Articles comparing modern and older instruments

April 20, 2007 at 02:44 AM · I was interested in reading about in-depth comparisons about the quality of modern instruments compared to older ones, but through google and searching this sight I haven't been able to find any reports or articles on it.

Can any of you give me some links?

Replies (70)

April 20, 2007 at 03:00 AM · It's a hot topic generating some passionate debate, a topic which some people may be afraid to touch.

A couple of recent articles, though not very "in depth".........

The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2007; Leisure and Arts section. Title: "Are Strads really worth the price?"

Strad Magazine, February 2007. Title: "Blind Trust".

Here's a link to that article minus the photos:

http://www.abcviolins.com/blindlistening.html

Here's a link to a BBC broadcast in which two famous violinists and one famous dealer attempt to identify new, a semi-new, a Stradivari and a Guarneri by listening only:

http://www.abcviolins.com/fidfad.html.html

There are also numerous forum threads relating to the topic, including some here recently on Violinist.com.

"Private Message" or email me if you'd like some of these links. I suspect that many here might like a short intermission from the arguments that the topic generates.

David Burgess

April 20, 2007 at 07:19 AM · Consider Antony Flew’s parable, taken from Luther’s original argument, “The Garden.”

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were many flowers and many weeds, growing. One explorer said, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” The other disagreed, “There is no gardener.” So they pitched their tents and set a watch. No gardener was ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrified it. They patroled with bloodhounds. (For they remembered how H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggested that some intruder had received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betrayed an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never gave cry. Still, the believer was not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensitive to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden, which he loves.” At last the skeptic despaired, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?”

Antony Flew, “Theology and Falsification,” in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Flew and Macintyre (London, SCM Press, 1955), p. 96.

April 20, 2007 at 08:09 AM · My own contribution to http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=10955

"I wouldn't stress the importance of the instrument actually played, however. I have been witness to just too many double-blind trials where both experienced luthiers and esteemed violinists failed miserably in identifying "upper class" instruments by listening to them live.

There is no doubt that professional violinists rarely fail in identifying "good" Strads and alike by actually playing these instruments and good luthiers by actually looking at them. But it is also true that instruments in the hands of a great soloist sound much more like the player wants them to sound than the builder and/or maintainer of the instrument wants them to sound, proper maintenance assumed.

It would be quite another thread, why esteemed teachers keep telling poor students how important the "class" of instrument is in terms of their student's career outlook.

In any case one of the double-blind trials has been held for and in front of French public TV, I happen to own the DVD recording of this whole exercise. I wish lots of young violinists-students would have a chance to watch it before ending up in nervous breakdowns for not getting a "valuable" instrument. Too much commercial interest of too many people involved in selling an instrument has created a terrible hype around certain violins. Terrible because it deviates attention far away from real music and provides too much of an excuse for players and teachers alike. And terrible because it gets violinists into financial trouble for no real reason other than using the instrument as kind of pension fund. And terrible for teachers who on one hand have to fight for proper fees from students who on the other hand are willing to spend a couple of hundred thousands on a violin."

In case you are interested in this DVD let me know.

FMF

April 20, 2007 at 01:43 PM · I doubt if the violin world, in general, will be interested in your DVD (they should be, but they will not be). Why? Because they have already determined that the old Cremonians MUST be better than all moderns, and there is nothing that will change their mind on the issue.

As of now I know of more than two dozen empirical tests that have been done with two common results: the moderns do more than hold their own, and the results are trampled and "pooh-poohed" until anyone who is sane enough to understand the conspiracy-like rhetoric thrown in front of them feels insane for going up against these agenda driven, modern bashing, result bashing diatribes.

I could not agree more with what you wrote, and I think that the empirical evidence should be enough to speak for itself, but the bottom line is the romance and folklore that most feel Must exist, and more importantly, the money in all of the strads and del Gesus, etc., will not allow the violin world to be sane. Money talks, and those with the money will not allow those without it to undermine their efforts, and that is the reason for the myriad of excuses that always follows any of these tests.

It aint pretty, but it is what it is.

April 20, 2007 at 03:43 PM · all due respect/disrespect for people who conduct tests under the heading of modern vs old, or phrase them as such, i find it silly and ignorant to put it as such.

what is compared is one violin made in one year by one maker vs another made in another year by another maker. and the result is bla bla bla one way or another.

however, the conclusion, based purely on generalization, extrapolated as generation vs generation, is always: modern better than old, really,,or old better than modern, told you so.

for me personally, it takes one "test" that shows a newer generation maker's violin has compared favorably to tell myself: thank god the new generation of aspiring violinists have something affordable and great to play on.

how much and how good strads are are truely irrevelent unless you are in the market for one.

if strads are truely that great, then if one strad pops out for auction and no one is allowed to know the history or play on it, let me see how the final bid will be.

April 20, 2007 at 03:34 PM · Raymond,

I am glad to tell you, that right now a professional violinist from US asked for this DVD via email. So there might be a little bit of hope, sanity will prevail ;-)

FMF

April 20, 2007 at 04:19 PM · Every violin must be judged on its own merits. Recently a well-known string quartet came to play. I thought the first violinist was using an old Italian, and the second was using a brand-new modern instrument.

I got it wrong. The 1st violinist had a 6-month old violin, and the 2nd had an Italian.

The 10-year old instrument I'm now trying could EASILY pass for an 18th century sound.

April 21, 2007 at 08:30 PM · For the most part, when we listen to auditions at Seattle Symphony, a good instrument always helps. It is also unfortunate for many who don't have the resources to have a good instrument for the audition.

When contestants get to the finals, it is usually players with older instruments of fine quality that win. A fine instrument gives you that extra advantage.

Again, much depends on the instrument's ability to carry in the hall, and ofcourse its own inherent quality.

April 22, 2007 at 01:43 AM · Out of curiosity, Gennady, what would it take for you to believe that the great moderns of today can compete against the best violins of the past?

April 22, 2007 at 01:59 AM · Everybody duck! Here they go again! :)

April 22, 2007 at 02:12 AM · Aw, come on Maura, things have been a little boring around here, right? LOL

April 22, 2007 at 05:19 AM · Raymond,

out of curiosity, can you understand my previous post which is just fact and reality.

April 22, 2007 at 06:29 AM · Why should I not be able to understand your post Gennady? Whether it is true or not, is another thing. But according to you most of those who win positions in the phil you play in are players playing on older instruments.

I do not know what that would prove, but it is easy enough to understand.

Now, can you answer my question (which you did not answer)?

And by the way, can you also tell me what the great philosopher Flew meant when he wrote the parable, which I posted earlier (the material of my earlier post)?

So two questions for you, can you answer them?

Here is that parable for you again, in case you missed it:

Consider Antony Flew’s parable, taken from Luther’s original argument, “The Garden.”

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were many flowers and many weeds, growing. One explorer said, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” The other disagreed, “There is no gardener.” So they pitched their tents and set a watch. No gardener was ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrified it. They patrolled with bloodhounds. (For they remembered how H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggested that some intruder had received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betrayed an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never gave cry. Still, the believer was not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensitive to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden, which he loves.” At last the skeptic despaired, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?”

April 22, 2007 at 10:21 AM · Three points:

1: It seems clear that many reasonably new instruments can compete with the best old Cremonese. I'm glad of it, but also somewhat sad. Finding out that some expensive fiddle is basically a "Fat man in a Speado" (quoting David B slightly out of context), is really terribly dissapointing. It's like finding out there's no Santa Clause, or that the Loch Ness Monster couldn't really exist, or debunking all the best UFO sightings. Was Paganini realy as amazing as they say he was? Who knows? -but would you really want to find out that he was actually a hack with really good PR, even if it were true?

We need as much magic as we can get. It makes life fun. I'll never be able to buy a GDG, but it's FUN to think there's something other worldly about them. -And it's certainly fun for the audiences. Maybe we shouldn't spoil it for them.

2: It's a shame that these arguments always end up in an all-out verbal fist fight. All players could greatly benefit if we could come up with some standardized benchmarks for what comprises both "good tone" and "good response." How many people feel overwhelmed and completely lost when searching for a new, upgraded violin? I don't care how rich you are, this is an unnerving undertaking.

I'd love to see someone put together a DVD that explores the differences in various violins, both bad & good. -and it would be important to show various TYPES of good. Just as there are many types of beautiful flowers, there are many types of beautiful sounding violins. Why does one have to be the best?

Also, much of it has to do with context. What type of tone & response works best with a quartet? With an orchestral backup? Solo on a big stage? Close mic'ed in a studio? Is one type of sound best for Bach, but another more suited to Tchaikovsky?

3: So many talk about a great instrument having "carrying power." I agree that is an important attribute of a live performance concert instrument, but that does not mean it is always needed nor even always desirable.

Take my case, wherein the violin is never heard live, and the mic is never more than 3-5' away. Carrying power means diddly. Tone, and depth of timbral response, are everything. The same holds true, though to a lesser extent, for a good chamber music instrument.

Additionally, I would guess that the vast majority of people who listen to classical music do so via recorded media. Thus the great majority of the time, classical music is not being enjoyed live, and therefore the "best" instruments should be judged (at least in part) by how well they record, NOT by how well they carry to the back of a hall. (The other half of the equation would be how well they respond to the players' touch.)

April 22, 2007 at 06:38 AM · Yes Allan, you are right; all the empirical evidence does make it real clear, at least to those who are willing to look at it. Sadly, the list of those who do not WANT to look at it is quite long! LOL

Soon they will try to change the thread from sound to investment, which is an even more ridiculous argument.

And I understand your argument about recording, but I think a violin's ability to project affects its sound, so it comes across on recordings, to a certain degree.

And yes I agree that this takes some of the romance away, but what is the other choice, living in a fantasy land loaded with false information? It is what it is.

April 22, 2007 at 10:24 AM · quote: "I understand your argument about recording, but I think a violin's ability to project affects its sound, so it comes across on recordings, to a certain degree."

This is definitely possible. Certainly even in a recording you want a solo instrument to cut through the rest of the mix. -But it also might be that a good recording instrument has a slightly different main resonance peak, or whatever the heck it is that creates "carrying power."

And, of course, one doesn't always want an instrument that cuts through either a mix or an orchestra. If a particualr DGD, or Burgess, or Zyg, has a sound that easily cuts above an orchestra, would such an instrument be suitable for a member of the second violin section? My guess is no, so then what type of violin IS ideal for that situation?

I own 12 electric guitars. Each one is perfect for a specific situation & genre. Why would violins be any different?

On the investment issue, well I have no idea, but your probably right. Not a world I will ever likely have to deal with, unless the market for cheap vintage American & German violins suddenly explodes! One can dream ....

April 22, 2007 at 07:54 AM · "Carrying power" comes in a lot of different forms if you mean it literally. I heard Eugene Fodor playing in a basketball arena and the thing about the sound was there was just so much of it. It sounded the same in the rafters as near the floor. I heard a different violinist and the sound was smaller but the whole sound was like a focused laser beam that gave you the impression it would travel five miles. A different violinist had a sound with a resonance that gave that same impression. One of my teachers I literally couldn't hear at all, soloing with an orchestra (playing a Stradivarius!). If you're recording, it's part of the sound and you would want to try to record it, even it you're close up. The fact that it carries is just incidental maybe in that context.

April 22, 2007 at 05:49 AM · Gennady,

Isn't it so, that making music on the violin is such a sensitive task that just BELIEVING you are holding a fine (which in your term means obviously expensive) instrument will make you play better?

And imagine you have just borrowed a million from you hated aunt to buy this expensive violin (I really hesitate to call it "fine" with all my experience) wouldn't you like to make sure it really sounds like a million $ instrument? So when playing a less expensive violin from a shop or your neighbour wouldn't you do almost all to prevent the discovery you did spend too much on your own instrument?

FMF

April 22, 2007 at 09:26 AM · Slightly off topic, but something I've been thinking about..........

Has what is accepted as good sound become rather narrow? Consider singers, some of them immediately identifiable by their unique or unusual voice. In the pop world, Stevie Nicks and Michael McDonald come to mind.

This might not fly at a SSO audition, but are there soloists who would have the guts to pick a violin with a highly unusual "signature" voice?

Are we in a rut with Strad, del Gesu, and moderns patterned after their sounds?

David Burgess

http://www.burgessviolins.com

April 22, 2007 at 10:28 AM · David,

That's a great question. I think it would possibly happen in the pop world, but not too likely in the classical, unless it were someone like Gilles Apap. -Or maybe in a quartet situation, where there is some flexibility.

It also raises an interesting question. Has anyone ever commissioned a violin from you, and asked for something fairly radical, like a non-standard wood type of body dimension?

Then again, when talking of a Stevie Nicks, or Sting perhaps, the difference in sound isn't so much in the "instrument" itself. they both have fairly standard vocal chords, resonating chambers, etc. The big difference is in how they USE their instruments, which relates more directly to the violinist, not the violin. I suppose one could pick unusual strings, though, or a unique bow, or some radical rosin formulation.

To aproximate Sting, one might use very thin Helicores, with super-light rosin, on a carbon fiber bow, and use no vibrato.

To approximate Nicks, you'd probably have to use heavy gauge Vision Titaniums, rosin your bow with thick nicotine extract, and bow as hard as you can right near the bridge. A shot of novacain in the left hand would also help. (g)

And yeah, either method might sound great in the right context. I just don't know how much the violin itself would matter.

April 22, 2007 at 01:12 PM · "To approximate Nicks.......rosin your bow with thick nicotine extract... A shot of novacain in the left hand would also help. (g)"

That was great, Allan! :-)

April 22, 2007 at 05:03 PM · David, I've thought about that exact question.

However, Strads and DGs in and of themselves emcompass such a brought spectrum of sounds. If you compare the Soil to a much earlier Strad for instance. But I might be mistaken. How many ways can a violin sound though? Are you taking about a violin with a very bassy presence? Because it seems to me that Strad and Del Gesu sort of realize the full potential of the violin's sound. I'd be interested to hear an instrument with a distinctly unique sound. Are you maybe referring to Stainer?

Sometimes we lay people say of Bergonzi that his are a marriage of Strad and Del Gesu. Personally I don't understand that since I've played just one, and I'm guessing it's more the physical properties of the instrument than it's sound quality, which to me is astounding. However, I couldn't really tell you that I think that Bergonzi sounds distinctly different from the strads I've gotten to play. Neither could I say that of a great Montangnana. To me, they all sound like great violins with a great deal of carrying power, some more sweet than others etc... I just feel as if these instruments are somewhat "distorted" mirror images of some imaginary "perfect" violin. A sort of divine rubrick which represents all that any violin can be. Some fall short in one category and excell in others. However, it has been pointed out to me that often makers are far more adept at identifying different sounds than us players, and we all know the tiresome studies of great soloists not being able to tell the difference.

I'd be interested to hear if there actually is something out there which really is different, or if my idea of it all being basically the same thing with different levels of quality is more on the mark.

April 22, 2007 at 05:14 PM · Frank M. Fischer,

I am much more forgiving than many of my colleagues when it comes to judging sound in auditions. Because if the person is qualified for the job, perhaps given the chance to earn some $$ would solve the problem of an insufficient instrument.

I like fiddles that have depth, sizzle and carrying power, old or new is inconsequential.

Afterall, new becomes old.......and then what :)

It is interesting to hear you FMF saying these things. Why then does Julia play on a Guad?

Allan,

as far as the majority of listeners in classical music, I beg to differ. Symphony orchestras would not be in business if that was so and in retrospect the Luthiers would be out of business as well..........

and lastly Raymond,

do you know the parable of the broken window?

....................................................

Incidentally Pieter,

one of my favorite violins that I've tried is the Kreisler Bergonzi which was also owned by Perlman and then Fulton. It is an amazing instrument.

April 22, 2007 at 05:39 PM · My violin was made in 1919, is that considered modern?

April 22, 2007 at 05:49 PM · Gennady, you still have not answered my two questions. Can you please answer them.

And no I do not know the parable of the broken window, but if you write it out I will gladly look at it.

April 22, 2007 at 06:56 PM · RP,

I hate to go round and around.

By now, you know how I feel about what I said.

April 22, 2007 at 06:56 PM · Ray, that's a good question. In fact, I think that violin might be considered "antique". Can anyone clarify the age criteria for these words?

April 22, 2007 at 06:58 PM · normally, when a fiddle is made this year or in the last few years, it is referred to as contemporary. Many refer to older 20th century instruments as Moderns, but by now they are actually antiques.

April 22, 2007 at 07:30 PM · It's true the purpose a vioin is used for affects what we consider a great fiddle. Amati, Steiner can't be beat for quality of sound in a small space and they used to be the most sought after. As halls have become louder and the volumes of instruments a violin must compete with on stage (Sax, percussion, brass etc.)have increased, more powerful violins have become the fasion. ex. DG, strads, etc.. Modern violins are often powerful and project well. In my case going from a filius andreas to a Grubaugh I can say the Grugbaugh is definatley more powerful.

I have been doing a fair amount of recording and have been experimenting with mics, strings, bows all the variables. I am finding that volume is not such a factor. Sound quality and cleanliness seem more important for recording.

I like the idea of a different distinctive sound but I haven't found it to be a factor in chosing a violin to play. For me the real issues in playing concerts are responsiveness (a huge factor) and sound quality & volume. The same is true for recording minus the volume factor.

I think the speed and ease of response are almost the most important thing. If the response is great you can play so much better and focus on all sorts of musical subtlties rather than having to concentrate on playing the notes cleanly. In general I find that some old violins can have a better response than new ones although some new fiddles speak very well.

I guess I have always found violins to be a trade off, even strads or del gesus. You are always trading palettes or volume as you switch violins. Stienhart talks about the various qualities of the different fiddles he's played on during his career very eloquently in his book "violin dreams".

April 22, 2007 at 08:03 PM · Sarn, you wrote "Amati, Steiner can't be beat for quality of sound in a small space and they used to be the most sought after."

Interesting that you write this now. I recently obtained a bench-made James Reynolds violin. I was a little hesitant at first, because it was a Stainer-based model as opposed to his more typical DGD -based models.

Indeed, the sound is slightly reserved and warm. It does not have what you might consider "carrying power." Yet, it has proven to be my dream violin for pop recording. I am absolutely in love with it. It would probably be a TERRIBLE choice for a classical soloist, but I will own it on the day I die, guaranteed.

Now, I wonder if someone like David B could get away with making such a violin? If one were commissioned, by say a studio pro, it could be a gift from the heavens. At the same time, 20 years later, after being sold twice and ending up in the hands of a soloist, said soloist might tell everyone on forums such as this that "that David B makes terrible violins, this thing doesn't carry at all." Such is the nature of tradition and commerce. A very difficult thing to buck.

April 22, 2007 at 08:12 PM · When I was in HighSchool when playing quartets with Physicist Dr. Ludwig Pollack at his house I had a choice of major old Italian violins. For his small rooms absolutely nothing beat the Amati, I forgot which Amati, though. Rich, sweet tone that even I could make sound great back then.

April 22, 2007 at 09:12 PM · I've played on a few Stainers, and I don't think they even compare to a fine Amati. Some Amatis sound amazing. However, even with my limited experience, I wouldn't simplify the issue by saying that these earlier creations, including perhaps Magginni, sound the best. I still think there are a lot of violins which can sound as good as any fiddle, and have the ability to project.

I also find a lot of Stainers very fussy... I always feel like you have to make fast up bows. Your style has to change, and much more so than some Strads demand.

April 22, 2007 at 09:52 PM · David, that's an interesting point about the distinctive sound. I once played for a few exquisite minutes on a Scarampella that sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. That same day I had also played on a Strad, an Andrea Guarneri, and a Gagliano, all of which were absolutely gorgeous but kind of conventional, like the perfect, faithful replica of some Ideal. The Scarampella, on the other hand, was completely unique, unusual, compelling, not pristine-perfect but it said something like "to heck with convention, this is how I sound!"--and never mind that Strad, the A. Guarneri or the Gagliano, the Scarampella is the one that I still daydream about....*drool*.....

Incidentally, kudos on your "I'm not saying the emperor has no clothes, but there just might be a fat man in a Speedo in this parade" comment in Strad--had me rolling on the floor laughing when I first read it. Quite inspired. :)

April 22, 2007 at 10:48 PM · David, to put a slightly different bee in your bonnet:

Perhaps the best way to achieve a unique but pleasing sound would be to look at alternative bows. (and not just carbon fiber.)

I have also posited in the past about the possibility of new bow-violin combinations. That is, one would construct a violin out of woods or dimentsions that might sound a little bit "wrong" with a conventional bow, but then construct a bow of equally different wood or dimensions that compliments this odd violin. The resulting COMBINATION could be wonderful. It might be unique, or it might be more traditional, but it's the combination that would be important.

Imagine, for instance, a bow made out of American Yew or Osage Orange. These species have similar qualities as (the possibly soon to be banned) Pernambuco, but likely a very different absorptiion spectrum. So, perhaps in combination with a Cherry wood violin, one wood achieve something similar to the standard Pernambuco / Maple combination. Or something different but amazing, who knows?

Perhaps CF bows will not become widely accepted until a suitably different violin is made that is best complimented by CF's (arguably) rather edgy quality. That could be some serious marketing idea, you know? Come up with a violin design that really blossoms with a typical CF bow. You'd retire a very rich man.

April 22, 2007 at 11:46 PM · Maura;

When I saw the draft of the "Strad" article, I had second and third thoughts. In the original context, "fat man in a speedo" was an off-hand and hopefully humorous remark to a limited audience. I had no intent of offending anyone, especially those who enjoy food, as I do myself.

I suggested more politically correct alternatives, but prevailing opinion was that nothing could replace the mental picture created by that line.

I'm glad you and others enjoyed it......it will probably come back to haunt me forever! ;-)

Allan, you of all people should know that I already have plenty of bees in my bonnet! ;-)

And the idea of a maker retiring rich?

Dealers, maybe. Makers, FAT chance! :-)

David Burgess

April 22, 2007 at 11:50 PM · Aw, forget "political correctness." It was a classic line, glad you kept it. ;)

April 23, 2007 at 12:08 AM · quote " I had no intent of offending anyone, especially those who enjoy food..."

Hey, how about those of us who enjoy Speedos? It aint pretty, but it's comfortable!

April 23, 2007 at 01:20 AM · Yes, that quote from David was priceless. I loved it, the editor loved it... no way we were going to let him give it the PC treatment.

David has pointed out to me that one or two of the sound files he linked in his first post were truncated. I've fixed those now so you should be able to hear all 4 violins being played. Also apologies for the poor quality - it was taken from an old cassette my father recorded off the radio many, many years ago.

April 23, 2007 at 02:25 AM · From that recording I liked the sound of the Villaume best, the del Gesu second. Both had that same fat sound that we have heard in a few of the great moderns that we have tried over the last two years.

The villaume and the del Gesu had many of the same qualities in this sound clip, but the del Gesu was much darker.

From what I have been told from players in the trenches, who would know, many have tried or even pressured Hahn into accepting the idea of playing on a strad or del Gesu instead of the Villaume. I wonder why?

And of course no one is real happy with Tetzlaff! LOL

Did anyone notice that the show started with the "demure" which amounted to a list of excuses by Stern. And then ended with a barrage of statements saying that the older instruments were so much better for all kinds of almost laughable reasons (including this, "the varnish is too dry and the violins do not sound good for long because of it." This has been totally discredited by Bease since then!). The funny thing about it is they could not tell the modern apart from the others, and yet they ended with their agenda anyway.

They firmly fit in Flew's parable where he showed the fallacy of presuppositionalism—coming to a type of conclusion that does not allow empirical truth to enter into the equation.

April 23, 2007 at 03:02 AM · Raymond, how did you manage to hear all four violins? I know Alan wrote that he fixed the link, but it's still not working via my Mac. Clip #2 only plays about 15 seconds of one violin.

Any ideas? Alan? I'm dying to hear this.

Also- I think it's somewhat sad, and somewhat telling, that the concept of this "test" was to see if they could tell which was which. Why didn't they instead discuss the differences, and the various tonal attributes of each?

April 23, 2007 at 03:28 AM · Allan - try clearing your internet cache and then do the download again. Let me know if you still have problems.

Cheers,

Alan

April 23, 2007 at 03:31 AM · For the recording, I actually got the del Gesu and Strad correctly. However, I don't like the sound from the first one (Vuillaume), that's why I guess it's Praill's...

And, I think the third one (Ronald Praill) is a little bit dry compare with the others. But it still has beautiful sound... (I realize many moderm has this kind of dry sound... can't really explain...)

Allan: I'm using Mac, too. I have no problem listening though...

April 23, 2007 at 03:26 AM · I am on a Mac too, and I did not have any problems, wish I could help.

Yes it would have been nice to hear their take on each sound as well.

The horror of it, however, is their predisposed thoughts. As I said, they fit firmly in Flew's parable, as do so many in violin world today, mostly because they want to protect their money (by the way, sadly enough, I use to be in that world! I finally had to admit that my Poggi did not sound as good as many of the elite modern instruments we had tried).

April 23, 2007 at 04:01 AM · I guess it's OK (for you), since according to you, the moderns YOU buy today are not investments afterall, and it will not matter to you if they appreciate or depreciate in value & or in sound etc.

So you can just keep buying moderns every couple of years, right.....since in a couple of years the modern you bought will be too old :)

..................................................

But seriously speaking, a lot depends on set up of the instrument. If you had the right person adjust your Poggi, I am sure it is a wonderful instrument.

I know that Rosand's Poggi's are superb instruments, and he owns a few of them.

April 23, 2007 at 05:04 AM · Gennady,

At this time I did have my Poggi adjusted by three different persons, but I was never able to get it to sound as good as some of the moderns that we had here. It was, to me, better than some, but not as good as others.

But that is not to say that my Poggi did not sound good, it did, it was a wonderful instrument that I played on for most of my career. And it was hard to part with it because the instrument had served me well! Poggi was a great maker, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to play on it all those years. To me the whole experience was all gift, nothing but unmerited grace (as is the fact that I made my living playing the violin! What a gift! Others work, and we get to play a violin and get paid for it! All grace!

But for me the bottom line was I could not justify what it was worth now with what more reasonably priced moderns could do because some of the moderns were better than my Poggi, which I think was a good Poggi (I think this maker was very consistent, and very good).

As for investment: well the violin is worth a lot today, if I can ever sell it (it has been in consignment for more than a year, and I know that California is full of shops with these type of instruments, and most are not moving…this is what I have been told).

But if I look at all the years I had it and the amount of money I will make when I eventually sell it, well I lost money when you consider what I could have done with this money in better markets.

As for moderns: I do not think an instrument is better because it is a modern. I think there are great older instruments, and not so good ones too, and everything in between. The same can be said for moderns…great ones, good ones, not so good, etc.

The difference is not sound. The difference is the great modern will cost you a boatload less than the great older instrument, which will allow you to afford the great modern, and invest money in better markets.

Look at Sarn who, in an earlier thread, stated that his Seifert sounded as good as the Guarneri. He again stated that it was a bigger sound in this thread. So essentially he got a million dollar sound for 35, 000$! How can you beat that?

In another tread another player was ready to spend 350,000 to get a great sound. He found it for 35,000 when he found a great Greiner! And he went on to say that he played many instruments that were worth hundreds of thousands but did not compare to the Greiner. How can you beat that?

Just the other day a player I have come to know told me about two players with the BBC who are selling Pressendas because their Dilworth’s sound better and play easier.

There are great older instruments, and I had one when I owned my Poggi, and there are great moderns as well. The great moderns can get you as much or more sound for a fraction of the cost.

And yes, you do not know how the instrument will sound in 5 or 10 years. But chances are that they will sound better as they mature. And when you are dealing with guys like Burgess, Seifert, Croen, Borman, etc., who have been at it for a long time, well their instruments have proven that they are the real things. There is no chance taken with makers like this, especially since they stand by their instruments.

Look at Dyalna Jensen who gets about as good of a sound as I have ever heard. And she gets it from a Zyg, not a million dollar antique. Yes the Zyg cost her some money, but is 60,000 better than millions? And players who know her have told me that she says she plays the Zyg not because it is less money, but because it is a great sound.

Look at Emil, a truly great soloist, who used a Needham as a soloist with phils in the US. From what I have been told he sounded incredible.

The Needham that is out here is being used by one of the top session players in L.A., and everyone who has heard him drools at the sound he gets.

Of late a few players have won major competitions on Bormans.

A very famous concertmaster, and a famous soloist, who I cannot mention by name, told us he gets a better sound from his Burgess than his Strad, but he has to use the Strad in most concerts because of the political ramifications of doing otherwise.

A concertmaster in Switzerland has compared his Burgess to many million-dollar Italians, and the instrument has held its own in their hall. Not according to his ears, but his colleagues who own the older instruments!

There are the stories of Ricci playing on his Belini and his Chaudiere and people not knowing the difference between that and his del Gesu.

I could go on and on, but what would be the point?

All the blind tests support what all these players know: the great moderns of today do very well against the great older instruments.

There are older instruments that are great and they surely have a history that we should all value and cherish. But if we are taking purely about sound than there are great modern makers who are creating just as good of a sound for a whole lot less money. The empirical evidence supports this conclusion.

April 23, 2007 at 05:20 AM · Kissing Hank’s Butt

A parable by Jim Huber

This morning there was a knock at my door. When I answered the door I found a well groomed, nicely dressed couple. The man spoke first.

JOHN: “Hi! I’m John, and this is Mary.”

MARY: “Hi! We’re here to invite you to come kiss Hank’s butt with us.”

ME: “Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who is Hank, and why would I want to kiss his butt?”

JOHN: “If you kiss Hank’s butt, he will give you a million dollars; and if you don’t, he’ll kick the …. out of you.”

ME: “What? Is this some kind of bizarre mob shake-down?”

JOHN: “Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do anything he wants, and what he wants is to give you a million dollars, but he can’t until you kiss his butt.”

ME: “That doesn’t make any sense. Why...”

MARY: “Who are you to question Hank’s gift? Don’t you want a million dollars? Isn’t it worth a little kiss on the butt?”

ME: “Well maybe, if it’s legit, but...”

JOHN: “Then come kiss Hank’s butt with us.”

ME: “Do you kiss Hank’s butt often?”

MARY: “Oh yes, all the time...”

ME: “And has he given you a million dollars?”

JOHN: “Well no, you don’t actually get the money until you leave town.”

ME: “So why don’t you just leave town now?”

MARY: “You can’t leave until Hank tells you to, or you don’t get the money and he kicks the ….. out of you.”

ME: “Do you know anyone who kissed Hank’s butt, left town, and got the million dollars?”

JOHN: “My mother kissed Hank’s ass for years. She left town last year and I’m sure she got the money.”

ME: “Haven’t you talked to her since then?”

JOHN: “Of course not. Hank doesn’t allow it.”

ME: “So what makes you think he will actually give you the money if you’ve never talked to anyone who got the money?”

MARY: “Well, he gives you a little bit before you leave. Maybe you’ll get a raise, maybe you’ll win a small lotto, maybe you’ll just find a twenty dollar bill on the street.”

ME: “What’s that got to do with Hank?”

JOHN: “Hank has certain ‘connections’.”

ME: “I’m sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game.”

JOHN: “But it’s a million dollars; can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don’t kiss Hank’s butt he’ll kick the ….. out of you.”

ME: “Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to him, get the details straight from him...”

MARY: “No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank.”

ME: “Then how do you kiss his butt?”

JOHN: “Sometimes we just blow him a kiss, and think of his butt. Other times we kiss Karl’s butt, and he passes it on.”

ME: “Who’s Karl?”

MARY: “A friend of ours. He’s the one who taught us all about kissing Hank’s butt. All we had to do is take him out to dinner a few times.”

ME: “And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss his butt, and that Hank would reward you?”

JOHN: “Oh no! Karl has got a letter Hank sent him years ago explaining the whole thing. Here’s a copy; see for yourself.”

From the desk of Karl

1.) Kiss Hank’s butt and he’ll give you a million dollars when you leave town.

2.) Drink only in moderation.

3.) Kick the …. out of people who aren’t like you.

4.) Eat right.

5.) Hank dictated this list himself.

6.) The Moon is made of green cheese.

7.) Everything Hank says is right.

8.) Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.

9.) Don’t use alcohol.

10.) Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.

11.) Kiss Hank’s butt or he’ll kick the …. out of you.

ME: “This would appear to be written on Karl’s letterhead.”

MARY: “Hank didn’t have any paper.”

ME: “I have a hunch that if we checked, we’d find this is Karl’s handwriting.”

JOHN: “Of course. Hank dictated it.”

ME: “I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?”

MARY: “Not now, but years ago he would talk to some people.”

ME: “I thought you said Hank was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the … out of people just because they’re different?”

MARY: “It’s what Hank wants, and Hank’s always right.”

ME: “How do you figure that?”

MARY: “Item 7 says ‘Everything Hank says is right.’ That’s good enough for me!”

ME: “Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up.”

JOHN: “No way! Item 5 says ‘Hank dictated this list himself.’ Besides, item 2 says ‘Drink in moderation,’ item 4 says ‘Eat right,’ and item 8 says ‘Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.’ Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too.”

ME: “But 9 says ‘Don’t use alcohol,’ which does not quite go with item 2, and 6 says ‘The Moon is made of green cheese,’ which is just plain wrong.”

JOHN: “There’s no contradiction between 9 and 2; 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you’ve never been to the moon, so you can’t say for sure.”

ME: “Scientists have pretty firmly established that the Moon is made of rock...”

MARY: “But they don’t know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese.”

ME: “I’m not really an expert but I think the theory that the Moon came from the Earth has been discounted. Besides, not knowing where the rock came from doesn’t make it cheese.”

JOHN: “Aha! You just admitted that scientists make mistakes, but we know Hank is always right!”

ME: “We do?”

MARY: “Of course we do. Item 7 says so.”

ME: “So, you’re saying that Hank’s always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know Hank dictated it because the list says so. That’s circular logic, no different than saying ‘Hank’s right because he says he’s right’.”

JOHN: “Now you’re getting it! It’s so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank’s way of thinking.”

ME: “But... oh, never mind. What’s the deal with wieners?”

Mary blushes.

JOHN: “Wieners, in buns, no condiments. It’s Hank’s way. Anything else is wrong.”

ME: “What if I don’t have a bun?”

JOHN: “No bun, no wiener. A wiener without a bun is wrong.”

ME: “No relish? No mustard?”

Mary looks positively stricken.

JOHN: shouts, “There’s no need for such language! Condiments of any kind are wrong!”

ME: “So a big pile of sauerkraut with some wieners chopped up in it would be out of the question?”

MARY: sticks her fingers in her ears. “I am not listening to this! La la la, la la, la la la.”

JOHN: “That’s disgusting. Only some sort of evil deviant would eat that...”

ME: “It’s good! I eat it all the time.”

Mary faints. John catches her.

JOHN: “Well, if I had known you were one of those, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. When Hank kicks the … out of you, I’ll be there counting my money and laughing. I’ll kiss Hank’s butt for you, you bunless cut-wienered kraut-eater.”

With this, John dragged Mary to their waiting car, and sped off.

© 1997 by Jim Huber

April 23, 2007 at 05:38 AM · Speaking of Rosand, and getting back on topic, back in the 70's there was an article in the NY Times on just such a test, with Rosand playing behind a curtin. As I recall, a del Gesu (his own?) and a Bergonzi were the clear winners. But a then new instrument nosed out a Strad. I'm not sure that that or any one particular test says too much beyond the individual instruments involved. But perhaps many tests would do so.

I love fine instruments - new, old and inbetween. I refuse to lock myself in one or another camp. I do believe that at this point, with a handful of exceptions, the best contemporary work - including bows - equals most, (not all) of the great classics. For that final bit of response and complexity, I believe that time and good use will be important factors.

Gennady, I didn't know that our old professor had a few Poggis! I remember the one, back in the day. I understand that he also has a Wiedenhouse that he likes a lot. I just acquired a new. made-to-order violin from Ed Maday that I just love! I plan to write more about it in another thread.

April 23, 2007 at 05:12 AM · Pieter, I tried a strad and steiner a few years ago in NY that were up for auction. James Ehnes was also there and we all agreed the Stiener blew away the stad for sound , color. we were informed that the Steiner wouldn't project in a big hall so we shouldn't consider it but I have always wondered about that. That fiddle had one of the most beautiful sounds. I've played other Stieners but nothing like that one.

I wonder if instrument making goes through stlyes or periods.

David, If you were making a violin with the goal of just pure beauty/ complexity of sound with no concern for volume/projection would you use a more Amati / Steiner type model?

Is a higher arching and smaller/rounder form more conducive to that type of sound? ( I imagine I'm over simplifying)

It seems a lot of the innovations like carbon fiber violin or bow are about volume as sound levels increase.

Perhaps if live music dwindles and people predominantly listen to recorded music in the future the precieved instrument making trend will reverse and volume concerns will be replaced by quality of sound. ( I'm not saying that modern violins don't have good sound quality just commenting on a perception of current priorities>)

April 23, 2007 at 06:01 AM · Raphael,

Thank you for the information; I did not know that Rosand was playing a Widenhouse as well. Man I love his playing, one of the best ever!

With all due respect, kissing Hank’s butt is on the topic of the tread: it addresses the attitude that says, “older instruments sound much better, and no amount of empirical evidence will prove otherwise.”

It is the attitude that the men on that clip had, and they kept it even though they could not tell the difference between the older instruments and the newer one. Sadly, it is the attitude of many today. Many are kissing Hank’s butt, because Hank said so!

April 23, 2007 at 07:51 AM · Sarn,

Our experiences are different, but I have heard of people liking Steiner A LOT. One earlier maker that I like a lot if Camilli, but to be honest I'm not sure how that maker relates to those earlier people like Amati family. It's just a more "feminine" violin which I think sounds great in maybe a chamber environment.

All I can say is that many of these modern italians which are so flat, project so much but are like the opposite of Amati and Steiner with their high archings. They tend to have the one quality the old instruments lack.

Steiners are probably fine to use in orchestra as a section player, right?

April 23, 2007 at 07:53 AM · BTW,

there are many beautiful Bohemian instruments that emulated the Steiner model. They too sound very sweet.

In fact I know a wonderful instrument by Johannes Kulik (one of the top Bohemian 19th century makers). The model is a mix of Stainer (arching), Guarneri sound-holes, and double purfling that you would see on a Maggini. The sound is similar to that of a Grancino (for example).

.....................................

Raymond,

it seems that you are recycling an old thread with your points of view.

I guess I will repeat my post:

For the most part, when we listen to auditions at Seattle Symphony, a good instrument always helps. It is also unfortunate for many who don't have the resources to have a good instrument for the audition.

When contestants get to the finals, it is usually players with older instruments of fine quality that win. A fine instrument gives you that extra advantage.

Again, much depends on the instrument's ability to carry in the hall, and ofcourse its own inherent quality.

- It is a point of view based on the reality of what wins an orchestral job.

Perhaps the future may hold some new discoveries like the mixture of carbon fiber with glass particles so we can come close to sounding like the glass harmonica :)

April 23, 2007 at 08:24 AM · Gennady,

about JF's Guadagnini: Nobody, including me, ever claimed that 18. century Italian instruments are less fine than more modern ones, as a matter of principle. And I would certainly get a fine Guadagnini without further thinking provided it's (for what reason ever) a bargain. So that she plays this instrument does not prove any other point than: there are excellent Guadagninis, nothing more or less.

FMF

April 23, 2007 at 04:37 PM · From Sarn Oliver;

"David, If you were making a violin with the goal of just pure beauty/ complexity of sound with no concern for volume/projection would you use a more Amati / Steiner type model?

Is a higher arching and smaller/rounder form more conducive to that type of sound?"

__________________________________

Sarn, I only use my own model (somewhat Strad like) and haven't experimented much with others, so I can't speak with much authority on that. The general belief among makers is along the lines of what you have stated though, and I've heard the same thing from many musicians who have played a lot of instruments. When I worked in a major shop as a restorer and adjuster, I played and listened to a ton of violins, but rarely took them to a hall.

My personal taste comes into play here and has more to do with the feel than the sound. Amatis and Steiners are reputed to have a smaller sound, but I'm not drawn toward those models mostly because I haven't played any that FEEL as gratifying to play. (I was raised to be a violinist)

The strings on a violin vibrate the body, but the body vibration also feeds back to the strings and affects their interaction with the bow. My favorite violins give the impression of "grabbing" the bow......I believe I can actually feel greater drag on the bow. I also like to feel a violin "shake". Is this a bone conduction thing, where vibration is transfered through the chinrest to my head? I don't really know, but when these things are in place, I'm usually also happy with the sound.

From Gennady Filimonov;

"When contestants get to the finals, it is usually players with older instruments of fine quality that win."

___________________________________

I'm never present for these auditions, so I can't say, other than that there are many exceptions.

I hear about them because musicians with my instruments often contact me when they have "career milestones", and I know this happens with many other makers as well.

The most recent addition to the Cleveland Orchestra auditioned with a contemporary cello and bow.

A while back, a student at Indiana University got into Detroit Symphony with a contemporary. It was his first audition.

A player won the London Symphony (Philharmonic?) concertmaster position with a contemporary. (decided not to take the job, has left orchestra work)

Maybe they all needed to play a little bit better to overcome this "handicap".....who knows? ;-)

David Burgess

April 23, 2007 at 03:46 PM · David,

If we are talking about the same person in Cleveland (Associate Concertmaster 3rd chair) , she has come out here as well, and she did not have a modern violin when she played, but a very fine 18th century one.

The fellow from Indiana who was in Detroit, (if it is the same person is now a member of our orchestra.) He too plays on an old late 18th century instrument.

As I have always stated, that this argument (old vs new) is as old as the violin trade.

If one reads M. Brinsers articles from the time he was importing Italian fiddles of the early 20th century, it is quite enlightening to see what he has to say.

April 23, 2007 at 04:29 PM · Hi Gennady;

Different guy. The fellow I mentioned from Indiana University is now in the National Symphony.

I don't know what the Cleveland person used in Seattle, but the person I'm thinking of owns a Perreson, and that's what I last saw used. I can check on what was used for the audition, and in the meantime I'll go back and edit that out so there's no possibility of a mistake.

Thanks

April 23, 2007 at 04:36 PM · she deffinitely did not use the S. Peresson here.

Incidentally, talking about the fiddles that were compared in the link above (from 1970)............ the modern fiddle maker (Ron P.) is very much unknown today (37 years later) despite whatever was proven or not in that test.

Hmmmmm?

April 23, 2007 at 06:31 PM · I'm not sure that Ron P. was ever well-known, so it would appear that notoriety isn't necessary to cause confusion between new and old.

Whatever the sound merits of expensive old violins may or may not be, there’s admittedly one very tangible advantage:

They tend to inspire confidence in those who have them.

Ironically, this is the same benefit cited by most women who have breast enhancement surgery.

Might I suggest this in combination with a modern violin as a viable and cost-saving alternative to spending far more money on an antique fiddle?

Perhaps I could collaborate with a surgeon to offer a package deal? ;-)

This may not work for you men.....

(I’m going to try to blame Alan Coggins for THIS one too. Whenever he shows up, I seem to start blaspheming and being politically incorrect. He’s a bad influence for sure!)

Cheers, and all in fun!

April 23, 2007 at 05:58 PM · nicely put David,

as far as: "I'm not sure that Ron P. was ever well-known, so it would appear that notoriety isn't necessary to cause confusion between new and old."

- nevertheless, the true test is in how a new instrument will behave and sound in the near future beyond 5 years etc. as well as their appreciation by the consumer.

Notoriety, is for sure a big factor for contemporary makers isn't it? otherwise what's the point of this thread and others like it.

April 23, 2007 at 06:36 PM · Given a choice between notoriety and obscurity, I have little doubt that most makers would choose notoriety.

However, most of the makers I know love what they're doing, and would (and often do) make fiddles whether or not it pays the bills and is accompanied by any kind of recognition. There are many, many amateurs and semi-pros. Not entirely unlike making music?

April 23, 2007 at 07:16 PM · where would you classify makers such as Fagnola, Scarampella, Fiorini, Poggi, Garimberti, Sgarabotto, Bisiach, Antoniazzi?.......

For many they are the new classics that are still quite affordable.

April 23, 2007 at 09:46 PM · "Whatever the sound merits of expensive old violins may or may not be, there’s admittedly one very tangible advantage: They tend to inspire confidence in those who have them. Ironically, this is the same benefit cited by most women who have breast enhancement surgery." David Burgess

Oh yes. I'll definitely file that one away for future use!

By the way, the modern maker was Ronald William Praill - according to Henley he was a "talented amateur".

April 23, 2007 at 10:22 PM · BTW Raymond P.,

I emailed you, but still no reply.

Have you checked your email lately?

April 23, 2007 at 11:19 PM · Mr. Coggins, I shudder to think what other quotes you might have stashed away which I "uddered" in a moment of weakness, to re-emerge in some trade publication!

From Gennady Filimonov;

"where would you classify makers such as Fagnola, Scarampella, Fiorini, Poggi, Garimberti, Sgarabotto, Bisiach, Antoniazzi?......."

-------------------

Was that question for me?

If so, I've never owned any of the fiddles you mentioned. I've owned a Roger Hargrave, Carl Becker Jr. as well as Kun and Espey bows because I admired the work, felt that it would be inspiring to have them around, believed them to be reasonable investments, and the purchase of each was expedient at the time. This was to be the start of a personal collection which would have eventually included many more contemporary makers, and possibly some 17th and 18th century makers if I ever got the money together to afford truly exquisite examples.

I've since lost interest in collecting, aside from a few of my own which have sentimental value, or represent a specific period or detail in my making.

You know a maker is becoming overly mushy and sentimental when he starts buying his own fiddles! ;-)

April 23, 2007 at 10:46 PM · David,

Don't feel too sentimental, my luthier has gone as far as to put his favorite creation in his personal violin case and not show it when he travels. (A couple weeks ago he let Jamie Laredo take it for a spin, but who wouldn't?)

April 24, 2007 at 04:25 AM · Gennady, I am out of California now and ever since I moved my email from this site does not seem to work. Not sure why.

All the best.

Ray

April 24, 2007 at 04:48 AM · you realize that with email it does not matter where you are......as long as you are at a PC or MAC, unless your email address is "verklemft" :)

Perhaps you should update your email address with v.com and let us know when it is working.

April 24, 2007 at 05:17 AM · Gennady, I understand how the internet works! And my information is correct. So I am not sure why the mail on the site is not working. I will try to contact you so you can contact me back.

April 25, 2007 at 04:33 AM · Gennady, I have been trying to send you messages, but I do not think you are getting them!

I must admit I am a bit curious about what you want to tell me; we are not exactly the love couple!

LOL

Hey do you have any LeCannu bows in?

April 25, 2007 at 05:14 AM · Ray,

I have a feeling it's your email.

I do get emails from other members.

Just click on my name to send a message...there are no problems with my email address. It is the same one I've had for many years. Or go to my quartet site and click on my email.

I had a viola bow that came in & it sold right after. Incidentally it went to a member of Yo Yo Ma's "Silk Road" group.

ps: email me at my quartet site, so I can email you back with some info.

April 25, 2007 at 05:20 AM · Raphael,

When will you tell us more about the modern you just bought?

Ray

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

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