Violin by Arthur Toman, Boston, MA, USA, 2002
Description — Dynamic
At some point Arthur Toman had in his shop both the "Plowden" and "d'Egville" twin Guarneris of 1735. Our violin's outline, soundholes, and wood type correspond closely to them. So do the small size, flat arching, and deep ribs, which give the viewer a compact impression. Black ink marks the bevels of the scroll, ribs, f-holes, and button. The neck is thus elegantly framed by a chin and button which imitate each other, the two-piece back's joint line following the head's central spine. Toolmarks are clearly visible, even on the belly surface, showing the maker's sure technique. Edgework flows naturally through simple and handsome purfling, without affected bee-stings pointing inwards. The brittle varnish has developed some craquelé along the vibrating paths. Its warm orange color becomes deep brown inside the profound curls of the glorious maple. I perceive a 10:10 o'clock upward motion from the back's diagonal stripes, the volutes' last half turns into the eyes of the scroll, and the soundholes' wings — upbeat, energetic lines.
Provenance — From the Maker's Estate
This is one of a few violins still in Arthur Toman's possession at the time of his tragic death in 2004. His widow, Donna Toman, very kindly wrote to me, "He was in vital condition when he made the one you have. It has never been owned by anyone--he just kept it because he really liked it." Seeing it for the first time, I assumed this violin would sound slightly small, high-pitched and rough, owing to its small size (35.1 cm) and the fact it was new. How I was surprised to hear a full-bodied, sweet, smooth, and large tone! It does sound like a modern violin, but one that has an already-established character. And here I thought a new instrument needed time to sound good! ... Unless Art Toman himself played it in (he was also a violinist) ...
Tone — Bountiful
This violin sounds lovely, warm, round, enthusiastic, very sonorous, both thick and refined, like honey. In every part of the range, the tone keeps its clear, lustrous treble overtones over a mellow cushion of hefty fundamental notes. Interestingly, pushing it to play louder creates more mass of sound, unlike other violins which seem rather to focus their existing sound. How can acoustic matter be created on the spot? How can such a heavy sound come from such a light object? Since meeting this Toman, I understand how a violin can be nicknamed "the cannon." This one's emission is immediately resounding despite its heavy load. Its timbre brings to mind a pretty, young, healthy, sensual, lyric soprano — buoyant with joy, not too intellectual, far from life's harsh realities and existential burdens. Playing this violin, for me, is an escape into the world of youth and possibilities.
Playability — Effortless
Arthur Toman conceived his violins with the player in mind. Here everything is designed for ease of playing: small size, short corners, perfectly proportioned neck and string length, light weight, angled bridge, and quick tone production. The slightest bow movement is translated into sound. You can rehearse all day without getting tired on this fiddle. Also, it doesn't have a wolf tone, rather a wolf "zone" of four or five semitones, thus scales and runs remain remarkably regular, however the soundpost is adjusted. It feels right at home from the start — hard to put down.
Strings — Tension Matters
The original bridge is quite tilted: short treble side and tall bass side. I've decided to trust the maker and keep it on.
With a thin and flexible soundboard such as this Toman's, one needs overall low tension strings not to stifle the violin. Moreover, with a tilted bridge, one needs a heavy E and a light G string, to make up for the low tension on the short E side and the high tension on the tall G side. The following sets have sounded good:
More about Arthur Toman:
Measurements & Data
Maker: Arthur Robert Toman (1947-2004)
Made in: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Back Length: 351 mm *
Upper Bouts: 165 mm *
Middle Bouts: 109 mm *
Lower Bouts: 204 mm *
Stop Length: 194 mm
Rib Height at Neck: 30 mm *
Rib Height at Endpin: 31.5 mm *
Thickness of the Top: 3.0 mm
Thickness of the Back: 3.9 mm
F-hole Length: 77.8 mm *
Distance Between F-holes: 41.5 mm *
Distance Edge-Purfling: 3 mm
Scroll Width: 43.5 mm *
Weight: 411 grams
Arthur Toman of Boston
Made in 2002 (AT)
Inscription: To the inside back, "Arthur Toman of Boston
Made in 2002 ".
Brand: Branded "(AT)" on the upper block and on the label. Branded "Arthur Toman Boston" on the bridge.
Condition: New, immaculate (some varnish chipping). Original in all its parts, including bridge and soundpost.
* measured with a caliper