Luthier's Competitons

October 26, 2016 at 03:23 PM · We've seen some remarkable performer's competitions often here, and this is terrific. I love to see and hear of the skills and musical understandings of these fine players.

But, I am aware that international luthier competitions are also often held. I believe one is held at Poznan, for example, and another at Cremona. Moscow also has such competitions, and I am confident that many other international competitions are held for the people who make the finest instruments to market their skills.

I find it much more difficult to find out about the participants in these presentations of skills and musical understandings.

We are all vitally interested in "instruments", and so I find this curious.

Replies (100)

October 26, 2016 at 06:03 PM · We fortunately have at least three violin family making contest award winners with us as members, Davide Sora, David Burgess, and our Don Noon. On Maestronet they said Don recently won awards for best sounding violin. I would think that these contests woukd be open to luthiers around the world.

October 26, 2016 at 06:10 PM · I think Laurie reported on a large violin-makers' competition last year.

October 26, 2016 at 06:50 PM · There are all levels of competitions, as there are in all fields. Some are fairly small and mostly local, and others, like the VSA competition coming up an a few weeks in Cleveland, attract a huge number of the best makers around the world. If you win there, it's really an accomplishment.

October 26, 2016 at 08:22 PM · For more information on the VSA competition, you can go to

It's the largest (typically 400+ instruments and bows from maybe 14 countries), and I'd also say that it's the best and toughest, based on my experiences with having judged many of the major competitions.

In this competition/convention, attendees also have a chance to examine and play all the instruments, once the judging is completed. This can be a very challenging environment in which to evaluate an instrument, though, because there may be hundreds of people seeking to test the instruments which won awards, and maybe dozens of people playing instruments in the same large room at the same time.

The VSA Competition is quite different from the local county fair instrument-making and chili cookoff competition. ;-)

October 26, 2016 at 09:43 PM · Anyone knows about International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Making Competition?

October 26, 2016 at 11:03 PM · I can only speak of the Triennale di Cremona, as I have not participated in other competitions (I'm lazy, too far away from home), and believe it is one of the most challenging to win because of too heterogeneous jury.

With regard to the numbers I have to contradict David Burgess because here we have them bigger: the last edition there were 445 instruments of 334 violin makers from 31 countries, and I think that Beijing competition is even worse.

I emphasize this because I think it's a bad thing, it is inhumane to judge properly so many instruments in a short time, especially for players.

October 26, 2016 at 11:47 PM ·

October 27, 2016 at 12:22 AM · It must be so difficult to judge one violin as outstanding from the rest. In Don Noon's firewood fiddle contest he posted about six different samples of violins that he had made and one was made from scrap wood from a bin at Walmarts or something along that line and the object lesson was to pick out the firewood fiddle as the expexted worst sounding instrument of the bunch. To listen to so many violin sound samples playing the same song and rate them from best to worst was very difficult for me to try and separate them apart and rank them from best to worst.

To be a judge and have to listen to a hundred or more contest entries must be a very trying experience to get through. I suppose that it might be a little different comparing live violins in a hall to similarly recorded sound samples, but it is not a job that I could fairly and accurately get through.

October 27, 2016 at 12:31 AM · I find judging so stressful, that I probably won't be doing it any more.

Sure, it's been a real privilege to be able to have free trips to places like Moscow, Cremona and Beijing, and often get paid on top of that, but I think I'm done.

October 27, 2016 at 12:33 AM · This makes me actually very curious.

I don't think I am far off, if I said that there are a lot less luthiers than violinists in the world. I think a lot of people are familiar with career paths for musicians, scientists, mathematicians, and etc.

How does a modern luthier's career start? I mean, I understand that they do go to violin making schools for many years, and etc. but I have NEVER locally seen a single approach from the making community to formally educate people towards a career.

Does it work from technical work/apprentice to a referral to a school and etc.? I'm just uneducated at this topic.

October 27, 2016 at 12:41 AM · Typically, a maker who is really good, started out by dabbling in it a little bit, and if the interest continued (along with the drive), went on to violin making school, and then on to advanced level learning by working in a major shop. There are plenty of exceptions though.

October 27, 2016 at 06:08 AM · The Cremona "Triennale" contests is the only one of which I have any experience. I did look at row upon row of orange violins displayed in the 2003 event but didn't dare to try any.

I gather that entrants for these Triennale events must submit "non antiqued" instruments, and with so much of the UK and USA markets slanted towards antique-finished ones much fine work is unrepresented.

Doubts have been expressed about the calibre of the judges; and though instruments have to be submitted without labels I bet judges will recognise the work of folk with whom they have "issues" and mark down accordingly. And, on a cruise ship, my wife and I heard one of the judges for tonal-quality performing. The player sounded so bad we had to walk out.

Despite all these doubts, it's unlikely that Davide Sora could have achieved so many high rankings, with different judges, unless he is REALLY good at his job.

Many established makers such as Francesco Bissolotti don't participate in contests as a matter of principle. Scared ??

It's worth remembering that top bowmaker W.C. Retford has stated that the woodwork on Tourte bows would "lose points in a modern competition" !!

October 27, 2016 at 10:25 AM · David beck wrote :

"I gather that entrants for these Triennale events must submit "non antiqued" instruments, and with so much of the UK and USA markets slanted towards antique-finished ones much fine work is unrepresented."

This is true, but I think it's fair that from Cremona come tangible signs in support of the modern violin-making of this kind, as the old Cremonese tradition was undoubtedly not antiqued.

This brings back to "inadequacy" of some jurors, that even if top level and very experienced, are inclined to judge the work more from the point of view of the skill to copy and call up details of the Old Masters that from the point of view of personality and originality of the violin maker.

This for me does not make sense in a competition of this kind specifically dedicated to the modern violin making.

For example, in the last Triennale the violin who was ranked ahead of my violin (Viateur Roy, second prize, first prize not awarded) was practically a copy without antiquing of the Amati Alard.

Undubtely great workmanship and varnish, but if I were among the judges I would not have given a higher score in the section "Style and character of the work", which is a fairly major item in the score.

October 27, 2016 at 11:34 AM · In 2003 I bought a violin from a Cremona maker. Good Val di Fiemme wood for the table, handsomely flamed back of well-seasoned maple, dimensions OK, and with a bright sound my wife still likes (I suffered no ear-ache for getting it !). I tried a lot of violins in the "Consorzio" shop and liked this one out even though I had gone to Cremona with the intention of looking, not buying.

Now, the "brother" of this instrument, same wood for the back and similar table, was in the Triennale exhibition, and only ranked 85th. I often wonder what the judges did not like. A hint of an "Amati" scoop in the arching ? Did the maker infringe some other dogma ?? We shall never know; but there are clearly nit-picking details regarding craftsmanship that might have little bearing as to whether a player will like to play a certain violin.

October 27, 2016 at 11:58 AM · I'd love to be a tone judge at a luthiers competition!

October 27, 2016 at 12:42 PM · Don't violins need to be matched to the right bow first, before they can be judged for tone?

October 27, 2016 at 03:12 PM · From Ruggiero Ricci's note entitled "The Artist and his Instrument" for his 1964 LP "THE GLORY OF CREMONA" SXA 4521 :-

"It may come as a surprise to many that even the best violin in terms of history, quality or value, does not best fulfill the demands of all music. 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 which most nearly suits his individual temperament. ...."

How those judges faced with two well-made violins of similar vintage can ever decide that one is definitely better than another defeats me ! Nevertheless, those contests do give makers useful public exposure which they won't get if they just stay in their workshops; players are helped in their quest to seek out the most promising "names" in the market-place..

Maybe as Davide Sora wrote " is inhumane to judge properly so many instruments in a short time, especially for players."

Speed dating is risky too, I never tried it.

October 27, 2016 at 04:11 PM · Paul, that would probably be an advantage, if there was enough time to put each violin through its paces with a dozen different bows. Usually, makers have (or can have) some idea of the judging protocol when they enter a particular competition, and hopefully, they accept that upon entering. It is not without risk.

It can also happen that a violin may have been set up and adjusted for different climactic conditions than where the competition takes place. It's not always possible to know the humidity levels of an indoor space, in advance, and optimize the fiddle for those conditions. In a competition room full of instruments, we often hear the noises of pegs releasing, and even seams opening. When all four strings release, can the bridge be repositioned exactly the way the maker intended? Again, entering is not without risk. It's impossible to control things in a way that will optimize each and every instrument.

October 28, 2016 at 01:27 AM · "In a competition room full of instruments, we often hear the noises of pegs releasing..."

Well, I guess you already know how I'd answer that one. :)

But back to the bows, if it's true that a violin can sound as "night vs. day" with two different bows then one does wonder how they pick the bow that is used. Maybe all the judges should have to use at least the same model of CF bow. Or would that ruin the sound of all the violins down to the level of mass-produced VSOs? Or would it enable the maker to buy that type of bow and optimize the setup for tone with that bow?

October 28, 2016 at 05:04 AM · Re bow matching, two observations: It is indeed an important aspect but more so for a violinist who has decided to stay with a particular violin for some time and then experiment with different ways to optimize it from choice of bow to sp adjustment to choice of strings, etc. At a competition there would be too many moving targets. Imagine a tone judge saying, "OK here is violin #42 to let me try 34 different bows to decide on which works best with it. Then do it all over again with violin #43..." No one would get through the judging process that way - certainly no one would get through it with their sanity intact! Which brings me to my next point: You can organize criteria such as response, bow contact, clarity, richness etc. but it will still be very subjective. The decision as to which bow best matches which violin is also subjective and personal. If I were a tone judge I'd use my own favorite bow throughout. I'd also keep my own favorite violin handy to occasionally go back to - not in expectation or desire to have all the others sound that way but as a reference point which would actually benefit the other violins. Again, all those moving targets. After a while you can lose perspective and your own gyroscoptic center. I might underestimate a certain violin only to go back to a brief comparison with my own and find that it compares much better with mine than I might have thought. This is the approach I have used at auction showings and at exhibitions of modern violins.

Re the problems of violins set up in the maker's environment and not doing so well in the environment where the competition is held: I'm sympathetic to this but this is what traveling violinists face all the time. We just have to deal with it as best we can. Whether we're dealing with acoustic problems of a certain hall or climate changes, we can't make excuses to the audience "oh you should have heard how much better it sounded last week in a different hall or when it was more or less humid or dry than now". Seems opening does sound scary. But I would hope that where the competitions are held they would try to control the temperature and humidity levels to a good average. I more or less do so in my own apartment. I wonder if some makers don't give themselves and their instruments enough time to stabilize. I've heard of some violins entered whose varnish was not yet quite dry.

Re makers who don't like to enter competitions being "scared", probably in some cases. But there have been any number of very major violinist who never entered competitions, including off hand Stern, Rosand, Hahn, Ehnnes, Mutter, etc. to say nothing of Heifetz, Elman and Milstein.

October 28, 2016 at 07:50 AM · Judging the accuracy of style and craftsmanship isn't too problematic; but obviously, when is comes to tonal evaluation, the judges are in deep, deep, water.

This is not the first time I have mentioned the need for a Universal Standard Bowstroke (USB ?). And even if just one bow is used for all the trials, how can we be sure that the amount of rosin on the bow is the same for all instruments ??

I once attended a London (UK) exhibition of Italian instruments, sent over by the "Consorzio Antonio Stradivari". Whilst some violins were "settled down" one or two behaved if they'd been hastily set up (and none too carefully) in the back of the van on the way over, as it bumped over the pot-holes. Anyway, the player adapts to the violin and therefore there can be no such thing as a totally "objective" assessment IMHO. Expert players seem to sound good on almost anything !

October 28, 2016 at 12:57 PM · USB? Hmmm...I don't see that working. because the resutls would be limiting and limited. What tone judge would want to accept that restriction? Shouldn't, to take one example, I be able to find out how a violin - and not just the bow - responds to sautille? But I don't see anything else working - including my own approach - either, if what we're after is a set of objective universal criteria for judging tone or even workmanship, for that matter. Certain measurements, neck set up, probably. But what is a beautiful looking violin? It's a functional tool but also an art form.

I've read about tests where they compare different violins very "objectively": They put them in some kind of harness and the bridge is knocked with some sort of hammer, the results are put through some kind of machine and all kinds of frequencies show up and they show how some modern violins get closer to certain well thought of Strads and del Gesus than others. I'm sure that these tests have significance but they are so removed from the real world of violin playing. And of course, that world is as subjective as anything. Any violinists from OK to great, have their own way of testing a violin in a preliminary way that works for them. Give them 30 seconds, they'll do one thing; give them 5 minutes, they'll do other things. And this is how it should be. And yes, even the amount of rosin can be significant. And what kind of rosin. Can we all say "rosin thread"? ;-)

And yet with all that, some violins here and there still do emerge with consistent high marks among many players and listeners. To mention just two for the moment, the former twin treasures of Menuhin - the "Soil" Strad (now belonging to Perlman) and the "Lord Wilton" del Gesu - come to mind.

October 28, 2016 at 01:25 PM · (David Beck) "...there can be no such thing as a totally "objective" assessment IMHO."

Absolutely. It is all subjective, and even any objective test would have to be developed based on what human listeners/players define subjectively as "good".

I think we have to just accept that there will necessarily be a large dose of randomness in any tone competition results, and live with it. And yet, some makers manage to consistently come out on top, even at very large events like VSA... which I think speaks to at least some consistency in the judging (as well as the maker).

October 28, 2016 at 01:41 PM · Apologies, Raphael, for my silly sense of humo(u)r; with which you seem to take issue, but we are basically in agreement.

Klonking the bridges of naked violins, and indeed blind tests, might seem to prove that a modern violin can easily equal the Alard Stradivari, but the "Personal touch" of an experienced player can come up with a different verdict. "Tonal evaluation" is a bit of a mystery and not a very scientific, thing, IMHO. And tastes differ.

On the other hand, the build, dimensions, quality of the timber and varnish etc.etc can be assessed somewhat more objectively.

When all's said and done, I think Davide Sora's achievement in consistently gaining high ratings at those "Triennale" contests is remarkable; as was that of David Burgess, for example, elsewhere.

October 28, 2016 at 02:06 PM · Yes, instrument making competitions involve a lot of subjectivity. There's really no way around it (so far), any more than there is with instrument playing competitions. Neither offers much in the way of simple or measurable or easily determinable outcomes, such as when a sports team scores the most goals, or when a runner crosses the finish line first.

Not that we couldn't change the assessment methods of playing competitions into something more measurable, like who can get through a particular concerto the fastest, or who does the best job of sticking to a metronome beat. ;-)

October 28, 2016 at 07:51 PM · David Beck - you got me! I did think you were serious! But look at all the good further writing that it brought out from me - to say nothing of modesty! ;-)

October 28, 2016 at 09:39 PM · Raphael, Ehnes did enter a competition. He won the CIBC young musicians competition when he was

12 years old beating out 18 year olds.

It is a Canadian national level competition but of course not at the level of the Elizabeth Concours or Tchaik.

October 29, 2016 at 06:18 AM · Look up Italian luthiers' websites and you will see that many boast of high rankings at contests in Baveno and Bagnacavallo. One such is Vittorio Villa, who has sold violins to Raphael Klayman.

My Italian is poor. Is a Bagnacavallo a horse-bath or horse trough ?? But these are two events to add to the list.

To date I have seen no evidence of regular contests like these in the UK; though as I have hinted there are periodic non-competitive exhibitions, for example, at the Manchester RMCM. At these the locally-made violins are the most prominent. But exhibitions of Italian instruments are hosted in London from time to time. At one of these I found my preferred violin was a different one from the one the "host" of the show seemed to like best. I liked Trabucchi whereas HE liked Marcello Villa. I didn't buy because I had a violin "just like that" already.

October 29, 2016 at 09:40 PM · Hendrik - OK, I stand corrected on that one! But if he entered and won no later ones I'd guess that he didn't feel he needed to by that time.

I'm all for instrument competitions for anyone who wants to participate - whether as an entrant or judge. They don't seem to make the same kind of splash for the music-loving public that playing competitions do. So a prize should do a maker more good than no prize would do ill. If they have a medal, by all means they should put it up on their shop wall and/or mention it in their bio. If not, they just don't have to go there.

BUT - I feel that the best thing for a maker's reputation and career is for a couple of big name players to endorse them by publicly saying that they own and really play on the work of this or that maker, and allow this info to be used on the maker's CV. Then, if 2 or more wealthy bidders at an auction fight over one of the maker's violins, pushing the price up to hugely unprecedented levels and the media gets hold of it, well... ;-)

October 29, 2016 at 10:28 PM · Getting a famous violin player to own your violin is a simple as mailing your violin to them as a gift, its worked for a lot of lesser name makers, and some big name makers I would guess.

October 29, 2016 at 10:41 PM · Quite apart from the expert performers, I wonder if the "ordinary graduate violinist" could benefit from luthier competitions being promoted and even followed.

Sure, the maestro seeks every advantage the best instrument can offer.

But, if you choose to not purchase a mass-market instrument, and want an instrument made by a dedicated, skilled luthier who has participated in international competitions for a decade or more, how do you learn about these luthiers, and their successes?

Clearly, promoting the competitions themselves, discussing the instruments presented, maybe even publishing the comments of the judges, the catalogues of the competitions, etc would help both luthiers and prospective purchasers. This would, in time, accumulate into a useful repository of who is doing what, where, and how well.

Of course, you still need to play the instrument before you make a decision, but you have to know where to look for your choices.

I recently, almost by chance, purchased a cello made in 2002 by Bartlomiej Dankiewicz, from Krakow. I'd never heard of him. But, day by day, I grow more pleased with the instrument. A little bit of research, after the fact, encourages me to think he is a skilled, long experienced luthier. And there must be a lot of other people making very respectable instruments we just don't know about.

October 30, 2016 at 09:42 AM · Graeme, for some of the competitions, results (other than for their most recent competition) can be difficult to find.

The Violin Society of America lists their gold medal winners going back to 1975, as well as those who have won three or more gold medals, on their web site, starting about 1/4 of the way down the following page:

Perhaps Davide Sora knows of a similar listing for the Cremona Competition.

As Lyndon mentioned, getting a famous player to play ones instruments can happen a number of ways. It's also not difficult to manipulate auction price results, by following an old trick in the art market world: Basically, one has a collaborator or two bid the item up to any value the seller wants. The collaborating buyer returns the item to the seller, is reimbursed by the seller, and the only net expense for this promotionally valuable high price record has been the auction house fees.

October 30, 2016 at 11:16 AM · On the MdV (Museo del Violino) web site, there is a "roll of honour" of the winners of all triennial competition, but only the gold medals.

Inside the museum there are some panels indicating all the awarded in each edition, but strangely on the website they do not allow access to this information, which however appear on the Internet with a specific search.

I think they should improve access to this information, but it seems they are not very skilled and efficient with computer science.....

October 30, 2016 at 11:23 AM · Thanks, Davide.

October 30, 2016 at 11:58 AM · Lyndon - what I said was: I feel that the best thing for a maker's reputation and career is for a couple of big name players to endorse them by publicly saying that they own and really play on the work of this or that maker.

David B. - can't that bidding trick backfire? What if someone bids up just to push things and no one else bids. Then he's stuck with it and what if the owner then says "too bad"?

October 30, 2016 at 01:12 PM · Yes, things could certainly go wrong if the seller refused to honor the prior agreement to repurchase the item from the buyer.

Another option would be for the seller to pay the "buyer" in advance, but that could go bad too, if the buyer takes the money and runs, without purchasing the instrument.

It's kind of strange that the whole thing largely relies on honor between dishonorable people, isn't it?

October 30, 2016 at 02:11 PM · Going back to prizes and awards that are given for the best sounding instruments, with all due respects to the judges, many if not all who are very fine judges of instruments in both the visual and sound, is it not likely that players with all their idiosyncrasies, will be looking for something different in the sound? No two people *necessarily* agree on what is the best sound for their purposes, as players, and it also takes time to play an instrument to get the hang of how to get the best sound out of it. I just wonder if judges can always make the best decisions when it comes to sound, as the time needed (like having several bows to try with each instrument - as already discussed) is just not viable.

October 30, 2016 at 02:29 PM · "...players with all their idiosyncrasies, will be looking for something different in the sound? No two people *necessarily* agree on what is the best sound..."

And, looking at some detailed tone scores from successive rounds of judging, even the same judge will not agree with themselves about what the best instrument is. And I myself have differing opinions about my own collection of instruments, highly influenced by what violin I just finished playing.

As I mentioned before, there is just a lot of randomness inherent in tone evaluation results. Just the nature of it. I recall at my first VSA competition, I got tone scores of 1, 2, and 3 from the three tone judges (with 1 being the lowest possible score, and 3 being the highest).

In spite of this, there are still makers who consistently gravitate to the top levels... not always winners, but always at least within range.

October 30, 2016 at 02:29 PM · Peter, yes, it seems that the tone judging results might weigh in favor of the instruments which the tone judges find most universally acceptable, and which don't require too much modification of the tone judges existing technique palette to get the most from.

Maybe that's a good thing? I don't know. Certainly though, it's fair to say that the tone judging panel won't be able to pick the ideal instrument for each and every player.

At the VSA Competition, one of the suggestions for tone judges is that they evaluate instruments on the basis of whether they would be suitable for a high-level professional player. Hopefully, this puts more emphasis on their overall experience with instruments, and puts less emphasis on a judges personal preferences.

October 30, 2016 at 10:43 PM · Very interesting replies from Don and David.

Another thing that occurs to me is that many of these violins (violas and cellos) will be brand new, and its even been hinted that the varnish was hardly dry on some! This means that they have not been played in and may also need a bit of extra tweaking and setting up. I think we all agree that instruments (either brand new or older) need playing in if they have been sleeping for a while.

It is also in my opinion important for a new player, even on an instrument that may be older, to imprint their own sound on it. I have found that instruments that may have been rather gently played, need waking up when a new and rather more forceful player takes over. Anyone else had this experience?

October 31, 2016 at 12:25 AM · "I think we all agree that instruments (either brand new or older) need playing in if they have been sleeping for a while."

I can not yet agree to that, as I have not yet found that this is true (and I have tried). What I AM certain of is that instruments need to be strung up and at pitch for a period of time, as any change in the static loads will affect the vibration properties of the wood for perhaps as long as a few weeks.

October 31, 2016 at 04:15 AM · This has come up before more than once, so I'll just address briefly (he said, hopefully) and maybe someone can find and reference the other threads.

There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that playing affects an instrument - and a bow, too - and further, that different players, especially good, strong ones, customize the sound and response.

Most professional players feel this way, and many makers do and some don't. An Italian maker some time back - I want to say Zanri but I may be mistaken - wanted to sell me a violin that he wanted to enter in a VSA competition at a steep discount if I would play it for some time before it was entered. Ed Maday and Vittorio Villa definitely believe in the improving effects of good playing and Charles Rufino told me how he saw and heard this right before his eyes and ears. Our own David Burgess expressed some doubts in earlier discussions on He - and everyone else - is certainly entitled to change his mind. But in a pamphlet (not wiki-leaks!) about his instruments that I assumed he approved of - but maybe not; do correct me if I'm wrong, David - wait, I'll go find it...

OK, found it! To be fair, it was from the 1980's and put out under the SHAR aegis. "Those who have been playing Burgess instruments for several years tell us that they undergo a radical improvement in sound and playability in the first six months...understand that if you buy a Burgess instrument because you like it that there is yet more to come."

October 31, 2016 at 05:56 AM · A violin enthusiast of old (I can't now remember who) wrote of "the beguiling softness of new work".

I have bought 4 absolutely new violins since the 1990s and my experience has been that at first new fiddles are in a bit of a fog. They are somewhat "ambiguous" - though my newbies sounded "nice" from the get-go. I found that after a decade or so their character became better defined as the haze cleared, and from each I became more able to draw out a bigger range of sound.

A London dealer once offered me the opinion that it can take 30-40 years before you really know what you have got.

So I liken trying a new violin to looking into a slightly misty crystal ball .. It's possible to get a good idea of an instrument's potential, and decide whether it's basically good or bad, but for the full spectrum we have to wait. This is one reason why I am a little sceptical about sound-trials at contests.

In 1993 I bought a new viola. I have hardly ever played it, but it "came out of the fog" whilst lurking in the case ! Probably the result of varnish and timber settling. I knew a professional 'cellist once, who bought a new instrument from one of the Bisiachs. He had problems playing it, and toyed with the idea of taking it to a repairer to "have some wood taken out". But he did not. He left it in the case for 10 years, and "BINGO". Liked it. Of course, the possibility that his playing improved in the interim period cannot be ruled out !

October 31, 2016 at 08:41 AM · This is a fascinating discussion.

I sometimes feel guilty if I put my (now 20+ year old) violin in its case for a month or so. It's nice to think it may, however, still be improving. I've had this fiddle for just about 5 years now, and it has changed and improved quite a lot. Or maybe I've just got more used to it and better at playing it?

The most effect on it however, are strings. I use three bows and the difference to the sound minimal. (From a £300 carbon fibre to an antique bow to a brand new modern bow). However, with some strings it sounds not so good at all, and with other strings very good. So maybe the tension thing is the key. (It hates medium tension Eudoxas, and so do I!)

October 31, 2016 at 08:51 AM · David (Beck) - that is interesting, about the softness of new violins. I think I have experienced the opposite, where a brand new violin sounded a bit raw. I noticed this at Bishop Strings when he had that Cremona exhibition. The M Villa violin sounded sweet, but the Bergonzi was extremely brash and like a wild horse! Probably a great fiddle once used to it and had a chance to tame it? There were one or two other fiddles that also sounded quite wild, but would probably become great in time.

I have noticed this with some brand new English violins as well, almost like they had been badly set up. (Maybe they were!)

The one thing I am aware of with old violins (especially old Italians) is that they are usually very mellow - at least under the ear. Is this because of their age - or having been under string tension for a long while? Or is it that the wood may be getting a bit tired after 200+ years?

It would be interesting to have access to say 10 brand new violins, and record them. Then after six months record them again in the same acoustic with all recording parameters being the same, and see if there was an audible difference. (With the same player as well, of course).

October 31, 2016 at 09:51 AM · While violins will definitely change over time, (particularly within the first few weeks after being introduced to string tension, as Don said), we're rather lacking in evidence that there are changes which are attributable to being played. Certainly, many musicians believe that there are, and that can't be ignored. But it also can't be ignored that humans are highly adaptable, and can become accustomed to an instrument, or learn to get the best out of it, or learn to get "their sound" out of it.

New instruments can also change if the varnish hasn't reached a stable state before it goes into the hands of a client. Some varnishes can continue to change for many years, if they aren't formulated or reacted in such a way that they have "plateaud", or reached a stable state, hopefully before they ever leave the maker's hands.

I've mentioned before a study in which they took two violins, built at the same time by the same maker. These were compared when new, and again after several years, during which one of the violins was unused, and the other was played regularly. Comparisons of sound between the two at the later date were almost no different from those conducted initially.

Don and I have also done some separate tests, which showed little or nothing in the way of changes due to vibration, based on what we could see from spectral analysis.

So all things considered, it's been really hard to form "factual" conclusions on whether or not violins "play in".

October 31, 2016 at 11:06 AM · My own suspicion is that a lot of this comes from large numbers of adjustments and string changes. Maybe 150 years of gut string vibrations with a light bass bar helps, too! That is a condition that hardly any new violins will get to live through.

Apart from decades' worth of work and abuse, an older instrument can seem to wake up a bit after a little playing. Perhaps that is the box's vibrations pushing the bridge and soundpost those last few hundredths of a millimeter into their optimal spots for that day's weather.

October 31, 2016 at 11:24 AM · Stephen, these things may be true. Although among other things I've tried, I have experimentally vibrated violins at such high levels that I feared breaking them.

Peter, I wouldn't characterize new instruments as having any particular sound, such as harsh or mellow. They can be all over the map.

On my own instruments, a high degree of mellowness isn't something I shoot for. A good amount of focus and crispness makes it easier for the player to hear themself in a group, and usually translates into better articulation and less muddiness from the audience perspective.

October 31, 2016 at 11:58 AM · We've had other threads on "playing in" new violins and the value of playing a mature violin to maintain its tone. Sure, the opinions of professional players, who spend so much time on their craft, and have trained themselves to listen very closely, are important. In science, however, one does not prove a given theory -- one disproves the reasonable alternatives. So aging of a new violin aside from playing needs to be ruled out, as does acclimation of the player to his or her new instrument. And that will be difficult.

As with all things violin, all theories are extrapolated to the finest detail -- such as the intonation and the quality of the vibrato of the player who is "playing in" the violin. These kinds of claims can only be supported by "pros know."

What makes me suspicious is the universal observation that playing a new violin always leads to improvement in its sound. Whenever one buys a violin, and then six months later the sound has declined, it's the varnish or the setup or the strings or the climate or the bow or the shoulder rest that gets blamed. Nobody ever says "playing in my violin turned it to rubbish."

October 31, 2016 at 12:22 PM · I don't say that a violin always IMPROVES with playing; I say that it CHANGES. It can change for the worse, too. Bad playing can crush the vibrations. Possibly, a violin can get worse from good playing, too, sometimes. Maybe all the vibrating can bring some not nice aspects to the surface that weren't obvious at first. Maybe this might happen in a case where the plates were too thinned out.

I've never had a new violin get worse. But I HAVE had a new violin that didn't improve as much as I had hoped. I have had new violins that were mellow and even a bit sappy at first that got more focused over time through a combination of adjustment and playing. I've also had new violins that were somewhat hard and stiff at first, with surface noise, which got more mellow with playing.

One thing I have experienced again and again is bringing in a violin for an adjustment and it would usually improve at least to some degree in the direction that I hoped for - except for one thing: it would usually get temporarily "newer" sounding - harder, stiffer, more surface noise. But experience taught me not to worry because within a few days or less of playing on it, those aspects would abate.

Paul reminds me of the very interesting discussion not too long ago re bows and how they influence sound. And I'm reminded of science vs scientism. I'm a big fan of the former:dreaming does not send rockets into space or make the computer I'm typing on at this very moment. But some very meaningful things such as love, for example don't lend themselves to being reduced to an equation. Scientism - and I'm NOT saying that Paul is representing this attitude - is a kind of secular orthodoxy that says that if it can't be measured, quantified or proven by scientific method, it's meaningless and anyone who believes in it is a fool. If years later that very thing happens to be proven scientifically, then we're given 'permission' to believe in it. Sometimes we have to jump out of one box and into another to experience something. I can't prove the existence of color television on a black and white tv. Come take a look at a color tv and you'll see for yourself. I can't make anyone else me - a professional violinist for years, fascinated by instruments who has owned many and tried countless more and whose conclusions are carefully considered. Spectural analysis of violin sound is, I'm sure, meaningful. But I'm equally sure that it does not tell the whole story. In that test that David B. references I'm confident that I could hear a difference in the sound or could feel a difference in the response.

All that said, of course it is a complicated subject with multiple moving targets: adjustment, local climate changes, how my ears are screwed on when I get up on a particular morning, etc. There are days when just playing a few notes on my favorite violin almost sends me into violin Nirvana! The next day, where I might describe its sound in identical terms, I'll say, "yes, quite nice. indeed" but I wont be so transported. But speaking of describing its sound, I keep a kind of diary about each of my violins. I don't write in it every day but from time to time - and I try to be as articulate as I can in describing its sound and response. It's very interesting how I might use virtually the same language weeks or months apart. However, when I look back to early entries I'm taken aback sometimes. "I described the violin like that? I'd never do so today!"

October 31, 2016 at 12:54 PM · I did not mean to infer that new violins always or often sound harsh - just some that i have tried. But then many older instruments can sound harsh as well.

Setup can make a large difference as well.

And of course its also down to the player. I'm always aware of the comment made by Ricci - that there should always be some air in the sound. As Raphael has hinted, that is down to the way the instrument is played.

October 31, 2016 at 03:48 PM · @Raphael-- Kato Havas once wrote that she could play a student's violin and deduce the technical problems he'd been experiencing that week.

October 31, 2016 at 05:15 PM · Perhaps I am guilty of scientism (and/or reductionism). I believe that one day we will understand the chemistry of love and the physics of the violin. It won't happen within our lifetimes, but those will be bright days for humankind, just as it was a bright day for humankind when Deep Blue finally beat Garry Kasparov at chess. That was almost 20 years ago, and it hasn't dissuaded the hustlers in Washington Square Park.

October 31, 2016 at 07:38 PM · Stephen, it's hard to know what to do with claims like that. Maybe she could. On the other hand, one thing we've learned from some of the double-blind studies is that some things appear to happen mostly in the mind of the player, or are based largely upon prior belief.

Paul, aren't many feelings and behaviors already known to be caused or influenced by chemical mediators? Research on "the bonding hormone" (oxytocin) is some that I've found particularly interesting.

But I've always had high interest in anthropology and behavioral science.

October 31, 2016 at 07:43 PM · So if someone prefers a given makers violin, and goes on and on about how great it is, chances are its all in their head, David????

October 31, 2016 at 08:10 PM · The chemistry of love isn't love. It's maybe some footprints of love.

October 31, 2016 at 08:13 PM · Lyndon, research suggests that it could be an element, for some people.

It's been interesting to see how some people react when they are handed a well-executed Strad copy, with a Strad label. Assessment of the sound quality tends to go down several notches, once they are informed that it's a modern copy.

October 31, 2016 at 08:26 PM · David, yes, there is a lot known ... but also so much we don't know. If you think brain science is interesting and important, contact your congressman and ask him (her) to please increase support to NIH and NSF for that kind of research.

Stephen, sorry but that's total BS. Havas might just as well have read the student's palm or the leaves in his teacup.

Lyndon, perhaps one could say that David doesn't make "great" violins at all. What he does apparently manage to do is to make violins that have tonal qualities that a lot of people these days, including professional evaluators, seem to like. Or is that the same thing.

October 31, 2016 at 08:49 PM · It's been interesting to see how some people react when they are handed a well-executed Strad copy, with a Strad label. Assessment of the sound quality tends to go down several notches, once they are informed that it's a modern copy.

I'm sure I've told this story before. A famous violin soloist bought a Guanarius del jesu and he/she thought it quite wonderful. After a certain time it was more or less accepted that it was not a Del J - so she/he sold it having decided it did not have such a great sound after all ...

October 31, 2016 at 08:49 PM · If I remember correctly Deep Blue beat Mr. Kasparov the first game only because he was somehow distracted, but then got mad and won the next 5 games against the computer.

November 1, 2016 at 02:34 AM · We're dealing with an aspect of an aspect of of Art - music and the violin. Of course we can't completely eliminate subjectivity - and maybe it's to the good that we can't. Once I was asked by one of my uncles - a non-musician who is a big fan of mine "is there a final arbiter in music?" I couldn't resist saying "yes, and it so happens it's ME!"

But if anyone reads Arnold Steinhardt's book, "Violin Dreams" or the book about Steven Staryk, "Fiddling With Life" - the Appendix A, where he analyzes many violins in very specific detail, or if anyone views the DVD, "Homage", Where James Ehnes plays on the violins in the collection of David Fulton and articulately describes the qualities of each one - would any reasonable person doubt that great and articulate violinists like these really know something on a certain level that's beyond the ken of the amateur or scientist?

Then there's little old me. Of course I have my subjectivities. But one thing I can say is that I am not bowled over by names. I've been less than impressed at auction - and private - showings by any number of big name violins and bows. And I've been known to be very consistent in describing violins very specifically, and feeling similarly for a long time. As an example, read my blog, "A Tale of Two Fiddles" where I compare two Vittorio Villa violins in my collection. You might find it somewhere in the archives or on my website in the blog section. A couple years or so later I wouldn't change a word - except to say that both violins have improved, with "Michelangelo" having gained more focus and thrust and "Leonardo" having gained in breadth.

As Pollonius said of Hamlet "if this be madness, there's method in it".

November 1, 2016 at 09:52 AM · Getting back to luthier competitions for a moment:

One of the violin tone judges at the upcoming VSA competition will be Elmar Oliveira.

November 1, 2016 at 11:52 AM · That's great! He's another top player whose very knowledgeable about instruments. I recall that in the past, Aaron Rosand was once a VSA tone judge.

November 1, 2016 at 01:51 PM · He is a top player and will certainly know what sounds good. Great news!

November 1, 2016 at 03:13 PM · BTW I remember the Riccardo Bergonzi violin to which Peter Charles referred. Judging from some of the wear, especially to the black edging to the scroll, I suspected this violin had been around the block already. It DID sound loud and clear. A strong dark contralto sound. Any beguiling softness gone already !

November 1, 2016 at 07:38 PM · Raphael, yes, Aaron Rosand was a tone judge in 1988.

Upon the sale of his Guarneri Del Gesu violin in 2009 for roughly ten million, he donated $1.5 million to the Curtis Institute. Interesting guy.

November 1, 2016 at 08:27 PM · Yes, I studied with him briefly.

November 1, 2016 at 08:55 PM · David Burgess, I'm really curious about your view regarding the claim that some violin makers have made their violins so consistent in both workmanship and tonal quality that their violins are practically identical for over a number of years. Specifically if I may ask:

1)To what extent and how a violin’s workmanship can predictably affect its tonal quality?

2)Is it possible for an experienced violin maker to produce nearly identical violins over a few years to the extent that some experienced violin players will unlikely notice major difference among them? (If so, this would be a big convenience to purchasers who don't have the opportunity to try every single one of them made the by the same maker).

3)If 1) and 2) are the case, what are some of the main reasons behind it?

This question is for everyone, given the fact that tonal quality is such a subjective matter that involves a lot of factors (where, who and how is violin is being played and heard, etc.), is it fair to say that, when it comes to purchase a violin, it is really not a good idea to primarily focus on tone quality, rather the focus/priority should be playability, clarity, balance, power and richness in color pallet, etc.?

In terms of tone judging, I wonder what kind of language they use to describe the tonal qualities? Anyone?

This is such a great thread. I’m learning tons.

November 1, 2016 at 10:35 PM · it is really not a good idea to primarily focus on tone quality, rather the focus/priority should be playability, clarity, balance, power and richness in color pallet, etc.?

Surely, all these things are part of the tone quality? Why would you not take all of these into account? If say a violin had a nice sound but no projection, or it lacked clarity, it would not be suitable.

I can't understand how anyone would not take every aspect of the sound when trying out a violin, especially if you can have it for a week or two on trial.

November 1, 2016 at 10:45 PM · Peter, I'm not sure what most people mean by "tonal quality". I guess I construed the term narrowly to limit the descriptions to the sound being bright, dark, buttery, etc. Also, by playability I mean responsiveness, so is clarity to some degree. By power I mean projection. By richness in color pallet I mean sensitivity the instrument has to allow players to create different colors, etc.

That said, I probably completely misunderstood how the term should be used and that's I asked (see above my last question) about they vocabulary the judges tend to use when they judge tonal quality of each instrument.

"I can't understand how anyone would not take every aspect of the sound when trying out a violin, especially if you can have it for a week or two on trial. "

Certain aspect of sound is more reliable than the other. Our ears adapt and, especially as amateur violinists, we are growing technically and musically. What sounds good to our ears now is not a good indicator it is in fact good. When there are a lot factors to consider, to focus means to eliminate certain information.

Thank you for giving me a chance to clarify.

November 1, 2016 at 11:18 PM · Playability is an interesting one. Some great fiddles are hard to play - Guanarius del Jesu comes to mind, and even some Strads. Sometimes we like an instrument a lot, but find it harder to play than another which is easier but does not have so many possibilities.

It may take some weeks, even months to get the hang of a really good violin, simply because there is a lot on offer from it, but it may be a bit temperamental - especially in the early stages. (The first day or two, the first week, the first month, or whatever. Some people can get the hang of a new fiddle in a few hours, others may take weeks or months).

It comes down to the player a lot of course, as well. I find a lot of players lack tonal variation and colour, or they can't get a certain richness of sound. Put the same violin in someone elses hands, and it comes to life.

November 1, 2016 at 11:21 PM · Jeff, the first match went to Kasparov 4-2 and the rematch went 3.5-2.5 for Deep Blue. Kasparov demanded a rematch but did not help his cause by accusing IBM of cheating; they refused and retired Deep Blue.

November 2, 2016 at 02:29 AM · Thank you Paul. I probably should have fact checked for myself before I made the previous statement. It was a long time ago.

November 2, 2016 at 11:01 AM · What Peter said!

I'm sure also that different people might use different language to describe pretty much the same reaction to a violin. In my blog that I referred to above, "A Tale of Two Fiddles", you can get a sense of my approach in which I freely used analogies ranging from wine to cars, to try to convey my impressions.

November 2, 2016 at 12:12 PM · I agree with Yixi that there are certain aspects of a violin's sound that are more easily judged objectively, such as raw power and balance among the strings. When it comes to the more subtle nuances of a violin's tone, but two people are more likely to make conflicting assessments, so the decision becomes more "personal".

Are the "objective" and "subjective" parameters neatly orthogonal? Maybe not -- but I would argue that it's reasonable to at least start one's evaluation process by considering those tonal features upon which nearly everyone is likely to agree. Some people just find more satisfaction in their decision-making when they know it is based at least partly on a logical, analytical process. The people who run the internet match-making sites would agree.

November 2, 2016 at 01:24 PM · Yixi Zhang wrote:

" David Burgess, I'm really curious about your view regarding the claim that some violin makers have made their violins so consistent in both workmanship and tonal quality that their violins are practically identical for over a number of years. Specifically if I may ask:

1)To what extent and how a violin’s workmanship can predictably affect its tonal quality?

2)Is it possible for an experienced violin maker to produce nearly identical violins over a few years to the extent that some experienced violin players will unlikely notice major difference among them? (If so, this would be a big convenience to purchasers who don't have the opportunity to try every single one of them made the by the same maker).


These are some rather complicated questions. For number 1, it would depend on what you mean by "workmanship". Conceivably, workmanship would involve everything having to do with making the violin, including shaping of the arching, and thicknessing, which would definitely have an influence on the tone and playability.

Some other elements might be more cosmetic. For instance, it would be possible for a violin to have a very ugly varnish, and not have that hurt the sound.

Then there's the type of workmanship which has to do with the structural integrity and longevity of the violin, which may or may not affect the tone in the short run, depending on specifically what it is. (We'll assume that a violin which has fallen apart no longer sounds good) ;-)

Question number 2:

I don't think it's possible for a violin maker to make two identical violins. There can be too much variation in the materials, even when the wood in two violins is taken from the same tree. I think it's possible for a maker to get them pretty close though. As with most skills in life, some makers are bound to be better at this than others, so I can't really give you an across-the-board answer.

November 2, 2016 at 01:33 PM · Should it even be goal of a maker to make all their violins sound as similar as possible??

Players tastes in violins vary dramatically, maybe a builder should not concentrate on just one type of sound???

When I built clavichords I built multiple models copied from quite different instruments, with quite different results, customers seemed to like having choices in different models and their differing sounds and playing characteristics.

November 2, 2016 at 01:46 PM · I can see how control over similarity could come in handy, if someone has tried a sample violin, and wants one made which is very similar.

I can also see how it might be handy for a maker to have "a signature sound", to make it easier for players to choose between makers, based on the typical or expected tonal and playing characteristics. I agree that not everyone wants the same thing, but there are lots of makers, so I don't think that one maker needs to try to be everything to everybody.

November 2, 2016 at 01:51 PM · Yes, I see the point to making a given model consistently, but I don't see the point to offering only one model, or several really similar sounding models.

November 2, 2016 at 04:42 PM · Most makers violins vary quite a lot and this has been going on for centuries. It means we have wider choices as well as when makers have a certain sound which can vary a bit but which people who like that sound might commission or try some of a particular makers instruments.

A maker I know here in London makes fairly consistent instruments (except for the odd one) and I like his violin sound. However, I never liked his violas, but that was probably down to my tastes, and he may have made different sounding ones by now. Even if there are variations in tone, many people will like a particular instrument. Many antique instruments made in the last quarter of the 19C and into the first 40 years of the 20C - by the same maker - can sound quite different.

November 2, 2016 at 04:53 PM · Stradivari must have made countless subtly to not so subtly different models over his lifetime, certainly there is no consistency to the graduations, so either they've mostly been regraduated or presumably he experimented there a lot as well.

November 2, 2016 at 07:09 PM · Paul, I like you for being the local skeptic. If you ask me, the world needs more skeptics, not fewer, but then I too have been accused of "scientism" more than once in my life.

I'm not sold on the utility of trying to tease out where psychology ends and "reality" begins when it comes to violins, though, other than as an academic exercise. (And it is an interesting academic exercise, don't get me wrong.) Suppose I can prove that violins don't actually change as they're "played in." What will your average violinist then do differently? My guess is nothing, and rightfully so. Because music is always going to be subjective no matter what we do, I think it's at some point fair to just let the mystery stand. It's not a situation like, say, medicine, where understanding objective reality is direly important.

November 2, 2016 at 08:03 PM · Paul and Sarah, hear hear! :D Even violins don't change over time (which I doubt very much), our ears adapt and hopefully our playing change for the better. Last weekend I had my soloist friend over tried five different violins ranging from US$4k to $40k of different qualities and tones, but miraculously they all sounded beautiful in its own way when she played. Well, I think it's pretty clear that a lot has to do with the player.

David Burgess, thank you! I’m seriously considering buying a 2016 Guadagnini model violin made by a Poland maker Wojciech Topa. I understand that he made some impressive violins in the past since 2003. I’m not able to compare them to get a sense if this one is as good as the previous successful ones. I hope you will agree that buyers have to put a lot of faith in a maker when it comes to a final decision, and I think it's not necessarily a bad thing. If we are all over-critical, we are not supporting the modern makers and everyone loses in the end, right? That said, I wonder if it is crazy to assume that violins made by a seasoned luthier will not vary so significantly in fundamental qualities such as their structural integrity and longevity as you mentioned.

Peter, apart from variation in sound, have you seen a reputable maker who produced violins with different qualities over time in terms of playability?

Raphael, I've read all your blogs and loved them! Your descriptions of violin fit my imagination very well. I think the Topa I’m trying now has what you described “a lush, sensuous quality, a 'chewy' texture on many notes”. I don’t know what a noble tone sounds like, but I guess it is the opposite of common and cheap. Judging a violin’s tone must be a lifelong effort and this is why I’ve decided to keep my mind open on this area and keep learning.

November 2, 2016 at 10:17 PM · Sarah, yes, I know it's a bit academic, but if you're an amateur spending less than $15,000 on a violin, and a day job (and other stuff) that keeps you pretty busy, you can go insane pretty fast without at least some reduction or at least organization of the parameter space. Granted, that depends on one's personality. Some are content to search and search until they just happen to hit on that perfect-yet-affordable violin. But not me. However I don't think it takes a lot of "teasing out" to line up ten violins and pick the two that sound the loudest. If power is among your purchase criteria, then why not start with something that's easier to deal with?

Lyndon asked: "Should it even be goal of a maker to make all their violins sound as similar as possible??"

If I were a maker who sold his last ten such instruments for a steadily increasing asking price, then I think my answer to that question would probably be "Yes."

November 2, 2016 at 11:36 PM · Paul, once again you and I think so alike. Wow! Yes, any self-respecting professional would have certain standard for their products that will be painstakingly upheld and wouldn't allow a substandard product be out the door. I would think this is particularly the case with a violin maker because, among other reasons, violinmaking by and large is a labour of love. There are so many of them in the world, it's very hard to establish good reputation and it's too easy to lose it.

In terms of shopping around and try a lot of violins, it maybe just fun for some, but it's a big hassle for me. So I have to ask what exactly I try to accomplish in such endeavor? Yes, it's very important to try as many violins as possible to get a clear sense what we are looking for in a violin. For this matter, why not just try the ones your teacher(s) and friends have instead going to different shops? This way I would argue that you will have less pressure from the salesperson and certainly a lot less hassle with traveling. Of course, when we are going shopping, we naturally want to know which one is the best choice among the similar stuff that are available for us to buy. This is how I do grocery shopping, but not with violin. Violin shopping is more like seeking a partner, you have to spend individual quality time with each and then some. It's personal and I'm not getting into detail here ;)

November 2, 2016 at 11:56 PM · Go back to the topic of competition, can anyone shed light on competitions in Poznan? Apparently, Poland is the only country in the world where violin makers can receive a university-level education, according to The Warsaw Voice ( Seems like a lot of luthiers are in Zakopane producing fine and affordable violins. Is Zakopane the new Cremona?

November 3, 2016 at 12:02 AM · "Is Zakopane going to be the new Cremona?"

Well I appreciate the sentiment since that's where my violin was made (as you know), but that's a ways off. :)

By the way have you heard (of) the band Zakopower?

November 3, 2016 at 01:00 AM · Haha, we can hope :-) Yes, I watched some of their videos. I also read about his view on violin making, somewhat intuitive. I have to dash for a concert but will post the source tomorrow.

November 3, 2016 at 08:09 AM · Yixi

Peter, apart from variation in sound, have you seen a reputable maker who produced violins with different qualities over time in terms of playability?

I'm afraid I have not tried enough violins to really know if there are makers with differing qualities. Possibly string choice and other factors will make a bigger effect than slight differences between a maker's instruments. We as players have the biggest effect on sound.

Playability is also variable as some players can adapt immediately whereas others take a long time.

November 3, 2016 at 11:35 AM · As far as consistent sound goes, I've tried about 8-10 Strads and 3 del Gesus - and they all sounded significantly different from one another. From my personal experience I'd say that the idea of a Strad sound vs a del Gesu sound is but a generalized family resemblance with a lot of indidvidual exceptions. I'd say that's a good thing.

I'd have trouble defining a "noble" tone - or a noble appearance, myself. Same with noble-sounding music. Off-hand a lot of Handel's music does that for me. But I'd recognize it if I came across it. There was a judge who said much the same of nude art vs pornography!

November 6, 2016 at 12:20 AM · Here's a different view on the subject of new vs. almost-new. Different instrument, but still...

"Is there a difference between how old and modern instruments sound — say, a very well-made replica of a historic instrument compared to the original?"

"That’s a hard question to answer. But it’s well-known among builders that harpsichords change over time, especially in the first month. Pianos and guitars as well. And it’s not just age. In the 1960’s, [British harpsichord maker] Hugh Gough came across a late-18th century French harpsichord that had never been strung. It was apparently unfinished at the time of the Revolution, and had been set aside. Somehow it wasn’t destroyed, which is what happened to a lot of French harpsichords, and it was never completed either. Gough strung it, and to his amazement it sounded like a new instrument.

"Instruments continue to change after the first month, but more slowly. Dowd made a copy of a [1730 Nicolas] Blanchet for the Smithsonian, and it sounded new. But a year later, he went to check up on it, and he noticed that it sounded a lot more like the original.

"No one knows why this happens. But it’s fun not to know everything!"


November 6, 2016 at 03:10 AM · Raphael, you may have tried several Strads, but hasn't each one of those instruments been through its own unique history of modification and occasional restoration?

November 6, 2016 at 10:34 AM · Of course. But Strad was also always experimenting - just witness the "long pattern" Strad.

In fact, speaking of the Long Pattern Strad, one of those was the last Strad I tried a few years ago, alongside a del Gesu. This was at the New York Mondo Musica, where I briefly met our David Burgess. The Florian Leonard Booth featured these two instruments as well as a beautiful-looking copy that FL made of an Amati, which I didn't try. I had a lot of fun playing somewhat extensively on these two violins.

One of the things that conventional wisdom says is that you can dig into a del Gesu more with a more vertical bite into the string ( I typically think Stern), whereas a Strad responds better to a more horizontal sweep (e.g. Milstein) or a flowing approach (e.g. Menuhin). (Most accomplished violinists are an admixture of the two approaches but may lead more with one or the other.) In fact Ricci as I recall, put it colorfully like this: "If you're going to tear into a Strad you're barking up the wrong tree. And if you're going to be a milquetoast with a Strad you might as well soap up your bow." Well, with these two particular violins I found the opposite to be true! I could dig in more with the Strad whereas the del Gesu responded better to a more horizontal sweep. Both sounded quite good, with a lot of color. So again, there may be general tendencies but also many exceptions. Back to Ricci, he also said that he liked Strad-ish del Gesus and del Gesu-like Strads.

I'm sorry I didn't get to try the FL violin, which I should have tried first. But I felt that I hogged the booth for too long. So despite a very nice compliment by someone working there I felt I should leave and let someone else have fun at that booth.

So, inherent characteristics? Changes in an instrument due to how it was played? Adjustments? Accidents? Gamma rays? (OK, I just wanted to see if people were still paying attention - but who knows?) Multiple moving targets for sure (including me) and lots of fun!

November 6, 2016 at 09:56 PM · Yixi, my cello made by Barthlomiej Dankiewzicz comes with some fact-based brochures, paperwork on dimensions, etc, and a certificate etc, and among this literature we are told that Barthlomiej has completed the award, "Graduate of the Music Academy Poznan, Poland, Faculty of Violin Construction".

My research, before I bought my cello, turned up that he did this program of study in about 1980 - 83, and that his son completed the same program probably during the period 1998 - 2002.

I also took confidence" from Bartlomiej participating in many competitions for makers, including H.Wirnisdedki Competition in Poznan, in Prag, in Budapest, in the P.Czaijkowski Competition in Moscow, in the A. Stradivari Competition in Cremona, in the Cello Competition in Manchester, and that he won a special prize for artistic quality of a viola in Budapest, 1993, and was awarded in Moscow for construction values, 1994. And he competed with several violins in competition this year (2016).

Now, my guess is, if a luthier has had good, reputable training, and thirty years of experience including almost "constant" participation in construction competitions, with some considerable success, then it is very likely that such a luthier will have a very high standard for each and every instrument he or she makes. Why would such people make "second best efforts"?

Further research shows that Poland has a considerable history in making fine cellos, and other string instruments. (I just was unaware of their small volume of good instruments over many, many years, from quite a sequence of luthiers.) So, that degree program is likely to have the quality of instruction that comes from a proud heritage of excellent work. (There is no big bucks in it for tramping out rubbish training under government subsidised training grants in Poland!!)

November 7, 2016 at 12:06 AM · "I also took confidence" from Bartlomiej participating in many competitions for makers, ..."


Graeme, I'm not so sure that participating in a bunch of contests tells you much about a maker. Wouldn't it matter more how they fared?

November 8, 2016 at 10:41 PM · David, who wants to be judged by his or her peers, year after year, if the instruments entered are not competitive?

The negative fall-out would accumulate into commercial pain.

I guess no competition issues a "worst instrument" prize, but word would get around.

Perhaps I should put more emphasis on the fact that he has been awarded several times up to the time he made the cello I bought (Moscow, Budapest).

Anyway, it strikes me as a positive thing for both purchasers and luthiers if the luthier competitions were given much more public discussion, promotion and the results and the instruments entered could be better tracked.

November 9, 2016 at 10:02 AM · "Anyway, it strikes me as a positive thing for both purchasers and luthiers if the luthier competitions were given much more public discussion, promotion and the results and the instruments entered could be better tracked."

I couldn't agree more.

Perhaps a youtube video or a live stream of the final acoustic test of instruments might be a nice idea and I think it would also be an excellent advertising of the competition itself.

I will try to suggest this idea to the organizers of the Triennale di Cremona, given that the acoustic final test is in any case open to the public in this contest.

Of course there is the problem that in these final tests the instruments are still anonymous and identified only by a number, then an update of the video should be done at the end of the competition linking the numbers with names of violin makers, also indicating the prizes awarded and the respective places in the final ranking.....

November 9, 2016 at 10:40 AM · "David, who wants to be judged by his or her peers, year after year, if the instruments entered are not competitive?"


Graeme, lots of people enter contests repeatedly, without winning any of the major awards, or without winning any award at all. You'd need to ask them about their motives for doing so. Maybe it's the "shotgun" approach, where entering lots contests (particularly the minor ones) increases the chances of winning something. Or maybe it has to do with entering being a good learning experience.

A risk of commercial suicide by doing so? It's probably very low. People may pay attention to a list of winners, but there seems to be much less interest in a list of all the competitors, if such a list is even made available.

November 9, 2016 at 12:29 PM · "Of course there is the problem that in these final tests the instruments are still anonymous and identified only by a number"

from the tv series, "Secret Agent" theme song: "They giving you a number and taking away your name"

from the intro to the tv series, "The Prisoner":

Prisoner to his apparent chief captor:

"Who are you?"

Captor: "The new number two"

Prisoner: "Who is number one?"

No. 2 "That would be telling. You are no. 6"

Prisoner: "I'm not a number, I'm a free man!!!"

No. 2 "Ha, ha, ha, ha , ha, ha, ha!!!"

OK, maybe I inhaled too much rosin dust just now!

November 9, 2016 at 12:30 PM · But seriously, may great new instruments and bows continue to be made, identified and loved!

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