Can any expert maker make a violin as good as the old masters?
Eliminating mystique/hype, marketing, the "provenance" factor of old instruments, with sound and playability as the sole criteria, do you think any experienced, expert violin maker can build an instrument that's as good as those of the old masters? Was there really any "Magic Juju" that Stradivari, Guarneri etc. could bring to bear on the materials that anyone who knows what they're doing can't replicate? Any secret to clamping, gluing, carving, varnishing? Giving ample credit of course to the old-timers for being the ones who figured it all out.
Under the umbrella of experienced and expert I'm including that they know where to get the right wood and are able to vet the materials they use.
It's understood that as far as I know there's no way to simulate the aging process over centuries but I'm talking about the fundamental build of the violin - can an expert make a new violin that's the equal of the violins of the old masters when they were new?
Does "any" mean any expert maker can do it
The two words "any expert" seems almost a contradiction in this context. Can the
The vibrations of CNC routers can destroy the resonance of wood, and no new maker can simulate the effects of 300 years of aging which is generally thought of as being good for resonance.
I thought the theory that violins get "played in" over the years has been generally debunked?
Yes by people trying to sell you their new violins. Its not just a matter of getting played in its the changes in wood structure and drying out of the wood over centuries, the changes are quite significant, someone may make a great sounding new violin, but it doesn't sound the same as a great 300 yr old violin, someone may prefer the modern violin, someone may prefer the 300 yr old violin but they don't sound the same
You get different answers. New makers say sure. Antique dealers say no.
As a maker and researcher, my take is that age can do things to tone that are neither adequately explained nor duplicatable as yet. Whether you think that change is good or not is something else, and personal taste.
Dmitri, that is not true, the blind studies only demonstrated that roughly half the people preferred hand picked best of the bunch modern maker instrument, and roughly half the people preferred randomly picked and not tested Stradivari instruments. The organizers had many modern violins to which they had a contest and picked the 2 or 3 best, the Stardivaris were whatever they could get their hand on and were in no way tested to be the best sounding Stardivaris, only the ones they were able to get owners to loan to the contest, the whole contest was hardly scientific at all. and quite a few of the listeners not only preferred the Stradivaris but picked them out as being the older violins in comparisons. None of the listeners were tested to see how good their ears were at assessing violins, the audience was more a random cross section with many people presumably not very good judges of tonal quality, which skews the statistics. One thing came out, the modern violins were louder and most uneducated people will pick the loudest violin, not the one with the best quality tone
The technical craftsmanship of making in the present day is fantastic, and is somewhat science-informed (but the science of this stuff is still super complex and largely unknown).
There are many great makers from the last 200 years who have left behind an enormous number of fine violins that are equal to "old masters" and also as good as violins being produced by today's living makers, and often less expensive. They knew what they were doing, and many of them were teachers as well as makers.
Its very clear that violins change in sound over 100s of years, these changes are preferred by many but not everyone, many people prefer the sound of a new violin, its more a question of preference than claiming one is better than the other, but any violin dealer knows that 200+ yr old violins sound different from new ones
"Material quality is lower than it was in the past."
I believe Lydia Leong said she couldn't find a modern maker instrument as good as her more expensive Vuillaume that she bought
Scott, yup. All wood is different, as a minimum.
I was listening on and off to the Indianapolis prelims today and really wish the violin makes and makers were listed....
"Players and audience can’t tell the difference..."
I don’t think one can really call a maker great until that maker’s instruments have stood the test of at least a century. There are plenty of instruments that sound very good when they’re relatively new but eventually become disappointing. A great maker to me is one who finds a way to make an instrument that endures and matures. While it certainly does seem that time is a good friend to tonewood, there’s more to it than that—not all of Stradivari’s peers are regarded as highly for tone.
It is simply an unprovable myth that violins get better purely with age, but it is a great marketing claim for selling older violins. :-)
So why do really old violins sound quite different from new violins?
Don said, "But I think it is silly to postulate that makers 300 years ago had some secret that allowed them to make new instruments that were markedly different"
To answer this question with any practical knowledge and credibility, one would have to actually play violins made by both the old Cremonese masters and some of the reputed modern makers. I would be interested to hear those opinions. Who are the best modern makers that come close?
There has been speculation that "mini" or "little ice ages," in around 1650, 1770 and 1850 were responsible for slower tree growth and thus higher density wood in northern hemisphere trees that were harvested and used for instrument production. This would have resulted in some different/"better" resonant properties of the wood of some instruments.
Nobody can say if old violins, in the aggregate, sound "quite different" than new violins, in the aggregate. It has never been tested, and probably never can or will be tested.
Is this debate OldvsNew extended to other instruments (piano, organ, guitar, brass, etc) or is it a particular thing of bowed instruments?
Martin McLean wrote:
"Nobody can say if old violins, in the aggregate, sound "quite different" than new violins, in the aggregate. It has never been tested, and probably never can or will be tested."
Hello David. Would you describe any of the cremonese greats as a copyist?
Martin Mcclean wrote:
Thanks David. Could you point out both a famous Cremonese violin and the instrument from which it was copied?
"I am curious if some or many individual modern violins match the average response curves of the "old Italians" violins?
Regarding wood composition: I remember reading a research paper that I cannot seem to hunt down again, about the changes to the structure of wood over the last 150 years or so, as a result of acid rain. IIRC it was most focused on the changes to pernambucco rather than tonewood, but I would imagine the effects would apply to tonewood as well.
Supposedly, the Petrus owned by Joseph Szigeti sounded absolutely awful-- unless you played it precisely in tune. It had been trained to reject anything else...
Rich, Thanks for your note.
I haven't heard of any modern violins that were badly damaged, repaired, and suddenly sounded like a Strad. I have done plenty of damage to my early violins, and they stay in the modern-sounding category. Or worse.
The question will never be answered. But I believe we live in a golden age of violin making. Some of the violins that are made today will "stand the test of time" and violinists will be talking about them 200 years from now. Likewise people will be talking about today's workshop violins just as we now talk about German antiques that were workshop-crafted. Some of the best violins 200 years from now might be the products of today's most celebrated makers, and some might be from the hands of lesser-known makers, and possibly some even from workshops.
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