Violin Tone - a Dealers Con or What?

May 27, 2008 at 02:41 AM · All violins being sold are described as having a good sound upwards to wonderful, depending on the price of the instrument.

I am reminded of 2 quotes, one of Heifetz, renowned for his sarcasm, who on being told that his violin had a wonderful sound by a gushing admirer,said to the violin "Hear that, you have a wonderful sound"

The other is attributed to Charles Beare,

"Violin tone is 80% the player 10% the violin and 10% the setup"

It is stating the obvious that a violin has no sound whatever, it exists in total silence, so saying that it has a tone is nonsensical, yet we all do this.

I have had a long performing career and played on many fine violins in my day and it is obvious now that many players are searching for a moving target, convinced that the right violin is around the corner and will enable them to fulfil their dream as player. The same often applies to the right teacher.

I am not claiming that all violins sound the same, that would be stupid, some have a good solo sound which does not blend with other instruments in say a quartet, and some are clearly just rubbish, but in a good instrument that is well set up you are listening to the player. The recordings of soloists playing different violins during their long careers bear this out. Of course they play on violins worth millions, however there is little perceptible difference in the sound and you would have to be an idiot to say that the violin had the tone.

Tone is very subjective and an instrument is like a partner. What can be beautiful can suddenly seem drab and ordinary on trying another violin. It is often an illusion and can be an expensive mistake.

Giving a violin a rest is a good idea and as the saying goes "makes the heart get fonder"

In conclusion it seems an obvious truth that the market is manipulated by dealers who get rich both on the antique value of the instruments and the hype which goes with it. We are also affected by the publicity of soloists and wanabees who shamelessly ride on the fame of their instruments.

Replies (99)

May 27, 2008 at 03:56 AM · What a happy rant for a dreary end-of-weekend evening....

A dealers con? Nope.

The problem is finding a violin which responds to your technique where you are now--and will satisfy your desires for some time, whose tone you agree with in terms of quality/range of color/range of projection/ease of playing. All within your price range, and when you can only get so many instruments in and through your hands to begin with.

When you have mastered the instrument to a suitable level, you can take a piece of trash and make it sound relatively acceptable-because you have the finesse and subtlety to bend an instrument to your bidding.

Like any business-there are bad dealers who are worse than used-car salesman, and there are many good ones who are honest and love what they get to do.

The only difference in this regard with any other business and the violin trade--is that the sums of $$$ involved can be enormous.

The myths of the impossible to recreate sound of old instruments-and the virtues of instruments-simply because they were old have been perpetuated since the end of the old Cremonese tradition-and the start of mass-produced instruments-starting in Germany and later elsewhere.

May 27, 2008 at 01:34 PM · Edmund, I've had the same reaction to some sellers descriptions of tone in their catalogues. With each violin listed, there is a description like:

"rich, warm tone"

or "for the soloist"

or "stunning color palette"

or "responds to your every nuance"

One would think that among any large number of violins, one or two should be described as "weak" or "crappy", but I don't recall seeing this....LOL!

I'd avoid lumping dealers all together though. As with any business, there's probably a wide spread in how things are done.

With many products, advertising isn't about attributes of the product, but about your image if you own or use it. Remember the "Marlboro Man"? The same thing goes on with cars, athletic shoes, and even bottled water. And these products are usually described in glowing terms, even if they ultimately turn out to be failures.

There's image and "star power" in certain categories of violins too. Some will get the owner instant respect, and others will leave the owner with something to prove.

Where do you think violin dealers should draw the line? Should they stay away from marketing techniques which are well accepted with other products? (This is a genuine question, not intended as rhetorical)

May 27, 2008 at 12:57 PM · There are so few words to describe the sound of a violin and none of those words, to my knowledge, is really quantifiable. "Nuanced color palette," would 2 or more people define that the same way?

Probably the most egregious descriptions are on ebay, but that's, no doubt, the stuff of other discussions. I couldn't get the same sound out of an instrument as a really accomplished player could, BUT I think we might agree on whether the sound was bright and silvery versus warm and dark. I like "warm, dark, smooth, round," and I'm excitedly waiting to receive an instrument from across the country that the dealer says fits that bill.

May 27, 2008 at 03:08 PM · "Of course they play on violins worth millions, however there is little perceptible difference in the sound and you would have to be an idiot to say that the violin had the tone."

at the risk of offending an experienced soloist, i find the rhetoric and logic puzzling. it is akin to a race car driver saying that it is the driver that makes the difference. agree, but only to a certain extent and IN THE APPROPRIATE CONTEXT. there is a difference between a honda and a souped up ferrari. a big f difference.

perhaps edmund can share with us about the violins in his possession and the reasons for his attachment to them. then we switch his violins with other junkers that some on v.comers are trying to rid of. then we assess if the differences is close to 90%, following beare's adage. or, may be we should not even bother because the study design is just too stupid.

as far as promotion/advertisement does not contain negative connotation, that it is confusing to describe sound, welcome to the real world:) i don't think any makers, now or then, even mention in passing the deficiencies of their violins, let alone featuring it as part of the sale's pitch. that is neither con nor deceiving. it is rather consistent:)

on "little perceptible difference"...not long ago, tiger woods was testing a bunch of nike drivers and commented that one was lighter than the rest. the nike reps: tiger, but they are all the same!. tiger moved on. when testing was finished, just for kicks, the reps did weigh all the drivers and to their dismay found out that the one tiger was referring to was indeed lighter by 2 grams! what is the big deal, right?

May 27, 2008 at 03:36 PM · Dealers are dealers, whether they're selling violins, used cars, or dime bags of pharmaceutical attitude adjustment. To expect them to forego purple prose is to deny them the tools of their trade.

The guy on ebay selling Chiese fiddles as heirlooms, and the auctioneer at (your favorite auction house here) are substantially the same, just operating on different levels.

As ever, the 2000 year old warning of Caveat Emptor is as timely now as it was when first uttered. The only answer to the problem is Information. He whose info is deeper and wider will have the edge in any transaction.

May 27, 2008 at 04:10 PM · "In conclusion it seems an obvious truth that the market is manipulated by dealers who get rich both on the antique value of the instruments and the hype which goes with it."

I wonder if Edmund could use a nice cup of tea? :-)

May 27, 2008 at 08:47 PM · From David: "Where do you think violin dealers should draw the line? Should they stay away from marketing techniques which are well accepted with other products? (This is a genuine question, not intended as rhetorical)"

Excellent question, David.

Seems to me anyone selling anything (makers and players fall into this category as well) will tend to do their best to communicate the positives (benefits) to potential clients. The opposite approach might be novel, and possibly funny, but probably not effective. :-)

I'd guess that the "line in the sand" for me is when claims made just aren't sustainable... Personally, I'd rather see a client presently surprised (get more than they expect) than be disappointed.

You have tempted me to list a violin that I don't especially like on my web site, though... with an honest non-flattering description (like "Capable of little power, but what is projected has a truly ugly quality..."). :-) Think I'll get inquiries?

Cheers!

Jeffrey

May 27, 2008 at 08:56 PM · "Where do you think violin dealers should draw the line?"

Easy. They shouldn't say anything that isn't true.

May 27, 2008 at 08:43 PM · Good dealers are a great thing for living makers. I'm very happy to be represented in NY by two good dealers.

May 27, 2008 at 09:41 PM · From Jeffrey;

"You have tempted me to list a violin that I don't especially like on my web site, though... with an honest non-flattering description (like "Capable of little power, but what is projected has a truly ugly quality..."). :-) Think I'll get inquiries?"

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

Can you at least say that it plays easily? :-)

It might work though.....maybe not to sell that particular violin, but others.

If I read something like that, I might say,

"Hey, an honest violin dealer", and call to see what else you had.

May 27, 2008 at 10:05 PM · "It might work though.....maybe not to sell that particular violin, but others.

If I read something like that, I might say,

"Hey, an honest violin dealer", and call to see what else you had."

OK David. Sounds like a good experiment. I'll be on the lookout for the appropriate instrument candidate. Once it's up for a while, I'll fill you in on the results! :-)

May 27, 2008 at 10:28 PM · Greetings,

interesitng thta the Beare`s should crop up in debate (?) about all thenm thar thieving dealers. I bought a very good violin from them many moons ago (Pique) . A lot of money in those day but fair given the quality of the isntrument in relation t others at eitehr end of the spectrum. A few yeras later I had to reuctantly sell and on a whim I took it back to Beares. They immediately handed me a check for a sum substantially larger than what I orignally paid.

I hate it when people do that. I`m still wondering what they were trying to con me out of. Perhaps a mention on v.commie.

Cheers,

Buri

May 27, 2008 at 11:03 PM · Sorry I missed most of this discussion, but I was off reading violinists' public relations releases trying to decide who to listen to. They're all so superb, according to their self-promotions, it's hard to choose. :-)

May 28, 2008 at 12:04 AM · Stephen Brivati wrote:

"A few yeras later I had to reuctantly sell and on a whim I took it back to Beares. They immediately handed me a check for a sum substantially larger than what I orignally paid."

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

Had they known you were going to blow the money on prune donuts...... ;)

Nothing but respect here for the Beare shop.

May 28, 2008 at 01:33 AM · I'll take all the help I can get. There are better and worse violins. I'll always look for better. But I have come to learn that the player makes the most difference. My teacher now mentor makes a student violin sound luscious. He makes excellent violins sound phenomenal. I just try.

ps I might add that he has helped dealers sell mediocre instruments. His friends all discount everything he recommends because they know its his sound not the violin.

May 28, 2008 at 01:38 AM · "he has helped dealers sell mediocre instruments."

Rule #1 when buying a violin: Do not buy from dealers which inflate prices to pay kickbacks to teachers. If you want to remunerate your teacher for helping evaluate instruments, pay him/her directly on the basis of time spent. If in doubt, get the violin dealer to put it in writing that they don't pay any middlemen. If they refuse to put it in writing, assume the worst and move on.

May 28, 2008 at 01:54 AM · Corwin, maybe those fiddles aren't mediocre then. He's just showing what particular fiddles can sound like. Nothing deceptive really, unless maybe the beginner thinks he now sounds the same way ;) I'm not sure you're obligated to tell the customer he's bad when he is...

May 28, 2008 at 03:10 AM · There has been no fraudulent intent on his part. But he does prove a point, much of quality in tone is the player not the instrument.

May 28, 2008 at 08:39 AM · Hi, having started the ball rolling I'll answer the question of the violins that I owned. The first was a Ferdinand Gagliano with a Hill certificate which my teacher Laurance Turner sold me with an A Lamy bow in 1959 for £220.

I foolishly traded the bow in for a Hill G/M fleur bow costing £90, Hills allowing £25 for the Lamy.

Much later when leading a quartet, I needed a violin with more treble, so I sold the Gagliano at Sothebys and bought a super V Panormo 1780 Paris which I've used until 6 years ago when it was stolen from my house at the time in Leeds.

It turned up 2 years later at Bonhams who sold it despite being given deatails by British Reserve Ins. at the time of the theft, but the violin was spotted before the buyer collected and the insurance company claimed it back.

I had spent most of the money on repaying my mortgage and bought a fine new Neil Ertz violin, so I couldn't buy it back from the insurance.

Just recently I tried some Italian violins around £20-30K at a leading dealer.

The rep brought around 6 and I decided to take one out, a rather large Degani, he then brought a Fagnola costing some £55K, far more than my price, just to compare.

The Fagnola was rubbish!

A week later I took the Degani back deciding it was too big anyway (14/ 3/8)!! and as I walked in another customer had just tried the same Italians that I had and was taking out one that I had tried myself.

" It sounds a lot better than the Fagnola" he told the rep.

I wonder how many violins they had sold on the back of a dodgy Fagnola!

I didn't pursue the Italian market as they seem very overpriced for what they are, but am playing at the moment on a 100+ year old French Mirecourt violin with a one piece front,(and back) with wide, rather fluted, grain on the bass side narrowing to fine on the treble.

The wood is low density and it is very light and is the easiest violin I have ever played on.

Dont know the maker and it cost very little, but at my age anything easier is welcome and I like the sound.

May 28, 2008 at 11:13 AM · edmund, obviously you are a very accomplished violin player and it would be an insult to share with you how i test violins :), but i will tell you anyway, on the theme that it is stupid (should have chosen a more civilized alternative word? nah:) to state that a violin's sound is largely dependent on the player WHEN EVALUATING A VIOLIN IN THE CONTEXT OF WHICH ONE IS A BETTER FIT FOR YOU.

first off, may be i am being picky, but i would not label dealers as "THEY" because it really gives the connotation that it is us the good guys vs them the bad guys. yes, to cut out the middlemen, we can log the trees and make the violins ourselves and invite another host of bigger problems with ourselves to blame. should we be more grateful that with a little money, we can almost buy anything:)

ok, back to violin testing. first, if someone is spending "big" money and cannot really test drive the violin capably himself, my knee-jerk conclusion is that he is not ready for the violin yet, with a few exceptions, such as sugar daddies wanting to buy an expensive violin no matter what.

many violins have issues of sounding good on high register G and D strings. good players or not, those issues cannot be hidden. run your fingers all the way up G and D strings and listen. now if you say, well i cannot hear the difference, too bad, you are not ready for the better violins:).

when a violin in the hands of a better player sounds better, it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the player is to credit. sure, the player can apply different bow pressure to coax certain sound out, but you can always ask or assess how much effort is put in to get certain sound out. even yours truly can understand or even demonstrate that. further, the fact that certain violins sound certain ways in better hands is also a reflection of the intrinsic quality of the violin. to give a proportion of 90/10 is oversimplification and way out of context.

May 28, 2008 at 12:42 PM · Edmund,

Prices are a very fickle thing. There are many who capitalize on the fact that their name ends with a vowel--and ratchet up their price....this goes for even contemporary makers.

On the other hand, as with all markets you have to know where to shop to get past those who do such things. On this side of the Pond we have folks like the Musafia clan that have been importing contemporary Italian instruments, and their associated dealers tend to be very fair (in my experience)--the tone can vary from ¨not quite worth it¨ to extremely good buys; of course such judgements are individual things on individual instruments.

The problem with old instruments is that you paying more for the associated history, and name of the maker than you are for the instrument. The other problem with old instruments is that because they are an artifact, they need to be treated like one-and often times restored just like one. The benefit is that your odds of having a lemon, unscrupulous dealers aside, are less because theoretically violinists before you have done the work of sorting the lemons out of the basket.

May 28, 2008 at 01:08 PM · i am a strong believer that in any field, as a buyer, try to buy as cheaply as you can get away with and as a seller, try to sell as expensively as you can get away with. having said that, the market force will dictate fair play.

ever read an economics book where it highlights a case study of an uneducated person dealing with a situation with supply and demand? no.

the supply and demand works efficiently if the buyer has done his due diligence.

one cannot expect much if one walks into a shop and announce: i am in a hurry and don't know much about violin. here is 20K and give me the best you have.

either we take the responsibility to educate ourselves, or we pay for the lesson. it is pretty fair.

May 28, 2008 at 01:50 PM · Hi,

In violin making competitions violins are assessed for tone by one or more expert players.

I wonder why a dealer doesn't get several good players to blind test his instuments, give a score on several aspects of the sound, average the score, then each instrument would carry at least an indication of what the sound is likely to be.

Answering my own question, the reason being that some of the most expensive violins would very likely outpointed by the lower priced.

Mind you, it would be a very player friendly move to make.

May 28, 2008 at 02:06 PM · sound and price tag are not in proportion by design, but dictated by market forces.

i do agree that it will be a helpful service to confused buyers if a shop can arrange a documented trial run by a good player, which, however, invites the questions:

who pays for that service? trickling down to the final buyer?

if the verdict in the trial run is not considered to be "helpful" by the dealer in moving the commodity, will that documentation be swept under the carpet and replaced with a more helpful one, for economic convenience?:) hey.

just bring someone you respect and trust and play the violin for you if you can't. period.

May 28, 2008 at 02:31 PM · I was hoping to learn some tips about choosing a violin in following the thread. Instead, I feel confused. My daughter, who is an intermediate player, is in the market for a new violin. We have tried quite a few violins so far. Our limited experience contradicts what has been said. First about the setup. Before we went looking for a better violin we tried to improve the setup. After a few hundred dollars and many miles in the car, the violin got a bit better but its limits were still very obvious. About the player; My daughter's teacher agreed with my daughter on how a violin sounded every time. When my daughter couldn't draw a good sound of an instrument, her teacher did better but not to totally overcome the handicap of the instrument if there's any. A nasal sounding violin still sounded nasal when the teacher played, the G string was still fuzzy, a penetrating tone still penetrating. All of them just less painful when played by her teacher. The price? I was actually quite impressed that prices have been quite consistent most of the time in the range we were looking. I almost kid myself that I now could price a violin myself. My take on this; Sure, a better player will make a violin sound better but a better violin sounds better for the same player. Sure, a better setup will improve if there was something to improve in the instrument.

May 28, 2008 at 03:02 PM · good post.

sometimes i will let my kid to play around with some full size ones i have and without doing much to them, she can tell immediately which one is which and when asked why, she simply shrugged her shoulders.

a good violin allows you to do some simple things beautifully and effortlessly. here is a contrarian thought: with a bad violin, i sound bad; with a great violin, i sound great on the open strings!!

2 violins can sound similarly to others or even to the player, but the feel can be very different. would you pay extra for the right feel? i would, if i am a pro, because after the tech part is done, it is all about feel. if i nickel and dime the very tool that my livelihood and artistic individuality depends on, i am probably not much of a player worthy of such indulgence. after all, violin playing is and should be about enjoyment.

and my conclusion reading internet board is that rarely do i find very helpful advice simply because people are very different and some quite narrow minded.

May 28, 2008 at 03:12 PM · http://www.abcviolins.com/blindlistening.html

May 28, 2008 at 03:29 PM · "Violin tone is 80% the player 10% the violin and 10% the setup"

I couldn't agree with you more. Looking back at the 30 odd years I've played guitar, I wish more time had been spent playing and much less time messing around with different instruments.

"In conclusion it seems an obvious truth that the market is manipulated by dealers who get rich both on the antique value of the instruments and the hype which goes with it."

Its a chicken and egg situation -- if people have tens of thousands of dollars burning a hole in their pocket to spend on violins, someone is going to pop up to sell it to them.

I worked for an audio-related company for a short time doing work on audio algorithms, and having performed blind listening tests can tell you that most people severely over-estimate their ability to hear, and are incredibly persuadable by suggestions. This article is spot-on, and well worth the read, thanks for posting it!

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

May 28, 2008 at 03:55 PM · some people Kill for the extra 10% an instrument can give you ! ;-)

cheers

Sean Bishop

May 28, 2008 at 04:09 PM · That Alan Coggins (who wrote the article) is such a trouble maker! (big grin)

May 28, 2008 at 04:20 PM · yet other people kill for illusions, so?

May 28, 2008 at 04:30 PM · David, it just begs to be asked

Did you REALLY say:

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

I do think there might be a fat man in a Speedo in this parade

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

Hmmmm? :>)

Anywhoo,

The best way to get past bias in old vs. new tonal judgements--don´t care about it, play the best violin you can in the manner it likes to be played-in good adjustment-with a good bow-and see what you do and don´t like between instruments. Who cares if it was 300 years old or 2 years old. The only time that comes into play is when you are serious about the condition and life of the instrument.

May 28, 2008 at 05:07 PM · Marc Bettis wrote:

"David, it just begs to be asked

Did you REALLY say:

I do think there might be a fat man in a Speedo in this parade

Hmmmm? :>) "

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

Yeah Marc, I did. (blush)

When I saw a draft of the article, I suggested a change, and even offered some more "politically correct" alternatives.

These were rejected by the author and the magazine editor in favor of the graphic mental imagery in the original statement. :-)

We might expect Australians (the writer) to be "wild and crazy", but who knew about the editor of Strad Magazine? LOL

May 28, 2008 at 09:28 PM · When you all get this worked out to everyone's satisfaction, please let me know. :-)

While you all are at it, though, I might suggest that us greedy b&#%ard dealers who are getting rich on antique violins are only one facet of the market... and possibly even a shrinking portion.

Auction sales, catering to musicians, are far more prevalent than they used to be... and many rely on the previous provenance attached to the instruments offered (although I'm not sure how swift it is to trust assurances by those who aren't around to defend their opinions). This situation has the potential to degrade real expertise in the long run... though I hope that's not the case.

Now this all brings to mind a question of my own. If the market is strong enough to support the (literally) thousands of instruments and bows sold at auction each year... as well as still supporting those of us who have retail shops & the many private sales (that can pass under the radar), who, really, is responsible for the perceived tonal values of the old instruments?

Or is there something else to be considered... Is the real requirement of owners that instruments be perceived as assets? I can tell you first hand that appraising an instrument for less than the owner "thinks" it's worth produces uncomfortable feelings that sometimes shift to anger. Why? Not all instruments appreciate. Does my appraisal make the instrument sound worse than it did that morning?

The value (as is well known; and clearly communicated by most all reputable appraisers and dealers) does not have a direct correlation to the performance quality of a specific instrument. If it did, the results would effect not only the old, but the new instrument market as well. The guy down the street who was lucky enough to make a nice sounding fiddle on his first or second try could conceivably command the same price for it as a leading maker (who has spent years developing their reputation, workmanship and sustainable viability on the market), even though the amateur's fiddle might not be as pretty... and chances are that recreating the tonal results would be difficult for them.

So... another question: Where is the real greed? Is it only the responsibility, or result of the actions of, a specific group in the industry? How much blame should fall on the shoulders of the consumer? While assuming that Edmund's original post was worded to illicit responses, seems to me that blaming the situation on the dealers (especially lumping them in as a group) is myopic at best.

There's my return rant. Carry on. I'm off to search for a really crummy sounding instrument to list and describe on my website. :-)

Jeffrey

May 28, 2008 at 06:12 PM · jeffrey, get over it,,,people are looking for free lunch! :)

May 28, 2008 at 06:25 PM · Yes Al... I know.... but I do feel so much better now... :-)

May 28, 2008 at 06:09 PM · Speaking of a blind test. In one of the lessons, we got distracted and neglected to tell my daughter's teacher that she was playing on a new instrument. After my daughter played the first round of her pieces, her teacher noted, "You sound great on your old instrument. I thought you needed a new violin but it is really a matter of finding your own voice on the violin."

Considering the number of instruments traded, I wouldn't be surprised some of them get traded much higher or lower than they should. That may give us false impressions. This thread reminds me of a story of a stock broker. There was a guy who sent out 100 letters to potential customers. In the first half of the letters, he predicted the market will go down in a week and in the second half the market will go up. In the following week the market was up, and he sent out 50 letters to the group of people who got the correct prediction in his previous letters. You get the idea; This time 25 of them got one prediction and 25 the other prediction. At the end of the fourth week, he rounded up six people who received the right predictions for four weeks in a row. To them , he was a guru.

May 28, 2008 at 08:23 PM · I am looking for a decent fiddle at the moment. I have been looking since the March auctions.

The only fiddle I have had any interest in was a del Gesu that was not for sale. And even then, I wasn't sure about its G-string.

I couldn't afford that violin if I saved all my spare (!?! not really) income for a thousand years. But I should be able to find something to beat my 1840 Mittenwalder for £25 000

And I have not been able to.

gc

May 28, 2008 at 08:41 PM · "The value (as is well known; and clearly communicated by most all reputable appraisers and dealers) does not have a direct correlation to the performance quality of a specific instrument. If it did, the results would effect not only the old, but the new instrument market as well. The guy down the street who was lucky enough to make a nice sounding fiddle on his first or second try could conceivably command the same price for it as a leading maker (who has spent years developing their reputation, workmanship and sustainable viability on the market), even though it was ugly... and chances are that recreating the tonal results would be difficult for said amateur."

That paragraph says a lot, though I'm not sure I understand the "even though it was ugly" part.

May 28, 2008 at 09:27 PM · Hi Bill;

Really should have said "even though it might not be as pretty... (referring to the amateur's instrument)" but I was on a roll/rant. :-) I'll edit.

May 28, 2008 at 11:41 PM · William Wolcott wrote:

"That paragraph (Jeffreys) says a lot..."

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

Yes, judging from his posts, Jeffrey might be emerging as one of the more "straight-up" dealers.

I don't see him getting rich though (we live in the same town). Hope honesty doesn't bite him in the a$$.

Jeffrey sells old, and also represents some really exceptional moderns (in my opinion).

The future of the business will ultimately be decided by you musicians, and the types of people you choose to support with your dollars.

Are your BS detectors in good working order? :-)

May 29, 2008 at 12:22 AM · No one is going to take notice of what I have to say, but I will say it anyway.

The criteria that violin values are based on have nothing to do with instruments' playing qualities, not at all. Nothing whatsoever

Not their tone, not their projection, not their brilliance, not their depth, nor power, nor sweetness, not their ease of playing nor their challenge to the technique.

No, all that counts is who is selling them, and who owned them before. Who is claiming to know their provenance and how much money they want for their exchange. How pretty they are, and how well their damage has been hidden.

That's it.

The Emperor has some clothes, but they are second-hand, and we don't know who made them.

gc

May 29, 2008 at 12:56 AM · The market is there and we cannot ignore it.

I don't find contemporary Italians overpriced and when I visit my friends I see no sign of economic opulence... And they are intelligent guys, they certainly would be making more money if they were working in a more profitable field, they make violins because they love it.

Some decades ago (in the time of the old "Liretta", the weak Italian currency) an Italian maker could sell an instrument in England and live 6 months with that money... Well, today everything is quite quite dear in Italy, the Euro provoked an incredible raise in life cost in Italy.

Italian makers that could produce cheaper instruments just can't compete with Chinese makers, so they are disapearing, just successfull makers will survive, and the "survivors" will ask the price according to the market. By the way, as Jeffrey pointed out sometime ago, there are just about 20 makers living exclusevely from new making in the USA today, quite a small number, I think. This number in Italy may be small too.

If you are a good musician and have good ears you will be able to get a good sounding instrument (old or new) for a reasonable price. I've seen many many good soloists playing in instruments with a low market value, and they produced quite a good sound in the concert room.

May 29, 2008 at 01:43 AM · I do think the violin makes a big difference: for example, when I much prefer Perlman's sound on old recordings when he was playing on a rather gutsy del Gesu, than I do his sound on the Soil Strad......and here is the point, he sounds very very different on the del Gesu than he does on the Strad, almost like two different players...so, so much for the idea that the fiddle as little affect

This is not to say that the most important factor is the player, it is to say that the fiddle matters a lot!

May 30, 2008 at 07:46 PM · Here is a true story:

I was shopping for a violin in 1980 when Weaver's was still in downtown Washington, DC. While I was talking to the salesman, someone started playing a violin around the corner in the next room. I could not see the player or the fiddle; all I did hear was a huge, dark sound filling the room where I was. I said something like "that sounds fantastic" and asked the salesman what I was listening to. At first I thought it was a viola.

Answer: a late Guarneri del Gesu.

Hmmm. That's not advertising.

May 30, 2008 at 08:09 PM · Graham,

You're almost as cynical as I am. However I don't agree with your idea that violin tone and projection are totally unrelated to the monetary value. The evidence against you is manifold. For one thing, the violin market is a mature one. It's only in a new market that the value of a good is unknown, and that pricing is chaotic until buyers are able to compare. Violinists are, like everyone else, rational economic players. And on many instruments, they, as a group, seem to agree that those instruments are better and worth paying money for. The group agrees that, for instance, most Guadanini violins sound better and project better than most of those by Klotz. One must approach the matter statistically, and not by the individual. There are those, of course, that are dead certain that their prized Klotz is better than any Strad. The vast majority would, of course, disagree. The world's great players are usually able to afford what sounds the best and it's quite a stretch to assume they've all been hoodwinked by greedy dealers.

Scott

May 30, 2008 at 08:47 PM · Graham, have you ever played a Strad, or a Del Gesu, or a Guadagnini, or a Storioni? I have played violins by all of those makers (actually 3 Strads and 2 Del Gesus) and with my experience, hearing someone say that a violin's value or fame has "nothing" to do with its sound or playing qualities is laughable at best and offensive at worst. Cynicism isn't really as fashionable as you think, by the way, it just makes you look pretentious and insecure.

May 30, 2008 at 09:29 PM · Just a quick response, as I have to leave in a minute, but yes, I have played some fiddles by great name makers, including Strad, Amati, Seraphin, Rocca, Lott, Tononi, Balastrieri, and del Gesu, as well as a few more modern Italians, and French, and contemporary makers.

I have also spent plenty of time talking to dealers, and they ALWAYS say they do not base values on sound. How could they? Sound is such a subjective thing. The criteria are more to do with antique value and provenance

gc

May 30, 2008 at 10:08 PM · Obviously price isn't based on sound. If there's a new record at auction, it doesn't mean it's sounding better than ever before.

:)

May 30, 2008 at 10:20 PM · Graham,

Dealers don't have to make the sound judgement--it's made for them by the reputation of the maker. They just fine tune the price to account for condition. Players are the ones who ultimately set the price because they tend to agree on which makers sound better. Dealers may not admit it, but if the have a big-name instrument with a poor sound, they will have to lower the price to get it to move.

May 30, 2008 at 11:14 PM · Here's a true story:

In Cleveland, 2007, I was walking down the hall to a violin shop, following the sound of an amazing violin...rich, extremely powerful, just gorgeous. What a fiddle!

Turns out it was a David Burgess!

Hmmm. That IS advertising! :)

What a great sounding violin.

May 31, 2008 at 01:03 AM · As I said, no one is going to take on board what I have to say. There is too much at stake. Too much belief and faith, too much money. Too many legends

My position isn't cynical.

I have nothing to lose, but neither do I have any kind of clout in the business, so it doesn't really matter whether you agree with me or not. I am just putting my point of view into the forum. You can respond to it how you will.

What I know is irrelevant in the minds of most interested parties, but I know it all the same. I have played hundreds of violins over the past thirty years, and I know what I expect from an instrument. I know whether it will be heard over a piano, or not. I know whether it will respond to my bowing or not. I know within seconds what its frequency response is like, and equally, I can see how it will project.

You don't have to believe me, but I have no need to lie.

Last week, I was looking at a lot of instruments. The only one that gave me anything back was a del Gesu. Even then, I doubted its bottom end.

Still, the other del Gesu I tried wasn't happening. I don't care what its price is, I know it wouldn't be heard in the settings I work in without amplification. Just not enough upper mid. Not properly focused. Waste of time. Probably, someone thinned out the belly in the C19th.

The other one probably still had its wood. It was incredibly strong in sound, though the G-string wasn't working below C#.

I can say no more.

gc

May 31, 2008 at 03:44 AM · "As I said, no one is going to take on board what I have to say."

I have taken notice, Graham.

However, what you are saying is not revolutionary.

In fact, there have been several threads about what you have said. Look at some of the modern vs. old threads here on v.com.

May 31, 2008 at 11:16 AM · You are right, William. I shouldn't have said that. I am not saying anything new, and many other people are saying similar things. Look at Jeffrey Holmes' post above, for example.

I think I am expressing it so bluntly because even when a dealer like Mr Holmes says it plainly, there are many people who just don't want to believe it.

And, of course, I am frustrated because I can't find a decent fiddle for £25 000.

gc

May 31, 2008 at 11:30 AM · there are many indications for prunes per recent discussion on v.com and i wonder if graham can use some. paging dr buri, STAT!

it sounds to me you are looking for perfection which invariably leads to frustration. perfect spouse, perfect child, perfect traffic pattern, perfect weather on golfing days,,,

so a del gesu came close but all you are willing to spend is 50k. i don't think you can call that frustrating. that is called grandiose or unrealistic:)

before we point fingers at the scheming dealers who await to suck every drop of blood dry, we may need to entertain that both the origin and the solution of frustrating problem come from within. in fact, if i follow your logic, your desired violin is not around at any price, not that the dealers are trying to hide it from you unless you rob a bank to pay for it. since so far YOU cannot find it at any price, you may need to thank the dealers who have assisted you in the search. my hunch is that one day you will have tried ALL the best violins in the world and none will be totally satisfactory:)

good luck hunting. do you have the score to the theme....don't worry, be happy?

you should be happy people like me are not in the violin dealing business because if i know someone is desparate to get a violin, i will definitely make sure they pay an arm and leg for it:)

May 31, 2008 at 11:51 AM · I think you might be right, Al.

It is an odd thing. I might just be wanting something that doesn't exist - I have a fiddle I am very happy with, and I should be grateful that it wasn't super expensive. I thought that I could get something that was at heart a similar sound but "more". bigger bottom, brighter top, more carrying, sweeter, etc.

That is probably not the best way to go about finding a new instrument, but I thought it was a great opportunity to improve on what I have.

I was amazed by the difference between the two del Gesus. I haven't played two less similar sounding instruments by the same maker before. I know that I would have liked more time with one of them.

I have a different attitude to my own violin now. A friend of mine who is a good maker, and has good ears, came with me on my last trip, and I kept asking him, "Am I fooling myself? Is it just that I am more used to this fiddle?", but he kept saying no.

I am very lucky to have found a freak instrument that works very well for me. I don't know that any one else would necessarily like it as much as I do, but I do get a lot of complimentary comments about its sound, and questions about it. Players are often surprised when I tell them what it is.

I am happy, though. I love trying the instruments. I am genuinely surprised that I haven't found one I want to buy.

Maybe I will start on bows! ;)

gc

May 31, 2008 at 12:31 PM · as you earlier noted that those 2 del gesu violins of 300 yr old may have gone through different paths to the present, with possible thinning or other work done if any, or even different set-ups by different hands, which brings up something that i have always wondered, that is, inter-instrument variability by the same maker. the PERCEPTION to the mass has been that strads as a group sound different from del gesu as a group, with certain general discrepancies in sound quality.

but i wonder how different one del gesu is from another originally and intrinsically, how one strad is different from another...

so far we hear often tests pitching the old vs the new. may be people need to explore the inter-instrument variability (IIV) more to establish a better understanding before we hop onto the next level. a good place to start is to assess the untouched modern violins from well known makers.

what is your IIV, dude? :)

May 31, 2008 at 01:28 PM · Graham, how many modern American violins have you tried? Or other moderns?

Have you played a '70's Peresson?

Have you played a Greiner?

Have you played a S&G?

Needham?

Burgess?

There are some incredible violins being made these days.

Good luck to you! :)

May 31, 2008 at 07:37 PM · I have played many modern British fiddles, some modern Italians, but only a couple of American (we don't see them here in England all that often), and I can't remember any Modern French that I have played. I did play a very good modern Swiss fiddle about three years ago.

In 2001, I visited Roland Feller, and played one of his that worked well, and also I went to Ifshin in Berkeley, and played a couple of good Americans, though I can't remember their names now.

I do enjoy the hunt. If I were to find that elusive "better fiddle", and I could afford it, I would snap it up.

And then start searching all over again.

gc

May 31, 2008 at 07:39 PM · PS, Al,

I don't need the score!

;)

heh heh hehe

gc

June 1, 2008 at 04:21 AM · Wow! I really do relate to everything Graham said. I also love the hunt, the opportunity to try out different fiddles. right now I have about 5 fiddles in my house that I'm trying. And, I also have one that I own and like very much, but I'm looking for a certain sound that mine doesn't have, much as I do like it! It get's frustrating when you think you know what you're looking for but can't find it. The dealers I've worked with, however, have been terrifically understanding and although I always feel bad/guilty when I return a fiddle, they always seem to understand the idiosyncratic nature of finding the fiddle of your dreams.

June 1, 2008 at 07:23 AM · As a small add-on comment: There is a dealer where I've shopped and played dozens of violins that always has a shop bow at the ready for players to use....it's about a 8,000 bow that will make an El-Producto or even a Glutz Bros. 1948 sound great....Is this unscrupulous dealer behavior ?

June 1, 2008 at 06:18 PM · since you are in England have you tried Dilworth and Rattray?

In France, Chaudiere?

In the states there are some great makers: Needham, Croen, Burgess, S&G, Widenhouse...these are great makers! Hard to understand how you would not be impressed with makers like this?

June 1, 2008 at 06:50 PM · Maybe I just have peculiar taste.

gc

June 1, 2008 at 07:12 PM · It might be helpful to keep a list of makers you have tried. :)

June 2, 2008 at 11:23 AM · A lot of interesting views here!

It is true that sound quality is subjective....I have sold many violins that some people have said sounded average before an even better (or worse!) player comes to my shop the next day to declare they have found the instrument of their dreams!

I do strongly believe that in general sound quality has been factored into the level we today judge the maker and the price this maker now commands...........true?

Also...Graham Come to my shop and I will get you a violin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

cheers

Sean

June 2, 2008 at 06:46 PM · Graham,

If thinking that all dealers just lie and take advantage of us isn't cynical thinking, the I don't know what is. I'm curious: were the two del Gesus priced the same?

June 2, 2008 at 10:13 PM · HI Scott,

>>all dealers just lie and take advantage of us<<

I neither said nor believe that. I just said and believe that violin values are not based on sound or playablility but other criteria.

Neither del Gesu was for sale.

gc

June 3, 2008 at 01:55 AM · I agree with Edmund I've heard one of my teachers make a $100 violin sing better than I could a stradivarius. This means the race car analogy isn't any good. I can beat Mario Andretti in a car race if I'm in a Ferrari and he's in a Nissan Sentra. I can't come close to playing better than Heifetz if I had a strad and he had $150 piece of crap... I know a guy playing the violin two years and he's going on his fourth violin near the $10,000 range. He's convinced in his head it's 80% instrument 20% player instead of vice versa...

Violins are very over priced and it's tough to get a good deal. Don't even get me started on the bows, $4,500 for a stick of wood with some horse hair on it, unreal... I'll stick with my $1,000 Gliga for life, if I can't make that sound good then I need to keep practicing on it, if I can make it sound good why would I need a new violin?

June 3, 2008 at 03:00 AM · Certainly sound and playability are important in an instrument, but there are numerous other factors which drive price, obviously. Rarity and desireability, and a track record of increasing valuation, contribute several orders of magnitude to the cost of a violin. While it is fun to deplore the dealers, the fact remains that without dealers and breathtaking price levels, there would be no Strads or del Gesus available today, or at any rate darn few. Somehow a multi-million dollar price tag does serve as a survival mechanism.

That being said, even though I'll never be worthy of one of those fiddles, the minute I hit the lottery, you can bet your appendages that I'll be looking to buy. Eat your hearts out, folks. My fiddle will be out of circulation for a generation (and probably in better condition because of that fact).

June 3, 2008 at 03:16 AM · "I agree with Edmund I've heard one of my teachers make a $100 violin sing better than I could a stradivarius. This means the race car analogy isn't any good. I can beat Mario Andretti in a car race if I'm in a Ferrari and he's in a Nissan Sentra. I can't come close to playing better than Heifetz if I had a strad and he had $150 piece of crap... I know a guy playing the violin two years and he's going on his fourth violin near the $10,000 range. He's convinced in his head it's 80% instrument 20% player instead of vice versa..."

um excuse me, can we stop the insanity guys?:)

we are dealing with 2 sets of variables, namely, cars/drivers and violins/players. we might as well stretch it further and state that a strad in the hands of an infant does not sound much either. really, what is the point of such comparison/conclusion?

a more sensible comparison is for perlman to play his strad and then play a $150 violin and compare. don't people claim that perlman can make a junk violin sound like a strad? well, lets see then, because there is a gold standard and a test subject and the operator is one and the same.

here is another thought: if andretti drives a nissan and michael drives a ferrari and the race is a 5 day non-stop high speed event, i am not really sure being in the driver seat of a vehicle capable of much higher speed is really a wise choice:)

"I'll stick with my $1,000 Gliga for life," no way jose! as you get better, sooner than you think, once you lay your hands on a better sounding violin, there will be absolutely no turning back. you can bet your house on that! :)

June 3, 2008 at 03:35 AM · Al my post was in response to:

"there is a difference between a honda and a souped up ferrari. a big f difference."

My point is I don't think it's a fair comparison to high priced violins and lesser violins as even the best driver in the world behind a Honda Accord can't beat a novice drvier behind the wheel of a Ferrari as within the first 1/4 mile the Ferrari would barely be visible. But a guy like Heifetz could play circles around a novice violinist even if the novice violinist were playing a strad and Heifetz were playing a cheap piece of crap. That was it, I didn't agree with the car analogy in the context you used it...

I think I just read your meaning wrong though.

As for the $1,000 Gliga I'll probably be keeping it for life, it's by far the most expensive and nicest thing I own. It's the first thing I've bought myself in over 8 years, it cost more than my commuter car. :)

June 3, 2008 at 03:48 AM · if we look at a high level violin player's work as a competitive endeavor, that is, you sound good, you are in the game, you sound bad, you are out of the game, then, any physical advantage from a better sounding violin, or psychological/emotional advantage from operating a better sounding violin, cannot be easily measured or necessarily understood by another person. it could be personal, or the violin circle culture, but that is the way it is. you and i may not want to pay couple mil for a violin but some others are fighting for it. read about j bell's tale on how he switched from one strad to his current one.

i bet there are violinists out there who would give up 5 yrs of their lives if they get to own and play a great sounding strad. it does not make sense, but it does:)

on the gliga, i am not bashing it at all, just saying that when you get better in violin, your ears or listening ability changes, and then, you will be a different man, looking for a new GF! :) (if you insist on not getting better, like me, that will be a different story:)

June 3, 2008 at 06:23 PM · One thing to keep in mind is that the violin business is basically the antique business...except that people actually use the antiques. I know someone who collects antique pens. Some pens go for a LOT of money. One could write the great American novel with an inexpensive BIC just as well.

Thus, as has been said above, the sound of a particular instrument has nothing to do with the price. It is only the maker and the condition. One could argue that the sound is indirectly reflected in the maker's reputation. But there are also other items that contribute to a maker's reputation, like the quality of the purfling, the beauty of the scroll, etc. that have nothing to do with the sound.

I guess I'm defending high violin prices to an extent. That said, the lack of transparency and frequent conflicts of interest in the violin market are rather disturbing.

kevin

June 3, 2008 at 07:21 PM · Well, you can allways get good contemporary instruments directly from their makers...

In a recent visit to NY, all the violists I met there (teachers, members of the NYP, top players) were playing contemporary violas.

June 4, 2008 at 11:48 AM · For me, good new violins have the best relation between sound and price. I play a violin from Martin Schleske (Munich), and I have listened to a sound test, where a Del Gesu and a Carlo Bergonzi were played, in a concert hall by a good soloist, in comparison to two violins of Schleske. The new violins where concerning quality of sound, projection etc. on the same level as the old ones.

I have studied the violin and am very interested in sound, so I think that I can distinguish better than 90% of a normal concert audience.

I think this is an encouraging result for all players, who look for a good instrument.

May be, that some great old instruments sound even more fascinating, especially for the player. Who has the big money to buy such an instrument for that (and for renommee), should do...

Sorry for my bad English.

Martin Welter

June 4, 2008 at 12:40 PM · Well, you can allways get good contemporary instruments directly from their makers...

Thats not as easy as it sounds, especially if you are looking at a top maker.

June 4, 2008 at 01:39 PM · I have been learning the violin as an adult for the last four years (so you have a context). I am in the lucky position of being able to afford a reasonable violin, and am of the sort of happy-go-lucky temperament that e-bay purchases appeal to me.

Until I settled on my current violin I went through 3 or 4 others, a couple bought on e-bay, a couple bought (untried) from Tarisio.

Although I have finally reached the conclusion that my time would be better spent practicing than searching for the perfect violin, there is no doubt that it was a useful exercise to try a variety of violins, and that even at my pretty elementary level, the quality and type of sound/tone produced was noticeably different, even to my poor ear.

In the end the violin I have kept to play daily cost less than one-third of the modern Italian violin bought via Tarisio, but sounds (to my ear) much better. It is the only violin I have bought AFTER playing it!

If you remember that the (antique) violin market is similar to the general antique market, silly prices being paid for beautiful but poor-sounding violins from historically important makers should be no surprise to you.

To reassure myself I went and played a number of violins in the £12,000 to £15,000 price range, then played my own violin (cost about £1,000). Preferred my own, went home happy.

June 4, 2008 at 01:55 PM · I'm amazed that anyone would imply that players are stupid enough to pay thousands of dollars for a violin that sounded bad and that they didn't like.

June 4, 2008 at 02:17 PM · Dear Rob,

my experience: The most important thing is to find the individual sound quality, you look for. I take every possibility to play well-judged instruments and try to identify the characteristics.

In a test, I have always a known reference-instrument to compare, without I´m lost.

I need at least two weeks to play the instrument at home, in quartet, in a hall, ask friends etc.

I got the adresses from other players, now I know some good makers in Germany and the UK.

Thank you very much to all players writing here, for their interesting posts; you helped me a lot to find my position!

Best wishes,

Martin

June 6, 2008 at 07:37 PM · Michael D, most decently made fiddles sound decent.

What constitutes their difference in value is their pedigree and the clout of their maker,(of course guaranteed by a certificate or several from reputable dealers).

Some older, more famous makers, might have their names on important instruments that confer glamour on their owners but those instruments might not sound that much better than a fiddle of much less value.

And,of course, you have to ask, who is going to tell Maestro that he can't be heard below middle C beyond the third row of the stalls?

When so much money is involved, who is going to be allowed to burst that bubble?

gc

June 6, 2008 at 07:54 PM · Graham's post reminds me of a recital I went to in NYC at the Weill Recital Hall. The soloist was Christian Tetzlaff and he was playing his Greiner. It was standard recital repertoire, the piano lid was half open if I remember rightly. We had great seats in the stalls about - I guess - 12 rows back, and I have to say that there were frequent passages where I just couldn't hear him. It was obvious he was playing with full force, but the sound of the violin - in my humble opinion - simply didn't carry, particularly when played on the D and G strings. I have no criticism of him as a player, but for me, trying to listen with open ears, all the hype of this marvellous modern instrument disappeared up in smoke during that recital.

It would have been great if I'd been able to come out saying "What a fantastic violin" but I just couldn't. The curious thing was how making an honest comment about my opinions seemed to really polarise reactions from people - some colleagues were relieved that someone else felt the same way, whilst others just came up with the old "... but you would say that" kind of response. Hmm.

June 6, 2008 at 08:54 PM · I should add that exceptional sounding fiddles are just that - exceptional. And I am not sure that we can be guaranteed to find them in any particular price range.

gc

June 7, 2008 at 04:23 PM · Mr. Porter, I appreciated your comment on the Greiner, but I am not sure how much you should trust that concert because you have no A/B comparison.

I have played in halls where violins just did not cut through well. I have also played in small halls where the hall made any violin sound good, and the better violins did not stand out...in fact, in that kind of hall a violin's ability to cut is minimized and what matters is tone. This is why I have been convinced that a hall is not always the best place for trying out fiddles.

I think you would only know how much of it was the fiddle had he played part of the rep with a good del Gesu or Strad.

My experience with Greiner is that it is a powerful instrument that does cut, etc. Though I must admit that I think the Needhams I have played had a lot more presence and cut much better. I liked Widenhouse, Croen, and S&G more than the Greiner as well, though it is very close at that point. It is not close if you consider that Widenhouse and Croen are 19K and Greiner way out there.

June 7, 2008 at 07:59 PM · Sean wrote: "I do strongly believe that in general sound quality has been factored into the level we today judge the maker and the price this maker now commands...........true?"

I'd say that's true. More true for some makers than others perhaps... or maybe limited by the school of making being considered... but the history of instrument pricing generally illustrates that the works of makers who produced concert worthy instruments are priced higher in that particular "school" of making.

June 7, 2008 at 08:50 PM · Awe heck, there goes Jeffrey being honest again.

This messes with the title of the thread,

"Violin Tone - a Dealers Con or What?"

If the term "dealer" has taken on so many negative connotations, what should we call the honest ones?

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

JanMichelle Dimmick-Reyes wrote:

"Mr. Porter, I appreciated your comment on the Greiner, but I am not sure how much you should trust that concert because you have no A/B comparison."

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

I haven't played or heard a Greiner, but I'd have to agree.

Without comparing two fiddles side-by-side under identical conditions, how do you know what's attributable to the fiddle, the player, the hall, the backup instruments, or even the position of the instruments on the stage?

June 7, 2008 at 08:54 PM · That's easy:

There is a dealer

and there is:

a "Jeffrey"

For example:

#1 "I went to a violin shop today. A dealer showed me a violin."

#2 "I went to a violin shop today. I had a great time looking at so many fiddles shown to me by a real "Jeffrey."

:)

June 7, 2008 at 08:59 PM · Jeffrey isn't the only one.

Don't ask me to put up a list, because inevitably I've been scammed by some without knowing it.

I'd also fail to mention some good people, just because we haven't happened to cross paths.

June 7, 2008 at 11:48 PM · ''I have come to the conclusion after long years that there are three things about which your averagely honest man has no conscience whatever. The first is a horse, the second is an umbrella, and the last, but not least, is a fiddle.''

From H. R. Haweis' "Old Violins" printed in 1898.

gc

June 8, 2008 at 04:16 AM · Don't get me wrong I can understand professional players paying the huge bucks for a violin that can give them that extra 5% in tone or projection as that is their livelihood, a great tax write off and gives them the competetive edge. But I don't understand the amatuers always on that quest for that violin that will finnally make them sound good. Reference my friend now looking to have a violin commisioned for over $10,000 when he can't even make his $4,500 Sofia violin sound decent (neither can I so I'm not taking a shot he just hasn't been playing long enough). He thinks that by purchasing this 10K violin he will sound great and that's just not the case, it's the violinist not the violin.

June 8, 2008 at 09:54 AM · Michael, I can relate to amateurs who want a better violin. I enjoy driving high-performance cars, even though I'm not skilled enough to extract all the performance they're capable of delivering, and a professional driver might cringe at my crude attempts.

A "good" violin can be more enjoyable to play. If an amateur is someone who plays for enjoyment, why not have a violin which enhances this experience?

Most good violins are also technically easier to play in some ways. This can be appreciated by an amateur as much as by a professional, even if an amateur doesn't have their income riding on the results.

June 8, 2008 at 01:55 PM · So, David, how "rank" would an amateur have to be before he would derive no benefit from a violin of, say, Burgess quality?

June 8, 2008 at 01:47 PM · I'd be happy driving any F1 car to the grocery store, I just don't know where I'd put the loaf of bread.

I agree with David, a good violin is enjoyable to play. It allows experimentation and the ability to reach further even if the result may have been accidental. It can be a learning experience.

In the past I've frequently hit the wall with instruments and found myself trying to adjust to achieve the goal.

The ability to reach further is my ideal and I don't want to struggle with my instrument.

June 8, 2008 at 03:39 PM · Bob, let me rephrase your question as,

"How "rank" would an amateur have to be before he would derive no benefit from what most professionals would consider a "good" violin?"

That's tough to answer. I think playing skill has less to do with it than what they're accustomed to playing, and how many different violins they've spent time with.

Some people (including some professionals) have played mostly on one rather poor fiddle all their lives, have developed a technique which works on that fiddle, and don't know how to play differently to get the benefit out of a better violin. One could line up some violins which sound and work like theirs, and also throw some great ones into the mix. They'll choose a violin that sounds and works most like theirs. ;)

Nothing wrong with that, as long as they're happy.

If someone like that wants to drop a bunch of money on a different violin, I encourage them to first spend a lot of time playing many different violins, including those which are way out of their price range, just so they can learn what these violins have and don't have to offer, and can learn to experiment with how different violins want to be played. I hate to see someone spending a lot of money just to wind up with the twin of the violin they already had.

June 8, 2008 at 03:15 PM · Sounds like the ideal would be to start on a professional-level instrument, then, so as to maximise one's learning potential. Of course, most folks would tremble at the thought of plunking down ten to twenty grand for a student fiddle, but I suppose you could eventually get your money back if need be.

Just another reason to choose your family carefully.

June 8, 2008 at 09:27 PM · When it comes to discussing the merits of old versus new instruments it would do us some good to remember how old or new were the instruments that were played by the great virtuosi of yesteryear: for example, how old was the Cannone when Paganini was working with it? He got it in 1802. It was sixty years old. He didn't choose a 250 yr old Amati or Gasparo, nor a maggini, though he may have owned and playd such fiddles.

No, his main instrument from 1802 till his death was a comparatively "modern" fiddle.

Mind you, late Strads were also relatively new then.

gc

June 9, 2008 at 09:02 PM · "That's tough to answer. I think playing skill has less to do with it than what they're accustomed to playing, and how many different violins they've spent time with.

Some people (including some professionals) have played mostly on one rather poor fiddle all their lives, have developed a technique which works on that fiddle, and don't know how to play differently to get the benefit out of a better violin. One could line up some violins which sound and work like theirs, and also throw some great ones into the mix. They'll choose a violin that sounds and works most like theirs. ;)

Nothing wrong with that, as long as they're happy."

This could not be more true.

June 10, 2008 at 02:04 AM · What Mr Burgess writes is true.

My prof is living proof of the anal retentive attitudes prevailing in the v-world, and the inertia for change. I bought my violin without the aid of my prof, because at the time I was half-way round the world from him. The violin has a rich and powerful sound, but the instrument has many small flaws. The luthier is a former pro player, and when crafting it he focused on sound not esthetics. I recognized the value, as it has a sound that is better than some others costing 5X as much (at least for those I heard at purchase time).

At first, my prof wrinkled his nose at the sight of it, and worse when he played it – only negatives came from him. I mean, this was a blow to his ego – a student who buys his own violin, and who claims a better sound than his teacher’s? Then one day unexpected, he asked me to borrow my violin, as his own needed extensive repairs. The repair time was about 4 weeks, and during this time I noticed a very marked improvement in the way my prof played my violin. At first the action and tone were limited, but later became fluid and powerful. He did not return it to me upon repair time, so I let him keep it to see if it could be “played in” more. He took it to his repairer, who said emphatically my violin was far far superior to my prof’s – much to the chagrin of my prof.

He has taken my violin to his SO, and all have remarked about the sound and power, but also the difficulty to play it. Clearly, it needs a better setup.

Now, my prof is actively seeking ways to improve the flaws – the biggest of which is an improperly aligned neck (too low, and skewed to the left). What a turnaround! Now, he is somewhat reluctant to return it to me, after some 2 months - no problem, as I consider this an honour.

So, I look forward to a friendship, and to having my violin adjusted and properly setup for optimum performance. I think the “value added” is rather high.

I hope someday to hear my violin played solo by a pro in a concert hall, so I can finally judge its performance (as in "acid" test). Of course, I hope for the best.

Best wishes to all.

June 10, 2008 at 11:45 AM · Ron,

Forgetting completely this entire thread (not a bad idea) that's a great story!

-And congrats on having such a nice fiddle.

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