Monday, December 21, 2015

Want to Ruin or Lose an Instrument? Leave It In The Car!

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Recently, an instrument valued at $1,000,000 (yes, that's one million US dollars!) was stolen. Well, actually, I'm not sure you could say the instrument was stolen. The car that it was in was stolen. The instrument just happened to be a sweet bonus for the car thieves.
Dude, Where's My Car? And my violin????
Think it's reasonable to leave a $1,000,000 cello in the car while you go in to a store, restaurant, or a friend's house? Hmmmmm. If you had $1,000,000 in  cash- $20s, $50s, and $100s, would you leave it in the car? Of course not! So, why would anyone leave an instrument valued at that amount?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bach's Six Suites. For Cello? Or Something Else?

'The King' Amati cello

image from The National Music Museum

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and  Martha McDermott

Bach's 'Six Suites' are the Holy Grail of Unaccompanied Pieces for Cello.  They have been transcribed for multiple instruments including violin and viola.

Cellists often sneer at violists who perform these works. However, historical evidence suggests that these violists might not be as far off as cellists might think. What if the works were really written for a type of viola and they've been transcribed for cello??? Oh, the horrors!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Violins- New, Used, Vintage, Old, or Antique. What's Best?

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

"I have an old violin that's been in my family for generations......" We get a phone call that starts out like that almost every day at the shop. There's a common belief that because a violin is old, it must be valuable. Not necessarily so. In fact, the vast majority of old violins that people find tucked away in attics and closets are not worth much. Or anything. Even if the label says "Stradivarius".

From a Sears catalog circa 1910

Sunday, August 9, 2015

An American in Paris

By Andy Fein and Martha McDermott

Not many pieces of classical music can claim to have inspired a series of ballets, movies, and musicals, but Gershwin's 'An American in Paris' has done all of that!

An American in Paris played by LA Phil conducted by Gustavo Dudamel

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Your (Violin) Neck Used To Be Shorter

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and Martha McDermott

Have you ever experienced this phenomena?- You or an orchestra friend gets some new string that's just hit the market, or a shoulder rest, or some other doodad AND it makes that violin sound GREAT! Next thing you know, every violinist in the orchestra has one! In the early nineteenth century there were huge changes going on in the violin world. First Paganini made some changes and it made his violin sound GREAT! Then next thing you knew, EVERYONE needed those changes.

It's hard to imagine an instrument as staid as the violin going through any evolutionary changes. Most of our modern violins are so standardized that if the string length is off by just a couple of millimeters, an experienced player will notice it. But early violins were not made to such standardized measurements. And one huge change that happened in the early 1800s is that the length of neck (and thus the string length) became longer! Almost no violins made before about 1830 retain their original necks. That includes Stradivaris, Guarneris, and Amatis.

Violino Piccolo in its Original Set Up by Girolamo Amati, Cremona, 1613 at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Stradivarius At His Peak, 1715

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins 
and Martha McDermott

This year, 2015, marks three hundred years since Antonius Stradivarius hit his peak in craftsmanship and tone quality. That's not just my humble opinion. The period around the year 1715 is called Stradivarius' "Golden Period".

1715 'Hochstein' Violin
 Antonius Stradivarius had been working on violins for about fifty years, he was in his seventies and still very healthy, and he had hit upon a model for his violins that combined the best of tone, playability, and projection.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Strings- Part III, Cello

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and Martha McDermott

Taste in cello tone varies quite a bit, from bright to very mellow. But I've never had someone ask for cello strings that will make their cello tinny, very bright, nasally, or unfocused. So, by process of elimination, I'll assume that most players like their cellos to have a focused, somewhat mellow sound with big and responsive C and G strings.

Gautier Capucon plays with Larsen Strings

Going for that goal, and with plenty of string trials and feedback from clients, teachers, professionals and the staff at Fein Violins, we've narrowed  it down to three string sets. All made by Larsen Strings.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Old and Not In the Way, Part I, Guarneri Family Instruments

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and staff

In our first installment of Old and Not In the Way, let's take look at the string instruments of the Guarneri family. 

The scroll of the 1697 'Primrose' Andrea Guarneri viola
The Guarneri family gave rise to Joseph Guarneri del Gesu, generally considered as good, or better, a violin maker as Stradivarius. Where did he come from?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

These Are A Few of Our Favorite Strings! Part II, Violas

By Andy Fein, Luthier at  Fein Violins
and staff

Following up our previous entry talking about violin strings, here is Our Favorite Strings Episode II The Viola.

MacDonald Stradivari viola, 1719

Viola tone quality is a bit of a difficult subject because there exists such a tremendously wide range of tastes. For one, full size violas vary in body length from 15 inches to more than 17 inches - and there are players that play everything in between! This means that there are many variables to take into account when choosing strings. Smaller instruments tend to sound nasal with not much power on the C string, while larger instruments are slower to respond. It is important to choose strings with the size of your instrument in mind because it will have a great impact on the success of your strings.

Close up of a synthetic core string

Now with all of that in mind, here's a tutorial on string lingo. We'll use some comparisons to help explain the jargon:

Mellow- A mellow sounding instrument will sound very focused under your ear without harsh overtones, like a French horn or a cello. People often perceive a mellow sounding instrument as being tuned lower, even though it's tuned to the same pitch as a brighter instrument.

Bright- The extreme of bright would be tinny. Piccolos are very bright instruments. Many bright instruments sound very loud when you're playing them, with a lot of sound blasting into your ear. Players will perceive this as an instrument with great projection, but that is not necessarily true. Bright sounds are made up of many higher overtones that die off quickly and do not carry very far.

Muddy- Not clear. Like a guitar with the fuzz pedal on all the time.

Clear- Sounding like a bell.

Project- The sound carries away from the instrument. An instrument with great projection can be heard at the back of a concert hall.

Balance- All of the strings work together. One string isn't louder than another, and you don't need to change your bowing technique for each string. Balance can also mean not too mellow and not too bright.
Andrea Amati Viola, ca. 1560

And now, the strings:

Evah Pirazzi Made in Germany by Pirastro
The A and D string will truly bring out the brightness of your instrument. The lower strings (G & C) can sound a bit weak. We do not recommended these synthetic core strings for violas under 16".

Obligato Made in Germany by Pirastro
These synthetic core strings are rich and mellow, and respond with great nuance like gut strings. They sound great on all strings, but are especially nice for adding warmth and fullness to an overly bright viola.

Helicore Made in the USA by D'Addario

These steel core strings are warm, crisp and clear with a fast response. They also feel surprisingly soft and comfortable under your fingers. Available in short, medium and long scale to fit 14-15", 15-16", and 16-17" violas.

Need more information on the different types of string cores and wrappings? Gut, nylon, perlon, steel, titanium, all wrapped up in one blog.

Stay tuned for Part III - Cello Strings.

Are you a violinist or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Violins!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

These Are A Few of Our Favorite Strings! Part I, Violins

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and the staff at Fein Violins

Kaplan Violin Strings, Vivo on the left, Amo on the right

Strings can make or break the sound of an instrument. They can help a violin produce a sound that soars over a 120 piece orchestra, or they can make a Stradivarius sound like wet cardboard. And just because your favorite soloist uses "X" strings, doesn't mean that they will work as well with your violin. Violins are like snowflakes - no two are exactly the same (and both have dust in the middle), and as such, a particular set of strings that allows one violin to reach its full potential can inhibit another.

Finding the right strings for your instrument can seem like an uphill battle, but you don't have to do it alone. What follows are descriptions and reviews of popular string brands by and for violinists.