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Pauline Lerner

Falling in love with an older specimen

July 31, 2006 at 8:35 AM

I’m falling in love again, this time with an older specimen who has had some serious injuries and surgeries and needs more. I’m concerned about his health and wellbeing.

I have a friend who likes to buy interesting things at second hand stores and yard sales. Some of his purchases are for him, and some are for his friends. He mentioned that he has a 7/8 size violin and I asked him about it. He said that it has a sweet sound, but it’s old and beat up, and it’s probably not worth much money. I asked him how old it is, and he said that it was made in Germany around 1900. At this point, I got very interested and wanted to see it. He had it stashed away in his car (ow – hot!), so I asked him to bring it over. I told him that violins need to be played from time to time to keep them healthy, and I volunteered to help.

I saw it last night, and it is very good looking. I began to make its acquaintance as I do with any violin I'm interested in. I started playing, at first on the open strings, and listened for warmth, resonance, and sustain. It was really sweet. Then I tried extremes of dynamics and gradual crescendos and decrescendos, checked the quality of sound from lowest to highest registers, and the listened to the richness of the vibrato. I played slow tunes, fast tunes, bluegrass tunes, Bach, and everything else I could think of. Wow! I think some of its sweetness and sensitivity come from its very light weight. Besides being a 7/8 size, the wood must be thin. Now the bad news. The bridge is severely warped, but it can be replaced, and it's not expensive. I didn't dare tighten the strings enough to get them in tune, and, when I was finished playing, I loosened all the strings so they were very slack. The real danger of a badly warped bridge is that it transmits tension to the violin body, and it can do damage even to a violin in good shape. The first crack that I saw was right under one of the feet of the bridge. A much more serious crack is right where the body connects to the neck. It has been repaired before, but it does not look good. I thought of Richard Hellinger, who wrote on recently about a great sorrow; his violin broke at the neck. The fingerboard on my friend’s violin is beginning to separate from the neck, possibly because of the way the neck and back were glued together. It must be quite a good violin to sound so beautiful in spite of all this. I will not take it to my luthier today, but only because the store is closed on Monday. I’ll go there tomorrow, for sure, and get a damage report and repair estimate. If I had the money, I'd pay for repairs and buy it, but I just can’t. I’ll talk to the luthier and see what can be done.. I want to find out what repairs would cost and what it would take to keep it from deteriorating or falling apart altogether. It is really a gem. I’m so concerned about its health. I hope I get good news from the luthier.

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