8/24/2014

c.1900 "Hoffmann" 4/4 Cello




Update: I've updated some information about this.

This is another bogus label story of the string world. This one is labeled "Martin Hoffmann, in Leipzig 1688" but it's certainly not that old. My guess is that it's a German factory-built instrument from the 1890s at the earliest and probably the early 1900s to be more exact. It's well-made (just check out the tight grain on the top, jeez!) and mostly original (strings, tail, endpin, and bridge are new) but has a slightly rough interior build (sides not sanded-down but the back is cleated nicely for extra support) and the ever-present Romberg bevel on the fingerboard found on late 1800s/early 1900s cellos. The fact that this bevel is present and appears to be original to the board and on a board that's original to the instrument means this was built in the mid-1800s at the earliest.

Anyhow... it's a grand-sounding beast all strung up and playable with a smooth, round sound and plenty of power. The owner of this instrument chose Thomastik Spirit strings, however, which I didn't like at first (they were metallic-sounding and felt too tense when strung to pitch). After a few days settling in they sound really wonderful with this instrument: the clang of the metal was gone and they're smooth, rich, and big-sounding. This puts out a lot of sound and the neck and body seem quite happy with the 30lb tension per string.


Work on this included a bunch of seam repairs, fitting of the new bridge and endpin, some shimming of the neck joint pocket (access under the fingerboard) to ease future creeping of the joint, much cleaning, small crack repairs, installation/fitting of a new soundpost, and of course a good setup.


Update: I thought the pegs were stained maple at first but they're actually ebony that was "ebonized" further to hide the lighter grain. Some of that has worn off and that tricked me. The nut is also ebony.


Update: I thought the board was originally rosewood but upon checking it out again in better light I'm sure now that it's ebony that was "ebonized" like the pegs and some of the original more stripey grain is simply showing through areas worn by fingers.

Note all of the seemingly fake aging done to the finish here and there right alongside "real" aging which is mostly seen in the rosin "scar" at the end of the board. All of these little nicks, dings, and drop-rings in the finish are applied to make it look older, I think.



The owner prefers these synthetic tails (just as in the post below). I usually like the Wittners but this is a Taiwanese tail and it's just fine. Someone who wanted to match the rest of the trim could pick up an ebony tail and add fine tuners if desired.


Note that the f-holes got chewed out apparently by someone trying to set the soundpost. The owner thought it was mice but I've seen this SO many times on old bowed instruments I know what's going on. Besides: what self-respecting mouse couldn't fit through these holes just fine without enlarging them?




The back is in good shape (just like the top) but only has very light to medium flame. This is another sign, to my eyes, that this was probably an intermediate instrument rather than high-grade instrument when built. That doesn't mean it's a bad instrument -- it's not... this thing sounds great and plays well -- but usually fancier wood was reserved for fancier instruments.




...some impact crack repairs right in this area -- all stable.


The modern endpin with nicely-cut ebony pin itself is snug and secure.


To keep with the old look I used an old repair style to patch this "mouse chewed" hole right on the treble f-hole center area. Someone had chewed out that section to fit the sound post in... I'm sure of it... so I simply backed it with thin veneer and made a patch of glue and sanding dust from enlarging the endpin hole. After chiseling it to fit I lightly sanded and applied some finish and color to give it that vintage repair look. This was a much less expensive option for my customer and it turned out just fine.


There's that bogus label. If it's real... I'll eat my words, hah hah, but I doubt it.

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