How close to Strad a modern maker could be?

May 4, 2015 at 03:38 PM · After reading a Strad article (http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/stradivarius-violin-tops-the-strads-blind-test-of-fine-and-modern-instruments/) and learning the name of one more great modern violin maker, Philip Ihle, I begun asking myself how close the modern instruments are to 300 years old Stradivari?

Listen to the recording and find out for yourself:

http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/put-your-ears-to-the-test-can-you-pick-the-stradivarius-violin/

Replies (62)

May 4, 2015 at 03:44 PM · At least within the limitations of the recording, the Ihle is a nice-sounding violin. But it doesn't sound anything like the Strad.

May 4, 2015 at 04:02 PM · I agree with you...Unfortunately not as close as the modern player would like to.

May 4, 2015 at 04:22 PM · Look up Claudia Fritz and her violin blind tests. Strad has already been beaten. But of course most people prefer not to accept this.

May 4, 2015 at 06:02 PM · There was an interesting thread on MaestroNet about this and some of the people involved in the "test" weighed in.

Basically, an accomplished player was asked to play violins that were not his. Intonation and dynamics were just a tad lacking. When he picked up his own violin, of course he played beautifully.

The only blind thing about the test was The Strad thinking it proved anything.

BTW, the strad in that test did have a marvelous tone, as did most of the violins. You can track down the website where you can hear all 6 violins and decide which you like the best.

May 4, 2015 at 07:27 PM · I am curious about how would be a test with Strad violas X Contemporary viola makers.

May 4, 2015 at 08:05 PM · If I had tons of money I would not buy a Strad. For the price of a Strad you can buy a hundred violins made by truly excellent modern (living) violin makers. I would place these instruments in the hands of promising young players. Perhaps a player like Ray Chen or Stephen Waarts is better off with a priceless old Italian instrument just for the prestige that comes along with that when they are touring, but I bet there are many promising music-college and conservatory students who don't have a violin of the quality of the best modern makers. Some of them will become great violinists and then the violin will increase in value by having been played by someone famous.

May 4, 2015 at 08:29 PM · It depends how far from Cremona's graveyard the modern maker lives (or dies)!

May 4, 2015 at 09:25 PM · I think a Manfio viola can beat a Strad viola in a blind test unless the test is rigged.

May 4, 2015 at 09:50 PM · There really aren't that many great modern instruments in circulation -- if they're great, they tend to stay in the hands of the players, not get sold. So such instruments aren't in significantly greater circulation than great instruments from previous aeons of makers.

Furthermore, it often doesn't make sense for younger players, especially those conservatory-age and younger, to commission a modern instrument. Their sense of what they want in an instrument isn't sufficiently developed. This also means that they're going to have more difficulty with having their playing mold the instrument -- essentially trying to get it to respond the way they want it to.

Plus, the wait-list for the best makers is very long -- quite possibly too long to wait for students, whose need for another instrument is often immediate.

It's not like there's a huge abundance of fabulous modern instruments available for reasonable prices. A player has to be enormously lucky to find such an instrument, and to be even luckier to be able to buy it for a reasonable price in a timely fashion.

May 4, 2015 at 11:56 PM · Greetingw,

as a counter balance to these blind tests which are not quite a simformative as one would hope, check out the videos of Ehnes playing Strads from the Fullerton collection on youtube. Has he , or all the other great players who use Strads when they could use a just as good modern , been duped?

I do believe that today's instruments are the Strads etc. of the duture. That they may even take less time to get there and that anyone who owns one is lucky beyond believe. Great players choose their instruments for a reason .

I have noticed that within the world of super violins the great players are quite unprejudiced if they find something with less of a name that is clearly superior. For example a well known player ditched his Strad/Guarneri for a Peter Guarneri which outplays a fair numbe eof the former. Unfortunately those violins are now just about as hard to come by. I've played on a few Strads and Guarner. Not the bets of those makers so the best violin I ever played was an Andrea Guarneri. So far ahead of the pack it almost made me weep to play on it. Such violins are held onto by the wise.

Cheers,

Buri

May 5, 2015 at 12:02 AM · The problem is there are very few top Strads but there are many top players. So it is pointless for young players to go for a second-tier or even third-tier Cremonese instruments when time and again such violins lose to top instruments in blind tests.

BTW Hilary Hahn plays a Vuillaume.

May 5, 2015 at 12:51 AM · So a few select instruments from a few top modern makers have tied or slightly beaten ????Strads in tests, so suddenly everyone thinks any old modern violin is better than a Stradivari, I'm constantly hearing this on the forum, how its not even important to get a top modern violin, but second or third rate will do the trick. Fact is truly exceptional moderns are no easier to find than great old Cremonese, let alone fine German or French antiques. The market has shown there are always people that will prefer a modern violin, and at the same time there is still a sizable percent that don't buy into the hype, compare the modern to equivalently priced antiques and buy the antique for the SOUND, not the pedigree.

May 5, 2015 at 01:22 AM · Lyndon, nobody said a third-rate modern beats a Strad. But when the best violin of one of the best modern makers is selling for $100,000 and people say that's a ripoff, well, I'm not so sure it is. It's a little like buying recent paintings -- you need knowledge, taste, money, and courage.

One thing Lydia said kind of surprised me -- that instruments by the top modern makers are hard to come by. I certainly don't question her knowledge of the market, but the part that surprises me is why the makers do not simply charge more then. That is what normally happens when demand exceeds supply, isn't it?

May 5, 2015 at 01:56 AM · The best makers do indeed raise their prices over time as their wait-list grows. The price of a great "brand name" modern-maker commission and, say, a turn-of-the-(20th)-century Italian violin, are about the same.

May 5, 2015 at 10:38 AM · Stephen wrote:

"...check out the videos of Ehnes playing Strads from the Fullerton collection on youtube. Has he , or all the other great players who use Strads when they could use a just as good modern , been duped?"

______________________

I guess one way to shed more light on that would be for Ehnes to be involved in some of the double-blind experiments.

What we've got so far:

The soloists used in the most recent double-blind experiment (in Paris) showed (overall) a clear preference for one of the contemporary violins from the group of old and new, when they didn't know whether they were playing old or new. They also weren't able to distinguish between old and new violins at better than chance levels. (Again, this is the collective result. Some of the soloists did better than random, and some did worse. We don't know yet whether those who did better can repeat this, or if it's more like the variety of outcomes that can come from flipping coins).

There's still much to be learned though, and it's quite possible that outcomes would vary with a different group of soloists, or a different group of violins.

May 5, 2015 at 10:52 AM ·

May 5, 2015 at 11:55 AM · Greetings,

as far as I am concerned the more blind testing the better. Then everyone would have great proprioception.

Cheers,

Buri

(Not Stephen)

May 5, 2015 at 12:34 PM · Lydia Leong wrote:

"The best makers do indeed raise their prices over time as their wait-list grows. The price of a great "brand name" modern-maker commission and, say, a turn-of-the-(20th)-century Italian violin, are about the same."

_____________________

I am not aware what is the price of a great "brand name" modern maker but is it really about the same as Italians from the turn of 20th century?

We often forget that there are not only Strads and Del Gesus under the sky. Pressenda, Rocca, Scarampela, Fagnola, Oddone, Fiorini, Poggi etc. made some very fine sounding instruments. I believe the best examples come near to good sounding Strad or Del Gesu.

Do the they sound better? I guess no, otherwise all great players were going to choose as a first instrument an Italian violin from the turn of 20th century.

Are the makers from the turn of the century comparable with the best modern makers in terms of sound? I guess, so and I believe that the living makers are still much cheaper than the other group, but I maybe wrong..

May 5, 2015 at 01:43 PM · Perhaps it's because I'm not close to being rich enough to buy a Strad, I don't really understand why someone who has a hundred million or a billion dollars in the bank would want to spend time evaluating a rare violin for "investment purposes" at the 5-20 MM USD level. Surely there are investments in real estate, start-up companies, and more conventional securities that can provide adequate growth. The whole idea just seems weird to me unless the individual already has an interest in violins specifically. But if so, then it's not "just" for the investment, is it?

May 5, 2015 at 02:01 PM ·

May 5, 2015 at 02:04 PM · Lydia Leong wrote:

"The best makers do indeed raise their prices over time as their wait-list grows."

That's what I figured. My view is that zero inventory indicates that supply is not in balance with demand.

By the same token, I once considered an $18,000 violin at a shop, and I asked the proprietor to hold it for me. She laughed and said, "Don't worry, violins like these don't just fly off the shelves." From that statement I inferred just the opposite, that her asking price was too high. I surmised a more reasonable price might be $14000 or so, but that was only a hunch.

May 5, 2015 at 05:12 PM · I found what Sam Zyg said here puts a more practical perspective on what one should be looking for as a soloist.

One good thing about commissioning a modern instrument is that you can have things tweaked to your liking while the instrument is being built. But if you have been loaned an old Italian violin, you're pretty much stuck with all the "features" that come with it. There is only so much mucking around on old instrument that you can do.

May 5, 2015 at 07:10 PM · Greetings,

or you could get stuck with a beatiful old instrument that is so delicate and tempremental that every time you cross a dateline you wonder if it will actually play.

cheers,

Buri

May 5, 2015 at 07:49 PM · What seems to be missing from the discussion here is the overall difficulty of finding a great instrument, actually available for purchase, at any price.

The higher the price you're willing to pay, the greater the possible pool of instruments that you can examine. Money can also potentially expand your search radius, but ultimately your search radius tends to be somewhat local, and if you have money, maybe going to NYC, Chicago, or London.

The bigger the pool of instruments you have to examine, the more likely it is that you find things that are "good enough" -- they project adequately, they sound acceptable under the ear, they blend properly with a group and punch above an orchestra, they're sufficiently responsive. These are workhorse instruments for players.

After that, you're basically in a situation of incremental improvement, where playing qualities and price become increasingly disassociated (but again, price determines the pool of possibilities). The output of all makers, whether contemporary or antique, varies significantly in quality, so you're hoping to luck into particularly fine specimens. The number of really *outstanding* instruments -- the ones that are in a league of their own -- is much smaller than the total number of instruments out there.

May 5, 2015 at 10:19 PM · Luis, I too wonder about the violas. I have only two Strads on disc: Rudolf Barshai, and of course Peter Schidlof with the Macdonald, which Primrose played briefly (Harold in italy with Koussevitsky). The tone is lovely, violin-like in the higher passages, rich but not deep or ample on the lower strings. Good for classical quertets, less so for romantic ones?

If we can't stretch, (physically or financially!) to a Gasparo viola, modern makers will do very well: Luis Manfio, Bob Spear, Bernard Sabatier (his two-cornered Lyra Viola model) offer three creative and highly successful solutions, without damaging the violist!

May 5, 2015 at 10:32 PM · The problem with a viola shootout is that people don't seem to agree what a viola should sound like. Some prefer it sounding closer to a cello. Some to a violin. Some to neither.

May 6, 2015 at 12:26 AM · Kevin,

"One good thing about commissioning a modern instrument is that you can have things tweaked to your liking while the instrument is being built. "

If someone has promised and delivered you a violin "to your liking" I would really want to know the name of that miracle maker.

May 6, 2015 at 12:40 AM · I don't PROMISE that a violin I make will be to a person's liking, but I will promptly and cheerfully refund all their money if the instrument fails to meet their expectations. ;-)

The last time that happened was about three or four years ago.

May 6, 2015 at 12:40 AM · Watch the talk by Sam Zyg and tell me why one shouldn't give him a chance to show you what he can do for you. There is a reason why his waiting list is so long.

May 6, 2015 at 01:21 AM · Kevin,

Will listen, and in the meantime, here is why:

The violin maker

If violin making were such an exact science, and under so much control of a maker, we would have way more excellent instruments to choose from.

David's response sounds more down to Earth and with full integrity.

Rocky

Edit: I just watched the video. Sam seems to be a very nice person and a great orator with fine sense of humor. However, nowhere in the recording did I hear that a musician commissioned a violin with a specific sound in mind. It was rather after the violin was made that changes in setup were done. Sam also seems to be a maker willing to take his violin apart and make changes; he might be in a minority in this regard. If you read the book, you will find out that sometimes even this process does not work.

May 6, 2015 at 02:33 AM · Acura makes really nice luxury cars. So does Lexus.

Mercedes has always been a stronger brand name, though.

Strad is a brand of violin. They are all over the place for sound and response.

A few other things:

- There are many “very good” contemporary instruments available. There are fewer “extremely great” ones.

- An instrument that “blends properly in a group and punches above an orchestra” are probably two different instruments.

That last point is where a lot of subjectiveness comes into play. One person might find a great warm blend-y instrument to be “extremely great” for them, whilst another might instead prefer a punchy violin that takes a lot of digging to be “extremely great".

May 6, 2015 at 04:16 AM · I don't really agree with this statement: "An instrument that “blends properly in a group and punches above an orchestra” are probably two different instruments."

You'll hear soloists play chamber-music using their primary instruments, and that's normally fine. A player's sound-production technique in orchestra is going to be different than what they do to play a concerto, too. There are instruments at the extremes (call it fast effortless blend-y playability for orchestra playing, and raw projection for concerto playing) but plenty of instruments that can do both reasonably well. Anyone who isn't routinely playing concertos with orchestra just needs an instrument with reasonable projection.

May 6, 2015 at 04:23 AM · What does a Zyg commission cost these days? $60,000, a four-year wait, and an unpredictable result?

I totally respect the folks that commission instruments -- I've thought about doing it in the past, actually, since I figured I'd benefit from a 7/8ths or other "lady's violin"-pattern violin -- but it's not for the faint-hearted or the shallow of pocket.

May 6, 2015 at 06:27 AM · Here are my two cents:

1) If a bank buys a Strad, as they do, you can bet that for them it is an investment and little more. In a university study of a while ago, over a 20-year period violins of classic lutherie (Strad and Guarneri EXCLUDED) outpaced in appreciation the SP500, median house value, and the other indexes compared.

2) In some of these moderns vs. Strads tests, the organizers are set out to prove a hypothesis, not to seek the Truth. When Dr. Linus Pauling proved that Vitamin C was good for you, a whole slew of scientists got to work to prove him wrong - and eventually succeeded - so that they could become famous too. One can "prove" or "disprove" almost anything if there is an intererest to do so.

There are plenty of reasons to appreciate (and buy) both antique and modern instruments. But when I suggested on Maestronet that to validate Claudia Fritz's results it would be opportune to have the same test done by other people, with other violins and other soloists and see if the same results were obtained (i.e. the textbook scientific method of validation), I was personally attacked, insulted and made object of profanity. That doesn't speak well of their supporters and makes one wonder where the real interest lies.

May 6, 2015 at 09:44 AM ·

May 6, 2015 at 10:42 AM · I have read The Violin Maker. It's true that Sam Zyg hasn't nailed down every single detail about violin-making and he doesn't claim that he has done so. But he is better than many makers in getting very close to where he wants things and he has learned a lot from his Gluey experiments. I am certain that there are things he knows that nobody else does.

There are already some rough guidelines on how to get within a ballpark of a certain sound. The way you thickness and arch and cut the f-holes are already understood somewhat. It's true that no one can copy an exact sound. But if you want a dark-sounding violin instead of a bright-sounding one, it can be done. If you want one that can take a lot of bow pressure, it can be done. If you want projection, it can be done. Being able to do have these things in a commissioned violin is already much better than being handed a loaner that you have never played before.

May 6, 2015 at 01:16 PM · Better than Strad!

May 6, 2015 at 01:20 PM · You can't tell from a recording. You have to be in the same accoustic. Strads are over rated.

May 6, 2015 at 01:23 PM · Lydia Said:

I don't really agree with this statement: "An instrument that “blends properly in a group and punches above an orchestra” are probably two different instruments."

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

We can agree to disagree. While a player can certainly work an instrument to best advantage in either situation, the instruments that excel in these situations are extremely different.

A quartet player will likely choose a different violin than a soloist, and an orchestra player might choose something completely different.

No one likes a soloist that doesn't have the capability to cut though, and orchestra / chamber players don't like a violin that cuts through even at soft dynamics.

May 6, 2015 at 03:09 PM · Dimitri wrote: "One can 'prove' or 'disprove' almost anything if there is an interest to do so."

That's rather dismissive of science generally, but this viewpoint is not so uncommon these days. There's a fine line between setting up an study in order to "prove a point" vs. setting up an experiment to test a hypothesis. The fact that nobody is without bias does not erase the validity of controlled experimentation.

What really matters in experimental science is not WHAT we know but HOW we know it. So long as the researchers describe, thoroughly and accurately, how they did their work and made their measurements, then anyone can review that data and draw their own conclusions therefrom. It's not only acceptable but also expected that researchers will draw conclusions themselves, and equally so for others to critique, reproduce, or extend it.

Linus Pauling was an absolutely brilliant chemist who laid the foundations of our knowledge of chemical structure and reactivity. The notion that someone of his caliber would expect a book called "Vitamin C and the Common Cold" to go unchallenged in the open medical literature suggests to me that he had reached a point in his long career where he forgot what science is and how it works. If true that would be rather sad.

May 6, 2015 at 03:22 PM · Douglas Bevan

I'm not sure that I would agree with all this about a chamber music player would want a different instrument than a soloist!

You can play like a chamber music player on a soloist's instrument and and play like a soloist on a chamber music instrument.

May 6, 2015 at 03:24 PM · I didn't realize megadoses of Vitamin C can cure my intonation sickness. ;-)

Seriously, one of the properties of a well-designed scientific test is that it is theoretically, if not practically, repeatable. I cannot imagine anyone being against a repeat of the Paris experiment.

But if you made the claim that the results are invalid until another test is made, then I can understand why people took issue with you. A well designed experiment can (and should!) stand on its own merits.

Getting back to Linus Pauling, the challenges he and his detractors faced are the same with the well-designed double-blind violins tests: without a 100% reliable casual link between cause and effect, one is forced to use statistical studies. And non-researchers simply do not grasp what such studies actually demonstrate.

Not everyone who takes megadoses of Vitamin C experiences a reduction in cold, flu or cancer symptoms. But some apparently do.

Not everyone who hears two violins can distinguish between a modern master and a highly regarded Strad. But some apparently do.

If the rate of success is no better than flipping a coin, then science says, as a GENERAL policy, one should not design a health treatment or violin performance policy around the claims being true (healing effects of VitC or the unattainable superiority of a Strad).

May 6, 2015 at 03:36 PM · Carmen - lovely post!

I just think, that we have to admit, however painfull it may be, that we have better makers around now than poor old Strad. All those very old Italian makers are over rated. Maybe Guadanini is still tops, but there are many modern makers who are just as good, and often better than Strad et al. In fact a lot are a lot better!

But like religion, I'm likely to be crucified for my sins of blasphomy against poor old Strad, as against my belief that some modern makers are superior!!!!

May 6, 2015 at 04:08 PM · I agree with that assertion, and choosing a primary-use-specific instrument makes sense for people (especially professionals) who overwhelmingly use the violin for one thing.

But most people who buy violins are probably much more mixed-use -- they play in orchestras and play chamber music, do the occasional recital, and for a few, every couple of years they play a concerto with orchestra.

May 6, 2015 at 05:14 PM · Lydia said:

I agree with that assertion, and choosing a primary-use-specific instrument makes sense for people (especially professionals) who overwhelmingly use the violin for one thing.

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

I generally agree with your comments as well and value your input!

I used to sub in with a pro orchestra occasionally when a violinist was on maternity leave. My stand partner had this violin that just did not blend at all with the section -- stuck out like a sore thumb at any dynamic! It was a fantastic violin though -- just not "orchestral".

Lydia said:

But most people who buy violins are probably much more mixed-use -- they play in orchestras and play chamber music, do the occasional recital, and for a few, every couple of years they play a concerto with orchestra.

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

Could be. I find in many cases the instruments don't adapt well to alternate uses. I went to see a very fine symphony cellist play a concerto with a local regional orchestra. I couldn't hear him most of the time. It wasn't that kind of cello, despite his efforts to make it project.

Peter Charles said:

I'm not sure that I would agree with all this about a chamber music player would want a different instrument than a soloist!

You can play like a chamber music player on a soloist's instrument and and play like a soloist on a chamber music instrument.

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

It depends on the quartet. Some quartets are more blend-y, in others it's like 4 soloists, in others the 1st violin stands out amongst the others. Depends what quartet they are playing, too.

I disagree about the instruments being entirely interchangable. Yes, you can try to "play like a soloist on a chamber music instrument", but if the instrument doesn't have the cut and power, you are screwed :-D

May 6, 2015 at 05:20 PM · Hmm. About quartets. Did the members of the great quartets not already own fine instruments before the quartet was formed? And weren't they mostly preparing for solo careers at that point? And if they did buy instruments after committing their careers to chamber performance, did they really consider this point when selecting an instrument, or did they just try to buy the best darned violin they could afford? I can sort-of get the idea that one violin might be more blend-y than another, but in practice, is that the kind of instrument that members of the great quartets have? I bet they've got cannons.

I think it would be fine to have another thread on the tonal and other characteristics that would differentiate a "chamber" violin from a "solo" violin, if even such a differentiation exists.

May 6, 2015 at 05:34 PM · Paul,

Preparing for a solo career and actually doing one are different and require different resources. You can prepare for a solo career on a violin that isn’t geared toward projection, for instance. Some quartet players probably have real screamers, and others are more subdued.

But quartets are a middle-ground. Probably we should be discussing orchestral instruments vs soloist instruments to get more on the edges of the matter.

I didn’t mean to get this thread off track — this is just where things ended up!

And now back to Strads being the best :-D

May 6, 2015 at 07:08 PM · @ Paul Deck: I agree with you, but tend to dismiss "psuedoscience" which is what a lot of people seem to be into these days. (I'm not referring to anyone in particular)

@ Carmen Tanzio: On Maestronet I phrased my point exactly the same way I did in this thread, i.e. politely, objectively, and not in any way dismissive of anyone's merits. However my post was misconstrued, perhaps on purpose, certainly unpleasantly.

May 6, 2015 at 07:17 PM · It's not uncommon at all for me to run into high-level orchestra or quartet players who are much more concerned about how an instrument blends with their ensemble, than with power. Instruments can be and have been rejected for being too powerful.

May 6, 2015 at 07:34 PM · Mr. Burgess: do you sell powerful rejects at a discount?

May 6, 2015 at 08:02 PM · Doesn't it blend just fine if everyone's got a cannon?

May 6, 2015 at 09:24 PM · Cannons for first violins and Soils for second violins (or vice versa). There will be no room for soloists! LOL.

May 6, 2015 at 09:51 PM · Paul wrote:

"Doesn't it blend just fine if everyone's got a cannon?"

It might, but sometimes it's difficult to convince all the other members of the ensemble to go out instrument shopping. ;-)

May 6, 2015 at 10:56 PM · I think it may be possible to play down a bit on a cannon. It doesn't have to be belted all the time.

I fired my cannon the other day and now its a bit bent ...

May 7, 2015 at 12:54 AM · Kevin wrote, "Cannons for first violins and Soils for second violins (or vice versa). There will be no room for soloists!"

No no, Kevin, the soloist will be playing a Strad, which we all know will "project" gloriously even if it is not very loud.

May 7, 2015 at 03:05 AM · Brooklyn, eh? Probably Sam Zyg dumping some obvious junk ...

May 7, 2015 at 04:59 AM · Having never played a strad before, my former violin teacher claimed that his modern violin sounded much better than a very expensive italian violin he used to own. Just my two cents.

May 7, 2015 at 07:17 AM · Reminds me of a violin I once played by Goffredo Cappa (1644–1717), dubbed the "Lavatrice" (washing machine) for its tonal qualities.

But then, of course, Cappa wasn't a Cremona maker.

May 7, 2015 at 08:33 AM · Greetings,

isn't there a famous poem about orchestras with two sections of del Gesi??

Cannons to the left of them,

Cannons to the right of them,

Into the Valley of death

Bowed the 600 (minus a few)

Confused,

Buri

May 7, 2015 at 10:28 AM · Here's an example of a quartet (Shanghai) which makes heavy use of dynamics, the blend, and how the voices intricately fit together. It's quite amazing live, but I think the idea still comes across well on this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxwpKfWueNk

May 8, 2015 at 02:03 AM · David, it comes back to the age-old question of how much of that is the violin and how much is the violinist?

May 8, 2015 at 11:15 PM · Excellent example, David. Those instruments and players are very blendy!

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