Extra Extra! The Beautiful STRUNA Maestro Extra vs. Helmut Illner B

Posted by Richard Bodinnar on 1st Oct 2015

A Review of the Helmut Illner B Model and the Struna Maestro Extra

For this review, I will be tackling two very interesting violins that are somehow competitors in the market because of their price range. The violins that will be reviewed in depth would be the Helmut Illner B Model and the Struna Maestro Extra.

The Helmut Illner B is a next to the top level violin produced by an incredible violin maker named, of course, Helmut Illner. I refer to it as next to the top because his creation also includes an A model with a higher price tag than the B model. That being said, the B model is a very well made violin with superb sound qualities.

With a casual glance of the Helmut Illner B model, you will immediately notice that it does not sport the same extremely antique look that is common in the industry today. It looks antique but does not look like a violin crafted more than 200 years ago. Nonetheless, it is very tastefully done as far as looking aged goes.

The kind of varnishing used in the Helmut Illner B model is another thing that is not typical with many of most violins today. It uses a shiny and transparent varnishing that reminds me so much of French Collin-Messin models. The incredible thing about this kind of varnishing is that it allows the violin to maintain its sound very well and sound even better as it ages.

While the A model, which uses European wood, the B model uses very top quality Chinese wood. Helmut Illner usually uses wood that have been suitably seasoned to produce the best tonal qualities in their string instruments. Thus, the B model is no exemption. Top quality spruce is used on the top as a fantastic sounding board while the back, sides, and neck are made of the best Chinese maple. The kind of varnishing used on this violin brings out the best qualities of the timber used. This is an amazing violin of top quality.

If you have seen my review of the Helmut Illner B model in the video, you should be able to hear the most obvious sound quality of this violin. This violin has a very clear and bell-like sound. In fact, your only choice would be to buy a bell or to buy the B model. You simply can’t have both!

The bell-like quality of the violin makes the sound so alive. It is simply brilliant and sparkles in a way that is extremely good for some virtuoso displays. The sparkling brilliance is most evident in the upper register. There is also excellent consistency on the upper register.

The bell-like sound is also synonymous with the clarity of its sound. Clarity allows a violinist to be heard across the distance. It makes the audience hear the notes exactly as they are supposed to sound. This is a very good quality that a violin can offer.

The next violin to be discussed is the Struna Maestro Extra. For those of you who may not know, the Strunas are a result of a cooperation between me and a very good Chinese luthier. This Chinese luthier has a very small shop where he allows me to put my inputs about thickness and varnishing. The result is the creation of the Strunas of which there are already four brands. The Struna Maestro is one of the four.

The reason why I call it the Struna Maestro Extra is because I use very expensive Italian wood and it cost me extra! No, the real reason is, while a Struna Maestro can be made by the head luthier or any of his skilled 6 apprentices, the Struna Maestro Extra is done solely by the master luthier. Thus, anyone can see the level of craftsmanship that this violin brings.

Just earlier, I mentioned the use of seasoned Italian spruce. The seasoned Italian spruce is deliberately picked for its mellow but strong sound. This wood is used on the top while high quality maple from the forests of Bosnia is utilized for the back, sides, and neck. Ebony makes up most of the remaining parts like the fingerboard. To complete the look, spirit varnishing is used underneath while oil varnishing is used on the flanks. The result is a violin that looks very antique. It is simply one of the best violins to have come out of the Whitehorse Music store.

Again, if you have seen the review on video, you will notice that the use of the aged Italian spruce is very clear in the mellow sound of the violin. It has a certain strength to it that allows the mellow sound to linger. You hear and feel a very soft and pleasant sound coming from the Struna Maestro Extra violin.

The violin also has deep and rich tones, particularly in the lower register. While there are other violins in this price range and with these qualities that sound vague or unfocused on the lower register, the Struna Maestro Extra is definitely not one of them. It just sounds robust and mellow at the same time.

There are similarities between the Helmut Illner B model and the Struna Maestro Extra. First of all, they have a very consistent upper register. Although, the B model does possess some dazzling upper register compared to the Struna Maestro Extra. They also have very clear sounds.

The difference would somehow be on the lower register where the Struna Maestro Extra has a significantly more depth and richness. This is not to say that the Helmut Illner B model is not deep or rich. It simply means these qualities are more pronounced with the Struna Maestro Extra.

The other difference has nothing to do with the sound. The Struna Maestro Extra looks more antique than the Helmut Illner B model. Again, this is not to say that looking older or more antique is better. I am merely pointing out the difference.

The choice is between a violin made in Europe using Chinese wood and a violin made in China using European wood! In any case, both of these violins get a thumbs up from Whitehorse Music.