Do Contemporary Violins Decay with Time?

June 6, 2010 at 12:40 AM ·


In this link is a discussion between Isaac Stern, and Mr. Beare claiming modern violins (i.e. contemporary makers) will deteriorate in time as the varnish drys out.  The recording is dated 1970, but still, I would think, there are some very fine modern violins dated before 1970 that have had more than 25 yrs of ageing.  Is there really evidence of this as they claim in this recording? Does this hold today? Have varnishes improved since 1970? 


Isaac Stern also insists that the varnish used by Stradivari can NEVER be figured out.  With all these scientific studies I've heard about,  is it really a mystery any longer?

Replies (88)

June 6, 2010 at 10:50 AM ·

Michael-- I'm not sure what the term "deteriorate" means in this case. Violins age, of course, but the process in a contemporary violin shouldn't be significantly different than the process was in a violin made one or two hundred years ago. How many other things do we use in our daily lives that are two centuries old and still fully functional? We should all deteriorate like this. :-)

Varnish is still in dispute, but my own take on the matter is that makers like Strad were constantly trying out new ideas, so it does not surprise me to see varying varnishes. One researcher finds linseed oil in Cremonese varnish, but the next, looking at an instrument from the same period, does not. A third finds minerals, a fourth finds dyes and lakes. So on it goes.

June 6, 2010 at 11:05 AM ·

First, I suspect these eminent violin experts may have been somewhat embarrassed about not being able to distinguish the modern violin from their classic Italian ones by listening tests (this is one of the earlier efforts of this type).

Second, current scientific analysis of the varnish of Stradivari instruments are quite revealing, showing that he used a drying oil (either linseed or walnut-they aren't distinguished by the tests), a conifer resin, and in the last layer, a red pigment.  Objectively, this is a simple system and the ingredients are widely employed by many contemporary makers.  There is no reason to suspect that well made modern varnishes of this type will behave any differently than those made 3-400 years ago. A poorly made, or poorly applied modern varnish will probably fare no better over the centuries than poor antique varnishes have done.

I think few contemporary experts would ascribe to the 'secret varnish of Cremona' myth anymore and there is growing skepticism that instruments by even the best classic makers sound objectively 'better' than good modern instruments.  Repeatedly, the old Italians have fared no better in blind listening tests than do professionally made modern instruments.

June 7, 2010 at 10:57 AM ·

Well, I am willing to pay 100 bucks for some of such deteriorated modern violins, I would be interested in deteriorated violins by Scarampella, Poggi, Rocca, Ornati, Carl Becker, Peresson, Capicchioni, Oddone;  and even some deteriorated violins  by living makers such as Roger Hargrave and David Burges, among others.

Have varnishes improved since 1970? Yes! The varnish we see on many top  contemporary instruments today is much better from what we see in many old instruments.

And varnish in general is bad for instruments, those who have played instruments in the white know that.

For tone reasons, a thin uncoloured shellac coat would be the best thing, but players would frown upon the instruments, even if they sounded great.

By the way, I love this part of HILL`S book on Stradivari:

"If players would be content with instruments treated with colourless varnish, the difficulty of producing fine tone would be very greatly dimisnished, as the addition of many and various injurious colouring substances, or the artificial staining of the wood (at sometimes accoplished by the use of acids) in order to please the eye, in the one case mars what would be a varnish favourable for tone, and in the other adversely affects the material from which the instrument is made. In fact, tone is, and has been, though often unintentionally, sacrified by many through seeking to gratify the taste for mere outward appearence. The great influence of time is not suffiently taken in account when the ordinary observer compares the newly varnished work with the old. As well try to change quickly new wine into old as try to obtain in a short time the richly matured and soft-toned appearence wich age alone can impart to perfectly varnished violins.

Could we have seen the most brilliant works of Italian violin-makers fresh form their hands, we should have been not a little surprised by their bright and unsubdued aspect; nay, in many instances, notably with regard to some of the violins of Joseph Guarnerius, we would have been struck by their positively crude appearance. The conditions for ultimately ensureing a fine appearance were certainly there; but to the wonder-working effects of time and use, and to these alone, we unhesitatingly attibute all that charms us now. That the more ambitious of modern makers should have sought to rival the productions of the old masters in external appearance is readily conceivable - however injudicious at times their procedure - when we bear in mind the popular demand for athing of beauty. An ugly or even plain instrument, though excellent in tone, is again and again rejected. Many may view this statement with incredulity; it is nevertheless strictly true, and the statement is the outcome of innumerable experiences." (see the chapter on varnish).

But I may be wrong!

June 7, 2010 at 11:37 AM ·

 Luis, you have nailed it.

PS: I am willing to pay up to 200 USD for one of your violas.! I can wait until they become deteriorated.

June 7, 2010 at 12:10 PM ·

Hey, no (deteriorated)  free lunch!!!

June 7, 2010 at 02:27 PM ·


June 7, 2010 at 02:43 PM ·


This is a different opinion by Szeryng, for a counterpoint:

"What are the problems concerning antique violins?

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

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

I mostly play one of my two modern violins.

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

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

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

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

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

June 7, 2010 at 06:24 PM ·


I've tried so many violins, young and old, from the very greatest masters to the most obscure (though that has nothing to do with the sound of the violins), that in the end, there are so many factors that go into a great violin, its sound and preservation that broad generalizations are kind of pointless.

There is far more than varnish in my opinion that goes into the longevity of violins - quality of wood, craftsmanship (on other levels artistry), arching, how one cares for a violin, etc. that anything can happen.

A lot of people get newer or modern instruments and do not take care of them, so you get what goes with it.  Care for a new violin like a great fiddle and it will develop accordingly.

I will probably post something in the thread regarding new violins (as I just got my new fiddle) but there are a lot of myths regarding violin that I could not agree more with Luis's emoticon.

At this point and time, and I will say this with assurance from what I have tried, we are worldwide in one of the greatest violin making periods of all time, probably since the greats of Cremona.

A great fiddle is a great fiddle, period.  And all instruments should be treated with the care and respect that they deserve.  You want a fiddle that will last, then do that and play it properly, the way IT needs to be played, not the way you want to play (cooperation is always best with a violin), and then enjoy the results.

My own two cents on this topic...


June 8, 2010 at 02:25 AM ·

A well-made violin, starting with good quality, well-seasoned wood, properly graduated and decently varnished will certainly not deteriorate. To add one more name to those already listed, I'll mention Peresson. He's not even a favorite of mine, judging from the few I've tried. But here was a maker who at the height of his popularity was accused of graduating his instruments too thin, and cutting corners in other ways. Maybe he did so with some instruments , and maybe he didn't. But a number of people in the Philadelphia Orchestra play on instruments of his that are now about 30 years old.

I'm really concerned and disappointed if Charles Beare made a statement like that. Is he not doing well enough in the sales of high-end classic instruments that he feels threatened by contemporary ones?

June 8, 2010 at 11:12 AM ·

In the case of Peresson, many dealers liked to say that the sound of his instruments would "deteriorate" quickly since their plates were overthinned....  but as a matter of fact, Peresson's instruments have their plates on the thicker side, and of course they are good till today

A violinist of the Philadelphia Orchestra told me that the orchestra has about 70 instruments by Peresson.

June 11, 2010 at 06:38 AM ·

Those snobs do love to talk down new fiddles. If your new violin sounds well there's always someone who will say it's because the plates are too thin, or the wood's been baked. This has gone on since time immemorial. Rumour-mongering about new fiddles falling apart after 20 years are commonplace. Climatic and storage conditions might be the reason for such deterioration, rather than the incompetence of makers.

The "experts" will hand you an old fiddle that sounds as if it's been stuffed with old socks, and cost many times more than yours. You are supposed to LEARN from this.

June 11, 2010 at 07:56 AM ·

This then gives rise to the problem of whether such an instrument can still be considered antique and original

Sounds like the philosopher's axe problem - it's been in the family for 100 years and had 10 new shafts and 3 replacement heads!

June 11, 2010 at 10:44 AM ·

Hi Julian! Those are Szeryng's words, I was quoting him.

As far as overthinned plates are concerned, you don't need decades to discover that. A new violin with overthinned plates will sound bad in upper positions (7th position on the G string, for instance), will have a somewhat hollow sound and will not bear playing fortissimo near the bridge, this problems will be present in the very first days of the violin's life, you don't need to wait for years to spot  them.

June 11, 2010 at 11:19 AM ·

Also, any luthier can measure the plate thicknesses.

June 11, 2010 at 12:16 PM ·

It's a 30 to 40 year old interview, but it's not altogether unflattering of new instruments. Stern says that a "bad" Strad or Guarneri is simply a bad violin, and that unfortunately, it will still have a certain market value because there are people who do nothing but buy and sell; and that he would rather see some of the young players play a good healthy new violin than one of the intermediate (old) ones.

Beare says that sometimes, he thinks players have been disappointed.... as the varnish has dried out, so has the tone quality.

That has probably happened with certain makers, and might have been even more likely prior to the 1970s, when collaboration between different makers, and between makers and scientists, was nowhere near the levels it has reached since that time.

 As I recall, varnish making was kind of rudderless during that era, and probably for a period going back to the late 1700s. One theory is that "new and improved" varnishes came along in the 1700s, and it was a while before people figured out that they weren't really an improvement. By the time they figured it out, the old ways had been lost. Another possibility is economic pressure. During that same period, there were times when it was almost impossible to make a living as a maker, so cheaper and and faster methods may have been appealing.

Even though that interview took place at the very beginning of the violin making renaissance era, and so may be a tad out of date, Stern said some things which may be even more true today. Like him, I would much rather own good contemporary instruments, than some of the lesser old instruments. I haven't purchased anything but contemporary instruments for the last 25 years for my own collection. I sold the older instruments I owned, back in the 1970s.

Charles Beare's son, Peter, seems to be an enthusiastic supporter of modern instruments, and is himself a maker, who attended the violin making school in Salt Lake City. There are also other people working in the Beare shop who make instruments when they have time. Perhaps that's the best indication of current attitudes.

June 11, 2010 at 01:28 PM ·

That all sounds good, David! In my own experiences of collecting mostly modern instruments, I have sometimes had a violin that didn't improve as much as I'd hoped or expected. But I've never had one that got worse.

June 11, 2010 at 04:49 PM ·

Ed. Heron-Allen, in the introduction to his 1885 book "Violin-Making as it was and is" provides a clue. If the beguiling softness of new work is taken as the be and end all, rather than a transition stage, then a player is bound to feel disappointed when in a year or two the full exuberance of a healthy new fiddle emerges from the fog in all its glory ! Reality strikes, things happen that can panic the owner. Wrestling with the burgeoning monster, sound-posts are moved, bridges changed, the fabric weakened by "retoning" - the classic instruments often had to put up with all this too.

As time went on I grew out of these neurotic experiments. It seems best to leave set-ups alone and just keep on playing the new violins I bought. Time and use ! Without fail they got steadily better - or I THOUGHT they did. None got worse. 

June 26, 2010 at 01:52 AM ·

Do not take that article too seriously.   I had the experience of playing a brand new violin by a living Cremonese maker in 1980 and not liking it.  Last year I ran into a different instrument by the same guy, made in 1981.  When I played it there was an instant flashback to the same kind of sound I had disliked in a new instrument, but the one I was playing was 28 years old and, judging by its appearance, had been used pretty hard. 

June 26, 2010 at 03:49 PM ·

I used a new violin bought from a living Cremona maker in 1994 regularly, and I'd say it's now in a different league altogether. No decline at all, quite the reverse. I enjoy it enormously now.

However, I have tried some new Cremona violins that I Imagined I would never like, no matter how long I owned and played them. Really horrid fiddles stay that way, maybe.

Edit :- I suspect, as Szering seemed to suggest, thet "playing in" and "maturing of the sound" is actually part of the decaying process. Shoot me down on this !

Additionally, those prophets of doom telling you your new violin will be kaput in 20 years might be right, but, invest the same amount of cash in an automobile and that would be worth zilch also, after that time span; unless, of course, you bought a "classic", when you'd be spending a fortune on the upkeep. Those alarmists are actually doing their sales pitch for the old stuff, of course. Anyway, if you get 20 years of use before the thing dies the death, why complain ??

I was in Beare's shop, circa 1967, and they expressed surprise that my nearly-new Wilf Saunders violin could sound so well after only a year. Makers at this time were beginning to heed the Hills books for thicknesses and Sacconi for other matters, abandoning erroneous theories that had become entrenched. Sacconi, for example, was given the chance as a young man to examine a famous "Strad". Taking along his calipers he found the table to be 2.8 mm all over, not "graduated" as the teaching of the time dictated. (Backs, are different). Making was taking a new path. Could the dealers in antique violins have been running scared ??

June 26, 2010 at 10:44 PM ·

I think a thin, colorless varnish would look pretty. I like light colors more than dark. Is it hard/bad to strip off all of your varnish?

June 27, 2010 at 02:09 PM ·


The violin maker Laurence Cocker (b. 1908) of Derby, UK, was reported to have experimented by using yacht-varnish on an instrument, which then produced an unusually brilliant sound.

However, I think such experiments come under the "don't try this at home" heading.

June 28, 2010 at 02:50 AM ·

I am violinmaker with 40 years of experience,worked for Jacques Francais violin shop in New York city.

Yes most modern instruments do deteriorate with time,when varnish is applied incorectly and chemicals are being used to make new instrument look old.

Some will deteriorate wthin a year or so ,when the varnish dries and some deteriorate,when the chemicals slowly destroy the fiber of the wood. Result is ,week sound,lack of projection or tubby sound inside the instrument. 

I would never purchase brand new instrument,that was just finished.The sound will change for the worse.

Watch out for antique looking instruments and rather purchase new looking ones ,that are at least 5 years old and settled,with the varnish completely dry and hardened.

If the sound seems sharp and loud,it is a good sign.After a year of playing the instrument becomes "played in".

Soft sounding,easy to play instrument,that was just finished ,will deteriorate for sure......

Richard Oppelt,violin maker and restorer.

June 28, 2010 at 03:23 AM ·

"Yes most modern instruments do deteriorate with time,when varnish is applied incorectly and chemicals are being used to make new instrument look old."

doesn't everything and anything in this physical world decay with time,,,so not "most" but "all"? :)


June 28, 2010 at 05:39 AM ·

Thanks, Richard. 

It seems I did the right thing to avoid "antiqued" violins - and indeed to always check for traditional thicknesses and construction. I found the Hills books to be a useful starting point, years ago.

June 28, 2010 at 09:44 AM ·

After everything I've read here I think I would be terrified to buy ANY violin.  Lucky I have one I love bought on a hunch in blissful ignorance!

June 28, 2010 at 01:10 PM ·

I have to disagree with the statement that "most" new violins do deteriorate with time...How have you arrived at that conclusion? And how long does it take for a new violin to begin to go down hill...1year, 5years? If it improves in the first year will it begin to deteriorate in the second or in the third year?

Since I haven't tested all new instruments I can only speak to the ones I have heard and the ones I have made. The majority of them are improving as they are played more. The notion that if it is not old it can't be good just is not a reasonable or logical position.I would hate to have to defend that position with solid information.

If you buy a new violin from a "reputable maker", that you like when it is new you will find that MOST, not all, of the time it will improve as it ages and is played. If it does not sound good to you when it is new, I would not count on age making it sound the way you hope it will sound.



June 28, 2010 at 02:22 PM ·

Most new instruments (and old ones that have been unplayed for years) will improve greatly once someone gives them a really good workout for a couple of hours aday for a few weeks or months.

The fibres in the wood need to be vibrated sympathetically by a really good player, at the correct pitch, providing the instrument is set up correctly.

June 28, 2010 at 04:04 PM ·

Richard Oppelt does SEEM to be scaremongering, and yes, there have always been some cowboy makers. But most of them jealously guard their reputations, and indeed, in Cremona, for example, they can lose their licence to trade if found to be falling by the wayside.

It's not in the best interests of any dealer to offer instruments that are unsound. Though you will pay more than workshop price, a filtering process will have taken place long before you step into the shop.

There are pitfalls, but your teacher can help you avoid them - and if you don't need a teacher any more then you are probably as qualified as anyone to make your own decisions. If you deal with a vendor with a good track-record your purchase should be good enough to steadily improve, IMHO.

As a long-time player, experience has taught me to agree with what Peter Charles wrote. Rough, careless playing will spoil a violin. Strong, in-tune playing, but with a production that allows the string to keep ringing when the bow leaves the string, that's to say, not crushing the sound, improves the response, IMHO.

Reputed to be the best Strad for sound, the "Alard" remained unsold at the time of the maker's death.Presumably no-one had liked it enough to buy it. Could it be that Delphin Alard's playing on it brought it to perfection ??? Remember - there are those who state that Strads are rubbish, because the wood is too thin ! Take courage, Elise.

June 28, 2010 at 04:49 PM ·

"It's not in the best interests of any dealer to offer instruments that are unsound. Though you will pay more than workshop price, a filtering process will have taken place long before you step into the shop."

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you David, at all, but that means we have to accept that the dealers know what a good instrument should sound like! Some of the dealers that have sound files of their instruments on their websites sound pretty awful, mainly because someone not too competent is playing the instrument.

Sometimes the really cheap instruments sound great when one tries them, so maybe they don't always know which instruments sound best. But then maybe they do and the instrument is cheap for other reasons.

In the end we just have to try every instrument that we can, and that's no great hardship!!

But if they are cheaper in the workshop, then try them all and one might get lucky. I tried some great fiddles in a London workshop four or five years ago - but not all by any means.  The violas for instance did not grab me at all.



June 28, 2010 at 05:09 PM ·

Peter, I'm pretty sure that most reputable dealers know enough to filter out the real "cowboy" fiddles, such as Richard describes ! Don't they ??? If not, heck, I stand, or actually at the present moment, SIT corrected.

If you want someone to do house repairs, you ask around to find out who you can trust. Buying a violin is not so very different. Avoid builders who come unsolicited to your door telling you there are tiles missing on your roof - these are the ones who finish up by frogmarching you to the cash machine !

June 28, 2010 at 06:19 PM ·

David, I'm sure you are right about the reputable dealers (although I've heard some of them described otherwise!) and I have fallen foul of one very famous dealer myself a long time ago when I was a student. Needless to say I've stayed away from his front door for about 40+ years since. I do also know of another in the provinces that I would avoid like the plague too.

So you could well be right, as I don't have too much to do with them these days.

June 28, 2010 at 07:53 PM ·

Michael Toma lives in the USA where the dealers are pure as the driven snow.

How lucky I have been, never to have bought a real horror of a new instrument. It wasn't for want of trying.

The more this thread continues, the more I wonder how I ever had the bottle to ever buy one at all. Nurse !!

June 28, 2010 at 08:49 PM ·

Really I think strings, bow hair, bridge, and playing technique effect tone more than anything else. But from what I have read in other places online too I am seriously thinking about having an expert remove my varnish and apply a thin transparent varnish on it. We just got a really good one open up in Issaquah where I live - called Hamond Ashley I think.

June 29, 2010 at 01:53 AM ·

If antiquing causes deterioration of violins, then I'm in trouble.  Last year, I purchased a contemporary Italian fiddle, made in 2002, heavily antiqued.  Right now, it looks and sounds fabulous, but if Richard Oppelt is right, then the sound will decline with age. 

Richard, perhaps you can take a look at the instrument and let me know if you see signs of deterioration. 

June 29, 2010 at 04:45 AM ·

 antiquing does not cuase deterioration. it is in how it was made and antiqued. if the instrument was carved to thin then it will sound good right away. it may even get a little better over a short time. but will worsen over long period. a thicker instrument will be muted at first but inpruve over time. an extreme example is the cannon Del Gesu. you look at Sacconi's graduation chart and the belly is around 3mm at its thickest point and the back I think around 4mm. the cannon is around 4mm for the belly and 6mm for the back. but the problem for an instrument like this is it may take 40 or even 50 years to get to its full potental then it has to be played a lot to keep its sound and it has to be played by a strong person (Pagganini came about 50 years after del gesu died).  now as for the antiquing, there are things a maker can do to make a violin look great but depending on the chemicals used can deteriote the wood. basically put the wood through such chemical treatments that the wood will decentigrate. another violin maker told me of a friend of his who used such method and had to replace or repair over $100,000 of instruments becuase of this. only time will tell. and knowledge. this is the hard part for all of us makers. we need things to sell but we do not want to sell things that will haunt us in a couple of years. so finding a good balance. most players will not like the cannon violin. it is to diffucult to play. I actual had a customer in california that told me he had played it after a compitition and did not like it. a good graduation to hang around is the sacconi (there are variations to this). and that the maker is not using acid on his (or her) instrument to make it look like an old instrument. you do not need acid to make your instrument look old.  

June 29, 2010 at 05:18 AM ·

As mentioned already, it was forecast that, for example, Vuillaumes (baked wood ?) Peresson and Vincent instruments were DOOMED. But they are still going.

Whilst there have been sick violins made whose life-span was limited, I suspect that by comparison with the huge numbers threatened with early extinction the actual proportion that really DID fail might be small. I apologise if I have lived a too sheltered life !

Never forget that those Strads were alleged to be useless - wood too thin. Then, of course, the Guarneris were useless too - wood too thick. Whatever you have, there's always going to be an expert who shakes his/her head and condemns you for your purchase.

June 29, 2010 at 06:39 AM ·

there's a lot of talk of wood thickness - and it does resonate (excuse my little pun).  But for us non-officionados what is the 'normal' thickness?  I'm guessing 3mm (though I know it varies) And does it vary with the kind of wood?  I mean if someone made a violin out of ebony (did anyone try??) could you make it 2mm? :D

June 29, 2010 at 07:04 AM ·


Makers tell me "it depends on the wood". Fairly typical would be 2.6-2.8 mm all over for the table (usually a little more for a Guarneri model): backs around 4.7-4.8 mm in the centre with some diminution to the edges, down to just under 3mm, I think. Once again, Guarneris and some Gagliani had backs with centre thicknesses of more, up to 6mm.

Violins appear in auction houses with egg-shell tables thinned down to well under 2mm. Avoid! A quick look through the "f" holes can save you money.

Makers have to "know" wood. Richard Oppelt won gold medals for tone - he would "know", if anybody.

June 29, 2010 at 09:17 AM ·

I think I am learning a lot here from comments by makers and also knowledgeable people like David.

It would seem to be from the advice generally that one should look for a modern instrument of about 50 years old that has had some natural wear and well used by a really good player.

I tried some English fiddles recently in London that were between 80 and 170 years old approximately, and all were pirced at £8,000. None of them grabbed me, the sound was adequate and reasonably big, but not that great! Now maybe if they were Italian? Or French. (All three makers were well known, and one is quite famous here. I like that one the least!!)

June 29, 2010 at 12:16 PM ·

In the violin world, for every opinion there is always a counter opinion.

In the above thread, more than a few assert that varnish makes a big improvement to sound. 

Myself, I have found the violin-in-white sounded better than the same one varnished. Of two played before and after varnish, the violin with oil varnish sounded better than the one with spirit varnish.  

My thanks to Manfio for quoting the Hill passage: I have searched long for this.

My experience with brand new violins causes me to conclude these pose a risk. In my case, I bought from an unknown luthier, and unfortunately the violin sound has degraded.  What was then an open sound, is now muted and has lost much power.  In another case for someone I know, the new violin came from a well-known luthier.  This one has improved measurably in tone with no loss of power. So, the bargain I bought has proved to be no bargain, whereas the brand name (sic) has proved to be a very good investment.  Live and learn.

For similar reasons, I think a restored violin has risks, especially a no-name or one with little or no pedigree.  

You get what you pay for, though we can always debate whether the $18mm price of a VT Strad states its value.  With more violinists than ever before (China has over 3mm students), and more hunters, real bargains in the attics are no more.

So back to the original question: will a new violin degrade?  Well, it depends.  IMHO you take a risk.  caveat emptor.

June 29, 2010 at 12:33 PM ·

Peter wrote:  It would seem to be from the advice generally that one should look for a modern instrument of about 50 years old that has had some natural wear and well used by a really good player.

Well, talk about beginners luck.  I bought a 1936 French instrument that had been carefully restored.  Judging by his sound he was probably owned by Nathan Milstein.  On good days he even plays himself  on bad days it sounds like me :D

June 29, 2010 at 01:56 PM ·

A new violin is a drifting object: as it becomes accustomed to string tension (about 70# lengthwise, 25# down at the bridge), the shape of the supporting parts change, top and back flex and move, etc. After things settle down, maybe in a year or so, they need adjustment, and often a complete new setup after they stabilize, or they will not sound their best. Violins may also change as the wood and varnish age. A clever shop can easily restore the tone, if they want to (though shops that handle a lot of violins are smarter about this than individual makers, there are many reasons they might not want to), and I would always offer the maker a chance to revive a new instrument before believing that it's "dead".

That's aside from some of the things that makers have done in antiquing attempts; sure, there are strategies in that which will permanently damage the violin (20 years ago, and maybe today, some makers were seduced by the "ozone box", which is simply a nitric acid generator, and is fatal to wood), but not everyone who antiques uses such methods, and I think it's a silly stretch to say all new violins are doomed to failure: remember that every single one of the old violins we love so much now was once new.

June 30, 2010 at 12:17 AM ·

I absolutely agree with Michael. It is just not logical to say that all new violins will go down hill. But I also agree that after a year or so many violins need some tweeking to the set up to bring them back to par.

June 30, 2010 at 06:44 AM ·

 Darton implies another reason for buying from a "brand" => customer support!  I discussed my fiddle with the luthier,only to receive an email telling me he wanted nothing more to do with the fiddle. Would not offer the slightest help, not see it, not discuss it.  caveat emptor. .  

July 1, 2010 at 05:10 AM ·

 Good post Michael. new instruments from good makers are still going to be a good source for a professional to consider. especially since they will be a lot cheaper then say Amati, Strad or Guarnari. but Micheal you do bring up another good point with the instrument settling in to things. I will recommend that an instrument make a visit at least once a year (if not twice for the seasons) to a shop for a check-up. A violin will change with the seasons  winter will kinda make things tight and summer will tend to loosen things. so this change can affect the instrument a lot. since it has been getting hot I have had quite a few calls on cracks. most in the top. I did get one call on a bass with a rib crack. 

Hope you had a good work shop Michael.

July 1, 2010 at 07:10 AM ·

(Click on the hyperlinks, "restorers", "process" and "incorrect attribution", to read the articles)

It is a given that any physical matter, for example, wood, will decay with time. However, it appears that restorers hasten the process more than players do with their playing or use (or misuse) of the instrument. It's also quite possible that some of today's expert restorers thrive on "exposing" the "mistakes" of yesterday's expert restorers, including incorrect attribution.

July 3, 2010 at 12:35 AM ·

Varnish DOES change the sound, but HOW is the question.  I once revarnished a very cheap Markneukirchen violin that had that typical hard brown spirit varnish that the Germans used on everything, it seems, in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was responsive and easy to play, but the basic timbre was hard to love--unpleasant and harsh.  I used a good quality oil varnish from a commercial supplier.  There was a drastic change in the sound, for the better.  I did nothing else to it.

I've heard all kinds of people say the varnish doesn't influence the tone.  I don't argue, just laugh to myself.

July 3, 2010 at 04:06 AM ·

the thing that most people do not understand is that every little detail affects the instruments tone. The way it was made,varnish, health (or condition) and set up. it was stated before about guarnari's instruments being great is partially to do with there setup which is true but half the story. he cared little about looks. I have no idea what his setups looked like but I wonder. But these instrument have gone through a lot of work and playing. like I said before that thicker instruments have to be played to get the sound out.  varnish does play its roll but so does the rest of the instrument. a good set up is one of the most important factors. you can make a poor instrument sound fair with a good setup or you can make a good instrument sound great with a good setup. that is why we have a method in how we do things. the little details may change a little to achieve optimum sound. But for the most part we do things with a method when aproaching a new instrument or old. so weather an instrument is going to go bad over time, well there is two ways we can answer this 1. if the maker built his or her instrument well. 2. if the player takes good care of his or her instrument and gives it its checkups. It is like if you want a healthy life you go visit you doctor once in while and follow there instructions (that is if you can afford this, I actual don't agree with my last statement all the way seens how I believe in natural medicine and good diet for a healthy life not drugs). I actual had a teacher once who's instrument was actually falling apart. It was going to take probably be over 1 or 2 thousand to fix up this instrument. she is a very dedicated teacher but never put money aside to take care of her instrument. so when I told her all the things that her instrument needed it was at a shocking price for her and not in her budget.

July 3, 2010 at 05:20 AM ·

VJ there are some moving trends in restoration. just like the medical field it is changing to more perventitive then pull out the knife and cut or take this drug. in referance to a human body health. If you take care of your body, excercise, good diet, you should live a long life. same with an instrument. now if an instrument has been damaged, then what  should be done? the trend now is less cutting. for example for sound post cracks, it used to be a big giant patch to fix this problem. but now we are seeming that the patch has a short life span before a new one is needed but if it is already big then that gives less chance to do another. so now the method is to go small in the patch so if you have to do another down the road you can just go a little bigger. there are some that will not do a patch altogether (perventitive) just glue it back together. now to old school this is unthinkable. but it might not be a bad idea to start. and if it starts opening then go with that patch next.

July 3, 2010 at 11:43 AM ·

I didn't read all the posts so I hope I'm not being repetative, but here goes: I also think the word "deteriorate" is an unfortunate choice of words. I'm 51 yrs old and the violin I grew up playing was one of those cheap strad copies made in Germany somewhere in the early 1900's. So, I started playing in the 1960's, it wasn't "old". today it is 100 yrs old. The finish is impeccable. I also have another similar violin and it's finish is lovely, even though both are mass produced "modern" violins, even at 100 yrs old. I recently bought a 1949 Roger and Max Millant that I adore. I have noticed that the finish is very fragile, but according to the woman I bought it from it was always like that. It hasn't deteriorated. It's true that some modern varnish are weak and thin and fragile. But, to say that because nobody knows what a strad varnish really contains and so therefore, it being the best, modern varnish will deteriorate  and/or are not as good and should be avoided, is not logical. They are what they are. Nobody I know can afford to buy a Strad, so it's a moot point! I spent 2 yrs searching for a violin and I played hundreds of Mirecourts, and violins of the the 18th and 19th centuries. I finally decided to test a few modern violins and I liked almost every single one of them. Buy what pleases you and fits you and your personality, and don't let people tell you otherwise. Am I making any sense?

July 4, 2010 at 07:52 AM ·

Generally speaking and allowing for the exceptions I would say that new violins do not decay over time, and its more likely that the players themselves decay a lot more. (Except me of course!!)

July 4, 2010 at 01:14 PM ·

So true Charles, well put....touché!

December 9, 2012 at 07:06 PM · I agree that instruments with thin tops and poor varnish may start out sounding good, but will probably not last long. It depends on the maker. You need to be able to see examples of her/his work several years after the instrument was made.

When I was living and working in New York (in the '70s), I came across several violists who were disappointed with their violas' sound several years after they had bought them. We were comparing violas - I had just purchased one by Richard Oppelt, (which I still have, and which sounds beautiful.) I was told that certain makers in New York at that time made their tops thinner so the instrument would sound good right away. The varnish on those instruments was also kind of opaque, rather than clear.

It depends on the maker.

December 9, 2012 at 09:43 PM · Having played upon many new and old instruments, and having tried a vast number of Chinese imports of varying quality over the years, it seems to me that neck angle changes have a dramatic effect on tone. A new violin with string tension applied may lose 2-3 mm of bridge height over a few years, especially in warm or damp conditions (like eastern US). A new, lower bridge to compensate for this will dramatically change the tone of your violin. Usually, a lower bridge will sound less rich and complex, and the tone may get harder, or might sound louder. For each violin, there is a sweet spot where the ideal string height produces the best tone possible, but in the real world, we adjust our bridges to accomodate a dropping neck angle, as it is cheaper and easier than a neck reset or fingerboard wedge. When new fiddles go bad, I'll bet the change in neck angle is often the issue.

With older instruments that have dried out, the neck angles are more stable. This is why some violinists believe the tone is "better"-- really it is more consistent and the musician has many more years to grow accustomed to the fiddle, play it in, etc.

December 9, 2012 at 10:42 PM · When the plates are overthinned the sound problems will be evident as soon as the instrument is strung in the form of hollow sonority, bad G string, wolves, narrow dynamic range, nasal sound, etc.

In some cases the player's technique and taste changes over the time and he blames the instrument. The instrument was good 5 years ago but when the player reaches a higher level technique - and start demanding much more of the instrument, playing in the 7th position of the G string, for instance - he thinks the instrument has "died". But the instrument is the same, the player that became more demanding.

December 10, 2012 at 12:46 AM · No, I was referring to player's change of taste, or to the fact that he may become more demanding as time goes by.

December 11, 2012 at 12:04 PM · I think luthiers today have a much better understanding of the importance of the whole finishing process for the sound, than a few decades ago. In those days I think many makers put many coats of thick varnish on their instruments, starting with one or two uncoloured coats directly on the wood. If it was a spirit based varnish you'd hear within days that the sound would be narrow and restricted, but with an oil based varnish the hardening process can take 20 years or so, and the sound would gradually deteriorate. Nowadays you see thinner varnishes on top of some kind of ground coat, so if you buy a violin from a good maker and get a quick check up on it twice a year for the first couple of years, it should develop beautifully. The check ups are important, because you WILL need to fit a longer soundpost once or twice during the first few years.

December 11, 2012 at 08:50 PM · Another factor that is probably too little discussed is the psychology of acquiring a new instrument. The first few weeks or months with a new violin you'll probably find a new joy in playing - you have a new palette of colors to express yourself with, and it's a joy to play. But after a certain time you might get frustrated, because it feels like the instrument doesn't inspire you any more. In your ears your tone sounds worse than ever, and so on. It turns out that the instrument didn't make you into a flawless musician - it might (and should) even reveal your flaws more than your old fiddle.

Now, if you had purchased an old violin with a good name, you'll know that it's you and not the violin that is the weak link, and you'll fight through the difficult weeks of adjusting your playing to the instrument. But with a new violin it's easier to believe all the talk about "new fiddles are problematic".

Also, one has to understand that dealers and owners of precious old violins have no interest in supporting the view that new violins can be just as good, for a fraction of the cost. That would be like drilling a hole in your own boat.

December 11, 2012 at 09:38 PM · Ulf makes great points. A new violin or a newly restored del Gesu....or basically any violin will both need on going work to ensure they are in top playing condition...just as with a a Mercedes car, reliability is only ensured with regular skillful a good mechanic.

December 12, 2012 at 02:42 AM · "... quality antiques can be had for a fraction of the cost of an equivalent quality new violin."

That's a big exaggeration, according to what I've seen on the market. A better description of the situation would be to say that there is similar pricing of both new and old. $10,000 seems to be a good general threshold, although I've seen many exceptions for both older and new instruments. I don't think it's fair, however, to say that a modern instrument is many times the cost of an antique. There are many bargains in new makers, especially amongst young unknowns. These can often go for as low as $5000, and I've seen a couple recently that handily beat older violins of similar or higher price. However, violins are not commodities, and idiosyncracies in sound, quality and pricing seem to the norm.

If one would accept Lyndon's consistent position--that one is better off buying an antique rather than a contemporary--the logical conclusion is that all of the current makers should pack it in, sell their tools, and quit.

That to me is a rather sad and cynical position, especially with the incredible renaissance of instrument making in the last few decades. Should that all just go away?

December 12, 2012 at 08:51 AM · The sound and appearance of violins is of course a matter of personal preference, but,according to my own experience (25 years in the business)if you try violins in the 10 - 20.000 $ range, almost all new violins are fit for professional use, but among the old violins there is quite a number that have problems with playability, sound, neck shape etc. or are just strange. I would probably pick 3 or 4 violins out of a hundred in any of the two categories that I'd personally like, but I'd accept as decent violins a far greater percentage of the new ones.

Most new violins over 10.000 $ are made (maybe unfortunately) with a big, open,

soloistic type of sound, and if you want a smaller, sweeter sound you could instead search among 19th century German violins, for instance. With older violins you do have a wider spectrum to choose from. And of course, if you're lucky, you can find old violins well below 10.000 $ that are real bargains, but that goes for new Chinese and Romanian factory made fiddles too.

The thread was about new violins, and there's no question that the quality has risen greatly in the last 20 years. If you checked out violins at the Triennale in Cremona 15 years ago it wasn't very exciting, but now you see loads of really nice fiddles. And as I said, if they're constructed with good materials in the traditional way, without too thick varnish, they have a life expectancy of a few hundred years and should develop nicely if taken care of.

The problem is that you usually have to go through dozens of violins to find one that you fall in love with, and there aren't many places to find a wide choice of new high quality fiddles. Here in Europe there's Violin-Expo in Cologne, which is a fantastic place, but that's about it. Any such places in the US?

December 12, 2012 at 03:17 PM · "Here in Europe there's Violin-Expo in Cologne, which is a fantastic place, but that's about it. Any such places in the US?"

The Cremona "Consorzio Liutai "A. Stradivari" Cremona" orgenises travelling exhibitions that visit several USA dealerships. Ifshin Violins is one of them - I don't remember the others.

Sean Bishop in London (UK) has hosted such exhibitions. I found the one I visited very interesting. However, you get to see and try just a tiny proportion of the spectrum of Italian output on such an occasion - many fine makers aren't members of that "club" for various personal reasons.

I second Ulf Kloo's observation regarding standards - I'm old enough to remember times when the market tolerated new fiddles made by folk with almost no talent for woodwork whatsoever.

December 12, 2012 at 05:22 PM · Also in the US, the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers (the US professional group) holds a "makers meet players" event in conjunction with their convention every two years. The next convention will be in Chicago.

More info at

The Violin Society of America lets the public try out instruments which are entered in their International Competitions. That also takes place every two years, and typically has over 300 contemporary instruments from all over the world in one place. The awards are announced before the instruments are available to see and play, so that can come in handy.

More info at

In March of 2013, Mondomusica (which holds big shows and events, mostly in Italy) will be having its first show in the US, in New York. There should be lots of contemporary instruments.

Their web site may over-hype it a bit, but it's at

December 12, 2012 at 05:32 PM · I might also mention that my local Conservatorium, the "Royal Northern College of Music" in Manchester, UK, holds exhibitions, 'cello festivals and such which are very instructive. No doubt the London establishments do the same sort of thing.

The problem for players is the more you try, the more confused you can get. "Spoilt for choice". Hills in London would show you just 3 in your price range to avoid overkill.

December 12, 2012 at 09:01 PM · I used to do the same thing when I sold violins back in Sweden: I would pick three violins that corresponded to the clients budget and preferences. Very often I would sell the most expensive of the three. The same was true with bows.

Another possible tactic if you have a number of interesting violins to try, is to try them in pairs and always choose your favorite. You can work more efficiently that way if you know what you're looking for. The drawback is that when you come to the last pair, you start to wonder if you've discarded a possible finalist earlier on...

Trade shows and exhibitions are ok for establishing contacts, but pretty turbulent places to try instruments. Mondomusica in Cremona is a great place to be, especially if you know people in town and hang out in restaurants or in collegues' workshops in the evenings over a few glasses of wine. But I think you might get more visiting musicians in New York. I imagine it could turn out to be a great success. Cremona is more like "makers meet makers", which is very nice too. Bumping into people like Sam Z and Joseph C in a stack of spruce or maple wood and have a chat for a while is fun, but we need to meet players too.

December 13, 2012 at 08:06 AM · I think luthiers are generally quite humble. I don't think I've ever heard anyone claim that new violins are better than antique violins. We often hear statements like "no one has ever reached Stradivari's level". I think one has the right to express the view that several luthiers have indeed reached Strad's level.

But I agree - if you're looking for a sweet, singing tone it's hard to find among new instruments, because most luthiers copy soloist style instruments like Strad, Guarneri and Guadagnini and try to achieve that broad, open, powerful sound. But the last few years there's been more diversity in the choice of models, which I think is nice.

My feeling that the level of lutherie is higher now than thirty years ago is not a "marketing gimmick". I think most people who have extensive insights into modern lutherie will agree wholeheartedly.

December 13, 2012 at 09:10 AM · Reflect, if you will, on that self-congratulatory tome "George Gemünder's progress in Violin Making" (available as an e-book and then consider the fact that the highest auction price in Brompton's archive for an 1885 violin of his seems to be a mere £11,529 !!

In the UK, Bert Smith and Alfred Vincent were both highly praised in their day, but the same archive gives top prices of £1,380 and £6,240 respectively.

The fiddle market is a strange beast, to say the least.

There are many very serviceable instruments amongst the Heberleins, Roths. Wolf Brothers and other German makes that can be bought for peanuts as compared with most new hand-made products. This is Lyndon's message, as I understand it. The same applies to German bows, too - even Hill's bowmaking guru Retford bought a Weichold for his own use !!

December 13, 2012 at 02:04 PM · "Reflect, if you will, on that self-congratulatory tome "George Gemünder's progress in Violin Making" (available as an e-book and then consider the fact that the highest auction price in Brompton's archive for an 1885 violin of his seems to be a mere £11,529 !!

In the UK, Bert Smith and Alfred Vincent were both highly praised in their day, but the same archive gives top prices of £1,380 and £6,240 respectively."


That may serve as an indication how far things have come since that time (not that I wouldn't love to add a George Gemunder to my small collection).

Some of the instruments I've seen in the various modern-making competitions over the years were just mind-blowing! Not that there isn't also plenty of so-so stuff.

However Charles Beare may have come across in that old interview, he has been a strong supporter of new making for at least 20 years, and his son Peter has now left the firm with the goal of making full-time.

December 13, 2012 at 02:59 PM · Lyndon and David, you're absolutely right. You can find really good bargains among older violins.

I never stated that copying Strad or Guarneri was a new fenomenon - in fact, I said almost the opposite: the last few years I've seen more diversity regarding models among new violins. I welcome that development, because I share your view that soloist style sound isn't for everyone.

On the other hand, if you want a soloist style instrument, you can find good value among recently made violins. And if you choose to buy one - in response to the initial thread - you don't have to be too afraid that the instrument will deteriorate, if you take care of it. If you listened to the whole recording, you could hear Isaac Stern say that he'd rather see some of the younger musicians play a good, healthy, new violin, than some of the intermediate instruments of various (antique) makers. He also said that a bad Strad or Guarneri is simply a bad violin. I think many players don't fully realize this, and they go for whatever antique violin with a pedigree that they can get their hands on. For instance, I've seen a case where a musician was pressed by a dealer to make a quick desicion to secure a violin in the +100.000 $ range. A choice he regretted later, because it just didn't deliver what he needed professionally. I've also heard excellent young soloists battle in concerts with Strads with student grade sound, just because some foundation, with good intention, lent them a Strad. That's some of the consequences of the antique violin hype, and it can be devastating for a musicians career.

I'm absolutely not saying that all new violins are great. Many lack character or liveliness, but there are violins being made today, that are on the same level as the the very best antique violins. That's my whole point. And remember, it's just my opinion. I'm not trying to sell you a violin, I'm just interested in discussing the subject.

December 13, 2012 at 04:10 PM · If the message is,

"Try things, old and new, and see what you think", I would fully agree with that.

December 13, 2012 at 08:20 PM · "...given that much less than 1% of violinists will ever lead a symphony orchestra, why does everyone want a concert soloist sound"

It doesn't matter whether one is gunning for a concertmaster job, section job, or even a university teaching job--everyone nowadays is expected to produce a big, soloistic sound. It's the nature of competition these days.

Besides, even if you have a cannon of a violin, you can always tone it down. It's much more frustrating to have a small-sounding fiddle and try to crank sound out.

December 13, 2012 at 10:20 PM · I fear if I produce a "big, soloistic sound" it will amplify my big, mechanistic mistakes.

December 13, 2012 at 10:43 PM · Lyndon, I'm sorry to hear that there has been such an offensive campaign in the US, claiming that new violins are superior and that you can't find what you're looking for in antique violins. That's not my point of view at all, and we've luckily not seen that kind of marketing here in Europe as far as I know. Luthiers here are usually not "high pressure salesmen" (apart from a few exceptions). On the contrary, most of us are pretty lousy at promoting ourselves. Selling old violins and doing repairs payed my bills most of the time.

David B: I also agree fully: compare new and old violins and try to be unbiased! It's as simple (and difficult) as that.

Scott: that rings very true. I think another reason for which individual luthiers in Europe and the US strive for a soloist kind of sound and a big dynamic range, is probably that if you try to compete in a lower price range you're in for trouble, with all the decent violins coming in from China (with their low labour costs),and antique violins from lesser known makers. It's better to put in a few more hours and aim for the top. Some makers succeed in making violins that rise substantially over the mid-priced violins. Many don't. Just as it has always been.

And Lyndon again: I think you're right, there's probably no symphony orchestra in the world where all violins in both sections have a loud soloist kind of sound...yet. If that happens, everyone has to use a bit less bow pressure.

Benedict; you're right - a big, open, brilliant sound amplifies your shortcomings. That can be really tough, but rewarding in the long run, if you're persistent :)

December 13, 2012 at 11:23 PM · "thats a bunch of rubbish, i dont think theres a single symphony in the world that only has the loudest soloist volume violins in all its sections"

I didn't say that a symphony wants its musicians to play loudly all the time. That is a very different matter. And in fact, people who can't play softly will probably not last very long. Symphonies do want people who can crank it out when necessary.

However, the audition process is not the same. When you are behind a screen, you don't want just a pretty-sounding violin with no dynamic range, because you will be perceived as mousy. You must be able to show a clear difference in dynamics (I would want a violin that could also play very softly as well as clearly).

"thats a bunch of rubbish"

Sometimes I get the idea that Lyndon, by supporting this site, feels that he has, in effect, purchased the right to be rude.

December 13, 2012 at 11:49 PM · Lyndon, have you ever made a violin? How many?

What's your playing level? Have you ever played a Strad, a Del Gesù, an Amati, a Poggi, a Scarampella? Which good contemporary violins have you seen and played?

I love good old and good contemporary instruments. But it is hard to see a 2 or 3K dollars instrument in top orchestras, if they were all that good we would see them with top musicians, wich is not the case. But we do see top musicians playing good old and good contemporary instruments.

The problems with old violins in the 2K to 3K I see, in general, are bad archings, poor condition (humble instruments suffer more than the posh ones, and many of them have been badly repaired for centuries), bad model. These problems (I call them "original sins") can not be cured by father time alone. They are there to stay... If you go to see instruments in Tarisio auctions you will see many of them, and for MUCH LESS than 2 or 3K dollars.

But I may be wrong.

And, finally, wich antique violins in the 2 to 3K dollars range you have to offer? Could you show us some photos of them?

December 13, 2012 at 11:53 PM · "Sometimes I get the idea that Lyndon, by supporting this site, feels that he has, in effect, purchased the right to be rude."

Thats not my impression, as long as I read here he always has been rude at this old/new issue ;)

Lyndon no offense, I understand you totally and agree with you that many new build violins lack character and sweetness, giving that away for a loud screamy sound (wich actually some people are looking for, myself included before I learned better). But I also know, that there are very characterful and antique sounding new instruments out there, wich I would prefer to an old instrument for two reasons: first Its cheaper to buy a top new violin than an top old one. (but I must say its not cheap at all to buy from reknown makers), second, the maker is alive and ready to adjust the violin perfectly for you. (for "free" usually, after you bought the violin).

On the other hand is it my and I think nearly every violinists dream, to once get a instrument, wich went through capable violinists hands and was played in concerts for many years before given to me. Those instruments have some kind of a mystery and story, wich actually is something I love in violins. You don't know where they have been exactly the last hundreds of years, but you know certain people expressed their hearts through it. That may sound pathetic, but its the beauty of old times, shining through in old violins. Makes me nostalgic and inspired!

I think very bad of antiquing because that fakes all this for the eye. I always wonder how those antiwued violins will look after 300 years. Its like a baby is born with a suite and a tie. Maybe like Barney Stinson...

December 14, 2012 at 07:25 AM · Alas, the Original Post has been pretty much forgotten at this stage of the admittedly interesting discussion.

"Experts" traditionally just LOVE to rain on the parade of any ecstatic buyer of a a new violin. ""It might be OK now, but what will it be like in 10 or 20 years?". They love to forecast a total collapse of the tonal qualities. Particularly dire warnings were issued about the Alfred Vincent violins, the allegations being that the plates were all too thin. But I know a dealer who quite recently couldn't sell a Vincent because players found the sound "Too powerful".

I suspect that the percentage of instances where such a prediction proved accurate proved to be quite small. Vuillaumes,for example, are still going strong despite claims that they would have a limited life because the wood was baked and the plates thinned.

Such scare-mongering was always part of the stock-in-trade of the vendors of old fiddles.

Here's a quote from the English maker George Pyne (b. 1852) whose extensive clientele were professional orchestral players. It illustrates the state of war existing between the two factions .......

"every violin I supply for £5 is a slosh in the eye for dealers who want £50 for an old crock sometimes worth ten times less in actual tone".

New fiddles do change, particularly during the early settling-down stage of the first two years. What seems a problem for some buyers has been that those changes, during which a player can scratch his/her head and wonder what's going on, aren't always signs of deterioration but sometimes merely steps in a long process in the right direction.

Other threads have discussed changes in the physical structure of the timber brought about by vibration etc. And, yes, after a time it's likely the timber will decay completely, but I think that takes a LONG LONG TIME.

Varnish ? Another minefield !! Were a maker to reproduce an identical varnish to one of those Stradivari used we couldn't possibly be 100% convinced because the aging process has so changed the appearance of the older example.

I see that I wrote in similar vein 2 years ago, same thread.

Just trying to get the thread back on track, folks.

December 14, 2012 at 11:25 AM · "given that much less than 1% of violinists will ever lead a symphony orchestra, why does everyone want a concert soloist sound, even if modern makers are better at that, which i still dont accept."


I'll take a stab at answering that.

From a maker's perspective, I don't know many makers who consider producing an "average" sound to be a stimulating end-goal. If one is capable of producing a "soloist" sound, it's pretty easy to knock it back down with adjustment anyway, if needed. What you have is a potentially more versatile instrument.

From the player side:

Whether they will ever perform professionally or not, many players these days will end up trying a violin in a hall, as part of the winnowing process. They are not necessarily looking just for power (although they might reject the weakest of the bunch), but also checking things like articulation and clarity, and how much work it takes to get these things out of a fiddle. It may not be needed for the work they do, but the attitude seems to be,

"If I can find it for the same price, and there is no downside, why not?"

Will soloist characteristics make a violin problematic for section work? If there are some stories around about Strads and Guarneris being problematic for section work, I haven't run across any, unless a particular instrument was tiring to play for long sessions (though that's not a typical characteristic of "solo" instruments). And as I mentioned earlier, it's pretty easy to knock those fiddles back to a milder state with adjustment and string selection, if needed. It's much easier to turn a solo instrument into an average instrument, than it is to go the other direction.

December 14, 2012 at 11:38 AM · OK, now that we are back to the original question...

Look at the question again. New violins decay? And old ones do not? Are there different principles of physics for instruments, based on the century they were built in? If the old ones get better over time, why should a new one decay?

The answer is very simple: old vs new is a red herring. What really matters whether it was built well or not.

There may be a higher percentage of existing old violins that sound good, compared to the overall production today. That answer is also simple: if you find a good one, you take care of it. If you find a bad one, you're more likely to smash it on music stand, in frustration. :-)

December 14, 2012 at 04:33 PM · I know for a fact that at least several full-time members of the New York Philharmonic use Chinese instruments (including those by Jay Haide and Snow) when going on international tour, so that they won't have trouble at customs, and so that they don't risk damage to their primary instruments.

That being said, I can't imagine anybody actually taking an orchestral audition using a Chinese workshop violin, unless it were to be quite an exceptional one (like the Jay Haide used for a while by Elmar Oliveira).

December 14, 2012 at 05:31 PM · Hi Brian,

If I played like Elmar Olivera, I could probably win an audition on a Jay Haide.

December 14, 2012 at 07:28 PM · I was told last month that his current primary violin is one by the Michigan-based Chinese maker Feng Jiang!

December 14, 2012 at 08:29 PM · "From a maker's perspective, I don't know many makers who consider producing an "average" sound to be a stimulating end-goal."

One could take this argument from a player's viewpoint as well:

"From a player's perspective, I don't know many violinists who consider producing a "small" or "non-soloistic" sound to be a stimulating end-goal."

December 14, 2012 at 08:30 PM · John Pierce says:

There may be a higher percentage of existing old violins that sound good, compared to the overall production today.


In biology, there's something statistically known as "Survivor Bias", that IMO would make perfect sense in the violin world as the natural world.

The crappy violin built in 1889 found its' way into the trash or wood stove decades ago, while the gem of an instrument built in 1889 is in the hands of a professional musician today.

Essentially it's a mathematical error that focuses people's attention on survivors, rather than the entire population, and IMO, it's entirely logical to apply to the world of violins too. Perhaps it's far more likely that old violins aren't better, it's just statistically more likely that a poor old violin has already been killed off.

December 14, 2012 at 09:09 PM · Feng has been in the USA a long time. He is one of a select bunch of international makers whose work is cool as it gets

December 15, 2012 at 02:02 AM · Is Feng Chinese or American? I'll ask him next time I run into him. LOL

National origin of a maker doesn't matter very much any more. 250 years ago, it did.

December 15, 2012 at 11:09 AM · I think we all define "soloist quality" by many more criteria than just volume. I think most of these criteria have to do with how well you can express yourself through the instrument, and how well this comes across to the audience. I would definitely put the Niccolo Amatis I've heard in the "soloist quality" category.

To get back to the thread again, I think that the player's mood has a much greater influence on the sound he/she produces, than the instrument's mood. If you're having a bad it will feel like the violin has a bad day too. The influence of humidity and so on is definitely a factor, but I think we often exaggerate.

Likewise, I think that in a longer perspective, if you find that a violin is unsatisfactory, though you liked it a year ago, it's probably more likely that it's you who have changed, than the violin.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine