New York Times and the lost Strad

May 7, 2008 at 06:38 PM · As an artist manager, I have spent many hours getting reviews and articles for my clients and I know the value of media. The two-page spread about Philippe Quint is about as much as has been written about any classical musician over the past year. But is any press good press? Is the value of a Strad the media value or the sound? I would like your views

Replies (102)

May 7, 2008 at 09:56 PM · This is a terrific question because "Stradivari" is a big name that people who know anything about music love to drop all the time. I can't speak from first-hand experience, obviously because I haven't played one, but personally I feel that there is a psychological advantage to having a 'big name' instrument, for the player and the audience. Honestly, it is hard if not impossible to tell when someone is playing the real thing or not, and famous artists interchange instruments all the time. But, this is only my humble opinion and i'll wait for the posts of the more seasoned and experienced veterans of

May 8, 2008 at 02:39 AM · I think the media should do a better job explaining that the exorbitant amounts paid for strads comes down to wealthy collectors who have been driving up prices for decades, that the sound component contained in these prices is negligible.

Blind listening tests have been inconclusive, that is they have shown that the sound from strads is as often perceived superior as that of modern instruments. The most expensive modern instruments are in the vicinity of 100K USD. If we assume that 100% of the value of such a modern instrument is determined by its sound, then the value of a strad that fetched 4m USD, would brake down to 2.5% sound value and 97.5% collector value. If we allow for a modern instrument to also have some collector value, as opposed to its value being entirely determined by its sound, then the sound value component of such a strad would be even lower than 2.5%.

To put this into perspective, consider the cost of sales tax, sales commission and insurance in relation to the sound component of the price paid for a strad. Each of these cost items alone will be many times as much as the cost of the sound.

May 8, 2008 at 03:24 AM · Yes, Strads are mostly psychological, due to a false belief that they're superior.

May 8, 2008 at 03:52 AM · they may be superior to most instruments, but even then, the value of their sound is only a small fraction of their cost.

May 8, 2008 at 05:10 AM · But do you think that the audience will listen differently to the same performer, playing the same pieces, on a Strad? And what if Philippe Quint had lost a perfectly fine Vuillaume, would the Times have written the article? I think not.

May 8, 2008 at 12:32 PM · you can bet on a strad:) that it is not because of the violinist since 99.9% of the population has never heard of him and most likely not interested, in an era where recently the first day alone of the launch of the newest version of the grand theft auto video game brought in 500 million dollars. yes, strad possibly claims the top spot in name recognition in the violin world. it goes,,,strad, then 10 dollar ebay chinese violin, and then the rest. and yes, any violinist that associates with playing a strad has an edge, regardless of anything modern day makers have to say or prove. mordern cars are getting faster and better, but ferraris are ferraris.

to expect a journalist who needs to whip up couple stories a week to do in depth dissertation on any topic is futile. for instance, if they go deep on topics like inheritance taxes, tort law, gene therapy, how many on can follow?

this story is a great setup for news making because an unfortunate incident is met with a happy ending. 4 mil strad, absent minded violinist, lowly immigrant taxi driver with an heart...great ingredients for wulala. only missing a curvy blond somewhere in the plot.

on the other hand, look at the write-ups for the up and coming violinists. you can have the proactive and polished prose, the most outstanding competitions winning track record,,,do you know your intended audience well enough to make an effective sales pitch? in other words, if there is no market for a product, does the sales pitch matter?

May 8, 2008 at 12:53 PM · At least the NYT wrote SOMETHING about Classical music. The Dead Tree Sunday edition used to have 2-3 articles each week about Classical music. Now, it is 3-4 a month, tops. The weekly editions seem just as skimpy, and reviews seem shorter.

If the NYT wants to write a harmless puff piece about Quint and his Stradivari adventures, fine. Quint plays violin really well, and he is, hmm, easy on the eyes too.

May 8, 2008 at 05:44 PM · "From Michael Pochna

Posted on May 8, 2008 at 05:10 AM

But do you think that the audience will listen differently to the same performer, playing the same pieces, on a Strad? And what if Philippe Quint had lost a perfectly fine Vuillaume, would the Times have written the article? I think not."

The Times and all the other media covering this wouldn't have made a big deal of it as it has(regardless of the kind of instrument) had it not been for a very good publicist. You can convince anyone of anything if you sell a story the "right" way. David "Garret" (not his real last name) the guy that fell on his Guadagnini last year (which he claimed to be a Strad) did just this with the help of a publicist a couple of months ago when this breaking story came out :)

May 8, 2008 at 07:01 PM · > David "Garret" (not his real last name)

He assumed his mother's maiden name instead of his father's surname, what's wrong with that? I know a guy in the UK who assumed his mother's maiden name because he never knew his father but his mother still carries the name of her husband.

How do you define "real name" anyway?

I guess you wouldn't write

Wolfgang "Amadeus" Mozart (not his real name)

or would you?

May 8, 2008 at 07:56 PM · Well one thing is for certain, Mozart did not fund his own musical career or stage publicity stunts :)

May 8, 2008 at 08:08 PM · No, his father Leopold did that for him. One of those stunts was to pass the boy off as half his actual age when they toured Europe.

In any event, you are changing the subject. It has nothing to do with the issue I raised, which is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with assuming one's mother's maiden name, or even change it altogether, in fact many artists do just that. There is absolutely no need to be funny about it and put the name in quotes, rather childish in my view.

I personally cannot stand David Beckham and so any person that is described as "the David Beckham of X" is automatically suspicious to me. Yet, nobody deserves to have their name represented in any disrespectful way. What if somebody trashes your name in public?

May 8, 2008 at 08:57 PM · It is possible that the whole story was a set-up, and bully for him. Josh Bell plays in subway! Garbo speaks! What do you think of Vanessa Mae! What can/should musicians do to raise their profile?

(John Barrymore, eat your heart out)

May 8, 2008 at 09:02 PM · I'm going to agree with Benjamin here, it's very disrespectful to challenge someone's choice in name. In the arts, much of popularity is name recognition, so that many artists choose to either use pseudonyms, or legally change their names to make it more memorable or related to their artform, is very acceptable. No need to point out it's not their birth name, because it seems very trivial to me whether a name is someone's name given at birth, or one they consciously choose to make.

Many musicians do things for publicity. That's their living, so it'd be rather stupid for them not to seek attention in some way. Take Joshua Bell, for example, who did the whole busking thing for increased popularity and recognition.

May 8, 2008 at 10:24 PM ·

May 9, 2008 at 01:34 AM · Certainly any press is good press, especially for a relatively neglected yet worthy area of endeavor. Only thru constant repetiton can anything stick in what passes for the minds of the masses, most of whom seem to have the attention span of chickadees.

May 9, 2008 at 03:05 PM · I wonder how many of the people above who are casting doubt on the value of Stradivari violins have, first, any extensive experience with them, and, second, the ability to play well enough to understand them.

May 9, 2008 at 03:18 PM · I have not had extensive experience with the violins, no. I have only played one during my life. My opinion is based on the fact that many violinists who perform on Stradivari violins have stated that they prefer other violins just as much/more, or that the differences in money don't reflect much of a tonal difference. My opinion is also based on the large array of blind tests where many other violins have trumped Stradivari, going to show that much of it is brand-name recognition and that the name 'Stradivari' itself conveys a psychological association and assumption in quality. This is a basic part of human psychology, and is prevalent in every art form and field.

Also, my opinion is based on many live concerts. Hearing a Strad live never has really impressed me, and in a concert hall I'd say they don't tonally sound much better than any other high quality instrument. I don't think anyone could objectively that Hahn's Vuillaume sounds inferior to Perlman's Strad, for example.

May 9, 2008 at 03:52 PM · This is a very old discussion. The most important feature of blind tests, from my perspective, is that I don't know of a single one that's been done with what I would call a qualified audience. But, all other issues aside, there are many people who DO hear a difference (and I am one), which to me indicates that there IS a difference, and no amount of "I don't hear it" from people who don't get it is going to have much effect on those of us who do get it.

There are two approaches to a situation you don't understand: the easy solution is to ignore or deny the situation; the more difficult path is to try to understand it. I once believed there was no difference, but I repeatedly sought people who did get it to demonstrate and explain it, and finally I did hear the difference as well.

When people who don't understand art, or music, or any other sophisticated discipline diss what other people are understanding, no one takes them seriously. Why is it, I wonder, that everyone with minimal experience and understanding is permitted to be an expert about violin tone ?

May 9, 2008 at 04:08 PM · And what would you define as a 'qualified' audience? Most of the blind tests that I know of were done using professional violinists, and violin professors at leading universities. As for hearing a difference, the question is whether or not you hear a difference without knowing the maker of the instrument, or if you hear that difference knowing already the makers of the instruments.

If the latter, subconscious bias is a given, even when consciously trying to avoid such an error. The brain creates very strong associations under our beliefs, and the overly romantic view of Stradivari violins being superior, not only gives us a simplistic bias, but can cause the brain to perceive qualities that don't exist in physical reality. This part of our mental working is what makes blind tests very important, and the same reason that a wine enthusiast can say they taste a large difference between a very expensive fine old French wine, compared to a nice wine from Napa Valley, however if you tell them the Napa Valley wine is the expensive fine old French wine, how eager they are to claim they taste that IT is superior!

Blind tests are necessary for objectively determining quality in any field where predetermined or associated beliefs (conscious or subconscious) can altar our perceived senses.

So I find it rather silly that you claim that you are among those who get it, when nearly every blind test has showed that when preconceived notions are torn away, Strads are proven nothing extraordinary in the scheme of quality. And this in the judging of professional musicians and professors whose entire lives are in many senses devoted to superior tone.

If you can only justify Stradivari violins being extraordinary through romantic beliefs, it is a clear indication of bias. If you can justify it through proof in the analysis of his violins, that somehow the projection, overtones, and all components of violin tone, are superior to other great instruments, you'd have a point. If your only way of claiming Stradivari instruments are superior, despite proof of blind tests and that many professional violinists who use them have chosen to play other instruments instead, or have admitted that the quality isn't much different, is that you can 'hear a difference' is clear bias.

Even if you go with the assumption that you are among a select few with ears distinguished enough to hear some subtle superiority in Stradivari instruments, it's made trivial large scale, since if superb violinists, professors, judges, and audiences, are equally pleased and impressed by the tone of a Vuillaume as that of a Strad, then it doesn't really matter if the Strad has some subtle difference only very few can detect.

May 9, 2008 at 04:25 PM · no matter where you go, there you are! :)

May 9, 2008 at 05:59 PM · @ Michael

what do you mean by "casting doubt on the value"?

the value is solely determined by market forces, if all the billionaires of the planet get into a strad frenzy they'd soon go for several billions of dollars each. Likewise, if all collectors lose interest for whatever reason, the prices would drop to the level of good modern instruments. Demand and supply is the only thing that determines value, anybody who doesn't understand that is delusional.

May 9, 2008 at 07:53 PM · supply and demand determines price, not necessarily value.

goldman sachs can valuate yankee at 1.5 billion. you go up to george and offer 2.5 billion. he won't sell because yankee values more than that to him. you can't put a price on some intangibles.

you show me a strad priced at 4 million and want to sell cheap for 1 mil. i won't buy because to me the value is far less. hate to get something you can't even sit on.

May 9, 2008 at 08:26 PM · Perhaps it's my disadvantage to have done the whole testing and statistics thing in college. I am not familiar with a single blind test that was run according to any recognized testing standards. I'm well aware of the special problems involved in such a test, and how they have not been faced by testers.

When I say value, I'm referring to the value to musicians and listeners, not dollar value.

Beyond the legitimate crossover zone where professionals make mistakes and amateurs are skilled and informed, we have 300 years'experience, and the choice of suggesting to thousands of top performers that they're deluded in one of the most important choices they've made in their professional lives, vs telling a constant stream of inexperienced, noisy amateurs on internet boards that they're full of beans. Frankly, I'll go with the latter.

Yes, there's a difference. If you don't get it, it's not the violins' fault. If you're serious, you'll try to figure it out. If you're not serious, why do you care? It seems that people who have virtually no experience in something would have a bit of humility in how they approach it, but I guess not the case on this topic.

May 9, 2008 at 08:48 PM · And what special problems are in such a test? Please elaborate if you're using this as your main argument against the results of many blind tests which have all continually shown that when names are stripped away and only quality can speak for itself, Strads fare about the same as great antiques and contemporaries, and less as well than some.

There are many reasons Strads are chosen by top musicians, and it's very childish to think it's purely based on quality. The recognition from using a well known instrument, as well as the mental self confidence the name itself offers, are two large reasons that many professional musicians have admitted to. Take a look at famous and world-renowned musicians who could play on any instrument they wanted to, but end up choosing to play on instruments other than Strads. Hilary Hahn and her Vuillaume. Yo-Yo Ma who often chooses to play his Montagnana, Jacqueline du Pre who often preferred her modern to her Strad, Jascha Heifetz, Sarah Chang, Barton, Paganini, Ysaye, all of who chose to play on del Gesù instruments.

Yes, there's a difference. If you don't get it, it's not the violins' fault. If you're serious, you'll try to figure it out. If you're not serious, why do you care? It seems that people who have virtually no experience in something would have a bit of humility in how they approach it, but I guess not the case on this topic.

If you honestly think there's something about Strads, please back it up with actual evidence and reasoning, not bias nonsense. To say that you can tell a difference in the sound of a Strad compared to another violin is completely silly likewise. If I supplied you with many samples of recordings, I think it extremely unlikely you'd be able to distinguish which recordings used Strads.

It'd be an interesting twist on blind tests, actually, if the playing of each instrument was recorded for a website project, then users could listen to samples online, and judge the unknown instruments through a flash player, and see which instruments come out on top in the public mind with bias isn't there to help.

May 9, 2008 at 09:08 PM · Jake, just out of curiosity have you ever actually tried a Stradivarius? The greatest Strads and Guarneris are just unbelievable. Certainly there are bad ones out there as well, but I think it is a little unwise to dismiss these great Cremonese makers.

May 9, 2008 at 09:35 PM · Yes, I've tried a Stradivari. Haven't tried a del Gesù though. Heard many of both being played in person however. They sound nice, but really indistinctive from any other top-quality instruent that I've heard.

May 9, 2008 at 09:35 PM · I am reminded of the story of the lady who goes backstage after a concert and says "Mr. Heifetz, your violin sounds wonderful"! after which Heifetz holds the instrument up to his ear and answers "that strange, I don't hear anything". Cartier-Bresson used a simple Leica and as most pianists know, there are good and bad Steinways. But should a violinst other methods to gain recognition, unrelated to performance skills? (Dating George Clooney or Lindsay Lohan comes to mind)

May 10, 2008 at 03:48 AM · "When I say value, I'm referring to the value to musicians and listeners, not dollar value."

which is precisely what I did when I said that the tonal value is probably 2.5% (or less) of the total cost for a 4m USD strad.

As long as collectors who don't buy antique instruments for their tonal value but for their collector and investment value continue to contribute to demand (and with deeper pockets than musicians) the total price paid will never be equivalent to the tonal value. Yet when you point this out, there will always be strad koolaid drinkers who get offended at the suggestion that a strad could be as expensive as it is for any other reason than its sound. You can't have it both ways.

May 10, 2008 at 04:00 AM · I'm not having it two ways. It's always been the case that the last few percentage points of performance in any field have been the expensive ones, and the people who really value what they do are willing to pay the price. Cartier-Bresson is a great example: the "simple" Leica is the Stradivari of the camera world--it costs several times more than anything else, and there are a lot of people that say it's no big deal, the king's new clothes. . . and many of the best photographers in the world have chosen Leicas, because they need that last few percentage points.

Jake, you're not for real, right? Recordings? What kind of test is that? There's not even a consensus that CDs sound like real life in any respect, much less making the type of discrimination we're talking about.

One of the basic problems with blind trials is that almost every Strad owner I've spoken with has told me that it's taken, on average, about six months to understand and utilize what the violin offers. Now how is some blind trial by someone who's never played a particular violin before supposed to expose that difference in five minutes? That's only the most obvious problem in such tests.

May 10, 2008 at 08:10 AM · "I'm not having it two ways."

Oh yes, you do. One the one hand you object when somebody points out that a portion of the price paid for a strad comes down to other factors than how it sounds and dismiss the analysis on the grounds that somebody doing so apparently doesn't know anything about how to assess the sound. On the other hand, when a logic argument is presented based on the fact that prices for strads are indeed largely influenced by people who don't care for their sound but for their collector and investment value, then you back out by claiming that the whole thing is not about money. If it isn't, then why object to the analysis in the first place?!

The point remains that the media obsession with strads (the topic of this thread) is first and foremost due to the high prices collectors pay for them, much less how they sound. It is also undisputable that collectors and investors buy these instruments not for their tonal value but for their collector and investment value. When somebody points that out, it doesn't mean they dismiss the tonal value of strads (the accusation brought forward), all it means is that they put things into perspective.

May 10, 2008 at 02:26 PM · "It is also undisputable that collectors and investors buy these instruments not for their tonal value but for their collector and investment value."

And you know precisely how many of these people, and have discussed their motivation with them, Benjamin? I'm sure you're right about investors, by definition, but they represent a very small part of the market. In fact, investment schemes involving violins (and there have been several attempts along this line in the last few years) usually die before being born, because investors correctly recognize that violins aren't really investments in their perspective, except in certain situations. Collectors are also a tiny part, but their motivations are much more complex. And you've failed completely to mention players.

Media obsessions are interesting, but rarely have much to do with anything beyond the media's personal obsession. Many of us have long stopped taking the media's point of view on things seriously. I'm dealing with an interesting media problem right now where someone put out some definitive and harmful opinions without ever having seen or experienced what they were talking about. . . . a replica of the flow of this thread, in fact.

May 10, 2008 at 02:18 PM · Of course the prices for strads are driven by collectors/investors, not by musicians. If that market was driven by musicians, the prices would be somewhere in the vicinity of the best modern instruments. A little premium, yes, but not up to 100 times as much. How many violinists do you think can afford to pay a million USD or more for an instrument? If they can't afford it, they couldn't possibly drive the prices that far up.

Let's face it, if you believe it's not the collectors/investors who have driven the prices where they are then you are simply delusional.

May 10, 2008 at 02:35 PM · I haven't heard anyone make a fuss over an Amati violin like the fuss over a Strad.

Back in 1984 I rented from Del Mar College a copy of an Amati and it had quite a sweet tone. When I worked for H&H Music in Houston a luthier, Jim Scoggins, sold fine violins and I tried what was said to be an authentic amati and man it felt and sounded fantastic. I can't say though that I've ever heard anyone mention or fuss over an Amati.

May 10, 2008 at 02:41 PM · Quint's CD's have shot to the top of the (puny) classical charts (see B&N), so he must be doing something right marketingwise! NB same Strad, same playing, theft and press added

May 10, 2008 at 03:32 PM · Royce, I had a 7/8 size Amati which I outgrew. I loved it. I'd play on any instrument like that.

May 10, 2008 at 09:22 PM · Royce, I'll second Nate's comment about Amatis. I've been privileged to try a few, including the instruments that the University of Saskatchewan loaned out to the Lafayette Quartet for many years. Gorgeous instruments - I'd take any of 'em in an instant. The quartet of Amatis are now sitting in a case at U of S - apparently playing them can 'damage' the instruments over time, and 'decreases their value'.

Tja. For me, value of silent instrument in glass case = $0. Easy.

May 10, 2008 at 08:47 PM · I used to play quartets with Dr. Ludwig Pollak, a Physicist who had a closit full of old Italians

verified by Moenig; two Amatis, a Strad, a Peter

Guarneri, I had a PG for awhile, it was ok, and a delJesu. Whenever I went to his bungalow, for that's what it was, I had my choice and always gravitated back to the Amati. Even I sounded good on that one.

May 10, 2008 at 09:22 PM · In time I'll find a Luthier who can copy an Amati. I think the subtle enlargement of the F hole adds a little more volume and guts giving the Amati it's rich tones. Yep, I bet y'all liked playing those Amatis. I shure loved the one I had rented, and played in Jim's violin cache.

Oh, by the way Nate... You are an awsome violinist! I hope to fly in and hear one of your performances one of these days. My dad has 2.2 million frequent flyer miles and he loves traveling and has offered me tickets to go anywhere.

And I agree with Megan about a violin locked away not playing, but measurements can be taken from that Amati and other things to make copies.

And Ray, what an honor to have played with that fellow with those violins! Just to see one!!!!!

May 11, 2008 at 02:02 PM · Of the five members of the Amati family, I think the Brothers Amati, are the heros, and my personal favorite makers. I've been making Brothers Amati model baroque instruments for a few years now ( ) and my first violino piccolo, based on the one in the National Music Museum ( ) just had it's maiden voyage in a concert on Friday night.

I maintain a Brothers' violin for a concertmaster who previously played on a Strad, and it's a fantastic instrument. (see and ) I know several others which are in the same category--the one Rachel Barton used to play, for instance, as well as a couple of Nicolos that behave similarly.

The arching on the Brothers' instruments is very perfect from a technical standpoint, and something that it took Stradivari most of his life to return to. You have to figure that the family that probably invented the violin sort of knew what to do.

For Amati fans there have been a couple of exhibitions in the last few years, and the resulting catalogues are really excellent and scholarly books, and much cheaper than the usual violin book these days. One of them is made of two books about an inch and a half thick, total, with big pages and nice illustrations, and costs only $85! So you can feed your Amati hunger for a lot cheaper than Strad or del Gesu.

May 11, 2008 at 02:30 PM · Megan: The quartet of Amatis owned by the University of Saskatchewan are regularly played and performed upon by the local Amati Quartet ( While they do spend some time in a climate-controlled glass case so that the public can view them, they are also heard by thousands each year, especially at concerts by the quartet that are very well subscribed.

May 11, 2008 at 06:28 PM · Sam, it's good to hear the Amatis are being played again. Seems my information was a bit out of date - this all happened around 1998. Has the quartet attracted string students to the university?

May 12, 2008 at 10:23 AM · I am reminded of a discussion on this forum where somebody who shall remain anonymous here shot me down for mentioning the possibility that one might consider something other than a strad copy when commissioning an instrument. He insisted that was folly on the basis that modern makers know close to everything about how to make a strad copy but know next to nothing about how to make anything else and thus commissioning an instrument that is not a copy of a strad was almost a guarantee that the end result would turn out mediocre.

To my surprise there seemed to be some sort of silent consensus as nobody challenged this. I am delighted to see that there are makers willing to go different ways, such as making Amati copies and it's also nice to learn that there are at least some who are interested in playing them.

May 12, 2008 at 05:11 PM · It was an honor to play an actual anything, especialy the 'real' Amati!

May 12, 2008 at 04:04 PM · Oh, saying that about Strad copies is nonsense. A superb maker will make an exquisite violin regardless of the pattern. And many of the leading makers of this century are making instruments based on some of the lesser known, but still brilliant, violin makers of ye olden times.

Of course, these makers also do the usual copies of Paginini's Canon and the Soil and all that.

May 12, 2008 at 04:14 PM · i think it will be more credible for some to claim that they do not like strad when they can afford it.

May 12, 2008 at 05:11 PM · I have to second Al's post just above this one. Have someone who can buy any of them and the opt for something else because they liked the other over the strad.

And I'm not knocking strads, if you like them you like them and if you can afford one and you like the way it plays and sounds go for it!

May 12, 2008 at 05:40 PM · "I have to second Al's post just above this one. Have someone who can buy any of them and the opt for something else because they liked the other over the strad."

Many famous, world-class soloists have done just this. I gave examples in an earlier post of just some of the magnificent musicians who choose to play on instruments besides Strads exclusively, or very often: Hilary Hahn, Ysaye, Paginini, Sarah Chang, Heifetz, Yo-Yo Ma, Jacqueline du Pre, and others.

Mozart himself preferred to play on a Stainer if I remember correctly.

May 12, 2008 at 11:28 PM · du Pre and Yo Yo Ma are cellist Jake...they don't count! You have flawed posts Jake.

:) {Wait until he reads this, he he he}

May 13, 2008 at 01:33 AM · @ Jake

"Oh, saying that about Strad copies is nonsense. A superb maker will make an exquisite violin regardless of the pattern."

Well, that's what I thought, too, but there seems to be a very strong sentiment amongst quite a few people on this forum who call themselves serious violinists who dismiss any instrument that isn't a strad copy. I seem to remember the term used was "idiotic" referring to my suggestion that one might consider a copy of something other than a strad. It was also suggested that merely suggesting not having a strad copy is such a ridiculous notion alone that it is proof that one is totally clueless about violins.

@ Al

"i think it will be more credible for some to claim that they do not like strad when they can afford it."

This cuts both ways. You can as easily argue the exact opposite, that most of those who say they prefer a strad even though they can't afford one are less credible because they are simply following the crowd, that those who prefer something other than a strad are more likely to have made an informed decision because they had to make an effort to overcome group pressure.

But even if your version of this argument was to be accepted as valid in principle, it still doesn't work well because for those who can't afford or don't want an antique instrument the argument simply takes on the shape of strad copy versus non-strad copy, the mainstream notion would seem to be "strads are superior, therefore strad copies must also be superior".

May 13, 2008 at 02:18 AM · Hmmm, I am forced to conclude that any violinist who thinks only Strad copies are worth playing is either A) brainwashed and biased as all hell or:

B) hasn't tried other models by great makers.

I just can't imagine someone trying a Sgarabotto, for example, and going, "Hmm, nope, this is a Testore pattern, not a Strad pattern. It sucks."

May 13, 2008 at 02:43 AM · jake, if there is a famous soloist that isn't playin a strad or del gesu, its ALWAYS because he/she cannot attain it. Hilary hahn's violin has sentimental value to her, otherwise you bet she would get any fiddle she wanted. take anyones situation. many cannot find sponsors or trusts that will lend it to them, or do not have the funds to buy it. Many (like Kaler and Tetzlaff) find modern makers they really really like...whose violins are great. but hand them a great del gesu or strad and give them their pick (money not an issue) and they'll choose it no doubt.

Old fiddles just feel different. Modern instruments may sound the same, but strads will respond better to a great violinist and will allow them to be more expressive and more comfortable, even if its not "by fact" superior sounding in the hall to a modern violin.

I play a modern violin by a great maker and it was tested in the hall against a fine vuillaume and mine we preferred for many if the pieces, but on the vuillaume it was as if it knew what i wanted...everything just came out easy. you know what i mean?

May 13, 2008 at 02:43 AM · jake, if there is a famous soloist that isn't playin a strad or del gesu, its ALWAYS because he/she cannot attain it. Hilary hahn's violin has sentimental value to her, otherwise you bet she would get any fiddle she wanted. take anyones situation. many cannot find sponsors or trusts that will lend it to them, or do not have the funds to buy it. Many (like Kaler and Tetzlaff) find modern makers they really really like...whose violins are great. but hand them a great del gesu or strad and give them their pick (money not an issue) and they'll choose it no doubt.

Old fiddles just feel different. Modern instruments may sound the same, but strads will respond better to a great violinist and will allow them to be more expressive and more comfortable, even if its not "by fact" superior sounding in the hall to a modern violin.

I play a modern violin by a great maker and it was tested in the hall against a fine vuillaume and mine we preferred for many if the pieces, but on the vuillaume it was as if it knew what i wanted...everything just came out easy. you know what i mean?

May 13, 2008 at 03:15 AM · "jake, if there is a famous soloist that isn't playin a strad or del gesu, its ALWAYS because he/she cannot attain it. Hilary hahn's violin has sentimental value to her, otherwise you bet she would get any fiddle she wanted."

Uh, I believe this is nonsense. Hilary Hahn has stated she's done blind tests with her Vuillaume against Strads and del Gesùs, and that she's played on them, and prefers her Vuillaume, as far as I know. Jacqueline du Pre and Yo-Yo Ma both owned two of the most famous Stradivari cellos, two instruments considered by many to be among the best cellos ever produced. Yet Jacqueline chose to commission a modern instrument and play it, and Yo-Yo Ma very often chooses to play on his Montagnana.

And musicians picking to play on a Strad or del Gesù over a modern is certainly not merely about tonality. Much of this is the esteem, pride, and romance surrounding the violin. If you take a Toyota and a Ferrari, and both look equally as good, but the Toyota drives better, most would rather own the Ferrari, even if the Toyoto is superior in technical regards.

As for what you experience in terms of the Vuillaume, that's a clear indication of a psychological symptom. In physical characteristics alone there is nothing about old instruments which give psychological feedback different to modern. It's all about the associations your brain creates through time/environment/etc.

May 13, 2008 at 03:22 AM · @ Kurganov:

"Many (like Kaler and Tetzlaff) find modern makers they really really like...whose violins are great. but hand them a great del gesu or strad and give them their pick (money not an issue) and they'll choose it no doubt."

Maybe not EVERY time:

"He plays a contemporary violin by Stefan-Peter Greiner which he has had since 2002, preferring it to his previous Stradivarius instrument."

May 13, 2008 at 03:58 AM · @ Kurganov

"if there is a famous soloist that isn't playin a strad or del gesu, its ALWAYS because he/she cannot attain it."

Maybe you can enlighten us and tell us just how you arrived at this conclusion? Do you personally know every famous soloist, asked them and they told you their preference? Every single one of them? If so, who is on your list of "famous soloists" and who isn't? Failing that, can you provide a reference to a document where somebody else has spoken to all the "famous violinists" to establish this conclusion?

The most likely truth is that you made this up, that your statement is nothing but a product of your own wishful thinking. Of course there is nothing wrong with expressing one's belief but you should then present it as such, ie. "I believe that ..." and not as a fact, certainly not with uppercase "ALWAYS".

May 13, 2008 at 03:51 AM · I can definitely see why. Greiner is one of the modern makers whose work is a league above his contemporaries. The instrument I tried by him definitely took my breath away.

May 13, 2008 at 04:02 AM · never mind, as a friend of mine says.....

May 13, 2008 at 03:59 AM · Michael. Seeing as you have failed to address the seething majority of my posts towards you, I don't feel too inclined to answer, but here it goes:

Is there a majority opinion that Stradivari violins are 'superior'? Yes, it seems to be so from my experience. Are these opinions founded? I've seen no evidence backing these claims, and have already posted more in depth on why I believe it's nonsense bias from conscious and subconscious mental associations, the likes of which appear in nearly every art form.

Also, faulty analogies are not appreciated.

It also seems to me you might have a professional bias and commercial interest in arguing against opinions rivaling antique instruments, as you are in the sales of fine old instruments, are you not?

May 13, 2008 at 04:11 AM · @ Michael

your election analogy would be appropriate if the discussion was about which instruments are most popular, but that's not what is being discussed. Nobody disputed the fact that strads are most popular, what has been questioned is the notion "most popular, therefore superior".

To put it in terms of your analogy, the question has been raised whether the elected politician is/was truly the best person for the job. In politics somebody who thinks that elected person and best qualified automatically goes hand in hand might very well be considered out of touch with reality.

May 13, 2008 at 04:21 AM · I'm suggesting that thousands of players have voted in favor of the great Cremonese instruments, and you offer three or four who don't agree. So, who cares what they think, really? You and Jake have no experience with these instruments, and no basis for what you're saying except the opinions of a couple of musicians. Contrarian thought is interesting and entertaining, but without substance and background it doesn't amount to a pile of beans. I'm really not impressed by your uninformed opinion, since it contradicts the more informed opinions of thousands of great musicians. Sorry about that.

May 13, 2008 at 04:16 AM · Yes, a nice example would be the last two American presidential campaigns. I believe many Americans would draw a line between majority and superiority in those examples.

I am not at all arguing that Strads are magnificent instruments. Many have gorgeous tone, and sound even more divine in the hands of the musicians who get to perform on them (who are often of the highest caliber)

Saying they're superior to all other violins is pretty silly though. There was no magical spells cast over his violins, nor Roman gods descended from the heavens to make them sound better. They were simply well made instruments. And with countless thousands of violin makers since that days, many who knew there craft very well, it's a statistical logic that there will have been instruments that have surpassed Strad's in quality, even if they never gained recognition.

It really is only a matter of time until increased knowledge, and improved science, leads to even greater instruments.

May 13, 2008 at 04:24 AM · Well, obviously you think you know best. :-)

May 13, 2008 at 04:26 AM · "I'm suggesting that thousands of players have voted in favor of the great Cremonese instruments, and you offer three or four who don't agree."

Yes, and they vote in favor when KNOWING the instrument is Cremonese. I'm tired of explaining simplistic functions of the brain, so just google it or something if you're still unclear on how this works.

Like I've said before, when the bias is stripped away, and quality stands alone, Strads often get pummeled by other instruments. IE: Public and private blind testings.

As for no basis on these opinions, I must sigh. The only evidence you've provided so far for your claim that they're superior is, "Well, lots of people think so!"

Wonderful. Lots of people also believe that evolution is wrong, and that global warming is a myth. Ignorance and idiocy of the masses does not equal truth.

May 13, 2008 at 04:37 AM · No, I rest. I bow to your superiority in things which you have virtually no experience. It's really quite simple: if you agree with something, you're deluded; if you disagree, you're deluded. All opinion, no matter what it is, is automatically wrong and the opposite is true, because the human mind is a trickster. I get it. Really, no further discussion is required.

May 13, 2008 at 04:44 AM · Continuing the topic seems unlike to yield much benefit. Perhaps when you have an opinion of substance, backed up by actual reasoning or evidence, we can resume it.

And please do not try so hard to completely misunderstand the 'trickster' nature of assumption. If one wants to objectively judge quality, bias must be taken away, do you not agree? To do this, the label must be removed, as it's this label which bias and mental association is tied to.

Like I said, when this has been done, Strads (when objectively judged on tonality alone) are commonly defeated by other instruments.

I doubt you're unfamiliar with the results of blind trials. All the trials which I've researched that took place within the century, Strads were trumped every single time.

May 13, 2008 at 06:09 AM · But Jake, don't you think that the trials you've read about might be influenced by the topic of this thread? Michael writes about Strads and the news - other instruments don't get the media attention. Now, in the trials, it might be exactly the same thing. Everybody expects the old Italians to come out on top. There's no news when everybody picks the Soil Strad out of a blind test, but if another instrument is chosen, that's worth talking about. Plus, I think we need to look at the vested interest many (makers, dealers in particular) can have in the results of these trials. When a Strad wins, nobody benefits, but should my violin happen to trump a few old Italians - well, maybe I can sell it for a bit more money or attract more business.

I don't think it's quite as easy as you're making it out to be.

May 13, 2008 at 06:41 AM · But what if you play a Strad using a shoulder rest?


May 13, 2008 at 08:08 AM · Then you're a koolaid drinker, of course.

May 13, 2008 at 08:59 AM · @ Michael

Forgive me for being so nosy about this, but my background is in science and technology where it is generally accepted that one must back up absolute statements with evidence or 'fess up by explicitly marking one's statements as beliefs and admitting that they are without proof.

In other words, when somebody says "x is y" then they will have to provide evidence. And whilst they might be forgiven if some people come up with a very small number of x which are not y, if they say "x is ALWAYS y" then they will have to provide absolute proof for the ALWAYS part. If anybody can only find a single x which is not y, no matter how insignificant that x might be, then their statement is rendered invalid.

Thus in the absence of evidence, you may want to be more careful in how you formulate your statements. How about "I believe that x is y" or "I tend to believe that x is always y, although I have no proof that it is so".

The same applies to such things as "You have no experience with x" because you have no idea what kind of experience somebody has who you don't actually know. The only thing you could truthfully say is "I believe you have little or no experience with x".

I don't feel like refuting your last post because you already did so yourself for the reasons outlined above. Making blatant statements will not further your cause because it casts doubt not only on the statements in question but also on any other statements you make. Choose your language more wisely and your message will be heard and considered.

@ Megan

"... vested interest ..."

very good point :-)

May 13, 2008 at 10:26 AM · A good violinist will sound good on a fine violin regardless. I've expirienced this personaly. A violin teacher with a $400.00 student model and drew out more than a song, it was magic! Serious mojo folks!

And I agree along Jakes lines that there is more out there than just a strad!

May 13, 2008 at 10:46 AM · Amusing as always to see people like Jake and Benjamin arguing their opinions with Michael Darnton who has considerably more experience in these matters than both of them put together. You guys would do well to listen to someone who actually knows what he's talking about instead of being so in love with the sound of your own typing.


May 13, 2008 at 11:29 AM · Neil, you are missing the point, I was not promoting any opinion, I was simply rejecting the notion of absolute statements that cannot be proven. It is bad style for any discussion about any kind of subject, violin related or not.

You are also making the same mistake, you assume something about me (and presumably Jake) which you have no way of verifying since you don't know me (and I presume you don't know Jake either) but you present that assumption as an absolute statement of fact instead of presenting it as a belief (ie. "I believe that ...", "I assume/presume that ..."). The point remains that people who are careless enough to make and state conclusions based on unverifiable assumptions while passing them off as facts cannot and should not expect to be taken serious.

May 13, 2008 at 11:39 AM · ben, based on what, your credential wise, should i take you seriously when you talk about strads and such? (disclosure: i do not want to be taken seriously here, so keep me out of it:).

in the world of violin sound where the main theme is subjectivity,,, how the players like it, name one major player, dead or alive, who has NOT associated him- or herself with strad/ del gesu. name just one, one that from day one has decided those fine italians are not for him/her.

while i am at it, name one modern day superstar maker that has NOT studied strads like there is no tomorrow and copied his models.

jake, i think it is rather unfair for you to turn around to point fingers at m darnton, himself a modern violin maker, for saying that since his current biz involves selling old italians, his consistent view on them for as far as i have read him is therefore biased. i think it is a kick below the belt. for that matter, if any modern maker ever touts the merits of modern violin, i would expect you to be fair and diss them accordingly.

as someone earlier has pointed out. you came here asking for advice. sooner than later, you are giving advice. dude, if you are to be believed, you stated you came across strad just once. are you still in high school?

May 13, 2008 at 12:07 PM · Al, I didn't dispute that strads are most popular, but if somebody makes a statement that says "x is ALWAYS y" then they better have proof for that and ALWAYS means ALWAYS, so if Jake is able to name one single x which is not y then the statement is disproven sufficiently and anybody who complains that Jake was nit picking because he could only name one such x doesn't seem to understand logic, because only a single x is sufficient to disprove that statement due to the use of the word "ALWAYS". Note that the poster in question even chose to put the word in all uppercase letters, putting emphasis on the fact that they really meant "always", that it wasn't just a figure of speech.

As for my credentials, you will find from my various posts that I am very careful in the way I phrase statements, I don't usually use the words "always" and "never" and I use phrases "I tend to believe" or "It would seem to me" when I am stating something that I cannot proof. Likewise, I use "I presume/assume" when I am making an assumption. I make it transparent. I do not pass off beliefs or assumptions as facts, at the very least I try not to. Thus, should you catch me doing so, you can kick my butt and I will admit the mistake and apologise then.

May 13, 2008 at 12:20 PM · Anyone who is involved in this discussion is welcome to come to my shop to discuss it with real violins in presence. Otherwise, I don't see the point of a tonal discussion. But this hasn't been a tonal discussion at all, has it?

I'm not suggesting that there are no things which can't be heard and explained scientifically, but I'm also not really interested in the situation of discussing how something sounds via uninformed imagination and amateur psychology on the internet, which is definitely not science, either. Since the issue has been posed in terms of psychology, that's what I've been responding to, only to point out that the psychological discipline isn't a one-way hammer to do your bidding when you don't agree with someone, unless you're politicians in oppressed countries. I'm saying that from my position of having most of my college degree in the experimental psychology corner, as I implied but didn't say elsewhere. That's why I've enjoyed the psychology part of the discussion, and the way that people have made erroneous psychological accusations. But that's still not about violin tone.

As near as I can see, not one tonal claim about great instruments has been made here so far--it's all been a very lopsided quoting of authorities and bad psychology. Given that there were people in the shoulder rest thread who seemed to not hear the changes a chinrest or shoulder rest make and refuse to admit such changes by any means other than poorly-applied scientific arguments, I don't hope for an intelligent discussion of tone here. What good does it do to discuss tone with someone who either can't hear or refuses to try a simple experiment to form an opinion (or possibly both)?

From a scientific standpoint, which is something I follow closely, there so far hasn't been a single scientific experiment that definitively "hears" the same things listeners hear. I use some limited "scientific" process in my making, but so far science has been a dry well in violin making. The most concrete reason for that is that most acousticians suggest that ALL of our ability to identify an instrument (that is, to be able to tell a flute from a bass drum, for instance) lives in the transient portion of the sound, and that's exactly the area that violin researchers haven't yet touched. I suspect that position is a bit overstated for effect, but I would agree with the science guys on this for the most part regarding violins, with the reservation that the other part of what a good violin is can't be picked up on a recording, for reasons involving the direction that the development of stereo recording took (an interesting topic, for those who enjoy researching things on the web).

So let me repeat my invitation: I learned about violin sound from years of having demonstrations and explanations by great players on great violins on a one-to-one level, where I was able to ask questions and have them answered with demonstrations. I would be happy to recreate that process, as much as possible in a short time, for visitors to my shop. I don't know any other way to learn about violin tone, but I know talking about it on the internet is definitely not going to lead anywhere.

May 13, 2008 at 12:34 PM · "x is ALWAYS y"

name anything m darnton ever said on this thread that can be construed as such.

meanwhile, to be fair to jake, you must be referring to him and give him the credit! ;)

"As near as I can see, not one tonal claim about great instruments has been made here so far". no kidding. have to play a strad first to make a claim, at least i hope:)

this reminds me of my high school days where, before we got our permits yet, we talked about cars like we could and should write reviews for hot wheels.

May 13, 2008 at 12:46 PM · @ Michael

You say you have a background in psychology, yet you don't seem to want to acknowledge that there is a difference between disagreeing with a general trend, something I didn't do, and disagreeing with an absolute statement that involves the words "always" and/or "never", something I did do. I find that very strange.

Let me ask you this: Can you imagine that it is possible that somebody doesn't actually dispute the tonal qualities of a strad but at the same time doubt when somebody makes a claim that any non-strad copy will always be inferior to any strad copy, lock, stock and barrel? Likewise, can you imagine that rejecting a statement "all famous violinists ALWAYS prefer a strad" does not mean disputing the tonal qualities of strads?

It also seems to me that you do not want to acknowledge that there is a difference between "shoulder rests have no impact on sound", something I didn't say, and "shoulder rests have an impact but so does direct contact with the body, where is the research that shows which of the two is bigger?", something I did ask, although I may be misinterpreting your reference to the shoulder rest thread in this regard, my apologies if I did.

@ Al

"name anything m darnton ever said on this thread that can be construed as such."

No, but after Jake and I had objected to that statement, he chimed in as if the objection meant we had dismissed the popularity and tonal qualities of strads, which was not the case.

May 13, 2008 at 01:42 PM · ben, in terms of popularity of strads, the current experts on call are the NJ/NY taxi drivers.

in terms of tonal quality of strads, it would be a good thing if you and i and jake shut up and listen. there is a lot of be- all- you- can- be but i don't think darnton's postings are short on logic or pearls of wisdom and experience. you and jake can play word games with him, but i think many readers would prefer to hear from him than from you and i and jake on strads. do you agree?

so jake claims he has laid his hands on one strad. i take it as a real violin not a poster.

i claim i have zero under my belt, referring to strad.

ben you, i speculate between zero and 10. i was going to say zero and 1 but since you are in japan, lets be more generous with courtesy and social hypocrisy.

i speculate m darnton has had access to over 50 strads. ok, 49. if my speculation is close, i would be embarassed to read others' bluff and fluff.

May 13, 2008 at 02:43 PM · Michael D.

I would love to visit your shop!!! To see and hear what you've made and what else you've acrued! To listen and ask questions! And when I do come I hope that there maybe an Amati. would you email me direction from an airport to you shop. I'll let you know way in advance when I can. :)

Most Kind Regards,


May 13, 2008 at 03:02 PM · Al, I repeat it again for you: I did *not* dispute the tonal quality of strads. Instead, I took issue with the following:

1) Somebody claiming that _all_ famous violinists _ALWAYS_ prefer strads, especially due to the use of "all" and "ALWAYS".

2) Somebody (in an earlier thread) claiming that any strad-copy was superior to any non-strad copy because makers did not know how to make non-strad copies.

Can you not acknowledge that none of this constitutes any such thing as making a statement about the tonal quality of strads?

May 13, 2008 at 03:02 PM · ben, you are a fun guy to read and on this thread you are more fun to read because you are being a little obscessive:)

May 13, 2008 at 03:05 PM · Al, I wonder how easy you'd be able to suffer having put words into your mouth which you never said, never implied, never dreamt of. Perhaps you'd look funny, too ;-)

May 13, 2008 at 03:44 PM · there are 2 categories around me, things i care and things i don't. for things i don't, it doesn't matter.

i would like to hear from violin experts about violin and you about japan or whatever you do with your day job. often the violin experts don't want to say too much for one reason for another. if being confrontational with them will make them talk, may the power be with you. you guys may be onto something; at least md has invited you over to try things in his office. i wonder if you and jake can come up with something so that md would be willing to send couple strads over by mail so i can provide an official, final verdict for everyone?:) i am just way too busy to travel for violins. besides, i can be trusted with violins laying around the house.

May 13, 2008 at 04:56 PM · "i would like to hear from violin experts about violin and you about japan"

Well, I am no violin expert which is not to say I am clueless either, but nevertheless I can tell you something about Japan related to violins ...

The violin shops here in Tokyo carry some very exquisite instruments, both antique and modern. The shops with the finest merchandise seem to be void of customers most of the time. Maybe people are afraid to visit them? :-)

One chain of shops sends me regular news letters because I purchased a bow in one of their shops. These newsletters try to attract customers to visit more often, especially the one shop in the chain which falls into the exquisite-merchandise-but-void-of-customers category. Often they have "special weeks" showing off "special instruments", for example, one such week they had a real strad from 1728 for trials.

Also, recently we had a classical music festival (5 days, 300 concerts, 600.000+ visitors) here at the International Forum where they also had a sort of trade fair at which several music shops displayed instruments, some fine violins amongst them.

When I went shopping for my violin I didn't find it appropriate to ask for any of the exquisite inventory because I couldn't play anything back then. However, these days I do take advantage of the fact that they seem happy that anybody comes to their void-of-customers shops at all, even though I am not in the market for a new instrument. I also took advantage of the music shop fair of the aforementioned classical music festival.

I don't know if you ever had the opportunity to play on a fine instrument, but yes it is a great pleasure to do so, even if you don't really have enough skill to take full advantage of it.

At the festival I played a recent Del Gesu copy by a Cremonese maker. As you can imagine, the trade fair floor was very noisy but despite all that noise you could tell it had a wonderful tone. The instrument had incredible projection and it produced a pretty tone for every note I played, by contrast, on my own violin (which, inconsequentially happens to be a strad copy BTW) I have only recently begun to make some notes come out pretty but not all the time.

Anyway, if you can get access to some fine instruments at the shops near where you live, I'd encourage you to try some, just for fun ;-) If they don't like to let lesser mortals like us play their fine instruments over there, well, maybe you want to visit Tokyo some time, I'll be happy to show you around if you do ;-)

"besides, i can be trusted with violins laying around the house."

You can? I suspect you meant you can't ;-)

May 13, 2008 at 04:47 PM · now we are talking ben! :) to celebrate strads, here is my fond memory of an unrelated trip, "almost" to tokyo, a while back when i was still in school. i was going to hk with a big, fat, white, bigger- mouth -than- me college friend. no, not a female but a roommate.

so we had a stopover in tokyo airport for about 6 hours. somehow we decided to take a train ride for a quick visit to a countryside village. we had a good time walking down the stone path, eating some bbq eels, then it was getting dark so we decided to get back to the train station.

weird,,, no one else was on the station so we waited and waited. finally, a train came and we jumped onto it in no time. we kicked back and breathed a sigh of relief.

the train zoomed by station after station and more and more buildings appeared. huh? we looked at each other: sheet. we may be going the wrong direction!

you know what, it may be true that the average japanese person does not speak a word of english. at least on that train or they pretended not to understand a word, not even "airport". so my fat friend stretched out his arms wide like a jumbo 787 and jestured to the whole compartment. only an old lady responded to the stupid american. she giggled by covering her denture-less mouth with one hand and pointed with the other. we were dead meat. not funny anymore.

to make the story short, eventually we made it back to the airport, with the overhead page going: united airline paging mr ku and mr larrabee...we gladly ran up 4 flight of stairs against traffic. my fat friend could have dropped dead right there.

then came the good stuff. some rep got hold of us, escorted us all the way down to the ground level, boarded us into a vehicle with that flight of stairs on its back, ran up to the moving plane...

the whole plane applauded us as we made to our seats. while my white, fat, shameless roommate beamed with pride, i was so embarrassed (back then, i still had a thread of pride).

back to fine violins, i have couple stashed away behind my wife's shoe boxes. yes, even my kid can tell the difference.

May 13, 2008 at 05:22 PM · Al, haha, funny story, glad you made it to the plane, but don't you write Hanzi (Kanji in Japanese pronounciation)? When in China/HKG/TW I usually get by well enough communicating by kanji.

If you speak Cantonese you may even find that a variety of words are very close to the Japanese, although that isn't the case for airport, which is empty+harbour in Japanese (empty also means air here) but it's flying+machine+parking+lot in Chinese. Although I think if you wrote the Chinese for airport on a piece of paper and showed it to a Japanese they'd more than likely figure out what you mean. In fact, flying+machine alone should do the trick ;-) But "airport" in English won't do because the Japanese word is kuhkoh, not very similar :-)

BTW, I wouldn't be surprised to find some well sorted violin shops in Hong Kong as well.

May 13, 2008 at 05:57 PM · Since Hillary Hahn has been named as someone who does just fine with a Vuillaume, I went and took a tour of various violinists, including Hahn, playing the opening of the Sibelius violin concerto on youtube. I recommend the exercise.

May 13, 2008 at 06:45 PM · "Since Hillary Hahn has been named as someone who does just fine with a Vuillaume, I went and took a tour of various violinists, including Hahn, playing the opening of the Sibelius violin concerto on youtube. I recommend the exercise."

Are you suggesting the YouTube video of her Sibelius is inferior to others? Let's not forget she was either 16 or 15 in that video. And I doubt there would be many out there that would say when she plays her Vuillaume, that the tone is anything short of magnificent.

I'd definitely rather be able to produce her tone than many Strad-using violinists, personally.

May 13, 2008 at 06:14 PM · The audio component in YouTube streams is encoded at a bit rate of 64 kbit/s sampled at 22050 Hz, the resulting bandwidth is only about 10KHz, cutting off a significant portion of the important overtones.

I sincerely hope nobody here is suggesting one can draw any serious conclusion about the tonal qualities of a fine violin after sending the audio through such a narrow pipe.

May 13, 2008 at 09:33 PM · What are the usual mark-ups on violins? Does it vary according to price? In other words, what instrument would be the best economic benefit for the shop to sell? NB Ferrari dealerships seem better appointed than Saturn dealerships

May 13, 2008 at 10:52 PM · An interesting question is, for violin tone, should we judge by what others hear, or what we personally hear under our ears?

Having heard Hilary Hahn live, for example, I can say her Vuillaume sounds divine live from my experiences. Now, if we compare that Vuillaume to a Strad, and say that while the Vuillaume sounds better to live, under the ear the Strad sounds better (just for a scenario) what would most people consider the superior violin?

May 13, 2008 at 11:47 PM · ". . .resulting bandwidth is only about 10KHz, cutting off a significant portion of the important overtones"

but not for a good violin, for which one characteristic is a steep drop-off of output above 6KHz, which also happens to be close to the point above which dissonant harmonics take over the spectral pattern, in an average sort of way. Which you can easily hear on the recordings--even on youtube, and is the main thing contributing to the silky smooth and harmonious tone quality of the guys playing the good violins.

May 14, 2008 at 12:04 AM · Michael P, normal consignment fees run around 20-25% at many shops, in lower price ranges, and often will drop as the value becomes higher, to as low as 5% for the big money instruments, which is even with real estate, where the expenses are, in point of fact, much lower. Circumstances and negotiation ultimately decide such things, of course.

Bob Bein commented to me once that the big instrument sales were for the glory and for putting in the calendar, but if he wanted to get rich, he'd stay home in his bathrobe writing certificates on them rather than selling them, since the percentage runs about the same, cert vs sale.

If you want to make money consistently and efficiently, the sweet spot is probably below $30,000 or so, which is one reason why there's a surfeit of shops serving that market, in addition to that being where the most action is. The biggest markups of all are on new things. I assume the car market is structured differently.

May 13, 2008 at 11:43 PM · Wow, Benjamin and Jake!

I just came across this thread. You've said many things I might wish to have said, only you've said it better!

Some of your comments have been dismissed due to lack of experience and exposure. Let's see how well that argument will work on me. ;)

May 14, 2008 at 12:19 AM · For the record, most violin MAKERS fall in with David's opinion. They also mainly make 100% of their income based on clinging to that opinion, and attempting to convince customers to agree, needless to say, whereas we supposedly "biased" dealers will happily sell you whatever you want, new or old. :-)

May 14, 2008 at 12:20 AM · To give a more complete picture of the record, most high-end DEALERS fall in with Michael's opinion. :)

Contemporary instrument sales don't rely on "clinging to an opinion". When headway is made, it's usually because the instruments speak for


May 14, 2008 at 12:20 AM · Along with most high-end players. Go figure.

May 14, 2008 at 12:26 AM · Yes, "most" being the primary word there. Majority opinion does not equate to truth, as I've said before.

If your position was, "Strads are wonderful instruments" I wouldn't be arguing with you, but your original statement was that Strads are superior to every violin.

And your entire evidential backing is: Lots of great musicians like to use them!


For a car enthusiast, would they choose a Japanese car over a Royles Royce if a large corporation offered to loan it to them free of cost? Even if the Japanese car was better in technical specs? Vast majority would go with the Royles Royce. To hell with the tech specs! Such pride, prestige, self confidence, freedom to boast, and recognition comes from that Royles Royce! Those things are worth more than some differences in technical specs. Besides, if you drive well, it's all great anyway.

It's the same thing with Strads. Itzhak Perlman has played on many del Gesù and Strad and other instruments during his career. He sounds bloody amazing on every single one. When no matter what nice quality violin you play is going to knock people's socks off, why not go with the one that gives you A) recognition B) pride and that nice chemical euphoria from owning something very rare and expensive C) boasting rights

If Itzhak Perlman tried one of Burgess' instruments and went, "Hey! This sounds better than my Soil!" do you think he's going to switch, even if the modern's tone is better? Not bloody likely. And all for reasons OTHER THAN TONALITY.

This is why "lots of great players love to use Strads" does not work as support for their 'tonal' superiority.

If you want say that they give people more pride, recognition, self assurance, and tons of psychologically great feelings than other violins, I won't argue. But when you say they're, beyond a doubt, superior tonally to every other maker in existence, you're just wallowing in blissful self ignorance.

To think that out of tens of thousands of violin makers in the past centuries, that at least ONE maker wouldn't equal or surpass Stradivari in tonal quality, is idiotic. Makers now adays have more access to knowledge than he did, and there's absolutely no reason they couldn't surpass his isntruments.

Like I said, Jove didn't descend from Olympus and cast magical blessings upon Strad's violins to give them super human amazing-tastic-tone that no one could ever rival.

There's a difference between romanticizing music, and just plain ole' blunt fairy tales. People who think Strads are above and beyond every other violin ever produced, are firm believers in that fairy tale.

I've said it before, and you haven't addressed this point: if you can 'recognize the difference' that makes Strads superior to every other violin, I'd love to see you put this to the test in a blind atmosphere.

May 14, 2008 at 12:45 AM · From Michael Darnton;

"Along with most high-end players. Go figure."


I believe you've already offered that, and Jake and Benjamin have already responded to it. I have better things to do than go in circles.

May 14, 2008 at 12:40 AM · It is also possible that Strads have been better looked-after than so-called "lesser makers" since they were pricey to begin with.

May 14, 2008 at 12:41 AM · Ay, the topic is just in circles now...

I really want to encourage someone that has the resources to establish a very large scale blind test, something which can be done through a flash player on the internet too, so thousands of listeners can hear tons of instruments in an anonymous form, and judge the qualities by themselves, no labels attached. I think this would be perhaps better than having professional judges etc, as it would allow tens of thousands of people to judge, for themselves, what sounds better.

Of course, to arrange so many famous instruments and high quality ones, hire a great violinist, someone to do the website, etc, would take a lot of effort.

I am just throwing the idea out there. I think it would be a landmark in the debate of the rare antiques vs. moderns/lesser known makers in proving that Strads aren't the very pinnacle of quality, if so many people could vote themselves, then see the results in front of their eyes.

May 14, 2008 at 03:42 AM · Micheal Darnton wrote:

"Jake, you're not for real, right? Recordings? What kind of test is that? There's not even a consensus that CDs sound like real life in any respect, much less making the type of discrimination we're talking about."

A few hours later, Michael Darnton also wrote:

"... Which you can easily hear on the recordings--even on youtube, and is the main thing contributing to the silky smooth and harmonious tone quality of the guys playing the good violins."

CD recordings are not good enough to judge an instrument but YouTube audio streams are?

Oh, that reminds me, does anybody remember Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf?

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