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Violin Q & A: Fiddle Fakes by Tetto Gallo

Violin Q & A: Fiddle Fakes by Tetto Gallo

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #11, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000


We have inherited what we believe to be an old Italian violin. Inside the instrument is a paper label that reads “LORENZO BUONARROTI-ROMA-1883.” We have taken the violin and shown it to a few dealers, but none of them have ever heard of this maker. The dealers all agree that it is of Italian origin, but that’s all they would tell us.

There is a very good chance that the instrument you have inherited, labeled “BUONARROTI,” is the work of Tetto Gallo (1901–1976) of Cedar Lake, Indiana. From the late ’30s up until 1953 Gallo imported many violins in the white (unvarnished) from Italy. He would antique these instruments (make them look older than they were) by using acids and dyes. He then varnished them either with a golden brown or a red brown thin oil varnish. Knowing that he could not fool an expert if he labeled the instruments with a well-known maker’s name, Gallo used names he made up. The name Buonarroti was the surname of the famous sixteenth century Italian artist, Michaelangelo. The instrument you have should be signed, “T. GALLO/year” on the underside of the top. The next time you show your instrument to a dealer have him/her take a look inside with a mirror.