German violin makers have been making stringed instruments for almost 500 years, but in the last 150 years they have supplied the world and especially the US with a huge number of affordable student instruments.
Almost every day during my 35 years in the retail violin business and numerous times a week through the internet, I was asked to look at a violin for identification or value reasons. In most
These German "factory" instruments were available in many different qualities and could even be purchased from catalogs like Wards or Sears and could be purchased for under $2 to close to $100. So even the farmer in the heartlands of the US could get a violin. I say factory violins, but at that time factory still meant something different than what we think of today. These instruments were for the most part handmade, they were just handmade in an assembly line format, some operations were larger than others, some only had a few makers and others had many hundreds, packed in workshops like the cords of wood they stockpiled. Since the US hadn't yet developed any real commercial violin making industry for student instruments, the US violin
Many people needed violins, from dance fiddlers to farmers, as there
Other areas of violin making existed in Germany and Czechoslovakia. I use the word Czechoslovakia for reference even though it didn't become that until 1918. The makers in this region learned to turn out inexpensive instruments for the growing
Unlike some of the massive violin factories in France, like the
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 employed
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 a
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 of
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.