I’ve just finished my 100th violin and can’t decide whether that is a lot or a little. You need to make a certain number to work out the kinks and to establish a reputation. Ultimately of course, we are going to value quality over quantity but numbers do say something.
Over a long life time and with some assistance, Strad made about 1000 instruments and his name became synonymous with the word “quality”. Guarneri Del Gesu’s much smaller output (about 130 surviving instruments) probably indicates a lack of reputation in his lifetime, the quality was there but not recognized. The prize for sheer numbers by an unassisted maker goes to the Englishman George Craske (1797 – 1888) who made a reported 2050 violins plus another 550 various other violas, cellos and basses, without assistance or machinery. If we assume that he apprenticed at 15 and died, gouge in hand, at 93 he produced an average of 1.2 finished instruments of very passable quality every single week of his adult life.It makes my joints ache just thinking about it. I don’t now how many of these he sold in his lifetime, at a certain point a friend took over sales giving Craske enough to live on while he went into seclusion abandoning himself fully to his obsession. Production exceeded demand and after his death the Hill’s bought a boatload which they sold with a posthumous label.
I prefer to think about my 100th fiddle in a different way. One of the things that got me interested in instrument building was a chance visit in my early 20’s, to a guitar maker’s in Salisbury. I was enchanted by workshop and the thought of producing endlessly various instruments, but I was sobered by the guitar makers statement that after the first 60 instruments you’ve pretty well figured out what you’re going to do and then its just a matter of doing it. Perhaps it’s just that I’m a slow learner but thirty years later I’m happy to say that I still have a lot more experimenting and refining left in me, though I’m pretty confident of producing a good instrument each time, I’m still not close to saying “that’s it, from now on they are all going to be like this one!”.
Anyway here it is, violin number one hundred, it’s an excellent fiddle……. but just wait ’til you see and hear number 101, I cant wait to get started.