What qualities do Professionals look for in a violin?

June 19, 2012 at 04:03 PM · On another thread, I was discussing the sound and characteristics professionals are looking for in a violin. A repairer who often writes on this website stated that "sweetness and warmth" are qualities that professionals are looking for. I disagreed. I do not wish to reopen that argument with him, but what do other professionals look for?

I look for the following.

Powerful. A violin must be able to play loudly. However, it needs to be able to play all dynamics from pppp to fffff.

Clear. The sound must not be wooly or fuzzy in any position. You need to be able to play to the top of each string without the sound cracking or becoming choked.

Projecting. The sound needs to carry past the first three rows of seats even at pppp.

Malleable. It can't be a one trick pony. The violinist needs to be able to change the tone colour. I don't look for sweetness and warmth in a violin. I can make any good violin sound sweet and warm myself.

Comfortable. Well set up to play in any position with correct string clearances. The neck needs to suit you as does the size of the instrument.

Even. Even tone across all four strings.

Beautiful. It has to look attractive. I spend a lot of time with my violins. I want to appreciate their looks as well as their sound.

Cheers Carlo

Replies (82)

June 19, 2012 at 05:02 PM · Carlo - I think you have said it all - these are the things I look for too. The only thing I would add is that hopefully such an instrument with all these attributes would not be too expensive!

June 20, 2012 at 08:30 PM · sweetness and warmth??

This is a nonsense question.

The primary attribute a professional is looking for in an instrument is reliability and reasonable maintenance costs.

Some of the older instruments can be a serious problem here, although maybe the tonal characteristics can be interesting.

In an orchestra of 80 or so, it's doubtful if this actually makes any difference, so the 2nd most important aspect is ease of playing and good set up.

Both these things are in quite short supply, and it seems few "violin shops" are much good to cater properly for the demands of more advanced players.

It depends what you are doing.

Chamber music, the ability to listen and blend are also essential qualities.

Why are people constantly looking for "gadget value"?

A good violin is more determined by a good bow and technique than anything else.

June 20, 2012 at 10:59 PM · to me a formable solid and good feeling core to the sound is important. i don't like overly resonating while hollow sounding instruments. to me a good violin is like a human voice. a voice has also just little resonance and no reverb in itself, but it can make a room/hall ring. the resonance and singing line should come from the bow control/use.

the bow is important too and i also like the point of reselling value and maintenance costs. Therefore I prefer younger violins (ca 100 years old), wich have proven themself (around 20 years old feels safe to me). Old violins often already had difficult/expensive repairs. very new is a matter of trust, some will work over time, some don't. Reselling value with new violins is therefore an important factor too.

sweetness... i dont need tha too much. warmth... I dont really know how to define it.

Lets say it like this: a good violin needs power without screaming and colour without being blurred.

very little violins have those two aspects colour and power AND low maintenance costs, stable/not-speculative reselling value and stability in different environment.

Of course if you can afford a guarneri or smth. the maintenance will be less important to you too. but practically its a tool to get our job done... so we make money with it. What need is there if the violin takes more money than it makes?

June 20, 2012 at 11:24 PM · I am not a professional but like to hang out with them. IMO Carlo said it all pretty well but like to add: a violin should have a bit of a bite.

June 21, 2012 at 11:49 AM · As a professional, I do want a certain amount of sweetness and warmth. But I also want such aspects as power, brilliance, projection, focus and edge.

June 21, 2012 at 03:39 PM · "Stradivaris have sweetness and warmth"

-especially when played by a beginner...

June 21, 2012 at 03:39 PM · This thread made me chuckle...it's like talking in the abstract about what makes a woman attractive (or aman, but so far all the posters have been men). Fantasy is fine, to a point. Real is better, no?

June 21, 2012 at 04:14 PM · lets talk about women then. I like women!

June 21, 2012 at 04:52 PM · "stradivaris have sweetness and warmth, but i guess thats not good enough for you guys, i can add singing, rich in tonal character, projecting,"


Stradivaris are all over the map. Which one are you talking about?

Simon, I like women too. Maybe it's because they remind me of violins. LOL

June 21, 2012 at 05:52 PM · David, I know that you are deep into the f-hole business... congrats.

... wait

I liked the topic...

June 21, 2012 at 06:37 PM · Carlo: I agree with all the items on your list for tone evaluation. I would add what I consider the most important item - expressiveness and beautiful emotional impact from the listener. I really don't know what most professional are looking for and how they go about the task of tonal evaluation. Maybe others can add to this important topic. Charles

June 21, 2012 at 06:55 PM · I like women who are blonde and brunette, tall and petite, ripped abs and also soft and curvaceous, quiet but talkative, outgoing but reserved. That's not too much to ask is it? Perhaps easier to find than Carlo's perfect fiddle :-).

June 21, 2012 at 07:36 PM · "Simon, I like women too. Maybe it's because they remind me of violins. LOL"

David - I think we have the same problem - an obsession with the shape of violins and women!

I like the sound of violins too, and sometimes even the sound of ... (NO, I never said that...)

June 21, 2012 at 09:39 PM · As David said, Strads are, indeed, all over the map, and I'm wondering how many Lyndon has tried. I've tried about 6 Strads, 2 del Gesus, several Amatis, a few Guadagninis etc. I've performed solos in major halls such as Carnegie and the Kennedy Center, and have made 2 professional CD's. All this and more gives me some perspective. A lot of noise? No. Brilliance, quality, complexity, projection and edge, yes.

June 21, 2012 at 10:17 PM · the sound is not unimportant...

June 21, 2012 at 10:56 PM · "expressiveness and beautiful emotional impact from the listener."

Is that not the musicianship of the violinist?

Cheers Carlo

June 22, 2012 at 12:33 AM ·

"expressiveness and beautiful emotional impact from the listener."

Is that not the musicianship of the violinist?

Yes, and also the composer - as well as the violin. Live is always better for comparisons. But how many great violinists have recorded on poorly sounding violins, and losing it? Compare the violins used by Elmar Oliviera in The Miracle Makers. There are differences in the quality of tone of the violins used, despite all being either Strads or by del Gesu. This discussion can get complex, since the year and recording, etc. can determine what you hear. The Kreisler and Menuhin box sets include examples. Violin tone evaluation can be very difficult. I've tried to guess the recordings where Kreisler used the del Gesu of his name or Menuhin was using the Soil Strad? No, I don't agree with Perlman in the Art of Violin that it is the violinist and not the violin that matters. Then why would Perlman play on one of the most magnificent sounding Strads, the Soil? How many amateur or mediocre violinists have recorded on magnificent violins? I don't think there are any recordings available for us to hear, if we were seriously interested. When Perlman makes a recording on a $999 violin, or even a less than adequate old Itallian violin or a modern maker, I will certainly listen. On another thread I gave an example of a great musician playing on a great Strad - Milstein at age 84 paying the Bach Chaccone on YouTube. Then take a look at the comments that followed , which are amazingly consistent. Charles

June 22, 2012 at 12:54 AM · "sweetness and warmth??

This is a nonsense question.

The primary attribute a professional is looking for in an instrument is reliability and reasonable maintenance costs."

And a nonsense answer. He's talking about violins, not Honda Accords.

June 22, 2012 at 05:02 AM · Strange thread.

If everyone was looking for the same thing, wouldn't one ideal of a fiddle, reproduced as closely as possible by the thousands, take care of the "need"? :-)

Pros do different things, and different aspects are important to different players. I suppose one could come up with a short list of "must haves". Like: It must be loud enough (face it, fiddles aren't trumpets). They must be flexible enough (one trick ponies won't do).

They must be reliable enough (hate to miss gigs 'cause the fiddle is in the shop when it's needed... but reliability varies, even with new instruments... and I can think of several old fiddles (a Panormo, a Vuillaume, a Lupot, a Strad, and an Amati among them) that I haven't even had to glue a seam on for a decade.

If we're going for gross generalizations:

My experience indicates that players who work (good) symphony jobs are especially sensitive to being able to hear the instrument under their ear, and need the instrument to respond quickly and do so even when playing very quietly.

Soloists may want something a bit different (many don't seem to mind a bit of "resistance" in their setup). Quartet players often seem to want dynamic instruments and are looking for a particular voice. Players who work mostly in the studio may need an instrument that records well (clear, crisp). Conservatory students often test fiddles by lining their friends up on the back wall of a hall and simply picking the loudest instrument of the bunch (Yuk. The "winners" can often sound nasty or two dimensional. Youth actually is wasted on the young, isn't it).

OK. Generalizations over.... almost. I like women too, and they do kinda' remind me of violins, but most all I've known require a higher level of maintenance than a fiddle does.

June 22, 2012 at 05:14 AM · "This is a nonsense question.

The primary attribute a professional is looking for in an instrument is reliability and reasonable maintenance costs."

The nonense is in the word "looking"

"Searching" would be better. Listening is done with the ears, not the eyes. Sadly, the perceived need for players to "look the part" has skewed the market too far in the direction of the "antiqued" reproduction instruments, IMHO. "Antiquing" puts up the price. As a young professional I was lampooned as "The man with the shiny fiddle" and a player more sensitive than I would have reacted more rapidly to peer-grpup pressure than I ever did. I play on gleaming new Cremonese fiddles now.

I certainly go along with the "horses for courses" philosophy. I found happiness in symphony orchestras using a Vuillaume - loud enough under the ear to hear what I was doing yet not too colourful or individual to stick out. If I'd had a first-desk job or been a soloist it's possible that I might have felt the need to consult the bank-manager and go into debt for an expensive Italian.

Carlo Ballera says it all, more or less, except that orchestral colleagues care little about the finer points of the tonal qualities of your fiddle but will go ballistic over really foul intonation and bum notes.

June 22, 2012 at 05:32 AM · I look for the voice that I wish to project.

June 22, 2012 at 12:03 PM · Excuse me, but why would anyone want to project a tone which is not sweet and warm!

A tone which "carries" in a concerto may be unbearable in a small room, with a small pupil.

However, students of mine showing a soloistic temperament are also those who like a strong, projecting sound.

I encourage the hypersensitve ones to use ear protection so that they can hear their violins as others hear them. It works!

June 22, 2012 at 12:20 PM · Adrian. I agree that a violin suitable for solo performance can be overbearing for teaching in a small room. I use an old English violin for that purpose, and use my Capicchioni for solo work.

Cheers Carlo

June 22, 2012 at 02:19 PM · Sweet and warm, or strident, or both?

June 22, 2012 at 05:26 PM · I just want it to be very sexy ...

June 22, 2012 at 06:01 PM · I was refering to the women!

June 22, 2012 at 06:22 PM · so getting back to the original point, how come when a violin shop purchases an instrument, they look at who made it and the exterior construction to decide what to sell it for.

So far in this discussion everyones sonic desires are simllar, but the sellers don't listen to the violins, they look at them.......something doesn't jive

June 22, 2012 at 07:58 PM · Arnie,

That is because the sound of an instrument has little to do with it's value. What makes an instrument valuable is pedigree, age, and limited supply. I have played $100K+ violins that sound like tin cans. But they are still valuable because they are old and in short supply.

Regarding sweet and warm, I personally find these attributes to be on opposite sides of the sound spectrum. Sweet to me is a thinner sound, perhaps more strident. Usually strad patterns are sweet. Warm on the other hand is a fuller sound, with more harmonics, generally smoother. Del Gesu patterns tend to yield a warmer sound. I can't say I've ever played a violin that sounded sweet and warm at the same time, but I have played violins that were neither sweet nor warm.

June 22, 2012 at 07:58 PM · Those highly influential folk that have been in the trade for a long time can, and do, develop an "eye for a fiddle". One quick look and something goes "kerching" in their heads.

By contrast, we players are humble mortals compelled to test the things by playing and listening. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

In theory we should be driving the market, but sometimes I wonder .....

June 22, 2012 at 10:31 PM · yes, i understand there can be a correlation between a maker and the sound. However a given maker may create violins with different sound qualities, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Still seems strange that the sellers of instruments don't listen to them.

June 22, 2012 at 10:54 PM · Whenever I see somebody trying violins in a good shop, the person showing the instruments usually tells the customer not to look at the label, so that they don't start hearing things in the sound that aren't there.

June 22, 2012 at 11:09 PM · "That is because the sound of an instrument has little to do with it's value"

Not quite true. There is an overall statistical correlation between sound and cost. The AVERAGE $100,000 violin sounds better than the AVERAGE $20,000 violin. It doesn't mean any particular instrument because there are always exceptions.

June 22, 2012 at 11:21 PM · "so getting back to the original point, how come when a violin shop purchases an instrument, they look at who made it and the exterior construction to decide what to sell it for.

So far in this discussion everyones sonic desires are simllar, but the sellers don't listen to the violins, they look at them.......something doesn't jive"


A couple things.

First, when we violin shop types go-a-hunting in a general way, we're not necessarily buying instruments with a specific client in mind. More like a group of clients. Many factors go into the choice of what one chooses to purchase including potential for sound, authenticity, condition, past experiences with the maker/model, ability to turn a profit, demand, etc. The truth is, the market does drive our choices, but each shop may have a different market.

Concerning potential for sound: Believe it or not some of us who have done this for decades can determine pretty closely what category/character of sound a violin will be capable of producing. That does not mean we can tell exactly what the voice is like if there aren't any strings on it.

Now, if I'm searching for an instrument for a specific player, that's a bit different. After discussing the players priorities, budget and wishes, I will try a number of instruments that are already set to go (in my own shop or in other shops) to determine appropriate candidates.

As far as "similar", well I suppose that depends on your point of view or reference. Past a point of saying an instrument is "good", I'd say players desire quite different/varied qualities.

Edit: I agree with Scott as a general rule, but things do tend to get a bit askew when comparing antiques to contemporary instruments within certain ranges. There is a premium for desirable antiques. I'd say, money (budget) buys you choice... and a specific set of priorities may be satisfied well within the budget, or take it to it's limit... depending on those priorities.

June 23, 2012 at 12:36 AM · Scott,

I respectfully disagree. I think the average $20k violin WILL sound better than the average $2K violin, but once you get above that, it is pretty hit or miss -- especially when you consider contemporary makers

June 23, 2012 at 01:20 AM · Smiley... Scott is using averages, not saying that one in a higher price range will always, or even most often, "beat out" one in a lower price range. Especially if one separates new from old, in a representative grouping of examples, with the appropriate attention to adjustment, I tend to generally agree with him as far as averages are concerned... with the caveat of perceived antique or popularity value... not that you will get a number of players to agree on which one "sounds better" than the other... but I think you'd get a grouping of "I like these better than I like those". I also think it depends on how "wide" the range is we're really discussing.

Maybe your experiences have been different... but careful not to heap the fiddles that end up having a long "shelf life" at various dealerships with those that don't. :-)

I think the real trick is for a player to honestly evaluate his or her priorities and needs. Not always so simple with (often) a partially emotional decision.

June 23, 2012 at 01:53 AM · Hi Jeffrey,

That goes back to the old vs new discussion. Some would swear that contemporary makers cannot match the old masterpieces in sound, but in blind tests, I think that statement has not been substantiated. At any rate, regardless of price range, sound preference is a very personal thing.

Wouldn't you agree that all pros (at least 99% anyway) love the sound of their own instrument. If not, they wouldn't have bought it right? But if you let them exchange instruments, in many cases, they will not like the instruments of their peers. So although there are qualities that people seek in violin sound, there is not a clear consensus on what it is. Some like brighter, some like warmer. Some like edgy, others like smooth. Some prefer sweet, others mellow. My wife thinks Angelina Jolie is gorgeous, I prefer Charlize Theron... you get the idea.

June 23, 2012 at 02:58 AM · Agreed.

Oh... and I think they are both knock-outs. :-)

June 23, 2012 at 04:03 AM · There is one thing I think most would agree on, when it comes to women, antiques don't quite have the same appeal as newer models. [thump][thump]... [sound of Smiley taking a pounding by the feminist readers] :-)

June 23, 2012 at 04:54 AM · and deservedly so, Smiley :)reading some of the posts above, one wonders whether they were written by zitty teenagers.

Jeffrey, what did you mean by more resistance in the soloist's setup? and out of curiosity, as a dealer, how do you interperate such terms of convenience as "sweet", "warm", "colourful", "brilliant""..etc..and do you situate some in opposition to others? personally i find the language built around violin tone a bit confusing. thanks

June 23, 2012 at 05:59 AM · "i find the language built around violin tone a bit confusing."

Me too. The abiguities of language are all-too-easily manipulated by spivs, spin-doctors and fiddle-vendors. Sweet = tinny, warm = muffled, brilliant = metallic, mellow = boxy etc. etc. Every positive attribute has an equally applicable negative. An instrument can be talked up or down depending on whether you are buying or selling.

Don't forget Mr. Heifetz, who, asked how his fiddle sounded, held it up to his ear and said "I can't hear it".

The fulsome eulogies in violin books refer to subjective impressions gained from a combination of a violin and a player sympathetic to a particular fiddle. I think David Burgess commented on a post to the effect that that asking a customer what he/she wanted was like opening a can of worms - a maker can be then be presented with an interminable list of violinistic adjectives culled from the literature of the instrument that have little by way of exact meaning.

Words can and do get in the way - they can fog the issue. That's what politics is all about. Go eat your pudding.

June 23, 2012 at 06:33 AM · "Jeffrey, what did you mean by more resistance in the soloist's setup? and out of curiosity, as a dealer, how do you interperate such terms of convenience as "sweet", "warm", "colourful", "brilliant""..etc..and do you situate some in opposition to others? personally i find the language built around violin tone a bit confusing. thanks"

Hi Tammuz;

First, I agree that semantics are difficult. I find things much easier to sort out with a player in front of me (I can simply say "show me what you mean" and have an opportunity to observe their body language), but with some effort it's also possible to sort things out in other ways... on the phone, through email, or on a discussion board.

By resistance, I mean that a number of soloists I've worked with have a keen ability to maintain bow contact, and they want to be able to "push" the instrument. A setup without some resistance can be limited in this way. I don't want to be misunderstood, however, resistance does not necessarily translate to rejection or difficulty... though a setup that offers this capability might be a bit much for a player trying to maintain ppp in an opera pit.

An example for David Beck: I found Heifetz's del Gesu one of the most enjoyable fiddles I've played... it felt great... very responsive... and it can certainly "take it" if you are capable of dishing it out. It's funny though. Some others who have played (very good players) it told me they found it difficult to get working for them. Go figure...

Concerning interpretation of terms: Honestly, it's a relationship thing. I have a much easier time figuring out what a player means by "bright", or "sweet" if I know them, or what they do, or where they studied. Different musicians mean slightly different things... and it usually in comparison to something. Once I figure it out what is meant, it usually makes sense in context.

Hope this all makes some sense in this venue.... It's kinda like throwing 30 years of learning and experience into a few short paragraphs. In the end, David is right. The proof is in the pudding. How I rate my own effectiveness is how often I choose the right recipe for the dinner guest.

BTW Tammuz: I happen to have a client presently working in Abu Dhabi... another profession though. Her husband is a symphony player here in the States.

June 23, 2012 at 07:41 AM · No, Lyndon, the very fact that you contradict me proves my point that the verbiage is ambiguous.

June 23, 2012 at 07:54 AM · Which I believe was David's point, Lyndon. We tend to interpret the semantics with our own set of definitions. It takes a bit of effort to sort out the verbiage.

June 23, 2012 at 09:35 AM · Perspective again. Mr.Perlman plays with tremendous power, but as a listener I would still describe his tone as warm and sweet. I should like to hear it from close up, to hear what he hears.

If you meet a (stage) actor or opera singer just after a performance, their make-up renders them grotesque, whereas at a distance they were superb.

As my finances do not permit multiple instruments, I have used brighter strings and a differently-cut bridge for larger halls or churches. Same basic tone, but more projection, but unbearable for younger ears close by.

From an acoustic point of view, words such as warm, round, mellow, forward, full, bright, silky, sweet etc. correspond to broad bands of frequencies, while terms like boomy, hollow, honky, boxy, snarling, nasal, harsh, tinny, aggressive, strident, refer to exaggerated narrow bands.

June 23, 2012 at 02:51 PM · "so do you agree, jefferey, that a warm, sweet, singing tone is strictly for amateurs, and that soloists want nothing of the kind??? that was the original topic"

That is not at all the meaning I go from David Beck's post, Lyndon.

What I got was that these terms can have more than one meaning... and are not immune to manipulation.

June 23, 2012 at 03:26 PM · "jefferey i was asking you a simple question based on the OPs(carlo not david) original first post, the OP thinks sweetness of tone and warmth are useless qualities for a soloist to look for, my question to you was do you agree with the OP carlos comments"

Honestly, Lyndon, I've purposely tried to avoid falling into that pit. Why do you want to pull me into it?

A good violin, in my opinion, has the capacity to project various qualities in the hands of good player.... and yes, warmth and sweetness are components of that palette. So is grit and edge. I think Adrian said things well. "Perspective".

June 23, 2012 at 04:26 PM · Peter Charles wrote :

"I just want it to be very sexy ..."

I'm sure my violin is in the proportion of 36-24-36

June 23, 2012 at 08:35 PM · Peter Charles wrote :

"I just want it to be very sexy ..."

Eye candy? Anyone tried a Cesare Candi, 1969-1947 ?

I never thought it possible, but this thread is turning fiddle-mania into an STD.

June 24, 2012 at 08:29 PM · I have an old Italian violin, two if you count the Panormo. However for solo work I use a semi-modern Italian by Capicchioni. This violin has the ability to carry over the orchestra, in fact, it ticks all the boxes on my list.

The old Italian and old English are too "sweet and warm" to project in a similar way.

Cheers Carlo

June 25, 2012 at 04:02 AM · I thought, and agreed with, Carlo's point that sweetness and warmth are desireable, but they are achieved by the player, not the the instrument.

If an instrument doesn't have the qualities Carlo indicated, then it is destined to being a legend in its own lunchbox, regardless of whether someone can create a sweet and warm tone on it.

June 25, 2012 at 04:44 AM · Lyndon, I agree that if we had no quality of tone no one would want to hear us. That is why violinists study for so many years and practise constantly. However, if we don't project, we can't be heard.

My old violins are good but the semi-modern is simply better. I'm keeping my old fiddles mostly as an investment.

Not all the violins that came out of the Strad workshop are outstanding now. If the Strad did not not sound as good as a "lesser" violin. I would sell the Strad to a collector (non-player) who buys with his eyes and buys labels. Then I would play the lesser but superior violin, buy ten old French bows, and pocket the massive difference.

Cheers Carlo.

June 25, 2012 at 05:02 AM · Lyndon Taylor wrote:

"would you give up the stradivari tone just because you found a lesser violin with more even tone???"

Why yes! I'd love to, whatever works is more important than anything else. Perhaps the "lesser" violin in question is a Guadagnini!

...Or go with much cheaper modern/contemporary violin and save a bunch of money and use the money to enjoy life. ;-)


Yes, absolutely. It's CHARACTER of sound as much as volume that attracts me. The sound needs to have sufficient harmonic content that in conjunction with the player's production (which might include vibrato) the LISTENER experiences "Sweetness and W". The sound must have a seductive quality so as to turn heads, make folk want to listen. The impression under the ear can be different.

In my early career, on the look-out for fiddles and trying on the way to learn about and de-mystify the subject, I was offered many fiddles in dealerships that had been so seriously "re-toned", i.e. thinned, as to be virtually useless for an orchestral fiddler. Many like that turn up in auctions. Presumably some amateurs can't cope with the exuberance of newish instruments and obliging "experts" come along with thumb-planes and calipers and fillet the beasts.

Regraduation happened to even those "great" makers, the fashion being very popular in Milan circa 1800. Not all of this was judicious. The practitioners were human and over-did the process sometimes.

The result is that there are lots of fiddles, both ancient and semi-modern, on the market that are well past their sell-by date or condition. They may indeed retain the ability to whisper an impression of "S & W" but fail to keep your wits about you can land you with not "S & W" but "S & M".

June 25, 2012 at 05:53 AM · David. It is easy to spot these. Use your thumbs to gently press down on the belly and you can see how much flex there is. It is even easier for a player. Just run a bow over it...

Cheers Carlo

June 25, 2012 at 06:00 AM · Point taken, Carlo, but as a young and inexperienced player I'd find that the dealers would then argue back, claiming superior knowledge. I was lucky though - I only got stung once.

Buying a "used" fiddle remains a minefield. By contrast, my dealings directly with makers have been happy ones.

Cheers, DB.

June 25, 2012 at 02:06 PM · Some dealers, especially when they can't play, and if one is not at a level to be able to test for ones-self, do push inappropriate fiddles onto unsuspecting buyers. There are very few I would trust.

Cheers Carlo

June 25, 2012 at 02:19 PM · what sound charecteristics does a violin with overly thinned plates typically have?

June 25, 2012 at 03:08 PM · Lyndon, I wonder what's the point you're trying to prove...

June 26, 2012 at 08:02 AM · Arnie, a thin-plated violin will sound deep and loud for a time, but the tone will (often) lack brilliance, and the plates can be deformed by the pressure, and eventually sound constricted and uneven.

A century(ies)-old violin may weigh no more, because the resins in the wood have crystallised, but the thicker plates will permit the higher frequencies, and "spread the vibrations better.

So, buy your violin 100 or so years before you use it!!

June 26, 2012 at 11:17 AM · Whereas, I am sick of people who can't play the violin, telling those of us who can, what we should be looking for in our violins. I also take exception to, when we don't agree with their views, being told we have no concept of what is a good violin and that we have defective ears.

I firmly believe that there are both good and bad, modern and old violins. Every violin should be judged its own merits, old or new, Chinese or European, and none should be stereotyped.

Cheers Carlo

June 26, 2012 at 11:27 AM · Here, "hear, hear" seems particularly apt, IMHO.

June 26, 2012 at 03:10 PM · Lyndon, you seem to have taken my general remarks about violin dealers as a personal slight. That was never my intention and I apologise that it upset you. I believe the whole violin market is a minefield, to the inexperienced, for both modern and old violins.

I believe, as you do to the contrary, that sweetness and warmth are not what professionals are primarily looking for in a new violin. I try to keep an open mind regarding ALL violins both modern and antique and play each violin to decide on its own merits.

If you look back on this thread and others I have written on, I have not made personal comments to you, other than to point out the prejudice that you clearly display towards modern violins and particularly Chinese instruments. When you make a statement it is never worded as your opinion but stated as a fact in rather emotive language. You will find that I, on the other hand, use words like; "I believe, I feel, or I think", rather than stating my opinion as fact.

Cheers Carlo

June 26, 2012 at 03:37 PM · i don't see anyone discrediting others. one is free to disagree . why take it so personally? its a bit extreme, no?

i think this proving that there are fundemantally different conceptions of what "warm" and "sweet" are in the minds of Carlo and Lyndon, as instances of different sides, and this is denominated by how they see the violin playing world. to extend the mathematical metaphor, to quibble over the nominator while dismissing the denominator is probably unwise. maybe we can reach some resolution this way? :

Carlo, there IS a market for people who are not advanced and, for them, "warm and sweet" at least mean less abrasive and more forgiving..and thats fine for their/our stage of development. their mental construct is not false or true, it is just in its place and at its time.

Lyndon, Carlo is obviously in a different niche where he wants power, projection, dynamic versatility and so on...and for him, sweetness is not under his ear but under that of his audience. professional players, after all, are differently acquainted to the violin that beginners or simply people who play and practice less that do the professionals. they are able to interperate (ok, im interperating this for myself now) the higher frequencies in a conducive manner.

but lets not fight over this, its not worth it. shoulder rest is more worthwhile a topic of dispute. oops.

June 26, 2012 at 04:42 PM · In any case, a violin can be warm and sweet, and project well too!

"Projection" implies a strong "formant" (around 2 to 3 kHz) not shared by the accompaniment; a silky "halo" (heard in recordings more than live) is more 5 to 6 kHz; "warmth", below 1kHz.

In lessons or chamber-music, we may prefer less projection from the violin, to avoid having to modify our techniques.

June 26, 2012 at 05:20 PM · 1) "Whereas, I am sick of people who can't play the violin, telling those of us who can, what we should be looking for in our violins. I also take exception to, when we don't agree with their views, being told we have no concept of what is a good violin and that we have defective ears."

2) "I believe the whole violin market is a minefield, to the inexperienced, for both modern and old violins."


1) You have every right to find this annoying and insulting. No matter if we play or not, for those of us who restore, adjust and sell instruments, it is our job to listen to what the player wants and try our best to accommodate., IMHO. This does not mean that we may not have our own opinions... and it certainly may be (I would hope) that we would know more about certain aspects of the instrument and therefore know what is possible (or not possible) to get the instrument working right for the player. That expertise should be shared as educational, or by example, not in a way that is overbearing and condescending.

2) I can't disagree. In many cases, I feel that the buyer (musician) has not been well informed of the pertinent facts... which most usually leads to disappointments and difficulty down the road. On the upside, if one develops a good relationship with "one of our kind" (who is reputable), the support received by the player can result in a very good long term experience. It's a mutual thing... A good many of my clients have had a relationship with me for decades (many 2 or 3 decades). Within this industry, I know I'm not alone in that, thankfully. Maybe there is some hope for a few of us scoundrels. :-)

June 26, 2012 at 07:12 PM · Lyndon, I agree with what you wrote in your last post. Did Stradivari play himself? Or did he rely on the feedback of musicians when developing his new models?

Violinists do need other players to understand how their violins project. I believe that trying violins in a large hall whilst playing solo with an orchestra is the best test. Failing that projection can be tested by playing a violin/piano sonata (stick up), again in a large hall. In both instances the buyer has to be the listener and the player in turn.

Jeffrey, Thank you for your post.

Cheers Caro

June 26, 2012 at 07:39 PM · back to main topic:

for me the opnion of Maurice Brumm (below) is the most complete.

June 26, 2012 at 10:59 PM · Lyndon i agree, that its important for a player to be listened from outside. But many players who regularly work with an recording device and who record their concerts, know how they sound from far away. You can even learn to know, how a violin sound far away by listening to its sound under the ear and feeling the vibrations etc. Maybe you think I am fooling myself but my experience tells me, that my own ear is very similar to the opinion of musicians I respect and consider to have a good ear. I tested some violins in my life and I also tested them with collegues, showed them teachers, listened to them playing them and I feel quite confident about my ability to judge a violins sound character, quality and projection from playing it in a small room all by myself. I know I never played a Strad or Guarneri. But I played some very good new german violins and some violins from teachers and collegues of mine wich were some quite good ones sometimes. There is sometimes a difference of what players think about sound and not players expect from it. Once a violin maker was looking at me angry because I scratched his violin so hard that it just made awful noises. But he was a fool, I was testing, not playing. Every experienced player will test the range of a violin and therefore has to go into zones where the border of good sound is crossed sometimes. And also the breaking sound of too much bow pressure tells me very much about the violin.

So to me every opinion I ever had about the sound of a violin wich I played was shared with people and players I respect. Also my opinion was confirmed when listening to the violins played by others for me. Sometimes there are some small surprises in difference of sound under the ear and far away, but they are marginal.

I think judging a violin sound is a matter of training your ear, weather you have it under the ear or listening from far away.

I also surprised some sellers about what their violins are capable of. Its all a matter of how to handle them. Some are raw diamants who are sold as dirt and some are plasic diamants who deform after a minute. Maybe one could draw a line to fake breasts here... You only have to squeeze them right and then you know what you got :D

June 27, 2012 at 09:06 AM · Lyndon, While I cannot comment about your specific violin as I have not heard or played it, I find myself agreeing with you again. Volume of sound and carrying potential are not the same thing. A good violin will project even at pianissimo but for me it must also have the potential to play loudly.

Could we agree to disagree, that good modern violins can do this too?

Cheers Carlo

June 27, 2012 at 09:06 AM · Lyndon, your views on modern instruments are well known and you are entitled to hold them. Would you mind answering a couple of questions? I am genuinely interested in your thoughts.

When does a well made modern violin become old enough to be considered good in your eyes? How much time must elapse?

Do you believe that a new Stradivari or Guarnieri, was a good violin when it was made? Or did it need time and playing to become so?

Finally, do you agree that there are poor old Italian violins, as well as poor modern instruments?

Cheers Carlo

June 27, 2012 at 09:43 AM · Lyndon, when I was writing about judging a violins projection by playing it under the ear I was in no way referring just to loudness. If a violin is loud under your ear not just depends on how the f-holes are cut but also on how you hold your head (wich kind of chinrest you use etc.). I was more referring to certain qualities (maybe frequencies and vibrations) wich the player feels and hears that they make a strong carrying sound.

Still it is certainly recommendable to always listen to violins from afar, before buying them. But a violin wich is only loud after 10 meters will not really help you hearing intonation while playing with an orchestra or open Steinway. To a certain amount a soloist violin must be hearable on the ear. It would be interesting to meet and test violins together.

June 27, 2012 at 12:58 PM · Returning to the title of the OP, What qualities do Professionals look for in a violin? :-

My experience of nearly 40 years in pro orchestras revealed very little by way of consistency as regards the choice of fiddle my colleagues used. One man's meat was very much another man's poison. And whatever fiddle you turned up with, there was always someone who would rubbish it with a crisp one-liner ! Even a superbly preserved Grand Amati had it's detractors, and two concertmasters didn't enjoy the use of a Long-pattern Strad, for reasons that aren't entirely clear; I think they found the sound tricky to produce, "like playing a viola" someone said. Sections were a mixed bag ranging from locally made new instruments thru' 19th. century French to the very occasional old Italian. Presumably Carlo's parameters are OK for nearly all players in that world.

However I can recall 2 concertmasters who felt the need to change to "Old Italian". One had been playing a John Lott, the other a Vuillaume. And on another occasion, a concertmaster arriving for work with a loan fiddle when his own Girolamo Amati II was in for repair. Faced with a solo, he suddenly found the thunderingly loud loan instrument inadequate. He borrowed the colleagues "Grand" Nicolo Amati and recorded his solos in Sibelius 6 on it.

I found the Italian fiddles I owned worked particularly well if I ever did have a solo to play - I became much more attached to the few modest Italians I owned than I did to my various new English or old French.

New fiddles I have acquired during the last 20 years have to some extent answered my curiosity regarding "what happens" as they age, or "mature" as some allege. After about 18 months the "power" seems to begin to emerge from the ambiguous "fog" of new. !0 years on and the sound seems to become strong, fresh, and full of life. I have a Lucci which is now approaching 40 and It's beginning to seem be losing that freshness and becoming "mature" - beginning to work like an expensive old Italian, in fact. S & W on the way ?? I shall not live long enough to find out.

The owner of a respected London dealership once offered the opinion that it takes about 30 years before you really know the capabilities of a new fiddle, and I tend to agree. Many owners lose patience !

Here are 2 interesting excerpts from a note "The Artist and his Instrument" by Ruggiero Ricci that came with a 1964 LP "The Glory of Cremona" :-

"It is impossible to find one instrument which is at the same time dark, brilliant, open, nasal, sweet, etc. The best a violinist can do is to find an instrument that most nearly suits his individual temperament"

"Ultimately it is the player who must adapt himself to his violin if it is to respond to its best advantage"

June 27, 2012 at 03:00 PM · I think the terms "good" and "bad" are just to simple. Old violins don't necessarily get "better" they change maybe over years. Some will crack, some will be repaired. Some will be repaired badly, some get a new bassbar here and then.

Above a certain quality standard of a violin it is more about taste and needs, than about "good" or "bad". And as Oistrach said: The condition of an instrument is important. People tend to put a lot of money into restoring old italian instruments, no wonder they are sounding above average. But I highly doubt that a random stradivari violin in mediocre condition is better than the average instrument, professionals use.

As I said, there are a lot of good violins above a certain quality standard and it so much depends on the taste of the player what he needs or better what he can manage to handle and to adapt to. The words of ricci are so true, that a player has to go with his instrument and learn to know it. its like an investment. You can invest money in a certain violin to restore it, but you also invest the time of getting to know it, to make it sound optimal. A lot of instruments, especially old ones must be played in a certain way to open their qualities. "good" and "bad" is just too simple at high standard.

June 27, 2012 at 04:18 PM · "dont believe all the scientific studies that claim 5million strads sound just like 30,000usd moderns, they sound different alright, its just that not everyone agrees which one is superior, except for most top concert soloists who almost always pick the older violins, given a choice "


Actually, the jury is still out on many of these things, and when various beliefs and lore are tested, it can produce surprising results.

While many may believe that there is an inherent difference in the sound of new and old violins, in a recent double-blind experiment, violinists didn't do very well at distinguishing which violins were new and old. The violins involved were a select group of moderns, two Strads, and a Guarneri.

They also didn't show a preference for the old violins. Since this test was done with violinists playing in a small room, another test is to follow, using a performance hall in Paris, with some form of accompaniment yet to be determined. It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

With these experiments, along with others from the past, we're gradually assembling a pretty strong data base, some it highlighting differences in perception when subjects know what is being played, versus when they don't. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, but findings like these can encounter fierce resistance, particularly from people who haven't had much involvement with experiments like these. It can be quite an eye-opener when someone finds out that contrary to what they believe, they may not be able to distinguish between the old and new instruments either, or pick out the Strads.

June 27, 2012 at 04:38 PM · It's been observed on this thread, and also by other experts such as Sacconi, that the "S & W" from old fiddles seems to come from "all around" whereas with newer work the ears register the sound as coming from a point source.

The normal binaural, stereo, effect seems to get over-ridden somehow.

Does David Burgess know of any explanation ??

June 27, 2012 at 04:56 PM · We're working on that, but answers haven't been nailed down yet. The Paris study will place heavy emphasis on "projection".... what it is, how it's produced, and I expect they will examine related things like this "point source" phenomenon or belief.


There's more on the upcoming Paris experiment here:


June 27, 2012 at 05:43 PM · My sound preference in the past was always for 18th century Italian violins. My belief system was completely shattered when I tried, and subsequently bought, a semi-modern violin by Capicchioni. Now I am open minded, preferring to try each violin on its own merit, whether old or new.

I'm still a stick-in-the mud when it comes to bows. I prefer 19th or early 20th century French bows.

David, I am looking forward to the results of those tests. I believe they will debunk many myths.

Cheers Carlo

June 27, 2012 at 06:11 PM · Lyndon, I'm not interested in spending another day correcting your misquotes relating to either Claudia Fritz or myself, or your misinformation regarding these tests.

If you want to waste everyone's time by running out the few remaining posts in this thread that way, have at it. I'll just warn everyone to take it with a huge grain of salt.

Got better things to do.

June 27, 2012 at 07:06 PM · On the other forum Lyndon mentioned, things got bad enough that one of the designers of the test registered there for the first time, and had this to say:

"Lyndon, for God's sake, could you read carefully the paper? Which data are you talking about??? I agree with David, it would be nice if your arguments were based on what I have actually said and done, and not on your fantasies about what I have said, done, or will say."

Lyndon, not only have I read the paper at least a dozen times, but I've spoken with the three major people involved in executing the test, one at great length. I'm quite certain that you don't have anything to teach me about it.

Frankly, some of your gyrations are a little embarrassing, since you seem to want to suggest an association with our profession.

June 27, 2012 at 07:10 PM ·

June 27, 2012 at 07:12 PM · What do professionals want in a violin?

Permit this non-professional to list the following qualities in descending order of importance for my purposes:

1) Response/sensitivity to the bow

2) Balance across the strings

3) Sound, (this I would say is more subjective to the player and objective to the listener)to include richness, depth, warmth, fullness, openness, clarity, good resonance

4) Power/Loudness in decibels

The maker, appearance and physical condition of the instrument would be answered in another question.

June 27, 2012 at 07:19 PM · Lyndon, you wrote "now we have a very vocal minority trying to convince us modern violins sound better"

There may be a minority that say 'modern violins sound better'. I am not one of those. Instead, I believe that some modern violins are better than old, some Chinese violins are better than Italian, some spirit varnish is better than oil, and so on...

The point I am making is that, I feel that every violin should be tried as an individual and that sweeping statements about origin and age are neither scientific or logical.

It is clear to me, that professionals are looking for projection, clarity, and power in their instruments. I believe that sweet and warm violins do not have these qualities and are more suited to the amateur player. Not all agree.

It has been a most interesting discussion. I'm not sure anyone has changed their mind about what they believe in, but it is food for thought.

Cheers Carlo

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