How Royce Burt Enhances an Old Fiddle
To understand what Royce Burt does and how it makes average student violins sound like professional instruments, you must learn about graduation. The top and back plates of the violin have a contoured change in thickness. This change is called the graduation. Royce Burt regraduates run-of-the-mill
instruments to make them sound as good as the best fiddles.
He learned this craft over many years of working with noted Florida fiddle expert Bob Bragg. He speaks of the particular process, including other fine touches as his “recipe.”
His favorite violins to work on are those from the cottage industry mass manufacturing of Mittenwald. Back in its heyday, this town, presently of about 7000 population, in Germany turned out thousands of violins. , Year after year, they poured out going all over the world and especially to the United States where they were sold by mass retailers like Sears, and Montgomery-Ward. Back then, the craftsmen used very good quality wood. But they spent very little time on the graduation of the violin.
Getting product out the door was paramount. The violin had to look good. It had to be well assembled. It didn’t have to be graduated carefully. The result was a violin that was thicker than the fine violins made one at a time by luthiers. The result was that the sound tended to be tinny and strident, by comparison with those violins.
Mittenwald Violins and Garage Sales
They sold for just a few dollars in America back in the early 1900s. Even today, from private sellers, or even garage sales, they only bring about $300 to $400 retail, and much less wholesale or at dealer’s prices. [Side note: there are three prices for a violin–retail, wholesale and dealer price. Wholesale is about half the retail, and dealer pays no more than half of wholesale, often less.]
If you compare these old violins to the typical Chinese violins you see at music stores, they are distinctly better than the $150 to $250 range, and often the equal of $500 violins. Once Royce Burt gets done with his recipe, the difference is enormous. He sells his violins for about $1500. They compare to violins selling $3000 and up.
The distinctiveness is apparent as soon as you begin to play his violin. First, the tone is warm and inviting. Then, the responsiveness is immediate and full. Finally, you may notice how the harmonics pop out and ring, and how easily the violin can be played in tune.
Elan’s Personal Royce Burt Story
The first violin I got from Royce was the best of twelve he had at the time to offer. I was at his studio with a student who wanted a violin. She chose an excellent Maggini style instrument. The one I got was anonymous. I just liked the tone. I began using it at gigs. I got Knilling Perfection pegs and a Bradivarius pick-up. Ken Brooks of Strum Hollow commented on the excellent sound from my amp, which at that time was a Polytone bass amp.
Eventually I sold it to a good student, because I had purchased one or two more. I have continued to buy these violins and sell them to my students, usually at cost. He sells several from time to time as they become available. His manner on the video is exactly like his way of presenting in person. (There’s a link to his YouTube channel in his picture above).
On his own web site, Royce Burt Violins, he describes his purpose and mind set. “My specialty is setting up and improving violins for Fiddlers. I’ve spent many years studying the graduation patterns of great sounding violins. Over the years I have re-voiced hundreds of violins and found them homes across the globe. I am a very serious student of the science of violin tone.”
On the fiddlers oriented web site, Fiddle Hangout, several happy customers share their experiences with Royce Burt violins.
“The fiddle sounds wonderful under the chin. I’ve recorded a few tunes with it, and its tone is far superior to the Gliga Gems I’ve been using for the past 12 years, not even in the same league.” This is just the beginning of a review that awarded 10s in every category of violin quality.
How Royce Burt markets his violins on YouTube
Another reviewer had this: ”Royce has a fairly unique marketing method, [his YouTube channel], but it sure eliminates the “blind item” aspect of purchasing a fiddle. He’s an excellent player and gives you a good idea of the fiddle’s potential….Royce is providing great value in quality fiddles at a fair price. I would recommend him to anyone looking for a great sounding and playing fiddle.”
And finally, a reviewer has this to say about the five-string violins, like the one I have from Royce. “I have many of Royce’s fiddles. But the newly regraduated 504 takes the cake on five strings. It has even
loudness on each string, tone all to be damned, and eats [two prominent luthiers] for breakfast. No kidding.”
Royce has regraduated a few 3/4 size violins for me to offer to my students. He is choosey about which violins he will work on. He turned down one that I brought to him, (and for a good reason, there was a modern branding issue.)
I have two of them on consignment at Music Matters. They are excellent student violins. Not just another VSO, violin shaped object.