The Workshop of Violin Maker Ernst Heinrich Roth

Workshop of Violin Maker Ernst Heinrich Roth

Among great luthiers, the name almost always connotes a certain level of quality. But the house of EH Roth understood there are students and there are virtuosos.

It is well understood that General Motors organized its brands – ranging from the lowest-price Chevrolets on up through Pontiacs, Buicks, and the pricy Cadillacs – to be able to serve the different strata of the American car buying market.

What is less understood is that a German luthier, Ernst Heinrich Roth (1877-1948) and his successor progeny, did something similar for the violin market (before anyone ever thought about American automaker conglomerates). From their shops in Markneukirchen on Germany’s border with the Czech Republic, EH Roth violinmakers created student violins at lowest prices and copies of fine Italian violins by the Italian master violinmakers Stradivari, Guarneri, Amati and Ruggieri for talented professional violinists at much higher prices. Today, these higher-value instruments – the Cadillacs of the Roth violins – have sold at auction for as much as $19,200.

What this means is there are thousands of lower-priced EH Roth violins still being discovered in attics and closets of estates on a regular basis. Their value must be appraised professionally, although to trained violin appraisers the difference between the lower- and higher-quality Roths is easily recognizable.

For them, it helps to know first that the EH Roth violins were, like those from many other luthiers, made in Markneukirchen. From the Roth operation as well as a number of other stringed instruments makers in this and nearby small towns, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of mid- to lower-quality instruments, mostly made for students at a time that preceded recorded and broadcast music, were made here. Violin music in the home was very popular, and these violin makers knew how to build the instruments to make it affordable. The name and reputation of finer/more expensive Roth violins were sufficient to generate imitators, violins and other stringed instruments claiming to be “Roth-inspired.”

While the large volume of lower-quality EH Roth violins were being produced, it helps to know that the higher-quality versions were in all probability made by EH Roth himself and his sons. Those instruments are still highly regarded for craftsmanship tonal quality.

Founder EH Roth died just a few years after the close of World War 2, but one of his sons (EH Roth II) had set up a trading company in the United States in 1921 while brother Gustav Albert stayed in Germany (by then, East Germany under Soviet rule) to continue overseeing the violin making operations. It bears noting that the family firm encountered trade difficulties, understandably, during the wars instigated by Germany in the first half of the 20th century. Despite that, having a son with a robust import business in the US ultimately meant the brand is better recognized and commonly found in America than in Europe.

The Roth firm continues operations today, producing violins, violas, cellos, and contrabass viols from the city of Bubenreuth, still in the same region as Markneukirchen.