Over the years, I've worked at many violin shops and can easily say the Topa is the finest violin/viola I've ever played under $25,000. In this article, I wanted to give the string world a detailed picture of what makes Topa violins and violas so great, from the perspective of a performer, teacher and shop owner.
Wojciech Topa was born in Zakopane, Poland, and is regarded as one of the finest Polish violin makers in the world. His shop in Poland is becoming more and more popular--and there is constantly a waiting list for his instruments here in the United States. His instruments are made from "scratch," and he uses the finest aged European woods to craft each one by hand. He follows a very traditional approach of making his instruments, one being a "Guarneri" model structure and the other being a "Guadagnini" (or Guad) model structure.
I have been blown away by how these instruments sound as they are so much better than any other instruments I've played in a similar price range (even better than many that are higher priced). According to my wholesaler in Rhode Island, the uniqueness of his varnish and application are what makes his instruments so unique--super deep, thick and penetrating. The first few notes played on a Topa will blow away any beginner player, and also a virtuoso player who is looking for the perfect soloist instrument.
Topa's instruments are played by many famous players worldwide, including Andrzej Bauer, K.A. Ball, Ivan Monighetti, Stefan Kamasa, Jerzy Kosmala, and more.
Take a look at some more photos here. You can also see the differentiation between a Guarneri model and Guad model here. The Guarneri model is more appealing to the beginner-advanced player regarding sound quality, while the Guad is most appealing to the virtuoso player.
We found Topa violins back in 2015 through the NAAM show (Los Angeles). For those of you that don't know, NAAM is an annual trade show for stringed instrument retailers like myself (not open to the public). Wholesalers from around the globe setup sample inventory at NAAM, and the goal is for shop owners like myself to find the best possible products they can find for their customers.
Out of the tens of thousands of violins on display, it can be overwhelming at times to find that true gem of an instrument. Most instruments at NAAM are MSRP below $5,000, and we weren't expecting to go to NAAM to really find any sources above that price range. That is until we eyed an interesting booth (JR Music) that didn't have the typical violin spread that we were used to--they focused their efforts on high quality European violins sourced from Poland.
We began playing the violins and were astonished at the quality of sound each one had to offer. Each instrument had an incredibly unique tonal character, and the richness of sound accompanied by the beautiful sound color got us very excited to continue testing. We were shocked that these instruments were so affordable for how good they sounded--so we started asking questions about their lower-end line, which was their Lacek and Kowalski violins.
Before we could speak any further, the shop owner passionately said we had to play one more instrument. He pulled out a Topa violin from underneath the tablecloth and told us to play it. He said he only had one left, and the Topa like this one always has a waiting list. After playing on the G and D strings, we were absolutely astonished and blown away which is honestly an understatement. We purchased the violin right there on the spot.
Words cannot describe the feeling when you find a quality violin like this. The richness of sound in the lower register was absolutely amazing. This instrument was in a completely different league than not just the others they had shown us, but anything else we had ever played in this price range. My partner and I had been searching for a violin like this for years, and we finally found it--the Wojciech Topa violin.
I wanted to start by including a clip of me playing the Topa and then I'll talk more about it.
As you can hear, the sound quality on this instrument is truly exceptional.
Richness of Tone
One of the greatest qualities of the Topa is it's beautiful richness of tone. The deepness of sound on the lower strings is unmatched compared to anything else I've ever played under $25,000. Anybody looking for a super rich/thick sounding instrument will fall in love with a Topa (I don't care if it's a Guarneri or Guad).
The Topa projects sound really well and isn't overly bright. Because of it's rich sound, there is something special about it that makes you feel like the sound projection is just perfect. It is exceptionally pure and has a very even tonal projection across the register. I absolutely love the way it projects on the upper strings in higher positions (while still staying vary warm and balanced).
It's very easy to produce a clean sound on the Topa compared to other instruments in this price range. It's penetration quality makes you want to "soak" into the strings, and the sound responsiveness is truly amazing. The play-ability makes me want to practice often, and playing on it is a truly fun and enjoyable experience. I also become a much finer violinist when I play this violin which is encouraging.
One of the things that puts the Topa in a totally separate league compared to instruments in a similar price range is it's beautiful tonal color. The sound of each string allows the violinist to create a very unique tonal character that is full of warmth and color. The Topa would shine as a soloist instrument and would also produce maximum enjoyment while practicing for any player.
Playing on a Topa will change your perception of quality violins in this price range, period. You'd be surprised that since doing the video demonstration above, I've had five people try out a Topa, and every one of them has initiated a purchase. That's a 5/5 ratio which is unheard of! Let me give you detailed insight into these customers.
Topa Customer #1 - Intermediate Student from Michigan
The first person I ever sold a Topa to was one of my Skype students that had really made tremendous progress in three years of lessons. Her goal was to play violin in a symphony, and it hit a point where she was feeling the Damiano I sent her was holding her back. Like any college student with limited cash, she was very careful with the process of selecting the right instrument, and out of the many she looked at locally, the Topa was only one of many options. Even with a few minor cosmetic issues on the one I sent her, she couldn't believe the sound production of the Topa compared to some of the others she was trying out. She purchased the Topa on multiple credit cards, after getting support from her Mom in China.
Topa Customer #2 - Beginner Adult from Maryland
The second Topa I sold was to an adult student from Maryland. This was the first sale that really excited me as he was also trying out 15 other instruments from various sources. I thought for sure my odds were low even though the Topa I sent him was spectacular (after I broke it in for him personally for a week). It took him longer than any of my other customers, but I was blown away when he said the Topa was the big winner from his intense trial process. Here is his actual violin review on our Topa page:
"As an adult beginner I struggled with whether or not to spend a lot of money on a really good instrument that I could grow with and not be limited by. I have no regrets about my decision to purchase the Topa. It is so much easier to play than my student violin was and I can get it to produce a really beautiful sound that just couldn't be coaxed from a cheap instrument by a beginner. As a result I truly enjoy practicing now. A friend of mine, who is a professional violinist, played the Topa and described the sound as buttery. Even with the tremendous projection that the violin is capable of there are so many deep and resonant overtones that "buttery" really fits. Michael's video does a great job of capturing/conveying that magnificent sound. In addition to sounding amazing, the violin is truly a work of art. The craftsmanship is superb, the antiquing convincing, and the visual aesthetic of the wood graining and varnish stunning. I took the violin to the Bay Area's preeminent violin shop and compared it to violins costing 2X. The sound of the Topa was superior to all of them and the staff, all professional violinists, were truly impressed. I was even asked if I would consider selling mine for a profit, which I declined. Bottom line, if you can afford one don't hesitate. All Topas are not the same and even though you can occasionally find them offered by other dealers you can trust Michael to have personally selected the very best for sale on his site."
Topa Customer #3 - Beginner from Wisconsin
The next Topa I sold was to a student in Wisconsin who was a pure beginner. He was very advanced on the bagpipes, so he had a very deep appreciation for quality of instruments even as he was about to take up the violin as a complete beginner. I sent him two of my instruments--one being my Damiano which is one of my most popular violins under $3,000, and then also a Topa for him to see if he could tell the difference. He was very skeptical at first to thinking he would want to keep a Topa (as it would be something he wouldn't be able to appreciate yet), but he was willing to see for himself.
After receiving both instruments, this student sent the Damiano back within a few days as he concluded that the quality of craftsmanship and sound were unbelievably better on the Topa. He justified the purchase as he was planning to dedicate at least a few hours a day to practicing, and wanted something fun to take on into retirement. He told me he never would plan on becoming a virtuoso, but loved the thought of starting fresh with a quality instrument that he could appreciate from day one.
Topa Customer #4 - Beginner from Indiana
Another student of mine that I'll put into the beginner category also had a similar path. He purchased a Damiano from me back about five years ago and was very happy with it. He began to feel the need to be more inspired. What I find funny is that this gentleman also is a very advanced bagpipe player--maybe these people appreciate quality of violins more than others! :)
He also went into trying a Topa very skeptically with concerns of his ability level not matching the appreciation of the instrument. Regardless, he decided to give the Topa a shot through my flexible trial program. Like the customer above, he was also blown away and about two weeks later, he sent back his old Damiano for trade-in credit. Funny part of this story is I actually was low on Topas shortly after (as they have an intense waiting list) and I offered to give him cash for his as he mentioned he hadn't been practicing as much lately. He didn't want to do it, as he was still very attached to his Topa, quality bow and case. This seems to be a common trend once the player and instrument make contact.
Topa Customer #5 - Virtuoso Violinist from Texas
I got reassurance that my Topa was not just great to me, but to players that were even better than me this past year. A very advanced soloist (I won't reveal her name) obtained two Topas from me (Guarneri and Guad). She was looking for a great violin for her most accomplished student, and came across one of my ads on Facebook. She made many detailed comments about how much she loved the tonal quality of the Topa, and she decided to purchase it for her student after about a month. I was surprised she chose a Guarneri over a Guad for her student, but what I'm finding is that it takes a very unique type of player to appreciate the Guad over the Guarneri. I personally love the Guarneri model myself as an advanced player and that is what I've sent to all of my customers above.
We have a very flexible trial program where you can take up to 60 days to test out one of our Topas and see for yourself how exceptional these instruments are. All you have to do is contact us by live chat or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get the conversation going. All we ask with our trial is that you pay a deposit, which is refundable upon return of the instrument. We can ship our Topa violins to customers anywhere in the world.
After a 60 day trial, we allow you to either return the Topa, or pay the remaining balance to cover a total price of $14,000. One nice thing about our store is that we offer for you to pay for the violin in installments, through our Superior Violins Helpcard. For every $1,000 that you finance, you only have to pay around $35/month. We will send you our financing application once you feel comfortable with the instrument and decide you want to keep it.
If you have any questions, you can always live chat us, email us (email@example.com), or call (800) 723-5043. I promise it will be well worth the process of at least trying out a Topa to see if it would be a good fit for you. We also have an array of other European violins and everything we carry is also available in viola.
To learn more about our Superior Violins store including violin sound comparisons, click here.