How We Got Started
Way back in the 20th Century I became weary of the shenanigans and outright nonsense that seems ever present in the world of violin marketing. I suppose upscale shops and marketeers need to charge high prices for violins, but I decided there is a better way. My experience has taught me that if a potentially excellent violin is properly cared for and transformed, it can be a powerful, wonderful and fulfilling instrument in the hands of a practiced player. More to the point: there is no need to charge a fortune for a great violin.
- The Potential: There are many, many old and very old violins out there that have seen some hard times, that perhaps had not undergone completely proper construction during their creation, or in some cases have been the victims of outright abuse. Well, of course. Violin craftsmanship has been around, literally, for about 500 years, millions of violins have been created. Hundreds of different styles and innovations have been tried. Countless people over the centuries have gotten their hands on these old gems. Some of those hands have been quite harsh and untrained, some quite talented.
- The key phrase here is "old gems". There is nothing, repeat, nothing better than old wood. That wood has the benefit of perhaps 100 or 200 years of sonic transformation; some say the wood cells crystallize over time, others even say it is the grime and debris of history that works its way into the wood. I am not here to settle that debate. I don't even care what the answer is. Perhaps the best way to sum it all up is Father Time. The truth is that these old gems in the rough have something that even the best new violins don't have: decades and decades of playing time and age. This makes all the difference in the world.
- The Restoration: What prevents many of these old fiddles from living in the here and now with great voice and playability is that their conditions are in need of restoration and, often, re-voicing. Re-voicing can often include proper graduation of the top and back, proper installation of a quality bass bar, fitting of corner blocks, fingerboard replacement, properly fitted pegs, and even the occasional neck adjustment. This is labor intensive and not profitable for most shops.
- However, we here at Filius Fiddles think otherwise. This is what we do and what we love to do. I have found that there is tremendous satisfaction in providing an affordable fiddle to a good player. Musicians who thought they could never afford an older violin with an authoritative sound now have the opportunity to shop with us. True, there are great makers today who can construct (or so they claim) a new violin that has that "old wood" sound. I don't necessarily dispute that. Nevertheless, you may need to re-finance the house to get one! If you are able and want to do that, you don't need to worry about this website any longer, hehehe.
- Please understand: It is not our intention to grab any violin out there and tear it down and re-work it! This is not a practice any ethical luthier happily delves into. Labeled or identifiable violins, no matter what the background, are for the most part off limits unless there are truly extenuating circumstances. However, as an example, 100 years ago, literally hundreds of thousands of violins were made in the Markneukirchen area of Germany, Saxony and Bohemia. Many today, of course, would still be wall hangers or something to throw on the Yule Log. Nevertheless, many were constructed with great wood, including old ebony, and beautiful necks and scrolls. While their makers are lost to history, the potential for these instruments to produce wonderful music in the hands of a caring musician is quite real.
- If what I have written here intrigues you, I invite you to view our violins, ask questions, and get excited. Furthermore, if you have just such a fiddle that you would like restored or re-voiced, contact us and tell us your story. There's a good chance you just might have an old gem right there in your possession.
- New Violins: Having said that, please also understand that we are not focused on antique fiddles to the exclusion of other instruments with great potential. We don't discriminate nor do we dismiss out of hand. There are some great violins despite their young age, and we are very happy to present them to our customers. The Chinese are currently producing violins very prolifically. Again, like the trade violins from Europe of yesteryear, many are not worth the shipping price they charge from China. However, there are some gems, and when we find them, we put them on the bench. The Chinese save time and money by intentionally neglecting to properly finish the thickness tolerances. This way they can produce more instruments and sell them quickly to retailers in the USA. Retailers then properly finish the construction and sell them.
- We have several wonderful violins from China, gorgeous pieces with great wood and correct dimensions that we have re-voiced with great success. You will see some of them in our product listings. They have a terrific sound and playability and will be attractive to many customers.
In this photo Joe* is playing an early 19th Century German violin that had been given up for dead. In fact, it turned out to be a wonderful violin with character and antique beauty.
fell in love with fiddling when he was a child. When an
opportunity came along to study fiddling with former Monroe Blue Grass Boy Gene
Lowinger, he dived in, and he hasn't looked back since.
Joe was the fiddler for the NJ-based bluegrass band Groundspeed, which won the
New Jersey State Bluegrass Band competition in 1993, and for 24 years
he fiddled for Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame performer, Jim Murphy, with Jim's band, The Pine Barons, a band that won the Traditional Music
Association's Band Of The Year award in 1998. Joe is also a 7-summer veteran of the Violin Craftsmanship Institute at the University of New Hampshire. He is also a member of the Violin Society of America.