Famous Violin Makers of the past

Luthiers, also known as violin makers, manufacture violins and other instruments in the violin family. Since the 16th century, violin makers have been crafting masterpieces that are both beautiful and superior in sound. In this article, you will learn more about well-known violin makers from the past.

What is a Luthier?

A luthier is a professional craftsman who builds, repairs, and restores stringed instruments such as violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. The word is derived from the French term “lute”, which means “plucked string instrument”. Violin makers eventually became referred to as luthiers in France as the violin became common. Luthiers specialise in creating new instruments and restoring and repairing old ones for perfect sound and playability. To become a luthier, one must possess technical skills and an eye for detail.

Andrea Amati created the first recorded four-stringed violin called the Charles IX in 1565. It was named after the French king he made the violin for. Throughout history, the greatest violin makers have become renowned for their craftsmanship, creating instruments that are both aesthetically pleasing and superior in sound quality when compared with other violins. Let’s look at a selection of violin makers from the past.

Andrea Amati is one of the most famous violin makers in history.
Andrea Amati – ex “Kurtz” Violin

Andrea Amati (1505 – 1577)

Andrea Amati of Cremona, Italy, is widely credited as the first recorded luthier to craft a four-string violin – an instrument that has become the standard we recognise today. Even though today’s violins differ from the original instruments Amati crafted in the 16th century, they remain broadly similar.

One difference is that it was expected that violin makers would add a personal touch to their instruments. The first instrument created by Amati had inscribed on its ribs (the side of the violin) “Pietate et Justitia”, which was a personal touch from him and the motto of French King Charles IX, for whom he crafted it.

Amati’s success led him to establish his school of violin makers focusing on teaching techniques such as creation methods, shapes and sizes, materials needed and basic formats for instruments within the violin family. His academic legacy was carried on by his sons Antonio and Girolamo, who eventually passed it down to Nicolò Amati, grandson and most renowned member of the Amati family.

Nicolò Amati by Jacques-Joseph Lecurieux
Nicolò Amati by Jacques-Joseph Lecurieux

Nicolò Amati (1596 – 1684)

Nicolò Amati was born in Cremona, Italy, and is remembered as a rebellious young violin maker who went against the grain. He created violins that diverged from his family’s traditional model, and they were much smaller. Yet they were full in tone. His instruments had a loud, robust sound that is still sought after today.

Not only did Nicolò develop his own style of violin making, but he passed it on to two other pupils: Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri. Who went on to surpass Nicolò in notoriety, Nicolò’s legacy of fine craftsmanship would live on through them.

Antonio Stradivari, artwork of William Harry Warren Bicknell
Antonio Stradivari | Work of William Harry Warren Bicknell

Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737)

From Cremona, Italy, Antonio Stradivari is the most famous and renowned violin maker in history. His instruments are considered the finest among all violins in the world. They stand out for their remarkable tone quality and have attracted the attention of scientists over the last few decades; they have speculated on what attributes to his unique sounding violins but have yet to come to any specific conclusions.

Stradivari’s craft was particular: he typically used longer violins than other makers of his day, opting to utilise a darker and more expressive varnish. Few people have had the opportunity to play an Antonio Stradivari violin, while many prominent violinists regularly perform on these infamously exquisite instruments. Stradivarius violins are a true testament to the artistry found within them every time they are played.

Cremona, Museo del Violino, Andrea Guarneri (1626-1698), Violino 1659
Cremona, Museo del Violino, Andrea Guarneri (1626-1698), Violino 1659, by Herbert Frank, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Andrea Guarneri (1626 – 1698)

The founder of Casa Guarneri, Andrea Guarneri, was a Cremonese violin maker who opened his shop after studying under Nicolò Amati in Cremona. Despite being less successful and innovative than the other Cremonese masters, Andrea’s legacy is a lasting one due to his efforts in teaching his son the craft of instrument making, which he picked up from the Amati family.

Matteo Goffriller (1659 – 1742)

Matteo Goffriller, known as the father of the Venetian school, was born in the Alpine town of Bressanone (close to Bolzano). In 1685, he moved to Venice and became an apprentice with Mathias Kaiser. Before long, he had married his teacher’s daughter and inherited his business.

Goffriller’s work greatly influenced some of the most respected makers at the time, such as Domenico Montagnana, Santo Serafin and Carlo Tononi. In addition, his instruments are considered the epitome of quality for the Venetian style – with his cellos being regarded as superior to all by experts except those crafted by Stradivari and Montagnana.

Matthias Klotz Statue
Alois Wüst, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Matthias Klotz (1656 – 1743)

Matthias Klotz is considered the founder of the violin industry in Mittenwald, Germany and has been celebrated with a statue to mark his achievements. He spent six years studying under Giovanni Railich in Padua, Italy, while mastering techniques that have become renowned worldwide. His instruments stand out due to their excellent craftsmanship and quality tone, despite being made from materials of moderate quality. Many violins crafted by Matthias and other members of the prolific Klotz family remain in existence today as evidence of his expert skill. Despite his large stature and strong hands, Matthias was capable of exquisite work that demanded extreme delicacy.

At Tim Toft Violins, we employ our own full-time, highly-trained luthiers.

If something feels off with your own instrument, for example, the strings are too high above the fingerboard, don’t hesitate to contact us and arrange for one of our luthiers to inspect your instrument. Our specialist repair and restoration services are undertaken in our specialist on-site workshop.

We hope you have enjoyed exploring the history of past violin makers and that you find yourself more curious about the instrument you play.

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