The Stainer is great instrument and it is more violin than I probably need right now. It satisfies almost all of my requirements.
1) The violin is definitely European.
2) It’s old – plenty old!
3) It’s whole… but there are some repairs. Granted, they are super hard to see. They are overwhelmed by the beautiful quality of the sound but they are present.
4) The sound is even and balanced. I don’t think one string overwhelms the others.
5) This instrument is definitely functional. Tune it and it stays in tune. Glide your bow across it and it will ring.
Even with the slight ding on number three, this violin is a keeper.
Yet, there was a longing for another. Yes… I am a shopping addict and a collector. One of something is never enough. I need variety in all my possessions of passion and entertainment. Even with the Stainer in hand I was back to eBay. This time I was searching for a French violin! I am extremely fond of France, especially after I had a chance to visit the Rhône-Alps and Provence back in 2007. It had been my dream for many years to ride my bike on the same roads as those covered by the Tour de France. I had the privilege of climbing Les Deux Alpes, l’Alpe d’Huez, the Col de Lauteret, the Col de Galibier, and Mont Ventoux among others. The memories I have of the area, the people, the food, and everything are deep and wonderful. I entered France with dreams and I left enchanted. There is little doubt in my mind that my affection for all things French (among other European cultures) drove me to look for a violin that was made in France. I want to recapture a bit of that romance through the violin itself.
Thankfully, France has a rich history of violin luthiery. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the word luthier comes from the French word lute and Mirecourt is well known as a hub of French violin manufacturing. Look around the internet and you will find plenty of French violins available for sale. I decided to go with a violin made by the Jérôme Thibouville-Lamy company, or JTL for short. Used JTL violins tend to be on the lower end of the price scale but most people seem to have a decent impression of them. There aren’t too many bad reviews of them. I really wanted to know how a JTL violin would sound and I was able to find some Youtube video clips. Here’s a quick list of them.
That sure doesn’t sound bad to a beginner like me!
The JTL company seems to still exist in the present day. They may be a shell of their former selves but they do have a website.
Anyways, onto the violin! The violin I am blogging about today is JTL’s Compagnon III. It is definitely listed in JTL’s 1912 catalog on page 22 (scroll down a bit). Catalogs from other years list a Compagnon but without the III appended to it. We can guess that this violin is somewhere around 100 years old, give or take a few years. Compagnon translates to companion, partner, colleague, sidekick, etc depending on the context of the sentence. So this violin is meant to be your friend in your journey of playing music.
I bought this violin from a Canadian eBay seller. The package arrived in less than a week via Air Mail service. There was no indication of rough handling or damage to the box. I was impressed with the sheer number of stamps on the front. Stamps are always fun to look at even if you don’t collect them. (Please note that I deleted any visible address information in the picture for the sake of what little privacy we have in today’s day and age.)
I opened the box and a gaggle of newspaper, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap greeted me. Shipping a violin without a case makes me a bit shifty but I have to remember that for as fragile as violins are they are also extremely tough instruments. My biggest fear is that the package handlers will crush this package under a large load. The idea of insurance sounds good until you think about the time and money you will spend sending everything back, filing claims, waiting, etc. You might as well take on some risk and just get the package delivered as quickly as possible. Sometimes expedited shipping is better because there could be less days of handling and less chances of damage.
I removed the packing material and unwrapped the bubble wrap. It was like stripping a mummy. Underneath all that was my violin. It was relieving to see it whole. I can’t remember now if the strings were loose or not. Nothing rattled, shook, or made a funny noise when I picked it up. So far, so good!
Time for an examination. From afar the violin looked great but it wasn’t perfect. I sort of knew it ahead of time when I placed my bid. You might want to ask why and all I can is I don’t know. All of us have some missing teeth in our gears that causes thing to slip. I suppose you’re seeing my slippage first hand. Anyways, the violin is very light compared to the Soviet boat oar mentioned earlier. Being light doesn’t necessarily mean fragile. I don’t feel like something is going to break or collapse when I handle this violin.
The first thing I noticed is the filth. I don’t know what kind of grime has been cured on here but it doesn’t come off with water. It must be a mixture of dirt, rosin, and dust. Did the violin sit out in the open gathering this yuck or was it from years of being played and never cleaned? I’d like to use my imagination and think of the latter rather than the former. Whatever the case, I want to clean it off but I know I have to be careful not to remove the finish with the soot. There are plenty of threads on various violin forums about this. People have used alcohol, spit, water, polish, dish soap, etc. I will probably start with a gentle polisher and rosin cleaner first.
The strings here are old and need to be replaced. I don’t know what I have on here now but whatever they are I have to say they’re tough. They look like they can pop any instant but so far they haven’t. Does anyone have any suggestions on replacements?
The body has some damage to it. First, it has a small chip in it. It’s not tragic but it’s also not small. Thankfully nothing extra is coming off. I don’t think it’s something urgent that I need to take care of.
The body has some splits and cracks to it in various places. One of the less noticeable places is on the ribs. I say it is less noticeable only because it’s not the first place that most people would look at for a crack.
The back has two major splits forming. I don’t know how deep they are or if they are growing. The first one is in between the two halves of the back and it is only by the neck. There’s a second closer to the middle of the body and off to one side. I can’t even begin to pretend that I know how to fix these.
The neck, scroll, and fingerboard are just fine. There’s nothing unusual to report there. The tailpiece has a missing chip that you can see in one of the pictures above. I wish the tailpiece had some fine tuners on it but I can get the instrument in tune just fine without them too. It looks like the pegs aren’t perfectly fitted into the pegbox but they hold. I assume that the bridge isn’t original. The action on the high E string is a bit high but that can fixed easily enough.
Last, I would like to highlight the label inside the violin. I know that many people say the label inside is not important. What really matters is the tone, form, and fit of the instrument. Although I don’t disagree with that statement I have to counter it. Would you buy a Chevrolet Corvette without it’s emblem? Would you buy a Ford Mustang without its signature galloping horse on the grille? Some would and some would not. I guess you know which camp I am in!
The Compagnon III label is in decent shape with what looks like some sort of glue dropping down its height. For something that was printed close to 100 years ago, I am happy to see it surviving as well as it is. I would be curious to know what kind of printing process was used to create this label. What kind of paper is this too? I wouldn’t be surprised if JTL used just run of the mill paper and cheap ink!
In addition to making the violin “whole”, the label is also something to view and enjoy. The JTL logo, at least this instance, is of a lyre with a violin in front of it. Rays emanate from the assembly. I like the fact that the length of the rays alternate between short and long almost all the way around the entire assembly.
So how did I do with this violin against my requirements?
1) European: Being made in France it is about as European as you can get!
2) Old: At around 100 years old I would say that’s old enough!
3) Whole: Barely. The violin has a lot of battle scars that I wish weren’t there. They look like they can be easily repaired but not by me.
4) Sound: For all of it’s defects, I have to say that I really like the sound of this violin. Where the Stainer rings, this one sings. It’s bright and loud but smoother and sweeter. fiddlepogo on The Fiddle Hangout used fruits to describe the sound of violins. It sounds like an odd way to think of tone but it works. If the Stainer is a crisp sweet apple then the Compagnon is a smooth nectarine or maybe a peach.
5) Functional: Despite being in a well used condition, this violin is very playable. I haven’t had any problems tuning it, keeping it in, and playing my beginner music with it.
I’ve spent a couple days on this post so I’m going to take a bit of a break. Play lots and play loud!