2 questions

Edited: December 20, 2020, 11:20 AM · Two questions for your consideration:

1) when choosing a new violin, why would you be drawn to choose a Guarneri pattern over a Strad (or Guadagnini) pattern?
2) what are the most « characteristic » recordings of violin sounds of each maker in your opinion? I am aware there are are considerable limits to the second question (I can recall a few instances where famous owners of amazing instruments failed to recognize another from the same maker in a blind test).

Yes they are intentionally vague and might lead some of you to question the assumptions behind it but pointing it out would not be what I am looking for ;-)

Would be curious to know what makes you excited!
All the best

Replies (15)

Edited: December 20, 2020, 10:15 AM · A very good A/B comparison is The Miracle Makers, put out by Bein & Fushi. Three discs, with something like a dozen violins each by Stradivari and del Gesu, plus one or two wild-cards. I like to say it is a great way to audition sound systems. Adequate speakers make it clear which maker is which. Great speakers make more clear the differences between Strads. Great electronics make is clear which maker the violinist (Elmar Oliveira) prefers.

It is good to be careful about specifying too much in advance. Sort of like looking for Chinese food-- you shouldn't necessarily turn away the best Thai restaurant if that is what you find. When I started my journey of trying new/new fiddles, I preferred Strad models with no antiquing. I still do, but the first violin that called out to be purchased was by Tom Croen, who only does antiqued Guarneri models.

As for why to prefer a del Gesu pattern? It is smaller, and therefore easier to hold for some. Its default signature sound is a bit more mezzo-soprano, with the ability to grab some alto resonance. And for whatever reason, it seems to be easier to play by modern violinists. You're obviously not capturing 100% of the original quality, but Strad models can be more neurotic, tending to favor 'horizontal' playing, and not reward brute force as much.

December 20, 2020, 10:27 AM · Comparing instruments made by various makers according to Stradivari and Guarneri patterns, I'd be surprised if anyone, player or listener, could consistently categorise them according to their sound with better than chance success. Size and/or ease of playing could be a more significant factor in choosing one over another.

A couple of years ago at J&A Beare's in London I was present at a demonstration of 3 Strads and a GdG. During the demo I could just about convince myself that the GdG sounded darker, but if they'd subsequently put me to the test I don't think I'd have had much success. Of course the preferences of the player and their familiarity with each instrument are potential confounding factors.

Edited: December 20, 2020, 10:32 AM · While there might be barely noticeable differences between a real Strad and a real Del Gesu, differences between copies of the same are going to be completely random and a function of the makers qualities, not Strad's or Del Gesu's.
Edited: December 20, 2020, 4:05 PM · Thank you Stephen for this most interesting answer which did address my actual question.

I am trying to find out in concrete terms what Platonic ideals people have in their heads rather than whether one has the ability to distinguish with 100% accuracy any random Strads and GdGs (which to me is besides the point). Extreme examples compared, rather than double-blind tests.

As for myself, having heard recordings of e.g. the actual « Tuscan » Strad by Biondi and e.g. the actual Ole Bull GdG - I would find it hard confusing the two STYLES. Have a listen to the extraordinary sounds to be found in the Frank Almond CDs for the Lipinski Strad for instance. Not trying to assess random instruments + there are exceptions everywhere indeed.

Also my question is not just about sound but about feel and response too. Any further responses will be much appreciated!

Thanks again Stephen, will check out these references!

December 20, 2020, 12:55 PM · Also look for Michael Darnton's posts on the subject. He makes both models, and has a preference but notices that not every player in the market shares it.
December 20, 2020, 2:19 PM · @Strphen- Lyndon and Steve both make great points, even for bench made instruments, the quality of construction, wood, the setup, and the strings will make far more difference in sound than whether it’s a Strad or Guarneri pattern; I think that addresses your first question.

As for the second, regarding feel and response, I think it will be hard to find definitive information on that since there are not many violinists who have had the privilege of playing both a real Strad and a real Guarneri.

Comparing feel and response of copies is essentially meaningless since it depends far more on on the maker and individual instrument than the template; I think most luthiers would say the same from what I’ve heard.

Edited: December 21, 2020, 3:14 PM · Ruggiero Ricci also did a comparison disk. From that record I really liked the sweet sound of a Nicolo Amati and the "woody" sound of a Gaspar da Salo. I could hear the difference between the Guarneris and Strads, but not the difference between instruments by the same maker. What the recordings will not tell you is the projection, the perceived volume at a distance. For copies, I am not a luthier, never owned a quality instrument, only know enough to be dangerous. I suspect that copies of Guarneris tend to be more successful than copies of Strads. A player fortunate to own both would probably prefer to play Mozart concertos on a Strad and the Tchaikovsky concerto on a Guarneri.
December 21, 2020, 8:58 AM · I have played 4 Strads and 1 Guarneri, and they have all been very different from each other. That said, Strad generally made larger bodies with thinner plates, and Guarneri smaller and thicker (but then may have been thinned out later). Large/thin and small/thick will play differently.

One of the Strads I played also had a bench copy made by a reputable modern maker. Visually, the instruments were identical. Sound and playing-wise, they were worlds apart (I liked the modern, but I'm not a violinist). The maker said that there was no attempt to copy the thicknesses.

In my own making, I have made some Strad-ish models and a few Guarneri-ish models, and the best-performing ones always seemed to be the Guarneri-ish ones, although the sample size is too small to really say anything for sure. As a maker and player, the typical Strad drooping upper corners and relatively closed C-bout I found bothersome, so I have converted over to only Guarneri-inspired models... but do my own thing on arching and graduations.

December 21, 2020, 2:52 PM · It's like guessing how fast a car can go from 0 to 60 based on the colour of its paint. Violins are way more complex than can be described with generic models.
December 21, 2020, 5:10 PM · https://www.pnas.org/content/114/21/5395
December 21, 2020, 6:40 PM · "Models" are basically useless for determining the characteristics of a violin unless the maker is doing a bench copy. Saying that this is a "Strad model" vs a "Guarneri model" for a new violin is mostly in the realm of marketing.

You can sort of generalize between the real things, though not entirely. It's like looking at an artist's works over their lifetimes -- they go through periods of producing somewhat similar art, but even within a period everything is individual and unique.

December 22, 2020, 12:27 PM · I am sure all the above is correct - depending on the instrument and the player. However, I have heard it said (and it seems to work for the two instruments I owned, one a Guarneri and later a Strad model) that you play a Guarneri and a Strad plays you. By that I mean that you can dig-in to the Guaeneri whereas the Strad requires a rather gentler approach to coax it to sing.

YMMV, as we used to say back in usenet days...

December 23, 2020, 6:32 PM · I agree entirely with Lyndon on this.
December 25, 2020, 4:27 AM · Trying as many instruments in various models is a great way to formulate an opinion, but as the posters already mentioned, the sound varies depending on the instrument. I used to prefer the Guarneri model, but nowadays I'm not partial to any particular model, as there are many wonderful sounding instruments in the most popular and original models.

I would say overall there are more larger Strad model violins (354-358mm length of backs, occasionally wider) with wider bouts than there are Guarneri models which generally range as small as 350mm-356mm. A lot of earlier 19th c French makers made larger GDG interpretations. Guadagnini models are a bit neutral, and you don't generally see very big Guad model instruments. I find that the neck projection and neck girth is an important factor for players. You have to find what works for you. In the sample size I've tried (thousands), the majority of earlier 19th c and 20th c instruments have thinner girth necks vs contemporary. I'm not sure why that's the case, but that's been my experience, for better or worse, and I'm sure that varies among geographic demographics!

Edited: December 25, 2020, 9:28 PM · Large models with thin plates (typical Strad) will be structurally flexible, and require more bow speed and less pressure to play (i.e. gentle touch). Smaller models with thicker plates (typical Guarneri) will be structurally stiff, and tolerate more bow pressure and less bow speed (i.e. digging in). Technically it involves impedance matching, but hopefully it's also intuitive.

If a modern maker copies a Strad "P form" (small body) and uses thick plates, I'm sure it would play more like a Guarneri. Modern makers can do all kinds of things.

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