Tips for string instruments
General information about string instruments and their quality features resulting from different wood and string quality.
The history of making string instruments has a very long tradition, which cannot be recounted here because that would exceed the scope of this section. Nearly all European countries have had
masters of this art for centuries. In some cases international connections flourished, with an exchange of know-how and cooperation between violin makers persisting sometimes to the present day.
The connoisseur will immediately see the differences resulting from the varying countries of origin. But all instruments share one common feature: it is a very long procedure from selection of the
right kind of wood through to completion of the instrument, which demands a finely tuned instinct with a great deal of know-how and experience. The final result can then be an instrument with a
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It seems logical that such a complicated procedure has a corresponding price. And so as a rule an instrument made individually by hand in Germany can rarely be had for less than €4,000 to €5,000.
But here too there are possibilities for producing string instruments at far lower costs. One of the few traditional manufacturers to survive is Höfner. For many decades, string instruments have
been made by hand here for sale in a price segment which extends to an amazingly low level. This is possible among others through the traditional cooperation with suppliers from what are now the
new European countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain. Prefabricated soundboards and necks have been supplied for decades to Germany where they are assembled. This frequently includes
types of wood from the Czech Republic and Romania which are well known for their high acoustic wood quality.
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For about 20 years now, the market has also been flooded with instruments from the Far East. Most of these instruments come from China and are sold here in some cases for less than €100 including
accessories. Until just a few years ago (and in some cases still today), these "instruments" were the result of absolutely disastrous workmanship and good for nothing. There was simply no know-how
available and unfortunately it must be said that the instruments were not even good enough for purely decorative purposes. In some cases, the Chinese have now reacted promptly and obtained the
services of European master violin makers to manage and supervise production. As a result, some of the Chinese products are definitely worthwhile although the poor quality from the initial years is
still on the market. It is thus very difficult for the amateur to separate the wheat from the chaff.
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German production abroad
As with so many European manufacturers, German producers are unfortunately also increasingly moving their production activities to the Far East for wage and cost reasons. At the moment, China is
the unsurpassed favorite. An ever increasing number of German companies are moving to China in order to remain competitive. Höfner is also affected by this trend, and already built a completely
new, independent factory in Beijing/China a few years ago. Here European master violin makers supervise the production among others of the string instruments presented on these pages under the
product names "Höfner I, Höfner II and Höfner III". We gave lengthy consideration to whether this is "politically" acceptable and whether we should support the move. Finally we decided in favor
because in this way, we can help families which do not have great financial resources to acquire a reasonable instrument.
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What really matters
The quality of the wood used is crucial for the sound of the instrument. It is above all the soundboard of the instruments which is responsible for the sound. Only solid spruce is used for decent
instruments. The harder the quality, the better. Trees with a dry location have a slower rate of growth (closer annual ring spacing). They offer greater hardness than trees in rainy regions. The
type and method of drying is of great importance. Tonewood must be dried naturally for at least two years. Unfortunately, very cheap instruments are frequently made from plywood or wood which has
undergone high-speed industrial drying at high temperatures. This causes the wood fibers to tear so that the wood is completely unsuitable for use in music instruments.
Only solid maple is used for the sides and base of really decent instruments. Here "flamed" wood is chosen for optical reasons. Flaming refers to the spectacular structure which looks almost three-dimensional as found in maple and also other types of wood under certain growth conditions. Here again, most very cheap instruments are made with plywood instead.
Features refers to the fretboard, the pegs and possibly also the tailpiece and chin holder. Traditionally these are only made of ebony (black). Unfortunately, in cheap instruments the features are very frequently made of hardwood which has been stained black.
Even the best wood is of no use if the manufacturer does not know what to do with it. The design of the soundboard and base are crucial in this respect. The thinner the soundboard, the easier it is
to convert the energy transmitted into the soundboard by the string into a tone which in turn will not be swallowed by too much mass. But if the soundboard is too thin, the instrument can sound
dead and hollow after just a few years. In addition, there is also the risk that the whole instrument will become deformed.
It goes without saying that the quality of the strings must not be neglected. A well produced instrument made of the best wood can only develop its full sound and variety when using strings of a corresponding quality. There are three types of strings: steel strings, plastic strings and gut strings. This refers to the string core which in turn is wound in very fine ground silver wire. Which string is most suited to an instrument and player has to be ascertained individually. All our instruments are fitted with steel strings as a standard feature because these can compensate particularly for the smaller volume of children's instruments. Otherwise it is up to our customers to find their own way through the very dense strings jungle. It should be said that gut strings are very expensive and not always the best solution.
The spacing between the strings and the fretboard is crucial for the playing feeling. The string angle varies depending on the height of the bridge. If the angle is too high, the instrument is difficult to play. If the angle is too small, gut strings for example will not resonate properly because of their lesser tension compared to steel or synthetic strings. Our instruments are all adjusted so that they can be played easily, but can be adjusted retrospectively at any time to cater to individual preferences.[to the top]