An Introduction to the Mindset of Stringed-Instrument Makers

In August of 2016 I purchased a new cello; a Viennese instrument made in 1767 by Joseph Ferdinand Leidolff.  My obsession with it over the past 6 months has made my choice of topic for this class rather simple.  I’ll be following the organology discipline of musicology to study the stringed instruments and luthiers of Vienna from the 17th and 18th centuries.  Overall, organology is the study of musical instruments including their history, physical characteristics, the science on how they produce sound, etc.

Even if you’re not familiar with the history and traditions of stringed instrument making, you’ve probably heard of the famous Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari.  He is credited for being the greatest violin maker of all time and his instruments fetch a price that reflects that. Recent auction prices have surpassed the $10 million mark.  Stradivari is a crucial figure in the history of stringed instruments because his success inspired most violin makers to model their instruments after his, including makers working today.  For example, most of the violins and cellos you see today, including those you find in most public schools, are modeled after a pattern that Stradivari invented.

I mention all of this because modeling instruments after a famous violin maker’s distinguished pattern was not just a practice in Italy, but all over Europe…including Austria.

This leads me to Jacob Stainer (1617-1683), the father of the Austro-German school of violin making.  Stainer was no doubt Austria’s “Stradivari.”  He is even thought to have studied under Niccolo Amati, who was also Stradivari’s teacher.  As all of the greatest makers did, Stainer combined techniques passed to him by his teacher with his own ideas to create a model of violin that was unique to his workshop.  These models would be responsible for inspiring future Austrian makers to follow suit.  Joseph Liedolff, the maker of my cello, did just that.


Next time I will give some background on Joseph Leidolff, his family, and what makes Austrian instruments unique.

-Nathan Black


Dilworth, John. “Maker: Joseph Leidolff.” Amati. Accessed January 24, 2017.

Hopfner, Rudolph. “The Vienna School – How the Austrian capital’s extraordinary music culture supported a host of talented violin makers for centuries.” Tarisio. June 29, 2016. Accessed January 24, 2017.

Maunder, Richard. “Viennese Stringed Instrument Makers, 1700-1800 .” The Galpin Society Journal 52:27-51. Accessed January 24, 2017.

“Instrument Makers of the Stainer Family.” Encyclopedia Smithsonian. Accessed January 24, 2017.


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