modern vs golden,,,,part 358:

November 5, 2007 at 01:28 AM · personally speaking, since i own neither, i could care less the outcome of the debate:)

but, i am confident viewers through the exchanges can extract something of value from the discussion on this interesting topic.

great playing/selling to all regardless!

Replies (64)

November 5, 2007 at 01:31 AM · question: what time period defines modern makers? where do makers like vuillaume fit in the modern vs old italian catagories?

November 5, 2007 at 05:54 AM · To answer your question, to those who idolize Strad and del Gesu nothing else matters.

I have thought about the argument of "the players have chosen" some more, and the more I think about it the more I think it is not worth all that much. Let's face it, one of the things that defines you as a major soloist is the del Gesu or Strad that you play on. It is part of the entrance into the "soloist club." This is not to say that the great players may not indeed think that these elite Strads and del Gesus are really the best. It is to say that there is a real alternative explanation for why they have chosen these instruments. And why is it that none of them play on a Guad or a Bergonzi, etc.? Surely there must be an Amati or a Bergonzi or a Guad that stacks up to the elite bunch of Strads and del Gesus! But they are not chosen. Why, perhaps because they are not a ticket in to the club.

As for having heard the violins against an orchestra or piano, etc. to see if they cut through. Yes, I think about half the shootouts I went to had this element to it. Sometimes it was an Orchestra piped through the system, or they had a piano player there, sometimes both.

One night I went to see Michael playing with one of the elite players in CA, on a quintet gig. The player has a “sexy Strad loaned out to him,” and they exchanged seats on each set. As good as this player was he was having trouble cutting through when he was playing first, while Michael had little trouble when he was playing first. The Needham had a lot more guts than the Strad.

In the end I came to the conclusion that the best test was outdoors, as strange as that may seem. A hall can help a violin greatly, in fact, often violins we knew were not all that great under most circumstances sounded almost as good as great violins in some halls, especially the small halls.

A friend of mine, who I think would agree with most of what I have written, talks about violins being up against the laws of sound, and I think this is what it generally adds up to. In other words, a darker violin usually responds slower and will naturally have more of a chance to be complex and colorful, while an open instrument will respond faster, not give in when you ask a lot out of it, cut through better, and project a thicker more robust sound, Or as David Burgess put it--more punch! But it comes at the cost of less color and less complex.

I have yet to hear a violin that can do both sides of this sound spectrum absolutely well. Then again, I have not heard the Heifetz del Gesu or the Plowden or the soil, or the ex-Vieuxtemps, or the Lord Wilton, etc. I honestly doubt if they would beat the laws of sound too, but I am open to hearing them in person to see.

The best violin I heard in these shootouts was a Guad (though most in that shootout had picked a Needham). But since then I learned that the player who owns it has a steel A on it. Why is that? Answer: it is the player’s way of getting around the "mushy stuff" that comes with a dark, complex-colorful violin. That violin had a lot of color but had edge as well. Note: it was not as colorful as some other old Italians that we heard, but those old Italians had a lot less guts. Again, it seems to be a tradeoff.

Also heard a Strad out in CA that is suppose to be able to hang with any Strad, and it too did well in these shootouts and it had more guts than most of these older Italians. But again, it had a bit less color.

You are free to disagree with my ears, and the ears of the others involved (most of us agreed on almost everything in these shootouts, other than final preference because some want color and complexity while others would take guts and punch and the ability to cut through, etc.), but I think if you look at what we heard you will see why we think great violins are usually in one of two camps, and why we think a fiddle almost has to somehow beat the laws of sound to be able to have both worlds going on at the same time.

November 5, 2007 at 10:41 AM · To update my post in the previous thread, the violinist who was here yesterday ended up swapping his violin for the newer one with more growl, edge and punch.

The two violins weren't as different as I'd anticipated though. I think if I'd had one with slightly more of these qualities, he would have gone for it.

Sound fields are interesting. The newer violin had much more edge under the ear. This should help in an orchestra situation, hearing himself. Across the room the differences between the violins were harder to notice. The additional growl and punch was most noticeable in a hall, and that part was recorded and reviewed later, confirming what we heard.

An amusing side note:

We wanted to hear another violinist play the two fiddles, so I went scouting in the practice room area of the University of Michigan music school. I don't think I've ever seen such a bewildered expression as when I asked a young lady holding a violin, "Can I borrow you for a few minutes?" ;)

If she reads this, thanks for helping out, and thanks to the other two violinists as well.

November 5, 2007 at 02:16 PM · thank you gents for the continued interesting input.

david's mention of players' desired feel under the ear is interesting since that is a feedback as direct as possible. meanwhile, how the violin really sounds like to the back of a particular hall, the players have to rely on others' feedback or recording...never the same, always something missing, i suppose.

often we hear description of older violins as "mellow", a good attribute of being smooth and silky. when good violins age, they sound "better". so, when violin wood ages, is there a natural timeline that it loses the punch and mellow out? since organic materials go through a life cycle, are we witnessing the beginning of a gradual downhill slide to ashes?

on the other hand, as the ambient noise level increases with human chaos, say what? does the standard of soft vs loud skew to the louder side in the classsical the tide rises all junks float higher? that we don't pick up soft sweet whispers anymore?

further, as modern makers with more resources become more scientific, more interested in knowing how and why, are we witnessing the birth of a new breed of fine violins to meet the modern standard, not unlike the era when strads replaced the likes of steiners?

November 5, 2007 at 02:16 PM · Yes David, I agree with you that what the player listens under his ear is quite important, althouth the differences may disappear or be minimal when the instrument is heard far away.

I had some violists playing four of my violas in a concert room sometime ago. The differences "under the ear" virtually disappeared when we heard the instrument in the back of the room. But when we recorded the four instruments the differences (that were most in terms of dark X brighter sound) reappeared...

One thing people talk litle about is that old instruments may be temperamental... depending on the humidity and temperature they may vary in sound quite a lot, and modern instruments may suffer less with such changes. That's why many soloists will travel with two violins in a double case. This question was discussed openly (to my surprise) by the Emerson Quartet's violinist in the Marchese's book "The Violin Maker".

November 5, 2007 at 03:46 PM · A little more on the "feedback" the instrument provides, from this player:

Like many orchestral musicians who are becoming increasingly aware of the danger of hearing loss from orchestra playing and from the violin itself, he usually wears a custom fitted set of ear plugs in orchestra. As a result of this, combined with the normal challenges of hearing oneself clearly in this environment, even without hearing protection, he has learned to rely heavily on the feel of the violin, and bone conduction for intonation cues (according to him). How well a violin provides this feedback is very important to him. I think everyone makes use of this to some extent, but he was the first I'd heard talk about it at length, and in the partial context of using hearing protection.

Orchestra sound levels can frequently exceed those allowed in an industrial environment.

Of course, the hearing protection could also just be his polite way of dealing with a really bad sounding violin. (grin)

November 5, 2007 at 03:34 PM · I know a major orchestra CM that plays on a Guad

as do several others in that orchestra. A concert violinist friend plays on a Silvestre and it also sounds gorgeous in his hands.

November 5, 2007 at 03:37 PM · I think the idea of "bone conduction" is what I look for in a well made and well set up violin.Its what we as players think that "old" instruments have over modern.I now know this to be false.

A close friend of mine is a fine luthier and his latest violin,with the varnish still drying,has better "feel" than mine which is 82 years old.My violin is set up correctly but still can be "cold" and metallic at times.

This reminds me of a party I had a month ago.Ive been cellaring some relatively cheap wine for 10 years and thought it would be time to uncork it.Suffice to say it was average 10 years ago and upon sampling it its still average but older.My luthier friend brought over a fine Chilean bottle from 2005 and it blew away my cheap stuff although it was only 2 years old.As Im learning in wines and violins,older doesn't necessarily mean better.Again,age is a phenomenon not a miracle...

November 5, 2007 at 05:32 PM · I've read many times in the concert notes that the soloist "plays a Stradivari violin made in ... ..." but when I met the concertist in the dressing room I found the instrument was a Vuillaume, or a modern copy. Anyway, the sound was good, and that's what matters.

I remember of a quite good young Russian concertist who used a German made violin made by Paul Knor in the 1920's, he produced quite a beautifull sound in that violin.

The most beautifull violin sound I've ever heard was produced by Leonidas Kavacos in a Long Strad, but I think that Kavacos was more responsible for the sound than the violin he played.

November 5, 2007 at 08:42 PM · Back in 1987 I was about to purchase a Johannes Cuypers made in 1798 in the Hague.I knew it was kind of bland sounding and too thick but I let my teacher,Steven Staryk, try it out to see what he thought.As soon as his bow touched the string it was a completely different instrument,with a rich powerful sonority and of course Staryks' intense sound.I knew then that the instrument has a relative amount to do with the sound but its the responsibility of the player to do what he\she has to do to obtain a beautiful sound with whatever they own and just make the best of it.

November 5, 2007 at 10:49 PM · ^

Great post,so true !

November 6, 2007 at 02:29 PM · These are Szeryng's (he is one of my favorite violinists) words:

"What are the problems concerning antique violins?

I have talked at length with experts. The result is extremely simple. The material seasons and ages. With time the wood becomes more venerable... but ultimately ... too old.

It does not exactly decay, but certainly does not improve, and loses elasticity.

I mostly play one of my two modern violins.

With all due respect, we must not forget that the finest classical violins are at least 250 years old. I am an incurable optimist, but I'm convinced that the Stradivaris, the Guarneris, the Amatis, the Grancinos, the Ruggeris, the Gaglianos and the Stainers will not be "playable" much longer unless they are completely restored.

This then gives rise to the problem of whether such an instrument can still be considered antique and original or whether instead it is the restorer who has bestowed upon that violin its balanced timbre and sonorousness, rather than the violinmaker who made it.

Consequently, the question arises of whether it is not more practical to resort from the beggining to a new instrument" (FRNAKFURTER ALLGEMEINE, Magazine, 30.01.87)

And in the Strad, september, 1988, we will find:

"In his final period, in addition to the "Le Duc, he (Szeryng) played on two French violins, one by Pierre Hel made in 1922 and the other by Jean Bauer, a comtemporary maker."

November 6, 2007 at 02:49 PM · Wow.

I thought Szeryng's del gesu was considered one of the finest concert violins in the world.

That's according to a fairly recent book I have on del Gesu's.

That says a lot. To me, anyway.

November 6, 2007 at 04:07 PM · Following Luis Claudio Manfio's lead,

Isaac Stern is quoted in a 1991 New York Times article, stating,

"If musicians can't spend at least $250,000 on a stringed instrument, they'd do better with a fine new one, provided they take the time to test it under battle conditions in a good concert hall."

This quote is at least 16 years old, so that lower limit might be $500,000 at today's prices.

November 6, 2007 at 04:18 PM · david, when you approached those michigan students, did you say: anyone wants to try a strad? :):):)

November 6, 2007 at 04:36 PM · That's not necessarily true. If you have a really great Vuillaume, or N. Gagliano, you can get along very well. Both can be had for under 300,000.

November 6, 2007 at 04:40 PM · I'm mostly a viola maker now and viola players are almost obliged to play on a modern or contemporary instrument.

That's because old violas are rare: Stradivari made just 14, Del Gesù none, Andrea Guarneri about seven, da Salò less than 20 (but you can find 40 0f them in the Bay area) and so on.

Some old violas were reduced in size, sometimes too radically and now are considered just too small.

Modern Italians made mostly small violas (38, 39, centimeters), and few of them, and many following the Stradivari model.

Only in the last few decades we have good makers specializing in violas, producing good instruments based in good models.

November 6, 2007 at 05:00 PM · Al, I'll try that line next time.

ANYTHING has got to be better than, "Can I borrow you for a few minutes?"

I might have been sprayed with mace! :) :)

November 6, 2007 at 09:16 PM · I'm a little nervous about being on this thread. I'm just a little violinist. Go easy on me :). I've played a couple of del Gesus before, and I've played my fair share of modern instruments. My thoughts have already been shared by others, but here they are anyway: Environment, in large measure, dictates need. Fine quality old instruments are infinitely more satisfying to me, even if they aren't as "open" sounding as modern instruments. I need the subtle gradations of sound. I think that's why people who've been spoiled on Cremona instruments have such a terrible time going back to modern instruments if they have to sacrifice them. They miss the colors!

November 6, 2007 at 09:39 PM · kimberlee, good to hear from you. Ive missed seeing your posts here.

November 6, 2007 at 10:09 PM · I'd like to comment on something written earlier in the thread: using the outdoors as the ultimate test situation only seems appropriate if one is going to be playing mostly outdoors, no?

To me it doesn't necessarily prove anything about the behavior of an instrument's sound in a large hall, small hall, etc.

November 6, 2007 at 11:15 PM · There are a number of references to the previous thread, so here's a link to make it easier to access.


Mike, I don't think Raymond said that the outdoor test was the ultimate test. I think he said that the last two tests, one of them outside, were indicative of their overall experience, including numerous previous tests.

November 6, 2007 at 11:00 PM · kimberlee, i wonder if you have had the opportunities to play some of the modern violins often mentioned in those comparisons? thanks

November 6, 2007 at 11:54 PM · Anyones kitchen is the test for me.

Last nite,was great! For me the fiddle is a kitchen instrumemt--to be shared w/neighbours,friends or relatives.

Some dancing,drinking and singing involved--and tons of spicatto.

I like to fill the entire room w/music !

November 7, 2007 at 01:13 AM · "Can I borrow you for a few minutes?" might not be a bad opener, as long as she thinks she has a choice. Pertaining to fiddle prices, there was a record price set for a broodmare the other day, $10.5 million. Violins don't seem tbat expensive. Maybe Darnton can use it somehow. Throw in references to how much more expensive some worse stuff is when selling a Strad.

November 7, 2007 at 02:13 AM · Mike Harris, I need to retract what I said earlier.

Sorry, I thought your opinion referred to a post by Raymond in the earlier thread. I just noticed that it probably refers to his most recent post.

Sorry again, and all my best.

Jim, just to play devil's advocate since Michael is absent, a violin maintains value longer than a broodmare. ;)

Regarding total earning potential, I have no clue!

November 7, 2007 at 02:43 AM · Great posts, everyone! The reason we came to the conclusion that outdoors is the best test is the violin does not get ANY help out there. Actually we think the best test is in a hall against an orchestra, but the best we were able to do in a hall was pipe in a CD to play against it, or have a piano player playing.

Outdoors the instrument has to cut through all that space and still keep its core, without any acoustical help. What you get is the real instrument and nothing else. For us, and I am sure I speak of the group; it is the closest thing to having to play on top of a huge orchestra.

And for those who prefer the color of an older instrument, well, I understand. Of course what we would all like is the best of both worlds, but that is hard to come by.

I thought this quote was huge: “These are Szeryng's (he is one of my favorite violinists) words:

"What are the problems concerning antique violins?

I have talked at length with experts. The result is extremely simple. The material seasons and ages. With time the wood becomes more venerable... but ultimately ... too old.

It does not exactly decay, but certainly does not improve, and loses elasticity.

I mostly play one of my two modern violins.”

And he played on what was suppose to be one of the finest violins ever!

We had one of the finest players of all time tell us essentially the same thing, which I quoted in a similar thread before.

Last point, as I said before we did run into one maker who did capture the Cremona sound, and from what I have been told they played two more of his violins with the same results, but from what I understand the last two violins were much more open! These violins do not cut as much as some other moderns, but man the color and complexity. And according to David Burgess he has heard many other makers capture this. So I do not think it is about old with color, verses new with guts; I think it is a dark, colorful, and complex sound, verses an open, gutsy, ultra responsive sound with a lot of edge and punch—regardless of age!

Cannot wait to hear from all of you, even if you think I am a babbling fool!

November 7, 2007 at 03:44 AM · I haven't played the instruments in Szeryng's comparison, Al. Is that the one you mean?

November 7, 2007 at 04:28 AM · raymond, you have had a lot of very focused experiences with top notch violins going head-to-head so it is always a treat to hear your input, and love your passion which comes through your posts with edge and punch!

hope you do not misunderstand some of us questioning this and that. since we do not have direct or even indirect experiences like you have had, there is simply no basis for us to say responsibly, yes i agree with raymond or no i don't. one thing everyone here has in common is the interest for this intriguing proposition and that is enough for some fun sharing!

question: i understand you guys also recorded those live sessions. modern vs old: which group tend to retain its true "whatever quality" better in the recording, in other words, the recording is closest to the live sound?

thanks kimberlee for that babbling list:)--- just kidding! i wonder as a player/teacher, in retrospect, can you roughly divide the modern and older ones in terms of those described attributes? if blindfolded and given a violin, can you estimate the age?

my own meager experience, far from an attempted generalization, with a 18 century violin and a modern violin (of course i could be comparing grapefruit to walnut) is that there is no doubt that the older one is not as loud, but very penetrating because the tone is very focused and smooth, so it can cut through in its own way. not eager but ready. the modern one sounds like it has a turbo sound generator inside. it is louder in a broader way and because of that, the colors and depth seem more obvious and instantaneous. you want it? HERE!

one thing i like the older one more is that with G and D strings, as you go up the string all the way, the clarity and the sound output do not seem to diminish. it is mind boggling. with the modern one, i can appreciate a little struggle...not sure if it is due to not enough playing on it, or construction, or whatever...

November 7, 2007 at 04:30 AM · "Last point, as I said before we did run into one maker who did capture the Cremona sound, and from what I have been told they played two more of his violins with the same results, but from what I understand the last two violins were much more open! These violins do not cut as much as some other moderns, but man the color and complexity."


Who was that maker???? PM me if you don't wish to publicly state the maker.


November 7, 2007 at 12:04 PM · Your bio indicates that you collect violins Raymond.Could you list the makers in your collection?

November 7, 2007 at 02:00 PM · I had quite a few before, and sold all of them. I use to be a firm believer that moderns could not compare to early 20th century violins, hence my collection. When I befriended a bunch of session players i played most of the moderns they had shipped to them and atteneded most of these "shootouts," and then the older violins in my collection did not make much sense to me anymore, especially since I want to leave 2 great violins for my grandchildren.

The sellilng of the violins was right too because about 4 months ago I suffered some things that have made it impossible for me to play right now. I still love listening to a great fiddle, however, old or new, and hope to once again play one day.

Willliam I sent you the name of that great maker. William please send me a message and I will send it to you by replying to you.

November 7, 2007 at 01:58 PM · Raymond-

For some reason I did not get it. Would you send to this email

Thanks again! :)

November 7, 2007 at 09:30 PM · I wish you all the best Raymond and I enjoy reading your posts!!

November 8, 2007 at 02:12 AM · Thank you Peter!

November 8, 2007 at 02:40 AM · Raymond-

did you email me??

November 8, 2007 at 02:24 PM · Al, thanks. I don't know if I'm that good. On my better days I like to think I am :). I know for some odd reason 1920 was a good decade for modern Italians (for me). If I like a modern Italian, it's almost certainly going to be from the 1920's. :) That's about as good as I get with dates.

November 8, 2007 at 11:53 AM · Im curious as to why you prefer violins from the 1920s Kimberlee.Are they,in your opinion,at their prime?

November 8, 2007 at 06:25 PM · I have no idea. There isn't much science in my little brain. I don't actively seek out instruments from that period. It's this uncanny thing--if I'm trying modern Italians and I find one I like, I'll look at the label, and, sure enough, nine times out of ten, it's from the 1920's. There's no rhyme or reason to it. It could be voodoo or something :)

November 8, 2007 at 03:08 PM · thanks kimberlee for that info. it is interesting that some of the better germans also came out of that era... but i think the italian counterparts are much more treasured. lets see how the modern day italians will fare in time, given the solid surge by the americans and others.

raymond, better health to you!

November 9, 2007 at 05:15 PM · If you haven't seen this article from the February Strad magazine, it provides a nice balanced view, comparing the dilemma with wine tasting.


November 9, 2007 at 07:58 PM · Excellent article.....

November 9, 2007 at 10:33 PM · I have heard several concert violinists, major symphony violinists, and a few quality violin playing dealers play my Alfred Vidoudez, 1919, ex Szigeti. In every case the violin sounded nothing like when I play it and also in every case it sounded different. Sometimes just ok and sometimes glorious.

To me that means the player has so much input on how an instrument sounds a blind testing would be suspect. I don't know the answer on how to do one so it's fair.

November 10, 2007 at 04:38 AM · Greetings,

it was probably a bit confused after having had the privilidge of being played by Szigeti. And yourself of course!



November 10, 2007 at 01:42 PM · I think the most important consideration, if you are evaluating old versus new for yourself, is that you be unaware of which you are playing or listening to.

Conclusions are different when people know what is being played in advance. I'm not immune to this myself. If I know I'm listening to or playing a Strad or Guarneri, I'll catch myself thinking, "There must be some special quality here", and my mind rushes to find this, or maybe to synthesize it. In other words, my own conclusions can be different when I know in advance that I'm listening to a Strad.

It's just human nature, I guess.

November 11, 2007 at 04:35 AM · Thanks Raymond! I asked for one of the California guys to join this thread and you delivered! When I read what you write about violins I feel like I am reading the work of someone who should be a staff writer for a big time mag on the subject.

I myself plan to look for a great modern soon and you can bet you will be the guy I will come to.

And Raymond, sorry to hear about the health issues, I hope you will get better soon!

November 11, 2007 at 03:08 PM · I second that cz Raymond helpped me a lot when I was looking for a fiddle! As did the rest of the CA guys. I wish the five of them would write on here so all of you could get to know them as I did when I was there.

Maybe the CA guys will take on a reuptation of their own! They really are great palyers (I know I went to a few sessions and they let me play, I could'nt cut it!) and they have tried so many violins from so many makers and just know so much about sound.

Each of them has bought a fiddle now, and each plans on buying another one as finances become available.

Oh and Andreas I was at some of the later shootouts, and Raymond's words on them are very accurate!

And congrats Pieter on getting a great fiddle!

November 12, 2007 at 03:01 AM · hey david, i wonder if you have ever heard or played an older italian with the original neck and bassbar, etc....i wonder how they may sound like in their original state (300 yrs later)?

ps. thanks for that link.

November 12, 2007 at 12:23 PM · The only good un-altered I remember playing was a Stainer, plus a few Italians that were converted back to what was believed to be period specs.

The sound is very different. If you've played your violin without a chinrest, you've probably noticed that this alone makes quite a difference.

It would take some time to learn how to play these early-style setups to full advantage, and I haven't done that.

The only back-to-back comparison I think I've heard between the two in a hall was with moderns, one with a "baroque" setup. The early style sounded weak and lacking richness in comparison, but this was also with a player who wasn't versed in early playing technique.

November 12, 2007 at 01:44 PM · I listened to the "Il Giardino Armonico" sometime ago, they play on baroque instruments, and they produced a huge sound, quite big in volume, althought their instruments were rather unorthodox (ebony fingerboard, some used chinrests and even shoulder rests).

The soloist was Orlandini, he played a modern instrument and he produced a big sound on it, the basses were quite nice, and the sound quite dark too. My only restriction was that the sound of the gut E string in high positions, but that may be a feature of gut strings.

November 12, 2007 at 02:26 PM · david/luis, thanks for the info.

can you or a proud violin history geek clarify something about my "misunderstanding" on the strads...

so i have read that strads were not necessarily the instruments of choice in the early days because in smaller halls, some other makers' violins sounded nicer and sweeter (stainer, etc). or is it because of the type of music they used to play then... anyway, that at one point in time, stainers were much more expensive to acquire than strads...

then, i have also heard that even when antonio was alive, his violins were highly sought after by the likes of kings and princes from all over europe, fetching very high prices from commission work, etc. i presume that those strads were the short neck type then, before the time of bigger concert hall where strads started to make a scene to the back of the hall,,,

what is the correct perspective?

November 13, 2007 at 12:20 PM · The Hills concluded that Stainers and Amatis were more highly valued than Strads, based on a number of pieces of correspondence they came across. They found little evidence of what Strad himself charged.

There's the suggestion that one set of instruments was to be offered by Stradivari to visiting royalty as a gift.

More recent investigations may have shed more light on this........I haven't looked through it yet.

This is conjecture only, but Stradivari's willingness to make highly decorated instruments could have enhanced his sales to "nobility".

November 13, 2007 at 01:54 PM · Hi,

Interesting conversation... I think that there a lot of very nice violins, young and old.

On the subject of Stradivari, I have to say that I had the immense priviledge of having the concert of a lifetime in Ottawa about a month ago. Twelve artists with instruments on loan from the Nippon foundation played twelve Strads in a Chamber Music Evening (including the Tokyo Quaret who perform on the "Paganini" Quartet). Most impressive was the Mendelssohn Octet with an all-Strad group.

That said, the instruments were all different, but each was great instrument.

Talking to artists who do play Strads, and having tried a few myself, I have to say that you have to be a great player to fully appreciate and make a Strad sound great. If you are, the possibilities are endless for colour and sound. Like one person told me - paraphrased - "You have to learnt to co-exist with the instrument and learn to coax the sound out of it. With a Strad, quality projects."

I think that is true. One of my favourite comments in this regard is from Anne-Sophie Mutter who said in an interview that playing a Strad is like driving a formula-one car. You need to be a very good driver in order to do it.


P.S. The only group of Strads that I know was intended for Royalty is the "Spanish" Quartet (originally a quintet of instruments) that he made as a set for the King of Spain in 1686 I believe. Beautiful set of instruments that is at the Palacio Réal in Madrid.

November 13, 2007 at 06:38 PM · It's interesting that a Strad or Guarneri which is difficult to play is a treasure.

Anything else might just be called an undesirable fiddle. ;)

November 13, 2007 at 11:54 PM · Stradivari was highly successful in his lifetime. His instruments received the best commissions, putting downward pressure on his rivals in Cremona, including the Guarnerius family.

Later, del Gesu violins became more sought after by some concert performers because they apparently project a little louder than Strads. Some say this is because the arching is very slightly flatter. Apparantly the upside with Strads is that they are a little sweeter sounding. Who knows! The very best del Gesu violins have sold for $6 million while the very best Strads generally have sold for $4 million.

By the way, I once read an article stating that Strads, and other elite violins, have an extraordinary ability to project volume. The volume keeps coming, and there always seems to be more available. It's like driving a high-powered car, as Christian "Mad Dog" Vachon from Canada just mentioned. (Just joking.)

I assume that bowing is the secret to coaxing tone.

November 14, 2007 at 12:01 AM · Two things to keep in mind with prices:

Del Gesus are much rarer than Strads, and this is partly a collectibles market.

Some of the finest Strads have not been sold recently.

What would the "Messiah" fetch today?

November 14, 2007 at 12:37 AM · Hi,

Mr. Burgess - I find that all great violins whether modern or old require a lot of finesse to play. People try to often whack into a Strad instead of drawing out the sound. But that is besides the point.

On a personal note, I play a modern instrument that is fantastic, challenging to play in that it doesn't like anything wrong, but in return I get a resonant sound with tremendous colour.

In the end, my original thought still remains as I have always stated on this site - a great violin is a great violin. Old or new is not an issue.


P.S. Personally, I find that a violin that will not let you get away with not playing well is a treasure. Why would you want less than that?

November 14, 2007 at 01:02 AM · Not taking issue with you, Christian.

I played and heard a Strad last summer which would let you whack OR finesse. Very easy to play.

It also (arguably ?) did the best in a single-blind sound test with random moderns. One of the exceptional ones, in my opinion.

Just to provide balance, a Guarneri in the same test didn't fare so well.

November 14, 2007 at 01:42 AM · Mr. Burgess,

That's interesting - Out of curiosity, what period was the Strad? Most of the ones I tried were rather late (1720's onwards, tough a couple from the 1710's) and required a much lighter touch that the Guarneri (though I have tried less Del Gésus than Strads). Just totally different playing syle.

Interesting thoughts...


November 14, 2007 at 03:31 AM · Christian, I envy your being able to see that tantilizing performance of so many nice instruments. By the way, what are the initials of your violin? I want to try and guess what it is.

David, your credentials are exemplary. I can only dream to own a shop like yours. What year was the Strad you recently listened to?

November 14, 2007 at 12:50 PM · 1714 if I remember correctly.

I'd like to err on the side of caution, and not say anything more about this fiddle on the internet. (and ask others who might know "nickname", ownership or location to do the same)

November 14, 2007 at 12:52 PM · Hi,

Mr. Burgess - thanks for the date.

Mr. Carlsen: "Mad Dog" Vachon, eh? Oddly enough, some of my students might agree with you! (just kidding...). If by initials of the violin, you mean the maker, then it's D.C.


November 14, 2007 at 03:50 PM · I saw the Firebird Strad in a shop a few years ago, and I thought I remembered it being sold for $7.2 mil or something. I guess I probably have a misunderstanding--I'm afraid I'm a bit plebian in terms of violins. The two Del Gesus I saw that day were priced at $4 mil and $4.5 mil.

November 15, 2007 at 05:25 AM · Kimberlee, it appears that you are right about the prices of Strads versus del Gesu violins. I stand corrected.

That website mentions these incredible transaction prices:

Instrument: Sold for (US dollars):

Dolphin Stradivari violin of 1714 $5,500,000

Bass of Spain Stradivari cello of 1713 $5,000,000

Hausmann Stradivari cello of 1724 $4,500,000

DeMunck Stradivari cello of 1730 $5,000,000

Ries Stradivari violin of 1699 $3,500,000

The Maiden Stradivari violin of 1708 $5,500,000

General Kyd Stradivari violin of 1714 $5,500,000

La Pucelle Stradivari violin of 1709 $6,000,000

Hammer Stradivari violin of 1707 $3,544,000

Lord Wilton Guarneri del Gesù violin of 1742 $6,000,000

King Joseph Guarneri del Gesù violin of 1737 $6,000,000

Carrodus Guarneri del Gesù violin of 1743 $4,500,000

Kemp Guarneri del Gesù violin of 1738 $6,000,000

Guarneri del Gesù violin of 1699 $3,500,000

Paganini Josephus filius Andrea Guarneri violin of 1696 $1,000,000

Matteo Goffriller cello $1,500,000

Sleaping Beauty Domenico Montagnana cello $3,000,000

I see 3 del Gesu violins sold for $6 million, 1 Stradivari violin at $6 million, and two more Strads at $5.5 million.

I had checked the website maybe six months or a year ago and did not recall any Strads over $4 million, so it looks like they have caught-up to the del Gesu violins.

Mr. Vachon: The background information for my joke is that "Mad Dog" Vachon was a very famous wrestler from Canada a few decades ago. The only connection to you is Canada, the last name, and my propensity for dumb jokes.

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