Luthier Competitons -- Acoustic test

November 9, 2016 at 06:38 PM · Let's explore this matter.

Davide Sora suggests in other discussion (Luthiers Competitions) that, by showing a live stream or video recording of the final acoustic test of instruments during a luthier competition, it will not only give more public discussion but also be an excellent advertising of the competition itself.

Davide also pointed out the issue of anonymity of these instruments during the final tests. Any other comments and concerns?

Replies (21)

November 9, 2016 at 10:43 PM · You simply can't judge the sound of a violin when you're not there in person. So in my opinion such a live stream/video recording is not very useful.

November 9, 2016 at 10:44 PM · No matter how I look at this idea, it comes out shining.

It would be a very interesting process to watch, to learn about, to learn more about the instruments, their makes, etc.

November 10, 2016 at 12:22 AM · Hidde, really? How can then so often we hear people want the "Heifetz sound", "Kreisler sound" when all we've got is recordings?

This document made by Daniel Hope certainly shows a lot about different violins and how different they sound, even in some less ideal settings.

Here is the link.

Graeme, agreed! Especially I would like to know how and where the judges try and listen to each instrument. For instance, some violin behaves better in a large hall full of people. Some players bring certain tonal qualities others don't. How do these factors to be taken into consideration?

November 10, 2016 at 01:05 AM · From these images from XIV Triennale you can understand something about where and how the acoustics work is done, from minute 1.21 there are images of the acoustic final open to the public.

It is a bit repetitive experience because the pieces played are the same for all (obviously),you can see the faces of the jurors sorely tried at minute 2.00, and at minute 2.08 I'm the guy in the front row at the bottom left with the red shirt... :-)

But considering a video with the possibility to listen in the same recording conditions and also with the ability to play them back several times,I believe that could be interesting.

November 10, 2016 at 05:14 AM · In comparing violins there is no substitute for live testing oneself, then hearing others live. We can use every last overtone at our disposal. Certainly the average YouTube offering leaves much to be desired.

That said, the best non-live counter-example that I can think of is the the DVD, "Homage", where James Ehnes plays on the violins and violas of the David Fulton collection. He plays different pieces on each one which he feels best exemplify the respective instrument but he also later plays the same excerpt on each one in a very high quality DVD.

Here is a good sample - but already the Youtube copy is not not as good as listening to the DVD directly:

November 10, 2016 at 07:16 AM · " In comparing violins there is no substitute for live testing oneself, then hearing others live."

I agree. Part of my "violin education" way back was listening to the Ruggiero Ricci LP "THE GLORY OF CREMONA" which gave a good comparison of the RELATIVE playing qualities of Amato, Stradivari, Guarneri and Brescian violins. I got a good general impression. But in absolute terms, I have found recordings, especially those over the internet, limited.

When that famous Macdonald Stradivari viola came on the market, I thought the sound-clip of it being played sounded just like my Strad-copy 1992 instrument !! And there have been instances where all kinds of cheap fiddles have been made to sound as well as costly valuable ancient examples, such as, e.g., Stradivari.

The knob-twiddlers at recording sessions can and do work miracles. If the "settings" and the playing style were constant for all fiddles on trial, then the results could have comparative significance; but since players will adapt instinctively to the instrument they are playing then uniformity of playing style is the one thing of which it's difficult to be absolutely sure, IMHO.

" How can then so often we hear people want the "Heifetz sound", "Kreisler sound" when all we've got is recordings?"

Well, a recording does give a quite good impression of a player's method of sound production, but as I suggested any basic qualities of the individual violin tend to be overridden.

Are the violins in the Cremona Triennale and other contests all required to be fitted with the same brand of strings ?? Do the judges look to see all sound-posts are in the same internal spot and that the bridges are all the same height ??

November 10, 2016 at 10:04 AM · Of course yours are the right answers, there is nothing that can replace the live experience to be able to evaluate the sound of an instrument properly.

Recordings are just for fun but they can also give some clue if you could compare the instruments in equal conditions.

Anyway I do not think anyone has ever bought a violin on the basis of a recording, would be a little foolhardy.

Judge the sound of instruments is not easy and would require calm and time, which in violin-making competitions is far too limited for the large number of instruments to judge.

In the final test things go a little better, but even here the instruments are not few and should be judged on an equal footing (same pieces) and in a single day.

For example in the last Triennale di Cremona in the finals there were 7 violins, 5 violas, 6 cellos and 3 double basses, each instrument was played a solo piece and one with the piano, all the violins were played twice, because the violinists in the jury are two, while there is only one violist, one cellist and one bassist.

To select these finalists, the five musicians began with 60 violins, 31 violas, 22 cellos and 10 basses, come out from the selection of the five violin makers of the jury, who have evaluated 194 violins, 82 violas, 59 cellos and 16 basses.

Really a huge quantity of instruments and a lot of work to be done, I do not think Ehnes has undergone similar pressure when he tried the violins of the Fulton collection.....:-)

November 10, 2016 at 12:26 PM · Yixi, to answer your question, the "Heifetz Sound" is not the violin. It's the shimmer of his vibrato, the exact way he executes portamento, his innumerable measure-by-measure interpretive choices, etc.

In fact there is a legendary story about someone telling Heifetz, after a performance, that "your violin sounds great" or some such, and he holds the violin up to his ear and says, "That's funny, I don't hear anything." (Sorry if the quotes are not accurate, but you get the idea.)

November 10, 2016 at 04:56 PM · Paul, I absolutely agree with you that the largely and ultimately the sound is up to the player to produce. My point in referring the "Heifetz" sound is specifically in response to Hidde's position that one "simply can't judge the sound of a violin when you're not there in person."

It is an argument of live vs recording. Does recording inform us anything about a violin? My view is that, while of course it is ideal to listen to the violin playing live, in absence of such opportunity, recordings or live streams can tell you a lot about these fiddles when compared side by side played by the same person. Take a look at the video of David Garrett trying a bunch of great violins at Museo del Violino in Cremona, you'll hear clear difference from one violin to the other played by the same violinist. This is the link to this video.

When we watch international violin competitions online via live streaming/youtube recording, we don't just listen to interpretations or musicality of each competitor, but also how their instrument sound. It's not easy to tell in every case whether it's the player or the instrument or both made a violin sound particularly good or bad, but we still want to hear and make our own assessment.

I want to know how the competiting violins sound and being judged in luthier competitions just as much I want to know how the violinists sound and being judged in violinist competition. I'm sure I'm not alone.

November 12, 2016 at 05:36 PM · If all the instruments are played with exactly the same relationship to the mics and the room, we can still compare them, if not really judge them.

November 12, 2016 at 11:02 PM · This interesting video about "My Cannon" is a little bit off topic, and has probably been seen by everyone except me (until I stumbled upon it).

However, I enjoyed it, and it does shed more light on makers and restorers.

November 14, 2016 at 06:02 PM · Graeme, good one! Thanks for sharing!

Adrian, yes, but most importantly, it just makes so much sense for public to see and hear how luthier competitions work and how these instruments sound, like we get to see international violin/piano/string quartet competitions via live streaming and YouTube these days. Of course one can't seriously expect they are able to judge each instrument accurately without playing in person, no more than one can judge the performers better than the jury by watching competition online. Well, some might try, but I think getting a "second opinion" from the public would hardly be the purpose for posting the competitions online.

February 24, 2017 at 10:29 PM · During my second to the last trip to Cremona in November 2015, I recorded each of the 20+ violins that I tried there using my iPhone's Recorder app. But when I played them back later, you know what? They all sounded the same, almost exactly the same. Why? Because the recording quality was bad! My understanding is that to get the best quality recording, you need a set of excellent equipment (microphone, mixer and recorder), a hall or studio with excellent acoustics and an excellent recording engineer. I have a big selection of classical music CDs, and I can easily tell the difference between the big brand record company and the budget brand record company. Sound quality for the Youtube videos vary significantly depending on the three factors. Can an audio or a video recording show the difference in sound quality? Absolutely, but you have to have those three EXCELLENT factors in place to ensure authentic playback of the sound.

To compare instruments' sound quality, you have to do it side by side at the same conditions. Human beings have a very short memory for sound. When you try to recall what that violin sounded yesterday, your memory can easily cheat you. I play some of my violins for relatively a long time, but if I put one aside for a while and then come back to it, often times I would say to myself: "Oh, it doesn't really sound like what it sounded like last time I played it" :-)

February 24, 2017 at 10:44 PM · To go off the track a little, after trying so many different violins, I still find it very challenging to make the best judgement. It sounds like a life-long learning experience! Some maker's workshop has very good acoustics, while others may be pretty poor. Some violins have been played for a while, while others might be just finished the day before. But I just can't bring all the violins to the same place to try them at the same time. Of the violins that I have purchased, most of them get better later with more playing, but a couple of them sound worse now than I first tried them in the maker's workshop. In short, some violins get much better, some get a little better, some don't really change, and some get worse. How to predict how a violin sound would become in the future? Sounds like mission impossible! Maybe someone can offer some insight.

February 24, 2017 at 11:35 PM · Is there a human decision with a higher cost-to-objectivity ratio than choosing a violin? I doubt it.

February 25, 2017 at 05:53 AM · A useful indicator of the project's difficulty is the Miracle Makers CDs recorded by Elmar Oliveira. It gives you a fine look at the performance of a lot of Strads and del Gesus, plus a few others, but it had to be done very carefully, with some excellent and expensive equipment. Even after all that, a second-rate sound system can make it hard to tell the difference between instruments

February 26, 2017 at 01:30 AM · Well, Kevin, you are a living proof that myth of violin break-in over time can not be sustained anymore.

Is there Via Kevinada in Cremona yet, or we are supposed to submit a petition to the city?

February 27, 2017 at 10:59 PM · Someone has brought up this idea, but I guess it hasn't happened yet. So Rocky, please submit a petition to the city :-)

I did say that some violins get much better with more playing, but some don't.

February 27, 2017 at 11:42 PM · I have ALWAYS wanted shops/luthiers to start recording their available violins (with quality equipment in a controlled setting).

The issue with this is that it doesn't give a "real-feel" to the instrument, and there are probably luthiers who wouldn't want the public to underestimate their violins because they don't sound great in recordings. Like a person who's not photogenic but is beautiful in real life!

In my experience, violins that record well aren't actually good concert instruments. So therein lies the real issue at hand.

In order to get a "proper" recording of concert-ready violins, I think the recording setup would have to be very sophisticated, and listeners would have to PROMISE to listen on headphones! It would have to be done in a concert hall and from a fair distance with multiple mics situated to replicate how the violin fills the room.

February 28, 2017 at 12:04 AM · You guys are generally correct. Good quality equipment for is needed for playback and recording. Mic placement can change as little BG as its the same on each recording so the only variable is the instrument. Knowing where the mic is can allow the listener to determine what violin sounds best (in their opinion) under the specific circumstances.

February 28, 2017 at 05:02 AM · Oh, I also wanted to address the question of "How can then so often we hear people want the "Heifetz sound", "Kreisler sound" when all we've got is recordings?

I think the answer is that we CAN'T. Since heifetz is dead, the only thing we have to compare his recordings to is other recordings.

I imagine if you were to ask someone who'd heard him live to compare it to the recording, they would say it's like an entirely different instrument.

We can get SUGGESTIONS of his sound and definitely ideas on his physical technique, but not his real sound.

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