Dilemma - Old vs new violin

December 8, 2016 at 02:50 PM · Have you ever tried a brand new violin which is of higher price, and the tone pales in comparison to your older violin of lower price?

New violin tends to sound stiff at first. It seems I need to upgrade to a used (instead of brand new) violin to get that seasoned tone or better.

What do you think?

Replies (102)

December 8, 2016 at 02:51 PM · I think most of it is our imaginations.

December 8, 2016 at 02:56 PM · I think you should trust your own ear, and not leave it up to other people's imaginations.

December 8, 2016 at 03:28 PM · Yes, you have to use your imagination if you don't have an ear....

December 8, 2016 at 04:00 PM · If you mean literally brand new, as in never before been played, then yes, it will need to be played in. Beyond that, I don't personally believe any overarching rule can be applied to the sound of "new" instruments versus the sound of "old" instruments.

December 8, 2016 at 04:01 PM · Interesting. I think there is a difference in violin sounds from violin to violin. I don't think it is our imagination. But I do think that there is less difference in actual SOUND than people percieve. I think that the way the instrument feels, how your fingers fall on the fingerboard, how it looks when you are playing it and when it is sitting or hanging by itself, how the varnish looks and feels, how comfortable it is for you to hold and many MANY other tiny things encourage our minds to hear what we hear when we play which is the overall sound.

I think a case in point for this argument are the blind tests by "experts" who can't hear the difference between a strad and a modern violin.

To address the OP...I think you should get what sounds best. If that means a used violin then cool. Perhaps you need to up your buying price on new violins to get a better sound.


December 8, 2016 at 04:01 PM · Double

December 8, 2016 at 04:20 PM · I have had some very good experiences with brand new violins. If a new violin is "stiff" and it is not the fault of the setup, one has no idea what its future will be.

On one purchasing occasion for another person about 15 years ago, after trying about 30 violins I found two at the same price that seemed rather equal. One was brand new and the other about 75 years old. I thought the new one had more likelihood to improve so I selected it.

I was gifted the older one a few years later and kept it until I gave it to my son last year. I also had the opportunity to play the "new" one a couple of years ago. At that time they were both fairly similar, I don't know you could say the new one had improved, but it did not get worse, either.

December 8, 2016 at 06:36 PM · Vincent, I don't think you can generalize about the sound of new or old violins. And testing has suggested that even very fine players can't do it reliably either. Each violin will sound the way it sounds, and is best evaluated on its individual merits (or lack thereof).

December 8, 2016 at 07:45 PM · apples vs. oranges, anyone?

December 8, 2016 at 09:00 PM · I think you can do well either way, if you can play them yourself (or have someone you trust help) to assess the sound and also look at the condition. Also, this article may be of help, when it comes to buying an old violin:

12 things to look out for when buying a second hand violin

December 8, 2016 at 11:36 PM · One day I'd like to be able to check out older violins offered for sale privately and have a good sense of what to look for. For my first time I bought new, but we did play old violins in the string shop against my favorite of the new violins. We also played European made violins against Chinese made violins. The dominant violin was French made c1890's. But being twice what I had available to spend, I opted for a new violin that, in my opinion, beat out the other older violins.

It really helped being able to hear it under my ear, then also hear someone else play it, and to have their opinion as well.

December 8, 2016 at 11:45 PM · My personal experience with an upgrade was a bit of a disaster. My original (also current) violin is what I call a "Mittenwald-Strad" that was made sometime in the late 1800's and brought to America by my wife's Great Grandfather. I had that fixed up and played it for years and then got the bug to get a "better" instrument. With all kinds of advice I purchased a Reinhold Schnable made in the 20th century (I don't remember the exact date). My teacher loved it and could make it sing. However, it did not speak easily (like the family-fiddle) but I tried harder and harder to get the kind of tone my teacher could produce. Frustrated I had my teacher and a few professionals who had become friends play both instruments in front of me. There was the surprise - they all made the family-fiddle sound great, much better than I could get as well as making the new instrument sound great.

I'm not saying that you don't need a new instrument but have some others demonstrate what your instrument is capable of before leaping on another instrument that may not be what you need.

End of my story, I sold the Schnable for what I paid for it, and have been playing the family-fiddle ever since and my tone has improved over the years. My Mittelwald-Strad is still my best musical friend and appreciated by those I play with - I learned how to get that tone that used to elude me so many years ago.

December 9, 2016 at 03:07 AM · There is absolutely significant difference in both sound and playability between violins, but it's not related to age per se.

Try listening to this: http://www.thestrad.com/put-your-ears-to-the-test-can-you-pick-the-stradivarius-violin/

December 9, 2016 at 03:24 AM · I think there night be a trend where aged instruments are smoother in sound, thus giving them overall better response and non-harsh sounding chords when played loudly (ex: Tchaikovsky concerto movies 1 chords near beginning).

This is my experience from trying out quite a few old violins and comparing them to newer ones immediately afterwards (including an instrument by Omobono Stradivari). :)

December 9, 2016 at 01:40 PM · Yes I think there is a tendency for new violins to have a small or not so small element of rawness to the tone that older violins do not usually have, I also think on the whole violins get somewhat harmonically richer with age, and smoother yes.

I think the whole new vs old debate comes down to what you expect a violin to do, if you are looking for raw, overpowering power and volume, a new violin might appeal to you more, if you are looking for smooth, very sweet tone, an antique tends to do better at that IMHO.

The reason you hear so much about new violins being better is tastes are changing and the "new" sound is appealing to a larger group, and the "old" sound is not as popular as it used to be.

I think the market is moving towards everyone wanting a "soloist" violin, even though the vast majority of them will never be soloists. This soloist violin characteristic is a type of sound that modern builders are catering to, less so the older makers of violins that are now antiques.

I would state that new violins and old violins tend to sound different, and people have different tastes in the sound they prefer, that's why some people swear by antiques, pick the Strad in the blind test, and others prefer and pick modern violins.

December 9, 2016 at 11:02 PM · So assuming that old vs new actually makes a difference, how much do other factors weigh into that equation, by comparison.

Example: if you're looking at the violin from the 1800's and it sounds terrible, do you think "maybe if it had these other strings" or "maybe a different bow would make a difference"? Or conversely, if it sounds great - how much to you contribute to other factors? Example: "Sounds great, but I wonder what it sounds like with warmer strings?"

Is the 'old vs new' thing a BIG factor, or a smaller factor compared to other considerations (strings, bow used, rosin, humidity, the hour of the day, etc)???

December 10, 2016 at 02:25 AM · It is a rather large factor, above anything else bar the bow you use, as it in an inherent difference that can only be tweaked, not erased (which is also why you cannot really "age" an instrument without waiting a while. :)

December 10, 2016 at 02:27 AM · Well, I quite honestly believe too sweet a sound may not be ideal. That said, older violins can also be very powerful anyway.

And finally, a "soloist" tone doesn't need to be horrible or screechy sounding, even if it will always be harsher under the player's ear. Loudness under the ear should not be, IMHO, the sole reason one acquires a violin, even if you don't want a dull sounding instrument.

(Similar reasoning with gut core strings-doubt they are really "too weak" to project well for "modern performance", as a few seem to think, unless perhaps they are very, very thin and low tension.)

December 10, 2016 at 06:15 AM · I read somewhere that in wine-tasting also most judges are inconsistent and the general public often can't tell good from bad wine. I assume violin is somewhat similar.

(1) Many of us have no ear able to judge a good or bad violin [or very limited ability], (2) probably some can judge a generally good from a generally bad violin [and presumably this is a bit trainable--just as I can probably tell a good wine from a terrible wine], and (3) there are some superstars where if you got them in a room they'd be able to accurately tell minor differences and variations across dozens of violins. On #3 I really do believe that some people can tell a wide range of variations, but it's not me.

I'd guess on this board there are a lot more of #2 and #3 but for relative newbies like me we have to rely on teachers and others who are more experienced. It also wouldn't surprise me if even many luthiers can't tell a huge difference. The advice here is sound--try lots of violins, and ideally borrow teachers or friends with better ears.

Two other thoughts on new/old: (1) presumably the very best older violins get passed down and maintained, but also the most *durable* violins survive (and durability may be inversely related to sound--we have one of these violins in the family), and (2) sound trends also probably change, so it's worth considering the cautionary note on everyone wanting a shiny, new violin that projects well.

December 10, 2016 at 02:56 PM · Consistency of choice was also a factor in those "Can you tell the Strad from modern instruments?" tests. It's not that opinions were all over the map; testers voted along similar lines, just for surprising instruments.

I saw bits of one of those documentaries and, not that majority rules necessarily, but most of them (and I as well) thought the Strads had a grittier, harsher tone than some of the modern instruments. One of the moderns specifically had a drool-inducing woody molassesy sweetness; one tester said beyond shadow of doubt it was an old world instrument. I thought that too, but it was only maybe 20 years old.

Despite this, I do agree with and am perturbed by the general pandering of instrument makers and string makers to those wishing for power on top of power while sacrificing sweetness (looking at you Evah!). It's a violin not a truck.

In other news: Pirazzi flame war is a go!

Fiber v. Filament

The Bout Between The Bouts

Will Amplitude Undertake Overtone?

Check your local listings


December 10, 2016 at 04:06 PM · I think the mistake in judging age by sound is over estimating the seasoning of the wood as a factor. It is a factor, certainly and a big one. But it's not the only big factor. How the vibrations resonate from the wood is dependant of a number of contributing and detracting factors. A friend was relating how an older relative used to open up older cheap student violins and re-carve and rework with added plates, sections of the inner body to improve the resonance of certain notes. According to him the cheap violins were vastly improved with a little old world knowledge applied. Personally, I think that if you can find older violins that sound not great, then that's evidence enough that the age of the wood isn't the largest factor.

Hmmm. Now I'm thinking it might be great to take a peek under the hood myself. Would love to try building one myself one day.

December 10, 2016 at 05:10 PM · As wood ages the wood holds less moisture, and the resins slowly turn form liquid to solid. Both of these factors could be expected to increase harmonic richness. Its not rocket science, its quite simple. As wood ages it changes in tone.

Also the varnishes lose their solvents and become harder and perhaps more brittle with age, another contributing factor.

December 10, 2016 at 05:19 PM · Ask Elmar Oliveira, Ilya Kaler, Giora Smichdt..

December 10, 2016 at 08:24 PM · I prefer older in theory, but would likely acquire a modern if I had the money, as I see the instrument as a musical companion, rather than an investment piece. One would be lucky-even if it's possible-to find an excellent sounding older instrument that is more affordable than a modern that also has great tone characteristics.

December 10, 2016 at 09:18 PM · Yes, age changes wood and changes tone. That's no guarantee that age will translate into a great tone. Nor does that in itself mean that the age of the wood is the largest factor. Its a generality. The actual technicalities of how vibrations move through wood and resonate are really a combination of science and art. Its generally understood, but not easy to predict. Then there are other factors, including the type of wood, and the thickness/density, etc.

That 1890's violin that someone might so love now was probably also much loved when it was a new violin, even if its sound has matured some since then. In short, I think its a mistake to assume that only old violins sound the best. Its not that simple. I'm new to violins but I also work in a scientific field so its easy for me to discern and gauge the technicalities of new subjects. Analysis and design is a huge part of what I do, and I can see that indeed violin sound is a very complex subject.

December 10, 2016 at 09:46 PM · An old violin always sounds better than a new one, except when it doesn't.

December 11, 2016 at 06:02 AM · Paul, that is true. :)

December 11, 2016 at 10:17 AM · I don't think that anyone who has tried the hundreds of violins at a Violin Society of America competition would conclude that new violins have a particular type of sound. They're all over the place.

And the soloists who participated in the double-blind testing at the "Paris experiment" were unable overall, to distinguish old from new at better than chance levels, similar to flipping a coin. More specifically, 33 of their guesses were wrong, and 31 correct.

Below is a link to the paper published on the study, for those who are interested: (those who don't want to read the full text can skip to the "conclusions" section near the end)


December 11, 2016 at 10:54 AM · What about the individuals that were able to pick old from new, even though a minority, you always seem to leave them out of your survey???

You don't seem to understand statistics, some people picked correctly, some people picked incorrectly, a third group picked both incorrectly and correctly. That still leaves a group that picked correctly and quoting the overall average of picks all lumped together is a misuse of statistics. It does not mean the picks were random, it means only a smaller number could pick correctly.

December 11, 2016 at 02:37 PM · I don't think there were individuals consistently picking right or wrong, but just one single group of players picking sometimes right, sometimes wrong. In other words, like flipping a coin.

December 11, 2016 at 03:03 PM · You would need to conduct further tests on the "correct pickers" and "incorrect pickers" to see if they really can tell the difference, or if it's an issue of post-test selection, like asking 10 people to flip a coin, look at the results, and finding one that is much better at getting "heads".

There's new, and then there's really new. For instruments that have just been strung up for the first time, there's definitely a period of time needed to settle in and vibrate well. The worst is the first couple of days, but the varnish may take much longer to fully cure, and then things are pretty stable... changing very slowly if at all.

In my opinion, age is a much smaller factor than what wood is initially used and what the maker does with it.

December 11, 2016 at 03:09 PM · Jose, That's what people did on the average in the survey, not in reality. You can't treat averages as true for everyone, they are only true for some(those in the middle), some people clearly preferred the old master instruments, some people clearly preferred the modern instruments, some people had no effective preference. On average you see a slight preference for modern in some studies, but that does not mean there were not significant percentages picking the old master instruments. The idea that any cross section of people have golden ears that perfectly judge sound quality is laughable at best.

When someone can't tell the difference between two violins it doesn't mean those two violins are equally good, it just means that particular person can't tell the difference, if they were playing both instruments for an extended period of time then probably they would find some differences, but that is not how the studies are done, the studies involve playing short snippets of music on instruments the players were not allowed to practice on to get used to etc.

December 11, 2016 at 04:02 PM · Lyndon, best if you read the study.

There is no suggestion that any of the soloists involved in the study "couldn't tell the difference between two violins".

If you disagree with the statistical analysis of PhD professional researchers and statisticians, and whether or not these reflect reality, perhaps if you presented these people with your research credentials, they'd be willing to hash it out with you.

December 11, 2016 at 04:16 PM · I've read the study over and over, its very poorly formulated in my opinion and hardly scientific, they set out with an agenda to prove, and claim they have proved it, end of story. Having worked in the sciences I'm well aware of the fact that their are multiple "scientific" studies being published that don't meet the basic scientific muster of scrupulously using the scientific method, the study is full of holes, they've been pointed out over and over again, and yet you still hang on to believing them.

December 11, 2016 at 04:30 PM ·

This study was published in the peer-reviewed "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences". What studies would you like to cite?

And what exactly is your background and training "in the sciences"?

December 11, 2016 at 04:35 PM · So they never make mistakes about articles in subjects way outside there fields of expertise?? Happens all the time in Science.

Neurosurgery Research Lab Tech 3 yrs. Biochemistry Lab Tech 2 yrs. 4yrs Loudspeaker Engineering. A world recognized Microbiologist as my father, etc etc.

December 11, 2016 at 05:38 PM · "A world recognized Microbiologist as my father, etc etc."

A "lab tech"? Hmm, that could mean just about anything.

For instance, what is a waste management tech? ;-)

Just for clarity, who again is a world recognized microbiologist?

December 11, 2016 at 05:45 PM · my father, Dr. Barry Taylor, works for NIH, and former chairman Loma Linda University Dept of Microbiology

While your at it what's your background in the sciences, David??

December 11, 2016 at 06:24 PM · Next to none, but I don't happen to be the one challenging the PhD's and peer revewers, claiming that the study is "very poorly formulated", "hardly scientific", or that the study is "full of holes". So it's fair to ask how you stack up against those people.

I'm just a professional fiddle maker, with a strong background in restoration and sound adjustment, with high experience in both old and new instruments.

By the way, my father, Dr. Frank Burgess, was a Presbyterian minister who got his graduate degree from Princeton. But it would be rather preposterous to try to use that in any way, in an attempt to posture myself as a religious scholar, wouldn't it? ;-)

December 11, 2016 at 06:35 PM · While it's fine to prefer older instruments, I find adherence to the position at the cost of tact in these public forums rather unnecessary. There are many modern violins that sound great and subjectively (though at times even objectively) better than older, "seasoned wood" ones. "I prefer older instruments in general" is a much better way to state such a preference, than "people that can't hear the difference simply do not know better, as older Italians (or whichever provenance you prefer) must indeed be better 100% of the time because of age and other immutable reasons."

I certainly do not mean any disrespect to either position, but there's nothing to lose by agreeing to disagree, especially on such comparatively trivial matters that usually just convey personal preferences, even if strong ones.

While I understand the relic-like value of many older instruments (regardless tone) a musician needs a companion to make music with, and the better sounding older instruments are quite often beyond the means of most. As aforementioned, even the theoretically best modern ones are awfully expensive in general, at least to the poor (no offense to the makers on this forum-you deserve to be paid for your artistry). Making it an "older or naught" issue , while a valid personal opinion that I would respect, it's one I can't in good conscience agree with, finding it a bit elitist, whether meant that way or not.

I won't argue, so please do not "fight back" at me. I have an older instrument myself, and like them as long as they sound good and play well-which is not warranted on instruments just based on its age.

December 11, 2016 at 06:35 PM · I'm not doubting the data collected from the study, I'm doubting the integrity of the design of the study and the conclusions reached from the data and the way this data has been twisted around to suit person's agendas. I'm not a scientist, but I was raised in a very pro science household and have had countless discussions with my father about the veracity and not of "scientific" studies that get released in the media, and make headlines etc.

David, you have turned a deaf ear to the valid criticisms of these studies you keep referring to so there's really no point in going over it again and again, best we just disagree.

December 11, 2016 at 06:43 PM · Adalberto, I don't know who you are referring to, but I have never made any of those arguments you are referring to, Over and over I have said you owe it to yourself to consider both modern and antique instruments in your price range and make your own decision. The only reason I don't sell modern violins at my store is because that's what EVERY other store is doing, and I feel there is a market for affordable antiques for people looking for that kind of thing.

I find roughly 50% of customers out there are looking for older instruments and many specifically don't want to buy new Chinese. Since everyone else is selling new Chinese, I prefer to offer an alternative, that, and I'd much rather fix up an old violin, that spend my valuable time fixing up poorly setup new instruments to make them playable.

December 11, 2016 at 06:52 PM · Good if you disagree with that notion.

Perhaps I am not understanding the reasoning behind finding fault at the study-which you certainly can of course-if one doesn't believe modern instruments can't match older ones. I find the study doesn't devalue the old masterpieces, as they will always be on demand, but it's VERY important in my view that players don't believe the only way they can "really" make good music and have a "true career" is with an older instrument-to some teachers AND uninformed audiences (and not meaning yourself), the idea of the "right" violin is given too much importance... most of the tone comes from the player anyway.

(Will always remember concert goers whispering about a given soloist's instrument, as if it was unworthy of him... I was there, he did great, and in my strong opinion they didn't entirely realize that the instrument is but a factor in the music-making process. The prestige attached to older instruments is a bit too much for my taste.)

Best wishes and Holidays to all.

December 11, 2016 at 07:04 PM · Well perhaps you are unaware that the overwhelming advice of most posters on this forum is to buy modern, buy Chinese, and buy Carbon fibre. That's just not fair to all the other fine products that are out there; There is no reason you can't find a $25,000 antique you like better than a top $25,000 modern maker, but according to the logic of people like David Burgess, that's just impossible as only a 10 million dollar Strad could possibly compete with a top $25,000 modern, and even then the Strad would lose.

So you can see with that sense of smugness about the overwhelming superiority of all things modern, some one has to do some defense of the antique market which is just as big, and still a viable option to be considered.

December 11, 2016 at 07:29 PM · Lyndon wrote:

"There is no reason you can't find a $25,000 antique you like better than a top $25,000 modern maker, but according to the logic of people like David Burgess, that's just impossible as only a 10 million dollar Strad could possibly compete with a top $25,000 modern, and even then the Strad would lose."


Geez, Lyndon, it's hard to keep up with all your inventions about my opinions, LOL!

I thought that Adalberto Valle-Rivera summed things up quite nicely, a few posts back, the post starting with " While it's fine to prefer older instruments".

And I agree that it's perfectly OK to prefer older instruments, or contemporary, for one reason or another. Extreme polarization on one side or the other doesn't contribute much to ending up with a successful instrument.

Whenever I purchase an instrument, my hope is that I've done some decent homework, and haven't put money down the drain foolishly. Having prejudices about old or new might get in the way, more than being useful.

December 11, 2016 at 07:30 PM ·

December 11, 2016 at 09:28 PM · Well, that digressed into argument between a renown maker, and an apparently jack of all trades engineer.

I don't think parents' education and qualification have much to do with qualification. For example, Stephen Hawking's daughter is no scientist, Napoleon's son was no dictator.

Having said that, I have worked with many lab techs, and engineers in my field. I still am. Although I like them as people, and respect their trade(let's face it, I wouldn't know how to do their job), I would never qualify them as scientists. As per scientific methods, I do believe that the paper in question is a little premature for publication. Simply due to sample size, and bias due to lack of randomness.

Enough of that, back to topic at hand, about old vs new.

I would like to contribute to this, but I haven't sampled many identified "new" or "old" instruments. I do however fantasize about commissioning a violin from my luthier, and I have asked to see her new violin that she's working on. I have been logging the profile of "my violin" for one year and counting,

December 11, 2016 at 09:40 PM · Steven, thanks.

Large sample sizes of million-plus-dollar violins are really hard to put together, at the same time in the same place. And if they don't prevail, it gets even harder to bring them in the next time, for rather obvious reasons.

December 11, 2016 at 09:46 PM · So what you are saying is we have had a scientific study incapable of being reproduced. (reproduceability is one of the requirements of any true scientific study, remember cold fusion, no one could reproduce the findings, no matter how hard they tried)

December 11, 2016 at 09:50 PM · "So what you are saying is we have had a scientific study incapable of being reproduced."


Nope. Just that a study like this is very difficult and expensive to execute, so I don't expect to see a lot of them. Informal comparisons between new and old instruments are much more common (as when players are considering instruments for purchase), but these don't get published.

For instance, there are some going on right now involving members of the Cincinnati Symphony.

December 11, 2016 at 09:52 PM · One thing to keep in mind is that this study was a study of top-level old violins and top-level new violins, and there is so much in between that it boggles the mind. Pretty much all of us will be looking at the "in between" level!

But this is SUCH an individual choice and depends so much on what is available to you regionally, financially, etc. Yes, I think that we can conclude that there are many fine new violins being made (as well as bad ones).

In the past, artists sometimes simply ruled out the new violins by modern makers in favor of old Italians, as a matter of course. I think this is why there was a need for these studies, which by their nature are still pretty subjective. But that aside, the studies have brought forth a very important point: the fine violins being made today are very very find instruments and worth consideration by artists of the highest caliber. No longer is the attitude "a Strad or nothing."

The older ones that are good (and many are not) are going to be more expensive. It's a decision that should be made with as much time and expertise as you can find, looking at the specific instruments that you are choosing.

December 11, 2016 at 09:56 PM · The point I am trying to disagree with is the contention that the older ones that are good are always going to be more expensive than similar quality new ones, while that may be true sometimes, I sure wouldn't call it a rule.

December 11, 2016 at 09:58 PM · I think that is a legitimate point, Lyndon. The older ones with true antique value will be more expensive. But if you can find one that has its dings and has been well-repaired, it can sound very fine and not be priced like a precious piece of art.

December 11, 2016 at 09:59 PM · Lyndon, the scientific research is not reproducing results. That is Deterministic Approach. For example, quantum state of an atom is impossible to predict, and impossible to reproduce one result by one.

However, with large enough samples, we can identify the pattern(diffraction patterns, hydrogen resonance frequency(half-life over 1.3 billion years) ), radioactive decay. That is called statistical methods.

Application example: I go study what food at a buffet gets replaced most frequently. Say, chicken wings tray needs to be replaced every 30 mins.

With statistical method, I cannot guarantee, that each individual will prefer wings over other foods, but among business time, I know what is the most popular food in the room.

If I studied for 1 full year, and can say, with over 99% of confidence, that the wings are more popular than other foods, this is what scientific paper can conclude with(In my field, we go closer to 99.9999999998%, and we use this method to distinguish "new" particles).

If we did some anonymous survey-study at each and every concert as to if the audience liked the instrument A, B, C, D and etc. we will not be able to distinguish the preference from one concert, but if we recorded and analyzed data from say, 1 million concerts, we'll have a decent idea, which instruments are preferred, if any at all.

December 11, 2016 at 10:27 PM · You don't understand what I'm talking about, Steven, for a scientific finding to be accepted by its peers the study that produced the evidence has to be reproduceable by different researchers doing the same study and getting the same results, if this cannot be done, the accuracy of the original study get majorly called into question.

For instance a group of scientists in Italy I believe claimed they had invented a way to harness power greater than what was put in by a process known as cold fusion, it would have revolutionized the energy industry as we know it, but NO ONE, not any other group of scientists doing the exact same scientific testing could reproduce any such result, so the original study was basically thrown out as some sort of flaky poorly measured pseudo science.

Its not enough to claim Stradivaris do not test as well as so and so modern violins, a separate group of scientists should be able to reproduce the same results using the same or similar violins. The problem is the Paris study was not scientific because it never revealed what were the violins being used, so no one can accurately reproduce the study.

December 11, 2016 at 10:33 PM · The same goes for particle physics, if the evidence for subatomic particles existing can not be reproduced repeatedly it is not considered reliable, one positive test is not considered evidence enough but rather reason to repeat the test to make sure the results can be repeated, then you have some evidence.

I believe this happened recently with supposed evidence for the Higgs boson??? particle, when the experiment was repeated they couldn't reproduce the results and in the end chalked up the initial findings to faulty calibration of the machines in the particle collider.

December 11, 2016 at 10:53 PM · Lyndon, violin preference and identification tests have been going on for a long time, with fairly repeatable outcomes. I've been involved in comparisons between various violins for about 45 years now.

I mentioned the Paris study, mostly because it is publicly accessible, and because I had no involvement.

Twenty posts ago, I requested that you recommend any other studies.

Still waiting.

December 11, 2016 at 10:55 PM · Lyndon, ATLAS and CMS both concluded Higgs existence, reproduction happened a little over 10 billion times. Not to mention Higgs was confirmed after a few years of data collection in 2012. You must've been reading materials from 2011?

I don't think you know what you're talking about.

Furthermore, yes, scientific results rely on reproducibility to confirm findings. However, I don't think you understand at what scale we do. I urge you not to pursue more into claiming yourself a scientist. I've had arguments with engineers before. Most often resulted in wasting time because the engineer did not wish to admit a single wrong, and didn't want to admit what they did not know.

December 11, 2016 at 11:00 PM · I'm not a particle physicist, no, but I do know that scientific studies need to be reproduceable to be verified.

December 11, 2016 at 11:06 PM · Yes, but you'll need to understand "what" needs be reproduced, and I am sorry, neither internet nor I will be substitute for a science degree.

December 11, 2016 at 11:13 PM · The results are what needs to be reproduced, if you can't reproduce the results of the initial study, at least one study or the other is wrong, I don't need a degree in science to know that.

December 11, 2016 at 11:16 PM · I'm sorry Lyndon, I've said what needs to be. For your information, you may want to consider reading some materials on atomic clocks.

December 11, 2016 at 11:18 PM · You haven't said anything constructive, just furthered your anti Lyndon agenda, based on me dissing some violin you purchased, get over it, we were having a discussion over old vs new violins.

December 11, 2016 at 11:43 PM · I've tried to pushing the argument back to the topic. I don't have an agenda against you personally. I do have an agenda about not having you turn every thread about old vs new, cf vs wood bow, planetary vs tradition peg into something like the above.

I want to hear from people with educated, experienced contributions, and opinions. Not one very arrogant voice contradicting everything that is not aligned with his voice.

December 11, 2016 at 11:47 PM · So you have no problem with anyone singing the praises of anything modern, but the minute someone tries to stick up for antiques, then you have a problem, I'm really getting sick of this insane bias for modern junk, get real.

December 11, 2016 at 11:48 PM · EQUAL TIME FOR ANTIQUES

December 11, 2016 at 11:55 PM · Well, I cringe at the idea about CF violins, but I would love to play antiques or new. In particular, I am most interested in violins made by luthiers who I personally know, which happens to coincide with modern violins(unless Mr Burgess lives to be 300[I guess that means I'll have to live just as long...]).

One of the reasons is because it's challenging enough to identify genuine and very good instruments made by the luthiers that you know. Antiques, well, I wonder how many "strads" are out there.

I've played some excellent antique workshop violins in the past. I wasn't too fond of a lot of them because I hate things that pretend to be something else.

December 12, 2016 at 12:09 AM · edit

December 12, 2016 at 12:22 AM · Lyndon, I get your point. You're trying to protect your business. However, if you approached in terms of the "advantage of antique over modern", which you have before. That's constructive, and I don't mind reading about.

However, there are 4 local luthiers who actively service instruments as well as make them. Also, 2 violin specific stores and 1 general music store. None of them have actively spoke against one another, old/modern.

December 12, 2016 at 12:41 AM · Actually I much less concerned about my violin business in particular than I am about the violin industry, which for hundreds of years has been based around veneration of elders and antiques. This modern is better propaganda is like a bunch of punk kids that hate their grandparents, who don't give a damn about their history and have no respect for their elders.

If you had a little understanding about how people without electricity, gas, power tools or running water made incredibly fine, beautiful looking and sounding instruments, and how these can be preserved and restored to sound at least as good as they did brand new, then perhaps you'd realize why antique violins are not just a job for me, but a labour of love.

And how incredibly stupid it sounds for some puffed up modern violin maker, with computer CNC routing machines, 10 grades of sandpaper, a cushy modern lifestyle to somehow be the superior of Stradivari, who carved scrolls by candlelight?? Bah humbug, I say.

December 12, 2016 at 01:28 AM · Wow, hard to imagine an old-vs-new thread turning into reality TV on v.com. Y'all need to get a serious grip. The "quantum states of an atom" have no bearing on this discussion whatsoever. The study that David cited was published in a prestigious journal known for rigorous peer-review standards. The question of "reproducibility" is already partly established by the internal statistics of the study. On the other hand N was not exactly huge. As is often the case in science, whether someone else comes along and tries the same exact thing, and especially if (s)he wishes to multiply N by 10, depends on whether that someone has the means and inclination to do so.

It's also true that a study like that, which goes against the grain of the establishment (i.e., "pros know") is often met with more than its fair share of suspicion -- and derision.

My own feeling about old vs. new was colored by what I discovered when violin shopping. People who were trying to sell me older instruments kept telling me what a good investment it was, whereas people who were trying to sell me newer instruments kept telling me what a good violin it was. In the end, each of us buys what he or she likes and what he or she can afford.

December 12, 2016 at 01:35 AM · Holy cow, Lyndon, sounds like your imagination and bitterness have pushed you over the edge! It's pretty clear that you haven't actually hung out around many pro violin makers! Attend the Oberlin Violin Making Workshop (or attend the Oberlin Restoration workshop, if you'd prefer to be around people who are mostly focused on old instruments), and then get back to us with an update. ;-)

I don't think I've ever run across any pro, in either workshop (about 80 people per year) who doesn't appreciate both old and new instruments, or both past and present makers.


December 12, 2016 at 01:41 AM · For better or for worse, we live in an age where there are a lot of very good violin makers (and a lot of good violinists!) and there is a surge of interest in the modern / new instrument. While I was shopping I just got so fed up with the idea that I was supposed to care about whose name was written inside on a little paper sticker, and whether the violin was German or French or Italian. I just wanted a good-sounding, well-made violin. And that's what I bought. Lyndon apparently restores older instruments for sale at a modest price-point. That's a great approach, and I wish him success. I payed good money for an 1895 German violin for my daughter only to have people (non-experts who had never even seen the instrument) scold me for paying too much for something they were sure was a "workshop" product. Again -- I don't care. It's just a good violin. I like it, she likes it, and her teacher likes it.

December 12, 2016 at 01:44 AM · I have read about comparisons between Strads and outstanding modern violins, but what about comparisons between old instruments and new ones in much lower price ranges, like under $1000? Under $3000? In my very limited experience, that is where old instruments win handily; I believe a buyer can find a much less brash-sounding instrument by going Lyndon's route rather than buying new.

December 12, 2016 at 01:57 AM · Erin, I'm almost in agreement there, and at my shop I believe that's definitely the case, but at some of these higher end stores the mark up on cheap workshop antiques is outrageous, I think they might just be using the higher prices as an excuse to sell their higher profit similarly priced modern violins. Some higher end shops will charge $2000+ for a Stradivari made in Germany, that's about $500-700 at my store, and I try to avoid buying them like the plague, because they're not that good.

Another place to look out for outrageously high antique prices is ebay buy it now (auctions too), unbelievably high prices, and rarely set up even half decent, not that they're selling quickly if at all, but some of the ebay prices just amaze me. I would say given the condition the vast majority of ebay antiques are overpriced for retail and way overpriced for wholesale.

December 12, 2016 at 01:57 AM · Paul, and other readers, my apologies. I was just starting to get upset with just about every other thread I was interested in reading and following digressed into something else by one voice. Especially the ones with planetary pegs, when I was trying to ask advice on it.

My first step-up violin was a workshop, antique violin priced at $800 Cdn. Great violin, but the lower fingerboard projection made me trade it off, because I kept on hitting the violin with the bow.

At ~$3000 Cdn, I did have 2 violins I like the most, one old German workshop, and one not as old Canadian contemporary. I went with the latter.

I found that in the $600~$2000 range, the antiques often had more appealing sound that I found in Modern such as Eastman, Cremona, and etc.

December 12, 2016 at 02:11 AM · The good thing about provenance bias against many of the turn of the century workshop violins is that the price generally speaking stays lower than "name" violins, and some can sound excellent, especially for the price-great values for relatively "cheap". Still, not safe blind buys, but if there are two violins at $3,000, one modern and an older one at the same price, I would not automatically consider the older "bad" right away, as some more biased individuals may do.

The conclusion is still similar, though-there are bad and good violins for both old and new specimens.

The old "Strad or nothing" philosophy is annoying indeed.

December 15, 2016 at 11:52 AM · This sort of debate can go on and on..forever. The sound production is way more complex than what science can analyze: even the very same violin can produce dramastically different sound by changing the bridge, sound post, using different bows and played by different player..etc; nonetheless, same player can hardly play one passage exactly the same way. HOWEVER, modern makers ( the ones who really know how to make the fiddles ) are using technology as a tool, to help them either understand the old masters better, or craft the instrument more precisely, gaining better control over frequency/response..it has been going on for years. There is no doubt that a well made modern violin can produce equal or better tone as an old masterpiece, especially in a concert hall that really tests the instrument's projection to its limit: I have attended Hilary Hahn's concert while she was using her Vuillaume, and her modern violin ( not sure who the maker is ); I believe few can spot which is which since they all sound like Hilary :)

December 15, 2016 at 12:31 PM · I don't think the modern makers on average know anything more about violins than old masters, quite possibly less IMHO, science hasn't begun to really help make better violins, the main "innovation" has been power tools and accessibility to detailed plan info of great old violins, power tools do nothing to help the sound and quite possibly hurt the violins ability to vibrate. I've seen power tools destroy the resonances of really good ringing wood in just a few minutes in my own experience.

People like David Burgess still mostly rely on hand tools, from what he has said. Many other makers are getting into CNC routing machines, that's not a good direction IMHO and its the direction all the big Chinese factories are going, they start out with old world style hand tool construction and as soon as the make enough money they buy the power tools, this has already been done before by German factories in the 50-80s, and they produced some of the worst sounding violins in history.

The idea that Chinese violins are just going to keep getting better and better may not be true at all, if they end up all made with power tools they may get a lot worse and more expensive to boot. Something to think about.

December 15, 2016 at 12:57 PM · "HOWEVER, modern makers ( the ones who really know how to make the fiddles ) are using technology as a tool, to help them either understand the old masters better, or craft the instrument more precisely, gaining better control over frequency/response"

Did I mention anything about power tool???

What I refer to is CT scanning to really show the arching and density of the wood, from an old strad or Guarneri; tap tone/plate tuning using a microphone/computer..etc. I understand this might be something new to a repair shop, but believe me, this is what has been going on with modern violin making, including some good Chinese ones :)

December 15, 2016 at 12:59 PM · Here:


December 15, 2016 at 01:20 PM · If you had bothered to read my post Xing, I mentioned how the main innovations of modern makers were power tools (maybe not so good) and better plan information(like the CT scans you mention) from old master violins(mostly a good thing), except that only a few select top makers get the detailed plans made available of their instruments, so if for example you wanted to copy a Klotz Mittenwald violin, the plan info might be much less detailed than for a few select Stradivari or del Gesus instruments.

It also gives the perhaps mistaken assumption that the reason Stradivaris were so good was something to do with the shape and dimensions and graduations, when in fact it may be unrelated, maybe Strad could have used any shape and got a good sound out of it, certainly multitudes of others fine makers used different shapes and got good results from it, maybe the whole secret of the violins sound is the tap tuning of the plates and has not so much to do with shape or dimensions at all. If Strad had one magical perfect shape why did he never make two the same and continually change the shape and dimensions, that's way beyond the abilities of a mere copyist like many of these modern makers are.

December 15, 2016 at 01:30 PM · Good job Lyndon, you just rewrite the history of violin making :)

December 15, 2016 at 01:38 PM · Oh, and you're the supposed expert on that?? Gimme a break.

December 15, 2016 at 01:51 PM · here's one, if many modern makers think the best violins are being made today, better than Strad and Del Gesu, why are 90% of them making copies of Strad or Del Gesu??? If they are so good why can't they innovate their own models just the same way Strad innovated on the Amati model, etc.

December 15, 2016 at 02:31 PM · If you want to know, you could ask some makers who you think fit that description.....

One advantage which modern makers arguably have is that they have 300+ years of experiments, and 300+ years worth of instruments which have been cherished by high-level players, to use as examples and as "teaching tools".

This isn't an attempt to argue that new makers are smarter or better, just pointing out that many of them may have access to better resources than makers did in the past.

December 15, 2016 at 03:01 PM · I am no expert on that, but I do know makers experiment with different pattern and body length, which has one thing or two to do with overall volume, even Strad has the long pattern and grand pattern..aching can also affect the tone color/projection to certain degree, same as various approach of graduation, depending on that particular piece of wood, also the tonal result the maker shooting for...

Modern makers do make their own models, some are loosely based on a specific Strad or del Gesu, or mixed them together; you can put the kochanski's f hole on an ole bull pattern and there is nothing wrong with it, as long as it sounds good :)

December 15, 2016 at 03:10 PM · I believe you make your own personal model, David, IMHO that is to be commended.

In all honesty when I built clavichords I ended up settling on historical copies only, I did that because I believed my designing skills paled in comparison to the original makers, and the best way for me to learn was to copy accepted great instruments, but I never set out to be better than the originals, I was quite happy to come as close as I could to the original sound, with slight improvements?? of my own design.

I found some of the best clavichords were carefully designed so that each notes strings rested on the bridge close to the place on the soundboard that resonated that same note, even throughout a four or five octave compass this was true, the old makers definitely used tap tones on clavichords, but it was application of modern science that proved it. A 30cm length of 3mm spruce resonates middle c1, a 15cm length resonates high c3, and a 60cm length resonates low C. This was designed into some of the best clavichords.

Of course the resonate notes of a violin are much more complex for science to predict than for a clavichord.

December 15, 2016 at 03:14 PM · If the assertion by Lyndon that the adoption of power tools reduces the resonance of tone-wood, this thread might be of interest.


The "factory violins" on the video seem to be made by hand; maybe someone will need to follow the track-record of this "brand" for a few years and report back to violinist.com.

December 15, 2016 at 03:58 PM · I think the reason people make copies of legendary makers is because then they capture a wider market. And, even if you're going to use empirical methods such as tap-tuning to cut and shape your tone plates, it seems rather obvious to start off close to a design that's already known to sound good. I agree with Lyndon that a "perfect match" of a Strad, made with a different sample of wood, may likely be an utterly worthless instrument because wood is quite a variable substance.

As far as computer modeling of the violin's acoustics, "never say never."

December 15, 2016 at 04:20 PM · David, As I said above, because Chinese factories started without a lot of capital they usually did most of the work by hand, as labourers were cheaper than machines, but as they became or become wealthier, they bigger ones are investing in CNC machines and the like, If you look at most of the scrolls on the higher end Chinese many appear to be machine made not hand carved, at least this is what I have been told.

December 15, 2016 at 04:40 PM · I'll defend Lyndon in this case on one point: One does not need to have formal training as a scientist to be able to interpret scientific findings. Anyone with a decent liberal arts background should be able to get the gist of it. And growing up in a household where an objective, scientific outlook on the world helps.

My skepticism on violin preference studies is simply that, with my own experience in trying out many, many violins both new and old for a variety of listeners (professional and non) and in many locations (stage, home, church, etc.), I've seen one basic pattern of preference: the average listener overwhelmingly prefers a violin that is louder and brighter. This may or may not correlate with what the player hears or feels is musical or takes more or less work to play.

By the way, I'd bet $$ that my current 5-year-old modern violin would fool every listener into thinking it is "old."

December 15, 2016 at 04:59 PM · Scott, while it is true that scientific conclusions, and abstract can be understood by anyone literate, but skepticism should not be formed without understanding of exactly "what" and "how" the conclusion was drawn.

For example, if I wrote a paper concluding that each individual violin's A440 sounds different from one another. Most of us here would understand what that means. Also, most us would know that would also depend on what bow is used, who is playing, and on what string we're using and etc. room environment(temperature, RH), acoustics and etc.

If I went to a electrical engineer who only have been exposed to techno music, would disagree to death, that A440 is specifically digitized sound that his speaker can reproduce(I actually have an exact friend who does that, and we did get into this exact argument[His argument was that if the A440 on a violin doesn't sound exactly the same as the exact A440 from his speakers, it's obviously not A440, QED]).

In the above argument, people who's never heard a string instrument, can still understand the conclusion, but not to the extent what it really means, or how. People may disagree greatly because "it is not reproducible". In that same argument, I do believe that training and education is required to understand the conclusion.

December 15, 2016 at 05:59 PM · I wouldn't necessarily agree that scientific conclusions can be understood by anyone literate. Or, let me rephrase: I don't think that a general liberal arts background will prepare a person to assess the validity of how a study was conducted, or be aware of the statistical sleight-of-hand tricks that can skew the presentation of the results. I believe it takes at least some training to really give an informed opinion. There's a lot of junk research out there.

Edit: or, what Steven said.

December 15, 2016 at 07:05 PM · Skepticism is the default position of the modern scientific method. IOW, every positive claim has no _rational, scientific_ basis for belief until...

- it makes predictions that can be reliably repeated,

- independently verified,

- has a logical statement or observation that, if true, would demonstrate the claim as false.

Anything else is belief on incomplete, illogical or no evidence. In other words, Faith.

Of course, we frequently accept things as "probably true" based on incomplete evidence. Someone who is an expert in the field posts reasonable sounding observations. The claim agrees with what I have encountered in life. None of this is complete, rational scientific evidence. We should continue to exercise some skepticism about the claim. We should not give the claim more credit for being true than it deserves.

Many people accept things based on zero evidence. ("It feels good", aka, Blind Faith.) Absolute certainty is hard to come by. Some people say it is impossible. But this type of certainty is no better than flipping a coin or rolling a die.

The Indianapolis and Paris tests make no formal positive claims. I don't think that was even the purpose of the tests. The tests were an investigation of the claims of others which is the basis of the OP's post: Old is "better" than New.

IOW, the tests did not prove New is "better" than Old. The authors made no such claim. What they showed, to within some degree of certainty, is that the claim, Old is "better" than New, was not repeatable nor independently verifiable. Even if you can demonstrate that their methods were flawed, that is NOT support for the claim.

The best you can do if you "feel" the claim is true, and the best the authors can do is the following...

1. There is no complete, rational scientific evidence to backup the claim that it is true or false, and

2. Anyone saying the claim is worthy of belief is basing it on incomplete or irrational evidence.

Also, if one looks at the reasons why some people claim some old masters, like Strads or del Gesus, are better than all new violins, and furthermore, new makers can never hope to do as well or better, these reasons turn out to be unfalsifiable. The claims are based on assertions those making the claim cannot prove, and those challenging the claim cannot disprove. For example, "its the varnish whose composition and application has been forever lost."

I like anecdotal evidence proffered by people with experience. It is the number one reason why I join forums. But people tend to attribute more to their observations than what is rationally supportable.

If we are to trust Lyndon's experience refurbishing and selling old violins, then one should definitely consider old violins. If a violin survived 100+ years in reasonable condition, it suggests someone, maybe multiple people, thought it was a fine instrument.

But his disdain of new violins, especially those produced in China, borders on paranoia and directly contradicts the experience of a lot of accomplished professionals who have posted here.

Scott Cole posted a fascinating observation about violin selection from his considerable experience: Get something loud and bright and call it a day. My very limited personal experience agrees with this. My current violin is a $300 Chinese violin with average figured wood and crappy, chippy spray-on varnish. Once I found a set of strings that were loud and bright, and adjusted the sound post to emphasize that, friends and family immediately commented on how much my playing had improved!

December 15, 2016 at 10:25 PM · So you consider yourself, playing on a $300 violin, to be something of an expert on old vs new violins, not to mention accusing me of being paranoid of Chinese violins, bring em on, come to my shop and compare them!!

December 16, 2016 at 03:19 AM · See Lyndon, that is a classic post by you. You put words in people's mouths, then attack them for a statement they did not make. You did this multiple times to David Burgess in a recent thread.

Why do you act so rudely? Do you skim over posts and look only for bits that you can distort and attack? Shame on you! You owe an apology to the members and owners of the forum for promoting such disgraceful behavior.

Your offerings on the value of old, refurbished violins are positive and helpful. Why is that not enough for you?

December 16, 2016 at 03:55 AM · I thought the discussion of violin studies earlier was interesting. One of the problems mentioned there was that often it was a comparison of expensive violins (handmade contemporary / strads and so forth) and that there is great variation among these (strads that are famous for age, but not necessarily for sound).

I wonder if it would be easier to instead do a comparison of 2 Luthier's inventories. Take good 10 violins Lyndon sells in the $500-$1000 range and Chinese 10 violins that another local Luthier sells (says Eastmans, Yamahas, Yitas, etc) and compare. In that case you could probably even put the same brand of strings and use the same bow. It would be interesting, even if just confirms what we think we know (new violins are louder). It would be a good student thesis.

December 16, 2016 at 04:11 AM · " So you have no problem with anyone singing the praises of anything modern, but the minute someone tries to stick up for antiques, then you have a problem, I'm really getting sick of this insane bias for modern junk, get real."

Lyndon - I have no issue with someone singing the praises of older violins, but that's not what you are doing. My point is evident even in your post I quoted above, where you call modern violins 'junk'. I take exception to that as new violin owner whose violin is NOT junk. Frankly, you wouldn't have a clue what my violin sounds like or the quality of its build, and to pretend to know is foolishness on your part.

As I've mentioned before, before purchasing, my new violin was played against a number of older violins in the same price range and even as a new instrument, it still beat nearly all of them, minus one, in every respect. Actually that only older violin that sounded better was twice the price, so not even a real conparison.

December 16, 2016 at 04:21 AM · Carmen Taanzio - Yes! Exactly.

Lyndon - Once again, comparing old to new would need to be done within the same price range for any comparison to be valid.

Frankly, with your attitude, I wouldn't set foot in your shop.

December 16, 2016 at 04:21 AM · So bring your modern violin to my shop and compare to my antiques, seriously everyone's so uptight about their violin they can't take any constructive criticism about it, there are good moderns and good antiques, bad moderns and bad antiques, you owe it to yourself to compare the differences, not just leave your choices to someone else who tries to convince you their violin is the best choice for YOU!!

December 16, 2016 at 04:23 AM · Lyndon, criticism comes after observation.

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