All fine violins can have some elements of the sound, and certainly all of the playability, attributed to the best instruments made by world famous makers such as Antonio Stradivari.
Most violinists dream about owning an instrument made by Stradivari, Guarneri, Amati or other great makers, but very often do not realize that they can have their instrument play as well as these treasures. One of the main reasons these top instruments sound so good is that they are well taken care of. This accounts for more than 50% of what makes a good instrument. A well-made and properly set-up instrument can have a wonderful sound, and one would have to listen very carefully to hear the difference.
Complaints such as: I can’t play chords in tune; the E string is whistling; I’m hearing a buzz on the G string; or my violin has a weak, muffled sound, are common. In my experience the biggest causes are lack of maintenance and improper set-up of the instrument. Let’s talk fingerboard – 80% to 90% of the fingerboards on professionally played violins need some attention. Yet, the cost and effort to install a quality fingerboard on an expensive violin is the same as that for an average instrument. The same is true for polishing the fingerboard, cutting the bridge or making a sound adjustment.
If you have an instrument and you want to keep it in good playing condition, having it checked once a year is a must. Changing strings, performing a sound adjustment and re-hairing the bow should be done at that time. Heavily used instruments should have this procedure done twice a year.
I’ve had many situations where a client would come to me with their instrument and were looking to replace it with “something better.” After a quick look I gave them good news – “you do not need to spend thousands of dollars on another instrument. Fix what you have for a fraction of the cost and you’ll be amazed at how lovely it can sound.”
Remember, while your violin may not sound 100% (but almost) like a Stradivarius, I can make it play like a Stradivarius, and it won’t cost you millions.
Jarek Powichrowski is a violinist, violin maker, restorer, and an expert on antique string instruments, and is the founder of Princeton Violins, LLC., in Kingston, New Jersey.