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--Welcome to Kenmore Violins!

--We are a small, family owned neighborhood shop in the old European tradition.

--Please stop in and see our 1,000 sq ft shop at 7330 NE Bothell Way, Kenmore, WA, on the second floor of the Schnitzelbank Bavarian Chalet (formerly a German restaurant), above Snapdoodle Toys. 

--Please park in front (or there are many spots in back of the building), and you are welcome to use the elevator (inside the big brown door), or the stairs on the side of the building.

-- We are in our 11th year at this location and our 27th year in the violin business.  23 years in Seattle!

--We are happy to offer free pickup/delivery in our company van (School districts in nearby areas; Kenmore, Bothell).

 

 

We specialize in violin, viola, cello, bass, their bows, and accessories.  We occasionally buy used instruments of good quality and condition. 

We do not sell or repair guitars, or brass & woodwinds (although we dabble in mandolins and concertinas).

 

 

Please note that we always answer the phone personally if we can.  However, the phone will go to voice mail if we are helping a customer at the counter, or if we are working on a delicate operation such as gluing or varnishing.  Please leave a message and if possible we will pick up, or we will call you back.  Thanks for understanding that we run a very busy shop.

 

We are on Facebook!

 

We would like to thank the many customers who have written kind letters and social media reviews  regarding our services.  This means a lot to us.  We will do anything we can for our loyal customers!

 

 

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Here’s our handout on Instrument Care:

 

Care and Feeding of Fiddles (violas, cellos, basses…)

 

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Here’s the handout we pass out when a poor instrument comes in…  Important Stuff!

 

Avoiding low quality instrument woes

 

 

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Unlike most violin shops….

We make Violins and Violas (stay tuned for Celli)!

 

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Violin makers are, by definition, 18th Century craftspeople. The icons of violin making date from roughly 1700 to 1744. The craft has been compared to that of Civil War reenactors, who get authentic for a day or two and then find their car keys and drive home. Yes, the whole idea is cheesy, but the best reenactors are scholars who would not be out of place in 1863.  I once camped with a group at Antietam Battlefield, Md on the night before a huge battle reenactment, and got to know some of these impressive people.  I accept the comparison.

So to be good at violins, you need immersion into 18th Century headspace, which is not easy in the 21st Century.

-We've visited Cremona, Italy, home of Stradivari, Guarneri, and Amati, and spent days walking cobblestone streets, feeling the vibe and watching the actions and habits of descendants of violin makers.

-We copy the original forms and tools used by famous makers, specifically artifacts in the Stradivari museum in Cremona.

-We have spent a small fortune to be in the presence of brilliant violin makers who are living versions of Stradivari and Guarneri.  These geniuses have been gracious enough to answer our humble questions.

-We spent weeks in the world’s leading museums, studying classic violin family instruments.  As a result, we compiled the world’s largest database of measurements and maps of thickness and other dimensions.

-I've toured c1774 Colonial Williamsburg, VA and asked costumed interpreters probing questions.

-We follow living 18th Century scholars, including Clay Jenkinson, who voices the thinking of violinist Thomas Jefferson.

-We study ancient varnish recipes and then experiment with amber and Dragon's Blood.

-We sign our violin labels with a calligraphy pen (no computers).

-I've walked New England colonial graveyards for hours, reading headstones aloud, tracing the inscriptions with my fingers, imagining the people.

-I've been to Monticello and Mount Vernon, VA many times, first as a small child.

-We love museums and art galleries.

-We read (Jonathan Swift, James Fenimore Cooper, Enlightenment authors, Ben Franklin and other founding fathers) and listen to Baroque Era composers (especially Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, O'Carolan).

-We sometimes attend modern Baroque musical performances.

 

So, yes. We are a little nuts. But we are the people that you want to fix your fiddle because our headspace is tuned in the correct place and time. 

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We thank Ann, a fine Irish fiddler, who now owns one of our handmade 1704 “Betts” Stradivari copy violins!

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We thank long-time customer Lura, who bought our 2019 handmade Strad violin!

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We thank Daniel, a fine string quartet player, who bought one of our classic European violins—made in 1790!

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We thank Andrew, who now owns our unique redwood top fiddle!

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The Redwood fiddle

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Many thanks to Matt, who bought our handmade Guarneri 1743 copy violin

 

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Many thanks to Randal, who bought a genuine vintage Thomas Perry Dublin violin!  The perfect choice for Irish tunes!

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Many thanks to Kris, who bought our handmade Strad 1715 “Cremonese” copy violin!

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Thanks to Matthew, who bought our handmade Brothers Amati 1615 copy viola!

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Thanks to Kyle, who bought our handmade Guarneri “Rovelli” copy

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Not so Fixated on Sales

 

Other shops are staffed with highly trained sales people who want to talk to you about your next purchase (they will recommend several if you don’t have one in mind).

We’re sorry, but we have no training in sales, so we are a little clumsy in that department.  Our training and experience is in scientific research and lutherie, so we have fun combining the two!  Our research horsepower is aimed at understanding acoustics, materials, and technical aspects of violin making.  We worked as the Editor of the World’s leading violin acoustical journal for four years, so we know the researchers and the literature.  We also compile important data that can lead to making better-sounding instruments.  Lutherie is the craft of making and repairing stringed musical instruments.  We have additional training in bow rehair and repair, finish retouching, varnishing, and other special topics as taught by outstanding teachers.  As far as we know, we are the only storefront violin shop in the Seattle area that actually makes violins and violas on a daily basis (maybe cello soon)!  We are happy to show you instruments in progress.

 

In 1998 we started a research project painstakingly mapping details of hundreds of great old European instruments (including over 100 Stradivaris, 55 Guarneris, and over 100 other great makers); the result is 17.1 gigabytes of data (550 feet of books on a shelf), summarized in a 227-page book that has been sold around the world.  We learned a lot from doing this, and our work is internationally known because we shared what we learned.

 

So, we can answer your questions about violins, in fact we will probably talk your ear off about what the old Italian makers did in the 16th-18th Centuries.  But we won’t suggest that you make a purchase unless you request it. 

 

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Cheap Wood Bows

 

All of your sound comes from your bow, so in our opinion it is the worst place to try to save money.  Many great players have concluded that it’s better to play on a lesser violin with a better bow.  Nevertheless, we get many requests for cheap bows, and we stock basic bows that are under $100 (keep in mind that a rehair is $70, so it is a bit strange that some bows sell for less than $70; think cheap Chinese labor done fast, without regard for quality).

 

The big thing about bows is the stiffness of the stick.  Bow blanks are ranked and priced according to stiffness, and very stiff wood blanks suitable for advanced bow making cost hundreds of dollars.  Traditional bow wood (called “pernambuco”) comes from a small area in Brazil, and lately prices have risen because the supply is controlled (get these while you can, they will always be the world’s best bows).

 

However, cheap wood for a $70 bow comes from China, and the stick is machine routed rather than handmade.  That can be OK, but the big problem is that stiffness of natural materials follows a bell-shaped curve.  The few bows on the high end of the stiffness curve are superior, and several in the middle are average.  But about half of the bows on the low end of the bell-shaped curve are likely to warp, break, or loose camber because of low density and poor wood quality.  You can’t tell the difference visually, although a good player or luthier can tell you almost instantly by flexing the stick.

 

Here’s my recommendations:

-Don’t buy bows online.  Try bows in person prior to purchase.  Remember the bell curve; you have a 50% chance of getting a loser if you buy randomly.

-Deal with a reputable brick-and-mortar specialist violin shop that values quality, guarantees their products, and accepts trade-ins if the bow doesn’t end up working for you.

-If money is limited, get a carbon fiber (CF) bow rather than a cheap wood bow.  The CF sticks are engineered to the correct stiffness, so you have avoided the biggest problem with low-price bows.   They don’t cost much more and they will never warp or lose camber.  There are two types; composite and woven (braided).  I see fewer problems with the woven CF bows.  We like USA-made CF bows like JonPaul and Coda better than Chinese products (we rehair hundreds of bows yearly, so we see how they are crafted).

 

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We talk a lot about “properly made instruments” as a factor in students’ success.  What do we mean by that?

 

We mean correct materials, craft, and setup, as has been defined for over 500 years.  In contrast, cheap instruments use inferior or substitute materials, are often machine routed, and have bad strings, pegs, and tailpiece.  You can tell bad materials because they are weak; when you tune one string all the others go flat.  Bad materials include fingerboards and pegs of white or reddish woods that are painted black to look like ebony.  Poor craft (as done by routing machines) leaves parts too thick, which causes them to resist vibration or vibrate at higher frequencies than desired, leading to a screechy instrument.  Bad setup guarantees that you can’t tune the strings, strings will slip, and the instrument won’t play correctly or sound good.  This is unacceptable!

 

The logical response to an improperly made instrument is to quit playing.  And that player will conclude that they just had a typical (bad) experience with the violin (viola, cello, bass), even though that is an incorrect conclusion.  The right conclusion is that they were fighting an improperly made instrument.

 

So we think that quality is important with regard to student instruments.  That’s why we don’t sell those poor cheap fiddles, and we are reluctant to work on them.  In the end it’s all about success or failure.  The student may stop playing for hundreds of reasons, but in our opinion low quality gear should not be one of them.

 

 

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Music and Longevity

 

A study was done of musicians and longevity, based on 8755 players, conductors, and composers.  Long livers were conductors, cellists, and violinists (violists and bassists were not listed), and women lived longer than men.  Rock musicians, singer-songwriters, guitarists, and jazz musicians had the shortest lifespan. 

Professional classical musicians also retained cognitive abilities longer.  Overall, the demanding performances associated with the life of classical musicians and conductors seem to be a good thing for them.  Rocking out, not so much.

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It takes some time to learn an instrument.

It won’t happen fast.

The first five years are the worst.

 

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These things do not equal each other

 

         

Cheap Internet violin       vs     Violin in professional shop

 

 

                                             Internet Violin                                      Shop Violin

Priority of maker                       low cost                                        sound & value

Sold by                                     sales staff                                    professional violin maker

Familiarity with seller           None.  Remote                                 Close, personal

Sales approach                       mass marketing                                     one at a time

Target market                     beginners (children)                         amateur players (youth, adult)

Materials                              poor to moderate                             moderate to excellent

Craft                                     mainly machine                                  mainly handmade

Case                                       Styrofoam                                     plywood or fiberglass

Strings                                 cheap Chinese                            premium European, American

Setup                              Not setup (or very bad)                        to professional standards

Guarantee                   None, or return at your expense          Personal guarantee (1 year)

Trial                            None, can’t play prior to purchase           Generous trial period

Trade-in                                      None                                             Yes, full value

Prognosis for student      Quit! = failure                            Continue! = success

 

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Play the Size that Fits You!

We see a lot of young players, some successful and some not.  I think that there are four factors that determine a young person’s musical success:  personal motivation, parental support, equipment quality, and teaching quality.  All are essential; students quit if one is missing.  Efforts should be made to maximize these factors!

 

A common equipment-related problem is that a student is given an instrument that is the wrong size (often too big).  For example a student who fits a ½ or ¾ size violin is given a 4/4 violin just because that is what was on hand.  The player might like the idea that they are playing a louder instrument meant for an older player, but they are forced to modify technique in order to handle an instrument designed for a larger person.  Consequently, playing is painful and sound is poor.  Joint configurations and limb lengths prevent comfortable and efficient bowing geometry.  Progress is stalled because energy is spent straining to overcome ergonomic issues (arms are too short) for which the only solution is time.

 

We usually see these “mis-fit” players only once, because they soon quit out of frustration.  Sadly, this can be avoided.  They might have been successful if they were given equipment that fit their bodies.

 

Some of the best teachers even recommend playing a smaller size for longer than necessary.  Facility is greater.  Pain vanishes.  You learn new methods like shifting without problems.  It works!

 

But playing a huge instrument never ends any better than when a child tries to ride an adult’s bicycle.  Sure, they can do it, kids are agile, but …badly and only for a short time before they crash.

 

We are happy to measure arm length to inform you about proper instrument size.  We favor the Viometer, a plastic gauge with instrument sizes marked on the side.  You simply hold it like a violin, pull out shaft to the middle of palm, and read off size (if borderline, defer to smaller size).  Cello is sized a bit differently, but we can offer an opinion on that too.

 

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Music stimulates all areas of the brain

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How Long Do Violin/Viola/Cello/Bass Strings Last?

They can last a lifetime before they break, but they lose their best sound within a few months, maybe up to one year.  People bring in 80 year old instruments with intact strings--so don’t wait until they break to replace them.  We don’t wait for our car’s tires to pop either before we replace them; we judge them by age, condition, and performance.

 

Busy players putting in a lot of hours, or those who play a lot of loud, bombastic pieces, will need to change strings sooner (and rehair bows more often).  Professionals change strings before important gigs.  But give the strings a few days to stretch and stabilize.

 

 

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Words to Live by, in Music and Life

 

“When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad.”   -Miles Davis

 

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“Entertaining yourself is infinitely better than being entertained by someone else” 

What better way to entertain yourself than to learn to play an instrument?

 

 

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Mapping the Gibson (Huberman) Stradivarius violin (1713)

 

Our research on classic instruments is internationally known.  We produced color contour thickness maps for a poster and article on Joshua Bell’s $4 million Golden Age Stradivarius violin for The Strad, an elite violin magazine from London, England. The maps show how top and back thicknesses pinch and swell (thickness in millimeters).

 

The Gibson is one of the greatest violins in the world. Violin maker and author Sam Zygmuntowicz asked us to make thickness graduation maps of the top and back of the Gibson for a full-size poster that also shows photos, CT scans, and other data.  This violin is an important example of Stradivari’s Golden Age, and has an interesting 20th Century history of loss and recovery.  The article and poster appear in the November 2013 issue of The Strad. 

 

We previously wrote two articles for The Strad on Stradivari’s and Guarneri del Gesu’s wood and thickness graduations. 

 

 

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We do not profit from our Instrument Rental Program

A huge amount of our time, energy, and resources goes into providing and maintaining quality rentals for students.  About half of customer visits (300-400 people/year) to the shop involve rentals.  You might think that such a rental program would be a profitable venture, but 100% of after tax income from the rental program goes to pay overhead costs.  Plus, we see it as a valuable neighborhood service to help develop the new crop of talented string players.

 

If you have ever run a small business you understand that paying bills is the first priority in the rough and tumble game of staying afloat.  Costs are high (thousands of dollars/month) to run a large shop with a big inventory.  Money from rentals goes to the building owner, suppliers, shippers, insurance companies, utility providers, communications companies, credit card processors, equipment makers, accountants, Federal, State, and local government tax collectors, and dozens of other entities.  This operation, like many small businesses, helps to power the local economy but please note that the owner does not profit from this rental enterprise! 

 

In some cases, we decline to offer rentals because overhead bills are fulfilled, or we are low on inventory.  Please understand that supplies are limited.

 

 

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