News

New Year – New Blood

February 15, 2017
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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”.

sylvie-raynaud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

sarangi

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Join our team! Part-time position available!

January 18, 2017
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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: info@stringedinstrument.co.nz or Ph 09 6308421

Applications close on the 6th of February

The Stringed Instrument Co Ltd

www.stringedinstrument.co.nz

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Meet the Composer: Louise Webster, multi-tasker extraordinaire

November 15, 2016
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louise-webster

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: http://www.smco.org.nz/news/

 

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Off the Shelf: Strings and things

November 3, 2016
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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!

 

lakatos-strings

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.

lakatos

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!

https://www.discogs.com/Roby-Lakatos-Live-From-Budapest/release/1646490

http://www.thomastik-infeld.com/family-detail/Lakatos

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!).

abc-arm-bow-corrector-0-2

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.

https://arm-bow-corrector.com/

 

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Workshop Workout: Bow hair

October 20, 2016
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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 rosined.horse-hair-body-equus-caballus-80019134-l-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

broken-strings

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 http://www.fineviolinbows.com/pdf/Analysis_bowhair.pdf

 

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Workshop workout: cases

October 10, 2016
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Workout? Well, sometimes carrying your case around does feel like you’re having a decent workout in the gym!

cello-case-workout

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

cello-case-cover

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 …

for-web-cracked-violin

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?

skeleton

There are wonderful lightweight options these days!

 

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In the Showroom: Hill Bows

September 28, 2016
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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.

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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.

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

Yehudi-Menuhin,Isaac-Stern,Sandor-Vegh-and-David-Oistrakh

 

 

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
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 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
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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
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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
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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:

Packaging: 

  • 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.)

Strings: 

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