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Master Hand Violin Shop

  • 546 S Main W Street
  • Broadway, VA 22815
  • 630/ 292-2641

    Store Hours

  • By Appointment Only
  • Owner

    Elizabeth Ecklund

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    Is This an Old Violin, an Old Violin or a Fake Old Violin?

    By Diane Bruce

    We frequently receive phone calls about "old" modern violins. It's understandable. To most people, anything over 5 years is old - cars, television, and grandma. So of course a violin that is 50 or 100 years old seems very old. However, in the violin business, 100 years old is actually termed and considered "modern". To be considered truly old, an instrument should be from 1800-1850 or earlier. So how do you determine if your instrument is actually old? Cartainly not by inspecting the unreliable labels from this time period. Rather, there are other characteristics of old instruments which can be objectively evaluated.

    The first way to tell if your instrument is old (modern), old (actually old) or fake old, is to look for a neck graft. Old violins (and violas and cellos) have neck grafts because they were crafted in an era when instruments had shorter necks. Around 1840, a few esteemed luthiers experimented with longer necks, and these new necks caught on with players. Violins with shorter necks subsequently had to have their old necks removed and the original scroll put on a longer neck to be playable by the new standards. Thus, old violins have neck grafts, newer violins do not have neck grafts, and fake old violins have fake neck grafts. Fake neck grafts are a groove or pencil line where the neck graft should be and can be spotted because there is no change in the grain of wood on either side of the "graft".

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    Similarly to having neck grafts, actually old instruments frequently have bushed pegboxes. Bushed pegboxes are pegboxes where the holes for pegs have been partially filled in with wood. Bushing is necessary when old pegs have been turned and turned so much over hundreds of years that the pegs have worn down and opened too large of holes for a sound pegbox. Of course, if an instrument was never played much, it will not have a bushed pegbox, even if it is actually old. And very occasionally newer instruments will have bushed pegboxes. So if you have a bushed pegbox, the instrument is probably actually old; if the instrument does not have a bushed pegbox, you can't be sure. If the instrument has a fake bushed pegbox, such as grooves for where the bushing should be, then the instrument is fake old.

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    imgIf you have a good eye, another way to determine if you have a regular old, actually old or fake old instrument is to look at the varnish. Old varnish is made of oil; it is soft, worn from years of playing, and may even have blisters and crackles from temperature fluctuations. The varnish is mostly brown. It is not shiny and bright red. Regular old (modern) violins may have oil varnish, but the varnish is clearly newer. Shiny varnish, chipped spirit varnish or perfect varnish can be seen on modern instruments. Actually old instruments have actually old varnish that is dulled from years of existance. Fake old instruments, such as the one to the left, have blisters, cracks and crackles that are painted into the varnish. Sometimes the varnish is shiny and new in addition to having fake cracks, crackling and blemishes!

    Finally, actually old instruments sometimes have extra lining where the top wood meets the ribs. Thanks to many trips to the violin shop for top removal for repairs, the wood on the edge of the top can grow thin and weak. In order to secure the instrument, the edges require a new lining to be added. As with pegbox bushing, not all old instruments have this lining. But if it is there, this is a good indication the instrument is actually old. Fake old instruments don't usually have fake lining at which we can laugh.

    So the next time you want to call us about your "old" violin, you can look this list over. If your instrument has most or all of the characteristics of an old violin, chances are that it is truly old. If you have many or all of the characteristics of a fake old violin, it's not an old violin. It might be 1900's German or even new Chinese or German. And if your violin has none of these characteristics, it is most probably a modern violin. When you call us and properly identify your instrument, we will be highly impressed.

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