December 23, 2008 at 05:39 PM ·

Dr.Pinell told me that he was at a concert and Medori (sp?) was the soloist. Durring the performance one of the strings on her violin broke and as standard the CM gave Medori his/her violin. Medori, without missing a beat picked up the solo and continued to play. Dr. Pinell that he and others could not tell any diference between the two violins. Medori sounded like Medori.

Question: When it comes to sound, how much is it the violin and how much is it the player?

Replies (23)

December 23, 2008 at 06:14 PM ·


I've heard of cases where a person who is amazing on their violin, but when they picked up a Stradivarius, it sounded like crap. I think the violin has to fit you and you have to fit it; know how to pull things out etc.

But in a case like Midori, she's played so many different violins through her life she probably knows how to pull specific things out of a violin and apply that to a broad range.

December 23, 2008 at 06:18 PM ·

When one has enough violinistic skill and subtlety--one can often bend an otherwise crappy instrument to do their bidding. 

I seem to recall a group of scientists or such borrowing Jascha Heifetz, and giving him a Strad and a VSO-and placing him behind a curtain; and having an audience try to determine which was which.  It was a draw...afterwards he said"The Strad was nice...but damn that other violin was hard to play".

One of my colleagues played on a terrible instrument-that she learned how to force in such a manner to sound good.  It was rather remarkable--yet sad, as when she went violin shopping she got 5 or 6 fantastic violins in her hands....and ended up buying a cheap junker violin a step up from what she had before.

A good violin can sound good in many folks hands, a bad violin can only be made to sound decent in a skilled violinists hands.


December 23, 2008 at 08:10 PM ·

"a bad violin can only be made to sound decent in a skilled violinists hands."

No more need be said.

December 23, 2008 at 08:20 PM ·

Tess- I do believe that I agree with you!

December 23, 2008 at 09:05 PM ·

For fun:-

50% what the audience believes

30% player

20% fiddle

10% bow






December 23, 2008 at 09:43 PM ·

Graham- I Love It!!!!

Um, looks like 110%? I like that too!


December 23, 2008 at 09:55 PM ·


Tell my sleepy friend Javier to stop telling tall tales! The question is, what kind of violin did the concertmaster have? It could have been a great one as well.

Much depends on the circumstances: if a concertmaster has a solo and the violin does not carry, he/she will be in big trouble. The same in a Brahms piano trio, or any situation with other loud instruments. Also, how does the hall sound? In a hall with ambiance, the violin may matter less. A violin that wolfs badly will immediately be obvious.

An example of when the violin matters: recently I attended a recital of a nationally-known soloist who had told a local luthier that he was performing on a $1500 Chinese factory fiddle. I didn't know it till afterwards, but after about a minute into the recital, it was obvious that he was not playing on a great fiddle. String crossings didn't always speak and it was obvious he was using a lot of pressure. The sound was boring and the ear tired of the plain bright sound quickly. The violin had exactly one sound color. After an hour it gave me a headache. Although he played well and the audience loved the recital, I felt insulted and scammed.

December 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM ·


Good Question! And you bring up very good points, I might say. Midori was playing solo when a string broke. The CM handed her the CM's violin and Midori got through the whole performance and she sounded with the CM's violin as if it was the one she began the performance with. Tess's post is on line to what Javier was imparting too me.... Violinists who know what makes violins tic. Like engineers, they know how to manipulate a violin to get what they intend to get from it.

Thnks for your imput! Feel free to make coments, please!


PS: He, Naomi and the kids are doing fine, in Texas. They really enjoy working for the University there.

December 24, 2008 at 09:47 AM ·

"a bad violin can only be made to sound decent in a skilled violinists hands."

Inversely  a good violin may reveals insufficiency of a bad player by ampliflying defects that pass  unnoticed  on a cheap fiddle

December 24, 2008 at 10:56 AM ·

Royce, I always give 110%





December 24, 2008 at 12:37 PM ·

Graham- Good Show! You're a man after my own heart!

December 24, 2008 at 05:05 PM ·

Lara St. John has (or used to have) a story on her website:  she broke a string on her Guadagnini in the middle of a  concert and borrowed the concertmaster's violin.  While she was playing she kept thinking things like "oh that poor poor man, having to play on a piece of junk like this -- I'm so lucky to have a nice violin."  She got through the piece as best she could, and was relieved to get her own violin back afterward.  Then, during intermission, an orchestra member said to her "I bet it was difficult having to give back that Strad!"


P.S.  found the story.  She's a really good writer.

December 26, 2008 at 05:21 AM ·


I think that it really depends on the individual. Heifetz sounded the same on both his strad and his guarneri. A good violinist brings out the sound of himself not the sound of the violin imo. On the other hand some people may play two different instruments and sound completely different. Heifetz could still sound good on a 2 dollar instrument but thats only Heifetz.  Only a person with a significant amount of skill can make a bad instrument sound okay.

December 26, 2008 at 05:05 PM ·

Basically I would agree with that, but it's not always a simple matter of good vs bad violinist. There's a particular style/school of bowing which causes the Heiftez effect, and it's a matter of a players' training, not skill, I think. I see plenty of super players in the sales room who make every violin sound different, and plenty who make them all sound the same, and I can very quickly identify which type is in front or me.

But I don't have the player's-side background to say specifically what the style is, as far as bowing school. The folks who make all violins sound the same have a more focused bowing that digs into the string. Generally, they aren't delicate players, and they will often not comment that a violin doesn't speak well, because they're not testing with soft passages that demand response. Though eventually they will get around to that end of things, forte+ is where they live.

The ones who bring out the violin's own sound tend to float their bow more, and let the violin open up, tend to do a lot of testing on softer passages, and will immediately notice if an instrument isn't being responsive at the pppp end of things..

December 26, 2008 at 08:36 PM ·

Michael D.-

Thanks for sharing that bit of info! I hope that you'll do a blog about those that float their bows and the violin opening up due to that.



December 26, 2008 at 09:39 PM ·

I like to think I can tell when Heifetz is playing his Strad rather than DG - the G string has far less power but more timbre for one thing.  Also Guadagninis are very distinctive, such as Julia Fischer plays.  I suppose the point is that you can hear a player's 'character' consistently whatever they are playing.  If you look at the masterclass videos, including eg the Beethoven string quartet play through, I'm pretty sure that JH is using a rubbish violin on those such as he used for teaching, so judge for yourself.


December 26, 2008 at 10:03 PM ·

My business partner, who plays in the anything-sounds-the-same style says it involves laying the weight of the forearm on the string, not just pressure from the hand or wrist, and when he says that I visualize sort of a bow that's stiff up to his elbow and uses all of that weight, though his wrist is certainly not stiff. He can overdrive a violin very easily, which is something that I have a hard time doing, even though I was a cellist and think I can push pretty hard. He laughs and says I can't pull any tone out of a violin, but I think what I'm getting is pretty nice, and is what the violin, itself, does. Does that make any sense? Again, me not being a violinist. . . . (or a good player, according to him. :-)   (which is true, also, aside from the sound I make.)

December 26, 2008 at 10:57 PM ·

Michael D.- I'm not shure that I follow what you are saying, please simplify.....

December 27, 2008 at 12:18 AM ·

Basically, it has to do with the bow hold, how weight is applied to the bow, bow speed, and tension. Franco-Belgian, Russian, all that stuff I don't know about because I'm not a violin technique scholar, and that from the post below I gather confuses violinists, or causes them to deny there's any difference, or say that whatever you do, it's yours, and it's good. :-)

Here you go:

Don't worry; be happy.

December 27, 2008 at 02:45 AM ·

In my personal experiences, I have had the privledge to perform on both good and "not so good"  instruments and bows, without having a choice in the matter. I've discovered it is the knowlege of the physics involved in good tone production and the natural ability of the performer that can make the difference in how the instrument responds-not necessarily how it sounds. The instrument itself is silent until a person makes it sing. The logical deduction would be that it is the person playing the instrument is the one that is capable of making the instrument respond to it's highest potential. This, is only one small factor, as one must consider the proper physical set-up of even any instrument.

 One could say that a truely "accomplished" violinist is measured in how they can adapt to both subtle and great changes and successfully convince the audience (but never themselves) that they are doing something seemingly great. The audience is not usually aware of such intricate factors such as the cost of a violin and bow, quality of accompainments, musical level of difficulty and acoustical enviroment, and usually does not really know the difference between what sound good or "not so good" until the reviews come out. It would require the highest form of impressionism for a violinist, or any artist at that, to pull off a fine performance with an inferior instrument. It can, and has been done, more than one might imagine, with great success and none the wiser.

December 27, 2008 at 11:22 AM ·

I'll try a metaphor for the relative contributions of the violin and player:

One can swat flies with either a fly swatter or a hammer. One way is easier, and has a higher overall success rate for a greater number of people. In the right hands though, with sufficient practice, skill and effort, the hammer might do a surprisingly good job.  ;-)

By varying bow speed, pressure,  "sounding point" (distance from the bridge), and even the width of the vibrato, one can change the sound of a violin quite a bit. I've seen some violinists who can pick up an unfamiliar violin, experiment very quickly (a few seconds or less), and be pulling "their sound" right away. The technique required to do this can be very different from what is needed to get a similar sound from the violin they normally play.

Imagine the possibilities if a dealer hires such a person to demonstrate instruments for customers. LOL

This isn't to say that two very dissimilar violins can be made to sound exactly the same.

January 9, 2009 at 09:31 AM ·

I'd have to say it's the person playing the box :) 


the box certainly does help.

There are aspects of nicer instruments that make playing at a high level a little less of a stress bomb, like the response, precision and clarity of tone, warmth or richness of tone, action of the strings, feel of the fingerboard, whatever...

But in the end it is about the player. My teacher, who has been teaching advanced students for over 25 years (by advanced I mean probably 80 % of his students go on to a music school, and all of those that he has sent off to schools have made it--hundreds), and I write all this to illustrate that he is NOT crazy.... he would conject that the sounds of instruments, how they sound naturally, can be changed by individual players, by how they play the instruments.

He's told me a story that I found quite interesting- one of a student of his, and other experiences like hers that he has had with other students. She was going to get a new violin and her old violin's "sound" was not that appealing to him. So he helped her pick out a new one, and she came back to him after a week or so and her new violin sounded like her old one! So my teacher thought he'd do an experiment. He took her new violin home that day and she took his home and they came back the next week and his violin (which she had taken home) sounded like her old violin---- and her new violin had regained it's original sound!

I'll add that while this may sound like a strange story, this is an extremely effective teacher and player I'm talking about, and I trust him a great deal. I wouldn't post it if I didn't believe it was true.

Anyways I think it's the player and that the instrument can help at a certain level.


January 9, 2009 at 12:57 PM ·


I found this kind of discussion always a bit funny, and sometimes you hear a lot of nonsense (esp. in guitar forums: „the tone is in the fingers“).
To avoid speculations, one can consider some simple facts.

First: The player makes the music, the instrument the sound.
When listening to music, both sides of  the coin matter, but the amount may change.

Second: It‘s not easy to distinguish between the contribution of the two components. A good player can decieve the ear and make the listener take a bad instrument for a good one. And a fine instrument can decieve the player and produce a fine tone in spite of his imperfect playing.

Third. The opposite is obviously possible, too. A bad player will never be able to produce some particular sounds, no matter what you give him as an instrument, and so the best violin will only produce a kind of noise. And, a student may fail to achieve some improvement, simply because his instrument isn‘t good enough (think of a bad bow when practising spiccato).

So it‘s always the interaction between player and instrument?
Not always. Let‘s take cars and driving as an example.
Give a race champion and your uncle Jim the same stock toyota and let them do the same city route in the afternoon traffic. They will need the same time, given they don't cheat.
Then give both of them a Porsche and let them do the same. Same result.
Now let‘s change the location and move on to the race course. The pro will leave uncle Jim behind, no matter if both use the toyota or the sports car. And Jim wisely decides not even to try out a real race car, just as it would be totally pointless for the champion to use a family car for the races.

Now what‘s the answer to the question „Violin or violinist?“

It depends...

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