline du Pre's cello

1722 Gofriller-Being played by Valentin Erben

image from Valentin's website

1673 "ex-du Pre/ex-Harrell" Stradivari

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Orchestral Etiquette -- An Uphill Battle Worth Fighting

Written by: Matt Lammers of Fein Violins

Having spent a summer and nine orchestral performances with the Brevard Music Center Orchestra this year, I was dropped headfirst into a culture of high standards and professional level playing. Eager to study orchestral playing technique and musicianship, I was not expecting to make any modifications to how I went about acting during and around rehearsals on a non-musical level. This, however, can come between a job and unemployment for even the most competent orchestral players. Getting on the wrong person's nerves--or your entire section for that matter--may have devastating consequences when tenure, or being hired in the first place, is on the line, and in a festival situation it can be what separates you from being an asset to the ensemble and the object of collective hatred. It seems to me that this is something worth paying attention to.

While a great deal of the do's and don't's are either intuitive or were told to us as we sat down in elementary school string orchestra, many of them require experience and the inside line to recognize, and are generally unnoticeable to the outsider. It would be an oversight to not mention these that are seemingly obvious, so here we go: don't eat during rehearsal, don't talk back to your conductor or principal, don't smell bad, know your part, don't talk during rehearsal, be on time (EARLY) to rehearsal, and turn the pages on time. With that out of the way it's time to dive into the finer points of playing in an orchestra that I noticed during my time with the faculty of the BMCO.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Parker Quartet. Playing Their Hearts Out!

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
& Ben Schuneman

Image result for parker quartet grammys
3/4 of the Parker Quartet with their GRAMMYs
GRAMMY! A fair number of people are nominated for GRAMMYs. Not that many people win one. Even fewer  GRAMMY winners are from or are based in Minnesota. (Well, OK, Bob Dylan has a few under his belt.) In Classical Music, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra was awarded a GRAMMY in 1980. And in 2011, the dynamic Parker Quartet was awarded the GRAMMY for Best Chamber Music Performance!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Archetier, or in England-Bowmaker

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Predecessor to Cramer and Tourte Bows
The English have as old a love for stringed instruments as anyone else in Europe. English musicians have patronized and cultivated some of the finest violin and bow makers the world has seen. We previously looked at Early English Violin Makers. But without bows, these fine stringed instruments would just be plucked!

c.1800 School of Dodd Ivory Mounted Cello Bow 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Musical Olympiads

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins & Kevin Berdine

Buglers Dream-Leo Arnaud

Every four years the world gets excited about seldom seen sports. Perhaps the old saying is true, "absence makes the heart grow fonder." We sit in our comfy homes and watch others, halfway around the world, put their talents, stamina, and heart to the test. It is an extremely engaging act to watch, a few of us are even lucky enough to travel to the events and witness the valor first-hand. Someday, I hope to join the masses and sit in the stands and root for my countrymen. But what if we could see this same mania aimed at the arts?

Monday, July 23, 2012

How does one Handle Handel? British Violins, of Course!

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins,
 and Kevin Berdine

The W.E.Hill violin shop was by far the greatest violin shop in England, if not in the world, for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But they did not rise out of a vacuum. There were wonderful makers in England long before the Hills and there remain great shops since the Hills closed shop. The Hills simply took the best of those talents, added their immense knowledge, and brought out a tremendous violin shop.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dog Days of Summer - Keeping Your Instrument Safe

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

It's hot this summer. Even here in Minnesota, this summer has already seen several days with a heat index above 100 degrees, not to mention those days where the actual temperature is in the 100's!
It is early July as I write this, so I know that there will be quite a bit more of this before we get into the cooler autumn months. In light of this, I thought now would be a great time to write a quick reminder about caring for your instrument, keeping it safe, and continuing to be able to enjoy it for years to come!

Let's talk about what is probably the most important consideration about the summer.....traveling in the car. While you are riding around with the windows down (or the A/C on), you probably feel a little bit like this.......

Photo from Tori Stuart Photography

However, once you park the car, roll up the windows and walk away, things inside quickly turn more like this.......

Yes, those are actual cookies being baked on the dashboard of a car!
In fact, we have a little rule about string instruments and cars around here. It goes a little something like this:


It's a pretty easy rule to remember, actually. In fact, the beauty of it is that it holds true in all circumstances, at all times of year. You wouldn't leave a baby in a car, car seat or no, if you were going shopping at the mall for an hour or so. Don't leave your instrument in there, either. In the winter time, you wouldn't leave your child or pet in the car, with subzero temperatures, so don't leave your instrument in there either. 

But here's the really important thing to remember - the trunk of your car is not climate controlled!!!! No matter where you are, remember that your air conditioning does not reach the trunk and cool it down (or keep it warm in the winter, for that matter).

There are several things that can happen if you leave an instrument in the car. First, the varnish can bubble up and melt, like this:

Violin with bubbled varnish
and this.......

Violin after varnish melted from inside of a hot car

There are other tragedies that can happen from leaving a violin, viola, or cello in a hot car as well. The glue, which holds the instrument together, can melt, like this crayon......

Crayon melted on the inside of a car

And the wood itself can crack, like this......

Violin damaged by heat inside car!

I know that I am preaching to the choir with many of our readers, but if I can help even one instrument be protected from needing extensive (and expensive) repair work, at best, and being completely unfixable, at worst (and believe me, your instrument insurance would not cover leaving it in a hot car in the summer!), then this post is worth it. 

Oh, and by the way.......the bow is equally as delicate and important, so treat it with the same amount of care and diligence as you do the instrument!

Are you a string musician or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Violins, Violas, and Cellos

Monday, July 9, 2012

Elizabeth Pitcairn, The Red Mendelssohn Violin, and Wittner Finetune Pegs

By: Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
 and Kevin Berdine

What is the common thread between the Battle of Bunker Hill, the 1720 'Mendelssohn' Stradivarius, 'The Red Violin', Wittner Finetune violin pegs, and Gamma Phi Beta Sorority? Elizabeth Pitcairn, of course!
Photo Credit: Christian Steiner
Elizabeth Pitcairn

photo taken by Christian Steiner

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Violin Makers of Milan- Elite Artisans or Cheapjacks?

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and Kevin Berdine

On a recent visit to the National Music Museum, in Vermillion, South Dakota,  I was overwhelmed with the beauty of some of the oldest instruments in the violin family. Most notably those of Andrea Amati, his descendants, and their students. Towards the back of the room housing the Amatis, Guarneris, and Stradivaris, there is a beautiful five string violin. The shape of this five string violin is unusual as its contours are deeply influenced by viol family instruments. This violin was made in Milan by Giovanni Grancino circa 1685. As you can see from the picture below, this was an elaborately made violin by a very skilled maker. Yet the great violin experts at W.E. Hill & Sons, many years ago, used the term "cheapjacks" to refer to many of the Milanese makers. What was happening with the art of violin making in Milan for its luthiers to deserve such an appellation?

Image may contain: indoor
Grancino 5-string Violin

Grancino 5-string Viola, c. 1662

The term "cheapjacks" was, quite possibly, meant to discourage customers from purchasing wonderful sounding instruments made of less-than-perfect materials. I contend, however, that the Grancinos, and later Milanese luthiers, created fabulous instruments with what was considered inferior material (poplar, willow, beech backs and such). In essence, they used "rags" to create "riches." Perhaps this, in itself, helps to define their greatness in making string instruments. The Hills' use of this term was, perhaps, meant as a slight towards their contemporary competitors in Milan, the Bisiachs. If the Hills could discourage musicians from purchasing Milanese instruments, then their competitors would suffer. In essence, the Hills were "creating a market." The Cremonese were at the top of the heap and everyone else was inferior. The Milanese were chosen, by the Hills, to be at the bottom.

Grancino Violin, c. 1698
The Grancino family was not isolated in Milan either. Such great makers as Landolphi, and even Guadagnini spent some time in Milan. Guadagnini spent the years 1749-1758 in Milan. In fact a great maker named Testore worked at and later took over the Grancino shop.

C.F. Landolfi Violin, c. 1745
C.A. Testore Cello, c. 1720
J.B. Guadagnini Violin, c. 1757, Milan

Andrea Amati Viola, c. 1600

The Grancino family had a tremendous influence on many phenomenal instrument makers. Paolo Grancino probably studied with and worked for Nicolo Amati. Interestingly enough, Antonio Stradivari was also apprenticed to Amati at the same time. Paolo taught his son, Giovanni Grancino, the art and craft of violin making. Giovanni then went on to teach Carlo Giusseppi Testore. In fact, Carlo Giusseppi worked in the Grancino shop. Carlo Giusseppi taught his eldest son, Carlo Antonio, and his youngest son, Paolo Antonio who branched out of the Grancino shop and became direct competitors. As the Grancino shop boosted productivity, the Testores were forced to keep up and their workmanship diminished as they began to cut corners with lesser quality wood. Paolo Antonio then taught his son, Pietro Testore. Pietro has the dubious distinction of bringing the Testore luthier line to an end. Although his work sounded strong and robust, Groves Musical Dictionary describes him thus: "possibly the clumsiest hands that ever made a violin." An unfortunate attribute, indeed!

1703 Grancino Cello; Jaap ter Linden II performing J.S. Bach Prelude from the 5th Suite

1737 Testore Violin; Sean Avram performing Gershwin's Bess, You is My Woman

The Landolphis or Landolfis, contemporary Milanese makers to Grancino and Testore, also made wonderful sounding instruments with poor wood quality and unorthodox techniques. According to Henley, Carlo Ferdinando Landolphi's (1734-1787) work befuddled experts in "reconciling the variableness between degeneracy and perfection." His violins varnished with a "brilliantly transparent but thickly spread orange red" are valued both for beauty of tone and workmanship, while his instruments varnished with a thin hard yellow varnish sound like they have been "muffled by a piece of muslin." The variation between quality and craft is so great that some experts posit that there are, indeed, two makers with the same name. That being said, one has to make a living, so material and workmanship suffered when quality wood supplies ran low and competition was high. Many of his instruments use pine for the top plate and plain un-figured maple for the backs. Oftentimes his scrollwork looks inferior to his contemporaries, and purfling became an unessential attribute on many of his instruments to cut corners. Furthermore many of his instruments went out of his shop with only one meager coat of varnish. Even with all of these deficiencies in quality materials and workmanship, his instruments left the shop sounding fabulous. 
Carlo Ferdinando Landolphi's son, Pietro Antonio took over the shop from his father  and ran the shop from 1775-1801. His instruments, unlike his father's, are often labelled "Landolfi." This may have been a way for him to distinguish himself from his father. Many praise his instruments for their superior sound, which Henley disputes "as a purely fatuous doctrine that connoisseurs sometimes conceive towards anything coming from Italy."

           1737 Landolphi Violin; Massenet's Meditation from Thais

Although there is ample evidence to believe that the Milanese makers produced some less-than-stellar instruments, one should not dismiss all of their output as junk. The finest examples of workmanship, craft, and tone rival the great cremonese makers. Listen to the examples and decide for yourself! With the exception of Landolphi's "muffled by muslin" instruments-all of the Milanese makers were and continue to be highly praised for the power and beauty of sound their instruments produce. After all, isn't sound the reason we all have decided to play a stringed instrument?

NOT SO CHEAP JACKS! Recent values for some Milanese violins:
Giovanni Baptista Grancino-$170,000-250,000
Pietro Antonio Landolfi-$120,000-175,00
Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi-$180,000-250,000
Carlo Antonio Testore-$100,000-200,00
Carlo Giusseppe Testore-$100,000-200,000
Paolo Antonio Testore-$80,000-150,000

For more information, and an interesting Blog about a Grancino Violin, please checkout:

Good sources for learning more about Milanese violins are Henley's Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bow Makers, Eric Blot's Liuteria Italiana II, and  Walter Hamma's Master Italian Violin Makers.

Are you a violinist or interested in becoming one? Check out our Fine Violins