Violin by Victor Unsworth, Bristol, England, 1982


Description — A Secret Garden
Dark violins usually don't appeal to me. But here a world of subtle beauty reveals itself. The classic way to magnify the sweeping curves of a violin is to underline them in black: purfling around the instrument's body, and dark bevels around the scroll. Victor Unsworth took the reverse approach, which makes perfect sense since wear will underline the contours in white anyway.
There's no label inside, but the maker inscribed and branded the back, "Fecit in Bristol Anno 1982. V.H. UNSWORTH."
The cherry semi-opaque varnish conceals details of the highest quality (wood of the finest grain, exceedingly precise purfling) to be uncovered in the future. This violin demands to be played and admired through time, or out of time I should say. The holes — pegbox and soundhole bevels —, painted in black, appear to have no bottom, as blackholes from which no light can escape. Gazing into this violin's eyes feels like peeking into infinity. I could go on about the sheer beauty of lines, equilibrium of shapes, and astonishing carving accuracy. Toolmarks are inexistent, as if this violin wasn't made by man, but came directly from heaven. Is that why there's no label?

Beyond the dark varnish, just above the bottom plate, hides the maker's delicate brand, "V.H. UNSWORTH".
Acquisition — Mysterious Maker
I bought this violin at an online auction. You're going to ask me how to select a musical instrument without having heard it, let alone touched or seen it in person. Well, buying over the Internet implies some risks. But if the photographs are of high quality... A thoroughly proportioned violin, expertly crafted on first-choice tonewood, such as this Unsworth, is bound to sound good. Plus, I fell in love with the artistic concept and profound involvement by the maker. So, after looking at the merit of the object, I look at the price range and author. The estimate was ridiculously low (£3,000-5,000), I guess because the maker has no record. Indeed, I had never heard of Victor Unsworth... and couldn't find much about him! How can such a talented maker be unknown? If he's alive he should be on the Web, if he's dead he should be in the books. Well, it seems he's as secretive as this violin.

The bridge bears Unsworth's firebrand as well.
Tone — Penetrating
It's a feeling of plenitude. The tone is full, chocolaty, abundant and shiny, but not shiny-aggressive, rather shiny-soft like a pearl. The purpose here isn't power, it's harmony. The frequency spectrum is remarkably even, rich in every sector. This balance is mellow to the ears of the violinist, even though the volume is in fact quite loud.

Strings — High Tension
When it arrived, this Unsworth was wearing an interesting combination of strings: Thomastik Dominant G and D with Pirastro Eudoxa A and E. I had never thought of trying that mix and was baffled by the perfect blend. It really sounded like a whole set, the Eudoxas bolsted by the solid Dominants, which in turn had acquired the complexity of the Eudoxas. However, it all remained superficial, prompting me to try higher-tension strings to get to the bottom of this fiddle. I thus mounted it with a set of Pirastro Evah Pirazzi and the violin has been so happy that I haven't felt like trying anything else. Very few violins appreciate high-tension strings; this one needs them. Heavy strings don't even require more bow pressure on this instrument, they just release an additional depth that you can tap into to play fffff where other violins would stop at fff.

The precision with which this scroll was sculpted is uncanny. I imagine the maker's hand caressing the spiral's edges to gently remove the varnish. The natural color of the wood becomes the paint which delicately underlines the contours of the scroll.

More about Victor Unsworth:
Measurements & Data
Maker: Victor H. Unsworth (1948-)
Made in: Bristol, England, UK
Year: 1982
Back Length: 352 mm *
Upper Bouts: 166.5 mm *
Middle Bouts: 108 mm *
Lower Bouts: 206.5 mm *
Stop Length: 194 mm
Rib Height at Neck: 30 mm *
Rib Height at Endpin: 31.5 mm *
Thickness of the Top: 3.7 mm
Thickness of the Back: 5.3 mm
F-hole Length: 75.8 mm *
Distance Between F-holes: 41.5 mm *
Distance Edge-Purfling: 3.75 mm
Scroll Width: 40.5 mm *
Weight: 415 grams
Inscription: "Fecit in Bristol
Anno 1982.
" is penciled inside the back.

Brand: Branded "V.H.UNSWORTH" inside the violin to the back and top, also outside under the endpin, and on the bridge.
Condition: Perfect state of preservation, except some chinrest and shoulder rest blemishes. The fittings appear to be original.

* measured with a caliper

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