The Needham finally met its match

February 17, 2007 at 07:10 PM · We had a great week trying violins. I have talked to all involved and I was their ok to talk about the results, but I was asked not to mention some particulars, so I will only write what I have been told is ok to write. I hope everyone understands.

Ok, a collector with a very impressive collection was here (I can only tell you about some of his violins, but he had many worth close to a million!). And a rather famous quartet was here too, so they contributed their instruments three great moderns (the best Bellini I have ever played, and the best Zygmuntowicz, also a very good Morales) and a Storioni, and a Nicolo Gagliano.

We contributed the Needham, which the people involved had asked to see and play.

Three days, playing them in all kinds of rooms, carpet, soundproof cork, wood, tile, and a hall. Three great players did most of the playing but we all had a chance to play them quite a bit.

Ending each day with dinner and a lot of talk about the violins and music in general was great! Two of the players will sooner or later embark on a solo career, I am sure about that, and they were great men. Something about the bonding that happens when good men who have the same interest get together and just talk. Great!

Some of he instruments that stood out were two 18th century Cremonas (not free to mention them) which had less presence then some but had a lot of color, great violins. There was an Amati there as well, and it was really special. Again a lot of color, but again less presence than a few of the other violins. Another great violin!

The Bellini was by far the best violin from that maker that I have played (I have played many Bellini’s). It just had guts! A real del Gesu sound with growl and hiss. And it projected and it was thick, even on the E. It was also very well balanced across the strings.

The Zyg was also by far the nest I have played from this maker (again played many before). It projected more than any violin there, without question. Power, power, power. The sound was much smoother than the Bellini, not a smooth strad sound, but not del Gesu like either. And it was very well balanced. A great instrument. I do not know which I would have picked if I could buy one of these two. They were so great and so different that it would have been hard to pick. I can tell you that most liked these two moderns more than the many older violins that were there. I can see why two great players own them and do not want to let go of them!

In the end, however, everyone thought it came down to the Needham and the Guadagnini (turin period). The Guad had a lot of guts, a very complex sound, projected well, and was thick. The violin just had no weakness. The Needham did not have as much color and the sound was not quite as complex, but it was not very far behind in these respects. What it did have was a thicker sound, and a lot more presence. The people involved kept going back and forth between these two, and I am not sure anyone could make up their mind.

Personally, I would take the Guadagnini that we just played over the Needham that is here, but the choice would haunt me afterwards if I had to chose one over the other. But then again, I do not have to worry about it because the asking price for the guad is more than I could ever stomach.

Well, in my mind the Needham finally met its match, in the hands of a maker who I am sure made some of the best instruments of all time. But I cannot help but wonder if I will feel the same when the Needham has aged a bit. I mean one instrument is 200 years old, while the other is new. And right now the instruments are really close, so what happens after the Needham ages a bit?

As for moderns: I can tell you that if you find the right Bellini or Zyg you will find a hell of a violin as well.

Have fun and play some great violins; it is life for the soul.

Replies (100)

February 20, 2007 at 03:05 AM · I just played at a church concert last night and my stand partner was playing with a wonderful instrument that was clear better than mine…it was Bellini. We went out for coffee together after concert and after I complmented she on her great violin, she laughed and told me she had just played better Bellini then she had…she was one of the players involved to the group you mentions!!! Small world, right.

Well she told me about how good all violns there were. She also tell that her favortite was a modern instrment, this Needham that you tell. I would like to know more about this…can you tell me more. Also does anyone play a Bellini and know anything about he. My new friend not sure if he still make violins.

I very interested because thing holding me back right now is the violin I play. Here in serious orchestras players have great violin, so I must get one to. It is not like Russia! HA ha ha



oh and can anyone say me anything about the other great maker that was in this site..Seifert and Grubaugh?

Anyone know anything on Ravatin and Robin from france?

Again thank you!!!!!!!!!!

February 20, 2007 at 03:38 AM · From Natalie Palina;

"oh and can anyone say me anything about the other great maker that was in this site..Seifert and Grubaugh?

Anyone know anything on Ravatin and Robin from france?"


What would you like to know? Contact information?

David Burgess

February 20, 2007 at 06:31 AM · Hi Ray,

I've enjoyed these posts a lot. They've been very illuminating.

February 20, 2007 at 07:05 AM · Wow Natalie, it is a small world! I know who your stand partner was, I met her for the first time during this "violin workout." She is a really great player, they were all great, and great people.

Pieter, your welcome. I will keep posting what happens to help all be more informed. I think that this is one of the real values of sites like this: the trading of information, opinions, experiences.

Natalie I do not know if Bellini is still making violins. I know the one we just played was better than the others we had played. Man, this one had guts! Honestly it reminded me of the sound I heard on the Ricci tape when he played his for his "modern violin CD."

I do not know much about Ravatin, but he is on our small list of final makers to still try, as is Robin. The other big maker in France that many rave about is Chaudiere.

Mr. Burgess I am sorry that your instrments were no longer here when this opportunity presented itself. I actually liked the newer one better (he had two great violins here!), but I agreed with the many who just loved the G string on the older one. The newer one, however, had so much power, and it was warm and complex too. A real soloist's instrument. I think it would have held its own with the instruments there.

For those who are following: there are two studio players doing sub work in phils in Europe. A few of us plan on visiting them soon, and when we do we hope to vistit the work of Ravatin, Robin, and Chaudiere in France. We then hope to Regazzi and Pistoni in Italy, and Dilworth and Rattray in Britain. This would complete our list.

The performance of the Bellini has changed things a bit for me, and some others. I am going to buy two instruments when all this is done, and right now the Needham is almost a for sure thing. But the Belini was so good that the other instrument would be hard to pick if I had to do it now. I would be wondering if I could find another Bellini like the one I played last week. Does anyone play a Bellinin? Or any of the other makers I just listed?

The other great maker that everyone should know about is Croen. His violin is very much like the Bellini that we just played. A little smoother, or not as raw, but nevertheless the same kind of balls-out sound.

The Burgess was gutsy as well, when it was here. But it was a smoother mor pure sound, not as raw.

So other than the Needham, which i think is a notch or more ahead of the others, I would have to say that between the great makers that I just mentioned, it probably depends on taste. These instruments were all great, but different. I am not sure how consistent the Bellinis are, however, because this one was much better than the others I tried (not that the others were not good, this one was just fantastic). Burgess seems very consistent; all the instruments he had here were great. And I can say the same for Croen.

One last note: Kelvin Scott's work should be considered because his violin plays itself. It is just so easy to play it, I actually feel like I am a violinist when I have it in my hands!

We really do live in a great age of violin makers! So get a great modern and play the heck out of it!

February 20, 2007 at 08:47 AM · your enthusiasm is infectious, Ray. i'm going to take a real hard look at Needham, if i can get my hands on one of recent vintage. I really wish you would include Moes/Moes on your list of violins to try though, especially if you're considering making a trip to Europe. It would also be nice if somehow you can get a hold of a Greiner for comparison, although you'd have to submit a resume to his agent if you wanted one to keep.

I'm curious how Ravatin is going to fare in your search - i also like his violins.

I missed out on the chance to try a Burgess. I thought he would have been in Indianapolis last fall with the other big makers. that was a public "shoot-out" of sorts. David?

February 20, 2007 at 12:28 PM · Howard Needham's violins are indeed fabulous. He stopped by my apartment here in NYC a while back and showed me two of his most recent works. Both had the knock-your-socks-off sound, with great depth and unbelievable maturity.


February 20, 2007 at 12:38 PM · Hi,

Ray, I have enjoyed these posts as well. Since I am a fan of modern instruments, I have to say that I find this quite enlightening.


February 20, 2007 at 12:48 PM · From Jim Tsai;

"I missed out on the chance to try a Burgess. I thought he would have been in Indianapolis last fall with the other big makers. that was a public "shoot-out" of sorts. David?"


Jim, I rarely go to things like this. I'm not fond of sitting behind an exhibit table for several days. Would rather make fiddles.

The exception would be the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers "Makers Meet Players" events because they only last three or four hours, and I'm there anyway for the convention.

Contact info for most of the makers mentioned:

Luiz Bellini

Howard Needham

Grubaugh and Seifert

Sam Zygmuntowicz


Tom Croen


Kelvin Scott

David Burgess

February 21, 2007 at 12:28 AM · By the way, check out a wonderful player Zino Bogachek,playing his Vittorio Villa violin (2003), and Benoit Rolland bow (2005) commissioned by the artist.

Ukranian-born American violinist Zino Bogachek has received broad critical acclaim for his technical facility and emotional expressiveness. As a recitalist and chamber musician, he has performed throughout the former USSR, Poland, Austria, Mexico and North America. His appearances as soloist have included performances with Lvov Philharmonic, Lvov Chamber Orchestra, Centennial Philharmonic, Cape Ann Symphony, Knoxville Symphony, and Summer Music from Greensboro Festival Orchestra among others. Zino Bogachek has participated in the National Virtuosi Festival in Ukraine, the Haydn Festival in Austria; and Summer Music from Greensboro Festival, where he has served as concertmaster since 1995.

Bogachek playing V.Villa violin and B.Rolland bow

here all of the tracks.

The sound is superb. Lots of depth on the G, excellent sonority throughout.

There are some wonderful younger Italian makers making similar instruments to the Villa brothers, for less.

BTW, Raymond, the argument of old vs new is as old as the fiddles of the past. Here is an interesting article from 1966 discussing similar issues. See what the contemporary makers of the time said (1966):

""A man reaches his prime around 40, a violin at about 100," explains Cremona Luthier Pietro Sgarabotto. Thus many luthiers insist that old violins are better only because they are older, that a century from now the fiddles being made by such modern masters as Sacconi, and Carl Becker Sr. of Chicago, will equal the fabled Strad. That, of course, remains to be heard."

this is a cool website,9171,901941,00.html?promoid=googlep

February 21, 2007 at 01:37 AM · Greetings,

actually I think women enter their prime at forty. Guys are on the way out by then,



February 21, 2007 at 01:52 AM · Congratulations on the carefully considered purchase, and may it never be defiled by gorgeous blondes in belly shirts.

February 21, 2007 at 02:54 AM · I think a beautiful blonde would make it much better! LOL

I think you misunderstood me Jim, I never said I did not like the pics, I said I did not think it was good for classical music.

But personally, I have never had anything against sexy blondes struting their stuff, and I surely would not object to my future violin being in the presence of such a beauty!

If I were a soloist with CDs out, however, I would refrain from having pics with my vioin and sexy blondes wearing little surrounding me. Why? Because I find it immoral? Hell no! Because I think there is a firmly established tradition that I would not want to in any way take away from.

Please do not take my position on sexy blondes out of context! LOL

February 21, 2007 at 02:55 AM · Still looking for Bellini players, as well as does who have played the three great French makers I mentioned: Chaudiere, Robin, Ravatin.



February 21, 2007 at 02:57 AM · Thanks the site, Gennady. I enjoyed it. Hey Gennady, when will you have some more killer bows?

And Gennady, do you buy into the idea that violins get better with age? You mentioned the theory, but you did not state your oppinion on it? What about you David? What do you think? What do other violin makers out there think on what age does to an instrument? Does age add complexity and color, so many think?


February 21, 2007 at 03:34 AM · Ray,

yes I always have the "killer" bows.

And yes i do think that well made instruments do get better with age.

BTW, Ravatin's instruments are excellent too.

February 21, 2007 at 03:34 AM · Raymond, thanks for the interesting info and comparisons. What specific differences were in the violins when you switched rooms or halls?

What about using aged wood to build a new violin?

February 21, 2007 at 04:27 AM · "What about using aged wood to build a new violin?"

It can only help.....

February 21, 2007 at 08:02 AM · What is aged wood?

10, 30, 100, 300 years?

February 21, 2007 at 08:50 AM · Michael,

Read the article from 1966 TIME magazine (which states that Sacconi scavenged demolition sites in Italy ........... and salvaged planking from 400-year-old houses.) :

"The clash of opinion reverberates among the luthiers, or violinmakers, as well. Some figure that Stradivari got his wood from as far away as Germany, but most agree that the supple spruce in the tops of his fiddles came from the southern slopes of the Alps, and the curly maple in the bottom and sides from the eastern shores of the Adriatic. To find identical cuts of wood, U.S. Luthier Fernando Sacconi scavenged demolition sites in Italy last summer and salvaged planking from 400-year-old houses. To duplicate the seasoned willow that Stradivari used for braces, one U.S. luthier uses polo balls and broken cricket bats from England, or Lombardy poplar from the crates in which bottles of Chianti are shipped from Italy." "The Little Wooden Box" TIME magazine 1966

this is a cool website

February 21, 2007 at 02:24 PM · Yes I know this article, but did not answers the question. I believe Brian like to know about a different in using very old (300 years?), or good seasoned wood wich is around 10 years old.

February 21, 2007 at 02:56 PM · Reg old wood I have tried a couple of new violins made from 400 years old wood. I was not impressed. I don't think it's only a question of age. Some years ago I played a cremonese instrument on loan for 6 month. It had been in collectors hands all it's life and was virtually unplayed. It was a very good violin but it sounded like a very good modern violin. All the colour and other things you associate with cremonese sound were not there.

I think it's the combination of ageing and playing that does the trick. You also notice that modern violins become much more focussed after some years of playing (provided the player can play in tune).

If you give a great instrument to someone who plays out of tune and presses to much it will sound horrible after even a very short period. I like the Stern quote in the times article: "Love your violin and it will love you back".

Also it's interesting how what was written 40 years ago in the press about modern violins resembles what is written today.

February 21, 2007 at 02:47 PM · "What about you David? What do you think? What do other violin makers out there think on what age does to an instrument? Does age add complexity and color, as many think?"


Violins definitely change with time. The change could be good or bad. The notion that a violin constructed too thin, to achieve an immediate large sound and easy response, will go downhill over time is probably true. This doesn't mean that all violins which sound good right away are too thin. There are other ways of accomplishing this.

Generally speaking, I think that new violins with sufficiently robust construction will improve with time/playing, BUT that improvement may not be realized until the instrument is re-adjusted to accomodate the changes which have taken place.

I doubt that a "bad" sounding violin will ever get good from time and playing alone.

Does the use of really old wood produce better sound? It's one of many things which have been tried over and over in chase of the elusive magic formula, but the violins I've heard where 100+ year old wood was used were unremarkable.

Stories about using ancient wood from odd sources might be great for swaying impressionable potential buyers though. ;-)

And reporters and interviewers LOVE that stuff.

David Burgess

February 21, 2007 at 06:15 PM · David writes: "The notion that a violin constructed too thin, to achieve an immediate large sound and easy response, will go downhill over time is probably true. This doesn't mean that all violins which sound good right away are too thin. There are other ways of accomplishing this."

How does a consumer tell if the violin was made too thin to achieve the large immediate sound and lightning response? Generally people will pick up one violin and say, "this is light." But no one really weighs it because then you'd have to take off the chinrest and fittings. Are some symptoms like wolf notes, lightness to the feel, or stick a light on the inside and see how transparent it is? There was one violin I tried where the heaviest part of it seemed to be the fingerboard.

It would be good to know, because as you say there are other ways to achieve good immediate sound, and it'll be helpful for buyers to know how to tell the difference, rather than assume that all good sounding, responsive new violins are too thin.

February 21, 2007 at 07:45 PM · Hi David,

What do you think is too thin? I'm often surprised at how thin some Cremonese instruments are when looking at graduation maps. Much thinner than I'd ever dare go. Cheers,


February 22, 2007 at 03:35 AM · Clare, I don't have a good answer for you. Those of us in the trade often use a magnetic thickeness gauge, or flex the plates with our hands. Flexing is not something I'd recommend to someone without considerable experience!

Daryl, good point. Some of the old Cremonese violins are quite thin.

It would be my goal to make violins which don't require as frequent restoration and re-arching as some Strads, and which don't require a soundpost which is dangerously tight to give focus and "bite".

How many of these thin violins are really great soloist instruments? Are there more than two dozen Strads which can "cut the mustard" versus modern instruments when romance is eliminated by concealing the identity of the instrument from both the player and the listening audience?

How many of them are original? Most have probably been regraduated. Dealers of the past may have faced the same temptations as dealers and makers today; regraduate it, make it thin to make a quick buck, minus the benefit of understanding alternate methods.

There's wide agreement on the thicknesses of one famous old Cremonese violin being original, the "Cannone" Guarneri. It's uncommonly thick.

It was good enough for Paganini, and by most reports, it's still a "canon" today. ;-)

David Burgess

February 22, 2007 at 06:59 AM · David, I think I speak for all of us when I tell you that we appreciate your comments so much because we understand how much a world-class maker like you knows about violins.

I must admit the “too thin” makes me a bit nervous because if that is right than it would be possible for us to play a new violin that will run out of gas real soon! Wow! How could a player know if the plates are too thin? Is there anything we can use to measure without too much difficulty or error?

I am sure that your statement about strads will piss off some! LOL I know because I have gotten a bit of mail from owners of older and very expensive violins who are accusing me of making all of this up! LOL But when I give them numbers of the other players involved they do not call them!

But really most of what the group has done confirms what you just wrote! We had a lot of very old and expensive violins there, and everyone agreed that in the end the Zyg and Bellini were better than most of them, and the Needham was definitely better than all of them except the Guad, and even then many picked the Needham over this really great Gaud.

Someone asked if the rooms mattered; the answer is yes. The better the room (small room in tile, etc.) the better the older violins did. I would even say that in one of the tile rooms that had the really great acoustics the Amati sounded better than all of them. I think the room made up for the instrument’s lack of presence and the instrument’s “color” made it sound better than anything else that we played. But in the hall the Guad and the Needham were much better. In the soundproofed cork studio the Bellini was the best violin, I think because it was the brightest instrument there, and its harshness helped it to cut through. So yes the rooms changed things a bit. In the room with a vaulted ceiling and a wood floor, which had good acoustics but not great acoustics, the Guad and Needham were again better than anything else.

Any other makers out there with insights about some of these things? We sure would love to hear from you.


February 22, 2007 at 07:55 AM · The too-thin top is oftentimes either a dark secret or an urban legend, depending on who you talk to. However as a player, and buyer of new and old violins it is something to be aware of. I have heard a friend of a friend who bought a new violin from a well-known maker which sounded gorgeous, booming, and just like a well-made Guarneri, filling the room sound, who says his violin died after a year or two. When asked to clarify what does it mean died, the friend only tells me that it sounds like it's in a box. When asked whether this person tried to take the violin back to the maker for a new soundpost or adjustments, I was told that he didn't want to pursue it and is looking to commission from another maker. I'm sure we've all heard of people directly or indirectly whose violins died, or the sound died. How much of it is due to changes requiring a new setup or due to other factors such as thin top I can't tell, since I have not experienced it first hand. [Knock on wood, but not my violin top, ha ha]

Sometimes, accusation of too-thin top are fighting words. I've heard of one maker accusing another and then the accusee threatened to punch the lights out. But when I asked what does it mean too thin? No real numbers are given. I suspect anything less than 2.5 mm is thin. This is what I gleaned reading the boards.

I have heard the theory from a shop owner that you're either buying for the present or for the future. For the present, then thinner and more responsive, especially if as orchestra player you don't want to put in lots of bow pressure. For the future, a violin that is well made and will last over 100 years, because that maker wants to make a legacy for himself and is keeping true to whatever Sacconi or some school. Yet, you want a playable violin while you're still alive, since it matters little how it'll sound in 100 years to you. But at the same time no one wants a violin that goes dead in a year. And that is why players need to be able to separate the sheep from the goats.

Maybe the right answer is to ask a luthier to use that magnetic instrument on it. But it also depends on where they measure. As one luthier says, the measurement at the f-hole is not an indication. And is there one magic number or you need to understand arching heights, and technical stuff like that in addition to the plate thickness? The other thing is that some makers might think it's insulting for you to ask to measure their tops. It might be a trade-secret. I guess there is no foolproof way for a player to tell unless you have an impartial luthier do the measurements and inspection for you. Is there an acceptable range for tops to be? Or is it a matter of personal taste or performance expectation?

February 22, 2007 at 08:22 AM · BTW Raymond, the finest fiddles I have played in the past, including some great Strads, Del Gesus, Bergonzis and Guads as well as the finest Vuillaumes, do not make a big impression in a small room. But take them to a concert hall and that's where they shine. When comparing some of the moderns with these great old fiddles, it is in the Hall that one really hears the difference. For me, if a fiddle projects to the back of the hall, no matter if it is old or new, THAT is a fine fiddle. Afterall, concert instruments are made to be enjoyed in the concert hall n'est-ce pas?

And as far as thickness goes, there are many fiddles that sound great without being too thin.

My Sgarabotto for example, is what some people would call thick (normal by the standards),it has never been opened nor messed with. And it sounds great.

My Vuillaume sounds superb in the Hall. In a small room, it's no big deal. The same goes for the many great fiddles such as Strads and etc. that I tried.

Again, one can only appreciate the true greatness of any instrument in the concert hall where its full potential (& or weaknesses) are revealed.

February 22, 2007 at 08:34 AM · Yes I agree about the hall Gennady, great point, thank you for mentioning it! As I posted, we did try all the instruments in a huge hall. The two best sounding instruments, as we saw it (no disagreements among us, really) were the Needham and the Guad. After that it was the other two moderns by Zyg and Bellini. But hte Needham and Guad were superior to anything there, and there were a lot of million dollar instruments.

In my opinioin i would pick the Guad, but as I said, it is so close in my mind that I would be quetioning myself once i made the decision.

What was interesting was that the older fiddles did not do as well in the hall, execpt the Guad.

I have already gotten emails asking me the thickness of the top on the Needham,and the other two moderns. I do not know, but I will try to find out. Perhaps Mr. Needham etc... could tell us?

And I do not know the thickness of any of the other tops of the other violins that we have played. A while back we did play two great violins from Mr. Burgess, perhaps he can tell us the thickness of the tops.

Great posts everyone!


February 22, 2007 at 09:16 AM · Gennady and Ray,

i've tried a very nice villa before (i can't remember if it was vittorio or marcello - i've tried both brothers' instruments) and i was impressed with the power of the violin. but it was a bit harsh, probably because it was brand new (2006). in the recording with Bogachek (many caveats about playback over the web, of course) the violin sounds powerful but i still sense that it was a little bit "covered", which I understand may change with age. Bogachek is a great player, and i'm not criticizing the playing at all. but I prefer more sweetness and velvet and resonance in the sound.

this is of course an unfair comparison, but I prefer this violin's sound:

Any chance the Needham sounds like this? or possess some qualities of this sound?

And David,

I think you would have enjoyed Indy - the competition was great fun to watch, with many of the talented competitors showcasing very fine instruments. also, you might already know that Joseph Curtin did some acoustics testing there on the makers' instrument as well as a bunch of fine Strads, with some interesting results, i hear. Anyway, I hope to meet you at the next VSA competition here in Portland.


February 22, 2007 at 11:38 AM · David: "Are there more than two dozen Strads which can "cut the mustard" versus modern instruments when romance is eliminated by concealing the identity of the instrument from both the player and the listening audience?"

Well it would be interesting if you could elaborate a little on what cutting the mustards means to you.

If you mean how loud one can play maybe you are right. If you mean producing a beautiful sound and have the ability to modulate your expression the way you want it I think it's a slightly bold statement. I regularly get to try Strads and del Gesú's and I even play them in concert occationally. I definately can tell you my preferences over modern instruments.

The way I see it a good modern instrument is an affordable tool for musicians and I am glad they are around. To say that modern instruments are as good as Strad's and Guarneri's. I am sorry I just don't buy it.

What I find interesting about the Cremonese instruments is that they have such a high general quality. Occationally you find one or two examples of modern violins that beat the odds. When we can get to the point that most of the modern violins are as good as the few outstandning ones we have achieved something. In a different thread we talked about the violins of Grubaugh/Seifert and I mentioned how I tried 6 violins in their shop. The first 5 were really good modern violins but no.6 was outstanding. Thats what I mean. Eventhough outstanding I would still prefer a Strad or del Gesú over it.

Think that Strad and del Gesú developed their models based on 5-6 generations of accumulated knowledge which was subsequently lost. Maybe in a few generations it will be regained. Let's hope so.

February 22, 2007 at 02:26 PM · Didn’t mean to open a can of worms with the “too thin” thing. I probably shouldn’t have brought it up because I don’t have time to go into it thoroughly, and I didn’t mean to worry anyone. I’ll also try to withdraw from further debate on the merits of new versus the old Cremonese. While I’ve played a boatload of them when I was a restorer and adjuster, and had discussions with musician who have played even more, taste varies, and sooner or later, someone will argue that I have an agenda. As to an agenda, let me say that if every modern maker put a sign on their door advising musicians that they could get a considerably better instrument for half-a-million dollars, I don’t think any of us would have lost one sale, so there’s not much incentive to spin things. I can easily be drawn into extended debates and lose a lot of work time, so I'll bow out and leave the discussion to the musicians here.

Kristian, you made an important distinction. I should have said “the BEST modern instruments”, and not implied ALL modern instruments. Thanks for helping me make the correction.

Let me try to answer a few other questions already on the table and then get out of here.

Clare, you made a good point about the “urban legend” aspect of violins “playing out”. I’ve come across instruments purportedly played out which only needed adjustment. I’m shying away from specific measurements because there are many things, such as wood treatment, which can result in a structurally weak instrument that will still have standard measurements. And I don’t mean to imply in any way that good initial sound is necessarily an indication of weakness.

I just talked to a dealer who was involved in a major cello event in North Carolina. According to him, at least two modern cellos “blew away” a Gagliano, a Techler, a Testore and a Guadagnini in the opinion of the musicians who played and listened to them. I know the makers and know exactly what they do, so I can state with certainty that these cellos are not weak in any way.

Raymond, the newer of the two violins you played was 3.3 mm in the soundpost area, about 2.8 mm in the remaining area of the ff hole region, and 5.2 mm in the center of the back. There are some initial tonal advantages to going thinner, but these are dimensions I’m comfortable with as a former restorer. The violins in use for 30 years are holding up well. If I were to build a brand new violin for no other purpose than a “shootout”, I might do things a little differently, but ultimately I need to feel good about what I do. Can’t seem to escape that darned ethically conservative foundation which came from being a preacher’s kid. ;-)

Gotta go (and hopefully stay away for a little while). It’s just me working alone, I’m behind on delivery times, and the danged instruments just won’t make themselves! :-)

Regards to all,

David Burgess

February 22, 2007 at 02:28 PM · There are a lot of hot issues in this thread.

Basically I agree with David about thickness. A lot of makers are making instruments which I think are too thin, for short-run effect and sales. I just saw a new violin (from a VERY well-known maker who'd have instant name recognition here and is often quoted on this site) the other day that was 2.0mm thick, more or less, in the top, and already was collapsing. It was loud and responsive--two things you can expect in the short run from a thin top--and rather plain sounding. It also sounded like a hollow box: perhaps this is the "booming" that was referred to earlier as positive, but to me it's not an attractive sound at all, and couldn't be confused with a classical sound by anyone who had experience with classical Cremonese violins (the owner didn't). In the short run, there's no question that many of this type of violin will win (apparent loudness always does, in the short run). A tandem feature with this type of violin is a lack of variable tone color (which neophyte buyers often don't realize) because such an instrument dumps everything at once, holding nothing back to massage out with various bowing techniques; players who've never had a violin that will respond in subtle ways won't get that immediately, though, which doesn't help in a shoot-out. Since buyers don't have the necessary experience to separate momentary flash from long term possibility, so thin violins will continue to sell well.

My experience with thickness is that it's easy for any maker, competent or not, to make a immediately attractive thin violin. A lot of folks doing regraduation and tuning think their tuning scheme is wonderful, not realizing that they are tuning by thinning, which almost always gives more to a violin that's not made properly. The name of the game, after all, is getting the wood to move, and the less wood, the easier.

Nevertheless, Del Gesus work just fine thick. You will not find, however, many del Gesu "copies" which are of genuine thickness. Making a thicker violin that functions is a harder situation, and actually requires some skill, unlike thinning something until there's nothing there left to resist.

I made a violin recently for someone who had been looking for a very thick violin, who finally showed up at my door because I've been making this type for a few years (all but one of these has sold to top class pros--only one amateur so far has "gotten it"). He told me that he'd been to a lot of the big names, and no one would do it, because they said it wouldn't work, which I take as a self-realization that they don't know as much about really making violins as they advertise, and would prefer to stay in the safer thin zone. I made him one that had a 3.5mm top, and a back 3.2-6.5mm, with 1.5mm ribs (these are numbers about 50% thicker than a thinnish Strad model) and it was dynamite from the first day, for a sophisticated player, though it will take some time (about six months, is my experience) to calm down to the point where a non-professional would appreciate it.

On the wood issue, I have 25 year old wood and 10 year old. The 25 definitely makes better violins, in the short run. Two friends of mine who are both extremely consistent makers "inherited" 12 sets of 80 year old wood and proceded to make the best violins they've ever made, again, in the short run. In the long run, I suspect this makes a lot less difference. According to dendrochronology readings, del Gesu often used wood that was only three years off the tree, and it doesn't matter to us now. With my own violins, in six months I can't tell the new wood violins from the old.

There's a factor that hasn't been mentioned in this thread: getting the straight skinny from an owner is very difficult. The tactical sales reason for advance commission sales is to make you an owner before you have the violin in hand. Once you own, you become invested in supporting your purchase and the brilliance of your decision. I suspect the owner of the box I referred to earlier has a whole list of reasons why his violin is wonderful, because, frankly, he's stuck with it. I'd be real interested in knowing how many commissioned violins that are supposed to show up in a couple of years show up in months or weeks because of some "fortunate" circumstance (the maker now has a deposit and has turned the prospect into an owner being the unstated one) that permits the person making the purchase to jump to the front of the line. I know for a fact that this is often the case for at least two makers who are supposedly backed up for centuries. When I worked at Bein and Fushi, this was the number one tactic for selling new violins, though they were hardly the first to think of it. "I can show you this, but you can't have it" is one of the most powerful sales tools there is. And if you want to know how much you don't know about what's going on behind your back in the business, I have first hand, again, knowledge of a maker who initially had no demand who was sold using this method and created a 40 instrument backlog solely on the basis that no one could get his instruments. We should all be so clever--the usual rule is that we all should have positive testimonials equal to the number of instruments we've sold, because each sale was the best instrument that customer saw at that time, but what a powerful tool it is to have more testimonials than you have violins out there, based on no one having played them!

February 22, 2007 at 03:24 PM · David thank you for helping us with this “thickness” thing. As for great moderns doing well against strads and del Gesus etc.

1. Many sound tests with impartial players and judges have already been done, and the empirical evidence shows that the great moderns did very well against strads, del Gesus, etc.

2. We essentially did the same here in the three days of playing that I wrote about. There were no del Gesus here, but there were a lot of instruments worth millions. In the end the two other moderns did very well, and the Needham sounded better than all of them, except the Guad, and that is just my opinion because after talking to all that were involved it seems that most would pick the Needham if they had to pick one over the other. Were the best strads and del Gesus there? No. But I would love to see it happen.

3. Many makers and players attest to the same thing: Tetzlaff’s Greiner sounds great in concert and on recordings, Jensen has been playing with a Zyg for a long time and her sound is great. Many of the makers we have gotten to know during all of this have told us that some of the elite players of our time have told them they would play a great modern if they could, but it would be really bad P.R.

4. Many great players have talked about a modern holding up to these violins. There was an example of this on this site lately when a player from the San Fran Phil said he now liked his Seifert & Grubaugh over his Guanarri.

5. Finally, I am getting so much mail about “the thickness” of the Needham, because in an earlier thread I mentioned that the plates were thinner than what he usually makes. I cannot tell you the thickness of the plates. I called the owner of it and he does not know either. And he too is getting a lot of calls and mail about this! Give us some time and we will tell you as soon as we know.

6. I hope other great makers join the thread as David has, it would help us all to understand these things so much better.

Great posts guys! Keep it coming.

Oh and I listened to the clip, no the Needham does not sound like this, but of course this is a recording so it is hard to say. I would say the Needham sounds much better than this, but sound is subjective. The Needham is much warmer and has a lot more presence and thickness. But it is not a pure strad-like sound. It is not harsh, but it has some growl and bite. I liken it to a tamed del Gesu, or a Strad with a bit more growl than what most strads have. The closest thing I can think of is Chang’s del Gesu, but I do not think that it sounds as good as hers does on recordings. But then again, when I heard her live her violin did not sound like it did on the recordings. Recording engineers have a lot to do with sound. I think we can all agree about that.

February 22, 2007 at 04:01 PM · Does a blind test really say alot about the qualities of a violin? With a friend of mine we always do it for a second input but really I doubt if it tells you much.

Last time we did it was between my Finnigan, a new Zygmuntowicz and a violin made by an amateur who copied the exact thicknesses of the Cannon del Gesú.

When playing myself, my order of preference was Finnigan, Zyg, and amateur and the same for my friend. In blind tests playing for each other and repeated several times the order was:

amateur, Finnigan, and Zygmuntowicz.

However the amateur violin was a real struggle to play and under the ear you had the impression of producing virtually no sound. I would not want to play that instrument in performance but just picked up and played it came out no 1 for both of us. In other word the only sound you could make on it was the winning sound.

I think what is interesting in a violin is how much can you do with it, and how much is there to discover, how much does it inspire you to do more than before. To find out what that is takes time and you don't hear that in a blind test.

If modern violins do better than Strads in blind tests (and there are several reports) why do people sell their left kidney to get a Strad?

Reg. Tetzlaff's Greiner it is his third Greiner and he always has first choise so you can be sure it's the best instrument to ever leave the workshop. I can hear it's modern it's not bad at all but I have heard better modern violins. I heard it live several times. I liked Tetzlaff's sound better when he still had a Strad. Tetzlaff regularly makes interviews saying that Greiner is better than Strad and that soon nobody will want a Strad anymore. That's his oppinion. What I don't like is that he implies in his interviews that Greiner is the only top modern maker.

I am still a big endorser of modern instruments. Really they are the only way of getting a good violin for most of us. The comparison to a Strad will remain an academic exercise for all but a few lucky ones :-)

February 22, 2007 at 04:50 PM · Kristian, I might have to agree with Burgess. I've had the opportunity to play on quite a number of "unfamous" Strads. Yea, some of them have names even, and the retail price was still high. I've played on better moderns.

The reason people will sell their kidneys to buy a Strad:

1) Most of the time it will be to get a good Strad

2) It's essential so that you can write that on the bottom of your bio so idiot concert goers can be assured that they're hearing a good sound

3) Because like owning a Bugatti or something of that nature, a Strad has a great deal of cachet, not to mention that it's a steady yielding, very low risk investment.

4) Similarly to 2, if people know you're playing on a Strad, their estimation of you automatically increases the moment they find that out.

I'm learning a lot from this thread. Also, I think there's a bit too much hysteria going on about the thickness of the plate. An honest, gifted maker won't give you something that he thinks will put you at a disadvantage later on. In my opinion, the best makers are those who take a lot of pride in their work, and more than anything (even more than selling violins), that their instruments are appreciated down the line, and hopefully follow in the footsteps of their respective gods (Stradivari and Guarneri). If you don't believe me, just see how easy it is to make a luthiers day by telling him/her that you genuinely loved playing their instrument and that you think it's truly a great specimen. So, I think we should all do some heavy breathing and calm down before someone has a heart attack.

February 22, 2007 at 04:54 PM · good point Kristian.

And the fact that tetzlaaf keeps rotating (by getting a new Greiner every so often) only shows that perhaps after a while, the Greiner fiddles get tired for a reason?

I find them (Greiner fiddles) overrated.

And Tetzlaaf could make any fiddle sound great.

I think the point has been well made about budget.

As far as arguing that new fiddles are better than old (let alone better than Strads & Del Gesus), is rather naive. Like it has been brought up about thick and thin plates etc. Only time will tell if an instrument is worth "its weight in gold".

That is why logically, when you try a fiddle that is at least 20 to 100 years old, that has a specific sound and quality, you know that those qualities have been groomed for a prolonged time and will be there in 12-24 months.

February 22, 2007 at 05:49 PM · It might be interesting to consider why many great violinists have started with Strads, but later "graduated" to del Gesus.

February 22, 2007 at 08:04 PM · Maybe it's safe to say that pound for pound, DG produced more top flight violins?

Also, I quite recently heard from someone that it's more prudent to order a Del Gesu from most makers since the success of a Stradivari model is more difficult to attain. I don't know if that's true or not, but it seems as if Del Gesu models are far and away the most popular for commissions.

February 22, 2007 at 11:49 PM · Yes it is very interesting what the TIME magazine stated in 1966, which I loved reading:

"Jascha Heifetz, Leonid Kogan and Isaac Stern like the dark, virile tone of the Guarneri;

Zino Francescatti, Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh prefer the lighter, silvery tone of the Stradivari.

The Guarneri has the breadth and projection of a contralto, says one camp. Ah, yes, but the Strad has the clarity and finesse of a soprano, counters the other. That Stradivari enjoys a more illustrious reputation, says Heifetz, is because "he had a better pressagent." Actually, claims Jascha, "the Guarneri is a joyous woman, richly experienced in life; the Stradivari is a young, unsophisticated girl."

February 23, 2007 at 01:44 AM · But then Menuhin "graduated". :-)

The basic del Gesu model automatically gives a darker sound, initially, which balances the excessive brightness that new violins often have, but I wouldn't say that, given equal graduations, either is easier to make, in terms of long-term results. Really, for me it all comes down to the difference between the way a violin sounds the day you first take it home, versus the way it sounds six months later. The ideal would be to buy a new violin that's been broken in for six months, but purchasers are left a bit blind buying a really new instrument--what appeals today may not seem so important after a few months of inevitable change.

Notice, by the way, that David isn't making his violins particularly thin compared to many of the people in and above his price range--in fact the back grads he says he uses are quite a bit thicker than 95% of Strads, more like a thickish del Gesu. He's building for the long term, not the quick sale. He may not have won the shoot-off that's the topic of this discussion, but it will be interesting to see the difference in a couple of years.

February 23, 2007 at 03:28 AM · Ok, got so many emails on the thickness of the Needham that I found out is thickness. Without giving out specific numbers let me say that it is rather thick, about what Burgess makes, according to the numbers he posted on this site.

And yes after talking to many of the makers we have been communicating with today, I came to the same conclusion that many of you have posted already—most makers are making quality instruments that not only sound great but are built to pass the test of time.

As for the Needham that is here: it is not bran new and it really has already been played in, as were the other moderns involved in this “shootout,” as some have called it.

Hard to compare the great Cremonians to the great moderns by simply looking at who is playing what; there are so many career advantages to playing a Strad or a del Gesu.

But I would not discount all the blind test evidence as worth nothing because there is just too much of it to discount.

From my point of view—I was just there in a big hall listening to many million-dollar instruments and I know what I heard. The 3 great moderns that were there clearly out did them, other than the Guad. And even then more liked the Needham than the Guad; my vote for the Guad was a minority vote.

And yes I agree with Mr. Darnton about del Gesus over strads, at least in general. I love perlman’s sound on his strad, but I think I liked his sound on a del Gesu just as much, if not more (he did sound very different on these instruments). And I like Chang’s del Gesu more than any I have heard.

But to each his own because it really is a matter of preference since the two instruments usually sound very different, depending on which strad and del Gesu.

Mr. Darnton, thank you for some great posts!

Great conversations guys! Keep it up!


February 23, 2007 at 09:42 AM · Well now we are getting in to a Strad/Guarneri discussion. I refered to a Strad as an arbitrary not distinguishing.

I think it really comes down to the particular instrument. Ideally one would have it like Szeryng who had a Strad and a Guarneri:-)

I would say as a general experience that a Guarneri is more forgiving than a Strad. If you push a Strad you will choke it. A Guarneri has no limit.

What is interesting is that most del Gesú violins passed through the Mantegazzi workshop in Milan and were regraduated and probably had the rib height reduced as well. If you look at the Cannon it has higher ribs than usual probably to increase the internal volume and hence lower the primary resonance of the body. This would indeed allow to leave a lot of thickness.

February 23, 2007 at 01:16 PM · Hi,

Back to modern violins. I play a modern instrument. It is fantastic. Not a copy of anything - the maker's own model (though he no longer makes that model). It is smallish (back is 352) and very thickly wooded. It took a long time to open up, and I suspect that as a result of the thick wood that is why it reacts considerably more to changes in humidity. I have had it for 10 years and finally it is starting to sound at its best; could be me too :=). All that said, I agree that in a small room, and it not that much of a huge sound, but extremely resonant - sometimes students laugh as you can hear the resonance going through the air-ducks. I a hall, it is wonderful. It carries great. It is funky to play because it feels neither Stradish or Del Gésuish, but somewhere in between.

I think that Strads and Del Gésus, even copies, have to be played differently. That is the difference. Perhaps some people like the way one instrument has to be played better than the other because it suits their playing style better. As for graduating from Strad to Del Gésu, I find that perhaps changes in one's playing over the years might make one feel more comfortable on one violin rather than another.

For me, like Gennady said, a great fiddle is a great fiddle. Not just modern or old.

A personal opinion though... I find that the better a fiddle is/has been played, the better it will sound. I have always wondered personally if one of the many reasons that great Strads and Del Gésus sound so well is because they have been well played most of their lives.


February 23, 2007 at 03:31 PM · My teachers says that violins have memory, of great players and also not so great players. Players who play in tune can make the violin more focused and responsive on the in-tune notes. Playing with a stronger firmer bow can break it in faster and open up the sound, take away the fuzziness and give a smoother rounder tone. Hence if you take a one-owner violin, you can tell what kind of player he/she is.

Now that I think about it, if you as a player have invested many years playing in a new violin, it would be very hard for you (or at least for me) to put down that violin that has had a couple of years of playing in for a brand new just out of the UV box violin even by the same maker. It just seems like so much work again. Maybe that's why people graduate to fine old violins, once they learn how to listen for and appreciate the subtleties.

But then there is always the joy and challenge of bringing up another new violin. I guess that's why the person mentioned in the thread gets a new Greiner every year. Same could be said about new babies, I guess. But after a while I think we just appreciate the older ones that have grown with us better.

Back to Strads and Guarneri's, who wouldn't want to ride on the legacy of the previous owners, and shape/mold such a jewel for future generations? That's why they will carry the apropos price tag. 400 years of work already put into them. As an aside, I have heard that the Strads who sat in collections unplayed are not that remarkable. And that the Cannone had to be restored and regularly exercised to retain it's great sound and response. Anyone need a violin-trainer? :-)

February 23, 2007 at 03:49 PM · In Cremona there is actually a violin professor who has the daily task of playing all the great violins in the City Hall in order to keep them in playing condition. I think we all envy him a bit :-)

February 23, 2007 at 03:53 PM · I also play a modern violin made in 2006. I am its first owner, and I can already tell a difference in the sound. I've had it for around 2 and a half months.

February 24, 2007 at 03:50 AM · Regarding Tetzlaff and his violins- I don't know what interviews you have read, Kristian, but the one I have (published in the Strad July 2005) says "It's not that he prefers the Greiner absolutely..." It then directly quotes him: "If someone were to offer me a beautiful Strad and it sounded better than the Greiner, I would play it immediately. I just don't have the means to buy a Strad and no one has approached me with any instrument that is better than what I am playing at the moment."

And I hardly believe he wore the two other instruments out, or that Greiner produces them in this manner. "His third Greiner, he says, has gained both quality and strength in the last two years." As for the other two Greiners he had, it quotes him "It's not that the two earlier Greiners were inferior- one of them is being played now by Isabelle van Keulen and the other by Elizabeth Kufferath, a member of my string quartet..."

They're probably still overated, but as for other things said about them, I'm not so sure.

Yes, when I was in Cremona I met one soloist who has to play those violins in the City Hall. What a job...they go on a rotation and I don't think they're played every day, but a few people play them at least weekly for an hour at a time. They also get them on loan to perform sometimes, with special permission.

February 24, 2007 at 03:51 AM · "If someone were to offer me a beautiful Strad and it sounded better than the Greiner, I would play it immediately. I just don't have the means to buy a Strad and no one has approached me with any instrument that is better than what I am playing at the moment."

I think this gets right to the point of the discussion on modern vs. older instruments, except here we have one of the best soloists in the world saying it as opposed to everyone else who has stated it on this board.

February 24, 2007 at 04:59 AM · Not that I want to interrupt the flow of this very interesting discussion, but a quick question for Raymond Paul:

In your original post, you also mentioned a Storioni and Nicolo (actually Nicola) Gagliano, but didn't give your impressions of these instruments; and they are absent from the subsequent discussion. Could you take a moment to fill us in? How did they sound, strengths and weaknesses compared with the modern instruments? Thanks!

--- Eric

February 24, 2007 at 05:25 AM · We violinists are hopeless. Face it, well all secretly lust for those old Italians, no matter how we try to convince ourselves that moderns are just as good, or that people can't tell the difference. I've touched one old Amati and it feels limitless like there was nothing you couldn't do with it. You could bow close to the bridge and bow hard that it just gives more and more. And this was not even a Strad or Guarneri.

February 24, 2007 at 06:56 AM · Please read the results of this three-day experience playing many great and very old instruments. Bottom line: only one of them kept up with the Needham, and the Zyg and Bellinini out did them as well, but not by much.

What I think is really hard to get past is the “romance that is naturally attached to these instruments, and the mind games that go on because of it.”

When this factor has been taken out—blind tests where no one knows the age of the instrument—great moderns have more than help their own. It would be one thing if there were just a few of these tests, but there are actually a whole lot of them! All with the same result: the great moderns have almost always done a bit better, as they did in this 3-day experience. One thing, though, there were no del Gesus in this experience.

And there are those who own both (great Cremona instruments, and great moderns) and many rate the modern as better (we just read this in a thread on this site, a San Fran Phil player who owns a Guarneri said he now prefers the sound of his new Seifert and Gruaubaugh.

One final note, not only did the players like the three moderns better, even the collector like them better! Yes, I thought the Guad was better than the Needham (though it was not clear to me) but I was in the minority.

Have any of you heard Jensen on her zyg? She sounds incredible! And then there are the many reports of Ricci playing on his Bellini right after playing his del Gesu; the listeners were not sure which they liked better.

Another thing to consider is the fact that most great makers welcome any kind of comparisons and tests between their instruments and the legends of the past. Yes I know they really have nothing to lose, but the fact remains that few owners of these instruments are willing to put them up to the test against great moderns. And again, when they have the results have favored the moderns by a bit.

But honestly I am not going to argue the point any longer because I know most cannot get on the other side of the romance issue. And then there are those who have a financial investment at stake and cannot or will not allow moderns to take away from that.

Well, all I can do is report what we have experienced, what everyone decides to do with the information is up to him or her.

Great posts guys! Great conversations!

February 24, 2007 at 07:09 AM · From this month’s strad:

Blind Faith

(Published in The Strad, February 2007)

What's in a label? Would a Strad sound as sweet by any other name? Blind tastings, popular in the wine world, offer a method of objective evaluation, but the string world doesn't believe in such tests. Alan Coggins wonders why.

However, there is one area where the comparison between violins and wines breaks down. Centuries ago, the wine industry realised that perception and objectivity could easily be influenced by expectation. The slightest glimpse of a label, even a cork or capsule, would be enough to unconsciously bias judgement. In order to impartially compare and rank their products the wine makers developed a strict methodology based on the need for complete anonymity: blind tastings. The violin world has yet to fully embrace this concept.

Although similar blind listening tests of violins and cellos are carried out with some regularity, their progress invariably follows a well-trodden and predictable course. The trial compares new against old, ideally including some famous and highly priced classical instruments (the inclusion of a Strad will usually mean mainstream media coverage). The results show that new instruments stand up very well and often outscore their older, more expensive counterparts. The test is then discredited and dismissed as meaningless by the experts.

A typical example is the recent trial in Sweden, which was reported and discussed in The Strad (News, June 2006 and Letters, July 2006). In this case, violins made by three modern Swedish makers were compared to a Stradivari, a Gagliano and a Guadagnini. All six instruments were played by two professional players and the sound judged and scored by an audience mostly comprising members of the European String Teacher’s Association. A modern violin by Peter Westerlund obtained the highest score.

February 24, 2007 at 07:10 AM · In our test the Needham did better than all execpt the Guad, and most did not agree with me about that; they thought the Needham was beter than all of them.

But I am sure this will be put down like all the other emperical data has been put down before. Why? Two reasons: Pople do not want to let go of the romanticism attached to the Cremona history, or people do not want it to affect the money they have invested in older instruments, or both of these things. And honestly, I can really understand the first one for I too love the romance attached to these older instruments. And I can at least relate to the second reason for I too would not want my real estate investments to lose value.

Such is life.

February 24, 2007 at 08:59 AM · Brian R. yes I have read the Strad interview. Maybe he is starting to miss his Strad again? The interview that I refer to was on Danish radio 2 when he was playing Tchaikovsky concerto with the Radio Orchestra. The whole interview and introduction was an outright commercial for Greiner where he said what I refered to before. It struck me at the time to be illegal since commercials are not allowed on public service radio in DK.

February 24, 2007 at 09:20 AM · Raymond,

I can challenge you to bring this magic fiddle and put it against some of the best of early 20th century Italian fiddles and perhaps a few Vuillaume's. I doubt the result will be the same.

We have tested some other moderns here locally including, Zyg, Greiner, Gusset and others against less powerful names.

And Vuillaume's as well as a Sgarabotto, Fiorini, Bignami ruled.

There are exceptional Zyg. fiddles like the one Jimmy Lin has.

But again, it is a naive way to look at things.

A better way to look at it is in terms of budget. What is the best for the budget.

For most, it is hard to find a new fiddle that has a deep sonority of the G string sound etc. That is why many gravitate towards the old fiddles. I like breaking in new fiddles, and giving them a voice. And I love playing old fiddles too.

But for most, it is a question of affordability, and finding the right voice for them (in that budget).

BTW, if you are interested in a Needham fiddle do let me know, it is a few years old and it is for sale.

February 24, 2007 at 10:05 AM · Gennady,

I would gladly take you up on your challenge. Perhaps you could bring some of these fiddles out the next time something like this happens here? BTW the list of fiddles you mentioned do not compare (by reputation and market value) to the fiddles that we just tried against the Needham, the Zyg, and the Bellini. I wish I could publish the list of all the fiddles involved, and the players who played them; it would show the significance of what happened here. But then again, tests like this have been done over and over again with the same results, and everyone discards them.

I hope we can get these violins that you want involved the next time, and I hope that all who commit to this will be willing to have the results published. It would be one more test that many would again discount, for the same reasons that I stated earlier.

As for buying a Needham: I have already decided to make it one of the two fiddles that I will buy. I am still undecided on the other. I will be working with Mr. Needham soon to work out what I would like him to build for me.

Oh and if you want more information on the fiddle that is out here, contact Emil. I now know that it is the same instrument that he used as a soloist with some phils a while back. He already mentioned how good it was in many posts. But hey, perhaps all the players who have played it, and the list is very long and very impressive (and Emil) are all wrong and you are right. Perhaps the player who just bought the violin from Seifert is wrong when he said that at this time he likes it more than his guarneri.

I hope we get to see your violins and get to hear them next to this Needham and the two other moderns that were here. Hell I hope Mr. Burgess gets the violin we heard out here as well. Lets see how you violins do with a truly impartial audience. Contact me if you really want to do this. I am not sure how we could work all of it out, but I am more than open to try to make it happen. I would only insist on two things: It must be made open to the public, and it must be fully publishable. I hope to hear from you.

February 24, 2007 at 10:11 AM · "But there are also some players who feel quite comfortable playing on a new instrument. Christian Tetzlaff uses a modern violin by Stefan-Peter Greiner and said in an interview in The Strad (July 2005): ‘If I were to play a Strad and a Guarneri in a double-blind test with my Greiner, I am sure that no one could tell which was the new instrument. When I play with orchestras, if they don’t know what I am playing, they always ask if it’s a Strad or Guarneri."

February 24, 2007 at 01:12 PM · For my part it bears repeating: Howard Needham is making some outstanding violins.


February 24, 2007 at 09:15 PM · Every few years, there is a maker who makes the best moderns, and everyone "attests" to that. It is not a new phenomena.

Raymond, feel free to come to Seattle as well.

The point about your test is that it is a very old argument.

We have conducted similar tests here.

This sort of test has been done since the times of Vuillaume.

But if you want the results to be official and public, you have to get the right officials involved and the right people as well as getting the official results published in an official publication.

Some old fiddles that perhaps you chose, were not in the best set-up etc. and may have been extensively used only in studios for the last 40 + years (and or have seen very little concert playing in the concert hall).

And I am sure this Needham instrument could be one of his best at the moment. But I do know, that there are a few floating around for sale. There have been similar stories with other hot makers. Everyone wants them when a few people are raving about them. Then few years later, you see these people trying to unload these moderns. It's the way it is.

The true test for a modern fiddle takes time and grooming. The individual voice and character comes after a prolonged "playing in" period.

Think about it, even an old fiddle, when it gets "surgery for a Bass-Bar transplant", it takes a year maybe two or even longer to break it in.

And BTW, for many who are not aware that Hillary Hahn plays a Vuillaume, (upon hearing her) they also ask is she playing a Strad or a Del Gesu?! and then to their amazement they find out it's a Vuillaume.........she makes that fiddle sound absolutely great.

But imagine if she did play a Strad or a Del Gesu?

February 24, 2007 at 09:58 PM · highly entertaining exchanges,,,reminds me of flipping through some car magazines where they pitch the best ferrari vs the newest porsche, or something. zooom zooom zoooooom.

what gennady said about making the results public and open will serve the readers well and it reminds me of something in another industry that i am aware of.

often, pharmaceutical companies will sponsor clinical trials with their drugs vs the competitors' (silly set up, isn't it). i have personally known several trial outcomes that have never met the press because hey, the outcome is not what the sponsors want to hear. or want you to hear:)

February 24, 2007 at 10:59 PM · Gena, I think that to make the test meet the criteria you're describing, we'd be well advised to include instruments Howard made some years back, but after his fiddles underwent what could best be described as an epiphany. I'm thinking of one fiddle, in particular, that changed my own perception of Needham from great repair/adjustment go-to guy to a great maker. It was one he made around 2000 or 2001. Would that be "played-in" enough, would you say?

As for other fiddles of his that are floating around, I honestly am not aware of any save the one you're describing. The ones whose creation I've either witnessed or been involved in (at set-up time) all seem to be so beloved by their owners that they're loath to let them out of sight. Still, in all fairness to Howard, I've personally played a fiddle of his which I subsequently loved but which, at the time I played it, left me disappointed. Reason? A soundpost that was just too short for the fiddle at the time (six months post-creation) that I tried it. So if you're not entirely sold on the quality of his work, acoustically speaking, I'd first look into the set-up of the instrument you've seen, just as you advocate making certain of the optimal set-up of the other moderns you yourself endorse. It could easily be a transient adjustment issue over which we're debating rather than some more fundamental flaw in the instrument.

For what it's worth, I'd love to be there at the "competition". And I do think that for the results to have any significance beyond a he-said/she-said shouting match, Gennady is right that we'd need universally acceptable jurors. And players. And venues.

But the concept itself intrigues me tremendously. After all, I don't think of Howard Needham as flavor-of-the-moment. I'm pretty sure his rep and his fiddles are here to stay. So I'm fairly sure that even under the most rigorous of tests and competitions, those fiddles will come through with flying colors.

February 25, 2007 at 12:07 AM · Casals said that Paul Kaul was the finest violin maker since Stradivari, and the maker of the future. I'm sure you remember him (Kaul, I mean.) Casals was one of the most famous players of all time, so he obvously must have been right, and history (and everyone else) wrong.

February 25, 2007 at 01:36 AM · Emil,

Raymond's test (and many tests of that sort) unfortunately become inconclusive due to the many factors involved. Set up of new, and ofcourse set up and condition of old.

Much of the time, when old excellent fiddles are owned by "seasoned" studio players, these fiddles have lost alot of their gusto due to the fact that (in their business), one does not need to "blow" into the mic. at 90lbs. of pressure.

Fiddles need to be played in concert at concert halls in order for them to maintain their full capacity. Hence the previous post when someone brought up the Cremona museum and how the famous fiddles get played by the fortunate few to get a work out.

Needless to say, that new fiddles assuming they are well made and healthy, require a similar approach of being groomed etc.

In retrospect, any test of this sort, warrants a certain criteria of a fiddle being in healthy state of concert level, good set up etc.. Neverteless, the result still does not speak for all of the instruments made by that one maker. It only speaks of that one particular instrument.

So let's say, you have a Needham, Zyg, Burgess, Alf, Curtin, Greiner, Lupot, Vuillaume, Del Gesu, Stradivari, Guad, Bergonzi, Pressenda, Rocca, Fagnola, Sgarabotto, Fiorini, Bignami, Ornati, Garimberti.

The result speaks only of those particular examples and does not speak in definitive terms. And such data unfortunately becomes inconclusive.

And believe me, I am happy for you that you found a great fiddle for yourself, and I am not belittling Needham by stating what I have stated earlier.

But the reality is that yes, there are many excellent makers out there, and have been there since the last century.

We should celebrate the renaissance of today's finest. But in practical terms, it is futile to say that new is better than old (due again to all of these factors).

Some people like only old. Some would love to have old but cannot afford it. And some want the best for their budget. Thank goodness there are excellent new instruments.

Hope that clarifies my position.

February 25, 2007 at 01:45 AM · Gennady, can you tell us the name of the person who is selling the Needham, or have him contact me? I, like Emil, do not know of anyone who has not treasured an instrument made by Mr. Needham.

Of course you are right about the fact that all it would prove is the sound quality of that particular violin, not all the maker’s violins. And yes, I did admit the Zyg and the Bellini that were here were better than the others I had played from these makers, actually much better. But hey we have to start somewhere. Besides, to tell you the truth, I would be more than willing to keep those instruments out of it if you like (considering I have admitted that they were better than the other work that I played from them before). To make up the difference I would be willing to have four Needhams there if you want (there are 3 here right now, and while I like one better than the other 2, they are all unreal!). I would also like to add the Burgess that was here. And Sarn Oliver, from the San Fran Phil, already told me he would be more than happy to contribute his new modern. Another concertmaster who plays on a Needham also contacted me and told me his violin is in as well. Seems like a whole lot of people are very confident, none more than I!!!!!!!!!

You said your violins would blow the moderns away in a hall, than please, by all means bring your collection of violins. If you decide to do this than I will contact the VSA here in America and see if they would be willing to help set this up. We would have to agree on which hall, the player, the pieces played, and the judges. I think the VSA could help us with this.

But again, I do not want to go to the trouble unless all involved are willing to have the results published. That means the player, the judges, and most all the instruments and their owners. And have the Strad and String magazine, etc to have them cover it. I already talked to one publisher this morning and he told me they would be up for it (one of the studio guys here knows a writer for the Strad!).

I am ready to do the legwork if you are Gennady. Your instruments would blow them away in a hall, your words. They rule, your words. Lets see it.

What we did here in L..A. means nothing for the reasons you listed. Fine, then bring your early 20th century stuff and let's see if what happned here in L.A. was flawed.

Needham is just another maker who is now "the maker of our time," just like other makers were before and are now forgotten. Fine. Lets take the violins of his that I have heard, with a few other moderns and put them against violins that you say, "rule." Let's see if they, "blow them away." Up to you, and a whole lot of people are itching to see it happen. Let us know.

February 25, 2007 at 02:22 AM · No problem. You get funds to cover the ticket, I'll come.

Or we can do it in Seattle.

The Needham that is here is available on consignment.

As far as the test is concerned, I am sure that Burgess and Alf and Curtin and Zyg and Darnton can provide their best for such a test.

But I am sure you understood my post, and its explanation that such tests are inconclusive for the reasons stated above.

There are many moderns that are very fine instruments.

I won't repeat myself by saying that it is futile to repeat the same song, that new is better than old. Afterall, the new becomes the old after a while, and what then?

Bellinis were very new 40-30-and 20 years ago. People still enjoy them, but the novelty has worn off.

Same goes for a few other big names that are familiar to people. But then again, it's just another "old" fiddle, hegh?

Hence Michael D's post.

I stand by my post.

February 25, 2007 at 02:00 AM · It seems to me that there are many good contemporary violin makers. Every few years there are people that rave about this or that luthier, how their instruments are comparable to the old masters. Perhaps they are. Most living makers are trained by apprenticing with accomplished modern masters and know each other and each others methods. There apparently is no longer a secret to creating a wonderful violin or a mystery about how Strad made his fiddles. Why then can't any talented craftsman learn to make a great violin? Why are only a handful of luthiers considered great?

February 25, 2007 at 02:36 AM · Great Gennady. If you are willing to put your instruments up for the test than I will contact the VSA on Monday and see if they will help us set up a blind-test that would be free of errors.

But again, I only want to go to the trouble if everyone is willing to have the resutls published.

Oh and since you have your instruements, I would like to be able to pick mine: I would have three Needhams there, Sarn's instrument from Siefert, and the Burgess. So that leaves you room to pick five early 20th century violins that you say consistenly blows moderns away. And by having 3 Needhams there we could have a little more proof that it is not a fluke violin where he got lucky.

Can I call the VSA to see if they will help us set this up?


Oh and please give me the information on the Needham on consignment, no one knows of such an instrument, including Mr. Needham.

February 25, 2007 at 02:36 AM · please spare me the oh Great so and so.....

would you like to include fiddles that may belong to some other people who have a Fiorini, Ornati, Garimberti, Vuillaume, Lupot, Bergonzi, Del Gesu, Stradivari, Fagnola, Pressenda and may be some others people wish to include.

The thing is Raymond, you still are missing the point of my previous post.

Perhaps, I can bring the Needham that is on consignment. I am sure even you will find it underwhelming. But that's getting personal.....

February 25, 2007 at 02:38 AM · raymond, for educational purpose, can you elaborate on the design of the blind test so readers know what you have in mind? "free of errors" may be too much to bargain for. for instance, lets say emil will be involved and if he has played one of your violins there before, what is the chance he will not recognize certain violins by sound or by feel and therefore the "blind" test does not really blind him? thanks

February 25, 2007 at 02:56 AM · Gennady, pick the five instruments you want. I really do not care. But remember you said early 20th century violins tower above moderns, so if you want to back up your words than I suggest you pick from those makers. But again, I really do not care.

As for a Needham that is not impressive, as Emil wrote you, we do not know of any that he has made lately (if set up properly) that owners are not really proud of. None!

So all I am waiting for is your commitment. As soon as I get that I will contact the VSA and see if they can help us set this up.

But again, all must agree to have it published.

Let me know.

As for not getting your point: what point? That all it would prove is how one particular maker did on one violin? I addressed that—I would be willing to have 3 Needhams there, which should insure that he just did not get lucky on one of them. I would be willing to get 3 from each maker if that makes you happy.

To me it sounds like you are making excuses before we even get the thing set up! But then again, that is nothing new! I quote from this month’s Stad:

“Although similar blind listening tests of violins and cellos are carried out with some regularity, their progress invariably follows a well-trodden and predictable course. The trial compares new against old, ideally including some famous and highly priced classical instruments (the inclusion of a Strad will usually mean mainstream media coverage). The results show that new instruments stand up very well and often outscore their older, more expensive counterparts. The test is then discredited and dismissed as meaningless by the experts.”

February 25, 2007 at 03:03 AM · Yes, an error proof test would be impossible. But that does not mean that a lot of things could not be learned from it.

I would want a double-blind test: the judges and the player would not know the instruments. And of course the player could not have played any of them before. I would also want judges that have had a lot of experience listening to good violins and are not biased in any way.

I am sure that there are a lot of other things we could do to make it as valid as we could. There are many smart people on here, and I am sure things could be thought through and worked out.

Hopefully an institution like the VSA or a conservatory could pick it up and set it up. But I am still waiting on Gennady's final word. Remember, he has 20th century violins that blow away great moderns. Cannot wait to see that.

February 25, 2007 at 03:08 AM · and again, if you bring 3 Needhams and I bring one Needham, it will only prove that one of 4 will be better than the rest. Conclusive or inconclusive?

I am happy to meet your Pepsi challenge. But again, this is not a Pepsi type of thing is it?

Your same old song is sounding a bit broken.

Bring as many fiddles as you wish, and we can invite Dr. Fulton as well perhaps. For a few laughs...........

February 25, 2007 at 03:36 AM · An opportunity to hear a couple dozen of today's and early 20th cent biggest names maybe along with a Strad or two might sell some tickets actually. Call it Violinstock '07. No competiton though. Just three days peace and love.

February 25, 2007 at 03:38 AM · Sounds like the red-letter days at Encore when the big violin dealers come through town with cases full of Strads and Guarneris and Gaglianos....*drool*....

February 25, 2007 at 03:51 AM · Gennady, you are the one making the excuses! You are the one with the same song. You said your 20th century violins would blow away any new modern, were those not your words?

Do you want to stand by it or not? If so than let's work to set it up (only if all are willing to publish it), if not than admit that you are not willing to see what would happen to your precious collection if it were compared to these instruments.

We are still waiting for you to stop making excuses, jokes, etc.

If Sarn and Emil and the rest of us are wrong, then please by all means step up to the plate and commit yourself to putting up your 20th century collection against the moderns I mentioned. Once I have your firm commitment on the site I will contact the VSA and some schools to see who could help us. Perhaps USC would be willing to do so? Not sure, but if you are willing to put these 20th century instruments that blow away moderns to the test, then stop making light of it, put the jokes and excuses away, and make the commitment.

Oh and we are still waiting for information on the Needham that does not cut it? Where is that exactly? Emil does not know of one, nor does the concertmaster who plays on one (I again talked to him about it this afternoon) and the players out here playing on them do not know of any, either. Where is that violin exactly, and whom can we contact about it?

Ok, do you want to keep making excuses or do you want to show us why your 20th century stuff is so much better? I am sure Emil, Mr. Burgess, the many players playing on Needhams, Sarn, and the other great modern makers, are waiting. As Emil told you, he would like to see it. So would I.

Stop dancing like a politician and make the commitment.

February 25, 2007 at 03:59 AM · And no Gennady, your logic is not complete. The truth is if you bring one Needhan and I bring 3 and one is not good but the other 3 are great than we can conclude that 3/4 of his violins are great.

But if you have his Needham which is not good, which I do not think you have, then it will not stay that way long because from what I have heard Mr. Needhan takes the time to adjust his fiddles to sound incredible. As Emil told you, but you did not listen, the problem (if there is indeed a problem, I doubt it, really!) is probably one of set-up and Mr., Needham could probably take care of that rather fast. The not-impressive instrument would change to very impressive, like the rest I have heard. (But again I do not think it even exists.).

Still waiting!

February 25, 2007 at 04:01 AM · sound like taunts in a school yard but man, I'd really love to see this fight happen. Please have Mr. Fulton bring a couple del Gesu's too...

February 25, 2007 at 04:41 AM · Isn't is just wonderful to see these guys defending their positions so strongly! It's like the cold war all over again--California vs Russia!!!! Raymond's Gang of Six versus Gennady's Violins In Stock. Surely one must be totally wrong and the other totally right! :-)

I think Shakespeare had something to say about the ladies doth protesting too much. I thought Greiner was the best maker in the world. Or was it Kaul. Or was it.... well, I forget, exactly, but I'm sure since it's Saturday it must be someone.

Battle of the Cheerleaders of Opinion; I can hardly wait!!!!!!! Will it be jello, or will it be mud?

February 25, 2007 at 07:09 AM · Before any ill feelings have a chance to arise, I'd like to jump in for a second. Correct me if I'm wrong, Gena, but your point is that several instruments are still a relatively small sample? Or is it that even a representative sample doesn't prove how well those instruments will stand the test of time (and marketplace)? For what it's worth, I can easily see your point in this second line of reasoning. And can easily see why, regardless of how interesting such a test might be the only thing that would make it conclusive would be a time machine.

As for the sub-par Needham, I can also easily understand why the owner or the shop selling it would be unwilling to give out too much information. Just one question: the year of the instrument. Is it pre-2000? This, too, may be the root of any misunderstandings so far.

I'm fairly certain that if your thesis is correct, that older Italians - not necessarily del Gesus but even early 20th-century makers - are superior to transiently fashionable makers, this would be possible to somehow "prove", given a properly designed test. No time machine would be necessary then, though by that reasoning of course no one could promise the results standing the test of decades or centuries. And of course this assumes a desire on the parts of both parties, to figure out what The Truth is rather than a desire to merely be proved right. As for me, I'd not mind knowing something for certain, even if it's different from what I knew before. So long as it's demonstrably true.

But I'm also worried than in all these exchanges, I've somehow misunderstood you. After all, you're putting Sam's instruments into the same category as the old Italians, right? If so, why deny any other living maker that same privilege?

And if not, if Sam and Howard and all the other moderns need the passage of several decades (at least) to be properly judged, then shouldn't we be conducting these competitions between apples and apples? Shouldn't we limit the contest to fiddles made since, say, 1980 rather than putting up Needhams and Zygs against each other AND del Gesus?

Please understand, I'm not trying to be combative here, but am instead trying to grasp your point of view, as it may well be that I AGREE with it! Or, if I find that I disagree, once I know that I've understood you it'll at least be possible to know how to refute your argument. Perhaps Raymond, or I, have just been missing your point.

February 25, 2007 at 09:36 AM · Gennady, I did not understand what you meant by a Pepsi challenge, now I understand. And of course your right, if a strad sounds better than a del Gesu all we know is that this strad sounds better than that del Gesu. But I am not sure what this has to do with what you said and the fact that I took you up on it.

You said that our tests here must not be valid because you are sure that if we compare the Needham (which you insulted by calling it a “magic fiddle”) to this 20th century Italian stuff, the Needham would not compare. Here are your words:

“I can challenge you to bring this magic fiddle and put it against some of the best of early 20th century Italian fiddles and perhaps a few Vuillaume's. I doubt the result will be the same. We have tested some other moderns here locally including, Zyg, Greiner, Gusset and others against less powerful names.

And Vuillaume's as well as a Sgarabotto, Fiorini, Bignami ruled.”

So your statement was that if we compared the fiddle to these 20th century fiddles, the Needham, and other moderns would not cut it. The 20th century stuff would, “rule.” I then took you up on your statement, and now you back pedal and state that it would not prove anything. Well, it would at least prove two things: one, which fiddles sounded best on this day in this venue. Secondly, whether you were right or wrong. You said our results were flawed and that if we compared the moderns to these 20th century fiddles, the older fiddles would rule. Well, if we do it and this happens than you were right. If we do this and the Needham comes out on top than you were very wrong. And if the Needham and other moderns do well, then it looks like our tests out here were not flawed. So actually it would prove at least 3 things.

Then you blamed our results here on the possible set up of the older instruments that the moderns were played against, even though you were not here! Again your words:

“Some old fiddles that perhaps you chose, were not in the best set-up etc. and may have been extensively used only in studios for the last 40 + years.”

And then you discounted the fact that so many think Howard Needham makes a great violin now, by insinuating that he is another fly-by-night maker. Again your words:

“But I do know, that there are a few (Needhams) floating around for sale. There have been similar stories with other hot makers. Everyone wants them when a few people are raving about them. Then few years later, you see these people trying to unload these moderns. It's the way it is.”

Your last quote pretty much wipes out any chance of a modern maker being really great because according to you, “Everyone wants them when a few people are raving about them. Then few years later, you see these people trying to unload these moderns. It's the way it is.”

And now I and many others (you should see the list of emails that have been sent to me, all asking me to make you own your words by getting this event to happen) want you to be responsible for what you have said by putting your instruments where your mouth has been, and all we have seen since is gibberish, insults, jokes, and excuses.

There is no doubt that even the best of tests cannot determine that every violin from one maker is better than the violins of another maker. But that does not mean that we cannot learn a lot from doing this. At very least we could see if what you said is right. And remember that there was little doubt in your statements. The message was clear, at least before you started to back pedal. Our tests here meant little, if we really looked at it closer we would see that 20th century violins rule, and even the modern makers that are much in demand are fly-by-night. Or as Emil put it, the “flavor-of-the-moment.” This was your message, and now that I am asking you to commit to your words you accuse me of childish behavior.

And with every post you cleverly state that older instruments are better and moderns are only for those who cannot afford the better old instruments. Again your words:

“Some people like only old. Some would love to have old but cannot afford it. And some want the best for their budget.”

The question is, will you commit to putting these 20th century violins against the moderns I listed, and setting up a real full-out blind test that is open to the public and published, or not. If we look at your words during this thread we see that you insulted what many great players on here have testified to (the event that just took place in L.A. where many great players were involved, what Sarn has said about his new great modern, etc., what Emil has said about Needham’s work, and what Mr. Livingston said about Needham’s violins. All of this evidence means nothing to you because if we bring this “magic fiddle” to Seattle it will be ruled by these 20th century fiddles.

More of your words: “So I would welcome you to Seattle for such a spectacle if you wish. And perhaps watch you deflate?”

Gennady, I am not bringing these modern fiddles to Seattle just to have some kind of listening party which you will claim proves your point. I am very much interested, however, in setting up a well-publicized event with an un-biased player, judges, and venue. But again only if it is open to the public and if it is published in full afterwards.

You have said a lot, will you keep talking about how this would prove nothing, or will you stand by your words and commit to putting these violins up to a real impartial test.

As for what you say Mr. Needham did with this player who had bought one of his violins, well, it does not sound like the maker we all respect greatly now. Perhaps Mr. Needham could comment on that because I know nothing of it.

It is interesting, however, that one of your arguments is that one violin does not mean much (the Pepsi challenge thing, etc.) and yet you harp on this one Needham violin that you say is not much, when so many have come on here to tell you how great his instruments are!You reject the testament of many, and instead keep going back to this one violin that you say is not good. And then you argue that we should not do this blind test because we would olny be comparing one istrument from each maker. Interesting.

February 25, 2007 at 03:10 PM · raymond, in your very first post, you had some description of sound that i find fascinating, if not entertaining. though some may have benefited from inflated real estate like you, few would have the priviledge to really amass finer violins and put them to the test by flooring them with gusto.

i wonder, for our enlightenment, and for my education beyond "sweet" and "dark", if you would kindly explain some of the terms you have used. i am particularly interested to hear what you mean by the following terms:

1. "presence"

2. "a lot of guts"

3. "thick"

4. "complex" vs "color".

5 the boring one,,,"power"


February 25, 2007 at 03:04 PM · I have known Howard for 15 years, and the image of him stiffing on a trade of one of his earlier violins doesn't square with my experience. I can relate a very similar story that debunks what is being claimed:

About six months ago I had a stand partner here in New York who I discovered had a shop violin made by Howard while training and working at Esty's in DC. It was probably one of his first instruments. The violin was a typical workshop/apprentice example modelled on the shop standard, complete with Esty's garish, hard varnish. When I next ran into Howard I told him about coming across the violin, whereupon he said that he would be willing take it in on trade at far above the instrument's resale value (I believe it was far beyond double, but don't quote me). This was right about the time he had returned from New Mexico, having greatly refined his whole approach to instrument building.

As a student I traded several violins with Howard, and he always put forth an honest effort to make any deal work. I also got to see how is instruments have evolved over the years--and his current work, which has taken a leap since his time in New Mexico, is truly outstanding.

Since I was a student I've gotten to know many many dealers and makers. Howard is still one that I would include in the top tier of ethical and gracious businessmen.


February 25, 2007 at 05:27 PM · Raymond,

You are misunderstanding much of what I keep trying to tell you.

Personally, I like fiddles, old and new.

It has been my experience that most people when they are shopping, prefer old ones and there are those who want new ones but that sound old (which is rare). Or they want a great fiddle but under 5K.

From the begining of this thread I have told you that the way you look at it is rather naive.

I am glad there are players who find wonderful instruments that they feel are for them. That is what it's about.

To keep going on & on that one maker is better than Guad, Gagliano and better than everyone is unrealistic. Hence my posts.

Like I said, there are many excellent makers today.

And I am fully confident that the fiddles we compared here, would prove my point about your fiddle.

The older fiddles that we compared with the moderns, are well played in concert instruments.

That is just reality. I admire your enthusiasm but find your ranting and raving "misplaced".

You are the one making grand statements about beating a Guad, Storioni, Gagliano.

I simply pointed out to you that there could have been some variables that made your test inconclusive.

Mind you, there are many makers who can make a loud violin these days.

Loud is not the only criteria for professional players. And if HN had an epiphany around the year 2000 (by going to New Mexico), what about the makers that had the same epiphany 20 + years earlier?

As far as the Needham fiddle here in town, perhaps you can tell the maker to deal with it. That would make the owner feel better.

And BTW Raymond,

Why would he (HN) tell you about his business transactions?

February 25, 2007 at 06:42 PM · "...and better than everyone...."

When did he say that?

What sounds more unrealistic to me is the the presumption that older=well-played in=better concert instrument. Or that nothing can surprass the Gagliano family's work (which, in many instances, is not first rate to begin with).

"As far as the Needham fiddle here in town, perhaps you can tell the maker to deal with it. That would make the owner feel better."

That's uncalled for.

"And BTW Raymond,

Why would he (HN) tell you about his business transactions?"

Why would you (GF) go on a board and post his (HN) business in the first place?


February 25, 2007 at 07:19 PM · both you and Raymond have a hard time believing.

"I have known Howard for 15 years, and the image of him stiffing on a trade of one of his earlier violins doesn't square with my experience."

Raymond keeps pushing the envelope by making grand statements, and pressing my buttons.

Hence my posts.

There is nothing bad in what I have said.

I have stated that there is one of his fiddles here for sale. Then you guys have a hard time believing. Then I said how the fiddle compared, you had a hard time believing.

I have nothing against HN. I simply pointed out the "validity" of Raymonds test from the start.

February 25, 2007 at 06:25 PM · Hi, I don't post much on this site but I'd like to say one thing about moderns:

I own a N.Gagliano(which an "OLD" violin) and now it's on consignment ever since I bought the Greiner I'm using right now 3 months ago.

I've chosen my Greiner

over MANY great old AND modern italians;

and incl. 2 Vuillaumes(1 Vuillaume was played by Kavakos when he was on a tour so it wasn't a low-grade Vuillaume).

I want to be clear that I also tried 6 Greiners and I only happened to like mine and one of my close friend's Greiner. Just like all Strads aren't amazing, all moderns by the same maker are very different too.

I'd like to add at least for me, money was not

the issue. I was originally looking for fiddles around $300-350k, almost endeded up buying an incredible Goffriller with bad papers and fortunately enough, ended up buying the Greiner after trial for 2 days.

Therfore, I TOTALLY agree with Raymond Paul that some moderns sound just ridiculously good, topping quality old or new italian violins.

February 25, 2007 at 07:13 PM · Gennady,

I now are good friends with one of players at this playing in Los Angeles. She tell that moderns were honestly as good as Raymond Paul tell, really true of Needham violin. She think Neehdam vioin best she ever play.

I tell her read your comments. She tell she very upset because you seem tell that all these violinist who were there no nothing.

one more thing: you tell you only tell these bad insults because Raymond Paul "pushed your buttond," right (pravda?) It is like tell devil made me do it! Right?

you do not want to make commitment Raymond askinf for, and you take not responsibility for you blaming him for what u tell.

I contact Raymond today seeing if I can come to Orange County to playing this Needham (only 45 munites away) and I tell what I think later.

Gennady....just reading all of thread again.....most your words came BEFORE Raymond say OK to your challenge. He was gentleman before you say words, only after he tell OK to you challenge.

Be owner of what you tell!

February 25, 2007 at 07:13 PM · Gennady,

I now are good friends with one of players at this playing in Los Angeles. She tell that moderns were honestly as good as Raymond Paul tell, really true of Needham violin. She think Neehdam vioin best she ever play.

I tell her read your comments. She tell she very upset because you seem tell that all these violinist who were there no nothing.

one more thing: you tell you only tell these bad insults because Raymond Paul "pushed your buttond," right (pravda?) It is like tell devil made me do it! Right?

you do not want to make commitment Raymond askinf for, and you take not responsibility for you blaming him for what u tell.

I contact Raymond today seeing if I can come to Orange County to playing this Needham (only 45 munites away) and I tell what I think later.

Gennady....just reading all of thread again.....most your words came BEFORE Raymond say OK to your challenge. He was gentleman before you say words, only after he tell OK to you challenge.

Be owner of what you tell!

February 25, 2007 at 07:32 PM · prishli mne email, mozhem pogovorit.

If you re-read what I have stated, it means that the test he performed could be inconclusive due to the many variables I have described.

I think that people like Burgess and Darnton would agree.

BTW Baek Kim,

Congratulations to you.

February 25, 2007 at 08:11 PM · Also, my apologies to HN if I have stirred some emotions.

It has become a heated debate over semantics, data and criteria of certain tests.

February 25, 2007 at 08:36 PM · What an interesting discussion this is! I would like to share my experience with Howard Needham and his instruments.

I first met Howard in the late 1990s when I lived not far from him in Maryland and brought my violin (made in 1995 by a highly celebrated contemporary European maker) in to him for adjustment. His work was always of the highest caliber.

Early in 2000, when Howard was preparing to move to Arizona, he offered to let me try out a viola he had completed in 1999. It was a very fine instrument, and I wound up purchasing it to replace the student-quality German viola I'd had for two decades.

I was out of touch with Howard while he lived in Arizona and did not know until early 2006 that he'd moved back to Maryland. In March of 2006, he came to my house with a viola he'd completed late in 2005. When I played it side-by-side with his 1999 viola, its richness of tone, projection, and ease of playing all blew away those of the older one. It was clear that Howard's instrument-making skills had taken a great leap forward. Understandably, he was protective of the details of what had changed, but the change was palpable. I immediately ordered a new violin from Howard, a del Gesu model.

While I was waiting for it to be built, I had the opportunity to borrow a new Strad model from him for a week while Howard was adjusting my European violin. (I think the Strad model is the same violin that was involved in the test that launched this thread.) The sound was extraordinary, especially in the fullness of its overtones. That same month (April 2006), I had the opportunity to play on the Strad model again at the Library of Congress' instrument makers show in Washington, D.C., and I also had the chance to try an instrument that Zyg had (according to the label) made for Joshua Bell. I did not get to play them side-by-side, and the cavernous room in which the show was being held was pretty noisy. So it was not even close to a controlled comparison. Nonetheless, I liked the Needham violin at least as much as the Zyg and more than any other instrument in the room that I tried.

My Needham violin was ready in July 2006, and when I picked it up in Annapolis, I realized very quickly that I was working far too hard to get a sound out of it. When I lightened up, its projection improved. I performed on it at a small venue in Maryland the very next day. Howard came to the hall and adjusted the instrument both before and after I’d performed. His instruments are very sensitive to small adjustments, more so than any other violin I've played on, but when everything is in adjustment, the sound quality of the instrument is unparalleled. I think that instruments that have less to offer are less sensitive to adjustments.

As to comparisons with other makers’ instruments, I have not had the breadth of exposure of many others who have contributed to this forum. I would love to witness or hear a recording from the play-off that has been proposed here, and I would gladly submit my Needham violin as a participant. However, let me say that I had an early 20th century Romeo Antoniazzi violin for several years, and I prefer the far more vibrant sound of Howard’s.

After playing on my new violin for several months, I was fortunate enough to be in a position to purchase the 2005 viola that had inspired my purchase of the violin. Howard took his 1999 viola in trade.

I am heartened learn that independent trials of Howard Needham’s instruments alongside those of other makers have affirmed my judgment of their superiority—something that my ears do for me every day.

February 25, 2007 at 10:20 PM · I've been travelling for the last few days and have been greatly entertained by this exchange from my hotel room...

Granted, it was when I was so bored that I actually figured out how to use the TV internet thing... Gennady, if I were you, I'd just set this up and do it. You brag about all your celebrity friends and all the soloists you're on a first name basis with. I'm sure you could get "Pinky" and say, "Yulek" to be the official violin players.

I don't disbelieve that you find makers like Fiorini and Sgarabotto to be superior to modern makers, but that does not follow with what many other professionals have told me. Many modern italians it seems, has this thing where they're quite loud and bright, and have some nice colours, but aren't complete violins. Now when you compare that to these modern makers who benefit from modern technology and telecommunication and an unprecedented amount of resources, added to the fact that unlike many modern italians (like the one you mentioned), they do NOT make personal models but rather frighteningly accurate copies of the violins pretty much everyone agrees to be superior, then you can see why I doubt that your modern italians are outdoing the best american modern instruments, and someone like Greiner.

I know I'm not that great, but I do like to think I have a somewhat decent ear, and after having tried like 10 gazzilion Bisiach, Scarampella, Fiorini, Poggi etc... I've come to the conclusion that a good one from that lot is a rarity whereas a lot of modern makers manage to make a very good instrument. I will grant you that I personally do not know how well these things will do overtime, but then again, I don't really think that some of these 100-40 year old Italians are that much to get excited about, unless of course you're a dealer.

Even though I think you are quite often full of it, I do respect the fact that you are a great player in what will probably be the nation's next big time orchestra, and I respect your expertise in instruments, which is why I'd be very curious to see how all of these modern italians sound. Mainly because I've rejected so many of them, and would like to know whether or not I'm crazy.

Raymond has made an offer, and concurs with you that it has to be as controlled an experiment as possible. What's holding you back?

February 25, 2007 at 11:54 PM · Just one little question, what is the average price for a commission from Needham? On his website, it doesn't say, but I'm really curious. Oh, and how about Greiner, Borman, Zyg, and other great modern makers?

If the price range for these instruments are significantly lower than an "old" might be worth it to check it out...but imo, I have to agree with Gennady that if a modern is selling for, lets say 50k and Up, I would definetely buy a late 19th or early 20th century violin as a low-risk investment.

Anyway, so does anyone know the average commisioned instrument's price from these modern makers? Or are we not allowed to discuss such terms?

February 26, 2007 at 12:14 AM · Hi Patrick,

For Greiners,I bought mine last year(Nov) priced at 27,000Euros= $35,000.

I was told that I was the last one to buy a Greiner at this price(probably he'll charge a couple thousand more from this year I guess).


I second Pieter on the modern Italian makers.

I was NEVER satisfied with makers like Poggi,

Bisiach, etc. since the sound was very, how

should I say, annoying? It had no magic, colors,

but some raw(not refined) projection which I find it to be unattractive. Maybe it would be good for pieces by Stockhausen or extremely modern music.

I'd like to see the results of Gennady Filimonov's modern Italian against Raymond Paul's modern violins since Mr. Filimonov seems to have some "rare" modern Italian.


Does Mr.Needham antique his violins as well? I was just wondering since all of his fiddles from his site look very new. Thanks

February 26, 2007 at 12:52 AM · Last year, Howard Needham was charging $17,000 for his violins. And he prefers to antique them, although he will make instruments without doing so.

As to the modern Italian makers, there are those who believe that once the guild system of Cremona was destroyed by Napoleon in the late 1700s, the secrets of the great Cremonese masters were lost. In this view, subsequent makers using 'Cremona' to brand their instruments have been trading on the reputations of the great masters without necessarily being able to produce instruments of comparable quality.

One question about Needham's instruments that has not been raised in this forum is ... what is it about the way they are made that makes their sound so special? What does Howard know that other makers may not know?

February 26, 2007 at 01:15 AM · Just got back from playing another concert....

I am happy to do such a thing in Seattle.

BTW Baek Kim,

Since you do not know my instruments and the ones belonging to colleagues here, I would not presume (by insulting early 20th century Italians).

If you are happy spending 35K on a Greiner, be my guest.

I am not going to go around in circles explaining the flaw of Raymonds test.

I have stated what my experience has been when people are looking for a new instrument:

"Some people like only old. Some would love to have old but cannot afford it. And some want the best for their budget. Thank goodness there are excellent new instruments."

If there are those who disagree, we can agree to disagree...


If you are planning a trip to Seattle any time soon, feel free to call. You can try some of the fiddles that have been discussed.

It seems that according to some here, that one cannot find a good fiddle from the time of death of Del Gesu and the birth of the new school of 21 century.

Wow, that is quite a theory!

A friend of mine managed to win 3rd prize at Queen Elizabeth competition with a Gennaro Gagliano (Ex-Zimbalist) fiddle.

H. Hahn, manages to make her career on a Vuillaume etc.

There is no shortage of good instruments having been made in the past, and that are made in the present and no doubt will be made in the future.

But when some moderns are sky-rocketting in price of 35K and above, some prefer to look at older fiddles.

Again,that has been my experience.

Aaron Rosand, still enjoys his Poggi fiddle. Which he used interchangebly in lessons with his Kohansky Del Gesu.


you are welcome to come to Seattle anytime.

February 26, 2007 at 01:11 AM · No one said you can't get a good fiddle between the 18th C and now... Don't compare Vuillaume or Lupot to Rocca, Pressenda, and especially not to modern italians.

Saying that someone won QE on a Gagliano... wow... I feel so sorry for this person! What an awful thing to have to play on a Gennaro Gagliano (isn't Gennaro one of the more rare, finer family members)?

Hey, I believe Yura Lee won the Mozart on a Terry Boreman.

I just don't think modern italians are very good. They used to own models, and the modern schools of mantua, milan, venice etc... are not appealing to me. I feel very stupid I for falling for one such violin, which I thought was good at the time. I've tried modern italians at many of the major shops in NYC and other places, so I'm sure I'm playing on good examples of well set up violins.

I'd just be quite interested in seeing a comparison of the two. Afterall, the conventional wisdom is that italians do it better than anyone else, and the market still reflects this to an extent. I'll offer one last anecdote... I owned a Gia Batta Morassi... probably one of the biggest names of living Italian makers. He's the head of the school in Cremona, and his violins are pretty pricey. I couldn't even compare this violin to the work of someone like Denis Cormier right here in town.

I'm not going to start insulting you Gennady and goading you into something you don't really want to do. At this point though I just wish that someone could put something together so that we can begin to track the progress and quality of violin making over the centuries.

February 26, 2007 at 02:20 AM · Pieter I will refrain from insulting you as well but since you have joined the discussion, have you really read what is being said here?

We are discussing Comparing moderns with early 20th century Italians as well as some Vuillaume's.

I suggested a Lupot and many others, since Raymond is so sure that his fiddle is the definitive reincarnation of the Golden Age.

Again despite your insolence, you are still invited here to try some of these fiddles that we have discussed.

Howard, if you are reading this, I would be very happy to try your fiddle, I am always interested in trying new fiddles.


Enjoy the Oscars tonight. Shall we place our bets now?!

February 26, 2007 at 03:49 AM · Who can deny the romance of the violin? A Stradivari, a Guarneri Del Gesu, or a even a Gagliano, or a Guad... There are plenty of old violins that did not cut it and have been relegated to the attics of history. But certain makers have stood the test of time and there is a magic, romance, if you call it, that a mere modern mortal cannot eclipse. Looking at purely economics, I would say the market values them accordingly, no matter how we argue. Ciao!

Maybe we should take a poll:

If you were offered as a gift one of the following, which one would you pick:

a. Stradivari (any one)

b. Guarneri (any one)

c. Needham (any one)

d. Bellini (any one)

e. Greiner (any one)

f. Zyg (any one)

For each player who says that they like a particular modern maker better than their Guarneri or Strad, would they sell me their Guarneri or Strad for less than the list price of their particular modern maker?

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