Best known as Yehudi Menuhin’s instrument for much of his career, the violin is still in an excellent state of preservation

Lord Wilton violin

1742 ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ violin

American collector David L. Fulton had a passion for collecting fine instruments, specifically old Italians, and over two decades his collection grew to become possibly the 20th century’s finest owned by an individual. The Strad Calendar 2024 brings together twelve of these extraordinary instruments, described here with comments by Fulton and others.

  • 1742 ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ violin

Finally, we come to the 1742 ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ violin, most famously the violin owned and played by Yehudi Menuhin for many years. It was bought by Fulton in 1999 for $6 million – a record for a violin at that time. According to Fulton: ‘The instrument’s response is perfectly even, from its resonant bass to the highest treble notes. Unlike many “del Gesùs”, it has no wolf notes… Its tone is so powerful that some violinists have said it’s almost like the fiddle has another player inside, playing in unison, some say it’s a nuclear-powered fiddle.’

One of Guarneri’s undisputed masterpieces, the ‘Lord Wilton’ exhibits the characteristic idiosyncrasies of the maker. Most obviously, the f-holes are clearly asymmetrical, with the one on the treble standing perfectly straight while the bass one leans conspicuously off centre. The scroll has also been apparently carved in a hurry, with many toolmarks in evidence and again, a startling lack of symmetry between the treble and bass sides. The outline is bold and imposing, unlike such contemporaneous instruments as the ‘Vieuxtemps’ of 1741, and closer to the 1743 ‘Carrodus’. As with many Guarneris of this period, the corners are relatively sharp. The violin is in an excellent state of preservation, still covered by abundant orange-gold varnish.

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American collector David L. Fulton amassed one of the 20th century’s finest collections of stringed instruments. This year’s calendar pays tribute to some of these priceless treasures, including Yehudi Menuhin’s celebrated ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri, the Carlo Bergonzi once played by Fritz Kreisler, and four instruments by Antonio Stradivari.