Modern violins - part two!!

October 26, 2011 at 01:47 AM ·

David Beck said ------

"Those of us who hear (or THINK we hear) an extra bit of flavor in the sound of fiddles made in Italy have tried looking for an explanation. The puzzle has gone on ever since makers elsewhere redoubled their efforts to reproduce not only the appearance but the distinctive timbre of those Italians (and folk like Gofriller or Tecchler who were foreigners who worked there). It was suggested once that some mystery virus got into the wood ! If we are deluded than we might need be cured on the Psychiatrists couch. 

What interested me is whether any other fiddlers out there have had the same sonic experience as I (who, though an enthusiast, have tried and bought only a limited number of fiddles over the years), or am I simply nuts ?? I have tested new fiddles, straight from the workshop, both here in the UK and in Italy, and I THOUGHT I could detect an additional and distinctive sweetness in the Italian-made violins - already there from new. But always to be taken into account the capacity for self-delusion and age-related hearing loss !!! Maybe someone will begin a new thread."

I personally do not know if I think Italian fiddles (new or old) have a distinctive flavour or sound. The few I have played on briefly appear have a mellow sound. Sometimes I think I want a brighter more edgy sound, but that is really down to the player. Heifetz, I believe, played on a del Jusu and a Strad, and he got that edgy sound - so maybe it is possible on an old Italian.

Anyway, please, all you experts, discuss this in part two ...

Replies (100)

October 26, 2011 at 02:40 AM ·

Actually, in my experience, it's many modern Italian fiddles that have, among other things, a bright, edgy sound. But it depends on the maker and the model.

October 26, 2011 at 03:21 AM ·

 hmmm,,,, from a very reliable source who knew Heifetz, the "edge" we hear in his recordings comes from his insistence of placing the mic closer to the violin than needed. Apparently, he could not produce a big sound, and so wanted to ensure the mics recorded every slight detail.  A testament to his confidence!  But in a concert hall, no edge could be heard. Apparently, the tone was lovely, if not as powerful as others as say Oistrahk. 

October 26, 2011 at 09:12 AM ·

I've played Vettori family violins, 2 have typical Italian ringing edge to the sound, and the other one doesn't, which sounded mellow. I also played Marcello Villa, fantastic violin with broad dynamic range, but seems to lacking in that ringing sound too. Played 2 others, 2 did by apprentice, the other by a master maker (all from different workshop), all have this italian ringing sound, despite all have different character. My teacher just brought in an Italian violin, I'll chime in again with my findings.

In comparison, I played quite a few new and old germans, with mixed quality level, along with 1 very good old french, and some others european made violins. I can safely say none of them has the same sound. The French was close, but it's more like edgy and strident ringing sound than the sweet ringing sound I heard from Italians.

By the way, there are violins that allow you to play with edgy or mellow sound on demand. I have a violin that sound nice but no matter what I do, the tone will stay the same. It'll get boring after a while of playing. So I don't think it's necessary to look for 1 specific sound when trying out violins? It's more important if the violin can give you more than 1 type of sound or not.

I don't think David Beck was trying to say you can only get that italian sound from italian violins, and all Italian violins have that sound character. But it seems to be that many violins made by italian luthiers (or made in italy) seems to have the special layer of that ringing italian sound.

October 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM ·

 I don't think David Beck was trying to say you can only get that italian sound from italian violins, and all Italian violins have that sound character.

I think David Beck thinks that the Italians find it easier to find that special layer of that ringing italian sound and he doesn't know why !!!! Comparable timber is available world-wide and the techniques of construction are now openly discussed and disseminated.

October 26, 2011 at 11:46 AM ·

As I mentioned in the other thread, I think it's impossible to draw conclusions about the sound of contemporary instruments  by nationality. Two Italian violins may sound completely different from each other. So might two British. One of the British may sound like one of the Italian. This conclusion is based on having played hundreds of them, maybe thousands, and from having been involved in the judging at various international violin making competitions.

I haven't found that there's anything special about the sound of contemporary Italian violins. There are good, and less-good makers in Italy, just like there are in many other countries. For those who believe otherwise, meet me at one of the Violin Society of America Competitions, where there may be 300 violins from 12 nations, and we can put various beliefs to the test.

October 26, 2011 at 12:59 PM ·

Ron - re Heifetz, we're getting into a very different subject which has been discussed here before. But anyway, yes, Heifetz liked to be closely miked, and up close his playing had a lot of edge which smoothed out at a distance. But he projected as well as or maybe better than anyone else. Sam Chotzinoff told a story how he lost a bet to H. re the Chausson Poéme. In the master class video for this piece we hear him at one point admonishing Claire Hodgkins to give a certain passage eveything she had or she wouldn't be heard at all - they'd just see her bow moving. Years earlier Chotzinoff had bet Heifetz that in a public performance with orchestra, the orchestra would swamp his playing in that passage as was the case with every other violinist. Came the passage and H. pushed through and rang out above the orchestra like anything.

October 26, 2011 at 01:04 PM ·

 on italian violins having italian sound, mark twain has this to say

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”


October 26, 2011 at 03:04 PM ·

Ok, Just to get y'all goin' in the USA. 

David Burgess, he raght on the ball, Y'all ??

We talkin' baht bit mustard in the sound, man. You gettit, we buy it, sunshine, big-time, know what I mean ???

Lots of Italian fiddles, goin' way back in history, gotten that sound, baby, Know what ? Get me one, lend me the dough to buy it, sucker.

October 26, 2011 at 04:22 PM ·

"Lots of Italian fiddles, goin' way back in history, gotten that sound, baby, Know what ?"

Historically, perhaps, but I thought we were talking about contemporary violins. Today, pretty much everyone has a chance to study the old Italian instruments. And who better than some in the UK, like the people working in the Beare shop? Opportunities to do so are no better in Italy than in many other countries.

Excellent Amerispeak by the way. If you was to show up here in bibbed blue-jean overalls and a cowboy hat, chewin' on a piece o' straw, I bet no one would even know you was a furrinner. ;-)

October 26, 2011 at 05:03 PM ·

I'm pleased I continued this thread as there have been many interesting comments.

Regarding Heifetz, I did hear him live once here in the UK, but I was very young, and still attached to my mother's breast. I remember he had a very good up bow staccato, and his sound was bright where I was sitting in the large R Festival Hall. This was in 1954. I was thinking of asking him for a lesson but thought better of it. My pocket money would have not stretched that far either.

October 26, 2011 at 05:25 PM ·

Excellent Amerispeak by the way. If you was to show up here in bibbed blue-jean overalls and a cowboy hat, chewin' on a piece o' straw, I bet no one would even know you was a furrinner. ;-)

Actually, if he came here to Texas, we'd probably think he was from New York City.  Then we'd get him to eat some mountain oysters.  :-)

October 26, 2011 at 05:43 PM ·

I ate the Rostock equivalent of rocky mountain oysters while I was working there. They were very good. And the best part was watching my american colleagues become visibly sick at the sight of me eating such a powerful aphrodisiac with such gusto.

Needless to say, this was to my detriment later on when we returned to the states.

October 26, 2011 at 09:50 PM ·

I remember, as a teen-ager seeing Yehudi Menuhin perform Bartok VC 2 in Bristol's 2000-seater Colston Hall.  A group of us from the local youth orchestra were seated towards the back of the packed hall and we all remarked afterwards how wonderfully he projected his tone above the orchestra at all points.

A few years later I saw Pierre Fournier do the same thing with the Dvorak cello concerto.  

October 26, 2011 at 10:33 PM ·

"Actually, if he came here to Texas, we'd probably think he was from New York City.  Then we'd get him to eat some mountain oysters.  :-)"

Didn't we end up at war with England, after you guys pulled that same little stunt on King George? LOL

October 26, 2011 at 10:47 PM ·

If you laid out 20 violins and 5 of them were Italian, I could pick them out.

October 26, 2011 at 11:25 PM ·

If you had 20 violins and 5 were italian, I bet I could pick out none of them.

October 26, 2011 at 11:57 PM ·

Don't understand what the controversy is about.  Everyone knows that French violins have a nasal tone,  Germans are guttural,  Americans have a drawl and twang,  English violins are refined with a stiff upper bout, and the Italians ring out la la la, la la la. 

October 27, 2011 at 01:39 AM ·

 It's very easy to separate them: the Italian ones have a particular sound. The American ones that sound exactly the same, players complain that they're just a bit  too nasal, don't have a big enough bottom end, and aren't open sounding enough. Adjust them so they open up, and they complain that they sound American.

The answer: go to Italy, buy a piece of junk for $3000! Now THAT sounds Italian. Also Chinese, but nevermind.

October 27, 2011 at 02:06 AM ·

 Hi Raphael.  Thanks for the clarification.  

October 27, 2011 at 02:11 AM ·

Peter  - probably a good decision re the Heifetz lesson request! I heard that once after a rehearsal with an orchestra some violinsits cane uo to him to ask for tips on how to play a certain very difficult passage that he effortlessly tore off. Said the great H: "Not a chance"

BTW as we seem to be comparing notes a bit across the pond as two countries separated by a common (almost) language, do I remember correctly that King George V was an amateur fiddler? Thomas Jefferson was. That should prove something. Just what, I have no idea.

October 27, 2011 at 02:49 AM ·

Smiley, you have to tell me the secret.

Quite a  few years back and way more naive I bought a great sounding Italian violin. Everyone including a number of professional players loved it. But when 2 dealers showed me why it was German, likely Mittenwald late 19th century it suddenly didn't sound that good any more to anyone and I came to dislike it just because it was fake. Nice  della Corte label inside, faciebat Napoli etc. But for only about 12% the price of a real della Corte I should have known better. Yes it had that ringing sound, that  particular sonority and a beautiful deep G string  but the Canadian fiddle I have now sounds more Italian than most real Italians I have played in a number of shops. Honestly I don't know how you could tell blindly. Did you actually try?

October 27, 2011 at 05:04 AM ·

Smiley, although this can only be ultimately substantiating by putting you and those violins to the test, it would be kind of yuo to eleborate further on how you deem that possible.

Simply from the logical standpoint, I can see David (Burgess)'s point. I don't have experience with playing different violins to actually have an opinion on the matter, but it makes sense that, given that these italians being educated in UK or US and americans and others being educated in Cremona and given that the italians mafiosos, in unison, don't have a secret that they're keeping from the rest of the world that, for instance, non-italian researchers who read italian would have equal access to and given that the material is sourced similarly...etc...all this, reasonablly, substantiates the opposite of Beck and SMiley's points.

but i suppose it is possible, on the other side of the argument, that the italians, to live up to a certain reputation and in association with a certain culturally persistent understanding of what makes a desirable sound might strive towards that sound  mroe specifically than others. but a certain characteristic of sound (warm and ringing) might also not determine the overall quality of there is a slight possiblity that a compromise between the two opposite opinions can be reached if, as Beck insinuated in one of his posts here or in part one of this post, the character of sound is not necessarily the overall determining factor in the quality of sound/ instrument.

October 27, 2011 at 01:43 PM ·

How would I pick out the Italian fiddles?  I would look at the labels of course.  I guess even then it might not be certain.  Bottom line, as Burgess and others have pointed out, the concept of an Italian sound is nothing more than hype.

October 27, 2011 at 02:16 PM ·

Nice one Smiley!!

It is of course the players and NOT the instruments that have the Italian sound. That's why they always think I'm playing on a Strad or Del boy Gesu!!

October 27, 2011 at 02:20 PM ·

sneaky :o)

but what if Angelo is Xue 

October 27, 2011 at 02:35 PM ·

Hendrik:  you aren't selling that fake mittenwald italian violin by any chance.  Just sayin...

[oh, and if I can be excused for being off topics, which canadian maker do you have?]

To extend the question a little; If we omit the country of origin but just compare style, do (luthier made) italian copies (del Gesu etc) have a similar sound compared to violins made in different styles?  Though I realize that there may not be that many to compare to.   That might support the idea that violin making truly is international now.

October 27, 2011 at 03:39 PM ·

Hi  Elise,  the maker is Guy Harrison from Ottawa. Last year Christian Vachon let me play his Strad model ( at Guy's shop and I was very impressed. I now have a copy of the Lord Wilton Del Gesu , couldn't be happier.

Regarding your 2nd question: the video " the two gentlemen of Cremona" on youtube talks about the difference in character and playing style required for Strad versus DelGesu. Guy's copies are very litteral, my fiddle has the uneven ff holes, the 4 corners that are all different and interesting looking scroll just like the original. It sounds and plays a lot like a DelGesu, ( Ihave only played one real one ever, but had some time with it; that violin had more brute power but Guy's fiddle is new ). Christian's Strad model sounds and plays a lot like a Strad; he can tell you better than I can, he has played lots of Strads, me only one. But it is very noticeable that you cannot dig into the string just wherever on the Strad model, you have to use more bow too. But what a gorgious "living "piano and colours.


October 27, 2011 at 03:47 PM ·

and  the German fiddle? It went back to the fellow I bought it from and traded it for another violin,  nice fiddle but no carrying power.  But my taste wasn't that great then; not sure how I'm going to get rid of it. Lost  a fair bit money on fiddles when I got into it.

October 27, 2011 at 03:59 PM ·

'Peter  - probably a good decision re the Heifetz lesson request! I heard that once after a rehearsal with an orchestra some violinsits cane uo to him to ask for tips on how to play a certain very difficult passage that he effortlessly tore off. Said the great H: "Not a chance"'


I have also heard that he was difficult. I once asked a French soloist who had studied with him how he taught and he was not very forthcoming. I think many of the pupils like it in their CV for prestige. (Not all).

I heard a story that in 1962 he (JH) was recording here in London, the Bruch G minor with the LSO, and he asked to be called Mr Heifetz and not Jasha. He apparently then came out and after the intro on the long open G he got the pearlies, stopped, made a joke and went off for ten minutes. He came back and all was well .. I heard this secondhand from someone in the orchestra, so I can't confirm it as true!!

October 27, 2011 at 04:40 PM ·

With reference to the two Davids' repartee on the subject of the US/British English language divide, my local paper in Bristol (the Evening Post) has a short article in it today on the Bristol dialect (or "Brizzle" as you'll hear it on the street). The article gives an extract from Psalm 23 translated into the Bristol dialect, complete with local allusions, as it might look (and sound if you read it phonetically):

"De gaffer is me skewer tea. Ee crates me to snuff it see. Ee walks me up de Feeder*: Ee is gurt lush. Stans treason I'll be in de Arnos Vale*, but pain noah tension. Corset bank wits, busters, deaf knit lea. Muster bin blige, gurt times all me munce. Stuff me babber. Wreck non I'll live in de house of de gaffer den. Finched."
* local allusion

Here's another one, also from the Bible. I'll leave you to figure it out:

"Me dad, in de sky den. Yuz gurt lush. Yuz ideals be finched, 'ere in Brizzle as in de sky. Gizza bren jam. Soz for bein a wrongun. Likewise other wronguns. Avoidin de areal of badness. Yuz de gaffer. Wreck non." 

For the avoidance of doubt I don't normally speak like that in polite company, but maybe after a few pints in the pub ...

October 27, 2011 at 05:14 PM ·

Though it pains me to say so m'lord, might one suggest that in Downton Abbey the staff should converse in the King's English ?? 

One is still interested to know whether or not there's still a discernible difference between the new Italian violins and the others. though it pains me to bring up this distressing subject once again, m'lord. The fate of our boys in the trenches is admittedly of a more pressing nature, and I am sorry to have troubled your Lordship with such trivia: nevertheless there does seem to be some interest largely generated by our cousins in Americe. No need for me to assemble the entire staff for any announcement you care to make, m'lord, but might I be so bold as to post on

October 27, 2011 at 05:18 PM ·

Didn't we end up at war with England, after you guys pulled that same little stunt on King George? LOL

Naw.  That was a bunch of "youse guys" in Bahstun, dressed up like injuns.  Georgie got upset because they brewed his tea with salt water.

October 27, 2011 at 05:33 PM ·

 Any relation ??

 Tom Pierce, Tom Pierce, lend me thy gray mare Ri fol lol the dol diddle i doe That I may ride up to Widdecombe Fair With Phil Lewer, Jan Brewer, Harry Hawkins, Hugh Davy Philly Whitpot, George Pausley, Dick Wilson, Tom Cobbley and all, Here is Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

October 27, 2011 at 05:44 PM ·

 Not that I'm aware of.  Maybe through Noah.

And any relation to the original topic?  Certainly not!

October 27, 2011 at 05:52 PM ·

I never shall an antique play
An amateur or dilettante I stay
Someday a non-VSO I hope to obtain
And spend too much my spouse would disdain.

I love the sound of one Tianwa Yang
Her Sarasate gives my emotions a bang
But be her Vuillaume a Guarneri or Stradivari
Is the sound French or Italian I know not nary.

I think I’ll send the luthier a copy of the CD that I want my violin to sound like.

October 27, 2011 at 09:09 PM · "Me dad, in de sky den. Yuz gurt lush. Yuz ideals be finched, 'ere in Brizzle as in de sky. Gizza bren jam. Soz for bein a wrongun. Likewise other wronguns. Avoidin de areal of badness. Yuz de gaffer. Wreck non."

That's I believe, "Our father who art in Heaven, etc."

But what are "pearlies"? the shakes? an upset stomach?

October 27, 2011 at 09:17 PM · I know only from what I have read. But, when Martin Schleske, in Germany, creates a tonal copy of an Italian violin, how far does it vary from the true “Italian sound”?

October 27, 2011 at 10:40 PM · As soon as we locate a TISmeter to measure True Italian Sound, then we will know.

I'm not holding my breath.

October 27, 2011 at 10:47 PM · Didn't Joseph Curtin invent a TIS meter?

October 27, 2011 at 10:49 PM · I can just see the argument after:

'Tis an Ialian Sound meter

'Tis not

'Tis too

'Tis not


October 27, 2011 at 11:11 PM · You only achieve an Italian sound if you play Italian opera in Italian with an Italian conductor and singers. (In an Italian opera house?)

By the way, do violas and cellos have an Italian sound - even if they are Italian (or not) - or not even Italian cellos and violas?

Is it not true that violas have a "funny" sound anyway ...?

Can you get a "Russian" sound on a fiddle, like all them there Russian players?

October 28, 2011 at 01:13 AM · @Raphael – you got it in one, and I'll wager you didn't use Google Translate either! (GT would have fallen over within the first few words anyway).

I'm not sure about "pearlies"; I've come across the expression with reference to teeth, and other usages connected with jewelry, but in the context mentioned I'd guess it referred to some sort of mild stomach disorder that needed attention before proceeding with the task in hand.

October 28, 2011 at 08:08 AM · I recall an experiment where five (I think) renowned violinists were called, played Strads, Guarneris, and regular spankin'-new violins. Then they were made to sit in front of a curtained section, where another violinist played the same piece on all the violins. The result? No one could tell which were Strads, brand-new babies, e.t.c.

I had noticed differences in tone in old ones depending on the region, but in modern ones all I notice is the variation in accordance with the luthier. The German violins do seem to lean to the larger sizing, though.

October 28, 2011 at 08:54 AM · The dreaded "Pearlies" is a nervous affliction making the bow bounce uncontrollably. The sonic result is similar to the effect of the a string of pearls hitting the deck when the thread breaks.

It's beginnng to seem as if my experience, where the new Italian fiddles I tried reminded me of ancient Italians and the English ones did not, was flawed by lack of sample size and that serendipity played a part. Only Smiley Hsu is on my wavelength so far, but I still live in hope of finding some others whose experience tallies with mine !!

It seems to me that with new work the sound is very much what the player makes of it. With older instruments, which deliver more in "freewheel" mode, and are tolerant of careless production, the basic individuality of a violin is more obvious.

October 28, 2011 at 09:12 AM · David, I think most who read this topic quietly because we may have a sample size of 1 or less italian instruments that we have actually played and hence have little to add to the statistical discussion. I've tried I think 3 italians in a violin shop and they do seem different - but I think that impression was generated becaue they were always handed over with some pomp 'this one is from Cremona'. So I suppose its possible the 'italian aura' is more attitudinal and has more to do with reverence than with sound...

On the othe hand, in wine tasting there are only a very few individuals have that sensitivity to distinguish top wines and recognize the region they came from. Maybe some people are like that for violin sounds and maybe also you are one of those ....

October 28, 2011 at 09:51 AM · Yes, Elise, the "Italian" aspiration can be a fantasy, and i have known many players who, despite thinking "if only I could get a Strad", when given a real top-of-the-range Italian to try, don't know what to make of it, often finding the sound edgy and nasal under the ear.

My own "introduction" came when I was 9 years old, and had to perform at a concert at which my teacher showcased his pupils. What ME ?? Another performer at the concert had paid loads of money for an old Italian fiddle. He let me try it, then wrote down the maker's name on a bit of paprer and stuck it in my top pocket - which, being a youngster and with a MOTHER, I lost ! But I think it was Carlo Bergonzi.

Now, compared with my cheapo learners violin, under the ear it just fizzed and spat. But at the back of the hall, when played by the owner, MAGIC. My teacher had 2 superb Alfred Vincents, and they seemed bottled up when I listened from that position.

In more recent times, I was at Sothebys in London, only to try a bow, but Tim Ingles handed me an early Strad to test it on. That was, to me, definitely an Italian violin. But when Tim was out of sight I picked up a Vuillaume - a better "Playing fiddle" in many ways, but definitely not "Italian" to my ears, more like a cardboard copy. I guess that experience can condition us to home in on certain types of sound, just as Emperor Penguins can locate their young, apparently by sound. Funny subject !

It's been suggested that the capacity of Italian fiddles to make a sound that the listener will tune into, at a distance, might be to do with extra power in frequencies actually beyond our hearing range. Maybe, though we can't hear the dog-whistle noise, we still detect and react. That all seems rather far-fetched !!

October 28, 2011 at 10:21 AM · My experience with good violins is, that you cannot tell from the first moment, what the violin is capable of. If you have a really good violin in your hands you have to adapt your technique to it and that takes time. Often people trying instruments without watching their own technique such as bow pressure and contact point. But if you get to know Instruments with a interesting character, wich seems to be often italian violins (wether good or not), then you can emulate some of their sounds on nearly everything wich has 4 strings on it. It comes back to your own mind as so often.

Of course there are good violins and bad ones, but most of them could work quite good and sound "italian" or "whatever" if you know how to play them.

But hey, I never played a strad, guarneri or vulliaume! So I am not an expert in that range. But I think I played some violins in the range between 5t to 20t €.

October 28, 2011 at 11:24 AM · Ah, OK, "the pearlies". That's why the Bruch no.1 is the concerto known to begin with a down-bow staccato!

October 28, 2011 at 11:52 AM · @ Raphael,

If you have ever been strucken down (is that good American ?) by the dreaded "pearlies" on a concert platform you would know only too well that ever after, your life would never be the same. Glad to be retired now !!

@ Simon, I wrote " It seems to me that with new work the sound is very much what the player makes of it".

October 28, 2011 at 01:11 PM · yeah.. i guess so too...

October 28, 2011 at 02:34 PM · "If you have ever been strucken down (is that good American ?)"


"Strik" or "strikeded". In formal situations, or when waxing eloquent, "strunken" is more appropriate. Also used when drunken.

October 28, 2011 at 03:36 PM · Simon says: "My experience with good violins is, that you cannot tell from the first moment, what the violin is capable of."

Many years ago there was a blind play-off in Chicago. At the end of it, the winner was the player's own instrument--the one he knew the best, and had the most experience drawing sound out of. It's not unreasonable to suspect a lot of the order after that had to do with how much the others responded similarly to his own. This says all you need to know about so-called "blind tests".

October 28, 2011 at 03:47 PM · I agree that if the player's own instrument is included in a comparison, it has an advantage. Even so, they frequently don't wind up on top.

Something similar happens when people are shopping for a new instrument. The old one, even with the advantage of the player's familiarity, doesn't always cut it. If player familiarity was an overriding factor, then I suppose most violinists would stay with the same instrument for their whole life. ;-)

October 28, 2011 at 03:53 PM · Then also the violins responding similar to the one of the player may have an unfounded advantage without necessarily being the "better" violin...

In the end one has to find HIS or HER violin, not "the best" or something like that.

October 28, 2011 at 06:13 PM · I think owning an instrument really is a double edged sword for a comparison. Sure, you know how to tweak the most out of it - but I think you are as much or more impressed when you find a new instrument that lacks the weak spots that you know so well on your original one. And you may not discover all the weak spots of the new one till its too late.

Its basically a case of 'the grass is always greener...'

October 28, 2011 at 06:33 PM · "If player familiarity was an overriding factor, then I suppose most violinists would stay with the same instrument for their whole life. ;-)"

Over here in the UK there's a saying ;- familiarity breeds contempt. Presumably a player who owns a violin anyway, but sets off to try others with a view to buying, is looking for novelty, something different. As Elise observed, always looking (or listening) for the greener grass.

NB Thanx for y'all helpin me with the American.

October 28, 2011 at 07:07 PM · David, Elise and I can help you with Canadian as well. Basically all our sentences begin with "Sorry" and end with "eh?"

October 28, 2011 at 07:44 PM · Yup, we're a confused sorry lot. But surely we are now uncontested world champions at standing in line. Go Canada!

October 28, 2011 at 11:16 PM · David B. - Jascha got past it and so did I! (Not that I'm comparing myself of course!

October 28, 2011 at 11:40 PM · earlier today a fellow v.comer, a psychology pro, pm-ed me this video in an effort to update me on this interesting phenom based on our previous discussion-more like a disagreement-- on an old thread.

whether this video pertains to our old discussion is another matter. i thought of this thread, about the perception of italian violin and italian sound. see what you think,,,

October 29, 2011 at 12:40 PM · Fascinating vid. I can see how it might apply to Italian violins. Hand someone a violin and tell them it's Italian, then they "think" they hear that Italian sound. The same principle applies with price. Violin A is $10K, violin B is $20K, which sounds better?

October 29, 2011 at 01:11 PM · i think this principle has been in practice since the beginning of time (think of hairy harry comes in the cave hauling in yet another dinner and asks,,which one would like to get intimate with me first?), just that now people are studying it more scientifically. even the researcher himself--having studied that for years--still cannot say he totally grasps it...

this phenom is at play in our daily lives, sometimes to our advantage, sometimes to our disadvantage. sometimes we smile over it, we laugh at times, other times we fume over it.

if there is a pickup basketball game, i am pretty sure i am the last one to be picked by anyone (not that i am short). but in a room full of people and someone has a math question, they may turn to me sooner than later.

with doctor visit, there is a so called white coat syndrome. if a doctor walks in with regular clothes, studies have shown that the patients' blood pressure does not shoot up as much as if the same doctor walks in with white coat.

i also remember vividly the oj simpson trial. there is no doubt in my mind that his defense team the dream team, completely overwhelmed the offense, jury and the judge. image is indeed everything, as andre agassi said for his canon commercial, wearing a blond, flowing wig.

violin study has its own moments (i won't even go into Ebay and violin shops:)

-raise your scroll and show them you are confident!!!!! :)

-what kind of players use italian violins and french bows? of course the top players!

-where do you study? oh, juilliard pre college and therefore i must be going to places :)

-now, imagine a player who has never used finger tapes, never used suzuki books, never touched an e tuner, never used a shoulder that is a player, people! :)

October 29, 2011 at 01:11 PM · Very cool video! Thanks.

October 29, 2011 at 01:15 PM ·

Hello Smily, Al, and all,

I sent the link to Al, and thought it important, but would suggest to Smily a simpler way of understanding the concept illustrated in the video:

With no disrespect to Mr. Burgess and his odd proclivities, perhaps when people are told that their fiddle is Italian, they say Bah... Bah... Bah...

All the best,


October 29, 2011 at 01:16 PM · david, i think, if i am not mistaken, that one of your clients sent me the video:)

(gee, just saw lothar outing himself :)

October 29, 2011 at 01:32 PM · i wish i had thought of lying to my kid when she first started, that she was indeed playing a 1/10 italian violin and please make an effort to make the italian sound come out...

October 29, 2011 at 01:40 PM · There's no doubt that psychology often plays a role in all of this. I read a story a long time ago of a dealer who gave a client a violin to try. "What is it?" asked the client. "Oh it's just some French copy of a Strad, but I think you'll like it." The man tried it very briefly and said "No, not for me." "Well", said the dealer, the truth is that it is a genuine Strad (and supposedly it was)." "Really!" said the customer "Maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance. Let me play it a little more." And he did. And he couldn't put it down, and finally said that it was the greatest violin he had ever tried and that it was perfect for him, and if only he could afford it, etc.

On the other hand, it's not always like that. I have tried any number of big name Italian violins and French bows - and knowing what they were, I wasn't impressed. Or I very specifically liked this aspect but not that.

Just 2 days ago I got together with 2 other violinist friends and we had a fiddle-fest in the fine home of one of them. We read through different pieces and had fun. I brought with me my 3 most recent acquisitions, which are also 3 of my favorite fiddles: 2 by Vittorio Villa and 1 by Edward Maday. My friends noticed distinct diffferences among them, but were not always in agreement with me about preferences, projection, etc. At the end of the visit I asked our host to play a little on each of my fiddles. I wanted to judge the projection for myself among other things. He has a spacious place and I could listen blindly (with walls blocking, etc.) from a distance of about 40 feet. "Which shall I play first?" asked my friend. "Surprise me" I said. So without telling me, he played the same couple of passages on each one and then asked me if I could identify them. Here were 3 violins of mine, but one I've had less than a year, the other 2 just a matter of weeks! They were played by someone else who plays rather differently from me in a pretty unfamiliar acoustic. Yet without hesitation I correctly identified which one he played 1st, 2nd, and 3rd! So it's not all just psycholgy.

October 29, 2011 at 01:52 PM · raphael, good storytelling there!

i think the last part has more to do with your good ears than psychology.

October 29, 2011 at 02:16 PM · Ah, Lothar, I figured that was you.

I'm not sure people on this forum know about the baa baa sheep thing though. Here, I've tried to establish a more dignified persona, as a Sawzall virtuoso. :-)

October 29, 2011 at 02:42 PM · as a Sawzall virtuoso do you denigh being a bit of a cut up.

October 29, 2011 at 02:42 PM ·

Hello David,

Given my profession, I was tormented by the ethical dilemma presented by my desire to comment on your Bah... Bah... interests.

(But fortunately, I was able to resolve the issue in a matter of seconds.)

By the way, did you check the link? It does illustrate, in moments, something that I have been describing to folks for more than thirty five years.

All the best,


October 29, 2011 at 02:46 PM ·

Hi David,

'Sorry... I had not spotted that you commented on the video.

All the best,


October 29, 2011 at 02:55 PM · Raphael said:

"Yet without hesitation I correctly identified which one he played 1st, 2nd, and 3rd! So it's not all just psycholgy."

That's very true. The problem is how to separate out psychology from reality. As I previously noted, and you reinforced in your post, things that don't bother people with violins they believe to be one thing, suddenly become issues when the violin is something else. Everyone believes he's objective; very few people really are. Another aspect of it is that after people have lived with a problem for a while, they find work-arounds and often it isn't a problem anymore. All of this makes selecting a violin a real rat's nest for most people, though they don't realize it at all, usually.

Wurlitzer had a policy of repairs taking at least three weeks. Customers were given a loaner that was a logical step up from what they had. Often when they came back they'd adjusted to the loaner, and forgotten how to play their own violin. You can imagine what happened next.

October 29, 2011 at 03:17 PM · Michael

I attended a series of 3 quartet concerts over 5 days here in London and after the first concert the violist was cursing the viola he was using - a loan in place of his instrument, which was being repaired. I saw him again after the third concert - and commented that the viola sounded good. He then said that he was even thinking of getting it!

October 29, 2011 at 07:22 PM · I don't think that, depending on the situation, psychology can be completely separated from "reality" - and that's OK. Psychology has a reality of its own. And there are related issues of tastes, needs and proclivities. As to those 3 violins of mine that I mentioned above, all 3 of us were pretty much in agreement that one of them has just about everything. As to the other two, they are as different as two fine violins can be. One is dark, smooth and rich. If I could turn the taste of a good chocolate mousse into violin sound, that would be it. The other, to continue the dessert anaolgy, is more like a lemon marangue pie, or a refreshing sorbet. My friends clearly preferred the "chocolate mousse" violin. I love it too, and it's fun and seductive to play. But ultimately, if I had to be exiled to a desert island and could only choose one of those two, it would be the "sorbet" violin. It's bright, brilliant and edgy. But just under that surface is depth and full body of another kind, with a complex mix of overtones. And I sensed strongly just under my chin that it would project excellently - and indeed in that test, it projected the most brilliantly of the 3, even when played by my friend who liked it less than the "mousse" violin. He is not a soloist, and the "sorbet" violin is more of a soloist's instrument. And it seems that one may even listen (and not just play) more soloisitically than another.

As the Latin saying goes "de gustabus non disputatum est" (There's no arguing about taste.) Or to put it in song:

You say "legayto" and I say "legahto"

You say "staccayto" and I say "staccahto"...

October 29, 2011 at 07:45 PM · ... Lets call the whole thing Offenbach.

October 29, 2011 at 08:54 PM · Hello Michael,

You quoted Raphael as saying:

"Yet without hesitation I correctly identified which one he played 1st, 2nd, and 3rd! So it's not all just psycholgy."

And then added (in part):

"That's very true. The problem is how to separate out psychology from reality."

You each seem to understand "psychology" as being the distortion, or misinterpretation of reality.

It seems that you are each suggesting that one correctly interprets information, or is somehow the victim of their own psychology...

In fact, (this aspect) of psychology is the study of our reactions to, and understanding of reality, whether interpreted accurately, or not.

All the best,


October 29, 2011 at 09:09 PM · "Yes it had that ringing sound, that particular sonority and a beautiful deep G string but the Canadian fiddle I have now sounds more Italian than most real Italians I have played in a number of shops."

We are onto the tricky subject of what posters think is an "italian sound". The fiddles I own convince me, because they have noises in that seem to be the same as those in valuable squeakboxes of old. But, as suggested already, that could be sheer luck, or I could be a nut-case, C'mon, fellahs, elucidate.

October 29, 2011 at 09:33 PM ·

October 29, 2011 at 10:31 PM · Lothar - please take a look at my more recent post above.

October 30, 2011 at 12:18 AM · One thing to look for-- and savor when it's in your favor-- is what I call a "Carlos Kleiber" moment.

The first I remember was when I was re-visiting Boston around dinner time some years ago. The local classical station was playing a Strauss waltz, and this was about the time when-- a long time before that-- they had done an "Evening at Pops" show. While I was listening, it struck me as a very fine performance, and I started wondering if somehow they'd found gold in the RCA vaults. There were times, after all, when Fiedler let the band play and didn't mess them up. Could this have been one of those days? The strings didn't have the uniform silkiness of the BSO in the old days-- they sounded more sweet and flexible. The rubato was very subtle, but omnipresent and totally appropriate to the music. So I thought to myself, maybe I've got to take another look at all those Pops records I'd scorned in my youth.

Except that the announcement came, and it was from the Kleiber/VPO New Year's concert from 1989-- one of my favorite recordings of anything.

A similar moment on a different radio station, in a different city. Some 15 years ago, a station break said that an announcer I'd thought hated German/WWII musicians might soon be featuring some records of an East German orchestra from the 40s and 50s. I had errands to run, and was in the store when the pre-announcement was made, but I caught the beginning of a Wagner bleeding chunk. Definitely mono, 40s or 50s sound. I listened carefully for non-modern, non-American styles of playing to see what I could learn. The basses were a little stiff at the beginning, and the oboist sounded a bit like a goat. That's OK-- there were some weird schools of woodwind playing in prewar Europe, and this one might have held on. But it turned into a magnificent performance. The brass played as a choir-- a tad brash, but fantastic attacks with great lyricism. The violins made Every. G*d. Damn*d. Note. sound cleanly in their impossible runs, and the tempo changes between sections were perfectly judged. At the end, I wanted to eject from the driver's seat and cheer. Who was this forgotten Eastern European orchestra and conductor of possibly dubious origins?

The NBC Symphony and Toscanini, of course.

So if you ever hear or play a violin that just might be a fantastic older-- or new-- instrument, let your imagination fly. Ya never know.

October 30, 2011 at 08:32 AM · I'm quoting a quote here by Hendrik Hak -

"Yes it had that ringing sound, that particular sonority and a beautiful deep G string but the Canadian fiddle I have now sounds more Italian than most real Italians I have played in a number of shops."

Hendrik, I'm just staing an opinion here which might not be worth much, but I listened to your video recording of you playing with your daughter on flute in some cafe - and I did not think 'Italian sound.' (I take it that this is the fiddle you mention above?)

I say this because I have the feeling that we all want and sometimes think we hear an Italian sound, but is this really just our imagination?

Personally I don't find a Strad (maybe a del Gesu has more) played by any top player, necessarily having an Italian sound. Heifetz had a Russian sound to my ear but he played on a Strad and a del Gesu.

October 30, 2011 at 09:01 AM · so, of these, which italian violin has more "italian sound" than the other italians? i wonder if we come to some sorta consensus among this small sampling of clunkers.

October 30, 2011 at 10:19 AM · al

Interesting video. I had better not say anything about the 'dealer' as I have a certain opinion which is not printable.

I thought that, IMO, what was said, contained a lot of hype and excessive B.S.

It is also difficult to judge instruments on video, as one never knows which one projects well, and good though the player was, it is in the end one player's sound, superimposed on several instruments.

For what it is worth, and I'm sure not it's much, I liked the Guarneri del Jesu best, followed by the modern instrument (Fairfax?) and I thought the rest were clunkers!! (Wink)

October 30, 2011 at 11:17 AM · Very interesting video. That Guarneri - wow ! I loved the Pressenda, and found it interesting that the player seemed to send the "Strad" into "overload". I recall Zuckermann, on a TV programme, describing how, to play those "Golden Period" Strads, it's something to do with putting the bow on, and simultaneously taking it off again - no use pressing too much. "What do I do for more sound, shake der violin ?" is my paraphrase of what I THOUGHT he said !!

Though difficult to be sure, I THINK I find a more seductive quality and more colour (as distinct from volume) in the Italians I own (which include Lucci) than in the beautifully made new Andrew fairfax fiddle on the video. However, this thread is supposed to be about new violins !! Still waiting to hear some more feedback, folks.

Anyone who has looked at Peter Peterlongos book "The Violin" will have noted some acoutic stuff, that the fundamental tone of new fiddles is weaker at first - the harmonics are stronger by comparison making the sound shriller at first until opened out by time and use. This seemed to be confirmed by my own experience of having owned some 14 new fiddles, and by Andrew's violin on the video.

October 30, 2011 at 11:49 AM · I'm sympathetic to your points, David, in the above post.

Maybe my liking of the Fairfax is down to my small preference these days for a slightly brighter, more edgy sound, but then I liked the del Gesu best, so I know I'm not making much sense!

Perhaps hearing two or three very good but different players on each of those instruments might have shown up more interesting results?

October 30, 2011 at 12:11 PM · I'm reminded of a TV program years ago where Ricci played Strads and such, and when asked for comments about a new William Luff, he said something to the effect that you couldn't complain about it - (clean sound) that's my reaction to the Fairfax. Does the job, and exremely well, let's see if in a few years if it's "magic".

Down memory lane,many moons ago, I was in Beare's shop and when they heard my young Wilf Saunders violin they said they couldn't believe a violin could sound so well after only one year. However, determined to shed my "man with the shiny violin" image I was trying old violins. I didn't much like the French ones they offered me, but quite liked an Italian (possibly Bellarosa ?) who followed the Gaglianos. "There's no substitute for an Italian Violin" said the assistant ....I rest my (violin) case !

Actually that 1744 Guarneri is quite bright as compared with some. Get to hear Charlie Sien if you can - he has the D'Egville Guarneri - one of the pinnacles, to be compared with the "Plowden". On an early morning TV programme I was knocked out, absolutely

What seems odd to me is that we are persuaded to buy "Hi-fi" stuff (and, yes, I can pretend to conduct Mahler in my music room!) yet, think about it, a person's voice can be recognised on a crummy telephone, hardly high-tech as far as sub-woofers and tweeters are concerned.

Smiley Hsu emailed me sound-clips of 3 fiddles some time ago. I replied that all 3 were "merchantable" but one (Laura Vigato) had a type of beauty in the sound that appealed to me. He bought a Vigato, but not that one. Strange business !!

October 30, 2011 at 03:31 PM · I changed strings a couple of days ago; went from Passiones to Dominant w/ Gold E. My violin has a bit more projection and edge. It is an Italian violin (made in Italy by a person with an Italian name). At any rate, I'm glad to report, my violin is sounding really Italian now. Maybe if I get Italian strings, it will sound even MORE Italian :-) Anyone know where I can get an Italian chin rest and tailpiece? What about the pegs, do they have to be Italian too?

October 30, 2011 at 04:35 PM · Bogaro and Clemente Fittings

October 30, 2011 at 05:20 PM · Glad to know Smiley is still happy with his violin. I met that very same maker a few months ago, and tried a violin which was pretty darned good (probably gone to Weaver's by now !!)

PS "going to meet your maker" is synonymous with departure from the mortal world - take care, folks,

October 31, 2011 at 01:21 AM · Indeed, I am still very much in love with my fiddle. We've been partners for about two years now and the relationship is still going strong. Good thing my wife doesn't read this forum. Otherwise she might think that I prefer Italians over Chinese.

October 31, 2011 at 01:25 AM · BTW Dave, I'm sure that Vigato you tried is long gone. Bill gets one per month and he sells them as fast as he gets them.

October 31, 2011 at 01:35 AM · One of my friends here in college plays a Vigato, and it's probably one of the nicer instruments here, especially for the price.. it came with an awful setup though, and she had to get the neck reset and a new bridge made for it to be playable enough for her to actually practice on it.

I must say I have a wonderful instrument though, made in summer 2010 by a great NYC luthier; I've gotten compliments on it from top orchestral players as well as teachers.

Some people think it's a Vuillaume until they see it up close..

October 31, 2011 at 06:02 AM · Pieter, on that video I don't think my violin sounds very Italian either. Maybe the acoustics - tile flooring, sounds like a kitchen-and the recording equipment . And thought maybe I was covering the flute a bit so didn't play out too much. Thinking of that afterwards: how silly, there are 30 violins in a modern symphonic orchestra but only 2 flutes and they project just fine.

Yes, it's the Guy Harrison fiddle I now own after searching around for a good fifteen years . ( Had a great N.F.Vuillaume violin for many years, but it went back to Holland as old repairs kept opening up in these dry prairies. Must have played well over a hundred fiddles in about 12 different shops since- particularly the last 3 years - including A. Stradivari, F.Stradivari, Del Gesu, N.Lupot, JB Guadagnini, JB Vuillaume, Carcassi, Soliani, few other old Italian, French, English and German/Austrian and lots of modern Italian and European. And quite a number of violins from about 10 different contemporary Canadian makers; and a few contemporary European and American. Still I don't think I have that good an ear for what makes a good violin sound. But am making progress; playing again some of those fiddles I loved before I can now tell better what's lower quality. )

David mentioned a particular sweetness and something extra in the sound he felt was Italian. The Harrison fiddle is not sweet but has that "extra" I think and 4 professionals that have way more experience than me that played or heard it think so too. One of them played a JB Vuilaume for years , another a Pressenda. Another one played in an ensemble with another violinist on a Guadagnini that he felt sounded quite a bit like it.

That extra I think is a sonority, some call it a "reedy" sound, almost towards the nasal spectrum of sound that isn't necessarily immediately attractive under the ear, but boy does it sound good when you hear it played by someone else, particularly in a hall. And somehow it seems to go with a range of responses to different types of bowing and vibrato.

Not all good Italians have that "reediness" and yet they can sound just as good as well.

Well that's my 2 cents. Maybe a blind test would show that it's just psychology but so far I am happy in my delusion.

October 31, 2011 at 09:00 AM · I think we string players are often fooled by what sounds good under the ear, at least some of us at times anyway. I certainly now look for instruments that sound a bit hard under the ear but really wonderful a few feet away. I think this is the thing that seperates the excellent sounding instruments from the also rans.

I remember hearing a well known player in his small music room on a very good fiddle (might have been a Strad) and he sounded very hard close up, but in the concert hall it was wonderful.

October 31, 2011 at 09:47 AM · I think we string players are often fooled by what sounds good under the ear, at least some of us at times anyway.

Absolutely true. A "Great" violin will send the sound over the footlights and reach out to the audience. However, not everyone NEEDS a violin like that !!

October 31, 2011 at 12:20 PM · i think the most recent postings by david and peter capture the thorny issues when selecting a serious violin seriously.

October 31, 2011 at 12:21 PM · Quoth: Thanx for y'all helpin me with the American.

Very good. Time to move to regional dialects. A little lesson in Texas-speak...

Speaking to one person, it's "y'all." Speaking to more than one person it's "all y'all."

Move North and East, and it becomes "youse guys."

October 31, 2011 at 12:54 PM · Seems like the "jury is out" on this topic. Time will tell.

I went to my local fiddle shop, where a maker had made a jolly good violin - but to me it sounded like a new Craske. Plenty of English violins seem like new John Lotts to me. Very nice but not quite ringing.

Anyway, arguing from the particular (personal experience) to the general is always risky. Had I more spare cash I'd wander the earth trying and buying fiddles, but -- there are SO MANY good makers out there !!

PS I have only to travel 30 miles to Liverpool, and the folk can be pretty much incomprehensible. Divided by a common language !! But I am sure that the basic Texan will come in handy some day.

October 31, 2011 at 05:26 PM · I have never been the last.

But the one thing I have gleaned from this is that I want my violin to have a reediness on the bottom.

I do thank all of you for this.

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