My desire to understand what is important in a successful violin has led to special interest in successful instruments that do not follow the usual patterns. Friends in the Guarneri Quartet encouraged me to approach Arnold Steinhardt, first violin in the legendary group, to study and copy the violin with which he built his career.
The violin was cut down from a viola made by Lorenzo Storioni, one of my favorite makers. It was relabeled as Guarneri at some point, likely when the conversion to violin was made. The viola size ƒ-holes and heavy edging give a massive, somewhat blocky feel to the violin. Unusual wood choice is one of the things I love about Storioni; it seems he could make a great violin out of just about anything, a skill I try to emulate. The back on this copy is of European maple and captures the idiosyncratic and exuberant qualities of the original.
Arnold has told the story of his search for and relationship with this violin in his recent book Violin Dreams. The violin’s history is impressive, as it was used by Josef Roisman, first violin of the Budapest String Quartet, the group that did much to make string quartet performance popular.
Capturing the shape and major stylistic points of a violin is not too difficult. Having everything fall into a harmonious whole is a more complicated achievement, one most easily achieved by adhering to one’s own tastes and practices. The biggest challenge comes when copying and working with basic design decisions someone else has made. It helps here that I understand and admire Storioni’s style and approach to making, and the pattern already has an eccentric quality. The happiest point for me seems to be where the violin is 50% the personality of the instrument copied, and 50% my own.
The large size and f’s of this violin give it a dark quality. The somewhat heavy construction gives a resistance and core to the sound yielding a brilliant yet very full top. I have made 5 violins on this model, the latest of which is #751, 2011.