Some of our favorite projects are ones rich in family history, like a violin our Furniture and Objects Department just finished working on this month. The violin, made by our client’s father, is a 1/4 size student instrument from Mittenwald, Germany, made between 1920 and 1930. The top is crafted from sitka spruce, and the neck ribs and back are of flamed maple.
1/4 size violins are generally suitable for children ages 4 - 7, as, true to their name, they’re a quarter of the size of a “full” violin. Children use smaller violins in their practice, because they’re less heavy and tiresome on growing arms and shoulders. Typically, children outgrow violin sizes like they do shoes, continually increasing in size. It makes sense, then, that this particular student violin is so special to it’s owner: a childhood relic and a toy for learning.
As luck would have it, one of our conservators, working in our Furniture Department, has a history with instruments. Rob Kleeman started his career in 1976 as an apprentice in a violin shop.
Rob inspected the violin, bow, and case, and determined that all three objects had a layer of particulate film and scattered accretions. The finger board was detached, and the old strings were damaged and needed replacement. 1/4 violin strings are typically thicker than full violin strings, to keep the tension and balance the sound. The bridge and the sound post of the instrument no longer fit properly. Rob also found a top split at the saddle. The violin exhibited scratches and losses to the finish and the tailpiece gut appeared to be stretched and in need of adjustment. The bow needed re-hairing and the case bow strap was broken.
After initial photography, documentation, and surface cleaning, Rob started work on the instrument. He reset and readhered the fingerboard nut. He was able to stabilize the piece without disassembling it, then clean the existing bridge. He also reinstalled the soundpost and replaced the stings. Areas with scratches and losses were blended to emulate the surrounding surface, and the tailpiece fit was adjusted. Rob also replaced the damaged endpin.
The end result was a beautiful, functional instrument. We are delighted to have been a part of the story of this family piece and are excited to see it live on for generations to come!