Strads and Del Gesus: Makers that somehow cannot be matched? Or a product of a lot of talented hands over many years?

July 11, 2007 at 10:38 PM · In the process of trying so many violins, we learned a lot from many different makers. One of the most interesting talks was whether Strads and Del Gesus are anywhere near what they were when they made them? Some makers do not think that Strad would even recognize his instruments if he were here today? If so, then what has made them so much better than everything else? Is it a product of the most talented makers over many years doing such great work on them? And if so, does that explain the major differences between the two makers (did public sentiment, over time, take the two violin makers in different directions?). Or are Strads and del Gesus not really better than the best moderns of today? And not better than a lot of other great violins from great makers of the many generations since?

It would be really nice to hear what some of the great makers on this site have to tell us. And people who have played their share of these instruments.

Replies (97)

July 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM · I have no knowledge of violin making, but I think that Strads and Del Gesu's are such great instruments, because they have been kept in such remarkable shape over the years not only in the "violin upkeep" (the physical attributes such as bridge, varnish, etc), but also in the not so visible way...

Strads and Del Gesu's have been played for 300 years by the finest violinists. I am pretty sure that since these certain violins have been played by the best violinists for all their lives, the amount they have been "opened up" far exceeds other violins.

I mean...some strads and del gesu's do not sound all that great...and those are the ones (i think...) that were "sitting" around in the dust for years/being displayed in a collection/in a museum.

So I have no doubt that the playing these violins have experienced (by the best violinists) and have been used for, make up a lot for what we hear in a strad/DG today

July 12, 2007 at 01:58 AM · You're putting the cart before the donkey. Lots of violins have been kept up and played over the years and they're not Strads. After 300 years, a Strad will sound like a Strad, a Becker like a Becker, and a Bernardel like a Bernardel.

July 12, 2007 at 03:02 AM · I don't know...I don't think i agree with you.

If a strad hasn't been played on for half of its life vs. a strad played on constantly by the best players, I truly believe that the strad kept "in the dust" will not sound like a "strad" (as we know them today)...

July 12, 2007 at 08:59 AM · The argument that we often heard was not that playing them in made them different, but that they have passed through the hands of the most talented makers of every generation, who have worked on them, and this collective work has amounted to what we have now today. In other words, a whole lot of money and talent has been poured into these instruments over a long period of time. Why? Because the violin world needs these instruments to be the idols that they have become.

But is it true? Or is some of it true? And if so, how much of it is true? Would del Gesu recognize his instruments if he were here today. Or have so many necks been grafted, so many sound posts changed, so many set ups made, that he would not know his own instruments?

And does this possibly explain why the two instruments so often sound so very different? After a while did makers opt to make strads pure and sweet, and del Gesus gutsy and barsh? Or where they this different from conception?

Then there is the question as to whether they really are better than all the other makers, past and present?

Again, it would be wonderful if the great makers on this site would contribute. Or how about the maker-historian types (Dilworth, Ratrray, Hargrave, etc….).

Note: I am simply asking many questions, not making any statements.

July 12, 2007 at 06:45 PM · Patrick,

NO amount of playing by the greatest players will make a mediocre instrument sound great. Yes, a violin needs to be played to reach its potential, but that isn't what makes it great. A Raphael Gagliano will never sound like a Strad, no matter what.

July 13, 2007 at 12:58 AM · Raymond,

I disagree with you about sound of great Strads and Del Gesus vs moderns.

Here are links to interesting article about Fulton's collection where you can hear samples with James Ehnes playing them:

Highly successful violin collector finds that it's time to let go

http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=violinside01&date=20070701&query=violin

Preserving "voices" of world's finest violins

http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=violins01&date=20070701&query=violin

Test your ears

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/collections/audio/2003768041_violinmusicalmasterpiece/2003768042_clip1.html

July 13, 2007 at 01:10 AM · This is an interesting question. I think, Raymond, that you get the idea. The most valuable violins have been worked on by the most talented repairers over the centuries, and when they work well they are left alone. Stradivari (for example), however, made truly outstanding instruments to begin with and they always deserved the special attention they have gotten. The same can be said of all the classic Cremonese makers.

The job of the "restorer" is to bring out the potential of the instrument. However, the basic considerations of model, material selection, arching, ff hole design and placement, varnish, etc. are set by the maker and no amount of "repair" can change these (correct that: a lot of "repair" can correct some of it). So the basic potential of an instrument to perform is established by the maker.

If the maker didn't quite get all the way to 100%, or if the instrument was damaged, then it takes a skillful and experienced repairer to get it there.

The best instruments are the ones with the highest realized potential. This usually means a combination of making and set-up/repair expertise.

July 13, 2007 at 02:48 AM · Some people think that a player plays his/her own sound into the instrument over a period of time. If this is true, than if the Strads and Guarneri have been played over the centuries by the greatest violinists, then the instruments are indeed better than when they were made.

July 13, 2007 at 02:52 AM · Kevin, I think the argument that so many modern makers make goes far beyond what you stated in your post (I am not saying they are right, I am pointing out that their argument is much more radical than what you have stated).

Carol, what were those links suppose to show? That Ehnes plays a Strad? Did I miss something?

July 13, 2007 at 10:58 AM · Raymond, I think that the question is complicated because there are what I see as two separate issues. One is the change to the violin (viola and cello) due to advances in string technology and the associated change in playing style, and the other is the effect of time and the inevitable wear and damage that occurs along with efforts to correct that.

Stradivari and del Gesu were making "baroque" instruments, so even the best preserved examples have a bigger bass bar, longer string length, and different shaped neck and fingerboard to go with the newer strings, that are tuned to an A440 or 442, whatever. Except for the neck and fingerboard, these instruments still look like they did when they were made, but probably sound quite different. To refer to my earlier post, this is a kind of pure example of the potential created by a maker being manipulated by later repairers to make something that current players will want to play. (I don't know of any example of a Strad, Amati, or any other classic Cremonese violin that is close to a normal size that has not been altered in this way.)

The other issue is the effect of time and repairs. While the best preserved instruments have the changes I mentioned, at the other end of the spectrum are instruments that are really composites of the work of various repair people. They have replaced parts, recut soundholes, body patches, pressed-out arches, new edges, etc. Some of these may go into the category of being unrecognizable by their original makers.

I would also add that in my opinion, Stradivari and del Gesu violins sound different from each other because they have fundamental physical differences. The arching and thicknesses are different from each other, and so one would expect the general timbre to be different.

I don't know if the makers you are referring to are implying that there is no inherent difference between one maker and another in terms of the quality of the original instrument, but if that is the case then I would say that I disagree. I guess I could have said that first!

July 13, 2007 at 07:10 PM · It seems interesting that the "Baron D'Assignies" Strad that lay dormant under a bed for over 100 years sounds pretty good. Great violinists and restorers apparently haven't fiddled with it. So how do you account for it sounding so good?

July 14, 2007 at 01:23 AM · MIchael,

Restorers maybe "haven't fiddled with it" but have without question installed a new bass bar, neck, fingerboard, soundpost, bridge, tailpiece, a set of new strings, and...?

You're referring to a Golden Period Strad that has been in use for about 50 years since it came out from under someone's bed. It has a set-up that Antonio Stradivari didn't put there. The fact that it sounds "pretty good" (I have no trouble believing that) is a credit to both the skill of Stradivari and whoever did the set-up and adjustment.

Again, my point is just that the original instrument has the potential to perform, but it also takes skilled repair people to realize that potential.

July 15, 2007 at 09:11 PM · A small number of Strads and Guarneris are truly remarkable violins. With the rest, I think a good search can turn up a modern which will at a minimum compare very nicely if one can put prejudice aside.

It's certainly true that the most expensive violins usually have (and have had) the best people working on them. Six months of labor and experimentation to get an instrument "sounding like a million bucks" is trivial when the violin has the potential of selling for three million. Even though a Strad or Guarneri has a high value independent of sound, what dealer in his right mind wouldn't try to squeak out a few extra hundred-thousand dollars by doing everything in his capacity to get it sounding its best? It would be silly not to.

I'll bet a few of the top people could get a carefully selected, higher-quality Chinese factory violin sounding remarkable if they spent a year dinking around with it. But how do they recover their investment? Where do you find a buyer willing to spend 100K on an extraordinary Chinese factory violin?

The more sensible path for a violin technician is to spend the time on a violin which can support a high market price, or to just make something new.

David Burgess

July 15, 2007 at 09:40 PM · Hello Mr. Burgess and Mr. Kelley, thank you for joining this thread, what an honor to have you. I hope more makers join the thread.

First of all I want to know if you are saying that a few of the best Strads. and del Gesus are better than any modern. I have read what you have written on other sites, and this seems to contradict what you wrote (at one time you challenged anyone to put their best Strads. against the best moderns you can find).

I do not mean to in any way be disrespectful, but do you really want to tell me that the sound of these instruments is not special? That a lot of time spent on many instruments could make them sound this great?

I like moderns, don’t get me wrong, and I have played a few that have blown me away. But they are not the sound I hear on the best recordings, which have almost ALWAYS been done with a Strad. and or a del Gesu. If you want to find the best instruments in the world, you need to find the best players in the world. And when you find those players, they are holding a del Gesu or a Strad. With all respect, don’t you think that tells the whole story? (Yes Raymond, you missed something! The fact that Ehnes plays a Strad. DOES mean something! It means a lot!).

Btw: I wish I could put in my own experience, but I have only played a handful of Strads. and no del Gesus, and admittedly they did not sound better than some moderns. I have played a lot of moderns, and a few have been fantastic, but none sounded like what I hear on CDs by the greats.

July 15, 2007 at 10:17 PM · quote: "If you want to find the best instruments in the world, you need to find the best players in the world. And when you find those players, they are holding a del Gesu or a Strad. With all respect, don’t you think that tells the whole story? "

Yes, but it's telling a different story from yours: Players gain prestige when they use an instrument that the general public believes to be both magical and uber-expensive. It's part of the show. As log as the Strad or DGD doesn't stink, the player has everything to gain by using it, even if he owns an equal or superior Grenier, Zyg, or Burgess.

IMO, THAT is the whole story, and many tests over the years have pretty much verified this. All the rest is religion.

-At the end of the day, for a player, why does it even matter? If you have 2-5 mil to spend, I image you can find out the answer for yourself.

July 15, 2007 at 10:12 PM · I think threads like this belong on maestronet.com

or even myauditions.com where more professional players can address your issues and tell you what they think.

July 15, 2007 at 11:09 PM · Carol, Andreas and Raymond were both top players with two world-famous orchestras, and Mr. Burgesss is a world-renowned maker!

Allen: great point, but it’s loaded! You are surely right that these instruments bring prestige, but in the end, if those great players are playing those instruments mainly for prestige, then it is a bit defaming, is it not?

I heard the interview with McDuffie recently, and he seemed sincere when he said he bought the del Gesu because no modern could even begin to do the things this instrument could (paraphrased). Do we really want to say the Perlmans, Changs, Ehnes, Mutter, Bells, etc. are playing, and paying for these instruments for prestige alone? And then they are saying there is a REAL difference and keeping the lie going to keep the prestige? And they all seem to say the same things and agree about this? Are they really keeping to the party line? Allen, I am not saying your wrong, or right, but I am saying you have a conspiracy theory going. LOL

If you are right, it’s quite a story!

And what tests confirm this?

July 16, 2007 at 12:09 AM · From Andreas Tespolulos;

"Hello Mr. Burgess and Mr. Kelley, thank you for joining this thread, what an honor to have you. I hope more makers join the thread.

First of all I want to know if you are saying that a few of the best Strads. and del Gesus are better than any modern. I have read what you have written on other sites, and this seems to contradict what you wrote (at one time you challenged anyone to put their best Strads. against the best moderns you can find).

I do not mean to in any way be disrespectful, but do you really want to tell me that the sound of these instruments is not special? That a lot of time spent on many instruments could make them sound this great?"

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

Andreas, no disrespect taken, and my highest respect for your own opinions.

Personally, I haven't heard any moderns which can match a dozen-or-so top Strads and Guarneris. This is just my opinion based on what exposure I have had. I honestly think that one might have the potential to get a superior fiddle with the judicious expenditure of four to six million, and twenty thousand per year in insurance. But if one were to assume that most Strads can win these comparisons, I think it would be a mistake.

I started out as a restorer and might have remained perfectly happy with that had I not had so many frustrating experiences with the big labels, and at the same time heard what modern colleagues could produce.

Yes, I'll still challenge a group of famous mega-buck Cremonese against a select group of moderns, and I'll even put money on the outcome. ;)

David Burgess

July 16, 2007 at 01:26 AM · If twelve people were each given one of those dozen and told to go out into the world and find a modern they like better, they could do it. Out of the billion trillion violins in the world, they're going to like one of them better personally.

QED

July 16, 2007 at 02:55 AM · David wrote: "I honestly think that one might have the potential to get a superior fiddle with the judicious expenditure of four to six million, and twenty thousand per year in insurance. But if one were to assume that most Strads can win these comparisons, I think it would be a mistake."

Agreed.

Carol wrote: "I think threads like this belong on maestronet.com

or even myauditions.com where more professional players can address your issues and tell you what they think."

Hi Carol;

I think, in this case, more is better. :-)

There are two similar threads running on the Maestronet Pegbox presently, but each of those as well as the thread here address slightly different issues in interesting ways. Several individuals, some with a good deal of experience with older and contemporary instruments, have participated in all three threads on both boards... and I personally find the various viewpoints and focus on each well worth reading.

Cheers!

Jeffrey

July 16, 2007 at 03:07 AM · Carol, we now have another big-time maker on board (MR. Holmes)! And when you think that Raymond is in this thread, well, to me any chance to get the “studio guys” involved in violin talks is really precious. Who has played more moderns than those guys?

David, thank you for not taking offense at what I wrote, I did not mean any offense.

I am confused by what you wrote, you seem to contradict yourself.

You say, “Personally, I haven't heard any moderns which can match a dozen-or-so top Strads and Guarneris.”

But then you say, “Yes, I'll still challenge a group of famous mega-buck Cremonese against a select group of moderns, and I'll even put money on the outcome.”

How can u say u would put the moderns up against the Cremonese if you have not personally ever heard any moderns which can match a dozen or so Strads and Guarneris? (Oh and do you mean 12 of each, or 12 all together?)

And I gather the top instruments your talking about are in the hands of the best players right now: Chang’s del Gesu, Plerman’s Strad, Bell’s Strad, Reppin’s del Gesu, The ex-Heifets Strad, McDuffie’s del Gesu, etc…

Can you clear up your statement for me David because it just does not make sense to me? I mean according to your own words, you would lose if the top Strads and Guaneris were put in the competition.

Am I the only one who does not get this?

And I think John is right about what David and Allen have written. I mean a whole lot of great players all say these instruments are much better, if they are not telling what they really believe, well it does sound like the "C" word! I persomally cannot come even close to believing that, which is why I think that David you would lose hands down (even though I am still not sure what you are saying:)

July 16, 2007 at 04:21 AM · Andreas, not that I can possibly know from personal experience, but look at an obvious explanation:

Besides the BS / showbiz / prestige thing, it is likely that the top players don't really know, either. Have any of them done double-blind tests? Of course not, they really can't, as they'd recognize the feel of the instrument. If someone hands you a 5 mill Strad, you are going to like it more than if you thought it was Chinese. That's human nature, and to say such a phenomenon doesn't exist would be foolish and absurd.

There are just so many factors involved. Anyway, this discussion has no end, and no real resolution is possible, so I suggest everyone just believe what they want to believe, and be happy. Works for me.

I personally choose to believe in the Easter Bunny, 'cause it's FUN!

July 16, 2007 at 03:44 AM · Andreas, I think what David means is that there are only about a dozen unique old Strads or Guarneris which could out perform the best moderns; and there are scores of old mega-buck Cremonese violins which are no better or are perhaps inferior to quality modern ones.

July 16, 2007 at 01:52 PM · What? Fiddle makers are expected to make sense? :)

Andreas, with my comment,

"Yes, I'll still challenge a group of famous mega-buck Cremonese against a select group of moderns, and I'll even put money on the outcome", I wasn't offering to bet on moderns versus the "top dozen" solo instruments, only on moderns versus "run-of-the-mill" magabuck fiddles. My assertion is not that some number of Cremonese violins don't belong at the top of the pile, only that assumptions that all or most of them possess magical qualities which can't be matched don't stand up well to listener scrutiny. Hope that clears thing up.

But if only the very best sounding Strads and Guarneris were to be used, I'll still play the odds. What are the chances that six of the "top twelve" Cremonese can be assembled in one place at one time, or that people can even agree on which belong in this group? And if this could be done, what if we also select the moderns based on some kind of a "sound-off", rather than taking them at random or by the makers reputation as is most often done in listening tests?

I don't know what the outcome would be, but I'm always eager to learn, and quite willing to change my mind about things as better information comes along.

Dave-Bob

July 17, 2007 at 03:28 AM · OK David, out with it, what are the dozen Cremonese? Which ones? Hey, do you realize if you are right about the "dirty dozen," then a lot of the greats are playing on over-priced stuff that could be had for much less.

The best sounding fiddle I have heard is Heifetz' del Gesu, followed by Reppin's del Gesu and whatever del Gesu Perlman was playing at one time. I aslo love Pelman's strad and whatever it is that Chang plays on. And Ricci sounded pretty great on his del Gesu as well. Hey David, if you can pull it off I'd stay away from the del Gesu stuff! LOL

July 23, 2007 at 01:40 AM · David, what do you think are the factors that made, or makes, those dozen or so Cremonians better than any modern you have heard?

Is it what was done to them, or how they were built in the first place, or a combination of both?

August 5, 2007 at 05:27 PM · I wonder if anyone see's the complete discrepency here! To begin with, there has been absolutely no significant change in violin construction since Stradivari and Guarnieri put in their part. Certainly not since Stradivari. The best "modern" makers only have an art because of what was accomplished 300 or so years ago. There certainly isn't one that has offered any significant contribution to the history of what a violin is since then except perhaps Vuillaume.

Mr. Burgess says "I started out as a restorer and might have remained perfectly happy with that had I not had so many frustrating experiences with the big labels, and at the same time heard what modern colleagues could produce."

I truly think this was different with Stradivari and Guarnieri. They made violins because it made them feel alive and they had a love for beauty which became simply all encompassing. Also, their personality and their own unique way of relating to sound is completely expressed in their work. This is something different than focusing on a certain effect, this is honoring creation itself.

On the other hand, I do believe that there are restorers who can restore the true quality of a fine violin and have spent their life doing just that, and also do that for love of beauty, and have remained completely happy with that. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.

Also, I certainly believe that one should keep the art of violin making alive and buy and help modern makers to sell their instruments.

August 5, 2007 at 06:39 PM · To begin with, there has been absolutely no significant change in violin construction since Stradivari and Guarnieri put in their part."

Please, almost every maker I talked to, and even those who spend most of their time restoring, agree that Stradivari would not recognize his instruments if he were here today.

The best Stradivarius or del Gesu, without the work that has been "ADDED" to them could not cut through the smallest halls!

And if you talk to most makers you realize that most think that " set up" is a huge part of the equation. Who does the set-up? Answer, the great modern makers of so many generations, one after another. If set-up is everything, then who gets credit for that?

One of the studio players right now has been asked to produce a CD in which many moderns will be showcased, much like the Ricci CD. But the label wants to go further and get the better Cremonese instruments involved, do you think they will send their instruments to be recorded in the same exact fashion as the moderns?

As for why Stradivari and de Gesu did their art: I do not know one maker that we talked to who did not have a great passion for what he did, including David Burgess! You owe him and the rest of them a great apology! They love what they do just as much as the over-hyped Cremonians did! Perhpas more so!

August 5, 2007 at 06:57 PM · Changing the neck, bridge, the bass bar or other things (end piece etc) of a Stradivari or Guarnieri in order to make it up to date with common usage of tighter strings and other things is not what I call a significant change in violin structure. The basic acoustic properties of the body remain.

I find it characteristic that with all the changes, even Mr. Burgess states that a certain amount of Stradivari's and Guarnieri's remain unparalleled.

These instruments were not even made for modern usage. That certainly points out that there is an ability missing to understand acoustic properties at a very basic simple level.

August 5, 2007 at 07:42 PM · To begin with further.

I think it's great that Mr. Burgess sticks up for modern makers and helps the whole art of violin making to progress. There never could be enough Strads or Guarnieri's to go around and the whole history of violin making is a story in human ability that shows what humans can do with their apposable thumbs other than wage war and destroy eachother.

I think that one who truly was amazed at the subtle touch as to what makes a Guarnieri or Strad what it is and allowed that and nothing but that to inspire them to make violins, this would perhaps be closer to the source. I owe no one an apology for such an opinion. Beauty is beauty and owe's no one an apology when it inspires people.

It also is completely not true that a Strad or Graunieri doesn't project even when not altered to modern standards. There is also a difference between being "audible" and projecting. This however, doesn't apply to a Strad or Guanieri with or without modern setup, they both project and are audible (and incidently they aren't audible just because they stick a decible level of sound in your ear). Perhaps modern setup helps, but that again isn't truly modern because there were Cremonese makers who produced an almost completely modern setup. That was all experimented with then.

and then this statement was put forth:

"Please, almost every maker I talked to, and even those who spend most of their time restoring, agree that Stradivari would not recognize his instruments if he were here today."

Well let me know how it comes out next time one of your friends shows one of his instruments to Stradivari to see if Antonio can recognize it.

August 5, 2007 at 10:22 PM · One could just appreciate a great fiddle if it's a great fiddle, new or old. Strad or Burgess.

August 5, 2007 at 10:30 PM · double.

August 6, 2007 at 03:51 AM · When did Raymond say the instruments did not have acoustical properties? He said they could not cut through the halls of today if they had not been changed. This is true. They made baroque instruments, and generations of great makers changed them drastically, so much so, that as Raymond said, most makers told us they believed Strad would not recognize his instruments if he were here. It would be interesting to hear what other makers think about this, and I think this is ALL Raymond was saying.

You do owe Mr. Burgess an apology, not because you said beauty as a motivation is truly good, but because you said this motivation is foreign to him. I have gotten to know him through trying his fiddles,and I can tell you the guy loves his work and is just a great guy! You want beauty in creation? Mr. Burgess and the modern makers of today are a great example of it! Great men that anyone would be really proud of! If you have read any of the many things he has posted concerning why makers make violins, you would know that he and other makers make violins for the passion of the art. Or in your own words, he makes them because making violins makes him “feel alive,“ and he has a “love for beauty which is simply all encompassing.” Do I need to find quotes from him to prove this point, or will you take it at face value? If I need to find quotes, I will; they are in so many of the threads he has joined.

As for the “certain amount of Cremonese instruments that remain unparallel:” they have all gone through the hands of the best makers of every generation since, and more dollars have been invested in them then we will ever see. Why? Because the violin world has these historical figures on a pedestal that makes money. And if you read Raymond’s posts, he raised the question (about how much of it is the original creation and how much of it is the work of others in the generations that followed) for discussion; he did not say he knew the answer to it.

Two things are for sure: Strad and del Gesu made great instruments (many have and still do!). Secondly, more talented hands have labored over their instruments and more money has been poured into them than any other violins. Now which aspect (their original creative genius or what has been done to them since) is responsible for them being better than anything else (if this is even true?) is a great question. You wish to answer it by putting them on this pedestal (many do). You connect them to beauty and creation with all kinds of new age like phrases, which I have trouble understanding. Raymond simply asked the question to get great dialogue going on the matter.

I do think that Strad and del Gesu knew a lot about set-up, but I think perhaps the great makers since have taken it to another level.

You seem to give them (Strad and del Gesu) a greater place because they invented the art form, but they did not invent the art form. They took Amati’s work further, just like generations of makers since have taken their work further.

Lastly you never answered why none of the owners will show up with the high-prized Cremonians to have them taped in like-fashion with great moderns. The reason is fear of having the pedestal you (and so many others) have them on exposed.

I know a response is unfortunately forthcoming, and I have a request. Can you make it using plain English so others and I can understand you clearly? I am sure you know what you mean when you use new-age like phrases (the beauty of creation, etc.) but the rest of us may not be as gifted. And if we do not understand you clearly, we may knock down a strawman you never created. No pun intended.

August 6, 2007 at 03:54 AM · The best-sounding violin I ever heard was a Storioni...totally blew Strad and Del Gesu out of the water.

Yeah, I know, random comment...

August 6, 2007 at 03:54 AM · "These instruments were not even made for modern usage. That certainly points out that there is an ability missing to understand acoustic properties at a very basic simple level."

I do not mean to pester, but what does that mean?

August 6, 2007 at 04:13 PM · From Roelof Bijkerk;

"...the whole history of violin making is a story in human ability that shows what humans can do with their opposable thumbs other than wage war and destroy each other."

Great comment, I love that!

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

"I think that one who truly was amazed at the subtle touch, as to what makes a Guarnieri or Strad what it is, and allowed that and nothing but that to inspire them to make violins, this would perhaps be closer to the source."

I understand what you're saying, but sometimes being in awe interferes with learning, scrutiny and objectivity. The best violin scholars and makers I know have a strong appreciation for what was done in Cremona, but I never see any drool. ;)

I think we can all remember being 16 years old, and so smitten with someone that we were totally blind to the very qualities which were most important.

The same thing can happen with fiddles. Most of us in the trade have gone through a phase of infatuation with old Cremonese, and eventually taken off the "rose colored glasses" so we could move on to some serious learning. This isn't to say that respect is gone, only that it has changed into a form that's more objective and useful.

Fiction (like The Red Violin movie) may have had a big influence on how makers like Stradivari and Guarneri are perceived, and also on the perception of working contexts of violin makers in general. In contrast to the fiction, actual records and correspondence from the Cremonese golden period suggest that makers were rather pragmatic, even business oriented individuals. Stradivari sounds a little bitter in his will when he leaves a reduced inheritance to his son Omobono, mentioning a loan from Dad which was never repaid. Another maker sends a letter requesting prompt payment for some fiddles, because he needs to pay his wood supplier. Etc. Seemingly ordinary people, not mystics or magicians, certainly not deity.

Similarly, most of the makers I know today (amateurs excluded) are rather practical people, though not always above telling a few silly romantic tales to appeal to a certain market, or to get into print. No, I've never known anyone who actually walks through the forest, listening intently while tapping on trees to select wood, LOL! It's a great story though, isn't it? Reporters and some consumers love stuff like that!

I have a passion for what I do, but I need to be very careful. It's impossible to really know how I'm doing on an instrument if I fall in love with it, just as a serious player can't afford to fall in love with their own playing.

I envy the amateurs though, both players and makers. They can totally indulge the passion, and that has a beauty of its own.

August 6, 2007 at 04:28 PM · Frightened tree trying to save its life:

"Tap, tap."

"Nobody in here but us banjos."

August 6, 2007 at 05:23 PM · LMAO Jim, good one.

August 6, 2007 at 08:48 PM · No trees like that for me, Jim. For the best sound, each tree must sincerely want to become a violin.

If not, no hard feelings. We just hug and go our separate ways.

August 6, 2007 at 08:58 PM · Emily - good ideas for single panel cartoons here for Strings. Get your muse humping and draw them. Guy in an apron taps on a tree with a little mallet, handsaw hanging at his side...

August 7, 2007 at 05:14 AM · "I truly think this was different with Stradivari and Guarnieri. " This is what I said and this is what I still believe. And no I haven't been convinced otherwise! People who try to make another apologize for their opinion as if one is not even allowed to think it, what kind of world you create speaks for itself. It's an opinion, and further more I don't believe there are only a few of Stradivari's violins worthy of the praise given them! Mr Paul and Mr Boucher you people make out that if anyone thinks there is any reason for this that they owe the rest of the makers an apology!?

Oh, very very funny. And this is supposed to be convincing...hmmm

I really do not believe that a name like Stradivari and what it represents for human consciousness and what being human can mean is present for only a few of his instruments. Neither is that what I hear. I think there's a reason his work shines out for what the human condition can create. I do not hear that same quality in modern day violins. In fact, only in Guarnieri do I hear the same ability to relate to sound and personality. I certainly am not alone in that opinion.

However, I certainly wouldn't say that David Burgess owes Stradivari or Guarnieri an apology for saying that he thinks there are many modern makers who make instruments as good as all but the best of his.

Also, I'm only happy for Mara if she has found a violin which surpasses any other although it isn't a Strad or a Guarnieri and neither do I think she needs to apologize for her opinion.

August 7, 2007 at 05:06 AM · David, thanks for the information about Bonono. That explains a lot for me (in fact I can't go into it)....I think that Stradivari was just trying to be fair (maybe he wished his son had been more thoughtful about his finances but I don't think he was bitter) and that he always was that kind of a disciplinarian with his children.

I wish you all the best and don't let anyone make you think I'm not completely behind you achieving your passion whether that's getting other makers their due attention or creating your own instruments.

August 7, 2007 at 05:36 AM · And I thought I was an idealist...Stradivari and Guarneri were obviously artist-craftsmen of the very highest rank, but it sounds like you're putting them in some sort of category of "higher" human beings because of that. Am I totally missing your point again?

August 7, 2007 at 05:58 AM · No, I actually would mean that they were so humble that they allowed the vessel we were given to experience life it's full potential (allowing the brain to relate to sound without the ego interfering, the brain which has billions of years of evolution if you believe that theory or is a gift from God if you believe that one). They weren't in love with their ability. When a species has to evolve to adapt then only a certain of those organisms actually do this (adapt) but this allows the rest of the species to survive. This doesn't mean that the adapting organisms are better organisms.

I know it sounds like I am trying to start a worship for Stradivari and Guarnieri but that's not it. I think rather there is something there that's perhaps neglected, a way of thinking or using the mind which people are biased against.

A great player doesn't fall in love with his own playing he falls in love with the music. It's the music that's the source of inspiration... I think it's silly to worship the player when all they want to do is have people hear the beauty of the music....

Does this make any sense?

There's a part of the mind that has an incredible relationship with sound and music because it's from the mind and that's from evolution (or a gift from God). That has nothing to do with any one person at all.

Anyways lets stop going on about this before we get an evolution debate..

August 7, 2007 at 06:32 AM · The more identity, the less experience (of identity).

The less identity, the more experience (of identity) that's universal.

It's whether you experience the things around you or not, it's letting go of the need to be something in order to experience what being is and the harmony that already was there before you decided to be anything.......

By the way, I also believe that if you allowed the mind to tell you what harmony is, the mind itself that is which has understood and been part of harmony since human beings began their existence, that everyone on the planet could find an answer which wasn't violent.....

As I said already: violin making enobles the human condition by showing that people can do something different with their fingers than make weapons and kill each other with them. Violin making enobles the fact that we have opposable thumbs while so much other "human" activity degrades it...

August 7, 2007 at 06:36 AM · I believe that all human beings can do great things. Someone who inspires people towards greatness (which I certainly think Strad and Guarnieri do) don't do this by being made out to be higher human beings. I think they bring out a element universal to the human condition.

However, I can't say myself that I believe other makers are up to par with them in how much they allowed that universal element to emerge. In that sense Strad and Guarnieri were less "makers" then the rest and more just human beings...

And now I'm going to stop going on about this because there's a lot of double talk:

I wasn't really talking so much about skill or craftmanship, I was talking about a person's relationship with what they're given, we are all given a brain and when you get to know it and how it relates to sound, instincts etc. acquiring a relationship with the brain and how it responds to a task creates skill but that's not the skill of one particular person nor is it for one particular person to control, that's something universal, the skill of "evolution' again, or the other side being the skill of "God." No violin maker was up in heaven designing how the human hand should be formed in order for it to craft or play a violin, nor did they design the human brain or the overtone series. Yet they all needed these things in order to do their "craft"

You have to be careful with words. If someone says that a person is artful that can mean everything from that he is good at decieving people to that he can find a necessary solution where everyone else is lost.

August 7, 2007 at 07:08 AM · "Strads and Del Gesus: Makers that somehow cannot be matched? Or a product of a lot of talented hands over many years?"

Here's a way you could try to answer that question. Compare examples that have had a lot of work done on them to examples that haven't and look for the correlation.

Personally I think many, many people have made instruments just as good, if for no other reason than preference is so subjective.

August 7, 2007 at 06:58 AM · "These instruments were not even made for modern usage. That certainly points out that there is an ability missing to understand acoustic properties at a very basic simple level."

I do not mean to pester, but what does that mean?

This obviously means that if an instrument which was not made for modern string tension or string length sounds better if used with modern string tension or the other changes than all instruments which were made while such tension is in common use...that the former has a basic universal acoustic property that is missing in modern instruments.

Incidently I think it also points out that it would be possible to make an instrument which goes better with modern day usage than those not intended for it...perhaps that will come some day....

And now I'm really not going to answer any more questions your mind could answer by itself....

No matter how much it irritates that I am supposed to prevent the mind from turning on by responding in an "acceptable" way...

In fact I am sooooo over responding in this thread!

August 7, 2007 at 01:34 PM · The last point makes sense to me! LOL

August 7, 2007 at 04:36 PM · "To begin with, there has been absolutely no significant change in violin construction since Stradivari and Guarnieri put in their part."

How about Carleen Hutchins' Mezzo Violin (as well as the rest of the Octet)?

August 7, 2007 at 04:51 PM · I'll bet there are violins out there that equal these distinguished makers. Some MIGHT even be somewhat modern.

August 8, 2007 at 12:55 AM · First I'd like to throw in the question why do you compare Strad and Guarneri in terms of better or worse to modern makers. Are we comparing the performances of cars? Not all Strads have the same level. To my opinion such comparisions don't exist for works of art. (Who was the better painter Rembrand or Andy Warhol?)

This aside, maybe only a handful of instruyments has come down to our times in original condition with baroque neck and bridge. Therefore I would think that neither Antonio Stradiavari nor Guiseppe Bartolomeo Guraneri would recognize their instruments soundwise. Just listen to the CD 'music in the times of Stradivari' and then jump to Paganini and you might get a good impression how Stradivari would feel about it.

As a maker I often felt that times have changed dramatically. Comptetion nowadays is different and it comes down to the point that any maker has to sell his products to make a living. I just see how much time I am spending NOT making violins or thinking about it but instead things necessary to run my shop. Stradivari certainly wasn't distrubed in his work by phone calls or was involved with solving the mystery of Stradivaris varnish. :-)

Jokes aside, members of the Stradivari and Guarneri workshop most likely spend 90 percent of their working time on making instruments. Stradivari very successfully and Guarneri only with difficulties in terms of selling their instruments.

August 8, 2007 at 02:25 AM · Honestly, I truly love anyone who takes the trouble to make violins and by some sort of magic that person's personality is transfered to the violins they make....no matter how "crazy" they are.

LOL

That would be a good epitaph....

"Whatever you think you're hiding, the wood knows who you are!"

August 11, 2007 at 01:04 PM · Thank you Mr. Preuss, I enjoyed reading what you wrote!

August 11, 2007 at 01:16 PM · Who was the better painter Rembrand or Andy Warhol

I think it depends on whether you're having the interior or exterior of your house painted.

Neil.

PS. Sorry...

August 12, 2007 at 06:12 AM · As an afterthought

I was asked this by Boucher

"Lastly you never answered why none of the owners will show up with the high-prized Cremonians to have them taped in like-fashion with great moderns. The reason is fear of having the pedestal you (and so many others) have them on exposed."

It's obvious that these people have no need to respond themselves if I would have to respond for them in order to be "objective" in a discussion where the decision as to why they decide to take part in a beauty contest of violins is to be made. Further more, I keep absolutely no database of the reasons "they" aren't interested in having their violin in a beauty contest.

Maybe you could ask one of those knowledgable people that seem to know whether Antonio Stradivari could recognize one of his own instruments...and do keep tabs on which ones he does and doesn't recognize and if any or all. And please spend your time verifing your claim that there is no Strad and Guarnieri versus the moderns beauty contest because "The reason is fear of having the pedestal you (and so many others) have them on exposed."

It's your claim not mine.

If you want to base the validity of your claim on whether or not I refute it (apparently having hidden knowledge of the true motives of all involved), go ahead as well. That clearly speaks for itself.

If you will excuse me now, I have to go email ALL the owners of cremonese instruments that could be effected by your claims and tell them my newest strategies for making sure that their image is not tarnished.

August 12, 2007 at 09:14 AM · I'm really waiting to see whether owners of these Cremonese instruments are considered ok to decide whether they prefer them to others all on their own or whether or not they will have to submit their wives to to afore mentioned beauty contests as well out of fairness to others who feel they have better wives.

Will I have to write my representatives about such decisions regarding marital freedom?

August 14, 2007 at 02:07 AM · Roelof: I sure enjoy your rantings and diatribes! They make no sense to me, whatsoever, but I love them nevertheless! LOL

And Roelof, do you care that the guy you are now putting down (seems like a different one each week! But again, I love it! For God`s sake--don`t stop!)has recorded on more tracks then perhaps any violinist of our time

oh, don`t bother answering; I already know your resopnse! LOL

On second thought, go ahead and answer as you only can; I love ``your stuff`too much--even if I already know what you will pretty much say! LOL

August 16, 2007 at 11:39 PM · I think there is an incredible amount of jealousy going on about why Strad or Guarnieri violins get the attention they are due.

I think it's great that so many people today are making violins and I am sure there are many fine makers and instrument that deserve attention, but that is a far cry from saying that what they do is at the same level as what Guarnieri or Strad have done.

I do not believe that the people who chose what instrument to play are hampered in their cognition by some sort of allure of a "big label" instrument. In fact, that would be making a great deal of soloists out to be silly rich people......

and speaking of "silly"

there is this quote by Mr. Burgess

"It's certainly true that the most expensive violins usually have (and have had) the best people working on them. Six months of labor and experimentation to get an instrument "sounding like a million bucks" is trivial when the violin has the potential of selling for three million. Even though a Strad or Guarneri has a high value independent of sound, what dealer in his right mind wouldn't try to squeak out a few extra hundred-thousand dollars by doing everything in his capacity to get it sounding its best? It would be silly not to."

What is silly is to think that it's about money and that someone would be silly not to do it because then they would make extra money.

I highly doubt that the best restorers and sellers do this mainly because they make extra money doing it, I think they recognize something that is worth the trouble. If they were doing it just for the money they might easily make the instrument sound worse with their presumptiousness (and here again the first time doesn't seem to be once too many, but has happened more than once again).

A lot of human experience (300 years) has gone into proving Strad and Guarnieri out to be an exemplar of what sound and even humility towards and dedication to sound can be. That generations of people have loved those two makers above all the rest for the quality of sound, for the ability it gives people to get in touch with and project their emotions and how it enobles what the human condition is capable of: this is not going to come to a stop because one person finds frustration with it.

There certainly is room for anyone who wants to to improve on Stradivari or Guarnieri. If people only played their violins there would be something like 1000 instruments available, that really does not corner the market! What remains is an incredible amount of jealousy and politicizing.

I do NOT believe Stradivarius or Guarnieri del Jesu accomplished what they did because they were frustrated with generations of people finding inspiration with great art and saying that others deserve this attention – when only time could tell such a thing.

It fact that is what time already has done and not one person today with all their laurels or reasons that others should pay them homage have ANYTHING to say about it.

August 17, 2007 at 08:58 AM · From Roelof Bijkerk;

"What is silly is to think that it's about money and that someone would be silly not to do it because then they would make extra money.

I highly doubt that the best restorers and sellers do this mainly because they make extra money doing it...... "

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

Really?

Work in a major shop that handles Strads and Del Gesus for a while, and then get back to us with your experiences. ;-)

Otherwise, it's all conjecture or fantasy.

But you're right in a way. I've felt strongly motivated to make an expensive fiddle sound good just because it's supposed to, with no realized financial gain. The gain went to my employer.

On a side note, how many Strads and Del Gesus have you played?

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

"What remains is an incredible amount of jealousy and politicizing."

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

OK, let's put this opinion to the test.

You select the antique fiddles of your choice, and arrange for them to show up.

I'll choose the modern fiddles, and arrange for them to show up. If you wish, none of these fiddles will be mine. This will be a double-blind test, with the audience, player and hall of your choosing.

I'll submit the outcome to Strad or Strings Magazine, regardless of which way it goes.

What could be more fair?

August 17, 2007 at 11:58 AM · I love fine violins, and bows - old, new, and inbetween. My current collection includes a 19th C. French one by Desire, an almost dead-ringer Chinese replica of the Hellier Strad, a contemporary Italian by Maurizio Catellani - and my favorite, a personally-commissioned violin by Edward Maday of Long Island, NY - based on the Lord Wilton del Gesu. I've personally tried 3 Strads, one composite Strad, 2 del Gesus, quite a few other classic Italians, a partridge and a pear...no, wait, that belongs to another list!

But seriously, I'm in agreement with the opinion that while a handful of Strads and del Gesus are in a class by themselves, some of the best contemporary violins would compare very well with the rest. And some years of playing definitely make a difference in bringing out the most response and complexity inherent in an instrument, though of course, 'a silk purse will not be turned out of a sow's ear'.

I have no axe to grind, nothing to sell. We're all human. Is it self-serving for contemporary makers to extol their own virtues? Sure. Is it any less self-serving for high-end dealers, auction houses, and owners of extremely expensive instruments to stress how unique and unreachable they are?

There can be no one best fiddle - only one that comes pretty darn close to being the right one for the right player at the right time. It's not so easy to separate the instrument from the player. When we think how wonderful someone's fiddle sounds on a CD, or live, I believe that it's more the player, w.o. taking away any credit from the instrument. Hillary Hahn plays on a Vuilliaume. She's not alone. In Kreisler's heyday, a wealthy amateur sought to find a del Gesu to equal Kreisler's famed 1733 (-one of the two I've tried). He thought he found it at Wurlitzer's, but after a brief trial he returned it. "I just heard Kreisler the other night, and this one just isn't close", he said. Shortly after that, Kreisler himself, paid Wurlitzer's a visit. "Mr Kreisler, we love you" they said, "but you just cost us a sale." "Well it gets better" said K., "At that concert I was using my Vuilliaume!"

August 17, 2007 at 03:21 AM · Josh, a few things: a while back many players and collectors from San Francisco got together and played a bunch of expensive old Italians, a few strads, an Amoti, etc. and compared them to a few moderns (Belini, Zyg, Needham). When the smoke cleared, the Needham was on top, followed by a Guad. I personally thought the Guad sounded best, but I was in the minority. What is even more interesting is the Belini and Zyg were the next most liked instruments. In other words, the moderns took 3 of the first 4 positions.

Then when I was challenged about this later, well, I had everything in place to do it all over again, but all I got was excuses.

David, trust me, no one will show up for your challenge—they have gotten their butts kicked so often before that those who own these old golden age Italians do not want it to happen again. You’ll get a bunch of excuses, and that is it, they won’t show up.

Just talked to a big-time player up north who is ending his contract with a collector that was lending him a Guarnerius because he likes his Croen better—is he stupid?

Tetzlaf plays and sounds as good as anyone, is he stupid for playing on a Greiner?

Sarn Oliver, a while back, stated he liked his Seifert and Grubuagh as much as his Guarneri, and he is no fool.

Just heard one of my friends soloing with a philharmonic in Montreal. He was playing with a shoulder that is torn in two places and yet he played the Bruch about as well and as powerfully as it can be played and he did it on a MODERN! By the time he was done the whole place was emotionally moved! Is he stupid? (Well, I would have to say stupid for playing on a shoulder like that!).

Oh and Josh your other argument does not work because while it is true that a modern maker like Burgess is putting all he can to make his instruments sound as good as he can, he is by himself and does not have MANY the best makers of 300 years adjusting and working with his fiddles.

There are great older fiddles and there are great moderns, and I think all players have to find what works best for them. I love the way Raphael just put it: “There can be no one best fiddle - only one that comes pretty darn close to being the right one for the right player at the right time.”

And he is right; in the end it is more about the player than the maker.

Oh and Roelof: in this thread you insulted one of the most recorded violinist in our time, and now you have twice insulted one of the most respected makers of our time! Love it! LOL What would we do without you?

August 17, 2007 at 05:02 AM · I checked out the links to the Seattle Times. Very interesting. Unfortunately the one with the apparent streaming audio is now dead. The name James Ehnes rang a bell and then it finally came to me. He played with the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl last summer. It was a clean solo performance but it seemed that the idea of 'dynamics' had somehow not crossed the bow-string threshold. To then see commentary on how this violinist is somehow in the Heifetz tradition?? OK I am a crappy violinist but I have heard some of the greats and wonder what this instrument collection would sound like with a real great doing the driving. Maybe the mystique would be diminished because a real great could probably get any sound from almost any instrument...

August 17, 2007 at 12:05 PM · Mr. Burgess:

The best players in the world have already made their choice of instruments. That is their personal choice. You seem to have a probem with that. I don't.

If you are interested in a competition between modern and what you call antique fiddles then I suggest you put your attention to someone who could organize such an event. If I had enough money for such an event or the ability to organize it I would instead have a concert to help buy land in the rainforest (perhaps to help preserve pernambuco wood), help preserve habitat, help promote a lifestyle that is more considerate of the environment, help bring food to starving people or many other things. I certainly don't have to validate my opinion with your idea of what a test of it would be. My love of a Stradivari or Del Gesu sound has nothing to do with their "popularity," it has to do with what I hear as an individual and what inspires me! That opinion rests on what I heard, there are enough people who play much better violin than I do who as players have chosen those violins. The players have made their choice and then I'm supposed to have played on a certain amount of those instruments to have something to say about it!? Then an audience is supposed to chose all of who haven't played on those instruments (but I should have to have an opinion).

I suggest you stop trying to use that kind of psychology (trying to keep a person off balance) because it only shows what games you play. You did the same in references to money. Neither do I believe you understand what games you are playing, you would have to think about it.

Also, I'm NOT going to go on about this, I truly have better things to do.

I wish you all the best.

August 17, 2007 at 01:42 PM · Mr. Paul wrote

"Oh and Roelof: in this thread you insulted one of the most recorded violinist in our time, and now you have twice insulted one of the most respected makers of our time! Love it! LOL What would we do without you?"

On the other side, to agree with these two people, I would have had to devalue the two best violin makers of all time and insult the best players alive and their choice in violins by saying that they are guilty of idolatry.

You figure it out what that adds up to since you are so "keen" on the humor of a situation.

Also, I'm not going on about this stuff, I have better things to do.

I wish you the best in your attempt to get more recognition for modern violin makers. I never have been trying to insult their passion, merely stating where I believe a more complete passion lies and the inspiration that I believe would help them achieve what's possible. That's my opinion and I've done that honestly.

August 17, 2007 at 01:47 PM · As I said, I'm not posting to this thread anymore, in fact I'm not reading it anymore. So, if you want to find someone besides yourself to organize your so necessary competition or you want to ridicule someone you think is being insubordinate....

just stop it why don't you.

August 17, 2007 at 02:04 PM · LOL, I really don't have the words! This is the most fun I've had reading posts before! Please don't stop posting, it would take the fun out of my mornings!

Mr. Burgess, my respects for your experience and what you bring to the arts. Bravo, Sir.

August 17, 2007 at 02:25 PM · From Roelof Bijkerk;

"Mr. Burgess:

The best players in the world have already made their choice of instruments. That is their personal choice. You seem to have a probem with that. I don't."

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

No problem here with what anyone chooses to play.

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

From Roelof Bijkerk;

"I suggest you stop trying to use that kind of psychology (trying to keep a person off balance) because it only shows what games you play. You did the same in references to money. Neither do I believe you understand what games you are playing, you would have to think about it."

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

Wow, that's quite a rant!

Did you intend for it to be an example of the psychological gaming you describe? ;-)

Thanks for the constructive criticism though.

I'll definitely run it by my therapist. :-)

August 17, 2007 at 02:30 PM · From Roelof Bijkerk;

"As I said, I'm not posting to this thread anymore, in fact I'm not reading it anymore. So, if you want to find someone besides yourself to organize your so necessary competition or you want to ridicule someone you think is being insubordinate....

just stop it why don't you."

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

Sorry, sounds like I've been insubordinate. ;-)

August 17, 2007 at 03:35 PM · I would like to ask a question since I have not noticed this addressed in this discussion. Given that there are very fine modern instruments and older instruments and that in these "play-offs" listeners don't always choose the older instruments over the moderns or vice-versa, to what extent can a fair evaluation be made if the strings used on each instrument are the same or different and they are played with the same or different bows. A colleague of mine plays on a Rogeri and I was convinced it had a particular identifiable sound that I could always tell apart from my other colleagues less illustrious instruments yet when he had to use a spare bow on one occasion, his instrument did not sound as good as some of the other instruments. Though this was one instance, I was surprised that the bow had such a dramatic effect on the special voice I attributed to his instrument. Also, when I was trying out an instrument for a student recently I was concerned that the instrument , while projecting strongly, had too brittle and metallic a quality. A change of strings made a dramatic difference and gave the instrument warmth without loss of projection. It would seem to me that the violin and the player alone cannot be the whole story. Could it be that some instruments, sounding good, will sound even better if the right combination of bow and strings are found. Further, does everyone agree on the placement of the sound post in relation to the bridge and the placement of the bridge? I had a student who had an unfocused tone ( I wouldn't call them wolf tones really) in a particular group of notes high on the G string and a small adjustment in her bridge corrected this problem. The natural pull of the pegs being turned in the tuning process would cause her bridge to lean very slightly forward and as long as the bridge was kept back a bit the problem did not surface. Would someone address the significance and impact these kinds of things have on the sound of an instrument and how, taking them in to account, one can "accurately" or objectively evaluate, when the playing field is already at a high level, whether one instrument sounds better than another?

August 17, 2007 at 06:56 PM · ... I'm taking my toys and going home!

(Sorry, couldn't resist. :))

If only I had a Strad, or a Guarnieri, or a Guad or any of the wonderful violins, historic or modern, that have been held up as examples, I'd gladly take such toys and go home!

I am a non-wealthy amateur, and as such my budget goes toward food, transportation, diapers and Chinese lead paint more than violins. I can't afford a good name on my fiddle, so I don't have one. Mine is unlabeled -- because I could get a better sound and felt more of a connection with an unlabeled violin in my meager price range than I could get with a labeled one in my price range.

There is a mystique that accompanies a good name, but that said, those names have typically earned their reputation. Stradivarius may have farmed out some of his fiddles to his apprentices, but he sure did make some real kickers in his time!

Modern makers, however, have the benefit of much of the knowledge of the old Cremonese makers; they have the surviving examples to examine and copy, and I've read some fascinating scientific analyses of the acoustic properties of great violins. I have every confidence that modern makers will eventually exceed even Stradivarius in the art and science of violin-making.

As to what makes a violin great, I would argue, however, that it isn't the sound. As others have pointed out above, the exact sound quality is dependent on the player, on the bow, on the strings; heck, even on atmospheric conditions. Every inch of a violin, bow, and even the body of the player has a role in the eventual timbre that emerges into a performance space. I consider that greatness in a violin is more a measure of the responsiveness of an instrument. It allows the player to create the kind of sound that the player wishes, in the full range of notes that is possible for a violin. A poor violin will only allow a bad sound, at one dynamic level (hence the problem with amateur orchestras performing with soloists being unable to adjust to the dynamic level of the soloist). A great violin can whisper, shout, yell, whimper, sing and cry.

August 17, 2007 at 08:30 PM · Great observations about all the variables.

I'd add that violins can interact differently with a particular room. I've had clients comparing two violins tell me,

"Violin A sounds better in this room, and violin B sounds better in this other room." They're right, it happens.

Some violins sound better with a shoulder rest, some without. Other factors can include the type of wood used for accessories, chinrest weight and position, how tight the chinrest is clamped, tiny variations in the way the bridge is cut including how well the feet fit, shoulder rest brand and position, how much hair was put on the bow, how much rosin is used, soundpost diameter and tension, playing position variations between players, even how much natural padding a player has.

It's enough to drive a maker/restorer/adjuster nuts (and usually does, LOL).

August 18, 2007 at 03:23 AM · I promised myself I wouldn't comment in print anymore about any aspect of shoulder rests! But as to other variables, yes, strings, bow, set-up etc.,etc. all can make a difference. We might think to try to level the playing field in a comparison test by putting the same strings on all the fiddles. But what would work beautifully for one might be awful for another. There are no eternal verities. Thibaud and Ysaye once made an experiment with Y.'s Strad and del Gesu. Over and over T. projected better on the Strad, and Y. on the del Gesu.

But as to personally judging a high-end playing field, I did have some very interesting experiences with three great violinists with whom I briefly studied (more years ago than I care to admit!) that still stick in my memory. At the close of a lesson with Glenn Dicterow, he finished putting his fiddle - a Strad - away first. Thinking of one more point he wished to impart he borrowed my fiddle - an Ottomar Haussmann - an OK modern German that projected very well. Glenn was still Glenn, but there were major differences. My violin had at least as much sonority and presence. But his Strad was much more beautiful, and sophisticated, with more subtle colors. At master classes in Nice with Aaron Rosand, he freely switched back and forth between his del Gesu and his Poggi (-in the Italian, not Korean sense!). I always heard the same differences. The Poggi was very brilliant, and on the outer strings, was more cutting than the del Gesu - at least in the classroom. But the del Gesu was richer, deeper, warmer, and more colorful. Charles Libove concertized with a Strad, but at the few lessons I had with him, used a Chinese fiddle. My best at that time was my Desire. He asked to try it once. At the outset, I definitely liked my Desire better. But very quickly Libove transcended them both, as his playing commanded my attention.

Well...fiddles are maddening fun!

August 18, 2007 at 12:22 AM · As an example of Irresistible Force meeting Immoveable Object, this thread has few peers. Still, one point seems elusive.

As a sort of player of various nearly musical instruments over the years, I've noticed that while one can pick up a strange instrument and get a quick feel for its quality, it takes a length of time to be able to uncover its virtues and bring them to a more or less impassioned state, trembling at one's more or less masterful touch.

That being so, at least for a hack, I wonder whether any instrument can get a fair trial under the conditions of the various blind or perhaps myopic tests that have taken place over the centuries. Aside from the more fraudulent elements, even such things as stringing or setup can, I'm told, vary the sound wildly. Then too, some instruments will appeal more to a tester, and who can say to what extent that will skew his playing?

On the whole, then, it would be most seemly to admit that there can never be adequate answers to the questions posed, because the variables can never be fully addressed. Like the best elements of human endeavor, there is no plumbing these depths.

But who cares? Tie a knot on the end of the rope and leap into the darkness; with luck the knot will hold, and if not, you're in for the ride of your life. Sadly, though, we'll never hear your onclusion. I suspect more than one person is still falling . . . .

August 18, 2007 at 03:52 AM · If I may toss in my 25c, since taking up the violin, I have researched somewhat, and sampled various expensive violins. I have even heard a Strad and DelGesu close up (I was invited to play them, but I declined the honour). True, I have heard some expensive moderns that sound very good indeed, but all were missing that special something the Strads and Gesus had. Overall, I support Mr Burgess and his comments - very insightful, common sense.

Common sense certainly seems to be lacking among the violinists I have encountered. Some believe the wildest assertions about woods, ageing, soaking in salt, and a myriad of other hoodoo voodoos. But, if we could use plain common sense, we might come to a truth or two, as Mr Burgess is trying to teach us.

Example: the Il Cannone, ca 1740, owned by Pagannini. Vuillaume made a copy, ca 1840. 100 years later: so-o-o the Cannone was aged and played by perhaps the greatest for a very long time. Presumably, the Cannone was "mature" (100 ys after birth). YET, Vuillaume's copy was so good, even Pagannini had a very difficult time discerning between the two - AND THIS WAS WHEN THE COPY WAS BRAND NEW!! So, for all you voodoo-ists what does this fact say about ageing, soaking, etc? For those with common sense, it says a basic truth - THE SKILL OF THE LUTHIER IS PARAMOUNT!!

The mystery of the great violins lies in the genius that made them. This is no fluke. Genius transcends, so perhaps the world may have this again (at least this is what I hope).

August 18, 2007 at 02:26 PM · Hi,

I promised myself that I wouldn't get into this, but...

There are a lot of great violins. There are excellent modern ones and great old ones too. I agree with Mr. Burgess that the greatest Strads and Del Gésus are truly great. I have tried a lot of violins, including some Strads and Del Gésus. You can't play them the same way - same goes for the copies actually. Also, these great violins have had the advantage of having been played well, by the best, for a long time. That is also important. The better a violin is played, the more it will resonate. People seem to forget this factor sometimes too.

But, with any violin, many people commit a mistake - they try to impose a way of playing on it, rather that seeking a way that will get the best out of the instrument. That goes for any violin, old or new. That said, the better the violin, the better the violinist has to be. I have heard some famous violinists sound great on any violin. You know why? Because they played to violin the way it needed to be played to sound its best - instinctively!

In the end, I have observed that great instruments are the product of many things, but three are important - excellent materials, brilliant craftsmanship, and excellent playing. Put all three together, leave it time to evolve and beauty can happen.

Cheers!

August 18, 2007 at 04:38 PM · It tells me you need to read up on your history, Ron. Paganini DIED in 1840, in Nice. He ceased performing in public by 1837 and by 1839-40 was the defendant in a lawsuit levied by his erstwhile partners in Casino Paganini, a gambling-and-music venture. They accused him of failing to provide the performances which were to have been his contribution to the venture. Performances he couldn't provide as he was too ill and too weak to play.

So I really don't think that Vuillaume's fiddle would have been even seen by him. Not to mention that his health was failing and that it is no stretch to say he was no longer able to judge as attentively, or play as well - if at all - as a few years prior.

August 18, 2007 at 07:12 PM · It's a well known story.

The versions I've seen put the date of the Vuillaume copy at 1833, which seems more credible, and 1840 as the year Paganini sold it to Camillo Sivori. This fiddle's still around, but I don't know the date on the label.

How true is the part about Paganinis reaction? Vuillaume was reputed to have been quite the self-promoter, so I suppose it's possible that the story came from him. But who knows? Savori is said to have preferred this Vuillaume to his Strad. Vuillaumes are considered by many today to be great fiddles, so this may have also been true in the past.

Does someone who's stronger than I on history care to comment?

August 19, 2007 at 01:41 AM · Emil:

I am the first to admit my history in some areas needs improvement. So, thanks for the post! Pagannini is interesting for many reasons other than his virtuosity. But "ca" means circa, or "about". Also, historical records are mainly inaccurate, anyway. So the copy was made ca 1830, and the Cannone was ca 1740, which is rounded to say 90 years - long enough for the Cannone to mature, and compare it to a newly made violin. As far as I know, the Vuillaume story is accepted as fact, but I will be very pleased to learn otherwise. Are not the Cannone and copy now resting in Genoa?

David:

Are not all luthiers "passionates" and "self-promoters"? :-)

I note Hillary Hahn plays a Vuillaume (I had the honour to meet her and the violin) at her recital in Shanghai. (what to say? - A lovely violin matched to a lovely person). If the Vuillaume is good enough for Ms Hahn, it must compare rather well to a Strad or DG. So whether V. was a promoter or not, he certainly made something worthy of promotion.

I have enjoyed reading this thread and all the posts from learned people. Especially the "passionate" posts. Nothing like a bit of passion to stir up a lively debate.

August 21, 2007 at 03:03 AM · I've also come accross a couple of versions of this story. Even if the dates could work, I'm pretty sure it's apochryphal. Vuillaume was an excellent craftsman, but I don't think he was the greatest antiquing replicator. And Paganini was quite astute, and a sometime dealer, himself. I have trouble believing that he wouldn't recognize the original that he'd spent so much time with.

August 21, 2007 at 05:35 AM · True, the story is apochryphal. But Ms Hahn and her JBV are not. I suppose a proof of sorts would be to hear the 2 violins side by side. Does anyone know if such has occurred and been documented?

August 21, 2007 at 01:10 PM · This is such an enormous question, and one, that for me, gets harder and harder to answer as I get older. I have an immense interest in violins in general and am a professional violinist living in New York City, which means I am able to try out many, many, expensive violins due to the great shops around me, my own colleague`s instruments, etc.?@In the end, I too would put real money down on Mr. Burgess`s wager; the results of these blind sound tests is so often in favor of contemporary violins that it is almost a cliche. I myself have been the violinist in many of these tests, as well as the listener. After reading the very passionate (angry?) posts here, I am forced to question just how many Strads and Guarneris Roelof Bijkerk has played. This is not a facetious question; after having played over 50 Strads, many Del Gesus, some of them certainly allowable into that `hallowed dozen` (the Betts for example, or the Wiener-Busch, or the Kreisler Guarneri, to name a few) having had long term loans of other fine Cremonese violins (for example a 1737 Bergonzi in spectacular, non-cracked, non regraduated, non-French Polished, slathered in original varnish ASTONISHING shape)I kept, and keep coming back to and preferring and my current instrument, which is contemporary, and beautiful. Once the romance is put aside (quite easily done when you realize that these men in Cremona, 300 years ago, in some cases barely literate, WERE practical business men, had to be, were competitive, some more successful business-wise than others, some wildly successful and rich (Strad) some totally unsuccessful and poor (del Gesu), not unlike the current, say, New York violin making world), and you get down to nuts and bolts sound, we have a much more complicated answer than `Strad/Guarneri/Old Italian is best...` I know of so many Strads that are SO repaired you would gasp, or to think of all of the great sounding Guarneris that went through the Mantagazza regraduation... To think that my friend pronounced the Paganini `Cannon` `difficult and dissapointing`, and add to that my own tremendously dissapointing experiences playing many expensive Strads, (not to mention a few unforgettable ones..like the Betts, or the Titian..) and the question just gets harder to answer. I do know this; makers today are passionate, love their art, work very hard, and know a TREMENDOUS amount. There is a HUGE amount of knowledge and learning and rigor that I see when I go to, for example, Oberlin and visit the acoustics workshop there, play on the experiments, and see all of these aclaimed makers working so hard to understand the violin and learn more. There is great stuff being made right here and now.

I remember being at a lecture given by a violinmaker generally considered to be one of the most well known, and he ended his speach by asking `Why do Strads sound so good? Because they are too expensive not to...` I think that I agree with him, ultimately.

August 21, 2007 at 11:33 AM · Re the great P., the clever V. - and the divine Miss H. - I've spoken highly of all three. My point was at the visual level. As I recall the story, V. laid them both on a table and asked P. to choose which was which just by looking - and supposedly he couldn't. This, I don't believe.

August 21, 2007 at 01:22 PM · With enough sandpaper and varnish, you can make anything look like anything. If Villaume was simply trying to make a violin that looked like a Strad, I have no doubt that he could have done so. You can even replicate the little knocks and scars a violin gets over time. To copy a violin only visually isn't terribly impressive at all... so if that's all the story meant, why even bother?

August 21, 2007 at 01:59 PM · Believe me, it's not so easy. Antiquing/replicating -whether we care for it or not - is a whole other special skill. I believe that in the 19th C. Lott and the Voller bros. were more convincing than Vuilliaume in that regard. But I believe they tended to make fantasy 'copies', rather than replicas of specific classic insruments. In our day I believe that antiquing is more sophisticated and convincing. But I've also heard it said that each generation of copiers has certain gestures or 'fingerprints', which emphsize this but not that. This tends to look convincing to its own generation, but the 'fingerprints' come through more clearly to succeeding generations. But I agree - I don't think the story means that much.

August 21, 2007 at 02:06 PM · Heh... I'm not saying that I could replicate any given violin, without even addressing the acoustical qualities, in less than about three years of solid trial and error... :) Not that I wouldn't be interested in learning, but this pesky thing called "work" keeps getting in the way of my fun. ;)

August 21, 2007 at 09:33 PM · There is a great documentary about this question on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy1LD2oxVjU

part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nphg4YVm37I

part 3 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqbsEZI6lPw

part 4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xfl8J1yCO7g

August 22, 2007 at 03:56 AM · Many thanks Sebastian for some great links! The vid doesn't resolve anythying, but it's a nice vid all the same. So,,, the mystique continues. Where would we be without this?

August 22, 2007 at 11:19 PM · I sometimes wonder what the great classic makers would think of today's best work. I have a feeling they'd give it high marks, indeed. I don't know if they'd be amused or bemused by antiquing. Certainly they'd be very impressed by today's techniques of repair and restoration. In the old days, makers would prefer to make a whole new violin sometimes, rather than get into a complex repair!

Now I'd like to turn the question around, and particularly invite any makers reading this to respond. Let's pretend I invented a time machine. I could send you to Cremona, say c. 1735. You could spend a day or so meeting with Strad., del Gesu, et al. What would you be most curious to observe and ask? (So far I've only asked one maker this - Ed Maday. He surprized with his response. I expected questions about ground coats, varnish, etc. But he thought for a moment and said "I'd ask them if they had fun." He so loves what he's doing, that he wondered if they felt the same, or did it mainly to make a living, etc.)

August 23, 2007 at 09:35 AM · Interesting response from Maday. Most makers I know would continue to make even if they couldn't make a living at it (or even if they don't), so fun or an obsessive nature must be a major part of it.

I'm at least 75% nerd, so what's most fun for me is knowledge and figuring things out. I can easily choose this over traditional forms of entertainment like a party, a movie or going to a concert, so I'd be likely to ask the expected questions about wood, varnish and acoustical thought models.

Thanks for the documentary, Sebastian. Most that I see take one position or another, but this one does a nice job of presenting all sides.

August 23, 2007 at 03:36 PM · I can understand that kind of obsession. I just commissioned an instrument from someone and I said that I like to look at my instrument a lot during practice breaks, during orchestra etc... and there was this brief silence and then, an acknowledgement of an understanding between us. From the very best guys, like David says, I always get the impression that they'd do it for free if they wouldn't starve as a result.

August 26, 2007 at 11:52 PM · watching the video, I note particularly that NONE of the panel members chose the Strad as the "best" violin during the blind test. interesting?

August 27, 2007 at 02:46 AM · Great post Aaron! Great posts, Mr. Burgess! Great work by all!

Yes Ron, that was the most meaningful part of those 4 clips, but it means little when the violin world successfully dupes most into buying into their pre-suppositionalism. If you start out with the pre-suppositional FACT that the Cremonese instruments are superior then you are left with one possibility—the test was flawed! So far there are—to my knowledge—easily more than 2-dozen flawed tests!

I think the only real chance the Cremonians have of being superior is Burgess’s “best dozen theory,” in which he states that the best dozen or so Cremonians are better than any modern he has heard, but that it ends there. This would make sense because I do not think that the more famous Strads and del Gesus have been part of these blind tests.

But I do not think that the violin world would be comfortable with that either; it would still make most million dollar instruments no better than the great moderns of today and yesterday, etc. The establishment just cannot afford for this to be so.

I think the weight of those who favor Strads and del Gesus lies in what Roelof said, “The players have already chosen.”

The problem with that is the players are not unbiased, and have not really freely chosen. If Strads and del Gesus are so much better than anything else then players who play with one distinguish themselves from other players. You end up with “the elite with Cremonians,” and the poor lot who are “without Cremonians.” You end up with a definitive fact that marks who the best players are; they are the ones playing the famous Strads and del Gesus.

This is essentially what one of the really elite players of our time told one of my friends last week. I mean one of the gods of the violin!

The question, ”After playing so many Strads and del Gesus, and after playing most of your career on a very famous del Gesu, do you think there is a lot of difference between these instruments and the best moderns?”

Answer, “Yes.”

“So the Cremonese instruments are better?”

Answer, “I did not say that, I said they are different.”

“Then why have all the soloists used them exclusively?”

Answer, “It is part of being a member in this elite club. God has blessed you with genius like talent, from a very early age you were labeled a prodigy, you studied with the few teachers that everyone studies with, you devote endless hours to practice, you mingle and associate with the other elite players, and the last proof that you really do belong is you play on a famous Strad and del Gesu. All these things are just givens in the world of the soloist.”

In other words, according to him, there is a stringent and imperative canon (body of law) impressed upon you if you belong in this “club,” and a very huge part of it is playing on a Strad or del Gesu.

The other huge argument favoring the Cremonese is that the best violin sounds most of us have heard are on recordings done using these instruments. But this argument proves little; the best players in the world have played them; they would sound great on just about anything!

I actually belong in Burgess’s camp. I do think the best Cremonians probably do sound better than the best moderns, but I am not sure of my belief, and I am not even sure as to why I believe so.

Lastly, I don’t think much has been made of what is happening in our day that goes up against this firmly established belief. There are now a few players choosing instruments other than Strads and del Gesus, and they are producing just as good of a sound on other instruments! Tetzlaff’s sound is huge and he is doing it on a Greiner. Jensen is one of the best players of our time and she is playing on a Zyg, Hahn is playing on a Vuillaume. So at least 3 of the very best have chosen otherwise, and I do not think this has happened before.

August 27, 2007 at 03:45 AM · Any good violin should be able to project, produce varied and complex tone colors, and speak evenly on all strings in any position. The timbre and color will vary between each instrument and is influenced by many variables from who is playing it to what bow is being used. Ones preference is subjective. A teacher of high repute said that a violin is just an inanimate wooden box. It's potential is realized by the artist who plays it. A good violinist learns what has to be done to get the kind of sound they want. The partnership between a famous violinist and a famous violin is a great marketing one two punch. The violin gives status to the violinist and vice versa.

August 27, 2007 at 06:26 AM · I have it on good authority that Jensen uses her strad like 99.9% of the time. We've been through the "X famous player uses X modern", and I'm very sorry, but I don't think I'm wrong on this issue. Besides Tetzlaff and Oliveira (who goes through them at a rate which begs the question, how good can they really be?), no one is concertizing with a modern instrument.

Also, a modern outperforming a Strad wouldn't do anything since the value of those instruments has nothing to do with how they sound. All it would mean is that a bunch of people who couldn't afford those instruments anyways would feel a bit better about themselves for not owning them. The people who could afford it don't care because it tickles them in a very special way to own such an antique. So in conclusion: any test regardless of the parameters don't matter.

August 27, 2007 at 06:54 AM · This discussion is which is better looking, blondes or brunettes? Except, since everybody pretty much agrees you can't tell a difference, the room is dark. So, which is better looking in the dark, blondes or brunettes?

"So in conclusion: any test regardless of the parameters don't matter. "

Pieter, the question is whether you have to spend 3 million for a violin or will 30 thousand (yikes!) do. That's a consideration to most people, but I assume your Strad isn't far off.

"no one is concertizing with a modern instrument"

Assume some big names aren't, but why should they - they don't need to. That's not exactly the same thing as "no one."

Now, the elite might have them, but the super-elite are the real elite, the groundbreakers. If there is such a thing in this (there isn't). Oh yeah, if you're so elite how come you aren't selling any records? Yeah, I know, they don't appreciate your eliteness you useless sniveling little five foot six son of a...

August 27, 2007 at 05:05 PM · Jim... as you know I don't play on a Strad and this whole "elite" thing was your idea. And by the way I'm 6'4.

The point I'm trying to make is that people must stop thinking that if there was this big test that proves moderns sound as good or better than old Cremonese that somehow the world would be put on its head. No one is debating that moderns can sound as good or better (I owned a G.B. Morassi, 77 I believe), currently own a 1946 M. Gadda, and have commissioned a 2007 Kelvin Scott), so please, o highly intelligent engineer, tell me where I stand on this issue of modern violins.

The value of those 3-10million instruments isn't all in their sound. In fact, in some of them, their sound has nothing to do with it because sometimes the sound can be quite mediocre. Nonetheless they are beautiful instruments made by an inspiring person, and thus their incredible value. The reason no big names play with moderns is that they can get a loan of a wonderful sounding Strad or DG which also looks great on a resume. One must keep up appearances in classical music, you know. Drop your little hissy fit and actually read what I'm saying because it makes a lot of sense.

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