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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How to care for your varnish

December 13, 2013
in News

The best way to care for your varnish is to wipe it with a soft dry cloth every day after playing. It’s something we often forget to do, so keep a dusting cloth in your instrument case ready to hand. In front of the bridge is the most important place to clean, as this is where rosin builds up most (and give your strings a quick wipe at the same time).

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Updating our teachers list

December 13, 2013
in News

Almost every day we are asked to recommend teachers, and we try and keep current our list. We are also trying to make our list more comprehensive, so therefore we appeal to our teachers to contact us to ensure their complete address and contact details are up to date, and also to add specialities, styles, and which grades are taught. We have a simple form we can email to you.

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Fake string alert

December 13, 2013
in News

We’ve seen quite a few fake strings lately on customer’s instruments. This is concerning as the strings won’t have the same sound or shelf life as their originals. We’ve noticed it particularly with the popular Dominants and Evah Pirazzi brands. Be suspicious of the following:


  • Blurred lettering or graphics (even slightly) and off-centred printing.
  • Either lurid or dull colours.
  • Plastic sleeves poorly sealed ( For example a recent set of Dominant fakes we saw had each string inside a clear plastic sleeve with the string letter and number printed on it. Dominant strings, apart from the E, do not have plastic sleeves.)


  • Ball ends roughly made or brassy coloured.
  • Dull or off-coloured windings.
  • Floppy strings, or strings that can be bent.
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    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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