I pick up the occasional violin on Ebay. Usually underpriced pro violins by known makers, or good trade instruments. Among trade instruments I'm partial to Mittenwald fiddles like Neuner & Hornsteiner, Matthias Neuner, and similar makers from 1800 through the 1920s because they're pretty reliable and I can get the "right" sound out of them and sell them readily. A while back, I spotted a ratty looking Mittenwald fiddle that was being ignored. The description said the top had been "stained black". The photos attached are from the Ebay ad.
I thought long and hard about it, and decided, "What the heck, it's a Mittenwald Fiddle with no major problems. How bad could it be?" So I waited until the end of the auction, sniped it against the only other active bidder for not much money, and waited to find out how much of a mistake I had made.
Fiddle got here, and looked worse than the pictures. It was filthy! I scrubbed the grime off with a damp rag, and much of the varnish came off with it. But at least it wasn't "stained black"! It'll look OK with some varnish work, which I know how to do. It's got some mismatched oddball strings on it; one of the fine tuners is corroded blue and won't turn. the sound post is right under the bridge foot, and top of the bridge itself looks chewed into shape. The neck and fingerboard are OK, and the pegs sorta work, so I put the bridge close to where it belongs, tune the strings close to pitch, and drag a bow across the G string..... WOW! RRRIIIIP! Not tubby, not like an empty barrel but just solid, focused and deep/ dark. Other 3 strings commensurate in response. Got that bright/ dark sound so many fiddlers love. All this with everything wrong with the setup, nasty strings. I can't wait until I get time to clean it up and do a proper setup on it. It will probably sound and play as good as anything I have on hand, at any price.
Just goes to remind me that you don't ever know until you try. I was expecting maybe an OK fiddle, and I got WAY more than I bargained for.
Most of my fiddles fall into this category and don't even have a Mittenwald pedigree. A pretty fiddle is surely a joy to behold, but an ugly one with great sound it a real gem in my view.
The best sounding fiddle I ever heard looked like "death warmed over". The only player who made it sound good was the lady that owned it. And when she played, she sounded so good people would "stop in their tracks" and and say "who is that fiddler ?".
That happened when I lived in southwest Michigan. The lady drove a school bus, and practiced whenever the bus was stationary.
'Glenn Boyd Violin' 2 days
'Golden Slippers' 3 days
'Same Tempo Same Sounds' 4 days