That elusive sound
Recently there have been threads about the quality of violins and the ability of luthiers to recreate the same sounds as Cremona's Masters.
For me, it's not just the instrument, it's the combination of musician and instrument.
I think just about anyone could do what Jack Benny did in making a Strad sound terrible. But, few of us can take that same Strad and equal the sound quality of the current masters of the violin.
When I started lessons, my teacher would sometimes play the same music that I was trying to learn on my instrument. The sound was incredible. I tried and tried and could never quite match the sound/tone quality. I did, over time, get closer and closer, but during all those years I never got past almost.
To me the question became: When should I upgrade? being frugal I decided on When I can get the same sound/tone qualities the a much better musician than me can get from my instrument.
Just a few weeks ago a friend and a great local musician played my violin in my studio. I realized for the first time in almost 50 years, I can produce that sound and tone.
It's almost laughable. Here I am in my mid 70's finally able to get the most out of my instrument. Maybe I should upgrade. I have the ability to do that and the time to work on another instrument. Yet, is is worth the money as my body is less cooperative than it was and declining. (Osteoarthritis and adjusting to the restrictions of cervical spine fusion of C0,1 & 2)
Back to the original question about modern luthiers making instruments equal in sound and tone to the Masters of Cremona. It's more than just the instrument - it's the combination of musician and instrument. A really great musician can make a good instrument sound great. But can a great instrument make a mediocre musician sound equally great?
I think it's largely the skill of the musician.
The skill of the player certainly is a huge factor in what you hear, and can swamp any sound attributable to the instrument alone. However, it is undeniable that when a skilled player plays different instruments, there is a difference there too that can be heard (that's what violin competition tone tests are all about).
There's also the matter of what a better instrument (and bow) can do for the player in terms of feedback.
George, if you buy you will have me beat! I bought my most recent violin when I was 66 (excuse: my granddaughter had "commandeered" one of my violins and I was able to commission another from the same maker).
I think Lydia nailed it. There's the player. And there's the instrument. But they're not independent parameters. They interact strongly with one another. Sure, my teacher is going to make a fabulous sound on my violin, because it's a nice, bench-made violin (Wojciech Topa), but he's also going to make an even better sound on a superior instrument, and there's absolutely no question that superior instruments exist because I've played many of them. Better instruments have more possibilities that are only reached by better players. That's why it's probably a total waste for me to play a priceless instrument. Another thing is that as you improve as a player, not only does your skill at producing tone improve, but your ability to hear the differences improves too, so you increasingly need an instrument that can talk back to you and respond to what you are telling it. Lydia used the term "feedback" and I can't improve on that.
I think a really nice instrument can inspire a student to play more and sound their best. Also, it may allow the student to grow rather than being stumped. There is little doubt a good, quality instrument sounds and plays better than a cheap one. Personally, I am glad I decided to invest in quality instruments early on. It has helped my growth and happiness as a musician tremendously.
Lydia is correct: a better instrument is a better "teacher" for the student, thus they will improve more and eventually even be able to transfer that skill set on to lower quality instruments as well.
I think the player and their instrument should grow, simultaneously.
I liked all the replies. They confirm my thoughts and experience. Spending the money on another instrument is not out of the question. Some would say that at my age I'd be spending my children's inheritance but, since we are child-free that is not a concern.
Hi George-I understand the fusions and the challenges they bring to playing. I am fused from T1 all the way down to S1, and I have a colleague with cervical fusions. We are both professional players and have figured out ways to make the chin rest and the shoulder rest work together for us. It seems that your chin on the right side of the tailpiece is not a good idea for bowing (?) I'd be very interested in what you find as you look at new instruments. Would a lighter weight, possibly narrower violin be more adaptable to your posture? That combined with an adjustable chin rest like a SAS, or at least a center mount, and a shoulder rest with good tilt adjustment that fits securely on your shoulder might make a world of difference in your sound and your comfort!
Jean, et al.,
A few years ago, during my interminable search for a violin, I auditioned 3 or 4, and recorded the same music at a local university recital hall.
"I think that dramatic tonal change is what makes older violins so desirable, with less work needed......
"I suppose the best thing then is to get a superior new violin and wait for it to get even better?"
Scott, people have taken years to learn how to get the best out of a particular Strad, too. Was it the Strad that changed?
I think the really invaluable thing about old violins - which can't be replicated no matter the skill of the maker - is we already know how they will sound. Like buying a house that's old, if there are going to be cracks in the foundation as it settles, you'll already know about them.
Scott, wouldn't it also be fair to say that almost anyone can default in the direction of myths they have absorbed, which can have high power to influence their perceptions and opinions?
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.