Nagyvary violins

December 2, 2006 at 04:42 AM · Hi all,

I know this is a controversial subject and I hesitate to open such a large can of worms, but I am curious. Has anyone here played on a violin by Joseph Nagyváry, or heard one played by someone they know well? I have heard wildly conflicting reports as to the sound quality and playability of these fiddles and I'm looking for at least a sliver of ground truth. I don't want this to turn into a flame war, and I'm not really looking for a big discussion over whether modern science has a place in the ancient art of violin making, nor do I want a debate over whether Mr. Nagyváry himself is a genius or a crackpot. :) I would just like to hear some about the violins themselves, on their own merits or lack thereof. I'm just curious! :)

Replies (99)

December 2, 2006 at 04:56 AM · He is a very passionate fellow.

But he has been talking about same findings for the last 25 years.

Since then, with the fiddles and major findings by Curtin & Alf, Zyg. and many more great makers, Nagy's "ab-solved mystery" didn't mean much to the real makers. It was known that he would get instruments in the white and treat them with his "secret" recipe.

It is no wonder that his stuff didn't really catch on.

December 2, 2006 at 12:50 PM · One thing that can be said with absolute certainty about the man and his instruments is that he has a wonderful ability to get himself publicity. Although on reflection, that probably says as much about the media as it does about Nagyvary.


December 2, 2006 at 01:12 PM · Gennady, it's not the "same" findings every time. What I can remember so far as his latest "The Secret of the Cremonese" are:

--Shrimp shell varnish

--Gemstone varnish

--Microbe-eaten, floated wood


--whatever today's "discovery" is--reports from my friends who've read the actual research seem indefinite as to whether the real study (not the ignorant and breathless news reports about it) had any hypothesis or conclusions at all, and based on his previous work, I'm not about ready to shell out $30 to read it online to find out. This year's announcement may or may not be the presence or non presence of potassium silicate, something which Sacconi was promoting 40 years ago that has turned out to be not very helpful.

Someone should make a "The Physicist Who Cried 'Wolf' " page listing all of his studies so that this discussion doesn't have to happen repeatedly, forever, on a four-year cycle.

I did play one of the first of his violins, 20+ years ago. It was one of the worst violins I've ever played, and the magic varnish was a very unattractive opaque tan color. The person had bought it as one of the best being made, and was in the process of trying to make it live up to its reputation by having various shops work on it. Given that none of his treatments are probably tonally harmful, if he has found someone competent to make his violins now (he doesn't make them himself), they should sound relatively OK--It's not too hard to make an adequate violin, as many other makers have already demonstrated.

December 2, 2006 at 04:04 PM · Phew, good to know. :) I had my suspicions...

December 2, 2006 at 06:05 PM · Shrimp shell varnish? Wow! Was the shrimp cooked or not? The shell would look different before and after being cooked. :-)

December 2, 2006 at 06:37 PM · It's always amusing to read about people who claim to have discovered the secret of Italian instruments and man has Nagyvari claimed it many times!

Why can't people accept that the sound of Stradivari and del Gesú is the result of geniuses at play.

Consider that in Cremona these two people benefitted from being 4th and 6th generation of closely interwowen making families. Stradivari benefitted from accumulated knowledge from 3 generations of Amati's and del Gesú from that plus two generations of Guarneri.

On top of this knowledge of selecting wood and what exactly to do with a specific piece of wood they had good ideas to bring forward instrument making. This is why their work sounds so good. What is amazing is not that some of their instruments sound good but the majority.

I don't believe that they had a secret, they were just the best by being on top of this development. On top of that the violins have matured through centuries of playing.

Why doen't anyone try to find Michelangelo or da Vinci's secret? It seem that in paintings and sculptures we can accept the genius but not in the violin.

I have read some of these articles claiming to have found the secret and I give them zero credit.

December 2, 2006 at 07:15 PM · "Someone should make a "The Physicist Who Cried 'Wolf' " page listing all of his studies so that this discussion doesn't have to happen repeatedly, forever, on a four-year cycle."

That should be "The Biochemist who Cried 'Wolf'." He's not a physicist (there's a large difference in thinking style, which is generally a good thing.)

I read the Nature article -- it's short and I can forward it to anyone who is interested. Basically Nagyvary and his collaborators did some chemical analysis of wood from a few old instruments (Italian, French, and English) and some new wood and found some chemical differences between a Strad and del Gesu violin and the other samples. There's no convincing evidence presented for what caused the chemical differences, and their effect on acoustic properties is unknown. There is no evidence for a potassium silicate treatment.

As a side note on Nagyvary, I find it striking that if you look on his webpage, he claims to adjust his instruments so that they resemble the properties of good old instruments, but if you look at the prominently displayed sound spectra for his violin and a Strad (only on one note, admittedly) they don't look very similar at all.

December 2, 2006 at 08:49 PM · I've played on one of his violins, actually, pretty recently, it really wasn't that great at all, definately nothing special, certainly not anywhere near the quality of a stradivarius! But, a friend of mine played on one of his cellos a few years back and said he loved it, it was a great instrument.

Here's what I think, I live pretty close to this guy and when I was buying my instrument Nobody suggested Nagyvary. In fact, the amount of times I've even heard this guys name come up is so few, especially considering I live an hour away from the guy. I just think if his instruments did sound like strads don't you think everyone would be running to get themselves one?

December 2, 2006 at 09:11 PM · way overated...

December 2, 2006 at 11:25 PM · if you cry wolf enough times, there may be a buyer. in this case, Nature. what will be interesting to see are the readers' responses if Nature chooses to print them:)

Nature is a respected journal but has experienced its share of embarassment couple years ago dealing with scam artists.

December 3, 2006 at 12:04 AM · Yes, but I'm not convinced that Mr. Nagyvary is deliberately setting out to trick people--he seems more like an earnest, sincere mad scientist who is convinced of the importance and validity of what he's doing, despite the fact that to the rest of the world it looks pretty loopy. :) History is full of these types, I usually find them harmless and amusing. :)

December 3, 2006 at 12:41 AM · time to subscribe to both Strad and Nature from now on:)

December 3, 2006 at 01:21 AM · Maura,

That sounds like Ramsfeld felt that he was under under-stood. Maybe Bush and Cheney felt themselves were in the same shoe as well--We did find the WMD... :-)

December 3, 2006 at 01:34 AM · Vivian,

I'm talking about oddball scientists, not whiny, imperialist political creeps. The reason mad scientists like Nagyvary are harmless and amusing is nobody dies or gets their country blown to smithereens when someone repeatedly declares to have solved the secret of Strad.

December 3, 2006 at 12:09 PM · in an era where people can identify polonium-210 it is rather anticlimatic to conclude that the tested strads/de gesu are chemically different from the current naked counterparts. at least, tickle me, are the chemicals similar or identical between the strads and the de gesu? some good sci-fi writing material right here. from science or whatever you call it, we shall leap into Hollywood! buckle up!

it begs the question how and if the Nature peer reviwers call into the question that if someone builds a career in one direction, how it is possible to come up with another finding. too bad science has not caught up with the concept of a witness relocation program to allow people to come clean until usually too late.

time to crack open couple amatis, shall we? where did the golden secret come from?

did antonio really got lazy and lucky and used a violin as a handy urinal in one dark, stormy night? Ahh, could be CON2H4 after all.

ps. the above musing has taken into consideration of the rationale that chemicals have nothing to do with sound production until proven otherwise.

December 3, 2006 at 03:44 PM · *sigh*...I guess it was futile to hope this wouldn't turn into a giant philosophical debate...

December 3, 2006 at 08:39 PM · maura, i apologize now i have reread your first post in which you have made it very clear your interest of discussion. sorry!:)

December 4, 2006 at 06:18 PM · Has anyone taken the challenge found at

There are 3 sets of listening examples, in which one piece is played on a Strad, and the other is played on the Nagyvary. Results are supposed to be posted on Nagyvary's site as to which is played on what, but I could not find them.

December 4, 2006 at 06:52 PM · Couldn't display the page with the listening examples. But when I searched from within SA's site for "Nagyvary" an interesting thing happened. 5 documents were found, one of which was irrelevant. The remaining ones ALL spoke of the "breakthrough" Mr. Nagyvary has made, of its novelty, of the fact that there's this Great Mystery akin to that of the Pyramids about how Strad did it so well. These articles were printed at regular, predictable, two year intervals. So here's a couple of questions for those interested in Nagyvary, and those, like Maura, interested in whether they sound good.

1) Just how many breakthroughs at regular two-year intervals do you think can be made?

2) Just how "new" is it when the same theory is touted every two years as some unprecedented brainstorm?

3) Just how probable is it that the actual manufacture of the instrument is irrelevant and that the treatment by varnish trumps any craftsmanship (or lack thereof) with the knife?

4) Just how probable is it that someone who can't take the time to learn how to MAKE a violin, but who can always find time to act as a publicity agent at, again, PREDICTABLE, organized intervals is likely to have either a terribly well-developed aesthetic sense - necessary to gauge whether the theory is borne out by acoustic facts - or likely to actually give a flying rat's patootie for what the fiddle SOUNDS like?

5) How disgusting is it that even niche, semi-professional media like SA is prone to the oversimplified, hyperromanticized, sensationalist, and ultimately VERDICT-FREE tripe that passes for journalism when it's time to write anything related to classical music?

December 4, 2006 at 07:07 PM · I'm afraid I may have presented myself as a gullible fool who had fallen for the publicity tricks. I'm not. I'm just as skeptical of these "breakthroughs" as the rest of you. All I wanted to know was what the instruments actually sound like.....this thread was a bad idea.

December 4, 2006 at 07:40 PM · There is no way I can believe that Nagavary's findings take precedence over model, wood selection, arching, and graduation scheme. I am baseing this on my experience of playing a lot of different violins over 38 yrs.

David Blackmon

December 5, 2006 at 12:30 AM · I know where you're coming from, Maura! I just haven't had anything to add.

December 5, 2006 at 02:17 AM · Maura, I'll try to stay mostly within the confines of your original question.

I have not yet played or heard any violins born of high-tech research which sound unusually good.

Not to say that it will never happen.........I'm always looking.

December 5, 2006 at 02:44 AM · We had a Nagyvari viola at one point and it actually had a really nice sound! It was a big one and was hard to sell for all of the reasons listed previously, but I'm sure it would've been easier to sell (just based on its sound) if it hadn't been made by him. He might be a nutcase, but I'm sure not all of his instruments are horrible.

December 5, 2006 at 03:38 AM · problem is, he doesn't make any of them! never has.

Ouch..........reality check!......he buys them in the white ready made.

Now they are probably Chinese (in the white).

December 5, 2006 at 03:48 AM · I think it's kind of funny how these people go on these scientific pilgrimages and turn out mediocre instruments, when other makers who just do it the old fashioned way turn out a vastly superior product.

I suppose you need people like Nagyvary to push the envelope, but I don't think there's this big secret to the universe in Strads... maybe it's just incredible talent.

No one's checking to see if Midori ate seashells as a little girl or if Perlman coats his fingers with Barracuda liver oil...

December 21, 2006 at 06:10 PM · So far two people speaking from actual experience, Neither are raves.

December 21, 2006 at 07:50 PM · "I suppose you need people like Nagyvary to push the envelope, but I don't think there's this big secret to the universe in Strads... maybe it's just incredible talent."

Actually, I know a violin maker, who also claimed to have found Strad's secret, but would not publically address it. However, he said without the process he could not make the violin he did.

In reality, some violin makers may discover the Strad "secret" and would not share with the world. Since the self-claimed discovery has never been exposed and examined, it is hard to say either way. Maybe time will tell.

I am not a violin maker, but from what I read, violin making is a complex process--any tiny mishaps may screw up otherwise an excellent sounding instrument. That said, the secret Nagyvary claimed to have discovered might only be the fixture of a house. If the house is poorly built, I doubt that the best fixture could save it from being ugly or falling apart.

That said, if Nagyvary is a scientist only with interest in violin, wouldn't it be a bit too harsh to expect him to build a violin, which can be on par with our revered regular posters, such as Burgess, Darnton and Netz? Even though these well-established makers did not claim that they found the "secret" (not to my knowledge at least).

January 16, 2007 at 10:33 PM · I find all of this talk about Nagyvary and "secrets" a little funny. It sort of makes me wonder, hmmm could there be a government cover up. HA, ha I can just see secret agents and professional violinists scrambling all over the place to "keep it secret, keep it safe". It's also a little confusing, because as stated on Burgesses site, why should one even bother trying to recreate another persons work. Why not just go out and create something based on your own ideas and designs, that is if they of course even have any. It is sort of sad though, I love secret conspiricies, ha like if Strad's or Del Gesu's families had some long running agreement. Mafia families have been running Italy for years, and the best violins tend to come from there. Maybe there's a little bit more of reason why the villans of the classic comic strips were always hiding their automatic weapons in instrument cases. No but seriously, Nagyvary is harmless,he's a bloody fool, but harmless. Of course, the long standing reputation of the person who's artistry is being challenged isn't around to tell anyone of what he thinks of the old dumb butt either. Hopefully however , he'll some day learn to get a clue and leave the violin making and "discoveries" to the professionals.

January 16, 2007 at 10:48 PM · Oh and one more thing this I got from an article in the blog entry, "Nagyvary, an amateur luthier, comments: "I have proven more or less that the refinement of sounds comes from a variety of chemical tricks that were not done by Stradivarius himself, but by the local drugstore that developed a manner of preserving against the wood worm." LOL AMATEUR LUTHIER and he's comparing his abilities to Stradivari, and how much of these "abilities" is he basing "more or less" on and what is there more of LMAO or less. On his web site he comments on how most of Strad's best violins were made at a later part in his life, when he was in his sixties and that considering he's 61, maybe he's finally nearing his peak, or some dumb crap like that. What the @$%*, the undiniable gall, he doesn't even make them his assistant (aka collaborator) does. I've retracted my previous statment about him being harmless, he needs to be drug out into the street and bow whipped with unrelenting force.

January 16, 2007 at 11:25 PM · Geez, there's no need to order violent physical punishment on the poor lunatic...

...Sigh. And I thought this was a dead thread...

January 17, 2007 at 02:43 AM · jesus Maura look what you started.

I hope you're happy.

January 17, 2007 at 05:36 AM · when is a hungarian ever happy?

January 17, 2007 at 06:07 AM · People calm down most of what I've said was a joke, although I still think the bow bit is a very good idea. Although there do need to be more of those classic comics featuring the weapons concealed inside the violin cases, those were cool

January 17, 2007 at 07:33 AM · I could tell you Maura, but I'd probably get in a lot of trouble.

January 17, 2007 at 04:34 PM · Pieter,

Now you've piqued my curiosity, dammit! :)

October 7, 2007 at 07:27 AM · I thought I might give my thoughts on this ...

First, the criticism leveled against Dr. Nagyvary are just as spurious as whatever claims he makes as regards to his instruments in my view. I've heard comments such as, "he's doing it for attention, publicity .. etc". However, he has not made it a secret that he wishes to start a business making and selling violins. How is a luthier supposed to be deemed "successful" if he or she toils in obscurity?

Furthermore, he's stated in numerous interviews that his instruments (that are precisely patterned after Stradivari's) are done by a computer-controlled carving machine, not made by him in the traditional sense. I think this fact should play more in the decisioning process, as some may be willing to sacrifice some of the unique acoustical properties of a Stradivarius in exchange for a violin where its creation by one maker that would give it its unique personality, whether that'd be varnish, tuning, or other characteristics. Dr. Nagyvary also stated that most concert-goers and CD listeners would not be able to tell the difference between a Stradivari and a well-made modern instrument.

In my view, I don't believe Dr. Nagyvary is a farce. There's just been too many well-respected musicians who have said favorable things about his violins. I think most of the criticism really attack him as a person rather than the instruments he creates. I think that there are those who are skeptical (which is understandable) because there have been others who have made similar claims. However, Dr. Nagyvary really sets himself apart by arranging public demonstrations of his violin vs a real Strad. So in the least, I believe that he really believes in his science.

Would I recommend his violins? No, because I haven't played them. However, if I was in a market for a high-end violin, there's no reason why I wouldn't try one of his copies, along with other well-known makers' instruments (like Alf/Curtin/Cao etc).

October 8, 2007 at 01:17 AM · I think the benefit of Nagy is that all his science proves only one thing: the genius of Stradivari and DelGesu. If anything, Nagy's work increases the value of the others. Though I may dislike the "promo" flavour of his approach to his lauds, he has inadvertently increased the knowledge base. To me, his work proves that varnish and sound have no correlation, which must be certainly an irony for him.

ALSO, forums such as these are invaluable to disclosing truths, or frauds at the least.

Proof is in the pudding. I see no violinist of any calibre playing a Nagy violin. Erin's post above says it all: he played one. My thanks to Erin for his post!!

October 8, 2007 at 02:05 AM · I've played one of his instruments, and heard it played in a large hall for an orchestra audition. Was it great? No. It had a respectable, but not memorable sound. And the varnish was quite unnattractive. There have been a few fiddles I've had the good fortune to play that I'll never forget: Pamela Frank's Del Gesu. Staryk's Strad. One of my favorites: a Pressenda. Peter Guarneri, Antoniazzi, Josef Guadanini. And many otheres. I remember listening to an audition where the fiddle was a Scarampella--great sound.

But the Nagyvary? Memorable in any way?


And even if it sounded good after being made, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will last in the hands of a working professional. Especially if, as some claim, that his instruments are purchased in the white from inexpensive sources that use unaged or less-than-top-grade wood.

October 8, 2007 at 04:20 AM · Played 1 or 2 over the years.

Didn't like and wouldn't recommend. By the way, Michael Darnton is a very good maker.


October 8, 2007 at 08:27 AM · I guess the question is, are these violins that have been played are representative of all his violins. It's interesting though because when I Googled Dr. Nagyvary I find most of the writings about him to be positive.

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I tend to believe that not of his violins measure up to the standard of the ones he uses to compare against Strads. Even his site says: "The majority of our violins fall in the $8,000-12,000 range. Occasionally, we can offer truly exceptional instruments for $15,000 to 18,000."

**Edit** I think I know the reason for the disparity between Nagyvary's violins. The violin he uses to compare against the Strads is 15 years old, and was actually made by Master Luthier, Guang Yue Chen, in his collaboration with Dr. Nagyvary. I couldn't find any other violins that were made by these two.

If anything, it proves that craftsmanship of a good luthier still plays a pivotal role in the violin's overall tone, not just the varnish. So in essence, scientific research can compliment good craftsmanship. This particular violin was used by Heifetz protege, Zina Schiff. I must say, I'm very impressed with this particular violin. You can listen to a sample of this violin by going to

Anyone care to hazard a guess which violin is played in each track? Remember, one is a real Strad, the other is the Nagyvary-chen.

October 8, 2007 at 01:11 PM · when you are the only shop in town, you have the final say...

the best one can do is to dispute what someone else does by saying, well, i think,,,

unless and until some other person comes up with solid research findings,,,

which will be easier said than done for many reasons,,,

one of which is,,,

research does not pay.

October 8, 2007 at 06:12 PM · Most of the big fuss about Dr. N was made in the 80's and early 90's, quite a while back, for what it's worth. I could be wrong but I believe Guang-Yue Chen carved the instruments back then.

Mr. Chen's instruments sell for a very reasonable 3 to 4k--but that's without the "secret sauce." I have doubts as to how much better sound you'll get with the Nagyvary treatment and varnish for the extra 5 to 15k.

I did see a Nagyvary violin sell on ebay a few years back--I think it went for 5 to 6k.

October 8, 2007 at 07:49 PM · You are correct, you can check out the violin that Mr. Chen made in collaboration with Dr. Nagyvary by checking out the link in my lost post.

I don't think that just because Nagyvary has been researching this for over 25 years should be looked at as a negative. I certainly can respect someone who has the determination that he has over such a long period of time.

October 8, 2007 at 08:17 PM · >>>>>To me, his work proves that varnish and sound have no correlation, which must be certainly an irony for him.

ALSO, forums such as these are invaluable to disclosing truths, or frauds at the least.<<<<<

I have to take this opportunity to disclose the truth about that comment about varnish. I don't know where you attained your expertise, but my opinions come from direct experience. Our shop has made the same professional model violins for close to 15 years. Same outline, same arching same bass bar, etc. Graduation on each professional grade instrument gets tweaked for optimum sound, but everything else is as close to the same as we can make it, except for one thing: the varnish system.

Over the past 15 years and more, we have been making constant, incremental improvements in the ground and varnish systems,leading to constant, incremental improvements in tone. Our instruments have gone from very good to exceptional over the intervening years, and our instruments are played by soloists and principal players around the US and in Europe.

Hope this doesn't sound like a commercial, but my point is that we have made marked improvement in the sound of our instruments almost exclusively through changes in the ground and varnish. The differences are quite apparent when you A/B two identically made instruments with different varnish systems on them.

I don't think a lot of Mr. Nagyvary myself, because I haven't seen any truly excellent instruments from him, and he seems to just be rehashing a lot of existing information. But make no mistake about it, varnish can and does make the difference between a very good instrument and an exceptional one.

October 8, 2007 at 09:19 PM · It's obvious that the varnish effects tone. You don't even have to play them. Imagine a violin unvarnished, and then later with a bar top polyurethane on it. It's going to sound different! That's extreme, but the point is that it shows you need to find some unknown point between the two. And that's just being real simplistic about it.

October 9, 2007 at 12:10 AM · Hmmmm, Nagyvary need a publicity boost? Only reason I can see for BenIvey activating this old thread.


October 9, 2007 at 12:12 AM · How incredibly scandalous... alert the IRS and the FBI!

October 10, 2007 at 01:40 AM · I wasn't aware that posting my thoughts on a relevant subject matter can be construed as giving someone publicity. Judging from the amount of hits on Google, I don't think Dr. Nagyvary needs much help from me.

Personally, I find his theory fascinating--as the mystery of Stradivari's instruments' has always intrigued me.

October 10, 2007 at 02:58 AM · My teacher played one some years ago. Let's just say that the stated source of the characteritic color was something that should have required sterilization before handling. That was one of his "discoveries".

October 11, 2007 at 07:47 PM · Carving a violin using a machine to create exact measurements that Strad used is like photocopying "Starry Night" and saying you've discovered the secret to Van Gogh's success.

October 12, 2007 at 06:21 AM · I played one of his violins with his " cockroach varnish," years ago. It sounded like an unremarkable Chinese violin, not nearly as good as a Scott Cao.

October 12, 2007 at 12:17 PM · Just cockroach? He has used more noxious substances than that.

October 13, 2007 at 02:38 AM · While I can certainly understand people's apprehension with some of the substances he's used in his experimentation with the varnish, why is this is being used against Dr. Nagyvary?

He readily admits that he has used "strange" ingredients, but that's what a scientist does, they investigate every option there is, no matter how far fetched it may be. Heck, some of our greatest inventions have been viewed as "strange" when it was first used, but now are accepted.

October 13, 2007 at 03:58 AM · I think of Nagyvary as basically a harmless mad scientist who just might end up accidentally discovering something interesting or important.

October 13, 2007 at 05:32 AM · The year was 1988 and I was studying the violin when this guy came to a college campus in my area and spoke a bit and then Zina Schiff played a recital on one of his violins.

then the audience was allowed to try out the violin. I was a teenager but found it no better than my modern instrument.

At that time, I think he was just using "higher" grade white violins and soaking them and varnishing them. I believe now he has a chinese guy making them. Perhaps they are better now.

I wish him luck and do hope that he does find the secret. Though if you excuse the pun, I hope he isn't barking up the wrong tree.

October 13, 2007 at 07:43 AM · Mara--It's already happened, actually. I recently read a draft of a forthcoming article in the VSA journal (it was posted for a while at Maestronet) which summarizes varnish research to date. The author makes the point that the basic research done by Nagyvary has produced some interesting information about Cremonese violins, although one has to sift through the headline-worthy chaff and dig in the more obscure articles to find it.

October 16, 2007 at 10:42 AM · He must be great with publicity, because I remember reading an entire feature about Navygary Violins in my high school Chemistry textbook, back before I was even a violinist.

October 16, 2007 at 12:29 PM · That's interesting. Start with the premise that it's unusual to mention a modern violin maker in a school chemistry book. For a long time Texas has had a strong voice in what goes into school books. The publishers have been accused of self-censoring so the books will be approved in Texas, and they don't publish two editions, one for Texas and one for the rest of the country. Nagyvary teaches chem/phys at Texas A&M. It might be some wheel grease. If N. doesn't participate in the selection himself, the publisher's logic might be that those making the selection would appreciate a nice tip of the hat to a Texan.

October 29, 2007 at 08:32 PM · I would like to chime in on this discussion about Dr. Nagyvary and his research regarding woods and resins. My background is in microbiology and I became aware of Dr. Nagyvary while I was a post-doc in the biochemistry department where he was a professor. As an aside, I am also a trumpet player. I think it is unfortunate that he is being characterized as a "mad scientist" as this implies that he doesn't have a clue to what he is doing. He is a very well trained natural products chemist, was carrying out research in nucleic acids when I was in his department, and was starting to work with woods used in violin manufacturer. BTW - there are scientists who carry out research in wood chemistry, resins, varnish, etc. Dr. Nagyvary is probably the first trained scientist who has applied the scientific method to the chemistry behind the sound of the violin in general, and the Stradivarius in particular. I just don't see what the problem is with this. He has received many awards for his work, including one from the American Chemical Society. He also is not a violin maker and as was pointed out, a good violin maker is needed to make a good violin. His premise is that if you apply his chemistry to a well-made violin then you will begin to obtain some of the tonal characteristics of the Stradivarius. I suggest that he be given a bit more credit for his research. At least he has put some 25-30 years of research into this and it appears that some of the secrets of old may be emerging.

December 2, 2007 at 08:03 AM · So back to the original question... yes, in early 2002 I went down to

College Station, Texas for a weekend, tried out 14 of his instruments,

visited his laboratory, took copious spreadsheet notes, and ended up

purchasing a 1991 Nagyvary. It wasn't anything to look at, but boy

did it have a sound. A couple months later I played Tchaikowsky

concerto on it with our orchestra.

Not all violins are created equal, they are individual specimens and

you hafta try a boatload if you want to get the very best. Same is

true for Nagyvary, some of his violins were definitely better than

others. I was pretty picky about the kind of sound I was looking for.

The Nagyvary I chose was loud and projected like no other violin I've

ever played, a great soloist instrument but not necessarily the best

for orchestral or chamber playing. The ring of the strings was not

"dirty", which was important to me. I've tried a lot of expensive

violins that have very dirty sustain. The violin just screamed in the

high-E string register, and high G-string did not sound like

cardboard, another important thing for me. I was also looking for a

certain "zip"... it's hard to describe, but when playing a superior

instrument, there should be a cleanliness and zip when playing fast

runs and such... they should not be muddy. The violin should speak,

and the Nagyvary most certainly did. Sorry for the intangibles, but

hopefully that helps a bit...

I have 2 engineering degrees (computer & chemical) and I can say

that Nagyvary is an earnest, dedicated scientist. I really don't

understand why he gets flamed so badly. Fly down yourself and try

his instruments before bashing him.

March 25, 2008 at 05:02 PM · I bought a Nagyvary violin in the early 1990s and have been quite pleased with it.

At the time, I looked in the larger cities in Texas and Nagyvary's was easily the best violin for the money (at that time, $6,000).

Although many of his earlier violins were unattractive (he was more interested in the sound than the look), this one is lovely.

It has at least retained its tone quality-- if not improved.

Is it as good as a Strad? I doubt it. Was it easily the best violin I could find for the money? Absolutely.

March 30, 2008 at 11:28 AM · Maura, I suggest that the only way you will be able to make an informed and realistic judgement of professor Nagyvary’s work is by paying a visit to College Station and trying some of his instruments.

What you started attracted some informed opinions both supportive and critical. Criticism from competitors is expected, it is in their vested interest to put down the opposition. I was however more than disgusted by the attempted character assassination of Dr Nagyvary by a number of uninformed, juvenile, intellectual lightweights - the worst example being Juanita Marion.

I followed the professor’s work for nearly three decades and met him on a couple of occasions. His motivation impressed me greatly. It grew out of his tremendous respect and admiration for the Cremona Masters.

I do not wish to judge the quality of his instrument as I am only a music lover not a musician or an instrument maker. I however recognise the professor’s undoubted intellect, his diligence, and his sincerity.

Finally may I quote from Jonathan Swift, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by the sign that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

Time will tell.

March 30, 2008 at 09:21 PM · What makes Guarneri and Strad violins so valuable is the fact that they can not be reproduced! I think that anyone who tries to reproduce the master art of the old Italians with computers and machines is headed completely in the wrong direction. I'm sure a few of his instruments sound really nice, but no one, in my opinion, will ever be able to recreate a Strad or a Guarneri!

April 8, 2008 at 08:19 PM · Hello everybody,

My name is Didier François i write from Belgium. Last autumn I had the opportunity to play on Nagyvary’s violin. I am doing research with the Grumiaux technique (open sound, relaxed technique), on old and new instruments. I was playing Mozart sonata, comparing the Nagyvary’s sound with a Galliano. I must say that the results of the Nagyvary’s violins are grate !!! Good balance between G string and E string, an open sound until the top of the E string with no intonation problems, good “tasto” (how do you say this in English?) Of course not all violins are responding in the same way, but this is the same with old violins, no? I have played occasionally for Six years on my teachers Stradivarius “the wendling Quersin strad” and this was an unforgettable experience! maybe the best, but I think Dr Nagyvary disserves more respect.

So… I hope I didn’t put oil on the fire (Belgium expression!) , hope maybe this approach on the subject will help!!


April 9, 2008 at 12:26 AM · Oh, By all means François, put oil on the fire we need some amusment.

Perhaps if Nagyvary were to mix his varnishes with a more worshipful and faith-centered-christian mindset he would do better?

ps-nudge nudge

pps-flame bait.

April 9, 2008 at 03:42 AM ·

April 11, 2008 at 04:22 AM · I believe that Nagyvary's instruments are just like any other instruments available today: some will be good(according to subjective opinion by the player) and some will be not so good(also by subjective opinion of the player).

He has done valuable research on the ancient nomenclature for the materials used in classical varnishes. As far as his use of chitin(shrimp shells, cockroach exoskeletons), I do not believe that historically this was the varnish used by the classical makers.

I had the opportunity to hear him speak at SMU in Dallas, Texas some years ago. He demonstrated his instruments, comparing them with a Gagliano owed by one of the faculty. I thought that they sounded ok, considering that the piece played was Zigeunerweisen and the player was a very accomplished violinist. The Gagliano also sounded quite good. I guess what has tarnished his reputation among professional makers is his attitude that he knows everything about the supposed secret of violins. I remember distinctly that he said that he knew more than all the makers from Vuillaume to the present. Such an attitude would certainly cause some distaste in somebody's mouth.

Steven Cundall

October 7, 2008 at 04:56 AM · do we really have to have this relentless reptition of old threads?

October 7, 2008 at 05:37 AM ·

October 7, 2008 at 06:52 AM · Greetings,

I`m wearing the same old threads that I have worn for the last ten years.

Joking aside, when somebody starts using a nimbe rof threads to repeat the same (ethoughtless) answer then they are either compeltley insensitive to the quality and flow of this web or they have some kind of financial interest in the outcome.

Either way they are substantially lowering the quality of this site and should think again.

Now if it were about shoulde rrests....



October 7, 2008 at 03:38 PM · Here's an option:

Have the company provide a violin for evaluation to each member of this site, so we can all make up our minds on this subject.

Better, since many may decide not to play the instrument as providing such feedback to the manufacturer can constitute work, the maker can also pay scale for each professional and offer a minor stipend for each non-professional.

With this opportunity, we can all have the information as appropriate, and actually take this thread to some other result than all the other threads on the subject.

Failing that solution, an alternative solution is to reference previous posts by a 'Nagyvary number', and just repeat the posts (In answer, NG312!).

October 7, 2008 at 10:30 PM · Greetings,

excellent ideas.



October 8, 2008 at 02:54 AM · NG437

October 8, 2008 at 04:59 AM · Greetings,

F451 would be better for obvious reasons.



December 6, 2008 at 04:33 AM ·

I was a pre-med student minoring in violin at Denver University. Dr. N. stopped by and offered to let me play two Strads and one of his violins. The Strads were not million-dollar specimens but they were strads. I had him blindfold me and I played each fiddle for half an hour or so, rotating between them. Each time I preferred the Nagyvari over the Strads for both playability and sound. If I were looking for a reasonbly-priced fiddle I would make the trip to Texas. I think he is worth taking  seriously. -- Nick Ittzes

December 6, 2008 at 05:10 AM ·

His violins may be nice, but his customer service sucks! I found him to be very rude and he doesn't really care to drawn in customers.

December 7, 2008 at 05:49 AM ·

Let me add a bit more murkiness to this discussion, although I will not comment on the effect of his treatment. I will comment on violin and sound in general.

What is the sound a violin makes? It is generally the combination of vibrations and resonances produces from a hank of horsehair being coated in pitch and dragged across some wire or gut. This wire or gut is stretched across some wood to enhance, detract, or modify the resulting sound so it sounds pleasant to the listener.

In the West, the sound achieved is a bit different that some similar instruments are made for and tuned to in other regions; I will not digress on that here. However, the sound is a result primarily of the wood; thickness and strengths at certain points are critical (imagine if you will, a violin back that is 1/4" thick across the entire back, and the violin top is the same thickness; it would sound like strings on a 2"X4", not a musical instrument).

Based on this, I assume that almost all of the sound quality is from the wood, not the finish. A luthier could chime in here and verify that an instrument does not change dramatically from before finish to after finish.

Therefore, I would further assume the primary value of the finish is to not create the sound quality (even if it does enhance it a bit), but to stabilize the instrument so it provides the same quality of sound over a longer life.

Based on that, I would focus more on getting a well made instrument than on the finish. I will leave the discussion of the qualities of the finish to the professional luthiers who have the opportunity to evaluate the finish on a significant number of instruments, rather than trying to take such a task on the few instruments I expect to possess; I do not have a significant sample of test subjects, so I can only guess at the success of my results.

So, better questions to start may be
'How much does the finish modify the sound from a violin in the white?".
What is the identified differences between commonly used finishes (what is the goal sought when a finish is considered)?
What modification of sound would be considered improvement?
Can that modification be made in the wood, or is it exclusively in the finish where that change occurs?

December 8, 2008 at 01:26 AM ·


it is not unusual in blind playing comparisons of a lesser instrument versus a Srad for the player to prefer the elsser.  The reason is very simple: Strads can be very tricky to adjust to by anybody but the highest level player.  Consider my recent blog about the Vienna Phil cocnertmaster who plays the ex Arnold rose,  which is one of the best Strads on th eplanet. He said it took him four years to learn how to get around the tricky bits on that fiddle,  it was worth the effort but now he cannot change to another insturment.

Incidentally,  I actually question the identity of  Strad if the owner lets me play two of them blindfold. The chance sof taking a corner off are quite high and one doesn`t take these kinds of risks with masterpieces ,  in my opinion.



December 8, 2008 at 02:46 AM ·

There's also the question of setup and adjustment.  I recently spent an hour with a violin by one of the most illustrious of the current generation, and the rep just happened to have a late Strad out of the vault at the same time.  It sounded and felt pretty bad, but I have no doubt that it would have been much better with a little TLC by someone who knows how.

December 9, 2008 at 05:49 AM ·

Some Strads are hard to play! You have to really draw out the sound with the bow rather than use pressure (if that makes any sense) I've been to Mr. N's shop in Bryan/College Station, and his instruments, although nice sounding, didn't nearly compare to a decent strad.  They seemed to lack the power and tone clarity.

February 5, 2009 at 04:37 PM ·

Two cents from a rank amateur:

My five year old son plays a 1/4 size Nagyvary that we were blessed to be able to rent from Dr. Nagyvary. His teacher says it has the most beautiful tone of any fractional size violin she has ever heard, including bigger ones.

I would definitely buy a Nagyvary for my son when the time comes based on the extraordinary quality of the one we are renting.


February 9, 2009 at 01:36 PM ·

"What I can remember so far as his latest "The Secret of the Cremonese" are:

--Shrimp shell varnish
--Gemstone varnish
--Microbe-eaten, floated wood
--Borax"    -Michael Darton, 12/2/06

I don't care what anybody says. I made a stew from the above ingredients - and it was delicious! ;-)

Seriously, I've tried a couple of his violins, and was not impressed with their tone - and certainly not with the dull, dingy-looking varnish, which looks nothing like any Strad, or any classic instrument - worn or well-preserved - that I've ever seen. Depending on who made which of 'his' violins, I'm sure that the tonal results can vary.

February 9, 2009 at 04:24 PM ·

 One thing to consider is that after many years of hype and controversy you can't point to a celebrated player who uses one of his instruments. 


February 9, 2009 at 11:47 PM ·

"One thing to consider is that after many years of hype and controversy you can't point to a celebrated player who uses one of his instruments."

If one considers that the number of accomplished fine violin makers outnumbers the number of celebrated players then one should be able to conclude that the measurement you offer here is not actually based on a sound rationale.

February 10, 2009 at 02:36 AM ·

I'm not sure what Ben says about numbers is correct. I don't even know how you would do the tally but I can guarantee you there are many more great players out there merely not being shown the light of day as it were.

But at the same time, what of that quote from Isaac Stern, and the photo of Menuhin with Nagyvary?



February 10, 2009 at 04:23 AM ·


Isaac Stern also endorsed a company/person who claimed thta a subtantial structural alteraiton to the instrument could radically improve things.   Experince proved that this was rarely the case and player swhose instrument have been damaged have reported this on this site.

Sir Yehudi also had a habit of going to extrems of praise ab9ut makers and players .  Partly because he was a generous person and partly  ,  I think, becuas ehe dodn`t know thta what he said was goign to feature as a major componet of an advertizing campaign. I do recall him singng the praises of an utterly useless amatuer maker in Britain on prime time TV about 35 years ago.  Never been heard of agin for whichone must give thabnks.



February 10, 2009 at 04:56 AM ·

Bill, he didn't say "great", he specifically said "celebrated" players. My point is that it is ridiculous to conclude a violin cannot possibly be a fine instrument unless a celebrity has bought one from the same source before. That is not to say that those Nagyvarys are any good, it simply means the rationale offered is nonsensical.

February 10, 2009 at 08:53 PM ·

I've played on the "Menuhin" Nagyvary.  It was hanging for sale in a shop not far from my home (nice place, good people, BTW).

I'll admit I'm not that great a player, but I was not particularly impressed with it.  Whether it was worth the asking price (10k, I think) or not is debatable, but I think if it were particularly  fine and with its history, the price should have been much higher in today's market.

I stand by what I said before--where are the concertmasters or even accomplished students who play Nagyvarys?  I'm not saying they're junk (I play a viola made by his luthier, after all), I'm just saying the evidence suggests that, after this much time, not many people who play well seem to be playing them--it's been over 20 years since the initial fuss.  In that time, a lot of much younger luthiers have made their way into the upper level of recognition and seem to be staying there.

February 11, 2009 at 06:27 AM ·

Anecdotal evidence is not evidence. Just because you don't know anyone who uses this or that instrument doesn't mean there aren't any who do. Without a comprehensive study it is impossible to tell how instruments are distributed. I am not saying the Nagyvarys are any good, but no matter how good or how bad they are, no matter what one's opinion on their quality is, personal guesswork on market share is not evidence for anything. The only way to evaluate an instrument remains the obvious time tested method: play and listen.

February 11, 2009 at 04:48 PM ·


did you read the part which said I played the "Menuhin" Nagyvary.  And, I listened.

Are you saying someone like Sam Z. could exist, with as much celebrity as Dr. N. has received, and not have good players (if not the very best) commissioning his instruments?  I don't think the world works that way.

February 11, 2009 at 05:21 PM · Michael, Professional endorsement are to be taken with a grain of salt. There are many fine luthiers out there-in addition to those of celebrity status in the violin community. Just because a luthier doesn't have an Anton Miller, or a Joshua Bell playing on their instruments-doesn't mean they don't make fine instruments. Endorsements can happen for all manner of reasons, not all necessarily honest.

February 11, 2009 at 08:39 PM ·

 I agree, but few (if any) modern luthiers have had the sort of fuss made over them which Dr. N. has had.  The most celebrated luthiers have a pretty nice list of paying clientele.  

Anyway, I never mentioned endorsements per se, I'm talking about professionals who commission and play, whether it's a primary instrument or  a back-up to an older instrument.

That aside. look at word-of-mouth.  I've been reading threads on this forum for a lot of years.  I've read a lot of  good things about luthiers about whom I knew nothing before.  It's one of my favorite things about this forum.  I trust that a lot of these people have a lot of experience behind their opinions on instruments.  

If you simply read the first few threads from Gennady, Michael, et. al., it pretty much sets the tone for what follows.  This is the sort of informed opinion for which I come here regularly. 

Now if I go back and read the first 20 or so posts on this thread, it's about 19 to 1.  And the one favorable comment still says the instrument in question was far short of the hype.


February 12, 2009 at 02:49 AM ·

"did you read the part which said I played the "Menuhin" Nagyvary.  And, I listened."

Yes, I did, and that type of first hand experience feedback weighs a lot in my book, there is no need to try to back first hand experience up with market share figures, in fact it casts doubt when such comments are thrown in as it makes it look like the first hand experience account alone was felt to be insufficient and something to back it up was felt necessary.

No matter how much you reiterate on any attempt to bring in guesswork of market share, you do not have the proper data to make any valid conclusions, so you may as well just leave it. Anyone who has had an introductory semester in statistics will have heard of the typical textbook example how a seeming correlation between the stork population and the number of human births should not be taken to imply causality. The law that applies here is: garbage in, garbage out.

Also, you seem to imply that I am arguing that Nagyvary's violins are good. I am not. What I am arguing is to leave nonsense out of the discussion, nothing more, nothing less. My personal opinion about these instruments doesn't matter in this respect, but you don't need to try to convince me that they are not as good as their "creator" implies. Still, guesswork on market share should not be used to debunk the hype because it is a flawed argument and it can only backfire.

February 12, 2009 at 05:21 AM ·

 Market share?  I never mentioned anything of the sort.  I'm talking quality, you're talking quantity.  I could care less how many middle school students or younger are playing Nagyvarys.

Nonsense?  Well, it's not to me.  If I hear or read that a certain concert violinist occasionally plays his backup, when necessary, with great success, then I'm inclined to believe that his luthier is a very good maker.  When I read that a concertmaster in a professional orchestra uses a particular modern instrument full-time I'm similarly inclined.  These would be luthiers I'd have on a list to check out if and when I'm in the market for a very good modern instrument.  I could give you several names of luthiers and at least one dealer whom I learned about by reading threads on this site who would merit the same consideration.  I'm not going to buy an instrument because someone is a paid endorsee, but to me it makes sense to give some weight to the genuine opinions of those who have experience in their field.  Failing to consider that sort of information is what I would consider nonsensical.


February 12, 2009 at 07:11 AM ·

Any kind of statement of the sort "celebrated players don't use these products" or "not many celebrated players don't use these products" is a statement about market share. I didn't bring this up. I only responded to that. I was neither talking about quality nor quantity. I was simply saying that a presumed correlation between celebrity market share and product quality is a flawed idea to begin with and even more so when the data is based on guesswork.

Before anybody makes any assumptions about correlations between what is ultimately their subjective guess about market data based on hearsay and whichever attribute of some product or service, perhaps it would be a good idea to read up on some elementary statistics first ...

February 12, 2009 at 06:07 PM ·

Well, it's true I don't have that data.  It's based on the people I've known who have played or owned the instruments, the many comments I've read about various contemporary builders (including all the posts on the many threads about Dr. Nagyvary), the fact that, unlike other shops, his offers no information about where his instruments have wound up, and that the only people who offer anything favorable tend to be parents of kids who play his instruments, rather tnan pros or even advanced students.

Please consider that I've spent the entire "Nagyvary era" just 2 hours from Texas A&M, where he was based.  A lot of people around here, a lot of professionals, have opinions about his instruments.  I once had one of his ex-employees offer to strip a (not particularly good) violin of mine and re-finish it according to "the forumula," thus gifting it with the sound of a  Strad for 600 dollars.  A friend of mine once played viola in a quartet of N. instruments for a local radio broadcast hyping N.' instruments.  There was a lot heavier  saturation here in Texas than anywhere else, despite the publicity from the tv show NOVA, plus magazines, etc.  But, you are right, I cannot compare actual numbers of people in orchestras who play his instruments vs. those who play Burgess, Alf, Needham, etc.

Please let me know if you do find even one pro who would compare Nagyvary's instruments to the best out there.  Then let me know if you find the numbers comparable to the other guys.  I certainly know a lot of professional players who think it's all hype and not one who is in his corner.  Personally, I think he found a pretty good carver, Mr. Guang-yue Chen (who won a certificate of merit for tone for one of his instruments, with HIS varnish, not Nagyvary's,  at the Salt Lake convention some years back) , and had a fascinating theory that briefly caught the public's imagination back in the 80's, and has failed to deliver since.  I have no personal agenda or bias--in fact, as my father and three brothers all went to A&M, nothing would please me more than for some Aggie to rock the world by discovering a formula which can make any decently made violin sound like a strad or del gesu.


February 12, 2009 at 08:10 PM ·

I'm not reading the last few responses because it's just regergitated arguing, but tell you what I'm going to do...

If I'm ever in Texas and have access to Nagyvary's violins, I will play them ad record some and share with all of you.

Controversial instruments like those of Nagyvary and Andrea Bang interest me and I believe every instrument deserves a chance to be played.

So what if they don't live up to the sound of a Strad? What if they're 10 thousand dollars and they sound like a 25 thousand dollar instrument? They still deserve a fair chance at becoming an instrument that belongs to someone.

February 12, 2009 at 08:11 PM ·

Just my thoughts, and with this, I will end your arguement :)

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