The violin, considered the greatest and most noble of musical instruments, first appeared in the Cremona, Italy workshops of Andrea Amati around 1550. It was so perfect in form and voice that it has remained basically unchanged to this day. There have been "innovators" who have tried to improve the design, but their efforts lay mostly forgotten. Today, violin research is aimed at finding the working techniques of the great Italian masters of the 17th and 18th centuries, because the classical techniques of violin making have proven to be the best.
By the mid-17th century, the violin had become so popular that the individual makers couldn't keep up with the demand. Enterprising makers in Northern Europe set up workshops to make less expensive instruments based on a division of labor with each worker having a specialty (carving scrolls, bending ribs, varnishing, etc.). By the 19th century, large workshops in Germany, France and Bohemia were manufacturing large quantities of string (and other) almost entirely for export, much of the production coming to the United States. The range of quality was vast, with quickly made instruments to be sold cheaply (as little as $2.00 around 1900) to excellently made works suitable for a professional musician.
An excellent example of these kinds of enterprises were the French workshops in Mirecourt (the French center of violin making). The largest and best known of these companies were Jerome Thibouville-Lamy and Laberte-Humbert. At their peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were large and busy firms, exporting all over the world. They even had showrooms in New York City. They employed the best makers they could find. For example, Thibouville-Lamy employed the well-known makers Alfred Acoulon, Emile Blondelet and Charles Buthod (who worked as a maker for J.B. Vuillaume. Their best production bears the label of these makers. Makers of their stature assured the high quality of the JTL instruments. Marc Laberte assembled a collection of Italian masterpieces (Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesu, Amati, Guadagnini, Ruggeri and more) for his master makers to study and copy. After WWII, these workshops became smaller as the workers left Mirecourt for better paying jobs in Paris and elsewhere. Today, the musical instruments by these mostly anonymous craftsmen have aged 60 to 100 years and have developed tonally to become excellent quality instruments.
Today, there are more and more students studying the violin and the demand for quality string instruments has again increased, in spite of funding cuts to school music programs. This demand can no longer be met by the workshops in Western Europe, where costs are so high. There are now workshops in Eastern Europe and especially the Pacific Rim, similar in quality to the $2.00 violins of 100 years ago. However, what may seem to be an attractive bargain, is in reality no bargain at all. They are usually difficult or impossible to play on and a great discouragement to any student.
Several years ago we became European distributors for the Jay Haide instruments which were developed in Berkeley, California to meet the need for good quality, affordable violins. These instruments were hand made, to exacting specifications. The "Jay Haide" stringed instruments are continually being improved, with new models being added, and constant evaluation of critical elements of design. The newest addition to our collection of "Jay Haide" instruments is the incomparable "Jay Haide à l'ancienne" violins, violas, cellos and basses, in several models, are available from Thorvaldsson, in collaboration with Ifshin Violins.