From the Showroom: two 5-string violins by Peter Madill

July 25, 2017
in News

Some years ago, I reluctantly sold my beloved Peter Madill 5-string violin to a keen young fiddle player who took it overseas with her. Imagine my delight when it finally came home again!

By one of those bizarre twists of coincidence, I had a call shortly after that from the maker, Peter Madill, to say he’d decided, after several decades, to revisit the whole concept, and would I like to hang one of the results in our showroom?

Having the two violins side by side is fascinating. The one Pete made in 1981 has a nice long pegbox, with plenty of room to turn the pegs, a neck wide enough to finger double stops cleanly, and ‘f’ holes carved in Pete’s trademark “Amati” style, so different from the standard Stradivari ‘f’s we’re used to seeing.













The new violin has the same long pegbox and wide neck, but Pete has transformed the head into an elegant curl – an open plan scroll with viola da gamba overtones.














Pete has also taken another nod towards the viol with his widely spaced and strongly angled ‘f’ holes.



















The two violins have slightly different tonal characteristics, but share a rich and resonant sound, with a ready response. Thomastik Vision 5-string violin C strings boost firmness and fullness at the lower end.

Because both violins have been constructed internally to allow for a wider bridge, the result is much more successful than converting a standard 4-string instrument into a 5-string version.

And – especially for the improvising musician, the extra string is a real stimulus, whether you’re playing blues, jazz, country or rock.

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Hang onto your hats – if you’re not already waving them in applause!

June 28, 2017
in News

New Zealand is once more punching above its weight in the international competition stakes.










Past Waikato University cello student Santiago Cañón-Valencia not only reached the finals of the Queen Elisabeth International Cello Competition, he came third, an almost unimaginable result for a 21 year old born in Columbia and trained in New Zealand.

Since its first beginnings, the Queen Elisabeth has been considered one of the world’s most challenging and prestigious competitions for instrumentalists, on a par with the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. David Oistrakh won the very first competition, back in 1937, Leonid Kogan the second.

Santiago’s achievement may not get as much publicity as Team New Zealand winning the America’s Cup, but for many musicians, it carries almost the same weight.



Wellington-born Benjamin Baker has also come third at a major event, in this case our own Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

At the age of 8, Benjamin was talent-scouted by Nigel Kennedy and moved with his family to England, to attend the Yehudi Menuhin School. The only Kiwi violinist in the initial selection of 16 players for the Michael Hill, chosen from 140 applicants, Benjamin was thrilled to return to New Zealand once again. In the final round, he played the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

In 2014, Benjamin turned heads as part of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s “Allegro” season, performing virtuoso violin music on stage as part of the ballet “Les Lutins”.

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Cath’s fortieth anniversary!

June 19, 2017
in News

It’s 1977, first thing on Tuesday morning right after Queen’s Birthday Weekend. I climb two long flights of steep wooden stairs to the top floor of the old Browns Mill Building in Durham Lane. The stairs are familiar – there’s a violin workshop up there, and I’ve only recently graduated as a violin performance student.

But today I’m nervous; today’s the day I’m starting my violin making apprenticeship.














(Photo David Nalden)


I would be working for Peter Madill and my apprenticeship was the only one on offer in New Zealand , and would be for a long time to come.








(Photo Bill Nichol)


Here I am, not long after I started, earnestly adjusting something or other (a purfling cutter perhaps), and with my coffee mug perilously close to the edge of the bench!

That’s something I HAVE learnt not to do, in the intervening 40 years! Coffee mugs go to the back of the bench, where they’re less likely to get swept onto the floor by a passing scroll or errant elbow.

So what drew me into a life of wood chips and thumb planes and varnish and horse hair?

My Uni violin teacher, David Nalden, lent me the perfect chinrest – and then he wanted it back. What to do? I carved a fairly decent copy out of a hunk of rimu, ending up with something beautiful and useful that I’d made all by myself. Magic! After years of creating notes that would fade into the air and disappear, I had something I could hold in my hand, to show for all my hours of work.

I was hooked!
















(Photo Cath Newhook)


And forty years later, I’m still hooked!


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Strings Strings Strings

March 29, 2017
in News

To kick-start the year, we have implemented a new string pricing policy that is more in line with current string pricing trends.

As well as offering you an unusually wide range of strings at competitive prices, we also provide excellent service, from expert advice on which string will suit your instrument through to a full string fitting service, to ensure your valuable strings are well-lubricated and won’t get damaged by faulty nut and bridge slots.









We don’t charge for advice or fitting, if you buy your strings from us. And ask us about our generous student and teacher discounts.



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Farewell and good luck to Jesbery

February 27, 2017
in News

We have absolutely enjoyed our year-long association with cellist Jesbery Hartono, whose rising career as a performer has delighted us throughout 2016. In August, Jesbery was invited by the cellist Ramón Jaffé to attend an international cello master class in Schwetzingen-Worms, Germany, a great honour for her, as most participants were required to audition for a place. She returned to New Zealand to fulfil an internship with the APO cello section.She is now moving on from The Stringed Instrument Company to take up further playing and teaching openings, and we wish her all the very, very best.
















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Players’ notebook: Silent practice – Getting up to speed

February 20, 2017
in News

Sylvie’s arrival in the workshop (see above) has made me think again about how we learn things, and how the brain retains and reinforces what we do. Sylvie is a highly trained violin maker, but it’s a good ten years since she last worked in a violin workshop.

Amazingly, her mind and body remember all her old skills, but she just has to bring herself “up to speed” , in exactly the same way a string player would need to do with their instrument, after a gap in playing – by starting slowly, paying close attention to the correct way of doing things, and letting her old dexterity gradually re-establish itself in the right context.

Practising a new piece of music is a very parallel process! Somehow we have to bridge the gap between how we play it the first time (badly!), and how we want to play it in the end (as well as possible!). Of course we want to play it perfectly, up-to-speed on Day One. And it is so easy just to plunge in and charge through the piece, ignoring all the mistakes.

But those mistakes we make on that first run through have been learnt. If you play the wrong thing, the brain neurons form pathways to capture that experience. Which is why it’s so hard to eradicate those early mistakes. The neurons don’t know they’ve captured something bad. Some other part of the brain knows it, though – the part that then tells you off every time you repeat that mistake!

The key is in preparing the mind, and letting it show you the right speed to start practising the piece.












Here’s a quote from a great article in Strings Magazine

“Put your instrument in playing position, place your finger on the string on the first note, place your bow on the right string—and don’t move …  Imaginatively see, hear, and feel the passage as you mentally place each finger on each note. When you have found the fastest speed at which you can [mentally] visualize the whole passage without error, you’ve found [the right starting] tempo.”

And if your mum is yelling at you from the kitchen because she can’t hear you playing, you can truthfully tell her you’re doing your “silent practice”.











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New Year – New Blood

February 15, 2017
in News

New blood – welcome to Sylvie Raynaud

We are delighted to welcome French luthier Sylvie Raynaud, a new addition to our internationally trained workshop team! Meeting Sylvie was one of those wonderful, serendipitous events that you usually only come across in Hollywood movies – those moments where you say to yourself: “this would never happen in real life”.

















Ten years ago, Sylvie left violin making to focus on yoga and meditation teaching, and on raising her three girls. Leaving her tools in Mexico, she brought her young family to Auckland, never imagining that one day she would lose her way en route to visiting a friend and find herself outside The Stringed Instrument Company, in Charles St, Mt Eden. Excited by a glimpse of her old life, she came in to say hello … and the rest, as they say is history. Reunited with her tools once again, she is already a vital part of our workshop life.

On a more prosaic note, Sylvie was born and grew up in France, trained at the renowned Cremona International Violin Making School, and did further training in Paris before working for ten years in Italy and Mexico with her Mexican violin maker husband. She is fluent in English, French, Italian and Spanish, and plays violin and an extraordinary Indian instrument, the Sarangi.


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Join our team! Part-time position available!

January 18, 2017
in News

Sales, Showroom and Office position, part time – The Stringed Instrument Company

This job-share position offers a fantastic opportunity for an enthusiastic self-starter to join a small, tightly knit team, working in the showroom and office of an iconic violin business.

The ideal candidate will enjoy people and unusual situations, and have a strong interest in music. Ideally you will be a string (violin, viola, cello or double bass) player at a reasonably proficient level.

A reliable, professional, friendly personality, good communication and team skills, along with an aptitude for administration are essential; in-house training in our current office and systems will also be provided. You will work with musicians, students, and their families – it is important that you can relate to people from all walks of life, and be welcoming and accommodating.

You will have a high level of responsibility, to help ensure the business runs smoothly and customers are kept happy. Your duties will include, but are not limited to: customer service; instrument sales and hire; researching; managing accounts; website administration; general office administration; running errands; and maintenance and upkeep of the premises.

To be successful in this role, you will need to actively multi-task, fitting administration duties around sales and customer service.  Personally you will be confident, able to work independently and possess a good eye for detail. A full driver’s license is necessary.

We will be offering three weeks paid training at the start of your employment.

This is a part-time position. The working days are Thursday and Friday (8.30-5), with one to two Saturday mornings (9.30-1) per month.

For more information or to apply for this role, please contact Cath at: or Ph 09 6308421

Applications close on the 6th of February

The Stringed Instrument Co Ltd

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Meet the Composer: Louise Webster, multi-tasker extraordinaire

November 15, 2016
in News


I first came to know Louise Webster as a violinist, but as the years passed, I realised she was – and is – so much more. She trained as a doctor, but took a year off to study piano with that remarkable Wellington pedagogue, Judith Clarke. This was followed by further study with one of New Zealand’s finest pianists, Janetta McStay, on Louise’s return to Auckland to complete her medical degree.

A keen and active chamber musician on both violin and piano, Louise has also played in the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra for many years, while building a career as a child psychiatrist at Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland. Not content with these already remarkable achievements, she embarked on a parallel career as a composer, winning first place in the Douglas Lilburn Trust Composition Prize in 2005 and again in 2008.

Since then the prizes and commissions have rolled in: the Douglas Mews Choral Composition Prize in 2011, the Llewelyn Jones Prize in Music for Piano in 2011, and the 2012 CANZ Trust Fund Award.  Her orchestral work “Learning to nudge the wind” was recorded by the NZSO as part of the 2012 NZSO-SOUNZ-RNZC collaboration. Since then, both commissions and performances of her works have continued to grace her musical calendar.

A few weeks ago, NZSQ first violinist Helene Pohl was premiering Louise’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra “In a hollowed bone I hear the seas roar” which Louise wrote especially for Helene. What a marvellous synthesis – a new concerto by a New Zealand violinist for a New Zealand violinist! And Louise was playing in the SMCO violin section for the concert.

Read the review of this concert on:


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Off the Shelf: Strings and things

November 3, 2016
in News

Nowadays, it seems like every time you turn a corner, there’s a new string brand strolling round the block. Mostly they have exotic names like Evah Pirazzi, or uplifting names like Vision. Famous string players peer out at you from the pages of The Strad or Strings Magazine, and tell you in hallowed tones how important this or that string is for their playing career. One corner I turned recently brought me face to face with a player I adore, behaving in a rather less-than-hallowed way!



A new string produced by Thomastik Infeld, in Vienna, is the Lakatos Pizzicato, specially developed for Roby Lakatos by Thomastik. In their own words the strings “combine beautiful balance, an open and powerful sound, direct response and great playability!”

Roby Lakatos (pronounced “La-ka-tosh”) is – in my humble opinion – one of the world’s great violinists. Anyone who has listened to ”Live From Budapest” has heard Roby and his band effortlessly straddle a multiplicity of styles, from Gypsy to Jazz and beyond.


If you buy Lakatos strings from us (or any string, for that matter) don’t forget to bring your instrument with you. We provide a free string fitting service – and we’ll check out your string slots and other set-up issues at the same time!

And now …

From the sublime to the – well, easier than it might be …

ABC is not just for dummies. It also stands for Arm Bow Corrector, and addresses the age-old problem of how to train the bow arm to draw a straight line in the air. When I was teaching violin, I used to save up my used-up Glad Wrap tubes and get my beginner students to bow through them (with the tube held up by the left shoulder of course!).


The Arm Bow Corrector is a more sophisticated but still easy-to-fit option that allows the student to get the feel of a straight bow stroke while playing the violin.


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Workshop Workout: Bow hair

October 20, 2016
in News

We have looked already at the various reasons why bow hair needs to be changed from time to time – stretching, unevenness, excessive breakage and sheer wearing out.

But what do we know about the last item on the list? How can bow hair “wear out”? What does it look like when it’s in good condition?

Here is a close up look at fresh bow hair, before it has been









With the naked eye, it looks smooth, but here you can see that the surface is a mass of interlinking scales. These scales by themselves aren’t enough to pluck at the strings as you bow – anyone who has picked up a re-haired bow from their luthier and forgotten to rosin will know the bizarre sensation of that first, silent down-bow stroke!

But without all those scaly corrugations on the surface of the hair, the rosin wouldn’t stick nearly as well. So that lovely sound of bow hair on string is very much a team effort.

So what happens when your bow hair no longer wants to hold the rosin? There are two possibilities. The first is that the rosin has caked hard on the surface of each hair, effectively smoothing it over. A quick clean by your luthier will help give the hair a new lease of life. But often, the hair surface has taken a battering – those little surface scales have worn away or disintegrated. Often the hair, overall, has become brittle in the process, so you will find you are breaking hairs more often.


For more technical information, you can check out the following pdf: ANALYSIS OF BOW-HAIR FIBRES by Alexander Mayer, Helga Pöcherstorfer, and Gregor Widholm at


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Workshop workout: cases

October 10, 2016
in News

Workout? Well, sometimes carrying your case around does feel like you’re having a decent workout in the gym!


But that’s not what this piece is about. How can you stop your case getting the worse of you?


Ever grabbed your case as you hurry out the door, only to find you’d left the catches or zips undone? You lunge frantically at your violin, viola or cello, and it’s only a miracle it doesn’t end up on the floor.

What about the backflip your violin or viola case makes, when you put just one piece of music too many into the top pocket of the lid?

Then there’s the case lid that’s too low, so the inside presses down on your bridge.  Or the bow catches that stick out too far. Fine if you (and everyone else in the universe) treats your case with kid gloves … But one day someone pushes past you in a crowded corridor, the case slips out of your hands and bang …


So what can you do? Here’s a check list:

If you put your instrument in its case, even for a moment, either leave the case wide open, or close it properly. And secure the Velcro straps round the neck.

  1. Check that the lid leaves plenty of space above the bridge – if you’re not sure, chalk the top of your bridge, close the case, then check the inside of the lid for chalk marks.
  2. Violinists, and viola players – always, always take the shoulder rest or pad off before closing the lid.
  3. Do the chalk test on your bow catches too.
  4. BUT … make sure your bow catches stick out far enough not to pull the bow sideways and warp it.
  5. Check your zips and catches – don’t trust them not to let go, just as a truck and trailer unit passes by …
  6. Try putting pressure on the case lid WHEN THE INSTRUMENT IS NOT INSIDE (!). If you can move the lid more than the tiniest fraction, buy a new case.

And what damage is your case doing to you?


There are wonderful lightweight options these days!


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In the Showroom: Hill Bows

September 28, 2016
in News

Most New Zealand string players have heard of ”Hill” bows – bows made in the workshops of W. E. Hill and Sons, the famous London dealers and appraisers who dominated the international violin scene for a large part of the twentieth century.


Nowadays we think of “Hill” and “Hill bow” almost as one. But the firm did far more than produce bows – in fact, the bow-makers played a very “second fiddle” (pardon the pun) to their violin making colleagues. New apprentices were set to work in the case-making workshop (yes, they made lovely cases, too), and the really promising ones were selected to make instruments. The okay ones made bows and the dunces stayed making cases, if they stayed at all.

retfordNot that the bow makers could slouch around. After a somewhat shaky start, the workshop developed its skills under two Williams – Napier and Retford, the latter a diminutive but fiery man, who imposed his exactingly high standards on  a roll call of bow makers that ultimately included Arthur Bultitude, Garner Wilson and John Clutterbuck.

And yes, the makers had their own “secret” markings to show who had made what stick. But these are not the often-seen marks under the frog – these, generally a letter of the alphabet, or a letter and a number, were batch numbers.





For the Hills were true Victorian manufacturers, controlling their workers by having them specialise in only part of the whole job. The first process was to custom-fit each embryonic stick to a roughed-out frog. Then the stick and frog would be finished separately, to be re-united at the end of the job by means of the batch numbers. The secret sign, that tells us who each maker was, is hidden under the hair at the tip. William C. Retford marked his bows with a dot below the head mortice. Other signs were used: Charles Leggat, tragically killed in WWI, used two nicks.leggatt-04-e1404724693670

Most later makers used numbers, reaching “20” before the demise of Hills in 1992. The two top-grade “W.E.Hill and Sons” violin bows in our showroom were made by Alfred Leeson (“3”) and Arthur Brown (“X”).


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Beauty is in the ear of the beholder

May 1, 2015
in News

Here are four incredible musicians, magnificent violinists who set the classical music world alight through the mid-to-late twentieth century.




Yes, here we have (left to right) Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Sandor Vegh and David Oistrakh. Three of them were absolute and deserved giants of the world’s concert stages. Sandor was no slouch either. But they’re not the best looking bunch in the world! Would a modern-day concert agent rush to sign them, if these four old men turned up anonymously on his doorstep?

Of course he would … or would he?

Years ago I listened to a panel of judges talk, the day after an international music competition. At the end, the discussion was opened to questions from the floor. I put up my hand and asked them how important, in reality, was it to possess not only fantastic musicianship and playing skills but also be physically good looking, in order to make a great concert career these days.
The answer, though honest, was hardly reassuring. “Let’s say,” said one of the panel, “that an orchestra is faced with hiring either a gorgeous young girl or a rugged old man as a soloist for their up-coming concert season. Given that they both play equally well, the orchestra will hire the girl.”
I suspect that showbiz is a little more firmly entrenched in the classical world than we might like to admit. It’s lovely to gaze at that wonderful evening gown or the fabulous hairdo.
But don’t ever forget to “look” with your ears!

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Are you having trouble tightening your bow?

February 24, 2015
in News

 You are not alone!

At hot, humid times of the year we see lots of bows with over-long hair. It’s common for hair to stretch from normal use. But if the hair gets really long, the eyelet inside the stick jams hard against the end of its tightening slot.P1060796
If you keep turning the screw, you can crack the bowstick!

Bow hair absorbs or loses moisture depending on the humidity. Absorbing water makes it expand – in simple terms, it gets longer.

The added catch is that warm air holds more moisture than cold air. While the weather was cool, your stretched hair might still have coped. But on a really muggy Auckland summer day, your bow hair will be longer than it was in winter, and you may not be able to tighten your bow enough.

We may be able to shorten the hair for you, at a cost considerably less than a new rehair. The main thing is to bring it in before you damage the bow.

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  • About Us

    Auckland's violin family specialists. We have an excellent showroom of quality instruments, strings, and accessories, and a wide range of violins, violas, cellos, and bows for sale and hire. We also offer expert restoration, repairs, bow rehairs and valuations.
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