Printer-friendly version
The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Strad or del Gesù?

July 3, 2009 at 11:00 PM

Earlier this week, Philippe Quint confessed to being a Strad man, and that got me thinking: Strad or Guarneri del Gesù?

The "Stradivarius" label is the famous one, it graces so many knock-offs, and Stradivari is the one violin maker that is known by both musicians and people in the general public -- musical Muggles -- like my Mom. (Hi Mom!) But the del Gesù has captured the imaginations of so many artists; this just can't be denied.

Guarneri del Gesùs have the general reputation of being more sonorous than Strads but less finely crafted. They also are rarer, simply because del Gesù was less prolific than was Stradivari, who kept making fiddles (some 1,000 of them) up until he died at the age of 93. (del Gesù lived only half as long -- to the age of 46). The Stradivari Society estimates there are approximately 135 del Gesùs left in existence, compared to 650 Stradivari instruments.

Here is a list of some violinists who currently play Strads: Joshua Bell plays the 1713 "Gibson ex Huberman" Stradivarius; Janine Jansen plays the 1727 "Barrere" Strad; Gil Shaham plays the 1699 "Comtesse de Polignac" Strad...there are many more, and please feel welcome to mention these artists below.

Perhaps the most famous Strad is the Messiah -- considered such a fine specimen that it is not to be played!

And here are some violinists who currently play on del Gesùs: Rachel Barton Pine plays the 1742 “ex-Soldat” del Gesù; Midori plays the 1734  "ex-Huberman" del Gesù; Vadim Repin plays on the 1736 “Von Szerdahely” del Gesù. Again, feel free to add to this least, it is by no means complete.

Pinchas Zukerman plays a 1742 del Gesù, and last year he test drove another one, made in 1741, and bought for a record-breaking $3.9 million by Moscow lawyer Maxim Viktorov.

The most famous del Gesù is Il Cannone which was Paganini's favorite instrument, so named because of its powerful sound. In 1837 Paganini gave the fiddle to his native city of Genoa, where it still resides and is played once a month, and on special occasions.

Jascha Heifetz, if you are curious, had several Strads and a del Gesù: he owned the 1714 "Dolphin" Strad, the 1731 "Piel" Strad, the 1736 Carlo Tononi, and the 1742 "ex David" del Gesù. It is said that he preferred the del Gesù kept until his death.

So which would you vote for? And please, tell us why. What do you like about the sound? About the craftsmanship? Have you played either kind, and what have been your impressions?


From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 3, 2009 at 11:45 PM

I want The Soil or The Auer.  But...

From Steven Albert
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 12:01 AM


You'll have to arm wrestle Itzhak Perlman for the Soil.  Don't know who has the Auer

On the off chance that I win the lottery or some fabulously weathly patron is dying to have me play on such a fabulous instrument ... I'd take just about anything by either of them.  I wouldn't turn my nose up at an Amati either ...


From Royce Faina
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 12:11 AM

I would love to test drive both!  According to those who know, a Del Gesu is suppose to be a wee bit smaller than a strad.  I have big fingers and so would probobly go with a Strad.

From Michael Divino
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 12:46 AM

del Gesu... because it's the underdog!

From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 2:15 AM

I have played (for minutes at a time) Srads and del Gesu. With such limited experience it is rather pretentious to answer this question but  I think I prefer Strad. The treble is brighter and they respond to my training of "no bow pressure" better.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 5:29 AM

I think one can judge how it sounds, if you've heard both kinds of instruments played. How it sounds is, ultimately, the point. Of course, I'm interested in how they play, as well, if anyone can share that experience!

From Liviu Prunaru
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 10:35 AM

Hello everyone,

I was a Guarneri type until last year when I was offered a Strad, 1694 "Pachoud" by Concertgebouw Orchestra... and my whole world changed! It seems like my possibilities just tripled and whenever I take back pieces I played in the past, they just seem totally different on this violin. Or it could be that all these scales are finally paying off?! :-)

Greetings from Amsterdam~



Posted on July 4, 2009 at 12:09 PM

when I viewed the Strads at the Smithsonian Museum in D.C. I cried...not sobbing mind you, but none the less in total awe to be even allowed to be that close to genius. This is just so "out there"...I would not be picky at all. I'd even pay for the new strings...LOLLLLLL

From Graham Clark
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 12:23 PM

My vote was for del Gesu, solely on how they look - Strad has that proper and correct classical look that is extremely well crafted and clean, developed from Amati, while del Gesu is more romantic, seems to have more spontaneity, and, to my eye, has his roots in Brescia rather than Cremona. Much more funk in a del Gesu

Strad is Bordeaux, del Gesu is Burgundy

When it comes to sound, you have to take each instrument (rather than maker) on its individual merits. The two del Gesus I tried last year sounded so different frm each other that you would not believe that the same man had made them both.


From Royce Faina
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 2:01 PM

I played a copy of a Amati in college and I prefer it's sound and feel than the Strad copies.  I also had the honor playing a real Amati when I lived in Houston.  A luthire named Jim Scoggans had one for sale in his shop.  I worked for H&H Music at the Old Katy Freeway store where he had his shop.

It would be neat if there was a Blog asking if anyone ever played an Amati and what your thoughts are?  Save any comments for an Amati blog.

If I had the opportunity to own either I would!  My preference is strictly mechanical due to my fingers.  I think I recall Isaac Stern played a Del Gesu and his playing was/is acid sweet!  So, Strads arnt the only violins out there!

From Graham Clark
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 4:12 PM

Liviu, is your Strad quite big? 1694 was towards the end of the "Long Strad" experimental period, and some of those fiddles were over 360 mm in the back. Beautiful, though.


From Barry Nelson
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 4:56 PM

wouldnt mind playing the Messiah for a few rounds

From Brian Lee
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 5:09 PM

My violin teacher used to be a regular violin demo-er at Christie's... and he claims that all the Stradivarius-es he's ever played were generally better than the del Gesu-ses.  He's also played the Ruby Stradivarius, and claims that it was phenomenal.

He used to play on a Vuillaume, and now plays on a funny little wooden box which many experts identify as a Guarnerius.  Oddly, when Maxim Vengerov tried it (the purported Guarnerius currently owned by my teacher)  he instantly fell in love with it, and whenever he played with my teacher's orchestra from then on, he kept begging to have it.  He was twelve.

From Elana Lehrer
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 6:03 PM

 Whoever said that you have to go by instrument is right.  There are huge varieties (haha, not that I'd know from owning a whole slew of them, but from hearing them...).  Some of the best sounds I've heard came from a del gesu.... but still, how can I conclude anything from that?  One thing I find interesting, and this could be a coincidence, is that there are a few times (3, actually) I hear someone play, and I think, woah, they're GOOD.  Usually musical to an almost unearthly point and gorgeous tone.... and in those cases, it happened to be an Amati.  Also, those 3 musicians all reminded me of one another in how they expressed themselves.  So I also have to wonder if the Amati actually shapes the phrasing... and if they sound like each other merely because of musical temperament, or because they all play Amatis.

Sort of related.... someone (I forget who, sorry) recently posted an old clip of 4 violins being played at close range.  In that test, the Strad to me sounded hands-down the best.  But that means nothing, cause they need to be heard further away and in a larger hall....


From David Beck
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 8:05 PM

 Interesting sub-thread developing, Liviu and Graham Clark. The Hallé orchestra, (England) had the loan of a Long-Pattern Strad (about 1692, I think) for the use of the concertmasters, but they didn't like playing it much. Great sound, but difficult to produce, rather like playing a viola. The del Gesù type of violin typically requires robust playing, too, they say, and the most recent player I encountered who was playing a del Gesù felt the need to use a heavy bow.

One man in that orchestra actually OWNED a superb Grand Amati, Nicolò. A well-wooded instrument but light in weight, it was the type of violin that was the prototype for the best Strads after about 1704. I think an Amati like this would be pretty much unbeatable. 

Personally I favour the Guarneri type of violin, but cannot quite raise the cash to get a real one !

From J Fisher
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 11:16 PM

del Gesù!! All the way!

I'd die for the richness, and the supposed darkness of a del Gesù. My teacher played Kogan's del Gesù, and was then loaned a few years later a strad.

He said the del Gesù was much harder to play on, but by the end of getting used to it, he could 'unlock' so to speak so much depth, it was like the instrument kept giving more and more and more, and could create so many different colors and had this, this, it's own musical soul to it.

The strad was powerful and brillant, but he felt that it was more limited, unlike the limit-less feeling of the del Gesù.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on July 4, 2009 at 11:49 PM

Obviously it would be nice to have one of each, but my mom always said that greedy girls always end up getting nothing at all, so maybe not a good idea!   I think I'd be tempted to go for the del Gesù in preference to a Strad.  There's one in particular that I really adore the sound of and that's currently played by Nigel Kennedy - a gorgeous and stunning instrument.  I've yet to hear a del Gesù that doesn't grab me with its sound, but I have heard several Strads that really left me quite unimpressed.


Must check these Lottery numbers...!

Posted on July 5, 2009 at 12:06 AM

I met Uto Ughi in the dressing room just after a concert and he showed me his Hill double case with a Strad and a Del Gesù, he would play one or the other depending on the acoustics of the concert room. 

Some players started as Strad players and eventually turned to Del Gesù, Menuhin is an example, I think. 

From Graham Clark
Posted on July 5, 2009 at 1:30 AM

Hi David Beck,

My father was a double bass repairer n Manchester. Back in the mid 80's, through working on basses owned by Halle players, he got to know Martin Milner, who was the Halle's leader at that time. Mr Milner brought that Strad round to our house for me to try. This would have been around 1983/4

My memories of it were that it played very beautifully on the A and E strings, especially in the upper registers, but first position on the G string was thin. I don't remember the D string.

I do remember that when Martin tried my fiddle, he hardly played the G at all, and only really worked it in higher positions. That made an impression on me.


From David Beck
Posted on July 5, 2009 at 4:54 AM

" I do remember that when Martin tried my fiddle, he hardly played the G at all, and only really worked it in higher positions. That made an impression on me."

I remember Martin giving a very different treatment to other violins he tried - usually pulling as much sound as possible from the lower end. One early writer described the Del Gesù sound as being of maximum brilliance on the A and E but the G being dry as an almond. It's been suggested that those long-pattern Strads were the precursors of that sort of thing, a position Strad withdrew from. The lower strings of the Del Gesù instrument apparently need harder work than Strads, and I remember an amateur player having difficulty "producing" the G string on a fine Guarneri copy in Francesco Bissolotti's workshop !

Martin borrowed the Grand Amati I mentioned to play the solos at a recording session of Sibelius 6. The violin Hills lent him when his own was in for repair, and that seemed OK in the shop, wasn't up to it in this real-life situation (as often happens !). Anyone really interested could track down the CD.

Whatever happened to the Magginis ? According to Hills, they out-performed the Strads for power and brilliancy, and were popular during the 19th. Century. Many copies were made. Barry Griffiths was VERY successful on a Vuillaume/Maggini when leading the BBC Northern Orchestra. Authenticity being all the rage, with orchestras using valveless horns and trumpets where appropriate, there have to be situations in which the Maggini model would be apt (especially some 19th.century solo stuff), yet few makers make this now. I think this a pity.

From Jeff Terflinger
Posted on July 5, 2009 at 4:35 PM

What is the violin Gidon Kremer uses on his, Back to Bach D.V.D. ?


From Kylie Svenson
Posted on July 7, 2009 at 12:10 AM

Jeff - I'm not sure which instrument he uses in that particular recording, but Kremer currently plays on a Jon van Kowenhoven and a 1641 Amati.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Starling-DeLay Symposium
Starling-DeLay Symposium

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine