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German Violin Making

German Violins ​and their History

German violin makers have been making stringed instruments for almost 500 years.

These German instruments were available in many different qualities. Even 'factory' violins were handmade, they were just handmade in an assembly line format, some workshops had only a few makers and others had many hundreds. For example,  for the last 150 years, the USA hadn't developed any real commercial violin making industry for student instruments, so the US violinshops and the depended on these imports to supply the increasing local demand.

A large violin making industry took place in the regions that were known as Bohemia (now Czech Republic) and Saxony Germany. The German region was already a center of violin making since the early 1600's. The town of Markneukirchen in Saxony was one such hub, especially during the last few decades of the 1800's and the early 1900's. This same area, as it turned out, was a great source of the raw materials for violin making.

Bohemia

Other areas of violin making existed in Germany and Czechoslovakia. The area of Czechoslovakia didn't have this name until 1918. The makers in this region learned to turn out mainly inexpensive instruments for the growing market. 

Unlike some of the massive violin factories in France, like the Laberte or Jerome Thibouville Lamy firm (JTL for short), many of the Bohemian makers worked on their own or in small groups and then took their instruments on the road to sell over the border in Germany. This became a trade route and since the cost of living there was lower than in Germany some of the violins produced there were extremely inexpensive. So that $2 violin in the Sears catalog had to have an original price from the actual maker of just a fraction of that amount. This was also the case for many makers within Germany and for the most part, the vast majority of the German exports were made in small shops (cottages) and then sold to the large firms - hence the term "cottage industry". Even today this type of industry exists. AfterWWII much of the violin making moved to the region of Bubenrueth in Bavaria, about 2 hours south of Markneukirchen.

Unlike some of the massive violin workshops in France, like the Laberte or Jerome Thibouville Lamy firm (JTL for short), many of the Bohemian makers worked on their own or in small groups and then took their instruments on the road to sell over the border in Germany. This became a trade route and since the cost of living there was lower than in Germany some of the violins produced there were extremely inexpensive. So that $2 violin in the Sears catalog had to have an original price from the actual maker of just a fraction of that amount. This was also the case for many makers within Germany and for the most part, the vast majority of the German exports were made in small shops (cottages) and then sold to the large firms - hence the term "cottage industry". Even today this type of industry exists. AfterWWII much of the violin making moved to the region of Bubenrueth in Bavaria, about 2 hours south of Markneukirchen.

Other areas of violin making existed in Germany and Czechoslovakia. The area of Czechoslovakia didn't have this name until 1918. The makers in this region learned to turn out mainly inexpensive instruments for the growing market.

An instrument labeled "Made in Germany" or Czechoslovakia, may be the reverse as it could have been walked across the border to be then exported to the US. After 1891 some version of the country of origin needed to be stated on the label if it was to be exported to the US, but that origin could say where it was exported from and not actually where it was made.

After World War I, it was easier for Americans to get their entertainment from other sources and the huge demand for violins subsided. As wealth increased in the US, it created a need for higher grade violins. In the 1920's, firms in Markneukirchen like those of Ernst Heinrich Roth, E. Reinhold Schmidt, and Heinrich Heberlein produced some beautiful and much higher quality instruments that today are very much in demand. Some of these instruments were also made in Czechoslovakia and sold to the bigger firms unvarnished. The best workers at varnishing were often employedinhouse at these big firms whichaccounts for the uniformity in varnish quality in a specific model instrument.These higher qualityinstrument were less assembly line construction and more master-made instruments and were among the best to come out of the area. This was also the time that the French workshops in Mirecourt were at their peak. By the early 1940's the Markneukirchen region was failing financially and for the most part violin making stopped.

After 1930, with the rise of the Nazi's, many firms took their German made instruments to Schönbach Czechoslovakia, they were labeled as being made there, and then shipped them to America. Schonbach (in 1966 renamed Luby) is still aviolin makingtown. So you could have a German made instrument that was actually labeled as having been made in Czechoslovakia. For the most part it doesn't matter,however in general, German instruments bring a higher price than Czech ones - but the quality of the instrument really sets the value.

Around 1945, many makers fled the Czech region and settled in Bubenreuth, Bavaria. Even today, makers remain there, most are individual makers, not large factory settings. As in the past, the making of student quality instruments depends on low cost and although some oftoday's student instruments are made in Germany and others in the region of Luby Czechoslovakia, the vast majority of the new factory instruments are made in Romania and China.

The German, Czech and French instruments from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were so plentiful, that they are still readily available. Although many of these are almost worthless, many others can be very nice, even ones that are simply labeled as Strad's, Amati's and Guarneri's can be a fine instrument for an advancing student. Often these need some work to bring them back to their best, but they have now had a hundred years for the wood to have aged.

From: http://violininformation.webs.com/germanfactories.htm