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How to Tell a Real Stradivarius Violin and a Fake One 

 May 26, 2021

By  Zen Chung

Antonius Stradivarius, the maker of the Stradivarius model violin, was born in 1644 and worked as a craftsman with a single studio until his death. His work was greatly valued, especially in making amazing instruments, including guitars, cellos, and violins.

A Stradivarius violin is a popular type of violin that you probably know. These old instruments that were sold over a hundred years ago re-emerged, but finding a real is difficult in the current century. Some famous makers of the nineteenth century studied his work to make one that looks like a genuine Stradivari.

The replicas are cheaply made, and they lack value in today's current market. They were made in millions in Romania, Germany, and France in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result, there has been confusion on which one is a real one or a fake one.

Although most violin shops offer the services to recognize the real Strad and distinguish them from the fake ones. If you're unsure whether Stradivarius made your old violin, keep reading to find out how to tell a real Stradivarius violin.

How to Tell a Real Stradivarius Violin

If you're an experienced violin maker or studied violin making, it takes a short time to know a real Strad from an average copy. However, if you're a young talented musician unsure about the instrument's authenticity, you probably will need some research and a good amount of time.

In the Stradivarius's shop, around 2,000 instruments, including violins, cellos, guitars, etc., were made in the maker's style. Despite the high numbers for the product, one can't match them with the numbers of fake Stradivarius violins available today.

However, of those about 2,000 instruments made by Stradivarius, there are only about 650 that can be accounted for. This is because all the Stradivarius instruments are well known and documented. But where are the other approximately 1350 instruments?

Most of them are destroyed, broken, lost, and fires, floods, wars, theft, hurricanes, and time might have taken their toll. However, there is a chance that a Stradivarius label violin sitting in your attic is a real Stradivarius.

Oftentimes, the crudely made student instruments wouldn’t sell, so a violin shop and dealer would sometimes label the instrument, suggesting some quality. For this reason and more, identifying the instrument’s authenticity is crucial, especially to those new to the violin lessons and instrument sales.

However, the big question is how to tell a real Stradivarius violin. Here are a few things you should check;

1. Violin Label and Font

Back then, Stradivarius used to include his name on the labels. There has been a shortage of violins with the label Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis (Cremonensis is a Latin name of the town in Italy where Antonio Stradivarius worked).

Instead, you will find instruments with fake labels like “Made in Czechoslovakia,” “Made in Germany,” or sometimes with the maker's name. An instrument that includes the country of origin is definitely not a genuine Stradivarius violin. Ideally, if the instrument only reads “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis 1721,” it is still important to seek another expert’s opinion.

However, there are still people who have made copies of similar labels but with additional markings like "Made in Germany," commonly found in many fake strads.

Antonio Stradivari only printed the first digit, “1,” and the last three digits were hand-written. The label in the student instruments typically prints the first two digits, and the last two digits were handwritten.

An example of an authentic label where 732 is handwritten and "1" is printed includes;

A fairly modern one where only 17 is printed;

Take a look at this one;

It does not look genuine; why? Stradivari died in 1737, and this one shows a date that is way later.

Many other obscure Italian names were also used on labels by workshops, dealers, and factories of musical instruments, for example, Guarneri, Gagliano, Andrea Amati, Ruggieri, etc. It is very crucial to pay attention to the font because it is likely the font used is modern and a font unknown in the 18th century.

2. Color

If the violin has a vaguely red color, it was likely made post-1700 because the red pigments slowly began to be introduced into violin varnishes after the date. If the violin is brown or golden–yellow, it could have been made earlier than 1700 or later.

3. Shape and Design

The shape can be divided into size and proportion. Stradivari’s own instruments from the 1660s followed the narrow shape like the Amati, and the long-form is easily identifiable to one decade, the 1690s. A long body length may indicate a 19th-century German work or Brescian instruments.

When it comes to the f-holes, Andrea Amati's f-holes featured large holes with tiny pointed wings, as well as large and curved nicks. At Stradivari, the steps involved diminishing the circles, widening the wings, and simplifying the nicks.

4. Cost

Stradivarius instruments are made of high-quality instruments, but other makers have cheaply made them and sold them inexpensively. A real Stradivarius is worth serious money and very valuable. If you find an inexpensive and not valuable violin, it is probably a German or Czech copy.

Unfortunately, most of these fake Stradivarius violins are not very valuable. You can easily find the fake ones on online stores like eBay, Craigslist, etc., for anywhere from zero to a few hundred dollars.

Ideally, a good quality instrument will increase in value, which means that the real Stradivarius value must have gone up since the many years have gone by. These instruments were made for royalty, wealthy, and elite performers.

Decent Copies of Stradivarius Violins

If you search the internet, you will probably find some decent copies of the Stradivarius violin from different violin makers. The decent and better quality copies of Stradivarius instruments made by famous makers include Roth, Heberlein, or JTL. Such instruments are hard to find because they are highly sought, and their prices are rising steadily.

An example of the decent copies is the Princeton violins. Princeton Violins were founded by Jarek Powichrowski, who was a Juilliard School-educated professional violinist, a New York-trained string instrument restorer, and also a violin maker that studied violin making in Cremona, Italy, together with the best contemporary Italian makers. Jarek Powichrowski was also an expert appraiser of antique instruments.

Conclusion

You should never throw away any instrument if you're unsure about the authenticity. Instead, you can research for its authenticity or take it to an expert to have it examined. There is a possibility that it might be worth something because of the increasing demand for old instruments. 

Zen Chung


I'm Zen Chung, a piano and violin teacher based out of Plano, Texas. I started this blog because my students (and their parents) kept asking about the best musical instruments to buy online. Look no further I'm here to save the day! 

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