The makers’ instrument: the 1735 ‘Plowden’ violin by Guarneri ‘del Gesù’


The 1735 ‘Plowden’ violin by Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ has been talked about, pored over, and photographed time and time again, but there is still plenty more to discover about this celebrity of the violin world, as Sam Zygmuntowicz reveals in this article from 2011

Click here to purchase a poster of the 1735 Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ ‘Plowden’ violin

This article first appeared in our July 2011 issue

Discover more lutherie articles here

The ’Plowden’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ of 1735 is one of the most recognisable and acclaimed violins in existence. It is very much a player’s instrument: its sound is remarkably warm and seductive, and it is smoothly accepting of the bow. The Hills listed it among their top nine Guarneri instruments, and it was one of twelve selected for the ‘Violin Masterpieces of Guarneri del Gesù’ exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994. When examining a violin as thoroughly documented as the ‘Plowden’, it’s hard not to be just another paparazzo angling for a revealing shot. However, I feel a very personal connection with it, and I will try to discuss aspects of the instrument that are not so easily seen, using some new resources and my own experiences.

I first encountered the ‘Plowden’ in 1980 when I was an assistant in the shop of René Morel in New York. Many of the shop’s rare violins appeared faded, and frankly rather worn out, but the ‘Plowden’ was overwhelming in its vivid freshness, with intense orange–red varnish on its stunning one-piece back. As well as being a player’s instrument, it is also very much a maker’s instrument, and the tool work itself is part of the appeal – it is not over-smoothed or hidden. In stolen moments, I would try to record and absorb the details of this remarkable violin, and those first hasty tracings and measurements became the basis for much of my own making. Thirty years later, I am possibly wiser and certainly visibly older, but the ‘Plowden’ remains the same. 

Already subscribed? Please sign in

Subscribe to continue reading…

We’re delighted that you are enjoying our website. For a limited period, you can try an online subscription to The Strad completely free of charge.

  • Free 7-day trial

    Not sure about subscribing? Sign up now to read this article in full and you’ll also receive unlimited access to premium online content, including the digital edition and online archive for 7 days.

    No strings attached – we won’t ask for your card details

  • Subscribe 

    No more paywalls. To enjoy the best in-depth features and analysis from The Strad’s latest and past issues, upgrade to a subscription now. You’ll also enjoy regular issues and special supplements* and access to an online archive of issues back to 2010.


* Issues and supplements are available as both print and digital editions. Online subscribers will only receive access to the digital versions.