A top-quality violin buyer's guide for intermediate and advanced players
When it comes to a rich history and lineage of making stringed instruments, Europe stands unequaled.The birthplace of the legendary Stradivarius and Guarneri schools of violin making, Europe has a reputation for quality that goes back hundreds of years.
The United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany and other western European countries are perhaps the best-known. Changing politics and economics, however, have seen a recent influx of top-quality, affordable instruments from such eastern European countries as Poland, Romania and Hungary.
Though quality instruments are being made all across the globe, European luthiers are known for being steeped in the traditions of the original masters. They also enjoy close proximity to some of the world's richest tonewood forests.
A Heritage of Quality
In contrast to some Asian countries that make instruments in large factories, many eastern European violin makers run small with just a few employees. Some operations are family-run, while others may employ dozens of workers. Pictured here are father and son Jan and Grzegorz Bobak of Poland, whose world-renowned instruments are available by special order from Superior Violins.
Our European instruments are among the best money can buy for two simple reasons: how they're made, and the woods they're made from.
Using techniques refined over the centuries, luthiers hand-carve, assemble and finish every instrument with meticulous attention to detail. Many of our higher-end instruments are built by the hands of the master luthier whose name they bear. Others are built by craftsmen under the watchful eye of the master luthier, using his techniques and training. Every instrument is played and approved by the master luthier before it leaves his shop.
Magical, Musical Woods
European tonewoods are among the most highly-regarded woods in the world. These "magical, musical" woods include maple and spruce from the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, the forests of the Bosnian/Montenegrin region and Germany/the Alps.
The best tonewoods have tight, even grain and the optimum density. They are beautiful to look at, and--most importantly--create beautiful sound.
Tonewood trees are felled, seasoned, milled and dried in a very specific way. Even the timing in the season when the tree is felled can affect the density and moisture content--and tonal qualities--of the wood. Every step in the process contributes to the ultimate goal: giving luthiers the best-possible wood for their instruments.
Master luthiers know which woods look and sound best for their instruments, and they carefully choose the perfect pieces of wood for their work. Master luthiers understand that no amount of care invested in the construction, carving and finishing of an instrument can make up for inferior wood. Only when superior materials and masterful techniques come together will the end result be a truly remarkable instrument.
Wood that is properly selected, cut, aged and seasoned can make the difference between an instrument that sounds beautiful from day one and an instrument that requires years of playing to fully break in. Wood that is not properly seasoned may warp or crack, and may lack the strength and flexibility required to be carved thin enough for optimum sound. Parts of the violin may need to be left thicker to compensate for poor woods, resulting in a heavier instrument that sounds bad and doesn't respond well to the player's touch. A well-made violin of quality tonewoods feels almost "alive" in the player's hands.
Hand-made violins by Polish luthier Tomasz Kowalski have proven to be among our most-popular European instruments. The Kowalski violin offers beautiful construction, powerful projection and tone, amazing sensitivity and impeccable finish. But don't take our word for it!
"The first thing I noticed was the volume. I wanted a soloist and I got one! Incredible penetration and the 'e' string rang for 5 seconds, and the 'g' string continued to ring for 8 seconds! You do not get this with 'green woods.' The hardest part is describing the sound; it is like one put on expensive 'gut' strings, that bright, but very rich old-world tone as complex as a human's voice."
Gary (5 stars)
"I have had many violins, but this one stole my heart. She came in tune and has remainded in tune. I can't say enough good things in this review to do justice to the Kowalski."
Michele (5 stars)
Learn more about Tomasz Kowalski here: Kowalski Violins
One of Poland's finest luthiers, Wojciech Topa has received critical acclaim around the world. He was born in 1961, and studied at the Fine Arts High School in Zakopane before attending the Technical College of Violin Making in Nowy Targ, Poland. He finished his studies under the Master Jan Bobak. Topa's instruments are known for their power, projection, and virtuosity and are truly soloists' instruments.
"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."
John (5 stars)
Our Euro-Class violins are truly in a different league. They will take the playing of a discriminating violinist to a whole new level.
Are you ready for a violin with a rich history and lineage, a violin made with old-world techniques and woods?
Would you like to try a Euro-Class violin, risk-free, in your own home? Click here for more details about our try-before-you-buy program.
Have an instrument you'd like to trade in? Contact us here for more information on our generous trade-in program.