The fiddle reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!
208 reviews in the archive.
I purchased a terrific fiddle from Royce a few weeks ago (Withlacoochee #901) and wanted to state how pleased I am with the fiddle as well as provide a few comments on Royce and his approach. I am a novice fiddler, so take these comments with that in mind. On the other hand, I've been a musician for 50 years, primarily play guitar and mandolin, and have performed in groups and as a solo act throughout the Southeast. I restore and repair instruments and have built a few guitars and mandolins. So, I have informed opinions, based mainly on experience, but none that would qualify as "expert."
My fiddle addiction is recently acquired by way of my great-great grandfather's fiddle coming into my possession. It's a German trade fiddle, Strad model, that was in serious disrepair when I received it. Without the provenance I probably wouldn't have spent the money to restore it to playing condition, but it turned out to be a nice sounding fiddle--much better than the Hopf I had been mostly ignoring. This was the spark that got me started again on fiddle, so I got serious and found an excellent fiddle teacher. Unfortunately, the neck repair failed (most likely a new neck is needed) and I started thinking about getting a new fiddle to replace it.
I can pick up a guitar or mandolin and determine pretty quickly its strengths and weakness, tonal quality, playability, etc. Though tone preference can be subjective, characteristics such as sustain, resonance, complex overtones, power and punch are generally not and I think my appraisals based on my ear have validity. I have no appraisal chops whatsoever when it comes to fiddle--at least when I play it. I can do better listening to an accomplished fiddler, but my "fiddle ear" is still in its infancy.
No one likes purchasing a "blind item" where you lack the skill or experience to determine relative value. Is this a good deal or am I overpaying? What could be worse than an eBay purchase" "Ya know, that fiddle looks like it oughta sound pretty good."
Buying a fiddle was definitely a blind item for me and I didn't feel confident about the process.
Literally by accident, I stumbled across Royce's YouTube channel. He had a ton of videos with him playing different fiddles, he was a damn good player,--and it seemed like he was selling them. I dropped him an email for more info, website, etc. Royce responded quickly and said no website, just YouTube, as a website was just too much work. He said Youtube was easier and gave folks more information on the actual merits of a particular fiddle than pages of text.
After spending a few hours viewing all the videos, I realized how correct Royce was. It's easy to compare one fiddle to another, noting the differences, your likes, dislikes, and hearing one every once in a while that really got your attention. They all seemed more than decent sounding and some really stood out to my uninformed ears.
We had a couple of phone conversations and Royce discussed his approach to re-graduating older trade fiddles as well as the occasional modern one. This was a subject I had long been interested in as applied to mandolins and with all carved instruments it's the point where skillful technique gives way to art. You can't just carve to to the same static spec and get the same result every time. Each piece of wood has different characteristics that require subtle adjustments, and knowing when and how to make them separates the artist from those that are just skillful.
You can get lost in the weeds on the multiple and various methods to achieve optimal tone. Some like tap-tuning by ear, others take a more scientific approach, identifying the various nodes and generating Chladni patterns--the mind boggles. However Royce does it, I believe he's come up with a practical and repeatable approach for improving the "fiddle voice" of violins. You can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, but the proof is in Royce's videos. That's a whole lot of good sounding fiddles coming from a single source so I'd have to say he's doing a lot of things right.
Of course, everyone goes on about how great it is to deal with Royce and you won't find a different opinion from me. It was just a pleasure to find someone who believes in their product AND willing to stand behind it and do whatever it takes to make sure you are satisfied with your selection. I feel a got a great fiddle at a fair price and always felt 100% comfortable with the person I was dealing with. You can't beat that with a stick.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: Royce Burt via YouTube
Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: ask Royce ($US)
I am a novice fiddler, but I've played guitar since I was twelve and mandolin for about fifteen years. Now that I'm reaching geezerhood, I like to think I have both musical "sense" and a well-developed ear. Fiddle seemed like a no-brainer after reaching a fair level of competency on the mandolin. Though totally addictive, it was a humbling experience to realize whatever I brought to the fiddle with my left hand meant nothing because every nuance, every pure tone, every bit of expression was going to come from my infantile and clumsy bowing. The progress was glacial, but there was progress.
I had acquired an easy-playing, but rather average and quiet Hopf. It certainly didn't hold me back by any means. I do believe that getting the best playing and best sounding instrument you can afford reaps dividends. It inspires you to work harder and be worthy of the instrument and it can be more forgiving as you improve your technique. I would say #901 hits the mark on both. With Royce's YouTube channel, you can compare one fiddle to the next to your heart's content. I was hooked on the process, and when I heard #901, I took the plunge because it was the fiddle sound I was hearing in my head. Bright, but sweet with a lot of clarity---butterscotch overtones with a hint of rosin,
Sound Rating: 10
Plays like butter, to use a tired, old cliche. I haven't changed a thing and don't expect to. Already had my preference for tailpiece (Wittner Ultra) and a Guaneri chin rest. Helicore medium strings as well
Setup Rating: 10
I believe this to be a modern Chinese fiddle where Royce has re-graduated the back, ribs, and belly using, as he refers to it, his re-voicing "recipe". I've built a number of mandolins and I use a fairly primitive approach to tap-tuning the top plate. Other luthiers just use their intuition and graduate the plates until it feels right for that particular piece of wood. However Royce does it, the results speak for themselves.
The top is tight-grained with the back and ribs having moderate figure. I wasn't interested in a pedigree or eye candy. To me it was all about the tone. It has a new oil varnish finish and has been relic'ed a bit -I think Royce calls it "antique-ing"-- which give it a nice and well-played appearance.
Appearance Rating: 10
Only had it a few weeks, but it seems very well constructed and the finish is of excellent quality---I don't see or expect any issues
Reliability Rating: 10
Royce has a fairly unique marketing method, but it sure removes the "blind item" aspect of purchasing a fiddle. He is an excellent player and gives you a good idea of the fiddle's potential. One of the smoothest transactions I've ever made. Guess there's trust required by both parties, but Royce probably extends a lot more than he receives. Truly a sincere, straight-shooter and I hope to do business with him again.
Customer Service: 10
Royce is providing a great value in quality fiddles at a fair price. I would recommend him to anyone looking for a great sounding and playing fiddle. Hat's off and thanks, Royce!!!
Components Rating: 10
Overall Rating: 10
'Willie and Tillie Adkins' 19 hrs
'My new to me fiddle' 2 days
'First jam session!' 2 days