My new violin arrived yesterday. It’s German, a 1926 Ernst Heinrich Roth Stradivarius 1714 (I think) copy that my father-in-law has had since 1948, though he hasn’t played it since the mid 1950s. He purchased it with the help of his beloved music teacher, Virginia Franks, at a good shop in High Point, North Carolina. When he learned I was playing the violin he offered it to me, shipping it from rural Virginia in a box that seems big and sturdy enough to hold even me. As I pulled it out from all the pink shipping peanuts, the first thing I noticed was that I’ll need to get a new case for the instrument – the one he’s stored it in all these years is the one he bought it in back in 1948, and it’s in a state of disintegration. The bow also needs to be re-haired, but it will probably be fine once that’s done – it’s an octagonal versus round stick, which seems to be somewhat more desirable based on my cursory research. The bow also seems a bit slighter than my rental, though a side-by-side comparison revealed it to be identically sized.
The violin itself is beautiful. It’s a rich brown with soft yellow tones, and a lovely flamed maple two-piece back. It was clearly made with much more individual attention than my rental, and it’s not without a couple of natural bruises that inevitably flow from being played by a young man for a number of years and just from being 87 years old! The violin has a heft – a solid feel that my rental lacks, and it has that nice patina of age that older wooden objects have. I love the variations in the stain and the spectrum of color, especially around the sides and on the back of the instrument. It’s an instrument with character, one that’s waiting on me to make my mark(s).
I had already had my practice session by the time it arrived yesterday, but of course I wanted to play with it. The first order of business was seeing if it needed any work – I had mostly been expecting to feel the need to take it directly to the shop before doing anything else, but I was surprised to find that it really seems fine. My father-in-law told me he put some “new” (out of their packages that were 60 years old!) strings on it, an operation I have never personally undertaken. I must admit to having some concerns about strings that old, but they appear to be able to do the job. I do think a new G string is in order before long.
But I just decided to try to tune it up. One significant difference between this and my student instrument is that, like most better-quality instruments, it has only one fine tuner, on the e-string. So my first real peg-tuning experience happened on an ancient instrument with ancient strings and an ancient bridge. I will say some of those YouTube videos I’ve watched came in handy – I knew, for example, to watch for the bridge tipping back toward the fingerboard as I turn the pegs on multiple strings. You have to manually tip it back to vertical very gently toward the tailpiece as you go.
Peg tuning isn’t a snap for lil’ ole beginner me, and I didn’t get it perfect yesterday, but I did use my rental bow and pull out a few scales. I expect that overnight it went out of tune again, and I will get more practice with the pegs here in a few minutes when I go to tune it for my morning practice session. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be able to write about the tonal qualities of the instrument. But perhaps not – older, out of use violins can take a while to reveal their natures, I’ve read. And let’s face it, “tonal qualities” produced by me at this extreme beginner point have much more to do with me than my instrument! Regardless, I’m excited about this new chapter of Musical Me and I’m optimistic that this instrument will be a true companion on my musical path for many years to come. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to my father-in-law for entrusting me with this significant part of his past.
Thanks for reading.