December 9, 2010 at 3:58 AM
I often hear from violinists and dealers: “It’s a new violin. Just wait a hundred years and it will sound great.” Or that Italian instruments from the 18th century do sound good because they are hundreds of years old.
Age alone has little to do with tone. From the moment a new violin is strung up you can get a pretty good idea what it will sound like. There is the initial break-in period that usually takes a couple of hours of serious playing. (It helps to have a good player handy who can play well anywhere on the fingerboard.) You can actually hear the instrument open up, the tonal range changes from small and thin to big and full, and there is an increase in volume within the first few hours. Sound waves from playing start aligning wood fibers, certain parts begin settling in and stretching and twisting. Within this time you pretty much can tell what the instrument will sound like.
There is a second break-in period that is slower and more subtle and usually takes place over the next year or two depending on how much the instrument is played. The sound will mature and mellow a bit. This is not due to age but how much it has been played.
There are new violins that sound great and old ones that sound terrible. There are so many factors to consider other than age when looking for an instrument with excellent tone.
My old Spanish guitar teacher, who was a luthier, told me that a new guitar needs to be played strongly for the first two years, otherwise it won't achieve its full tone. He also said that most beginners (looking at me) weren't able to do that.
“It’s a new violin. Just wait a hundred years and --
-- only the best players on Earth will have enough money or clout to get anywhere near it, and --
-- it will sound great.”
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