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What's the MOST EXPENSIVE violin you've played?


WesRist
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speaking of anomalies...my friend has a not so expensive "Friedrich August Glass-like substance" violin, made god-only-knows-when by, really, god-only-knows-who.

under the ear, i can only relate the sound to a sofa cushion, thick, dead, and kind of loagy sounding. from 10 feet away, it sounds like a violin that could use some punch, that same sofa sound. from 100 feet away, the same sound, NO perceived change in volume, just the same sofa cushion sound flying at you, just further along. same goes for on a stage, the same sound, projecting all that way. its slightly too soft, and slightly too dark and mushy, but its that way whether from a foot or a thousand, its wierd either way.

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Since I already had a Guarnerius copy, I sought out a violin with a bright "Strad" sound to compliment my first violin. What I found was perfect. I know what you guys are referring to as the harshness under the ear...I call it the "SIREN" ingredient. I believe one needs some of this for projection, but I do mean some. I picture the sound like you're baking a cake and you want certain amounts of certain ingredients. A bit of "siren" a bit of "sweetness" and a dash of darkness to taste! (etc.)

I am going to switch to my Strad copy for a Master Class with my teacher (though I am certainly no master). This will be her first time hearing it. It will be interesting to hear whether it's as sweet and loud "out there" as it is under my ear. I'll let you know. (It's Saturday)

Nothing is funnier than a 10 Billion Dollar violin - Wes

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I think both propositions can certainly be true. However, I don't think that volume under the ear (or lack of volume) can be used to judge the projection of the violin in real world situations. There are many violins with a big sound that can fill a large hall yet disappear behind even a light accompaniment of strings or even piano. One Strad I heard seemed to have a fairly small tone under the ear - but when played in front of a chamber orchestra every note spoke with clarity and depth to the back of the hall. Other "louder" instruments tended to disappear except on the higher passages. Listening to the same instruments with and without accompaniment would have produced vastly different conclusions as to their power but in the real world the superiority of the Strad was obvious. I cite this only as one example, not so much of the superiority of a Strad but that it is not useful to judge projection and volume in a vacuum. In a small room I can begin to judge subjectively if I enjoy one violin or another but I would always reserve judgement on projection until after several trials in different circumstances.

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You see what I mean, don't you? All this seems paradoxical.

As for sounding small under the ear, the ear's automatic gain control has a lot to do with it. I think it's fairly well established that one cannot measure loudness by putting a violin under your chin, because the ear is partly protected against loud sounds.

But other than that, there are all kinds of violins, with different sounds. Some of each sound are said to project well, some not. How can you make a violin that projects if you don't know what is required for projection? This just can't be an unpenetrable mystery. There must be a clear, rational explanation, but we have to sort through a lot of conflicting information.

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One very simple explanation (over-simplified in my explanation below) of under-the-ear phenomena is that when one part of the violin is vibrating to push air, another vibrates to pull air (I'm speaking of movement on a cycle-to-cycle basis). If the two areas are of equal size, and radiate equal amounts of sound, then when the + movement meets and joins with the - movement at a distance in space, they cancel, and, theoretically, no sound at all results--of course some always is produced; nothing's perfect. (This is the principle used in a number of noise-cancellation devices, including headphones that remove outside sounds, and the microphones for pilot's cockpit radios. It's also a cause of difficulties in multiple microphone placement for recording orchestras.) If the ear is next to only one movement and distant from the other (say, the front and back of the violin are moving in opposite directions) the sound under the ear will be loud, in spite of what happens at a distance. If, on the other hand, the vibrating areas are contrived to be of very different sizes, then the sound at a distance will not be cancelled; however, the ear could be next to the smaller of the two vibrating areas, and hear very little.

Additionally, there's also the matter of the specific harmonic components being radiated--some travel well and are heard well, others do not. Generally, violins which project and also sound good have the right harmonic profile to carry, without stimulating adjacent harmonic components which are unattractive to the ear.

That's an extrememly simplified explanation--read Martin Schleske's articles in recent STRAD magazines for a fuller explanation.

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Martin's article is certainly interesting. Even though I have played the violin for 29 years I have never carefully compared instruments up close, at a distance, and over an orchestra. When I bought my present violin I played about 125 violins in the under 20,000 class both new and older. But I did not take another player and compare at a distance and certainly not with an orchestra. I have however sang solo with and without electronic aid before small groups such as 10 people and sung with large groups and with an orchstra. Loudness is just one concept. Another in singing is focussed point. Where the singer feels as if the sound is coming from the forehead nose area. People with highly foccussed points can be heard farther and can cut between the sounds of an orchestra. I am sure the same thing is what is happening in the violin. Yes, I have played on a Guad worth a half million or so. Under the ear not so special, but it sounded different at a distance. Accoustics are very complex and facinating.

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Except for pointing out in a general way that violin sounds are fairly strongly directional, because of the interference phenomenon that you mentioned, Schleske's articles in the Oct. and Nov. issues of Strad don't really say much about what projects and why. But what he does say is *far* more interesting.

If any of you have an interest in violins, you should see these articles. Schleske claims to be able to duplicate the performance of specific great instruments quite closely, not only tonally but in sound output and playability. Although I'm not completely sure of how he made the measurements, and I read the papers rather hurriedly, his results seem quite credible.

He did it by imaging vibrational modes and determining complete frequency response data on completed instruments. To duplicate a specific instrument, he had to disassemble the copy many times to retune the plates. Presumably, the characteristics of the isolated plates were also determined so it won't be necessary in the future to disassemble violins to produce predetermined characteristics.

This work was preceded by a lot of work by different groups who took the scientific approach. There is now even a commercial system for measuring the tonal characteristics of a violin accurately. There have been a lot of publications on this in the last 15 years. The pace of progress seems to be quickening.

If I correctly understand the significance of this work, it suggests that there really is no mystery to great violins after all, except perhaps how in the world they did such great work 300 years ago. If I'm not being overly optimistic, we may actually be on the verge of a true repeat of that golden age.

There also appears to be some overlooked developments in duplicating old varnish. See the thread "Ground glass in varnish" in The Pegbox. (No, the "secret" isn't exactly ground glass.) There is also some work that suggests that wood in old violins was not soaked in water.

Comments, anyone?

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The hole-you-can-drive-a-truck-through in Schleske's work is that he says he can't control the behavior of frequencies above 1000hz. That's just the first harmonic or two or three of any violin note, and most of the personality of a violin is developed by the higher harmonics. Additionally, tonal response says very little about the other types of response which are so important to a player's perception of his instrument. In short, I think the research is extremely interesting, but I'm not sure where the research departments and the marketing departments cross over into each other's territory. :-)

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Oh, well, I guess there had to be a catch, and he did seem more interested in the big (i.e. low-frequency) modes. Maybe I misread it, but he did seem to reproduce the frequency response pretty well. Although the resonances were a little displaced in the copy, the number, magnitude and spacing of resonances looked pretty close to those in the original. Did I miss something?

Interestingly, I received the following interesting statement in a private correspondence. "I think a lot of the modern makers have figured out all or a part of the puzzle. The ones that have been able to see the old violins and have had the resources to try things out have probably come closer than we know." It would not surprise me if that is right.

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By necessity, all violins have the same notes, right? The important thing for tonal quality is the difference in their harmonic component. Most good enough violins follow very similar profiles--it's only the horrible ones that look materially different. So in order to display real differences, the measuring system needs to be relatively sensitive.

With reference to the charts in the article, remember that 3db, which represents a tiny movement on a graph, is a doubling of sound volume, so in order to replicate a violin accurately, ALL notes have to fit VERY CLOSELY to the model. Now go back to chart 3a in the article, and notice how many notes are 2db off, some even 4db apart--really quite a difference, masked by the display method chosen. Further, I'd really like to see a line on the chart of some good violin by another modern maker to see if anything special is going on--we really don't have a neutral non-Schleske new violin for reference to see if anything special is happening. And remember, this chart is just the fundamental, and says nothing about the higher harmonics. I don't know--how much will you pay for a violin that displays all the quirks of a Strad in terms of volume differences from note to note? Is that an important parameter, do you think?

If you think I've misinterpreted the article, maybe you can set me right. :-)

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I'll have to have a closer look at the article, which won't happen any time soon. I admit that the figures are darned near illegible, and one or two violins may not constitute a miracle. And of course, few people would buy an instrument on the basis of an article.

For the record, the decibel unit is somewhat misleading. As it is usually used, 20 decibels corresponds to a factor of 10 in sound power; thus, double the power is 6 dB, not 3 dB.

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I have absolutely NO qualifications to discuss this, but the line I've always heard goes something like this (quoted from the web):

"If you want to get a little technical, a decibel is equal to 10 * log (X/Y) [and that's a base-10 log). X and Y represent the signal levels of two different signals. Let's say you have signal X twice as loud as signal Y. X/Y is then going to give us a result of 2. 10*log(2) gives us roughly 3dB."

And then I find this:

"Measured on a modified logarithmic scale, a doubling of intensity equals approximately six decibels. "

and then this:

"Doubling the power of a source increases the sound level by 10 log10(2) = 3 decibels. This is not as dramatic a change in loudness as you might expect from power doubling - the ear's loudness response is approximately logarithmic. "

and finally, to make it all clear as glass, this:

"The decibel (abbreviated dB) must be the most misunderstood measurement since the cubit. Although the term decibel always means the same thing, decibels may be calculated in several ways, and there are many confusing explanations of what they are."

I'm glad that's settled! :-)

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Michael - I think the confusion stems from the difference between power (intensity) and displacement (i.e. the amplitude of the pressure wave). Power is proportional to the square of displacement, hence a factor of 2 in logarithms.

If the graphs show intensity, then a factor of 2 is 3 dB; if they show amplitude, then it's a factor of 6. That's my guess.

Most expensive fiddle - probably a del Gesu belonging to David Fulton, I'm not sure which one it was. Set up very agressively, a powerful instrument.

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I did look up the articles again, and I don't agree with your assessment. On the basis of his article, his claim to have made an accurate tonal copy appears very credible. The differences between his copy and the original Strad are much less than the differences between two Strads or between a Strad and a Guarneri. He does deal with the overtones, and not just the fundamentals, and he does adequately display small differences between instruments. The main difference between his copy and the original Strad appears to be slightly lower intensities in some bass fundamental tones in the copy. He has no problem above 1000 Hz.

The resonances are similar in magnitude, width, and spacing. Although the resonances don't match frequencies exactly, this is of little importance. The overall patterns match very closely. I think it can be safely said that no two instruments made of wood have ever matched each other in resonance freqencies. If you take into account humidity, etc., an instrument will probably not even match itself consistently. Nevertheless, many makers make instruments that are quite consistent in sound, but which surely differ in details of frequency response.

He defines loudness and frequency response in terms of sound pressure (Pa/N for the response function), so 6 dB does indeed correspond to a doubling in sound power, as is usual for sound measurements. I don't think he says anything about responsiveness, but it is my guess that they are similar. The frequency response function is defined in terms of sound pressure for a given force on the bridge, and the copy closely matches this characteristic.

Of course, I can only judge from what was written, and not what I have heard. Anyone should buy only what they really like to play and hear, and no one will buy these violins if they don't like them. It seems possible that the particular combination of overtones on particular notes might be unpleasing, but this is true for any violin. You may or may not want a tonal copy of a particular instrument, but I think the interesting point is that it appears that the quality can be reproduced. I for one wouldn't mind having a tonal copy of the Soil Strad. It is true that many unjustified claims have been made before, but this approach looks promising.

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I apologize for the misdirection. I think I'm referring to a CAS article sent me by a friend--when it turns up, I'll post, if I wasn't hallucinating. In it he says that above 1000hz the areas which create the various harmonics are tiny and interact in ways which can't be controlled--change one and you inadvertently mess with the others.

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  • 1 month later...

Hope this is not off the subject, but speaking of Bein & Fushi's -- I contacted them by e-mail some months ago regarding a Gibson Strad that is supposed to be the "twin" of the one owned by Joshua Bell.

Well, I thought I would leave my name and phone number just for kicks. Little did I know that someone from the violin shop would be calling ad nauseum to try to sell me this violin (not that I could ever afford it, but would not let them know it). I still don't know why it was never up for auction at one of the main houses (Sotheby's, for example) but he stated (the salesman) that it was not on auction but that they were offering the violin for something like $2-3 million and wanted to know my range of interest. They were even going to be coming to my state (Colorado) and would bring it by if I wanted to try it out. I know this story sounds far-fetched and it seemed so at the time. However, I did not take the salesman up on his offer -- and told him that I was no longer interested. He only called me one more time since then......but now I wish I had played the darned thing!!!!!!!!!!!!

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The "Seefried" and the "San Lorenzo" Strads, unfortunately each for only about 5 minutes (I had the opportunity to take the frequency response curves of the instruments and the great violinist Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, who had them at this time, allowed me to play them).

They both respond in a thrilling way to the slightest touch, but totally different. The Seefried rings like a silver bell on all four strings, but the G string almost gives you the impression, that it is tuned an octave higher. The San Lorenzo is brilliant, with a booming sound on the G string, and the strings are more different in sound (which I like more).

Both have to be played very carefully, touch them too hard, and part of the beauty is gone, or they screem in protest.

I am still dreaming of them

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