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Ken Smith 01-01-2009 02:17 PM

Talk of Fakes (or Antiqued newer Basses) came up......
While bringing in the New Year, talk of Hungarian Fakes came up so I am starting this Thread to continue the discussion.

Ken McKay brought up the dates of the Bisiach Family when I showed a bass with Jeff's first Chromatic C-Extension that he made for me which I loved but then sold the Bass.



Originally Posted by Ken McKay (Post 10273)
Nice work by Jeff there. I appreciate the clean lines and simple design that is not fussy nor takes away from the original as much as possible.

Ken , in your link to that bass you state it is signed by Leandro Bisiach who died in 1946. It was signed by Leandro Bisiach Jr. At the top of the page shouldn't it read Bass by Giacomo and Leandro Bisiach? I have seen some cellos that were labeled Giacomo and Leandro Bisiach and a couple violins also. These were the two youngest sons, of four, of Leandro Bisiach. I think Leandro Bisiach Jr died in the 1970's.

Yes, I know the dates of the father and the sons but this Bass is NOT Italian. It came to me from Italy but after showing it to several people, we determined it was not Italian but some kind of copy.

I have some good information on its origin and some good info first hand from 3 sources IN Hungary about this Bass directly and some other suspected antiqued Basses.

Now that we are up to speed, let me fill you on on what I have learned in the following Post..

Ken Smith 01-01-2009 02:46 PM

The Gypsy Fake/Antiquing Clan..
Awhile back there was a Bass on Ebay that caught me eye. It was advertised and an Ongaro Bass (18th century Italian) and was still a 3-string Bass. The Gear holes looked like they were drilled yesterday and with no other holes plugged up. That was the first smoking gun. The Varnish or rather 'finish' was dull and 'burnt' looking and the overall Bass just looked a bit, 'exaggerated' to me.

I email the seller and made him an offer. IT was listed for $25k so I offered $30k IF he came with the Bass and I could get it authenticated here and would pay him for the trip as well. In his reply he mentioned that shipping the Bass would be difficult and could result in damage but that I was welcome to come over there and try it out (another 'claimed' Ongaro is pictured in a Book published in Italy a few years ago and I also got to see that exact Bass in person briefly not long ago.)

In today's world $25k is an average price for a handmade Bass by a top Luthier. Some more, some less so his price was ok if it was good but way low if it was real as advertised.

Then in his Reply to which I questioned that 3-stringer he mentions to me, "Hi, and by the way, that Bisiach you got from Italy, it came from me!":eek:

Confirmation in the biggest way. The first day I got that Bisiach something smelled funny, for real. The inside was treated with scents, varnish smells, shavings, dirt, dust.. etc. I blew it out as best as possible with an air hose but almost made myself sick.

After restoration, I sold the Bisiach labeled Bass as most likely a Hungarian Bass recently made but from an unknown origin. The Scroll however may have been older. When Jeff opened her up he pointed out how the Bass was made and antiqued as well as in what order things were done.

Recently I brought in another 'known' antiqued Gypsy Bass but this one a HUGE 5-string. After seeing a few published Hungarian Basses I emailed one of the makers from his website and another who makes and restores Basses over there as well. These are two of the 'good guys', not the fakers.

I asked them about this practice over there after owning a few of them and seeing others as well as hearing about a few HIGH priced counterfeits as well. The Antiqued Basses they say often are made in Romania and then sent to Hungary where they are antiqued internally as well as externally. This includes acid washing the inside of the the Bass to make it look old. Some of the work is not done so well but every one I have played sounded fantastic. The people doing this are not easy to find but they do this practice with all string family instrument. Some of them can fool you without a thorough examination.

My Bisiach labeled Bass dated 1951 sounded comparable for its 'stated' age and origin to my authentic certified 1919 Martini. That is sound only. A first look by an experienced Luther of Basses can see exactly what steps were taken to make this Bass look old. How they make them sound old and sound so so good is a still mystery. Maybe they are just well made Basses for the most part and the 'shadow' over them is just the deceitful antiquing and labeling.

Eric Rene Roy 01-01-2009 08:52 PM


Originally Posted by Ken Smith (Post 10276)
...the 'shadow' over them is just the deceitful antiquing and labeling.

I think the labeling and misrepresentation of pedigree is deceitful, not the antiquing.

Ken Smith 01-01-2009 09:24 PM


Originally Posted by Eric Rene Roy (Post 10285)
I think the labeling and misrepresentation of pedigree is deceitful, not the antiquing.

Yes Eric, true but the labeled instruments are Antiqued to deceive.

I had a 5-string in my hands a few months ago that was a huge 4/4 sized Bass with an early 20th century Italian label. The price was too good to be true and it was. I looked over the Bass which by the way sounded and looked fantastic but came to my own conclusion that it was a fake or misplaced labeled Hungarian Bass.

Then I was offered another huge 4/4 5er but was told that the Bass was fairly new. It too was antiqued as well but unlabeled. On both Orchestra concerts I used it on I was asked "How old is that Bass?". It looked and sounded old or rather it did not sound new.

My Pollmann is antiqued somewhat as well as my Lott copy. These two Basses are labeled correctly and honestly. I agree that it's the labeling that is the deceit but they are antiqued as well. This does not stop people from putting labels in at the shop level afterwards. My Lott copy could easily be relabeled as a late 19th century English maker and no one would blink!

To make my point, please look at the 2 Scrolls pictured and try to date them from looks alone. Do not use my website to look up the dates. Try and give your first impression from looks alone. If you can, look at the webpages for each Bass and disregard the names and dates as if they are not there and tell me how old the Bass itself appears to be on its own.

Have fun...

Ken McKay 01-02-2009 02:01 AM

2 Attachment(s)
Here is something odd to me. Look at the contrast in work on the same bass. The corner work is first class showing a superb bee-sting, yet the f-fluting looks as if the maker didn't know how to sharpen a gouge or plane.

I have done a lot of faux antiquing myself (still working on making it convincing :() so I have developed an eye for a fake. Most antiquing done for artistic reasons does not involve wood destruction except maybe a few dings and dents. And corners might be worn in a realistic way, but that seems rare to me, at least in violins. And the lack of cracks is also a tell tale as Ken said.

Varnish wears in different ways but creates patterns that are very difficult to duplicate. Good varnish does not stick completely to the ground underneath and flakes off in large sections early on in its life. The sections that do stick, however, seem to stick forever. The sections where the varnish is gone should show old wood.

The wood underneath the varnish is the hardest to get to look old by artificial means. A general aged gold/yellow will do the trick but does not have the subtle dark honey tone of real aged wood.

Makers like the Kramers (Pohlman) have a "stylized" aging that the Germans are known for. It is very nice looking but easily recognizable.

Ken Smith 01-02-2009 02:37 AM

Forgive me for only having the Back 'bee sting' displayed. The Top and Back rarely match on any Bass as working Maple or Spruce is quite different. The Top usually looks much older than the Back on old Basses because it takes more of a beating.

Look here at the Top and Back pics of the Bass.

There is some gouging in the C-bouts that looks like 'after' graduation work;

On this Bass Ken, the maker was NOT the same person that antiqued the Bass. The Scroll work however matches the antiquing process. The Corner work was done by the maker. A different hand entirely. All the Corners on this Bass are 'stung', Top and Back. The extra gouging in and around the 'F' flutes were done as antiquing after the Bass was made. That was a 'red flag' as well to my eye.

This Bass however sounded great in the Orchestra and even did a few jazz gigs with it. It stood on its own and sounded at least as old as it was 'trying' to look. It was a good Bass, period!

Matthew Heintz 01-02-2009 11:47 AM


Originally Posted by Ken McKay (Post 10290)
Here is something odd to me. Look at the contrast in work on the same bass. The corner work is first class showing a superb bee-sting, yet the f-fluting looks as if the maker didn't know how to sharpen a gouge or plane.

Educate me. I'm ignorant. What exactly are ya'll seeing in the f-fluting?

Ken Smith 01-02-2009 01:12 PM


Originally Posted by Matthew Heintz (Post 10292)
Educate me. I'm ignorant. What exactly are ya'll seeing in the f-fluting?

Ken McKay sees that the antique work looks different than the makers hand in the Purfling bee sting work. He is 100% correct. The Bass was antiqued 'after' it was made and done by a different person. The F-fluting was altered to show wear and distress.

Arnold Schnitzer 01-02-2009 07:51 PM

Some "craftsman" took a concave scraper to the area around the f-holes and scraped the crap out of it to try and make it look handmade. But the texture is localized, which makes it obvious fakery.

Matthew Heintz 01-02-2009 08:52 PM


Originally Posted by Arnold Schnitzer (Post 10298)
Some "craftsman" took a concave scraper to the area around the f-holes and scraped the crap out of it to try and make it look handmade. But the texture is localized, which makes it obvious fakery.

Got it. Thank you.

Jeff Bollbach 01-10-2009 03:03 PM

This is an interesting and dangerous subject. I use the word dangerous because I believe now is the time that fraudulent basses are apt to enter the market in heretofore unprecedented numbers. There have always been deceptive copies of the smaller instruments simply due to the fact that they had value. But most of us know older bassists who were able to pick up great Italian basses for a few hundred dollars not too long ago. No one is going to bother to expertly copy such an instrument without much value. However, nowadays with basses fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars its a completely different story. While it is a daunting task to construct a convincing copy of a golden age Cremonese bass it is a bit less challenging to create a replica of an Italian bass 50 to 100 years old. Like Ken's "Bisiach", instruments in this price range are now worth putting the effort in to make a fraud. Now in the violin world there are more than a few experts who would be very hard to fool, they have just so much history doing that kind of thing. The bass world is a different story. I think Ken has a really great eye and I have nothing but respect for Arnold. However I think that few of us [myself included] in the bass world are very well prepared if we start seeing masterful forgeries of basses. Here's a story to illustrate how one of the most prominent experts was fooled. I took in a bass on trade some years ago from Bill Blossom of the NYP. It was labeled as a Dalla Costa and in fact was apparently Italian and of that period although I doubted that name strongly. Pietro Antonio Dalla Costa was said to make a few basses but his workmanship was highly masterful and this bass was anything but. The bass came to me without a scroll so I resolved to fashion a convincing fake. I pulled out all the stops and was pleased with the result. I sold the bass to a nice fellow new to the Houston Symphony letting him know of course that the scroll was a new one. A little less than two years passed and he graciously called me to say he loved the bass but was trading it in for a bigger bass [it was a little delicate]. It went to a very large internationally known shop. Some time went by and I got a call from the then stranger to me Ken Smith. His keen observational skills had noticed that I detailed on my website the construction of the fake and in fact it was listed on this "internationally known expert appraiser's" online archives as a bonafide Dalla Costa with original scroll and was sold as such. Ken found that quite amusing as did I. I am still amazed he figured that out. You might say-well you did a good job and I did, but not that good. A real expert would have known it was a forgery. It is just my opinion that at this time it is not that hard to put over a forgery so anyone contemplating buying an old bass really needs to be aware of this.

Ken Smith 01-10-2009 05:28 PM

on that Scroll..
I saw earlier the masterful Scroll that Jeff made to fit the 'headless' Bass. I didn't really know Jeff in person back then. When I finally saw it on the other website a year or so later I ran back to Jeff's web and realized that my eyes were not tricking me. It was the same exact Scroll and Bass.

Now, I never saw that Bass in person or the new antiqued Scroll that Jeff made for it. The dealer however that was brokering the Bass did. When I discussed the Bass with Jeff afterwards, he mentioned something that he did that only he and whomever that would examine the Scroll close up would know or find.

Many old Basses from Italy and England often have 'worm' damage. Jeff thought it a good idea to fake some worm holes to make the Scroll more convincing. What he also did was to use a small rattail file to 'dress' the inside of the holes (or something like that but Jeff can correct me). The Rattail file will leave some small file marks 'inside' the worm holes. A close probably magnified inspection would reveal that the worm holes were man-made, not worm-made. That was the ingenious but I would say 'honest' effort Jeff put forth. Those file marks could have been smoothed out and/or distorted to hide the man-made fact and make the Scroll even more convincing even if closely inspected.

Like all the rest of the Scams in the world today we see daily. The Basses as Jeff describes are on the 'menu' for those that want to play that game.

The Bisiach that Jeff mentioned was according to him, a well made Bass and not something you see made everyday. I recently played a later 1946 Martini Bass and I would say that the Bisiach was actually a better sounding and playing Bass. The Martini however being authentic is worth twice the price. My Martini being maybe the oldest example of a Bass from that maker far exceeds the latter Bass as well in performance as well as value. I was happy to have the chance to see and compare an early and late Bass from the same Italian maker. Mine was made just after WWI and the other just after WWII. You can't say that every day of the week now can you?

I bought the Martini from an Italian Dealer as I did the Bisiach as well. One was really Italian and one was really not but was a great Bass regardless. Many of the actual fakes (not just antiqued Gypsy Basses) we have seen have been pretty good Basses. One authority mentioned to me that these Basses if properly labeled would fetch the going rate as many of the better handmade Basses made honestly like those we have seen from makers like Jeff, Arnold, Nick and others. Antiquing a Bass as well as some of them are is no easy task. You might as well do it on a good Bass to make the effort pay off. No one wants a junk Bass just because it looks old. Good is good, antiqued or not. First come the Bass after all.

I have seen (and owned) quite a few antiqued Basses now. Some of them were antiqued to add some old flavor character and some were done up to deceive. The wood inside the deceptive Gypsy Basses are often Acid-washed internally over the fresh new wood. This makes it look naturally oxidized until you scrape some wood away or remove a patch or piece of lining. Then you see this bleach white colored wood revealed like it was cut yesterday. If the Bass is older, then the bright color will fade but the Acid might actually protect the wood or rather prevent it from natural oxidation.

Arnold Schnitzer 01-11-2009 11:27 AM

I saw Jeff's scroll too, and I will say that it could have fooled nearly anyone!

Ken McKay 01-13-2009 09:58 PM

Ken, Look here on Maestronet forum, look familiar?

Ken McKay 01-14-2009 06:43 PM

Look familiar?

Greg Clinkingbeard 01-14-2009 08:32 PM

I believe this is the same cello (located in Hungary).

Leandro died in 1946. Five years before the instrument was supposedly made...........

Drake Chan 01-14-2009 11:34 PM


Originally Posted by Ken McKay (Post 10428)

Wow! That looks exactly like what was being described above - clean 'bee-sting' violin corners, roughed up F-holes. And the varnish looks like Ken's former 'Bisiach' bass' varnish to boot.

Ken Smith 01-15-2009 12:36 AM

?? nope..

Originally Posted by Greg Clinkingbeard (Post 10432)
I believe this is the same cello (located in Hungary).

Leandro died in 1946. Five years before the instrument was supposedly made...........

You are confusing Leandro Sr. With his Son. This is the Bisiach Brothers supposed label, Giacomo & Leandro.

Still, the price is more Hungarian than Italian as is the antiqued Cello. Who knows, maybe it sounds better than a real Bisiach Bros. That's a lot of paperwork for one Cello, especially a modern one as the dates or the papers are the same as the Cello.

Ken Smith 01-15-2009 12:54 AM

The label..
Ok, you Detectives. You have missed the biggest clue here. That is the label. The Bisiach Label, the real one is a normal sized one, not this big 'card' sized one which is the same one as was in my Bass. I have a book of 20th century makers and besides labels that have a section on address (business cards).

The 'label' used in both this Cello and my former Bass is actually the Bros. 'calling card', NOT their label.

The carving of the Scroll is typical of Hungarian fakes as seen on a pair of Goffriller's as well (Cello and Bass). This is not the 16th century hand knives of Poplar aged 400 years yet they make the upper turn look as if it was difficult to make smooth.

Look for the obvious signs. That makes it easier. You just need to know what those signs are.

On the Forum pics of the 3 Scrolls, the one on the left and right have similar markings of an old dull knife. The one in the middle has bad peg bushings. You would expect neater work unless it was done to make it look old. 1951 is not all that old. I don't feel old and I was born in that year as well. I still have MY original Neck.. lol

Martin Sheridan 01-21-2009 11:51 AM

tangled webs
"Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive", Shakespeare.

The violin maker Roger Hargrave has pointed out that the best fakes are made by restorers who are in the best position to do so. The reason is that they are literally in close proximity to the originals and often learn to carry out extremely delicate and undetectable repairs. In short, they are the ones who develop the best skills to do the faking. I saw a Nicolo Amati violin about 25 years ago that had an entire section of the top replaced and it was absolutely undetectable to my eye even after it was pointed out to me the area that had been replaced. Wood, varnish, sub varnish, workmanship; undetectable.

Hargrave himself gained extra fame about a decade ago when it was discovered that a G.B. Guadanini violin up for auction was actually a recent work by him. The only reason it was detected was that a friend of Hargraves had seen the violin shortly after its completion at his shop and then discovered it at the auction. Hargrave himself had no knowledge of the deal.

Like many makers I've done a lot of antiquing with no intention to deceive and have sometimes been surprised and bemused by players who could not accept my telling them that the instrument was new. I pass this off as witness to the well established notion that we see what we wish to see.

Personally I have only seen two violins in my lifetime that absolutely convinced me that they were old when they were not and with both there was no attempt at disquising or presenting them as anything other than that of contemporary work and they had the labels of the makers. However, my suspicion is that they will both gain new, read "old", labels at some point in the future. Neither though had the appearance of Italian work.

Incidently, Hargrave has said that the work of the late 19th century and 20th century Italian makers is already so polluted that we may never know who made what.

Many violins were antiqued when they were made and are now quite old themselves lending some extra credence to their disquise. Some shops went to great length to antique violins including grafted scrolls and real reparied cracks.

I'll tell a story on myself. About 20 years ago I traveled to Pennsylvania to buy a beat up bass from an amatuer reparier in a small mountain community. After an enjoyable conversation and concluding the purchase of the bass I was in my car, engine running and ready to leave when the Pennslyvanian hurried back to my car with a somewhat battered violin that he said had been found by some friends inside a wall of an old house they were restoring. The neck was out, it was missing a C bout rib and of course it had an early 19th centruy Italian label. I ended up buying the violin and was quite taken with it, it had a label which matched that of a somewhat obscure Italian maker, but after the initial enthusiasm of the find wore off I realized that it was probably a modern Bohemian violin from around 1920 and that I had paid too much. I kept that violin as a reminder not to get carried away.

I believe that experienced and informed repairers and makers would spot a faked bass reputedly from the classic period in a heart beat. However, as with violins, early to mid 20th centruy fakery would be much harder to detect. Most of us have not seen enough known legitimate works. I know of few early to mid 20th century Italian makers who have concentrated on basses, so it would be easier for someone to take a bass from this period and pass it off as Italian but with the caveat that it was handmade, one of a kind bass and not a mass produced product from one of the factories.
Two years ago a player showed me his bass which had been sold to him as a 20th century Italian bass. All I could tell him in honesty was that I had seen two other basses attributed to that maker and that it was not by the same maker. It's my belief that the bass was Italian but it was not made by the person who had made the other basses with that attribution, and I have no way of knowing if the other two basses were made by the maker they were attributed to. The question then is how would anyone know? And that may be the subject of another post as my coffee is calling me and I don't feel like writing any more right now.

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