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Hello, all! So I was in a little emporium today and a vendor was selling his old violin projects as he was getting out of collecting/repairing.
I found a few violins there that I could barely stand to leave there -- for extremely low prices, as in $200 for a 1760s violin--and wanted to ask what kind of work would need to be put into repair for an extremely old violin. Is it any different from repairing one from...well, this century? One was a Guarneri from the 1760s and another was a Maggini from the same time period according to labels, and a nice-looking C. Meisel but there was ink splotched over the date. They each have similar issues: two need soundposts, all of them need bridges and new pegs/complete new set of pegs. What kind of work goes into the restoration of an instrument that old? I was terrified to even hold the Guarneri once I saw what it was! I can assume that I wouldn't dare to do the repairs myself (definitely not the soundposts?) although I was recently able to repair my troublesome Mathias Thoma that I've posted about before. Also, what kind of strings would they take? I'm thinking that steel strings would not be good for them since steel core probably wasn't in use/existence back then.
(And on a side note, does Fiddlershop take repairs shipped to you for instruments like this?)
I'm super excited to simply have seen and held such history! Now -- the biggest question is how much work/dollars it will take after jumping for one of them? Is it worth it? Any information would be greatly appreciated.
If you can pick one up and play it, pay what you think its sound is worth.
It's highly unlikely that those are genuinely from the 1760's, or made by Guarneri, etc. If you can find an expert willing to come with you to check them out (and willing to sign a contract saying they won't buy any of them), you might find some actual gems.
A guy brought a violin into the shop where I take lessons. They were able to determine that it was (if genuine) made by the guy who taught Amati. It was probably worth about $1.5 million. If it was a 200 year old fake (which was the other likely possibility), it was worth about $30,000.
The odds of you finding one (or more!) of the genuine articles are extremely high against you. Finding one of the fairly old, and fairly valuable fakes is a possibility.
If you want to collect, get the expert I spoke of. If you just want a good violin cheap, try them out, and pay what you think it's worth. (Comparing it against what other violins that sound that good go for. If it's for sale for less than that, and it seems to be in good condition, you're doing good regardless of what it ends up being worth. And if you have a gem fall in your lap that way... who's complaining?
Addressing your actual question: I'd imagine you'd repair them much the same way you'd repair any violin, but with rather more care on any aspects that require some force. Wood doesn't get stronger as it ages. Unquestionably have a luthier do it, and if you can find one that specializes in older instruments, that's who I'd go to. (Assuming you can afford it. Specialists tend to be more expensive.)
Sorry to burst your bubble on the awesomeness of the old violins, but there's still a possibility you can get a very nice violin cheaply. Good luck on the hunt.
Thanks for the reply! Ah, but oftentimes a burst bubble equates to a return on reality! I'm thinking that two may be relatively old (not the C. Meisel, though) because they have a lot of blackish discoloration on the tops and wear on the back, labels hard to read for all the fading and dust inside, but I'm also now assuming that the dates on the labels refer to a copy of (like how the Strad copies sometimes are labeled). Your mention of "wood doesn't get stronger as it ages" definitely brought another thing to consider too. I'm not looking to collect any, just was fascinated by their perceived age and thought it might be fun to learn about the older instruments hands-on...maybe these ones are a bit *too* hands-on! I unfortunately can't try any of them out because they're in need of a setup, basically--pegs, bridge, tailpiece, etc. Again, thanks for the reply!
There are many music stores that have trained technicians who can repair the old musical instruments and make the re-usable. Music instrument repair stores also provides the musical instruments on rent and they may also provide us easy DIY home tips to keep our music equipments in a better manner.
If you are dealing with prices in the range of $200 there is not much risk there. I would have to pick up a couple. A new soundpost and bridge is not that difficult or expensive and can be fabricated by any competent luthier. Those are basic repairs. A very old fiddle might need to have bushings installed in the peg holes. That takes some real skill. Take a look inside to see if there is noticeable wear where the soundpost has been. Repairing that will require removing the top plate. While that is off you will want to do any other internal repairs needed. Now things are going to get expensive.
I agree with zpilot, for $200 it's not that much of a risk.. If the body is in relatively good condition the rest of the repairs like soundposts and bridges are not that expensive. Even if they're just copies a couple of hundred year old violins tend to sell at least above $1-2k if the wood was decent to begin with even in unplayable condition. (was actually checking quite a few of them out on ebay a few weeks ago simply out of curiosity).
Take a look at the actual wood the body is made of... check the grains / flaming on the back.. compare it for example to Fiddlershop violins 🙂 that should give you a general idea of the original quality the instrument might have had. But chances are.. unless it's the equivalent of an ancient VSO... (which I doubt) it's going to be much better than what you can buy for $200 nowdays brand new.. Also if you don't have anyone you can take with you like others have suggested.. you could simply ask the vendor what he knows about it.. You said it was his old restoration project, so he should know the most about it.. and because of that.. I also highly doubt it's a 10k+ instrument, since he would be aware of that and probably ask for way more than $200.. BUT if the body is decent.. from good quality wood.. and doesn't have much damage.. you could have a really awesome violin fairly cheaper than normal..
Obviously even if it's 'just $200..' you don't want to throw that out the window so be sure you'll be able to use it before buying.. maybe even ask the owner what kind of repairs would be needed to recondition it properly. Also you if he lets you take some pictures (be sure to include the back of the violin and the label inside) that could help you discover more information about it online